1 Corinthians 15:33

‘Don’t be deceived!
“Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”’
(1 Corinthians 15:33)

This is a widely recognized truth, not just amongst Christians. It’s why parents everywhere hope their children make the right friends (by their definition), rather than mix with bad influences. The ancient Greeks knew this too. Paul was possibly quoting one of their ‘“own”’(Acts 17:28) here, as he did elsewhere, although might just have been stating this well known fact. Human beings become like those they spend time with. Unless careful about the micro-cultures we inhabit this can have seeping poisonous consequences (including through text-based or audio-visual media). James warns elsewhere that we should keep ourselves ‘unstained by the world’(James 1:27) and earlier here Paul had warned that ‘a little yeast leavens the whole lump’(1 Corinthians 5:6) in the context of tolerating sexual immorality. Inappropriate things can easily become normalized unless we’re very careful.

Our first response to any influence that tends to sin, including bad company, must be to ‘“cut it”’(Matthew 18:8) out. Then, even better we should walk the other way, since although ‘a companion of fools suffers harm’(Proverbs 13:20), the one who ‘walks with wise men grows wise’(Proverbs 13:20). So the early believers soaked in ‘the apostles’ teaching and fellowship’(Acts 2:42), and Paul encouraged the Ephesians, ‘don’t be foolish… drunken with wine… but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’(Ephesians 5:17-19) – truly wholesome fellowship. Similarly, he encouraged the Philippians to fill their minds with ‘whatever things are true… honourable… just … pure… lovely… of good report’(Philippians 4:8) etc., rather than filling their heads with the world and its culture. We must do likewise.

However, obviously they didn’t neglect mission, as the rest of Luke’s account in Acts and all of Paul’s letters demonstrate well! As we soak in this wholesome, wise, godly culture of Jesus, we’re supposed to become a different sort of ‘“yeast”’(Matthew 13:33), which leavens for good. Jesus came ‘“to seek and to save that which was lost”’(Luke 19:10), ‘“‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’”’(Matthew 11:19). Our calling, as Paul points out earlier in this letter, is not to ‘leave the world’(1 Corinthians 5:10) to avoid such folk, but rather to reach out like Jesus, even with Him, “to the end of the age”’(Matthew 28:20). So there’s a healthy balance to be found, knowing the difference between our home and our ‘“fields”’(John 4:35).

Interestingly, however, it’s corruption within the church family that Paul was addressing here (and in much of this letter to the Corinthians), i.e. poor understanding of Christian truth with consequent un-Christ-like living. In the next verse he rebukes them: ‘Wake up… don’t sin, for some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame’(1 Corinthians 15:34). That’s amazing given that Paul had lived in Corinth for ‘a year and six months, teaching the word of God’(Acts 18:11) not long before. Their beliefs and culture must have shifted significantly in a short time for this letter to have been necessary. Such groups all too easily auto-align with erroneous teaching and practices, especially if dropped in by ‘puffed up’(1 Corinthians 4:18) opinion leaders and the like. It’s how whole churches become ‘“lukewarm”’(Revelation 3:16ff.) collectively, or worse. We must beware, adopting a healthy balance here too, taking care to soak in spiritually warm spaces, fellowshipping with believers steeped in truth, yet on fire for the collective good too, stoking ‘one another to love and good works’(Hebrews 10:24).

The particular truth they’d lost sight of at Corinth was the resurrection: ‘some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead’(1 Corinthians 15:12)! Paul points out the logical conclusion that flows from this fatal error, highlighting his own sacrificial lifestyle, then exclaiming ‘what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, then “let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”’(1 Corinthians 15:32)! It appears some of the Corinthian Christians, sub-consciously at least, had adopted this logic!

We must beware of the same. Obviously this shows that anyone calling themselves a Christian can’t deny our resurrection hope (although some might try). Even so, it’s easy to let these ‘things that are above’(Colossians 3:2) slip from view, to focus on ‘the things that are in the world’(1 John 2:15ff.) instead – even temporal Christian living. Paul argues here that if life on earth as Christians is all we can expect, then ‘we are of all men most pitiable’(1 Corinthians 15:19). If that’s not true of our experience, then perhaps we should ask ourselves why? Is the Christian sub-culture we’re inhabiting too focused on ‘heaven on earth’ now, rather than Revelation 21:1ff.?

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