Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 Bad company corrupts

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 24, 2023

33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”  34 Use sober, sensible judgment, and do not sin, for some people deliberately ignore God. I say this to your shame.

The quotation in verse 33 seems to be a quotation from Greek literature, either Menander’s mostly lost “Thais” (from fragment 218) or something older by Euripides. It may be unimportant, since Paul might simply be quoting it as a well-known expression, they way most people today can say “a drop in a bucket” without knowing that those words are from Isaiah 40:15.

Paul is finishing his words about baptism for the dead and the way that the Corinthians are influenced by other people in their society. So out comes this old epigram, “Bad company corrupts good morals (or “character”). The Greek word ethos (ἤθoς) can be one’s habits or morals, and it should be clear to anyone that each one influences the other. We hope a man is influenced as to his behavior by his own sense of morality, but this isn’t always the case. If a man does a thing that is immoral over and over again, the force of habit will begin to corrupt his moral sense about that act, so that it will be familiar to him, a part of who he is, so he thinks, although it is simply a path that the devil leads him down again and again. This is the way that bad company corrupts. The word translated “company” is homiliai (ὁμιλίαι). This is a word that goes two directions, both of which fit here. It can mean the company one keeps or the intercourse one has with doctrine, which is to say, a sermon or, as some call it, a ‘homily.’  A bad sermon, one that does not expose sin and reveal the Savior Jesus Christ, can also corrupt a person’s thinking about God and lead him to look to his own good deeds for salvation rather than the Redeemer who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and who warned: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“Use sober judgment; sensible judgment.” We might say, “Sober up! You’ve been acting and thinking like a drunk man!” Some of the Corinthians were just not using their heads about the resurrection, getting carried away by all sorts of weird and bizarrre teachings—the teachings of people who deliberately ignore God. They might act or sound as if they are merely ignorant about God, but their ignorance has been on purpose.

The sinful man avoids being called a sinner, and he would rather listen to anything apart from the clear condemnation of the law of God. So Paul comes right out and says: “Stop sinning.” There are many passages that command God’s people to stop sinning (Psalm 4:4; Deuteronomy 24:4; 1 Samuel 14:34; Ecclesiastes 5:6; Isaiah 1:16; John 5:14; John 8:11). The Scriptures include these commands because the believer, even though covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness, falls into sin against his own conscience and against the will of God.

Someone might ask, why doesn’t Paul add a gospel promise after condemning the Corinthian behavior here? After all, when Isaiah says, “Stop sinning and learn to do right” (Isaiah 1:16-17), he adds later on, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Both Paul and Isaiah denounce ungodly hearts and they promise forgiveness through faith, and this is what the whole chapter is about in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul will remind them soon enough that the body really does rise from the dead, and he will add all of the comforts of heaven along with it, the whole Gospel, but he must knock away the mud of false teaching and unbelief first, so that they don’t let their own doubt become a barrier to the promise of eternal life in Christ. “It is necessary to add the gospel promise, that for Christ’s sake sins are forgiven and that by faith in Christ we obtain the forgiveness of sins. If [anyone] excludes the gospel of Christ from the preaching of repentance, they deserve to be regarded as blasphemers against Christ” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession).

So while Paul is preaching to the Corinthians to shake off their foolishness and use a little sanctified, Christian common sense, he is doing so under the big umbrella of the gospel of the resurrection. He knows that they need to be shown that they are forgiven because they have been assailed from childhood by Greek philosophy that refused to acknowledge that the flesh would have any part of the afterlife. To a Greek, human flesh was something to be left behind. But God’s design all along was for human beings to enjoy Paradise in both body and soul, just as Adam and Eve did in their early days, when “they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). There was nothing wrong with their flesh, and when we rise from the dead, there will be nothing at all wrong with ours. Sickness, weakness, disability, malformity, underdeveloped or overdeveloped portions will all be perfect, healed, ideal, and our very own forever. But what will be true of our flesh will also be true of the record of our sin: temptations, failures, transgressions, idolatries, adulteries, murders, thefts, lies and all other sins in our past will be wiped away, so that our status before God will likewise be perfect, healed, ideal, and our very own. Forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


Browse Devotion Archive