LentBlog ’14 Day 14: On Sin in the Church.

1 Corinthians 5:6-6:8

I wish I wasn’t so tired this evening and fighting a cold, because a lot could be said about this passage. But hey, it’s Paul… a lot can be said about most of Paul’s stuff.

The lawsuits among believers in 6:1-8 is a whole other blog post, so I’m going to leave it alone for now and log my interaction with 5:9-13.

I absolutely dig what Paul is doing in this passage, and I think it has a bunch to teach us in present-day Christianity. See, we hear so much in the church these days about the ugly, blatant, selfish sins of the world outside the church. We’re in the midst of culture wars where so much is said about the “secular culture” out there that somehow threatens (some think) the future of the church. And so we stand and point our finger at the world, gawking at boundary shifts in media and culture, corruption in government and business, and the seemingly God-less ways in which folks in the world tend to live. When the church talks about sin these days, it’s usually talking about the sin of those in the world.

If you’re paying attention to all that, and perhaps reading too fast, you might miss the bombshell dropped by Paul in vv. 9-10:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. (NRSV)

Paul says, “I told you not to associate with immoral people.” And the prevailing attitude in some parts of Christianity would say “Cool!! See, I told you those people in the world were sinners… Let’s close up the ranks of our holy huddle and shield ourselves from their evil ugliness.” But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says, not at all meaning the immoral of this world.

::insert tire-screeching sound here:: Say what? Paul says he’s not talking about those sinners in the world. They’re in the world… that’s how worldly folks tend to act. Paul makes it pretty clear he wants them to associate with worldly people, or else they would have to be removed from the world totally.

No, Paul’s issue here is not with the ugly sin in the world– that is to be expected– but rather with the sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, hard-partying, drunken robbers who profess to be followers of Jesus. It’s folks who claim to be Christian Paul is calling out here.

Now, does this passage mean we should wholesale excommunicate everyone in our churches who has sin issues? Naah, I don’t think so.  But for someone who claims to be a Christian… one being washed by the blood of Jesus… being made righteous… claiming to observe the means of grace and spiritual disciplines… for that one to be engaged in these kinds of sinful behaviors while  at the same time claiming to be a New Creation in Christ simply does not add up. Like it or not, when we claim to be Christians we are on the hook for our behavior. Paul’s direction to this very dysfunctional church at Corinth is “Let God judge those on the outside. Y’all better take a look at yourselves.”Mirror

That stings a little.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog Day 28: Why won’t God ZAP the Bad Guys?

Romans 9:20-26

The rhetorical style of the Apostle Paul is just awesome to behold sometimes. Check out this rhetorical question:

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23 and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Rough translation: What if God hasn’t zapped the “bad guys” because his plan is to show his mercy, glory, and grace by redeeming them?wrath

Now. When I read that again this evening, it stopped me in my tracks. What if God hasn’t zapped the “bad guys” because he wants to redeem them?

He says this right after he reminded the Jewish Christians in Rome that their salvation has nothing to do with their biological pedigree… Now he goes deeper. Not only do they have no reason to boast of their pedigree, but they have no reason to look down on the non-Jewish folks around them. Even in Rome, which wasn’t exactly a place of moral high-ground at this point in history, God’s desire is to redeem them.

No one is un-redeemable. And if God is withholding judgment because he wants to show his amazing grace in redeeming them, that will change the way we look at them.

Where my mind goes with this passage is this: what if instead of “gentiles” or “non-Christians” at this point, what if we inserted something like, “the person who hurt me” or “the person who is objectively, actually in the wrong in this conflict?” What if God did something in us so we could really look at folks like that and legitimately want God’s best for them? It doesn’t mean what they did was right. It doesn’t gloss over their behavior. But it does hope they reach the place where God transforms them, giving them what they need and not what they deserve.

The same exact lesson is found in the book of Jonah.

I think when we look at it that way, we might discover we have more to learn about God’s grace.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 4: We’re All in the Same Boat.

Romans 1:26-2:16.Image

As I read this passage today, I found my mind wandering to the recent nightmare aboard the Carnival cruise ship Triumph. I found myself wondering if the people who paid top-dollar for a corner cabin with a nice balcony wound up eating the same half-rotten food as the folks with interior cabins near the waterline. Did they all have to trudge through sewage-soaked halls? I’m imagining that answer is probably yes. They were all in the same boat. Maybe something like the Titanic disaster is a better image. Once the boats were gone, super-rich First-Class folks died just the same as Third-Class steerage peasants.

In Romans 1-3, once Paul starts laying-in to people, he gets everyone in trouble pretty quickly. He starts with sexual sins, but he doesn’t stay there long. Pretty soon he expands that list to include everyone:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (1:28-32 NRSV).

And lest we become tempted to pick a particularly nasty sin from the list and start pointing a judgmental finger, Paul reminds us: God shows no partiality. We’re all fried. We’ve all got a thing or two on that list we’ve been guilty of. Don’t thumb your nose at God’s patience and grace. Don’t spend your time pointing out everyone else’s sin.

You’re all in the same boat, Paul says.Image

Our pleasure cruise has become a cesspool. White-collar, private, victim-less sins are still sins along side the more culturally obvious ones.

Now, I think it’s a mistake to use that level playing field as a reason to feel good about ourselves. Just because our sins are equal does not mean they won’t equally incur God’s wrath (according to Romans.) Thank God the end of Romans 2 is coming, because we all need God’s grace and are legitimately, really, truly fried without it.

The point here is it’s silly for one blind, hungry beggar to ridicule another blind, hungry beggar because he smells weird or she’s got dirt on her face.