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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).
FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons London) DD.
Corinth was an important city situated on the landbridge between the Corinthian Gulf and the Saronic Gulf, across which freight was transferred from ship to ship on its way to the world’s trade centres in order to avoid the dangerous and feared Cape Malea on the Peloponnese peninsula. It was thus itself an important trade centre and grew rich. It was a centre of the worship of Aphrodite which involved a high degree of sexual perversion, such that ‘a Corinthian’ became a byword for loose living, and it was famous for its schools where great men came to expound ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’, some of value and much of little value, and people followed their favourite philosophers and spent much time in discussing and arguing their case for their differing views. This was a popular leisure activity. It was also heavily influenced by mystery religions which drew men into exotic experiences. Another important thing in the life of Corinth was the Isthmian Games to which men came from far afield to partake in serious sporting activity. It was thus considered to be a highly civilised city, especially by its inhabitants. And it was, although very old, in essence a new city, simply because of its recent history. Its inhabitants were mainly without old roots, so that it was not bound by ancient customs. And then it received an unexpected visitor.
The Founding of the Church at Corinth.
At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council met to decide just what should be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15.1-29). Then, when Paul and Barnabas went from there and took their separate ways, Paul took Silas with him and set out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15.36-41). They began by revisiting some of the churches that had been founded on the first journey, delivering to them the decision of the Jerusalem Council (16.4-5).
After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia (Acts 16.6) and Bithynia, Paul, Silas, and Timothy finished up at Troas, where Paul received the “Macedonian vision” (16.9-10) calling them over to Greece. This brought them to Philippi where a number were converted to Christ and a church was established. From Philippi, Paul and his party went to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens (Acts 17).
After a ministry in Athens, Paul went to Corinth, which was an ancient city of Greece, and the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. It was there that he first met up with a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Like Paul, this man was a tent-maker. He and his wife had fled from Italy because of a command from Claudius that all Jews must leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). Every Sabbath day Paul went to the synagogue, where he sought to evangelise Jews and Greek God-fearers (Acts 18.4). The latter were Greeks who were showing a deep interest in the God of the Jewish Scriptures without actually becoming proselytes and submitting to circumcision. Eventually he was joined by Silas and Timothy, who had just arrived from Macedonia. They providentially brought a gift from the Macedonians which enabled Paul to fully devote himself to the Word, so that he could give all his efforts to preaching Christ (Acts 18.5).
As regularly occurred, Paul’s preaching prompted a reaction from the unbelieving Jews, and it was so violent that he deserted the synagogue and began to concentrate on evangelising Gentiles (Acts 18.6-7). He moved his base of operations to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Gentile God-fearer who lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18.5-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer along with the rest of his household, which would not have pleased the Jews, and many others were also converted and submitted to baptism (Acts 18.8). The Lord then appeared to Paul in a vision and assured him that there were many more souls to be saved in that city and that he was not to fear. He was to speak out boldly, rather than to hold back for fear of trouble (18.9-10). As a result, Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months, a considerably longer period of ministry than usual, and establishing a flourishing church group.
The first letter to the Corinthians appears to have been inspired by a visit to Paul some few years later by a group from the Corinthian church (16.17) bringing a letter from them (7.1). He was the founder of the church in Corinth, and they clearly supported him and were equally clearly concerned about the behaviour of certain church members. The church also had a number of questions that they wished to ask Paul. These he deals with in the second part of the letter.
But what concerns him in the first part of the letter is things he has learned about the church, especially in relation to divisions among them. They have divided into groups around the teaching of individual Christian teachers and are possibly in danger of forming differing, opposing churches, almost as though they were simply schools of philosophy founded for the discussion of general wisdom and knowledge. The consequence of this will be that instead of presenting a united message to the world, they are in danger of turning in on themselves and losing the centrality of Christ crucified. This results in Paul expounding on the importance of the preaching of the cross as the central truth and experience which unites all those who are true to the Gospel. These are the central facts around which they must unite. They must be one in Christ.
Other problems come out as the letter continues which include the fact that some of the Corinthians saw themselves as super-spiritual because they constantly spoke in tongues, which they considered to be the language of angels, and because they believed that they had received knowledge which made them superior to others, including Paul, possibly to such an extent that they believed that they were already living the heavenly life, which would completely come to fulfilment when their bodies dropped away. They were thus spoiling worship for others by their excessive use of tongues. This possibly also went along with a laxity in moral standards and a rejection of the idea of a bodily resurrection.
The letter gives the impression that many in the church were being swayed to follow them, and that therefore Paul’s instruction was urgently required. Things were not as they should be. But it was only when he later visited them that he found out how bad things really were (2 Corinthians 2.1-4).
Their Oneness in Christ and the Resultant Blessings of the Church in Corinth (1.1-9).
Paul asserts his authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and reminds the Corinthians of their blessings in Christ.
1.1-2a ‘Paul, called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth.’
Paul speaks like this in almost all the introductions to his Epistles, with a view to emphasising the divine authority with which he writes. Firstly he states that he is ‘called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ’. Then he states that it is ‘through the will of God’.
‘Called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ Notice first the emphasis on his ‘calling’. It is quite clear that this is to be seen as God’s calling which came to him in an unusual and emphatic way. He does not use it in the loose way in which we may speak of a man’s calling, but of a specific and demonstrable call in which he was declared to be chosen by Christ as ‘a chosen vessel to Me to carry My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and before the children of Israel’ (Acts 9.3-6, 15-16) which all who knew of it recognised as directly from God. It was a call directly confirmed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13.2), and was a call recognised and acknowledged by the twelve Apostles (see Galatians 1.11-2.21) to such an extent that his epistles were thought of as Scripture (2 Peter 3.16). They confirmed their agreement that he was an ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’.
‘An Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ This phrase primarily, of course, referred to the Apostles appointed by Jesus (and named ‘Apostles’ by Jesus - Luke 6.13), ‘the twelve’ (John 20.24; Acts 6.2; 1 Corinthians 15.5), who had directly received revelation from Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1.22; 1 Corinthians 15.5). They had come to include James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1.19), who possibly replaced the martyred James (Acts 12.2 with Galatians 2.9) as Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1.10-26).
In Acts the twelve are clearly distinguished as unique. When writing about those who met in the Jerusalem church to make vital decisions, the leaders apart from the Apostles are called ‘the elders’, and the Apostles are mentioned separately. Note the phrase ‘the Apostles and the Elders’ (e.g. Acts 15.2, 4, 9, 22, 23), even though the Apostles could also be called Elders (1 Peter 5.1; 2 John 1.1; 3 John 1.1). The ‘Elders’ are those usually responsible for churches (Acts 14.23; 20.17). Thus Paul, by calling himself an Apostle here, sets himself alongside the twelve as having this unique position. Like them he too claimed to be a primary source of direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1.12), and was recognised as such by the twelve (Galatians 2.7-9). And it is clear that he looked on his calling to Apostleship (Romans 11.13; 1 Corinthians 9.1) as being on a par with, and as personal as, theirs (Galatians 1.16-17).
‘Apostolos’, an apostle, is derived from apostellein, (to send forth,) and originally signified literally a messenger. The term was employed by earlier classical writers to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or an ambassador (see Herodotus, 5. 38), but its use in this way was later rare as it came to have a technical meaning referring to ‘the fleet’, and possibly also the fleet’s admiral. It may be that Jesus spoke with a sense of humour when he named the fishermen ‘Apostles’ using this term, seeing them as the future ‘catchers of men’ (although it would require that He gave the title in Greek, which is not, however, impossible).
In the New Testament, apart from the Apostles, it is also employed in a more general sense to denote important messengers sent out on God’s service (see Luke 11.49; 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25; 1 Thessalonians 2.6), and in one instance is applied to Christ Himself, as the One sent forth from God (Hebrews 3.1). But in the main it is reserved for the twelve (including James, the Lord’s brother), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14.4, 14). Paul certainly saw it as giving him a recognised authority direct from Jesus Christ. He saw himself, along with the twelve, as being specifically commissioned by Jesus.
‘Through the will of God.’ This solemn statement stresses the importance of his office. It is through the sovereign will of the eternal God that he has been so appointed. He is deliberately emphasising that he was called by the direct will and purpose of God, so underlining that he has been chosen out within God’s purposes. He no doubt intended them to see this as being indicated by his experience on the Road to Damascus. There God had set him apart in a unique way through the appearance to him of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to a unique ministry among the Gentiles. In other words he wanted them to know that he spoke with maximum authority.
But in the light of what comes later in the Epistle we may probably also see this ‘through the will of God’ as in direct contrast to those who ‘transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11.13), those who ‘call themselves Apostles and are not’ (Revelation 2.2), appointed by themselves and not by the will of God. He wants to stress that, in contrast to theirs, his Apostleship is through the will of God.
‘And Sosthenes the brother.’ This is quite probably the Sosthenes who had been a ruler of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth, whom Luke mentions in Acts 18.17. He was probably also the leader of the group that had come from Corinth with questions for Paul (16.17-18). His name was added here in order to stress his agreement with what Paul was saying, and to honour him in the eyes of the Corinthian church. Paul wants them to know that he and Sosthenes are at one. He could have described him as ‘your elder’ but he wants to emphasise that Sosthenes is ‘brother’ both to them and to Paul.
‘To the church (’ekklesia) of God which is at Corinth.’ The word ’ekklesia was used of the ‘congregation’ of Israel in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), which was the sense in which Jesus used it where He was thinking of the gathering together of a new Israel (in Matthew 16.18; 18.17 - although there His words were presumably in Aramaic). It was also used of the public assembly of citizens in a town or city. The ‘church of God’ was the public assembly of the people of God and of the citizens of Heaven in Corinth (Philippians 3.20).
The term was taken over by Christians to refer to the gathering together of Christians in a particular place, and became the technical term to refer to Christians, either as a whole, or as represented in any particular city or town, e.g. Corinth. It would in this latter case include a number of such gatherings, small churches in various areas, but seen as ‘one church’ of that particular city or town, ruled over by one group of elders, for not all would easily be able to meet together. But they would be united by having the same leadership.
Thus here Paul is speaking to all Christians who worshipped in Corinth, stressing that they are to see themselves as one whole, whose representatives have come to Paul and are now returning, and as part of one larger whole. As a church they practise baptism (1.14-17) and partake of the Lord’s Table (10.21). They must recognise the elders duly appointed (16.15-16) and maintain unity around the cross as ‘one church’ in spite of diversity on secondary matters.
‘The church of God.’ The church was God’s. There was no room for separate churches. Each smaller group was a part of ‘the church’ (all believers) in the town or city, which in turn belonged to the whole worldwide church. That is what the creeds meant when they spoke of the ‘Catholic’, that is to say ‘the universal’ church. But there was no hierarchy. Each church was watched over by elders appointed by other elders, who were identified by their faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Any external authority was merely an authority of love. This was so even of the Apostles. They spoke with God’s authority, they showed the churches the right way, but they did not attempt to enforce their will on the churches except on that grounds.
Their basis of faith was found in the Old Testament and the Testimony of Jesus, the carefully memorised oral tradition of Jesus’ life and teaching (now found in the Gospels), later expanded by the letters of Peter, Paul and John, until finally the New Testament was established, formed of all books which the church considered to have Apostolic authority.
The later establishing of a hierarchy ruling all churches was similar to Israel desiring a king. It was not part of God’s purpose and demonstrated a lack of trust in Him. The church ceased being the church of God and became the church of each particular hierarchy. And it produced the same inevitable result, the church became political and was made to fit into the pattern laid down by the hierarchies, and when the hierarchies went astray the church went astray too. But fortunately there were always those who sought to bring the church back to Apostolic truth.
Today as a result of history we may be in many denominations, but we should still see ourselves as the one church of Christ, not ruled by men but as ruled by God, and as united in faith with all who believe the Apostolic teaching as found in the New Testament. That is the one true catholic church, the true ‘church of God’.
1.2b ‘Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called sanctified ones (saints) with all those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs and ours.’
‘Sanctified in Christ Jesus.’ The tense of the verse is perfect passive signifying something done in the past the benefit of which continues into the present, thus literally ‘have been and therefore are sanctified’. It is noteworthy that the members of this church, with all their failings, are described by Paul as ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’. To be sanctified means to be ‘set apart for God for a holy purpose’, and that holy purpose is the perfecting of them that they may be presented before Him irreproachable, holy and without blemish because they are in Christ (Ephesians 5.27; Colossians 1.22; 1 Thessalonians 3.13). Their being ‘in Christ’ both guarantees their acceptance because they are acceptable in Him, and the process of transformation that will take place because being ‘in Him’ can only result in such transformation.
Thus they are seen as set apart for a holy purpose, and that is described as not through any merit of their own, but because they are ‘in Christ Jesus’. By becoming one with Him through faith, evidenced by the Spirit’s work among them and in baptism, they share His holiness and His holy purpose. He is made to them their sanctification (1.30), and this work is to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2.13; 1 Peter 1.2). They are sanctified because they are in Him the sanctified One. Thus God looks at them through the perfect sanctification of Christ, the One Who was totally in accordance with the Father’s will. ‘In Him’ they are totally acceptable in God’s sight. This is then to be carried out into practise in holy living because it is an original act followed by the working of His power (1 Thessalonians 4.3-4).
Note the order ‘Christ Jesus’. His emphasis here is on the separateness of Jesus Christ from the world. He is ‘the Christ’ Jesus, the One set apart by God, and they have been set apart in Him.
Here then Paul is calling the attention of the Corinthian church to their holy calling, preparatory to seeking to set right much that is wrong among them. He is reminding them that they are now sanctified in Christ, and holy in Him, separated from the world in Him, and therefore now needing to become holy in practise. In that great city of Corinth, city of immorality and philosophical speculation, Jesus Christ through Paul had set a colony of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), set apart to God and in process of being made perfect.
The New Testament speaks of ‘sanctification’ in a number of ways which need to be carefully differentiated. As we have said, to sanctify means ‘to set apart for a holy purpose, to make holy as being closely connected with God’ and from the Christian point of view that finally means to make “God-like in purity, goodness and love”. This is something only God can do for us.
The Bible tells us that once He has made us His Own through our responding in faith to His work on the cross and His offer of salvation, we are first put in the position of ‘having been sanctified’ (aorist tense, something done once for all - 1 Corinthians 1.30; 6.11), and therefore ‘set apart’ for God once for all. We are set aside as His for His own use. This is because ‘in Christ’ we are made holy with Christ’s holiness, and thus covered with His purity. And this is why we can approach God so confidently. It has put us in a state whereby we ‘are sanctified’ once for all and accepted as holy in His presence (Acts 20.32; 26.18; Romans 15.16; 1 Corinthians 1.2; Hebrews 10.10) These verses all use the perfect tense signifying - ‘having been sanctified and therefore now are sanctified’ - referring to a past happening which continues in effect into the present. We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all (Hebrews 10.10). And that sanctification includes the work within us through which we are born from above (John 3.6) and receive the indwelling Christ (Galatians 2.20) and life through the Holy Spirit. We become separated off to Christ, ‘members of Christ’ and ‘temples of God’ (1 Corinthians 6.15, 19).
