1 Corinthians

I have to begin with something unusual. I have to open this book study with a caution that the church at Corinth was the most worldly, most fleshly church in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul, in this letter, spends easily the first half of the book or more dealing with issues – and the first full third dealing with the “party” (divisive) spirit and its fallout that had invaded the church at Corinth.

As you can tell by the name of the book, the Apostle Paul wrote this book to Corinth and all the cities that were nearby, such as Cenchrea, it’s major sea port. In the last chapter of Romans, we met a sister from there named Phoebe, who was a diakones (deaconess) of the church there. We determined that this Greek word was translated as “Minister” in English, but a more accurate translation would be “servant.” The word “Minister” the way we use it at present implies a certain authority that the original word does not. It is not an office that is held, it is the job description of said individual. Think Stephen or Paul, not they guy at the top of the RCC.

The first verse tells us (as it usually does) that this letter was written by Paul, and that cannot be seriously questioned by the liberal forces that are constantly seeking to assault (unsuccessfully) the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture in order to twist it to their own ends (and they do that anyway). This letter was in fact authenticated for us by none other than Clement of Rome in his own correspondence from Rome to Corinth. Other early leaders that confirm this include Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tertullian, who fell for some of the blather that Paul wrote about in the letter itself as an early practitioner of Montanism, which we may understand in today’s world as Charismatic error. I personally call these people, then and now, “Charismaniacs.”

[Author’s note: In fact, when we carefully analyze the book of 1 Corinthians, we see the same principles in operation today within the Charismatic movement, from the debate as to who has the best “prophecy” (which isn’t) to the nattering on in ecstatic utterances and claiming these are the tongues of angels (again, they aren’t). We will study that in depth and give definitive answers to what many including myself consider as demonic deceptions, and hopefully convince you to avoid these practices at all costs, spiritually speaking.]

If we were to put a date on the letter, it was most likely written in the first half of AD 55 when the Apostle was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In fact, we are able to locate the approximate time frame it was written within the book of acts. This Scriptural evidence has the Apostle at that time completing his 3-year stay in Ephesus “until Pentecost” (Acts 20:31), which would have been May or June of that year (1 Cor. 16:8). In fact he hoped to winter in Corinth (AD 55-56) and is mentioned in 1 Cor. 16:6 AND in Acts 20:2, and even anticipated by himself as he wrote the letter (1 Cor. 4:19, 11:34, 16:8).

The City of Corinth is near the middle of the 4-mile-wide isthmus of the Peloponnesus (the part that joins Sparta with the rest of Greece). Because a sea voyage (about 400 km, or 250 mi) around the Peloponnesus itself was very dangerous and expensive for sea captains, All North-South traffic (most of it) was simply dragged the 4 miles from the offload point on one side to the other. Understandably, the city of Corinth stood to profit in that location, and did for centuries. In fact, a canal was begun across the isthmus in the days of Caesar Nero. (Oddly, it wasn’t completed until the 19th Century.)

Corinth was a cultural center of sorts as well, being host to one of the two main world athletic events of the day, the Isthmian Games (the other being the Olympian Games). It served to increase more people traffic, but not always in a good way. Even by the pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth was a place of sin and debauchery, corrupt to the core. In fact, to “Corinthianize” became the word used to describe the performing of gross immorality and debauchery at a party or other social event. It had a “High City,” or Acropolis, like most other large Greek cities, and it was used for defense and for worship – in this case for the worship of the “goddess” Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of “love.” (I bet it didn’t include the concept of agape, but that’s just a guess.) “Her” temple was the most prominent building on the Acropolis, and included over 1,000 temple prostitutes that would work in the temple by day and then offer their services to Corinthian citizens and foreign visitors in the evenings.

The Church itself in Corinth was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1f). Paul began as he usually did in the synagogue, where he was assisted by two Jewish believers we have met before – Priscilla and Aquilla. He stayed with them for a while, and likely conducted business with them because they were tent-makers. Within a short while, they were joined by Silas and Timothy, and Paul began to intensify his preaching efforts in the synagogue. Most Jews, as we saw in his letter to the Romans, rejected the Gospel as either foolish or insulting, but not before Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and his family (and other Jews) were converted to Christianity.

What seems to confront the reader in this letter to the Corinthian Church is the reality of the invasion of what has been termed “culture” of the church. When people will not give all over to Christ, you see certain things, like an attitude of division, where people attempt to justify their own wingnut ideas with spiritual phrasing and proof-text passages as defense. It is this phenomenon that can explain the majority of what we see so wrong in what is largely called “Christianity” today (but probably isn’t). We can also see gross immorality in the church, particularly incest, and the guy was bragging about it. Signs and gifts become another point of spiritual discernment (itself a gift in chapter 12). Basically everything you see in today’s Charismatic movement, which I am coming to believe is a counterfeit Christianity that is being perpetrated by false churches. I could compare what you see in a Charismaniac setting directly to what happens in a Hindu temple, for example. I wish I was making that up. I find that incredibly disturbing.

