EVIL COMMUNICATIONS CORRUPT
Dr. P. M. Rowell
13th June, 1971
“Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners.” 1 Cor. 15, 33.
When this short verse came to my mind my first inclination was to look in the Book of Proverbs. It seemed so much like many of those short, wise sayings to be found in that book. However, we find it here almost hidden away at the end of this Epistle to the Corinthians.
When trying to find out something about this chapter, I found that these words were a quotation from one of the poets of Greece, a man by the name of Menander, and it was one of his sayings. You may wonder why Paul should quote from a heathen writer. Well, Paul quotes from a heathen writer because it so happens that the heathen writer said something that is right and, what is more, because it was God’s will that this saying should find a place in the inspired Scriptures of truth. So, whoever was the original author, we may now be quite sure that this forms part of the holy and inspired Word of God. It is God’s word and has an abiding importance. Indeed, I believe it is a sure and wise saying which has a very great significance for all of us, whether young or old. It has a very great significance for ourselves as part of this nation, and I believe that, if people were more persuaded in their minds of the truth of this, they would be even more distressed and disgusted by the state of affairs existing in the nation today.
I do not want to spend a long time on this national aspect of things, but there is a great deal of argument today about what corrupts people. But God has told us, and we do not need to argue about this at all. God has told us that anything evil that is communicated between one and another has this corrupting influence. Now let that be perfectly plain and settled in our minds. Anything evil that is communicated between men and men will indeed corrupt, for God has said that “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” We are not to think that what the apostle is saying here is only that rude language is going to make people act in rude ways. It means far, far more than that. Evil communications, I believe, is a phrase which includes all kind of ways in which men may communicate with each other, and it really sums up the whole of people’s influence one upon another.
Paul was speaking to a group of people who formed a church at Corinth and they, in a very sad and dreadful way, had been influenced, not only by the sinful evil world outside the church, but they had been sadly influenced by evil communications amongst themselves. Evil ways of life, evil attitudes of mind had corrupted the life of the church at Corinth. So we may say that evil communications are really all those things which have any
influence upon us. We see them, we hear them and we realise their effect upon us in life. These evil communications have their origin in the heart of that wicked enemy, even Satan himself. They have a place in the heart and lives of all men. This is true also of believers, for there is no man yet living who has tamed his own tongue. There is only One Who has ever lived perfectly and Whose holy life has ever been spotless. His language. His conversation, His whole manner and way of life was perfectly holy. Every other man is guilty in some way or other of evil communications.
In the second part of the verse we read of “good manners” and this does not merely apply to certain superficial attitudes, or outward behaviour, but it means a person’s whole way of life. Evil communications corrupt a person’s way of life. Now this is a very terrible thing, a thing which each one of us should be very sensitive about, and it is a thing which is constantly emphasized in God’s Word. If any of us would be wise children, then we should read the book of the Proverbs and, if we read it carefully and desire to get wisdom and to get understanding, then one thing we shall get from those words is a sense of the awfulness of evil communications and the terribly powerful influence such things have upon other people. We have a saying that a man is known by the company he keeps. Now I believe that this verse says far more. A man is not only known by the company he keeps but is very deeply influenced by that company. A man will be corrupted by the company he keeps if that company is evil company.
