Archive for the ‘First Corinthians’ Category


First Corinthians: Practical Matters

January 31, 2008

With the stirring conclusion to chapter 15, Paul had completed the primary task of the letter. He had addressed a litany of serious spiritual issues in the Corinthian church, concluding with the message of triumph and hope, the resurrection. In chapter 16 he addressed some miscellaneous practical matters, and closed the letter.

First, he gave instructions about how to collect the offering for the church in Jerusalem. They were to take up the collection on the first day of each week, so that no collection would need to be taken when he arrived. Paul requested cautious arrangements to avoid any appearance of impropriety with the money when it would be delivered to Jerusalem.

Paul wanted to come to Corinth — obviously he saw the need for outside leadership help — but had conflicting needs in Ephesus that prevented him from coming immediately.

1Co 16:5-9 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you–for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

One can only imagine the difficulty in deciding to delay a visit to Corinth. The church there certainly needed help from a strong leadership. Since he could not come himself, Paul intended to send Timothy to them (1 Cor 4:17). The situation in Corinth would have been challenging for a seasoned veteran, but Timothy was a young man. Paul admonished the church to receive Timothy with respect and to treat him well.

Paul had wanted to send Apollos but he was unwilling to go at the time. Many commentators believe Apollos may have been reluctant to go because of the factions that had formed, one of which was aligning behind him. Perhaps he did not want to run the risk of feeding that unhealthy situation. Or perhaps some situation where Apollos was currently serving required that he not leave immediately. Paul assured the Corinthian church that Apollos would come when he had opportunity.

1Co 16:13-14 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.

Those five traits were characteristics of Jesus, and his followers are called to exhibit those same traits. Especially pertinent to the Corinthians was the instruction to do it all in love.

Paul urged the church to submit and support its leaders.

1Co 16:15-16 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.

It seems that wherever Aquila and Priscilla went, they hosted a church in their house (Rom 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19).

1Co 16:19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

Paul sent his love and greetings, along with that of the others with him. It is remarkable, given the depth of issues he had addressed in this letter, the warmth of his greetings in the end. He did not hesitate to call them the church of God in the opening of the letter. And he did not withhold his affection at the end of the letter. With all their failures, these Corinthians were Paul’s dear brothers and sisters. That would become all the more emphatic in the next letter.

The issues Paul addressed in this letter would apparently, for the most part, be addressed to Paul’s satisfaction (2 Cor 7:6-9). But Paul would soon have to write them another difficult letter, and would have to visit them a third time (2 Cor 13:1).

We can take comfort in the devotion of Paul to this trouble-filled church. God does not give up on his children, and neither should we. In chapter after chapter, Paul called the Corinthian church back to the gospel. Because of the gospel, they should live a certain kind of life. That is also the take-home message from the letter for us today.


First Corinthians: The Resurrection Body

January 30, 2008

Some in the Corinthian church were doubting the resurrection from the dead. Paul summarized their objections:

1Co 15:35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”

To answer these questions, Paul used three lines of reasoning:

1) He used the analogy of a seed. A seed is removed from its host plant and “dies” (ceases to grow and to be nourished) and is planted in the ground. Then it germinates and a new plant is formed. Similarly, when our bodies die, we will receive a new body.

2) He reminded them that there are a variety of types of bodies in this world. God gave to each part of creation its on body, suitable for that creature. Similarly, God will give us a body suitable to the world where we will live after the resurrection. That body will be different from the one we have today:

1Co 15:42-44 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

3) He reminded them how God changed things by sending Jesus. Man descended from Adam, who was created from the dust of the earth. But Jesus came from heaven, as a “life-giving spirit.” The physical man (Adam) came first, and later the spiritual man (Jesus). On this earth we are like Adam, but in heaven we will be like Jesus.

1Co 15:45-49 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

So Paul reaches the conclusion of his argument. We will not enter the kingdom of heaven with our present bodies. Instead, we will receive an imperishable body at the resurrection.

1Co 15:50-53 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

It is worth noting that Paul was not only writing for the church in his day, since he wrote “We will not all sleep…” He probably did believe that Jesus would come back in his generation, but the Holy Spirit who inspired those words certainly knew there would be many more generations of Christians who would read these words. We are part of Paul’s “we.” We really are not just reading someone else’s mail when we read this letter.

