I Corinthians 6: Looking for Loopholes
The story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah revealed how devastating the loss of testimony of a carnal believer can impact not only the church but the community in which they live. The church of Corinth was losing its testimony, its witness to a sexually immoral society. When you study the Word of God, whether it be the Old Testament or the New Testament, you cannot help but notice how relevant it is to the church and our society today. It likes reading the Opinion Page in the local newspaper, or the headlines on the front page or the lead story on the evening news.
The church in Corinth was presenting a poor testimony to the lost, just like the church today is. As a result, today in the 21st century our young people are growing less and less interested in the Bible, church and absolute truth.
Paul seems to have jumped from one subject to the next, but actually, he is just addressing the things which are creating such a poor witness to the outside, lost world. He addressed the lawsuits among believers. Do you see the connection? What is really at the root of this sexual immorality and these legal matters of dispute? It is interesting it was an expert in the law who asked Jesus” “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets and on these two commandments.” ( J.O.Y.) This is why Jesus gave us commandments to show this love for God and others and said to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile; to forgive others as your Father has forgiven you.
Do you see the problem? We love selves. We place our own self interest over others. We demand our rights. Our old nature always ask: what’s in it for me? Jesus did not come to demand His rights- He came to take up our wrongs and pay for them and suffer the consequences.
A Christian business owner is confronted by an angry customer, who says they were overcharged for the product or service. The owner says, and then I will give you all your money back, rather than think me dishonest. No argument. What do you think this customer thinks of this person now? Turn the other cheek? Go the extra mile? Forgive when wronged. If Christians sue each other- both lose. The church loses and the community loses. Here is what Jesus said: “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you ‘Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go a mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42) The carnal Christian, the old natures within us, wants what the old nature wants.
We want our rights. Yet the first and greatest commandments say to love the Lord first, others second and yourself third.
Simply stated: Better to lose money and possessions than to lose a brother and/or your testimony or both. Lot should have said to his Uncle Abraham, you choose first Uncle, for you have provided me with everything I have. You choose. But Lot ‘chose for himself.’ That is what our old nature is always inclined to do.
Paul uses a familiar phrase he often used: ‘do you not know?’ Paul is saying you should know, we all should know as believers what our position in Christ is. Know what the Scripture says we are to do in certain situations and not compromise. Our practice should be driven and directed by our position in Christ and our behavior based on our beliefs. Will we live perfect lives without sin? No. But there should be a change in our behavior and a progressive maturity as Paul will address in 2 Cor. 3. We should sin less. When I think of changes in behavior based on belief, I think of the wee, little man Zaccheus. He immediately gave half of his possessions to the poor and stated if he had cheated anyone, he would give them back four times the amount. The change in him was real and resulted in actions taken. I also think of my favorite Christmas movie, Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge was so changed; his own nephew did not recognize him. There should be visible signs of change as a result of becoming a new creature. This transformation is gradual and progressive. Sometimes we will experience growth spurts, other times it is gradual and slower. But the fact is we are new creatures and new habits just be emerging to replace old habits of sin.
Paul says, the very fact you have lawsuits, shows how utterly defeated you are. Listen to this and you will realize how much we have accepted the world’s solutions for problems as Paul tells us: “Why not rather be wronged? What not rather be cheated? Instead you, yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” (Verses 7 & 8)
Now in the next verses, Paul shifts back to the sexual immorality issue. Paul says in very clear language the people who practice sexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul then reminds all of us: “And that is what some of you were. (Notice past tense) But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God. (I Cor. 6:9-11)
There was great pressure in the church of Corinth to soften its stance on sexual sin, just as it is today great pressure to soften our stance on sexual sin. To call these sexual sins – wicked, sinful, unnatural or perverted, the very words which the Word of God uses to describe them are today in the 21st century considered ‘ hate speech” and intolerant.
