What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
I Peter 1:16 says, ". . . because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy,'" which is precisely the lesson contained within Leviticus 22:1-7. Our holy God is clearly saying, "Those who serve Me must also be holy." Holy essentially means "set apart," but it also carries with it the sense of "different," which helps explain why a person or thing is set apart. Certain factors or characteristics distinguish the set-apart one or thing, making it different from persons or things of the same kind.
Holy also has the sense of cleanliness or of being undefiled. God can just as easily be saying to the priests and their children, "I am a clean God, and I want those who serve Me to be clean." In this case, His transcendent purity of intent and character sets Him apart from others or things that people may consider to be god. He is therefore completely undefiled.
The Leviticus passage mentions leprosy, a corpse, and semen. We must not forget that, when this was written, God was addressing a carnal people. Thus, the instruction is couched in physical terms, but we must look for spiritual meaning within the physical instruction.
The Tabernacle, altar, priesthood, furniture, vessels, and all of the rites have spiritual significance, and Paul writes that they are "shadow[s] of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1). Leprosy is a horrible, dreadful disease, thus it is a type of a spiritual disease. It is externally visible in its disfigurement of its victim's body. At times, there can be running sores. It probably does not parallel any one spiritual disease, but rather it symbolizes any number of sins that disfigure a person's character and/or attitude.
Both a corpse and semen possibly represent carriers of disease. Something causes a person to die, and all too frequently, it is an invisible, internal disease, of which infections and cancers are examples. The widespread AIDS virus is a good example. It can be carried within a man's semen into a woman's body. The carrier may look healthy externally, but a deadly disease is present. Only the carrier may know of its existence within him. A corpse and semen represent sins that are not easily perceived. Withdrawal from participation in the fellowship requires the sinner to exercise discipline, as he may be the only one aware of his problem. Creeping things are also defilements from sins that are less obvious. Perhaps in this case, it might be problems with one's attitudes like resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and lusting.
Regardless of what rendered a person unclean, he was not allowed to participate until he cleaned himself by washing in water, a type of the Holy Spirit. Even then, he was still considered unclean until evening of that same day. This process was a form of excommunication. The unclean person was symbolically excluded from communion with God and held unfit to eat of the holy food of the altar, symbolizing the Word of God, until he had cleaned up his act. Verse 7 distinctly says he was free to eat of the holy things only after the sun went down. Even given this permission, he was still eating in the dark! Though accepted back into fellowship, he was still somewhat removed from full exposure to the light of God's throne until the next day, when complete communication with God was restored.
Taking steps to rid ourselves of uncleanness has awesome ramifications when we grasp how burdened we are with the potential for sin. The apostle Paul labels himself as a wretched man who greatly needed deliverance (Romans 7:24-25). Despite what we can do on our own—and God requires us to strive to do so—complete deliverance can only come through the work of Jesus Christ. It is essential that we know this, yet it is perhaps beyond our full understanding and appreciation that God is so merciful and full of grace to provide the sin offering that precedes us! If it were not for these elements—because we are so full of spiritual creeping things and spiritual leprosy—we would never be permitted to eat from the Lord's table.
I and II Corinthians offers us great comfort by showing that, though one may be cut off from the body, he can return once he has cleaned himself through repentance. It shows that even though he is denied close communion with God because of some spiritual uncleanness, he still remains tied to God through the New Testament priesthood. Disfellowshipping is intended to be a temporary, corrective tool.
I Corinthians 5:4-5 says, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The purpose of excommunication is to save the person from his uncleanness that is destroying his communion with God and others in the fellowship. Therefore, if he can still be saved, that person is not completely cut off from God.
II Corinthians 6:14-17 adds more information to this subject. Paul asks four questions that provide comparisons that clearly urge us to avoid or depart from what is unclean so that we can be at peace and in communion with God. Fellowship with God and being allowed to eat spiritual food from His table are clearly conditioned upon our not falling into uncleanness but instead striving to maintain the purity provided by Christ's sacrifice.