When a group of believers are not prepared to give up their old nature to walk in the new, you see carnality, and not spirituality. What I mean is that such “believers” (and I find it difficult to say they are for lack of evidence of a changed life) can only BE walking in the flesh. You cannot walk in the Spirit unless you are MORTIFYING they deeds of the flesh in favour of the things of the Spirit. John Owen wrote extensively on that subject as part of a larger work while he was the president of Oxford University. For those interested, it is available on Amazon under the title, The Mortification of Sin. It’s an excellent resource for the Christian that wants to walk in the Spirit.

We must understand that much of this letter is corrective for behaviour, and should be interpreted as such. I point this out because it is more difficult to build theology from corrections than from actual theology like we see in Romans or Ephesians, for example. In fact, it is largely that theology built on a misunderstanding of the corrective nature of 1 Corinthians that is responsible for much of Charismatic doctrine today. I have reached that conclusion honestly, by the way. Many years ago (35 years as of this writing), when I was first saved, I attended a Pentecostal church, after hearing a Charismatic Catholic preach the gospel to me. I spoke in tongues. I pursued healing. I decreed, declared, and bound, and all that other nonsense. About the only gift I did not actively pursue was that of “distinguishing between spirits,” also known in the Scriptures is discernment. I find it both ironic and humorous that that’s one of the clear gifts I ended up with! In the year after I was saved by Christ alone, I attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada where I still live. After living in sin as a drunkard in university residence for about a year, I repented again of the sin that I was in, and began attending a place very much like a Brethren assembly. They had decent teaching there (it still had issues, I’ve not found a place that doesn’t), and I sat under good ministry, being taught what the Word of God actually says. This is where I first learned that everything in Scripture has a context, and you can’t just take a verse here, and half a verse there, and build doctrinal orthodoxy, nor should you try.

I went home between first and second year university to a summer job, and I went back to my first place of fellowship, not knowing any better. Things had changed. My first pastor, Rev. Bruce Nehring, a man of God that loved the Bible and God’s people had moved on to a new church in Brandon, Manitoba. A new fellow had replaced him, whom I will call (as he wanted) Pastor Jack. There was much good about the man, but he was a oneness Pentecostal guy, whereas Pastor Nehring had taught the trinity. Pastor Jack didn’t like Rock music, it was “of the devil.” (Music by itself is neutral, it is how it is used, typically.) There were only two kinds of permissible music: Country AND Western. Conway Twitty, when he died was going to be canonized and go straight to heaven. (For the record, Conway Twitty wasn’t his real name, and he was a sinner like the rest of us.) Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jack. But he had this affiliation with a man named Kenneth Hagin.

For those of you who do NOT know, Ken Hagin is the grandfather of the modern Charismatic movement. He has written a number of books on things like “being baptized in the Holy Spirit” and “speaking in tongues,” as well as how to invoke, and declare, and bind, and loose, and all manner of what the Greeks, and the Apostle Paul, would have called moros. It’s where we get our English word for MORON. Same guy, as it happens. Our “Bible Study” now consisted not of reading the word and finding out what it meant, but of reading Ken Hagin books and taking our “doctrine” from there. What a mess that was. Long story short, I found several passages where Ken Hagin not only got the context wrong, he was saying exactly 180 degrees the opposite of what the Scriptures ACTUALLY say. When I pointed that out to the group, I was thrown out of the Bible study, and I had a very strong impression that I needed to find a new place of fellowship. You can imagine how I felt even at age 20 about being so mistreated (like I had been most of my life by other men in authority like my dad). The man that so unceremoniously threw me out of the Bible Study was my Grade 6 teacher back in the day. I loved that guy – and I think he loved me, but he couldn’t see past his anger at being confronted with the truth by a kid he taught in grade 6. As if that young punk (me) had more spiritually on the ball than he did. How dare he (me)? I prayed for that man for his heart to change right up until he died a few years later.

I went through that labourious and still-painful story for a reason. I am demonstrating that I have seen first hand the madness I am talking about here in 1 Corinthians. I have been a “victim” (I’m not a victim, the Lord had mercy in that He called me out of that) of that system. But when one is not willing to surrender the flesh and live in the Spirit, to suffer the blessed and exquisite tribulation that is the lot of the Christian by simply trying to walk the way He walked, this is the nonsense and pain that results. With all of that said, we should examine the book in the form of a broad outline.

