I Corinthians 1:1-9 God Is Faithful.
Paul wrote as an apostolic witness, not by his own choice, but as one called through the will God. He also was not alone-he had help (v.1). Furthermore, the church whom he addressed was also called-called to be saints, also not of their own accord. The saints are all “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus…all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (v.2) To such Paul offers grace and peace, “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” All who are of the Son have peace with the Father, and this through grace, for this Paul gives thanks. The testimony of their sanctification was evidenced in their utterance and knowledge, and indeed in every gift of which they were enriched. Furthermore, Paul was thus confident that they would be confirmed blameless to the end (vv. 3-8). “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (v. 9) “God is faithful.” The Christian life and the life of the church rests in nothing more, and nothing less than the faithfulness of God.
I Corinthians 1:10-31 One Gospel Message-The Power And Wisdom Of God.
Paul pleads with the Corinthians to be as they are-one in Christ. There were divisions and Paul wanted them to be of one mind. They imagined that God’s servants were somehow divided when in fact they all served the same Lord. Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and indeed Christ were all of one message-the gospel. There in fact may be the added thought that these men were inspired scriptural writers, and the word cannot be broken-the Spirit gave one witness.
The gospel was the gospel of Christ, it was not in his own name that Paul was preaching. The apostolic message was not about their own wisdom-it was about the cross of Christ and being baptized in His name (vv. 10-17). If it were mere human wisdom it would not be the power of God. It is through the message preached that He saves those who believe (vv. 18-21). The Jews looked for a sign of His power, and the Greeks for what they considered wisdom, but Christ, and the message of the gospel, is “the power of God and the wisdom of God (vv. 22-25).
God, as it turns out, has chosen not many wise according to the flesh, not many noble, and not many mighty. Quite the opposite. God has chosen those who by the world’s standards are foolish, weak, and common to put to shame their so called wisdom. He has done this that “no flesh should glory in His presence” (v. 29), “that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’” (v.31)
What we glory in is “Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (v. 30) The righteousness, sanctification, and redemption are God’s wisdom expressed in the gospel message. Christ’s righteousness and His alone is our justification (cf. II Cor. 5:21). It is not the wisdom of a man-centred salvation. Those declared right are also those made right in sanctification-also part of the wisdom of God. Finally, we find our redemption complete. Paul seems to be giving us a mini ordo salutis, or order of salvation.
First there is justification-Christ our righteousness, then sanctification, and now redemption. ‘Redemption’ here seems to refer to salvation complete. Paul uses the word elsewhere to refer to the whole of our salvation (Rom. 3:24), and in other instances to the resurrection of the body and glory (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). Further, it seems to carry the idea of a ransom paid for complete buy back-in this case by Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14). The term encompasses the complete package of deliverance (cf. Luke 2:38; Heb. 9:15). God is faithful from beginning to end!
I Corinthians 2 Wisdom Spiritually Discerned.
There is a great divide among the minds of men. There is two conceptions of wisdom. The biblical one looks to revelation-what God has revealed and testified to us through His Spirit (vv. 1, 9). The other is the world of men who find wisdom in their own thoughts and words-“persuasive words of human wisdom.” (v. 4) God’s word comes with power-it can effect that which it declares (v. 5). The Spirit demonstrates it (v. 4). God’s wisdom is a mystery to men without the Spirit because one must have the Spirit to receive the revelation, and that with power (vv.1-12).
Spiritual things are foolish to the man who does not have the Spirit-they are spiritually discerned (vv. 13-16). But ideas have consequences, for had the rulers of that age had the wisdom of the Spirit, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (v.8) But the wisdom of the cross was ordained (v. 7), and this was Paul’s message. “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (v. 2)
I Corinthians 3 All Are Yours.
Paul returns again to one of the key reasons for his writing to the Corinthians-divisions and faith in men rather than unity in God and His word. The prominence which Paul reflects on here of Apollos is very telling. It seems that Apollos served the church here after Paul left. Paul sowed, but Apollos watered. However, there in fact may be the added thought that these men were both apostles and inspired scriptural writers, and the word cannot be broken-the Spirit gave one witness. Luther and others have believed that, in fact, Apollos was the author of Hebrews.
One cannot be definitive of course, but Paul seems to be hinting at more than bare sectarianism. In a fallen world one will hardly expect to ever achieve complete unanimity, but Paul seems to suggest that there should be. Such unanimity could only be found in the scriptures themselves. Previously Paul also mentioned another apostle-Cephas or Peter (1:12). Now it is just he and Apollos. He then mentions all three again (3:22) But then Paul refers to “us, the apostles.” (4:9) In thus qualifying the ‘us,’ he certainly seems to be including Apollos. Paul himself is proof that there were more than twelve apostles.
In any case, Paul is disappointed that everything he has just said about being spiritually minded cannot be said with confidence about his readers. They were still babes in their sanctification. The evidences of carnality were envy, strife, and divisions (v. 3). There are two camps mentioned again-one of Paul and one of Apollos. There can be no doubt that Paul and Apollos were in agreement, but the people had their favourites. However, those reasons, in the case of these two men and Peter, could not be the truth of which these men were in agreement on. We can thank God that we have this example here, just to prove that these divisions often have nothing to do with matters of faith.
Paul and Apollos shared this in common-they were both ministers through whom they believed. God used them both. They had different roles, and in the providence of God came at different times, but God sent them both. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (v. 7) No man can boast in this work. This is also quite liberating for a minister. It is the minister’s responsibility simply to plant or water-the increase ultimately depends on the sovereign work of God’s Spirit, even though each one’s work will be judged by God accordingly. Sadly, a minister may escape himself, but his work could perish (v. 15).
Paul acknowledged that it was by God’s grace alone that he was able to be a wise builder in laying the foundation as he did. Clearly the work of the ministry requires God’s grace. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” (3:9) Ministers are sent to be God’s instruments to build His church. The church is God’s temple-indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and called to be holy. “Envy, strife, and divisions,” are clearly not the marks of a holy temple. Such behavior is not only carnal in itself but as such it defiles the temple-it is an unclean thing. And God will destroy anyone who defiles His temple (v. 17).
Paul returns again to the idea of true wisdom. There are those “wise in this age,” who should throw that wisdom away. It is possible for men to deceive themselves into thinking themselves wise. One of the effects of the fall is self-deception. The scriptures are given to guide us as to what the truth really is, and what is true wisdom. Those who are wise in their own eyes God considers foolish, for their wisdom is futile (vv. 19-20 cf. Job 5:13; Ps. 94:11). In fact, it is in the craftiness of the fool that God catches them (cf. Job 5:13). The futile idols are just the outward expression of futile thinking. Idolatry begins in the thinking of one’s heart.
All things belong to the church. There is no reason for sectarianism. All good gifts come from God and are given for the building of his church. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that is not given for this ultimate purpose (cf. Mt. 16:17-19; 28:18-20). The point is we are Christ’s, “and Christ is God’s.” (v. 23) Here we find Paul reiterating the point he made earlier-Christ cannot be divided. Don’t make the good gifts which God has given for the benefit of all, and make them a cause of division in the one body of Christ. “Is Christ divided?” (1:13) “All are yours.” (3:22)
I Corinthians 4: 1-13 Stewards Of The Word.
Here we find Paul giving even more explicit reference to Apollos, for he says, “now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos.” (4:6) It may be that Paul felt an affinity with Apollos as apostles not of the twelve. It is clear that the ‘us’ here, is for Paul specifically him and Apollos-“us, the apostles.” (v. 9) Something else is also crystal clear, Paul wanted his readers and all subsequent readers to learn in he and Apollos, ‘not to think beyond what is written.” (v. 6) This may be another proof that Apollos was in fact a scriptural author. In any case, the standard was clear-everything must be judged by the touchstone of scripture. Anything apart from scripture, or in contradiction to it, was simply puffing up men at the expense of their own good and God’s glory.
Paul and Apollos were examples of servants of Christ, called to be faithful as stewards of the mysteries of God. They were not to be looked upon like pagan religious leaders who came up with ideas of their own-they were to be faithful stewards of God’s mysteries. And since they are God’s, they require Him to reveal them. And this is why the word is our only standard. The importance of this truth will be seen as Paul proceeds and contends with those who have prophecies and revelations not in keeping with this standard. Because Paul made this his one and only rule, he did not fear the judgment of men (vv. 3-5). He knew, and so should we, that God is the ultimate judge, and the standard God will use is the word which He has given. Not only this, but God is able to reveal what is in the heart of man like no man, including ourselves, can do (vv. 1-6).
Paul just finished explaining how all things were theirs-God was the giver. He even made the point that he was a servant by God’s grace alone (3:10). Why then were they boasting. They had nothing to boast of. Everything they had came as gifts from a gracious God. If there were differences, even these are from God. There was to be no grounds for anyone to compare with others and boast. Paul and Apollos, as apostles, gave them examples of what it meant to serve-by God’s grace and for His glory. Lack of gratitude is the root of pride and bitterness, and these cause divisions, out of envy and strife. These folks, in pitting apostle against apostle, were in fact by doing so sitting in judgment on them. They should have tested everything by the canon of scripture.
What was the reward for being stewards of the word? “We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.” (4:13) Paul and Apollos, and their fellow servants, repaid evil with good, cursing with blessing. Frankly, there are still those in the church today who have no idea of the spiritual warfare of which a true minister of the word is engaged in. It is no wonder that many leave the ministry, and many suffer depression and all manner of sickness. But a minister of the word can take some comfort from the examples of Paul and his fellow stewards . If they did this to the apostles and authors of the scriptures, how much more those who follow after them. This comes with being a steward of God’s word-in season and out.
I Corinthians 4:14-21 Imitate Christ
Paul’s approach shows that it is not just what is said that is important-how and why are equally important. Paul’s intent was not to tear down or shame his readers, he was seeking to warn them as a father. Paul’s goal wasn’t simply to win an argument or emphasize his authority. As the one whom God used to bring them to faith he was desirous to see them progress in it. His motivation was love, and he preferred to take a gentle approach (v. 21). There are indeed a lot of teachers today, as there were then. But one who actually cares whether that instruction takes root and bears fruit-these are few and far between. There are also many who hear instruction, but the issue is whether it is lived.
To this end, Paul urges his readers to imitate his example. But again, it is not like a pagan religious teacher-with a teaching and way of life uniquely his own. Paul’s teaching and example was Christ. “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (11:1) It was this concern of living out the faith which is the reason for Paul to send Timothy. If he could not be there himself, he would send someone whom he knew to be one who would not only teach the truth, but would also live it. As a father, Paul wanted to come to them again, but he knew that this depended on God’s providence. If he could not go himself he would make other provisions. It wasn’t about him. It was about them having an example to imitate.
Words and instruction is the first and necessary thing. However, without the power of God at work in the life of the hearers it is nothing but empty pride. Many are “puffed up” with what they know intellectually, but do they live it? Paul was opposed to those who could talk a good line but were not living it. The word must be accompanied by power-and this as the Spirit’s work. It is the same thought which he expressed in his letter to the Thessalonians. “Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” (1:4-5)
I Corinthians 5:1-8 Judgment And Discipline-Lawful And Necessary.
The apostle has given us a specific example to show that there is a place for judgment and discipline in the church (vv.1-3). Note well, the behaviour specifically referred to finds no specific reference in the NT, rather, it was a stipulation of the law (Lev. 18:8). Those who suggest that the OT law has no place in the life of the NT church really are guilty of a quite grievous sin! As Jesus made so abundantly clear-He did not come to abolish it, any more than the prophets, but rather to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17).
