Book 7 - PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
With people, places, definitions, map ......
Writer: The apostle Paul
Date: c AD56-57 during Paul's Third Missionary Journey
Where written: Ephesus in modern western Turkey, during his nearly 3 year stay there
Readers: The largely Gentile church established at Corinth, a major commerce centre and capital of Achaia, when Paul stayed there for 18 months during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:11)
Why: Paul is aware from a number of sources, including letters and visitors from Corinth, that the church has serious problems with false teachers and trying to live the Christian life in a liberal and pagan city. In this letter, and perhaps with limited knowledge of the real situation, he deals guardedly with the issue of false teachers (2 Corinthians is far more direct). However he does not hesitate to tackle problems of sexual immorality, lawsuits, the Lord's Supper, and resurrection, while also answering the Corinthians questions about marriage, eating and socialising between Jews and Gentile Christians, and spiritual gifts and worship. This Letter includes Paul's famous chapter 13 on love.
According to Some Modern Scholarship: The First and Second Letters to the Corinthians could be part of a series of four or more letters sent by Paul to Corinth as the church's problems were first identified and then resolved - all at heavy emotional cost to Paul and no doubt the Christians of Corinth. At an earlier stage in this saga, Paul may have made a short, unrecorded visit from Ephesus across to Corinth.
The four letters could be:
(1) A letter, now lost but referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9, warning against relationships with sinners and the sexually immoral. Parts of this "lost" letter might have been preserved in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1;
(2) Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians here. This addresses specific questions raised in a letter sent from Corinth, and even more serious issues reported to Paul by visitors from Corinth;
(3) A "stern" letter, referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3 and 7:12 which deals with the problem of false teachers who are attacking Paul. This is possibly preserved in part as 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10; and
(4) A "glad" letter that is mainly the first part of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 1 to 9, plus 13:11-14. In this, Paul appears to be reconciled with the church following the return of Titus from Corinth with a positive report, 2 Corinthians 7:6)
Map - Paul Writes his First Letter to the Corinthians
Map Key: Letter sent from 1 to 2
GREETINGS AND THANKSGIVING
GREETINGS TO THE CHURCH IN CORINTH
1 Corinthians 1:1-3 - Paul, commissioned by the will of God as a messenger of Jesus Christ, and Sosthenes, a Christian brother, ...
Sosthenes - He could be the same Sosthenes as the synagogue leader in Corinth some five years earlier (Acts 18:17). Although that Sosthenes accused Paul of "perverting men's minds", and had been beaten up because of him, he could well have become a Christian and Paul's secretary -
... to the church of God at Corinth - to those whom Christ has made holy, who are called to be God's men and women, to all true believers in Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours - grace and peace be to you from God the Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ!
PAUL GIVES THANKS FOR THEIR CHRISTIAN STRENGTHS
I am thankful for your faith
1 Corinthians 1:4-9 - I am always thankful to God for what the gift of his grace in Jesus Christ has meant to you - how, as the Christian message has become established among you, he has enriched your whole lives, from the words on your lips to the understanding in your hearts. And you have been eager to receive his gifts during this time of waiting for his final appearance. He will keep you steadfast in the faith to the end, so that when his day comes you need fear no condemnation. God is utterly dependable, and it is he who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I - MAJOR FAULTS CONDEMNED
SERIOUS DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH
THE FIRST REFERENCE TO THE DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH
1 Corinthians 1:10-12 - Now I do beg you, my brothers, by all that Christ means to you, to speak with one voice, and not allow yourselves to be split up into parties. All together you should be achieving a unity in thought and judgment. For I know, from what some of Chloe's people have told me ....
Chloe's people - Presumably members - freemen or slaves - of the household of the unknown Chloe from Corinth. They must have visited Ephesus and told Paul about some of the church's difficulties; difficulties now confirmed verbally and in writing following the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, 1 Corinthians 16:17 -
.... that you (the Christians of Corinth) are each making different claims - "I am one of Paul's men," says one; "I am one of Apollos' (the eloquent Jewish Christian from Alexandria, Acts 18:24-28)," says another; or "I am one of Cephas' (the apostle Peter)"; while someone else says, "I owe my faith to Christ alone."
BE UNITED IN THE GOSPEL OF THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST; PAUL'S ROLE IN FOUNDING THE CHURCH
1 Corinthians 1:13-17 - What are you saying? Is there more than one Christ? Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?
It makes me thankful that I didn't actually baptise any of you (except Crispus and Gaius), or perhaps someone would be saying I did it in my own name. (Oh yes, I did baptise Stephanas' family, but I can't remember anyone else.) ....
Crispus - He is identified in Acts 18:8 as the synagogue leader in Corinth;
Gaius - One of up to five men with this name, all of whom have been introduced;
Stephanas - He was a founder-member of the Corinthian church in c AD52, and Fortunatus & Achaicus (introduced later in 1 Corinthians 16:17) may have been part of his household. These three have travelled to Ephesus, possibly carrying with them a letter from the church in Corinth, to which Paul is now replying.
The manner in which Paul suddenly remembers he baptised Stephanas' family 5 years earlier, suggests Stephanas was present during Paul's dictation, and jogged his memory - "don't forget my family!".
.... For Christ did not send me to see how many I could baptise, but to proclaim the Gospel. And I have not done this by the persuasiveness of clever words, for I have no desire to rob the cross of its power.
CHRIST CRUCIFIED IS MADNESS IN THE WORLD'S EYES; TO THOSE WHO ARE SAVED IT IS THE WISDOM OF GOD
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 - The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God.
The cross shows that God's wisdom is not man's wisdom by any means
It is written:
'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent' (Isaiah 29:14).
For consider, what have the philosopher, the writer and the critic of this world to show for all their wisdom? Has not God made the wisdom of this world look foolish? for it was after the world in its wisdom failed to know God, that he in his wisdom chose to save all who would believe by the "simple-mindedness" of the Gospel message. For the Jews ask for miraculous proofs and the Greeks an intellectual panacea, but all we preach is Christ crucified - a stumbling block to the Jews and sheer nonsense to the Gentiles, but for those who are called, whether Jews or Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. And this is really only natural, for God's foolishness" is wiser than men, and his "weakness" is stronger than men.
MANY OF THE CHOSEN ARE THE WEAK AND DESPISED; THE UNIMPORTANCE OF MOST OF THE CORINTHIANS IN WORLDLY TERMS
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 - For look at your own calling as Christians (mostly from humble backgrounds), my brothers. You don't see among you many of the wise (according to this world's judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are - that no man may boast in the presence of God. Yet from this same God you have received your standing in Jesus Christ, and he has become for us the true wisdom, a matter, in practice, of being made righteous and holy, in fact, of being redeemed. And this makes us see the truth of scripture:
'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24).
PAUL'S PREACHING WAS NOT ELOQUENT BUT IN WEAKNESS TO SHOW GOD'S POWER; HE PREACHED NOTHING BUT THE DEATH OF JESUS ON THE CROSS
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 - In the same way, my brothers, when I came to proclaim to you God's secret purpose (in Corinth, Acts 18:1-18), I did not come equipped with any brilliance of speech or intellect. You may as well know now that it was my secret determination to concentrate entirely on Jesus Christ and the fact of his death upon the cross. As a matter of fact, in myself I was feeling far from strong; I was nervous and rather shaky (probably the result of Paul's treatment in Macedonia and his lack of success in Athens before arriving in Corinth, Acts 16 and 17. He might also have been ill). What I said and preached had none of the attractiveness of the clever mind, but it was a demonstration of the power of the Spirit! Plainly God's purpose was that your faith should not rest upon man's cleverness but upon the power of God.
