The New Testament book of 1 Corinthians was written to identify problems that existed in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions for those problems, and to teach believers how to live for Jesus Christ in a corrupt society. In its teaching aspects, 1 Corinthians has a lot to offer the Christians of this age, because we also live in a corrupt society.
After a brief introduction, Paul immediately turns to the question of unity (1:10-4:21). He emphasizes the clear and simple Gospel message around which all believers should gather, he explains the role of church leaders, and he urges them to become mature in their faith.
Paul then addressed the immorality of certain church members, and the issue of lawsuits among Christians (5:1-6:8). He tells them to exercise church discipline and to settle their internal matters amongst themselves. Because so many of the problems in the Corinthian church involved sex, Paul denounces sexual sin in the strongest possible terms (6:9-20).
Next Paul answers some questions that the Corinthians had. Because prostitution and immorality were pervasive, marriages in Corinth were in shambles, and Christians weren’t sure how to react. Paul gives pointed and practical answers (7:1-40). Concerning the question of meat sacrificed to idols, Paul suggests that we show complete commitment to Christ and sensitivity to other believers, especiallt weaker brothers and sisters (8:1-11:2).
Paul goes on to talk about worship, and he carefully explains the role of women, the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts (11:3-14:39). This section includes the Paul’s astoundingly beautiful description of the greatest gift of them all: love (chapter 13). Paul concludes with a discussion of the resurrection (15:1-58), some final thoughts and greetings, and a benediction (16:1-24).
Paul calls on Christians in Corinth, and everywhere else today, not to blend in with the world, and to avoid accepting its values and life-styles. Paul stresses the importance of living Christ-centered, blameless, loving lives that make a difference for God.
The Layout of 1 Corinthians
Addressing Church Problems:
This is concentrated in (1:1-6:20) … there were divisions and diviseness in the Corinthian church, but these are not constrained to the Corinthian church alone: they exist in today’s churches as well. There must be unity and order in the church, but we must never mistake inactivity for order and cordiality for unity. Problems must be faced and solved directly, using Biblical precepts.
Answering Church Questions:
This is concentrated in (7:1-16:24) … Paul answered the questions of the Corinthian church in a manner forthright enough to: 1) correct abuses in the church, and 2) show how important it is for Christians to live what they believe: to “walk the talk”. There is a Christian approach to problem-solving, and it consists of: 1) thorough analysis to understand the root cause and the underlying issue, and 2) the application of Biblical principles to guide the resolution.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
The Corinthians were rallying around various church leaders and teachers – Peter, Paul, and Apollos among them. These loyalties led to intellectual pride (because their focus was not on Christ) and created a spirit of division in the church.
Our loyalties to human leaders or human wisdom must never divide Christians into camps. We must care for our fellow believers, and never fight with them. Our allegiance must be to Christ alone, and we must allow Him to lead us.
Paul received a report of uncorrected sexual sin in the Corinthian church. The people had grown indifferent to immorality. Others had misconceptions about marriage. We are to live morally, keeping our bodies ready to serve God at all times.
Christians must never compromise with sinful ideas and practices. We should not blend in with people around us. We must live up to God’s standard of morality and not condone immoral behavior… even if society accepts it.
Paul taught freedom of choice on practices not expressly forbidden in Scripture. Some believers felt certain actions – like eating the meat of animals used in pagan rituals – were corrupt by association. Others felt free to participate in such actions without feeling that they had sinned.
We are free in Christ, yet we must never abuse our Christian freedom by being inconsiderate and insenstive to others. We must never encourage others to do wrong because of something we have done. We must let love guide our behaviors.
Paul addressed disorder in worship. People were taking the Lord’s Supper without first confessing their sins. There was misuse of spiritual gifts and confusion over women’s roles in the church.
Worship must be carried out properly and in an orderly manner. Everything we do to worship God should be done in a manner worthy of His high honor. We must ensure that our worship is harmonious, useful, and edifying to all other believers.
Some people denied that Christ rose from the dead. Others felt that people would not be physically resurrected. Christ’s resurrection assures us that we will have new, living bodies after we die. The hope of the resurrection is the secret of the Christian’s confidence. Christ has been there before us, and has shown us the way.
Since we will be raised again to life after we die, our lives are not in vain. We must stay faithful to God in our morality and in our service. We are to live all of our days knowing that we will spend eternity with Christ.
