But You Were Not Willing
"Such Were Some of You"
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
(Delivered Sunday, September 21, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in the ancient city of Corinth. And he wrote to deal with several serious problems.
The Corinthian Christians lived in the midst of a very pagan culture. The lifestyle practices and behaviors of people in Corinth were very sinful. It was a culture in which every kind of moral vice was accepted as a common-place thing. Temple prostitution was crucial to the economy. Idolatry was interwoven into all of society. Sexual immorality was celebrated. Pleasure-seeking was the main focus of activity. Materialism was the philosophy of life.
The low morals of the Corinthians had become proverbial among other people groups of that time. If someone lived a particularly immoral life, it was common to say that they 'lived like a Corinthian'. But most of the people of Corinth thought nothing about it. And sadly, neither did those in Corinth who had professed to be Christians.
The immoral practices that characterized the unbelieving Corinthian culture often found their way into the lives of the people in the church. And so, Paul wrote his first letter to the Christians in Corinth to deal with the sinful practices they were embracing from the culture around them.
And in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, in the midst of dealing with all this, Paul writes something that I believe the Lord would have us hear today. They aren't 'politically correct' words, by any means—which, perhaps, is exactly why it's so important that we give particular heed them:
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Now; before we look at this passage in greater detail, I need to explain why I have felt led to preach from it today.
I had a pretty hard time falling asleep a few nights ago. I was having one of those nights that pastors often have. I was ruminating and praying quite a bit about some of the problems and struggles that I knew to be in the lives of some people in our church family. I wasn't necessarily thinking of any one person. Rather, I was thinking of several people—and of all the things that I knew were going on in their lives.
And as I laid in bed and prayed silently about some of these things, my heart became burdened—almost to the point of becoming overwhelmed—by the realization that for all the things I did know about, there are far more "secret things" going on in the lives of the people in our church family that I didn't know about. And the thought that most horrified me in all this was that some of the secret sins that people may be embracing will actually keep them out of heaven.
I wondered if, perhaps, the Lord was prompting me to say something about it. And it was this passage that came to mind.
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In my role as a preacher of God's word, I stand before you in different capacities. Sometimes, for example, I stand before you primarily as a teacher—opening the meaning of a passage to you, and showing you a wonderful truth about our Lord that you need to know from it. At other times, I stand before you primarily as a counselor—offering you comfort from God's word, and showing you how to put into action what God would have you do. And at other times, I stand before you primarily as an evangelist—showing you what the Scripture says that Jesus Christ has done to save us, and urging you to make sure you have placed your trust in Him.
This morning, I feel burdened to stand before you as a prophet to God's people—but not in the sense of revealing some new truth to you, and certainly not in the sense of telling you the future. Rather, I speak today in the sense of setting before you a word from God that you may not want to hear. I assure you before God; I am not targeting my message this morning to any person in particular. But I strongly suspect that God is! So, if you feel as if I meant my sermon for you, know that it isn't me. It's the Holy Spirit, who called you to be here this morning, and who is bringing His holy word to bear in your life.
The message of this morning's portion of Scripture is basically this: God's saving grace in Christ calls us to cease being characterized the sinful lifestyle practices that will have no part in His kingdom. And if you feel that this passage is condemning something in your life—if you feel that it is touching on some secret area that you don't want anyone to know about, and is showing you the horrible truth about its sinfulness, and is calling you to turn away from it in repentance—then I urge you in the name of Jesus Christ that you not reject it or run from it!
Listen, and heed what the Holy Spirit has to say to you in this passage. In it, God is offering you nothing less than liberty and eternal life.
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Now; in the original language, Paul begins our passage with a little word. And though it doesn't show up in the translation I'm using this morning, it does show up in other translations. It shows up as the word "Or . . .". As the New American Standard has it, "Or do you not know . . .?" And this indicates that what Paul has to say in our passage today is a part of the larger context that preceded it.