I subdivided the book into seven sections (imagine that) as follows:

Introduction: 1:1-1:9 – Greetings
I. 1:10-4:21 – Dealing with Spiritual Division
II. 5:1-7:40 – Dealing with Immorality and Sin
III. 8:1-10:14 – Dealing with Christian Liberty
IV. 10:15-11:33 – Dealing with the Ordinances
V. 12:1-14:40 – Dealing with “the Gifts”
VI. 15:1-15:58 – Dealing with the Gospel
VII. 16:1-16:18 – Final Instructions to Corinth
Conclusion: 16:19-16:24 – Doxology

In the time that remains, let’s see if we can gain some clues as to where the Holy Spirit was going when He inspired Paul to write the letter in the first place.

Paul begins this letter to Corinth the way he begins most letters – he introduces himself, he credentials himself, he greets his audience, and usually opens with some blessings that make really great prayers for folks. What you may not know is that this was not the first letter the Apostle ever wrote to the church at Corinth. Paul even refers to it (1 Cor 5:9). It was also corrective in nature, and because no copy of that letter has ever been found, it is apparently referred to as “the lost epistle.” There was also another letter after 1 Corinthians that was non-canonical and corrective in nature that Paul refers to in 2 Cor. 2:4, often called “the severe letter.” I have not read that letter, nor do I know if it is available, so I have never read it if it is.

What we get out of the fact that Paul is writing a letter is that this was something that the Apostle did. He knew he was writing things to share Christ, and particularly to build up the church, now and in the future, and that was simply part of the office of “messenger” [apostolos] that he excelled at.

Another thing we see in the number of letters that Paul is reported to have written to this one church (remember, four at a minimum) is that Corinth had a lot of Spiritual issues to deal with. The first of those was obviously Christian maturity, seen by the divisive party spirit that seemed to inhabit the place. The last time I chanted in any kind of political march, for example, was as a grade 1 student. I remember that a bunch of other kids formed a line behind me, and we did a kind of hokey-pokey around the school yard chanting, “One! Two! One-Two-Three! We’ve been screwed by the NDP!” It was election time, after all. But gang, I was 6. Years. Old. Now, I have political opinions that I am more than happy to discuss, but know enough not to shout indiscriminately at the top of my lungs. Imagine me running around as a protester yelling, “All lives matter!” at the top of my lungs. As true as that is, it’s highly inappropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which it will provoke an assault. My point here is that division into political-like groups is a sign of immaturity when you allow those divisions to get in the way of fellowship with your brothers, but we’ll discuss that in more detail in a moment.

Another thing that this greeting lets us know is that the believers at Corinth are in fact real believers. In 1:6, he says, “even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you…” There can be little doubt that Paul is writing to real believers. We can extrapolate that a little to see that really, all believers have issues. Those issues are very often seen as those trials and tribulations that we are to suffer as we move on to maturity in Christ. With some believers, that’s a short amount of time, with others like myself, it seems excruciatingly slow – but God says he will do it until He perfects us right up until when He comes for us, be that at our death or when He comes to gather His elect. Issues of immaturity are things to be overcome in the course of growing up – and it takes as long as it will take – but in the end, if we are faithful, He will perfect us (v.8). “…who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What all of this says right at the beginning of the study is that this is a book for people with problems! Now – I know I have problems. Do any of you have problems? Let me answer that for you – if anyone thinks they don’t, let’s talk after the study, and I can certainly disabuse you of THAT notion! Let’s get into the book itself.

  1. 1:10-4:21 – Dealing with Spiritual Division
    As I mentioned earlier, this kind of division has some real issues, the first of which is that it can be seen as immaturity on display. Example – have you ever seen a campaign ad during an election run? Ever see one that was aimed negatively at a particular candidate or party? Of course you have. Do those ads inflame you in a certain way of thinking? Of course they do, they’re meant to do so! They’re either intended to show you how much of a mental midget the followers of one option is, or the superiority of the other one. Psychologically, you will either identify and have your ideas further entrenched, or it will make you feel upset (for a number of reasons having to do with an attack on what you believe). The fact that these ads have any effect on you at all shows that you have some problems with your adulting skills, friends. And the more problems you have, the more work you will need on your maturity. Why? Because adulting is hard. It was no different in Corinth.

The way I understand it all started in Corinth was that after a period of time where that great Old Testament scholar Apollos had served there, some of his fans started a group that was dedicated to following what he said, then that group turned into a clique, and it had very little to do with the rest of the gathering there in Corinth. As a response of sorts, another group developed around the teachings of Paul, and then Peter, and then finally Christ Himself – but every single one of them was all about how their man was the teacher, and ignored all the others as not a good teacher. I’ve seen this in the reformed world. Some say Dr. John MacArthur is the bee’s knees, and Some say the late Dr. R. C. Sproul is it (usually around denomination lines of Presbyterian and Baptist, incidentally). The two sides fight about who is better to follow. It somehow escapes them that although these men did not agree on everything they believed, they were fast friends, and often appeared on each other’s broadcasts in beneficial ways. My point here is that we have to get past the denominational cliques that are far too easy to set up. If we can’t do that, God help us.