THE GOSPEL IS NOT EARTHLY WISDOM BUT THE HIDDEN WISDOM OF GOD
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 - We do, of course, speak "wisdom" among those who are spiritually mature, but it is not what is called wisdom by this world, nor by the powers-that-be, who soon will be only the powers that have been. The wisdom we speak of is that mysterious secret wisdom of God which he planned before the creation for our glory today. None of the powers of this world have known this wisdom - if they had they would never have crucified the Lord of glory!
ONLY GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND THIS MYSTERY; THE WORLD CAN NOT
1 Corinthians 2:9-10a - But as it is written:
'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him' (Isaiah 64:4).
But God has, through the Spirit, let us share his secret.
GOD'S SPIRIT, GIVING US THE MIND OF CHRIST GRANTS US THIS UNDERSTANDING
1 Corinthians 2:10b-16 - For nothing is hidden from the Spirit, not even the deep wisdom of God. For who could really understand a man's inmost thoughts except the spirit of the man himself? How much less could anyone understand the thoughts of God except the very Spirit of God? And the marvellous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God's generosity towards us.
This wisdom is only understood by the spiritual
It is these things that we talk about, not using the expressions of the human intellect but those which the Holy Spirit teaches us, explaining things to those who are spiritual.
But the unspiritual man simply cannot accept the matters which the Spirit deals with - they just don't make sense to him, for, after all, you must be spiritual to see spiritual things. The spiritual man, on the other hand, has an insight into the meaning of everything, though his insight may baffle the man of the world. This is because the former is sharing in God's wisdom, and
'Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' (Isaiah 40:13)
Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very thoughts of Christ!
THEY ARE STILL IMMATURE CHRISTIANS; THEIR DIVISIONS COME FROM EARTHLY JEALOUSY AND QUARRELLING
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 - I, my brothers, was unable to talk to you as spiritual men: I had to talk to you as unspiritual, as yet babies in the Christian life, And my practice had been to feed you, as it were, with "milk" and not with "meat". You were unable to digest "meat" in those days, and I don't believe you can do it now. For you are still unspiritual; all the time that there is jealousy and squabbling among you you show that you are - you are living just like men of the world. While one of you says, "I am one of Paul's converts" and another says, "I am one of Apollos'", are you not plainly unspiritual?
THOSE WHO PREACH THE GOSPEL ARE NOT IMPORTANT; THEY ARE MERELY GOD'S SERVANTS
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 - After all, who is Paul? Who is Apollos? No more than servants through whom you came to believe as the Lord gave each man his opportunity. I may have done the planting and Apollos the watering, but it was God who made the seed grow! The planter and the waterer are nothing compared with him who gives life to the seed. Planter and waterer are alike insignificant, though each shall be rewarded according to his particular work.
We work on God's foundation
In this work, we work with God, and that means that you are a field under God's cultivation, or, of you like, a house being built to his plan.
YOU CAN ONLY BE BUILT UP ON THE FOUNDATION THAT IS CHRIST; ANY OTHER WAY WILL FAIL
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 - I, like an architect who knows his job, by the grace God has given me, lay the foundation; someone else builds upon it. I only say this, let the builder be careful how he builds! The foundation is laid already, and no one can lay another, for it is Jesus Christ himself. But any man who builds on the foundation using as his material gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble, must know that each man's work will one day be shown for what it is. The day will show it plainly enough, for the day will arise in a blaze of fire, and that fire will prove the nature of each man's work. If the work that the man has built upon the foundation will stand this test, he will be rewarded. But if a man's work be destroyed under the test, he loses it all. He personally will be safe, though rather like a man rescued from a fire.
EVERY CHRISTIAN IS GOD'S HOLY TEMPLE AND HOME TO HIS HOLY SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 - Don't you realise that you yourselves are the temple of God, and God's Spirit lives in you? God will destroy anyone who defiles his temple, for his temple is holy - and that is exactly what you are!
BECOME A GODLY FOOL, NOT WORLDLY WISE; IN GOD THROUGH CHRIST, YOU HAVE EVERYTHING
1 Corinthians 3:18-23 - Let no one be under any illusion over this. If any man among you thinks himself one of the world's clever ones, let him discard his cleverness that he may learn to be truly wise. For this world's cleverness is stupidity to God. It is written:
'He catches the wise in their own craftiness' (Job 5:13).
'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile' (Psalm 94:11).
So let no one boast of men. Everything belongs to you! Paul, Apollos or Cephas; the world, life, death, the present or the future, everything is yours! For you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God!
CHRISTIAN TEACHERS ARE SERVANTS OF CHRIST, JUDGED ONLY BY GOD
1 Corinthians 4:1-5 - You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust. But, as a matter of fact, it matters very little to me what you, or any man, thinks of me - I don't even value my opinion of myself - but that doesn't justify me before God. My only true judge is God himself.
The moral of this is that we should make no hasty or premature judgments. When the Lord comes he will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men's hearts. Then shall God himself give each man his share of praise.
APPLY THIS CRITERIA TO YOUR OWN TEACHERS
1 Corinthians 4:6-7 - I have used myself and Apollos above as an illustration, so that you might learn from what I have said about us not to assess man above his value in God's sight, and may thus avoid the friction that comes from exalting one teacher against another. For who makes you different from somebody else, and what have you got that was not given to you? And if anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself?
PAUL'S HARD-HITTING COMPARISONS - THE APOSTLES ARE NOTHING; SOME OF THE CORINTHIANS THINK THEMSELVES EVERYTHING
1 Corinthians 4:8-13 - Oh, I know you are rich and flourishing! You've been living like kings, haven't you, while we've been away? I would to God you were really kings in God's sight so that we might reign with you!
I sometimes think that God means us, the messengers (or apostles), to appear last in the procession of mankind, like the men who are to die in the arena. For indeed we are made a public spectacle before the angels of Heaven and the eyes of men. We are looked upon as fools, for Christ's sake, but you are wise in the Christian faith. We are considered weak, but you have become strong: you have found honour, we little but contempt. Up to this very hour we are hungry and thirsty, ill-clad, knocked about and practically homeless. We still have to work for our living by manual labour. Men curse us, but we return a blessing: they make our lives miserable but we take it patiently. They ruin our reputations but we go on trying to win them for God. We are the world's rubbish, the scum of the earth, yes, up to this very day.
PAUL CALLS THEM BACK TO THE GOSPEL; TIMOTHY WILL HELP THEM WHEN HE ARRIVES
1 Corinthians 4:14-17 - I don't write these things merely to make you feel uncomfortable, but that you may realise facts, as my dear children. After all, you may have had ten thousand teachers in Christian faith, but you cannot have many fathers! For in Jesus Christ I am your spiritual father through the Gospel; that is why I implore you to follow the footsteps of me your father. I have sent Timothy (who has already left Ephesus for Macedonia, Acts 19:22, presumably on his way to Corinth) to you to help you in this. For he himself is my much-loved and faithful son in the Lord, and he will remind you of those ways of living in Christ which I teach in every church to which I go.