As we read back to the beginning of chapter 6, we find that Paul was dealing with the problem of professing Christians taking one another before an unbelieving judge in a civil court of law, and suing each other. "Dare any of you," Paul writes, "having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?" (v. 1). And it's extremely important to notice that, as he goes on to address this matter, he shows how utterly inappropriate such a thing is—given their identification with Christ, and their destiny in Him. Paul writes;
In other words, such behavior as aggressively dragging one another before an unsaved judge and suing each other didn't fit who they really were in Christ. And notice carefully how Paul put the finger squarely on the sinful motivations that were characterizing the Christian Corinthians in their actions. He says,
So; there's the problem. The Corinthian Christians were not behaving like the distinct people they truly were in Christ. They were behaving just like the "unrighteous" people of the unbelieving culture that surrounded them. And that's why Paul then goes on to say, in the words of our passage this morning;
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I believe that Paul was particularly emphasizing that last item in the case of the Corinthians Christians' suing of one another—that they were guilty of behaving like "extortioners" or "swindlers" toward one another. But clearly, he takes the opportunity to speak to a whole list of other worldly characteristics as well.
And what I ask you to notice is that these things are not just occasional, isolated moral failures. Paul was not condemning anyone for stumbling and falling. These are things that are set before us as ongoing lifestyle practices and habits. They aren't presented to us as mere "acts" someone may occasionally do; but rather as "names" by which someone is identified. They are practices that were so fully embraced, and around which everything else in life was so completely accommodated, that the person doing them became the thing identified by the name of the thing, and in such a way as to be called "unrighteous".
So; let's begin by looking at . . .
1. THE SINFUL LIFESTYLE PRACTICES THAT WILL KEEP SOMEONE OUT OF GOD'S KINGDOM.
First, Paul mentions "fornicators". The word he uses is the Greek word we get the word "porno" from; and it refers to any kind of sexual immorality. In the context of our passage, it is used in a broad sense, and refers to persistent sexual activity outside of marriage.
This is a sin that is pretty much taken for granted in our day. "Cohabiting", or "living together", is something that is depicted in our movies and television shows as if it's the accepted norm. It used to be considered shocking; but it rarely even raises an eyebrow anymore. It's largely considered in our culture to be either the precursor to a legal marriage, or a substitute for it altogether. Very few people say anything about it today; because if they were to speak out against it as a sin, they know that they'd offend and alienate half their family members and work associates!
Many people today have embraced this practice in such a way as to arrange every other aspect of their lives around it. Unmarried couples move in to the same residence together in order to take away the inconvenience of traveling in order to engage in sexual activity together. Soon, they share the bills and the groceries. They expect people to accept them as a couple with the same status as marriage. They enmesh their lives together in such a way as to become economically, socially, and emotionally dependent upon living together. But look at what the Bible says. It says that, so long as someone embraces "fornication" as a lifestyle practice and refuses to turn from it, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. That means that they will not enter heaven.
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Paul next mentions "idolatry"—that is, the worship of idols.
The Corinthian economy was dependent upon this sin. The city had multiple temples to multiple gods; and each temple depended on the revenue drawn from the worship of that god through the use of multiple temple prostitutes. It may even be that this sin is mentioned after fornication because the one sin often involved the other.
It used to be that we tended to dismiss ourselves from this sin in our culture. But paganism, as a recognized religious category, is becoming more and more prominent in our culture today. But even if we don't understand "idolatry" as the actual worship of a false god, our culture is nevertheless filled with the worship of things other than the one true God.
Whether it is possessions, or money, or success, or a career, or the approval of others, or a supposedly 'noble' social or political cause, or your spouse or your children, or 'religion', or a celebrity, or even yourself—anything that stands as a substitute for the one true God as the chief motivating love in your life is an idol. And so long as someone persistently allows something other than the one true God call the ultimate shots in their life—so long as someone makes a lifestyle practice of setting aside God's clear commands so that they can fulfill the agenda of something else that they love more—then according to this passage, they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
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Paul next mentions "adulterers"—that is, someone who either has entered into a marriage covenant and breaks it by giving themselves to someone outside the marriage; or someone who violates the marriage covenant of someone else. In the Corinthian culture, this was an accepted practice. And it's becoming increasingly accepted in our culture too. We have long-ago ceased to be surprised when we hear of adultery the lives of celebrities and politicians. And what we accept in the lives of our role-models soon becomes accepted in our own.
