Christians Gone Wild: Dealing With Wild Christians
In my earlier days as a youth pastor in NY, I had a young lady in my ministry who took semi-nude photos of herself and posted them all over her MySpace page. MySpace was the Facebook of back in the day. I communicated often to my students through the medium of MySpace and so when I went to her page to interact with her there I was shocked at what I found. She was a junior in HS and her dad was an elder. That Sunday I took her aside and told her how I needed to talk with her parents about her MySpace page after church. We scheduled a 1pm meeting. She went home and deleted several of the semi-naked photos, but not all of them. By the time I was meeting her parents, few were left, but I showed them anyways what was left and stated there were more. Her parents went on to state they were disappointed in her but she was probably doing this because when she was in Junior High she was overweight and now she was skinny and wanted to show her body off. They were not going to deal with this situation really at all. Their daughter went on to struggle deeply with sexual immorality, drugs and partying for several years. For me, it was hard to watch. I still loved the girl through it and encouraged her to change her behavior, was there for her when things got ugly, but the sin that was there in her wild days wasn’t dealt with.
These parents largely failed their daughter in not holding her accountable to her sin, as well as giving her a rational to continue to sin. Sin is hard to deal with; so we try to ignore it. This is true corporately and personally. Most sin is easy to sweep under the rug and ignore for a long time. Giving people reasons to rationalize sins away is something many are good at; either for themselves or for their friends. The idea of accountability is difficult as well. Holding one accountable to their sins means they can do the same with me. Too often it’s looked at in a negative light, but it shouldn’t be so. God placed accountability in our lives to help ensure Holy living. It was not placed there as a tool for mean and harsh judgment. Sin and holding one another accountable have both been wrongfully dealt with. So, the question we should seek to answer is this How do we deal with wild Christians?
Paul here is dealing with a very specific issue of a Christian who has taken his “freedom in Christ” a bit too far. He is talking to Christians about a Christian brother. We can never forget this is a letter to a church. This issue may seem so ludicrous that it may appear to have no relevance on us today, but I assure you it does. This portion of Scripture helps expose some of the western Christian thought on sin as well as how to deal with sin in the camp. The first thing we see Paul state in order to deal with wild Christians, we are to
- Mourn Over Sin, Not Celebrate it (vs. 1-3a)
Paul was given some interesting information about the Corinthian church. This information was that there was a man in the congregation, who publically took his stepmother to be in a relationship with him. The verb “has” indicates a somewhat permanent relationship as well as it being sexual. He got in their faces a bit by stating: “this isn’t even tolerated among pagans!” Paul’s following statements then allow us to see not only were they allowing this ridiculous relationship to happen, they were arrogant in this situation. What does that possibly mean- they were arrogant about it? Well, many commentators would agree that instead of shunning the sin, or being disturbed by something even pagans would be disturbed by, they were celebrating their church’s “open-mindedness”. They thought by allowing this egregious sin to continue uninhibited in their midst, it was proof of their holiness and openness to new things. This was how arrogant they were in their assumed spiritual superiority, that something this heinous in their midst and their “ability to not be bothered by it” was an expression of God’s great grace. How great are we?! They’d ask and point to this situation. Paul then declares: sin is not worthy of celebration but of mourning. Sin brings death, not life. Instead of celebrating this and encouraging this brother to remain in his sin, as a whole you should mourn over this event. Be broken. Be contrite. Do not ever be arrogant.
This situation exposes some of the western church’s thoughts on sin too doesn’t it? This idea of being so open-minded that the grace of God has deeper capacity to flourish. Fear of being “close minded” can dull our senses to the consequences of sin. It dulled the senses of the Corinthian church as well. Coming at it from a legalistic, angry place is also incorrect. When we see blatant open sin, it should move us to a place of sadness and desperation, not a place of arrogance and patting ourselves on the back Paul directly goes from describing how one should feel about public and blatant sin of a brother, to how we are to handle it. He states
2. Hold Others Accountable to Their Sin, Don’t Ignore it (vs. 3b-8)
Here this guy was sleeping with his stepmom and was happy to let the world know. He wasn’t hiding it, in fact if he had Facebook, he probably would’ve made his relationship with his stepmom “FBO” and if he had twitter, he’d have tweeted: “Oh man my stepmom is now my lady!” Jesus in Matthew 7 and 18 discusses issues of judging one another as well as how to handle when someone sins against you. I believe that we are not to judge the person, but As Christians, we are called to challenge each other’s conduct, in a loving manner. This was such a time where the conduct needed challenged, and as in Matthew 18, if there is no repentance on the part of the one being held accountable, he must be removed. If he is not removed from the body, there is the very real possibility of his toxic, unrepentant lifestyle of sin to corrupt others into falling into the traps he himself is in. He will in essence be a pied piper leading people down to the road of destruction and no good leaders desires their people being led astray.
In my own life, I needed to be held accountable to an addiction to pornography. I had a dear friend call me out and then be my accountability partner. We challenged each other and began to both see freedom from our addictions. My marriage, ministry and life are better because of his loving challenge to my sin.
Accountability is not a death sentence, but rather a call to something better. When we can live as a church and as a community where we lovingly challenge one another, that is a healthier place to be! Many fear that type of community but as I shared, done correctly, it is not something that brings more bondage, but allows for more freedom.
Paul’s main concern in this whole conversation is the church’s health and it’s ability to fulfill her mission. His goal is to “…recall and redirect the Corinthians into a manner of life that embodies and fulfills God’s commission of the Christian community to mission.” That’s why he gave the image of leaven and bread. Leaven is a small object that can alter the course of an entire loaf of bread. Blatant, public sin such as this has the same effect on the entire church body. It has the strong potential to throw the church off mission. Christ died to set us free from sin, not to set us free to sin. The message we need to preach is one of freedom from, not freedom to.
Finally, verse 8, Paul gives an image of the Passover in order to call the Corinthians to a manner of living consistent with God’s will for their lives. “If Christ is the lamb and the yeast is immorality, those celebrating Christ are to free themselves by the power of God of malice and wickedness and to devote themselves to sincerity and truth.” Paul is calling them (and us) to live freed from sin and freed for godliness because God has already acted in Christ to make provision for the reality of our new living. Christ paid the ultimate price for us to stay free from sin and freed to live holy.
When we sin, we can ask for the cleansing once again. We can ask the Spirit to “Cleanse out the old leaven, so that we can become a new lump of dough”. We too are to be people who lovingly challenge and admonish one another to cleanse out the things in their lives that are hindering their growth and be open when others do the same to and for us. We are meant to walk this journey together, not alone.
May we be a people who mourn over sin, rather than celebrate it, or our “tolerance” of it. May we be a people who can lovingly come alongside one another and challenge each other to a deeper walk and a maturing faith rather than people who journey alone. May we individually and corporately draw closer to Christ, so we don’t end up wild Christians away from the heart of God.