Perfect Enough for Church?
1 Corinthians 5:9,10 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world… since then you would need to go out of the world.
Have you ever felt like you were too out of shape to go to the gym? I have been there. Having missed a few weeks or months, put on a few pounds and gotten a little gooey, I have had that feeling of dread, just thinking about returning. I know that once I get back into it, I will feel better, but that first step is often the hardest one. This is of course, a fool’s thinking. It is precisely because I am out of shape that I need to go back. Just as it is the sick who need a doctor, it is the out of shape who need the gym.
Likewise, it is those who are lost and enslaved to self who need God. In today’s passage, Paul briefly addressed those outside the faith and provides some guidance regarding our attitude towards them. After chastising the Corinthian church (yesterday’s passage) for tolerating a leader’s incestuous relationship, Paul told them that they are not to hold the world to the same standard to which they hold themselves. Though the church is not to tolerate such gross sin in its members, the church is not to expect the same of the world.
I have often gotten this wrong I think. Knowing the rules, I have expected those who do not share my faith to follow them. When they do not, I feel some responsibility to let them know that I look down on them. When I encounter those engaged in that which I feel to be grossly destructive behavior, I feel compelled to judge and let it be known that I am judging.
As Christians, we often feel that we are taking a stand for God when we turn up our noses at the world. It is not just that we abstain from certain behaviors, we must let our neighbors know that we disapprove of them. Thus, we communicate this sense that if they ever want to know our God, they must first clean up their lives. You are welcome in my church as long as you cut your hair, stop drinking, stop smoking and renounce all of your destructive behavior. Let me know when you are perfect, like me, and I’ll welcome you into my faith.
To this, Paul said that we are not tasked with judging the world. What have I to do with judging outsiders? God judges those outside (vv. 12,13). Though we are not to tolerate sexual impropriety in the church, it is not our duty to hold the rest of the world to the same standard.
I met a man in treatment who, because of his destructive behavior, decided that he could never be a Christian. Though he desperately wanted sobriety and God, he felt that he could never come to God as he could not clean up his life enough to meet him. Somewhere, he had learned that he needed to be transformed in order to meet God.
This is of course, the opposite of the gospel message. We need God precisely because we cannot transform on our own. Left to our own devices, we are lost. We do not get in shape so we can go to the gym. We go to the gym to get in shape. Likewise, we do not get well so we may come to God. We come to God so we may be healed.