Corruption

Preaching and Worship Resources about Corruption

One of two components of original and perennial sin (the other being guilt), corruption is the despoilment of a person, group, or system, typically through perversion, pollution, or disintegration.

In Scripture

Great Wickedness "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:5-6).

Idols "You shall not make for yourself an idol. . . .You shall not bow down to them or worship them" (Ex. 20:4-5).

Adultery "You shall not commit adultery" (Ex. 20:14).

Abusing of Widows and Orphans "You shall not abuse any widow or orphan" (Ex. 22:22).

"Fools say in their hearts, `There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds . . . They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse . . . ." (Ps. 14: 1, 3).

Bringing Forth Wisdom "The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off" (Prov. 10:31).

Bribes "A bribe corrupts the heart" (Eccl. 7:7b).

"Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. . . . They do not defend the orphan, and the widow's cause does not come before them" (Isa. 1:23).

"The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9).

Great Are Your Sins "For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate" (Amos 5:12).

Deeds of Power "On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers'" (Matt. 7:22-23).

"Soldiers also asked him, `And we, what should we do?' He said to them, `Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages'" (Luke 3:14).

"The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

Noisy Gong and Clanging Cymbals "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1).

Reaping Corruption "If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh" (Gal. 6:8).

"Put to death. . . . fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)" (Col. 3:5).

"Purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8b).

Points to Ponder

Corruption is Spiritual AIDS Corruption is a dynamic motif in the Christian understanding of sin. It is not so much a particular sin as it is the multiplying power of all sin to spoil what's good. Corruption is spiritual AIDS — a mysterious, systemic, infectious, and progressive attack on our spiritual immune system that eventually breaks it down and opens the way for hordes of opportunistic sins. These make life progressively more miserable. Conceit, for instance, typically generates envy of rivals, a nasty form of resentment that eats away at the envier. "Sin," as Augustine says, "becomes the punishment of sin."

Born Sinners Reformation documents offer a number of images for corruption: it is a despoiled nature, a diseased root, a contaminated spring, a foul heart. A bad strain has gotten into human stock so that we now sin with the ease and readiness of people born to the task. We are "born sinners" as some people are "born athletes." This fact, empirical as well as biblical, lies behind a broad consensus — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — on original sin, namely, that sin in humanity is old, universal, progressive, often addictive, and stubbornly resistant to eradication. This is why the regeneration of a human heart is a God-Almighty, Holy Ghost miracle.

Corruption includes perversion — which amounts to twisting something good (say, the office of county prosecutor) so that it serves an unworthy goal (merely gaining convictions) instead of a worthy one (seeking criminal justice) or so that it serves an entirely wrong goal (such as humiliating one's political enemies). Rape victims sometimes discover to their consternation that a prosecutor will proceed with their case only when confident of a slam dunk conviction, particularly near election time. Other examples abound: a journalist distorts an event in order to render it more controversial and thus more newsworthy; a minister uses his office and authority to bend children to his lust; a teenager uses a friendship to move up in the social pack; a head of state launches a short but lethal war against a tiny nation in order to boost the economy, raise his standing in the polls, and bury criticism of his domestic performance.

Corruption includes pollution — which amounts to weakening something good by introducing into it a foreign element. Classic biblical examples are idolatry and adultery, emblems of each other. In each case some new commitment gets insinuated into an existing and exclusive relationship and compromises it.

Corruption includes dividedness and then disintegration. Adultery both pollutes and splits a marriage, often leading to its death. Idolatry both contaminates human loyalty to God and splits it, often leading to its death. Third parties in these cases are wedge-shaped.

A Divided House Accordingly, Christians have traditionally feared double-mindedness not merely because it shows ingratitude to God but also because it disintegrates mind and heart. To split our really important loves and longings is to crack our life's foundation and risk the crumbling of life itself. A divided house cannot stand.

Disintegration is the main event in corruption — the breakdown of personal, social, or systemic integrity; the loss of shape, strength, and purpose that makes some entity an "entirety," and makes it this entirety. Sin tends to disintegrate both its perpetrators and its victims. In fact, it is the prelude to death. When the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:7 that "a bribe corrupts the heart," the Hebrew `abad (for Eng. "corrupts") also means "to cause to die."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.