Flowing from conversations with some Christians I have been moved to write this post on this controversial topic.
Many of us Christians get it wrong on this ever sensitive issue and go on “judging” others forgetting that we did much worse than those we end up labelling before we accepted God’s call. It is by His grace that we have been saved not by any of our efforts (indeed righteousness by our efforts is as filthy rags to God). Only by Christ’s finished work on the cross are we saved.
The question on how to balance the following instructions/guides has remained with some of us:
“Evil communication corrupts good manners” 1 Corinthians 15:33
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
“Do not keep company with sinners”. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11
To the glory of God He does not leave us to figure things out by our common sense or logic. Hence He teaches us by His Spirit as we explore His word with open hearts ever willing to accept our shortcomings and learn from Him in humility.
When we become saved we are referred to as spiritual babies who start off on soft diets (1 Peter 2:2).
As we study God’s word and spend more and more time in His presence and in obedience we start to grow in grace to maturity. The eyes and ears of our spirit man are opened. We clearly discern God’s voice, His will, how to please Him. Etc. The more we grow in grace the more we desire to seek His face in all things.
It is necessary to fellowship with others who have been saved as well (iron sharpens iron) as we have been encouraged by Paul not to forsake the assembly of fellow believers. Christ also made this point where He said that where two or three are gathered in His name He is there with them. We therefore have a clear need for fellowship for us to grow in Christ and to encourage ourselves.
It is true that we get influenced by what we allow to enter our hearts. Hence we are to stay away from things that are likely to entice us to return to what we have been saved from. “Evil communication corrupts good manners”. We are thus to avoid visiting the sinful places we visited and to totally abstain from the wrongs we were previously entangled with. A period spent in seclusion shortly after salvation usually helps a lot in terms of spiritual growth.
The instruction applies however even to mature Christians. We are influenced by what we naturally surround ourselves with. If you will not be enticed it’s best to stay away from triggers. The spiritual battle is fought daily (not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers). We are to surround ourselves with light and the things of God. Dirty words should not come out of our mouths neither should we hang around people who are known for negative speech.
On the issue of being unequally yoked with unbelievers it is important to understand the meaning of yoke.
A yoke is something which binds two separate things together such that they must necessarily go in one direction. It is a strong thing. It connotes a strong uniting force. When yoked with someone where that person is going is where you are going. There is no way out.
Light and darkness cannot tolerate each other. This is the nature of a redeemed life and sin. A truly redeemed and sanctified Christian hates what God hates and loves what God loves. God hates sin. God hates darkness. Darkness cannot comprehend His light. Once He is around darkness scampers away. A sanctified person carries the light of God. He thus instructs us to not be unequally yoked. To not be so connected to darkness as to be going where it is going.
Marriage is a vivid example of what it is to be yoked. Their God becomes your God or their gods become your gods. Many ask questions relating to marriage to an unbeliever. Unbelievers are people, yes. A sanctified Christian was once an unbeliever. But we cannot marry unbelievers for the reason adduced above. The unbeliever and the believer do not serve the same god. The unbeliever is not mandated to obey God’s laws. You cannot change an unbeliever. You cannot force them to serve your God. How about where you treat them nicely as God commands you yet they treat you badly? Whose fault would that be? God’s? No. He has already made a way out.
We are not to be so tangled with an unbeliever as to not be free to move in our own direction. God despises anything that turns away a man’s heart from Him. And being yoked with an unbeliever will do just that. Because it is easier to sin than to do right. It is easier for the unbeliever to influence the believer than it is for the believer to influence the unbeliever. (Those who are already married however need not leave their marriage but should try through good behaviour and prayers to lead their partners to Christ (1 Corinthians 7)).
We are to relate with unbelievers (this is inevitable. More light will be shed on this below). They are all around us. We are to reach out to them to share His message with them and reveal Him to them. But we are not to be unequally yoked.
On keeping company with sinners my discussion was with a Christian recently who was of the view that Christians are not meant to eat or keep company with sinners. Her point was hinged on the fact that only Christ could do that and that as we are not Christ it is not our business to eat or mingle with sinners.
I can boldly say that nowhere in the word of God was this instruction given. 1 Corinthians 5 is clear.
The first instruction Christ gave to His followers prior to His Ascension was to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creation baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit (Mark 16:15).
Every Christian must fulfil this calling. It is compulsory. We are to lead people to Christ wherever we find ourselves (Matthew 5:16) both by our teaching and our behaviour. At all times. There are no days off. We are to be aware (on the lookout for) of opportunities to share the gospel.
It was stated above that we are to fellowship with other Christians and encourage ourselves thereby. In addition to this, the purpose of God’s call on the life of every Christian is to lead other people to Him. We are not called for our sakes alone. Indeed what gain is it if one is the only educated or rich man in the world while all others around him are daft or poverty stricken? What good is good news if it won’t be shared with others?
Indeed God says that the feet of those who bring good tidings are beautiful!
How will the word be preached if we stay away from sinners? From whom will they hear the word? From whose good conduct will they be touched to seek God? How will the gospel be preached if preachers are not sent? To whom will preachers preach if we all are saved?
1 Corinthians 5:11 was the Scripture upon which the discussion was based.
Upon examining the entire chapter it is clear what message the apostle Paul intended to convey. He encourages us to stay away from believers who are known to be wilfully entangled in sin (even after multiple warnings). We are adviced to stay away from such people so that we do not start making excuses for them and eventually go their way (wilful sin). Evil communication indeed corrupts good manners.
Please note here that this passage (1 Corinthians 5) refers to “a believer” not sinners. A “deliberately sinning” believer.
As if this was not clear enough Paul went further to state that he could not advice that we stayed away from sinners as that was impossible (it would necessitate leaving this world) (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) He also stated clearly that he was in no place to judge sinners, that sinners are to be judged by God Himself. However believers can judge one another in love based on the word of God (Verses 12-13).
Let us examine these scenarios objectively:
If a sinner invites you to dinner with his family, does it not appear to be a good opportunity to share the gospel? (1 Corinthians 10:27-31)
What would Jesus think about it? Or the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t Their points of view be more important than ours bring Christians totally subject to Their control?
If you know a man who clearly does not care about you or who acts self-righteously around you, will you care to listen to whatever message he comes to share with you? As a rational person I wouldn’t. I would rather listen to someone who shows me that he cares about me.
Many Christians go about as if they are better than others. No one is better than another. It is by the grace of God that we are saved through faith not works, lest any man should boast.
It is often believed (and quite truly in many cases) that the worst sinners love God the most when they become saved. After all Jesus said that “he loves little who is forgiven of little and he loves much who is forgiven of much”.
Those who have done many wrongs seem to understand more when faced with someone who is stuck in wrongdoing. They tend to be more patient. Isn’t that what is required?
I have done things in my past that I am not proud of. Hence I can see how much God has done for me in calling me in spite of it all for which I am grateful What if I extend this same love to sinners? Isn’t that what He commands? And how would I extend His love? Is it only by preaching on the street? If I do not keep company with sinners that I may thereby preach to them, who will? Who am I to judge? Who are you to judge?
It is my sincere prayer that someone is touched by this post and it is helpful in some way.
God bless you.