In this section, Paul gives a few ideas ab out why this kind of behavioural division is wrong (yes, friends, cliques of any kind are wrong). The first reason for that is that it is NOT what the teachers themselves ever intended. He turns to his own example and then essentially tells them this is not why he baptized any of them. Why? Well, because if you are focusing on that, you are looking at the wrong issue to start with. He says in 1 Cor. 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” This shouldn’t be about how a fellow makes his points, friends. It also isn’t about how many converts he has made, but rather the clarity of his gospel, because that IS the main point. He goes on to explain that the work of the cross is in fact foolishness to those who will not be believers. Think it through. A Rabbi from a backwater town in a backwater culture was betrayed by His own people and put to death by the government in a very cruel way. And you’re saying He did that for me? Can you hear the answer any “rational” (in the worldly sense) person might make? “Then He’s an idiot!” Of course that’s because they don’t understand how bad their sin really is and how it grieves the Lord, but that’s another matter.

If you DO believe it and your gospel is that unclear (or perhaps centered around the benefits to man and what we get out of it rather than how this satisfies the wrath of God and those who will believe will not have to face that wrath), then you’re not preaching a very good gospel, my friend. Later on, Paul is going to give the most concise gospel in response to this, but that will come when we get to chapter 15. We’ll look at that when we get there.

Rather than trying to be some intellectual giant (and I speak to people who might actually belong in that category in a couple of cases), realize that God didn’t call you for your intellect – he gave it to you to use, certainly – but if He has called you, it is for reasons other than that, which He has not revealed to us, and from our recent study of Romans, we should recall that He has no requirement to tell us what those are. It should be enough to know that you are called, and that in itself should make you worship God, because NONE of us are good enough to be here. Not even the guy teaching the study because he “knows the Bible.” No, God had His own reasons, and we need to get on with walking with Him, not figuring out if people are smart enough or spiritual enough to join us. Rather than dividing into cliques, try reaching out to others with either the gospel or our common foundation in Christ.

Now, Paul knows that we have to rely on the Holy Spirit in order to do that, and that’s exactly where he goes with the letter. To do that as a true slave of Jesus, he begins to talk about nothing but with the crucified Christ in view. Whether he is speaking of his own abilities (and he acknowledges they aren’t as good as a some), or of any other kind of situation, he simply begins to relate it to Christ. We should take note and a lesson from that. He discusses the implications of that by telling us that he can tailor his message and speech to the audience to whom he speaks. In my modern parlance, with the mature, he discusses issues relating to that maturity. If a guy uses $0.25 words, he confines and simplifies so that he is understood. If a guy uses $50 words, he can too, although his desire to keep it simple for others who may be listening constrains him. He doesn’t try to sound smart, he speaks to the lowest common denominator as it were. I’ve been accused of using big words, and I really try not to, so if I say something you don’t understand, please ask me later. Also, to relate this to another accusation leveled at me some time ago, please don’t accuse me of speaking Bible-ese. I’m a pastor and theologian, and I will define anything you need, but it’s my literal JOB to speak about the Bible and the things of the Bible in biblical terms. If you have issues with that, I will make the same appeal, please write down your question or problem spot, and we can talk about it later. I acknowledge that not everyone is in the same place in their walk with Christ.

Paul then speaks about the need to be those who are walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. He actually spends some time defining and explaining it, and we will do so as we go through those passages, but I feel like it is a good idea to do a little of that now.

[Wheel Diagrams]

The idea is to walk in the Spirit in obedience to Christ, and not in the lusts of one’s own desires like the unsaved do. We are all capable of this until the lord comes to get us, either at our death, or when He returns for all His people. No Christian can say he is perfect yet. Those that claim a sinless perfection are a class of heretics that is actually called Sinless perfectionism, and denies Sanctification or the need for it. The Apostle John puts it this way in his first General letter: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” In other words, we are not made instantly perfect, it is a process over time where our honesty in application is required, as is our willing participation to suffer what the Lord allows to happen. Sanctification is at least partly about the development of our character into that which is like Christ, so we should understand that. Those who walk after the flesh are going to face a form of judgement and loss at the judgement seat of Christ. Most commentators I rely on consider this a grieving over missing out on all the things you could have gained, by the way. I don’t know how accurate that is, and I have no intention of finding out. Those who walk in the Spirit will not only have their reward, but have the things they built as a part of that work polished and made even more precious. Again, we will consider that when we go through the passages that apply. Suffice it to say that for the Christian, it becomes about Sanctification, and Peter says that the end of that in context is “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” Just as your spirit was Justified and made alive by God, and the Holy Spirit has come to live with you there, so your soul requires salvation, and what we will see is that that IS your reward.

