Text: 2 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Corinth was a tough city—especially for Christians. The two letters we have that are addressed to the church in Corinth by Paul reveal a multitude of problems—carnality, pride, incest, immoral behavior—just to name a few things the Church had to address. And those things were merely reflections of the culture of Corinth.
Corinth was a great commercial center in Greece, but it was also an extremely immoral city. William Barclay tells us, The very name Corinth was synonymous with debauchery and there was one source of evil in the city which was known all over the civilized world. Above the Isthmus towered the hill of the Acropolis, and on it stood the great temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. To that temple there were attached one thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth, until it became a Greek proverb, “It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.” In addition to these cruder sins, there flourished far more recondite vices, which had come in with the traders and the sailors from the ends of the earth, until Corinth became not only a synonym for wealth and luxury, drunkenness and debauchery, but also for filth.” (Barclay, Daily Bible Studies, The Letters to the Corinthians.)
According to Barclay, The Greek writer Aelian tells us that if ever a Corinthian was shown upon the stage in a Greek play he was shown drunk.
The very word “Corinthian” in that first century had come to mean “to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. Corinth was the “Sin City” of that day.
While the church at Corinth is often referred to as “The Problem Church,” I think the situations the church faced there are closely mirrored by our North American Culture with the problems we face of Sex Trafficking, Homosexually, LGBT agendas, and so many other sins that were similar to the ones the Corinthian Church faced. As we recognize these similarities, the admonition of Paul “to perfect holiness out of reverence to God” seems especially pertinent.
In Acts 18 we get a brief summary of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. He ministered there for nearly 2 years, first meeting in the synagogue, and then, when the Jews rejected his message, he preached in house of a man named Titius Justus who was a worshipper of God. And, as what seems to have been the norm in Paul’s missionary endeavors, he was brought before the proconsul of the area who promptly dismissed the charges since they were merely disputes from the Jews about religious matters and in his opinion had nothing to do with Roman and civil law.
And it is interesting that in a city reputed to have been as wicked as Corinth, we are told in Acts 18 that the Lord spoke to Paul while he was in Corinth, telling him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18: 9-10).
With that background, let’s consider the call to holiness that 2 Corinthians 7:1 has:
I. THIS PASSAGE TELLS US WHAT HOLINESS REQUIRES
a. 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord, Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
b. Does this mean I should condemn everyone who is not a Christian? Of course not. We are called to be witnesses and to live exemplary lives in order to demonstrate to others what God is able to do in our lives. We, like Paul, should “by all means seek to save others!”
c. But the old saying is true: “We are to hate the sin, but love the sinner!” We must constantly be on guard so that we do not allow ourselves to become entangled in the sin of those around us.
d. In the world in which we live, we are to be different. It is heartbreaking when we read statistics that say that divorce, infidelity, and other sins are nearly as prevalent among those who claim to be Christian as to those who are not. That was what Paul was addressing in the Corinthian Church. And we must be diligent and faithful in today’s world to stand up for Truth and to rebuke Sin while trying to connect with sinners in such a way as to lead them to Christ!
II. GOD’S PROMISES ENABLE US TO FOLLOW AFTER HOLINESS
a. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
b. What “Promises” is Paul talking about? In the previous verses in chapter 6 we read in verse 16, “As God has said, “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” And, in verse 18, “And, ‘ I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
c. In this ungodly, sinful, fallen world, God has promised to be with all those who trust in Jesus. He has given us His Holy Spirit who empowers us and energizes us so that we can resist temptation and the pull of a corrupt world.
d. So in this world, just like the Christians in the first century in Corinth, we are faced with a choice. We can allow ourselves to drift into complacency and compromise, or we can choose to resist Satan and refuse to give in to sin and sinfulness.
e. And when we choose to trust God’s promises, and to live for him, even as we struggle in this ungodly world, we are “perfecting holiness.”
