Guarding against moral degradation

We must protect ourselves against falling into old, destructive patterns.

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 – Do not be deceived: “Bad associations corrupt good moral habits.” Come to your senses and stop sinning; for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame.

The text here speaks of bad associations; those companionships and conversations that have little to no redeeming value. In our association with these types of relationships and interactions, the apostle Paul warns that we are in danger of becoming deceived. We need to demonstrate vigilance in our activities among those who are ignorant about God as we can be led into sinful areas.

While we certainly need to interact with those around us who may not presently know God, we may sometimes feel that our remaining involvement with them, especially those closer acquaintances and relationships, can help to pull them toward God. However, I once received some sage advice from a former pastor. He mentioned how if someone is standing on a chair, it is much easier for a group of people to pull them off of the chair than for the person on the chair to pull others up.

Proverbs 13:20 – He who walks with the wise will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.

While these cautionary admonitions apply to those around us, the same logic holds true for those who may be within our congregations. We may feel more confidence that those inside our local groups can be reliable companions. However, earlier in the same epistle to the Corinthians, Paul has some similar advice.

1 Corinthians 5:6 – Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough?

Paul here uses the analogy of how yeast can overtake an entire batch of dough with just a little bit of time. In Hebraic thinking, an unleavened batch of dough that is left to itself can absorb yeast particles from ambient conditions and become leavened in as little as a day or two, sometimes only a matter of hours. In this sense, we need to guard ourselves and our local believing communities from those who could potentially bring in harmful ways.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.

While we can’t escape all worldly influence in our daily lives, we can certainly be vigilant with those who claim to be believers and yet persist in ways that are ungodly. Our role then switches from one of shared companionship to one of accountability.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 – For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.

While we are not in a position to be judgmental of how those in the world conduct themselves, Paul says ultimately God judges them. In closer relationships with non-believers, we can distance ourselves when we see that our familiarity with them is not bearing fruit, and we ourselves may be in danger of falling into old, destructive patterns.

Within our congregations, however, our responsibility is to ensure that we are not associating with those who claim to be believers but are unrepentant. Then we do have the right, and the responsibility, to confront their sinfulness.

Ultimately, with all of our interactions in life, we need to be vigilant about maintaining truth and following Yeshua in sincerity and obedience. When we do so, we can be led to further areas of wisdom and understanding.

Proverbs 9:6 – Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding.


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