Do Not Conform to the Culture- 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

In this passage, Paul is dealing with the Corinthian church over an issue which could eventually destroy both it and its witness. He begins in verse 1 by mentioning the offense he is dealing with. We find it is a form of porneia, a term used in Greek culture primarily to refer to a prostitute, and literally meaning a “harlot for hire”. A man among them was apparently making use of the services of a prostitute, but what is even worse is that this particular one is his “father’s wife”. No one is sure exactly what was going on here, but the one possible conclusion is that this was his father’s ex-wife (but not his birth mother), and his father has died. Rather than take care of her as he should, he has left her destitute and she has turned to prostitution to survive, and he has made use of her “services”. We must not, however, get too hung up on the details of verse one, for whatever was going on, it was wrong and even illegal under Roman law (does not even occur among the pagans), and the church should have dealt with it. The main point here is found in verse 2, for we find the church not only did not put a stop to this, but was actually “proud” of this. They not only did not condemn this behavior, but they championed it and held it up as an example. Just how could a Christian church come to the place where it is “proud’ of this kind of behavior? We must examine the culture in Corinth at this particular time to discover the answer. A philosophy which was all the rage in Greek culture at the time was Neo-Platonism, also known as Gnosticism. This philosophy taught what is known as dualism, that man consists of two “parts”, body and soul. The body was seen as the prison house of the soul, and salvation meant to free the soul from its bodily prison, for the soul was essentially good and the body was essentially evil. This led to two schools of thought within Gnosticism, asceticism and libertinism. Ascetics taught that salvation came by denying the desires of the body through abstaining from many normal practices in order to free the good soul from its captivity to the physical demands of the evil body. Libertines taught that since the body is evil, what is done in it is irrelevant, it will be destroyed anyway and the soul set free, so what is done in the body does not effect the soul. Since this is the case, they basically taught an anything goes philosophy, and with human nature being what it is, the Libertine view was more widely accepted, since fallen human nature would rather indulge the flesh than deny it. The reason I bring all of this up is that this is the likely reason the church was “proud” of this behavior. In its desire to be “relevant” and “progressive” and accepted by the culture, the church had embraced the philosophy of the culture. This church had a spiritual problem, this church was seeing things the wrong way, and had become proud of its tolerance of sin. In its desire to be accepted and admired by the culture, this church had conformed to the culture, and began to see things the way the culture does instead of the way the Scripture does. They had embraced the Libertine philosophy, and it had so distorted their thinking that they now saw what was evil as good, that what should have been condemned and ended was accepted and championed. Though this was an issue which took place almost 2000 years ago, it is mentioned because it is as current as today’s headlines, and is given by Paul to serve as a warning to the church even in the present day. It points out to us the dangerous situation in which the church places itself when, in a desire to be “relevant”, “progressive”, and accepted by the culture, it accepts and embraces unbiblical philosophies and worldly ways of seeing things. This church had so embraced the culture that it was now seeing things the way the culture did, to the extent that it now tolerated and championed behavior even the culture defined as illegal. This was destroying the witness of the church to the culture, and was threatening to destroy the church itself, and the very same thing is happening to the church in the USA in our time as well. We must stop our acceptance of worldly philosophies and our desire for cultural conformity, for the church by its nature is counter-cultural, meant to shine as light in the darkness, not add to the darkness, for the church represents the one who is the light. Paul, in the next 5 verses, calls the church away from its cultural conformity, and gives instruction on how to be free from its captivity to the culture. Our next post will examine Paul’s solution to this problem in Corinth, for it is the very same solution which will free the present day church from any captivity to the culture, from its cultural conformity.

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