Whether we like it or admit it or not, we are influenced by others and our cultural environment, and this does have an effect on how we believe. It’s impossible to spend time with other people and/or consume information without something “rubbing off”. There is always something that sticks. Some of the things that we pick up and carry around aren’t fully assimilated. Those “fleeting fancies” or trendy infatuations can come and go quickly, while some things can linger and take up permanent residence even without notice like a tick. Sometimes before we are even aware we can be profoundly influenced and radically changed by what we are exposed to both good and bad, so our amount of exposure to anything should be carefully and prayerfully considered.
“Influence” is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. Life is full of “influencers” which happens to be a huge buzzword these days, especially online.
The Apostle Paul addresses influence and influencers in 1 Corinthians 15:33. He says, “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character”. He’s talking about the influence of others, people and information, the kind that poisons and corrupts “good character” (NIV), “good morals” (NASB), or “good manners” (KJV). The Message, which is not a translation, but a modern paraphrase of the Bible says, “Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk. “Bad company ruins good manners.” Let’s dig a little deeper and study a couple of words in this passage from the original Greek. (Oh boy!)
- “Misled” or πλανᾶσθε (planasthe) in the Greek and means to be “led astray”.
- “Company” or ὁμιλίαι (homiliai) in the Greek and means companionship, association, conversation, and even intercourse, but in this passage it’s more about communication or conversation.
According to this chapter of 1 Corinthians there are some in Corinth that are saying that the resurrection of Jesus never took place. Sound familiar? Because it’s happening today too. Basically, all of scripture (the Bible, the message of the gospel, God’s word) is being challenged or corrupted by our post-Christian culture in some way, so Paul’s warning about misleading communication is just as important today as it was back then.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word corrupt or corruption? I think of politics, government, institutions, etc. I’m cynical that way and don’t trust many of them. It also conjures up mental images of crime syndicates and the mafia. Corruption is usually linked to financial gain and greed, which is one meaning of the word, but we know that anything can be corrupted. Other meanings for the word include “change or debase by making errors or unintentional alterations”, “cause errors to appear in a computer program or database”, and finally to “infect or contaminate”. It’s this last one that I’m most interested in.
Any substance can become contaminated or infected when it is mixed either intentionally or unintentionally with other substances. It becomes diluted or “watered down” by other elements to the point where the original substance is rendered useless or unrecognizable. It can happen easily without detection long before it is realized, diagnosed, or discovered. We may not be aware of when it started or how it happened. It’s subtle.
There is nothing subtle about what is going in our culture today with regards to faith and spirituality from a Judeo-Christian perspective. It isn’t new and didn’t happen overnight. COVID definitely intensified and accelerated it, but this modern version has been building for decades. What particularly interests me is the dramatic theological shift away from sound Biblical teaching to a watered-down version that has been contaminated by or mixed with other ideologies, religions, and even politics which is a new religion of its own. This shift didn’t occur without effort. It was pushed, driven, influenced, and carefully orchestrated by others who have as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “set themselves against the knowledge of God”. Here is the entire passage.
3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV
These arguments and pretensions (claims) are the “bad company” or bad communication, conversations, and associations that Paul is warning us about in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that are intended to corrupt and contaminate the knowledge or truth of God found in the Bible, to lead us astray.
Remember the devil’s strategy from last week? He prowls and roams around the earth seeking whom He may devour (1 Peter 5:8), but his strategy doesn’t usually include a frontal assault. In Ephesians 6:11 Paul warns us of the “devil’s schemes” or “wiles” (KJV). He’s “crafty” (Genesis 3:1), a smooth operator, a shadow warrior, master of covert operations, misdirection, obstruction, and deception. He wants our faith to be in disarray and off balance, our thinking to be futile (Romans 1:21) or incapable of producing a useful result so he creates confusion and plants seeds of doubt like he did with Eve in the garden. His approach is quiet, subtle, precise, and mostly goes unnoticed. The truth and knowledge of God is suppressed, corrupted, contaminated, and infected by carefully crafted conversations-arguments filled with half-truths and enticing alternatives. Before Adam and Eve knew it, their knowledge of God and the truth of His words were stripped, dismantled, and deconstructed piece by piece slowly and methodically pulling their “theological” floor right out from under them.
When Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Don’t be misled” or be fooled by “bad company” he understands how it works. He’s well aware of the “devil’s schemes”, “wiles”, and “tactics”. He has witnessed it throughout his ministry and on the streets of Corinth, but before we give the devil too much credit, he’s not the only “bad company” or association we have to worry about.
Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned”. The devil may have helped set the whole process in motion by manipulating free will, but he’s not the only one fueling the engine or keeping it alive. According to James, the brother of Jesus, each person or each of us is “tempted when they (we) are dragged away by their (our) own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIV) So we’re all guilty of being “bad company” at one time or another. The devil’s carefully constructed conversation with Adam and Eve concerning God’s commands may have contributed to their downfall, but it wasn’t the deciding factor. Adam and Eve’s desire to be “like God knowing good and evil” is what closed the deal. The influence from “bad company” can only go so far. At some point we have to decide to act on it. Again, it occurs when we are pulled or dragged away by our own sinful desires.
Due to the limitless resources of information at our fingertips, we face a challenging uphill battle against the power of influence in a post-Christian culture. Unless we live under a rock, it is unavoidable, but the good news is that we have been equipped and created with the ability to resist these influences through the power of God in Christ Jesus. We aren’t alone in our struggle, and God has given us powerful tools like the “sword of the spirit”, which is the word of God or the Bible in Ephesians 6:17, to combat them. (See the rest of the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20)
As we have learned our battle or struggle with doubt and unbelief is ongoing and unending this side of heaven. The outside forces of influence that stand against us and the “knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) are almost limitless, as well as, relentless. That’s why constant exposure to the word of God (Bible study) and communication with God through prayer is so important. In order for us to be transformed into the likeness of Christ our minds have to be constantly “renewed” or “washed in the word” as Paul encourages us to do in Romans 12:2. This is “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), which is a process of salvation called “sanctification”, to “make holy”, or the ongoing process of becoming a “new creation”. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Studying for this series, as always, has been a great way for me to refocus, reequip, and renew my mind through the only true source of the knowledge of God, the Bible. While I may verify the meanings of certain terms by looking at online dictionaries or Greek lexicons, the bulk of most of what I write is straight from the Bible. I’m very careful about who I listen to and even then, I filter it through a process of Bible study. Are you seeing a trend here? Anyway, I hope this series has been as useful for your “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) as it has been for mine.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC