Christians Gone Wild: Correcting Focus
I remember a paper I had to write for one of my master’s courses. It was a big paper and would require a ton of thought and time. I rigorously studied some research material and began writing the paper. My focus was laser pointed. I was on the money with my insights and I knew this was one of those papers that would be lauded in the class as a prime example (yes I still struggle with pride at times). When I was about 75% of the way done, I glanced back up at the paper’s writing prompt on what the paper was to be about and look like so I didn’t miss anything. When I looked at the prompt, I’d realized I had the wrong focus for the entire paper. I had misread the assignment and built a paper with the wrong focus. When I realized how off I was, I went right back to the drawing board and corrected the focus of the paper. In order to do what I needed to do, my focus needed to be corrected.
We, as Christians can tend to have an incorrect focus on sin and accountability as well. We tend to focus on the wrong people. As one man once said: “Christians are notorious at expecting far more of non-Christians than Christians”. Many Christians tend to focus on the problems outside of the church rather than the problems inside the church. Here, in this passage, Paul is challenging the wayward focus of the Corinthians, and lovingly trying to redirect them, for the purpose of mission. He answers the question: How can we correct our focus, for the sake of mission?
Paul continues his discussion on sin and accountability in this portion of Scripture by pointing out how we can correct our focus. Many in the Corinthian church were not walking in line with the Gospel and that is partially due to their incorrect focus.
- Bring Understanding to Misunderstanding (vs. 9-11)
Paul gives some background here that he had previously written a letter to the Corinthians discussing associating with unrepentant sexually immoral people. The church conveniently thought he meant sexually immoral people outside of the church, yet he meant those inside the church. The imagery here is so interesting. The people inside the church are allowed to sleep around with and have a semi-permanent relationship with their step-mom’s but those who are sexually loose outside of the church are shunned. Paul was taking the time to correct their focus on what he was really saying. Maybe the church purposefully misinterpreted his first letter, or maybe they simply chose to misinterpret it. However, when reading God’s Word, you and I must seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We can’t simply try and interpret the focus on our own, we need His help in deciphering it. We also need one another to help us understand what God is saying. We need to be a people who are willing to look at a brother or sister in the face and lovingly correct their misinterpretation of the Scriptures, as well as people who can be corrected. Here Paul lovingly redirected their focus. Paul was guiding them towards the fact that cleaning up the church through grace and truth is our job. Cleaning up the world in their mess is God’s job. As one commentator stated: “…the Corinthians are not to condone sexual immorality in the church, nor are they to treat those outside the church with disdain; neither activity is part of the life to which they are called.”
This misunderstanding interferes with the mission of the church, as so many misunderstandings of the Word do. This same commentator stated this about the mission of the church: “Paul’s concerns seem to be with Christian witness and mission…an aloof attitude toward those outside the church who have not yet experienced God’s saving power hinders involvement with non-Christians, so that the members of the church can neither evangelize nor conduct mission”
If a church is going to point fingers at those outside the church and belittle those outsiders, their lifestyles and the way in which they choose to live through the lens of strong and powerful judgment…this hinders our ability to teach them about Jesus because they won’t desire to be around us long enough to hear the name of Jesus. Also, if we use our time an energy trying to find out what’s wrong with those who don’t believe, it will leave too little time to clean out our own camps, or our own hearts. Said differently: Let’s clean the church before we clean the streets. 1 Peter 4:17 says it this way: “Let judgment begin with the household of God.” We have to have a safe, loving, healthy and Holy place to bring the lost into, otherwise we’re not leading them to Jesus but to our mess.
Church is messy; I’m not denying that. We will be messy, I’m not denying that either. However, we need to purge our hypocrisy and live honestly. Calling the world out on sins that are happening directly in front of us in the pew without batting an eye is wrong. Paul says so right here. The world around us takes notice when we condemn them for things we do in secret. We must allow the Spirit of God to purge the stuff out of our hearts so we can truly live the way he desires for us to live.
Part of cleaning up the church requires accountability. We must be willing to lovingly call out our brothers and sisters in their sins, and be willing to give tough love in the process. We must be willing to give tough love. Paul’s tough love is harsh indeed. In this discussion on tough love and truly trying to hold one another accountable, it seems historically that the Corinthian church listened to Paul on this matter with the guy and his stepmom. Not only did they rebuke him and challenge him to repent, but 2 Cor. 2:1-11 gives us the impression he repented, stopped his life of sin and was welcomed back into the fold. The system of loving accountability brought about repentance and a changed life!
Earlier last year, I wrote a very emotional response to something Franklin Graham said about Islam. He blamed the whole of Islam for the ISIS attacks and I was upset that he did this. I felt like it hindered our witness to Muslims. So I responded without thinking and without praying first. What I said was harsh with no grace. The next day a loving pastor friend of mine emailed me and challenged me on the way I approached this and the word choice I had. He gave me tough love.
This was a good rebuke and one that made me think how I can be passionate on social media platforms, all while maintaining the reality of grace. I needed this rebuke, because I was hindering the mission of Christ by my choice of words. The very thing I was trying to point out, ended up being the thing I also ended up doing, simply because I didn’t choose my words carefully and with grace laced within. In order to correct focus, not only do we need to bring understanding to misunderstanding, we need to trust God to do his job and not try to do it for him.
2. Trust God to do His Job, Don’t Do it For Him (vs. 12-13)
Much of Western Christianity as I mentioned before really seeks to judge the world of their sins, so they will be convicted to change. As I’ve said previously in this series- the world can’t help but TO sin. They do not have the Holy Spirit within them giving them the ability to live the Gospel life. Holding non-Christians to a Christian standard is akin to telling a normal person they should be able to run a marathon like an elite runner…it’s simply not possible. Paul said: “God judges those outside.” When we try to do the judging of the world, we are trying to do God’s job for Him. We are in essence saying: “God you stink at your job and I can do a better job, so move over as I defame the world for their horrific lifestyle.” We simply have to trust He knows what He is doing. We are to call those in the church to the higher standard, because we have the empowering Holy Spirit and He should be directing our lives. If we are directing our lives we are in a whole mess of trouble.
As the Church of Christ, we have been tasked with a great mission to complete. We are to be in the world but not of the world. Which means we are to be with those outside the church and love them, not judge them, we are simply not to allow the lifestyles they lead to be the ones we lead. If we can love the world, without being the world we will have something they desire because we will be different. May we be people who lovingly hold one another accountable, but also live graciously to those outside of our fellowship.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 116). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 116). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.