Friday, 19 August 2011

Paul gave his people long lists of evil deeds

One practice of the apostle Paul - hence, an "apostolic practice" - which appears to have fallen out of use amongst preachers today, was to give his hearers and readers specific, detailed and lengthy lists of evil deeds for them to avoid. Examples:

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Galatians 5:19-21

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Have you heard preachers doing this lately? As you read those sentences, is hearing that kind of thing familiar to you - does it resound from your pulpit? In the culture I grew up in; and indeed the one I now live in; paragraphs like that may generally be considered going a bit too far, to be too detailed and explicit. But I think it would have been in the refined Greco-Roman cultures Paul wrote those letters in too. Nothing has changed.

The fact is, sinful human nature both strongly dislikes and needs to hear these lists and the warnings that go with them. Our people actually need to hear that they should take all pains to avoid greed, drunkenness, orgies, homosexual practice, theft and so on. These things are promoted to them strongly and explicitly elsewhere - they absolutely require equally explicit and strong condemnation. When a pastor believes that that's not so with his people (they're too refined and educated!) then that pastor is almost certainly ignorant of the real lives of his people and needs to get out of his study more.

If human nature really was refined and cultured, we could then avoid this level of nitty-gritty detail. But it isn't - so we can't. If we want to reform the people of God according to the Word of God, Paul's practice in preaching here needs urgent restoring. When we spell it out like this, people will be helped to believe that we're really serious. It's another place where preachers need to decide who and what they're going to offend against; the prevailing evils in the culture and the fake outward respectability of the classes who pretend they're ignorant of these things, or the apostolic commandment they received to "preach the Word".

It's wrong to be crude; God is not crude, and his world was not designed with any crudeness in it or to encourage anyone to be crude. But Paul's example shows us that the naming of these sins is not crudeness. It is indeed (Ephesians 5:12) a shame to speak of the things which the ungodly do in secret - but the same Paul who wrote Ephesians 5:12 also wrote the verses quoted above. Our belief and practice should harmonise those verses and then allow us to speak as he did.

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