WHEN PAUL ARRIVES HE WILL TAKE WHATEVER ACTION IS NECESSARY
1 Corinthians 4:18-21 - Some of you have apparently grown conceited enough to think that I should not visit you. But please God it will not be long before I do come in person. Then I shall be able to see what power, apart from their words, these pretentious ones among you really possess. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of a spate of word but of the power of Christian living.
Now it's up to you to choose! Shall I come to you ready to chastise you, or in love and gentleness?
THE CURSE OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY IN THEIR MIDST; IT MUST BE DEALT WITH
1 Corinthians 5:1-8 - It is actually reported (probably by the three visitors from Corinth) that there is sexual immorality among you, and immorality of a kind that even pagans condemn - a(n immoral) man has apparently taken his father's wife! Are you still proud of your church? Shouldn't you be overwhelmed with sorrow and shame? The man who has done such a thing should certainly be expelled from your fellowship!
The "immoral man" - In his Second Letter to the Corinthians 2:5, Paul recommends that the repentant man should be received back into the church in love -
I know I am not with you physically but I am with you in spirit, and I assure you as solemnly as if I were actually present before your assembly that I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done this thing, and I do this with full divine authority. My judgment is this: that the man should be left to the mercy of Satan so that while his body will experience the destructive powers of sin his spirit may yet be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place. Don't you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread! We Christians have had a Passover lamb sacrificed for us - none other than Christ himself! So let us "keep the feast" with no trace of the yeast of the old life, nor the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth!
PAUL HAS ALREADY TOLD THEM TO AVOID IMMORAL CHRISTIANS; GOD WILL DEAL WITH THE NON-CHRISTIANS
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 - In my previous letter ....
- according to many commentators, this is the "Lost" Letter to the Corinthians warning them about relations with sinners and the sexually immoral. It may be preserved in part in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
... I said, "Don't mix with the immoral." I didn't mean, of course, that you were to have no contact at all with the immoral of this world, nor with any cheats or thieves or idolaters - for that would mean going out of the world altogether! But in this letter I tell you not to associate with any professing Christian who is known to be an impure man or a swindler, an idolater, a man with a foul tongue, a drunkard or a thief. My instruction is: "Don't even eat with such a man." Those outside the church it is not my business to judge. but surely it is your business to judge those who are inside the church - God alone can judge those who are outside. It is your plain duty to
'put away from yourselves that wicked person' (Deuteronomy 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7).
TAKING CHRISTIANS TO COURT
CAN'T THEY DEAL WITH THEIR OWN DISPUTES? WHY GO TO PAGAN LAW?
1 Corinthians 6:1-8 - When any of you has a grievance against another, aren't you ashamed to bring the matter to be settled before a pagan court instead of before the church? Don't you know that Christians will one day judge the world? And if you are to judge the world do you consider yourselves incapable of settling such infinitely smaller matters? Don't you also know that we shall judge the very angels themselves - how much more then matters of this world only! In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church? I say this deliberately to rouse your sense of shame. Are you really unable to find among your number one man with enough sense to decide a dispute between one and another of you, or must one brother resort to law against another and that before those who have no faith in Christ! It is surely obvious that something must be seriously wrong in your church for you to be having lawsuits at all. Why not let yourself be wronged or cheated? For when you go to law against your brother you yourself do him wrong, for you cheat him of Christian love and forgiveness.
THE PREVIOUS CONDITION OF MANY OF THEM
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - Have you forgotten that the kingdom of God will never belong to the wicked? Don't be under any illusion - neither the impure, the idolater or the adulterer; neither the effeminate, the pervert or the thief; neither the swindler, the drunkard, the foul-mouthed or the rapacious shall have any share in the kingdom of God. And such men, remember, were some of you! But you have cleansed yourselves from all that, you have been made whole in spirit, you have been justified before God in the name of the Lord Jesus and in his very Spirit.
CHRISTIAN FREEDOM; SEXUAL IMMORALITY
- Possibly a fragment of the "Lost" Letter referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9:
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 - As a Christian I may do anything, but that does not mean that everything is good for me. I may do everything, but I must not be a slave of anything. Food was meant for the stomach and the stomach for food; but God has no permanent purpose for either. But you cannot say that our physical body was made for sexual promiscuity; it was made for God, and God is the answer to our deepest longings. The God who raised the Lord (Jesus) from the dead will also raise us mortal men by his power. Have you realised the almost incredible fact that your bodies are integral parts of Christ himself? Am I then to take parts of Christ and join them to a prostitute? Never! Don't you realise that when a man joins himself to a prostitute he makes with her a physical unity? For God says, 'the two shall be one flesh'. On the other hand the man who joins himself to God is one with him in spirit.
Avoid sexual looseness like the plague! Every other sin that a man commits is done outside his own body, but this is an offence against his own body. Have you forgotten that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, and that you are not the owner of your own body? You have been bought, and at what a price! Therefore bring glory to God both in your body and your spirit, for they both belong to him.
II - ANSWERS TO SPECIFIC QUESTIONS FROM CORINTH
THE MATTER OF MARRIAGE
PAUL REFERS TO THEIR QUESTIONS ABOUT CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
1 Corinthians 7:1-2 - Now let me (Paul) deal with the questions raised in your letter (carried from Corinth to Ephesus by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus who are listed in 1 Corinthians 16:17 - 21.37 following). It is a good principle for a man to have no physical contact with women. Nevertheless, because casual liaisons are so prevalent, let every man have his own wife and every woman her own husband.
PAULS ADVICE ON MARRIAGE
1 Corinthians 7:3-16 - The husband should give his wife what is due to her as his wife, and the wife should be as fair to her husband. The wife has no longer full rights over her own person, but shares them with her husband. In the same way the husband shares his personal rights with his wife. Do not cheat each other of normal sexual intercourse, unless of course you both decide to abstain temporarily to make special opportunity for fasting and prayer. But afterwards you should resume relations as before, or you will expose yourselves to the obvious temptation of the devil.
I give the advice above more as a concession than as a command. I wish that all men were like myself (Paul's unmarried and celibate life dedicated to God and the Gospel), but I realise that everyone has his own particular gift from God, some one thing and some another. Yet to those who are unmarried or widowed, I say definitely that it is a good thing to remain unattached, as I am. But if they find they have not the gift of self-control in such matters, by all means let them get married. I think it is far better for them to be married than to be tortured by unsatisfied desire.
To those who are already married my command, or rather, the Lord's command, is that the wife should not leave her husband. But if she is separated from him she should either remain unattached or else be reconciled to her husband. A husband is not, in similar circumstances, to divorce his wife.
Advice over marriage between Christian and pagan
To other people my advice (though this is not a divine command - it is Paul's own prayerful advice) is this. For a brother who has a non-Christian wife who is willing to live with him he should not divorce her. A wife in a similar position should not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is, in a sense, consecrated by being joined to the person of his wife; the unbelieving wife is similarly "consecrated" by the Christian brother she has married. If this were not so then your children would bear the stains of paganism, whereas they are actually consecrated to God.
But if the unbelieving partner decides to separate, then let there be a separation. The Christian partner need not consider himself bound in such cases. Yet God has called us to live in peace, and after all how can you, who are a wife, know whether you will be able to save your husband or not? And the same applies to you who are a husband. .....
1 Corinthians 7:17-24 - ....... each man should live his life with the gifts that God has given him and in the condition in which God has called him. This is the rule I (Paul) lay down in all the churches.