But the result of being put in this position is that we will then be ‘in process of being sanctified’ (set apart by being made holy) by Christ Jesus and the Spirit. The purity of Christ, which has been set to our account, and attaches us to God, must now become reproduced in our lives. We must therefore go through the process of ‘being set apart for God’ by being constantly changed by the Spirit (present tense - Hebrews 2.11; 10.14; compare Romans 6.19; 6.22; 1 Thessalonians 4.3; 2 Thessalonians 2.13). This is what most Christians usually think of when they think of ‘sanctification’.
And if we are His it is guaranteed that He will carry out this work in us (Philippians 2.13). This is the same process as salvation from a slightly different point of view. We are saved through God’s work of sanctification, which like salvation is ours the moment we respond in faith, and this work goes on being active in our lives until we go to be with Him, having been made holy and unblemished before Him. And so it was with the Corinthians.
‘Called sanctified ones (saints).’ The title of ‘saint’ is true of all who are ‘sanctified in Christ’. It does not therefore ever in Scripture refer to a select few Christians, for it does not so much refer to practical holiness as to holiness imputed and imparted in Christ. They are Temples of God through the ‘Holy’ Spirit Who is in them (6.19). All who are His are thus ‘saints’ (holy ones), those who are set apart in holiness to be made holy. They are be seen as set apart to God with the intention of their becoming God-like. They are ‘holy ones’, chosen out and awaiting their full potential, being changed from glory into glory by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3.18).
‘With all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place.’ Here he stresses that all who belong to Christ and call on His name are called ‘saints’. Thus Paul ensures that the Corinthians recognise that they are not superior to others in this, and yet share with all other Christians this wonderful privilege. To ‘call on the name’ means that they have cried to Him for forgiveness and mercy, have claimed the benefit of His name and what He is, and what He has done for them, and now worship Him. Thus they have been ‘made holy’, set apart for God by His Spirit, with a view to being made perfect in holiness.
This fact that Christians ‘call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’, signifying honour and worship (compare Genesis 4.26; 12.8 and often), demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ, for here Jesus receives through it the honour due to Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament (and the New), demonstrating His Oneness with Him. Indeed in the right context ‘Lord’ is the Greek equivalent of Yahweh (see Philippians 2.8-10 where the name above every name is the name of Yahweh).
‘In every place.’ This phrase in this kind of context is unique to this epistle. Paul is thus especially stressing his and their unity with all Christians worldwide. He is concerned lest they fail to recognise that they belong to one worldwide gathering of God’s people, and see themselves as but a group of ‘wisdom societies’ in Corinth (1.12). He wants them to know that he himself too has no limited vision, but acknowledges all, and is at one with all, and sees them all as one. He wants them to see that they are part of one whole worldwide body.
‘Both theirs and ours.’ This can only refer back to ‘Lord’. Paul is stressing that He is Lord of all in every place who call on Him, including being Lord of Paul and Lord of the Corinthian church. They are all to unite as one in acknowledging His Lordship for He has sanctified them to Himself.
Some have suggested applying ‘both theirs and ours’ to ‘every place’, but that is hardly likely. Apart from the fact that it would be almost an irrelevance, it is doubtful if Paul saw himself as belonging to any one place or was even bothered about it. He was a citizen of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), as were they. He had long since left Tarsus and Jerusalem behind. He was not interested in geography, what he was concerned about was people’s spiritual position.
1.3 ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ were the two terms used in greetings in Paul’s world, the former by Gentiles the latter by Jews. But Paul, while taking them over, imbues them with new meaning. It is noteworthy that with him ‘grace’ always precedes ‘peace’, for peace results from God’s ‘freely shown favour’.
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in undeserved love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is God acting towards us in continual saving power in spite of our undeserving. Thus Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the continued experience of the grace of God.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but this kind of peace is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5.1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For however things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4.7). And this is what Paul wished for, and prayed for, for the Corinthians.
‘From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ What a combined source of power and grace. This continual linking of the name of our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ with God the Father in perfect equality again demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (2 Corinthians 1.2; Galatians 1.3; Ephesians 1.2; Philippians 1.2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1.2). This is especially significant as ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, Yahweh. The two were one in equality and essence.
‘From God our Father.’ God is Father as the Lord of creation (James 1.17), the Father after Whom ‘every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named’ (Ephesians 3.15), and especially as Father to those who are in Christ through the Spirit and thus called His true ‘sons’ (Galatians 3.26; 4.4-7; Romans 8.14-17; Ephesians 1.5).
‘And The Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is a powerful combination. ‘The Lord’ in context with God the Father indicates sovereignty and creativity. It carries within it the idea of ‘the Lord’ (Yahweh) of the Old Testament (compare Philippians 2.9-11). There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ (8.6). The name ‘Jesus’ brings us specifically to His manhood. This ‘Lord’ was One Who had become a man on earth, Who had lived among men and whom many could testify of knowing. They had seen Him, watched Him, handled Him, and touched Him (1 John 1.1). The term ‘Christ’ emphasises His resurrection and glorification. He had been raised from the dead and established as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36), restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17.5). The whole name sums up the totality of what He is.
1.4-7 ‘ I thank God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in him, in all utterance and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you came behind in no gift, waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Paul now instances how greatly God’s grace has already been revealed towards them, and wishes them to know that he continually thanks God on their behalf because of it. Thus does he desire that they recognise his concern and his well-wishing towards them, and of his certainty that they are the chosen of God to receive His blessings. Although he may have many harsh things to say to them he does not want them to think that he sees the church as a whole as devoid of the grace of God active on their behalf. For indeed he knows that it is only when they experience the grace of God that his words can be effective.
‘For the grace of God which was given to you -- that in everything you were enriched in Him.’ Here the ‘grace of God’ refers to that grace (unmerited favour) revealed in the giving of gracious gifts, the gift of Christ Himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts that result from this. He wants them to recognise that he is aware of the spiritual gifts and spiritual awareness that they have enjoyed, gifts given by the grace of God so that they are spiritually enriched.
‘In Christ Jesus.’ No benefit can flow from God except ‘in Christ Jesus’, for His gracious activity can only flow once atonement and reconciliation has been made. Again the order of the words emphasises His Christhood. Having been revealed as the Christ Jesus He can pour out His gifts on men, and especially the gift of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2.33). It is through Christ’s merit that the Corinthians, and we too, may enjoy His gifts, for they are not deserved. It is also because we are ‘in Him’, being made a part of what He is, united with Him in His body, which body is Christ (12.12-13).
‘That in everything you were enriched in him, in all utterance (logos - word) and all knowledge (gnosis).’ ‘In everything -.’ The Corinthian church as a whole had experienced over-all blessings, coming short in nothing of what God would bestow. Their spiritual experience had been second to none. Elsewhere in Corinth men strove to find wisdom and knowledge of an inferior kind, but God had enriched His church with His own wisdom and knowledge, superior to any the world could have. It was wisdom and knowledge that was deep and true and covered all aspects of life, and especially of spiritual life. They did not need to be ashamed of how God had treated them and of what He had given them. Rather the lack lay in the behaviour and response of many individuals within the church in the light of those gifts. Perhaps they had begun well, but now things were not going so well. We need to be constantly on the alert so that our Christian lives do not languish.
‘In all utterance (logos - ‘word’) and all knowledge (gnosis).’ God had spoken to them through His word (1.18), and had given them spiritual understanding (2.11, 16), and teachers who could lead them rightly. They had not lacked the means of grace through His word and His Spirit. Indeed they had been blessed with many spiritual gifts, including ‘the word (logos) of knowledge (gnosis)’ (12.8), by which His word had been communicated to them. And these were given to them as one church.
All this revealed to the Corinthian church how much God had given them, and how much Paul appreciated them, bringing them a warm glow within, but it was preparatory to the criticisms that were to come which would severely test whether they would now accept such utterance and knowledge. Great gifts bring great responsibility, and he was now to bring home their responsibility.
‘Even as the testimony (witness) of Christ was confirmed in you.’ In context we must see this as including Christ’s testimony during His lifetime, testimony from Christ to them through His life and words, communicated through those who had heard and seen Him (1 John 1.1-4). Then communicated through those who in turn had received the word from them. This was part of the depth of wisdom and knowledge that they had received, wisdom and knowledge coming from the source of all wisdom and all knowledge.
As they had heard this testimony it had worked in their hearts producing a change of heart and life. It includes what He had imparted to them by His Spirit as they heard those words and meditated on them. They have received illumination and specific confirmation from the Spirit Who has given them understanding of the words and person and significance of Christ, testified to by witnesses who had themselves heard them from the lips of Christ.
We must remember that at the time there were no Gospels. Knowledge of the words and life of Christ was passed on by those who had personally heard and seen Him and then by those who had received the information from others and learned it by heart, although some had no doubt been committed to writing (Luke 1.1). This utterance and knowledge had been theirs in abundance.
Note his emphasis that this word and knowledge comes from Christ and concerns Christ. It is not from or about Paul, nor from or about Apollos, nor from or about Peter, but from and about Christ Himself.
Then having responded to that illumination confirmation was given to them, and they had been sealed as His by the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 1.22; Ephesians 1.13; 4.30), Who had confirmed His testimony to their hearts, resulting in spiritual worship (John 4.23) and spiritual gifts. The verb bebaioo (to confirm) is a legal term for guaranteeing security, tying in with the idea of the Spirit’s seal and guarantee. As the testimony was received by them it was made a seal and guarantee in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
The phrase ‘the testimony (marturia) of Jesus Christ’ occurs in Revelation where it parallels ‘the word of God’ (Revelation 1.2, 9). There ‘the word of God’ refers to early Christian preaching (Mark 4.14), including the expounding of the Old Testament, called by Jesus ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7.13); the teaching of Jesus (Luke 5.1; 8.11; 8.21; 11.28) and the testimony of the early church based on it (Acts 4.31; 6.2; and often). The ‘testimony of Jesus Christ’ probably emphasises the particular aspects of His life and teaching as carried in the church’s tradition and as later recorded in one or more of the written Gospels. The old covenant given at Sinai was called ‘the Testimony’ (LXX marturia). How much more the new teaching and the new covenant brought by Jesus. This parallels Paul’s usage here.
‘So that you come behind in no gift.’ This includes all gifts given to them as His people by a graciously giving God. Thus it includes, for example, 7.7 where the gifts are general abilities and include the gift of celibacy; Ephesians 3.7; 4.7; 2 Timothy 1.6; Hebrews 2.4, where the gifts enable effective ministry; 1 Peter 4.10 where the gifts include preaching and service. They include the gift of spiritual awareness (2.10-16), the spiritual gifts outlined in chapters 12-14, and the greatest gift of all, His Son Jesus Christ (John 3.16; 2 Corinthians 8.9; 9.15). All had come on them in abundance. They had reason to be satisfied.
‘Waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul now turns their thoughts to the future when Jesus Christ will be revealed in His glory (Philippians 3.20; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; Hebrews 9.28). Let them remember that the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom they are sanctified, and from Whom and concerning Whom they have received the word and wisdom, will imminently be revealed and is the One for Whom they are eagerly waiting. All God’s gifts are to be exercised in the light of His coming, when Christ is revealed as what He is, and all that is in part will pass away (1 Corinthians 13.10). For when He is revealed to His people they will be ‘taken up’ to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.17), drawn as His chosen ones from all nations (Matthew 24.31), changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52), and then they will have their works tested (3.10-15; Romans 14.10-12), before they enter into their glory (Revelation 21.10-11, 23-24; 22.3-5), as their Forerunner has done before them (Luke 24.26).
‘Waiting eagerly’. See Romans 8.19, 23; Galatians 5.5; Philippians 3.20). The expectation of the early church assisted greatly in enabling them to recognise that, as ‘the church’, separated from ‘the world’, they as one body awaited the final summation of all things. This is expanded in chapter 15 when the hope of the coming resurrection of all His people is stressed. It drew their attention constantly to the spiritual future, away from the pull of the world, and their oneness in the light of that spiritual future.
1.8-9 ‘Who will also confirm you to the end, unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful through whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Note here the promise that they will experience this because they will be ‘confirmed’ to the end (bebaioo). This verb is used as a legal term to indicate guaranteeing security. It is used in Hebrews 13.9 of those whose hearts are strengthened (confirmed) by grace. And Who is the One who will confirm us to the end? It matters little whether we see this as referring back to Christ Jesus (verse 7) or God (verse 4). The latter is supported by the words in verse 9, for otherwise the faithfulness of God in the matter comes in somewhat abruptly. The former is supported by the closeness of the antecedent. But either way the confirmation is by the Godhead, and is linked with God’s faithfulness in that we learn that He is faithful in carrying out this very purpose.
Just as the testimony of Jesus Christ was ‘confirmed’ in them by the Holy Spirit as He ‘sealed them unto the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4.30), guaranteeing their security (verse 6), so now we also learn that either God Himself or the Lord Jesus Christ Himself guarantees their security, ‘confirming’ them to the end, and guaranteeing that they will be unreproveable in that day. Thus Paul can speak of, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1.6).
So the true people of God are seen as being safe and secure in His hands. They can rely on the faithfulness of God. But there is another side to the picture. The test that they are His people is that He will continue within them His sanctifying work, changing them from glory into glory as they behold His face (2 Corinthians 3.18) that they may be presented perfect before Him, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1.22). That they will be presented unreproveable is guaranteed because He is the One Who ‘confirms’ them. They may stumble but they will not ultimately fall. God will work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13).
‘In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the day when His people come before Him to receive His blessings, to give an account of their stewardship (3.10-15; Romans 14.10-12), and to receive praise from God (1 Corinthians 4.5). It is the day of the Lord’s final triumph.
The ‘day of Christ’ differs from the day of the Lord in that the latter refers more generally to God coming in judgment and finalising His purposes for creation (1 Thessalonians 5.2; 2 Peter 3.10), while the day of Christ and its parallels speak of the day when He comes for His own (1 Corinthians 1.8; 5.5; 2 Corinthians 1.14; Philippians 1.6, 10; 2.16; 2 Thessalonians 2.2; 1 John 4.17). Both occur within the final activities of God at the end of time, but looked at from a differing viewpoint, the one pointing to the day when Christ deals with His own, the other with the time when God brings all things to summation.
‘God is faithful.’ The One Who has called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is totally faithful. This is the final guarantee of what has gone before. The Spirit has sealed us, and Christ and God will ‘confirm’ us, for all rests, not on our faithfulness, but on the faithfulness of God. And none is able to pluck us from His hand (John 10.29).
‘Called us.’ This is effectual calling, and guarantees the future of those called (2 Timothy 1.9; 1 Peter 5.10). In the end the reason why men respond to Christ is because they have been given to Him by the Father (John 6.37, 39) and because the Father draws them to Him (John 6.44).
‘Into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.’ The idea here is of fellowship with Him. The word for ‘fellowship’ (koinonia) signifies communion, fellowship, close relationship, full sharing. It is a favourite expression for the marital relationship thought of as the most intimate between human beings. Thus the idea is of such a close relationship with Christ that nothing can part us. It is an indissoluble union. But it is also a unity that demands being conformed to the One with Whom the union is made. We cannot speak of ‘fellowship’ without thinking in terms of conformity (Romans 8.29). ‘How shall two walk together, except they be agreed?’ (Amos 3.3).