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 1:1-31
Paul thanks God for the Corinthians because they have been blessed by the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. He tells them that they have been equipped with spiritual gifts, and that this same Jesus Christ in whom they believe will sustain them through the Day of the Lord:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Co. 1:4-9)
Infallibly, humans have differences, so there were distinct (and not harmonious) factions within the church at Corinth. Paul had been told of quarrels; that some were following Paul, that some were following Apollos, that some were following Peter, and that some were following Christ! Paul took these factions to task:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Co. 1:13)
Paul speaks to the reason for divisions among believers in Christ, and makes it plain that the message of the cross cannot be explained correctly nor understood properly through human wisdom:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Co. 1:18-25)
The world perceives that which is strong as that which is good. To accomplish His purpose, God chose exactly the opposite – that which is weak. This cannot be understood by those to whom the message of the cross – Christ’s servant’s life and sacrifical death for our justification before God – means nothing. It is dismissed as nonsense because those in the world cannot understand why God, who is powerful, would choose that which is weak: but which still accomplishes God’s purpose! This is the frustration of the worldly of which Paul speaks.
Paul explains to the Corinthians why they were chosen for God’s work, continuing the theme of weak vs. strong:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Co. 1:26-31)
God’s ways are not our ways, and our ways are not God’s ways. In Jesus Christ, who was a humble servant sacrificed for our sake, that we might not perish but have eternal life, God made righteousness, holiness, and redemption available for us. He did this through what was regarded as weak and ineffectual in the eyes of the world – a servant who died a criminal’s death on the cross – thereby making of no account all the “wisdom” of the world. If you feel that the world has left you behind, that is a good thing: what is weak in the eyes of the world is strong in the eyes of God. You are precious to Him, and one of the vehicles through which God’s will for this world will be worked. Make nothing of yourself, but boast about God alone because of the faith that you have through His Son Jesus Christ!
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 2:1-16
Paul says that he is not wise and eloquent as the world knows wisdom and eloquence, and reveals his single-mindedness:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith may not rest of men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Co. 2:1-5)
Paul speaks of the Spirit’s revelation of God’s wisdom, and that the world did not recognize it because those not led by the Spirit were not open to the truth of it:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. (1 Co. 2:6-10)
The “mature” to whom Paul refers are those Christians led and taught by the Spirit, who have learned how to make God-centric judgments (discernments) about all things. It is a beautiful expression of hope for all believers with regard to the future state in Paradise that no one knows the extent of the preparations that God has made for those who place their faith in Him, and who believe in, honor and glorify His Son Jesus Christ.
Paul explains further:
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Co. 2:13-14)
The spiritual truths of God’s wisdom are interpreted for us through the Holy Spirit, and they become our spiritual truths as well. That is why without the intervention of the Spirit (which makes discernment of these truths possible), God’s truths do not make sense; why the world has rejected them… the world is blind to them.
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 3:1-23
Paul takes the Corinthians to task as spiritually immature, and describes why they are so:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not worthy. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Co. 3:1-4)
Paul goes on to rather bluntly put men in their place, and God in His place:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Co. 3:5-9)
God – and God alone – makes everything happen!
Paul indicates that Jesus Christ is the foundation of everyone’s life:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Co. 3:11)
but goes on to say that we should be careful what we build on that foundation, because the Day of the Lord (the triumphant return of Jesus Christ) will reveal that work for what it is, and rewards or losses will follow:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Co. 3:12-15)
In these passages, Paul refers to the judgment seat of Christ, before which we must all stand. The works that are discussed in the passages have nothing to do with earning or losing salvation (which is a free gift from God); they are the quality of the service of those who have been saved to God. Therefore, the rewards and losses mentioned apply only to those who are saved; those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Rewards, unlike salvation, are earned, and are often spoken of throughout Scripture as crowns:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Co. 9:25)
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? (1 Th. 2:19)
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Ti 4:8)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (Jas. 1:12)
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Pe. 5:4)
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Rev. 3:11)
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Rev. 4:4)
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev. 4:9-11)
Paul explains why we are precious to God:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Co. 3:16-17)
Isn’t it beautiful to realize that our God lives within us? There are some that would ask why God would do such a thing. It is because we are created in the likeness and image of God. Because of that, we are held to a high standard: we must strive not do those things that dishonor our bodies and make them an unfit dwelling place for the Lord. If we do fail (as we will because of our sinful nature), we must repent and ask God’s forgiveness. Remember that God cannot tolerate sin because of His perfect moral nature, and we must do everything we can to ensure that our bodies are worthy to be His temple.
