“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
I want you to think back to the context of these verses, to those to whom they were originally written – the Christian church in Corinth. We sometimes think that the Bible is too old to be applicable to modern life, but we are so wrong! Recall the reputation of the city they were in and realize how similar it is to our current context.
Corinth was one of the bigger, more important cities of its day and was full to the brim with trade, politics, money, and religion. It was someone mixed modern inner-city life and the worst parts of the internet together. It was urban, materialistic, and overcrowded with every sort of person from every walk of life – intellectual elites, religious fanatics, celebrities, government workers, hard-core businessmen and poor, uneducated street people. It was the capital of the province, a port with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world and one of the most influential commercial and manufacturing centers in the world. It was incredibly similar to Ottawa or downtown Toronto.
Everyone in town was committed to some form of religion and most were represented by the many places of worship around the city. They had temples like Ottawa has Tim Hortons. But the temples weren’t churches like you and I think of. They were like a mix of night clubs, museums, live concerts and brothels.
Sailors, tradesmen and people of all kinds would come to Corinth for business and then go to “worship” at one of these temples – the most famous of which was the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. She was literally the goddess of erotica and to worship at her temple was to see pornography come to life. Thousands of girls were kept there as sacred sex workers who would parade themselves before crowds of men so they could choose among them, pay their way (or not), and have sex as an act of worship. One ancient writer (Herodotus) wrote that every female in the city had to take their turn in the temple, whether they wanted to or not. In the centre of town was the Temple of Apollo which glorified sex too. Not with women, but with men and boys.
Today, if you want to see something pornographic, profane, illegal, or disgusting, you can lock yourself in a dark room and find it on the internet. If you want to live it out, then you have to risk making illicit connections online, but in Corinth it was simply all around you. The city was a monument to the fulfilment of any kind of appetite you might have, no matter how immoral. If you wanted the thrill of murdering someone, you could buy a slave. If you desired financial gain or political power, you had every opportunity. There was almost no kind of sexual perversion you could not try, legally. No matter what turned you on, sex, drugs, cults, war, politics, everything – it was there.
It was to this town that the Apostle Paul journeyed to and planted a church in. He felt such a strong connection to the people of this city that he spent a year and a half there – an uncharacteristically long time.
God was absolutely at work among the Corinthians. People were giving up their old, pagan, addicted, messed-up lives and turning to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. The utter selfishness and individuality of their former lives was overtaken by a love for each other and a desire to serve. They no longer feared the petty, ever-changing gods, or tried to manipulate them with rituals, but now had a relationship with the One, True God who they knew loved them so much that He was willing to send His Son Jesus to save them. They had become a Christian church. Paul spent months teaching them from the scriptures, preaching and teaching inside and outside the church, and defending the Christians before the government and other opposing groups. Then, before he moved on, he appointed and trained elders to carry on the work of ministry there.
After he left, cracks started to form in the leadership and among the believers. False teachers came in and taught false gospels. Unsaved people from the local temples, working for Satan, started to gain influence in the church and sow discord among the people and tempt them towards their old lives.
Paul obviously didn’t have email, but even while he was hundreds of miles away in Ephesus he was starting to get reports of some of the things going on in Corinth and it was quite unsettling. He wrote them a letter, which we don’t have, addressing some of these concerns, but it clearly didn’t work. Shortly after they received the first letter a couple contingents of people came from Corinth to track down the Apostle, tell him what was happening, and ask some very specific questions. He couldn’t leave the Ephesian church at the time so he wrote a second letter addressing the issues and answering the questions.
We’ve been through part of this letter already, which we call 1st Corinthians, and we are coming up to Chapter 7 which starts the “now concerning” part, where Paul directly answers the Corinthian questions, but before this, he addresses some of the biggest issues he’s heard about through the grapevine.
Things like them not getting along, accepting sexual immorality, rejecting the authority of the Apostles, listening to false teachers, self-deception, sinful living, and changing the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to fit better with their culture – all things we are still very much dealing with today.
Out of Control Appetites
In our passage today we see the Apostle Paul addressing some of the root issues of what is causing the church such trouble – and if I had to pick one phrase to summarize it, it would be “Out of Control Appetites”.
Do you see the quotes around the first parts of verses 12 and 13? These are the excuses that the Corinthians were giving for their behaviour. They had strong appetites, fed and encouraged by their local culture, and instead of following the Apostles’ teaching, God’s Word, or the conviction of the Holy Spirit within them, they were trying to justify and excuse their behaviour.
We do the same thing. We have strong desires within us, natural and learned appetites that are constantly with us, nagging our mind and trying to steer our lives. Many of these appetites are biological. We have needs: air, food, water, shelter, sleep, and going to the bathroom, and when we don’t have access those things our bodies cry out for them, even causing us physical pain, until we give them what they want. Some of these appetites are not needs, per say (as in we wouldn’t die without them), but they are very strong. We have a natural appetite, or desire for safety, health, love, family, and sexual intimacy. And these appetites go further into our feelings. We want to feel confident, respected, meaningful, moral, accepted, and to know the truth.
None of these needs is wrong. God has designed us, from the very beginning, to have these needs – and they were designed to be perfectly fulfilled by being in relationship with Him and each other.
But when sin came into the world at the fall it corrupted everything, including our appetites. Now, instead of wanting enough food to survive and enjoy, we turn gluttonous, eating so much we make our bodies sick. We take sugar cane and beets, strip them of their “food” and turn them into pure sugar, and then pour that into things we swirl with caffeine, alcohol, and hyped up fats and salts.
Instead of sleeping enough to rest from our work, we now run away from work and our out of control appetite turns us into sluggards who sleep more than we should, inventing more and more devices to remove work and allow for rest.
We have a desire for safety, but now we create borders, barbed-wire fences, and bombs to keep danger away. Our insane pursuit of safety fills us with prejudice and turns us into racists. We become helicopter parents who won’t let our kids out of our site and spend staggering amounts of money on insurance and things to make us feel safe.
We want love, family, and acceptance, but our sin and selfishness cause us to reject and hurt those who are closest to us, creating family splits, divorce, fatherlessness, and runaways. Our out of control appetite to feel accepted causes us to turn from those who were supposed to care for us and seek the acceptance of others. We join gangs, cults, and clubs, giving away huge parts of ourselves in order to feel accepted by someone.
And this same thing has happened with sexual intimacy. God created the beauty of sex to be most fully enjoyed between a man and women in the committed bonds of marriage. Anything outside of this is, by God’s definition, harmful. But the appetite within us is strong, and, like in ancient Corinth, our culture has made us believe that the fulfillment of this appetite is the most important thing in the world, making it available everywhere. They have placed sexual experience at the same level as breathing air or drinking water.
And so, as this appetite grows within us, we seek to quench it. God invites us to turn our appetite over to Him and to seek fulfillment His way, but that requires sacrifice, self-control, mutual respect, the giving of oneself, and patience. But the appetite grows and everyone else tells us to listen to it.
To do this is like to try to go on a diet while living at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We exist live in a buffet of sexual options – from the prostitutes on the streets to the movies we watch, the mall we shop in to the games we play, the ads on TV and websites to the popular books we are told to read, the enticement to sin sexually is literally everywhere. And the appetite grows. It’s like taking little bites of sugar everywhere we go – even without wanting to.
As a Christian, we know we have been delivered from sin and we hate the effects of it. The Word of God teaches against it. Our Christian elders and friends give warning. And the Holy Spirit inside of us is warning our conscience. But with the inundation of options all around us, the internet at home and in our pockets, and everyone in our culture cheering us on to express ourselves, live out our freedom, and trust our appetites to guide us to happiness.
And so we relent. Canada has completely relented to the idea that our appetites will guide us to happiness, and we have a completely messed up culture as a result. Did you know that biggest website in the world streamed 92 billion videos totally 4.6 billion hours of porn – just in 2016? Almost every adolescent boy and girl today has been exposed to explicit pornographic content – and this isn’t naked pictures – we’re talking about high definition and stylized videos of incest, violence and rape, of which 88% of porn videos include. Most have no blockers on their home or devices. And over a third of people my age and younger watch porn to educate themselves so they can mimic it with their partners. Pornography use is rampant at every age, not just young adults. This isn’t merely a male issue. A third of young women (25 and under) and a quarter of older women go looking at least once per month.
Two new things that are being reported recently as a result of continued porn use is what they are calling “sexual anorexia” which is basically a total loss of desire for romantic-sexual interactions with other people, and “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” meaning that even when with a partner they simply can’t get aroused by a real-live girl anymore. Porn use increases the chance of cheating on your spouse by 300%.
The slide of the out of control sexual appetite doesn’t have an end. There is never going to be enough because, like a potent drug, it causes major chemical dependency in the brain. And the appetite for sexual sin only gets darker and more evil. It doesn’t just stay at romantic novels or underwear models, but grows stronger until normal sex isn’t enough – then strange sex isn’t enough – then violent, abusive sex isn’t enough – and then merely watching isn’t enough, you want to act out what you have been watching.
And it barely even twinges the conscience anymore because you have now rewired your brain to consider the perverse, dangerous, and violent images you have been watching to be “normal”. Girls no longer know what modesty, love and romance looks or feels like. Boys have no idea how to respect, woo or patiently love just one girl. Now they believe in the fantasy world that pornography has fed them – and they want to live it out. Maybe you have done the same in your own life as you try to fit the person you are attracted to into a pornographic fantasy, or grow disappointed as the real person doesn’t perform like the person on screen. The real person is way less interesting than the fantasy. That’s an insanely confused version of sex designed by Satan to destroy you.
But this isn’t just about the epidemic of pornography and what we do when we are alone, but all that this out of control sexual appetite creates in our minds, hearts, families, churches and societies. It destroys intimacy and closeness. Friendship is ruined because everything is about sex. Superficiality and total selfishness is rampant. People don’t give themselves to each other, they use each other. Sexual sin is a massive force for harm.
What happens when you take the individual consequences of an out of control sexual appetite and multiply it by the size of a church, a city, a country, or the world? Not just you seeking out selfish ways to use people for your own appetites, but also those around you, and far beyond.
Pornography users have a lot of misinformation that gives them an excuse to come back. For example: It’s free so I don’t pay for it, so I’m not contributing to the bad parts. That’s not true. These sites get money for every click, whether you buy or not. That’s why it’s free. There are dozens of ways to make money of people that come to your website and around. Yes, you are generating income for these companies, allowing them to stay in business.
Another thing people say is that these women are well paid and look like they are enjoying it. The women are some of the most beautiful in the world – they could do anything — no one is making them do this. In truth, many of the women in pornography come from abusive homes and were often sexually abused as children. Some of them are victims of human trafficking who have been told to look good or they will be hurt or killed. Some got into the business after being recruited in their first year of college with the promise of lots of money and a thrilling lifestyle, but many tell the story of how no matter what they did the company wanted them to do more and more grotesque things. They had spent the money already and needed more, so they quell the shame and pain inside them with alcohol and drugs. Especially when people on their campus or family members see their pictures and videos. Some have committed suicide because of the shame and fear they have felt.
