Note: Calvin and I have found increasingly so that this is pretty much Grant’s blog but with Calvin and I as guest posters.
Often times, I find it easy to think that my sins only affect myself and my own walk with God. I also find it easy to think of my sanctification on a very individualistic level. Hey, “against [God], [God] only, have I sinned,” right? While it’s true that our sins is first and foremost an offense to our Holy God, it doesn’t negate the fact that our own spiritual walk affects those around us. If we, the church, are the body of Christ then “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). As I meditate on 1 Timothy 4, I’ve found it increasingly true in Scripture and in life that our personal holiness has a direct effect on those around us. I plan to take us through a couple passages to examine and explore both the negative and positive our walks can have on the body.
Let’s begin with the negative.
1 Corinthians 5:6-13
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
The church of Corinth in Paul’s day was in the midst of debaucherous and morally depraved city. With the temple to Aphrodite looming in the city’s acropolis, the pagan culture began to infiltrate the church so much that even Paul heard about it (5:1). And so, Paul writes this letter to correct and rebuke, calling for the purity of the church. In verse 11, he charges the church to not associate with sinners who “bears the name of brother.” And in verse 13, he charges them to “purge the evil person from among [them].” In essence, Paul commands the church to remove those who call themselves a Christian but are in unrepentant sin.
But why? He explains a few verses earlier in verse 6–“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Leaven is a substance like yeast that causes dough to rise. As the rhetorical question implied, it only takes a small amount of leaven to make the whole batch of dough rise. What is Paul saying here? He’s saying that sinful, evil influences when tolerated and left unchecked will permeate and affect the whole church. Paul further explains in verse 7 and 8. Unleavened bread was eaten at the Passover, which was a celebration to commemorate YHWH’s salvation of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The unleavened bread symbolized their freedom from Egypt and their separation from their old enslavement. In the same way, Paul calls them remove and separate themselves the sinful and pagan culture around them, to protect themselves from the corrupting power of sin.
God takes sin seriously, especially sin in the church. He cares about the purity of the church so much because it can negatively influence the body, unrepentant sin is cancerous to the church! Though we may not be committing “heinous” sins that the Corinthians were like incest, the principle remains the same. Our sin, private and/or public, can harm those around us. It only takes a little bit of leaven to ruin the whole lump. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
In contrast, our godliness and character seems to have the opposite effects.
1 Timothy 4:6-7, 11-16 (emphasis added)
6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Here in 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to his young protege Timothy, whom he left to pastor the church in Ephesus. The Ephesian church was plagued with false teachers and leaders in the church (1:3-7, 4:1-2). And so, Timothy is tasked with combating these leaders and their false doctrine. How does Paul challenge Timothy to combat their false teaching? Take a look at verse 7: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness.” For Timothy to effectively lead and supersede the false teachers, Paul challenges Timothy to grow in his character! He further explains why in the bolded sections verses 11-16. His life was to be an example to those around him. Timothy was to show and model godliness and holiness to the church. Though he was young and may not have had the respect to command and influence those in the church in comparison to the older false teachers, his life was to be so Christ-like that he can say like Paul, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
So, what does that mean for us? Though it is fairly obvious that our public life affects others, I’d like to bring to attention our personal private walk with Christ. For me, I have noticed a consistent pattern: I can’t encourage, rebuke, or exhort effectively when bogged down by sin or struggling in my walk with the Lord. If I’ve been slacking in my devotional time, I am less inclined to ask my brothers about theirs and hold them accountable. I won’t and don’t encourage or exhort them in fighting for purity if I’m drowning it myself. The nature of private sin seeks to hide and avoid. So I won’t ask pointed questions if I know they’ll be asked right back at me.
Similarly, when in sin, I tend to be self-focused. I worry about myself and focus on my struggles, my problems, and my spiritual health. My thoughts will rarely turn to seek to encourage, care, exhort, or rebuke others. I fail to strengthen those around me. A way for me to love and care for those around me is by maintaining my own personal holiness! We can be a blessing or a burden to the church. A joy, where the church can rejoice in our growth and encouragement to the body, or a sorrow, where the body feels a member is deeply struggling.
The health of the church by no means hinge on us for Christ himself will sanctify, nourish, cleanse and present her to himself in splendor. But, we as members of the body ought to take care of ourselves for the sake of the whole body.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.