Serious Sins

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi has a problem with Paul classifying sins as idolatry (*). He writes:

As I was reading the New Testament (more specifically the letters of Paul) I noticed that Paul kind of exaggerates a bit too much when he speaks.

For example...

Ephesians 5:5

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God

Colossians 3:5

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

1 Timothy 5:8

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

How on earth is Paul comparing greed, sexual immorality and uncaring for family on the same level as idolatry? Idolatry is to go ahead and worship other false Gods. We all commit sins. Man by nature is greedy from time to time. Are you trying to say that the sin of being greedy is on the same level as idolatry? Sexual immorality, not caring for the family, being greedy are indeed great and horrible sins. There is no argument there. However, you can be a sinful believer who does that because you still believe in God. But for a person who does that to be worse than a disbeliever is just going a bit too far.


In the first place, the reason why Paul could say that those who do not provide for their needy family members are worse than unbelievers is due to the fact that the entire Law and Gospel hinge on two commands:

"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus also said that:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:12-13

Furthermore, love is called the royal Law, the one crowning command that embodies and fulfills the very purpose and intent of God's Law:

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:8-10

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love...You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Galatians 5:6, 13-14

"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker." James 2:8-11

In fact, love is what God is and what we must seek to become:

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complte among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: 'Whoever loves God must also love his brother.'" 1 John 4:7-21

Moreover, one must love a person with actions, not mere words:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." James 2:14-18

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:16-18

To therefore fail to love one's family, one's neighbor, is to denounce the faith and become a disbeliever. As the exalted Lord Jesus himself stated:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes nd you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'" Matthew 25:34-45

As far as idolatry is concerned, it is clear that Zawadi didn't bother reading or understanding the context carefully. Paul wasn't likening all these vices to idolatry. He was classifying greed, or covetousness, as idolatry. Note carefully what the texts actually say:

"For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who IS an idolater (he pleonektes hos estin eidololatres), has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." Ephesians 5:5 NASB

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which IS idolatry (kai ten pleonexian hetis estin eidololatria)." Colossians 3:5

The word for "is", estin, is singular which means that Paul is referring to greed or covetousness as idolatry, not to the other vices which he mentioned. Had Paul intended to include all the sins listed he would have used the plural.

And since Zawadi likes commentaries so much he could have consulted a few in order to save himself from being embarrassed regarding the actual exegesis of the above texts. The renowned Christian scholar and commentator John Gill — whom Zawadi quoted in at least two articles (*, *) — wrote in reference to Ephesians 5:5:

Nor covetous man, who is an idolater:
as every man is, that indulges his lusts, the idols of his own heart; and who serves divers lusts and pleasures, and gives up himself to work all uncleanness with greediness; never having his fill of sin, but is ever craving and coveting it; as well as he who is immoderately desirous of worldly things: the covetous man may be called an idolater, because the idolater and he worship the same in substance, gold and silver, and brass, or what is made of them; the covetous man admires his gold, lays it up, and will not make use of it, as if it was something sacred; and through his over love to mammon, whom he serves, he neglects the worship of God, and the good of his own soul, and puts his trust and confidence in his riches: now no such person. (online source)

And he states regarding Colossians 3:5:

which is idolatry.
The covetous man, and the idolater, worship the same for matter and substance, even gold and silver; the covetous man lays up his money, makes no use of it, as if it was something sacred; he looks at it, and adores it, and puts his trust and confidence in it, and his heart is so much set upon it, that he neglects the worship of the true God; and indeed no man can serve God and mammon. Some think, that by this (pleonexia) rendered "covetousness", is meant, that greedy desire after the commission of all uncleanness, and impure actions, which were perpetrated by the followers of Simon Magus in their religious assemblies, and under the notion of worship, and as acceptable to God, and therefore called idolatry; and which ought not to be once named, much less practised, among the living members of Christ. Moreover, such filthy actions were performed by the Gentiles in the worship of their deities. (online source)

More importantly, Zawadi seems to assume that a person cannot be an idolater if he or she continues to commit all those immoral acts which Paul listed. Yet idolatry, at least as far as the Holy Scriptures are concerned, is anything that stands in the way of a person from completely loving and obeying God. If a person centers his life around making more money to the expense of following God, that is idolatry. If a person lives for carnal pleasures and doesn't care whether this offends God then that person's pleasures have become his god:

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." Philippians 3:17-19

In fact, the Bible warns about indulging in desires contrary to God's rule since such desires will eventually enslave a person:

"They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." 2 Peter 2:19

Finally, even if Paul had likened all the above vices to idolatry, would Zawadi rather have the Apostle be lenient towards maintaining ethical and moral standards? Wouldn't it be safer and better for Paul to warn Christians about taking it too easy and getting complacent about their moral conduct by warning them about any lapse in righteous living and justification of immoral behavior?

Or would Zawadi rather prefer that Paul had caused his adopted son to divorce his wife and then subsequently marry her, and claim it was an example for other adoptive fathers to follow (even though adoption would be prohibited afterwards!)? In other words, would Zawadi have liked it if Paul found a way to justify adultery? (*, *)

Or would he prefer that Paul had allowed for fornication and a certain kind of prostitution and pass that off as temporary marriage (muta')? (*, *, *)

Zawadi may have liked Paul better if the blessed Apostle commanded others to have up to four wives while he himself had more than that, say eleven spouses, which would be six more than what was allowed for the rest? (*, *)

Maybe Zawadi would have liked Paul even more if the Evangelist said that believers could rape captive women, even married ones whose husbands were still alive, and then sell them off as chattel? ( *, *, *)

Who knows, he may have started admiring Paul had the latter sexually violated a prepubescent 9 year old girl and permitted others to molest and divorce prepubescent girls as well? (*, *; *)

Just maybe, and we may be stretching it quite a bit at this point, Zawadi would have followed Paul if the latter committed idolatry by kissing a black stone and claimed that he was inspired to do so? (*)

There's Paul for you, a person who had some serious issues with sin and immoral behavior. After all, why should Paul try to warn people about living wickedly since what's the big deal about sin anyway?

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matthew 25:46

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Sirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." Galatians 5:16-26

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." Galatians 6:7-10

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14

"He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.'" Revelation 21:6-8

"Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." Revelation 22:14-15

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