Paul tells us in these verses- sin is sin. The heterosexual is more judgmental of homosexual sins, but less so when it comes to adultery and fornication. However it is clear in this section, sexual sin is very enslaving and goes deeper because it involves the body, soul and spirit. Paul is not talking about isolated incidences of these sins. He is talking about a lifestyle of sin, the practice of it on a regular basis. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In fact one does not go to hell because of what they have done, but the go to hell because of what they have NOT DONE, which is received the pardon of their sins by placing their faith in the finished work of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul tells us the good news- we can all be forgiven of all our sins.
And after that we can no longer live in this sinful lifestyle, we must find this new life in Christ and thus begins the work of sanctification, where we are being transformed from the inside out as the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God.
What we are witnessing today in our society is sexual freedom and the expression of it publicly wins over the religious freedom to call sin- sin, every time.
THE SLAVERY OF SIN
There are two marks of the worldly, secular life in America today and how it has creeped into the Christian philosophy:
- Being practical. ( Which for a Christian actually means sometimes- unbelief, rationalizing, or logic) We read some of the promises God makes and we do not consider them possible. We realize we are like the society around us- being practical. When really it is nothing more than unbelief for a professed believer. John Piper calls this practice among Christians: Practical Atheism.
- Physical hedonism. The pursuit of happiness, pleasure and sensual self-indulgence. Instead of the chief end of man being to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we as a society pursue happiness and pleasure as the chief end of life.
This is the culture we live in, is a culture where physical pleasure is desired more strongly than spiritual joy. The natural man, who does what is right in his own eyes, looks around the society in which they live and bases their performance and lifestyle based on what others are doing. They look around, but they NEVER LOOK UP TO HEAVEN. Why? Because they have left God out of their lives, not even factored in their decision making. When you leave God out- conscience is based on the philosophy of ‘to your own self be true. ‘Which is really the motto of the self-indulgent mind set of a society which wants to do what is right in their own eyes.
“Everything is permissible for me- but not everything is helpful, beneficial. Everything is permissible for me- but I will not be mastered by anything (brought under the power- enslaved.)
Paul taught as Christians we are not under the law, but under grace. He taught – you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. There is no condemnation to those of us who are in Christ Jesus, for through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of Life has set me free from the Law of Sin and death. Now there are those who are saying everything is permissible to me. Paul was not interested in returning to the sinful patterns from which he had been delivered. He knew this was not the intention of Christ’s sacrifice. It was for freedom Christ set us free.
The words ‘freedom and liberty’ need to be understood. Freedom usually applies to ‘freedom from something or someone.’ For example in our US Constitution the First Amendment declares we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly to petition our government. All of these freedoms were declared to be free from interference from the government. Freedom- free from something: free from the King of England’s unfair rule; as Christians, free from the rule of sin and the slave master the devil.
Liberty is freedom granted to people by an external control. For example the Declaration of Independence declares, we are ‘endowed by their Creator in certain unalienable rights – life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is the freedom to do something. These liberties are granted by an external power, such as the government.
Galatians 5:1 states: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage (slavery). Paul is telling us in his teaching we have been set free from the law of sin and death, the One who gave us this freedom is the Lord Jesus who took our wrongs and gave us His righteousness. This satisfied God the Father, who then declared us justified. It is then the Spirit which gives us liberty, the ability not to sin “Now the Lord is Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
Sin is a habit- we refer sometimes to someone as a habitual criminal. They live a life of crime. Our old natures are habitual criminals, in that we were sinners, criminals by nature. We broke God’s laws. Paul says we have all broken the law, sinned and come short of the glory of God. In our society, we then have a system of justice and law which is designed to punish the criminal for breaking the law, while rehabilitating them at the same time. When W. C Fields was in the hospital in the last days of his life, his wife came into his room and found him reading the Bible. She remarked, “Bill, I did not know you were religious. To which W. C replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”
The Christians at Corinth were looking for loopholes. Christians today are looking for loopholes which will justify their sins. Some of them are using Paul’s teaching that we are no longer under the law but grace, as a ‘loophole’. Ever rationalize your sin, by saying, well all my sins have been forgiven, past, present and future. Or by saying, I only do this once in a while- it is not an ongoing persistent sin. Or our favorite logic- no one is perfect.