Others would read it as meaning the fellowship of His people established by Jesus Christ, but the context demands that a close relationship with Christ be in mind. It is because we are ‘in Christ’ that we are secure (verses 2, 5). Thus we are members of His body in the closest possible sense (6.15, 17; 10.16-17; 12.12-27; Ephesians 5.30) and fitly framed together in Him (Ephesians 2.20-21).
It may be asked. ‘If Christians are so secure in Christ, how do we explain those who fall away?’ The answer is one of two, either that such people never genuinely committed themselves to Christ from the heart, never really trusted in the saving work of the cross, whatever the outward appearance, were never really in Him. It is that they were converted to an idea, or the friendship of the church, or because someone they loved was a Christian, or because they liked some part of the message which suited their particular viewpoint, or for some other similar reason, and not to true submission to the living Christ. Or alternatively that while being marked off as His, they are being allowed to stray for a while, but can be sure that the Shepherd will seek them until He finds them (Luke 15.4). He will not let them finally stay away. All stray at some point, for every deliberate sin is a straying, but some take longer to be returned than others. Yet, if they are His, returned they will be, for His reputation as a Saviour is at stake.
‘How then,’ it may be asked, ‘can we have assurance that we are His?’ And the answer is, by the genuineness of our response to Christ and the assurance of the Spirit within. This is revealed in our genuine awareness of sin, by our genuine recognition that only through His finished work on the cross can we find forgiveness and salvation, by our genuine response to Him on this basis, by our desire to please Him (not the church or people within the church or Paul or Apollos or Peter or any other outstanding personality, but Him) and our desire therefore to do always what is pleasing to Him. In the end it is final perseverance which is the proof of salvation, for Christ does not fail in His work, but our confidence should be, not in that final perseverance, but in the Saviour in Whose hands we are and Who will bring it about. We may fail, but if we are His He will pick us up again and set us on the right way.
Christ Crucified For Us And The New Birth Through the Spirit Are the Two Central Foundations of Christianity (1.10-4.21).
Paul begins this section by revealing his concern that the Corinthians are in danger of splitting up into different parties around the teaching of certain leading teachers (1.10-17), and concentrating on secondary aspects of that teaching, rather than being united around the one central truth of Christ crucified, the one fact which is central to the Christian message, and around which all should be united, and which points to the One Who alone, by means of what He accomplished there, is effective in bringing about their salvation through the power of God (1.18, 24, 30; 2.2, 4), and is the very foundation of the Christian faith (3.10-15).
The crucifixion of Christ, points out Paul, has brought about the raising up of a wholly new situation. The world is now divided into two. On the one hand is ‘the natural man’, devoid of the Spirit, taken up with human wisdom, divided, rejecting God’s way, despising the cross (1.19 onwards leading up to 2.14), and on the other ‘the spiritual one’, receiving true wisdom from God, trusting fully in the word of the cross, enlightened, the temple of God indwelt by the Spirit (2.4-15; 3.16; 1.24).
The ‘natural man’ is the world in Adam, the first man, and as such earthy and without the Spirit and unable to discern the things of God, with no hope of the resurrection to life (2.14; 15.45-47). The Spiritual One is the last Adam, the second man, the heavenly One, in Whom are found those who are heavenly, Who has given His Spirit to His own so that they might understand the things of God as manifested through the power of the word of the cross, and know the things that are freely given to them of God, and come finally to the resurrection of life (2.10-16; 15.42-49).
But sadly the Corinthian church, while having become a part of the second, are revealing themselves as still very much taken up with the first. They are divided, looking to earthly wisdom, arguing about different teachers as though they brought different messages, rich and yet poor, reigning and yet not reigning (1.12; 2.5; 3.3-4; 4.8), neglecting the word of the cross, and the Crucified One, still behaving as fleshly rather than as spiritual (3.1-3). They are not allowing the word of the cross to do its work in them.
They need to recognise that the teachers are in themselves nothing, ‘weak and foolish’ tools of God (1.26-29) who must themselves account to God (3.10-15), whose task is to build on the One foundation which is Christ, for they are building the Temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is indeed the one Holy Spirit Who reveals through these teachers the crucified Christ and what He has done and is doing for them (2.10-16). For it is one Christ Who has been crucified and through Whom we are being saved.
What should therefore be all important to them is Christ and Him crucified (2.2), the word of the cross (1.18), foreordained before the creation (2.7), the central message they proclaim (3.11), and around which they must unite, for it is He who has been made to them the wisdom from God, even righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1.30). He is the one foundation on which they are built (3.11). The church is one and it is this message that separates them from the outside world which in its folly and blindness despises Him (1.20-23; 2.6, 8) and what He came to accomplish. Thus must they maintain unity in Him, partaking in His one body (10.17; 12.12-13), presenting a united witness to the world (1.10-12), recognising that they are the one Temple of God (3.16), rather than splitting up into a group of different argumentative philosophical groups having lost the recognition that what they have come to believe in Christ is central to the whole future of all things. They need the grand vision.
The Folly Of The Disunity Being Revealed in the Church Because of a Craving for One Man’s Wisdom Over Another’s (1.10-17).
In their world around them they see men taken up with the glory of wisdom of differing kinds, glorying in one preacher or another, divided, arguing, even abusive, but all united in one thing, the despising of the cross. For they saw that wisdom as their means of contact with the divine and the way to obtain the release of their souls. And it seems that the Corinthian church has been caught up in the same spirit.
1.10-12 ‘Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment For it has been signified to me about you, my brothers, by those of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos”, and “I of Cephas”, and “I of Christ”.
Paul now brings up the first thing he has against them as a result of what he has been told by some familiar with the Corinthian church. And that is that they are in danger of splitting up into philosophical groups depending on which particular preacher’s message they favour, or on who baptised them (verse 13), selecting out aspects of their message which were not central and treating them as though they were. This was clearly not just a matter of having a favourite preacher, but of falling out with others over the details and feeling themselves superior because of the name they connected themselves with, the secondary docrines they seemed to emphasise, and the way such presented the Christian message. They were in danger of forming separate groups and hiving off from the rest, and missing the main point of that message, the word of the cross and of the Crucified One. The church in Corinth could easily slip back into being a group of philosophical sects and lose the world view.
This would seem to be because they had favourite pet secondary slants on doctrines which they overstressed and associated with either Paul, Apollos or Peter (Cephas), which made them feel that the others were not really Christians, or were very inferior Christians, because they did not agree. Some even said ‘I of Christ’. These also seem to be considered to be at fault, possibly suggesting that they expressed their superiority haughtily in unchristian fashion and division, seeing themselves as superior, and causing further dissension, but probably also because they had their own strong ideas which depended on stressing only the earthly life and teaching of Jesus over against the teaching of the Apostles and of Paul and the further revelation given to the Apostles, boasting that they stuck firmly to the simple words of Christ, and needed nothing more, ignoring the essentials of the cross and the resurrection. Paradoxically 15.12 may actually have in mind this group.
Paul foresaw the great danger that, in becoming separated off they would all cease to trust in the resurrected Christ (chapter 15) and Him the crucified One, and would begin to trust rather only in the secondary teachings presented by one or another, seen as ‘wisdom’ teaching and accepted as such to the exclusion of the grand picture. Their faith would become second hand and thus unreal. They would become simply members of another wisdom sect (verse 17) rather than proclaimers of the Gospel.
‘Brothers.’ The word is significant here. He is reminding them that they are all members of Christ’s family and in that family are brothers. They should therefore appreciate and love one another. Note that Paul here does not say ‘my’ brothers (contrast verse 11) showing that he is here stressing that the Corinthians are brothers to each other.
‘Through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In other words through what Christ essentially is. It is in Him and what He is that they are one. He is turning their thoughts to the One they should be concentrating on as the Lord of all, and reminding them of what Jesus Christ Himself had said on the issue of unity (John 17.20-21). Unless their faith is centred in Him it is nothing. This citing of Jesus Christ in this way was a favourite approach of Paul’s. Compare ‘by our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 15.30); ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10.1); ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 4.1; 2 Thessalonians 3.12). It was because of their relationship and privileged position in Him that they should respond.
‘That you all speak the same thing.’ In other words that they speak with one voice and present a united front to the world and to young Christians, demonstrating that they are united in Christ and at one with Him and with each other, as Jesus Himself had taught them (John 17.21-13), thus focusing all attention on Christ. Private discussion on secondary is fine, but public dissension is inimical, for it divides Christ and should be kept out of church meetings.
‘And that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ Internally too they are to be at peace with one another, agreeing on the major central truths and being careful to differ in love on secondary interpretations. They are to concentrate on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, Who He is revealed to be and what He came to do. Thus they will have the same mind and the same judgment both on the central truths of the Gospel and on how they should react on secondary matters. This will result in their being ‘perfected together’, having a full unity. Then the world will see one message, one Christ, one people.
‘That you be perfected together.’ The verb katartizo means to make complete, put in order, restore, put into proper condition, make fully trained. Thus Paul wants them to be put right and ‘fully trained’ and taught in the Gospel, made perfectly at one. He wants them to be seen as a fully united body, all acting in unison.
‘It has been signified (revealed, shown) to me.’ Paul is not speaking in the abstract. He has had specific information about their divisions, their disputes and their arguments.
‘By those of Chloe.’ Chloe was a Greek female name meaning ‘verdant’. It was associated with the cult of Demeter, thus it has been suggested that Paul had learned his information from members of that cult. However the name is not intrinsically pagan and there is no reason why it should not have been borne by a very important lady or by a prominent Christian lady (although it was not she who reported it, but her household). It may thus indicate that Chloe was a well known and influential person whose family members, or more probably her servants, possibly as a result of business trips to Corinth, had communicated with Paul about the situation in Corinth, his naming of them being to demonstrate the accuracy and reliability of his knowledge. It is possible that she did not actually live in Corinth as in that case such a revelation of her name by Paul would only cause even more division. Possibly she or her household had visited the church and been disturbed at what they had observed. But Paul assumes that all will recognise their impartiality.
‘I am of Paul -- Apollos -- Cephas (Peter) -- Christ.’ Paul may have used these names simply as examples (4.2). It is clear that he honoured them all. Note the ascending order of importance (in Paul’s eyes), with himself lowest. He demonstrates great respect for them. But it is possible that the teaching of Apollos, as an Alexandrian, who was thus used to allegorising the Scriptures, had in this respect differed from Paul’s, although both had taught the same central message. Thus could have grown up the literal school and the allegorical school. Or some may have been carried away by Apollos’ eloquence (Acs 18.24). Those who claimed the name of Peter may have done so as a result of their response to preachers from Jerusalem who claimed Peter’s authority and preached with a Jewish-Christian emphasis, without necessarily preaching Peter’s full message or observing Peter’s emphases. They may have laid greater emphasis on Jewish aspects and have appealed especially to Jewish Christians. But if so there is no suggestion that it had become a specific problem, only that it was causing ‘division’ by diverting loyalties by exalting secondary matters. Those ‘of Christ’ may have insisted on limiting their understanding only to His actual words, and have scorned the ‘expanded’ teaching of Peter and Paul, rejecting their interpretations, and even the interpretations of the Apostles as a whole.
So Paul here expresses his longing and desire that they put such thoughts aside and concentrate on the full Christian message of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. The preachers are to be nothing. He as Christ crucified is to be everything.
The remainder of the letter does not suggest that this had reached the stage where any were specifically in conflict with essential teaching. Thus it would seem that Paul was seeking to nip a dangerous tendency in the bud rather than having to combat heresy. He was fighting neglect and not specific heresy. He did not want them to deteriorate into a number of wisdom schools, with Christ becoming secondary, or simply another wisdom teacher.
1.13 “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised into the name of Paul?”
Paul now attacks their divisions at their root. There is only one Jesus Christ, and to Him, and to Him alone, should all look. It is not a question of either/or. The messenger is nothing. Christ is pre-eminent. He was the One Who was crucified for them. He was the One into Whose name they had been baptised. Let them then unite in Him and look only to Him, for from Him alone comes the grace and power to deliver. No man can give this power. Without His working men of God have no effectiveness whatsoever in things pertaining to God, and their words, while stirring men’s emotions, will have no real spiritual power. Let all then proclaim and look to Christ.
‘Is Christ divided?’ The Oneness of Christ should stress the need for them to be one in Him (see 10.4, 16-17; 12.12-27). All is centred on Him. He cannot be divided up.
‘Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised into the name of Paul?’ That they should look to Paul or anyone else is the second absurdity. It was Christ Who was crucified for them. It was Christ into Whose name they were baptised. It was from Him that came all spiritual benefits. It was from Him that they had received life, and had received the Holy Spirit. How foolish then to look to Paul, or anyone else.
This is not to doubt that due respect should be paid to those who minister the word of God in their place, but the moment they seek to draw attention to themselves, or begin to think themselves as something, or to draw men away from the whole church of Christ because of the exclusivity of their message, or the moment Christians begin to fall out through loyalty to one man of God or another, or to their message, or esteem them in such a way that disunity is caused in the body of Christ, then too much respect is being paid to them, and their relatively inferior place in the scheme of salvation is being overlooked. If they are godly men it is to Christ that they direct men’s thoughts. It is to Christ and Christ alone that men must look, both for salvation and in respect to their whole manner of living. It is with Him that they must be taken up. It is He that they must venerate. Christ must be all. And then they will also be at one with their fellow Christians. They must beware of hiding Christ behind themselves. In the words of John the Baptiser, every godly minister says, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3.30). He points away from himself to Christ.
1.14-17 ‘I thank God that (or with some good MSS ‘I give thanks that’) I baptised none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, lest any man should say that you were baptised into my name. And I baptised also the household of Stephanas. Apart from these I do not know whether I baptised any other. For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Gospel, not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ should be rendered void.’
For Crispus see Acts 18.8. For Stephanas 1 Corinthians 16.15, 17. The latter’s household is called ‘the firstfruits of Achaia’, thus he may have been Paul’s first convert in that area, which was why he baptised him and his household. The influence of a man on his household is here stressed. It is doubtful if they were baptised unwillingly (compare Acts 16.32-34 where it is stressed that they all believed).
He is now grateful that he had himself baptised so few for it avoided the danger that any would consider that he baptised men in his own name. With these words Paul for ever puts baptism into its rightful place, important but secondary. Baptism does not save, nor is it the Gospel. It was not his first consideration. We learn here that the effective power of Christ to save does not directly work through baptism, although it results in baptism. It is the word of the cross which saves, through proclamation that does not need to contain human methods of persuasion. Then once that word has done its work and brought men to salvation, working effectively in their hearts, they reveal their response by being baptised and by living in accordance with Christ’s teaching.
‘I thank God that I baptised none of you, except --.’ It is clear from this that Paul in his ministry mainly left the work of baptising to others. He was the instrument of God to bring men to salvation through His preaching of Christ. Baptism followed as a separating off from the world, as an open declaration of faith by those who were converted, and as a response to God and means of declaring that they were now dead to the world and alive to God (Romans 6.4). It depicted that those baptised were now drenched with the Spirit and members of the body of Christ, and in many it was the final seal on their burgeoning faith, resulting in their final reception of the Spirit. It depicted that they were one together in Christ (compare 10.2 in context). But it was not the saving instrument. It was a picture of what had happened, or what was happening within them, of what God had done in delivering them, portrayed by a physical act and a further spiritual response in front of the world. But it was the word of the cross which saved. Otherwise Paul would have delighted in baptising as many as he could. If it was as central as some see it he would have made it central in his ministry.
