I had an interesting experience while traveling in Rwanda. I was able to post my devotionals using a mobile app, but I wasn’t able to go to the site while there. Since I only posted links to the blog on FB, members of my team were not able to see either the devotionals or the daily updates I made. Perhaps, like the shirt that says, “This shirt is illegal in 53 countries” the stream that would have landed my blog in Rwanda passed through one of those 53 countries. Those countries do have a right to make their own laws, and while my blog may be illegal in 53 countries, they can’t stop me from publishing here.
As the Church, we can get strict with rules and regulations. It’s easy to get caught up in what we can and can’t do. There is a place for that, but as Paul talks about that, he reminds the Corinthians that we shouldn’t start judging those outside the Church by Church rules. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
This section of 1 Corinthians has a couple of interesting revelations. The easy one to see is that this wasn’t Paul’s first letter to the church, in spite of the title we’ve given it. The second revelation comes from the beginning of the chapter. In the desire to be broadminded and accepting of everyone, the Corinthians celebrated the fact that they welcomed a believer who was engaged in an act so immoral that even pagans don’t accept it. When you read about the wild lifestyles of Corinth, that had to be pretty bad: one who claimed to be a believer was sleeping with his father’s wife. (Presumably his step mother.) In today’s world, some might call Paul judgmental, but he was livid about this. The church wasn’t hiding this or hoping they’d stay in the background, they were proud that they were so accepting and open-minded. Meanwhile, many of them were probably avoiding pagans who had other issues, not as bad if you can believe the reaction to this one, because of their sin. Paul made it clear that following Christ is not a license to commit grievous sin. The Corinthians were holding the pagans to a higher standard of living than they themselves followed. It was outrageous!
As members of the church, we’re concerned about the reputation of the church. We fight in society for laws that support our beliefs. When someone outside of our church family fights against those laws we support, we’re ready to go at ‘em. When someone outside our church engages in “grossly sinful behavior” we avoid them or fight them. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe, if we’re going to judge anyone, we ought to judge those who have agreed to live the same way we do when they committed their lives to Christ. Maybe when we deal with others outside the church, we ought to treat them as God does: with love and respect. If all people get when they talk with “church people” is hate and judgment, they aren’t likely to consider the claims of a loving and merciful God. How will people know of grace if we don’t show them God’s grace? At the same time, how will they know the need to repent if we accept any behavior because God forgives? The Corinthians had it backwards – overlooking the sin of a Christian while attacking the non-believers. We attack both groups today. What we need to do is draw the Christians back into God’s way, while letting non-believers discover the amazing grace of God.
Oh Lord, remind me that I am called to love all people and show them Your grace.