The Problem with Guilt by Association. – 1 Corinthians 5:7-13

The 8th Message in our series of messages on The Corinthians.
(Find the other messages from this series here)

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Our Dream at Faith Church is to see people far from God become totally committed followers of Jesus because we believe fully that it is the greatest life that you can live.

We are excited you are here, but we are also pretty excited about lunch afterward! You only have to be around us once to figure out that we love to eat. We get it honestly though- God established feasts for the Israelites in the Old Testament thousands of years ago. Of course back then they did not get to basically eat a feast every day like we do in our culture today- so for them the feat was a big, big deal.

Paul actually refers to one of those feast, the biggest of them all-The passover.

At the passover they would eat unleavened bread and lamb. We are not eating that today. But that passage of scripture that we have come to in our study of Corinthians does talk about the passover and who to eat with.

Paul had started a church in Corinthians and had since left. There were issues in the church so he was writing them a letter to straighten things out…One of the issues apparently was that they had twisted some of Paul’s words and they were telling followers of Jesus that they  were to have no contact or friendship with people who didn’t believe…They were basically teaching that they would be guilty by association with them. That is not what Paul had taught them so he straightens them out in this passage. Let’s read it together.

1 Corinthians 5:7-13

1 corinthians 5.7-13.002Nicole and I met in high school. This picture is from Spirit Week during our senior year.

Every year our school had spirit week. One year the school board decided that a week was too long and they shortened it to only 3 days. Several of my friends in our class didn’t like this decision so we protested by holding our own Spirit Days the other 2 days of the week. We showed up on Monday dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz and we showed up on Tuesday dressed for the 80’s.

Our class was constantly doing stuff like this- not horrible stuff, but stuff that just absolutely annoyed our teachers. If you look at the right edge of that photo you can see a guy just behind me that while everyone else is wearing Green & Gold (our school’s team colors) he’s wearing Blue & Red, the colors of the team we were playing for homecoming at the end of that week.

By doing stuff like this throughout high school, our class became known as “That Class.” That freshman class, that sophomore class, that Junior, and Those Seniors…While guys like myself and Rodney were constantly causing problems at school, there were people who were quiet, non-troublemakers but they got lumped in with the rest of us.

They were guilty of nothing except for being in the same class as guys like me and Rodney.

If you’ve ever been accused of something or suspected of something just because of the people that you were around or went to school with or work with, you’ve been considered guilty by association.

Paul writes to the Corinthians because they were teaching that you shouldn’t associate with unbelievers. Paul says, I never said that and there are 3 lessons Pauls gives them about Guilt by Association.

  1. The Problem with Guilt by Association is that we are all guilty.

Pauls said in verse 7 & 8
7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven,

To the Jews, leaven represented sin. So when they had the passover they were to remove all of the leaven or yeast from their home. They were not to make their bread from leaven. Often the Jewish people would have a ball of dough that they would use to make their bread. When they would make a new batch, they would pick up the dough left over from the last batch that would have turned into yeast or leaven and mix it into the new batch. Then, before they cooked it they would pinch off a piece, and set it aside for the next time they made bread.

The bread for Passover couldn’t start with the old bread, it had to be completely new. Completely separated from the old. Paul is writing to them to say that we are made new and separated from sin by Jesus, because all of us have sin or leaven in our lives.

If you bristle at the idea of being considered guilty, let me remind you of what Paul said, a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. It may be that you have lived a more noble life than most, but we are all guilty to some degree- and the Lord demands bread totally free of leaven or lives totally free from sin.

All of us need to be made with a new lump of dough. We live, not on our old ways, but completely new. We all need that because we are all sinful. We all have “leaven” in our bread.

Then in verse 10 Pauls says i told you separate yourself from sin and those practicing sin, but not the sinners of the world because if you were to do that, you would have to leave the world.  You would have to leave the world because everyone is a sinner. There are no people and there is no place that you can go to completely separate yourself from sin because it is everywhere.

No one is guilty by association because everyone is guilty all on their own.

You’re not guilty because you associated with someone, you were guilty before you associated with them. In my high school class there were well behaved kids that got lumped in with the rest of us. In life, there are no perfect people to get lumped in with the rest of us, we are all imperfect.

Another problem with Guilt by Association is that it assumes innocence before association.

We are all leavened bread. We do not simply need to get around the right influences or in the right place or hang out with the right people, we need to be made new! A new lump of dough that has no connection to the past. In the next letter that Paul would write to the Corinthians he would say, you have been made new. All old things are passed away and everything has become new!

Oftentimes we are considered guilty by others when we are around guilty people- but personally we often feel guilty when we are around innocent or good people.

There’s a good example of this in the gospels. Some men bring a woman before Jesus and throw her down. They say, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery! The law says we should stone her! What do you say! They were hoping to make Jesus, the friend of sinners, the man who was guilty by associating with sinners, they were trying to make him look bad, trying to make him pick sides. Is he a friend of sinners or is a friend of what’s right!?

