1 Corinthians is about sex and worship; what we do with our bodies sexually (Chapters 5-7), and how we use our spirits in worship (Chapters 8-14).
The young Christian community in Corinth seems to have made two mistakes after Paul left. First, they started listening to pagan wisdom philosophers who probably came from Athens fifty miles away. Second, they went mad on tongues! Claiming superior wisdom and superior spiritual experiences, they began to think they were angels and kings. The next step was to claim that “everything is permitted”, so some of them started being excessively sexually permissive and others began to wonder if they should divorce their spouses. Some even began to think it was OK to worship at pagan temples, while others took the opposite view and thought they shouldn’t even eat meat that has been dedicated to an idol.
All this occurred in the context of chaotic worship services where there was discrimination between genders, classes, and where the main activity was a lot of speaking in tongues.
Paul directs their attention to the gospel of the crucified Messiah, and the future resurrection when believers will inherit new bodies. While we await this final victory, we should flee immorality and live in undivided devotion to the Lord. With our spirits we should flee idolatry, follow the way of love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the intelligible gift of the prophetic.
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Easy: Read sections on their own (1-4; 5-7, 8-10, 11-14, 15, 16).
Main: Read the whole book in one sitting.
Full: Read the whole letter 3 times and make notes.
Study the introduction to 1 Corinthians in a study Bible.
All today’s leading secular challenges against Christianity are addressed in 1 Corinthians. Take a section, for example chapters 5-7, and study the issues in depth.
Suggested verses for meditation …
1 Corinthians 1:8 ‘He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
1 Corinthians 1:18 ‘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.’
1 Corinthians 2:9 ‘However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those that love him’.
1 Corinthians 6:18 ‘Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.’
1 Corinthians 7:35 ‘I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you might love in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.’
1 Corinthians 10:14 ‘Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.’
1 Corinthians 13:4 ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.’
1 Corinthians 14:1 ‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.’
1 Corinthians 15:50 ‘I declare to you brothers that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.’
1 Corinthians 15:58 ‘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 labour in the Lord is not in vain.’
Between 50and 52CE Paul spent 18 months planting a church in Corinth.
After he left, the church came under the influence of pagan philosophers (probably from Athens) teaching their own “wisdom and knowledge”. Their influence, alongside the young believers’ obsession with the spiritual gift of tongues, led to an over-realised eschatology bringing them to think they were angels and kings, and that any and every type of behaviour was permissible. The young Corinthian church was essentially confused about how to use their bodies and their spirits. So in CE54 Paul writes this letter to Corinth facing the challenge firstly of affirming his apostolic ministry, and then addressing and correcting a number of issues regarding immorality and worship.
He does this by framing the letter on the gospel and building the argument to a crescendo in the final Resurrection. In changing their perspective on the Resurrection, the church had lost both their understanding of their future in the Kingdom, and consequently the motivation to live in the light of that future and change their behaviour now. As a result, the young Corinthians believers had begun to think they were free to do what they wanted sexually. While some were despising sex as beneath their new level of existence and considering divorcing their spouses, others were embracing sexual immorality: one man was visiting prostitutes, another two were involved in litigation over a sexual matter and another was in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. Correcting these matters in chapters 5-7 was a test case of Paul’s authority and gospel.
Paul spends the bulk of the letter, chapters 8-14, correcting matters of worship, first outside and then inside the church. The two leading imperatives of the letter are ‘flee immorality’ (6:18) and ‘flee idolatry’ (10:14), but the more positive exhortations are respectively to ‘live in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (7:35) and to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that gift of prophecy’ (14:1).
The letter is essentially addressing a young church that is travelling back into paganism, in contrast to Galatians where the church is crossing over into Judaism. Paul’s correction begins at the point of baptism and the message of the cross as God’s true wisdom. Believers live now in the expectation of the Kingdom, participating in its down-payment, but in the knowledge that its fulfilment will only come at the return of Christ, and the final judgement when we shall be changed.
Question 1 -
Have you ever seen an organisation lose its way? Have you ever seen a church lose its way? Have you ever watched a pressure group gain control of the leadership of a church and then enforce a secular agenda upon it?
Question 2 -
Should a Christian eat Halal meat (1 Corinthians 10:25)?
Question 3 -
What is the most loving church you have ever known (Chapter 13)?
Question 4 -
A non-Christian friend gives you a cup of coffee with a sign of the Zodiac on the outside. Do you drink the coffee (1 Corinthians 10:25)?
The church in Corinth was founded by Paul, Timothy and Silas during an 18-month period between 50-52CE, as described in Acts 18. Corinth was a trading centre on the main trade route from Rome to the Eastern Mediterranean. It was prosperous, cosmopolitan and licentious.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus in the Spring of either 54 or 55CE.
The church had come under the influence of travelling philosophers claiming superior wisdom and knowledge. Paul is unimpressive in comparison. The relationship between church and apostle is strained. In moving their loyalty away from Paul, they are moving away from the gospel message of the cross. As a result, there is considerable confusion in the church about sexual ethical issues, and issues relating to worship both inside the church and outside in the market place. Their heightened focus on speaking in tongues, to the detriment of intelligible speech, seems to be leading some to an over-realised eschatology whereby they consider themselves to have reached the final spiritual goal already, that ‘they are kings’ (4:8) and angels and that there will be no future resurrection.
The letter of 1 Corinthians comes in the middle of a long correspondence between church and apostle: 1 Corinthians 5:9 specifically refers to a ‘previous letter’. The document we call ‘2 Corinthians’ may be a composition of subsequent correspondence, chapters 10-13 being a further distinct letter. The subject matter of the letter is specifically determined by the issues that the Corinthian church was facing, indeed in the second part of the letter, from chapters 7 to 16, Paul answers a succession of questions put to him by the church, and at several points quotes from the church’s letter to him. The letter is dominated by rhetorical exhortation, imperatives and instruction.
The letter broadly falls into two parts. In the first part, chapters 1-6, Paul responds to the reports he has heard from the two groups of people that have visited him. In the second part, chapters 7-16, he replies to the questions that the Corinthian church has asked in their letter to him. Paul weaves these topical issues into a carefully constructed argument which begins with baptism as a response to the message of Christ crucified, addresses the boundaries of Christian behaviour in the arenas of sexual morality, non-Christian worship, worship in the believing community, and then culminates in the gospel message of the Resurrection.
1) The gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified.
2) Apostolic ministry, as evidenced by cruciformity.
3) Immorality, marriage, celibacy and the Kingdom principle of devotion to Christ.
4) Idolatry and freedom in Christ, and the Kingdom principle of restraining our freedom.
5) Spiritual gifts, worship in the church, true and genuine spirituality.
6) The future resurrection.
Apostleship and the Kingdom Principle of Cruciformity
Immorality, Marriage and the Kingdom Principle of Devotion
Idolatry, Freedom and the Kingdom Principle of Restraint
Spiritual Gifts and the Kingdom Principle of Love
Question 1 -
Should Christians celebrate Christmas using pagan Yuletide practices such as eating Christmas cake (Chapters 9-10)?
Question 2 -
On the notice board of the local coffee shop there is a brochure advertising a ‘spiritual’ course that will bring you ‘peace and fulfilment’. Some of your friends invite you to join them attending the course. Do you go?
Question 3 -
How can we receive spiritual gifts and grow in using them?
Question 4 -
If you were living in Sri Lanka in 2003 when the Tsunami struck killing thousands, would you join with people of other faiths in prayer and interfaith worship in the aftermath of the tragedy?
Question 5 -
Which ‘Holy Habits’ will help you grow in 'agape' love?
Question 6 -
Should churches arrange marriages for their members (Chapter 7)?
Verse by Verse
1:1 – 3 Paul introduces his letter
Paul begins this letter just as he usually does, by adding to the conventional introductory pattern for Roman letters some of the key points that he will be stressing in the forthcoming body of his argument. God himself has both called Paul to be an apostle, and called the church in Corinth (who are already sanctified in Christ) to live holy lives. In addition, he emphasises that the church in Corinth is part of the worldwide Church.
1:1 Sosthenes was the previous synagogue leader (Acts 18:12-17).
1:3 Grace and peace are the two gifts that are the substance of God’s committed blessing to his people, (Numbers 6:24-27), and both are direct consequences of Christ’s perfect sacrifice of atonement for believers (Romans 5:1-2).
1:4 – 9 Thanksgiving
Again, Paul uses the conventional pattern of thanksgiving to encourage the Corinthian believers. In the light of the extended, and in places severe, correction that Paul will be giving the Corinthians, these encouragements are surprising to say the least. Nevertheless, they should be taken as entirely genuine. The section falls into two parts. In v4-7 he gives thanks for the grace Christ has given them which is particularly evidenced in the arena of spiritual anointing: their speaking, their knowledge and their spiritual gifting. Paul will address and correct their understanding and practice of each of these in the coming chapters. In v8-9 he introduces an eschatological perspective: God is entirely reliable and will keep those in Christ holy and blameless until he returns. These brief verses (4-9) therefore mirror the argument of the whole letter which will culminate in chapter 15 on the Resurrection. Paul’s overriding argument in 1 Corinthians is that we should live holy lives now, anticipating the forthcoming great intervention of God in history when through the Resurrection we will enter into a completely new existence with Christ.
1:10 – 17 Paul appeals for unity on the basis of the cross
Paul begins his argument with a strong appeal that the community of believers in Corinth take urgent steps to cease their divisions and return to the place of complete unity, the cross. Paul appeals for unity (v10), describes the facts as he understands them (v11-12), states that Christ cannot be divided (v13), deconstructs any argument that those baptised by him are somehow privileged (v14), and states that his commission from Christ is to preach the gospel (v17). This summary verse, verse 17, is crucial and contains several key arguments for the letter. First, even though we are baptised into Christ’s death, baptism itself is secondary to the event and the achievement of the Christ’s death. Second, the cross of Christ is the unique place where ALL Christians are united. Third, the power of gospel is in the preaching of the cross of Christ, but this must be done in God’s way, not with wise human words.
V10 Paul does not stop at unity at the cross; he expects unity in thinking. The astonishing thing about the worldwide Christian community is not that it contains such diverse people and views, but that such a wide breadth of people and views are completely united and equal at the cross.
V13 Baptism is mentioned after the crucifixion because at conversion (the public declaration of faith), the believer is joined with Christ in his death (Romans 6:2).
1:18 – 25 The preaching of the cross is the power of God
In one of his greatest pieces of writing, Paul states that although the message of an apparently failed and shamed Messiah seems at first sight to be utter nonsense, it is actually God’s immensely powerful and wise means of saving all human beings who believe. All the vast wisdom of humanity’s achievements, philosophy and learning are utterly shamed and exposed as completely redundant through God’s work of salvation achieved through Christ’s death. In addition, through the death of the Messiah God has completely wrong-footed all those who look for the verification of faith through truly spectacular miracles. God’s spectacular involvement was the absolute opposite of what humanity expected. He has shamed all human effort and intelligence. Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:25-30 closely parallel Paul’s argument at this point. All the greatest and best of human religion, thinking and achievement has not only been completely wrong-footed by God, but all these human achievements have been demonstrated to be redundant when compared with the achievements of God’s decisive and true intervention in the death of the Messiah.