Why would you want to miss out on that by sticking your nose in the air and joining a doctrinal, personal, prideful clique? NO, friends! Don’t go that way! Repent of this and believe the gospel, because that is the main point.

  1. 5:1-7:40 – Dealing with Immorality and Sin
    Paul here turns from all the divisions that were going on to the sexual immorality that was taking place in their midst, and not just taking place in secret, but the male involved was even bragging about having intercourse with his father’s wife!

If you look at taboos through history, it has been codified into law for a very long time that you do not have sex with close relatives. And if you DO, you DON’T BRAG about it like what you were doing is COOL. Sadly, I’ve had friends go through things like this. I didn’t know at the time where something could have been done, but I found out many years after the fact, after it was no longer possible to either reconcile or prosecute the offenders because of death. I have sat transfixed while a lady told me how her own father raped her. When he was done, it was her older brother’s turn. After she got out of that house (I can’t call that a home), it was her Pastor-husband’s turn. When she told her story to her elders, they sided with their pastor and she was excommunicated – and she has several children with the man. Several years out of that marriage, she met a man that seemed perfect, and even fooled her family. She and her youngest son went to live with them after the marriage, and about a month in, the man started to abuse not just her, but her son. The saddest part of all that is that it wasn’t the first time I had heard a story like that, although that one was among the worst. We know instinctively for the most part that these things are wrong, and we see the horrible fallout from it all over the place. So how is it we still have in society whole organizations dedicated to the legalizing of pedophilia? Or sex-slave rings that specialize in the exploitation of children that please the rich and famous (and we all know the names – I’ll mention Jeffrey Epstein here, and it’s the only name I will give, though everyone knows other names associated with him)? How is that even possible?

It is possible because we love our sin rather than loving the Lord our God. Even as believers, I have to confess that lifelong tendencies that I learned before God saved me are still there, to be denied and mortified at every opportunity. However, what this next section is about is largely sexual sin and how to deal with it when a person in the gathering refuses to for some reason. Again, this is supposed to be a sample plate of sorts for the letter as a whole, so we will continue. But we will learn about the right procedures for church discipline, and the folly of not doing it properly, or not doing it at all.

From there, Paul moves into another scourge of the modern church (or so it seems). Believers in court against other believers, because they looked at me funny. You heard him! He called me a moron! So what? Were you being moronic? That’s what my mom would have asked me. Or worse, he stole from me. What? A believer stole? That crime was more than just against you, apparently. Paul is saying that if you end up in court against another believer to set things right, you have failed already. Then he askes a staggering question – so what? Just like that. I mean, he says in 6:7, “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” I don’t think Paul meant we should be looking for the opportunities to BE maligned or taken advantage of, but if we are, so what? It is okay to be wronged. It is okay if someone takes advantage of you. You know what it isn’t okay to do? Be too proud to admit that it happens, or deny legitimate aid to someone that needs help on the off chance you might be taken advantage of.

I’m NOT saying that in situations where we can, we should NOT do due diligence, of course we should. I’ve been in business for myself most of my working career. You want to look at risk versus reward. You want to minimize risk. Stuff can still go wrong you didn’t plan for. And people, being sinners, will take advantage of you. Don’t play the victim, or even the potential victim. It’s okay if that happens. Sinners will do that. And you were just like that before God found and saved you, saint. 6:11 says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Did you catch that? You were that way. Christ changed you. Act like it. Or don’t and miss out on the fruits of Sanctification, which is necessary for the salvation of your soul.

The Apostle also talks extensively about marriage in this section. He speaks so comprehensively because it is a big issue, and important in the human experience. Ultimately, Paul expresses the concept by saying, “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].” Now the original does not have the words “with passion” in it, so the intended meaning may reflect that and not the inflamed desires. I don’t actually know from the commentators or from the surrounding context, so either works at the moment.

Ultimately, one gets the distinct impression that this is about sanctification, and self-control in all things. Often this will involve making a hard choice to be different, to be defrauded, to be victimized, to remain deprived, or to take permissible remedy within the plan and will of God. All other things are to be avoided and considered sin and not for the redeemed person. The point Paul is making is this: God has a perfect will for you, and it is to be like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has provided all the spirituality that you need to reach that destination if you will just walk in the Spirit so He can reveal it to you and guide you in that way. Anything else will incur either loss of everything that is possible in terms of reward, or shows that you were never His in the first place. For the believer, the choice goes back to walking in the Spirit and not indulging in those deeds of the flesh that we have already spoken about.