We will be changed at the resurrection. We will get new bodies. We will not be disembodied spirits. Our bodies will be different in some dramatic and unimaginable ways from our present bodies. The language of this chapter gives us a general idea of what will happen, but we do not know the specifics.

Paul presented this explanation to answer the doubters who were questioning how the resurrection could be possible. At the resurrection, it becomes a whole new ball game. We will be imperishable. Our new bodies will not die.

1Co 15:54-57 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

By the grace and power of God, we will overcome death. We will look back on death as a paper tiger. What a day that will be!

1Co 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 labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Let’s persevere to the end, so that we can enjoy that victory!


First Corinthians: The Gospel and the Resurrection

January 29, 2008

The Corinthian church had drifted far from the gospel Paul had delivered a few short years earlier.

  • Some of them had formed factions behind various favorite leaders.
  • Some of them were condoning blatant sexual sin.
  • Some of them were suing one another in pagan courts.
  • Some of them were disregarding the consciences of others regarding meat sacrificed to idols.
  • Some of them were toying with idolatry.
  • Some of them were abandoning teachings on gender roles in the church.
  • Some of them were despising the poor at the Lord’s Supper, turning it into a self-indulgent sham.
  • Some of them were using spiritual gifts for their own selfish ambitions.
  • Some of them were denying the resurrection from the dead.

In each case, those Corinthians were missing the point of the gospel. Paul had repeatedly pointed them back to the gospel for correction.

Of all their errors, among the most severe issue was the denial of the resurrection. In chapter 15, Paul called them back to the foundational message of Christianity.

1Co 15:3-8 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Jesus had died “for our sins, according to the Scriptures” and was raised from the dead on the third day. Many witnesses of his resurrection were still alive at the time Paul wrote this letter. Those Corinthians who questioned whether the resurrection really happened could verify it with a large number of eyewitnesses. God did not leave them without evidence!

Paul reminded them that this was what he had preached to them a few years earlier, and this is the message they had believed. On this gospel the Corinthian Christians had taken their stand.

1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Some in the church were teaching that there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul pointed out what should have been obvious: Those who deny the resurrection of the dead are denying the heart of the gospel message. One cannot be a Christian without believing in the resurrection of the dead.

Paul offered a list of strong arguments for resurrection, concluding with:

1Co 15:16-18 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But of course Christ was raised from the dead (as all those still-living witnesses could testify.) And therefore we will all be raised from the dead.

1Co 15:21-23 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

The symmetry between Adam and Jesus is also discussed in Romans.

The resurrection of Christ foreshadows the resurrection of those who belong to him, which will occur at Jesus’ return. When Jesus returns, death will be destroyed, and he will deliver the kingdom to his Father.

Paul continued to present the case for the resurrection:

1Co 15:29-32 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day–I mean that, brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

This may be the most puzzling passage in the entire New Testament. What is “baptism for the dead?” Some sources suggest that as many as 200 different interpretations have been proposed for verse 29. None of those potential explanations is without problems. The only consensus among scholars is that this is a perplexing verse. Perhaps the best we can do is to infer what it might mean from the surrounding verses and the general argument being made. The following explanation seems as likely as any other to me, though admittedly it has its own difficulties.

As 1 Cor 15:30-32 explains, Paul had given up his life to preach the gospel, at great personal cost and great risk. Why would he do that if there were no resurrection from the dead? Similarly, as we learn in Romans 6, all Christians were baptized into Christ’s death. In baptism we were all united with Christ in his death. By our baptisms we enter into the suffering of Christ. We submitted to that in the hope that one day we may be united with him in his resurrection. But if there is no resurrection, why were we baptized into Christ’s death? What hope motivates it? Why are people baptized into Christ’s death, if there is no hope of a resurrection? Perhaps that is the meaning of verse 29.

1Co 15:33-34 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God–I say this to your shame.

Paul thus rebuked the Corinthian church for being misled by those who denied the resurrection. The Corinthian Christians should have known better. They should not abandon the teaching of an inspired apostle to follow the creative and innovative ideas of men!

Having duly chastized the church, Paul turned his attention to a more uplifting subject — our future resurrection!


First Corinthians: Women in the Assembly

January 28, 2008

Just as in the case of head coverings, I am about to explain an unpopular position on the subject of women being silent in the church. I have studied these two topics at length and have discussed them with many people. I have read papers on both sides of the issue. The bottom line for me is that the following is what I believe the scriptures teach.