1:26 – 31 God chooses the weak and foolish to shame the strong and wise
Having demonstrated that God has exhibited all human wisdom and religion to be redundant through the death of Jesus, Paul now cites the very members of the Corinthian church to be examples of this truth. Most of them were neither wise nor strong nor privileged before they became Christians. They themselves were viewed as the ‘foolish’ and the ‘weak’ in Corinthian society. This is strong stuff, but Paul uses all the irony and sarcasm he can muster to expose the silliness of their thinking; this is a root cause of the problems in this young arrogant church. God has chosen them precisely because they were the ‘foolish and weak’ in society in order to demonstrate to the wider Corinthian society the riches of being in Christ – the strength and wisdom. Therefore it is utter madness for the Corinthian believers to now seek to follow ‘human wisdom’. No human being in Christ has any grounds for boasting. From the beginning – even before the beginning – God has done everything for us. It is HE who has brought us into Christ (v30a); we cannot even boast that it was because of us or something we did!
V30 Every believer is only ‘in Christ’ because of the sovereign work of God. Jesus, Christ crucified (2:2), is God’s manifest ‘wisdom’. Through the death of Jesus, God has established and given to believers righteousness, holiness and redemption.
2:1 – 5 God chose ‘weak’ Paul to preach Christ crucified
From 1:18, Paul has been arguing that God has wrong-footed the strong, the wise, the religious, the privileged and the whole spectrum of human greatness by intervening to save humanity through the shocking, disgraceful, shameful, humiliating and truly horrible death of the Messiah on the cross. This act is the ‘prima facie’ evidence of genuine, true wisdom and strength. Paul then cited the Corinthian believers themselves as evidence of this strategy of God to choose the weak and foolish to shame the strong (v26-31)! But now, in his second example, he goes even further and cites his very own ministry. His time in Corinth was marked by fear, trembling and weakness. Indeed, Acts 18:9-10 gives details of a special intervention from the Lord himself to strengthen his apostle in this moment of fear and crisis. Ironically, in seeking ‘wisdom’, ‘wise persuasive words (v4), from the travelling ‘wisdom’ teachers (possibly from Athens), the young Corinthian believers are only demonstrating their foolishness. The Spirit’s power is primarily demonstrated through God’s ability to bring men and women to faith in Christ through the preaching of the message of the crucified Messiah. Paul’s own ‘pathetically weak’ ministry is a first class example of God’s way of working: ‘he chooses the weak things of this world to shame the strong’ (1:27). Paul preached Christ crucified like a ‘frightened rabbit’, but the result was the establishment of a church at the crossroads of the Roman Imperial trade routes in the Eastern Mediterranean.
V5 Faith is rooted and built on the foundation of God’s unique intervention in history – the death of Messiah Jesus, as publicised by the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:5). Faith comes to a person or community through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:17), and faith grows and becomes strong through worshipping God for the forthcoming fulfilment of his promises (Romans 4:20).
2:6 – 16 True wisdom comes through the Holy Spirit
The young Corinthian believers had come under the influence of the travelling ‘wisdom philosophers’ and were now claiming to be truly wise and truly spiritual. Paul’s first strategy was to bring them back to the central truth of Christ crucified, the point of their baptism and the basis of all Christian unity (1:10-17). He then demonstrated that the supreme wisdom of God is demonstrated in Christ crucified by which ‘human wisdom’ is exposed as utterly redundant (1:18-25) and cited two examples of God’s practical wisdom: his choice of ‘the weak’ to shame the strong at Corinth (1:26-30), and his choice of ‘weak’ Paul as his instrument for the preaching of the gospel (2:1-5). Paul is now placed to address the root issue: the failure of human wisdom, however impressive it may appear.
Paul now demonstrates that the wisdom of God, which is our definition of ‘wisdom’, is far superior to ‘the wisdom of this age’ (2:6). He has already argued that the greatest display of his wisdom is Christ crucified (1:23, 24). Now he argues that in crucifying the Lord of glory, the ‘rulers of this age’ (2:8) demonstrated par excellence that they had absolutely no concept or awareness of God’s secret (higher) wisdom (2:8). This revelation, described so richly in 2:9, refers firstly to the cross, and then to all the riches achieved by Christ’s crucifixion: the life of the Kingdom and the Spirit.
In verses 10-16, Paul teaches about the way the Holy Spirit takes the very (deep) thoughts of God and helps us to understand what God has given to us (2:12). Paul is not only explaining how the Spirit reveals truth to him (as his apostle), but is also denigrating all the teaching of the travelling human wisdom teachers as utterly secondary, worthless and indeed deceptive in comparison to the supreme revelation of the holy, powerful Spirit of God as uniquely revealed in Christ crucified. The believer led and influenced by the Spirit is in every way superior to the human wisdom teacher (2:14-15), because he has the very mind of Christ (2:16)!
V16 Note the Christological point that this revelatory and teaching work of the Holy Spirit is the very ‘mind of Christ’, as per 2 Corinthians 3:17: ‘The Lord is the Spirit’.
3:1 – 23 Paul addresses the root problems causing the divisions
There is a slightly lighter tone in this section as Paul, having addressed the ‘heresy’ and foolishness of seeking human wisdom, now moves to addressing the outcomes of this heresy as witnessed in the fracturing of the Corinthian church.
V1-4 Paul starts by calling a spade a spade! The Corinthians are anything but wise, they are ‘mere infants’! Their jealousy and quarrelling over their partisan leaders proves it.
V5-9 Paul will have none of this playing leaders off against each other. He fully endorses Apollos’ ministry alongside his own, and points their attention beyond all ‘ministers’ to God himself, the source of all growth. There are important words in this section. First, all ministers are ‘servants’ (v5). They are serving the same purpose: God’s agenda. It is God’s work, and the Corinthians are God’s field – his raw material – and it is God who is building his building. Paul develops this building image more fully in Ephesians 2:19-22.
V10-15 Paul now describes his own ministry as the founding apostle (although he does not use that word, probably because he is keen to affirm Apollos), and he describes the ministry of building. The foundation must be Jesus Christ, and by implication not the ‘human wisdom’ that the Corinthians have been flirting with (1:18-25). The ‘human wisdom’ is wood, hay and straw. The message of Christ crucified is gold, silver, costly stones. Every building will be tested with ‘fire’ (v13) and only what remains standing will be rewarded.
V16-17 Paul now addresses the outcome of those who through their pursuit of ‘human wisdom’ are fracturing the church, God’s own temple. It is likely that Paul has at least one specific individual in mind, perhaps a group. This is the most severe warning in the letter. Using a rhetorical question, Paul states that the Corinthian church is God’s temple (following 2:9) where God himself lives! Those who set about destroying God’s temple will themselves be destroyed.
V16 The ‘you’ here is plural; Paul states that the community of believers at Corinth are God’s temple. In 12:27 he will similarly state ‘you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it’.
V18-23 Paul now gives a final summary admonition the church’s pursuit of ‘human’ wisdom and the ensuing fracturing in their community. In v18-20 he repeats his main argument from 1:18-25, that human wisdom is utter foolishness in the light of God’s work through Christ crucified and that in pursuing it, these believers have simply deceived themselves. There is no place for prizing one Christian leader over another (v22), since all these different teachers are serving Christ.
4:1 – 21 Paul’s ministry: servant, apostle and father
The essential issue that Paul faced was that, in choosing to listen to the ‘human wisdom teachers’, the Corinthian church had side-lined Paul and his gospel. In his words, they were beginning to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ with hay, straw and stubble (3:12). Paul therefore faced the primary task of re-establishing both his gospel and his apostleship before then dealing with the subsequent pastoral and doctrinal issues (which he will do in chapters 5-15). From 1:10-3:22, Paul has both exposed the foolishness of looking to human wisdom in order to build the church, and has asserted the primacy of the message of Christ crucified. The stage is now set in chapter 4 for Paul to address and correct the church’s understanding of his ministry as servant, apostle and father.
V1-5 Paul and his apostolic team must be viewed as servants of Christ entrusted with the secret things of God. This is the leading answer to the church’s doubts about him. Paul will answer their criticisms about his ministry much more fully in chapter 9, but in v2-5 he simply dismisses their attempt to ‘judge’, that is, assess his ministry, since he answers to the Lord and the Lord alone.
V6-13 Having asserted his apostolic credentials, Paul now turns to address their own heretical views of ministry, which are the root cause of their rejection of him. The Corinthian view of ministry is fundamentally wrong. In following human wisdom, they have turned to prize human values and seek human goals. Today we would say they are choosing the ‘celebrity culture’ view of ministry. With biting sarcasm and satire, Paul exposes their foolishness by outlining a series of ugly contrasts between he and the other apostles who are ‘on display … as men condemned to die in the arena’ (v9) and the Corinthians who aspire to live in luxury like kings.
V14-17 Then, typically, Paul changes tone and writes as a father, not as an opponent or policeman, to warn the church of the implications of their choices. This change in tone is very similar to the development of his argument in Galatians 4:12-20.
V18-21 Having appealed as a father to his children, he now returns to his serious warning. It is not good enough to play with human wisdom and add it to the foundation of Christ. There are serious repercussions. The litmus test throughout is the power of the Kingdom. Human wisdom leads to human talk. The message of Christ crucified and the power of the Spirit is evidenced in the power of the Kingdom to change lives – body, soul and spirit – and communities.
5:1-13 A situation of flagrant, serious immorality
6:1-11 A court case between believers concerning a sexual issue
6:12-17 A man visiting prostitutes
6:18-20 Summary exhortation
7:1-40 Paul answers their questions about marriage and celibacy
5:1 – 13 A situation of flagrant, serious immorality
Having asserted and re-established the gospel (of Christ crucified) and his authority as Christ’s servant and God’s apostle of this gospel, Paul immediately addresses the leading issue challenging his gospel and apostolic authority: a case of flagrant immorality. Not only is one man is having sex with his father’s wife (presumably his step-mother), but the church is endorsing the practice. Paul cites the case, rebukes the church for allowing and encouraging it, and then uses his authority to pass spiritual judgement on the culprit.
V5 Since the man has already put himself in a position of judgement outside of Christ, Paul is merely stating that he should receive the destruction that is already coming his way.
V6-8 Having addressed the issue, Paul (typically) then elucidates the spiritual principle underlying the matter. To choose immorality is to choose the ‘yeast’ of the old sinful nature, which like all yeast will quickly spread and infect every part of the body of dough (Galatians 5:9). This is why Paul is so ruthless in challenging the matter. Once a little immorality is tolerated then it is only a short time before the whole Christian community is infected and immorality is endemic.
V9-13 This section is a severe challenge to the church, but militant sinfulness must never be tolerated among believers. It is notable that while the church tends to focus on some of these sins (immorality, idolatry), it easily overlooks and tolerates others (swindling, drunkenness, greed). So often Christian communities either swing from virulent discipline where those struggling to do right are treated harshly, to the alternative extreme where a blind eye is turned to anything and everything. It seems that Paul is addressing here those who are unrepentant and wilful and persistent in their disobedience. Grace should always be extended to those who fail while trying to obey Christ – which includes all of us.
6:1 – 11 A court case between believers concerning a sexual issue
In v1-6, before he addresses the sexual matter at issue in the court case, Paul rounds on the church for allowing the dispute to go to court. With biting sarcasm, Paul shames the leadership for not having the wherewithal to address and resolve the issue ‘in house’. Ironically, although they are quite prepared to sit in ‘judgement’ on Paul (4:3-5, 9:3:23), they are unable to even resolve a private dispute between two church members.
V3 Paul exposes and challenges their inability to judge ‘trivial cases’ in the context of what they are in Christ and what they will become. This is his leading perspective throughout the letter: every exhortation and imperative in 1 Corinthians is given in the perspective of the life we should live now in the light of what we shall become at the Resurrection.
V7 Paul warns the plaintiff: a public court case between two Christians in the same church is public evidence of the immaturity of both parties. In the perspective of heaven, both lose very badly. They demonstrate to heaven and earth that they have hardly even begun the Christian life.
