— 1 Corinthians 6:18
In the early years of our marriage, my wife Denise and I pastored an adult singles ministry, and one of my responsibilities in this role was to regularly meet with people who needed counseling. During one session, a distraught young man began to pour out his heart to me about how he kept habitually falling into sexual sin. As he sat before me, I could see that he was disappointed in himself, spiritually broken, and feeling like a miserable failure. With tears streaming down his face, he told me, “Before I know what is happening, I find myself in the middle of a sexual sin. I just can’t seem to control myself.”
I asked him, “Where are you when this sin usually takes place?”
He told me, “It usually happens at my house or at my girlfriend’s house.”
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
I looked into his eyes and asked, “Don’t you think it would be wise for the two of you never to be alone together at your house or her house so you don’t put yourself in a position where it’s easy for you to fall into sin? If that’s the place where you keep falling into sin, I strongly recommend that you don’t spend time alone in her house or yours!”
He responded, “Are you suggesting that I run away from my problem and my weaknesses? No way! I am not going to run away from my weaknesses! I intend to prove that I can overcome these temptations. I don’t believe I need to change my environment. I just need to be stronger!”
As the years passed, I watched this man continue to struggle with sin. His plan wasn’t working! He was sincere, but the approach he was taking was not wise. Not only was he not conquering his temptations, but he was being conquered by them! It was time for him to use his brain to get up and get out of those places where he had habitually fallen into sin. He needed to heed the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian believers when Paul urged them to “flee fornication…” (1 Corinthians 6:18). If this man would have just obeyed the wise counsel of the Word, he could have escaped those years of misery, feeling like a spiritual failure.
“Fleeing fornication” would have been very hard to do in a city like Corinth! Corinth was known for its perversion and twisted sinful activities, as well as for its drunkenness. In short, it had a worldwide reputation for being a “party city” and a center for “sexual freedom,” where one could avail himself to the vilest of human instincts without any fear of others’ disapproval. The entire city was devoted to the sex industry; therefore, any kind of sex was considered acceptable and fair. Some have speculated that after Sodom and Gomorrah, Corinth may have been one of the most perverted cities in human history.
The city had a constant flow of sailors who came to town to party, and this fed the prostitution business — the largest source of revenue in the city of Corinth. Furthermore, the city abounded with idolatry, which frequently incorporated sexually immoral behavior into their rituals, and the Corinthian bathhouses brimmed with homosexual activity.
In addition to all these excesses, wine was integrally tied into nearly every aspect of the city’s culture. It was used in idol worship as a sacrament and a tool to commune with the spirit realm; it was commonly imbibed by prostitutes and their customers; and it was readily available in the city’s bathhouses to loosen people’s inhibitions so they would more readily participate in homosexual activities. Basically, all these factors combined meant the alcohol business in Corinth was booming! So not only was Corinth rife with idolatry and all manners of gross sexual perversion, but the city also struggled with serious alcohol abuse and addiction.
In fact, the city of Corinth became so synonymous with perversion and drunkenness that the term “to Corinthianize,” first coined by the Greek author Aristophanes (450-385 BC), became a common term used in other cities of the Roman Empire to describe drunken or immoral debauchery.1 Regardless of where you lived, if you knew a person who was given to excess and drunkenness, that person was referred to as “a Corinthianizer.” Corinth’s reputation was so stained that if an actor in any city of the Roman Empire was required to play the role of a drunkard on stage, he was always depicted as a drunk Corinthian.
This was the environment the Corinthian believers faced every day, and because they were so new in their faith, the lure of the world and the flesh still had a strong hold on them. Paul knew they needed to use their minds to think carefully about where they went and what situations they should avoid. Even today, we know it’s just common sense that if a person struggles with alcohol, he needs to stay out of bars! Likewise, Paul knew that these Corinthian believers needed to avoid environments where they might be tempted to fall back into sin. Fleeing from sinful environments was the smartest thing they could do if they really wanted to stay free from sin!
This meant the newly saved Corinthian believers had to avoid a lot of places in Corinth! It meant they had to reassess how to maneuver in the city in order to avoid all the places where sin tried to call out to them. Because there were so many sinful places in Corinth, it took concentration and serious planning for them to obey Paul’s exhortation to “flee fornication.” However, because Paul admonished them to stay away from these cesspools of sin and perversion, the committed believers in Corinth learned to move as quickly as possible to “flee” from these establishments.
