The Corinthians had some serious problems in their fellowship.
How did Paul address them?
1 Corinthians 3
Verses 1-4. The Corinthians are immature and not ready for godly wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 2:6). Their misplaced loyalty has caused divisions in their fellowship.
According to Paul, what is the source of their fellowship and unity (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)?
Verses 5-9. God’s workers to the labor, but it is God who cause the growth. Just as a farmer tills the soil, waters, fertilizes and so on, but can do nothing to actually cause growth to happen, the same is true in the realm of the Spirit. It is not that the work of God’s laborers is unimportant, but it must be seen in proper perspective which leads to humility.
What part do you play in producing fruit in the kingdom God?
Verses 10-15. Paul wants to build on a solid foundation using the best materials so that his labor can have an eternal impact. The only foundation is Christ and the only worthy building materials are is the truth of God in Christ. All else will not survive the test of time.
What are you currently doing that will make an eternal impact?
Verses 16-17. Paul describes the Corinthian fellowship as a temple of God in whom lives the Holy Spirit. God is present in fellowship of believers. Paul may have in mind the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Babylonians and their subsequent demise less than 100 years later.
How would you perspective change if you believed that God was actually present when God’s people gather? What would you do differently?
Verses 18-23. The wisdom of the world and godly wisdom are incompatible. The wisdom of God takes as its fundamental assumption the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Worldly wisdom rejects this premise. If we are using godly wisdom as the foundation for decision-making in our lives, we may very well appear foolish in the eyes of the world.
Is there anything you do that your not-yet-Christian friends think is a little crazy?
Do your not-yet-Christian friends see you as no different than them? What is the implication of this perception?
1 Corinthians 4
Verses 1-7. Paul is a steward (manager) of the mysteries of God, that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says that he is unconcerned about being judged by the Corinthians (I get the sense that Paul may been judged as inferior to Apollos in some respects by some members of the Corinthians fellowship, but that’s just speculation). In fact, Paul says that he doesn’t even trust his own judgement of himself because he views himself as righteous. Paul seems to understand that we human beings are self-justifying. Said differently, we can rationalize almost anything we do in order to assuage our guilt. Alternately, Paul says that God is his judge. He concludes by saying that the Corinthians need to stop passing judgement (read this paragraph alongside 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Paul seems to be saying in the previous verses that the Corinthians should not compare who is more important: Apollos or Paul. These verse may also refer back to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. Paul seems to be saying that any discussion of who is greater is fruitless because who is superior will be revealed in the end when it is determined whose work has stood the test of time.
Do you have a “friend” who has rationalized sinful behavior? What were the results?
How do we align Paul’s command to not judge in this paragraph with 1 Corinthians 5:9-13? (Hint: they’re talking about two different topics)
Verses 8-13. Paul uses a kingly analogy to contrast his life with the Corinthians. The live lives of luxury while he suffers greatly for the gospel. Paul questions there sense of superiority.
Have you ever had the sense that your religious leaders were inferior in some way? Or maybe, you thought they were unrealistic and out of touch?
Verses 14-21. What jumps off the page to me in this paragraph is verse 16. Paul is so confident is the transformation that God has brought about in his life, that he sees himself as an example to follow. Paul is so confident that his life is so aligned with the life and teaching of Jesus that if the Corinthians follow his example, they will be headed in the direction of Jesus.
He goes on to tell them that he is planning on coming to see them and how he treats them will be entirely contingent on their behavior. He will respond to them with correction or comfort. His treatment of them is dependent on their response to what comes next.
What would lead Paul to make such a bold statement?
What does he mean by it?
How does it apply to us today?
Have you ever had to respond to a situation in a way because it was required even though you may have been uncomfortable responding as you did? For example, have you ever had to punish your children for something they did, even though it was “kinda cute?” Or, have you ever had to discipline an employee for violating a company policy even though you thought the policy was wrong?
1 Corinthians 5
Verses 1-2. Paul confronts sexual immorality. The first question that most people might ask is “Who is this son having sex with?” His mother or his step-mother? Surely Paul would have said “your mother” if that is what he intended, so I tend to think (along with many other scholars) it was his step-mother. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter; there are multiple pathways to sexual immorality. The only question in our minds is how heinous is the younger man’s crime: adultery or incestuous adultery. Both violate God’s standard for sexual practice and both violate the marriage covenant of his father. The word “has” is in the present tense indicating that this behavior is not in the past, but is ongoing.
What does Paul’s ongoing concern about sexual immorality tell us about our “private life?”
Why is godly sexual behavior so important in the life of the Church?
Verses 3-5. Paul decides to “deliver [the young man]…to Satan.” Paul seems to indicate that there are two spiritual realms: God’s and Satan’s. The young man is not acting a member of God’s spiritual realm, therefore he has no place in it. Therefore, Paul intends to eject him from the fellowship upon his arrival. Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom have two different standards regarding sexual behavior.
This seems harsh and “judgy.” What does this “extreme measure” tells us about how seriously God takes sexual fidelity?
How are Christian sexual ethics and secular (non-Christian) sexual ethics different? the same?
Verses 6-8. What’s worse is that the Corinthians seem to be complicit in the son’s immorality. They brag about it. Not only do they accept the young man’s sexual immorality, but they rejoice in it.
What does it take for an entire community of believers to be so off base about godly sexual behavior? In other words, what was the spiritual condition of their fellowship? What was their thinking? How is it relevant for us today?
Verses 9-13. If the “delivering to Satan” wasn’t clear enough, Paul is now very clear on how this situation should be handled: do not associate with people who claim to be followers of Christ, yet do not follow the teachings of Christ. In this instance the teaching, the standard is sexual immorality. This command does not apply to people outside the church. We cannot expect people who have not been redeemed by Christ to live according to the standard of Christ. But as a Global Church, and as a local church, we can and should expect people to in our fellowship to live according to the standards of our fellowship.
What would happen to the Church if we actually started doing what Paul is teaching here?
How does this measure up with what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15-18?
How could this be implemented in a loving way?
Father, give us grace, humility, and love. Fill us with your transforming Spirit so that we can share in Paul’s confidence in his faith. Help us to live and lead by example. Guide us to sexual purity. Help us guide others to the same. Amen.
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