Paul gets really blunt, and it is easy to understand what he is saying:
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Co. 3:18-20)
Paul says it all:
So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Co. 3:21-23)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 5:1-13
Paul speaks of sexual sin amongst some of the Corinthians, what must be done to address it properly, and most importantly, what the effect of persistent sin on the flesh is:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Co. 5:1-2)
When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Co. 5:4-5)
This is a difficult concept for some folks to understand but, effectively what the punishment is for persistent sin is to abandon the sinner to Satan’s domain, which is the world, so that Satan’s chastisement will destroy or ruin his body through sickness or even death. It is important to understand that “destroyed” as Paul uses the word in the above passage does not mean annihilation, but ruin. If the body is destroyed in such a fashion, the soul may yet be saved by repentance. It is also important to understand that persistent sin will often lead lead to physical punishment:
That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Co. 11:30)
If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those who sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 Jn. 5:16-17)
What is important to understand is that believers can sin to the point where physical sickness and death occur as a result of God’s judgment. The original Greek rendering of the Scripture indicates “sin”, not “a sin”, so it is a pattern of persistent sin that is not repented of that is referred to in the passage from 1 John.
Using yeast as a symbol of impurity, Paul exhorts the Corinithians (and us) to “start over” with Christ:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Co. 5:6-8)
Paul speaks to whom is not fit to have any fellowship with, and to the judgment of those who are not believers:
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolators. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you. (1 Co. 5:9-13)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 6:1-20
Paul takes the Corinthians to task for depending on those who are unbelievers to settle disputes between them:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? (1 Co. 6:1-2)
Paul is amazed, and ironic to boot:
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Co. 6:3-6)
Paul is pretty adamant that even “fools” among believers are better prepared to judge disputes according to what Christ taught rather than those who do not have such a viewpoint.
Paul says that if greed and vengeance win in a court of law, then justice (from a Christian perspective) has not been served… it is better to be wronged and take a loss than to bring shame on a brother in Christ:
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. (1 Co. 6:7-8)
Paul is nothing if not bold and easily understood in his warnings against moral laxity:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co. 6:9-11)
Paul states a fact:
“Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Co. 6:12)
All of the things of the world (which God has given in the first place) are available to men, but not all of them are good… some are not good at all in any quantity, and some are not good in excess. As Paul goes on to say, citing the arguments of men:
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” – but God will destroy them both. (1 Co. 6:13)
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (1 Co. 6:12-17)
Paul is solemn is his exhortation regarding sexual sin:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Co. 6:18-20)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 7:1-40
Paul goes into quite a bit of detail regarding marriage. Realize that the Corinthians, although surrounded by evil on every side, had nothing on the current state of society as we know it: in the area of marriage alone, it is a proven fact, borne out by statistics, that 50% or more of all marriages will fail. Paul begins his remarks by stating what his position is:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. (1 Co. 7:1)
However, Paul realizes the depth of the immorality surrounding the Corinthians (and that indeed surrounds us today), and validates the proper way in which to address this:
But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Co. 7:2-5)
Paul makes it clear that marriage is a set of mutual rights and responsibilities; the man and the woman belong to each other, in a union blessed and approved by God. Because God blesses and approves marriage, it is a union of love that is a reflection of God’s love for them, a union in which the other partner is always thought of first. As Christ gave Himself for us, so the partners in marriage should give themselves for each other.
Paul has advice for the unmarried and widows:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Co. 7:8-9)
Paul speaks about what the Lord’s will is for marriage with regard to divorce:
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Co. 7:10-11)
Paul speaks to God’s power for marriages in which both partners are not believers (note Paul’s declaration as to whom the teaching comes from, as opposed to the previous verse):
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Co. 7:12-14)
Marriage is obviously sacred to God, and Paul stresses what must be done in circumstances that are hurtful:
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Co. 7:15-16)
Everything that can be done to save a marriage must be done before it is abandoned, because the possibility is always present that one partner may save the other.