So you can see something that has a very widespread significance in this verse, and I believe there are many things in our life as a nation which come under the condemnation of God’s Word as evil communications. Consider those things that influence your thinking today, the things you read, the things you hear, the attitude of people that you meet with when you go to work, the sort of conversation that takes place around the mealtable at home. Now, what tendency do these things have on you? Some people will say evil is in the eyes of the beholder. Well, that is true in one sense. If these things do corrupt us then that is our sin. But, friends, who is bold enough to say that we live without being influenced at all by the things that go on about us. Certainly I cannot and I know to my painful cost that evil communications corrupt good manners. There is something subtle and insidious about evil communications. A friend said this to me not so long ago, with regard to the things that she saw, that in time you become hardened to them. Now, friends, what is it to be hardened if it is not to be corrupted. If we are hardened to these things it means that we are not so sensitive as once we were about these things. It means that we have become callous in our thoughts toward these things, so that we can accept them as part of our way of life without being disturbed by them and so “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
You could say exactly the same about the Corinthians, for Corinth was a city famed for licentiousness and wickedness of all kinds with idolatry of every unmentionable nature. But Paul still says to those who were true believers, “Evil communications, the influence of Corinth upon you personally, the influence of your fellow workmen, the influence of your own family perhaps, even the influence of other church members, these evil communications corrupt good manners.”
Now, friends, if I say just one or two things about this in a practical way, I hope you will not think I am just preaching at you, because I feel the importance of this myself. We have a great responsibility in our homes. Mothers, fathers, you have an accountability before God for the way in which your home is run and the things which are allowed in your home, so do remember what God has said about evil communications. However they get into the home, whether they are things you read, or things you hear, or things you see, evil communications corrupt good manners. As a man sows, so shall he reap and, friends, if you will spend your time reading evil literature, if you will spend your time looking at sordid things, you will undoubtedly reap the painful fruit of what you are doing.
I say this lovingly to each of our young people, “Do be careful what you read.” You pick up things to read and I know what goes on in your mind because it goes on in mine, and I know what attitudes you find working in your mind. Just what sort of things do you tend to look at in the newspaper when you open it at random? And, but for God’s grace, what kind of literature would you choose for preference? Now, friends, I believe that the Scriptures give us a realistic and God-inspired portrait of man’s real state. The heart of man is evil; it is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and, unless we are born again of the Spirit of God, then there is no power at all in man’s mind to rise above that low level that God has said it is inÂ—no power at all. “There is none righteous,” says Paul, “no, not one.” James is very clear about this. He said, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” James 3, 6. Friends, a man speaks what he thinks. James says “his tongue is set on fire of hell”. That means hell is at work in his heart. It cannot mean anything else. The very influence of hell is at work in us, unless God by His grace deliver us and subdue and control that evil thing. When you think that you can read these things and so easily judge between good and evil, between good and bad and reject the bad, do be careful. I believe this judging is very necessary. It is something that we shall have to do if we are to live at all in this world. We are going to come face to face daily with that which is evil and what a mercy it is if we have a standard of true godliness within so that we can weigh up these things according to the standard of God’s Word, so
that, by the grace of God, we can reject that which is evil. But how different this is to deliberately placing yourself in a position where you are going to be subject to evil communications. Oh, very different! I believe that was one of the sad sins of Lot. When Lot chose Sodom and the cities of the plain, he went deliberately into the place. It was only, as we say, by the skin of his teeth, through the infinite mercy and grace of God that he was delivered from the punishment that came upon Sodom, and, see, what a terrible corrupting influence that environment had on his own family. His own wife looked back, and that was not just a sort of nostalgic glimpse back towards her home. Not at all. It expressed the corruption of her heart. It was where she wanted to be, where she wanted to live and so she partook of the same punishment that came upon the city. And Lot goes on to Zoar, but I will leave you to read what happened there. You can see how evil communications corrupt good manners, and his own daughters behaved in the way that the Sodomites behaved because that was where they lived. That was the influence that had been upon them in their lives.
Now, friends, in these things we do well to ask ourselves what we are allowing in our homes, what we are allowing in our lives, what sort of company we are keeping and, indeed, in a larger way, we may well ask ourselves what is the direction in which this country is moving? And that does not take long to answer does it? The forces of evil and the power of evil communications have wrought havoc in this country.
