Verses 1-11. In addition to the incest that was described in the previous chapter, Paul adds to the list of evils in which the Corinthians were apparently engaging. There were apparent legal disputes within the fellowship and rather than handle their disputes internally, they sought secular legal recourse. Paul is incredulous at their unwillingness or inability to settle this matter for themselves. The saints (believers in Jesus) he tells them, will judge the world, even angels. He is in utter disbelief that there is no one among them wise enough to render an appropriate judgment. Paul says that it is better to be wronged (mistreated, harmed) and defrauded (deprived of our rights) than to demonstrate this kind of discord to those outside the church and to break the fellowship within the church. Paul goes on to list sins that, if habitually engaged in, prevent individuals from entering into the kingdom of God. But the good news, the great news, is that even though some of the Corinthians engaged in these behaviors, they have been purified, made holy, and put right with God. This process involves leaving behind the behaviors that are listed.
When you are wronged by someone at church, how do you handle it? How have you seen others handle it?
Let’s say that a church member buys a refrigerator from another church member. After about 3 weeks the refrigerator stops working. When asked to repair or replace the defective refrigerator, the seller refuses to do so, even though an extended, expanded warranty was also purchased that would cover the defective product. What should the buyer do? What should the seller do? What should the buyer do if the seller refuses to do the right thing?
Verses 12-20. “All things are lawful for me” deserves some explanation. In what sense are they “not profitable” and/or unworthy to be “master over” the Christian? Many biblical scholars agree that Paul is likely quoting a Corinthian catch-phrase. Paul taught that Christians were no longer under obligation to the law, and it may be that some Corinthians interpreted this to mean that “anything goes.” Paul responds that not every behavior is profitable and that Christians should not be mastered by (or enslaved to) any behavior, presumably referring to the list in the paragraph above. He says that our bodies are to be used for the Lord and not immorality. Our individual bodies are a part of the body of Christ. It may be that some Christian men were engaging in sexual relationships with temple prostitutes (though there is no solid evidence of the practice of temple prostitution in Corinth at this time). The sexual act creates a “one-flesh” relationship between the participants. When we are incorporated into the body of Christ, however, we are joined physically with Him. Paul commands the Corinthians, and us, to flee (avoid, escape) immorality, specifically sexual immorality (porneia in Greek from which we get the English word pornography). To sin against one’s body means that one goes against the purpose for which our bodies were created. Verses 19-20 remind us that as believers in Jesus, our bodies are not our to do with as we please. We have been filled with the Spirit of God. The only appropriate response is to glorify (honor, respect) God with our bodies.
What are the implications of Paul’s teaching that our bodies are not our own, but God’s?
What are some ways that we can respect and honor God with our bodies?
In what situations do you hear people claiming “it’s my body…?”
This section of Paul’s letter is a response to specific questions the Corinthians have asked. We’ve already had several hints throughout the letter that, despite being titled First Corinthians in our Bibles, this is not the first correspondence between Paul and the church in Corinth.
Verse 1-7. The idea that sex is a gift from God and can be enjoyed for reasons other than procreation is a rather new idea. The Corinthians were apparently asking whether or not it is OK to have sex (older NIV is a poor translation). The question is asked in an environment where people were sexually permissive. Paul is trying to counter the sexually permissive or celibate false dichotomy that some seem to have proposed in their letter to him. Paul’s stance is that celibacy is a nice goal, but that sexual temptations abound and, therefore, each should marry rather than cede to temptation. Paul explains that husbands and wives have a mutual obligation to have sex with one another regularly in order to avoid sexual temptation. Paul promotes his own celibate state as the ideal but also recognizes that each person has their own gift from God.
Singleness gets looked down on in the church sometimes, but Paul says there are advantages, and that he would prefer people not be married. What are some advantages of singleness?
How does marriage provide the right environment for sexual expression?