Our part in striving to maintain the purity is to follow Christ's example of thorough dedication in fulfilling the requirements of the burnt and meal offerings. Doing so in no way earns us the fellowshipping privileges expressed in the peace offering, but it does show God our understanding of faith, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, and the links between total devotion to Him, Jesus Christ, our fellow man, and His wonderful purpose. God has invested a great deal to provide this for us. The least we can do is give back to Him full devotion in our life as a living sacrifice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
This section begins with disfellowshipping because it is a biblical means of dealing with brethren who are trying to deceive others. We often speak of disfellowshipping those who cause division. Any kind of deception will cause division. After a while, deceived people do not believe the same things as the rest, and this difference causes separation.
Those who are disfellowshipped, who are causing divisions and offenses, are doing things contrary to true doctrine. So, Paul says we must avoid them. This is part of the effort, the diligence, that it takes to keep from being deceived ourselves. We must especially avoid them in situations where they have the opportunity to influence our beliefs.
Now, if we should meet them on the street, a polite, social "hello" would be fine. But we should avoid getting into a conversation, argument, or discussion about doctrine. We need to keep that away from ourselves because it is part of our effort to keep from being deceived. We should not let it even touch us, if we possibly can, because we are supposed to be keeping ourselves pure spiritually and physically. We especially do not want false ideas to get into our heads and begin doing their dangerous work.
Paul says that such deceptive people are serving, not God, but their own belly. This may sound like all they are doing is trying to get food or trying to "live off of" the saints. But what it means is that they are stokingtheir own desires. It is a symbol of a person doing something for his own gratification.
They were deceiving to please themselves in some way. They are not doing it to please God, obviously, because if they were, they would be telling the truth. But since they are telling falsehoods and lies, deceiving the brethren and causing divisions, they are obviously not pleasing God in any way. What they are gratifying in themselves could be anything.
Because what they are saying is contrary to what God teaches, he says that they have to use smooth words and flattering speech—or, we could say "plausible arguments" and "a neat turn of phrase." They use deceptive methods as in advertising. Some people can do this without even knowing that they are doing it. They couch things in such a "nice" way that it makes it sound good. And before we know it, we are thinking, "He could be right. He's such a nice guy. I had him over for dinner one time; and he just regaled us with stories. He always thanks you, and he compliments everything you do. He's just such a great person. And, you know, I can't understand how such a nice guy could be saying anything that is 'bad' because he's so 'good.'" Before long, we are taken in. He has used smooth or flattering speech. He comes across well. He dresses nicely, and his arguments seem plausible.
So, as it says here, the simple are taken in. Paul means the innocent, those who are not looking for evil. They are guileless, and they think everybody else is as guileless as they are. They are harmless, like doves, and unsophisticated. They do not see "bad" in anyone.
This is how we are supposed to be! A few of the qualities of love mentioned in I Corinthians 13 are concerned with this. Christians should be willing to believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. This is why we are so gullible at times because we do not have a core of steel in our beliefs. We have allowed it to soften into a core of marshmallow, so that we are easily bent in the wind. Remember, we need to be wise as serpents and simultaneously harmless as doves.
Paul's advice comes in verse 19: "Be wise in what is good and simple concerning evil." In practical terms, this means that we do what is right and have nothing to do with what is wrong. In doing so, we are "wise." Wisdom has to do with how we act. It is very practical. Knowledge is mental, and understanding is mental and spiritual. But wisdom is both of those things and physical. It is what we do. It is what we say. It is how we live life.
If we walk in wisdom, then we do not trip, and we should not be tripped by anything that comes along to make us stumble. Paul says that we should be wise in what is good, meaning that wedo it! It is wisdom to do what is good.
But we are to be simple concerning evil. This is related to "simple" in verse 18, but it is not the same word. This "simple" in verse 19 means "pure, unadulterated, unmixed." If we mix a little evil with good, what do we get? Human nature. We will get what we have been all of our lives. This is what happened in the Garden of Eden. Eve took the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it produced this world. Paul says, "We're not supposed to do that! We've had enough of that. What we need to do is to do what is good and have nothing to do with what is evil." In a sense, we are looking for the Tree of Life, which is all good and no evil.