If Jesus said, let her go then people who stood for the law would be offended. If Jesus kill her then people who were sinners would be offended. They were trying to force Jesus to take sides, is he on the side of the guilty or the righteous? Jesus says, ok. Let the person with no sin throw the first stone…

What Jesus taught them in that moment is there is no guilty and innocent. We are all guilty. When this angry self-righteous mob heard what Jesus said, they one by one dropped their rocks and turned to walk away. In the presence of Jesus goodness, they no longer felt morally superior, they felt the weight of their own guilt.

It may be today that coming to church hasn’t been that great of an experience so far because you feel guilty- I’m sorry. We want you to feel welcome, loved, and accepted, and we want you to eat a killer lunch, but we also want to spend some time with Jesus this morning and when we gather around Jesus who is so good, we feel the weight of our guilt.

When High Def TVs came out, many TV sets had to be rebuilt because imperfections that weren’t noticeable before were glaringly obvious now. When we are around Jesus, our sin gets put in High Def. Thankfully, while seeing our guilty is dificult, it’s a really good thing! So what was Paul trying to say that so twisted into this idea that a follower of Jesus should not be friends with unbelievers?

Paul had told them that if someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus and was a member of their church was living in sin, that they needed to deal with it.

  1. The Contradiction of Guilt by Association is that God tells us to avoid association with those who deny their guilt.

Paul wasn’t telling them to cut off all connection to anyone who had sin, he was telling them to deal with a person who claimed to be righteous but was not, and if that person refused to confess and turn from their sin, they were to cut off connection to that person so that no one, including that person, would think that living as a follower of Jesus.

12For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

Paul has been building this point for a few passages. Paul has made it clear that,
Paul had no right to judge unbelievers, but he had every responsibility to challenge the church to live for Jesus.

Paul hadn’t told them to judge and condemn those who weren’t following Jesus, Paul told them to challenge those who claimed to be followers of Jesus to be sure their walk matched their talk.

There are many things that the church has gotten wrong through the years, and this one is near the top of the list and it didn’t start in the last 50 or 100 years. It started from the very beginning.

During Jesus life we know that this was already an issue. When Jesus was here he sat down to eat with criminals, prostitutes, and other sinners. The religious people were shocked. What a scandal! Jesus is eating lunch with people who aren’t perfect! If it were today there would have been pictures on TMZ and a feature story on the Today Show. The religious elite even gave Jesus a nickname that they meant as an insult, “Friend of Sinners.” Jesus wore that nickname like a medal of honor.

Jesus associated with anyone because he loved everyone.

In fact Jesus said, I have not come to help the righteous, but I have come to seek and to save the lost. He even said that there is rejoicing in heaven any time a sinner comes to the Lord, but not over righteous people who think they don’t need to turn from their sin.

So for the Corinthians to teach that you were not to associate with sinners was a major departure from what Jesus lived out. It may be that what you have heard or experienced or perceived from believers was judgment toward outsiders and unbelievers, and if that’s so, I apologize because that is the exact opposite of what Jesus lived out and what Paul taught.

What Jesus lived out and Paul taught is that welcoming everyone in to be with Jesus will highlight their sin and their guilt and then Jesus can do something about it… You see, when we try to be a spiritual doctor, all we can really do is be x-ray techs.

We can point out problems but we can’t fix them. Jesus can place his finger on the problem and then heal it.

In verse 7 Pauls says

For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

At the passover the Jewish family would make sure to clean out any leaven from the house, then make a new batch of bread with no yeast. Then the father or head of the household would take a lamb that was free of blemish to the temple. At the temple the lamb would be killed and it’s blood and kidney and fat would be placed on the altar as a sacrifice for the sins of the family. Then the father would carry the lamb back to the house where it would be prepared for a dinner for the family.

The lamb had paid the price for their sins and now gave them sustenance and strength. This ritual pointed back to the original passover when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and Moses came to lead them to the promise land.

Pharaoh didn’t want the Israelites to leave, so God attempted to persuade him through a series of plagues to demonstrate that Pharaoh should let the people go and that he didn’t want to mess with this powerful God. Through the plagues Pharoah’s heart hardened.

The final plague was a passover because a death angel would pass over the nation. Any home that didn’t have the blood of a lamb on it’s doorpost, that death angel would visit that house and require blood from that house.

It was a major judgement, but Egypt was a guilty nation. When Moses was a baby he only survived because his mother hid him. All the other baby boys born to the Israelites during that time were thrown into the Nile. Drowned.  The Egyptians had been cruel taskmasters over the Israelites and God was going to free them. So every door where there wasn’t blood, the death angel went in and shed blood. Every door where there was blood, the death angel passed over.

When families offered a lamb as a sacrifice at the temple and then ate a meal of the lamb and unleavened bread it was a reminder that God had freed them from the evil nation of the Egyptians. Paul says, Jesus is our Passover Lamb. He was sacrificed for us and now gives us strength.

  1. The Beauty of Guilt by Association is that Jesus associated with us to take our guilt.

The Beauty of Guilt by association is that Jesus associated with us to take our guilt.

Jesus came to be among us, to be our friend, to be associated with us, so that he could take our guilt. Earlier I said that the problem with guilt by association is that everyone is guilty. Everyone but Jesus. Jesus lived his life without sin. When he associated with us, he took our guilt so that we could have his innocence. Jesus associated with us to take our guilt and give us his innocence.

Because of the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, 

we are able to experience innocence by association.