Christian Unity
John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
  First Corinthians: Practical Matters
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.


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  First Corinthians: The Resurrection Body
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!


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Monday, January 28, 2008
  First Corinthians: The Gospel and the Resurrection
The Corinthian church had drifted far from the gospel Paul had delivered a few short years earlier.
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!


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  First Corinthians: Women in the Assembly
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.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008
  First Corinthians: Build Up the Church
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.


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Saturday, January 26, 2008
  First Corinthians: The Greatest Gift
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.


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  First Corinthians: Love
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.


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  First Corinthians: Gifts and the Body
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.


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  First Corinthians: The Lord's Supper
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.


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Friday, January 25, 2008
  First Corinthians: Trouble in the Assembly
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.


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  First Corinthians: Head Coverings
What I am about to say here is not the most popular view of the passage. I was persuaded to this view by my two daughters after they studied the subject in some depth. I am well aware of contrary views, having read many of them. I have been unable to get around the plain meaning that I think I see in this chapter. I invite you to consider a perspective which you will not hear in many places these days.

How we got here

Paul began the letter addressing divisions in the church. Then he admonished the church to expel an adulterer. Next he challenged them about lawsuits among believers, and about sexual immorality. Then he turned his attention to a list of questions he had received from the church.

The first of those questions was on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Next was a question on the subject of meat sacrificed to idols.

Moving on

As Paul transitioned to the next topic, he wrote:
1Co 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
Apparently this was in response to some comments accompanying the list of questions. Amidst all the problems, there were some areas in which they were worthy of praise. They remembered some things Paul had taught and were remaining faithful to those teachings. It is easy to miss the good when focusing on problems.

Paul then turns to their next inquiry. It seems that there was a controversy about the practice of head coverings (1 Cor 11:16). Just as in Paul's day, this teaching is controversial today. Let's take a methodical approach to understanding what Paul said. As we go along, try to answer these questions:
The basic instruction was not complicated. Women should wear a head covering (Gk κατακαλυπτεται, cover by hanging down from the head) whenever praying or prophesying. Nothing is said about the time or place where this instruction applies. So it meant wherever and whenever a woman prays or prophesies, she should cover her head.

To emphasize the point, Paul said that if a woman would not comply, her hair should be shaved off. And if she would be ashamed to have her hair shaved off, she should comply with the teaching on head covering.

Some people attempt to sidestep the issue of head coverings by saying that the woman's hair is her covering (taken from 1 Cor 11:15). However, that cannot be what Paul was talking about. Verses 5 and 6 make no sense if the covering is her hair. Furthermore, in verse 15, Paul says that her hair is given to her as a περιβολαιου (a wrapper, something wrapped around.) But in verses 5-6 Paul said she needs a κατακαλυπτεται (something covering, hanging down from the head.) Although English translation often use the same word in both places, the original Greek used two different words. It is evident from early church writings that those who were native speakers of Greek did not think Paul was saying her hair is sufficient covering.

Paul proceeded to explain to them why women should wear head coverings when praying or prophesying, but men should not. (1 Cor 11:3-16) He offered the following reasons:

1) God is the head of Christ; Christ is the head of man; and man is the head of woman.

Modern western culture does not embrace that teaching. But Paul asserts that it is so, and it is supported by many other passages of scripture. (Eph 5:22, Eph 5:24, Col 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11-12, 1 Peter 3:1, 1 Peter 3:5-6). If we accept those passages as authoritative, then Paul's first reason still stands.

2) Man was created in the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

This follows from the first reason. God is the head of Christ, but Christ brings glory to God. Christ is the head of man, but man brings glory to Christ. Similarly, while man is the head of woman, woman brings glory to man. The purpose behind creation has not changed since Paul wrote these reasons, so this point also stands today.

3) Woman came from man.

Eve was created from the rib of Adam. (Gen 2:21-22) The creation account has not changed since Paul wrote this, so this reason still stands.

4) Woman was made for man.

Eve was created as a helper suitable for Adam (Gen 2:18) Note that, by inspiration, Paul interpreted that to mean Eve was created "for" Adam. Again, the creation account has not changed since Paul's time, so the reason still stands.