His advice is very simple and easy to understand. It is how we keep from being deceived: Have nothing to do with evil! We must keep evil at arms length at all times.
So, in summary, do not dabble with questionable beliefs. Do not even consider them! Avoid them at all costs. "Stick to the trunk of the tree," as we have said many times in the past. Do not skitter out along the branches where only squirrels can safely go. If we hang from a twig, we will find ourselves fallen to the ground—not even on the tree any more.
Another way that we could put it is stay away from the edge of the cliff. If we get too close to the cliff, we might fall off. If there is an earthquake, it will shake us off! Some things are out of our control. If we are at the edge of the cliff and something big happens, we might not have a handhold. We would tumble over the edge and be lost. The smart thing is to stay as close to the side of the mountain as we can, hang on for dear life, and never let go. As much as lies within us, we should not even think about evil. Stay away from it. Avoid it.
Paul says to avoid even the appearance of evil. That is how far we are supposed to stay away from it. Not just if we are doing evil or thinking evil, but even if somebody might come along and think that what we are doing is evil.
Paul ends in verse 20 with the comfort that God will put away the evil—and the Deceiver—soon. So we only have to do this for so long. But as long as we have to do it, let us do it well. We need to have that "core of steel" for as long as we need it. Then we will be given strength—in the resurrection—to do it all the time, because we will be good. At that point, we will have developed the character to be that way all the time ourselves. This is how God is. He cannot be tempted by evil. That is what we are striving to become!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
1 Corinthians 5:3-5
Judging is a necessary part of life in the church. These verses show the apostle Paul's judgment of the man who was openly sinning while fellowshipping with the Corinthian congregation. Paul not only judged, he judged on the basis of the testimony and judgment of others he trusted! He then disfellowshipped the man without hearing the man's own testimony! This is the same man who wrote in Romans 14, "Who are you to judge another's servant?" (verse 4) and "But why do you judge your brother?" (verse 10). He obviously strongly believed that when the spiritual and moral integrity of a congregation was threatened by blatant sin, judgment was necessary.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Judgment, Tolerance, and Correction
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
"Clean out the old yeast," Paul says in verse 7. It is a call, in symbolic terms, to purge oneself of evil. He then takes it one further step, saying that the immoral person should be put out of the congregation. He commands this because the person's immorality contradicts everything that the church teaches, and if the person remains in the congregation, it will become spiritually contaminated and will no longer be able to consider itself as Christian. An immoral "member" is a blot on the integrity of the church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part Two)
3 John 1:9-11
Who is this Diotrephes? Perhaps a better question is, "Who does this Diotrephes think he is?" Was he an apostle? Was he an evangelist? Was he a pastor? Was he a leading man in the congregation? Was he an "ordinary" member? John does not say, but it is interesting that John mentions that Diotrephes just loved to have the preeminence among them. It almost sounds as if he was only a member of the church or perhaps an elder. We do not know.
One of his most marked characteristics is he liked to be "Number One." He had to be the important guy, the one everybody came to for answers to their questions, the one to make the big decisions. He even went so far as to say malicious things against John - one of the original twelve apostles. He prated against him with malicious words. He spoke down on him.
John was the disciple that Jesus loved, and here some little man, probably in the church at Ephesus, was talking against the apostle who had put his life on the line for the church many times, who had spent years in exile on the Isle of Patmos, who (tradition says) was put in a vat of boiling oil and was not harmed a bit, a man whom God was obviously with - and this Diotrephes thought he was so important that he could point out John's flaws to the rest of the congregation.
Then he started disfellowshipping people because they did not agree with him. He kicked people out of the church who wanted to fellowship with their brethren whom he had put out. John promised, "When I get there, I'm going to take care of this. I will call to mind all these things and make what this man is apparent."
Given the way he treated the congregation, Diotrephes was a "Satan in the flesh." What he did was evil, which is what John writes in verse 11: "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil." He is warning, "Do not imitate the actions of this man, Diotrephes. He is doing exactly what Satan did."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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