It may well be, of course, that he had a policy of allowing converts to be baptised by local elders as a symbol of unity in the local situation, but not solely so as witness the ones he had baptised. So it was not a matter on which he had strong principles. But his words make clear that it was not to him of prime importance in the bringing about of salvation. It is noteworthy that who baptised people is regularly not stressed (compare Acts 2.41; 8.12, 16; 10.47-48). They are seen thereby as partaking with all Christians in the widespread baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.5, 8; Acts 2). They are baptised because the word of God has been seen to be effective within them. This is not to suggest that baptism is not important. It simply indicates that it is not all important, that its function is as the earthly seal of the heavenly work, but that it does not itself bring about the initial salvation.
‘For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Gospel.’ This puts Matthew 28.18-20 in perspective. When Christ sent His disciples ‘to make disciples of all the nations’, the resulting baptism was important but secondary. Like Paul they preached the power of the cross and the crucified One, and it was this that brought men to Him. Then they were baptised and were taught all that Christ had commanded. Both the latter were important, and their importance must not be diminished, but they were not the saving instrument. They were acts carried out on those who had become disciples, as open acts of response, commitment and obedience, demonstrating that they had entered into the sphere of the Spirit because they had been saved and had chosen to become disciples, not as the effective means by which they first became disciples, although in those days closely linked with it.
‘To preach the Gospel.’ He recognised that it is the preaching and message of the cross that saves, through the inworking of the Spirit, and that alone. It is interesting that Paul does not consider baptising people as ‘preaching the Gospel’, rather he makes a contrast between the two. The Gospel, the saving message of Christ, is not found in baptism (even though its results are proclaimed in baptism). It is found in the message of One Who died for the sins of the world Who calls men to respond in faith and trust and receive forgiveness through the blood that He shed and life through receiving the Spirit of God. And it is that response which results in ‘salvation’, a salvation wrought by God. This is wonderfully illustrated in Acts 10.36-44.
‘Not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be rendered void (or made of no effect).’ But note that it is the proclaiming of the Good News that saves, not the wisdom of the words used. He did not try to woo men with words like the philosophers in the schools did. He did not try to persuade them to accept his theories. It is always man’s idea that people can be persuaded to become Christians just as they can be persuaded to become, say, fishermen. But this is not so, says Paul. Those so ‘persuaded’ are not saved. They have been won by eloquence. The essential power of the cross has been negated. Those who are converted merely through clever words, or emotional manipulation, may put on an outward show, but they may not have become His or experienced the power of His cross. Men won through clever words may never have really entered into ‘the word of the cross’. What was of prime importance was that men saw clearly the significance of the cross, and of Christ the crucified One, for their salvation. For entry into salvation was through that and that alone.
That is not to say that clear explanation and emotion in the light of the message are to be derided, for the former is helpful and the latter understandable. Only that in the end it is the message of what Christ has done for men on the cross, coming home to the heart and resulting in effective response, that alone will save. And without this the preaching is spiritually ineffective. Thus Paul sought to make sure that his message was an effective one that would accomplish this, and carefully avoided anything that might detract from it.
‘Not in wisdom of word.’ The emphasis here is on wisdom revealed through words. Some great philosophers were famed for their wisdom, and many followed their teachings and eloquently used them to convince men to hold certain positions and attitudes. People of many nations were swayed by them. But this was not to be so with the Gospel. Paul wanted not swayed men but saved men. The Gospel was the message of the effectiveness of the power of the cross and of the One Who died there and rose again. If this was hidden by eloquence, or men were ‘converted’ without reference to it, then its effect could not be achieved and it was thus rendered void. And whatever resulted would not be true salvation. The cross, which alone can save, would be negated. If men hear our words, and are impressed with what we say, and yet do not come to appreciate the significance of the cross, we have given them ‘wisdom of word’ and not the ‘word of the cross’, the word of the Gospel. And they will be lost, and we will be to blame.
‘Lest the cross of Christ be made void (or of none effect).’ In other words excluded by men’s eloquence and therefore ineffective. The verb keno-o means ‘to empty’ (here ‘of effect’), ‘to render void’, ‘to make of no effect’. If it is not its message that comes home to the heart all else is useless from a Christian point of view. It is the Christian message to which all else is secondary.
This was part of the danger of looking to individual preachers. Men would begin to turn their eyes from Christ crucified to something less.
The Centrality and Supreme Importance of The Word of the Cross, of the Word of Christ and Him Crucified, in Which God’s True Wisdom Is Revealed to Men In Power (1.18-2.8)
1.18 ‘For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’
‘The word of the cross.’ This contrasts with the ‘wisdom of word’. The latter signifies an emphasis on wisdom, revealed in many ways, in many forms, and made effective through the speaking of words, mere words. But the former has in mind only one word, a unique word, a powerful word, God’s word, in one sense spoken before the foundation of the world (Acts 2.23), but finally spoken through God’s unique act in the crucifixion of His Christ. The emphasis is on God’s own word, made effective through the cross. Through it God Who had already spoken in eternity, had acted and was bringing about His final purpose. Wisdom has its usefulness and its value, but before wisdom was the word. ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1.1), when God spoke through His Word and it was done. It is only His word that has effective power. His word was spoken at the beginning of creation, and now God has spoken again to bring about His new creation through the most amazing word from God that the world has ever seen (2 Corinthians 5.17, 21).
By the word of the cross Paul means the word that God spoke in eternity and sent forth to bring about His saving purpose through the cross (see Isaiah 55.10-11 with 52.13-53.12), the divine word which went forth to fulfil the divine purpose. It means the fulfilment of this in the due process and significance of His crucifixion, carried through as that word of God inexorably went forth in Him, making possible the salvation of a world. And it means the resulting proclamation of Jesus Christ as the One Who was crucified and rose again, bringing about for men through the shedding of His blood on the cross a means of reconciliation with God (Colossians 1.20) and forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1.7), and of new life through His Spirit.
We can see why Paul was hesitant about how he proclaimed that word. It was a word of inconceivable power. For man to try to improve on it would be ridiculous, while for man to conceal it by his own rhetoric would be blasphemy. And yet God had planned that the issuing forth of his divine dictate, of His own eternal redemptive word, with all that it signified for the redemption and deliverance of mankind, would, as far as the world was aware, come through words spoken from the mouths of a seemingly pitiful group of men.
But while the men were weak and frail that word was God’s activity in offering hope to the world. And through their words all the divine power would be unleashed. As he says elsewhere, ‘All things are of God Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning their trespasses unto them, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5.19). The word of the cross is the word of reconciliation with God, sent out by God and spoken by God, and brought about through what Christ has done in bearing our sin, and offered through the mouths of His people. That is why Paul will later say, ‘I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2.2).
In the remainder of the letter this is expressed in terms of Christ as the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us (5.7), foreshadowed so long before, and now covering us with His shed blood that we may partake of Him; in terms of ‘the Lord Jesus’ as the One Who has replaced the old covenant and has sealed the new covenant with His shed blood (11.25); in terms of Christ as the One Who died for our sins, was buried and was raised again on the third day (15.3), and we are reminded that we are ‘bought with a price’ and are thus His (6.20; 7.23), and that we are ‘washed, made holy and declared to be in the right’ in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (6.11). It is the word of salvation.
‘Foolishness to those who are perishing.’ The ‘word’ of the cross, in contrast to the ‘wisdom’ of words, is ‘foolishness’ to those who are perishing and are taken up with man’s philosophy. To them it is inexplicable. They hear the word outwardly, they visualise the dying man on a cross in writhing agony, clearly a commoner, a rebel or a slave, clearly not one approved of by the establishment, and they turn away in contempt. They are appalled. They could possibly accept it as a final revelation of man’s durability and ability to suffer, as an indication of the rejection of the flesh, but how could it possibly be of positive value? How could it bring man to his highest good? And to them this was what all preaching was meant to do. Thus they turned from it in contempt. They had failed to recognise the holiness of God which requires something totally superhuman, some unique propitiation offered wholly from the divine side of things (Romans 3.24-25; 1 John 2.2), if man is to be able to approach the eternal God. Both idolatry and philosophy indicated that in one way or another the world and nature itself provided a way to God. The cross once and for all denies that claim and says that it is through God’s self-offering of Himself alone that salvation can be obtained, and thus it was rejected.
‘Those who are perishing.’ These are those who have not put their trust in the Son Whom God gave (John 3.16). They have not responded to the light of Christ. They are in process of perishing. They see the message of the cross and they ignore it, or laugh at it, or despise it. They see its message as foolish or unnecessary because they are not aware of their own utter sinfulness and inadequacy. Why do they need to be saved in such a way, they ask? They feel that it is not a necessity, indeed that it is unseemly, indeed impossible. They feel that all that is needed is a touch to human nature here and there, some resurgence of spirit, or a release of the spirit from the flesh, not a radical solution like that. A cross that saves? They look for deliverance anywhere else but that. They make all kinds of effort to achieve goodness, and they produce seemingly effective religious instruments to help them on the way, they seek to find solutions in nature and the occult, and in religious ceremonies, to make good the heart of man. But they fail. For all this cannot bring them to the true and living God, and for this reason, because reconciliation is achievable only through the word of the cross, God’s action through the cross and His consequent offering of salvation. Thus they ‘are perishing’. They are without hope. They have rejected the remedy.
‘But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ But those who are ‘being saved’ see things differently. How can God’s power and forgiveness be effectively channelled into the world towards sinful men, they ask? Only through the means that He has devised. And that means is the word of the cross, spoken initially by Him in its very outworking from the beginning (Acts 2.23), and then carried through bringing about the means of eternal redemption, and then proclaimed under the power of the Spirit, and then responded to, whether preached, taught or read. That is the channel, and it is God Himself Who is the Channeler. Once it, and the powerful word of Him Whom it represents, is responded to, God’s power in salvation is released to the ones who respond and they enter into a process whereby they are ‘being saved (present tense indicating a process) by His power.’ For the word of the cross does not cease to exercise its power once a man has first trusted in Christ. It goes on exercising that power throughout his life. It is his only hope. It is his pacemaker. It is his daily glory and delight. For only through the crucified and risen Christ is God’s power and forgiveness available to him. He receives it because he is ‘in Christ’, and it works effectively throughout his life (see Galatians 2.20). He glories in nothing else (Galatians 6.14). In it is centred the whole of salvation. And that word will go on being effective throughout the whole of history until the end when its final purpose has been achieved.
As with sanctification (see on verse 2), salvation, man’s deliverance from the dire penalty and awful power of sin, is spoken of in three ways. Firstly as something that happens to a man the moment he puts his trust in Christ and is ‘saved’ once for all (aorist tense). Then as something that has happened to a Christian in the past whose effects carry on into the present (perfect tense). And finally as something that is a continual present process with future results (present and future tense).
Thus the New Testament speaks of different aspects of 'salvation'. It speaks of ‘having been saved’ ( Titus 3.5; 2 Timothy 1.9 - aorist tense, something that has happened once for all, when through His Spirit the Saviour seized hold of us in order to carry out His saving work, reconciled us to God and cleansed us from our sins). And of ‘having been saved and therefore now are saved’ - Ephesians 2.5; 2.8 (perfect tense, something that has happened in the past the benefit of which continues to the present time). These verses are what are in mind when we say a person has been ‘saved’.
But it also speaks of us as it does here, as those who “are being saved” - 1 Corinthians 1.18; 2 Corinthians 2.15; (present tense - a process going on), - and as those who “will be saved” - 1 Corinthians 3.15; 5.5; 2 Corinthians 7.10; 1 Thessalonians 5.9; 2 Thessalonians 2.13 (future tense - something yet to happen - and equivalents). In other words, when God ‘saves’ someone they are saved once and for all, and it is fully effective. But if it is genuine it means that it will then result in a process by which they are being ‘changed from glory into glory’ (2 Corinthians 3.18), with the final guarantee of a completed process when we are presented holy, blameless and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1.22-23). If the salvation is not progressing, even though slowly, then its genuineness must be questioned. The Saviour does not fail in His work.
Consider the situation of a man drowning at sea, in a fierce storm, clinging to a life raft with one hand, his other arm broken and trailing behind, and both his legs paralysed, having been many hours in the freezing water and suffering from hypothermia, more dead than alive, there because a rescuer has dragged him there, dying in the course of saving him. ‘I have been saved’, he cries. Then along comes the life boat and drags him out and he gasps, hardly able to speak because of the seriousness of his condition, “I am saved”.
Well, it is true. But he has a long way to go. He would not have much confidence in his salvation if they put him to one side in the bow of the boat, with the waves lashing over him, and said to him, “Well, you’re saved now”, and then went off and went to sleep and later practised turning the lifeboat over. His confidence and dependence lie in a fully trained and capable crew who are dedicated to warming him up, treating him and getting him to hospital so that he can be fully restored.
So as they get to work on him, wrapping him in a blanket and gently warming his frozen limbs, trying to set his broken arm and doing everything else necessary to restore him to some kind of normality, and make for the shore, he can begin to have hope and think gratefully to himself, “I am being saved”. But he may well still be aware of the winds howling round, and the boat heaving in the heavy seas, and water flowing in, and the pain and agony of his limbs as a result, and he may then look forward and think, “I will soon be saved”. If his rescuer, and those crewmen, and the ambulance waiting for him on shore on that terrible night, can be so dedicated, can we think that the One Who died on a cross for us on an even more terrible night, can be less dedicated? He does not just want us in the lifeboat. He wants us fully restored. And that is what He is determined to have. And if we want to be saved that is what we must want! We cannot say, ‘Lord, save me, but leave me as I am’.
This salvation is entered into by an act of faith and commitment. As we genuinely recognise our need to be saved (in every way) from sin we commit ourselves completely to the One Who Saves (the Saviour), and trust Him to carry out the work, knowing that once He has begun the good work He will carry it out to the end (Philippians 1.6). We are then, if our response is genuine, both ‘saved’, and have entered the process of ‘being saved’.
1.19 ‘For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the prudence of the prudent I will reject”.’
Paul now turns to Scripture to prove his point. The verse is cited from Isaiah 29.14 (LXX). There the professed people of God had turned away from God and His word and rejected the words of His true prophets, depending on their ‘wise’ leaders. Thus He warns them that what they look to as wisdom and prudence, the wisdom and prudence of their betters, the wisdom and prudence that has caused them to reject the message of God, will be of no avail, and will perish in the end.
The same, says Paul, is true here Those who profess to wisdom and prudence and in the light of it reject the message of the cross will find that their wisdom and prudence only lead to destruction. God will reject them and finally destroy them.
‘For it is written.’ A phrase that demonstrates that what is being cited is the indestructible word of God.
So it is not words that will save men, whether they be the words of philosophers and wise men, or the flowing words of ‘wise’ Christian preachers over a range of subjects, it is the central ‘word of the cross’ that God has ‘spoken’. It is Christ and Him crucified working effectively in men’s lives.
Paul Warns Against Putting Faith in Man’s Wisdom (1.20-21).