Paul had another contentious issue to address in the Corinthian church. At the beginning of these instructions, Paul made it clear that the teaching he was giving was the common practice of all the churches. It was not a special case for the Corinthian church:

1Co 14:33b-35 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 inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

In verse 34, Paul used the word σιγατωσαν which is translated “keep silent”, “be silent” “remain silent” and similarly in the various translations. From Thayer’s Greek Definitions:

1) to keep silence, hold one’s peace
2) to be kept in silence, be concealed

This is the same word used a few verses earlier teaching that, if an interpreter is not present, the tongue-speaker should keep quiet. The general idea is that they may have something to say, but they should keep it to themselves. Just as in the case of the tongue-speakers, it did not imply that they were prohibited from singing or speaking to individuals in fellowship. It only prohibited their publicly addressing the congregation.

So that there would not be any confusion, Paul elaborated, saying that women are not allowed to speak (λαλειν).

1) to utter a voice or emit a sound
2) to speak
2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech
2b) to utter articulate sounds
3) to talk
4) to utter, tell
5) to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts
5a) to speak

And to further deter any argument, Paul said that the women were not even permitted to ask a question in the assembly. If they had a question, they should ask their husbands at home.

This was the same teaching Paul gave to Timothy in Ephesus:

1Ti 2:11-14 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Paul provided Timothy with the justification for the teaching. It was based on the order of creation, and the facts surrounding the fall from Eden. Neither reason was specific to the culture of a particular church. Neither reason has ceased to be valid today.

Paul rebuked the Corinthians for deviating from the teaching he had left with them, through two rhetorical questions.

1Co 14:36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

Of course the answer to both questions was “No!” Yet the Corinthians were so presumptuous that they took upon themselves the right to ignore this teaching in their assemblies. They were introducing customs that were foreign to the other churches, and contrary to what they had been taught. They were violating the order Paul had set in place only few years earlier when he had established the church in Corinth.

Having stated the requirement emphatically and in no uncertain terms, he emphasized the instruction by challenging their prophets to confirm that this was the command of God, not merely Paul’s opinion. And he concluded with a warning:

1Co 14:38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Paul clearly recognized that this teaching would face opposition. Some people would not like what he was saying. But despite the unpopularity of the teaching, Paul insisted on the silence of women in the assembly. And he left no doubt: this command was not Paul’s idea. It came from God himself.

So, why is there a trend in churches today to have women speaking publicly in the assembly? The justification I usually hear is that they want to relate more effectively to the modern culture. Instead, it seems to me that they are changing the teachings of God to be more like the philosophy of the world.

This issue is related to the previously discussed issue of head coverings. As far as I have seen, biblical scholars generally concede that Paul was instructing the women in Corinth not speak in the assembly. But many creative theories have been advanced in an effort to reconcile this passage with the desire to permit women to speak publicly in the assembly. The arguments typically run along the following lines:

1) Some people hold that Paul was just wrong in saying these things. In effect they are saying that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is not inspired scripture. One variant on this is advanced by Gordon Fee in his commentary. He holds that 1 Cor 14:34-35 are not inspired scripture, but were added later. We have absolutely no evidence that this is the case. The verses appear in every existing manuscript. The fact that Fee found it necessary to exclude these verses to support his position speaks volumes. A scholar like Fee could not find a way to reconcile these verses with the practice of permitting women to speak in the church. For more on the disputed verses, see the excellent translation notes on the subject in the NET Bible.

If we were to accept that some of the scriptures we have are not inspired, we would be opening Pandora’s Box. We would then be in a position where mortal men would have to decide which scriptures are from God and which are not.

2) Some people hold that Paul’s teachings applied only to Corinth, due to specific things that were going on in that church. But Paul clearly stated that this was the practice in all the churches. And in 1 Tim 2:11-14 he provided the reasons for the teaching–reasons that were equally true in every church in that day, and in every church today. Those reasons have not changed in nearly 2000 years, and will not change if Jesus delays another 2000 years.

3) Some people attempt to refute the teaching using Gal 3:28

Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Of course that scripture is not addressing the role of women in the worship service. It is addressing our oneness in Christ. Men and women are one in Christ — parts of the same body, but with different roles. Just as Paul had specific instructions for slaves, and different instructions for their masters, Paul also had different instructions for men and women. Gal 3:28 does not refute the New Testament teachings in many places about the roles of men and women. It must be understood in the context of those other teachings, which are also the inspired word of God.

