1 Corinthians 10
After asserting his authority as a true apostle, Paul resumes his argument against eating meat sacrificed to idols with a strong warning against selfishness and pride. Paul here is responding to an attitude of the prideful and haughty Corinthians that viewed the Lord’s Table and baptism in a somewhat superstitious manner. They assumed these rites gave them blessings and protected them from harm, from succumbing to temptation, from falling into sin. They assumed that nothing they did was sinful anyway so they had nothing to fear from flirting with idolatry through the exercise of their glorified spiritual freedom and status. Paul reminded them that the Israelites also shared this attitude of security because of their status as the chosen people. Yet they engaged in sexual immorality and idolatry and were severely disciplined by the Lord.
Paul lets them know that this same discipline awaited them if they continued in their pride and selfishness. In the process he delivers a death blow to the whole practice of partaking in the pagan fellowship meals. While it is true that the Lord aids believers to resist and endure the temptations of everyday life that face everyone, it is wrong to deliberately test God by courting temptation in any form such as attending pagan ritual feasts. Those who attended such fellowships dishonored and insulted the Lord not only by misleading weaker brethren, but also by giving honor and glory to demons who were apparently present at such feasts. Those who are united with Christ cannot consort or fellowship in any way with demons. They rather should shun idolatry in all its forms so as not to give glory or honor to any being other than the Lord Almighty.
In the 21st Century we Christians often fellowship with demons. We do so when we expose ourselves to ungodly forces in the media that espouse a non-Christian worldview one which rejects or ignores the God of the Bible in favor of a form of pluralism that deems all religions equal. In addition we fellowship with demons when we attend the rites and celebrations of non-Christian or pseudo Christian religions. Often we are called on to partake in Ecumenical services or fellowship with different religions or apostate churches. What we may be saying by our support is that these religions are all equal or that the gods they worship are all the same. We must carefully consider our actions so that glory is given to Jesus Christ, not to any pagan deities. There is no God but our God, no way to fellowship with Him except through Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 9
As we have seen Paul needed to assert his authority among these Corinthian believers for he had been maligned. He maintained that his authority was from the Lord. His behavior emulated that of Christ. He did not do anything that misled people. He practiced what he preached. He did not insist on his individual rights but worked for the salvation of the lost and the welfare of the brethren at great cost to himself. This brought him criticism from the Corinthians because he did not demand money or support from them. The Corinthians felt that true apostles who spoke superior words of wisdom ought to receive recompense for their knowledge. This too was a source of pride and boasting. No wonder they were ashamed of Paul: He worked for a living as a tent maker.
The point Paul makes here is twofold. Yes, the church ought to support the ministers of the gospel. They labor for the Lord and need our support. Ministers, however, should not demand such support as their right, but as a gift from the Lord. They should never make threats or use force, intimidation or guilt to get what they think is their rightful compensation or support. They should never insist on their rights. They should expect and accept suffering and hardship as a normal aspect of Christian ministry. After as true ministers of the gospel they are called by God, or should be. They should see ministry not as a business, a career or a means to success and fame. They ought to labor because they have a desire to see the salvation of the lost. They want to free people from the slavery of sin, the flesh, and Satan not make them captive to the tyranny of the demands, rules and capricious whims of those who ought to be serving them. Lest we demand it solely of our ministers let us recall that Christ considers all believers to be His servants. He expects that we all will serve Him and His Kingdom by serving others not by demanding our rights and privileges. As a servant we have no rights, only blessings bestowed on us and which we bestow on others as the Lord uses us.
1 Corinthians 8
The Corinthian Christians liked to boast in their superior spirituality. They favored demonstrations of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest form of godliness rather than responsibility and love toward their brethren. In other words, they were selfish and did what pleased then without giving thought to how what they did affected their weaker brethren. One of the areas that demonstrated their selfishness was eating meat sacrificed to idols. The problem was they did this at fellowship meals in pagan temples at which the food was sacrificed to an idol. They figured they could eat such meat at the pagan temple because idols had no real existence. They taught this behavior to recent converts and urged them to do the same to show that they were truly “in the spirit”.
While Paul allowed that idols had no real substance, he maintained that the Corinthians sinned, first because they did not take into account that they were misleading their weaker brethren and causing them to sin. To these weaker ones, an idol was real and when they saw their “stronger” brethren eating at pagan temples, they perceived that fellowship with false gods was part of the Christian experience. The Corinthians sinned by not edifying these weaker ones, for they destroyed their faith.
Paul’s argument is that Christian behavior is not a matter of exercising personal freedom or boasting in superior knowledge, but love for one another. Everything we do, no matter how innocuous or neutral it may be must take into account the affect it may have on our brethren in Christ. What we do should be determined by the affect it may have them. We should never do anything that may be misinterpreted, set a bad example or cause someone to sin. Perhaps in our age we may equate this with the media, movies, computer games, TV shows, theater, musicals or music in general. Most of what our culture celebrates is sensual, self-centered and does not glorify God. It teaches and promotes a message that is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Yet when we Christians partake of these things under the guise of Christian freedom, we may cause other, weaker brethren to sin. They think we support and approve of all that they see us do. Then they will follow our example and partake of that which does not honor God. So we must be wary of what we do. Many things may be innocuous and harmless but they are not all edifying or beneficial.
1 Corinthians 7
Paul now presents a positive teaching about godly sexual relations. This corrective was necessary in light of what he had said about the evils of sexual immorality. Some of the believers at Corinth had gone too far and misinterpreted his admonition to mean that, for the spiritually elite, all sexual relations including those within marriage were sinful. They maintained that the unmarried should not get married while those who were married should separate or divorce so as to not sin by having sexual relations.