5) Because of the angels

Angels are actively interested in Christians. (Heb 1:14, Heb 12:22, Heb 13:2, 1 Pet 1:12) Angels are witnesses to what Christians do and say. (1 Tim 5:21) Those angels who reject authority are fallen and doomed. (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6) Submission to authority is apparently a very sensitive issue among the remaining good angels. Whether or not this explanation conveys Paul's original meaning, we have no evidence that his reason applied only in his day.

6) Nature teaches that long hair is inappropriate for men, but is the glory of women.

Paul may have been referring to the tendency for women to have longer and thicker hair than men. Or he may have been referring to a universal tendency across cultures. It does seem consistent, in many different cultures, that long hair is characteristic of women and short hair of men. Regardless, we have no basis for thinking Paul's reasoning is less applicable today than it was when he wrote it.

What do we do with this?

It seems plain that Paul expected the women in the first century Corinthian church to wear head coverings whenever they prayed or prophesied. I'm not aware of any credible Bible scholar who disagrees with that. The disagreements generally come in another form.

1) Some believe Paul was just wrong in saying this. That would mean his writings are not verbally inspired by God. If that were correct, then we could not rely on the Bible, and therefore we would have no reliable standard for truth regarding what God has done and what he calls on us to do. We would be left with the varying opinions of man. I don't think God has left us there. I believe Paul was exactly right when he wrote these things -- no matter how much I don't like what he said.

2) Some people believe what he wrote only applied to the Corinthian church, because of some unique characteristics of that church and its environment. I don't think that is a viable conclusion, because Paul ended the section by saying:
1Co 11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God.
3) Some people believe that Paul's teaching on this subject applied in his day, but no longer applies because our culture is different from the culture of his day. I don't accept that reasoning for a couple of reasons. First, our culture is not so different from Corinth. This teaching was contentious in Paul's culture also, but it still applied despite the culture. Second, the reasons Paul listed for the practice have not become unsound. If they were sufficient to prove the point in Paul's day (and remember, Paul wrote them by inspiration of the Holy Spirit), then they are sufficient today. It seems that some people just don't think the reasons are strong enough. To hold that position, I think one has to find fault with God.

I know some women who believe the instruction about head coverings only applies when you are praying out loud. They take "prays or prophesies" in verse 5 to mean speaking a prayer or a prophecy out loud, with others present. That may be right, or it may at least be close to right. We'll say more about this when we get to chapter 14.

As I said at the beginning, I know this is not the predominant view today among Christians. I do not consider this an issue that should divide Christians. Romans 14 should be applied here. The women I know are practicing their convictions, some on one side of the question and some on the other. The greatest danger is for those women who, deep inside, believe as I do but do not practice it. I hope at least this has helped some people to wrestle with a passage we often avoid.


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  First Corinthians: Conclusion on Meat and Idols
Flee from idolatry! The Corinthians appeared to be heading down the same path that the Israelites had taken after leaving Egypt. They were immoral and inconsiderate of one another. They quarreled about their leaders. And they toyed with idolatry. Just as God's wrath was displayed against those Israelites, it would be displayed against the Corinthians if they did not repent.

Sharing a meal together carried deep meaning. Eating food at another person's table created a bond of closeness between the two. Partaking of the Lord's Supper likewise creates a bond between Christians and Christ. And eating meat sacrificed to an idol created a bond with the idol. It would be unthinkable to create a bond between Christ and an idol! So a Christian must not partake both with Christ and with an idol. Those who had worshipped idols in their former lives, who were confused about the true nature of idols, must not partake of the meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.

But a Christian who recognized that an idol is nothing creates no bond merely by eating the meat. That Christian was free to eat the meat without any conscience issues. However -- and this was Paul's main point -- that Christian still needed to defer to the conscience of others rather than eating the meat in their presence. They should give up their rights rather than injure another Christian.
1Co 10:31-11:1 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God -- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Paul had set a wonderful example in this. He had earned the right to call them to the same kind of compassionate service. How much stronger would our churches be, if we would place the spiritual needs of one another above our own comfort and pleasure!