When they do want out, they can’t put any of this onto a resume so it has gaps and their professional reputation is shot. Whatever their career was – teacher, nurse, scientist – is ruined because of pornography. So they only have one place to turn – the porn industry. This industry promotes only the youngest women, so as they get older the only way to stay employed is to do more and more disgusting things, perpetuating the shame and fear and trapping them in the industry further. And then they are sent out to do interviews and trade fairs to tell everyone how happy they are. And that’s not even covering the massive psychological and spiritual damage done. Every time someone reads, clicks, or watches, they perpetuating this abusive industry.
But the damage of an out of control sexual appetite doesn’t end with the individual. Then we get the societal consequences like the spread of sexually transmitted diseases which over 70 percent of sexually active Canadians have. There’s the evil of sex trafficking, which is the kidnaping and sale of people for the purposes of prostituting them, and it is growing, funded and supported by the multi-billion dollar porn industry. We see the sexualisation of younger and younger people and the rise of child exploitation, pornography, and child sex rings. And of course we have the holocaust of the millions of abortions in North America lone which have nothing to do with the health of the child or the mother, but simply are the result of people who want the pleasure of sex without the consequences or responsibility of parenthood. Rape culture, divorce, fatherlessness… and I could go on.
Consider that when an industry or company is connected to terrible things like child-labour or environmental destruction most people freak out and refuse to buy from that store or support that industry. Why not this one? Because it’s an out of control appetite that the world supports without question. Just this week they tried to fly the Walk for Life flag down at Ottawa city hall and it was pulled down within hours. Just FYI, the Mayor had the LGBT Pride flag fly for the entirety of the Sochi Olympics. Why the difference? Different appetites.
The Gospel is the Answer
Verse 12 gives their first excuses, “All things are lawful for me…” they say. Here we see them throwing Paul’s words back in his face. He had come and taught them that people are not saved by religion, nor obedience to a set of laws, but are instead set free from having to follow a bunch of rules by the grace of God.
Every other religion said you have to do certain things to appease the gods. Give money, make war, pray for hours, reach ecstasies, gives sacrifices, spill your own blood, do good deeds, even horrible things like burn children to death. Only these things would make the gods do what you want them to do.
But the God of the Bible says we can never do enough to impress or please Him. There will never be enough good deeds to outweigh our sins. Instead, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, doing exactly what God wanted, so He could take God’s wrath against sin in exchange for anyone who would believe in him. This freed us from the bonds of man-made religious laws that only served to manipulate us and make us feel either guilty or prideful.
And so they say to Paul, “But you said that since we’re Christians we don’t have to obey any laws! We can do whatever we want! We have freedom in Christ! You said God accepts us as we are and will never reject us no matter how much we mess up! And you said that we don’t need to follow any of the Jewish Laws either because we are under the new covenant. So we’re doing that!”
And Paul says, “Yes, you are free in Christ, but not everything is helpful. Yes, you are free in Christ, but these you are doing aren’t bringing you more freedom – they are dominating you. You are no longer free when you do these things, you are making yourself a slave again. ” You see that?
The Emptiness Trap
When we turn away from God’s design for our lives we will feel empty. That emptiness will create an appetite that will eventually become all consuming. We will gorge ourselves on all manner of things trying to fill that emptiness, to satisfy that appetite that can only be satisfied by being in a right relationship with God and others.
This is the trap. We feel God’s way is too constricting, too hard. Satan offers to satiate that appetite an easier way – through violence, gluttony, sexual sin, stealing – and it works for a moment, but what happens is that appetite grows. And as a Christian, after we have succumbed to temptation, we realize we have grieved the Holy Spirit, ruined our reputation, lost our reward, invited God’s discipline, made innocent people suffer for our selfishness, tainted our ministry and testimony, left a stumbling stone for those who would follow us… and that shame can either cause us to fall before God and ask for forgiveness and restoration – which He will give… or will drive us away from God, separating us from Him further, and our church, and our friends, and His Word, and His voice… causing our appetites to grow and grow because now we feel truly terrible.
Which, again, either causes us to turn to God or, in many cases, cause us to not want to feel anything. When we feel empty we’re willing to try anything – and when that doesn’t work we try hard not to feel anything. So we self-medicate, fall into destructive behaviours, and our life falls apart.
Maybe you’re not all the way down this road, but I promise, this is where unconfessed, unforgiven sin leads. To a destroyed, corrupt, hard, and calloused heart that refuses to feel.
The remedy is the Gospel. The Bible says we need to realize that we were not designed merely to fill our appetites. “‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Our body, our lives, are not given to us merely to pursue our own pleasures, but for God. Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus, and that includes us. We will only find true fulfillment, joy, and peace when we realize that they are not found by us though this world – but in Him.
Verses 15-18 talk about the invisible, emotional and spiritual dangers of sexual sin, but we’ve covered a lot of that already.
The way we escape these out of control appetites is in verses 19-20 which say, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
This is the gospel condensed. We gave our bodies to sin and became salves to sin, but Jesus bought us back at a great price. We celebrate it every month at communion – that He gave His body and shed His blood in exchange for ours. He saves us to Himself. He makes us born again so we can live forever. He cleans us up so we can be temples of His Holy Spirit. But this was at the price of His life, freely given for all who would believe.
Our response to that amazing grace is threefold:
First, we need to acknowledge our sin and the danger of it. Sin isn’t fun or funny. It isn’t little. It creates spiritual death, no matter how small we think it is, and it’s destructive power is incredible. So we acknowledge that we are sinners, that we hate sin, repent from it, and ask God’s forgiveness of it by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Second, we accept that forgiveness and believe that we have been cleaned. It’s not because of any feeling we have or a tingle in our spine, but because of the agreement that God made with us because of the covenant of the blood of Jesus. If you repent and believe, you will be saved. If you ask forgiveness in His name, you will be forgiven. And from that point on we live as Christians. The Holy Spirit takes residence in our hearts and speaks to us in words that cannot be expressed.
And third, we glorify God in our body. In other words, we no longer live for ourselves, but trust that Jesus’ way is better. He is our Saviour and our Lord. When He says something is good, it is good. When He says something is dangerous, we avoid it. When He says go, we go. When He says stop, we stop. Jesus redeemed us, bought us back from death and Hell, so our bodies are no longer ours. They are His. And He can do with them as He pleases.
It is to this we appeal when we are tempted, when we face sin, and when our appetites get out of control.
We pray: “Jesus, this is sin and I know you hate it, and therefore I do too, and I want to avoid it. I accept that this has no more place in my life because I am yours. Help me to flee temptation as you taught me to pray. And Jesus, my body is yours. My mind, heart, and soul too. Do with them as You will. You gave me these appetites, so help me fulfil them your way, so you get the glory and I can experience more of you.”
The Gospel Truth
Today I want to talk about the “Gospel”. That word has been hijacked a bit by our culture so I want, at the outset, to clarify what that word even means. The term “The Gospel Truth” has actually become an idiom in our culture – meaning a group of words that have a meaning you can’t get from the words themselves. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs” (which means there’s a lot of rain coming down), or “beating round the bush” (which means to avoid talking about something), the words “the gospel truth” have now become idiomatic for something that is supposed to be unquestionably true.
A quick Google search for showed people using the phrase in concert reviews (“she loves singing, that’s the gospel truth”. scientific studies (“don’t take this study as the gospel truth”), marriage advice (“here’s some advice, but don’t take it as the gospel truth), and of course, attacks against mainstream media (“CNN, NBC, ABC all present their claims as the gospel truth”). It seems to either a way to double down on how truthful you are, or to squirm out of having people totally buy what you are saying.
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word EVANGELION, which is where we get our word “evangelism” or “evangelist”. An “evangelist” is someone that tells the “good news”. The world simply means “good news”. When Mark begins telling the story of Jesus, he starts with the word EVANGELION: This is the good news. At the time the word meant any kind of good news. 2000 years ago if someone knocked and said “Have you heard the good news?”, you wouldn’t immediately think they were religious, but simply thought it could be a good sale down at the camel emporium or they just found some money in their sock drawer. [Did ancient Greeks have sock drawers?] Today, however, the word “Gospel” or “good news” is synonymous with the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, when knocks on your door or stops you in the street and says “have you heard the good news?” almost everyone immediately knows this person is going to say something about Jesus!
My least favourite example of culture appropriating the word “gospel” is from the old Disney movie “Hercules” which opens by presenting the Greek myths with gospel-style, church music, using the hook on the chorus “and that’s the gospel truth”. It’s annoying to me that they would use what sounds like upbeat church music to present myths. It puts the Bible at the same historical accuracy level as Homer’s Odyssey. Which simply isn’t true.
Not a Myth
Christians don’t follow myths. What we believe is not based on philosophy or stories that make us feel good. Instead, we believe the true gospel, the real gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, really happened. Jesus life, death, and resurrection were the plan of salvation, the gospel, that God had written since the beginning of time. We stake our lives and our eternities on it.
Open up to 1 Corinthians 15. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 the Apostle Paul writes to the church about the importance of remembering that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. He says:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
He’s telling the Christians that no matter what happens in this world, the reason we can have hope is because of the historical reality that Jesus really was raised from the dead. He reminds them that this is what was taught to them, this is what they believed, and when the world around them starts to shake, this is what they need to “hold fast to” – not because it is a nice story, but because it’s true. God’s plan, “according to the scriptures”, was that Jesus would die on a Roman cross. He really was buried and He really did rise three days later. And how could they be sure? Ask Cephas and the apostles, who were still around. If you don’t believe them ask one of the other five hundred witnesses who are still around.
Some people had come to the church and said, “That’s impossible! People don’t come back from the dead!” To which Christians reply, “No duh. That’s why it’s so special! That’s why we have a great big celebration about it every year! Because it’s a miracle.”
But some of the people in the Corinthian church had forgotten the good news were starting to lose faith – and this was only 30 years after the resurrection! As they lost their faith in the resurrection they started to lose hope, which meant the foundation of their lives started to wobble, which caused them to flail about looking for something to make the world make sense, and they were starting to wander into sin, hopelessness, fear, worldliness, sadness, greed, and anything else that would distract them or some level of control – and their pastor, Paul, blows the whistle and calls everyone back to the centre so they can do a big reset.
I’m an Edmonton Oiler fan and I’m very glad to see my team back in the playoffs this year. It’s been a long time. But I still remember 2006 when they made the trade for a big defenseman named Chris Pronger who took the team to the playoffs. He was a huge guy with lots of experience on a team that no one thought would be able to win. I remember watching as the Oilers would get behind, start chasing the puck, start freaking out, and then 6 foot 6 inch, 220 pound Chris Pronger would get the puck, look around at the rest of the guys and reset the whole team. It happened time and again. The young, inexperienced guys, would be buzzing around, and Pronger would basically stop the game and give everyone a chance to get back to where they needed to be.
That’s what Paul did to the church. He stopped their buzzing and reset the whole church. “Guys, remember the truth! Remember what you heard! Remember what you believe and why you believe it! Put down the idols, sin, greed, fear, and foolishness and remember that God is real, Jesus has risen, the Holy Spirit is active, and you are His!”
He goes on to say in verse 12 that if Jesus has not be raised from the dead, if the resurrection isn’t true, then there is no point in being a Christian – life has no hope. He says: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
That’s what we are proclaiming today. My message and the message of this church is the same. “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” and therefore we have hope. Adam sinned and brought death to the world – but Jesus’s death made it so that we could be alive again.