The word “flee” that Paul used in First Corinthians 6:18 is the Greek word pheugo, which means to run, to flee, or even to take flight. Making this word even stronger is the fact that the tense used in this verse conveys the idea of a habitual fleeing or a continuous escaping. This plainly means Paul is telling believers that they need to make a habit of running from sin!
The Greek word pheugo is used throughout Scripture to depict the act of:
- Fleeing from evil influences.
- Fleeing from youthful lusts.
- Fleeing from morally bad friends.
- Fleeing from a corrupt stimulus.
- Fleeing from wrongdoing and sin.
In short, the word pheugo means to run like crazy!
Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is get up and get out of a situation as fast as you can. Just as Joseph fled with haste to escape the seductive advances from Potiphar’s wife (see Genesis 39:11,12), if you’re in a setting where you’re being tempted or you feel yourself being lured to do something contrary to the Word of God — get out of there! Rather than stick around to prove you can resist, it’s time for you to get your feet moving and resist sin by saying goodbye as you walk out and let the door slam behind you! A weak person won’t have the strength to say no and walk away — but a person who is strong will say, “Enough is enough!” and walk away.
Paul’s order to the Corinthian congregation was to “flee fornication.” In order for them to obey Paul’s command, these believers had to make drastic changes in their routines. They had to change the places they frequented, the activities they participated in, and the people who surrounded them. If they were going to walk away from sin and stay free from it, they would have to deliberately avoid the situations that previously made it so easy for them to fall into sin.
How does Paul’s message apply to you?
For you to stay free, it may be necessary for you to choose new friends. You may need to make a break from the places where you used to spend your free time. You may need to quit watching the TV programs or movies that once were a big part of your life. It is possible that you may need to stop reading the material you once read. It may even mean that you need to discontinue your Internet service so you won’t gravitate to pornographic sites that keep luring you into their seductive, entangling web.
Is it possible that you’ve been praying for strength to resist sin, when actually all you simply need to do is to stay away from the things that encourage you to sin? If you’re tempted to overeat, stay out of the kitchen! If you’re lured to pornographic websites, then add filters to block those sites, or, if necessary, discontinue your Internet service. Permanently fix your situation by removing yourself from the things and the places that have a negative influence on you. Taking this commonsense approach may be the answer to the prayers you’ve been praying to be free!
If you are serious about your walk with God, you need to make every change necessary to stay both spiritually strong and free from guilt and condemnation. I admonish you to take Paul’s words deep into your heart and “flee” from those things that have an adverse effect on your soul and on your spiritual life. It’s what you would tell someone else to do if you were giving them counsel about how to stay free from alcohol or drugs, so don’t you think it would be wise for you to start applying the same advice to your own life?
1William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), pp. 2-3.
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I thank You for speaking to my heart today about making a break with my past and with the places that tend to pull me down. I admit that I’ve allowed my flesh to lead me, and I have been wrong for not making better choices for my life. I’ve tried to blame the devil and others for my failure, but today I am taking personal responsibility for the control and direction of my life — and I am walking away from those places, people, and deeds that negatively affect me. Holy Spirit, I tap into Your mighty power already at work within me to strengthen me with might in my inward man as I make these right choices. With Your help and by Your grace, I can and I will walk free and stay free!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I do not linger in compromising situations where I am tempted to think wrong, speak wrong, and do wrong with my mind, mouth, or body. I am the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I honor the Holy Spirit’s presence in me. I never want to grieve the Spirit by slipping back into those sins from which I’ve been delivered. Therefore, I am making every effort to stay away from people, places, and deeds that have a negative impact on me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of people, places, or deeds that you need to make a break from in your life? Make note of them, and then determine a plan of action you can take to avoid them so you can remain free from sin.
- Was there a time in your life when you felt seduced by sin, yet you stayed in that bad environment? Did you falsely think that you could overcome it, but instead succumbed to sin over and over again? When and where was that time in your life? What did you learn as a result of that experience?
- If you were counseling individuals who were struggling with an addiction or some habitual sin, what would you say in counsel to them to help them stay free? Do you apply this same counsel to your own life?