Judgment and discipline in the visible church is part of our spiritual warfare. Jesus has empowered the church for this work in the assembly (v. 4 cf. Mt. 18:20; Jn. 20:23). It also involves Satan-to whom the individual spoken of is given over to (v. 5 cf. I Tim. 1:20). It turns out that the church was arrogant about this person’s presence and behaviour (v. 2), and in fact were proud of it (v.6). This was behavior that was not even condoned by the world (v.1)! Those who would deny the continuing validity of the law are actually more guilty then those outside of the church.
Paul had already passed judgment (v. 3). Paul saw it as leaven that would spread and affect the whole life of the church (v.6). Discipline and judgment is also for the safety, protection, and health of the assembly. This was old leaven-someone who thought they could be a Christian without dying to the past and repenting of their sin. Leaven was symbolic of sin and how, if it is allowed to be present, will spread throughout the whole lump. Specifically, Paul is referring to “malice and wickedness” (v. 8 cf. Mt. 16:6).
However, in the midst of this sobering treatment of the subject of church discipline, we find a profound statement concerning the Passover. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” (cf. Ex. 12; Dt. 16; Is. 53:7) Christ did not abolish the Passover-He is our Passover! Jesus did not institute something new with the Lord’s supper-He said that the Passover was fulfilled in Him-the ‘this’ of Mt. 26:26 and 28, was the Passover meal of vv. 17-25 (cf. Mk. 14:12-26; Lk. 22:7-23). Paul says, “therefore, let us keep the feast.” Those who suggest that Jesus instituted something new not only contradict Him, but the testimony here of Paul.
It is precisely because the Lord’s Supper is the Passover, fulfilled in Christ and the new covenant, that Paul argues for the purging of the leaven of sin in their midst-for the Passover was a unleavened meal. Just as the old leaven is symbolic of “malice and wickedness,” the body of Christ, portrayed in the supper, is to be celebrated “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (v. 8) Just being sincere is not enough. True sincerity will always be accompanied by truth. The behaviour they were proud and arrogant about was contrary to the truth. The body would not survive with this leaven of sin in it’s midst (cf. Gal. 5:9).
I Corinthians 5:9-13 Beware Of The Company You Keep.
The church has no judicial place, as instituted by God, to make judgments on those outside the church. God has a minister for society at large-the state (Rom. 13:1-7). Paul is clear that we are not called to separate ourselves from those outside the church. We are to separate ourselves from those who claim to be Christians but live and condone a lifestyle which is contrary to that profession. We are to be in the world but not of it – Jn. 17:14-17. On the other hand, we are to pass judgment on those in the church who live contrary to the word-“anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person.” (v.11)
I Corinthians 6:1-11 Worthy To Judge.
Paul continues a theme with a contrast. The theme is that the church must be a place which includes judgment among the covenant community. Church discipline is unquestionably a mark of the true church. The contrast is this-whereas the church had no place in making judicial judgments on society al large, even so the church members were not to go to the secular courts with disputes among the saints (v. 1). One day the saints will judge the world and the angels, so why would we go to the world for adjudication now (vv. 2-3)?
The word of God is the ultimate standard of truth and justice. Judgments needed to be made among the members of the church (v. 4). Sadly, they seemed to lack a wise man who could do so (v. 5). Instead, “brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers.” (v.6) This is a sad commentary on many churches today. Some have lost all sense of the church as an institution set up by God for, among other things, the governance of the covenant community. Sadly also, this authority is sometimes abused. Those entrusted with this responsibility must be wise.
For Paul, the fact that they were going to the civil courts was in and of itself a failure for all involved (v. 7). Odd as it may sound, Paul says to the innocent-those wronged, that it would be better to remain wronged than to compound this wrong with another wrong (v. 8). They were cheaters. Paul must emphasize again, that the unrighteous are not kingdom bound. They were only deceiving themselves to think so (v. 9).
Paul was very clear the behaviour he had in view. Idolatry is really the root of it all-those who turn away from God and worship the creature rather than the creator. “Neither fornication, nor adulterers,” those practicing sex outside marriage and those cheating on spouses. “Nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,” that is, homosexuals in general and men in particular. “Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (v. 10) Sexual sins and sins of greed prevailed among some, and judgment was necessary.
These practices should be remaining in their past. This is not the behaviour of those who have been washed, and set apart or sanctified. Sanctification must accompany justification if the justification is real (v. 11). Justification is through the name of the Lord Jesus-that is, His person and work. This, in turn, is applied by “the Spirit of our God.” Sanctification is inseparable from justification. The washing of baptism expresses this very truth (cf. Heb. 10:22).
Sanctification is as definitive as justification, but unlike the latter, it is also a process which continues till the perfection of glory-for the individual and the corporate behaviour of the church. When it comes to church discipline, the people need leaders who are wise-those who fear the Lord and have some skill in applying the word, live it, and are thus capable of adjudicating cases. Furthermore, the church has a responsibility to support judgments based on truth. Sadly, where knowledge of the scriptures is lacking, so is wise leadership, and purity in the church.
I Corinthians 6:12-20 Glorifying God In Body And Spirit.
Some people think that if you want doctrine, go to the epistles. It is not the first place many think of when they are looking for wisdom or law. However, there is a great deal of wisdom and law to be found in the epistles, and of course doctrine is everywhere, including the “wisdom literature,” and “the law.” Paul is giving the church some wisdom and law here. Liberty of conscience is a rare bird in evangelical and reformed communions. Knowing the difference between wisdom and law is crucial, as is applying the law wisely.
When Paul says, “all things are lawful for me,” he of course does not mean anything that would break God’s law (v. 12 cf. 10:23). A person simply hasn’t read Paul if they come to that conclusion (cf. Rom. 3:31). But what he is saying is, there are many things which fall outside of strict legislation, for which the believer has liberty, but it is a liberty that is to be guided by one’s conscience, love of the body, and the glory of God. This requires wisdom. One of the questions a wise person will ask is, “Is it helpful?” A second question might be, “Will I be enslaved by it?”
Food is a good example (v. 13). Obviously, we all need to eat. But is it “helpful” to eat just anything? Also, some people employ food for other reasons. For some people, food is a kind of enslavement. Some are so addicted to its consumption that their general health is at risk. Others eat to mask other issues not being faced directly. Others associate certain foods with certain activities, such as meat sacrificed to idols, or alcohol with drunkenness and revelry.
On the other hand, some things are not liberty issues, such as sexual immorality. Sex is prescribed only for a man and woman in marriage-there can be no liberty for anyone outside this domain. Now, if one does not have a biblical view of the body, Paul’s statement in verse 13 will come across as strange. “Now the body is for the Lord…and the Lord for the body.” If you thought he should have said “spirit” only, you have an unbiblical view of the body. Our body is for the Lord, and the Lord for our body! The body will be raised, just as Jesus was (v. 14 cf. Eph. 5:23; II Cor. 4:14).
We are one with Christ. For this reason also Paul says that sexual immorality is wrong. It is both physical and spiritual harlotry. Actual harlotry or prostitution is obvious. But there are also numerous biblical examples of the people committing both-by intermarrying with people of a foreign god, and suffering covenantal cursing for it. As Paul points out, sex involves union, and the child of God is in union with Christ (vv. 16-17 cf. Gen. 2:24; Heb. 13:4). Sexual sins, besides being sin against God and our union with Christ, and sin against others, is also a sin against one’s own body-it is both black and white and unwise (v. 18).
The body is not only for the Lord (God the Father, the Creator vv. 13-14), and a member of Christ’s (v. 15 cf. Rom. 12:5), but it is also “the temple of the Holy Spirit” Who is in us (v. 19). We are not our own. “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (v. 20) Man is both body and spirit or soul, there is no dichotomy between the two. We are called to glorify God in total. Man in total is a sinner, and sanctification and redemption is also in total. Anything other than this falls short of the biblical understanding of man and what it means to glorify God (cf. 10:31).
I Corinthians 7:1-9 To Marry-Or Not.
Upon explaining the need to be sanctified in both body and soul, Paul now starts to address some of the questions, practical questions, which the people had raised (v.1). One of these questions was about marriage. It is a treatment of the subject wherein Paul clearly distinguishes between what is the command of the Lord, and what is his own wise advice. His own opinion: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” (v. 1, cf. vv. 6-8)
On the other hand, sexual immorality is sin, and God has provided for sexual expression in His word-one man with one woman (v. 2). If asked if a man owns his wife, the answer is yes, and the wife owns the husband (vv. 3-4). There are times when we all must dedicate ourselves to fasting and prayer before the Lord alone, but nothing, however “spiritual,” should separate what the Lord has brought together as one (v. 5).
It is not only one’s own sin, but it is also Satan who will take advantage of the separation, even as he did in the garden (Gen. 3:1ff.). Contrary to the view of some, that say Adam was with Eve on this occasion, it most certainly is the case that he was not, and Satan took advantage of this. When it says that, “she also gave to her husband with her” (v. 6), it is saying nothing more than what Adam uttered in v. 12. Adam should have questioned where she got the fruit from, to be sure, but Satan took advantage of the separation.
Paul said, it was the woman who was deceived, not the man (I Tim. 2:14). If Adam was standing beside Eve, and this is how we are to understand him being “with” her at Gen. 3:6, then it would be equally true that Adam was also deceived by him. One would hope that Adam would have stressed that they stick to the word of God-nothing more and nothing less. But as we know the Liar called God a liar, and added something more, as did Eve (vv. 1-4).
Self-control with respect to sexuality seems to be the issue (vv. 5, 9). And this is not to say that those who are married are immune to sexual immorality. Adultery is sin as is fornication. The point is, God has provided marriage, which is given with His blessing-from before the fall as a creation ordinance on throughout continuing revelation. Some suggest that Paul was a widow, that he was married once. In any case, he does mention widows. So it is possible for those who were once married to remain single-as Paul was, but even here Paul issues caution (cf. I Tim. 5:14).
I Corinthians 7:10-16 God Has Called Us To Peace.
Paul continues to answer questions brought to him from the church and he continues with the themes of marriage and divorce. He also continues to draw a distinction between what the Lord has clearly commanded, what is his own wise advice, and what may be called apostolic injunction. It should also be noted, that this does not necessarily mean he says everything about a subject in these verses. On most other subjects this would be understood. One should also note that Paul is attempting to deal with as many scenarios as possible.
So the Lord forbids couples to depart from each other, as a general rule. Paul just got finished explaining how important it was to remain together. But even if there is a departure, as sometimes occurs, they are to remain unmarried and not divorce. Jesus re-iterated the creation ordinance (Mt. 19:4-6). The goal ought to be reconciliation (v.2). It is for this reason that Paul even suggests staying with an unbelieving spouse, if possible (vv. 12-14). No doubt this was a concern. Some had come to faith, and others had not.
However, in this case Paul says to the believer, let the unbeliever go, and warns of the danger of thinking they can somehow save their spouse (vv. 15-16). This was not a question that was put to Jesus. This is a situation which arose later. In this regard he speaks with full apostolic authority-not simply wise advice. However, there are two scenarios which have been raised-departure or separation, and divorce. But Paul clearly implies both here. The departure is followed by divorce. So in the case where the unbeliever leaves, Paul says, “the brother or sister is not under bondage.” In other words they are free to re-marry.
