1 Corinthians 11:1-16
The opening verse sums up the Christian life. We believers ought to follow Christ in all He did. What Paul means here is that Christ did not seek His own comfort or ease, did not demand His rights but gave up His glory to come to earth as a man to save us, to sacrifice His life for us who were at the time His enemies. Paul is again emphasizing that our behavior should always take into account the weaker brethren and those who are watching us in the world. We must always be acting in love and charity towards other people, considering them more important than ourselves. That also means correcting them in love when they are in sin.
It is in this context that he raises issues concerning the shortcomings in their worship. Their worship does not focus on the Lord but is again a demonstration of their own rights and spiritual pride. The first of these issues concerned hair and head covering. We ought not to read this in a legalistic manner as if Paul were laying down rules for the whole church, that is, women should pray with their heads covered and men should not have long hair. If we did this then we would miss the whole point. The idea again is that many of the believers were disregarding social and cultural customs because of their exalted spiritual status, they could engage in scandalous and inappropriate behavior in the worship service.
Paul is telling us that women and men should not seek to exalt their own freedom at the expense of others. Inherent here is a warning against men behaving like women and verse versa by cross dressing or acting in ways not in keeping with their own gender. Finally, Paul refers to Genesis 1 and 2 to state that woman is the glory of man. This is not an excuse for men to abuse their wives. Rather it is an acknowledgment that the woman is the completion of the man. She is indispensable to him as his partner.
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 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 1
Paul wrote this epistle to correct errors and problems which had arisen among the Christians at Corinth. Because these brethren were primarily Greeks converted from paganism in some cases their cultural backgrounds and upbringing had a perverse influence on them. This resulted in an overemphasis on the showy spiritual gifts of words of utterance or knowledge and speaking in tongues as well as a predilection for what was referred to as wisdom, demonstrated by dynamic and eloquent preaching. These were considered marks of super spirituality, indications that they had already achieved perfection. Many believers at Corinth were extremely enamored of a preacher named Apollos because he was a good-looking, charismatic, powerful and articulate speaker. These people rejected Paul’s authority and his teaching because his preaching was judged to be unspiritual and inferior.
But these Corinthian brethren were far from perfect because factions had arisen which split the church. Paul points out that the work of God in Christ on the cross cannot be understood by human wisdom or high-sounding philosophy. The cross is not based on human power or wisdom, but on a demonstration of God’s power in man’s weakness. It is the weak people of the world, the lowly, the despised, who are called by God and changed by their encounter with Christ. None of the Corinthians could claim to have attained their salvation or spiritual gifts by self-effort, human wisdom or power. And so they could not boast in themselves. They only could boast in the Lord.
When Christians take sides against each other they no longer demonstrate the unity of Christ. Then the witness of the gospel suffers. In many churches today what is valued are things such as personal charisma, gimmicks, media presentations, elaborate programs and music, and flashy eloquent preaching. In the light of what Paul says, there must be no factions within churches nor should there be celebrities. We must demonstrate humility, love, kindness and selfless charity toward all.
Paul is saying that we are not to mislead or coerce any brother to violate his own conscience. After all, we should think of the good of others first rather than the desire to vindicate ourselves or boost our own righteousness. There is no humility in such behavior only sin.
Things harmless within themselves can destroy those whose consciences do not permit them to partake. Those who understand the true nature of the kingdom of God must be willing to forego personal liberties to maintain peace and build up their weaker brethren. And brethren who make judgments about the behavior of those with different scruples set a bad example for others to follow. By judging the behavior and beliefs of other Christians in matters that are not essential to the faith we teach others that it is okay to do this. That is sin. In addition, when we accuse our brother so he feels convicted for something that was not a blatant sin, we have caused him to sin.
Yes we must live righteously. We must speak up for the truth. Yet even if we are convinced of the rightness of our actions, we are not to let anyone think evil of what is good. To preserve our brother we must sometimes refrain from saying anything at all. Let the Lord handle it. If our brother is sinning, the Lord will convict him in His time and His way. We are to love and extend mercy in the meantime. But if our brother is not sinning, he is able to stand before the Lord because he has done rightly. Yet if we judged him we are not able to stand in righteousness because we judged sinfully.
In many areas of life there is room for differing opinions. Much of the choices we make are up to our own free will. Yet while there is room for differences in certain areas there is no room for debate in the matter of the need for repentance form sin and the doctrine of salvation by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. No amount of good works or self-righteousness or pride can make us right with God.
In the ancient church at Rome there were 2 groups who were in conflict. There were the weak who did not grasp Christian freedom. To them Christianity was a matter of following written rules and regulations. They had many scruples, things they felt were the ways of righteous Christian living. Then there were the strong. These had few scruples about external behaviors. They understood Christian liberty, the freedom which allows believers to become involved with many areas of life and culture without becoming contaminated or defiled or falling into sin. Paul maintains that there should be respect and acceptance among brethren for in those areas of disputable or non-essential matters, matters of custom, culture or ceremonial practice, Christians can have different opinions.
No Christian has the right to make his own private scruples the universal standard for all believers. Those who are strong are not licentious, but believe in honoring the Lord in all things. They can discern between what is sinful and what is neutral because they rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through God’s word and their conscience. He will guide them and show them all things necessary for Godly living. The weak are more dependent on traditions and written laws. Neither should judge the other, but should show respect and love. Essentially we do this by keeping our mouths shut and resisting the temptation to set others straight. In addition we refrain from making non-essential doctrines and/or practices tests of orthodoxy or conditions of fellowship. But we should never marginalize fundamental theological or moral issues as if they were only cultural or unimportant. This is why our nation is now in such a moral quagmire. The church has failed to speak out on sexual impropriety and divorce thus opening the floodgates to the acceptance of depraved immorality by our culture.
At the end of chapter 12 Paul commands: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now he explains how this command is carried out in our relationships with government and our neighbors. Right relationship to God involves right relationship to both. We have an obligation to respect government and other people, obey the law, and pay our taxes for all governments derive their authority from God. He uses government to punish evil and defend and reward the righteous. Thus obedience to laws and government is obedience to God and vice versa. Failure to obey government shows disrespect for God’s authority.
What Paul does not tell us is what to do if the government sanctions things that are evil, or commands us to do things that are sinful or commands us not to preach the gospel. All governments are marked by corruption and filled with dishonest politicians and bureaucrats. Consequently governing authorities do not always apply the law justly or evenly. Justice is often applied carelessly on the basis of public opinion, politics, or personal whims.
In the light of what Paul says, I think we must obey as long as government promotes good and carries out justice. But when government commands us to do something that would cause us to violate the will of God, or cause us to sin, we must not obey that law. In addition, we must oppose all forms of legal injustice and oppression. We can disobey or oppose unjust laws, but we cannot, in the process disobey the just ones. We cannot return evil for evil. We are obligated to return love for evil, for love is the basis of all law. Love promotes respect and consideration for the rights, property and personal identity of all men.