I might just stop here and tell you something that happened when I was younger. My own parents had always forbidden me to go to picture houses and such places of entertainment. I could never really understand why, and often felt rather rebellious about it until a time came after I left home that I decided I would go with someone who was very strongly influencing me to go. This person said to me (and it was a young woman who said it) “Well surely you can go when they show good things,” and this argument seemed very plausible, and so I went, and I have never been so miserable in my life. It came to me like this. “What are you supporting?” It was very obvious what I was supporting. You only need to look as you walk past these places to see what sort of things you are supporting. Then I understood, sadly I believe, that I had grieved God in this and then I understood why my parents had said “No.” Wherever you go, wherever you subject yourself, by choice, to the influence of those around you, do remember what God has said! What a word this is to young people! Many of you are beginning to make friends. You make friends at school, but what sort of influence does the conversation of your friends have on you? What sort of conversation does go on at school? My memory is not so bad that I cannot remember what sort of conversation went on at my school! Would you like father and mother to hear everything that is said? Could you hold your face up without a blush of shame and tell them everything that you said the day before at school? Now let me go a step further, could you hold your face up without shame before God and tell Him everything that was said at school, everything that you said? I wonder what sort of company you are found in, what sort of people you like to be with? Now evil communications amongst friends are very terribly influential and, the closer your friendship, the more influence will that person’s life have upon you. I am sure that is so. We have a very powerful influence on one another, whether for good or for evil. This is one part of our sad and sorry sinfulness, not only the sins that we have committed in regard to our own selves and our own lives, but the way in which we have sinfully influenced others. “Be not deceived” says the apostle, but so powerful was evil influence in the church at Corinth that the whole church has been swept away with the spirit that was manifest by the few. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” “Oh” but you say “I have a lot of good friends, surely it does not matter if I still remain friendly with just this one odd person? I know he does not talk as he ought to and he does not behave as he ought to, but, surely, it won’t matter I have lots of good friends.” Now this is very solemnly true and I believe it is sadly true in my own life, “Evil communications corrupt good manners” and slowly you will find that the influence of that one bad friend outweighs all the influence of your good friends, and the reason is simply this, because of the very nature that we possess. If we had a holy, pure and upright nature then it would be the other way round, but we have not, and, because of the natural tendency of our own sinful nature, this word takes on a very terrible significance.
How can we avoid becoming complacent about such things that are evil, evil literature, evil words, evil scenes, evil advertisements? A very simple and practical way is to show very plainly and constantly our strong disapproval of these things and to go on showing it. It may cost you a lot. It may be very difficult and unpleasant. Some of us have had to complain at school occasionally because of the things that happen at school, things that the children are encouraged to do and that is not pleasant. It is very difficult to do, but, if we have the fear of God in our hearts, we must by every lawful means show how we feel, remembering that evil communications corrupt good manners. But for the grace of God, the life of this country, the moral life of this country is going to deteriorate with increasing speed. I do not think some of us know but one small fraction of what goes on. Perhaps it is a mercy we do not, for evil communications corrupt good manners. But, friends, we surely should be praying, if we have a right concern in our heart, that God will turn the tide in this country, for evil communications are having a terrible effect and will have a terrible effect upon our children and their children if the world continues for that length of time. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
If we compare for a moment our position as fallen children of Adam with the position of Adam before he fell, I feel this would put a very solemn light upon this verse. There were Adam and Eve, created in purity and uprightness in their nature and Satan comes in the form of a serpent and tempts the woman. An evil communication was heard in Eden. An evil communication! In that place there were good manners, or a way of life which was perfect, for God had made it so. Perfectly good manners, a perfectly good way of life and that way of life was corrupted by evil communications! Now, friends, if that could happen to Eve and then to Adam, dare we say that it will not happen to us? We dare not say that we can resist it, and only by the grace of God shall we do so. Oh we need to be held by God’s grace and I speak to you young people again. Oh how needful it is to have the fear of God in your hearts, what a vital principle this is. If Adam and Eve fell, and they had never sinned before, how do you think you can stand in your own strength? “Well”, you say, “I am sure I can live a decent kind of life without being a Christian.” This is the way some people talk, isn’t it? Friends, you may live a decent kind of life according to your principles, but you will not live the sort of life which is required of God upon His principles. Only by the grace of God can we live that kind of lifeÂ—nothing else but the fear of God deeply implanted in your heart. You need the love of
God shed abroad in your heart and without this you cannot live that life.