4) Some people point to the teaching on head coverings in 1 Cor 11 as evidence that women were allowed to speak in the assembly in Corinth. However, as previously mentioned, that passage was not addressing the assembly. Paul did not open up the discussion of the assembly until 1 Cor 11:17, which is the first mention of the assembly in the entire letter. The discussion of head coverings precedes the discussion of the assembly. So, it is true that Christian women in Corinth prayed and even prophesied. But they were prohibited from doing so in the assembly, based on 1 Cor 14:34-35.

It is interesting to note the inconsistency of those who teach, based on 1 Cor 11, that women can speak in the assembly–since (in my experience) they universally do not require the woman to wear a head covering when she speaks.

Is there any command of scripture given to the church in more emphatic terms than those on head coverings and silence of women? The Corinthian church must have been much like the church today. Many in the church did not want to comply with this teaching. The Holy Spirit anticipated that resistance, and supplied some of the clearest and strongest language in scripture to emphasize the point. Whether we like it or not, this is the command of God.

I recognize that many Christians disagree with this position, often very strongly. I was once among their number. Since studying this in more depth, and coming to this conviction, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for permitting women to speak. The plain meaning of Paul’s teaching is that women should be silent in the assembly. The very plainness of the language forces those who would ignore the teaching to go to great lengths — even removing verses from the Bible — in order to get around that teaching. I think we should have more respect for the scriptures than that.

I do not judge those who disagree with me on this topic. It is before the Lord that they stand or fall, and the Lord is able to make them stand. But God said these things for a reason. I trust that God will enable us all to understand His will better.


First Corinthians: Build Up the Church

January 27, 2008

Having established that love is the greatest spiritual gift, Paul continued in chapter 14 with instructions about how to use the other spiritual gifts. In every instance, he applied this rule: Everything done in the assembly should be done to build up the church.

1Co 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

Paul urged them to seek prophecy ahead of the other gifts, because prophecy builds up the church.

1Co 14:3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

Prophecy was greater than tongues, unless the tongues were interpreted, in order to edify the church.

1Co 14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Paul then laid down the general rule for what should be done in the church:

1Co 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

1Co 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Speaking in tongues, without an interpreter, did not help others in the church. Therefore tongues were prohibited in the assembly unless there was an interpreter.

1Co 14:28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

Everything we do in the congregational assembly is for the purpose of building up the church. The communion, singing, preaching, praying, giving, announcements, fellowship, videos, dramatic productions, and whatever else is done must build up the church. An activity which does not build up the church is not appropriate in the congregational assembly. Anything which encourages, strengthens, and urges the congregation toward love and good deeds is an excellent use of time in the assembly.


First Corinthians: The Greatest Gift

January 26, 2008

Love is the greatest spiritual gift, because it will remain after the others have passed away.

1Co 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Gifts of tongues, prophecies, and knowledge appeared for a limited period of time. They would come to an end. But when? Let’s take a look at the two key Greek words that answer the question.

1 Cor 13:10 but when that which is τελειον comes, then that which is μερους will be caused to cease.

τελειον – Thayer’s Greek Definitions
1) brought to its end, finished
2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness
3) perfect
4) that which is perfect
4a) consummate human integrity and virtue
4b) of men
4b1) full grown, adult, of full age, mature

Note that the primary meaning of τελειον was not moral perfection, as is generally assumed in our English translations today. Rather, the predominant meaning of the word was “something finished or completed.” That meaning is also more consistent in the context of 1 Cor 13:10, where τελειον is being contrasted to μερους:

μερους – Thayer’s Greek Definitions
1) a part
1a) a part due or assigned to one
1b) lot, destiny
2) one of the constituent parts of a whole
2a) in part, partly, in a measure, to some degree, as respects a part, severally, individually
2b) any particular, in regard to this, in this respect

Paul was saying that, when the (finished, complete) thing comes, the (partial, parts) would end. The revelations received through the spiritual gifts were only partial. Each revelation was only a small part of God’s message. The early church did not have access to the completed message. They only had the separate revelations whenever a prophet received a piece of the message. But God’s plan was for the complete message to be provided to the church. When the complete message had been delivered, then the gifts of prophecies, tongues, and knowledge would pass away.

1Co 13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

The gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge were provided during the early childhood of the church, to meet a temporary need until the scriptures were completed. Once the church possessed the completed scriptures, the partial revelations were no longer necessary, and were put away.