I opened the Good Friday service with a prayer that I want to read part of again because I found it so powerful. It said, “It was on the cross that grace removed our burdens and heaped them onto Jesus, where he was made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for our sake…. Christ was all anguish that we might be all joy, rejected so we could be accepted, cast off so we could be brought in, trodden down as an enemy so we could be welcomed as friends, surrendered to hell’s worst so we could attain heaven’s best, wounded that we could be healed, thirsty so we would be able to drink, tormented so we could find comfort, made shame so we might inherit glory, entered darkness that we might have eternal light. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, wept so that our tears might be wiped away, groaned in agony so we could have an endless song to sing, endured all pain so that we could have unfading health, bore a crown of thorns so we could have imperishable crowns of glory, life, and righteousness. He bowed his head so that ours could be lifted to heaven, he experienced reproach so we could be accepted, closed his eyes in death so we could gaze on the unclouded brightness of God. He died so we could live forever.”
The world seems upside down right now, but, Christians around the world proclaim today: remember the gospel! In a world awash with bad news, and a life full of frustration, remember the good news.
We all need some good news these days, don’t we? But for some reason, the media doesn’t really like reporting “good news”. Can you imagine turning on the TV to your favourite news program and hearing only good news for 30 minutes straight? I can’t even fathom what that would be like.
How about instead of saying “1 in 6 people lie on their tax form”, they could say, “Did you know that 83% of people are very honest and do a great job on their taxes every year!” Instead of hearing about how the legal system is failing, the police have problems, and the bad guys are getting out of jail on a technicality, we heard stories like “The police saved countless lives this month by giving out tickets to people who drive too fast, took care of special needs people by giving out tickets, arrested lots and lots of bad guys, saved many families from harm, and visited a whole bunch of schools to help children have a better life.” Instead of hearing about the crooked bankers, wouldn’t it be nice to hear that like 99.9% of the people at the bank aren’t crooked and are just trying to do a good job. That’d be a nice change, wouldn’t it?
I would love to turn on the TV and see some positive stories: “This just in… 20 kittens were born today – here’s some pictures. Baskin Robins has a deal on waffle cones – here’s a coupon. And now for the weather: Hey, the sun us up, it’s nice outside, there are flowers blooming in the park, and everyone should go outside and play. Now for the sports: Almost every athlete in every sport practiced really hard, played exactly by the rules, worked well with their team mates, made lots and lots of money, donated some of it to charity, and the vast majority are still very happily married. Oh, and half the teams won their games! And now for entertainment news from Hollywood: there are actually a bunch of fun movies to take your kids too … and some of them are in 3D.”
Yes, I know that life sucks sometimes and everyone wants us to freak out all the time. ISIS is killing people, Christians are being blown up while they sit in their churches, Syria is gassing civilian woman and children, the US just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in their arsenal on Afghanistan. Add to that the incredibly difficult things that we are all facing in our day-to-day lives – addiction, abuse, illness, pain, loss, depression, anxiety, sadness… and it’s easy to start to feel hopeless.
As the world presses in and our foundations start to shake, we also start to flail about looking for something to grab onto to steady ourselves. Even committed Christians find themselves wondering what God is doing, where Jesus is, why we are going through this, and we start to grasp for immediate answers and instant comfort. Our fight or flight instincts kick in and we want to rail against those around us, or do anything for a moment’s peace – even if we know it will harm us.
But we need more, don’t we? We need more than just a quick fix or a boost of good news from the world around us – we need something ultimate, some piece of good news that we can build our whole lives on. Something that, when all is lost, the world is dark, the demons are swirling, we feel desperately hungry, angry, lonely, tired and sad, that holds us fast. Some people call this a metanarrative – an overarching story that gives meaning to everything. And that metanarrative, that overarching meaning, that good news is found in the resurrection of Jesus.
What the Good News Means
Some of you know that my family has been through a rough time lately. And I know from talking to you that many of you are also facing some very difficult situations personally, emotionally, financially, relationally. And so I want to share with you, from a bit of a personal side, what the Good News means to us – what it means to me – especially during dark times.
On Easter Sunday we wake up early, put on our itchy pants and fancy dresses, come to church and celebrate, sing about, and talk about the resurrection of Jesus. And we sometimes phrase it as “God did this for the world. God loves everybody.” But today I want to close with what the good news means to me… and hopefully you can resonate with it.
I could do this in 10 words: “The gospel of Jesus Christ means everything to me.” Or I could preach endlessly, for hours and hours, about the ways Jesus has changed my life, what the scripture says, what I have studied in my theology books, and what He has done for me in my darkest times.
No doubt you are wondering which one I picked. You’re hoping for the 10 word conclusion, and hoping against the endless one, right? Well, I’m hoping to lean more towards the former than the latter, if that means anything.
So, when the world is at it’s darkest and I need good news, I am reminded of the resurrection of Jesus and all that it means for me and those who believe. Let me share a little of what gives me hope during those hard times.
First, the resurrection of Jesus means that absolute truth and absolute morality exist. What a horrible insecurity it is to believe that there is no such thing as truth that nothing can be certain, everything is pliable, and that everyone’s opinion, conjecture and feelings are equally valid. That somehow even if something is a lie, it can be the “truth to someone”. That’s an unsettled, foundationless existence.
I have comfort in the knowledge that there are some non-negotiables in this world – that not everything is up for grabs. Some things are categorically bad, and others are absolutely good. Yes, there arere some grey areas I don’t understand, but its good news that God has given us black and white. Jesus died to save me from the wrath of God against sin which leads to eternal death, and because of Him I can be free and clean. It’s as black and white as that. There is right and wrong, good and evil, saved and unsaved, and those things are set by God – not man, not me, not anyone but God alone.
I Am Loved
Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus tells me that I am overwhelmingly, undeservingly, and unconditionally loved by the One who created me. When life is at its worst. When I feel like I’m on the edge of madness, people let me down, and I am utterly confused, I look to the cross and know that God loves me, to the tomb and know that Jesus is alive and with me. It is He who gives me comfort, teaches me, holds me together, and willingly grants a peace that passes understanding. When I can’t count on anyone, I can count on Him. When no one will listen, I can talk to Him and He understands. And when I am alone, I can listen to Him because He really does speak. When I am alone He’s always there. He will never leave me, nor forsake me.
If I had to continuously wonder if I had done enough to earn God’s love, I would be forever paranoid and afraid of Him. If God only loves me because of the good things I do, say, think then I am in real trouble, because, in truth, I know that am a wretched, selfish, sinful man.
But He doesn’t. God so loved the world, and so loved me, that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to live as a human being, and to take the punishment that you and I deserve. He did this because He loves us with an everlasting love.
I Have a Purpose
Another piece of good news that Jesus reminds me of is that we are specially created to have a purpose and a destination. I am not a being who is simply tossed upon the winds of time and space, only to exist for a moment and then disappear into nonexistence. The bible teaches me that God knew us before we were born, put us together in a very specific way, with special gifts and talents and a unique temperament. He chose our parents, where we would grow up, and designed us in such a way that we have a reason to live.
In a world where we are taught we are the summation of a random occurrence of molecules and that we are governed more by chemistry and electrical impulse than an eternal soul… were we are only as valuable as long as we are producing and being good consumers, but where life has no ultimate meaning, there is no assurance of a bright future, and only oblivion to look forward to in eternity… it is good news to know that the opposite is true.
God Has Power
The resurrection also reminds me that no matter how bad life gets messed things up, God is big enough to fix it. Jesus showed that, if He desires, He has the power to solve every problem and turn every bad thing into something good. From making the blind see and the lame walk to turning water into wine just so someone wouldn’t be embarrassed, He showed He isn’t just about big problems but He is also concerned with everyday problems too. He fed 5000 people with one kid’s lunch to show that we never have to worry about provision when He’s in charge. When all of the disciples were terrified that their boat would capsize in the storm, Jesus stood up and literally rebuked the wind and waves and the storm just stopped. And He can, and has, done the same thing for the storms in my heart, my mind, and in my life as well. And the resurrection proves that even death has no power over Him! When things look bleak, it is good news to remember that God not only loves us, but has great power.
I Am Free
And of course, the best news, to me and anyone else who believes, is that we are free from the consequences of our sins. This is the core of evangelism – that because of Jesus we are free. Jesus knows what I’ve done. And Satan, who’s other name is the Accuser, has every right to stand on the other side of God’s courtroom and proclaim to the Judge of all mankind, that I am guilty and deserve death, hell and eternal punishment for breaking God’s divine law over and over. And I do – I deserve the punishment. And yet, there stands Jesus, who’s other name is the Advocate, telling God that every punishment I deserve, every sin I’ve committed, every wrong that I have done, has been atoned for… has been paid for, by Him on the cross.
You see, God couldn’t just let all my sin go. He can’t just forget about it. He is perfectly good and righteous, and upholds perfect justice. Every wrong must be given exactly the right punishment. No one will get away with anything. But for those who believe, that punishment was poured out on Jesus. I was a slave to sin, he bought me back. I was chained to the devil, on my way to the blackness of hell, and Jesus Christ proclaimed light, broke the chain, and brought me back. He exchanged His body for mine, His blood for mine. He went through Hell so I wouldn’t have to.
Christians don’t follow Jesus because we have to. We don’t do good because we are afraid of God. We do it because we want to show our love and thanks to Jesus and because I trust that God knows what He’s doing with my life WAY better than I do. When God tells me I’m doing wrong I try not to see it as Him taking something away but as a Father who is protecting me.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus reminds us of all of this! The story of humanity, from Adam to today, is only good news because Jesus is in the story! No matter where we are, what we have done, or who we think we are… God still loves us, Jesus died for us, forgiveness is available to us, and we can live forever in the knowledge that we are God’s people.
If you believe that this morning, I would ask you, and encourage you to remember that today is a day of celebration! And that no matter how bad the news is in your life… and no matter what your dark days, your bad thoughts, or the TV says… there is still good news.
No matter how tough you have it this morning… and I know that some of you are in a very dark place, and it is very hard to see any light… there is good news that if you are willing to turn your life over to Jesus, ask forgiveness for your sin, and open your heart to what He would like to do in you, He will give you hope. He’s never let me down and has taken such good care of me, that even when everything looked really messed up and beyond hope, He has done great things far beyond what I could have asked or even imagined.
Have you ever heard of “Anosmia”? It’s a fancy word describing the inability to smell and thousands of Canadians have this problem. I read a little about it this week and it’s actually a much more serious problem then one would think because our nose is something that keeps us safe. Why do we sniff leftovers or milk when it has been in the fridge for too long? Because our nose is our first line of defence to keep us from getting sick. If it smells bad, then we don’t eat it. Instead, we reject the food and throw it away. People with anosmia can’t smell when their food is bad, or if there’s a gas leak from their stove, or if their house is on fire!
Losing the ability to smell is a huge issue because it’s one way that we can spot dangers in the world and keep ourselves safe. Everyone agrees with this, right? I’m especially thinking of the bad food one. We open the fridge, spot some old guacamole and wonder if it’s any good. Guacamole always looks a little funky, so it’s hard to tell by sight. So we smell it. If it smells good, then get the chips – if not, toss it out. We don’t feel bad about tossing it out because it is dangerous and could make us sick.
Hang on to that principle and open up to Psalm 15.
“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
A few years ago I preached through this psalm over a series of 9 weeks and parked on one phrase in there that needed some explanation. Most people can get behind the rest of the psalm, but usually have a problem with one part. Can you guess which one?