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
  First Corinthians: Warnings from the Israelites
Some of the Corinthian Christians were eating meat sacrificed to idols, in disregard for those brothers and sisters whose consciences would not allow it. Paul admonished them to give up their rights, refraining from meat, rather than to cause a brother or sister to stumble. In chapter 9, Paul showed from his own example how Christians should give up their rights for the benefit of others. He concluded that thought with:
1Co 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Being disqualified for the prize was a sobering warning. As Paul moved into chapter 10, he reminded them of some other children of God who had been disqualified.
1Co 10:1-5 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
These Israelites seemingly had a lot going for them. They had witnessed the breathtaking miracles of God to free them from slavery to Pharaoh. They had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, and had walked through it on dry ground. They had been led through the desert by God in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They had received manna and quail from God in the desert. They had drunk water from a rock. Yet they had not responded to God's deliverance appropriately. So they were disqualified for the prize. They died in the desert.

What had they done that displeased God? They had indulged in drunken revelry. They had practiced idolatry. They had committed adultery. They had challenged God and his servant Moses for leading them into the desert. They had grumbled against God and Moses.

The sobering thing for the Corinthian church was that they had been doing many of the same things. They were getting drunk at communion. They were toying with idolatry and meat sacrificed to idols. They allowed members to commit adultery. Some of them were starting to reject Paul's inspired teaching and were beginning to turn back toward the philosophies of Greece and Rome. They were headed down the same road as the Israelites.

Paul urged them to take warning from those Old Testament examples:
1Co 10:11-13 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
In view of those warnings, Paul returned to the original question about meat sacrificed to idols. We will examine Paul's conclusion on the subject in the next post.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
  First Corinthians: Chapter 9, Paul's Rights
In chapter 8, Paul had appealed to the church to be considerate of others, and therefore to refrain from eating meat whenever it might cause a brother or sister to stumble:
1Co 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
Paul had been setting a tremendous example of sacrificing his own rights for the benefit of others. In chapter 9, he held up himself as an example to inspire the Corinthians to give up their rights out of concern for the needs of others.

In the first 18 verses, he reminded them that he had given up his right to financial support as he preached the gospel to them. As an apostle of Christ, he certainly had the right to be supported financially by those who received his message. Not only that, but he also had the right to bring along a wife, and the right to support for her as well.
1Co 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Note that it was not the congregation's option whether to provide his support. The congregation was obligated to offer support, because the Lord commanded it. Likewise, churches today have the obligation, by command of the Lord, to support financially those who preach the gospel.

However, Paul did have the option to decline financial support. And he elected to give up his right to their support, so that he could receive the reward for preaching voluntarily.
1Co 9:15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.
1Co 9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
1Co 9:17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
1Co 9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
Paul gave up other rights as well. Although he was free, he made himself a slave to all -- not for his own benefit, but so that they could be saved. Although he was free from the Jewish Law, he became as one under the Law so that he could save some. He accommodated those under the law, and those not under the law, the weak, and the strong. He did all this so that some of them could be saved. Rather than clinging to his own rights and his own personal interests, he gave those things up for the benefit of others.

Paul did not view the Christian life as an easy road. Instead, to him it was like training for a strenuous competition. He did it "for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings." He did it "so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize." Paul didn't just see this as a good idea. He believed that if he were not willing to push himself like that, he just might be disqualified.

Contrast Paul's attitude to that of these Corinthians. They were clinging to their right to eat meat, even though by doing so they were causing others to sin. They had been unwilling to give it up. In fact it seems they loved eating meat more than they loved their brothers and sisters. Pride, comfort, and pleasure were their top priorities. Paul was setting a much different example.

Which example most resembles us today? Do we readily give up our own rights and convenience for the benefit of others? Or do our lives basically revolve around our own personal needs and comforts?

Having pointed to himself as a positive role model, Paul turned in chapter 10 to a negative example from the Old Testament. The resemblance between these Corinthians and those Israelites would be a wake-up call, driving Paul's message home. The gospel calls for a response -- one much different from the way these Corinthians were living.