  1. 8:1-10:14 – Dealing with Christian Liberty
    As we saw in our study of Romans, not everything is written in a black-and-white way for the Christian, and Paul is always careful to leave room for what we would call matters of conscience. Our “rights” as they are called in the literal Greek have a very different point than to stand on, saying “I have the right!” No, instead Paul says, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” We looked at this phenomenon in our study of Romans. Yes, we have rights. These are given to us by the creator, and they are inalienable, or “not repented of” to use Paul’s words. But these rights for Christians should be tempered by the idea of building up another towards Christ. You have heard me speak about this kind of thing before. Paul uses the idea of meat sacrificed to false Gods in temples and sold off after at really good prices. Let’s say that they put down a bull over at our local temple of Zeus. The parts of the meat that were not used in the actual ritual are then sold off in a butcher shop at really good prices to make an extra drachma or two. Featured today? Ribeye steak at a killer price. You know that there are no gods but God, so they are engaging in a fantasy. You also know that ribeye is your favorite steak. You would be a fool not to buy it at this price! But wait, a new believer, the senior acolyte in the temple of Zeus is coming for dinner. You know that he would think that this really good deal on meet is really something he just forsook for Christ, and would have a real problem eating – after all, he just left that false religion. What do you do? Buy it anyway?

Paul’s thought is that our liberty must take the conscience of others into account lovingly. If you are going to violate the conscience of someone else, you should not engage in that practice – ever. He says as much in 8:13 when he says, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” The answer for Paul is that he will not ever engage in that again. He does NOT say, “I’ll just wait until my brother is not at my house the next day, and then I will feast.” He says, “I will eat no flesh while the world stands.” (KJV) There are a couple of thoughts that arise here. First, we should always be putting the needs of others before our own needs. Second, we need to be gracious about it. Third, we shouldn’t expect to be able to manipulate others by saying someone’s actions violate your own conscience just to get what you want! (Logical counter-argument.) That’s decidedly NOT Christian! Instead, we should be considering how others will see our actions before we perform them. Now remember, these are matters of conscience, not black-and-white Christian issues, like dealing with a brother living in open sin and rebellion against God. These are matters of opinion or persuasion, and God is teaching us the difference, and telling us to be gracious in the exercise of this. Remember, I’m not talking about sins like racism or homosexuality here. I’m talking about a need to build up our brothers and sisters in love with gentleness (meekness).

After that line about how he would rather not ever again eat meat than offend a “weaker” brother who has to make religious rules for himself to live by, at least for a while, Paul spends the next 27 verses explaining that with personal examples. He even covers his right as a minister of grace that preaches to the church to make a living by doing so – and then says, “But I have used none of these things {to Corinth, the weak in faith, the most carnal church then in existence]…” (9:15a) As a part of that explanation, he engages in a definition, then explanation of self-control and its purpose for the believer. And then, as he always does, turns to the Old Testament for examples (10:1-14), and asks the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry.” (10:14)

  1. 10:15-11:33 – Dealing with the Ordinances
    Paul then turns his logic to what we should consider of utmost importance, the ordinances that we as Christ’s church must uphold. His primary focus in on what we call communion, the Lord’s Supper. That “sharing” of the body and blood of Christ he begins to speak about is translated from the Greek word koinonia, the word that we elsewhere translate as “fellowship.” This should tell us that Paul is making a very unique point.

In relation to matters of conscience, he connects the Lord’s Supper with the “meat that we eat” in the previous chapters, and states that we should as believers be dealing in reality. We know there is only one God. There is no other god, that’s why we call them false gods. Anything that is sacrificed to them is done by people that are not dealing with reality, and that means there is absolutely nothing wrong with the meat itself – the problem is that in reality, these false gods are actually demons, and we do not want someone to partake of that kind of sin, the partaking of the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons, who stand in direct opposition to everything Christ stands for. Here are worldly powers of the air demanding fealty as a higher being. If you want to offer them fealty and allegiance, you cannot give your fealty to Christ, because no one can serve two masters. If you are leading weaker saints that need to walk by these religious rules because they are trying to leave that aspect of their lives behind, you are no servant of Christ – instead, you provoke the Lord to jealousy by stealing His sheep – and do you think yourself strong enough to take Him on? Regardless of what you might think of yourself and your theology, you aren’t.

Concerning the practice and administration of these ordinances, Paul introduces here the idea that because of that liberty, ALL things are lawful (allowable) – but not all things are profitable. He even rephrases to make himself crystal clear – things that are not profitable are things that do not edify, or build up, either individually or corporately. [Like the Anchors of the faith we see in Acts 2:42!] Paul’s point in all of this is that do not seek our own benefit, but the benefit of others – and that is a hard thing, especially for the fleshly, natural man. In seeking to benefit others, we will find our ultimate fulfilment and provision for ourselves.