1.20-21 ‘Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, it was God’s pleasure, through the foolishness of what was preached, to save those who believe.’
These words echo Isaiah 19.12 and Isaiah 33.18, but Paul does not say ‘it is written’ and he is not citing those passages as evidence of God’s ways’ (unlike in verse 19). He is merely echoing language well known to him. ‘The wise’ probably has in mind wisdom writings, and Greek and Hebrew schools of wisdom, and the like, ‘the scribes’ has in mind the Jewish teachers, (it is not a word used of Greek teachers), and ‘the disputers’ the Greek schools of philosophy and those who admired such teaching and sought to expand on it. (This rare word ‘disputers’ was probably used by Paul deliberately as an indirect rebuff to the ‘disputing’ of the Corinthian church). There much time was spent in disputing, both by them and those affected by them. Men loved to talk about and consider what they saw as wisdom. It made them think how wise they were. And they got very hot-headed about it. And some may have contained much that was good. But it did not achieve what it set out to accomplish, the salvation of those who treasured it. All was thrust to one side by the word of the cross. None of these have brought men to a knowledge of God, have brought into effective working His glorious power, for they have failed to identify Jesus Christ or provide reconciliation with God. They are ‘of this age’, rather than of the coming age. They produce no way back to God. Spiritually therefore they are superfluous. God has set aside their efforts because they point in the wrong direction. And Paul was fearful lest this also happen with the message of Christian preachers, so that those who listened to them somehow missed the essential message of Christ and looked in the wrong direction.
(We should note here that this is not rejecting wisdom which is sought for its own sake, but wisdom which professed to offer salvation to its recipients. The Bible itself contains wisdom literature, e.g. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and wisdom teaching is found within the writings of the prophets, but while helpful it does not itself save).
Indeed by working through the preaching of the cross of Christ, and demonstrating that it is essential for salvation, God has shown up the folly of all efforts of men to achieve heavenly knowledge. Only God can reveal to man the full truth.
The descriptions bring out that both Greek (that which arises from Greek culture) and Jewish wisdom are set aside. This might be seen as tying in with the references to ‘Apollos’ and ‘Cephas’ (Peter) in verse 12, with the thought being that certain in the church were even seeing them as representatives of such Greek or Jewish wisdom teaching. The implication is that they were not to do so, for as such they would be nothing. Their only importance must lay in that they preached Christ. It also ties in with the distinctions in verses 22-23. Paul’s point is that all such teaching has been set aside, whoever it comes from. Wisdom teaching is not salvation teaching.
‘In the wisdom of God.’ The result may seem baffling but it is in the wisdom of God. For God knew that the other forms of wisdom could not achieve their aim. He knew that His was the only way. This was true wisdom. So Paul contrasts the true wisdom with the false wisdom, and he does it with irony. When it comes to heavenly things, true wisdom comes from God. Man does not understand the ways of God, and man’s ‘wisdom’ therefore leads him astray in the wrong direction.
The verse indicates God’s sovereignty in that it portrays this failure as being revealed through God’s wisdom. It was the all-wise God Who knew what would happen, and indeed Who in the last analysis determined what would happen. He knew that men would be surrounded by darkness and would not see light. He knew that they would fail to be truly enlightened and to recognise the Reconciler. And He determined, in giving that enlightenment, that men would not find that enlightenment through their own wisdom, but through faith, thus making it available to all. His determination of this came out in the result.
But man’s state also, of course, resulted from the fact that man was blinded by his own sin, and thus would not, and in a sense could not, respond to God’s revelation of Himself through nature (Romans 1.18-32; Acts 14.17; 17.27), and now through the cross, because of his own sinfulness. Man could not blame God. He was at fault for his own failure. What God determined was the way in which His gift of enlightenment would come to man.
‘The world through its wisdom did not know God.’ All man’s efforts and all his brilliance could not enable him to know God, nor ever will. There his wisdom was defeated. The reason why this was so is given in the next chapter. He could speculate, he could surmise, he could talk about God, but he could not know God. He could not go beyond the world. Thus when he pictured God he often did it in terms of ‘corruptible man, birds, four-footed beasts and creeping things’ (Romans 1.23), the utmost in folly. Nor were the Jews, who had no images, in any better state. They had their own mental images. But they too were wrong. For Jesus Himself said they neither knew the Father nor Him (John 8.19;16.3). Whatever God they imagined was not the true God. They did not understand His ways.
‘It was God’s good pleasure.’ Again the sovereignty of God is stressed. All that happens is of His good pleasure, and especially this. But it is also the inevitable consequence of the way of things in the moral universe which He created.
‘Through the foolishness of what was preached.’ It was not really foolish, of course. It only appeared so to foolish man. The message of the cross followed the divine logic and the divine understanding. It was the product of God’s extreme wisdom. It was the issuing forth of God’s divine power in the way He had determined. It appeared foolish because man did not have a full understanding of himself and his own inadequacy, and was not therefore aware that his need of reconciliation and atonement, which he actually showed himself to be aware of by his religious activities, could only be met by God taking on Himself all man’s iniquity (Isaiah 53.6). Man still clung to the belief that with a great effort and a little religion he could save himself, with, of course, a little help from God and from his own religious ordinances, and he acted accordingly.
‘To save those who believe.’ The basis of salvation is clearly emphasised. It is through faith in and response to God and what He has done in Jesus Christ, faith in the cross and in what it achieved, and faith in the crucified One through Whom it was achieved. Man can only be saved as he believes in and responds to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, the sinless One made sin for us, thereby receiving forgiveness, being declared righteous and being reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5.20-21). That is why there is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we can be saved (Acts 4.12).
They Are Thus Rather To Look To God’s Wisdom (1.22-25).
1.22-24 ‘Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumblingblock, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’
The problem lay in the nature of man. ‘Jews ask for signs.’ The Jews were a practical people. They wanted to see the divine activity. They wanted ‘signs’ (John 2.18; 6.30). They were always looking round for proof that God was about to do something for them. They wanted external verification. The idea arose from their history. Their history was a history of signs, and they looked for more. This was understandable, and yet ironically Paul knew that they had seen such signs. They had seen them in the life of Christ. They had seen His teaching and His continuous flow of miracles. They had even seen evil spirits defeated and the dead raised. But they had closed their eyes to them. The truth was they would only accept signs that came from someone who fell in with their particular viewpoints, someone who acted like the Devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations (Matthew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-12) and performed spectacularly, someone who favoured them and acknowledged their support, recognising how right they were. They thought that they already had wisdom in the Law. They did not need wisdom.
‘Greeks seek after wisdom.’ ‘Greeks’ means Gentiles influenced by Greek ideas, the main constituents of that part of the Roman Empire. The Greeks were admired for their rationalism, their breadth of thought, their metaphysical ideas. And they were interested in all forms of wisdom teaching, including that which sought the release of the soul from the degraded body of flesh through attaining esoteric knowledge. And they had influenced the world around them. Men thought that such ideas would pierce the curtain that hid them from divine things, and they sought to speculate more and more, thinking that eventually they would hit on the truth. Indeed many thought that they had hit on the truth. But in the end their ideas faded, to be replaced by others. They did not achieve their object. Such knowledge could not bring reconciliation with God, and could not bring life.
‘But we preach Christ crucified (or ‘a crucified Messiah’).’ But although in Christ the Jews were given signs and the Greeks were shown true wisdom, they both rejected what they were given, dismissing it as foolish. To the Jews the preaching of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. For crucifixion was the sign of a cursed man, and they could not and would not accept a cursed Messiah. They could not see that they were in fact under a curse and therefore that the One Who would redeem them must be ready to take their curse upon Himself (Galatians 3.10-13). They wanted to be saved, but by something that fitted in with their ideas, something respectable, by obedience to the Law, by submission to the ordinances of the covenant, not by something so radical. (They failed to see that it was what their whole system was pointing to).
And to be saved by a crucified Jew was to Greeks a thought beyond acceptance. To them salvation must come through the Greeks, and through Greek ideas, and through ‘wisdom’, not through something so vulgar as a self-proclaimed Jewish prophet, or even worse a self-proclaimed god, dying like a common slave, a rebel, on a cross. Such a thought was preposterous. Thus the message of the crucified Christ was in general dismissed by both.
‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks --’. Once again we have the idea of effectual calling. It does not just mean called by men. It means effectually called by God. They have been called by God through the word and proclamation of the cross and have responded. And it includes both Jews and Greeks, whose eyes have been opened so that they responded to God’s saving action, who have been drawn by the Father (John 6.44).
‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This parallels ‘Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek after wisdom.’ Christ answered both requirements, for to those who had eyes to see He had the power to perform signs, indeed was Himself the sign, and He had the wisdom to reveal truth, for He was Himself the Truth (John 14.6). But it means far more than that. It means He has power and wisdom in abundance. Indeed that He is the One through Whom is revealed the fullness of God’s own power and wisdom. That His power is revealed through His saving work, through His death and resurrection, and its results in the lives of men, and His wisdom through the effectiveness of that work in saving all who believe. He is thus the source of all true power and the source of all true wisdom, especially of saving power and saving wisdom. For that Almighty power is revealed through the cross (verse 18), which also reveals His great saving wisdom (verse 21).
1.25 ‘Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’
This verse connects with what is to come (verse 27), while also connecting with what has gone before. What men call foolish proved to be the revealed power of God (verse 18), because God’s ‘foolishness’ far surpasses the greatest wisdom known to man. And although Christ was on the cross in weakness, it was in a weakness that overcame all the power of the Enemy. Thus apparent foolishness and apparent weakness triumphed. The cross seemed to reveal weakness but it proved in fact to be the most powerful instrument the world had ever seen. For God’s ways always surpass men’s ways, and although seemingly weak and foolish, prove to be the means by which His great wisdom and power are revealed, and His saving work accomplished.
Thus let them set aside the sign-seeking of the Jews, and the wise folly of the Greeks, and even the flowery teaching of Christian preachers, and let them concentrate on what is God’s wisdom, the message of the cross and the crucified One.
Let Them Consider Whom God Has Chosen And What He has Done For Them (1.26-31).
1.26-29 ‘For look at your calling, brothers, how that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame those who are wise, and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are powerful. And the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are. That no flesh should glory before God.’
The themes of folly and weakness continue. He asks them to consider themselves. Not only did God reveal His power and wisdom through the cross, which was in man’s eyes but weakness and folly, He also chose as His instruments those who were weak and foolish, that He might reveal through them His power and wisdom, making them powerful and wise in God’s power and wisdom. Men found Him not by wisdom but by being called.
‘Look at (behold) your calling.’ They have been called and chosen by God. Note the threefold stress on His choosing. But whom has the Great God called and chosen? He has chosen the weak and the foolish, the base and the despised, the things that count for nothing. The Galilean fishermen and the despised local tax-collector are the kind who make up His followers. And the same applies among the Corinthians. They too can look at their numbers and see that they are mainly made up, not of those recognised as ‘wise’, not of those who are influential, and aristocratic, not of the rulers of this world, but of slaves and of poor men, of artisans and labourers, with ‘the great’ a comparative rarity among them (although there were quite a number of influential men). Thus God selects His army for the future and it reveals similarity with the cross, a picture of apparent weakness and folly. But it will overcome the world through God’s power revealed through the cross.
The world sees His followers as foolish, but they will put the wise to shame. The world sees His followers as weak, but they will put the strong to shame. The mighty Roman Empire will wither and be no more, Greek culture will be displaced, but the people of God will go from strength to strength. They will in a sense replace both.
‘Has God chosen.’ Again the theme of His sovereignty is apparent. He points out that the fact that the church is made up of the foolish and the weak, the base and the despised, is no accident. It is God’s deliberate choice, God’s working, so that men may recognise their rightful place in God’s eyes, weak and foolish, base and despised, but loved and chosen.
Indeed it has always been so. In the Old Testament and especially in the Psalms those who sought God were seen as the ‘poor’ and ‘humble’. Those terms were used to depict those who responded to God truly. For they were the ones most likely to listen to God and to look to God, and only those who took up their attitude of heart found life.
‘And the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are.’ In context this is comparing nonentities with the great and the wise. The Corinthian Christians are nothings, Paul is a nothing (note the almost contemptuous ‘things’), but it is through such as them that God will do His mighty work, revealing the great as not great, the wise as not wise, indeed as the true nonentities in relation to God’s kingdom. For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.18)
‘That no flesh should glory (or ‘boast’) before God.’ The purpose in all this is that man might realise what he is, and not boast in the sight of God. That he might recognise that any glory or wisdom he has apart from God is as nothing. This is true of Jewish Rabbis, of Greek philosophers and of Christian preachers. It is true of men of power and men of wealth. It is true of the rulers of this world. It is true of all. Men may seem to achieve much but unless God applies the word, the effective power that brings about His purposes, what they do is in the long run in vain. Their work is only temporal. And the only ‘word’ He sends forth to do His work is the word of the cross. Thus none can have cause to glory for to succeed they are totally dependent on God for their efforts and their preaching and their teaching to be effective, and if it is effective it will not be through their wisdom but through the power at work through the cross. And in the end there is nothing else to glory in.
1.30-31 ‘But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, even righteousness, sanctification and redemption. That according as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord”.’
Having stressed their lowliness Paul now points out their glorious state ‘in Christ’. In Him they have all the riches of God. In Him they belong to God and are born of God. They are ‘of Him’, that is, of God. (Note that in the phrase ‘Of Him are you’ - ‘are you’ is stressed). And because they are ‘of Him’, His own reborn children, His treasured possession, they are ‘in Christ Jesus’ Who has become to them the wisdom of God and wisdom from God. That is, He through His action and power has brought about what God’s wisdom knew to be best, and what God in His wisdom purposed, and indeed knew was the only way. That is, that through His death and resurrection, and the power of His Spirit, Christ Jesus Himself would become their righteousness, their sanctification and their redemption.
‘Who has become to us -- righteousness, sanctification and redemption.’ This primarily refers to the first work wrought on the believer to make him acceptable in God’s sight, the work that takes place when he believes. He becomes as one who is accounted righteous with the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.21), as one who is set apart for God in Christ (John 17.19; Acts 26.18; Ephesians 5.26) and as one freed from sin by the payment of a price, the price of His death (Mark 10.45; 1 Peter 1.18-19). But with God it can never stop there. The final result must be that they will become truly righteous, that they will become holy as God is holy, and that they will reveal that redemption by demonstrating that they are God’s true and fully delivered sons, delivered from the power of sin, for that will be the result of the effectual working of His power. So what Christ imputes to them He will certainly also impart to them.
‘Righteousness.’ Through what He has done for them on the cross they are counted as righteous and acceptable in the sight of a just God (Romans 3.26), being freely declared righteous through His grace (Romans 3.24), as a result of the response of faith (Romans 3.28). God’s gracious favour is the means, faith the channel. ‘For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we may be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). And what greater righteousness can there be than the righteousness of God in Christ?
‘Sanctification.’ This is why they are sanctified, and sanctified ones (see on verse 2), because Christ is made unto them sanctification. In His holiness they are accepted as holy. In His being set apart as God’s alone, they are set apart as God’s alone. In His being sacred to God, they are sacred to God. In His being God’s treasured possession, they are God’s treasured possession (compare 1 Peter 2.9). For they are ‘in Him’, united with Him in His body so that what is His is theirs. Yet being so united can only finally result in their being made truly holy (1 Thessalonians 4.3-8; Hebrews 2.10-11; 10.14) and zealous of good works (Titus 2.14).
