Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Intolerant and Judgmental

One of the most intolerant and judgmental passages in Scripture is found in the fifth chapter of Paul's epistle to the church at Corinth.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor 5:1-5)
You got the picture, right? Someone in their midst is "shacking up", apparently, with his stepmother of all people (1 Cor 5:1). Paul says this is immorality "not tolerated even among pagans." Paul's answer? "When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh." (1 Cor 5:4-5)

"Now, Paul, hang on," some of today's liberal Christians would say. "What's wrong with love? Why are you so upset that a guy in the church is expressing the love he has for this woman? Wasn't Jesus all about love? Paul, you shouldn't be so intolerant. You should be affirming. You should embrace this young man's expression of love. Your judgmental attitude is creating an atmosphere of hate. Repent, Paul, and show some love."

You have to admit that Paul's response is harsh -- harsher than what you find in most churches today. I mean, turning this guy over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh isn't trivial. The phrase suggests physical torment up to and possibly including death. "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" isn't minor. It is excommunication. How many churches practice this today? Why don't they? Well, it's a bit too harsh. Can't we all just get along?

The truth, however, is in the details. The current climate of much of Christendom is "Let's just all get along" and, more so, "Let's affirm one another and not point out their behavior as sin." Paul's approach defies this idea. Indeed, Paul calls this attitude "arrogant". Now, wait! Isn't it arrogant to call love between two people "sin"? Not in Paul's view. This church was boasting in its embracing of sinners and their sin and Paul warned them, "Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened." (1 Cor 5:6-7) But don't get confused by the "Intolerant!" and "Judgmental!" shouts of our day. Paul is not working from this position. Notice, first, his intent in turning this man over to Satan. It is "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:5) It is for his ultimate protection, his ultimate best. And if that doesn't ring any bells for you, if "love" is defined as seeking the ultimate best for another, that is love.

There is another detail in this text that I've missed every other time I've read it. We Christians -- you know, the conservative ones, the ones who look at the Bible and say, "God said it; that settles it" -- tend to be really good at righteous indignation, at moral outrage. We're fairly quick to say, "That is sin and you would do well to stop!" When we're nice. Some are no so nice. Perhaps you heard about the pastor who complained that the Muslim killer in Orlando "didn't finish the job." Most of us would decry that level of stupidity and animosity. I do. But we're still pretty upset about homosexual behavior and sexual immorality and all these sins that beset our nation today. On one hand Paul called their silence on sin "arrogance". On the other hand, look what else he said. "Ought you not rather to mourn?" (1 Cor 5:2) Mourn? We would understand "rant" or "rage" or something like that, but "mourn"? Yes, mourn. We're pretty good at moral outrage; we're not very good at mourning for rampant sin in the church. Paul doesn't say they should have responded with indignation or outrage. Paul says they should have mourned.

You see here the proper biblical response to sin. It isn't affirmation; that would be arrogance. It isn't ignoring it; that, too, would be arrogance. The proper response is to mourn it and to respond in such a way that would most likely terminate it in the best interest of the one committing the sin. I know ... those who are more "progressive" in Christendom will disagree. They will encourage us to embrace people like this young man. They will recommend that we not be judgmental like Paul was. They will call on us to be tolerant of this kind of thing. We should affirm him rather than judge him. They would do so in the face of God's Word, not in accordance with it. Clearly their approach would be more "friendly" and certainly unbiblical. I will point out, however, that our response of "do nothing" is neither more friendly nor more biblical. Arrogance ignores sin. Love demands action. The first action would be to mourn the loss that sin causes. The second is to do what we can to restore the sinning brother or sister. And that may include some real pain, inflicted in love. There is room in Scripture for righteous indignation. Jesus showed it against the moneychangers in the Temple. But that was in defense of the Father. We would do well to aim for less indignation, less arrogance, and more mourning.

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