Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals

by Doy Moyer

Most are familiar with Paul's argument in I Corinthians 15, that if Jesus was not raised, and there is no resurrection, then our faith is vain, preaching is vain, and we are to be pitied for believing it all. Another argument that we often make has to do with how pointless life really is if there is no God. Unbelievers have no hope in anything beyond this world, so any life choices will ultimately not matter much.

Paul puts those two ideas together in I Corinthians 15. Please read the larger context, but note here I Corinthians 15:31-33: "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.'"

This is one of those passages that has been used in many ways, but we should step back and see how Paul makes his point. There really are only two ways to live:

  1. with a positive view toward eternal life, or
  2. with a belief that this earthly life is all there is.

If we believe in resurrection, then we have a positive view toward eternal life, and in turn, we will believe that we must live by God's moral code and holiness will be vital to us: "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God" (I Corinthians 15:34). 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, Paul states the well-known adage: "Bad company corrupts good morals."

What is the point? Behavior is affected by what we believe about resurrection and an afterlife. If we don't believe in resurrection, if there is nothing else beyond this, then morals are diminished. We will just die, so it won't really matter what we do.

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 a nihilistic view of life and reality. This seems to be the "bad company" against which Paul warns.

For us, we live in an age that pushes skepticism and disbelief in God or anything supernatural. 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. This is inescapable.

The "bad company" of this passage are those who would influence us not to believe in the resurrection. Do we not live in the middle of such bad company today?

We send our kids to schools and universities where they will be around this kind of bad company. We allow ourselves to be influenced by an unbelieving and skeptical media. There is indeed "bad company" all around us, and it does corrupt. People lose their faith due to unbelieving influences, and resurrection no longer factors into how they make decisions.

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, and then we can know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).

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