‘Redemption.’ Redemption means being released by the payment of a price, here with the emphasis of freedom from the slavery of sin. In the Old Testament redemption signified the delivering of His people by God through the exercise of His power, and it would finally result in another Eden. In the New Testament ‘redemption through His blood’ brings the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1.7; Colossians 1.14). That is the price paid, for He is the One Who gave His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45; 1 Peter 1.18-19). So being redeemed from transgressions through His death provides the promise of an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9.15). This redemption is a present redemption achieved through the cross. They have been bought out from under sin. In Him they are a delivered people, for He is their redemption, both in the price paid and the power exercised. But this also looks forward to the final redemption when they will finally be delivered from all sin, and from every ill (Ephesians 1.14; 4.30; Romans 8.23).
No better picture of this can be found than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the journey through the wilderness, extended because of weakness, and the final (if idealistic) triumphant entry into Canaan.
Some see ‘wisdom from God’ as meaning that He is the personification of Old Testament wisdom (e.g. Proverbs 8), but if this be so it is surely secondary, for the Greek construction separates wisdom from righteousness, sanctification and redemption, suggesting that the latter arise from the former, and the context thus suggests that saving wisdom is in mind, the wisdom revealed through the effectiveness of the preaching of the cross which results in righteousness, sanctification and redemption in Christ. ‘Wisdom’ may guide men’s lives, but it does not save them. Only God’s wisdom does that through God’s means.
Others see righteousness, sanctification and redemption as indicating a process. First believers are accounted righteous, then they experience sanctification, and finally they are redeemed at the final redemption. But the usage in 1 Corinthians favours the seeing in the nouns a description of the once-for-all work of Christ on those who believe. All Christians have been declared righteous (6.11; Romans 3.24-28), all are now ‘sanctified ones’ (1.2; 6.11), all have been ‘bought with a price’ from under the slavery of sin (6.20). But the idea is right in that this initial work then begins a continuing work which results in a process of being made righteous, of experiencing salvation, of experiencing the power of redemption, and then comes to completion in being finally made righteous, in being finally made holy, and in final redemption being fulfilled (Ephesians 5.27; Colossians 1.22; Jude 1.24).
‘As it is written.’ Again indicating a quotation from Scripture as the abiding word of God.
‘That according as it is written, “He who glories (or ‘boasts’), let him glory (or ‘boast’) in the Lord.” ’ This is a summarised rendering of Jeremiah 9.23-24. Christians are sometimes called conceited because they claim to have eternal life, to be going to ‘Heaven’, to be righteous in God’s eyes. But they do this, if they are behaving as true Christians, (and, alas, sometimes we do not), because they are humbly glorying in the Lord and what He has done for them. They know they have no merit of their own, that all that is theirs is through Christ. And they glory in Him, yes, boast in Him, and want others to glory in Him too.
But while one purpose of Paul in citing this here is to demonstrate that Christians glory in the Lord because of what Christ has been made to them, he also intends his readers to recognise that therefore neither they, nor those who minister to them, have anything to glory in except this. They do not glory in ministers of the Gospel, they do not glory in any privileged position they may have, they glory in Christ alone. For He alone can save, and all attention must therefore be on Him, that men may see Jesus only. This will be the theme of what follows.
Paul Now Stresses His Own Example To Demonstrate That the Gospel in its Successful Presentation by Him Had Not Been with Eloquence and Wisdom, But In Power (2.1-8).
2.1-2 ‘And I, brothers, when I came to you, did not come with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery (or ‘testimony’) of God, for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him the crucified one.’
In accordance with what he has said Paul reminds them of how he himself approached them with the Gospel. He did not come as an orator using flowery words. He did not put on a show of wisdom pretending to, and expanding on, special knowledge. He simply and straightly preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is not here attacking eloquence or true wisdom. He is attacking preaching which gained its sole impact through eloquence, and depended on eloquence for its effect, and wisdom which was wisdom in men’s eyes, but not in God’s, as described in the previous verses, both of which could blur the essential content of the message.
‘Proclaiming to you the mystery (or testimony) of God’. The early authorities are fairly equally divided between reading ‘mystery’ (musterion) or ‘testimony’ (marturion) with the edge towards ‘mystery’. The third century papyrus 46 (the Chester Beatty papyrus) and the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, together with 5th century Alexandrinus, support ‘mystery’ but the fourth century Codex Vaticanus, and a fifth century (?) ‘correction’ in Codex Sinaiticus support ‘testimony’. But as the term ‘mystery’ also appears in verse 7, and the ‘mystery of God’ is also mentioned in Colossians 2.2; Revelation 10.7 (compare also 1 Timothy 3.16 ‘the mystery of godliness’), whereas the term ‘the testimony of God’ occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, the weight would seem to be towards ‘mystery’ as the correct original. For ‘testimony’ is usually used in relation to Christ.
The term ‘the testimony of Christ’ occurs in 1 Corinthians 1.6 and ‘the testimony of our Lord’ in 2 Timothy 1.8. The ‘testimony of Jesus Christ’ appears in Revelation 1.2, 9 in parallel with ‘the word of God’ and in 12.17 in parallel with ‘the commandments of God’. The ‘testimony of Jesus’ is found in Revelation 19.10. Thus in view of the fact that the idea of testimony or witness is always elsewhere referred to Jesus Christ and not God, and the ‘mystery of God’ is mentioned elsewhere, we must favour ‘mystery’ as the original here as in verse 7, unless there is good reason to do otherwise
In the New Testament a ‘mystery’ refers to God’s divine plan, once hidden but now revealed openly to His own. It is a testimony now made to something not fully previously known. Thus Paul is here referring to the message of the cross as something once hidden, although indirectly depicted in the Old Testament sacrifices, but now openly revealed and declared as the means of salvation. Although depicted clearly in Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 53), it was of such a nature that man’s wisdom had not caught on to it. And its present revelation now especially brought out the folly of man’s wisdom. This fits aptly into this context, and ties in with its use in verse 7.
In favour of ‘testimony’ some would question as to why any copyist should make the change this way. But the reason is not hard to find. ‘Testimony’ is superficially attractive because the whole passage is referring to Paul’s testimony to the Corinthians, and it is unlikely that the copyist would discern or think about its parallel usages. And ‘testimony’ had then become an ‘in word’ for the witness, often to death, of Christians before the heathen world and heathen judges. And they knew that Paul had been a ‘marturos’.
‘I determined not to .’ That is, ‘made a judgment that I would not--’ (krino - to judge).
‘Know anything among you except Christ, the crucified One.’ His message was to be centred only on Christ with special emphasis on Him as the One Who was crucified and now lives, with no flowery background calling on many aspects of wisdom. All was to be centred on Christ. All was to be centred on the cross. And as his letters make clear that means that it included all that He was doing and would yet do as a result of the victory obtained at the cross. For every aspect of the work of Christ, past, present and future, centres around the cross. All that we receive from God comes through the cross. His ministry would thus not be a restricted one except in this, that in everything Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Saviour was to be kept central and made abundantly clear.
2.3-5 ‘And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my word and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’
Paul stresses the great concern that he had had that his words to them might not be just persuasive and clever words, but that his preaching should be in demonstration of the Spirit and power. He had wanted to ensure that they did not respond because of his persuasion, or as a result of elegant ideas, but because of the Spirit’s persuasion and testimony to the cross as He revealed His power among them. For he knew that if they only believed for his sake their faith would soon fail. But if it was founded in the work of the Spirit and on the word of the cross it would stand firm, for all God’s power would be behind it.
‘I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.’ This was how he felt inside as he had contemplated the message he had brought them. ‘Weakness’ may indicate a physical indisposition of one kind or another. The word often means illness. But it may simply mean a sense of lack. We must not, however, overstress the fear and much trembling. It is one of his favourite descriptions to describe genuine concern, and regularly means simply that, that he was acting in genuine and careful concern. See 2 Corinthians 7.15 where the Corinthians had received Titus ‘with fear and trembling’ and Philippians 2.12 where the Philippians are told to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ In both cases it is clear that it is a slight exaggeration to stress great concern and effort. See also Ephesians 6.5.
Thus Paul is stressing how genuine his aim had been. He had come to them in weakness, either because he had recognised that the success that really mattered would not come from his strength and power but from the power of the word of the cross, or because of some indisposition, and he had come ‘in fear and trembling’ because he was very concerned that his ministry should be in the power of the Spirit. When a minister does not come to preach in ‘weakness, fear and much trembling’ we may need to question his genuine calling.
‘My word and my preaching were not in persuasive words of men’s wisdom.’ The word of the cross is powerful to save (1.18) when accompanied by the Spirit, and God saves men ‘through the foolishness of what is preached’ (1.21), that is, through the foolishness of the preaching of the Gospel (1.17), which in turn is the word of the cross (1.18), once they respond in belief and trust. But both require the Spirit as the necessary condition. Thus he was careful to avoid a word and preaching which simply expressed and taught human endeavour, and used persuasive words containing men’s carefully constructed wisdom so as to sway their beliefs, and engaged in eloquent and flowery language, which might blur the message of the cross.
‘But in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’ By coming to God in weakness and godly fear and opening himself to God he became a channel of the Spirit. Thus his preaching was powerful and effective, and produced powerful results (compare Galatians 3.5). It was a demonstration of power. It was a demonstration of the Spirit at work. Notice the continual stress on ‘power’ in the whole passage (1.18, 24; 2.4, 5). The word of the cross was God’s word active in power (Isaiah 55.11). The combination with this of a man faithful to the message of the cross and submissive to the Spirit resulted in powerful preaching, because it was such preaching that applied the power of God to men’s hearts. It gave men spiritual wisdom (2.11-16), it brought men under the Kingly Rule of God (4.20), it dealt firmly with open sin (5.3-5). This then resulted in the spiritual gifts which were manifested among the Corinthians (12-14). All had demonstrated that God was there.
‘That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.’ This was why he feared, this was the reason for his great concern, the fear that because of clever words and highflown ideas men would be ‘convinced’ but would not be genuinely responsive to God Himself, being like reeds swaying in the wind, uncertain as to quite why they had responded, and just as easily convinced when others spoke a different message. So rather than this he concentrated on submission to the Spirit and the preaching of the word of the cross (for which see 1.18). Then he knew that any response of faith would be permanent because it resulted only from the powerful activity of God.
In all this Paul is not denying that he preached as effectively as he could, and as carefully as he could. Indeed that is his point. That he concentrated all his skills on ensuring ‘with greatest care’ that the central message was plain and that it got over. Away with impressing people. He wanted them to know exactly what he was saying. He wanted them to receive and understand the message of Christ and Him crucified. And above all he wanted it to be not in his own power, but in the power of the Spirit.
2.6-8 ‘Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are perfect. But a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world which are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds to our glory, which none of the rulers of this world knew, for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’
Having spoken of foolishness he now wants to correct any misapprehension. It is not really foolishness that they are speaking, it merely appears like that to unbelievers. It is in fact great wisdom. Those who have received understanding, who have received perfection in Christ (1.10; Philippians 3.15; 2 Timothy 3.17; Hebrews 10.14), recognise and admire its wisdom.
Here the idea of being ‘perfect’ is of having been made ‘perfect’ in mind in Christ, having fully accepted the word of the cross, and having thus taken up the right mind set in the Spirit. Having received enlightenment and understanding from God Himself they have ‘perfect’ understanding. It is to have matured into adulthood as no longer children under the Law, but as adult sons through the Spirit of adoption so that we receive the Spirit of His Son whereby we cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4.4-6).
As with many other Christianised words it has a past, a present and a future reference. Jesus’ hearers would become ‘perfect’ by taking up the same attitude towards others as God had, that is, by yielding their wills to the will of God, taking up His mind set as demonstrated through what He revealed Himself to be (Matthew 5.48). For the rich young ruler to become ‘perfect’ he had to yield his will to God by yielding his riches and taking up the right mind set towards his riches (Matthew 19.21). To be ‘perfect’ (men and not children) in understanding is to have the right mind set in order to be ready to receive spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 14.20). It is the Spirit Who makes ‘perfect’, giving the right mind set, and nothing else is therefore required (Galatians 3.3). To press on towards the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus indicates the ‘perfect’ man (Philippians 3.15), the one with the right mind set towards God. Thus to be perfect is to have a right mind and heart set towards the will of God, which comes about through the working of God’s Spirit, so that Christians, who initially receive this mind set at conversion, are called on to reveal it in their lives, and to maintain it. That it also has a continuing present and future significance, is revealed in Ephesians 4.12-13.
But the wisdom that is appreciated by having the spiritual mind set does not gain the appreciation of ‘the world’. It contradicts all that the world believes about the innate goodness of man. It is a wisdom which the world’s rulers (‘not many noble are called’ - 1.26) do not appreciate. They scorn it. They reject it. It does not agree with their view of things, or with their view of how things should be. It would interfere with their future intentions, and their desire to keep control of the world by their own methods. It is rather a wisdom that reveals what God has foreordained, from the beginning of time, a wisdom that brings about potential of the salvation of the world (John 3.16; 1 John 4.14) through the death of His Son, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.3-10).
‘We do speak wisdom.’ That is, Apollos, Peter and himself (1.12), along with all like-minded preachers.
‘Among those who are perfect.’ The word rendered ‘perfect’ means ‘full and complete’, ‘having full measure’, ‘fully developed’. They are those who have become true sons and have received the right mind set through the Spirit. They have received true wisdom. Thus it means those whose understanding is enlightened (Ephesians 1.18), because they have fully grasped the truth of the message and have fully understood its implications. They have received a full measure of God’s wisdom, and recognise the wisdom of the word of the cross. They have become knowledgeable in Christ. They have received the Spirit which has made them complete in Him.
‘Yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, those who are coming to nought.’ The world does not see it as wisdom. It goes against all that they hold dear, it contradicts their own self-righteousness. It calls on them to behave in a way in which they do not want to behave. It calls on them to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow Him. It calls for genuine humility. And this goes against all that they are.
Nor do the world’s rulers see it as wisdom. They have demonstrated this in that they actually carried out the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. They did not want someone who got in the way of how they saw things. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, all had their own reasons for getting rid of Jesus. They followed different aspects of man’s wisdom, both Jewish and ‘Greek’, but their ends were the same. This last fact confirms that the ‘rulers of this world’ are not to be seen as spiritual forces but as human beings (although we may see spiritual forces as at work behind them). So again we are reminded that the wise of the world, and the powerful of the world, have rejected this wisdom, which has on the whole only been received by those who are foolish and weak, those who are base and despised (1.27-28), for the powerful do not want to humble themselves as sinners.
‘Those who are coming to nought.’ That is, those who are to be made ineffective, powerless, who are to pass away, who are to be brought to an end, who are doomed to perish. In other words their wisdom will cease in contrast with the expansion of the everlasting wisdom. Their power will fail in contrast with the eternal power at work through the Spirit. Their authority will collapse as God’s authority and Kingly Rule expand. For they themselves will come to nothing.
