Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 13: Facing Cultural Blindness
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
When a young couple who are living together start attending and wants to join your congregation, what do you do? Or when a cross-dressing believer shows up for one of your services? How do you respond to believers who engage in what they term ‘harmless recreational’ drugs? Or the Christian employer who hires and fires others within the congregation? How do you address Christians who sue each other in court, break into factions over who is right, determine fellowship based on being rich or poor—or continue to consort with temple prostitutes.
You see the tension this creates. We are called to be holy because God is holy. Every culture in the world has been developed by people affected by the Fall. No culture is holy—and some even have features that are clearly anti-Christ. Our own U.S. history shows us that when our culture informs our faith journey, we end up in some pretty dark places. American Christians have engaged in slavery, eugenics, discrimination, pro-choice and murder for ‘righteousness sake.’
Right now someone you know or know about is living out cultural lies. They are even oblivious that what they are doing is destructive—although you cannot understand how they could not see it.
But the bigger issue is not whether someone is confused culturally, but what should we do to counter their cultural blindness? How Paul responded to the Corinthians about their culturally approved sexual immorality spells it out. It was sin, yes, but more importantly, Paul emphasizes that God paid the price for them to live differently.
Be aware that you walk between two pits in the area of speaking about sin. The one pit you could fall into is an incessant focus on people’s sinful actions and attitudes. Sinful behavior is everywhere, so it is easy to make it the heart of many sermons. Falling into this pit just begs for people to shift from knowing God to modifying their behavior merely to gain the approval of other believers. The pit on the other side is one where some teachers assert that repentance is no longer necessary for the believer since all their sins have already been forgiven. At the bottom of this pit is the Corinthian slogan, “I have the right to do anything.” Paul pointedly notes that this kind of thinking leads to sin addiction instead of freedom (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
Paul does not resort to a hellfire and brimstone scolding. Paul sees that they are wrong, but he is not seeking to cast them out either. His words show the concern of a spiritual father, not anger or rejection. They contain truth, clarity, firmness. He points those still trying to hold on to their former life to the contrast between their culture and God’s kingdom, human thought and God’s truth.
Paul’s response shows that he is concerned that they do not understand the eternal value of their lives. Their little slogan of “food for the stomach and the stomach for food” reeks of a limited understanding of God’s purpose for their lives. Though Paul does not say it here explicitly, his words imply that whatever they do—eating, drinking, sex, marriage, worship—should be done for the glory of God.
He tells them that their body, i.e., every part of them, is meant for God, and God is redeeming it from whatever is destroying it. That behavior they are choosing, as culturally acceptable as they may think it is, runs counter to this spiritual reality. So they need to stop it—to run as hard as they can away from a socially acceptable sin before it does them in.
Then Paul goes in for the win. He will not be satisfied with just a morality lesson. He wants them to know that God values them more than they value themselves. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” —a subtle reminder of the cross. It cost God his Son to die in their place. In exchange, they are being remade into God’s temple—they have God’s presence in the person of the Spirit inside them. Because this is true, they must honor God with how they use their body—rejecting culturally approved activities that dishonor their Savior.
This is a do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-unto-you reminder. You want to be redemptive towards believers caught in cultural sin, because they could be you. Christopher Yuan, who wrote Holy Sexuality and the Gospel reminds us, “Everyone is created in God’s image. Which means that we all have value, God loves us as the pinnacle of His creation. And so as believers, we need to remember that about everyone. When we talk about people . . . as our enemies, or our opposites, or talking to them in disdain, we forget that they are still God’s image-bearers. And they are in need of grace, the same grace that we received that we didn’t earn and that we need.”