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12 August 2012

By qanda

The passage we looked at tonight was 1 Corinthians 5. Here are the questions.

1 – The same way that we don’t just let someone be destructive to themselves, that’s the same thing that’s done by God himself under “free will” as if you want to go to hell and not follow him you can on judgement day.

This is a tricky question (which is why I let it go through to the keeper last night), and it touches on a number of key doctrines in Christianity. I’ll try to keep the answer short.

I mentioned last night that it’s not loving to let people continue in self-destructive behaviour. And yet (quite rightly) the question puts forward that God does this at points. Romans 1 is a clear example of it where people’s desire to want to ignore God and do-away with him is so great that he leaves them to their own devices (Romans 1:18-32).

When Tim Keller talks about hell, he often puts it in the context of God giving people what they choose (I’m aligning this with “free will” although i don’t use that term because I think it’s pretty loaded). Note here though, that the decision is made in this life, and not on judgement day. We decide for or against, God now, and then we will be judged by God for that decision when we front up to him.

So I think where the question is driving at is how can I say it’s unloving to leave people to their destruction, and yet that’s precisely what God does? (Sorry if it’s not – email me and I’ll correct my answer)

God is both just & merciful. He longs for people to return to him (2 Peter 3:9), and he makes clear his love for us in Christ (1 John 4:9-10). And he gives us a lifetime, and plentiful opportunity to repent…but at some point we need to be called to account, otherwise he wouldn’t be just.

As much as he loves us, we are accountable for our actions. He would much prefer to take the punishment himself…but if we don’t want to hand that over to him, then we need to take responsibility for it.

So does God ultimately leave people to their own choices? Eventually yes – he “respects” people’s decision not to come back to Him. But this is done reluctantly.

2 – Paul seems to say that when the guy in 1 Corinthians 5 gets kicked out of the church fellowship his spirit will be saved. Is that only if he repents and comes back, or is it always? Because how often, when someone is expelled from the church will they actually repent and not fall deeper into sin?

The verse referred to here is 1 Corinthians 5:5. In this verse I’m not sure Paul is drawing a causal link – if you kick him out he WILL be saved. It’s more the hope that when he is kicked out he’ll realise the seriousness of his sin & come back. That’s always the hope (see 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

In the Corinthian culture there’s two things to not. The Corinthian church was the ONLY church in the city. If he was kicked out of their fellowship, unlike our culture today where you could just pop down to the other church on the corner, there was no other options in Corinth. Because of the practicalities of living in Corinth, the kicking out carries much more weight.

The other thing to remember is that Corinth was an honour-shame culture. If you were kicked out of a community, it brought shame on you and lessened your “status” in the eyes of everyone. We might not care about that today, because we’re not an honour-shame culture, but it was a big deal in the Corinthian culture.

So because of these two things, the sentence of being kicked out of the church, would have been enough to motivate people to reconsider their lifestyle. The argument may also be similar to that of the lost son (Luke 14:11-32) where it’s only when people hit rock-bottom that they realise what they’re excluding themselves from – a loving community that is ready, willing & enthusiastic about forgiving them, just as we all have been forgiven in Christ.

So while we may question whether this method would have the same effect in our culture (for reasons touched on above), they’re some of the reasons behind what Paul says here.

3 – Are there big sins and little sins?

At it’s heart sin is rebellion against God. Our actions that the Bible refers to as sin, are expressions of that rebellion, and the disease that causes these decisions infects every one of us (Romans 3:9-23). So while some sins look less “harmful” than others, the actions reflect an attitude that is opposed to God, where we decide how we will live, and what is right & wrong, independently of Him. Yet there are clearly some actions & behaviours that are more harmful to us, and others. 1 Corinthians 5 is an example of where Paul sees particular behaviour as incredibly destructive, whereas other examples of sin in the Corinthians he deals with less severely, but no less seriously. Christians still struggle with sin, but the call in Corinthians is to not shape our actions around what you used to be, but what God has made us in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). We’re to live cross-shaped lives.

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