This involves the orthodoxy/orthopraxy (right doctrine/right practice) of the ordinances of the church. We universally recognize two today, one of them is covered here, that being the Lord’s Supper, also called Communion, a “sharing” of the elements of the Ordinance itself. [The other is baptism, and we have covered it before, and will cover it again, just not hear and now.] Others have advanced the argument there is a third, and I will mention it and even discuss it when we get to that in 1 Cor. 11, but it is the idea of the covering/lack-of-covering on one’s head. For those that deem this important, they also deem that most of the modern church has abdicated a major responsibility, and we will look at it then. Suffice it to say, it can be seen in other ways for now. We will examine the chapter and see what’s what when we get there.

The point Paul has in writing the letter, remember, is corrective in nature. This correction seems to apply to these two aspects of corporate practice in more than one way. Doctrine must give way to practice, but it also has a spirit about it, a motivation if you will, which if it is lacking in this, falls into either dead fundamentalism or wild charismania, which seems to have been where they took this in Corinth.

  1. 12:1-14:40 – Dealing with “the Gifts”
    We can know that the Corinthians went in this direction by the direction the corrections of Paul took next; he turns to addressing the spiritual gifts that reportedly come with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at our justification. He points out that though there are many gifts (and he lists 9), they all come from the same Holy Spirit, and they are all given for the purpose of building up the house of God and the individual believers that make up that figurative building of God, the New Temple.

Some believers in Corinth had co-opted some of their pagan beliefs and practices into their worship, and things were really out of hand in some of the worship meetings – they had to be, because some of these pagan practices were, well a little loopy. It helps to understand that just across that 4-mile stretch of land that broke up the Aegean Sea was a little town called Delphi. Anyone know what was there?

That’s right – the Oracle of Delphi. Anyone know the significance of the Oracle of Delphi?
Wikipedia defines it like this – An oracle is a person or agency considered to provide wise and insightful counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination . The word oracle comes from the Latin verb ōrāre, “to speak” and properly refers to the priest or priestess uttering the prediction. The Oracle of Delphi was supposedly the favoured prophet of the Greek God Apollo, and gave spiritual wisdom or advise to not only individuals, but particularly to states and nations.

Anyone know how the Oracle operated? No? Well, then! In the immortal words of my personal hero Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “Lemme ‘slplain; no – there is too much – lemme summarize.” The actual Oracle was a young (and usually beautiful) young woman who was a priestess of Apollo. To serve as the Oracle, they would shave her head and adorn her with a symbolic headpiece. When she was required to make wise pronouncements, she would assume her seat on a device whose sole purpose was to lift her above a volcanic pit that was giving off a mind-altering vapour. As she sat in that environment, she would of course begin to get really high, and then she would utter nonsense syllables. Her “interpreter,” who really was more of a minder of sorts, would record those nonsense syllables. This individual would then “interpret” the nonsense for whoever the mark was (because that’s what was really going on). And entire kingdoms made decisions based on this “information,” and paid the handsome fees that were requested for the services of the Oracle. Sounds weird, right? Almost like a good scam. And you all know that at one point I actually became a scam-baiter, a person that would engage would-be scammers to waste as much of their time and resources as possible – because I was smart enough to know that you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter – and that generalities that might fit any scenario can be easy to make up for pay. Just wait until we look at what my Charismaniac friends do with “tongues.” This will sound hauntingly familiar if it doesn’t already.

I said earlier that I think that is a basic misunderstanding of the corrective nature of this letter that is responsible for the misinterpretation of his words and commands in this section, and I have a personal example that I can share to demonstrate my meaning. I look forward to this section, because Paul talks about these gifts of the Holy Spirit, how they operate, and their overall purpose, which is to build up OTHER people in the congregation, to “edify” (build up) the church of God, who is the earthly corporate body of Christ, and to be His testimony to the world. It is NOT a secret heavenly prayer language in which your mind is not engaged. It is NOT something you can use to show off how gifted you are in spirituality. It is NOT for YOU at all – it is to bring HIM glory, and if you miss that, you miss the whole point of the letter. For those that misuse these passages to mislead God’s people called saints, there is a real need for repentance, and if this will not be done, then there will be a terrible judgement; and judgement begins with the house of God, brethren. God is warning us not to move in these directions. I’m not saying that all charismatics everywhere are wrong about everything, but it has several…well…unreliabilities about it that can lead one into errors of theology and errors in doctrine and practice.