V9 Paul warns the defendant: Paul repeats the list from 5:10, but adds four new elements, three of which are sexual in nature, and the fourth, ‘thieving’, probably also relates to the grievance. This almost certainly indicates that the four issues are at the heart of the issue before the court.
V10 Paul twice emphatically states that such (committed) behaviour precludes a person participating in the Kingdom of God, both now and in the future. He will repeat this in summary form in 15:50 (see also Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:5).
V11 In Christ we are washed, sanctified and justified through Christ and the Spirit, and are given the opportunity for a new start.
6:12 – 17 A man visiting prostitutes
V12-13 Paul quotes back to them their claim to be able to do anything now that they are ‘free’ from the law. But he severely qualifies it. We may not need to obey the Old Testament to be saved, but we will still very definitely ‘reap what we sow’. If we are immoral, we will reap the results of our immorality. ‘The body is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’.
V14 Yet again (in this letter), Paul argues that our present lifestyle must be directly determined by our future lifestyle. Our bodies are going to be raised again, so we must live now the lifestyle of heaven in the full anticipation of what we shall be.
V15 More than that, our bodies are even now members of Christ himself!
V16 So it is absolutely unthinkable that I should allow my body to become ‘one flesh’ with a prostitute, or any other person outside the physical union ordained by God (Genesis 2:24) and upheld by Jesus himself (Matthew 19:4-6).
V17 More than that; not only is my body a member Christ, but my spirit is one with his.
6:18 – 20 Summary exhortation: flee sexual immorality
V18 This imperative to ‘flee sexual immorality’ dominates the entire section from 5:1 to 7:40. It is the logical conclusion of all Paul’s severe warnings up to this point (5:1-2,13; 6:9,11,15). It is not clear exactly what Paul means in stating that sexual sin is a sin against one’s own body, but he seems to be saying that when committing sexual immorality, a person actually brings destruction to his own body.
V19 For the sixth time in two chapters, Paul challenges them with this rhetorical question: ‘Do you not know?’ (5:6; 6:2,9,15,16,19). Paul referred to the corporate body of Christ in 3:16-17, but here he states that even the individual believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
V20 My body is no longer my possession, it was bought with the blood of Christ, and it belongs to Christ. So, I must honour Christ and God in my body, because at the point of future resurrection my body will be redeemed in the very process of my instatement as an adopted child of God.
7:1 – 40 Paul answers their questions about marriage and singleness
Paul now begins to answer the questions they have raised in their letter to him. Having strongly addressed the sexual immorality in the young church in chapters 5-6, he starts with their questions about marriage. The tone of this chapter is markedly more gentle than the previous two.
V1-7 Re: Sex in marriage
In the young church’s confusion, some have adopted a position of extreme asceticism taking the view that sex is something to be avoided. Perhaps they are saying that it is below their dignity as spiritual ‘kings’ and ‘angels’. Paul affirms that it may be appropriate for a person not to marry – he is himself single (v7, 35) – but states that sexual union has a crucial place in heterosexual marriage. Verses 2-5 are the place where Paul begins all his teaching on marriage, and they are remarkable because of the equality and mutual interdependence of both husband and wife. First, marriage is exclusive: it is monogamous. The husband and wife’s bodies belong equally to both the wife and the husband. Both husband and wife have an equal duty to fulfil each other’s sexual needs. Paul’s point in this section is that God has provided marriage as the context for sexual activity and as the means of avoiding sexual immorality (v2).
V8 – 9 Re: Sex and the unmarried
Paul now addresses those who are not yet married, and those who are widowed. It is good to remain unmarried, as Paul himself is, but if those who have chosen temporary celibacy find they cannot control themselves then they should marry rather than struggle with sexual passion. This relates back to v2: marriage is the God-given context for sexual union.
V10 – 11 Re: Divorce
Paul states unequivocally that it is the Lord’s command that a wife must not separate from her husband, as some of the Corinthian women – possibly those abstaining from sex (v1) – may have been beginning to do. Husband and wife must not divorce each other. This is strong stuff in today’s secular liberal society. Jesus’ teaching on divorce is expressed in Matthew 5:31,32, Matthew 19:1-12 and Luke 16:18.
V12 – 16 Re: An unbelieving spouse
Paul now addresses the question of whether or not a believer should continue to remain married to an unbeliever. His answer, which he articulates carefully and equally for both husband and wife, is that if the unbeliever is happy to remain in the marriage, then the believer should not divorce the unbelieving spouse, but if the unbeliever leaves then divorce is permissible. I have only come across one pastoral situation where this happened: years ago in a church in America a man told me that after he became a Christian, his wife left him specifically because he had become a Christian.
Paul then explains his reasoning using Old Testament concepts from Numbers about being ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. On the basis of the ‘one flesh union’ (Genesis 2:24), the believing spouse ‘makes’ the unbelieving spouse and their children ‘clean’. The point of the passage seems to be guidance for the person who having become a Christian then realises the difference with their unbelieving spouse. What should they do? The answer is to live considering their spouse to be ‘sanctified’, that is, set apart for the gospel, and then live in such a way so their spouse and children are attracted to Christ and respond to the gospel. It is significant that Paul considers the power of sanctification greater than the power of ungodliness.
V17 – 24 The principle of remaining in the state in which you were called
Paul now articulates a foundational principle: that believers should not change their life situations in which they came to believe in Christ. He cites the example of circumcision, which for the Corinthians is a neutral issue. Very typically, he carefully balances the two states (v18) and then summarising the more important principle (v19) just as in Galatians 5:6, and 6:15. It is interesting that here he emphasises ‘keeping God’s commandments’ (v19), and this is probably because this is exactly what the Corinthians were being tempted not to do (v10)! In Galatians 5, the boot is on the other foot where they are imposing all types of ‘law’ and religious practice on their community, and Paul emphases the freer view: ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (Galatians 5:6) – which is of course the new commandment of the new covenant (John 13:34).
V21-23 Paul’s second example is slavery. While Paul is quite clear that believers should obtain freedom if they can (v21) and not become slaves of others (v2), and while he lays a nuclear bomb under the institution of slavery throughout the Roman empire in his letter to Philemon, he is making a higher point in these verses which should be studied carefully and heard properly. His point is that, in contrast to the sexual and marital improprieties of chapters 5 and 6, believers should now have an entirely different perspective: their mindset must be orientated on the shortness of the time we have here on earth (v29) and the serious call to live in ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ (v35). Once this motivation has gripped the believer, issues of circumcision and even slavery are utterly secondary to our love for Jesus. So, we ‘should remain in the situation God has called us to’ (v24), and serve Christ there with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37).
V25 – 35 Re: The unmarried
This longer section is introduced with Paul’s structural introductory phrase ‘Now about’ (see 7:1, 8:1, 12:1, 15:1, 16:1), and this probably means we should view 7:25-40 as an independent unit. Nevertheless, the whole of 5:1-7:24 has led up to this point. Paul’s point in v24-31 is clear enough, he wants the believers to be focused on Christ’s greater concerns (v28, v31), and not to orientate their whole lives around their future spouses. This of course touches the issue at the heart of the whole letter, that the Corinthian church is drifting away from its love for Christ and becoming consumed with human wisdom, the idol of sex, participation in the worship of idols, and a childish view of the gifts of the Spirit.
V32 and v35 express the very heart of Paul’s point: he wants believers to be free from the concerns of marriage, although throughout he has been very careful to affirm marriage (v28), and instead ‘to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit’ (v34), and ‘to live in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (v35).
V36 – 40 Two specific pastoral cases
V36-38 1) Advice to a man who is unsure whether or not to go ahead with his engagement: Paul assures the man that he is not sinning if he goes ahead and marries the woman to whom he is engaged. The man should take responsibility for his decision (v36). Paul then very carefully qualifies any decision about ending the engagement (v37) – such action must be carefully thought and the decision must be properly owned. In his summary verse (v38), while fully affirming marriage, Paul does again tilt his advice in favour of ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ as expounded in v32-35.
V39-40 2) Advice to a widow about remarriage: Paul’s point is quite clear: a widow is free to remarry. The additional phrase that the new husband ‘must belong to the Lord’ is the only time in scripture that this rule is stated. The guiding principle, as throughout this chapter, has been expressed clearly in v32-35.
V40 The final comment ‘and I think that I too have the Spirit of God’, is a gentle but firm ‘leg pull’, and a very typically Pauline bit of sarcasm. The Corinthians have in their letter (7:1) been arguing that since they have the Spirit of God, they can make up their own minds on marriage and sexual issues. Paul will rebuke them – the male leadership – for this far more clearly and strongly in 14:36-38, but for the moment, given the more gentle tone of chapter 7, he is content to gently deride and question their assertiveness.
8:1-13 Introduction to idolatry in the matter of food sacrificed to idols
9:1-27 Paul’s exercise of ‘freedom and restraint’ in his apostolic ministry
10:1-13 Historical warnings: Commit idolatry and you will miss the goal!
10:14-22 Flee idolatry!
10:23-11:1 Applying the issue of ‘freedom and restraint’ in two practical cases
8:1 – 13 Introduction to idolatry in the matter of food sacrificed to idols
8:1-3 Having addressed at length the issue of immorality in the church at Corinth, (chapters 5-7), Paul now turns to answer another leading question in their letter to him: to what extent can, or should, a believer participate in the pagan practice of eating food sacrificed to idols, and/or even participate in the worship of pagan idols? Having introduced the issue (v1), Paul immediate digresses to contrast two approaches to this issue: if a believer prides themselves that they have superior knowledge of spiritual things, they are only ‘puffing’ themselves up. But true growth in Christian maturity comes not by strutting around doing what they want because they have ‘superior knowledge’, but only through learning and exercising love. This issue is probably the root problem underlying the whole of this issue at Corinth: some church members, probably the arrogant prophetic men that Paul will round on so severely in 14:36-38, are beginning to participate in some forms of idol worship because they believe they have ‘superior spiritual knowledge’.
8:4-6 Paul begins his teaching on this issue by starting with the very nature of God himself, an approach which he will follow again when addressing spiritual gifts (13:4-6). Paul is absolutely clear that idols do not exist. There is only one God that exists. He is the Father who has made everything through Christ. The Christian believer approaches God through Christ and lives for God the Father. First we should immediately note the Trinitarian features of God. This is clear from these verses and Paul’s description of Christ and the Spirit in 2:10-16, and the further description of the Spirit in chapters 12-14, principally 12:4-6.
8:7-13 The Principle of ‘freedom and voluntary restraint’. In v7, Paul argues that the first reason why believers should not attend temples and eat food sacrificed to the ‘god’ of the temple is that such action could destroy the faith of a ‘weak’ believer. If someone who regularly worshipped the ‘god’ of a temple then becomes a Christian and trusts Jesus alone for salvation, and then sees a ‘mature Christian’ entering into the temple and eating the food sacrificed to the ‘god’ of the temple, then the young believer’s faith will probably be compromised and he or she will probably think there is no difference between Christ and the other ‘gods’. Belief in Christ as the only Saviour is therefore compromised to Christ being the same as all other ‘gods’.
V8 Food is in itself completely neutral.
V9 But just because food is neutral, does not mean we all have a right to do what we want with it, and eat it in such a way (in a idols’ temple) just because we are free – have a right – to do so, because such action may destroy (compromise) the faith of another Christian.
V10-12 Paul gives a strong appeal that those who are claiming to have superior knowledge should not behave in such a cavalier way, asserting their rights and freedoms with the effect that they damage and compromise young, ‘weak’ believers’ understanding of the uniqueness of Christ. Paul’s warning is strong: to destroy any other Christian is to sin against Christ himself.