Verses 8-24. Paul urges those who are not married to stay unmarried unless they are concerned about succumbing to sexual temptation in which case they should marry. To those who are married, he urges them to stay married, but if they divorce, they should not remarry. Paul gives special instruction to those who are married to non-Christians: stay married. However, if the non-believing spouse wants a divorce, grant it. In this case, Paul seems to be saying that the offended spouse is free to remarry. The hope in staying married to a not-yet-believer is that he or she will come to know Christ and share in His sanctification and justification (see 6:11)
Paul’s general principle in all the foregoing discussion is to stay as you are. Don’t seek a change in status. He gives two further examples. If you were saved while uncircumcised, don’t seek to be uncircumcised. If you were called while a slave, don’t rush to freedom. If the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it, because God called us to freedom in Christ.
How have you seen the faith of one spouse influence the faith of the other?
Does Paul’s concern to stay in our current status (single/married, circumcised/uncircumcised, slave/free) still apply? If so, how? If not, why not?
Verses 25-31. In this section, Paul applies the general principle of maintaining one’s current status and applies it to virgins. He’s careful to state that this is his opinion, not a command from God. Paul says that if you’re married, stay married. If you’re not married, don’t seek marriage. In giving his opinion, he is stating that he simply wants to save the person from trouble. Specifically, there seems to have been some kind of crisis and Paul believed that Jesus was returning soon. Scholars debate this idea since Paul never explicitly stated that he thought Jesus would return soon. It could be that he was giving this advice that getting married and having children in a time of crisis is not ideal timing.
Verses 32-35. This is really a continuation of the previous section. What Paul wants for the Corinthians is that they should be 100% focused on God and His mission in the world. Paul rightly notes that, of necessity, when one marries, one’s attention is divided. One cannot dedicate 100% of themselves to pleasing God because they must spend at least some time determining how to please their spouse.
Verses 36-38. This strikes us as odd since we have such different marriage customs. In our culture, young women chose whom to marry and when to marry frequently without a great deal of input from their parents. However, this was not at all the custom in Paul’s day. Paul advised fathers who were considering not allowing their daughters to marry (perhaps, in light of his previous discussion). He concludes that allowing them to marry or preventing them from marrying are equally valid choices, but that not allowing them to marry is preferable.
Verses 39-40. In the case of a widow, she is free to marry when her husband has passed away. The remarriage of a man was presupposed in Paul’s culture. Paul’s advice, however, is that it is better if she does not remarry.
Is it possible that marriage is a distraction from 100% commitment to the things of God?
What steps can couples take to maximize their focus on the things of God?
What steps can a single person take to maximize his or her focus on the things of God?
This is another turning point in the letter where Paul turns his attention to a question the Corinthians have asked him.
Verse 1-3. As we have seen earlier in the letter, there was a group of people who thought that their knowledge surpassed that of others and who took a stance of superiority to other believers. Paul counters their arrogance by saying that the purpose of knowledge is to build one another up.
Have you encountered Christians who went to great lengths to justify their sinful behavior? Who were critical of others who attempted to hold them accountable for sin? Have you ever been party to such an incident?
Verses 4-6. The question at hand for the Corinthians is this: Should we eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul argues that idols do not exist. The power that one is supposed to derive from eating the meat to them is illusory. Therefore, one can eat the meat sacrificed to these non-existent idols with a clear conscience.
You probably have not encountered meat (or anything else) sacrificed to idols. However, you have been confronted with aspects of other religions. For instance, many Christians do yoga. Is it possible for a Christian to do yoga, an important aspect of some Eastern religions, with a clear conscience?
Have you seen elements of non-Christian religions incorporated into Christian belief or practice? What were the results?
Verses 7-13. However, there are some people in Corinth who believe in the power of the idols and the gods they represent. Therefore, for them to eat meat sacrificed to idols would be guilt inducing because doing so violates their conscience. The burden, then, falls on those who have the knowledge that these are fake idols. Those with this knowledge are not to do anything that would cause a person who does not share their understanding to stumble. Doing so could very well ruin their faith and cause them to sin. We should all avoid causing someone else to stumble; therefore, we should avoid engaging in any behavior that would lead another to sin.
What is our obligation to other believers?
Paul states his case in the negative (don’t cause others to stumble). How can his case be stated more positively? Use a Bible passage to support your argument.
The church at Corinth was experiencing significant challenges, many of which have parallels to our churches today. How would you apply what Paul teaches the Corinthians to your church?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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