For example, if a man was circumcised when God called him he should not attempt to remove the sign of his circumcision. If on the other hand he was uncircumcised he should not become circumcised. Being circumcised or not being circumcised, what do they matter? The great thing is to obey the orders of Almighty God. Everyone should stick to the calling in which he heard the call of God. Were you a slave when you heard the call? Don't let that worry you, though if you find an opportunity to become free you had better take it. But a slave who is called to life in Christ is set free in the eyes of God. And a man who was free when God called him becomes a slave - to Christ himself! You have been redeemed, at tremendous cost; don't therefore sell yourselves as slaves to men! My brothers, let every one of us continue to live his life with God in the state in which he was when he was called.
PAULS ADVICE ON MARRIAGE (continued)
1 Corinthians 7:25-40 - Now as far as young unmarried women are concerned, I must confess that I have no direct commands from the Lord. Nevertheless, I give you my considered opinion (again) as of one who is, I think, to be trusted after all his experience of God's mercy.
My opinion is this, that amid all the difficulties of the present time you would do best to remain just as you are. Are you married? Well, don't try to be separated. Are you unattached? Then don't try to get married. But if you, a man, should marry, don't think that you have done anything sinful. And the same applies to a young woman. Yet I believe that those who take this step are bound to find the married state an extra burden in these critical days, and I should like you to be as unencumbered as possible, All our futures are so foreshortened, indeed, that those who have wives should live, so to speak, as though they had none! There is no time to indulge in sorrow, no time for enjoying our joys; those who buy have no time to enjoy their possessions, and indeed their every contact with the world must be as light as possible, for the present scheme of things is rapidly passing away. That is why I should like you to be as free from worldly entanglements as possible. The unmarried man is free to concern himself with the Lord's affairs, and how he may please him. But the married man is sure to be concerned with matters of this world, that he may please his wife. You find the same differences in the case of the unmarried and the married woman. The unmarried concerns herself with the Lord's affairs, and her aim in life is to make herself holy, in body and in spirit. But the married woman must concern herself with the things of this world, and her aim will be to please her husband.
I tell you these things to help you; I am not putting difficulties in your path but setting before you an ideal, so that your service of God may be as far as possible free from worldly distractions.
But marriage is not wrong
But if any man feels he is not behaving honourably towards the woman he loves, especially as she is beginning to lose her first youth and the emotional strain is considerable, let him do what his heart tells him to do - let them be married, there is no sin in that. Yet for the man of steadfast purpose who is able to bear the strain and has his own desires well under control, if he decides not to marry the young woman, he too will be doing the right thing. Both of them are right, one in marrying and the other in refraining from marriage, but the latter has chosen the better of two right courses.
A woman is bound to her husband while he is alive, but if he dies she is free to marry whom she likes - but let her be guided by the Lord. In my opinion she would be happier to remain as she is, unmarried. And I think I am here expressing not only my opinion, but the will of the Spirit as well.
THE MATTER OF MEAT SACRIFICED TO IDOLS - RELATIONS WITH PAGANS AND CHRISTIAN FREEDOM
THEIR QUESTION ABOUT EATING MEAT OFFERED TO IDOLS IN PAGAN CEREMONIES
1 Corinthians 8:1a - Now to deal with the matter of meat which has been sacrificed to idols (... also raised in the recently delivered letter from Corinth).
1 Corinthians 8:1b-3 - It is not easy to think that we "know" over problems like this (meat sacrificed to idols), but we should remember that while knowledge may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature. For whatever a man may know, he still has a lot to learn, but if he loves God, he is opening his whole life to the Spirit of God.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS
1 Corinthians 8:4-13 - In this matter, then (Paul in response to a question from the Corinthians ....), of eating meat which has been offered to idols, knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence, and that there is no God but one. For though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact, to us there is only one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and for who we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom everything exists, and by whom we ourselves are alive. But this knowledge of ours is not shared by all men. For some (previously pagans), who until now have been used to idols, eat the meat as meat really sacrificed to a god, and their delicate conscience is thereby injured. Now our acceptance of God is not a matter of meat. If we eat it, that does not make us better men, nor are we the worse if we do not eat it. You must be careful that your freedom to eat meat does not in any way hinder anyone whose faith is not as robust as yours. For suppose you with your knowledge of God should be observed eating meat in an idol's temple, are you not encouraging the man with a delicate conscience to do the same? Surely you would not want your superior knowledge to bring spiritual disaster to a weaker brother for whom Christ died? And when you sin like this and damage the weak consciences of your brethren you really sin against Christ. This makes me determined that, if there is any possibility of meat injuring my brother, I will have none of it as long as I live, for fear I might do him harm.
PAUL'S DEFENCE OF HIS RIGHTS AS AN APOSTLE
1 Corinthians 9:1-14 - Is there any doubt that I am a genuine messenger (or apostle), any doubt that I am a free man? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Are not you yourselves samples of my work for the Lord? Even if other people should refuse to recognise my divine commission, yet to you at any rate I shall always be a true messenger, for you are a living proof of God's call to me. This is my real ground of defence to those who cross-examine me.
Aren't we allowed to eat and drink? May we not travel with a Christian wife like the other messengers (apostles), like other Christian brothers, and like Cephas (Peter)? Are Barnabas and I the only ones not allowed to leave their ordinary work to give time to the ministry?
Even a preacher of the Gospel has some rights
Just think for a moment. Does any soldier ever go to war at his own expense? Does any man plant a vineyard and have no share in its fruits? Does the shepherd who tends the flock never taste the milk? This is, I know, an argument from everyday life, but it is a principle endorsed by the Law. For is it not written in the Law of Moses:
'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain' (Deuteronomy 25:4).
Now does this imply merely God's care for oxen, or does it include his care for us too? Surely we are included! You might even say that the words were written for us. For both the ploughman as he ploughs, and the thresher as he threshes should have some hope of an ultimate share in the harvest. If we have sown for you the seed of spiritual things need you be greatly perturbed because we reap some of your material things? And if there are others with the right to have these things from you, have not we an even greater right? Yet we have never exercised this right and have put up with all sorts of things, so that we might not hinder the spread of the Gospel.
I am entitled to a reward, yet I have not taken it
Are you ignorant of the fact that those (the Jewish priests) who minister sacred things take part of the sacred food of the Temple for their own use, and those who attend the altar have their share of what is placed on the altar? On the same principle the Lord has ordered that those who proclaim the Gospel should receive their livelihood from those who accept the Gospel.
YET PAUL RENOUNCED HIS RIGHTS; HIS REWARD IS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL IN ANY WAY HE CAN
1 Corinthians 9:15-23 - But I have never used any of these privileges, nor am I writing now to suggest that I should be given them. Indeed I would rather die than have anyone make this boast of mine an empty one!
My reward is to make the Gospel free to all men
For I take no special pride in the fact that I preach the Gospel. I feel compelled to do so; I should be utterly miserable if I failed to preach it. If I do this work because I choose to do so then I am entitled to a reward. But if it is no choice of mine, but a sacred responsibility put upon me, what can I expect in the way of reward? This, that when I preach the Gospel, I can make it absolutely free of charge, and need not claim what is my rightful due as a preacher. For though I am no man's slave, yet I have made myself everyone's slave, that I might win more men to Christ. To the Jews I was a Jew that I might win the Jews. To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those (the Gentiles) who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.
