“Does Doctrine Matter?”
“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.””
(1 Cor. 15:33)
Does doctrine make any difference? Does it matter what a person thinks? Many parents use the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians to warn their children, “Now little Timmy, remember what Paul said, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” Usually this is a warning against hanging around with kids who break windows, steal from their neighbors and smoke cigarettes. In other words this passage is used to warn us not to surround ourselves with ungodly influences. This is certainly an appropriate use of this passage but in context the primary aim of Paul’s warning in verse 33 is not of moral danger, as it was earlier in chapter 5, but of doctrinal danger. And, as we will see, how a person behaves is directly correlated to how a person thinks.
There were “some” (v.12, not all) in Corinth who denied the general resurrection of the dead. Paul understood that the diverse people that make up the Lord’s church will not agree on every single detail nor must they to be saved. As he told the Ephesians, one is saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). In the same epistle Paul went on to say that unification was based on 7 “ones” or 7 foundational truths of the Christian faith (Eph. 4:1-6). For their to be unity in the body of Christ each member must agree on these basic truths. Therein lies the problem at Corinth. This disagreement fell under the umbrella of “one hope” (Eph. 4:4), that hope residing in the resurrection (Acts 23:6). This doctrinal schism would have torn believers apart from each other and the Lord so Paul sent the stern warning that the good morals of some in Corinth would be corrupted by the denial of the general resurrection that others held.
Do you see the connection between what a person believes and his behavior? A person may hold a conviction in his heart but it’s only a matter of time before he acts on it. Our convictions show themselves in our general behavior. Take the resurrection. Paul says, “if the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”” (v.32). If there is no life after death why wouldn’t we squeeze every ounce of pleasure we could out of this life since it’s all we’re ever going to get? Disbelief in the resurrection would naturally lead to a worldly, pleasure seeking, profligate lifestyle.
Doctrinal deviation is a serious matter for the very reason that the convictions and beliefs of a person are the foundation upon which all their actions are based. People behave based on what they believe is true. The person who is convinced in his own mind that he is doing the right thing while he is doing what God says is wrong is still behaving based on what he believes is true. Paul wrote of his crucified life when he said, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He believed Jesus was an imposter and those who followed him were heretics. He acted based upon his convictions. His behavior was an extension of his beliefs.
That’s why it matters what we believe. Paul understood the necessity of having one’s convictions founded upon God-breathed truth which is why he spent the first 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 illustrating that the resurrection of Jesus was real. There were witnesses of the risen Christ the Corinthians could have contacted and interviewed (vv.5-7). The Scriptures testified to the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv.3-4). Paul began this discourse by affirming that he delivered to them “as of first importance what I also received…” in other words, this was the unfiltered revelation of God. He argued if Jesus was raised then we too will be raised (v.20).
In the interest of balance, we mustn’t use 1 Corinthians 15:33, as some have, to justify a monk-like, isolated existence. This runs contrary to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:13-16. It is the Lord’s will that His disciples be salt and light in the midst of a tasteless and dark world. Our positive influence should effect others so that they would “see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (v.16). Christ living in us enables us to be the leavening influence (Mt. 13:33) of righteousness that this “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15) so desperately needs.
It should go without saying that the Christian’s vocation is to act based upon what he believes. His life is an extension of what he believes. The kingdom of heaven is spread to others when the lives of Christians are consistent with the Christ they profess to follow.
However, the figure of leaven works both ways. Christ also used leaven to describe the evil influence of the Pharisees, “And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”” (Mt. 16:6). Paul used the same illustration to warn the church at Corinth of the gross immorality that one of their members was engaged in, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6). The leavening influence could be wicked behavior but please note, as we have already, that 1 Corinthians 15:33 was written in connection with a doctrinal perversion that would naturally lead to an immoral lifestyle.
Significant? More than a little, methinks.
It matters what we think, especially what we think about Jesus. If we believe the truth about Jesus our lives will be changed by it. Faith in God’s word has the power to transform our lives into new creatures “born again” (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:17). Know the truth, believe it, obey it so that we will be set free (Jn. 8:31-32) to positively influence our neighbor. But let’s also be careful not to surround ourselves with the “bad company” of those who profess to follow Jesus but deny His resurrection.