Paul’s warning (in these verses) to the Corinthians who are claiming their rights and freedoms, serves as an excellent launching point for his argument in chapter 9 that although he has rights and freedoms as an apostle to demand their support, he has laid aside these rights.
9:1 – 27 Paul’s exercise of ‘freedom and restraint’ in his apostolic ministry
In this strongly-worded argument, Paul both asserts that as an apostle he has every right to expect proper (financial) support from the churches he plants, but he also asserts his right to lay aside these very rights for the sake of the gospel. His argument serves two purposes; first it is a robust defence against those in the Corinthian church who are sitting in judgement on him (v3, and see 4:3-5), and second, it is his own personal application of the very point he has argued in 8:7-13, that rights should be laid aside in order to protect the weaker Christian.
V1-2 Only those who have seen the risen Christ are designated apostles, and churches planted and established are the proof of the office of apostleship.
V3-6 Paul states his defence: he has every right, along with all the other apostles, to expect church members to provide sufficient food and drink for him and the apostles, and also for their wives if they had them! From this, we learn that the young Corinthian believers were despising Paul because not only did he not expect to be supported in the way the travelling human wisdom philosophers travelled, but he did not even live the lifestyle of the other (travelling) apostles (v5). This group in the Corinthian church despised his lifestyle: ‘to this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work with our own hands …’ (4:12).
V7-12a Paul now spells out his argument in detail. Every example from normal working life demonstrates that the worker deserves return from their work. And indeed, the Old Testament Law makes exactly this point. In v11, Paul applies this universal principal to his ministry: ‘is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?’ The other apostles have this right just as we do!
V12b-18 Paul now argues vigorously that he has laid aside his right to expect financial support from those who receive the gospel in order that the gospel may be offered completely ‘free of charge’ (v18). In v13-14, Paul repeats the argument of v7-11 but now includes a summary Old Testament instruction, that even though the Law states that ‘those who work in the Temple should get their food from the temple’, and that ‘the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel’, he has voluntarily laid aside this right. Paul’s summary assertion is that as he lives under great compulsion to preach the gospel, which he does voluntarily, his reward is that he presents it ‘free of charge’ and without making use of any of his rights in preaching.
V19-23 The Corinthian Christians have been asserting their freedom to do their own thing (6:12, 10:23). Under the influence of human wisdom (1:18-25), they have departed from Paul’s message of the cross and, claiming their rights arising from being ‘free’, they are permitting and even encouraging some of their members to be sexually immoral with their bodies (5:1-6:20), and participate in idol worship with their spirits (8:1-11:1). Here, in direct contrast, Paul both asserts his freedom in Christ, but passionately articulates his motivation to willingly subject himself to any and every form of deprivation in order to preach the gospel. Yes, we are ‘free in Christ’, but we must not now do ‘anything we choose’ (Galatians 5:17b); rather, our motivation and whole aim is to ‘live in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (7:35), and ‘do everything for the sake of the gospel so I/(we) may share in its blessings’ (9:23).
V20 An example would be Paul worshipping in the Temple immediately prior to his arrest (Acts 21:20-26).
V21 Those who are believing in Christ for salvation are justified by that faith, they have peace with God and stand in a place of abundant grace (Romans 5:1-2): they no longer have to obey the 614 commands of the Old Covenant law. But we are not free to sin, to commit adultery, kill, lie or steal. We are ‘under Christ’s law’, which is to ‘love one another’ (John 13:34-35, 15:12). ‘The entire law is summed up in a single command; “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Galatians 5:14, 6:2).
V24-27 Paul has argued that, now we have been set free through Christ, we must obey ‘Christ’s law’ (v21), motivated by the goal of obtaining and living in all the full blessings of the Kingdom. In order to achieve this goal, ‘the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:14), we therefore willing and joyfully, and with 100% determination, discipline every part of our lives in order to immerse ourselves in every possible way into the life of the Kingdom through the Spirit. It is the utter joy and pleasure of living everyday with Jesus through the dynamic power of the Spirit which is the champagne of the Kingdom. In the light of this, every believer who has seen and experienced this reality immediately jettisons every bad attitude, sinful practice, vile thought and unkind word in order to plunge themselves ever more fully into the delight of walking with Jesus in the reality of the Spirit. Everything, every aspect of life, is willingly and enthusiastically brought into submission to Jesus in order to participate just that little bit more fully into daily life with Jesus now. This is why Holy Habits (spiritual disciplines) are so powerful, and so very important. Fasting, prayer, celebration, worship, Bible study, silence, pilgrimage and obedience all immediately take on huge importance as the apprentice of Jesus discovers the power and effectiveness of these tools by which we engage ever more fully in the Kingdom. Oh the utter joy and excitement of this journey into living with the Saviour! Those that have tasted the reality of the Spirit know for a fact that there is nothing, nothing, nothing in this world that compares with the experience of being with Christ. The only people who do not pursue this are those who either do not know this life exists, or who are blind to it. How utterly pathetic are the offerings of Satan, the dishwater he tries to tempt us with, in comparison with this champagne. Paul’s point to the Corinthians is that because they have lost sight of the goal, they have let go of the wilful discipline that an apprentice joyfully takes up in order to gain more of Christ now.
10:1 – 13 Historical warnings: commit idolatry and you will miss the goal!
The fundamental problem at Corinth is that some of the young believers are trying to have both Christ and the world. They want Christ, they want sex without restraint, and they want to do exactly what they want in all spiritual arenas.
From 8:9, Paul has been arguing that although we are ‘free’ in Christ, we must voluntarily restrain our freedom in order to protect weak believers (8:9-13). All this is with specific reference to the issue of worshipping in an idol’s temple (8:10), but Paul has then developed the argument substantially with reference to the restraint he chooses to exercise in his own ministry so as both to present the gospel free of charge (9:18), and also making absolutely sure that he obtains the prize (9:24,27), which is more of the dynamic reality of Christ and the Kingdom both now and at the judgement (Philippians 3:10, etc).
V1-10 Paul has urged self-restraint in order to discipline his life so that he lives in, grows in, and experiences more of Christ, the Spirit and the Kingdom (9:24-27), because the ‘Kingdom is not a matter of talk but of power’ (4:20). Paul now gives the Corinthians a very severe warning from Israel’s history, that if they are so foolish as to continually engage in ‘idolatry, … immorality, … testing the Lord and … grumbling’, and by implication all behaviour that is absolutely contrary to Christ’s nature – for example; hatred, or apostasy, or violence – then they will forfeit their Christian privileges in exactly the same way that the first generation of Israelites who were saved by God at the Exodus failed to inherit and take possession of the Promised Land. If ‘believers’ commit themselves unrepentantly to a lifestyle that is completely contrary to Christ, then they are giving heaven and earth a very public demonstration of the fact that they are not following Christ, and that, in fact, they are not actually believers at all, because the evidence of faith is a life of love (James 2:14-26). Philippians 3:18-19 applies exactly at this point. Such people are living as enemies of the cross as explained by Jesus in Mark 8:34-9:1. Paul is warning the Corinthians throughout this letter that if they continue in such behaviour they will forfeit their place in the Kingdom, both now and in the future (6:9-10, 15:50).
V6 Very typically, Paul articulates the essential issue: whereas these examples are lessons in themselves, they are also simply illustrations of the fundamental danger which is ‘to set our hearts on evil things’. This is the essence of the fault in the young Corinthian church and it is the opposite of Paul’s exhortation that we are in all things motivated to ‘live in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (7:35).
V11-13 Although these verses are very often taken as an assurance that God will help us when tempted, Paul has a good deal more than such pastoral assurance in mind. Paul is pointing out that in seeking to push the limits of what is acceptable in the Christian life, by courting sexual compromise with their bodies (chapters 5-6) and spiritual compromise with their spirits (chapters 8, 10:14-11:1), these arrogant Corinthian ‘leaders’ who think they are ‘standing firm’ are actually putting themselves in a place of severe temptation, just as the first generation of Israelites did after the Exodus (Numbers 1-25).
10:14 – 22 Flee idolatry!
Paul is now finally ready to give a clear answer to the Corinthians’ questions about how far a believer can participate in the worship of idols, and having warned them very severely about the consequences of compromise and even disobedience (10:1-13), along with the necessity of healthy spiritual discipline in order to progress towards the prize in the Christian life (9:24-27), his imperative is logical and unsurprising: ‘Flee idolatry!’ But, we also see the heart of the man for the people he loves: ‘Therefore my dear friends …’ (10:14).
Paul then explains the essence of the issue by taking the argument to the absolute heart of Christian worship: participation in Christ as the central element of the eucharist. But also, precisely because this participation in Christ through participation in the body and blood of Christ is the essence of worship, it is also THE place of all Christian unity. Paul takes the Corinthians right back to the starting point (1:10-18): we are all baptised into the death of Christ (Romans 6:1-4).
V14 This imperative in all matters of the spirit stands alongside the imperative in 6:18 in all matters of the body: ‘Flee from sexual immorality’.
V18-22 The two pivotal words in this summary paragraph are participation, and demon. First, Paul stresses that to receive the body and blood of Christ in the context of Christian worship is to participate with and in Christ himself. He has already stated that ‘he who unites himself with the Lord is one spirit with him’ (6:17), and when the bread is broken – as Christ’s body was broken – and the blood is both poured out – as Christ’s blood was – and received, the point of reception of the bread and wine is the point of dynamic activity of the Holy Spirit in the believer, because ‘the life of the spirit is in the blood’. Spirit energises spirit, revelation is given, the Kingdom is quite literally experienced. It immediately follows that any spiritual activity outside this new covenant experience is anathema to Christ, and absolutely unacceptable for anyone in Christ. Any such activity functions as a ‘power’ – a ‘daemon’ (Greek work) – over against the believer, and this power principally works through the mind by changing the believer’s thinking, to immediately compromise the uniqueness of Christ and his work. This is why Paul’s first application to the Romans was ‘be transformed by the renewal of their minds’ (Romans 12:2), and also why having first established the primacy of the message of Christ crucified (1:18 – 2:5), he then teaches about the revelatory work of the Spirit in the believer through the mind of Christ (2:7-16). Paul’s point to the Corinthians is this: anyone who participates in worship in idol’s temple, in their equivalent of our Eucharist, puts themselves directly under the influence of a demonic power which is in conflict with Christ himself!
10:23 – 11:1 Applying the issue of ‘freedom and restraint’ in two specific cases
In this section, Paul provides summary answers to the two specific questions the Corinthians have asked him in relation to participating in food sacrificed to idols. From 8:1 to this point, Paul first introduced the subject and then argued that our freedom in Christ should be voluntarily restricted in order to protect the faith of vulnerable believers. He then diverted (in chapter 9) to demonstrate how he applies this very principle to his own ministry in order to care for the vulnerable by presenting the gospel absolutely free of charge. He then returns to the subject in chapter 10 and, using examples from Israel’s history, demonstrates that it is imperative that we flee idolatry in order to avoid coming under the power of demons, and instead participate fully in the Kingdom.
V23-24 Paul begins his summary by (again, 6:12) quoting the Corinthians’ claim that in Christ they are free to do anything – by which in this context they mean that they are free to worship in the temples of idols. But Paul immediately qualifies this with his two main arguments: first, not everything is beneficial, or, constructive, and second, our freedom must be voluntarily restrained in order to protect the more vulnerable Christians.
V25-26 Case 1: question: Should a Christian eat food sold in the market place that might have been offered to an idol?