PAUL'S STRICT AND DISCIPLINED LIFE AS AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 - Do you remember how, on a racing-track, every competitor runs, but only one wins the prize? Well, you ought to run with your minds fixed on winning the prize! Every competitor in athletic events goes into serious training. Athletes will take tremendous pains - for a fading crown of leaves. But our contest is for an eternal crown that will never fade.
I run the race then with determination. I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight! I am my body's sternest master, for fear that when I have preached to others I should myself be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 10:1-12 - ... I should like to remind you, my brothers, that our ancestors (during the Exodus from Egypt) all had the experience of being guided by the cloud in the desert and of crossing the sea dry-shod. They were all, so to speak, "baptised" into Moses by these experiences. They all shared the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (for they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ). Yet in spite of all these wonderful experiences many of them failed to please God, and left their bones in the desert. Now in these events our ancestors stand as examples to us, warning us not to crave after evil things as they did. Nor are you to worship false gods as they did. The scripture says - 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.'
Neither should we give way to sexual immorality as did some of them, for we read that twenty-three thousand fell in a single day! Nor should we dare to exploit the goodness of God as some of them did, and fell victims to poisonous snakes. Nor yet must you curse the lot that God has appointed to you as they did, and met their end at the hand of the angel of death.
Now these things which happened to our ancestors are illustrations of the way in which God works, and they were written down to be a warning to us who are the heirs of the ages which have gone before us.
So let the man who feels sure of his standing today be careful that he does not fall tomorrow.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has come your way that is too hard for flesh and blood to bear. But God can be trusted not to allow you to suffer any temptation beyond your powers of endurance. He will see to it that every temptation has a way out, so that it will never be impossible for you to bear it.
YOU CANNOT ATTEND BOTH THE LORD'S SUPPER AND PAGAN SACRIFICES
1 Corinthians 10:14-22 - The lesson we must learn, my brothers, is at all costs to avoid worshipping a false god. I am speaking to you as intelligent men: think over what I am saying.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a very sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread do we not actually share in the body of Christ? The very fact that we all share one bread makes us all one body. Look at the Jews of our own day. Isn't there a fellowship between all those who eat the altar sacrifices?
Now am I implying that a false god really exists, or that sacrifices made to any god have some value? Not at all! I say emphatically that Gentile sacrifices are made to evil powers and not to God at all. I don't want you to have any fellowship with such powers. You cannot drink both the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. You cannot be a guest at the Lord's table and at the table of devils. Are we trying to arouse the wrath of God? Have we forgotten how completely we are in his hands?
FREEDOM AS CHRISTIANS
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 - ..... the Christian position is this: I may do anything, but everything is not useful. Yes, I may do anything but everything is not constructive. Let no man, then, set his own advantage as his objective, but rather the good of his neighbour.
1 Corinthians 10:25-26 - You should eat whatever is sold in the meat-market without asking any of the questions of an over-scrupulous conscience, for 'The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness'
RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS
1 Corinthians 10:27-33 - If a pagan asks you to dinner and you want to go, feel free to eat whatever is set before you, without asking any questions through conscientious scruples. But if your host should say straight out, "This meat has been offered to an idol", then don't eat it, for his sake - I mean for the sake of conscience, not yours but his.
Now why should my freedom to eat be at the mercy of someone else's conscience? Or why should any evil be said of me when I have eaten meat with thankfulness, and have thanked God for it? Because, whatever you do, eating or drinking or anything else, everything should be done to bring glory to God.
Do nothing that might make men stumble, whether they are Jews or Greeks or members of the Church of God. I myself try to adapt myself to all men without considering my own advantage but their advantage, that if possible they may be saved.
PAUL ASKS THEM TO FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE AND REMEMBER HIS TEACHING
1 Corinthians 11:1-2 - Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself.
I must give you credit for remembering what I taught you and adhering to the traditions I passed on to you.
- Throughout history, and most of the world even now, women have been treated as inferiors to men and even their own male children, and no less so in the time of Jesus. Yet in the Gospels he has a remarkable relationship with all types of women, and although none were named apostles, many played important, even vital roles in his life and ministry, death and resurrection. For example, a few women were all who remained of his followers when he was crucified. It was to two women - both Mary's, to whom Jesus first appeared after his resurrection. And it was these two women who first reported his resurrection to his men disciples.
The other main source of information on the position of women in the early Church is Paul's letters. His position is somewhat confusing, but even at his strictest he was doing no more than follow established Jewish custom. Certainly he was not the woman-hater he is often accused of. Perhaps most remarkable is the importance he gives woman in his Letter to the Romans chapter 16 (see below), together with his obvious affection and respect for some of them.
Most contradictory is his First Letter to the Corinthians. In Chapter 11, although taking a strict stance on women at worship, he accepts, in verse 5, that they pray and preach or teach. Yet by chapter 14, verse 34, he is declaring that women must remain silent in church. There are no satisfactory answers to Paul's apparent contradictions. It is as though after millennia of women's inferiority, a few women gained near or even total equality in their relations with Jesus, and that Paul and perhaps other apostles sincerely practised this teaching:
"Gone is the distinction between .... male and female - you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Paul in his Letter to the Galatians 3:28.,
but under the pressures of existing male-dominated customs, they and the Christian Church soon succumbed to the ancient prejudices men of all races and religions hold even now.
The Church must surely follow Jesus in this matter, so vital to half the human race. The equality with which he treated women, together with Paul's obvious acceptance of their importance, must be taken into account in any debates on the role of women in the Christian Church. Such a stance also suggests that some parts of the Church should reconsider the respect and veneration owed to the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus:
1 Corinthians 11:3-16 - (Paul, talking about modesty in worship) .... I want you to know that Christ is the head of every individual man, just as a man is the "head" of the woman and God is the head of Christ. Thus it follows that if a man prays or preaches with his head covered, he is, symbolically, dishonouring him who is his real head. But in the case of a woman, if she prays or preaches (contrast with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 following) with her head uncovered it is just as much a disgrace as if she had it closely shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head she might just as well have her hair cropped. And if to be cropped or closely shaven is a sign of disgrace to women (as it is with many peoples - for example, a punishment inflicted on French women who associated with Germans during the World War 2 occupation), then that is all the more reason for her to cover the head. A man ought not to cover his head, for he represents the very person and glory of God, while the woman reflects the person and glory of the man. For man does not exist because woman exists, but vice versa. Man was not created originally for the sake of woman, but woman was created for the sake of man. For this reason a woman ought to bear on her head an outward sign of man's authority for all the angels to see.
Of course, in the sight of God neither "man" nor "woman" has any separate existence. For if woman was made originally for man, no man is now born except by a woman, and both man and woman, like everything else, owe their existence to God. But use your own judgment, do you think it right and proper for a woman to pray to God bare-headed? Isn't there a natural principle here, that makes us feel that long hair is disgraceful to a man, but of glorious beauty to a woman? We feel this because the long hair is the cover provided by nature for the woman's head. But if anyone wants to be argumentative about it, I can only say that we and the churches of God generally hold this ruling on the matter.