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Monday, January 21, 2008
  First Corinthians: Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Having addressed the first question in the letter from the Corinthian church, Paul turned to the second: Was it permissible for a Christian to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol? Based on Paul's response, apparently their question was accompanied by some comments attempting to justify the practice, along these lines:
"Since we know that idols are nothing, meat sacrificed to them is no different from any other meat. So why shouldn't we eat it?"
Paul sets the stage for his answer by correcting an assumption in their argument. It is not sufficient to judge what is appropriate based only on our knowledge. Rather, our judgment must take into account love for our neighbor.
1Co 8:1-3 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
Paul acknowledged that, as the Corinthians had pointed out, idols really are nothing.
1Co 8:7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
The Corinthians who wished to eat meat sacrificed to idols were missing a couple of important points. First, they were not only free to eat, but also free not to eat. There was no spiritual benefit to eating the meat. Their knowledge, which enabled them to eat the meat, in no way made them superior to those who could not.

Second, by their eating they were harming their brothers for whom Christ died. What a profound point! Never before in human history had such a statement been possible. The very Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, had given his life for the weak brother whom they were treating with such disregard! What a striking contrast is evident between the love of God and the indifference of the Corinthians who asserted their right to eat meat! A more powerfully compelling argument could not be imagined. If by their eating they destroyed the one for whom Christ had died, they would be showing contempt for the sacrifice of Jesus, and even for our Lord himself. Jesus suffers with the very least of his followers:
Mat 18:6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mat 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Mat 25:45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
There could hardly be a more pertinent teaching for modern Christians. Because Christ died for a person, we ought to regard him as holy, sacred, and of immeasurable value. We ought to treat him with the deepest love and respect. It is unimaginable that we would knowingly do something that would put that person's soul in jeopardy. It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul was able to say
1Co 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
Paul was calling the church to love, because of the gospel. Because Christ died for us, and for the other person, what would we be willing to do on behalf of a brother or sister in Christ? What service would we render? What rights would we give up? What would we be willing to forgive? What divisions between churches would be bridged, if we loved those on the other side like Jesus loves them?


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  First Corinthians: Giving Up My Rights
In chapters 8, 9, and 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed the next question he had received from the Corinthian church, this one concerning whether they were permitted to eat meat sacrificed to idols. In this article we will take an overview of the answer across all three chapters. Then we will come back in subsequent posts to examine the various elements of Paul's answer in more detail.

In chapter 8, Paul appealed to them to give up their rights for the benefit of their brothers, rather than to cling to their right to eat meat despite the harm that might be done to a brother's conscience.

In chapter 9, he used himself as an example of giving up rights for the benefit of others. Paul demonstrated that the Christian life is not about comfort and ease. Instead it requires sacrifice and strict training. Rather than indulging every appetite of our bodies, Christians should deny ourselves, and live our lives according to God's priorities. Giving up rights for the benefit of others is part of that.

In chapter 10, Paul exhorted the church to heed the warning from the failures of the Israelites who were not permitted to enter the Promised Land. They saw God do some great things, but that did not gain them access to the promises. They practiced idolatry and sexual immorality. They tested the Lord and they grumbled. And the Lord put many of them to death in the desert as a result. The sobering fact for the Corinthian church was that they were doing a lot of the same things. They were still carnal (NIV worldly.)

In the latter half of chapter 10, Paul wrapped up the discussion of idolatry and meat sacrificed to idols. In view of the history of the Israelites, he urged the church to flee from idolatry. Whether they ate meat or not, they needed to be absolutely sure that they did not practice idolatry, nor even create the impression of idolatry. Further, they needed to be sure that, if they exercised their right to eat meat, they did not cause a brother or sister to stumble.

In the next few posts we will examine Paul's instructions on this subject in more detail.


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Saturday, January 19, 2008
  First Corinthians: Chapter 7, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage
After studying this topic on many occasions, and again for this series, I will present my current understanding on the subject. I do not in any way wish to create the impression that I have all of this figured out.