Just think of how much secret unfaithfulness has been committed, not only in physical sex, but also in the heart through the phone, through email, and through pornography! Our Lord warns that lusting in the heart is as much an act of adultery before God as it would be in the flesh (Matthew 5:28)—and nothing is hidden from His sight.
Now; just one more note on this. There have been couples who have sought to defend "living together" by telling me that the ten commandments prohibit adultery. Since they're not married to anyone, they argue that they're not committing a sin; because they're not committing adultery. But in Hebrews 13:4, it says, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." God is the Maker of marriage; and it is to be honored. So long as anyone entertains immoral sexual relationships—either apart from entering into a marriage or in violation of a marriage already entered into—they are holding on to a lifestyle practice that prohibits them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
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Next, Paul mentions "homosexuals" and "sodomites". In the original languate, the first word basically means "soft"; and is sometimes translated "effeminate". The second word basically means men together in the place of sexual intimacy. Together, they both refer to different aspect of homosexual behavior. Again, this is a sin that was prevalent in Corinthian culture—as it has also come to be in ours. Some sins, at particular times, receive particular favor from the culture at large. And this happens to be the particularly celebrated and applauded sin of our time.
Now; I believe that we in the church need to compassionate toward those who struggle with homosexual tendencies. Many of us know friends or family members who are trying to turn away from homosexuality. We need to be loving and supportive of them—even when they occasionally stumble in the process. I believe we need to recognize that it's a terribly difficult thing to break free from. But it's a different matter when someone—far from struggling with it—actually embraces it and commits themselves to it as a lifestyle.
Just recently, a prominent Christian singer and song writer—a very well recognized and much awarded artist—shocked the Christian community by publicly announcing that his over thirty year marriage to his wife came to an end, and that he is a homosexual. He doesn't struggle with it any longer; rather, he has embraced it. And even though he maintains that he is still a Christian, God's word remains clear and unchanging on the matter. It warns that those who persist in embracing a homosexuality as a lifestyle practice will not inherit the kingdom of God.
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Paul goes on to mention others. He mentions "thieves", for example. This speaks of people who have made a way of life out of taking what belongs to someone else. Sometimes we accidentally take a pen home that belongs to the company we work for; and if that happens, we return it. But the person who is a thief takes it deliberately; or having found that they took it, doesn't return it. Those who make a practice of thievery will not inherit the kingdom of God.
And he also mentions "covetous" people. This would speak of those who inordinately "want" what they aren't supposed to have—and who are even willing to do wrong in order to get it. I believe that a very obvious indication that this sin has become a lifestyle practice in someone's life is chronic debt. I don't mean to say that anyone who has debt is a sinner. But when someone consistently takes on more debt than they can pay off in order to get the things they crave, or when someone makes a practice of entering into financial obligations that they do not honor, then they are manifesting the sin of covetousness. And such, as the Bible tells us, will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.
He mentions "drunkards"; and I believe that this is not only meant to include those who are addicted to alcohol, but also to those who give themselves over to any substance that controls their behavior and their moods—such as the use of pot, illegal drugs, and even the abuse of over-the-counter drugs and medications. Anytime—other than under a doctor's supervision—we allow a chemical to have control of us, we are deliberately taking the control of ourselves away from God. And those who make a lifestyle practice of this will not inherit His kingdom.
He mentions something called "revilers"; and this is a word that basically refers to someone who 'rails' at others, and who is an 'evil speaker'. It can refer to someone who has no control over their anger, and who speaks in a railing, out-of-control manner toward others. We all know some people who have learned to get by in life in this way. But it can also refer to someone who speaks gossip and slander about other people. Gossip-mongers, slanderers, evil-speakers, tale-bearers, those given to verbal outbursts—these are people who persist in sins of the mouth that will keep them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
And last of all, Paul mentions "extortioners"; or as it is in some translations, "swindlers". This refers to those who, rather than taking things by thievery, employ ways of taking things from others by force. I believe that this was what Paul was thinking of when he wrote to the Corinthians about the sinful way they were bringing each other to court—saying that, "you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!" (v. 8). This, too, is a sin that—when embraced as a lifestyle practice—will keep someone from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
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Now; perhaps that seems like too strong a thing to say—that such persons will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. But I believe that Paul means exactly what he says. In Galatians 5:19-21, he similarly writes;
And this leads us to a second point . . .