THE UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR OF THE CORINTHIANS AT THE TABLE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
1 Corinthians 11:17-34 - ... in giving you the following rules, I cannot commend your conduct, for it seems that your church meetings do you more harm than good! For first, when you meet for worship I hear that you split up into small groups, and I think there must be truth in what I hear. For there must be cliques among you or your favourite leaders would not be so conspicuous. It follows, then, that when you are assembled in one place you do not eat the Lord's supper. For everyone tries to grab his food before anyone else, with the result that one goes hungry and another has too much to drink! Haven't you houses of your own to have your meals in, or are you making a convenience of the church of God and causing acute embarrassment to those who have no other home?
Am I to commend this sort of conduct? Most certainly not!
To partake of the Lord's supper is a supremely serious thing
The teaching I gave you was given me personally by the Lord himself, and it was this: the Lord Jesus, in the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is being broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Similarly when supper was ended, he took the cup saying, "This cup is the new agreement in my blood: do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.
This can only mean that whenever you eat this bread or drink of this cup, you are proclaiming that the Lord (Jesus) has died for you, and you will do that until he comes again. So that, whoever eats the bread or drinks the wine without due thought is making himself like one of those who allowed the Lord to be put to death without discerning who he was.
No, a man should thoroughly examine himself, and only then should he eat the bread or drink of the cup. He that eats and drinks carelessly is eating and drinking a judgment on himself, for he is blind to the presence of the Lord's body.
Careless communion means spiritual weakness: let us take due care
It is this careless participation which is the reason for many feeble and sickly Christians in your church, and the explanation of the fact that many of you are spiritually asleep.
If we were closely to examine ourselves beforehand, we should avoid the judgment of God. But when God does judge us, he disciplines us as his own sons, that we may not be involved in the general condemnation of the world.
Now, my brothers, when you come together to eat this bread, wait your proper turn. If a man is really hungry let him satisfy his appetite at home. Don't let your communions be God's judgment upon you!
The other matters (... Paul is probably still referring to the Lord's Supper), I will settle in person, when I come.
THE VALUE OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS, BUT THE PREEMINENCE OF LOVE
THEIR QUESTIONS ABOUT SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND WORSHIP
1 Corinthians 12:1 - Now I want to give you some further information in some spiritual matters (... probably also raised in the letter to Paul brought from Corinth).
ONLY THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN WE REALLY KNOW WHO JESUS IS
1 Corinthians 12:2-3 - You have not forgotten that you were Gentiles, following dumb idols just as you had been taught. Now I want you to understand, as Christians, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God could call Jesus accursed, and no one could say that he is the Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.
the BODY OF CHRIST - THE CHURCH
- These verses suggest that every Christian, no matter who, have an important part to play in their own local church and in God's plan and purpose for it.
Equally, the verses could be taken as applying to the variety of Christian churches that make up the world-wide Church. Each denomination, composed as it is of individually saved men, women and children, and with its own characteristics, strengths (and weaknesses), and hand-in-hand with every other denomination, has its own part to play in the universal Church of Christ:
1 Corinthians 12:4-13 - Men have different gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all. Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it.
One man's gift by the Spirit is to speak with wisdom, another's to speak with knowledge. The same Spirit gives to another man faith, to another the ability to heal, to another the power to do great deeds. The same Spirit gives to another man the gift of preaching the word of God, to another the ability to discriminate in spiritual matters, to another speech in different tongues. Behind all these gifts is the operation of the same Spirit, who distributes to each individual man, as he wills.
The human body is an example of organic unity
As the human body, which has many parts, is a unity, and those parts, despite their multiplicity, constitute one single body, so it is with the body of Christ. For we were all baptised by the Spirit into one body, whether we were Jews, Gentiles, slaves or free men, and we have all had experience of the same Spirit.
EVERY CHRISTIAN HAS A ROLE IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
- Paul is clearly saying that every member of the Church, no matter how much they lack education, experience, age or youth, personality, maturity, physical ability, even mental wholeness, liked or unliked - have a part, and often an important part to play. And perhaps only one that God can see:
1 Corinthians 12:14-26 - Now the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand I don't belong to the body," does that alter the fact that the foot is a part of the body? Of if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye I don't belong to the body," does that mean that the ear really is no part of the body? After all, if the body were all one eye, for example, where would be the sense of hearing? Or if it were all one ear, where would be the sense of smell? But God has arranged all the parts in the one body according to his design. For if everything were concentrated in one part, how could there be a body at all? The fact is there are many parts, but only one body. So that the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" nor, again, can the head say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body which have no obvious function are the more essential to health: and to those parts of the body which seem to us to be less deserving of notice we have to allow the highest honour of function. The parts which do not look beautiful have a deeper beauty in the work they do, while the parts which look beautiful may not be at all essential to life! But God has harmonised the whole body by giving importance of function to the parts which lack apparent importance, that the body should work together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another. So it happens that if one member suffers all the other members suffer with it, and if one member is honoured all the members share a common joy.
THE BODY OF CHRIST - THE CHURCH (concluded)
1 Corinthians 12:27-30 - Now you are together the body of Christ, and individually you are members of him. And in his Church God has appointed first some to be his messengers, secondly, some to be preachers of power, thirdly teachers. After them he has appointed workers of spiritual power, men with the gift of healing, helpers, organisers and those with the gift of speaking in "tongues".
As we look at the body of Christ do we find all are his messengers, all are preachers, or all teachers? Do we find all wielders of spiritual power, all able to heal, all able to speak with tongues, or all able to interpret the tongues? No, we find God's distribution of gifts is on the same principles of harmony that he has shown in the human body.
LOVE - ITS PREEMINENCE
1 Corinthians 13 - "If I am withour love ........."
- "God is love" (1 John 4:8). The preeminence of love can be seen from how often the word is found in the Holy Bible. In modern versions it appears approximately 500 times, fourth after "Lord" (c6,500 times), "God" (c3,500) and Jesus Christ (c1,400), and even before the Holy Spirit (c300). In the older "King James Version", "love", its derivations, and the similar "mercy" and "charity" can be found some 600 times:
1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1a - You should set your hearts on the highest spiritual gifts, but I will show you what is the highest way of all.
Christian love - the highest and best gift
(Chapter 13 ....) If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.
This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience - it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.
Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.
All gifts except love will be superseded one day
For if there are prophecies they will be fulfilled and done with, if there are "tongues" the need for them will disappear, if there is knowledge it will be swallowed up in truth. For our knowledge is always incomplete and our prophecy is always incomplete, and when the complete comes, that is the end of the incomplete.
When I was a little child I talked and felt and thought like a little child. Now that I am a man my childish speech and feeling and thought have no further significance for me.
At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!
In this life we have three great lasting qualities - faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.
(Chapter 14 ....) Follow, then, the way of love, while you set your heart on the gifts of the Spirit.
"TONGUES"; including PAUL'S ABILITY TO SPEAK IN TONGUES
- A spiritual gift that is generally associated with New Testament times. It meant speaking during worship in "tongues", or languages not previously learnt, which required interpretation if the message was to be understood. Although the practise is accepted in many parts of the modern Church, others consider it questionable, if not unacceptable or even fraudulent:
1 Corinthians 14:1b-28 - The highest gift you can wish for is to be able to speak the messages of God. The man who speaks in a "tongue" addresses not men (for no one understands a word he says) but God: and only in his spirit is he speaking spiritual secrets. But he who preaches the word of God is using his speech for the building up of the faith of one man, the encouragement of another or the consolation of another. The speaker in a "tongue" builds up his own soul, but the preacher builds up the Church of God.