1Co 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

We have a hard time imagining what it was like to be a Christian during an era when the New Testament was not available. Compared to what we can see today, they saw only dimly. We should have a greater appreciation for the privilege we enjoy of reading the scriptures for ourselves.

1Co 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul indicated that there would be a time when faith, hope, and love would remain, but tongues, prophecies, and knowledge would have passed away. When could that be? When Christ returns, we will no longer be hoping for something not yet received; we will have receive it! And we will no longer be living by faith, but by sight, since we will actually see God for ourselves. So faith and hope will remain until Jesus returns. Love will endure forever.

Therefore, the time Paul referred to, when we would have faith, hope, and love — but not gifts of tongues, prophecies, and knowledge — began with the cessation of the gifts, after the New Testament scriptures were delivered and established. And that era continues until the return of Jesus.

So faith, hope, and love are greater than the other gifts, because they did not pass away after the New Testament scriptures were established. And because love will endure after all the other gifts have passed away, it is the greatest of the gifts.


First Corinthians: Love

January 26, 2008

The Corinthian church had some individuals who were spiritually competitive and selfishly ambitious. These individuals wanted to be the greatest, and sought to achieve that through having the most impressive spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit, through Paul’s letter, deflated their oversized self images and called them to what was most important.

1Co 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Gifts that the Corinthians prized included speaking in tongues, prophecy, understanding of mysteries, knowledge, and the ability to perform miracles. Paul responded that all of these were worthless without love. If one of them were to give everything they have to the poor, for the respect and personal prestige that might result, it would ultimately gain them nothing. Even if one were to die a martyr’s death through fire, without love, it would all be for nothing.

At this point the attentive Corinthian would have been contrite. Many of the corrections Paul had administered in the earlier parts of the letter boiled down to the principle of love. The divisions in the church were evidence of a lack of love. Similarly, the lawsuits and the conflict over eating meat demonstrated a self-centered character rather than love. And the unspiritual behavior at the Love Feast was clearly unloving. All of the wisdom, knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and miracles they may have seen or even performed amounted to nothing.

1Co 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

As Paul recounted these virtues of love, the Corinthian hearers must have felt pretty small. Was it patient of them to sue their brother or sister? Was it kind to eat the Love Feast without providing for those who had nothing? Weren’t they full of envy for those with more prestigious positions or gifts? Their boasting and pride were legendary. As Paul continued through the list, he continued to convict the Corinthians for their lack of love. On every point they fell short.

The virtues Paul attributed to love appear repeatedly in his letters to the other churches. It is the duty of each member of the church to demonstrate love themselves, and to encourage one another to live a life of love.

We would do well to walk through that same list, and let the Holy Spirit convict us. These words are not written as a text to read at weddings. The Holy Spirit was instructing the church how to love. No matter how many good things we are doing as individuals or as a church, if we do not do them out of love, we are accomplishing nothing.

Having defined love, Paul proceeded in the last half of chapter 13 to explain further why love is above all other gifts.


First Corinthians: Gifts and the Body

January 26, 2008

Paul turned to the next topic of inquiry, spiritual gifts. Perhaps the Corinthians had asked Paul about which gifts were greater, or perhaps whether people without visible spiritual gifts were true Christians. There were apparently even some controversies about whether certain gifts were really from God. It is likely that there were controversies such as these, which Paul began to address.

1Co 12:1-3 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul began by reminding the Corinthians of their idolatrous past. Since they had been so foolish in the past, and so easily duped into worshiping a dumb idol, he was not surprised that they could not distinguish what comes from the Spirit and what does not.

“Jesus is Lord” was the distinguishing mark of a Christian. It was not merely the words but the life behind the words that told the story. Jesus himself said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” But in the days of the early church, merely saying “Jesus is Lord could bring terrible consequences. In some places, the unbelieving Jews may have been requiring people to curse Jesus in order to be accepted in the synagogue. Paul himself, prior to his conversion, had arrested Christians and tried to force them to blaspheme (Acts 26:11). And in years to come, the Roman government would require Christians to curse Jesus (or to pronounce “Caesar is Lord”) or be put to death. In such circumstances, surely it was only by the power of the Holy Spirit that a person could be so bold as to say “Jesus is Lord.”