Answer: Yes, eat anything you choose, because the earth is the Lord’s; he has made everything, and anyway, an idol is nothing at all, it doesn’t exist (8:4).
V27-30 Case 2: question: Should a Christian eat food that has been sacrificed to an idol at a dinner party?
Answer: Yes, for the same reasons as stated in v25-26, unless there is a vulnerable Christian present whose understanding of the uniqueness of Christ will be compromised, because he/she will think that because of your behaviour, Christ is just like all the other idols he/she has previously worshipped before he/she came to faith in Christ.
10:31 – 11:1 Paul lifts the argument beyond the immediate issue of food sacrificed to idols and summarises with the universal principle that in every aspect of living, we should seek both to honour God (Matthew 5:16), and not cause any believer to stumble. We should seek to help others in their obedience to Christ ‘so that they may be saved’ (10:22). This principle of living is seen primarily in Christ, who both in life and death gave his life in order to save others. Paul is trying to live in the same way, and we should follow his example.
8:1 – 11:1 Summary: food sacrificed to idols, idolatry and the question of how far should a Christian participate?
Paul gives three specific answers, and establishes a fundamental principle of Christian behaviour.
First: Should a Christian eat food sold in the market place that might have been offered to an idol?
Answer: Yes, eat anything you choose, because the earth is the Lord’s; he has made everything (10:25-26), and anyway, an idol is nothing at all, because the ‘god’ doesn’t exist (8:4).
Second: Should a Christian eat food that has been sacrificed to an idol at a dinner party?
Answer: Yes, for the same reasons as stated in 10:25-26, unless there is a vulnerable Christian present whose understanding of the uniqueness of Christ will be compromised into thinking that because of your behaviour, Christ is just like all the other idols he/she has previously worshipped before he/she came to faith in Christ.
Third: Should a Christian participate in worship in an idol’s temple?
Answer: Absolutely not! First, such behaviour is likely to seriously compromise and destroy the faith of vulnerable believers (8:9-11), and second, anyone who participates in the worship of an idol in a ceremony equivalent to our Eucharist is placing themselves directly under an evil spiritual power (10:14-22).
In addition, Paul establishes the principle that all Christians must voluntarily restrain their freedom in order to protect vulnerable believers. Such care will be an attractive witness to unbelievers, helping them to believe and be saved (9:22, 10:33). Paul cites as a primary example his own voluntary setting aside of his right to expect financial support from the churches he establishes in order to present the gospel free of charge.
11:2 – 16 Discrimination against women
11:17 – 34 Discrimination against the poor
In terms of structure, the two matters addressed in this chapter are placed between the two leading sections on worship in this letter. Chapters 8-10 have addressed the question of how far a Christian can participate in non-Christian worship, and in chapters 12-14 Paul will address, teach about and correct the Corinthian church’s practice of spiritual gifts in worship. These two issues, in which Paul is correcting Corinthian malpractice, find a natural place at this point as the overall argument follows a progression from the outside (involvement with idols) to the inside (encountering the Lord through the spiritual gifts).
11:2 – 16 Disparity against women
This short section is one of the most baffling in all of Paul’s letters. First, from the very start of this letter, Paul’s carefully worded argument has been logical and clear, but at this point, and particularly through verses 3 to 10, the logic seems to almost completely break down. Second, there are several serious ambiguities in the translation: is this about women or wives, what hair covering is being addressed, and what does the reference to angels mean, as well as several other confusions? Third, there is an important theological difficulty in that verse 7 contradicts the statement in Genesis 1:27 that both men and women are created equally as God’s joint and equal image. Fourth, why is Paul so emphatic about such a minor issue as head-coverings just after he has spent an entire chapter assertively arguing for the believer’s freedom in Christ (9:1,19), and through all his correction of the Corinthian argument and practice has been very careful not to deny their claim that ‘everything is permissible’ (10:23)? The fact that this section is riddled with complications is demonstrated by the fact that it is almost impossible to find two scholars who agree on the same interpretation and application.
In addition, there are two further problems before Paul concludes his argument at the end of chapter 14. First, there is a blatant contradiction in the argument in 14:22-25, where Paul states that prophecy is a sign for believers, and then gives a defining example of exactly the opposite. And then there are the infamous four sentences in 14:33b-35 about the silencing of women in worship!
A compelling explanation, argued by my wife Lucy Peppiatt in her books ‘Women and worship at Corinth’ and ‘Unveiling Paul’s Women’, is found once we realise that Paul is in each of these three passages quoting from the Corinthian church’s letter to him, just as he has in 6:12, and 10:23. In 11:3-10, he takes their argument and using Greek rhetorical argumentation reduces it to absurdity, before correcting them in 11:11-16. In 14:21-22, after accusing them of being childish (v20), he quotes from their letter, and then cites the illustration of the unbeliever as an example of prophecy functioning properly. And in 14:33b-35 he quotes them before severely rounding on them for assuming any right to usurp his apostolic authority and ‘originate the word of God’. Paul is therefore the champion of women’s equality in worship!
V2 This ‘praise’ rides rather uneasily with the two substantial corrections that follow and make up the body of chapter 11. Through using the word translated either ‘teachings’ or ‘traditions’, Paul may be wishing to convey something along the lines of: ‘I am pleased that you are following my instructions about worship but I need to correct you in the following two matters …’
V11 This mutual interdependence is a direct extension of Paul’s painstaking argumentation throughout 1 Corinthians 7 where he began his teaching on marriage by demonstrating that the equal status and mutual interdependence of husband and wife extends directly from their coital relationship (7:2-5). Man and women are interdependent, ‘coming’ from each other, within the context that everything comes from God.
V13 There is absolutely no problem with a woman praying without a head covering!
V14 The length of men’s hair is a cultural issue. Different cultures have different practices.
V15 All societies and cultures recognise that a woman’s hair makes her beautiful. Paul’s answer to the Corinthians’ contentious (v16) insistence that women should be subjugated into wearing head coverings, ‘sit down, shut up and put your hat on’, is to state this if you insist in following this misguided argument then you ought to realise women already have a beautiful head covering! God has already given them their long hair. Once again, as throughout 3-16, Paul reduces their argument to absurdity by demonstrating its inherent foolish blindness.
V16 Paul summarises with a final comment: he teaches no ‘such practice’, of insisting that women have head coverings, ‘in the churches of God’.
11:17 – 34 Discrimination against the poor
The logic of this section is a breath of fresh air after the confusion and ambiguities of 11:3-10. The essential problem is disparity against the poor during the meal in which the Lord’s supper is celebrated. Everyone arrives and starts eating their own meal without waiting for the others, with some getting drunk, whilst others who have no food are humiliated because of their poverty. The essential point that Paul is making is that the body of Christ is present both as the community of believers, AND in the bread and wine of ‘the Lord’s supper’. At Corinth, both of these are being abused. Their poorer members are being discriminated against and humiliated, and in addition, their communal life is being fractured by this disunity. The community is the Temple of God (3:16), but because of their behaviour, the unity of the believing community is despised, and the poorest believers are humiliated (v22). Paul uses this opportunity to teach and remind them of the essence of the Lord’s supper, which he has already touched on in 10:16-17. His imperatives are straightforward (v33-34), but the sting in the tail is his comment that as a direct result of their failing to recognise the body of Christ in these two ways, some of their number have died! This fracturing of the community is a direct contradiction to the unity all believers share at the cross with the result that God’s intervention in the Eucharist becomes not an act of blessing but an act of judgement on them!
V18 Paul’s doubting of the ‘divisions’ among them seems to fly in the face of the way that he forcefully addresses the divisions at Corinth in 1:10f and throughout chapters 2-3. The explanation may lie in the phrase ‘when you come together’, that is, the rich and poor were literally sitting in different places in the house where the Lord’s supper was being celebrated.
12:1 – 14:39 Spiritual gifts, and their use in worship
12:1-11 Introduction: the Trinitarian nature of spiritual gifts
12:12-31 The place of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ
13:1-13 The absolute necessity of using spiritual gifts lovingly
14:1-25 Prophecy and tongues: the ‘intelligible’ gift of prophecy is superior to the ‘unintelligible’ gift of tongues for building up the Church
14:26-33a Guidelines for handing prophecy and tongues during worship
14:33b-38 Paul severely rebukes the prophetic men for discriminating against women in worship!
14:39-40 Summary exhortation concluding the instructions on worship
12:1 – 11 Introduction: the Trinitarian nature of spiritual gifts
Paul begins his correction of the Corinthian church’s abuse of spiritual gifts using a very similar approach to the one he employed when addressing the issues of idolatry in chapters 8-10; indeed, v2 links the issue with idolatry, and may be a hint explaining their fascination with the gift of tongues. First, he introduces the subject (v1-3// 8:1-3), then he relates the issue to the Trinitarian God (v4-6// 8:4-6), and then he describes the activities through which the Spirit is manifest (v7-11). This is important; all theology and church practice begins with Trinitarian theology. Any fault, however tiny, in our Trinitarian theology will always ultimately lead to appalling behaviour in our churches, and most often to some form of salvation by works. That is why the church took until 451CE to clarify its Christology and the Creeds.
V1-3 These initial statements are strong and perplexing. In his opening breath, Paul accuses the Corinthians of ignorance! In 14:20, his anger boils over and he once again (see 3:21) states, in the face of their arrogance (14:36-37), that they are simply little children. Does this combination of the experience of pagan idolatry (v2) and childish arrogance explain the truly astonishing incident of someone actually saying ‘Jesus be cursed’?
V4-6 are probably the greatest statement on the ‘economic Trinity’ in the entire Bible: three statements equally balanced and articulated, each expressing the ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ of the nature and activity of the Trinitarian Godhead.
V7-11 The Holy Spirit’s activity takes place in each believer, but in a wide variety of ways. Paul lists 9 here, but at least 27 such activities (manifestations) are listed across the New Testament. They are given for the ‘common good’ (v7), a theme that Paul will repeatedly return to (14:4-5), by the Trinitarian Spirit as he determines.
12:12 – 31 The place of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ
In this long and rather painstaking section, Paul argues a number of points in order to counter the division that is fracturing the Corinthian church.
V12-13 Having stated that all the different spiritual manifestations originate from the same Holy Spirit of the Triune God (v7-11), Paul now takes his argument forward relating the Spirit’s activity to those in the believing community. It is through baptism and being plunged into the Spirit that the multitude of believers at Corinth and throughout the world form Christ’s body on earth. Paul carefully spells out that this includes formerly hostile parties: Jew and Greek, slave and free. Following Galatians 3:28, we would have expected him to have added ‘male and female’, but he may have chosen to deliberately omit these here – and keep his powder dry – because he is building up to severely rebuke (in 14:36-38) the Corinthian male leadership for their shocking sexism, demonstrated in the rhetorical argument of 11:4-9, and specifically the quotation in 14:33b-35 from their letter to Paul.
V14-20 Paul continues to labour the point that in the body of Christ there are a whole range of different body parts, each of which serves the whole body by performing a different function. Each ‘body part’ needs all the other ‘body parts’. Jews and Greeks need each other, as do slaves and the ‘free’. Men and women need each other in church (11:11-12), and in marriage (7:2-7).
V18 His statement about the Father’s ordering reflects the foundational Trinitarian framework for Paul’s entire argument that began in 12:4-6 and ends in 14:33a.
V20 Summary point: there are many different parts that make up one body.
V21-26 Once again, Paul labours the point in order to counter the divisive tendencies in the church: every part of the body of Christ needs every other part.