Some would suggest that verse 16 also opens the door for a believer to seek a separation and divorce as well. Again, what is meant by Paul saying that an unbeliever is “willing” to live with the believer? Is this “living,” but with no peace (v. 15). These verses must have left the people with even more questions. Indeed, many of these still divide the church. Part of the problem is, Paul knew he could not provide answers to every scenario. There is the ideal, then there is real life circumstances. Wisdom is often called for in these situations. It is with these thoughts in mind that the following is offered.
If one takes the example of Jesus-he re-enforced the creation ordinance, as we saw (Mt. 19:4-6). But then he was asked about those who do divorce, and they appeal to Moses. And what it shows us is, that the Lord was merciful and made provision for those things that fell out of the ideal, not because His norm was wrong, but because men are so sinful that He ensures the continuing rule of law instead of chaos (Mt. 19:7-9, cf. DT. 24:1-4). The norm is that God is against divorce (v. 8). But Jesus mentions at least one ground for divorce-marital infidelity (v.9). But even here, it is permissible in this case, not commanded. Forgiveness and reconciliation is possible, but a victim does not sin by divorcing in this case.
Adultery is a breaking of the covenant-the adulterer is under a covenantal curse, and now dead to their spouse (Mal. 2:14-15). In a sense this happens also when one spouse is an unbeliever-they are not in covenant together as God intended. Paul may in fact have had this in mind when he speaks of the children being sanctified through one believing parent. For one of the goals of Christian marriage is that He might have a godly offspring. Note this well! God doesn’t say, “Have children and hope for the best,” as the world speaks about hope. It should be the plan and purpose that God will fulfill His will, clearly spoken here, to raise a “godly offspring.”
So, one man with one woman was God’s design from the beginning. Jesus allows for divorce in cases of adultery, and re-iterated God’s mercy in allowing for divorce to maintain the rule of law and peace. Paul advises on staying with an unbeliever who is willing, but also allows for divorce, and frees the believer from bandage in this case, also in the interest of peace. Also, one should not miss the fact that Paul says the children of a believer are holy-even just one believer. The children are not neutral, nor are they “unclean.” They are equally children in the covenant. If the unbeliever’s willingness to live with the believer does not extend to this reality, then the believer should consider this in their decision on whether or not to stay.
I Corinthians 7:17-24 Wisdom, Law, And Choices.
Breaking news: God is in control. God in His sovereign providence has a place for each of us. Nothing is by chance. God has distributed to each one, and called each one, and we are called to be content. This was Paul’s apostolic witness. He also lived in a time of transition. Where once circumcision was a must as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, now it was simply a matter of individual choice-one’s conscience should not be disturbed either way-to be or not to be (cf. Acts 15).
However, couched in this discussion is a beautiful gem of truth: “keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” (v. 19) Where circumcision once was a command, it is no longer. So once again we see Paul weaving together a new tapestry, mixed in this work is wisdom, law, and the unfolding plan of redemption. Furthermore, he gives us an example of said wisdom. “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.”
Paul certainly appealed to his Roman citizenship when he was legally entitled to do so. Even though a slave was to be content in their Lord and His good providence, if they could gain their freedom, they should. The OT law itself set up the conditions for liberty. If in a condition of slavery one can be both content but encouraged to seek their freedom, then we can be content with our circumstances, but also free to change them if we can-provided the commands of God are not broken.
Everything is relative to our ultimate relationship to God. “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.” (v. 22) We need to keep the proper perspective (cf. Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15). Paul states a basic truth: “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” If you are a slave men consider you bound-the Lord calls you free. If men think we are free, God says we are His (cf. I Pet. 2:16).
I Corinthians 7:25-40 Commandments And Wise Judgment.
Paul just finished saying that “keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” And what he wants to emphasize is that there is a difference between what is the commandments of God, and what Paul considers advice from one who is trustworthy. The bible throughout will often make this distinction. The commandments are clear, and non-negotiable. But when it comes to decision making and God’s will in those areas that fall outside a direct command, the way of wisdom is to be sought. One gets the impression that the Corinthians wanted Paul to make all their decisions for them. What he gives them is some wisdom on how to make decisions, so that they would not need to ask about every decision they must make. Rather than just giving them some fish, he wanted to teach them how to fish for themselves.
The first thing that we have noted is, we need to make a distinction between those things that concern a clear command, and those things that require “judgment”. Secondly, when making “judgments”, it is important to consult those who have been proven trustworthy. Do you have to make a judgment as to what you should do-make sure you consult those who you can trust. Thirdly, be mindful of the circumstances. What may be a good decision in one situation, may not be the best course of action in another. Paul was asked about “virgins”, those not yet married. These have always been a near extinct category, but it does refer to the “unmarried.” And Paul’s advice concerns the then present situation. If the turmoil he refers to is the persecution evident in the transition from the old covenant to the new, then this was factored into Paul’s advice.
“Present distress” (v. 26) cannot mean the period from the time Paul wrote to the present-otherwise this sentence itself would make no sense. However, this does not mean that there isn’t a valid and universal principle here. There are times when the “normal” course of life must give way to present circumstances. This is the way of wisdom. Each person must decide for themselves, after they have looked at and weighed those present circumstances, whether they want to follow a certain course-in this case to get married or not. So, if one finds themselves in circumstances akin to what Paul is referring to, it is probably best to remain in whatever state one is in. And so we have a fourth principle here-it is best not make life altering decisions when your situation is chaotic, and all your resources are given to simply surviving. Wait for the storm to pass.
But Paul goes back to his first principle-to marry is not a sin-it does not go contrary to God’s commandments (v. 28). For this is what sin is-the breaking of God’s commands. Paul’s advice was simply to spare them trouble because of the present circumstances, because even those who remain in their current state are going to need to live as though everything could change in a moment (vv. 29-31). A fifth principle is that one should consider what is involved in changing ones state. In particular, being married involves a lifelong commitment to serve one’s spouse 24/7, 365 days out of the year. It does not take a genius to figure out that this means less time for other things. One has to factor this into their decision. It is not that a wife or husband in pleasing their spouse is not pleasing the Lord, but their time is spent attending to their spouse, and that is time not spent doing other things (vv. 32-35).
Verse 36 only makes sense if we understand Paul to be speaking about fathers who have marriage eligible daughters. It highlights the “normal” course when it comes to daughters-that their fathers should be involved in the decision. A godly father is surely someone whom a daughter should find trustworthy. And Paul’s advice is for fathers who don’t want to see their daughters have trouble, even as Paul was much like a spiritual father to the Corinthians. The advice is the same, follow the principles above. In the biblical examples that we have, the woman is always free to decide. Any concept of arranged marriages where the couple have no choice is not a scriptural arrangement. So Paul’s word to fathers in verses 37-38 is simply the same assurance he is giving to the other parties involved. Follow the above principles of wisdom.
Verse 39 adds further instruction concerning marriage and widows. The norm is one man and one woman for life. Paul is not going into great detail here concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage. There are other places of scripture that deal with all these issues together more directly. But what he does say here is that a widow is free to remarry. The only stipulation Paul gives is that they must be a Christian (v. 39). This is what qualifies as a command. However, Paul also returns to his basic paradigm in this passage-there is a way of wisdom one should consider. Paul calls this “judgment”, and he gave it, as he says, as one who was trustworthy who had the Spirit of God (v. 40). Paul’s “judgment” may not have always been direct commands, but it was wise advice one would do well to apply. When it comes to matters of liberty and conscience, there are God’s commands, and then there is the “judgment” of wisdom.
I Corinthians 8 Love And The Liberty Of Conscience.
Paul emphasizes throughout this letter that love is the one thread that runs throughout the many and varied topics. However, it does not carpet bomb all these subjects out of existence. Chapter 13 comes in between 12 and 14, not because there was no place for the exercise of the revelatory gifts-far from it. In fact, his exhortation on love was necessary because of the human activity in the church. Love is necessary where there is human activity. The same holds here. People need to eat and live. So a question arose as to what to do about meat offered to idols, as an example, and the question of conscience related to it.
This is not an issue that most have to deal with today, but there are parallels and examples just as relevant today, which deal with the same issues, with the same dynamics of conscience-of the weak and the strong. The first thing that Paul says, after emphasizing the importance of love, is that idols are nothing. The Christian knows that an idol is nothing-they are no more than the work of man. Furthermore, there is no God but one (v. 4 Cf. Is. 41:24; Dt. 4:35;, 39, 6:4). This knowledge on its own can puff one up, but combined with love it edifies. Men claim there are gods other than the one true God, but these are only “so-called gods.” (v. 5 Cf. Jn. 10:34)
The Father and the Son are God(v. 6 Cf. Jn. 13:13). What men make into idols is nothing more than something made from the material or creatures that God made through the Son (Cf. Mat. 2:10; Acts 17:28). The problem is some people don’t have this knowledge, and that is a problem. This is why they are called weak-they are like an infant. They once used to offer meat to idols as though those idols were something. So they cannot separate the meat from their previous act of false worship. They do not have the above knowledge, so their consciences are bound in slavery to their former life.
The weak cannot see that there is nothing intrinsically evil about meat, in and of itself (Cf. Rom. 14:14). But there is nothing intrinsic in food, in and of itself, that commends an individual or makes them worse. However, those who appeal to passages like this to try and bind the consciences of the strong, are overstepping what Paul is saying here. Paul does not say that if the weak see them eating meat and stumble, then they are to refrain. It says that if they are seen eating meat “in an idols temple,” then there is the potential for the weak to have their conscience “defiled.” This is an important principle.
Paul never forbade eating meat that had been offered to idols, even with the principle of love here. A good example today might be the exercises associated with yoga. Men are not deities, and there is nothing intrinsic in a certain position of the body that makes them Divine, or that is an act of worship to an idol, in and of itself. However, if someone who formerly performed these poses with idol worshipping purpose and intent, sees a Christian performing these exercises in a Hindu temple or in the context of a religious exercise, there is the potential for their consciences to be defiled-because they do not have a mature biblical understanding.
To perform the exercises simply as good exercises for the body, this is a matter of liberty. But by being deliberately and consciously offered in an idol’s temple in an act of worship, the meat in this sense had become polluted (Acts 15:20). But, if the meat showed up later in the market, then the believer was free to buy whatever was there-without asking where it came from, because we believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meat, “for the earth is the Lord’s , and all its fullness.” (10:25-26, Cf. Ps. 24:1) Paul even says we are free to eat this meat with those who may in fact be idol worshipers, in their home (10:27).
But the moment that anyone suggests that meat will be eaten as an act of religious devotion to their idol, that crosses the line. And the issue of conscience is not ours, but rather, it is the conscience of the one who is bound that concerns us. Out of love we want them to be free. To eat with them would be to consign them to the bondage of their own conscience (vv. 28-30). But if no such discussion takes place, and we give thanks for it, thus accepting it as a gift from God, then we are free. Note well, out of love Paul would have wanted to share a meal with someone who was outside the faith.
Paul never missed the opportunity to build bridges so that he might find an open door for the gospel. Many miss such opportunities, because of the weakness of their knowledge. If his hosts were to speak of idol worship, then Paul’s refusal at that point would also be an opportunity to preach the gospel (vv. 31-33)! And Paul also had instructions for the weak-they were not to sit in judgment on the strong (Rom. 14:3-4). Paul also established another important principle-he considered issues of liberty and conscience to be, “disputes over doubtful things.” (v. Rom. 14:1) This is something which also escapes the weak.