I’ll give you a hint. People have no problem agreeing that God’s people are supposed to do what is right and speak truth. They have no issue with saying God’s people shouldn’t slander others or do evil against their neighbours and friends. They agree that believers should fear the Lord, admit their wrongs, and use their money wisely and generously. What part do people usually have a problem with? “Despising (or rejecting) vile people”.
The concept of believers rejecting or despising someone doesn’t sit well with some people. Most popular images of Jesus argue that He was all about love, acceptance, peace, and openness – that He would never reject or “despise” anyone, and would never call anyone “vile”. This simply isn’t true. While it may be true that Jesus didn’t call anyone “vile”, He did have some other choice words for them. He called some “blind” others “fools”. He called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “serpents”, “vipers”, “hypocrites”, “unmarked graves”, “children of hell”, and “murderers” (Matthew 23, Luke 11).
Jesus is the most loving, compassionate, long-suffering, friend that sinners could ever know – but He has no qualms about calling out sinners when He sees them. The most reviled sinners found themselves drawn to Jesus, compelled by his amazing grace, where they found forgiveness and acceptance. But no such softness was found when Jesus saw unrepentant sin and hard hearts. He called it out.
In the same way, Christians are supposed to recognize sin when we see it, recognize a hard, unrepentant heart, and reject the sin along with the sinner. We need to be able to detest what is “vile” for three important reasons. First, so that we, the community, and the unrepentant believer recognizes the seriousness of sin. Second, to compel the sinner to repent. Third, to protect the church from the effects of that sin. We’ve talked about these before.
We talked in the last couple weeks about the importance of recognizing the danger of sin and not tolerating or trivializing it, but instead confronting it. Last week we talked about who we are to judge, that being only our fellow Christians – and by what standards, that being the Bible. Certainly, the Holy Spirit helps us by working within us like a Geiger counter or radar detector that makes us sense when there is sin, but we always, always make sure we check our judgements with what the Bible says.
Going back to the food example: We open the fridge and spot some cheese. It’s covered in blue mold, we press it with our finger and it’s soft and funky, and when we give it the sniff test and it smells TERRIBLE. We immediately feel sick to our stomachs and cry out, “WHO LEFT THIS DISGUISTING CHEESE IN THE FRIDGE! HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN HERE? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?!? I’M THROWING IT OUT! GROSS!” All of our senses are telling us that the cheese is bad for us, but then someone comes running around the corner saying, “No! Don’t throw that out! I just paid some good money for that cheese! It’s called Stilton and it’s delicious! The stinkier the better!”
You see, just because your senses say it’s no good, doesn’t mean it actually isn’t. That’s why we check with the Bible before we make a determination. It’s our standard for faith and life.
But what if something doesn’t pass the sniff test and doesn’t line up with the Bible? Then what ought we to do? How do we balance Jesus’ commands to love our neighbour as ourselves, love our brothers and sisters, bear with their faults, while at the same time “rejecting the vile” and as our passage in 1st Corinthians 5 which we are studying says, “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)?
We talked about Step One last week, which was to look inward and evaluate our own sin, motives, and relationship with God, so that we are humbled and prepared, but what comes next?
Turn with me to Matthew 18 and let’s explore there what needs to be done to get this right. This is a very practical model given by Jesus to help us understand how to deal with sin among His people. This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I think it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.
Step Two: One on One (Confront & Support)
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
When we confront sin, it is to be confronted one on one first. The only exception is when you are confronting a Pastor or Elder in the church – in that case, you skip to the step two where you must bring witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have – it’s about giving public figures protection from accusations based on how people feel about them, rather than actual sins.
But when it comes to personal confrontation, it’s always one on one first. Now, some people look for the loophole here and say, “Well, if the sin isn’t directly against me, then I don’t have to deal with it.” I’m sure you’ve thought that, right? To you I reference Galatians 6:1-2:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
In other words, another Christian’s sin is your business. The big idea here is that we are members of the family and we have the right and the responsibility to pull each other away from harm, and to take care of each other. Go to the person privately, quietly, gently, lovingly, patiently, and say, “I’ve been noticing something in your life that is sin. I seen myself or heard from this person (yes, name that person so it’s not gossip) that you have been struggling with this sin.” For example, “I’ve heard that you are angry with someone, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to something, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to ask you about it, tell you what God says, and I’m here to help.”
See, we don’t just jump strait to handing them over to Satan. This goes two ways – confrontation and support. Confront the sin gently, and then say, “How can I help you?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it and then hold them accountable by making sure they did it. “You took that thing and shouldn’t have. Go give it back. I’ll wait here until you have given it back.”
Or, if it’s something that could take a while like if they struggle with lust, anger, unforgiveness, addiction, foul language, it could mean meeting with them regularly until they get right with it. Sometimes the issue is beyond our ability and we need to help them get into a treatment or counselling program and then talk to them about how that’s going. Whatever it is, we are to lovingly and gently confront sin in our brothers and sisters, support them as they try to get it right, and win them back to God because we love them.
Step Three: Bring Friends
What if that doesn’t work? Jesus says in verse 16,
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
If that person doesn’t listen, they blow you off, they deny it, they tell you to get lost, that it’s none of your business, that they can handle it, that you can’t judge them… you don’t get to just walk away and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Instead, you get one or two other believers who love that person and want the best for them, who have witnessed and understand the problem and ask them to get involved. This isn’t to embarrass them or bully them, but to show them how serious the sin is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – that people know about it.
The people you bring isn’t meant to be a pastor or an elder, but friends. This also isn’t your posse. Get a group of Christian friends that they will listen to and invite them over, or invite yourself over. And when you are all together, the group tries again.
If you are someone being asked to be part of this group, after praying about it, I recommend that you do so. If you know about this situation, the person’s struggle, and you haven’t had the courage to confront them – but someone else has and they invite you to come and help – go and help!
After that meeting, you go back to what we talked about with loving support.
Step Four: Call the Elders
But what if bringing the group doesn’t work? This is where we get the elders and the church involved. Verse 17,
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Even when they’ve told you to get lost, and then told some of their friends to get lost, we still don’t let it go. We still haven’t “handed them over to Satan” or “rejected the vile”. We are still working together as a church to combat this sin, break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to get the church leadership involved.
God takes sin very seriously and we want to show this person just how serious it is. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. (If you come by yourself, and I don’t know about the problem, chances are I’m going to ask for some witnesses anyway!) Once you are together, we can come up with a plan on how to lovingly confront this person. Sometimes that means the pastor and elders take care of it themselves, other times they need to enlist your help. Be open, be humble, and be ready to help.
Step Five: Lovingly Avoid
And then comes the last step, “…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is where the church “turns them over to Satan.” This is not a happy time, but a sad one. If this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, which means their soul is in jeopardy. Therefore, since they are not acting like a Christian we don’t treat them like one. In fact, if they keep claiming to be a believer and yet stay in their sin after all of this, we are told not to even associate with them. That’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when it says “not even to eat with such a one”.
Now, in case you think I’m prooftexting here, I want you to know that despising and rejecting the person who has rejected God is all over the scriptures. Here’s just a few from the New Testament:
“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
Now, why do we get to this step?
Reject, Protect, Restore
What most people don’t understand is that this fourth step is actually a process. We don’t just “Reject” – but we also protect and restore. Let me explain.
When a church is faced with an unrepentant Christian who is more committed to their sin than to Jesus, we are commanded by God to reject them. The believers within the church keep their integrity intact by doing what Psalm 15 says – “despising the vile person”. In other words, reject the one who has rejected God. When someone calls themselves a believer and is in flagrant, unrepentant sin – we don’t associate with them because they are a danger to themselves and others. We purposefully make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. They want to live like a demon so we let them experience a taste of hell. When we hang around with them and pretend nothing is wrong, ignore their sin, we are in some ways saying that we agree with their sin or that their sin is no big deal. We therefore become complicit with their sin – just like the church in Corinth.
The second reason for rejecting them is to protect the integrity of the church and the person who is in sin. We protect our church’s integrity by showing the world that this person doesn’t represent us and by removing the object of temptation from within our midst. When we keep them around us we are in danger of being tempted to sin with them! We protect ourselves from their bad influence and protect them from feeling like their sin is ok. Removing them from membership and refusing to meet with them socially is a measure of protection.
What they need to see is that their behaviour is not acceptable to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, and they are not allowed to be a part of the church. Being rejected by their fellow believers because of their behaviour should cause them to grieve. It gives them a chance to look at their life, to realize that if they are going to claim that Jesus is the Lord of their life but not act like it, then they are a hypocrite. You could also say that this is a way to protect them from self-delusion.
When we refuse to meet with them it also makes it so that we cannot enable them to sin. Think of it this way: If a fellow believer is going out of town so they can sin, and you say that you are happy to pick them up, babysit, watch their house, or whatever – you are enabling their sin. If they give you something to hang on to for a while so they don’t get in trouble, you’re helping them sin. If they want to borrow some money because they have spent all of theirs on sin – no, they can’t have any. Even if that means they can’t pay their rent or their bills, because you will not enable them to sin. We protect our integrity, our church’s integrity, Jesus’ reputation, and even show love to the sinner by our refusing to do these sorts of things for them.
Which leads us to the third reason to reject the person, and the ultimate reason for Church discipline: this sets up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person back to the fellowship. By God’s grace, when they get a taste of life outside the will of God, outside the people of God, and live as pawns of Satan for a while, they will see their sin and want to be restored back to Jesus.
This is ultimately what this is all about. Not kicking the person out, but doing everything we can to save them from the sin that is entangling them and restoring them back to spiritual health.
Conclusion: This is Hard but Important
I realize that this is hard! Often, the practical working out of these sorts of commands from God is hard. There are some practical questions too: What if we see them in the grocery store? How long do we do this for? If this is all about lovingly restoring them to the fellowship of the church faith in Jesus, then how do we do it? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer every question.
Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and keep talking to them in a friendly way while remaining firm on their need for repentance. Other people will lean towards, “I need to avoid this person because they will suck me into their sin” and will avoid them altogether. Still other people will be more confrontational and only talk to the person when they are willing to talk about repentance, reconciliation and fixing their issue.
I don’t think any one of those is necessarily wrong, nor do I think any of them is totally right, nor will any of us will do them perfectly. What is certain is our need for spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. I think all of this needs much prayer, study, and godly wisdom. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help those around us grow closer to Him and protect them from sin.
This is something that very few churches do well, and it’s one reason why there are so many problems among groups of believers. They refuse to practice church discipline, they allow sin to fester, and they will not reject those who have rejected God. This is something we have to get right because it is commanded by God, and lets us be a healthy, Christ honouring church.
This is tough stuff and none of us are good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it too harshly or have avoided it or been too soft. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to get this right. It’s too important to ignore. Sin is too dangerous.
If it’s not done well, under the power of God and the instruction of the Word, then the church will be in danger of being overcome by sin. If we do this full of holier-than-thou pride it will be very damaging. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. But if we pursue Godly Church Discipline out of love and a desire to see sinners restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of worship that God will bless.
Let’s keep seeing soft, repentant hearts towards, but always be willing to do the hard things that He asks us to do. If you know a brother or sister caught in sin, then pray for them, and courageously commit that you will help them see the danger of their sin and repent from it so they can get back to church, back in prayer, back to serving God, back in worship, and back in a loving relationship with Jesus.
Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 5 and read it again. Last week we talked about the danger of sin and the importance of calling it out in our own lives and protecting each other from it by stepping in and giving warnings. We touched on the importance of, when we see a fellow Christian heading for sin, dealing with them courageously, patiently, gently, and scripturally but we didn’t really get into how to do that, which we are going to cover some of today.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Who Ought We Judge?
Let’s kick this off by covering an important question: Who are we talking about? In verse 3 we see Paul “pronouncing judgment” on someone for having unrepentant sin in their life. And in verses 9-11 we get a list of the sorts of sins that he’s judging: sexually immorality, greed, cheating, addiction, and idolatry – which is by no means meant as an exhaustive list, but is meant to be an examples of obvious, grievous, sins that everyone would be able to see.
But here’s the problem. If we want to obey scripture and pronounce judgement on sinners and have nothing to do with them, then we end up with a full time job because we are all constantly surrounded by this. Even if we just stick to this list, we can all admit that everywhere we look, even within our own families, are people who are not living by God’s standards of sexual purity, who are not using their money and possessions well, who bend and break the rules, who abuse alcohol or drugs, and who have practices in their life that show they are not fully committed to God.
I don’t think there is anyone here that cannot find something wrong with 99%-100% of the people around them, right? Do we know anyone who is perfectly blameless in the areas of sexuality, finances, obedience, and faith? No.
So then what are we to do? Who are we talking about judging then? Verse 9-10 eliminates a huge swath of the population. It says, “…not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world…I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother…”.
What that means is that our judgements are meant to be reserved for Christians only. It goes on to remind us in verse 12 that we have nothing to do with “judging outsiders”. It’s not our place and not our responsibility, but God’s (vs 13). Our responsibility is to those “inside”, meaning Christians. Our jurisdiction of judgement, the limits of who we are allowed to hold to the account of how the Bible tells us to live, is within the church. So, who ought we to judge and discipline? Fellow Christians.
Inside and Outside
The scriptures are very clear. From the beginning there are those who are outside and those who are inside. God chose the nation of Israel to be those who would be on the inside, but then set up laws saying that anyone who didn’t follow them must be cast outside.
Jesus divided people by inside and outside too. When He was asked why He spoke in parables that some people wouldn’t understand He said, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” (Mark 4:11). Those inside the kingdom would understand, those outside would not.
In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-43) Jesus says that everyone seems sort of mixed up now, all growing together, like weeds growing in a field of wheat, but in the end, Jesus said, there would be a great separation of those who would be saved and brought into the barn and those who would be left outside to burn.
In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus says that many will be invited to be inside but not everyone will accept the invitation, and they will be left outside. And then he will declare everything is ready, but look around to make sure everyone who is there is supposed to be there – and any outsider who had gotten in would be bound up and cast outside into the darkness.
Jesus is extremely clear that not everyone is saved and that there are those on the inside and those on the outside – and though it’s sometimes hard to tell, our responsibilities are to those on the inside. God will take care of those on the outside.
Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11:
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
What’s the point here? It’s that those inside the church are the fittest and most able to judge right from wrong and discipline by God’s standards. Those who are outside the church are not nearly as fit to judge disputes and spiritual matters as Christians are.
Now, are we talking about breaking the law? No. We’re not talking about murder or anything that breaks the law of the land. God has given us worldly authorities to deal with that. The scriptures here are talking about disputes between Christians and sins that are not punished by law. Adultery, pornography, homosexuality, using people for sex, pagan worship, manipulating the system, getting drunk, gluttony, being lazy, racism, hate, taking advantage of the poor or naive, are not illegal – but they are sin.
And outsiders, those outside the church, are neither fit nor able to be able to see the dangers of those sins, nor the consequences of letting them go unchallenged. Christians do see the danger and so we are compelled, by God’s Word and God’s Spirit to say and do something about them – within our own walls. Again, this is why church membership is so important, which we talked about before.
The Bible tells us that we are to judge and discipline people who call themselves Christians but are willfully unrepentant. People who claim to be Christians yet continue to indulge themselves in sin, refuse to ask forgiveness, refuse to reconcile, but keep rationalizing why they can continue to sin, are dangerous to themselves and the believers around them, and tarnish the image of God in their lives and the reputation of Jesus and His church– so we are compelled to do something.
If someone says they are a Christian, and comes to a church surrounded by Christians, but are known to be sexually immoral, greedy, a cheat, an addict, or worships other gods – they are going to be a bad influence on the people around them and create a false understanding of God’s Will and the Gospel. They are, literally, a danger to themselves and others.
And so, it is our responsibility, as their brother or sister, compelled by our love for them and for God, as their church family, to tell them they need to stop their sin and ask forgiveness from God because they are harming themselves, their loved ones, their church, and their reputation.
By What Standard Ought We to Judge?
Now that we know who, we are brought to the standards by which we are to judge. How are we to judge them? The strict answer is: by scripture. We do not have the right to judge people by our own standards. We are bound to judge people only by what scripture says.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church telling them they needed to deal with this person in their midst, he wasn’t coming up with anything new. Every one of those sins in the list has been condemned by God since the beginning. Not only are they found condemned throughout scripture, but also universally offend the consciences of every human being. As Paul said, this man’s sins were “not tolerated even among the pagans”. (1 Cor 5)
We do not have the right to try to mold other Christians into our image, but only into the image of Christ. When someone offends us, hurts us, challenges us, or lives differently than us, we do not immediately have the right to judge and condemn them. All of our judgements must be by scripture.
You may disagree with something I’m doing, and it may even be a problem for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin or problem for someone else. You may find something disgusting or offensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin. You may think someone is being stupid, but being stupid is not a sin!
Let me give you an example: Sister Sally goes to the same church as Brother Barney, but she doesn’t like the way he lives one bit. She was married at an early age, he’s 39 and still single. She only listens to Christian radio, he listens to classic rock. She volunteers at the church three times per week and takes every class they offer, he plays guitar on Sundays but the rest of the week hangs out with his buddies at a pub and plays video games. She has a bachelor of social work and helps the community, he has tattoos and works part time at pool hall. She reads theology books and Christian biographies, he hasn’t read a book in 15 years.
What’s worse is that Brother Barney doesn’t even seem to care. He comes to church, hangs out, cracks jokes that Sister Sally doesn’t find funny at all, has coffee with the same few people, and then goes home. Sister Sally comes to church and is busy, busy, busy. She does 12 things before service, three during, and four after – and she’s exhausted – but Brother Barney doesn’t even notice or care. He should be doing more. He should be learning more. He’s come to this church for years now and is doing the same thing he’s been doing since he first came. He’s wasting his life. Who knows what he’s doing in that pub? And the Elders and Pastors aren’t even doing anything!
Now, Sister Sally is mad and feels like she is going to take matters into her own hands. So she corners Brother Barney one day at church and has decided to fix his life for him. After all, he’s a fellow Christian and we’re supposed to help our fellow Christians, right? Well, she’s going to help him all right!
Now, what is Sister Sally going to say? What right does she have to judge him? What sin has she seen? None. What commandment is Brother Barney breaking? None.
But will that stop her? No. She’ll tell Brother Barney that he’s not committed enough, that he’s lazy, that he’s wasting God’s gifts, that he should feel ashamed for the life he’s leading….
Whose image is Sister Sally trying to form Brother Barney into? Her own. Will he ever fit? No. Should he? No.
When we confront someone it is incredibly important that we confront them with the Word of God, not our own words. We do not have the right to tell people to live up to our own standards, only the right to point them to God’s.
Before All That
But how can we do it? We still haven’t gotten to the “how to”. Maybe there is someone in your life, or in this church, that you’ve been thinking of over the past couple weeks, that you think God might be asking you to confront in their sin. Or, on the other hand, maybe you are sitting here nervous that someone is going to do that to you!
Maybe you are wondering if there are people that you need to “purge… from among you” or “not even eat with”, but you’re not sure how to proceed. Where should you start?
Most people, if you ask them will tell you to turn to Matthew 18 which is all about the pattern of addressing church discipline. Some will turn to our passage in 1 Corinthians 5 to talk about confronting the person and then dealing with them. Others will turn to Galatians 6:1 which says that we should find them, restore them in gentleness, but be careful not to be tempted with them. Others will go to 1 Timothy 5:20 which says that anyone who persists in sin needs to be rebuked in the presence of the whole church so everyone stands in fear.
All of this is premature. The place we need to turn is Matthew 7:1-5. Before we pull out any scriptures to talk about what others are doing wrong, before we talk about how to confront them, discipline them, or help them to repent, reconcile and recover, we must start here:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
I think we’ve established by now that when Jesus says “Judge not” He’s not telling us never to judge anybody for anything. His meaning is found more fully in the next verse. He says that when we judge we ought to realize that God is watching and our attitude, graciousness, harshness, motives, and methods are going to be judged. So when we judge, before we judge, before an analytical, judgemental, critical, or disapproving word passes our lips, the very first thing we must do is look inward.
He doesn’t say, “Don’t criticize others”. He says, “Before you criticize anyone else, take a long, hard look at yourself and your own moral failures. Don’t come down from on high as a holier-than-though know-it-all – come to them humbly, realizing that you are a sinner too.
As you look inwards and realize your own failures and faults, it will be easier to give grace to the one you are trying to help. As you repent before God, laying your sins before Him, asking for them to be washed away by the blood of Jesus, it will be easier for you to invite someone else to do the same. When you look inward at your own faults, and the many struggles you have in your life, and how you keep failing over and over, it lets you be patient with them, knowing that it will be a struggle. As you receive the grace of forgiveness from God, it will help you be gracious and forgiving to them.
And, as you learn to hate your own sin, but love yourself – asking others to hate the sin within you, but love you anyway – so you will be more able to differentiate between the sin and the sinner so you can show them love while hating their sin.
When you look at the porn addict, the adulterer, the homosexual, the drunkard, the cheat, the greedy, the idolater, instead of being filled with hate or fear towards the person, you will see them as a person like you – in need of grace, help, friendship, brotherhood, help, and love.
We’ll talk about the steps we need to take to confront people next week, but we must realize that step one of addressing our fellow Christians sins has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with us and God. It starts with realizing our own sin, asking God to soften our hearts, and gaining a perspective driven not only by the truth – but by grace.
We’ve been slowly working our way through 1st Corinthians and after a Christmas break and the January series on depression, it’s time to get back into our study by turning to 1st Corinthians 5.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Would You Rather?
People love playing the “What’s worse?” or “Would you rather?” game. There’ are websites and apps dedicated to them! Would you rather inhale a bug while riding your bike or find a hair in your food at a restaurant? What’s worse: having bird poop land on your head or stepping barefoot in dog poo? Would you rather be almost blind or almost deaf? What’s worse” running out of gas or getting a flat tire?
For good or for ill, people are comparative by nature. We love comparing things. We turn everything into competitions to see who is stronger, faster, can eat more, or anything else. We have competitions for best air guitar, extreme ironing, and ugliest dog. In Japan they have baby crying contests. In the US they have the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship (the record on that is 28.51m or 93 ft 6.5 in, by the way. That’s the long distance across a basketball court!)
