March 1, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Corinthians 4-6.
Background: I Corinthians 1-3.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Stewards and judgment: In the previous chapters, Paul addresses the Corinthian church’s problem with forming factions and elevating certain men, like himself and Apollos, above others and following them in pride as opposed to seeking the unity of the body. Here he continues, explaining how the church should regard himself, Apollos and any other prominent leader: they are simply servants of Christ, stewards of the gospel. In the previous chapter, he says that they are nothing in relation to God (see I Corinthians 3:5-9). The Corinthian church seemed to have started judging other Christians by their own standards (i.e. whether they followed Paul, Apollos, Christ, etc.), and pronouncing judgment on those who did not fall into their faction. Paul warns heavily against this, as judgement is reserved for the Lord and the Lord only. Paul said that to his knowledge that his conscious was clean from sin, but even by this feeling he was not acquitted, because it would be the Lord who would make that decision (our hearts are often very deceptive, especially to ourselves, and we can very easily justify sin when it comes to ourselves committing it).
It is important to note here, however, that Paul is not talking about judging an open sin that is being committed in the church, as we will see him explicitly say to make that kind of judgment in chapter 5. Here he is talking about judgements that they were making on the eternal destiny of others by standards that were not laid out by Christ or the apostles. They were going beyond what is written (v. 6), judging others over which they had no law to do so (see chapter 8 and Romans 14). Their pride had gotten in the way of their unity, as it so often does, and they were dividing over matters of opinion (though it is important to note that they would not have likely considered what they divided over as a matter of ‘opinion,’ but rather a matter of doctrine). Paul reminds them that they are not the sole authority on truth, and just because they believe a certain thing does not mean that it is correct. There are many lessons that we can learn from the church at Corinth through Paul’s letters, but perhaps one of the most important lessons is to not follow the church’s divisive example and learn to not divide over opinions (and to learn to call opinions ‘opinions’ as opposed to doctrinal matters). Paul saw their fractioning and he spoke out heavily against it. Unfortunately today, we would rather divide over something we think is important (though the majority of the time it is not) than work towards unity and leave our pride at the door step. This is exactly what the Corinthian church was doing. It did not please God. Often it is exactly what we do. We can be assured that it still does not please God (see John 17).
2. The condition of the church at Corinth: Paul then continues his letter by comparing the church at Corinth to the life of the apostles. He points out that they had become rich and had found favor in many people’s eyes whereas the Apostles seemed to be destined for a life of poverty and persecution by the outside world. Paul wasn’t writing these things to boast or to make the church at Corinth ashamed, but rather to put things in perspective. They were fighting over little things that didn’t matter, all the while others who were spreading the gospel, what really did matter, were being put into sever situations. The church at Corinth was at ease, which gave them a chance to bicker over petty issues (sound familiar?). One of the reasons that the gospel is spread the best in a oppressive land is because believers do not have the luxury of fighting over the things that don’t matter. Once the church becomes comfortable in their own land, it often leads to corruption and division. This has been proven over and over again throughout history. The letter to the Corinthians should serve as a stern warning to all who live in a land where Christianity has an opportunity to become comfortable and complacent. We need to, especially when we are arguing, step back and look at the bigger picture. It is more than likely that our problems with one another actually do not matter in the least when it comes to the overall plan of God. Actually, division is likely the greater sin, if you want to call what you are dividing over sin. We should take this seriously.
