March 15, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Corinthians 9-10.
Background: I Corinthians 7-8.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Paul’s defense to the Corinthians: In this chapter, Paul defends his apostleship and talks about his and Barnabas’ rights in the Lord in comparison to the rest of the body of Christ. Two things may have been at play here; either there were those who did not want to listen to Paul and did not take well to his instruction, or those who had put Paul and Barnabas on a pedestal and were requiring things of them (as the ‘best’ Christians) that they did not require of other people. In reality, there was probably a mixture of both. But Paul goes into his apostleship and work in the Lord, reminding them that of all people, the Corinthians should have known his position and love for them, for he was the one who first planted the church there. There were many there who were likely direct converts of Paul (which caused issues of pride). But it would seem that the distaste for admonition and the lust to sin had clouded their judgment when it came to Paul and the authority of Christ. We may feel far removed from the problems in Corinth, but actually we fight over mostly similar things. A good portion of this chapter is devoted to compensating people who proclaim the gospel. The Corinthians seemed to have a problem with people making their living though working in the kingdom. But Paul appeals to a passage in the Old Testament to teach otherwise (an interesting point in and of itself; see Deuteronomy 25:4). We also see the rudiments of forbidding certain people to marry which Paul tells Timothy would come in the apostasy (see I Timothy 4:1-5). Paul did not have a wife and it would seem like he did not plan on pursuing that aspect of life (see I Corinthians 7). Perhaps there were some who saw this example and tried to bind it on others who were working in the kingdom; or perhaps some where claiming that it would be unlawful for Paul (and by extension other teachers such as Barnabas) to commit to marriage. Either way, Paul once again defends his rights, comparing himself to other noteworthy disciples such as Peter who were indeed married. Paul was fighting against putting people on pedestals, something the Corinthian church was doing (see I Corinthians 1, 3), for we are all one in the Lord. We may have different functions and abilities, but we should not rank each other in level of importance, for this only leads to pride and division. Even though Paul did have these rights, and even though he was an apostle and a powerful worker in the kingdom, he surrendered these rights so that none could take away from his ministry. He felt it was his duty to proclaim the gospel, and he didn’t want others to boast in him. Though free, he became a servant to all.
2. All things to all people: In the last section of this text we can really see the love that Paul had for his fellow man, and the lengths he was willing to go to in order to share the gospel with others. Paul had set his mind to become all things to all people, in order that he might win some. He adapted to the situation and the culture so that he might show his love and the love of Christ and the people around him might here. There is something to be said about knowing how to approach any situation you are in and turn it towards the glory of Christ. To the Jews he was a Jew, to the Greeks he was a Greek; To the those under the law, as one under the law, and to those outside the law, as one outside the law. To the weak, weak- all things to all people. He makes it a point to say that he was not indeed under law, nor was he outside of the law of Christ. Yet he did not allow his freedom nor his servitude take away from spreading the gospel. This does not mean he sinned in order to win some, but likely, he did not turn people off by self-righteousness. Paul became a servant to all, just as Christ was a servant (see Matthew 20:28). We often overlook this aspect of Paul’s ministry. It would do us well to emulate him in this characteristic, so as to not forgo our mission due to our spiritual pride.
1. Idolatry: The city of Corinth as a very pagan city, with temple worship and all kinds of different gods that the people would bow down to and make sacrifice. Thus, it is no wonder that the church in Corinth would struggle heavily with idolatry, as many of them likely converted from this practice to Christianity. Paul uses this section of his letter to warn then against the iniquity of idolatry, calling on the Old Testament example of Aaron and the people who set up a golden calf when they thought Moses was not coming down from Mount Sinai (see Exodus 32). Sexual immorality was often linked with idol worship, and eating the sacrifice that was offered to the false gods was considered as taking part in that god. This is why Paul had to deal specifically with the eating of certain foods if they were offered to idols. It didn’t actually matter if they ate of the sacrifice or not, for the false gods were nothing and the food was just food, so long as they ate it with thanksgiving (v. 30). But what did matter was their attitude as they were eating, and with what intent they were eating the food. If they were eating it as food, knowing that food offered to an idol is nothing, their mindset was in the right place; however, some were still weak and still considered the sacrificed food to be part of the ritual of worship to the false gods. Thus, the ‘mature’ brother who had knowledge could cause the ‘weak’ brother to stumble by setting an example of eating, where the weaker brother would see the mature other eat and then be encouraged to do the same, having the wrong mindset and falling into idolatry. Paul deals with this extensively in chapter 8, as some seem to have taken their freedom to mean that they could do whatever they wanted, and their spiritual pride was causing others to stumble (see v. 23-24 and I Corinthians 8).
People fall into idolatry when they set up something in their heart as more important than the Lord. This doesn’t necessitate a conscious decision to do so. Many today are living in idolatry, not to metal images but rather to the pleasures of this life, and are completely unaware. We need to take a close look at our lives and be sure that we have not fallen into idolatry without knowing it. We also need to be sure that we don’t cause our brother to stumble into idolatry by participating in something that we can handle, but the ‘weaker’ brother cannot without setting it up above God. Let us always be on the look out for each other.
2. Doing all for the glory of God: Driving home the point that he has been dealing with this chapter and the last, Paul encourages the church at Corinth to do all for the glory of God. They had a responsibility to their brothers and sisters in Christ to help, and not to harm. Though there is indeed freedom in Christ Jesus, this freedom should never be used to taint the gospel and cause others to stumble, nor should it be used to spread a bad light on Christianity to the outside world. The point that is being made in this section is to understand your surroundings and the fact that your actions will have a big impact on your sphere of influence, whether they be good or bad. We need to be aware of the right thing to do and how to set a good example to both the world and to our fellow brethren. Following Christ is not just something you do, its who you are. We represent our Lord on this earth to everyone we encounter, and whereas this can indeed be a wonderful thing, it can also be detrimental to both our souls and the souls of those who watch us. Paul calls himself a people pleaser at the end of this chapter, telling the Corinthians to give no offense to either the Jews, the Greeks or the church of God. We should study and learn to speak with grace and tact, characteristics that many of us have not mastered, unfortunately. Our goal should not be to win an argument, but rather to save souls. This has to be done with grace and love. The sooner we learn how to do that, the better off our personal work in the mission will be.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 40-43.
All for His glory.