People do this with sin too. If someone is caught doing something they shouldn’t, one popular defence is to say that whatever they were doing wasn’t as bad as something they could have done or that someone else did. “Allan, did you steal a cookie from the cookie jar?” “Yes, but at least I didn’t eat all of them! Yes, but I didn’t rob a bank! Yes, but yesterday I stole two, so this is actually way better.” The idea is to minimize, or trivialize the sin by comparing it to something. We make it seem less important, less significant, than it really is, by holding it up to something we think is worse.
What it shows is a misunderstanding of the seriousness of sin. It’s not just a cookie from the cookie jar, is it? It’s theft. It breaks the 8th Commandment. It shows a lack of respect for parental authority. It shows that there is something wrong with the heart. It sets a bad example for those around and lowers the standards for everyone.
To which the detractors cry, “This is the slippery slope fallacy! Stealing a cookie doesn’t mean that they’ll be robbing banks soon! It won’t bring about the fall of western civilization! It’s just a cookie!” To which Christians, theologians, and God replies: “There is no such thing as a small sin.”
No Small Sins
When we look at sin we tend to trivialize it. When God looks at sin He sees something much more serious. Jesus demonstrated this during His Sermon on the Mount. Turn with me to Matthew 5 and see what Jesus does here.
Look at verse 21. First Jesus talks about anger, something that we don’t spend too much time thinking is that big of a deal. We assume that carrying around anger and bitterness towards people is no big deal as long as we don’t get out of control. We think that yelling at someone in the car who cut us off in traffic is no big deal. Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
It’s so serious that Jesus says next,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
In other words, your anger towards your brother needs to be dealt with before you even walk through the doors of the church, before you do your devos, before you say your prayers, before you tithe. If you have anger against someone, even if you think you’ve got it under control you are in spiritual danger and God is not going to accept your prayers or offering!
Move to verse 27. Next Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
That’s twice that Jesus has talked about the danger of hell.
Men think, “Oh, it’s no big deal to hang that poster, play that video game, watch that show, visit that site, or check out those girls at the mall. I’m faithful in marriage, would never cheat, and it’s not like I went looking for it. It’s just there. I’m just here to buy shoes. I watch it for the plot. I play because it’s fun.”
Women think, “It’s no big deal to read those stories or watch those movies and fantasize about being with someone else. It’s no big deal to think about my old boyfriends or coworkers. No big deal to just scan through a few posts on Facebook. No big deal to wonder about what it would be like to be with them. No big deal to get my motor running with a little fantasy.”
We think it’s all in our heads, secret, and that everyone does it so it’s no big deal. Does this passage make it look like God thinks it’s no big deal? Jesus isn’t adding anything to what God has already said – He’s merely explaining it properly.
And yes, this is hyperbole – or overstatement for effect – but His point is to emphasize how dangerous sin is and how important it is that we maintain control over the purity of our thought life. “Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.” (ESV Study Bible) Why? Because sin is super dangerous! It is ultra-destructive.
This is just like “what’s worse” or “would you rather”. What’s worse? Giving up your internet connection, not going to the mall, deleting Facebook, breaking off that friendship, changing jobs, missing that show or deleting that game – or corrupting your conscience, losing God’s blessing, and living in a state of perpetual, spiritual sickness? Would you rather have the fruits of sin or the fruits of the Spirit?
This is the danger of minimizing sin. It’s eating away our soul like cancer, hurting our family, infecting our children, polluting our worship, corrupting our community – and we treat it like it’s no big deal.
This is what the Corinthians were doing. Paul begins with a startling statement about what is happening in the church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (5:1) He was sleeping with his step-mother, perhaps even as an adulterous affair. Certainly the Old Testament condemned this, but it was so evil that not even the pagans around them had laws against it. And if you remember the sexual history of Corinth, that is really saying something.
They knew it was wrong but were unwilling to admit it or do anything about it. They knew it was a sin, but didn’t see it as a problem. What’s worse, they thought, to tell this guy to stop sinning and breaking God’s laws or to allow it to continue? They felt that telling him would have been worse.
Look at 5:2, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”
The church was so accepting of sin that they were not only being tolerant of sin in their midst, but actually being arrogant about it. Where they should have seen the danger of the sin, mourning that it had taken hold of one of the families in their church, in sorrow for the disgrace it would bring to the name of Jesus, they were actually proud of it! “Look how tolerant, loving, caring, accepting we are!”
Their perspective of sin had gotten terribly out of whack. They remind me of the people Paul was talking about in Romans 1:32 where he says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In that case he was talking about unbelieving, out of control, pagans – but it also described the Corinthian church. They knew it was sin, practiced it, and then went as far as to give approval to those who were doing it.
What does the Bible say ought to have been done? “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Keep in mind that this person is a self-professed Christian! How should they treat this brother? This man doesn’t know how dangerous his sin is so they should “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”. This means that the church should stop getting between him and the consequences of his sin. If he wants to live like a demon, then let him experience hell! Why? So his heart breaks when he sees how damaging his sin is. So long as the people around him are tolerating the sin, making excuses, and accepting it, there is no way they will repent. He needed to see the full consequences of his actions.
Sometimes we need this too. Sometimes we need God to let us see what happens when we don’t take sin seriously. Sometimes God lets the shoe fall. We hurt our marriage, families, friends, church, community, or reputation. We turn from God, live with sin, keep it secret, or have a bunch of people make excuses for you: “It’s just your personality. It’s no big deal. You deserved it. We all understand.” and we start to think we’re getting away with it – that there’s no consequences to the sin.
We’re still going to church. We’re still singing the songs, meeting with our friends, enjoying our life, going to work, living our life – and so we get used to having that sin in our lives. No one calls us on our anger or bitterness problem, so we never deal with it. No one calls us on letching over the young women, so we think no one cares. No one calls us on our foul language, addictions, or out of control spending, so we think it’s no problem.
That’s not how Christians are to love one another. That’s not how we are to address sin in the church. Christians have a higher sensitivity to sin, a better perspective of it, a higher standard for ourselves, because are all-too aware of how damaging it is. It’s not just a little anger problem, a little private lust, a little spending issue, a little language problem – it’s a cancer to your soul. It’s a wedge that can be hammered into your relationships with your family, friends and church. A Christian sees sin for how dangerous it really is.
Paul says, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (5:6)
If you are an expert on anything it comes with a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can do something amazing that few people can – on the other hand, you are cursed with the ability to see shoddy work.
If you know how to paint or decorate or design or build, then walking into most people’s houses takes real effort because all you see is mistakes. Runs here, sags there, unmatched colours, poor architecture.
If you are an expert cook or wine taster or coffee then you are blessed, but it also means that most people’s food and coffee tastes bad.
If you are an expert in journalism, history or politics then watching a movie or the news is agonizing because of all the inaccuracies and outright errors.
If you are an expert on exercise or nutrition then seeing what people put into their bodies almost bring you physical pain because of how terrible it is.
And that’s true for all of you who have special training, whatever it is. Your special knowledge gives you a different perspective on the world around you – and it’s not always good.
For a Christian, our understanding of sin makes us realize something other people don’t understand. We don’t see it as a white lie, a little vice, a necessary evil, an excusable moment – we see a virus, cancer, death.
You may have heard of a woman named Joy Milne who has a very special ability. She can smell when someone has Parkinson’s Disease, which is a very difficult disease to diagnose. She first noticed it in her husband as she sensed his smell changing and then he was diagnosed. Scientists were intrigued so they did an experiment where 12 people, six with Parkinson’s and six without, wore shirts all day and then brought them in to be bagged. Joy then smelled each shirt and was right 12 out of 12 times. The actual story goes that they thought she was wrong about one of them, but then eight months later that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Christians are like that. When we finally see our sin, hate our sin, repent of our sin, ask God’s forgiveness of our sin because Jesus died on the cross for our sin, we are given the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of us. And one of His gifts is to make us more sensitive to sin.
As you mature as a Christian you may notice this phenomena in your life. Someone says something, does something, or you go somewhere and there’s some radar that goes off inside of you. Red flags fly, the Geiger counter starts to click, and you know something is hinkey.
Things that didn’t bother you before now seem uncomfortable. Things you used to let go, you now want to deal with. Places that were fun are no longer fun. It’s remarkable. That’s God fixing your broken conscience. That’s the presence of Jesus in you.
As we mature that sensitivity grows, but it also goes away as we practice sinning. The more we accept sin, turn our back to it, blind ourselves to it, accept it, tolerate it, fear it, and allow it to occur, the more we “sear our conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). Our heart gets harder instead of softer, less sensitive, less able to tell right and wrong. That’s what was happening to the Corinthians. They wouldn’t call sin sin, and had lost their ability to see it. Had they lost their salvation, no? But they were still in great spiritual danger. Their church had cancer.
They let the disease of sin grow up in their midst. They allowed the little bit of leaven into their bread, and it infected the whole lump.
I used to work for a pulp mill and one of my jobs was to clear out a section where they had broken down a building. My job was to take everything in the pile, go through it, stick it in a truck, and drive it to where it could be better used. At one point I came across a big bunch of round circles. So I started busting them apart and putting them in garbage bags. A few days later someone came by and saw me doing it and yelled “WHOA! STOP! What are you doing?! Do you know what those are?!” The obvious answer was “no”. They were asbestos gaskets. Every gasket I broke was full of compressed asbestos which made a nice little cloud for me to breathe in.
Asbestos, for those who don’t know, is not to be breathed. The little fibres get inside your lung, get stuck, scar your tissue, and then leads to cancer and all kinds of other breathing problems.
One minute I was happily busting little circles, and the next I was sitting in the mill office filling out paperwork just in case I die of asbestosis someday.
What stopped me? Someone saw what I was doing and knew more than me. He knew those little circles were dangerous, not to be broken, not to be breathed, to be treated carefully by an expert, not by an untrained, idiot, summer student. He knew the danger and he stopped me right there.
That’s what the church is supposed to do with Christians who are sinning. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our fellow brothers and sisters. We are supposed to see the danger and deal with it – patiently, gently, truthfully, scripturally, courageously.
We’ll talk about that more about how to do that next week, but for now that’s where we are going to leave it.
So I ask you: How seriously do you take sin? The sin in your own life, in your family, and in your church? I’m not talking about the country and the world right now – I mean inside you, your closest relationships, and your church. Do you take it as seriously as God does, as Jesus does, as you should? Or do you tolerate it, make excuses for it, trivialize it, allow the cancer to grow and fester, allow your loved ones to play with the asbestos.
I’d like you to pray about that this week.
We read a scripture last week from the Isaiah 8-9 and I want to take this week to revisit one of those verses. Open up to Isaiah 9:6-7 and let’s read it together again. Last time we emphasized verses 1-5, as we discussed God coming as the child Jesus, making Himself the answer to the troubles of this world, the light shining in the darkness, the Saviour for those who cannot save themselves. This time I want to look at another of the titles that Jesus is given. Let’s read it together:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
This passage is one of the most famous in the Bible for a lot of reasons, one being how specific it is in speaking of God coming as a child, but also because it is so jam-packed with descriptions of how God intended to save His people. I gave you some of the backstory last week, which I won’t rehash here, but it’s no wonder, in light of how terrible things had gotten for Israel and for the rest of humanity, that people have turned to these words for hope.
For centuries God’s people have turned to this passage, especially during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, because it reminds us that when things get difficult, we are not alone, God has a plan, our Saviour is real and present, God loves us, and we have hope because our Rescuer is greater than any of our trials.
