Paul writes to the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people”, but he qualifies that statement to say that he is “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters since you would need to go out of the world”. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is Paul talking about here?
Paul goes on to clarify that he is writing to the Corinthians “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.”
He is obviously talking about people within the church, and this is a point that I think we have generally gotten wrong in the modern church today, but maybe not in the way that one might suppose.
It seems to me that we have got these instructions from Paul to the Corinthians exactly backwards.
I think of the Moral Majority when I say this. I think of the efforts of Christians to try to impose “Christian values” on our world. I realize that I am departing from many Christian leaders to say something like this, but please hear me out.
Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my father.” (John 15:22-24)
These words convey a stark reality that is not pleasant to consider. We might assume that Jesus was speaking of the Jews when He spoke these words, but we would be wrong. Jesus was speaking of the “world”. Just before Jesus spoke the words quoted above, He said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
These are curious things coming from Jesus. The import of what Jesus says here is that the world is ordered in opposition to Jesus and God the Father. And even when people reject Jesus, God’s purpose is fulfilled.
In other places, we see Jesus saying very different things. For instance, Jesus said elsewhere, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) So, we might be confused when we see Jesus implying that he came to hold people accountable for their sins.
My son posted an article written by a young woman who was chastised by an older woman for wearing holy jeans in church. She was accused of being disrespectful to God. I am reminded of the charge Jesus made against the Pharisees about being whitewashed tombs. They looked good and clean on the outside, but they were empty on the inside.
We are good at making ourselves look good on the outside, but that isn’t what counts.
Jesus was pretty clear when he told us that we should stop judging by appearances. How did this elderly woman know that the young church attendee was disrespecting God? God judges the heart, and God alone. He weighs our motives. The people who look good to us, may be anything but good, and the opposite is certainly true as well.
It’s no wonder that millennials are leaving the church in big numbers. If this older woman represents what is important to the average churchgoer today, the Pharisees are still leading the way in religious circles.
The thing is that human nature in the 1st Century is the same as human nature in the 21st Century.
We live with an illusion that we are somehow more enlightened, less barbaric and more advanced than our ancient counterparts. We want to believe that we have made progress over time and are getting better. We don’t stone people to death for moral crimes anymore (at least in many countries). Activists parade in the public square today to support human rights rather than gathering in the public square to watch executions (in many countries anyway). But we shouldn’t ignore the signs that suggest a different narrative.
More people were killed by genocidal rulers in the 20th Century than in all the previous centuries combined. Look at the awful number of people killed in Chicago alone by handguns every week, month and year. We don’t burn babies on the outstretched arms of Molech anymore; we tear them limb from limb in the womb. In many countries around the world, we still stone people to death, cut off their limbs, burn their faces and even through homosexuals off of roofs with the sanction of social and governmental blessing.
I have attempted to explore the issue of God’s judgment in three previous articles, not from the viewpoint of a theologian, but from my own limited perspective. Much of what I write is simply exploring the boundaries of issues. I may or may not have it right, but I am striving for understanding and greater clarity.
If good people do not believe in God, how can a good God send them to Hell? If God is good, as Christians claim, how can a good God judge good people? This is a perplexing question to many people.
Some of the difficulty comes from the question itself. The question assumes, as frankly most of us do, that goodness is the standard to “get into Heaven”. There certainly is good reason for that assumption. Christians are always talking about sin and morality. So, let’s take a deeper look at. Is that really what is going on?
This is he fifth segment of a series on Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective. I have previously written on the subject of the wrath of God several times. In my last blog, I considered how God is perceived through the filter of human experience: if a person sets his self against God, he experiences what feels like condemnation, anger and rejection; while the person who attempts to draw near to God experiences love, grace and acceptance.
God does not change in this exercise. We do. Where we stand in relation to God determines how we experience Him. If God is the source and giver of life, and if God is love, we should experience life and love when we draw near to Him; conversely, we experience something opposite the opposite of life and love when we reject God or withdraw from Him. We call experiences love or wrath, depending on where we stand.
Taking this a step further, if we love what God loves, we find fellowship with Him, but if we love what God does not love, we find that we are separated from Him by our love of things God does not love.
We don’t naturally love what God loves, so we naturally feel some tension with God. In order to know and understand God we need to get beyond this tension. There is no tension on God’s part; the tension is with us.