The Corinthian church had written Paul a letter asking questions about the subject of marriage. Paul's response included teaching on the merits of remaining single; the more general need for people to marry; the expectation for the married to remain married; and how to handle certain scenarios where a separation / divorce has occurred.
1Co 7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
1Co 7:2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
Paul responded that it is good not to marry, for those who have the necessary gift of self control.

For the rest, Paul advised marriage. In the marriage relationship they are to meet one another's needs, to help each other with self control.
1Co 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Paul then turned his attention to the subject of divorce. Before examining the teachings in the following sections, let's spend a bit of time understanding the practice Paul was talking about.

In biblical times, divorce carried a somewhat different meaning from today. Divorce was not a legal transaction. It was simply the ending of the marriage relationship by one side or the other. To divorce a wife, a man would simply send her away, or else abandon her. A woman seeking to divorce would simply leave her husband. Under Mosaic law, a man divorcing his wife was required to give her a certificate of divorce. The certificate was not given as a government sanction or recognition of the separation. Rather, the purpose of that document (and what was clearly stated on it) was that the woman had the right to remarry. The separation itself constituted divorce. The certificate was an additional requirement on a Jewish husband, to provide the right of remarriage to the woman.

It will be useful now to do a brief survey of the words used in this chapter referring to the breaking up a marriage:
It seems that in the original language of chapter 7, all of the above terms were used interchangeably referring to what we now call divorce.

Note that the NIV is inconsistent in the translation of the two occurrences of λελυσαι in verse 27:

1Co 7:27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.
Undoubtedly this was because of the difficulty that would otherwise arise in the next verse, where Paul says "But if you do marry, you have not sinned." Did Paul really say that about someone who had been divorced? Perhaps. The more literal translations (ASV, NASV, ESV, RSV, KJV, etc) all translate the two words the same -- but none translate both as "divorced". Still it is hard to imagine what else to be "loosed from a wife" would mean. It's certainly a strange way to describe a widower! If Paul had intended to speak only of widowers, making a distinction between widowers and those who were divorced, surely he would have chosen a different term. So the difficulty remains, and honest students of the scriptures need to wrestle with it.

As Paul began to teach how Christians should view divorce, he explicitly stated that what he wrote on this subject was the instruction of God. This was not casual advice, but instruction from the Lord.
1Co 7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
1Co 7:11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
A survey of several translations on these verses shows some subtle but potentially important differences in the translation:
1Co 7:10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.
1Co 7:11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

1Co 7:10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband
1Co 7:11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
1Co 7:10 I command the married--not I, but the Lord--a wife is not to leave her husband.
1Co 7:11 But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband--and a husband is not to leave his wife.

1Co 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
1Co 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
A literal translation of Paul's words:
1Co 7:10 But I command the ones being married (not I, but the Lord), [that] a woman [is] not to be separated from her husband;
1Co 7:11 but if indeed she is separated, remain unmarried, or be reconciled to the husband; and a husband not to leave [his] wife.
The most striking discrepancy between these translations is whether a person "should" or "must" not separate from a spouse. Either is a reasonable translation based on the underlying Greek grammar. However, since Paul specifically stated that this was instruction from the Lord, it is hard not to understand it as a command. Yet in the very next verse, Paul addressed the scenario of a woman who has separated despite the command. If leaving was sin, common sense would tell us that repentance would require reconciliation--but that is not what Paul said. Rather, he taught that she could either remain separate or be reconciled to her husband. (Paul did not offer as a third option, to marry a different man.) What should we make of that? Perhaps we should recognize that there are circumstances where a person is justified in leaving his or her spouse. Drawing a bright and sharp scriptural line between the justified and unjustified scenarios is a much more difficult task.

The next few verses address the scenario where a Christian is married to a non-Christian. Note that the Christian is expected to honor the marriage as long as the non-Christian is willing. This is not for the benefit of the Christian but of the non-Christian. Perhaps the marriage would result in their salvation!