Regarding marriage and Christian service, Paul stresses that celibacy, while highly desirable, is not mandated:
Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. (1 Co. 7:25-28)
Paul says that no matter what the station in life is that one holds, the time to serve Christ is short, and that goal should be one’s objective:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Co. 7:29-31)
Paul extends this line of reasoning:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Co. 7:32-35)
Paul stresses that one course of action is right, but that another course of action is better:
So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. (1 Co. 7:38)
Regarding marriage and remarriage:
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone else she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Co. 7:39-40)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 8:1-13
Paul uses an analogy of food sacrificed to idols to illustrate what human knowledge thinks it knows, and what it ought to know in a Christian interpretation:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating foods sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Co. 8:1-6)
Paul indicates that as Christians, we have the solid understanding that there is one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ: in light of this, if we eat to the glory of God and His Son, because our faith is strong, our conscience is not defiled. Everything we do is for the glory of God. However, Paul goes on to say that not all people have this understanding, and points to the problems that this lack of understanding can lead to:
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fail. (1 Co. 8:7-13)
The lesson is simple: if you are strong, do not act in such a way that will cause other believers, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was sacrificed, to fail in their faith. Act out of love for everyone, denying yourself if that is what it comes to, respecting their weaknesses, so that the saving grace of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not made useless for them.
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 10:1-33
Paul has a point of view regarding self-indulgence, and he stresses it with an example affecting his own people – the Jews, the Chosen People – after they were freed from bondage in Egypt. Despite their favored status before God, their self-indulgence in some cases led God to punish them most severely, and the lesson stands for those of us in the modern age as well… do not be self-indulgent, with a continual lust for more:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Co. 10:1-13)
Paul warns that “you are who you keep company with”:
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Co. 10:14-22)
It is good to remember, as Jesus said in response to Satan when He was tempted by him in the desert:
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test'” (Mt. 4:7)
Paul says that to seek the welfare of your brother before that of yourself is noble, and is to be more sought after; again, food is used as a focal point for the discussion:
“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a mealand you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told youand for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? (1 Co. 10:23-30)
To care for what your brother believes, and to act in accordance with that belief (a submission of yourself before God, and yielding to your brother’s belief out of reverence for Christ) for the sake of another is to act like Christ, to be conformed to Him, and is a sign of His grace within you.
Paul goes on to say what should be done:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Co. 10:31-33)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 11:1-34
Verses 1-16 concern the conduct of public worship, and there are many women who would take issue with what Paul has to say regarding it, because they would feel like “second-class” citizens. However, if Paul’s comments are read impartially, they do make sense.
First, there is the divine order that God has set:
Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Co. 11:3)
The inference here is that neither man nor woman should feel slighted, for the head of each has been set by God, flowing through His Son Jesus Christ, to both man and woman. Remember that God is perfect, and this order is what His authorship has indicated is proper, according to the order of creation.
Paul goes on:
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (1 Co. 11:7-10)
Remember that woman was taken from man, not formed of the ground by God as man was. This does not mean that the man is superior to the woman, or has rights over her; remember the order of creation as God has implemented it. The reference in the above passage to angels refers to those angels who observe the conduct of believers in the gatherings of the church, as intimated by the following passages of Scripture:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known the the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Eph. 3:10)
It was revealed to them they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that they have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Pe. 1:12)
Paul speaks of the interdependence of men and women, and to the special place that women have because they have given birth to all humanity:
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Co. 11:11-12)
Paul gave instruction (and admonition as well!) regarding the Lord’s Supper, and he stresses that the observance of it was to be kept sacred; not profaned by selfishness or unconfessed sin before God:
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Co. 11:20-34)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 12:1-31
There have been many discussions among Christians regarding spiritual gifts. Scripture indicates that every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, and Paul’s initial frame of reference (and the frame of reference he uses for all of his discussions regarding spiritual gifts) indicates their source:
Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Co. 12:3)
Paul speaks of the common thread:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Co. 12:4-6)
Paul makes it plain why spiritual gifts are given, and what they are:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different types of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Co. 12:7-11)
The message of wisdom: the communication of spiritual wisdom.
The message of knowledge: the communication of practical truth.
Faith: unusual reliance on God.
Gifts of healing: the restoration of wellness, including life itself.
