Monday, June 20, 2011

Does Paul Really Mean This?

 1 Corinthians 5:11 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.

11 νῦν δὲ ἔγραψα ὑμῖν μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι ἐάν τις ἀδελφὸς ὀνομαζόμενος ᾖ πόρνος ἢ πλεονέκτης ἢ εἰδωλολάτρης ἢ λοίδορος ἢ μέθυσος ἢ ἅρπαξ, τῷ τοιούτῳ μηδὲ συνεσθίειν.

This is one of those verses that is easy to gloss over because it cannot possibly mean what it seems like it means, right? Paul uses the word συναναμίγνυσθαι. This is an infinitive form and it literally means "to mix together with." This word appears in the LXX in Hosea 7:8 where it reads that "Ephraim mixes himself with the peoples." It appears earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:9 with basically the same usage. It also appears negatively in  2 Thessalonians 3:14 where Paul commands that the recipients "have nothing to do with" certain people. Clearly this word connotes close fellowship.  

Does Paul really mean that we are not to associate with those who do such things if they are in the church? What about grace? Shouldn't we love on these people rather than purge them from our midst?

Obviously there is a place for grace. There is always a place for grace. However, that does not mean that such people should worship in the fellowship. This is tied into the commands for church discipline in Matthew 18. There is a standard of holiness expected for believers.

Now this can easily turn into the kind of legalism seen in some independent fundamentalist churches if we focus on conduct. This is similar to how well-meaning Christian parents raise obedient Pharisees because they focus on the conduct. Obedience to this command starts with the heart. 

What it does not mean is that we should feel comfortable driving to our megachurch in a $50,000 vehicle to hear a sermon about how other people have problems and we need to fix them. It does mean that we need to examine our own hearts and look for these sins. We need to confess them and repent. 

And we also need to take care not to become morality police. This passage refers to people whose lives are characterized by these practices. It does not mean someone who looks at a brother's iPad 2 and thinks how great it would be to have one. It does not mean someone who is out with his friends and occasionally drinks one pint too many. It does not mean someone who has clicked on a link he knows that he shouldn't have and then repented of it. No, this refers to people whose lives are characterized by these sins. You could call them "besetting sins" to use some old parlance. There are no hard and fast lines to be drawn here.

The point is that to Paul the idea of accepting Christ as your Savior without repentance is unthinkable. If anyone does that and his life shows no change then it is time to get back to the gospel because he is not a brother in Christ. 

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