How the church should handle open sin: When we get to chapter five, Paul switches to a different problem (though the two might be related in some way) that the church was having. Here we see a contrast of the judgement that Paul is talking about in chapter four and the judgment that is to happen here. There was a member of the church in Corinth that was living in open sin (sin that could be directly defined from the word of God), having taken his father’s wife, a grievance that would not even be tolerate amongst the pagans. However, the pride of Corinth had lead them to tolerate this sin! They were boasting about it, probably saying something along the lines of “Look at our church and how tolerant we are! We have freedom in Christ, so that means we can do whatever we want, because our sins are forgiven!” This attitude had lead them to accept sin and not judge people in the church. But Paul is very clear that this is not the way it should be. He had written to them on an earlier occasion about not associating with open sin, but here he makes it clear that he did not mean they were to not associate with people who were not in the church who were in open sin, for how would they evangelize to them? The church was not to judge the world. That is the Lord’s job. The church is to love souls and bring them to Christ. However, Paul explicitly states that the church (meaning all of us who are Christians) are supposed to judge any who claims the name of Christ (a Christian) but is living in sin. If they would not repent, they were to be put out of the assembly (some refer to this as “disfellowship”). Paul gives similar instructions to the church of the Thessalonians, telling them to have nothing to do with the one who is disobedient to the apostle’s words, not as to treat him as an outsider, but rather to warn him as a brother (see II Thessalonians 3:13-15).
It is important to note the difference in sinning and living in sin. We all sin, even on a daily basis. But as long as we are trying to live the Christian life and overcome these sins, then the blood of Christ cleanses us of these sins (see I John 1:5-10). But if we are not trying to overcome these sins, it is a different matter all together. The Corinthian church had missed the point. Freedom in Christ did not give them a license to sin, but rather the freedom to overcome sin. Living in unrepentant sin will cost us our soul (see Hebrews 10:26-31). Tolerance of unrepentant and deliberate sin will effect the whole congregation.
1. Lawsuits and conflicts amongst Christians: Another problem that the Corinthian church was having, probably inherent in their division, was the fact that they were taking their own brethren to court to be tried by those who were outside the church. This is almost dumbfounding to Paul, as he doesn’t understand why they would think that someone who was outside the church would be better suited to judge a matter that is amongst themselves. They should be more than competent to sort it out within the church, as they are all fellow believers. There should be a bond, a bond that had been fractured by the factions it would see, in Christ that would serve to help them and hold them together. But Paul even goes beyond this and says that the very fact that they are taking a matter to court, whether it would be tried by Christians or non-Christians, was already a defeat for them. They should have had a kind of love for one another that put their fellow Christians above themselves (see Philippians 2:3). They should rather take the wrong done to them by their brother and forgive them, rather than pursuing them in court. Again, their pride was getting in the way of their unity. They pursued their own justice rather than love. They wanted what recompense rather than reconciliation. They were not exercising the love of Christ. How often do we fall into the same trap today. Let us learn to pursue love above all else, putting our brother or sister above our own selves.
2. Sexual immorality: In the latter section of this chapter, Paul again hits on the sin of sexual immorality (and lists a group of sins just above) as this is what they were allowing in their church. We get a bit of insight of the type of arrogance that the Corinthians had as Paul quotes what they had said to justify their actions: “All things are lawful.” It would seem that they had misunderstood the meaning of freedom in Christ. As we discussed in chapter five, freedom in Christ does not allow for a license to sin. Paul goes into the very nature of this sin and how it effects our bodies which are members of Christ. It is interesting to note the tight correlation that Paul brings out here between sex and marriage, almost equating the two when he talks about going into a prostitute (which we would not necessarily marriage) as joining two flesh into one (which is the biblical language of the marriage found in Genesis 2:24). Ignoring this correlation has likely lead to taking premarital sex less seriously. This is not to say that sex is indeed the definition of marriage, as the two are talked about separately in the bible, but rather to point out the strong correlation. Having sex was often seen as the consummation (finalization, or point at which something is completed) of a marriage in the bible. With this perspective, it is easier to see why sexual immorality is indeed a weighty sin. If our bodies are members of Christ, we would not want to join them to a prostitute. We are not our own, for we were bought with a price. However tolerant the world becomes towards sexual immorality, let us not follow this line of thinking. Let us always seek to glorify God in our body.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 32-35.
May we all be united under Christ.