But if the unbeliever leaves, the Christian is no longer bound.
1Co 7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
This is what is commonly known as the "Pauline exception", since some understand this as permission for the Christian to marry another person after the non-Christian spouse leaves. Others believe it means the Christian is no longer bound by the marriage (ie, they are free to be unmarried, and not bound to the unbeliever); otherwise they might have to abandon the church, in order to remain with the non-Christian spouse. Doing that seems unthinkable, and yet perhaps that was at least part of what Paul was saying. So the "Pauline exception" is yet another disputed topic in this chapter.

In either case, the sense of the last part of verse 15 seems to be this: A marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian could produce much conflict and strife. That must not be due to the Christian doing unrighteous things to incite the conflict. But if the marital strife reaches a point where the non-Christian decides to leave, then the Christian is set free from the contentious relationship, to live in peace.

Beginning in verse 17, Paul presents the two opposing forces affecting the decision to get married. On one hand, this life is brief. We should place priority on eternal matters rather than temporal. We should not become engrossed in things of this life. Paul wanted people to have undivided focus on serving God. Perhaps also on Paul's mind, the Roman persecutions were soon to come down on them, and being married would make the distress all the more severe. On the other hand, the strong spiritual reasons for people to marry have been previously discussed. Not everyone has the necessary self-control to live a righteous life in an unmarried state. Paul's bottom line on the subject was that marriage is good, and remaining single for the service of God is better.

Paul concluded the topic of marriage with this:
1Co 7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
1Co 7:40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
Marriage is intended to last until death of one partner-- "Until death do you part..." After the death of one partner, the other is free to remarry---but only to a Christian spouse. This strongly suggests that Christians in general should only marry Christians.

Thus concludes a very difficult chapter, one that has been battleground for many heated arguments. Through the fog and the heat, what can we take away that is certain and knowable?

1) God hates divorce. (Mal 2:13-16) That did not change between the two Testaments. God clearly instructs married Christians not to divorce. (1 Cor 7:10-11)

2) God recognizes that there will be divorces, so he has instructed us about how divorced Christians should proceed with their lives. Divorced Christians are not to be treated as second class citizens in the church. And certainly this chapter makes it clear that we are not to exclude them from citizenship in the church! Grace, mercy, and peace are to be guiding principles in God's household.

3) There are some real difficulties in this chapter. Great Bible scholars have disagreed about what is meant by some of these verses. We may prefer a world where everything is black or white, but in this passage are some shades of gray -- and some dimly lit areas where it is hard to tell whether it is black, gray, or white.

I've encountered a lot of people who think they have the final answer on these subjects. I doubt I've ever encountered a mortal who really does. A good dose of humility and mercy are needed when helping people in these areas.


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Friday, January 18, 2008
  First Corinthians: Chapter 7, The Gift
You know the gift I am talking about:
1Co 7:6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
1Co 7:7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
1Co 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Jesus also spoke about this gift:
Mat 19:10 The disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry."
Mat 19:11 But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.
Mat 19:12 "For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."
In my 32 years as a Christian, I cannot remember a lesson encouraging singles to consider whether they might have "the gift." The focus of every singles ministry I have witnessed has been to encourage people to get married. And honestly that seems to be the hope of virtually all of the singles I have known. A great many Christian singles are not single by choice. For many, it would be in their best interest spiritually to get married. As Paul said, it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion. Both Paul and Jesus taught that not everyone is gifted to remain single.

But there are some who could make the decision to remain single, to devote their attention to serving the Lord.
1Co 7:32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;
1Co 7:33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,
1Co 7:34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
1Co 7:35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
Our churches need to make room for people who have "the gift." Those who have the self control to serve God with purity as a single should be respected for that. In our culture, there is a stigma associated with remaining single. There should be no such stigma in the church. Both Jesus and Paul clearly taught that, for those who have the gift, remaining single in order to serve God is an honorable path.