Part of the weakness in the knowledge of the weak, is not knowing what are the major issues, and what are minor. Issues of liberty and conscience are matters of doubt. The weak want to make these matters of doubt into major disputes, when they are not. There are those who say that one cannot be a Christian and practice the exercises they associated with the idol worship of yoga. In saying this they are sinning by sitting in judgment on the strong who see no intrinsic evil in certain positions of the body, but like meat, they see it for what it is-good for the body, and something that can be done with thanksgiving to God, and for His glory.
These are not issues concerning the commandments of God, this is what mattered most to Paul (7:19). The weak want to make their weakness of conscience into commands from God, but they cannot. On the other hand, the strong need to be mindful of the lack of knowledge of the weak and not give a conflicting message about their choices of liberty. The commandments can be summarized in the commandment to love one’s neighbour (Cf. Gal. 5:13-15; Mt. 25:40). This applies to weak and strong. In saying this, we are also saying that the commandments of God are an expression of that love.
I Corinthians 9:1-18 Paul’s Apostolic Stewardship Of The Gospel Ministry.
Paul helps us understand what qualified one as an apostle. God Himself testified that he was His “chosen vessel.” (Acts 9:15). He was saved, he was set free (Rom. 6:18, 22; 8:2; Gal. 5:1). He was also free to serve without charge, as we will see. He saw Jesus in His in the Council chamber of His glory presence (Acts 9:3-9 Cf. Dan. 10:7; Jn. 12:29; Acts 22:9-10, 26:12-15). Finally, the Corinthians themselves were the fruit of his apostolic ministry. God used him to plant them (3:6, 4:15). They were the seal or certification of his apostleship. The “signs of an apostle” accompanied his ministry-“in signs, wonders, and mighty deeds.” (II Cor. 12:12 Cf. Acts 14:8ff., 15:12, 16:16ff., 19:11-12, 20:7ff., 28:1-10; Rom. 15:18)
Paul defended his standing as an apostle (vv. 1-3). To that end he also makes his case that he and his colleagues deserved to be treated as full-time ministers, worthy of support from the flock, and to enjoy the blessings of life as any other (vv. 4-6). Being accompanied by a believing wife was also a right, but it was another right that Paul or Barnabas did not exercise (v. 5). A soldier does not fight at his own expense, nor does a farmer not live off the fruit of his labour (v. 7). Paul then appeals to the law, and in doing so he reiterates an important principle, there are opinions that men make, even apostles, but any true apostle, prophet, and teacher will always speak that which is in harmony with the law already given.
Keeping with his agricultural theme, he says that even the animals who laboured were provided for (v. 9 Cf. Dt. 25:4). A farmer will not survive very long if he doesn’t feed his beasts of burden. If God cares in this way about these, then how much more his ministers of the word (vv. 10-11)? All the more for the one used by God to bring them to faith (v.12). Paul did not avail himself of this right for the furtherance of the gospel among them-but instead he continued to labour as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3; I Th. 2:6), although he did avail himself of this right among the Philippians (4:15-16). There is a continuity between the temple and gospel ministries (vv. 13-14). So Paul again appeals to the law for a second witness (Lev. 6:16, 26; 7:6, 31; Nu. 18:6-31).
“Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (v. 14 Cf. Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7; Gal. 6:6; I Tim. 5:17-18) And Paul did not write these things for his own benefit necessarily, but he wrote as an apostle and prophet, to confirm the truth that was in harmony with the canonical word already given (v. 15). Paul had to preach the gospel-it wasn’t simply another line of work for him (v. 16). He preferred the reward of doing so willingly without charge, but nothing could change the fact that he was called to be a faithful steward. The gospel was not his creation or possession-he was a steward of that which he had been given (vv. 17-18).
I Corinthians 9:19-27 Run The Race To Win!
Paul was free from other men’s consciences, but out of respect for the conscience of others he adapted (9:1ff. Cf. Gal. 5:13). When with Jews, he lived like a Jew-following certain uniquely Jewish customs and traditions (v. 20 Cf. Acts 16:3; 21:23-26). But when with gentiles he adapted himself to their culture (v. 21 Cf. Rom. 2:12-14; I Cor. 7:22Gal. 2:3; 3:2). Paul made a distinction between what was passing and what was permanent in God’s commands. Circumcision, for instance, was an outward administration of the covenant of grace that was changed to baptism with the new covenant (7:18; Col. 2:11-12). To those who had a weak conscience he also adapted to their weakness.
Paul became all things to all men that he might win some. But he adapted to each situation-he did not let any one group predominate or impose its will universally. In Paul’s day there were those who believed that one had to become a Jew before becoming a Christian. There were also those who wanted everyone to act like the weak all the time. Paul had no time for either. His goal was the spread of the gospel (vv. 22-23). This was the prize he was running the race of life to obtain-the coming of Christ’s kingdom through the gospel. And in running this race it was important that he was also a partaker of the gospel of which he preached (vv. 24-27 Cf. II Pet. 1:10).
I Corinthians 10:1-13 Know Your History!
It is at this chapter that one can get a picture of Paul’s perspective on what has happened with the coming of the promised Messiah, and what this means in the course of redemptive history. Seeing these verses as just randomly thrown in here, reveals more about the modern church’s preoccupation with what follows, but out of Paul’s context. They were living in a time of transition akin to what was experienced by the people under Moses who were delivered out of bondage because of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:13-14). They were “under the cloud” of the guidance of the LORD (v.1 Cf. Ex. 13:21-22), and He delivered them by passing through the sea (Ex. 14:21-22). He calls this being “baptized into Moses.” (v. 2) So baptism starts the connection with the new administration.
They all are together eating the same spiritual food and drinking the same spiritual drink. This is amazing! What sustained the covenant people of God is what continues with the coming of Christ in the flesh. “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” (v. 4) He was their bread from heaven (Ex. 16). But at this point he has to issue a note of warning-with most of them in the wilderness God was not pleased (v.5). There is a huge ‘but’ at verse 5! There were those in this redemptive history who were not following the LORD’s leading, and the wilderness experience epitomized that. And so they became examples not to follow (v. 6). The people of God wandered in the wilderness when they sinned. When they did not seek the LORD or desire His will, they wandered aimlessly.
Even Moses could not enter the promised land, because He did not believe the word spoken to Him by the LORD (Nu. 20:11-12). So the people got water from the rock-but not through the spoken word alone-which is what God commanded Moses. God had already issued his verdict against those who refused to enter the promised land, because they lusted after Egypt (Nu. 14:26-29). “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’” (vv. 6-7 Cf. Ex. 32:6) The people were notorious complainers (Nu. 11), and some even succumbed to idolatry, including Aaron (Ex. 32:1ff.).
The case of idolatry comes into play in this letter-it was still a very real danger (5:11; 8; 10:14). Sexual immorality, like idolatry, is also a danger in every age, often being combined, as God’s people become unequally yoked with unbelievers (Nu. 25:1-9). This was as the doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). And Paul even says that it was Christ they tempted at the rock (Nu. 20; Ex. 17), and all their complaining led to the death of some by serpents (Nu. 21:4-9). They repented (v. 7), but only by looking to the serpent on a pole, would they be spared any future punishment (v. 8). And as the apostle John pointed out, this became a symbol of God’s mercy in Christ for the people, to appease God’s wrath (Nu. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). Some also complained and were destroyed by the destroyer (Ex. 16:1ff.).
The spies who came back with the evil report of unbelief, that caused the people to doubt and complain and not take the land, all died from a plague (Nu. 14:36-37)! Joshua summarized the wilderness generation very well. “For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD.” (5:6) All these things were written as examples for Paul’s generation-those upon whom the end of the ages had come. All the redemptive historical ages of God’s covenantal dealings with his people now had come to the time of ultimate fulfillment. They were in the last days which came at the end of these ages, even as the writer to the Hebrews also wrote (1:2).
Now Paul finally comes to the punch line, so to speak. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12) All these examples are of incidents where there was a mix of people. The common theme was one of grumbling and complaining at the work God gave them to do, and doubting in the LORD’s provision. There were those who died for their rebellion, but there were also those who were spared. Moses and Aaron led the people, but Moses did not fully believe God’s word, and Aaron gave in to idolatry. We can say for certain that not all those who died in the wilderness were ultimately eternally lost. But we can say that God was not pleased with most of them because they doubted God’s word at one level or another. The lesson we need to learn is that we always have to go to the scriptures.
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) It is at the conclusion of all this that Paul writes that, no temptation will come that God will not provide a way of escape (v. 13 Cf. 1:9). Obviously our protection and defence lies with the scriptures. Just as not all those who were baptized into Moses were faithful, even so all those baptized into Christ are not necessarily one of His or completely faithful to the word. And Paul will warn the people about not receiving the provision of food and drink from Christ properly (vv. 14-17). The examples from the past were all types of Christ, in fact, deliverance wrought by Him. God remains faithful, and will always provide a way out, and provisions to that end.
I Corinthians 10:14-11:1 An Example Worth Imitating.
So whenever we see a ‘therefore’, we ask, ‘What is it there for’? Obviously Paul wants us to connect with what he has just written, the examples of the past. In particular we should remember the incident of the golden calf, given in to by Aaron, even as Moses was on the mountain receiving the holy commandments from God (vv. 6-7 Cf. Ex. 32:1ff.). The people were impatient with God and Moses, so they pushed Aaron to give them other gods to lead them, as if the works of mere men, of their own hands and minds, could replace the living God who made all that is. They liked having gods who would let them do whatever came into their perverted minds, and call it “play”.
“A god of gold.” (v. 31) Notice what God said to Moses-he calls them “your people.” (v. 7) Not His people, Moses’ people. Such is the life of a mediator! But Moses was prepared to suffer punishment with his people (v. 32)! But the LORD made clear that each one would be punished for their own sin (v. 33, 35). God in His mercy would send His Angel to lead them. Paul said that, in his mind, he was speaking to wise men who should be able to judge what he was saying. What would they judge? Clearly they were to judge whether what he was saying was true to the scriptural testimony. He had already explained how idols were nothing (8). But they were a problem for the weak.
However, clearly there were also those who were not taking the problem of idolatry seriously enough. Were there those who were simply performing feasts as they had always done, but were mixing them with the Christian truths of the supper? Was there a kind of Christo-paganism going on? Church history is littered with examples of Christo-paganism, people thinking they could just tack on some new found Christian truth, like Christ is just one more god among many. If the problem with the Judaizers was their refusal to end their connection to the old sacrificial system, the pagan Gentile converts were also in danger of clinging to their past-wanting their pagan religion and Christ both.