Prophecy: the ability to proclaim new revelation from God.
Distinguishing between spirits: the ability to discern true prophecies from false, satanic ones.
Speaking in different types of tongues: the ability to speak languages unknown to the speaker.
Interpretation of tongues: the ability to interpret languages unknown to the interpreter.
Paul proves that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to achieve unity in the Body of Christ through diversity:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Co. 12:12-13)
Using an analogy of the body itself, Paul explains further how all believers are a part of the Body of Christ… spiritual gifts have been given to every believer so that the Body of Christ may be made complete:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye can not say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Co. 12:14-26)
Paul states a simple truth… and then elaborates upon it by ranking spiritual gifts in the order of their honor in God’s sight, while also indicating what one’s aspirations should be with regard to spiritual gifts:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Co. 12:27-31)
What did Paul mean when he said “And now I will show you the most excellent way”? With this statement, he intended to demonstrate an entire manner of life that would always display LOVE rather than one’s own spiritual gifts. The love of which Paul spoke is, in the Greek, agape… this characterizes God Himself:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn. 4:8)
and what He manifested to the world through the gift of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, as written in one of the most enduring passages of Scripture:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 13:1-13
This chapter of First Corinthians is the highlight of the letter, an enduring example of what love is, the importance of it, and its supremacy over all other spiritual gifts; it needs no other introduction:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Co. 13:1-7)
Paul speaks about the endurance of love, which will remain after all other spiritual gifts (which were necessary from the earliest days of the church for growth and authentication) have ceased following the return of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Co. 13:8-11)
Paul says what it is that we see now, and what it is that we shall see when Jesus Christ returns, and speaks to the gifts that endure forever:
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Co. 13:12-13)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 14:1-40
Paul speaks about the relative merits of the gift of speaking in tongues as opposed to the gift of prophecy; the greatest good is that the church as a whole is “lifted up”:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Co. 14:1-5)
Paul quotes a passage from Isaiah regarding speaking in tongues, and its purpose:
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. (1 Co. 14:20-22)
The impact of prophesying, as opposed to speaking in tongues, on an unbeliever cannot be over-emphasized:
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Co. 14:23-25)
The use of gifts must have a purpose:
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Co. 14:26)
A Closer Look… 1 Co. 15:12-58
Paul talks about the consequences of denying the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (the central tenet of Christian teaching), which some amongst the Corinthians were already doing:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Co. 15:12-19)
Paul explains the hope that all believers in Jesus Christ have, and how even Christ in all His glory is subject to God the Father:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Co. 15:20-28)
Paul points out another difficulty if there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ, namely what to do with those being baptized in the place of those believers who have already died, and thereafter speaks to the very real issue of why would he and others be preaching this message, exposing themselves to ridicule, persecution, and even death, if Christ had not been raised from the dead:
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day – I mean that, brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Co. 15:29-32)
Paul answers questions regarding the resurrection body, refuting two errors that were very common regarding it: 1) that the resurrection body is the same body laid in the grave at death, and 2) that the resurrection body is unrelated to the body that died:
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendoe of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another, and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. (1 Co. 15:35-41)
We know from what Paul has written that the resurrection body is not the same as the one laid in the grave, for the analogy of growth from a seed that Paul uses indicates that something else grows from the seed; therefore, the earthly body that has died is only a shadow of what is to come.
Paul illustrates this:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Co. 15:42-44)
Paul uses the example of Adam (the first man), and of Jesus Christ (the last Adam), and therefore illustrates for us whose likeness we bear in the present age, and whose likeness we will bear in the life to come:
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Co. 15:45-49)
Paul says that what is temporary and corrupted cannot possibly inherit what is permanent and glorious; this is a reference to those who remain alive at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and he reveals a mystery:
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Co. 15:50-53)
Those remaining alive will be transformed to be imperishable, as the Risen Lord Jesus Christ was transformed at His resurrection by God the Father.
In another high point of First Corinthians, Paul exults over the great victory that belongs to all who believe in Jesus Christ, and in the Name of the One who sent Him:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Co 15: 54-57)
First Corinthians is a letter of instruction regarding Christian living, that not only provides this instruction, but gives hope in the final victory over both sin and death. Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice, has assured the victory for us.
There are no better words than those of Paul with which to end the study of First Corinthians:
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Co. 15:58)