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Thursday, January 17, 2008
  First Corinthians: Introduction to chapter 7
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

In chapter seven, Paul delves into one of the most difficult topics in all of scripture. The most learned biblical scholars of our time and over the centuries have struggled to come to grips with the biblical teaching on this subject. There is no shortage of scholars who have arrived at a strong conviction from their study of the subject. But unfortunately, there is nothing close to a consensus. Those scholars have arrived at a dizzying array of contradictory convictions. If that is not enough to make us cautious on the subject, then consider the virtually unlimited number of unique circumstances in marriages today, to which those principles must be applied! This seems to be one subject for which this scripture is true:
1Co 8:2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.
We will not attempt to examine every nook and cranny along the way as we examine this chapter. Instead we will attempt to present a framework from which sound conclusions may be drawn.

It would be a good idea at this point to review some of the applicable passages on the topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage:

Gen 1:27
Gen 2:18-24
Deut 24:1-4
Mal 2:13-16
Matt 5:31-32
Matt 19:3-12
Mark 10:1-12
Luke 16:18
1 Cor 7

The above links are for the New American Standard Version. Even though I often use the New International Version for this blog, I do not recommend relying on that version for 1 Corinthians chapter 7. The NIV translators seem to have applied their doctrinal interpretations to the translation of this passage, in an apparent attempt to clarify the passage based on their preferred doctrine. However, by doing so they have masked some of the important questions that we need to examine. Comparing a variety of translations is a wise practice in cases like this.

Most people, when trying to discern Christian teaching on the subject of marriage and divorce, begin with the statements of Jesus in the gospels. But notice that Jesus was teaching Jews, still living under the Mosaic Law. He even referred directly to the Law in several of these passages, applying his comments to what the Jews had heard taught from the Law. Jesus was correcting the improper applications of Deut 24:1-4, which were widespread in that day. To understand what he was saying, it is necessary to understand the prevalent practices he was addressing.

Since Paul addressed the Corinthian letter to the Christians in Corinth, "together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:2), this is a reasonable place for us to start to understand how Christians should understand marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Here Paul gives teachings to a diverse Christian congregation made up of Jews, Greeks, and Romans. (That is in contrast to the audience Jesus addressed, which consisted only of Jews still living under Mosaic Law.) The Corinthian church had asked the apostle for clarification on this topic (1 Cor 7:1). If the Christian church today wants clarification on the same topic, this seems to be an ideal place to begin.

We will leave many questions unanswered. But hopefully we will understand the clearest teachings from this passage, to serve as a framework for understanding the more difficult situations.


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Monday, January 14, 2008
  First Corinthians Sidebar: Do You Not Know?
The Corinthians were infatuated by worldly wisdom and knowledge. They took pride in what they thought they knew. So when Paul had a message to deliver to them, he began by acknowledging that God had indeed supplied them with knowledge:
1Co 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
1Co 1:5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge
But as Paul corrected them on a long list of deficiencies, he repeatedly pointed out that their supposed wisdom was lacking. Did they not know?
1Co 6:2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?

1Co 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

1Co 6:9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders

1Co 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!

1Co 6:16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh."

1Co 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

1Co 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Paul was speaking their language when he reasoned like this. They wanted to know. They wanted to be wise. The Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, crafted the message in terms that would most readily reach their hearts and values, where they were. As Paul said in 1 Cor 9:22, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some."


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  First Corinthians Sidebar: Why Not Rather Be Wronged?
A recurring theme in 1 Corinthians is that Christians should be willing to give up their rights for the benefit of another brother or sister. Each one should be concerned about the needs of others. Paul himself was a prime example of this virtue. Following is a brief survey of these passages:

1Co 4:10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

1Co 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

1Co 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

1Co 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

1Co 9:4 Don't we have the right to food and drink?
1Co 9:5 Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas[1]?
1Co 9:6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

1Co 9:12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

1Co 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1Co 14:4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies 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.

1Co 14:19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
In chapter 10, Paul summarizes this principle:
1Co 10:23 "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.
1Co 10:24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
How much better would we all be if we could live by that principle!


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Name: Alan Rouse
Home: Georgia, United States
About Me: I've been a Christian since being baptized in 1976 at the Brooks Avenue Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC. I currently serve as an elder in the Atlanta Church of Christ in Gwinnett. You can email me at blogger[at]rouses[dot]net About my beliefs
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