When the people made the golden calf they did not deny their history. They said that it was the calf that brought them out of the bondage of Egypt, and Aaron their priest even built an altar. The incident of the golden calf was an instance of Christo-paganism. But God will not share His glory with any other-everything else is but the products of man’s perverted imaginations, made out of material that owes its very existence to God. The bread and the wine of the Lord’s supper has a far different history. Jesus did not institute something that had no history. While celebrating the Passover He said that they were to do ‘this’ in remembrance of Him. (Mt. 26:17ff.) This is why Paul called Christ “our Passover.” (5:7)
One cup of blessing, and one body broken. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (v. 17) Once again Paul returns to an example of “Israel after the flesh,” that those who eat the sacrifices are participants at the altar (v. 18 Cf. Rom. 4; Lev. 3:3; 7:6,14). This reiterates the line which he drew in chapter 8, where meat offered to idols was one thing, but eating it as part of a pagan ceremony was something else (8:10). Again, he makes the point that an idol is nothing (v. 19 Cf. 8:4). Rather, he does not want them to be worshipping demons, and having fellowship with those who do (v. 20 Cf. Lev. 17:7; Dt. 32:17, 36-38). The Lord will not tolerate sharing His glory with any other (vv. 21-22 Dt. 32:21; II Cor. 6:14-18).
To the concern of the conscience of the weak, he therefore also adds the very real problem of demonic paganism. But he returns here to his previous point. All things may be lawful-ie., not forbidden in the law (Cf. 7:19), but not necessarily helpful. So, idolatry itself, and idolatrous worship, was clearly forbidden. But there are also some circumstances where even the appearance of such is not helpful for others. His example-buy meat at the market, without asking questions, not by going to the pagan temple (v. 25). Even eat what is offered at a neighbour’s home, even if they are known to be pagans, but only if they do not indicate that they are eating to their gods (v. 27-29 Cf. Lk. 10:7-8; Rom. 14:16). And again, Paul is concerned with their conscience, not his own.
But wound throughout this discourse is the golden thread of Psalm 24:1-for “the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness.” (vv. 26, 28). This has to be the point that the weak get to, and also those who worship the work of their own hands, from the material that God Himself has made. They need to be free from demons, and the demonic religions of paganism. Because Paul regarded the whole earth as the Lord’s and gave thanks, he reckoned that those who sat in judgment on him were wrong (v. 30 Cf. Rom. 14:3-4; I Tim. 4:4). Our goal should be God’s glory from a thankful heart, in everything (v. 31 Cf. Col. 3:17). But Paul also does not want to give offense to any (v. 32 Cf. Rom. 14:13-16; Phil. 2:4), but that all should be saved (v. 33). An example worth imitating (11:1 Cf. Rom. 15:2-3).
I Corinthians 11:17-22 Discerning The Body-Conduct Becoming The True Church.
Paul had just praised the readers for remembering him and keeping the traditions he gave them (v. 2). But now he comes to the issue of the Lord’s supper celebration, and the instructions necessary. He cannot praise them for what he has learned of their behaviour. They came together not for better, not for edification, but rather, for worse. First of all when they came together as a church there were divisions (v. 18). Paul says he believed it “in part”, because there were those who thought that this proved their approved status (v. 19).
There have always been those who believe that the only way to prove their genuine status as a member of Christ’s church is to enter into and keep disputes alive. These are divisions based on factions focused on individuals, and motivated by envy and the desire for strife (Cf. 1:10-11; 3:3). These are often the very people who lack some of the real genuine signs of true conversion-like the fruit of the Spirit (Mt. 3:10; 7:17; Lk. 8:14; 13:6-9; Jn. 15:2, 8, 16; Rom. 6:21-22; 7:4; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 4:17; Heb. 12:11; Js. 3:18; Jude 12; Rev. 22:2).
Clearly more was involved than the typical communion service-it seems to have included a meal as such. How else could some be full and others hungry, or some intoxicated (vv. 20-21)? When Paul says that some were having their own supper ahead of others, it may indicate that the folks were also having a meal at the same time, but not in shared fellowship. For this reason, Paul suggests that it is better to eat at home, and not include a meal, if they can’t share equally. This shaming of the poor and needy is one reason for why he could not praise their behaviour (v. 22 Cf. Js. 2:6).
I Cor. 11:23-34 Discerning The Body-Remembering the Lord.
So the previous words also served as an introduction of sorts, to what follows with regard to the establishment and practice of the Lord’s supper. All his instruction about discerning the body, and coming together for the good of all, is a lead into what he will now say about the institution of the Supper. And what Paul practiced was the very thing which Christ established when He celebrated the Passover with His disciples (vv. 23-25 Cf. Mt. 26:17ff.; Mk. 14:12ff.). Luke, in particular highlights the direct connection between the two (Lk. 22:7ff.).
When Jesus said to do ‘this’ in remembrance of Him, the ‘this’ of that context was the Passover. It is important to remember this continuity with the sacrament within the old covenant, even as baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-12). As such, the Passover included everyone in the household, including infants. And there is nothing to indicate that this inclusiveness has been reversed. In fact, though “strangers” were included, with the new covenant the expansion to the nations is even greater.
So in the Lord’s Supper, or Christian Passover, Paul was doing nothing other than what Christ Himself had established. The Passover now took on new meaning with the coming of Christ, the Passover Lamb (5:7). It is interesting that Paul says that what he delivered to his readers was what he received from the Lord, not from the other apostles. He may simply be saying that he received it from the Lord, even though it came via the other apostles. In any case, he makes clear that it owes its practice to Christ Himself.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (v. 26) So the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Christian Passover, is a form of gospel proclamation. And in its celebration it was important that they examine themselves with respect to their behaviour in the body-this, as can be seen from the preceding verses, was the focus of Paul’s attention. He was not interested in some kind of morbid, isolated, individual only introspection. They were to examine their behaviour with respect to the body as a whole.
Not to discern properly one’s behaviour in the body, opens one up to the charge of participating in an “unworthy manner”, ie., in a manner not worthy of the Lord who established it as a continual remembrance of His death. Those who participate in an “unworthy manner” do so because they have not discerned the Lord’s body, the church, not himself solely as an individual (vv. 27-29). It is making a judgment about ourselves with respect to our life in the body, and the judgment is that of a Father disciplining His children (vv. 30-32).
So when we see the ‘therefore’ of verse 33, we ask what it is there for, and find that it is to connect us with what has already come before. “When you come together to eat, wait for one another.” The entire focus is the people coming together-the body of Christ. And we see this connection, when he again addresses the matter of everyone having enough to eat. If they continue to shame the poor, then judgment will come. This is what each one needs to discern (vv. 33-34). Spending ones time in morbid, isolated, individual introspection, is not what Paul had in view.
I Cor. 12:1-11 Gifts Of The Spirit And The Apostolic Witness.
Paul now seeks to address the question of spiritual gifts, and interestingly, he reminds them of their life as idol worshippers. The first test he gives them is a simple one, and goes back the legislation in the law. Like Moses, who warned about idolatry before issuing his test for false prophets, even so does Paul (Dt. 12:29-13:5). As then, so in Paul’s day of new canonical revelations, the devil was capable of imitating the “wonders and signs” of the true prophets.
We know that idolatry is demonic-Paul himself has just stressed this point (10:20). So even if a prophet or dreamer of dreams were to perform a sign or wonder, if they call the people to worship other gods, they are false (Dt. 13:1-5). This was the canonical test. Is what they are teaching in harmony with the law already given (Dt. 5:7). It was also a test of their faithfulness to keep the law-word of the covenant. Such a prophet was to be put to death.
We should also not lose Paul’s point with respect to this activity involving these gifts –they had reference to God’s word. He calls the idols ‘dumb’-literally, they are unable to speak (Ps. 115:5). The idols are mute and silent. So their adherents may imitate prophecy and tongues, but the gods they serve cannot even speak themselves. That this is revelatory speech is also borne out by Paul indicating that anyone speaking a prophetic word can only do so by the Spirit.
Paul applied the canonical test because he said that no one speaking by the Spirit would say they Jesus is accursed-this would go against the law and the testimony, and the apostolic witness. Furthermore, this revelatory speech is also covenantal. “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” ‘Anathema’ is a covenantal term-referring to the act of covenantal cursing.
Furthermore, only by the Spirit can one bless Jesus by calling Lord. To call Jesus ‘accursed’ is to bear false witness. To call Jesus Lord is to testify to the truth, which can only be done “by the Holy Spirit.” (v. 3) And it is this very Spirit who gives the following diversity of gifts. Father, Son, and Spirit together are the one true God (vv. 4-5 Cf. Dt. 6:4; I Cor. 15:18; Eph. 4:4). The fact that this unity is expressed in a diversity, resolves the philosophical problem of the one and the many.
In any government, including that of the church, the perennial problem is how to resolve the interests of the one and the many in harmony. In the doctrine of the Trinity alone is this resolved. Ontologically the Trinity is one essence, economically they have differing functions. So also in the church, there is one Spirit which all the saints possess-we are equal. But the Spirit has distributed gifts as he saw fit, so that the saints have differing functions. Unity and diversity find resolution in the Trinity.
So differing gifts, ministries, and activities, does not speak to any inferiority of essence, it only speaks to a diversity of functions (vv. 4-6 Cf. Rom. 12:3-8). Furthermore, even as the persons of the Trinity function for the good of the whole, even so “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” (v. 7) “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (v. 11)
So the gifts are a sign of the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. So whether it be the word of wisdom, or the word of knowledge, or faith, or gifts of healings, or the working of miracles, or prophecy, or discerning of spirits, or differing kinds of tongues, or the interpretation of tongues, there is but one and the same Spirit working “all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (v. 11)
That these gifts are revelatory or supportive of the revelatory, is borne out by Paul and the rest of the apostolic testimony. The gift of wisdom is that same wisdom which Paul spoke of earlier-the revelation of the mystery once hidden but now revealed (2:6-10). ‘Knowledge’ of a revelatory kind, is one of those things which will cease with prophecy and tongues (13:8), as will the need for the interpretation of those tongues.
Clearly ‘faith’ cannot simply be the faith that we all must have, for not everyone has this particular gift, just as ‘knowledge’ was not the knowledge we all must have. In His second letter Paul may give us a clue as to what he means, that would certainly fit the context. Paul, in a contrast between those like him who speak the word, and his readers, speaks of this work as of speaking as being shared by those who “have the same spirit of faith.” (4:13).
“Gifts of healings,” was a power and authority which Jesus gave to His chosen apostles, for their witness (Mk. 3:15). It was a sign of their apostolic witness, along with the casting out of demons, speaking with new tongues, taking up serpents, and drinking anything deadly that would not hurt them (16:17-18). “Working of miracles,” would certainly include the casting out demons, one would think, and the other items of Mark 16:17.
“Discerning of spirits,” also had reference to the apostolic ministry. Peter discerned the spirits of Ananias and Sapphira, as well as that of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 5:1-11; 8:18-25). It is also possible that some in the church had this gift to test the prophets (I Jn. 4:1). All these gifts can be accounted for as that which accompanied the prophetic and apostolic witness, either as propositional word revelation, or as acts in support of that ministry.
As the writer to the Hebrews put it, all the revelatory work up to the completed work of Christ was done by God, “at various times and in various ways”. (1:1) But those ages, which He made, have come to their completion in the last days of the transition to the new covenant. This message “first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His will.” (vv. 3b-4)
I Corinthians 12:13-27 One Body, Many Members.
Paul resolved the question of unity and diversity in the body of Christ in the doctrine of the Trinity (vv. 4-6). All three persons are of the same essence, even though they perform different functions, and sometimes follow an order of Father-Son-Spirit in the same work. The Father sent the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. Furthermore, these verses also reinforce Paul’s point that examining the body before participation in the Supper, has reference to the church-not self in isolation or any esoteric conceptions as to what is meant by Christ’s bodily presence. The body is the church. There is but one Christ, not many (Gal. 3:16), and Christ cannot be divided (I Cor. 1:13).