Is God Distant?
But our hope isn’t just for someday. One thing I’ve noticed is that even though some believers trust Jesus is their Saviour and that they are going to be with Him in Heaven, they think that right now, there’s not much that He’s doing for them.
They find comfort knowing that God is in charge, that Jesus loves them, that His Bible is full of really good stuff, and that sometimes He even answers prayer and performs miracles, but they figure that most of the time, when things aren’t going too badly in the day-to-day of normal life, that God isn’t really doing much.
Usually Christians frame their faith by believing the most amount of energy expended on the relationship comes from them. God sits in His Throne Room, Jesus Stands in the Heavenly Temple, the Holy Spirit dwells in us… but it is we who say our prayers, go to church, sing the songs, do good deeds, take communion, read the Bible, share our faith, ask and grant forgiveness, build churches, set boundaries, choose our jobs, go to work, eat food, raise our kids…. Sure, we do it by reading God’s word, and when we get stuck, we pray and God answers, but most of the time we see Him like a good friend; someone who is good to talk to, who cares about us, who we can call on for help, but who has their own house, their own problems, and a million other things to deal with – so as much as we know we can call on them anytime, we don’t want to overstep any boundaries, strain the friendship, or come across as needy.
I think a lot of people have felt this way. I know I have. It’s easy for me to see Jesus as King on High, Great Teacher, Creator of the Universe, Saviour of the Whole World… but it’s been hard to see Him as the ever-present “friend of sinners” “who sticks closer than a brother” (Luke 7:34; John 15:14; Prov 18:24; 7:4). What does that even mean and how does that work?
I’ve done some thinking and reading about it and one thing that helped me understand this better was this name in Isaiah 9:6, “Wonderful Counsellor”, so let’s take that apart a bit.
The first thing you should know is that people argue over where to put the comma. Some translations say “…his name shall be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God…” and others say, “…his name shall be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God.” I don’t think it really matters a terrible amount, and I only bring this up to remind you why it’s important to thank God for all the amazing bible translators who put their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into deciding on what to do with that comma. Whichever way it goes, both are appropriate titles for Jesus. He’s “Wonderful” in His own right and a “wonderful counsellor”.
Advocate & Advisor
That’s what I want to study a bit today. What makes Jesus a “wonderful counsellor”. To do that, let’s start by look at what the word “counsellor” and see what it means.
The main way that the word “Counsellor” is used in the Old Testament is to describe someone who gives advice and recommendations. You’d have the king, and he would be surrounded by advisers, elders, prophets, oracles, and friends who helped him remember the law of the land, gave him the relevant news about what was happening, what had been done throughout history, and give warning and guidance with decisions. King Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, gave counsel to his people and rulers of other nations.
Of course not only kings need counsellors, proverbs talks a lot about the importance of everyone having good counsellors in their life. (Prov 15:22; 27:9)
In the Bible, God is seen as the ultimate counsellor who gives direction to those wise enough to ask for it, and even frustrates the counsellors who oppose Him (Ps 33:10-11). Isaiah says, “This also comes from the LORD of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.”
Jesus, in the New Testament is presented as a great counsellor and advocate for the people who came to Him for hope, healing, wisdom, and knowledge. It says He knew what was inside of men (John 2:25) and that in Him is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). The Bible says another reason Jesus is such a good counsellor is because He’s felt our weakness and has faced the same temptations we face every day, but did it perfectly (Heb 4:15-16). Who better to turn to?!
Near the end of Jesus time on earth, before His crucifixion during the Last Supper, Jesus told His followers that He would be leaving them. Not just in death, but after rising He would leave again and send them a Counsellor that would be even better than He. The word that Jesus uses here is translated “Helper” in the ESV is from the Greek word PARACLETE, which can is also translated “helper, advocate, encourager, comforter and [our word today] counsellor” He says,
“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-15)
So, let’s put this all together. In the Old Testament God is the perfect counsellor who guides and gives wisdom to those who ask, and who inspires people to write the scriptures as the guide for faith and life. In the New Testament Jesus comes as the God-Man who experiences the worst of humanity, but navigates this world perfectly, making a way for us to be in perfect union with the Father. Jesus, though He could have, didn’t put Himself on the throne and rule like Solomon, taking one problem at a time, but instead did something better by ascending to Heaven and sending His Holy Spirit, who is God and knows God’s thoughts, to take residence in the hearts of believers so we have full access to Him at all times.
The Bible says that we are never alone and never need to lack wisdom, because we have access to our Advocate and Counsellor, the Spirit of God, at all times and in every place.
That’s the first important truth we need to grasp. All believers have access to not only the word of God, but the person of God, who will lead us, guide us, correct us, convict us, enable us and help us daily. This is what pastors usually emphasize. God is with you, Immanuel, all you need to do is ask, and He will give you what you need.
What You Don’t Have To Ask For
But I want to keep going on that, because a Wonderful Counsellor doesn’t just sit around in their room and wait for us to come to them. Most do. A friend will call up and see how you are doing, but usually respects your boundaries and doesn’t try to guide your life too much. A psychologist or psychiatrist may be very smart and helpful, but they usually stay in their office and don’t move into your house. That requires a Wonderful Counsellor and it’s something exclusive to Jesus. I want to show you a little bit about how this works.
There are things that your Wonderful Counsellor will do for you that you don’t even have to ask for. There are ways that He is involved in your life that you sometimes don’t see or realize, but are just as active and meaningful as when He answers prayers or works special miracles.
I want you to turn with me back to a section of scripture we talked about a few weeks ago which I haven’t been able to shake and I think gives us a very practical way of understanding how our Wonderful Counsellor works even when we don’t ask.
It’s in Hosea 2.
Now, we don’t have a lot of time left to take this apart, but as we read it I want you to remember that the story of Hosea and Gomer is the living illustration of God and His people. As Hosea’s wife left him to go and commit adultery with other men, so the people of God broke their covenant with Him and worshiped other gods.
This passage shows how God intends to do everything in His power to save His beloved people from the damage they are causing to themselves. The interconnections are incredible, and I wish we had time for them, but for now, what we see in chapter 2 is God telling Israel, through the prophet Hosea how He’s going to deal with their adultery. He has the right to divorce them and walk away, but instead, He has a plan – and it’s a remarkable plan. His plan is to use circumstance to turn her around. Notice that God says almost nothing until the very end. All of His counsel, his wisdom, will come without her asking and through events that will happen in her life. Let’s go through it together and I’ll point out a few things about how God counsels us without us ever asking.
God Allows Our Sin to Affect Us
“Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully.”
What we see here is God letting the nation’s sins catch up with them. He’s not going to hold back the evil anymore, but let them have what they want. He doesn’t bring the warning himself though, but instead sends her illegitimate children to do it. The results of their sinful actions rise up against them and they will see what life is like when God pulls back His hand of protection. If they want to live like demons, then they can experience Hell. As they turned away from Him, so He would turn away for a time, to allow their sins catch up with them. This will force them to see that the life they have chosen only results in pain, that the gods they worship are false, and that when they walk away from God, evil follows. Even in this there is mercy as He says He could do far worse – take everything away – but he won’t.
Sometimes God does that to us. You and I can’t even begin to process how much He does to hold back the full results of our sin and the sin of this world! We lust in our hearts, steal from others, rip people off, murder them with hate, make our own selfish plans, and so much more – and without us seeing it or ever thanking Him, God actually keeps us from blowing up everything in our lives. But sometimes, our Wonderful Counsellor chooses not to stand between us and the full consequences of our actions and, for our own good simply lets our sin catch up with us so we can experience the results.
I saw a sign this week that said, “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions.” That’s very true, and our Good Father and Wonderful Counsellor spends a lot of time protecting us from our own bad decisions and the bad decisions of others. It’s called common grace. But sometimes, He lets our sinful hearts have what they want and it often feels terrible and produces great suffering.
God Takes Away Freedoms
“For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’” (vs 5-7)
The adulterous woman says, “I’m going to leave and go party with the bad guys. They’re great! They give me so much!” This is a people who not only believe they are getting away with their sin, but actually prefer it. They steal something or cheat someone and get away with it, and think it’s awesome. They have a sinful habit that the keep going back to, but no one knows and they feel good about it. They fill their minds with garbage, but still think they’re good parents and influences. They are filled with jealousy and hatred, but are able to put on the front where others think they’re super nice. It’s all working out.
What does God do? “hedge up her way with thorns” and “build a wall”. In verse 9 and throughout the passage it says things like , “I will take away my grain when it ripens and my new wine when it is ready.” You can’t party with the demons and give offerings to Baal if you don’t have any wine and grain. They see it as a famine, God sees it as an act of mercy. Sometimes God causes all our work to come up fruitless, no matter how hard we try, because He knows that the results of our labours will lead us away from Him and be used to harm ourselves and others.
Sometimes God takes things away so that we can’t access them anymore, because they are leading us to sin. We lose our job, the computer crashes, our car breaks down, we run out of money, no one will hire us, our health fails and we can’t go anywhere… and then we complain that God isn’t blessing us. I believe that scripture teaches that sometimes – not always but sometimes – this happens as an act of mercy that keeps us from sinning further! That tragedy blocks us from being able to go after and access our sin, and forces us to live without it.
Has that ever happened to you? Where bad circumstances made it so that you weren’t able to even get to your temptation or vice, and you had to live without it? That tough time was a mercy to teach you something! Maybe you’re a prideful, controlling, jerk, who got hurt and was forced to learn humility. That was a gift from your Wonderful Counsellor.
God Exposes Our Shame
“Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.”
As I’ve already said, there are times when our Wonderful Counsellor allows our sin to catch up with us and it brings suffering to us. And there are times when God takes away our freedoms to keep us from sin. But sometimes, the only way to deal with the darkness is to expose it to the light.
Here we see God causing sinners to feel deep shame and embarrassment by not only letting them get caught, but exposing their sin to a lot of people. A good Bible word would be “humiliation”. God humiliates them.
Sin, by its nature, loves darkness, and so do sinners. This is why Jesus and the Bible talk so much about darkness and light. We read in Ephesians 5:11-13, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible…”
What’s the first line of our passage in Isaiah? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Problems, fears, temptations, and sin shrivel when they are exposed to the light, which is why Satan works overtime to make you afraid to share your temptations with others, make you feel like you are alone so you never share your struggles, make you believe there is no one you can trust, and gives you a thousand reasons why you should keep your troubles and sinful habits a secret. He ingrains hypocrisy into each one of us until wearing our mask feels more natural than not. He can’t take away a Christian’s salvation, He can’t turn a child of light back into a child of darkness, but He works overtime to convince them to keep as much of the darkness in them as possible – and then convinces them that they need to keep that darkness a secret.
But sometimes, as an act of mercy and divine discipline, God refuses to let us keep it in the dark. He forces it into the light. Someone catches us in the act. Someone hacks in and exposes our internet history and what sites we’ve signed up for. We get sick and someone goes through our personal belongings. We have a breakdown in public. Or as someone else tries to get free, they exposes our own dark secrets.
And we feel deep shame, regret, fear, and humiliation. That isn’t God punishing us. That’s our Wonderful Counsellor helping us to bring light into a dark place. Sometimes the only way to break through our fear and stubbornness and addiction is to drag us kicking and screaming into the light so everyone can see who we really are and what we’ve been hiding. As long as it’s a secret it has power over you, but once it comes to light, it loses its power and you can get help and healing. Jesus came to shine light into the darkness.