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE HOLY IN A SINFUL WORLD.
a. God had told Paul that He (God) had many people in that city. Romans 5:20 says, “…Where sin abounds, grace did much more abound.” In the commentaries I have read, the focus has always been on the wickedness of the city, but I have read very little, if any, about the Godly people in the city of Corinth. We are told there was a large Jewish population, but that is about all. Why is it that our human tendency is to see the bad and ignore the good?
b. Let me share a bit of this article about the American City that we nickname “Sin City”: Las Vegas has a dirty little secret it’s hiding from many of the 35 million tourists who come to cut loose in a place where sin is celebrated and sold with messianic zeal. Brace yourself. Las Vegas has churches. Lots of them. Mosques, temples and synagogues, too, representing vibrant faiths from all over creation. And each and every Sunday these prayerful halls are filled with devout worshippers whose idea of big stakes differ vastly from those who pray for a lucky roll of the dice. >“I think America would be surprised by the huge religious undercurrent that runs through Las Vegas,” says Dr. Mark Wickstrom, senior pastor at the 3,700-memberCommunity Lutheran Church of Las Vegas.
>“A Baptist church in Henderson (just outside of Las Vegas) recently surveyed how many churches of all denominations were within a 2-mile radius of its location. In that 2-mile circle, it found 102 churches. God is everywhere. Even here in Las Vegas.”(By ChrisRodell,msnbc.com contributor)
c. In the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, He prayed, “…My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17: 15-17).
d. Over the years I have heard several times someone complain about having to work in an environment where he or she was the only Christian. And being in that kind of environment can be stressful. Peer pressure can be unrelenting. But the other side of the coin is, “What a privilege it is that God would trust me enough to place me in that kind of place so I can be a faithful witness.” I think of the Old Testament men who served God in spite of their environment: Joseph, who was true to God even when falsely accused and imprisoned; Daniel, who stood faithful to God even while serving a godless government… etc.
I read a story some years ago about a Christian who traveled to North India and wanted to look up a Christian friend, but wasn’t exactly sure where he lived. He talked to some of the people in a village that he was in and asked them if they knew this Christian gentleman and where he might live. They replied that he didn’t live in their village but they knew of him—he lived in a village about 100 miles from where they were. The remarkable thing about that story is that one Christian man who lived 100 miles away stood out enough that people knew of him.
f. Holiness means remaining true to God even when placed in unpleasant and difficult circumstances. Nazarene author Gene Van Note published a book some years ago (1978) entitled Holiness In the Market Place. The title reminds us that wherever we find ourselves and whatever we find ourselves doing, even in a culture that is hostile to our God and His Message, we are still to be holy people who live holy lives. We have been sent into a fallen world to point people to God through faith in Jesus Christ!
g. Some years ago I read a book entitled Resident Alien. I really don’t remember much about the book except an illustration in the early chapters about a Jewish family who had a teenage boy. The family was religious and adhered to the dietary laws and ethical principle of Judaism, The book told how the young boy was faced with serious peer pressure to do the things the other kids in the school were doing. His dad sat him down and had a heart to heart talk with him. He explained their heritage as Jews and how important it was to obey the laws of God.. Then he told the boy to remember who he was and that he was different from the other kids who were pressuring him. It was a reminder that even though we are in the world, we are not “of the world.” We belong to God and, as God’s Children, we are to live differently that those who are not God’s children. I know I have shared that illustration before, but it is one of those that impacted me profoundly. Yes, we live in this world. Yes, society does certain thing, allows certain things and even encourages certain thing that we must not do. We are in the world, but not of the world. Our God has promised He would walk with us and be our Father. We are His children, heirs of God and join-heirs with Jesus. That means we are to be different. God has Called us to be Holy because He is holy.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:1 wrote about “Purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit…”
It is true that God transforms our hearts and delivers us from sin’s enslavement. But it is also true that we must discipline ourselves and make sure that we live our lives in such a way that we do not become entangled again in sin. We must guard against habits and attitudes that are un-Christlike. We must work to develop habits that strengthen us –regular Bible study, a developed prayer life, involvement in church by participating in worship and looking for opportunities to develop spiritual gifts through service, faithful stewardship with tithes and offerings. All these are practices that help “Perfect holiness out of reverence to God.”
Jesus has forgiven my sins and cleansed my heart. Now my life must follow by living out that holiness in my daily life!
Have you allowed God’s Spirit to search and cleanse your heart? Are you intentionally choosing to live in such a way that God is honored by your life?
Now is good time to begin…