Also, Paul’s argument for unity by the Spirit, is a unity in that every believer is baptized in the Spirit. It is not simply that everyone has the Spirit, but everyone is baptized by the Spirit (v. 13). And given that he couples this with a diversity of gifts, including tongues, categorically proves that there is no baptism of the Spirit which is only experienced by a select number among the body. One unity is based on the understanding that we are all baptized by one Spirit into the one body. And having all been baptized by one Spirit, we are all made to drink of one Spirit (vv. 12-13 Cf. Jn. 7:37-39). There is one body and one Spirit, with many members (vv.12, 14, 20 Cf. Rom. 12:5; Eph. 5:30).
This leads to several key points. First, no one should be envious of the other members, nor think themselves inferior, for every member has a unique place and function (vv. 15-16). Second, no one member can ever take the place of the whole, they would then cease to be able to actually perform that role and function for which they are gifted (v. 17). Third, God is the one who gifts and sets in place each member as He sees fit (v. 18 Cf. v. 28; Rom. 12:3). Four, one member does not a body make (v. 19). Fifth, each member is dependent on the others (v. 21). Six, the need of each member is not contingent on their estimated worth. Those considered weak or not honourable, are needed just as much as any other member (vv. 22-24).
Seven, the value and interdependency of the members of the body precludes any grounds for schism (v. 25a). Eight, the value and interdependency of the members of the body is the basis for the care each member is to have for the others (v. 25b). Nine, the one body many members principle is the grounds for empathy among all (v. 26a). Ten, the one body many members principle means when one member is honoured, that is, they fulfill their place and function in the body, then the whole body rejoices. Not only should there be no envy, all the body should rejoice when one member is honoured, for that honour is for the good of the body as a whole. One body, many members, is the church of Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 12:27-31a Gifts And Offices In Order Of Priority.
At the beginning of this chapter Paul addressed the topic of the revelatory gifts, and those gifts accompanying them as signs and wonders, bearing witness to the apostolic testimony. He did this while also emphasizing that the church is the one body of Christ, with many members. Furthermore, this unity and diversity he resolved in the Trinity, where the three persons are of the same essence but have differing functions. Paul weaves throughout these chapters (12-14), between the gifts and what we know as the fruit of the Spirit. The most prominent fruit is that of love (13). With all the focus on the gifts, it is good to be reminded that the real sign of genuine faith is the fruit of the Spirit, not the gifts.
So once again Paul returns to the gifts, but now he wants to include all the gifts together-revelatory and non-revelatory, and perhaps this list itself is not exhaustive. One of the things he also does is to show that where there is an “office” there must be the gift or gifts from God to fulfill the duties of that office. The first thing that Paul re-emphasizes is that these gifts and offices are by God’s appointment-no one gifts themselves, although some can indeed be improved upon, and no one appoints themselves to any office. Also, Paul starts with a deliberate purposeful order. The members are all of equal worth, and each member’s place and gifts are equally needed, but there is still a functional order.
First among the offices in the church is the apostles, and second are the prophets-and when these occur together, as they often do, it is always in this order. Paul calls these two the “foundation” of the church, with Christ as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). And the thing which is unique about these two offices is that they are given the responsibility and function for the purpose of making known the revelation of the “mystery” of Christ. This mystery was not made known in other ages, as it now was being made known by the Spirit, through these apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5). The mystery is “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” (v. 6)
In Ephesians 4:11ff., Paul also groups all the offices together, but again he establishes the same order, and includes evangelists and pastors. Apostles and prophets represent the revelatory and canonical ministry-the foundation of the church. Then, upon the foundation of the canonical word, God gave the ministry of that word with evangelists, pastors, and teachers. However, in I Corinthians Paul mentions the revelatory gifts of tongues and interpretation after teachers. In doing so he is making a critical point which he will elaborate on in chapter 14, that it is more edifying for the church to have the word taught, even more so than a revelatory word that could not be understood by the church as a whole (vv. 18-19).
Of secondary importance to the giving and teaching of the word for all, were the gifts that bore witness to the apostles and prophets, and those which support the teaching ministry. The gift of tongues speaking on its own is of even less importance than miracles, healings, helps, and administrations, because unless it is also interpreted, it only benefits the speaker. Even those gifts which remain to support the teaching ministry-helps and administrations, are before in the order of priority, because of the benefit given to the entire body. The gift of helps is that which is exercised, but is not exclusive to the deaconate, and administrations to the office of the ruling elder (Nu. 11:17; Rom. 12:8).
However, Paul again returns to his point about the church being one body with many members. All are needed. No one gift or office was the be all and end all, even the apostles and prophets. All these members were members of one body. All are equally baptized by one Spirit into this one body, and each of us has our place. Some gifts were “greater” or what the NKJV translates as “the best gifts.” (v. 31) 14:1 reinforces what Paul had in mind, namely prophecy. For Paul the most crucial thing was the giving of the full canonical word, and included in this was tongues when interpreted (14:12-13). And following upon the prophet is the teaching ministry of the word, which remains to this day.
[I think helps and administrations are a couplet, just like miracles and healing, with the former following the same order with respect to the latter, as teachers do to apostles and prophets, with equal importance given to the gifts in each couplet-miracles with healings, and helps with administrations.]
I Corinthians 12:31b-13:8a Love Never Fails.
“And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (12:31b) Paul again returns to his running theme, that the fruit of the Spirit has greater priority than gifts. The fruit show whether one is indeed genuine (Mt. 3:10; 7:17; Lk. 8:14; 13:6-9; Jn. 15:2, 8, 16; Rom. 6:21-22; 7:4; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 4:17; Heb. 12:11; Js. 3:18; Jude 12; Rev. 22:2). The greatest fruit of all is love (Cf. Jn. 13:34-35). Tongues in Paul’s day held as much fascination, it would seem, as they do in ours. But at least in Paul’s day they were actual languages, which when interpreted could benefit the entire body. Without translation, tongues only benefited the individual who was speaking, and was thus selfish and unprofitable to the body as a whole, if it was not translated. Such behaviour goes contrary to love (v. 1).
When the members of the church love one another it is like a well orchestrated symphony. Even the most significant canonical gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, or a gift like special faith in support of the apostolic witness, if exercised without love, are as nothing but a “clanging cymbal” (vv. 1-2). Which, incidentally, tells us that God gave His word because He loves His people. Even acts of charity or martyrdom, if performed without love, profit nothing (v. 3). “Love suffers long.” (v. 4) Without love, empathy or sympathy is short lived. Love is ‘kind’-it considers the condition of another, is tenderhearted, and forgiving (Eph. 4:32). “Love does not envy.” (Cf. Gal. 5:26) When one loves another they rejoice in their well being, even when they have what we do not have.
“Love does not parade itself.” Those who love do not seek to draw attention to themselves (Cf. Mt. 6:1-2). Love “is not puffed up.” One who loves does not take pride in it, knowing that we love because He first loved us (I Jn. 4:10-11). Those who love are not rude, nor do they seek their own interests before another (I Cor. 10:24). Those who love are not provoked to behave in an unloving way. However, love is ethical and moral. Those who love do not think on evil, nor do they rejoice in iniquity (Rom. 1:28-32). Those who love rejoice in the truth (II Jn. 4). Those who truly love will tell a person the truth if they are doing evil or iniquity. We are called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15 Cf. Gal. 6:1-2). This goes contrary to the pagan conception of what love is.
One cannot say that they love, and break the commandments (Jn. 14:15). However, those who love also bear all things-they do not dwell on the failings of others (Cf. Pr. 10:12; 17:9). “Love never fails.” (v. 8a) The law was summarized by the Lord in love to God first, and then love to one’s neighbour (Mt. 22:37-40), including one’s enemies (5:43-48). Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things for the good of others (v.7). Those who love endure the slights of others, preferring to think and hope for the best of others. Those who love God bear with all things that come with loving Him, believe all things He has spoken, hopes in His promises, and endures all opposition to their love of God. When one reflects on the life and teaching of our Lord, one has a picture of what true love means.
I Corinthians 13:8b-12 The Perfect Has Come.
Couched within chapter 13 we find the pivotal verses of 8-10. Notice all the things which he lists in verses 1-3, even so, when he comes to verses 8-10 he strictly focuses on the revelatory gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. This is deliberate on his part. These revelatory gifts are destined to come to an end. Paul was speaking in the ‘last days’ of the covenantal transition from old to new, which found its terminus with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. In the unfolding of redemption these gifts would cease when the church would no longer know only in part.
“But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (v. 10). Revelatory knowledge and prophecy was in part. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, all the revelatory work up to the completed work of Christ was done by God, “at various times and in various ways”. (1:1) But those ages, which He made, have come to their completion in the last days of the transition to the new covenant. This message “first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His will.” (vv. 3b-4)
The completed canon is that which is perfect, and as spectacular and amazing as these revelatory gifts must have been when they were exercised, they were nevertheless only done in part, piece by piece until the canon was complete. It was during this time of transition that we find Paul giving instructions for the proper exercise of these gifts. Paul also says that the purpose of this revelatory word has the same effect in us. We grow by stages until that day when we see the LORD face to face (v. 12). This is the work of the one Spirit using the word in us as individuals and in the body as a whole.
I Corinthians 13:13-14:40 The Giving Of The Canonical Word.
“Love never fails,” but the revelatory gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge ceased with the perfection of the completed canon (12: 8-10). What abides is faith, hope and love, “but the greatest of these is love.” (12:13) Therefore Paul says, “pursue love.” ‘Pursue’ is a fitting translation here. It has the idea of following after someone or something, of pressing on (Lk. 17:23; Rom. 9:30-31; 14:19; Phil. 3:12; I Th. 5:15; I Tim. 6:11; II Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14). The fruit of the Spirit is to be pursued by all, but the gifts can only be desired-their appointment is of God’s sovereign will. So first in order of importance was the pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit, especially love.
Of the gifts to be desired Paul states that prophecy was of first importance, because prophecy benefited the whole body, whereas tongues only edified the speaker, unless the tongue was translated so that others could also understand (vv. 1-5; 39). Revelation, knowledge, and prophecy were thus to be preferred, but even the non-canonical gift of teaching was preferable to tongues, unless the tongues were translated, because at least the teaching of the word could benefit the whole body (v. 6). Without translation a tongue is just a “clanging cymbal.” With an interpretation, tongues becomes part of a symphony (vv. 7-9). This is why a tongues speaker should pray that they could interpret as well (v. 13).
“There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.” (v. 10) Without a interpreter to translate the language its meaning cannot be apprehended by the body as a whole (v. 11). Paul wanted them to desire the gifts that could edify the whole body (v. 12). “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” (v. 13) Otherwise, the tongues speaker was to wait for an interpreter (v. 28). Some want to suggest that verse 14 indicates that Paul is speaking of some sort of tongues other than languages, but his words afford a better interpretation than that, one consistent with the rest of the biblical testimony.