  1. 15:1-15:58 – Dealing with the Gospel
    With all of the corrective nature of what Paul needs to say to the Corinthian church, you would EXPECT a detailed restatement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just to make sure everyone knows what it is, and so Paul discusses what it is, how it happened, what it means for everyone, and who it is about. He goes through the facts surrounding it. He goes through the order that things did AND WILL happen as a result of it, and concludes the section with an explanation of the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus, closing with these words: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (15:58)

With this turn of phrase, he flips the instruction over into application and motivation. We know this. We say we believe this. We must do this. Paul’s goal is not mere information, but is rather transformation of the saints at Corinth into the hagios, the “holy ones” of God, as we mean when we say “saints,” as opposed to some Romish idea of persons who have through their works been qualified and venerated. Brothers and Sisters, WE are supposed to be those saints, and we are not justified by our works, but are instead by the faith of Christ, placed in Christ, of the grace of God, in the person of Christ alone, as found in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone.

We can take things away from that, but the most striking is that we are supposed to be Christ’s representatives as stewards of this gospel message, that Jesus Christ died and rose to set sinners free eternally. That’s 10 words. The most powerful 10 words ever revealed to humankind. And it encapsulates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For those who will believe it, it is the power of God the results in salvation. It is the job of His representatives to present this gospel to everyone at every opportunity so that whosoever will believe will have that opportunity. It is a sacred trust and is laid out as an apologetic for us to use.

  1. 16:1-16:18 – Final Instructions to Corinth
    As always, Paul has some final instructions having to do with various charitable collections, a mercy ministry of the saints to help out other saints in need (something we don’t see in actuality today somehow, and that’s a sad thing we should really do something about), about other preachers that were traveling, both for prayer and for information about who was headed in their direction.

Think of this like the announcements at the end of the meeting if you like. I do. It’s the minutiae of the ministry in that sense. It serves the purpose of connecting Corinth to all the other churches of the day, not just by putting them on a proverbial map, but by the sharing of information of prayer requests for other places. And Paul knew how to close a letter. That’s what final instructions are all about.

Conclusion: 16:19-16:24 – Doxology
This is a bit unusual as a doxology. Consider what a doxology actually is. It originates from two Greek words, doxa [praise] and logia [from logos, meaning word], that when combined like they are, literally mean “words of praise.” This “doxology” seems a little short on actual praise and more on words of encouragement. Remember, this letter from Ephesus was primarily aimed at correction and not theology. Because Paul has already spent so much time in this “applied theology,” he is closing with simple encouragement as if to say, “Don’t worry, you’re still Christian, you’re still part of the body of Christ, but you’ve really got to sort this mess out. Oh yeah, and don’t forget – if someone isn’t willing to demonstrably and accountably stop sinning because he loves the Lord, he’s not a Christian, you need to toss them out on their ear.” (See v.22.) After he has said that, and ONLY then, he closes with what is the shortest doxology ever, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” Although we’ll look at this again when we study chapter 16, I personally thing it fits the tone of the letter.

There is another main reason that Paul encountered a great amount of required correction that many today will not talk about. People simply either did not know they needed to, or they would not give themselves completely to Christ. I attempted to deal with this with my wheel diagrams earlier, but the bottom line is that the church in Corinth wanted something easy and not something spiritual. So they made up their own stuff that they could do by rote and still call spirituality (and wow does that ever sound like the Charismatic movement today). Normally, it was the Judaizers trying to make people conform to their rote laws, but here it was a regional superstitious practice that moved them toward what in most places would be called “legalism.” Think about this. Legalism places its reliance on a list of principles and activities that have what is considered to be salvific effect, that is, it is this codifying list of practices that save you.

Charismaticism today, taken to the extremes I have personally encountered, is really very much the same. Consider the phrase, “Speaking in tongues is evidence of your salvation.” Most are very careful not to say “you are not saved if you cannot speak in tongues,” but that is an implication of this phrase. And given what it says in 1 Cor. 12, I would hate to be that kind of legalist on the Day of the Lord, because the clear implication of that chapter is not everyone does, and not everyone SHOULD, speak in tongues.

They have created a list of principles and behaviours from their own local pagan superstitions that have so-called salvific effect when followed in the prescribed fashion, and only in the prescribed fashion. The Charismatics of today who say that you are not saved unless you speak in tongues are NO different spiritually than those who said if you are not circumcised, you are not saved. BOTH are wrong. We learned in Romans that there is no ritual, rite, ceremony, spell, incantation, or membership in any earthly group that can save you, you must instead turn in the reality of your heart by belief that He is enough to Christ! Christianity is a religion of the heart, not of outward ceremony.

As we go forward with out study of the book, we will look at the corrections that Paul is trying to make and learn what we can from them. Say what you want, but I’m looking forward to it. That’s what I got out of the book this time through.

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