Handout / Small Group Questions:
I need you to do a little, mental legwork this morning and recall the last few sermons, because, in truth, they along with today’s is really altogether one sermon. Part of me longs for the days when preachers would be expected to preach for more than an hour at a time, and then got another crack at the topic during the evening service. But, sadly, those days are gone and I’m not a good enough speaker to hold your attention for that long anyway – so we make due.
It’s been a challenge for me to address the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5, and the topic of human sexuality, in a comprehensive manner, because I felt we needed a good introduction to the topic before jumping in. However, leaving weeks in between sermons has its disadvantages in that it’s easy to forget what was already said.
A couple weeks ago I gave the introduction to the sermon as I spoke on Jesus’ response to the Woman Caught in Adultery and the importance of remembering that Jesus amazingly gracious and loving toward those who have broken His law, even with repeated instances of sexual sin. Last week I gave the middle of the sermon as I moved from the forgiveness found in Jesus to the reminder that even though God is gracious, He does have a standard by which He expects humanity to live. Jesus didn’t come to let anyone do whatever they want as long as no one gets hurt, but to save us from our sins and help us live His way instead. We ended last week by making a transition from the introduction to the main topic by talking about the Greek word PORNEIA, the “junk drawer” word used to describe all forms of sexual sin that fall outside of God’s design for humanity.
And now, building off of all that, we move into a bit more meat on the topic, building a theology of human sexuality, based on what God expects of us. It would be easier (and more fun) for me to go on a diatribe against all the ways we get this wrong but that would be forgetting what I said at first; we need to know the authentic article before we can understand the counterfeit. So that’s what I want to do today. Look at the biblical view of human sexuality.
The Big Deal of Sexual Sin
So, why is sexual sin such a big deal? Is it because it’s so damaging and destructive to humanity? Is it the danger of addiction, disease or ruined relationships? Is it because the church is prudish and hates it when people have fun? You’ve probably heard that sexual sin is just like any other sin, that it’s no worse than any other, so why should we spend so much time talking about it… but actually, sexual sin does have a special category in scripture.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
That puts sexual sin into a different category. But why, what makes sexual sin so special?
It comes down to God’s original design for humanity, and the huge importance of marriage in the Bible – the physical union of two people that represents a spiritual union, which in turn, represents a picture of Jesus’ relationship to His church. That’s a big concept, isn’t it?
Let’s take it apart.
We’ll start with the context of the verse we just read. Start at verse 13:
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
A Mystical Union
First, I want you to notice the interplay between the physical and the spiritual nature of sex. In verse 1 we see “The body”, which is physical. When the Lord saves us, it’s not just a spiritual salvation, but a renewal of our whole being – emotional, spiritual and physical. He saves our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection demonstrated that after we die, we won’t live in eternity as spiritual beings, but with resurrected, perfect, physical bodies like Jesus had. Therefore, when we get saved we don’t merely turn our hearts over to the Lordship of Jesus, but our bodies as well.
But then it goes deeper in verse 15 and moves from the physical to the spiritual. Our physical bodies, which it says later are similar to the physical “temple of the Holy Spirit”, are also connected spiritually to Jesus. Our bodies are “members of Christ”. Elsewhere, as in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, Christians are called the “Body of Christ”, basically meaning we are, as individuals and as a church, the eyes, hands, and feet of Jesus in this world. We are, in a real sense, the physical manifestation of the Word of God in this world. Most often, when God wants to do something, He doesn’t do it with a mighty miracle but instead works through the people of His church. It’s just as miraculous, but far more subtle. To be “members of Christ” means we are both spiritually and physically united with Jesus in a very real, very intimate way.
And so, it says, how horrible it would be, how out of place, how ruinous, that someone who’s body is united to Jesus, would unite their body with a prostitute’s? “Never!” Paul shouts!
Two Become One
In verse 16 the argument is made against sexual sin this way: “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” Our worship of God, the Lordship of Christ, His relationship to the church, and our salvation is all tied to the picture of human marriage and sexuality. You’ll notice that the words “The two will become one flesh” is written is quotes. That’s because it’s a quote from Genesis 2:24. Let’s read the whole of the context there:
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:18-25)
This is the first marriage and is the perfect picture of how humanity was intended to exist. Man was created by God and designed to be incomplete without woman. Adam stood in the perfection of creation, in the presence of God, and was incomplete. God showed Adam every animal He had created, lions, bears, dogs, cats, and among them none were found that were a proper helper. And after that great parade, Adam knew it too. I wonder if he, standing in Eden, had then felt a sense of lack; that something was missing.
And so God made for Adam a complement, a helper, a being who would be his equal in dignity and worth. Not another animal, but one like Him – but not exactly like him. Not a copy, but a partner, a companion. Notice how God phrases it, “I will make helper fit for him.” The word “helper” does not imply weaker or stronger. And “fit for him”, doesn’t mean “like him”, but “matching him”, like to opposing puzzle pieces. God didn’t make a clone, but a compliment.
In chapter 1:27 it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It required both man and woman to represent God’s image. It even uses the words “male” and “female” not “man” and “woman”, to express the importance of the difference found in both genders.
They, together, as a complimenting pair, would be united spiritually to God and spiritually to one another. And in their sexual union before God, one “fitting” the other, would be the pattern for all human sexual relationships, taking them from two separate beings and creating “one flesh”. From that point on, as physical and spiritual images of God, humans were to grow up, leave their parents, bind themselves to a spouse, and form an exclusive, covenanted, sexual union.
God as Husband, Church as Bride
Let’s take a moment to explore theme that because it’s important. The picture of marriage in scripture is always an exclusive covenant. Why? Because it’s an image of God’s relationship with us.
All through scripture, God’s relationship with His people is framed as the image of a husband and wife. God and Jesus are both represented as husbands and believers as the bride. It’s one of the most important ways that God has given us to understand his relationship with us – which is why, when people start messing with marriage, human sexuality, or gender, it is such a huge problem!
Marriage isn’t something humans came up with to express their love for one another. It’s not a cultural creation meant to celebrate mutual affection and legally unite two people’s finances and tax situation. Marriage was given to us by God as one of the main images by which we would understand how He feels about us, deals with us, and commits to us.
Check out how God speaks to His people in these passages:
- “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…” (Isa 54:5)
- “…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5),
- “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” (Hos 2:19)
- Jesus calls himself a “bridegroom” multiple times (Matthew 9:15; 22:25; John 3:29), and at the very end of the Bible, when Jesus comes again, it says there will be the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” where God presides over a grand wedding and the bride of Christ (the church) presents herself in clothes of “fine linen, bright and pure”. (Revelation 19:6-9)
The love a man has for His wife is only a pale imitation of God’s love for His people. The protective emotions he feels for her, the concern he has for losing her, the betrayal he feels when she cheats on him, the pain he feels when she suffers, the desire to make her life better, to provide for her, to encourage her, to please her, to see her smile, the jealousy he feels, wanting her all to himself; these powerful, overwhelming, primal feelings, are all merely tiny glimpses of how God feels about His people, how Jesus feels about the church.
This is most profoundly pictured in the Old Testament book of Hosea where God calls the prophet to do something very difficult to show the nation what He’s going through. It says in Hosea 1:2,
“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’”
In other words, Hosea’s marriage was to be an image of God and His people.
Hosea goes and finds a prostitute named Gomer, takes her off the streets, marries her, and has three children with her. But, as predicted, Hosea’s wife cheats on him. She runs away, sells herself into prostitution again, and Hosea is forced to buy her back from her slave owner. After buying her back, he begs her to stay, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”
The narrative story is interspersed among prophecies from God, showing His anger, pain, frustration, sadness… but also His desire to get His bride back at any cost! He declares that he has the right to divorce her, to write her off, forget about her and find a new bride, but He refuses to do that because they are married and He loves her! Yes, there would be a cost, and the bride would go through much suffering before it was over, but in the end there would be reconciliation and restoration! Not because she deserved it – far from – but because of the husband’s commitment to the marriage and the great love He has for her. He would do anything to win her back.
My favourite part of the book comes in Hosea 2:13-16. Let me read it to you.
“…I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’…”
There’s no one that can tear the heart out of someone chest like your spouse. The image of marriage here is one where not only does the wife cheat on him, but runs off for no reason and gives herself to man after man, wandering the streets in the most shameless and erotic clothes, partying with every disgusting, deplorable, degenerate man she could find, until she is ruinous to the point where she’s even forgotten her husband’s name. She gets herself in such trouble that she ends up like the prodigal son, except instead, she sells herself as a sexual slave.
And what is the husband’s response? To buy her back at whatever cost so she can be free from danger. And then, amazingly, to “allure her” meaning to re-seduce her, to win her back with romance so she will love Him again! To “speak kindly to her”, literally “speak to her heart”. To give her back her vineyards, and to make her “Valley of Achor”, which means “valley of trouble” into a such a distant memory that she sees it as the “door of hope”. He’s going to show her so much love that it will be like when they were newlyweds!
Why would He do this? Is He a sucker for punishment? Is He in some kind of weird, abusive, co-dependent relationship with humanity that He needs us in order to feel good, no matter how bad we treat Him? Sure, He loves us, but is that the only reason?
No. He does it because He has promised to. He made a covenant with us. He is in an exclusive, covenant, promised, marriage bond with His people, and He will never leave them, divorce them, forsake them, or abandon them. He loved us so much He was willing to trade His Son for us – His adulterous bride. But not only out of love. He redeemed us from slavery by the blood of Jesus because He promised He would always be there for His bride.
A Spiritual Picture
This is why the sacredness of marriage and human sexuality is so important to believers, and why corrupting it is such a big deal. Man and woman, male and female, in the holy, exclusive, covenant bond of marriage, show the image of God and paint a portrait of Jesus’ relationship to the church. It’s a very, very important illustration that God has given us.
When society messes with that image, it messes up the narrative of all that God is trying to teach us through it. God set it up the way He wanted and then made natural and scriptural laws to ensure it remained a strong image for humanity to look at for all time. This is why Christian theologians often argue that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage, polygamous or polyandrous marriage, group marriage, bigamous marriage, open marriage, or whatever else people come up with… because by definition a “marriage” is literally the “union of a man and woman for life”. It can’t be anything else because nothing else fits the description or image God created.
It is our sinful nature to try to improve upon, change, or personalize what God has already settled. We want to make ourselves the special case. We think our feelings, opinions, desires, emotions, or preclusions give us the right to negotiate different versions of what God has set up.
- “My marriage isn’t working out and I have feelings for another person, therefore I have the right to follow my feelings and marry someone else. I can’t be held accountable for how I feel.”
- “My spouse isn’t fulfilling my sexual desires, therefore I have the right to have them satisfied a different way. It’s their fault for not doing it, and God’s fault for not taking away these feelings.”
- “I have a strong biological urge to have sex, therefore I must follow through on that urge, regardless of who it is with. It’s not my fault I have these urges.”
Our feelings have very little to do with it because human sexuality is much bigger than our opinions or urges. God has given the gift of sex to be used one, singular way, because that is the way that gives Him the most glory, teaches us the most about Him, and helps us understand the way of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Messing with God’s plan for marriage and sex messes with God’s image and with the Gospel!