‘But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even that which has been hidden.’ We declare something which, in the wisdom of God, has been hidden, a mystery which is now a revealed mystery to those who have come to understanding, who have thereby become ‘perfect’, something hidden in the foreknowledge of God but now made known. God’s secret is now laid bare to His own. The Old Testament had built up to the coming of Christ, it had revealed what God was going to do quite clearly to those with eyes to see it, and yet the way of His coming and what He did in His coming has taken all by surprise. Although it was there to see, none saw it. To His own it has now been made clear. To all others it is still a mystery.
‘Which God foreordained before the ages (worlds) unto our glory.’ It is a wisdom revealed in the plan and purpose of God, foreordained before time began. And that wisdom is made up of all that is contained in the word of the cross and of the crucified and risen Christ, spoken by God, issued forth from God, and brought to fruition when the hour had come, so that all who responded in faith and trust might be saved. And God purposed it from the beginning that through it ‘we’ might receive ‘glory’ through being in Christ, a glory which is both present and future. The idea of glory includes future splendour, both literal and moral (2 Corinthians 3.18), and honour (1 Corinthians 15.43) and is meanwhile descriptive of the joy and rapture that fills the hearts of His people (1 Peter 1.8) and of the power that rests on them through the Spirit of God (1 Peter 4.14).
For the amazing thing is that it is God’s gracious purpose for His people, that they may receive glory, as is constantly emphasised. Being declared righteous by faith we ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5.2), for the body at the resurrection, sown in dishonour, will be ‘raised in glory’ (1 Corinthians 15.43), when He comes in His glory (Matthew 24.30; Mark 13.26; Luke 21.27), for when Christ Who is our life is revealed and made known, we also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3.4).
Further, the ministration of the Spirit, the ministration of righteousness, is with glory (2 Corinthians 3.8-9), so that as we behold (or reflect) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, even though the mirror reveals it but dimly (1 Corinthians 13.12), we are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18), and our light affliction, which is for a moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4.17), so that we know that we will receive a crown of glory that is unfading (1 Peter 5.4).
Thus our being ‘called’ through the Gospel will result in our ‘obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2.14). For the elect are to ‘obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2.10), and God has called us into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2.12; 1 Peter 5.10), and is bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2.10). Note here that the calling of the elect by God is through the Gospel, through the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.17-18), and results in glory. So the glory that His people are destined to is very real.
2.8 ‘Which none of the rulers of this world know, for if they had known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’
This refers back in his mind to both ‘wisdom’ and ‘glory’. They did not know the wisdom of God, and thus they did not recognise the glory which came in the Lord Jesus, the glory of Christ. He was in the world as God’s word and God’s light, and the world did not know Him (John 1.9). Though they considered themselves wise and were themselves arrayed in splendour and glory, the rulers’ foolishness was revealed in their crucifying the One Who was made to us the wisdom of God (1.30) and is ‘the Lord of glory’, a glory more long lasting and greater far than theirs, and a glory which He provides for His own.
Their mind set was such that they were oblivious both to God’s wisdom and the glory revealed in Christ. This is clear from the fact that in their extreme folly they crucified the Lord of glory, they sought to destroy the true glory. Nothing could reveal what they were better than that. And why did they do this? Because they were without the Spirit of God.
This Message Is Revealed To Men by the One Holy Spirit Enlightening the Mind and Heart (2.9-16).
Verses 9-10 are connecting verses. They confirm what has been said about the wonder of what God has done, and lead in to Paul’s explanation of how God brings it home to men.
2.9 ‘But as it is written, “Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which did not enter into the heart of man, whatever things (those refer to) God prepared for those who love him”.’
He declares that Scripture reveals that what he has been describing is beyond human comprehension. It is describing what man could neither see, nor hear, nor know within. It therefore results in something that is naturally outside man’s ability to understand. Yet it speaks of what God has prepared for those who love Him. And he goes on to say that it is revealed by God’s own Spirit coming to man’s spirit, if they receive Him, and making all supernaturally known.
‘As it is written.’ Again Paul intends to reinforce his argument from the authoritative word of God.
The verse in mind is Isaiah 64.4 possibly amplified by 65.16c (LXX). Isaiah 64.4 reads in the Hebrew, ‘From of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, a God beside you Who works for those who wait for Him.’ In LXX it reads, ‘From of old we have not heard, nor have our eyes seen a God beside you, and your works which you will perform for those who wait for mercy’. 65.16c LXX reads ‘neither shall they at all come into their mind’ (Hebrew ‘nor come into mind’).
As regularly (compare 1.19, 31) Paul may well be making a deliberate paraphrase in order to specifically apply the verse or verses (compare the same method in Mark 1.2-3) to the situation, for the point he is bringing out is that God has done a new thing for His own which is beyond anything man has known or seen, He is working for them in a new way, just as He promised in the days of Isaiah. The change from ‘wait for Him’ to ‘love Him’ is in part simply a change of emphasis, for those who wait for Him are those who love Him, and in part a declaration that there has been a moving forward. They no longer wait lovingly but love Him because He has acted, because of what He has done in the cross. Paul is concerned that there be a full response to the significance of the cross. To Paul Christians are those who supremely love God (Romans 8.28).
Origen suggested that this actual wording was as found in the Apocalypse of Elijah, but that is unknown to us and it may well be that that apocalyptic writing as known to Origen was quoting from Paul, just as Clement of Rome may have had Paul’s quotation in mind when he writes ‘For [the Scripture] says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which He has prepared for them that wait for Him”.’ Alternately some have suggested that they all obtained it from a jointly known source such as a Jewish/apocalyptic collection of verses not known to us. (Exact quotation was more difficult in those days due to shortage of manuscripts and the difficulty in consulting them, and anthologies would often be used, just as we use different versions).
But the significance of the words is the same. What God will do is beyond what man has ever known, for God will act on behalf of those who love Him, who trust Him, who wait for Him, in a way beyond telling.
2.10 ‘But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.’
For at this end of the ages the Spirit has been poured out from above to illuminate the church of Christ, all who truly believe in Christ, and He has revealed to God’s people (‘to us’, emphasised by its position) the things hidden from the ages, what God has foreordained for them through the crucified and risen Messiah, and through the power of His work accomplished on the cross, which has revealed and brought into effect the divine power as never before. For nothing is hidden from His Spirit. He searches all things, yes, even the deepest secrets of God.
The personality of the Spirit comes out here, for He is depicted as searching out in order to reveal. When we speak of ‘searching’, however, the point is that He searches it out along with us. He is not seeking new truth for Himself. He knows all truth. He is searching it out so that God’s people may receive it and understand it. He searches in and through us.
‘Deep things.’ ‘Bathos’. Used of the depths of the sea and of the depths of divine knowledge. What was in the depths of the sea was beyond man’s wisdom and knowledge. It was a secret, hidden, unreachable place beyond his scope. The sea was a mystery which man could not penetrate. And so the divine wisdom and knowledge was also totally beyond man’s ability to know or understand. But the Holy Spirit takes of what is in those unfathomable depths and reveals it to those chosen by God. Compare Romans 11.33 where Paul speaks of ‘the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out’.
(There are two possible renderings of the text although they do not affect the main idea. P46 and B have ‘gar’ (for), Aleph A D G have ‘de’ (but). The former sees the verse as carrying on the argument with new matter introduced, the latter as introducing a new element).
2.11 ‘For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God, except for the Spirit of God.’
A man’s true self and inner knowledge and very being is only known to that man, deep inside through his ‘spirit’, that inner part which is the seat of his understanding and consciousness and spiritual experience. Others may think they know him but the deepest things, the things which are essentially him, are hidden; known, in so far as they are known at all, only to him. The verb for ‘know’ is oida, knowing intellectually. He knows himself but he does not truly ‘know’ (ginosko) himself. In a similar way God’s true self and inner knowledge and very being is known only to God, deep within Him, in His Spirit. But this time it is known (ginosko) to the full, intellectually and experientially. And this is the Spirit that we have received if we are His, the One Who knows God in every way. For if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8.9). And to have received the Spirit is to have received the One Who holds all the secrets of God, and reveals them to the heart as we are receptive to them.
This is to be seen as a play on ideas rather than as suggesting that man’s make up is like God’s, as the change of verbs also indicates, for the whole point is that God’s Spirit actually comes to us and brings us the revelation of what He Himself is (whereas our spirits remain within us as part of us). It is not to be seen as like and like.
2.12 ‘But we received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.’
The contrast with the Spirit of God is the spirit of the world. There may be a verging here on to the idea of an elemental spirit that deceives men (‘the spirit of the world’) and leads them astray, compare 1 John 4.4 where ‘He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ in a context where false spirits are in mind, but if so, as there also, it is not prominent. The main stress is rather on man’s inadequacy and inability of himself to know God because his spirit is caught up in the aims, desires and attitudes of the world, the spirit of the world (compare 1 John 2.15-16). Man is of the world and has the spirit of the world directing his life.
‘The spirit of the world.’ Here he sees the spirits of men (verse 11) as one great whole, their hearts set on earthly things, bereft of God and unable to understand Him and His ways. But it may well be that he also has in mind in the background ‘the prince of this world’ whose evil presence lies behind the princes of this world, who was condemned with them at the cross (John 12.31; 14.30;16.11), along with his minions (Colossians 2.15 compare Galatians 4.8-9), spoken of by Jesus. It is noteworthy that the New Testament constantly assumes this evil, shadowy presence behind the world and its ways, without overemphasising him, although the idea is sharply brought out in Revelation.
‘But we received --- the Spirit of God.’ (John 7.39; 20.22; Acts 2.1-4; 8.17; 10.47; Romans 5.5; 8.9, 11, 15; Galatians 4.6). God on the other hand has entered into the world through His Spirit in a vividly personal way, and it is He Who possesses and dwells in His people, illuminating them, transforming them, and empowering them in various degrees, and it is He Who brings into action and makes real the power of the cross. Thus are they freed from the spirit of the world, dying to the world that they might live to God.
‘That we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.’ He comes as ‘the Spirit of Truth (John 14.17, 26; 16.13 - verses which more specifically apply to the Apostles, but in a secondary way to all Christians) and He makes known the truth to His people, both through men ‘inspired’ by the Spirit and in His working in their inner hearts (Ephesians 1.17-18; Colossians 1.9; 2.2; 1 Timothy 2.7; 2 Timothy 1.7; 1 John 5.20; Hebrews 10.32).
‘The things that are freely given to us of God.’ That which has been made available to us through the word of the cross, e.g. the grace of God (1.4), righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1.30), justification, glorification (2.7), power from God (1.18), salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8), the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1.22; 1 Thessalonians 4.8) and above all God’s unspeakable gift, our Lord Jesus Christ (John 3.16; 2 Corinthians 9.15).
We should note the movement here has been from ‘we’ as referring to God’s messengers, to ‘we’ as all God’s people (at verse 9). Whereas the messengers proclaim and declare the truth, all true Christians receive it fully because they have received the Spirit of God. It is He who takes their words and makes them known in the hearts of each of God’s people.
So while the things freely given to us by God my be seen as including what is revealed through the genuine spiritual gifts of chapters 12-14, also brought to us by the Spirit of God, as compared with false spiritual gifts, which did occur elsewhere, the product of the ‘spirit of the world’, it goes beyond that to the fact that we all receive the whole range of the things given to us by God because we have received the Spirit Who brings home to us the indwelling of Christ and makes God known to the heart.
2.13 ‘Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’
‘We speak.’ Thus all who truly teach in Christ’s name do so through the Spirit. For all who are truly His operate through the Spirit of God. This includes Paul and Apollos and Peter, but it should also include the Corinthians. As men of God empowered and enlightened by the Spirit they are to teach in a wisdom which is not of man, and which is not their own, and ensure that it is with words provided by God through the Spirit (compare Matthew 10.20, although there the words are given before judges). That is why later he is so concerned that they speak in words understandable to all, that all may benefit (14.1-33). Thus it is folly to give the credit to such men.
‘Not in words which man’s wisdom teaches.’ None of them look to man’s wisdom. They do not pour over books of wisdom, or attend schools of wisdom eager to learn the latest thing. They look to God and His word as the source of their wisdom. Thus they have one message and are united as one. But they know that this is not just ‘given’, it requires thought. They compare spiritual things with spiritual.
‘Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’ ‘Sunkrino’ means ‘to bring together, to judge by comparison, to combine, compare, explain, interpret.’ It therefore stresses the application of thought. They are not just carried along by the Spirit without the effort needed to understand the message. The whole of a man’s being should be caught up in his teaching.
There are a number of possible translations and interpretations for this phrase (pneumatikois pneumatika sunkrinontes). This possibility partly ariese from the use of pneumatikois which can be masculine plutral (spiritual men) or neuter plural (spiritual things), and partly because ‘spiritual’ has no noun and therefore a noun could be assumed. Possible translations include;
The basic idea is the same in all interpretations, that the overriding need is to see all things in the light of the Spirit and as illuminated by the Spirit. It is important that what is spiritual is received and compared with, and interpreted in the light of, what is spiritual, rather than in comparison and contrast with worldly wisdom. It needs to be received, and considered, and applied, and expressed with the Spirit’s aid, with the purpose of being received by those enlightened by the Spirit. But again we must stress that the context is that of proclaiming the Gospel and revealing the significance of the cross and of the crucified One (see verses 1 & 2). Thus 1) and 2) (which merge into each other) would seem to be more in mind with the thought that spiritual things are thought on, compared, and interpreted spiritually and received by those who have been made ‘spiritual’ by receiving the Spirit.
However, while ‘interpreting spiritual things in spiritual words’ would fit well the context, the fact that Paul could have made this plain by adding another word seems to suggest that he was not being so specific. We are therefore probably to see him as intending us to equate the two ‘spirituals’, ‘spiritual things with spiritual things’, the point being that there is not to be a mixture of spiritual truth and worldly wisdom, a watering down of what is spiritual, but a wholehearted concentration on what is spiritual, that is, on the essence of all that has been revealed through Christ crucified and in the Scriptures.
2.14 ‘Now the natural man (man in Adam, the animal man, the man of this world, the man without the Spirit, man as he is without God) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, because they are spiritually discerned (examined, considered, assessed, judged).’
In contrast the ‘natural man’ (‘the first man’ as in Adam - 15.47) without the Spirit cannot receive them, he does not accept them because his receptors are blocked. They are dead (Ephesians 2.1). The whole stress here is that man as he is in himself is unable to receive spiritual truth, or even to consider spiritual truth. What the Spirit has taught Paul and his fellows, and is teaching through them, is nonsense to such people, for they have no spiritual discernment. It is outside their senses, outside their ability range, not mentally but spiritually. Such truth requires spiritual discernment and spiritual judgment, which can only come from the Spirit. The consequence is that it is only when the Spirit enlightens men that they can understand the Gospel, and the preaching of the cross, and respond to it. And only those who are so enlightened can go on to understand it in its fullness.
2.15-16 ‘But the spiritual one (pneumatikos) judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.’
The second part of this verse is a quotation from Isaiah 40.13, ‘who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor has taught him?’ Or in LXX, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? And who has been his counsellor, to instruct him?’ Note how LXX equates the ‘mind of the Lord’ with the MT ‘Spirit of the Lord’. The point behind the words is that God’s thoughts are above man’s thoughts, so that man can neither understand His ways, know His mind, nor teach or direct Him. In context it puts His wisdom and knowledge as above and beyond all men.