V21 11:3-10 and 14:33b-38 demonstrate that throughout this entire section, Paul has in view the shocking discrimination that some of the prophetic men are exerting against the women believers. This not only explains why Paul is labouring his point in this place of the argument (v14-26), but it sheds light on the metaphors used. The ‘eye’ symbolises the prophetic (13:12), and here the ‘hand’ may possibly represent the poor (11:21), or those believers who are slaves in Corinth. The ‘head’ almost certainly represents the men, and in the light of the Old Testament understanding of its euphemism, the ‘feet’ represent the women, hence the importance of 7:3-5. Paul twice states that neither group can say ‘I have no need of you’.
V25 summarises the argument: ‘there should be no division in the body’. Therefore, because all believers need each other, not only should all the ‘parts…have equal concern for each other’, but in our love for each other, when ‘one part suffers, every part will suffer with it’, and ‘if one part is honoured every part will rejoice with it’.
V27-31 In v13, Paul has stated that at baptism every believer is plunged into the Spirit, but since then, because of the divisions at Corinth, he has been painstakingly demonstrating that the many different body parts make up the one body of Christ on earth (v14-20), and all the different parts of the body of Christ must have equal concern, love and appreciation for each other (v21-26). Now at last he is ready to address how the Spirit acts within the body of Christ on earth. In v28, he lists eight activities which range between the ‘greater offices’ of ‘apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those having gifts of healing’, to ‘lesser’ activities of helpers, administrators, tongues. Paul’s point is clear enough – every Christian has the potential to be empowered by the Spirit to complete effective ministry within the body of Christ and for the world – but a more testing question is how the list of ‘manifestations’ in v8-10 relate to his list. Some are exactly the same, others seem to have developed from a ‘manifestation’ into an ‘office’. In v29-30, Paul omits ‘administrators’ and ‘helpers’ from this list which he is framing negatively no doubt because these two gifts are the closest to normal human gifting, and to write “does everyone help?” implying the answer ‘no’ could be used as an excuse by lazy Christians. In fact, we are all called to ‘serve one another’.
V31 While v11 states that the nine manifestations are sovereignly worked by the Spirit, Paul here states that believers should ‘desire the greater gifts’ – another indication of God’s sovereign economy which allows and facilitates the operation of the Kingdom principle ‘the measure you use will be measured to you’, and ‘to him who has will be given and he will have abundance and to him who has not even what he has will be taken away’ (Mark 4:24-25). Incredible as it is, in one sense the spiritual gifts are ‘there for the taking’.
13:1 – 13 The absolute necessity of using spiritual gifts lovingly
Paul has argued that the multifarious manifestations, activities and offices are inspired, established and empowered by the Holy Spirit, originate from the Triune God, and are active within and throughout the whole Christian Church, including the believers in Corinth, as ‘the body of Christ’ (12:27). He now makes his leading point: these gifts of the Spirit must be used ‘lovingly’! This chapter contains at least two further lists of spiritual gifts; tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, merciful giving, and martyrdom (v1-3), and prophecy, tongues and knowledge in v8-9. Our familiarity with the poetic imagery and phraseology in parts of this short chapter tends to hide the severity with which Paul is criticising the Corinthian behaviour. Their community is fracturing over different issues, but the leading reason is because they are fundamentally unloving to each other – behaviour that is utterly contradictory to nature of the Triune God.
V1-3 There is ambiguity in this first sentence: Paul may or may not understand tongues to be angelic language. It is irrelevant how many spiritual gifts a believer may have and how advanced they are in the office and ministry of these gifts, the only thing that matters is the love with which they are used (14:12).
V4-7 ‘Love suffereth long and is kind’ (AV translation). This is the heart of all Christian ethics and behaviour, because it is the very heart of God the Father. Paul lists all the negative things that love is not, because almost all of these are specifically articulated and illustrated by him as Corinthian behaviour in different parts of the letter (4:8f, 4:19, 5:2, 5:6, 6:1, 8:2, 8:9-13, 10:12, 11:16, 11:22, 14:36, 15:33).
V8-10 Spiritual gifts are given to empower the Church to fulfil her mission of taking the gospel to the world (Matthew 10:7-8, 24:14). Although powerful, they are nevertheless temporary tools until Christ himself has returned, after which they will be redundant, swallowed up in the new existence with Christ.
V11-13 Throughout this letter Paul has been telling the Corinthians that they are behaving like children; they are spiritually immature (3:1-3, 4:3, 4:8-10, note that 4:14-15 is a different tone and use, 6:5, 8:2, 12:1). This will build to an emphatic imperative in 14:20: ‘stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults’, before he quotes their nonsense exposition in 14:21-22. In v11 Paul is stating that the Corinthians need to ‘grow up’ and become adults in the way they use spiritual gifts. They must stop competing with each other, and boasting like little children, and learn to use these remarkable giftings in a loving way that builds up the church (14:5).
V12 ‘Seeing and knowing’ are prophetic functions. When Christ returns and everything, everything, everything will be clearly seen with ‘20-20 vision’ for what it completely is, all truth will be clearly known and beyond any possible contradiction, and then there will no longer be any need for the spiritual gifts of prophecy and teaching.
V13 ‘Hope’ is the certain future that we have in Christ. Since ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’ (Galatians 5:6), the three absolutely essential things that will always last until Jesus returns are our certain future (our hope), and our faith which we live out moment by moment in love.
14:1 – 20 Prophecy and tongues: the ‘intelligible’ gift of prophecy is more effective in building up the Church than the ‘unintelligible’ gift of tongues
Having described the variety of the spiritual gifts within the body of Christ and emphasised that their use must always be motivated (and governed) by ‘agape’ love, Paul can now apply this principle and focus in this section on the heart of the problem at Corinth. The young believers, who Paul repeatedly refers to as children and infants (v20), are besotted with the outward manifestation of tongues, probably because they understood it to be evidence of their new ‘higher spiritual state’. Once again, as so often in this letter, Paul faces the task of affirming what is God-given, while at the same time correcting – sometimes very severely – the Corinthian malpractice.
V1-5 Paul affirms that tongues are effective in building up individual believers, and prophecy is effective in building up the Church. V2 and v4a are Paul’s defining statements on tongues, which he will apply to public worship in v14-15. V3 and v4b are Paul’s defining statements on prophecy. In v5, Paul affirms tongues as a genuine gift of the Spirit which should be sought by believers, nevertheless, prophecy is preferable because it builds up the whole Church.
V1 should not be skipped over; it is Paul’s leading imperative (from the whole of chapters 12-14) for all Christians who love the body of believers and long for them to grow in Christ: ‘follow the way of love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy’. There are NO exceptions; all believers should earnestly desire spiritual gifts. There is no such thing as a non-‘charismatic’ Christian!
V6-12 Paul labours the point that since intelligible communication is completely superior to unintelligible communication, when the Church is gathered in worship, intelligible communication (prophecy) should always be preferred over unintelligible tongues. So, Paul’s entirely logical application at this point is that Corinthians must ‘try and excel in the gifts that build up the church’ (v12).
V6 The gift of tongues catalyses the believer to engage with the Spirit. So Paul’s full expectation is that as the believer speaks in tongues, they will begin to receive ‘revelation’ that leads to prophecy, and ‘understanding’ leading to teaching.
V13-17 The obvious corollary to Paul’s point about preferring ‘intelligibility’ in v6-12 is that those who speak in tongues should pray for the interpretation, a point he has already made in v5. Paul then very helpfully elaborates the point by teaching and explaining the use of tongues in public worship (v14-15).
V18-19 Throughout his argument, which originally began in 12:1, Paul has been walking a road between two extremes. He wants to defend and encourage the place and use of tongues in the worshipping community against those who would silence this manifestation of the Spirit’s work, while at the same time correcting the foolish excesses of the gift, especially over the higher gift of prophecy. This explains why, having rather downplayed tongues from v6-17 while he argued in favour of ‘intelligible’ prophecy, it is somewhat surprising to read ‘I thank my God that I speak in tongues more than all of you’. Paul not only strongly affirms the gift and its place in corporate worship, but he plays the Corinthians at their own game! ‘So you think you are masters of the gift of tongues and you know more about it than me! Well you don’t! As a matter of fact God himself knows that I use this gift more than all of you!’ We must conclude that on his long journeys from city to city, Paul was constantly praying in the Spirit. David du Plessis, the South African Pentecostal, testified to such an activity of the Spirit continually, day and night, during his ministry. He would even wake in the night finding himself praying in tongues. Nevertheless, in public worship, prophecy should have precedence over tongues (v19).
14:20 – 26 Paul severely corrects the Corinthian Old Testament exposition of tongues!
This fascinating short section has baffled the vast majority of commentators who, assuming that Paul is the author throughout, are thereby forced to admit that the argument is a blatant contradiction! Such a reading has to wrestle with the fact that on the basis of the exposition of Isaiah 28:11-12, the author (they assume it was Paul) states that tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and therefore prophecy is for believers. However in the very next verse, Paul states that anyone walking into a meeting and finding everyone speaking in tongues can only conclude that he has walked straight into a mad-house. Paul then gives a lucid description of an outsider entering the meeting, receiving a penetrating prophetic word about his life and concluding the exact opposite: ‘God is really among you’ (v25)! The point is that the example Paul gives is a straight contradiction of the statement at the end of v22: ‘prophecy however is for believers’.
All this is resolved once we realise that Paul is once again quoting from the Corinthian letter, as he first has in 10:23 (which is repeated in 6:12); second, that the content of their argument lies behind and within 11:3-10 and is part of his rhetorical argument reducing their thinking to absurdity, and thirdly that he will again quote from their letter in 14:33b-35.
V20 Paul begins this correction by strongly rebuking the Corinthians for their infantile thinking (see also 3:1, 13:11).
V21-22 This is a straight quote from the Corinthian letter, and it explains the root of the whole ‘tongues’ problem at Corinth. The Corinthians, who appear to be inebriated with the ‘spiritual’ experience of tongues, have found support for their behaviour from two verses in Isaiah 28:11-12. But their ‘exposition’ is badly at fault. First they claim it is ‘in the Law’, but it is not, it is part of the prophetic writings. Second, instead of quoting the two verses from Isaiah properly, they tamper with the text, ‘cutting and pasting’ it to make it say the point that they want to hear. As a result the Corinthians then reach a conclusion something like: “so you see tongues are therefore a sign for unbelievers, and so prophecy is for believers. The implication of this argument is that the gathered worshipping community should boldly practice corporate ‘speaking in tongues’ because this is a God-given sign that will bring unbelievers to faith”.
It is this appalling exposition and silly proof-texting that is at the root of their ‘ignorance’ (12:1) about tongues that Paul has rebuked so strongly in v20, demonstrating that the Corinthians are behaving like silly children. This is why Paul has quoted directly from their letter, to publicly expose the seriousness of their fault. Paul will again quote from their letter and again expose their serious discrimination against women at the very end of his argument (14:33b-35), but before he does so, from v23-33a he gives examples and instructions of good practice in spiritual gifts.
V23-25 Not for one moment will Paul tolerate the high insanity of v21-22! He gives two clear examples to flatly contradict the Corinthian argument. Paul has taught about and affirmed the private use of tongues in 14:2,4, and the public use of tongues in 14:14-15, while all the time asserting that tongues must only be used corporately if there is an accompanying interpretation so the message is intelligible. He will further instruct on the use of tongues in 14:27. He has also stated that he ‘would like everyone of you to speak in tongues’ (14:5), and that he himself speaks in tongues more that all the Corinthian believers. But, here in v23, he is emphatic: to yak on in public in corporate tongues is shocking behaviour to the world! Instead, the believers should seek the prophetic word of the Spirit that reveals the very ‘heart issues’ of the unbeliever who will fall on his/her knees proclaiming: ‘I’ve been searching for God all my life, but for the first time this is true spiritual reality, I know God is truly here because he has spoken directly and specifically here and now into the very deepest thoughts of my heart and mind’.