Here Paul corrects this error. First, he commends both celibacy and marriage as godly. He also commends the unmarried state since he was not married. This is a state to which he is called and prefers for without a family and children he is free to carry out more fully and freely the dictates of God’s call on his life. Therefore those who remain single then should not feel stressed by social or family demands to get married, but should follow the call of the Lord.
Paul also teaches that those who have trouble with sexual desire would not sin if they were to marry for marriage is the only relationship in which sex is permitted. It is a valid expression of love, oneness and intimacy. He teaches that sexual relations are godly but only between the 2 persons, a man and a woman, joined by God. Now this may sound difficult or outrageous in the 21st century world which condones sexual relations outside of marriage either in implicit and explicit ways. But this is not merely my opinion, it is the truth taught by God is His Word. If we want to know what the Lord desires for us, what He designed us for, we must consult and obey that Word. Yet most people follow the way of Adam and Eve, they believe that they know better than God. But experience shows that we do not.
The Lord designed sexual pleasure for those who have entered into a lifelong commitment with one another, one which involves and produces intimacy and trust which cannot be found in casual affairs, one night stands, pornography or homosexuality. The reason, as we will see in chapter 13, is that love seeks to give to others and build them up. Love never seeks its own way. That is why seeking love through sex outside of marriage does not satisfy or bring the results that cultural lies promise. Love is not something you get. It is something you give. Love is not produced by seeking sexual stimulation, but by giving oneself to another.
1 Corinthians 6
Paul goes on to discuss the responsibility of the church to judge the behavior of believers. Kingdom matters must be handled by those within the kingdom so it is foolish to resolve disputes between believers through the use of temporal courts. As we know from Paul’s experiences this is not a proscription or ban against the use of law courts for legal disputes, but a proclamation that internal disputes among or between believers cannot be solved in such courts. Such an idea is illogical: believers are brothers united in relationship with each other through Christ as their head. To go outside of this relationship to resolve a matter is a bad witness for the church and an insult to the Lord for it contradicts our profession of faith and unity. It is far better (and not sinful) for brethren to always act in love, forgive or ignore the insult or wrong and suffer loss of face.
The principle which Paul is presenting is that Christians should not act like the world in any way since we are no longer part of it. The Corinthian believers came out of a pagan society. Although there were rules, laws and taboos which governed everyday social and business interactions, immorality was the norm particularly in the area of sexual relations. Homosexual relationships and acts were frowned upon but common. Christians had to realize that such acts and lifestyles were sinful and had to be abandoned in the Kingdom of God. Those who continued in them showed by their actions that they were not of the Lord. This is because the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God. Sexual immorality dishonors God, for it is idolatry in which the self is worshipped. Thus it has no place in His temple.
1 Corinthians 5
Paul continues to feel bewildered. Apparently the Corinthians had misinterpreted parts of a previous letter of his in which he warned about associating with carnal brethren, specifically one man who was in an immoral sexual relationship. Somehow they turned his warning completely around so that they thought it meant they should not associate with those outside the church who were sexual sinners which of course is impossible because sexual immorality was then, as it is now, accepted and commonplace. The Corinthians felt proud of how they accepted this man probably because they felt that the deeds of the flesh could not corrupt the believer who was among the spiritual elite. They were quite proud of their open-minded tolerance.
The situation that had arisen then is true of the contemporary church as well. Many Christians including pastors and leaders excuse their own behaviors or look the other way at many if not all sexual sins as well as other sins such as greed, cheating others and bias. Such Christians do not deserve to be called by the name of Christ because they are behaving like the world, not like members of His kingdom. Paul is quite vehement in his condemnation of those who practice such deeds: cast the evil doers out of the body. They are a corrupting influence that teaches other believers that sin is okay, thereby destroying the witness of the church. We might think that this is harsh, but we must realize that if we do not judge the sins of those in the church, we are not helping the sinner at all. If the church judges the evil doers in her midst, perhaps they may repent.
We see a lot of sins tolerated in the world and in the church. We even tolerate or ignore sins we ourselves commit. Regarding good behavior, morals and lifestyles we often take our cue from the media, from advertising, or from what our friends say rather than from the word of God. If Paul were to look at our lives of comfort and compromise he would speak vehement words of admonition not to condemn us but to bring us to repentance so we may glorify God as well as demonstrate a godly witness to the world.
1 Corinthians 4
Paul must have felt quite bewildered by the attitude of those believers at Corinth. The message of self-fulfillment and pride was not something they had heard from him or Apollos. Their message and their behavior among them was completely unselfish, filled with love and tireless service on their behalf because that is what they were called into by the Lord. They were His servants and as His servants they were out building His kingdom not their own. Such is the nature of servanthood. The Corinthians needed to realize that the very things they boasted in, their spiritual gifts, were not based on their merits or deeds, but were given them by God for His purposes not their own.
Paul refers to true apostles such as himself as refuse, trash, the scum of the earth. The point is that the true messenger of God is not liked or admired by the world. The true messenger is abused and persecuted; the true messenger suffers loss and deprivation for the sake of the gospel. The message of the gospel is not designed to win people by making them feel good about themselves. It shows them to be wicked and totally without merit. It shows them to be the scum of the earth. We all deserve this appellation because we are all sinners. We cannot sugar coat that fact, dress it up or ignore it as many Christians try to do, as the world does.
Consequently the world hates that message that lies at the heart of the gospel: we are rotten sinners in need of a savior. All that we glory and exalt in ourselves, our wisdom, talents, charisma, beauty, fame, power and possessions, even our so called good deeds and works of charity are as filthy rags before the Lord. The world wants to suppress such a message as do many carnal Christians. But there are no celebrities in God’s Kingdom. All the glory of our good deeds and our righteousness belong solely to Jesus. The best we can say is we have only done our duty.