[B]y His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:7
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10
I had a poster in my room of a nuclear explosion with a classic mushroom cloud when I was a teenager. I am not sure why I had that poster, other than it was my reality. I lived in the days of the cold war. I was a teenager in the ‘70’s, and the possibility of a nuclear strike or nuclear holocaust was real to me.
Those days seem like long ago now. I had forgotten about that poster until reading this passage recently. It strikes me that the possibility of nuclear catastrophe is even more “real” now than ever before. The Soviet Union has splintered into disparate countries, and who knows where all the nuclear bombs have ended up. Many of those countries have unstable governments, with people who have cowboy mentalities and segments of radical Muslim populations. The exposure to capitalism and destabilization after the Soviet demise have produced black markets for many things that may include nuclear weapons
Those black market weapons may find ready buyers in the various radical Muslim groups like the Taliban, ISIS and others who would certainly not hesitate to use them on the West. The Middle East has been a hornet’s nest of for more than a generation, and the fighting seems to be escalating. Israel, with nuclear capability, is in the middle of that hornet’s nest. Add in North Korea and Iran which may have nuclear capability.
Yet, people no longer talk about nuclear annihilation like they did when I was young. I no longer think much about it.
I am reminded of the frog in the boiling pot. If the frog is tossed cold into the pot of boiling water, it will immediately be alarmed and leap to safety. But, if the frog is put into a pot of cold water that is slowly heated up to boiling temperature, it will not be alarmed; it will remain until it is boiled to death.
The threat of nuclear holocaust is not something we can escape like a frog in a pot of boiling water, but we have gotten used to it. At least, we have learned to ignore it.
The passage in 2 Peter 3 referenced above is a reminder that, not only is nuclear holocaust a possibility, the end of the earth as we know it is inevitable. Whether by nuclear holocaust, or a large asteroid, or global warming, or simply by long, steady degeneration, this world will not last forever.
We may not die in a nuclear holocaust, but we will surely die.
The dichotomous uses of the Greek word for heaven (or heavens) remind us that there is more to reality and existence than this physical world. The present heavens (and earth) that will pass away mean the universe that we live in and know. In verse 13 of the same chapter, Peter says “But, according to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth….” The reference to “heavens” in verse 13 is figurative, corresponding to something that is more than this physical space, time and matter existence that we know.
This is nothing new. Peter actually alludes to the prophet Isaiah who speaks of new heavens and a new earth. (Is. 65:17; 66:23) “Heavens” (plural) for both the Jew and the Greek meant possibilities that we cannot imagine, spiritual reality in which God dwells outside of this space, time continuum that we know. John also describes the new heavens and a new earth that he saw in his encounter with God described in Revelation 21.
We may be closer than ever to this new heavens and a new earth. When Peter spoke the following prophetic verse, he had no idea about the power of nuclear energy or the destructive possibility of nuclear holocaust:
The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 1 Peter 3:12
The “heavens” here is the literal, physical universe that we see. How could Peter have even imagined the sky, the planets and the stars burning and melting? We might not even imagine nuclear capability that could do that; Peter certainly could not imagine the nuclear capability that could ow destroy our earth.
The point of all this is not that we should live in fear of nuclear holocaust, like living under a nuclear cloud. But, we should not be unmindful of the fact that we are temporal, and this life we live is passing. What do with this life, however, has eternal significance. When that Day of Judgment comes, will the work we have done in this world survive? Or will it all burn off like impurities in the fire?
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Ouranós – heaven (singular), and used as a plural (heavens) nearly as often. The OT backdrop for creation indicates the plural (“heavens”) refers to the sky, atmosphere, stars, planets, outer space, etc. (See also 2 Peter 3:10); whereas 2 Peter 3:13 conveys the typical meaning of ouranós (plural) in the NT – corresponding to the infinite levels of the Lord manifesting His presence (glory).
I use The Discovery Bible to gain a deeper, richer and more complete understanding of the Scripture. If you want ready understanding of the original Greek, the original word emphasis and Greek tenses that do not exist in English, definitions of Greek words and more to make your reading of the New Testament deeper and richer, check out The Discovery Bible. The Discovery Bible opens up knowledge of the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure. If you are ready to dig deeper in your Bible reading, try a free 30-day trial download of The Discovery Bible.