2. THE DANGER OF BEING DECEIVED ABOUT THESE PRACTICES.
In our passage this morning, Paul writes, "Do not be deceived . . ." And he would not have been led by the Holy Spirit to warn us not to be deceived about these things unless a great danger exists that we could be deceived!
How might we be deceived? One way would be in thinking that an outward religious profession of Christian faith can serve as a sufficient cover for these sins being in our lives. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that if we go to church, and are baptized, and claim that Jesus is our Savior, then it doesn't matter what else might be going on under the surface.
Paul addressed this in the previous chapter. He was dealing there with the fact that the Corinthian church had a man in its midst who was guilty of a gross sin of incest. And the church was being tolerant of the man's sin. He refers to a previous letter he had written to them, and said;
Someone who professes to be a brother or sister in Christ, but who persists in living in the very sins that Jesus died to save them from, is deceiving themselves. They think that the outward trappings of a Christian profession can make up for their sin; when in reality, their sin—persisted in—will keep them out of God's kingdom.
Another way we might be deceived is by accepting what ungodly people say about our sin. Even though the Bible teaches us that a persistence in these sins will keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God, we can allow the values and priorities of this world to make us think otherwise. Such people can be deceived by the unbelieving world's approval of the sins that Jesus died to save us from.
Paul addressed this in the first chapter of Romans, where he writes of the sins of those who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness; that they are filled . . .
What a terrible thing it will be for many who persist in these sins and find that, on the day of judgment, they will not inherit eternal life—and all because they were deceived by this world into thinking that it wouldn't be so for them!
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We should never be deceived about this matter. God's word is clear. We cannot have a relationship with Jesus—the Savior from sins—and at the same time hold on to the very sins that He died to save us from. The Bible says;
And this leads us to the last point we find in this passage. In all of this bad news, we are given some very good news indeed! No matter what the ungodly people of this world say, no one ever has to remain entrapped by these sins! The last verse of our passage shows us that . . .
3. THE GRACE OF GOD THAT SETS US FREE FROM THESE PRACTICES.
After this long and unpleasant list of sins, Paul writes to the Corinthians, "And such were some of you . . ." (v. 11).
Do you notice that glorious word "were"? Look at it carefully. There in the Corinthian church, Paul says you could find people who "were" at one time, among other things, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. But they only "were" those things. They are not those things any longer.
Paul goes on to explain how this could be. "But you were washed," he says, "but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (v. 11). They could never have set themselves free from those sinful practices by their own power. But those who have truly have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and in whom the Holy Spirit has truly taken up residence, are in a new situation and have a new dynamic at work in them.
Paul tells them that the blood of Jesus Christ has washed them clean of the guilt of all the sins of the past; so that they are now "new creations" in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). The past is gone; and they are no longer prisoner to it. And they not only have a new "start", but they also have a new "identity". They are "sanctified"; that is, set apart for God as His own people (1 Peter 2:10). And more than that, they have been "justified"; that is, declared to be 100% righteous before God through Jesus Christ, so that there is now "no condemnation" for them in Him (Romans 8:1).
And what's more, they have the eternal resources of the Holy Spirit Himself living in them and empowering them to walk a new life. They may at times stumble and fall; but by the enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit, they get up and continue to walk in a progressively holy life—increasingly leaving the sinful practices of the past behind. They can truly say, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us . . ." (Ephesians 3:20).
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I believe that Paul was basically saying to the Corinthians, "You no longer are what you once were. When you practice these sins, you are doing so in utter contradiction to your true nature, because that's not what you now are. So, rise up now and live consistently with what you are in Christ! Prove that you are truly Christ's by the fact that you rise up and leave them behind in His power.
And I believe that this would be God's message to you and me today. If you have felt that the Holy Spirit has used this passage to point out something that is wrong in your life—if you feel that it is touching on some secret area that you don't want anyone to know about, and is showing you the horrible truth about its sinfulness, and is calling you to turn away from it in repentance—then the good news is that you can do so!
In the name of Jesus Christ, and for His glory's sake, rise up now and be free!
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