O. Palmer Robertson expressed the thought well when he wrote that people read into scripture a false dichotomy between ‘spirit’ and ‘mind’ as these are found in the N.T. “When Paul says, ‘My spirit prays’ (I Cor. 14:14), he means that from within his soul he offers prayers to God. But this praying ‘in his spirit’ is not without full rational understanding. As a consequence of this understanding as he prays, he is edified. But at the same time, his ‘mind’, that instrument by which he would formulate his thoughts for the purpose of communicating them to others, remains ‘unfruitful’. No one else can join in his prayer because no one else understands the utterance of his ‘tongue’. (‘The Final Word,’ p.31)
Those who speak in a tongue only edify themselves, this is why it was important that in the public assembly that it be interpreted, then others could be edified as well (I Cor. 14:13-19) When Paul said that one’s understanding would be unfruitful in verse 14, he was not saying that there was no understanding at all, for one is praying to God. One might know that they are speaking in a tongue, but without the ability to translate it would not be of benefit to others. Without a translation they would not mature. He expands on this thought in verse 20 where he says, “Brethren, do not be children in understanding.” Edification requires understanding, and the tongues speaker does edify himself (v. 4).
At no point do we find, anything like what has come to be known as some kind of “prayer language” which is not even understood by the person speaking. These “tongues” were real languages, which when translated could be understood by others as well. They were a unique expression of the prophetic word. They were given as judgment against apostate Israel, but a message of hope to the world (v. 21). This is the dual role of what Paul means when he says that they are a “sign not to those who believe but to unbelievers.” (v. 22). To the unbelieving apostates-cursing. To the unbelieving who had not yet heard-hope. It was a part of maturing in the faith to understand tongues as a sign (v. 20).
This is why that in the public gathering or assembly of the church tongues must be interpreted, so that “the uninformed”, that is, the unbelieving who had not yet understood, would hear the message so that they could understand, and be convicted. Clearly it was the gospel message of repentance and faith in Christ Jesus (vv. 23-24 Cf. Acts 2:22ff.). The goal is that they too might repent, have faith, and also worship God (v. 25). Here we thus see the gift of interpretation in action, for Paul says when several speak in different languages, someone must interpret it all. The tongues speakers would only be speaking to themselves (vv. 26-28). Paul wanted everything done decently and in order (v. 40).
There is also another critical thing to understand here. Paul said that one person speaking in a tongues was not enough. “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.” This is the principle laid down in Deuteronomy 17:6, that only at the mouth of two or three witnesses were matters of life and death confirmed. Tongues speaking, as we have seen, was an expression of judgment and hope, a matter of life and death. What is more, the prophetic word, which tongues is a unique expression of, was also concerned with life and death-it is an expression of the canonical principle-agreement in witness.
In the same way, there were to be two or three prophets, then the whole assembly could judge whether there was agreement (v. 29). This is also part of the canonical principle-the scripture cannot contradict itself. And Paul says that order in speaking was possible because “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (v. 32) Note well, this speaks not just to the exercise of the gifts, but also to the end-God is not the “author” of confusion, rather he is the author of order and agreement-the scriptural revelation, expressed in the canon, is a book of order which agrees with itself.
Paul makes clear that this is in fact what was happening with this prophetic activity, including that of the tongues speaking with interpretation-the giving of God’s word for this new redemptive period of transition between the covenants. “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it only you that it reached?” (v. 36) Paul applied the canonical principle and went back to the law-word already given, once again drawing a straight line with the prophetic word of the past (vv. 34-35). As such, Paul challenged his readers to acknowledge that his words were also “the commandments of the Lord”(v. 37) Paul didn’t want his readers to be ignorant of those things, but if they rejected his word, then so be it (12:1; 14:38).
I Corinthians 15:1-11 The Historic Apostolic Witness Of The Gospel.
“Moreover,” Paul wants to focus on what is the central theme of the new canonical revelation, and mystery, for which the gifts he has been speaking of were given-namely, the gospel (v. 1). He had declared the gospel through his preaching. He preached what he had received (v. 3 Cf. Gal. 1:11-12). They, in turn, received this gospel. On this gospel they stood-staked their very lives on (Rom. 5:1-2). And by this gospel they were saved. Their perseverance to the end, in this gospel, would prove it to be in their possession (v. 2). Those who do not persevere show that they have believed in vain. Those who believe do so by God’s grace, and are kept by His power (Eph. 2:8-9) The gospel is that the just shall live by faith. It alone is the power of God. Therefore Paul was not ashamed to declare it (Rom. 1:16-17).
This gospel is “according to the scriptures”-old testament fulfilled and expanded upon in the new-with the new canonical revelation. Paul appeals to both the old testament, and to the very words of Jesus, for example, in the gospel proclamation of the supper (11:23-26). “According to the scriptures” Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day.* Peter and the twelve saw the resurrected Christ (v. 5 Cf. Lk. 24:34; Mt. 28:17; Acts 1:3-4). Christ was seen by over 500 of the brethren at once (v. 6). Then he was seen by James, Jesus’ half brother (Jn. 7:5; Acts 12:17; 15:13; Gal. 1:19). Finally he was seen by Paul (v. 8 Cf. Acts 9:3-8; 22:6-11; 26:12-18), as one “born out of due time.” (v. 8) So these appearances were not just by the twelve, or only his family.
There were over 500 brethren at once on one occasion, and by Paul who was his sworn enemy. Given that many were still alive-people were able to corroborate the facts of these eyewitnesses. Paul regarded himself as the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called such, because he persecuted the church (v. 9). But an apostle he was (9:1 Cf. Rom. 1:1; 11:13; II Cor. 12:12; I Tim. 2:7), and this by God’s grace. And just as those who persevere do not believe in vain, even so the grace given to him in his apostleship was also not in vain. For he testifies to his labour, yet labour performed by God’s grace alone (v. 10). Therefore, whether they received the gospel through the other apostles or him, it was one uniform apostolic witness. It is this gospel that is the core message of the new covenant canonical witness.
*[Ps. 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-28. 16:10 in Acts 13:35. Ps. 68:18 in Mk. 16:19; Acts 1:9; 2:4, 33; 10:44-46; (I Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:7-12); Eph. 4:8; Phil. 2:9; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3. Ps. 110:1 in Mt. 22:44; Mk. 12:36; 16:19; Lk. 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:13]
I Cor. 15:12-19 Christ Is Our Resurrection Life.
So the apostolic message of the gospel was that Christ had been raised from the dead. There seems to be no doubt about this-given the witnesses Paul had just put forward, witnesses that his readers could check out if they so wished. The resurrection was no more in doubt than his birth and death, and with His resurrection He ascended to the right hand of the Father to return to the Glory-Presence. The giving of the gifts of the Spirit was also a sign of His new reign.
So, given this gospel witness, it was puzzling to Paul that there were those who denied the resurrection of all men. For, if there is no resurrection, then this would deny the apostolic gospel witness to Christ’s resurrection. That would make Paul and the rest of the apostles into false witnesses. And if Christ is not risen, the saints are not risen, and their faith is in vain, their faith is futile (Cf. I Th. 4:15-17). The crucial point is this-it is on the basis of the resurrection that their sins are forgiven.
With the resurrection, the Father has accepted the once and for all finished work of Christ as the grounds of the sinner’s justification. We are declared righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone (Cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 5:12-19). “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4: 24-25)
To deny the resurrection is to deny any future life for the saints who had passed (v. 7). But even Job had the hope of the resurrection (19:25-26). To deny the resurrection is also to deny any spiritual life now. Spiritual life is resurrection life in Christ alone (Jn. 11:25-26). Were these Sadducees who had not been convinced, but who liked some of what Christ taught and represented (Mt. 22:23-33)? Or were these the philosophers of Paul’s day (Acts 17:16-21)?
Whatever the case may be, we still have those today who deny the resurrection and think they can still have the gospel. But without the resurrection there is no justification, and without justification by faith alone there is no forgiveness. Those who deny that justification is by faith alone are therefore no better than those who deny the resurrection. Christians can and do disagree on many things, but these central truths of the gospel are non-negotiable.
If all we have is the teachings of a good man, then we at least have something better than what the world is peddling. However, even here we would fall short, for Christ Himself taught the resurrection, including His own [Cf. (Mt. 12:38-42; 16:1-4), 21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; (22:23-33); Mk. 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34; Lk. 9:21-22, 43-45; (11:29-32); 18:31-35; (20:27-40); (Jn. 11:17-27)]. And the believer is indeed in a most pitiable condition, because the life of a Christian often entails persecution (v. 19 Cf. II Tim. 3:12).
I Corinthians 15:20 The Firstfruits Of Those Who Sleep.
Having established the truth of the resurrection, Paul moves on to the implications of this reality. Paul, in harmony with the Lord, speaks of death as sleep. The idea is not that the soul falls asleep at death, but rather, as it is used in conjunction with the reality of resurrection, it speaks to the temporary condition of the body. The death of the body is not the end. Such was the case of the ruler’s daughter whom Jesus raised from the dead (Mt. 9:23-26; Mk. 5:38-39; Lk. 9:51-56). So also is the case of Lazarus (Jn. 11:1-44). However, these two were raised with the very same corruptible bodies with which they died, and they would go on to die again. But these miracles did show Jesus to be the resurrection and the life-the one who had the power to raise the dead to new life (Jn. 11:25). Yet, the resurrection that Paul is speaking of is a resurrection to a body incorruptible, a spiritual body. Of this resurrection, Jesus is the first, or firstfruits. This is confirmed by Matthew, when he wrote that many saints were raised, after the resurrection of Christ (27:52-53). Therefore, the saints are those who sleep, because the body will only rest in the ground, as we await the full redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23-25). Stephen and David are two examples to consider (Cf. Acts 7:60; 13:36), as are all the fathers (II Pet. 3:4).
Paul considered all the saints as those whose bodies are merely sleeping in Jesus (I Th. 4:13-15). This is why here in this chapter on the resurrection he speaks of the saints as those who sleep (vv. 6, 18, 52). However, the resurrection also signalled the dawn of a living hope, as Peter put it (I Pet. 1:3). It marks the beginning of a new creation, of those who have been raised spiritually to new life (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:6) “Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’” (Eph. 5:14 Cf. Is. 26:19; 60:1) This is also why Christ is called the “firstfruits”, for He is the giver of life, as life itself. Christ is also the firstfruit offering of new life to the Father-the first of the resurrection harvest. Christ’s resurrection was an offering signifying that all who are united with Him rise to new life offered in service to the LORD (Cf. Lev. 23:10). This is so because He is also the lamb of the offering, “without blemish” (v. 12). “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (Js. 1:18) The firstfruits of this resurrection life is also the hope of our future bodily redemption (Rom. 8:23-25). “These were the redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the lamb.” (Rev. 15:4)
I Corinthians 15:35-49 The Image Is Restored!
The idea of a bodily resurrection raises questions for some people. For some, it makes no sense that a body, which was once corruptible and has decayed in the grave, can somehow be transformed into a spiritual body. For those who accept the bible as the first axiom of all thought and existence, it is not strange at all. The angelic host has existed with spiritual bodies from the dawn of creation. They might have thought that the original creation of man was a strange thing.
However, Paul also looks to creation to show that, in fact, even the creatures that exist on earth do not all have the same flesh. Every living thing, including grain, has its own seed and composition. Furthermore, he also sees a metaphor for the resurrection, for grain will not grow until the body of the seed dies in the ground, as it were (vv. 35-37 Cf. Jn. 12:24). Everything is made as it pleased God to make it (38). Even so, there are differing kinds of flesh (v. 39). Even the celestial bodies have their own glory, and the terrestrial another. The terrestrial is not inferior, just different, with a glory all it’s own (v. 40-41).