I should indeed like you all to speak with "tongues", but I would much rather that you all preached the word of God. For the preacher of the word does a greater work than the speaker with "tongues", unless of course the latter interprets his word for the benefit of the Church.
Unless "tongues" are interpreted do they help the Church?
For suppose I came to you, my brothers, speaking with "tongues!", what good could I do unless I could give you some revelation of truth, some knowledge in spiritual things, some message from God, or some teaching about the Christian life?
Even in the case of inanimate objects which are capable of making sound, such as a flute or harp, if their notes all sound alike, who can tell what tune is being played? Unless the bugle-note is clear who will be called to arms? So, in your case, unless you make intelligible sounds with your "tongue" how can anyone know what you are talking about? You might just as well be addressing an empty room!
There are in the world a great variety of spoken sounds and each has a distinct meaning. But if the sounds of the speaker's voice mean nothing to me I am a foreigner to him, and he is a foreigner to me.
So, with yourselves, since you are so eager to possess spiritual gifts, concentrate your ambition upon receiving those which make for the real growth of your church. And that means if one of your number speaks with a "tongue", he should pray that he may be able to interpret what he says.
If I pray in a "tongue" my spirit is praying but my mind is inactive. I am therefore determined to pray with my spirit and my mind, and if I sing I will sing with both spirit and mind. Otherwise, if you are blessing God with your spirit, how can those who are ungifted say amen to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are talking about? You may be thanking God splendidly, but it doesn't help the other man at all. I (Paul) thank God that I have a greater gift of "tongues" than any of you, yet when I am in Church I would rather speak five words with my mind (which might teach something to other people) than ten thousand words in a "tongue" which nobody understands.
You must use your minds in this matter of tongues
My brothers, don't be like excitable children but use your intelligence! By all means be innocent as babes as far as evil is concerned, but where your minds are concerned be full-grown men! In the Law it is written: 'With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear me'.
That means that tongues are a sign of God's power, not for those who are unbelievers, but to those who already believe. Preaching the word of God, on the other hand, is a sign of God's power to those who do not believe rather than to believers. So that, if at a full church meeting you are all speaking with tongues and men come in who are both uninstructed and without faith, will they not say that you are insane? But if you are preaching God's word and such a man should come in to your meeting, he is convicted and challenged by your united speaking of the truth. His secrets are exposed and he will fall on his knees acknowledging God and saying that God is truly among you!
Some practical regulations for the exercise of spiritual gifts
Well then, my brothers, whenever you meet let everyone be ready to contribute a psalm, a piece of teaching, a spiritual truth, or a "tongue" with an interpreter. Everything should be done to make your church strong in the faith.
If the question of speaking with a "tongue" arises, confine the speaking to two or three at the most and have someone to interpret what is said. If you have no interpreter then let the speaker with a "tongue" keep silent in the church and speak only to himself and God.
1 Corinthians 14:29-33 - Don't have more than two or three preachers either, while the others think over what has been said. But should a message of truth come to one who is seated, then the original speaker should stop talking. For in this way you can all have opportunity to give a message, one after the other, and everyone will learn something and everyone will have his faith stimulated. The spirit of a true preacher is under that preacher's control, for God is not a God of disorder but of harmony, as is plain in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 - What Paul writes here has been the normal view throughout most of the history of the Christian Church, and remains the case in most major religions even now. Yet it still grates compared with some of his other more accepting and loving views on women:
Let women be silent in church; they are not to be allowed to speak. They must submit to this regulation, as the Law itself instructs. If they have questions to ask they must ask their husbands at home, for there is something indecorous about a woman's speaking in church. (... But see verse 5 in 1 Corinthians 11:5-16 above).
HIS AUTHORITY AS AN APOSTLE; A FINAL WORD ON WORSHIP
1 Corinthians 14:36-40 - Do I see you questioning my instructions? Are you beginning to imagine that the Word of God originated in your church, or that you have a monopoly of God's truth? If any of your number thinks himself a true preacher and a spiritually-minded man, let him recognise that what I have written is by divine command! As for those who don't know it, well, we may just leave them in ignorance.
In conclusion then, my brothers, set your heart on preaching the word of God, while not forbidding the use of "tongues". Let everything be done decently and in order
III - OTHER MATTERS
DEATH AND RESURRECTION
PAUL SUMMARISES CHRIST'S REASON FOR DYING; HIS SUMMARY OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION APPEARANCES
- Paul now tackles the last major subject of his letter - resurrection and immortality:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - Now, my brothers, I want to speak about the Gospel which I have previously preached to you, which you accepted, in which you are at present standing, and by which, if you remain faithful to the message I gave you, your salvation is being worked out - unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all.
For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received - that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold. He was seen by
Cephas (the apostle Peter),
then by the twelve (apostles), and
subsequently he was seen simultaneously by over five hundred Christians, of whom the majority are still alive, though some have since died.
He was then seen by James,
then by all the messengers (apostles).
And last of all, as if to one born abnormally late, he appeared to me! (Paul).
PAUL, AN UNDESERVING APOSTLE
1 Corinthians 15:9-11 - I am the least of the messengers, and indeed I do not deserve that title at all, because I persecuted the Church of God (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2). But what I am now I am by the grace of God. The grace he gave me has not proved a barren gift. I have worked harder than any of the others - and yet it was not I but this same grace of God within me. In any event, whoever has done the work whether I or they, this has been the message and this has been the foundation of your faith.
IF THERE IS NO RESURRECTION CHRIST CANNOT HAVE RISEN FROM THE DEAD; OUR FAITH IS FUTILE, OUR HOPE PITIFUL
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 - Now if the rising of Christ from the dead is the very heart of our message, how can some of you deny that there is any resurrection? For if there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead, then Christ was never raised. And if Christ was not raised then neither our preaching nor your faith has any meaning at all. Further it would mean that we are lying in our witness for God, for we have given our solemn testimony that he did raise up Christ - and that is utterly false if it should be true that the dead do not, in fact, rise again! For if the dead do not rise neither did Christ rise, and if Christ did not rise your faith is futile and your sins have never been forgiven. Moreover those who have died believing in Christ are utterly dead and gone. Truly, if our hope in Christ were limited to this life only we should, of all mankind be the most to be pitied!
AS DEATH CAME THROUGH ADAM SO LIFE COMES THROUGH CHRIST; HE HAS DESTROYED DEATH
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 - But the glorious fact is that Christ did rise from the dead: he has become the very first to rise of all who sleep the sleep of death. As death entered the world through a man (Adam), so has rising from the dead come to us through a man (Jesus)! As members of a sinful race all men die; as members of the Christ of God all men shall be raised to life, each in his proper order, with Christ the very first and after him all who belong to him when he comes.
Then, and not till then, authority and power, hands over the kingdom to God the Father. Christ's reign will and must continue until every enemy has been conquered. The last enemy of all to be destroyed is death itself. The scripture says:
'He has put all things under his feet' (Psalm 8:6).
But in the term "all things" it is quite obvious that God, who brings them all under subjection to Christ, is himself excepted. Nevertheless, when everything created has been made obedient to God, then shall the Son acknowledge himself subject to God the Father, who gave the Son power over all things. Thus, in the end, shall God be wholly and absolutely God.