14:26 – 33a Guidelines for handling prophecy and tongues during worship
This section has a quieter tone after the strong rebuke and correction Paul has given the Corinthians in v20-25 for their infantile exposition and ensuing corporate mayhem with tongues in worship. The passage falls easily into three parts:
V26 is a general introduction to the activities of the body of Christ gathered in worship. Paul expects everyone present to contribute with some form of manifestation or contribution from the Spirit and, in-keeping with his leading argument from 14:1 onwards, expects that every activity should contribute to the strengthening of the Church.
V27-28 give specific instructions on the use and practice of ‘tongues’ in the gathered worshipping community. Instead of the mayhem Paul has accused them of in v23, believers should only speak in tongues one after another, and only when someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation is present.
V29-33a Similarly, prophetic people are encouraged to prophesy one after another, giving time and space for the discernment and weighing of the prophetic messages. God is a God of order and peace, and Christian corporate worship should reflect this. Prophetic people should be fully in control of their own behaviour. There is no need, nor is there any place, for chaos and mayhem, and there is no excuse for it. We should note that just as Paul began his dissertation on spiritual gifts with the Triune God (12:4-6), so he concludes with the very nature of God: ‘God is not a God of disorder but of peace’ (v33).
14:33b – 38 Paul severely rebukes the prophetic men for discriminating against women in worship!
Paul has taught about the priority of intelligible speech over unintelligible, and while affirming tongues, has prioritised prophecy in corporate worship (14:1-19). He then severely criticised the Corinthian leadership for their childish exposition of scripture and the ensuing mayhem this has brought to their worship and witness (14:20-25). Paul has then followed this with corrective instructions about the use of tongues and prophecy in worship, concluding with the guiding principle that our corporate worship should reflect the nature of the God of peace and order that we worship (14:26-33a).
Paul now uses this principle of ‘peace and order’ (v33) as the launch point for a severe rebuke of the Corinthians’ bad practice in worship, revisiting the first matter that he addressed: their discrimination against women (11:3-10). For a second time, he quotes directly from their letter:
‘As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches, They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.’
The serious difficulties that arise if these sentences are attributed to Paul are recorded in various commentaries and can be briefly summarised as follows:
1) The sentence structure is un-Pauline. The textual critic Fee has demonstrated that throughout the Pauline corpus, there is no example of Paul writing four successive imperative instructions in this way.
2) The instruction to be silent contradicts Paul’s teaching that women should contribute in worship by praying and prophesying (11:5).
3) Nowhere in the Law, or anywhere else in the Old Testament, does it state that women must maintain silence in worship. The use of the phrase ‘in the Law’, links this passage directly to 14:21, the other passage where Paul directly quotes from their letter. Paul has corrected their use of tongues, and their use of the prophetic and here by implication he is correcting those with the spiritual gift of teaching.
In addition, to providing a convincing answer to these arguments, any who still maintain that Paul is the original author and expect all women to be silent in worship will need to provide a convincing explanation as to exactly why ‘it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church’, especially in the light of Paul’s universal appeal to open reason, ‘judge for yourselves’, in such verses as 10:15, 11:13.
However, Paul’s inclusion of these four sentences from the Corinthian letter sheds very considerable light on the real issues at the heart of the problem at Corinth. It seems that a (small) group of prophetic men are beginning to exert undue influence over the leadership of the Corinthian church and as a result are throwing the leadership and the church into confusion. This is one of the main reasons why ‘the church’ has written to Paul (7:1), and why three of the very first converts have made the journey to Ephesus to ask Paul personally for his judgement (16:15-17). These prophetic people have lost their heads and are adjudicating ‘prophetically’ on lots of subjects, and this is probably at the root of the lax rulings and behaviour in the matters of immorality (chapters 5-7) and idolatry (chapters 8-10).
V36 This rhetorical question strikes at the very heart of Paul’s struggle with the Corinthian church. The responsibility for propagating and teaching the ‘word of God’ is an apostolic function, privilege and duty per se. Paul’s issue with these prophetic men lies in the fact that they are usurping his apostolic office. This is why 12:28 is so important: the apostolic office is superior to the prophetic! The Corinthian leadership is behaving as if they have the right not only to make up their own protocols, but in addition, even to tell other churches what to do! These contentious (11:16) prophetic men are instructing the women to ‘sit down, shut up and put their hats on!’ This is blatant sexual discrimination, and Paul will not tolerate it for a moment!
V37 The litmus test for testing a prophetic ministry is whether or not the prophetic person acknowledges that Paul is Jesus’ chosen apostle! When using the phrase ‘the Lord’s command’, Paul is probably referring not just to his instructions about worship in chapters 11-14, but to all his instructions as expressed in this and all his letters.
V38 Paul has passed judgement on the extremely immoral man (5:4-5), and now he passes judgement on this errant prophetic person (or group): ‘ignore this rebuke (v36-37), and you will be ignored’. Paul probably has in mind some form of spiritual discipline that God himself will enforce.
V39-40 Paul thinks and argues in categories, and the category he has in mind at this point is the three aspects of his own ministry: revelation, gospel and apostleship. The primary example is Galatians 1:1-12 where Paul comes out fighting: ‘God himself has appointed me his apostle, of his gospel that was given to me by direct revelation’. Paul has ended his long correction of the Corinthian abuse of tongues and prophecy with a severe public rebuke of the errant Corinthian prophets for their blatant sexual discrimination against the women. At this point he gives a proper ending to the section on spiritual gifts, building on his temporary summary at v33a. His argument however is in full flow and having addressed the issues of apostleship and revelation in v36-38, he is perfectly placed to address ‘gospel’ at the start of his next section.
15:1-11 The gospel, Christ’s resurrection and the apostolic witnesses
15:12-19 The absurdity of stating there is no such thing as resurrection
15:20-28 God’s eternal purpose, plan (and schedule) for all Creation
15:29-34 Final comments and a warning on denying the Resurrection
15:35-49 The resurrection body
15:50-58 The final victory of God over all sin and death
15:1 – 11 The gospel, Christ’s resurrection and the apostolic witnesses
In the final verses of chapter 14, Paul has severely rebuked the errant prophetic men who are usurping his apostolic authority and forcing the women into silence. Throughout the letter, Paul has been defining his apostleship (4:9-13; 9:1-27), but he has waited until this point to make his most powerful challenge against the Corinthian usurpers. As in Galatians 1:1-12 where his apostleship is also challenged, Paul focuses on his apostolic ‘birth-right’: God himself revealed the gospel to Paul and appointed him an apostle! So Paul goes straight back to the absolute start: only by holding firm to the gospel will a person be saved!
V3-4 The essence of the gospel. These words are virtually a straight quote from Jesus himself in Luke 24:45-47.
V5-8 Paul lists six ‘resurrection appearances’, which seem to be a sort of ‘official list’. Several other specific appearances are mentioned in the gospels, as well as general appearances (Acts 1:3-4). With the exception of the appearance to ‘five hundred’, all the other five are appearances to apostles, who are men (whose testimony would be accepted in a court of law), and each appearance serves a specific function. Peter was the leading apostle, their spokesman, and the first of the apostles to witness the risen Christ. ‘The Twelve’ (although only eleven were alive) witnessed him on the first Easter evening. The five hundred were probably a gathering of disciples in Galilee, and Paul probably records this because of its huge significance in terms of the Kingdom movement. James was Jesus’ brother, and only after this appearance do Jesus’ family seem to have become central committed believers, and as a result James became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. Lastly, Paul was commissioned through this resurrection appearance as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Galatians 2:8).
V9-11 Paul comments on his apostolic commission and work. His comments are made humbly and simply. In v11 he brings the argument back to where he started: the first point of the gospel is that Jesus has been raised from the dead! This is the public proclamation that Christ’s death was for our sins. ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved’ (Romans 10:9). This is the first base of Christianity. There is no other starting point!
15:12 – 19 The absurdity of stating there is no such thing as resurrection
Once again, we find Paul painstakingly labouring his argument, as in 12:14-26 and 14:6-12. This indicates once again that the infantile Corinthian leadership has not only made a bad theological mistake, but is unable to think logically. Once again, it is the teaching ministry that is at fault. The gems in this passage lie in Paul’s articulation that all the key aspects of our faith hinge on the Resurrection: the value of our faith (v14), our integrity (v15), the forgiveness of our sins (v17), the salvation of those who have died (v18), and our hope (v19).
15:20 – 28 God’s eternal purpose, plan (and schedule) for all Creation
Perhaps it is because this passage is so familiar that we lose sight of its significance: Paul teaches the details not only of Christ’s return, and of God’s eternal purposes for all the cosmos, but also for God’s own future. Once again the significance of this passage in terms of the Corinthians is that Paul’s ‘digressions’ are almost certainly there in order to correct false teaching in this young, assertive independent church. God has put everything under Christ in order that Christ, having destroyed all dominion, authority, and power including death itself, may then bring everything into submission to God ‘so that God may be all in all’. This touches on the Trinitarian issues Paul has already addressed in 11:3 and 12:4-6. It seems that the church’s malpractice in the male discrimination of women in worship has been extrapolated backwards by the immature Corinthian teachers, who are starting to teach an heretical ‘economic Trinitarian’ heresy of the Son’s subordination to the Father.
15:29 – 34 Final comments and a warning on denying the Resurrection
Paul now reduces the Corinthian argument that ‘there is no such thing as resurrection’ (v12) to its logical absurdity by citing three specific issues involving three different groups of people. First, he cites an example of their own foolishness. Although Paul never teaches or advocates the practice of baptising people on behalf of the dead, it seems that some of the confused, infantile Corinthian church members had begun to do exactly this. Paul throws the issue back in their faces, pointing out the logical absurdity of what they are doing even by their own confused false teaching: why on earth be baptised for the dead if there is no such thing as resurrection? Second, Paul cites a personal example, the very suffering and hardship he endures for the gospel (4:10-13) in order to ‘offer it free of charge’ (9:18). All of this would be a complete waste of time and life if there was no assurance of future resurrection. Third, he cites the non-believer’s logical philosophy: if life is so meaningless then ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. This leads to him to chastise them in v33: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’, and this probably strikes at the heart of the root problem at Corinth: the ‘human wisdom teachers’ behind Paul’s strong rebuke of chapters 1-2 are in fact ‘bad characters’ and through fraternising with them the ‘good character’ of the young Corinthian believers is being corrupted into immorality (chapters 5-7), idolatry (chapters 8-10), and discrimination (chapters 11-14).
V34 Paul’s entire argument from 1:1 has been building up to this straight rebuke. They are not only childish, they are sinning and they ought to be ashamed!
15:35 – 49 The resurrection body
Paul’s frustration with their immaturity is palpable in v36, but this indicates that the question in v35 has been framed as an objection to the doctrine of resurrection as in v12. Paul spells out the answer using the foundational illustration from nature that if you plant a seed, nature does not produce another seed but a completely different creation. In the same way, the believer’s body will die and decompose but from it and in its place will be something like Jesus’ resurrection body that is indestructible (it will be impossible for it to die or be destroyed in any way – instant repair and healing), powerful (enabled to do all that Jesus did both before and after his resurrection), glorious (beautiful, and truly wonderful), and spiritual (existing and living in both the heavenly realm of the Spirit, and the human realm of the earth at the same time). There will be billions of these creatures living ‘in undivided devotion to the Lord’, filling God’s entire cosmos in heaven and earth in the ‘renewal of all things’.