Whatever gift one of the Corinthians might have received was not a reward for wisdom or righteousness. Instead the gift was, literally, a gift. The gifts were given as a tool to benefit the whole church. This key point Paul would make repeatedly in chapter 14:

1Co 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Paul enumerated eight different gifts of the Spirit which were found among the Corinthian church. All of the different gifts were needed by the body. Drawing an analogy to the physical body, Paul demonstrated how foolish it is for people to act like someone with a different gift is not needed or not significant. Even more, how foolish it would be for everyone to try to have the same gift, to the exclusion of all the other gifts needed in the body!

1Co 12:27-31 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

The sentence translated in the NIV as “But eagerly desire the greater gifts” can also be translated as “But you eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Instead of a command (imperative mood), it could be an observation (indicative mood). In my mind that fits the sense of the passage better, because Paul just chastised them for all wanting the same gifts:

1Co 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

The gifts were not distributed according to the wishes of men, but as the Spirit determines:

1Co 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

However, since they were determined to pursue what they thought were the greatest gifts, Paul “became all things to all men” in this case, saying in effect, “Ok, if that’s the way you want to be, then let me tell you what is the greatest gift you should be pursuing.” Thus Paul introduced his instructions on love.


First Corinthians: The Lord’s Supper

January 26, 2008

As Paul began correcting the Corinthians about their assemblies, he first addressed divisions and the Lord’s Supper:

1Co 11:17-19 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

It is possible that in verse 18, Paul referred to the same divisions he addressed at the beginning of the letter (1 Cor 1:10-12) But I think it is more likely that he was talking about the divisions in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If the former, then it seems unusual that he spent so little time on it, offering no real corrective teaching. The divisions related to the Lord’s Supper were between those who had food and those who did not.

1Co 11:20-22 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

In ancient Corinth, there was a social custom of covered dish dinners. A group would come together, each person bringing a dish to share, and everyone would eat together. This sort of meal was also practiced by the early church, called the Agape, or Love Feast, and it was the setting in which they partook of the Lord’s Supper. However, the practice had become corrupt in the Corinthian church. Apparently the well-to-do members were eating together, and not sharing with the poor who had no food. In this way they aggravated the division between rich and poor in the congregation.

In correction of their impropriety, Paul taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper:

1Co 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Jesus. Our Lord said “This is my body, which is for you.” The very body of Jesus was “for” us. Note that when Jesus said this, he was still in his body–and it was quite obvious that the bread and his body were two different things. He wasn’t teaching that the bread was his literal body. Instead, he was teaching us how to remember his body, which was given for us. Likewise, with the cup of wine, he gave us a way to remember the gift of the new covenant, given at the cost of his blood. In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim that he died to redeem us from our sins. What a holy message, and what a sacred memorial!

In contrast to the holiness of the Lord’s Supper, the Corinthian church was behaving in a self centered and self indulgent manner at the so-called Love Feast.

1Co 11:27-32 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

The Corinthians were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. They needed to examine themselves, to recognize their sin, and to repent. Perhaps they were failing to remember the body and blood of Jesus when they partook. If they remembered, wouldn’t they be humble and extend grace to their brothers and sisters? Or, perhaps Paul meant that they were oblivious to the other members of the church, the body of Christ. They needed to recognize that they were just a part of the body, along with all the others. They needed each other, and they should be concerned about the needs of one another. Paul would talk more about that subject in chapter 12.

1Co 11:33-34 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.


First Corinthians: Trouble in the Assembly

January 26, 2008

1Co 11:17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.

Having addressed the Corinthians’ inquiry regarding the contentious issue of head coverings, Paul began to deal with a new topic: the assorted problems occurring in their assemblies.

Before examining these problems, we should note that none of the preceding discussions involved the assembly. In particular, the discussion of women’s head coverings was NOT in the context of a discussion of propriety in worship (contrary to the uninspired section headings found in the NIV). The topic of coming together as a church is not mentioned in the letter prior to 1 Cor 11:17. In that verse, Paul introduced (as a new topic) the subject of the congregational assembly with a startling charge: their assemblies were doing more harm than good!

There were two serious problems to be addressed regarding the assembly. First, Paul addressed the divisions evident in their observance of the Lord’s Supper. (1 Cor 11:17-34) Then he spent the next three chapters (1 Cor 12-14) correcting them on the matter of spiritual gifts. At the end of chapter 14, he gave specific instructions about how to conduct an orderly assembly. We will spend the next several posts examining Paul’s instructions about the Christian assembly.