In the same way, the present bodily existence of human beings is not inferior to the heavenly, as God originally created us. All His work of creation was very good. But it is inferior with the result of the fall, sin, and death, for now our bodily existence is corruptible. In death, our bodies are sown to die that new life might arise with a spiritual body incorruptible. Sin and death has weakened our existence, but the resurrection body will be raised with power (vv. 42-44). The word of God is able and powerful (Ezek. 37:1-14; Jn. 5:21; Phil. 3:21).
In the first Adam, by covenant, we became living beings. In the second Adam we have true spiritual life (v. 45 Cf. Gen. 2:7; Rom. 5:14). The natural must give way to the spiritual (v. 46). In the rebellion of our first covenantal head, all died (Gen. 3:19; Hos. 6:7). But in Christ, the saints are made alive (v. 47 Jn. 3:31; 11:25). However, we are raised to a restored dignity-the image of God (v. 49). This is the full scope of redemption-paradise restored! In Christ we fulfill the original purpose of our creation.
I Corinthians 15:50-58 The Final Victory.
The doctrine of the resurrection also highlights how salvation is all of grace. No one can raise themselves from the dead, and spiritual death is as real as the physical. The one falls upon the other. Jesus described this as having to be born again. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Jn. 3:6) “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (v. 50) Every facet of redemption is by grace. We are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn. 1:13) Even sanctification, definitively procured by Christ, is nevertheless worked out because it is God working in us (Phil. 2:12).
In the same way, our resurrection to life is all of grace. Just as one must be born to receive an earthly body, even so one must be born again to receive a body with which to dwell with the Lord forever. Furthermore, that which has suffered the effects of sin, and has become corruptible, cannot inherit that which is incorruptible (vv. 50, 53). Part of Paul’s prophetic and apostolic work was to reveal mysteries-things once concealed but now revealed. One of those mysteries is, we shall all be changed-whether those asleep or those alive at His coming (vv. 51-52). When that final resurrection occurs, at His second and final coming, then is the final victory over death (v. 54).
True to form, Paul follows his apologetical principle of quoting at least two sources from the scriptures, to prove his point. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (Is. 25:8) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (Hos. 13:14b) Hosea made the point that death would be defeated, because a ransom had been paid (14a Cf. Is. 53:10-11; Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; I Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 2:14-15). Death came as the penalty for sin-a transgression of God’s law (v. 56 Cf. Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:8; I Jn. 3:4). “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 57) Christ paid our ransom, and His resurrection marks the victory.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (v. 58) What is the ‘therefore’ there for? It shows us that the doctrine of the resurrection, once again, has huge implications for how one lives their life. If we believe that all men will be raised, and then the judgment, this has to have an affect on how one lives. Our labour is not in vain, because we know the resurrection is coming. What we say and do, and how we live, will have returns for all eternity. Such knowledge causes us to be settled, steadfast, and immovable. Therefore we should abound in His work, not “just get by”.
I Corinthians 16:1-12 What Is Fitting.
Many people only look to Paul for the perceived bigger theological issues, like union with Christ, justification by faith, or one of the many other valuable soteriological issues-things pertaining to the gospel and our great salvation. In doing so it is possible to miss some equally valuable principles and directives on living the Christian life, in particular in the whole area of decision making and the will of God. In this chapter Paul gives us some clues as to what went into his decision making process.
However, before speaking of his personal plans, he reiterates some “orders” which he had given to all the churches in Galatia, for the Corinthians to also follow. Of first importance was that they set aside an offering to the Lord, on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day, for the ministry of the churches. Secondly, and related to the first, he expected them to “approve” of certain men who would represent them, in this case, in offering this gift to those in need. If it was “fitting”, Paul would also accompany them (v. 4).
We should also note that, the fact that these gifts were to go to Jerusalem, where the church had come together as one, would also support the idea of the church as being visibly and functionally larger than the local congregation. Those who would suggest that the visible church consists only as a local congregation, ie., independency, will not find support in the scriptures. In this regard, Paul made clear that he was giving orders, not just advice. They were to give as the Lord had prospered them.
Paul said that, if it was fitting that he should go (to Jerusalem), with their offering, then their representatives would go with him. It is here that we get a glimpse into what went into Paul’s decision making process. What is fitting? The word itself-axion-refers to that which is suitable, that which fits the occasion and circumstances. In Acts 26:20 Paul uses the same word to describe “works ‘befitting’ repentance,” just as John the Baptist also spoke of “fruits ‘worthy’ of repentance.” (Mt. 3:8)
More to the point of the context, Paul in II Thessalonians 1:3 thought it was “fitting” to thank God for the brethren there, because of there growing faith and love-clearly thanksgiving was fitting, because they were bearing increasing fruit of the Spirit’s work. So when Paul says he will do that which is fitting, he means he will do that which is suitable to the circumstances and objectives he has in mind. One such reason for why it may not be “fitting” for him to go to Jerusalem was that he might stay with the Corinthians for the winter (v. 6).
In Paul’s mind, he would rather stay a while and fellowship with them, and that they might build each other up, rather than just pass through (v. 7). However, nothing is “fitting” if it is not in God’s good providence, so he is careful to add, “if the Lord permits.” We must always acknowledge the complete and total sovereignty of God in our daily lives, every bit as much as in our salvation. For the same reasons it was fitting for him to stay in Ephesus for a while, for the Lord had opened a door of opportunity there to preach the word (vv. 8-9).
Notice that doing that which is fitting does not necessarily mean doing that which comes easy. Paul acknowledged the presence of “many adversaries.” Doing what is fitting, is doing the work God had called him to do, whether disputing with adversaries or fellowshipping with the churches. To this end, Paul also encourages his readers to accept Timothy, including with food and lodging, as he was also a faithful minister of the Lord, and one whom Paul hoped could continue to help him in the work (vv. 10-11).
So when it comes to decision making and the will of God, one must always bow to God’s providence. However, for decision making beyond the acceptance of providence, Paul and his colleagues applied principles of wisdom. In their case it was what would best further the gospel and the building up of the churches. Apparently the folks wanted to see Apollos, who is known to have ministered there, and to this end Paul “urged” him to come to them, but still it was Apollos’ decision.
Paul knew that Apollos was a faithful minister as well, for he includes him with himself and Peter, Peter being the other great pillar of the church (1:12). At Corinth, Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (3:5-7). However, in Apollos’ mind, it was not a “convenient” time for him to come. So for Apollos, for whatever reason, it was not a good time, it was not fitting, and Paul was fine with that. Since Paul knew that Apollos was a faithful minister, he knew he had good reasons.
It was not that Apollos was unwilling to come, and Paul was. They both exercised wisdom, as they saw fit, according to God’s good providence-the one to come and hopefully stay a while, and the other to wait for a more “convenient” time. Perhaps, given the behaviour of some, to pit Paul and Apollos against each other (Ch. 3), Apollos thought that it was the better part of wisdom that they not be there at the same time-even though they respected each other’s work.
Incidentally, it is worth noting the high place which Paul gives to Apollos, including him with the other pillar of the church-Cephas or Peter, as also a significant writing prophet/apostle. For me, it provides a piece of tertiary evidence of his possible authorship of the letter to the Hebrews, which of course stands on much more grounds than just this evidence of his importance. In any case, we are given some valuable insight here in to what went into how Paul made decisions, principles we can also follow.
So the things which were not open for discussion, so to speak, were Paul’s orders to set aside an offering, his directive to offer all possible assistance and hospitality to Timothy, and above all, an acceptance of the sovereign providential will of the Lord. However, beyond this, we are to be guided by that which will further the work God has given us to do in our respective callings, what he has gifted us to do, what will further the gospel, and what will build up Christ’s church.
Are you thinking of these things? We should be. God, in His good providence, may be closing a door for us one place and opening one somewhere else. We must ask ourselves some questions. Where and how can I best use the gifts and resources which God has entrusted to me, that I may prove myself a faithful steward of what He has given? What can I do or give, or where is the best place for me to be, to further the gospel and the building of Christ’s church? As members of the body, and servants of the Lord, these are questions we all need to ask ourselves. What is fitting?
I Corinthians 16:13-24 Living Because Our Lord Has Come.
To conclude his letter Paul gives some final exhortations to leave with his readers until he is able to visit them as he had planned. The first thing he calls them to do is “watch”. In an age preoccupied with speculations about the coming of the Lord, one might imagine that this word is used by Paul in this regard, but the other injunctions here would suggest otherwise. It is not that this thought might not be in Paul’s mind, but it is more likely that he wants them to remember everything that he thought was important enough to have written about.
As their spiritual father, so to speak, he wanted them to “stand fast in the faith,” and not just in the light of Christ’s coming (v. 13). It is more likely that Paul had in mind the same thing he wrote to the Philippians. “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which to them is a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” (1:27-28 Cf. 4:1)
The presence of adversaries required the church to be brave and strong (Eph. 3:16), especially in light of their chief adversary (Eph. 6:10ff.). However, it was also important that they watch that their faith was genuine and growing. Paul went to great lengths to show the importance of love (Ch. 13), therefore he says, “Let all that you do be done with love.” (v. 14 Cf. I Pet. 4:8)) As an example of their love, Paul urges them to receive Stephanus as one devoted to the ministry of the saints (v. 15). Note well, it wasn’t just Stephanus, but it included his whole household, all of whom Paul had baptized (1:16)!
Again we find the word “firstfruits”. Apparently the household of Stephanus were among the first to receive the gospel in Achaia, and since that time they had “devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” The Corinthians would show their love by submitting to his leadership, as to everyone who worked and laboured in the ministry with Paul and his colleagues (v. 16 Cf. Heb. 13:17). Paul was recently re-acquainted with Stephanus, whom they had sent with a gift, along with Fortunatus, and Achaicus (v. 17 Cf. Heb. 6:10). It was fitting to acknowledge these men, for they had also refreshed the spirits of the saints (v. 18).
Again, Paul reminds the saints in Corinth that the church is bigger than the local assembly, for the churches in Asia sent their greetings (v. 19). Aquila and Priscilla hosted a house church and were among Paul’s “fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks” for Paul and all the churches of the Gentiles (Rom. 16:3-5 Cf. Acts 18:1-3). A greeting was extended from all, and as was the custom, accompanied by a holy kiss (v. 20). Paul affirmed his authorship of this epistle (v. 21). This is important to note-Paul consistently affirms his own authorship for what he has written.
Paul concludes by issuing a covenantal curse of anathema, against any who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ by denying that He is the Messiah who has come. There is some dispute as to the proper rendering of the Aramaic here. But given the immediate context of the verse, and the larger context of the letter, and Paul’s work as a whole, it seems more fitting to translate the Aramaic to Greek to English as, “Our Lord has come!” (v. 22) There is a covenantal curse for any who deny the gospel, that Jesus is the promised Messiah who was to come (Gal. 1:8-9).
Deny Jesus as the Christ, and you deny the grace that He brings. Accept Jesus as the Christ, and in Him all grace abounds (Eph. 2:8-9; 6:24). This was also an affirmation of Paul’s apostolic authority to issue such a curse. But to the saints Paul sent his love ((v. 24). This was fitting for the author of this letter to do. To his spiritual children, he went to great lengths to stress the importance of having love for one another. So we also need to watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave and be strong. We need to submit to those devoted to the ministry of the saints. We should show our love for one another by greeting and refreshing each other, supplying what each other lacks, abounding in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.