V44a-49 Paul continues the ‘two Adams’ argument (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22), and once again he labours the point (12:14-26, 14:6-12, 15:12-19) as he instructs ‘the children’ at Corinth that the spiritual body is greater than the natural because it comes second as an advance on the natural (v46), its origin is heavenly not earthly (v47), and it bears the image and likeness of the ‘Adam’ from heaven (v48).
15:50 – 58 The final victory of God over all sin and death
Paul’s response to the immaturity, immorality, idolatry and discrimination at Corinth is to point the young community of believers not only to the cross (1:18-25), but to the Resurrection and the hope (the certainty) of the Spirit life in heaven in the Resurrection. Paul brings this to a summary conclusion in this section.
V50 for the third time in this letter, Paul expressly states that engagement in the Kingdom of God is limited. To live following the desires of flesh and blood (6:9-10 and throughout the letter) will forfeit the future life of the Spirit in heaven. What is ‘perishable’ (destructible) cannot just be stamped with immortality, it must be re-birthed (through baptism into Christ’s death), and only then is there the facility and means of resurrection. To persist in unrepentant behaviour that is contradictory to Christ (immorality, idolatry and discrimination) is to put ourselves in a state that ‘cannot inherit the kingdom of God’.
V57 The victory is given to all in Christ.
V58 Now Paul writes his summary imperative: ‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm’. This follows the structure of the earlier ‘Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, flee from idolatry’ (10:14), and it is very similar to the imperative of 6:18. ‘Stand firm’ is directly from Jesus (Mark 13:13, etc); it picks up on Paul’s admonition to stand in 15:1-2, and is an antidote to every world-compromising trend that was developing in the young Corinthian church. More positively, Paul instructs the church to devote itself to the Lord’s work which is always worthwhile.
16:1-4 The collection
16:5-9 Paul’s travel plans
16:10-11 Timothy’s visit
16:12 Apollos’ visit
16:15-18 Paul affirms the original Corinthian leadership
16:19-24 Final greetings
16:1 – 4 The collection
First, we should recognise that Paul always addresses money as one of the very last subjects in his letters (Romans 15:25f; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:10-19; the same pattern is seen in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 if chapters 10-13 are viewed – as I think they should be – as a separate letter penned almost immediately after 2 Corinthians 1-9).
V1 There is an underlying rebuke here. The Corinthians have been usurping Paul’s apostolic office and assuming they have a right to lay down the law in other churches (14:33b, 36), so Paul has throughout the letter responded by referring to his apostolic authority over other churches (4:17, 7:17, 11:16). Here he is clear; they are to do what he has instructed the Galatian churches to do.
V2 Paul’s instructions are practical, sensible and clear, but perhaps most significant is the absence of any specific reference to tithing, which is exactly what those who see religious law as the outworking of God’s will would have expected at this point. The Old Testament principle of tithing is only endorsed once in the New Testament and then only incidentally (Luke 11:42). While tithing (giving 10% of one’s income to the Lord’s work – usually to the church where we worship) is certainly an excellent guideline, it is surpassed in the new covenant where the believer gives everything the Lord. Paul’s principle that each ‘should give in-keeping with his income’ is an altogether greater and freer principle that perfectly illustrates our release from being under the law, as well as our heart commitment to ‘live in undivided devotion to the Lord’ (7:35).
16:5 – 9 Paul’s travel plans
Paul outlines his provisional plans, which are clearly very fluid. He wants to visit the Corinthians and spend proper time with them, but the way he writes indicates that he is jostling a number of other issues and demands for his time and attention. His visit had become a point of sore contention by the time he wrote his next letter to them (2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4, especially 1:15-17; 2:1).
16:10 – 11 Timothy’s visit
Paul has already told the church that he is sending Timothy to them (4:17), but this second, longer reference indicates that these plans are in some way provisional. Paul’s instruction that they must ensure ‘he has nothing to fear’ and that ‘no one should refuse to accept him’ implies that the rift between church and apostle may have been considerably deeper than Paul has hitherto expressed. 2 Corinthians, especially chapters 10-13, show that the ‘bad blood’ had got a lot worse.
16:12 Apollo’s visit
This must be read in the light of the divisions (1:12) that Paul is so critical of, and his subsequent robust affirmation of Apollos’ ministry in 3:5-9 and 4:6. See also Acts 19:1. Paul sees Apollos as a fellow partner alongside Timothy.
16:15 – 18 Paul affirms the original Corinthian leadership
Paul’s description and affirmation of Stephanas implies that not only was this man the first Corinthian convert, but that he played an important early leadership role in the young church. As he saw the young church spinning out of control and coming under the influence of the ‘wisdom philosophers’, Stephanas and his colleagues may have come to the point where they realised that they had to visit Paul and tell him what was happening and get his wisdom. We should therefore link these men in some way with the reference to Chloe’s people in 1:11.
V17 These men brought some financial assistance from the church to Paul, but the implication is that it was not a substantial gift.
16:19 – 24 Final Greetings
There is a lot of love expressed in these sentences. Despite all the corrections, admonitions and outright rebukes that the apostle has penned, the young community of believers are greatly loved by Paul and his co-workers.
V22 This surprising strong statement is probably a direct answer to a specific question or situation at Corinth.
The overall message of the letter:
Paul writes to address the factors that are causing this young, independent, assertive church to become worldly. He counters their false understanding of wisdom and their fraternising with bad company by exhorting them to stand firm in the gospel of the cross. He warns them severely against sexual immorality and teaches about marriage and celibacy. He warns them to flee idolatry, but affirms the believer’s freedom in Christ. He rebukes their discrimination of the poor and women in worship, and teaches how spiritual gifts should be used to build up the body of Christ. Finally, he describes the glorious future we have in the Resurrection as the motivation to stand firm in Christ and live in undivided devotion to him.
The leading imperatives:
Chapters 1 – 4 Divisions, the gospel and apostleship
3:10 But each one should build with care.
3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
3:21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders!
4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.
Chapters 5 – 7 Immorality and marriage
5:4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
5:9 I wrote to 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 idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
5:13 Expel the wicked person from among you.
6:10 Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
7:5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps 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.
7:8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
7:10 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.
7:12 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.
7:17 Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, … Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
7:29 The principle of focusing on the resurrection future: ‘What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 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.’
7:35 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.
Chapters 8 – 10 Idolatry and freedom
8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
10:6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
10:7-10 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 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 Christ, 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.
10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
10:14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
10:20-22 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?
10:24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Chapters 11 – 14 Discrimination, and spiritual gifts in worship
11:23-26 We are to celebrate the Lord’s supper using the very words of institution that he himself used.
12:21 No person in the body of Christ can say to another believer “I don’t need you!”
12:23 We must treat the ‘less honourable’ parts with greater honour.
13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, 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. Love never fails.
14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.
14:13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say.
14:20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
14:26f What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
14:39-40 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
Chapter 15 The gospel and our future resurrection
15:34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning.
15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
16:1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
The implied imperatives:
Chapters 1 – 4 Divisions, the gospel and apostleship
1:4 Begin your prayers with thanksgiving.
1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
2:5 So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
2:15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
4:1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.
4:6 So that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.
4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Don’t boast.
Chapters 5 – 7 Immorality and marriage
5:2 Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?
6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?
6:7 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?
6:12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
6:15 Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!
7:2 Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
7:3 The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.
Chapters 8 – 10 Idolatry and freedom
8:2 Build up your love first and your knowledge second.
8:13 Don’t do anything that will cause a vulnerable believer to sin.
9:1 Believers are ‘free’ in Christ and we should live in that freedom!
9:13 Believers should support those who give their time and labour to serving in the leadership of the church.
9:19 Limit your freedom and serve outsiders in order to win them for Christ.
10:1-13 Learn from the mistakes of Israel’s past. The generation of Israelites that experienced the Exodus failed to enter the promised land because of their idolatry and rebellion.
10:23 Do not do things that are not beneficial or constructive.
Chapters 11 – 14 Discrimination, and spiritual gifts in worship
11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.
But I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
11:16 Don’t be contentious.
11:27 Never participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way.
11:28 We should ‘examine’ ourselves before we participate in the Lord’s Supper.
12:1 We must not be ignorant about spiritual gifts.
12:25 There must be no division between the ‘honourable’ members of the body of Christ and any who are deemed to be ‘dishonourable’ or need to be treated with greater modesty.
12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
13:1-3 If I don’t have love and am not motivated by it nothing I do or say will be of any value.
13:12 We must grow up and become adults
14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.
14:13 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
14:19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
14:25-26 Pray for and follow this example of prophecy in gathered worship
14:36-37 God has appointed Paul as His apostle to the Gentiles.
Chapter 15 The gospel and our future resurrection
15:1-3 Never depart from the essence of the gospel.
15:33 Avoid bad company!
16:10 Look after visiting church workers properly.
10:25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience…
10:27-30 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.
10:31 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 everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
11:13 Judge for yourselves …
11:33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
16:20 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Question 1 -
Throughout the world many different religious teachers teach spirituality and claim to be teaching ‘the truth’. How does Paul answer the leading question ‘what is true, genuine spirituality?’ in the letter of first Corinthians?
Question 2 -
Should a Christian woman wear a veil in worship? Why/why not?
Question 3 -
Non-Christians sometimes say ‘Christians are always going on about sex’. Do we? Does Paul? Should we? Why?
Question 4 -
Paul’s argument throughout ‘1 Corinthians’ is that we must ‘flee’ immorality and idolatry in order to come into and inherit the Kingdom. This culminates in chapter 15 which is a majestic description of the Resurrection and the new bodies we shall inherit. Paul’s argument is that if we properly understood the future, we would sacrifice anything and everything to make sure we take hold of it firmly. Is this your daily motivation as a Christian?
A prayer based on 1 Corinthians
Dear God and Father who has made us through Jesus Christ our Lord, sanctify us through your Spirit, that fleeing from all immorality and idolatry we may live lives of undivided devotion to Christ. We eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, that following the way of love we may imitate Christ in every part of our lives as we stand firm in the faith, moved by nothing as we await the final resurrection and the inheritance of the Kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Commentary on the prayer:
Dear God and Father who has made us (8:6) through Jesus Christ our Lord, (8:6), sanctify us through your Spirit (1:2), that fleeing from all immorality (6:18) and idolatry (10:14) we may live lives of undivided devotion to Christ (7:35). We eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (14:1), that following the way of love we may imitate Christ in every part of our lives (11:1), as we stand firm in the faith, moved by nothing (15:58), as we await the final resurrection (15:50-57) and the inheritance of the Kingdom (15:50), through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Question 1 -
On three occasions in 1 Corinthians Paul warns believers that continuing to live in certain ways will mean we forfeit our inheritance in the Kingdom of God (6:9, 6,10, 15:50). What exactly must we avoid and why? See Galatians 5:19, 6:7-8, and Ephesians 5:5.
Question 2 -
Paul focuses his argument on the resurrection bodies we will have. Why do believers so rarely think and talk about the resurrection bodies we will have?
Question 3 -
Supposing you had been a member of the Nine O’clock Service in Sheffield in the 1990s – what do you think were the warning signs that were ignored? You will need to search the internet for the account of what happened.
Question 4 -
In 1 Corinthians 10:20-22 Paul states that if Christians fully participate in non-Christian worship then we align ourselves directly with, and under the power of, an evil spiritual power that is against Christ. How should we understand what Paul is teaching? How is this power exhibited?