“Deny Self” Comes Before “Follow Me”

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It is believed that Paul corresponded with the church in Corinth and exchanged at least a few letters with them. All we have are Paul’s letter, so we must guess at the issues that the church raised.

Chapters 5 and 6 appear to be answers that Paul gave to two of the pressing issues that affected the unity and the witness of the church.

Sexual Immorality

One of the issues that Paul responded to was that of sexual immorality.

He wrote about this issue with these words, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5.1).

We can only take a guess about what this situation actually entailed, but some possible scenarios are:

— The relationship was between a step-mother and a son.

— Because of the prevalence of teen marriage and a high mortality rate, the step-mother may have been closer in age to the son than her deceased husband.

— Greek and Roman men were permitted to engage in a wide range of sexual activities outside of marriage without any shame or offense.

It should be noted that the relationship of the son and his step-mother created shame, even among the pagan population.

It is believed that Paul addressed this issue in an earlier letter and the church failed to act. If that is so, his strong words expressed how the failure of the church to act disturbed him.

He wrote, “And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?” (1 Corinthians 1.2).

When Paul heard of the man’s behavior and the church’s inaction, he pronounced judgment on the situation. When his letter arrived in Corinth he expected the church to pronounce judgment through the reading of the letter.

The action they were to take was to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5.5).

Think for a moment about the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-24). The Prodigal found himself at rock bottom, away from the security and safety of his father’s house. At that point he came to his senses, repented and returned home.

The Prodigal left on his own. In this case the church was to make this man a prodigal by removing him from the church.

The action was designed to bring him to a spiritual “rock bottom,” so he would come to himself, repent and return to a proper relationship with the Lord and the church.

Arrogance – An Open Door for Sin

One of the major themes of 1 Corinthians is that of arrogance and pride. Paul frequently uses the image of being “puffed up” to describe that situation.

The saying, “It is hard to teach someone who knows it all,” is appropriate for human pride. Even the word of God has a hard time changing the behavior of someone who is filled with arrogant self-sufficiency.

An honor based system was as much a part of the Corinthian world as cotton is part of a 100% cotton shirt. Honor, pride, arrogance, and boasting was an everyday part of life and it influenced the attitudes and actions of the church.

Paul’s opinion was that this was quite wrong. He wrote, “Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough?”

The remedy was to “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5.6-7).

Leaven works like yeast that comes in a foil packet from the store, but it is different. Leaven is actually a rotten piece of old dough that is mixed into the new dough to make it rise like yeast does today.

Self-sufficient pride and arrogance, acts like leaven. It “puffs” us up. However, it also brings into our lives a measure of rottenness and corruption.

Before the Hebrew people celebrated festive meals, they cleaned their houses and removed all leaven. That’s what we are supposed to do. We are to remove from our lives all corrupting influences.

As the church cleaned out the leaven, that which revealed how “puffed up” with pride, arrogance and everything that keeps them from a good relationship with God, Paul included the behavior of sinful man and more.

He said, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5.11).

There is a sad double standard in the American church.

Sexual immorality is condemned, but greed is accepted and in some instances encouraged.

A drunk and a thief are shunned, but people who worship sports teams and money are in good standing.

Even the clergy can revile (be ill tempered and angry) others who differ with from them without suffering disapproval.

A Visit with Our Son

I had breakfast with our son John today. John told me that in every instance Jesus said, “deny yourself” before he said “follow me.”

We both agreed that self-denial is one of the most difficult aspects of following Jesus.

If the Corinthians had followed the order of Jesus’ basic command to “deny yourself” and then “follow me” (Mark 8.34), chapters 5 and 6 to the Corinthians would not have been needed.

What if we observed the commands of Jesus and Paul and cleaned out the rotten places of our lives by denying our self-will that opposes God’s direction?

What if we committed ourselves to these decisions?

— I will not allow myself to live in “puffed up” pride that thinks my own best thinking is better than God and his word.

— I will not be arrogant or prideful towards other people in my life.

— I will clean out any sexual impurity from my life.

— I will not let the rottenness of greed and the worship of substitutes for God corrupt me.

John and I both agreed that denying self is a very difficult spiritual discipline, but it also leads to the life we have always desired.

Please join us in this quest.

About this Blog

Tomorrow’s article will feature one of the most compelling passages of Scripture in the Old Testament, Hosea 11.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood Baptist prayer team will pray for you.


  1. Thank you again for a compelling argument for self-denial and spiritual cleansing that is guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Good fodder for Saturday morning house cleaning….may I listen for the steps to clean my heart as well as the kitchen.

    Liked by 1 person

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