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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How to change the world, or at least your corner of it

Integrity has the ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance.

During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. … Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. … The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. … But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

Daniel 1:1, 3, 5, 8

One of our admonitions from Yeshua is to demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands (Matt. 5:20). Sometimes these external commands take the form of direct instruction, and sometimes these “commands” come in the form of allowances or tolerations of our culture that would violate the purity of our relationship with God. We must resist both forms of this type of cultural influence.

In the case of Daniel and his friends, they were removed from their home and brought to a completely different culture under a new political regime. Even though they were favored within this new dynamic, Daniel and his friends, in their integrity, resolved not to be negatively influenced by this turn of events, and to remain loyal to God.

The Hebrew culture that Daniel had been raised in had very specific dietary requirements in order to maintain faithfulness to the Torah, or instruction, of God for his people. Given the “freedom” to eat all types of foods and meats in his new environment, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to those requirements at any cost.

Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff … “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. … At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king.

Daniel 1:9-12, 15

Daniel and his friends were able to demonstrate to this chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s staff that God was able to meet their needs, even if it meant going against the cultural “mandate” of royal rations.

Integrity has this ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance. This is a highly valued commodity among all people because it is rarely seen in common practice.

It is our obligation as believers to be so thoroughly committed to our faith that through our integrity we become the influencers of those around us, rather than allowing them to influence us.

Making a Difference

A heart of godly compassion wants to influence others for their good.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Matthew 5:13

Be as distinctive and useful as salt while on this earth. 

The life of a believer should be one of influencing the world around them; not necessarily the whole world, but the extent of their personal reach. This influence should be as natural as breathing to a believer, but as profound as the most challenging ethic to others. An encounter with a believer should be a unique experience, one that carries a distinctive “taste” amidst a world of bland personal opinion and selfish actions.

In being genuinely concerned for the things of God, a believer will naturally demonstrate a quality that stands out from the experiences that most people have in their relationships with others. There will be a positive “something” that separates the believer from the rest of a person’s worldly interactions.

Drawing on the metaphor of Yeshua, salt can be an enhancement to the flavor of food. It is also a means of preservation and healing. These are the characteristics and influences that a believer will have on those around them. All of these stem from a godly heart that wants to influence others for their good while doing the right thing at all times.

If we are not demonstrating these “salty” values, then our faith is serving no real purpose; it hasn’t made a difference to anyone but ourselves.

Ultimately, is that a true faith?