You remember how, when Israel journeyed towards the land that God had promised them, they came against the Moabites, and Balak hired Balaam to come and curse Israel. Now you could not think of a worse kind of communication than a curse, and in those days, of course, the Moabites, being thoroughly superstitious, thought it would mean certain victory if only this wonderful prophet could curse Israel. I do not need to go through the story. Even the children in the Sunday School know what happened to Balaam and his ass, and how God forbad the madness of the prophet. God did not allow him to go and curse Israel, but do you know what happened afterwards when Balak saw that he was cheated and realised that he could not resist the power and sovereignty of God? They then began to work more subtly and they presented to the Israelites the possibility of being friendly, and eventually there was the possibility of intermarriage with the Moabitish women. Now that was certain corruption, and it was certainly followed by God’s solemn reproof, and it had an influence upon that nation for centuries afterwards, Nehemiah speaks about it even in his day when there was need for renewed separation. Now, friends, consider that kind of communication. Oh how sad these things are! You young people, when you get older and begin to think about making more serious friendships, when you feel your heart drawn particularly to a certain person, remember what God has said. If you deliberately choose for your partner
someone whose conversation, whose way and manner of life is positively evil, then, friends, what you sow you must also reap. You will not come out unscathed for “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
But people can communicate in other ways, apart from mere words or the means we usually use to communicate with. We read in the Proverbs about the man that winketh with his eye! Now our very appearance communicates with people. Our whole attitude in life is a form of communication. I know, friends, if we allow in our lives, in our behaviour, in our attitude things which are evil, then we shall communicate with others. A person’s appearance is a form of communication. Now I do not want to say too much about this, but you know as well as I do that there are certain kinds of dress, certain ways of appearing in this world which characterize a person. I will not use the modern terminology but you say “Oh that man belongs to that sort of people, that is his way of life, because of his appearance.” Some will say there is nothing intrinsically evil in clothes, for instance; but it depends how they are used. Genesis chapter 3 has a lot to say about clothes if you care to read it again. Do you know what God did when man fell? God clothed man because He knew what state his mind was then in; He knew it was necessary for man to be clothed once he had fallen. Before he had fallen into sin man was so pure and upright in his way of life that there was no needÂ—he was naked and unashamedÂ—but after the Fall he was both ashamed and sinful, and God saw fit to clothe him because “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Well, isn’t this true? Is there not an evil effect upon the life of a people by the way in which the many dress? I am sure there is. Only a visit to London, indeed, a walk through the centre of Coventry would convince you of the truth of this. These things have a corrupting influence upon people’s way of life, for “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
Consider relationships between men and women. There was a time in the history of this nation when a form of delicacy existed in all such relationships, especially in public. A man had, or appeared to have, a proper regard for a woman, and the woman adopted her proper place in society in regard to the man, but now evil communications have said that both men and women are equal! “You don’t believe all this stuff in the Bible about women being subject to men?” Immediately there ensues a whole way of life more brutal, less sensitive, more blatantly evil, more openly Corrupt.
