Don’t Know What to Say in Confession? Advice from St. Paul

Sermon Notes   Sunday of the Forefathers       2008   Colossians 3:4-11 

In the writings of St. Paul he makes several lists of  sins – behaviors unacceptable to Christians and the Christian community.  Below are listed several of those lists from St. Paul’s letters to the Colossians, Galatians, Corinthians and Romans.    Scholars note that there is nothing specifically “Christian” about these lists of sins or ethical behavior.  The lists would have been acceptable to Jews as well as Stoics.  St. Paul is not saying this represents a Christian morality as versus a pagan, Roman, or Jewish morality.  In fact some scholars think that St. Paul went out of his way to produce a list of unacceptable behaviors that would have put Christianity in somewhat mainstream morality.  He may in fact have been trying to  show that Christians are not different from all other peoples, but in fact teach a universal morality.  The 2nd Century Christian writing THE LETTER TO DIOGNETUS makes this precise point:  Christians are not really distinguishable from any other people, they obey the laws of the nation, they are loyal citizens, they adapt to local customs, and in general are more likely to be moral and upstanding citizens than most.   And we know from history and the persecution of Christians that the Christians were accused of sedition, atheism, cannibalism, incest, inciting riots, failure to be good neighbors/citizens  (a good test – can you figure out what the Christians did that led to each of these charges against them?).  Here are St. Paul’s lists of sins and unacceptable behavior (this is a good list to bring out when you are having a hard time coming up with anything to say in confession!)  (all lists from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible):

Colossians 3:5-8   fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

Galatians 5:19-21    fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing

2 Corinthians 12:20    quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10   Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers

1 Corinthians 5:10-11   sexually immoral or greedy,  idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber

Romans 13:13    reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.

Romans 1:29-31   wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

As is always the case when we think about sin, we tend to think that the sins that “others” do are the worst sins.   Next time you prepare yourself for confession you can use St. Paul’s list – bring it with you to confession.   If frequency of repetition means anything, St. Paul does list a few sins more than once (number of references in parentheses):

Jealousy/Envy (5)             Drunkenness (4)         Anger/Wrath (4)               Fornication (3)      

Greed (3)                           Slander (3)        Robbers/Thieves (3)                   Idolatry (3)            

Quarreling (3)                            Evil/Wicked (3)           Gossip (2)                         Impurity (2) 

Licentiousness (2)             Revilers (2)

Are there any surpises as to which sins St. Paul lists the most?   Any sins glaringly absent from his list?   I set up some categories which I tried to group some of the sins, since some of the words are synonyms in modern parlance.         You can take the lists and form your own categories.  These are a couple that occurred to me (number of references in parentheses):

Divisiveness (21)           Fighting  (17)          Unspecified Immorality (13)

Speech  (12)                Sexual Immoraity (11)          Disrespect (9)                Greed (8)

Pride/Arrogance  (4)      Rejecting God (4)

St. Paul puts a lot of emphasis on sins that negatively affect the local community.  He mentions a lot sins of fighting and divisiveness.   Generally his overriding virtue is that of love for one another.  In this he is a true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.