It seems bad habits are easy to form and hard to break. Why is this? Bad habits usually involve fulfilling God-given appetites in a wrong way, not the way God intended them to be fulfilled. They usually involve pleasure, excitement, and fun or in the case of food taste good. Ever hear someone describes a sugar filled dessert as ‘sinful’?
TWO GUIDELINES FOR LIVING
Paul addresses these ‘loopholes’ with these two statements which provide us with two guidelines. Paul says all things are permissible, but not all things are helpful, beneficial. Paul says all things are permissible- but I will not be mastered, brought under the power of any. Habits are a powerful force. It takes discipline to develop good habits and discipline to keep them. While bad habits are easy to form and hard to break, they enslave one. The ones who formed the steps of AA understood the alcoholic’s plight. We had become habitual drunks. Some were spree drinkers, others were daily drinkers. We had a problem; alcohol had made our lives unmanageable and had caused problems in our lives and the lives of those around us. Alcohol is a picture of sin. The enemy takes something which is good, a fruit or grain and allows it to ferment, rot and create a drug, alcohol, which can be used for good but when used to intoxicate, it is habit forming. They realized we need to find a higher power to break the law of sin and death. It was the Lord Jesus who gave me liberty, the freedom not to drink.
Paul says guideline one is: is it helpful. Will by doing this will I help myself, my family, others around me. Will it build me and others up? This is really the law of love, because if builds others up. And this is how AA works, they help others stay sober one day at a time, by sharing how they overcame it and became sober one day at a time. Paul will later write in I Cor.8: 1 “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” So do not ask ‘what do I have to do? ‘Instead ask, ‘what is the helpful thing to do? We are not under the law we are under grace. The law of love is the law which says is this action going to be helpful to others. Jesus said, ‘if you love me, keep my commandments.’ This the Law of Love.
Paul then says all things are permissible to me, but I will not be enslaved by anything. Not only are we to be guided by the law of love, but also by the law of liberty. The question to ask is not, am I permitted to do this as a Christian? But instead ask this question, ‘will this action, (food, drink, sex, hobby, etc, become my master instead of my servant.
The Law of Liberty is simply the control of the Holy Spirit from within. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the Law of Sin and death. The work of the Spirit within me is the law of liberty freeing me from the power of sin. For where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
Paul brings these two laws or principles together in Galatians 5: “You, my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now here is where the danger lies- slavery. The persistent refusal to say no to an enslaving habit, whether it be overeating, smoking, drinking, pornography, runs the risk of hardening your conscience so that you no longer feel guilty for the enslavement. Common response: “I just cannot stop it.” You must be on guard. Watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.
The enemy takes this God given appetites, including the appetite we have to worship and tempts one to fulfill those appetites in ungodly ways. Sex, food, work, pleasure- we know God gave us these desires and only the Creator can fulfill those in the way they are to be fulfilled.
Paul is emphatic about sexual immorality- the body, Paul says, is not meant for sexual immorality.
Freedom to do what one wants to does not lead to freedom but enslavement. Freedom to not take a drink one day at a time gave me more fulfillment than getting drunk ever did. Waking up in the morning without a hangover, or fear- what a wonder! The wonder of freedom!
Are you looking for a ‘loophole’ which will allow you to do something which is potentially harmful rather than helpful? Or has the potential to enslave rather than set you free?
Quit looking for loopholes and look to Jesus. Put your eyes on things above, not on the things of this earth. We live in a society and culture which bombards us daily with messages, entertainment, advertising, which in essence says, ‘ you deserve these things- they will bring you pleasure…but you must ask, will they be helpful or harmful? Will they build others up? Will they enslave me?