Paul has much to say in his Epistle to the Corinthians about people’s moral attitudes. Now, friends, our moral attitudes are reflected in our way of life. Oh may God in mercy grant us a return to that true tenderness and true conscientiousness in our behaviour one toward another and, if we form part of a Christian church, then what solemn responsibilities rest upon us. We set an
example by our appearance, our attitude and behaviour. Jesus taught very plainly that His people. His true people, would be as salt in the earth. In His day salt was one of the few ways in which food could be preserved. They knew little about how to preserve food from going rotten and so salt stood for all that preserved people and kept them pure. Now He said, “Ye are the salt of the earth”. The influence of God’s people, the influence of God’s true church in the earth is going to be a purifying influence, in exact contrast to this influence of evil communications. “But” He says “If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.” Matt. 5, 13. Now the taste of salt is so distinct that if you mixed salt with sugar you would surely know there was some salt in the sugar wouldn’t you? You can sense it. Now the teaching of God’s Word is that salt is always going to have a distinct flavour about it and it is going to affect things, wherever it is. What a responsibility rests upon us, then, as before God, in our way of life! What sort of influence do we have upon those about us? Oh how we need to pray every day that God would help us to live so as to have that kind of influence. It may not be very obvious. You may not see men and women all around you remarkably converted to become Christian believers, but even on a much lower plain than that, what a mercy it is to have people who are conscientious people, who are honest, who are clean in their thoughts and in their conversation. Well, evil communications corrupt good manners, and, says the apostle “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” He says “You are living like people who have no knowledge of God and yet you have professed your faith in Jesus Christ.” What a sad and depraved level the Corinthian people had sunk to. Evil communications had their terrible influence upon the life of those people. “Oh” he says, “Awake to righteousness.”
Just one more word to you young people. It is very hard to be different, and I am sure in what we call the teen-age period of life from 13 onward until you have grown up into established manhood and womanhood it seems that the power of influence is terribly strong. You hate to be different from the people you meet with, the people at school, you do not want to be thought of as a strange, peculiar person. If you could see these things in the light of God’s truth I believe it would make a very great difference. If you considered that God said “Evil communications corrupt good manners” and saw that the whole tendency in life about us today is towards more and more corruption, why then I believe you would be far, far more anxious to be different than to be the same as those about you. Friends, it is safer, it is far, far better to be different if, by being different, you walk according to God’s Word. Don’t be ashamed of being different if you walk according to God’s Word. Don’t be afraid of what people say to you if you
know in your heart and in your conscience that what you are doing is right. Don’t turn aside from that for one moment. There is everything in God’s Word to encourage you in doing what is right and there is everything in God’s Word to condemn doing what is wrong, even though the majority may do it. This has always been the case. There was never a time in the history of mankind when human life had sunk to a lower level than it had in Noah’s day, but Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Noah found grace in God’s sight. Noah was different, though he was scorned by everybody else. There were only Noah and his family who were safe in the ark at the end, and the rest of humankind were destroyed in the Flood. You see what I mean about not being ashamed of being different? Noah was different. “Evil communications corrupt good manners” and the eventual end of that way of life is a divine judgment. It must be. This is the whole pattern of God’s Word. When men had corrupted their life on the earth it says of God that He repented that He had made man. I believe that expresses to us the deep horror of Almighty God for the way of life of the people that were living on the earth, the deepest possible abhorrence of their behaviour. They were saying, of course, “What is the matter with our way of life? We are eating, drinking, we are marrying and giving in marriage, we are all right; there is nothing the matter.” until the very day that God sent rain upon the earth. Isn’t this what they are saying to you at school? “That’s old fashioned. You don’t want to live like that. You are out of date. Come and do what we are doing; live like we do; this is the best way; this is the happiest way; you will only be miserable if you don’t.” “Be not deceived”. God has told you plainly in His Word that “Evil communications corrupt good manners.’
You know, friends, to turn from the young people to those of us who have professed the name of Christ, what a sad and terrible thing it would be if even among ourselves there should be evil communications, if there should be in our thoughts, in our words and actions, anything, anything that would tend to corrupt the life of another. What a shame that is upon those who name the name of Christ! How prayerful we should be in regard to every aspect of our lives and our behaviour, lest by some unguarded word or some unguarded action we should cause a weaker brother to stumble. We should be very sensitive about that. A thing that perhaps would not cause you to stumble may cause another person to do so. Now, friends, “Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”