Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals
Paul makes an important argument in 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He begins the chapter by showing that there were many witnesses to the resurrected Christ. The Gospel is not just that Jesus died, but that He died, was buried, rose again on the third day, and appeared to many. We are saved by this message (i.e., what actually happened and its effects), and we must stand in it (remain firm, as v. 58 indicates).
Paul then shows the opposite impact if there was no resurrection. If Jesus was not raised, then there will be no resurrection for anyone. If that is the case, then our faith is vain, preaching is vain, and we are to be pitied for believing it all. There is nothing noble about believing so great a lie, and in this case it would be a lie with real consequence. On the other hand, those who deny its truth also will deal with serious consequences. Unbelievers have no hope in anything beyond this world, so any life choices will not ultimately matter. Choices would matter only temporarily, but nothing would have eternal ramifications, for there would be no resurrection. Death would mean the cessation of existence altogether.
Paul, then, shows the vital nature of resurrection. It has implications, not only for eternity, but also for how we live our lives now. Read the whole chapter, but note here an argument Paul makes in verses 31-33: “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”
We should step back and see how Paul makes his point. There really are only two ways to live: 1) with a view toward eternal life, or 2) with a view toward this earthly life alone. If we believe in resurrection, then we accept eternal life, and in turn we will believe that we must strive to live by God’s view of morality because it has eternal consequences. Holiness will be vital to us. Notice Paul’s next statement: “Become sober- minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God” (v. 34). If, on the other hand, we do not believe in the resurrection, then we might as well do whatever we wish, “for tomorrow we die,” and that will be that. We won’t be any better or worse for whatever we choose. We’ll just die.
In this context we see the well known adage: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
What is the point of that statement? Behavior is affected by what we believe about resurrection and afterlife. If we don’t believe in resurrection, if there is nothing else beyond this, then how we view morality and behavior will be very different from those who believe in resurrection. We will think we just die and that there are no eternal consequences and no final judgment or justice.
The problem is that those who did not believe in resurrection were influencing the behavior of other Christians, for the consequences of there being no resurrection leads to this nihilistic view of life and reality (meaninglessness). This seems to be the “bad company” against which Paul warns. That is, even within the church were those whose influence directed others away from the resurrection and, consequently, good moral behavior. We expect this from the world, but to get it from other Christians is shameful.
We live in an age that pushes skepticism and disbelief in God or anything beyond the world we can see. Resurrection is written off, and the consequences are serious. What we believe about post-death reality will affect our morality and any views we have of meaning and purpose. If we do not have the resurrection firmly in mind, our behavior will change.
The “bad company” of this passage are those who would influence us not to believe in resurrection, which will include all that is entailed in what the resurrection means. We will cease believing in the saving message of the Gospel, and this will change everything. Do we not live in the midst of bad company today? Whether it be in schools, politics, movies and shows, the media, online activity or otherwise, we live in an age of skepticism that influences behavior. People lose their faith due to unbelieving influences, and resurrection no longer factors into how they make decisions. This will always be the danger Christians face.
Now, more than ever, we need to reaffirm our faith in Christ and the resurrection. Only in this way can we keep our real purpose before us. Only in this way can we do what Paul encourages at the end of the resurrection discussion: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58, NASB).