AGAIN, IF THERE IS NO RESURRECTION, IT IS POINTLESS BEING PERSECUTED FOR PREACHING THE GOSPEL
1 Corinthians 15:29-34 - Further, you should consider this, that if there is to be no resurrection what is the point of some of you being baptised for the dead by proxy? Why should you be baptised for dead bodies? And why should I live a life of such hourly danger? I assure you, by the certainty of Jesus Christ that we possess, that I face death every day of my life! And if, to use the popular expression, I have "fought with wild beasts" here in Ephesus, what is the good of an ordeal like that if there is no life after this one?
'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!' (Isaiah 22:13)
Don't let yourselves be deceived. Talking about things that are not true is bound to be reflected in practical conduct. Come back to your senses, and don't dabble in sinful doubts. Remember that there are men who have plenty to say but have no knowledge of God. You should be ashamed that I have to write like this at all!
A RESURRECTION ANALOGY - THE SOWN SEED DYING TO GROW INTO NEW LIFE; OTHER PARALLELS IN NATURE
1 Corinthians 15:35-41 - But perhaps someone will ask, "How is the resurrection achieved? With what sort of body do the dead arrive?" Now that is talking without using your minds! In your own experience you know that a seed does not germinate without itself "dying". When you sow a seed you do not sow the "body" that will eventually be produced, but bare grain, of wheat, for example, or one of the other seeds. God gives the seed a "body" according to his laws - a different "body" to each kind of seed.
Then again, even in this world, all flesh is not identical. There is a difference in the flesh of human beings, animals, fish and birds.
There are bodies which exist in this world, and bodies which exist in heaven. These bodies are not, as it were, in competition; the splendour of an earthly body is quite a different thing from the splendour of a heavenly body. The sun, the moon and the stars all have their own particular splendour, while among the stars themselves there are different kinds of splendour.
RESURRECTION TRANSFORMS THE WEAK AND MORTAL BODY INTO A GLORIOUS SPIRITUAL BODY
1 Corinthians 15:42-44a - These are illustrations here of the raising of the dead. The body is "sown" in corruption; it is raised beyond the reach of corruption. It is "sown" in dishonour; it is raised in splendour. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
AS WE HAVE SHARED THE NATURAL BODY OF ADAM, SO WE WILL PUT ON THE SPIRITUAL BODY OF CHRIST
1 Corinthians 15:44b-49 - As there is a natural body so will there be a spiritual body.
It is written, moreover, that:
'The first man Adam became a living being' (Genesis 2:7).
So the last Adam (Jesus) is a life-giving Spirit. But we should notice that the order is "natural" first and then "spiritual". The first man came out of the earth, a material creature. The second man came from Heaven and was the Lord himself. For the life of this world men are made like the material man; but for the life that is to come they are made like the one from Heaven. So that just as we have been made like the material pattern, so we shall be made like the Heavenly pattern.
ONLY THE IMPERISHABLE SPIRITUAL BODY WILL ENTER HEAVEN
1 Corinthians 15:50-53 - For I assure you, my brothers, it is utterly impossible for flesh and blood to possess the kingdom of God. The transitory could never possess the everlasting.
The dead and the living will be fitted for immortality
Listen, and I will tell you a secret. We shall not all die, but suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, every one of us will be changed as the trumpet sounds! The trumpet will sound and the dead shall be raised beyond the reach of corruption, and we who are still alive shall suddenly be utterly changed. For this perishable nature of ours must be wrapped in imperishability, these bodies which are mortal must be wrapped in immortality.
DEATH IS DEFEATED, SIN OVERCOME AND WE HAVE TOTAL VICTORY THROUGH CHRIST; LET NO ONE CHEAT YOU OF THIS TRUTH
1 Corinthians 15:54-58 - So when the perishable is lost in the imperishable, the mortal lost in the immortal, this saying will come true:
'Death is swallowed up in victory' (Isaiah 25:8)
'O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?' (Hosea 13:14)
It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, then, who gives us the victory over these things through our Lord Jesus Christ!
And so brothers of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord's work. Be sure that nothing you do for him is ever lost or ever wasted.
VARIOUS BUSINESS AND PERSONAL MATTERS
PRACTICAL ADVICE ON COLLECTING FOR THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM
1 Corinthians 16:1-4 - Now as far as the fund for Christians in need is concerned, I should like you to follow the same rule that I gave to the Galatian church.
On the first day of the week let everyone put so much by him, according to his financial ability, so that there will be no need for collections when I come. Then, on my arrival, I will send whomever you approve to take your gift, with my recommendation, to Jerusalem. If it seems right for me to go as well, we will make up a party together (... which Paul in fact does with a number of fellow Christians at the end of his forthcoming visit to Corinth, Acts 20:2b-3a. His journey back to Jerusalem is then described in some detail in Acts 20:3b-21:17).
PAUL'S IMMEDIATE TRAVEL PLANS FROM EPHESUS INCLUDING VISITING CORINTH
1 Corinthians 16:5-9 - I shall come to you after my intended journey through Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2a) and I may stay with you awhile or even spend the winter with you. Then you can see me on my way - wherever it is that I go next. I don't wish to see you now, for it would merely be in passing, and I hope to spend some time with you, if it is God's will. I shall stay here in Ephesus (towards the end of Paul's three years there, c AD54-57) until the feast of Pentecost, for there is a great opportunity of doing useful work, and there are many people against me.
PROPOSED VISITS TO CORINTH BY TIMOTHY AND APOLLOS; A SHORT SERMON
1 Corinthians 16:10-14 - If Timothy comes to you (... Paul, on this, his Third Journey, has by now sent Timothy & Erastus from Ephesus ahead of him to Macedonia - Acts 19:22 and 1 Corinthians 4:17, and also suggests the young Timothy will reach Corinth before him), put him at his ease. He is as genuine a worker for the Lord as I am, and there is therefore no reason to look down on him. Send him on his way in peace, for I am expecting him to come to me here with the other Christian brothers. As for our brother Apollos (already popular with at least some of the Corinthians, and in spite of the divisions associated with his name, still trusted by Paul) I pressed him strongly to go to you with the rest, but it was definitely not God's will for him to do so then. However, he will come to you as soon as an opportunity occurs.
A little sermon in a nutshell!
Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, live like men, be strong! Let everything that you do be done in love.
THE WELCOME VISITORS FROM CORINTH
1 Corinthians 16:15-18 - You remember the household of Stephanas (introduced in 1 Corinthians 1:16), the first men of Achaia to be won for Christ? Well, they have made up their minds to devote their lives to looking after Christian brothers. I do beg you to recognise them as Christ's ministers, and to extend your recognition to all their helpers and workers.
I am very glad that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus have arrived (with their letter asking various questions about Christian life and worship, but also reporting verbally on the far more serious problem of false prophets and false teaching). They have made up for my not seeing you. They are a tonic to me and to you. You should appreciate having men like that!
GREETINGS FROM ASIA; A CURSE; A FINAL BLESSING
1 Corinthians 16:19-24 - Greetings from the churches of Asia. Aquila and Prisca (or Priscilla) send you their warmest Christian greetings and so does the church that meets in their house. All the Christians here send greetings. I should like you to shake hands all round as a sign of Christian love.
- Prominent men often used scribes and then as here, as in other letters of Paul, added their own final words and name:
Here is my own greeting, written by me, Paul. If any man does not love the Lord, let him be accursed; may the Lord soon come!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you and my love be with you all in Jesus Christ.
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