‘But he who is spiritual judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man.’ Most see this as meaning that in contrast with the natural man who cannot spiritually judge them, the spiritual man can judge all ‘the things of the Spirit of God’, because he has the Spirit, and yet he cannot himself be judged by any man, that is, by any natural man. This is because the mind of the Lord cannot be known by the natural man, nor is man able to instruct Him. Thus the natural man cannot judge what is known by the spiritual man. However, in contrast, the spiritual man actually has the mind of Christ, because he has received the Spirit (note how the Spirit and the mind are equated by LXX). He therefore does himself know the mind of the Lord. He has entered into an understanding of spiritual things, because through the Spirit he has the mind of Christ.
As long as we do not apply the ideas in the verse too strictly this gives us a sound meaning. The spiritual man (literally ‘the spiritual one’), in contrast with the natural man, discerns the things of the Spirit, understands the things of the Spirit and stands beyond the world’s judgment on such matters, because he has the mind of Christ through His Spirit, so that he can, at least to some extent, know the mind of the Lord. This can only, of course, be seen as true ‘ideally’, and many would thus apply it strictly only to the knowledge and understanding of the word of the cross.
But the fact that it actually seems to fit ill with what is actually said comes out in that some therefore try to interpret it as referring to spiritual Christians as opposed to fleshly Christians (3.1). They are unhappy with the suggestion that it can apply to every Christian person, and thus they have to look for an alternative. But the whole idea of the passage is against such a change, for the contrast is between those who have the Spirit and those who do not. And the former must mean all Christians, for ‘if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (Romans 8.9).
So the question must be asked as to whether, in view of the strength of the language, which commentators agree is difficult and which has to be argued around, this fully explains the significance of the verse. Can every spiritual man, even granted that he has received the Spirit, ‘judge (or discern) all things’, even if we mean all things spiritual, when it is to Jesus alone that ‘all things’ have been made known (see 2.10; Matthew 11.27; Luke 10.22; John 3.35; 4.25; 5.20; 13.3; 16.30). The answer can only be ‘potentially’, and that is not really satisfactory, especially in view of the words of Scripture that follow. It is true that the Apostles were to have ‘all things’ that Jesus had spoken to them revealed to them (John 14.26); and that Jesus had made known to them ‘all things’ that He had heard from His Father (John 15.15), but this was to the Apostles alone and had a specialist meaning. This was spoken to them in their unique position as those who had to remember and pass on the words of Jesus, and it had in mind what Jesus had taught them. It is also true that to the new man in Christ ‘all things’ become new (2 Corinthians 5.17), but that refers to the whole of their lives, and while including spiritual awareness does not suggest spiritual awareness of ‘all things’. So these are not really identical. In fact the only verses in which an unqualified ‘all things’ in relation to knowledge is described, apart from those speaking of Jesus above, are 2 Timothy 2.7, where Timothy was to be given understanding in ‘all things’, and 1 John 2.20 where those ‘with an anointing from the Holy One’ know ‘all things’. The latter is fairly close to this. However it there referred to the church as a whole and not to every individual Christian. It is doubtful if John would have suggested that each believer knew all things. Timothy was clearly seen as an exception. Thus the idea that every Christian is ‘spiritual’ and as such can unequivocally judge ‘all things’ would, if it were correct, be unique to this passage. For although it is true that ‘all things’ might mean ‘all the things of the Spirit of God’ which the natural man cannot receive (verse 14), without qualification its very starkness seems to suggest more than that. To Paul there is no limit. On the other hand the verses cited above demonstrate that this is clearly true of Jesus.
Furthermore can we in fact say that every spiritual man is not judgeable by ‘any man’? For while in the passage ‘man’ has tended to signify the natural man in contrast to the Spirit, the thought here again seems so stark as to mean any man at all. Both ideas seem all-inclusive. Able to judge/discern all and themselves unjudgeable. Surely this is not true of every individual Christian.
And when we add to this that this one not only knows the mind of the Lord, but can also ‘instruct’ Him, we must pause and ask ourselves, of whom could this be true? And we must surely reply, ‘this can only be true of God alone’.
Thus it would seem that here Paul does one of his quick switches whereby he comes to a climax by introducing Christ Himself into the exposition. It would suggest that it is He Who is ‘the Spiritual One’, in Whom we then partake of ‘spirituality’. For the verse goes on to suggest quite firmly that in fact no one can know the mind of the Lord or instruct the Lord, and this would be true of all; other, of course, than the Lord Himself. Thus it would seem that here he is turning attention to the only true Spiritual One, the Crucified One in His glory, He Who alone judges all things, He Who alone can be judged by none, He Who alone knows the mind of the Lord, He Who alone can even ‘instruct’ Him, having had all things delivered into His hands (John 13.3; 16.15; Matthew 11.27). This would then explain the change from ‘mind of the Lord’ to the ‘mind of Christ’, as the latter would then be a direct application of the idea to us, directly connecting us with Christ ‘the Spiritual One’, having made Him the main person in the equation.
The thought then is that in contrast to the natural man (seen as a whole as in chapter 15 compare also Romans 5.12-21) is the Spiritual One. This then ties in with the expansion of such a thought in 15.44-49 where the ‘natural’ is again contrasted with the ‘spiritual’, Adam is natural, Christ is spiritual (15.44-45), the first man is natural, the second man is spiritual (15.46-47). So in Paul’s mind the contrast with the natural man is not spiritual men, but Christ, the second man, the spiritual man. Once that is established as true here the conclusion then follows that because we are ‘in Him’ (1.2, 5), because we are made one with Him, united in His body in which He was crucified, we are in Him made spiritual and have His mind, and are thus able to discern what none other can discern. We are ‘spiritual’ in Him, enjoying discernment through His Spirit. This then fits in well with why at the same time the Corinthians can be ‘fleshly’ (3.1) when they should be revealing their ‘spiritual’ side which they have in Christ, and why Paul can immediately judge them, having declared them unjudgeable.
Taking ‘He Who is the Spiritual One’ as Christ then reminds us that He alone is the One Who is ‘spiritual’ in the fullest sense, the One Who was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4.1), the One to Whom the Spirit was given without measure (John 3.34), the One in Whom thus dwells all the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and all the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2.9), the One Who Himself sends the Holy Spirit to His own and baptises with the Holy Spirit. And thus He is put beyond man’s judgment or ability to examine, for they do not and cannot know the mind of the Lord in order that they might instruct Him, or indeed condemn Him. And because He is the truly spiritual One He can judge all things, and will Himself judge men at the last day (John 5.22, 27; 12.48).
‘We have the mind of Christ.’ But what is true of them is also true of His own. ‘We.’ That is ‘we who have received the Spirit and who truly proclaim Christ and Him the crucified One, and who are one with Him in His body as the crucified One.’ ‘Have the mind of Christ.’ This means the mind of Christ communicated to us by the Spirit, and illuminated by the Spirit, so that we are able to understand the things of Christ. It is imparted to us by the Spirit, signifying thus that because Christ Himself is in us we can know the unknowable mind of the Lord (compare Ephesians 3.17-19). This reminds us that, whichever interpretation we follow, all Christians are to be seen as joined with Him because they have been given His mind through the Spirit. Thus they enter into all He enters into.
It hardly need to be pointed out that here the mind of Christ is equated with the mind of the Lord of the Old Testament, the mind of Yahweh, in such a way as to indicate their oneness. Paul is in no doubt concerning the full Godhood of Jesus.
So we conclude that however we interpret ‘the spiritual one’ the basic idea of the verse is the same for we can only have the mind of Christ, and thus be spiritual ones, when we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection (10.16-17; 12.12-13; Romans 6.5; compare Ephesians 1.19-2.10), that is, when we have received the word of the cross. It is only the emphasis which is different. But it seems to me that the best contrast with ‘the natural man, the Adamic man, is Christ as the second man, the spiritual man in Whom all His own find their own spirituality.
Unfortunately Their Present Behaviour Is a Sign of their Immaturity For The Objects of Their Devotion Are But Instruments of God. Their Eyes Are Fixed In The Wrong Place (3.1-7)
3.1-3 ‘And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly (sarkinos), as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat, for you were not yet able to bear it. No, even now you cannot. For you are yet fleshly (sarkikos). For whereas there is among you jealousies and strife, are you not fleshly and walk after the manner of men?’
Having stressed the spiritual nature of the Gospel and the men who truly preached it, and of those who are united with Christ, he now turns to the Corinthians themselves and presents his diagnosis of their condition. He declares that he cannot speak of them as ‘pneumatikoi’. They probably boasted that they were ‘spiritual’ because of their manifestations of ‘spiritual gifts’ (chapter 14). So he informs them that they are not in fact revealing themselves to be spiritual at all, but to be ‘fleshly’. This latter is not quite the same as the ‘natural man’, but only one step from it. The fleshly man has the Spirit but yields to the flesh (Galatians 5.16-17), rather than being devoid of the Spirit. Nevertheless the difference is significant. He can still say to them, ‘you are a Temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you’ (verse 16).
‘Could not speak to you as to spiritual (pneumatikois), but as to carnal (sarkinois).’ To be spiritual means to be illuminated by the Spirit, to have an understanding of the wisdom of God in His divine activity, to be concentrating on the crucified and risen Christ, and responding to Him, and, as we have seen in the previous chapter, to be able to judge all things, and not to be judgeable by any. But Paul can see none of this in the Corinthians. He cannot address them as ‘spiritual’. He sees them as deficient.
But surely if 2.14 refers to Christians as against non-Christians, those indwelt by the Spirit in contrast with those not indwelt by the Spirit, then he surely is speaking to them as pneumatikoi. And if he has just described them as pneumatikoi, and as those who could discern all things, he would want them to know that he spoke to them as such, and that therefore they should be ashamed of their condition. It would help his case. It would mean that they had the basic factor which would enable their discernment, a factor which he could not deny, and that therefore it made them even more inexcusable.
The point he makes, however, is that he cannot speak to them as pneumatikoi. This suggests that 2.14 cannot refer directly to them, for in such close connection he could hardly insist that they were peumatikoi and then say he could not speak to them as such. He would want to speak with them as such. On the other hand if 2.14 refers to Jesus Christ as ‘the Spiritual One’, and their relationship with Christ is such that they are not drawing on Him, not walking in the Spirit but walking in the flesh (Galatians 5.16-19), thus not drawing on His spirituality which they have in Him, then we can understand why he can say that they are not ‘spiritual’, using the word in the same sense as in 14.37. They are not making use of the spirituality that they have in Christ, therefore they are not ‘spiritual’, and he cannot speak to them as though they were.
Those who see 2.14 as including a description of them as Christians then have to say that what Paul means is, ‘you are pneumatikoi, but I cannot speak to you as such because your lives do not reveal it’. This not only seem unlikely, but it also appears a little forced in such close proximity to 2.14.
However that may be, these Corinthians seemingly could not, or would not, receive such things for they were like ‘babes’. In Paul the word ‘babes’ does not mean what many mean today when they speak of ‘babes in Christ’ but always indicates those who lack the fullness of a position in Christ. In Romans 2.20 it parallels ‘the foolish’, those not having the full truth. In 13.11 it speaks of when Paul himself was a ‘babe’, believing childish things, prior to achieving adulthood. In Galatians 4.1, 3 it describes those still under the Law and under the elements of the world. In Ephesians 4.14 it speaks of those carried around on any wind of doctrine, deceived by crafty men after the wiles of error. And yet here he can speak of them as being ‘in Christ’. They are thus a contradiction in terms. They are those who have the Spirit and yet are muddled as to the truth. It possibly suggests that he his holding his verdict on them somewhat in the balance. They are not ‘natural men’ but they certainly seem to think like it. And yet they have believed.
Indeed they had been ‘fleshly’ (sarkinos), wrapped up in themselves and their own wants. And the trouble was that they did not seem to be emerging from their condition. Rather it was getting worse. They were still fleshly, but this time sarkikos, too wrapped up in their jealousies and constant bitter arguments to fully appreciate the truth of the cross. They were being controlled by the fleshly side of their nature and concentrating on personalities and their emphases and their different approaches to teaching, and on the outward trappings of their religious observations. And they were especially proud that they had been baptised by a ‘spiritual’ person. And this concentration meant that they were not looking at Christ, except possibly dimly and vaguely, but were taken up with concentrating their efforts on upholding, against all comers, their heroes, and what they taught in distinction from the others. They were thus not experiencing the word of the cross with its power. They were too taken up with strife and division on secondary matters. And because their link to the Spiritual One was weak their spirituality was low. They had not advanced their spiritual side, the spirituality that they had in Christ in the Spirit.
‘Fleshly.’ The difference between the two words sarkinos and sarkikos is not very great in their use in the New Testament, but Paul is possibly using the difference to compare the selfishness and self-expression which is the natural, though unhelpful, result of the flesh with the selfishness and sinful self-expression of badly behaved adults who still behave ‘like children’ which is even more unacceptable. We might see sarkinos as suggesting ‘behaving like someone naturally so composed’, but which is not good, and sarkikos as ‘ruled by flesh, characterised by fleshly ways, even when they should have grown out of it’, which is worse. Indeed in Romans 7.14 Paul could speak of himself as sarkinos in contrast to the Law which was psychikos. His fleshly part only too often prevented him from fulfilling what was spiritual, but did not prevent him being spiritual. Sarkikos in contrast wars against the soul (1 Peter 2.11). It describes wisdom which is contrary to the grace of God (2 Corinthians 1.12). But it can also mean simply something which is simply physical and not spiritual in a neutral sense (9.11; Romans 15.27; 2 Corinthians 10.4; Hebrews 7.16). 1 Peter 2.11 and 2 Corinthians 1.12 are more pertinent here. Thus the distinction is not large but possibly indicates some deterioration. However it is clearly an adjective which can be associated with Christians, although in a fashion which warns against it because of its bad effects.
These adult ‘works of the flesh’ are described in Galatians 5.19-21, and they do not make pretty reading. Strife, jealousy, bad temper, divisiveness, behaving like children without self-control. And if they continue like this, they are warned, it will be testimony to the fact that they are not really God’s children, that they ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Galatians 5.22). Thus it is now time that they grew up and proved that they really are children of God, by revealing that they possess ‘the things that accompany salvation’ (Hebrews 6.9), the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, self-control, and that they have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5.22-24). What they must do is let Christ’s spirituality take over in their lives, and let the cross do its work.
‘-- as to fleshly, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with meat, for you were not able.’ This refers first of all to when he had previously known them, but it is then described as being still applicable. They had clearly not been fully receptive to true doctrine, to the full significance of the word of the cross. What they had received had been to them milk and not meat. Paul had not deliberately fed them milk. That was how it had turned out because of their fleshliness. This is not describing first principles taught to the new Christian. Paul would expect those to be taken as meat. It is describing what they actually received because of their inadequacy.
Or it may be that they had in fact accused him of only giving them milk because he had not taught them ‘wisdom teaching’ and that he is being sarcastic. He could be pointing out that it was only because they were babes in their ability to receive doctrine that what he fed them had to be milk. Either way the fault is theirs, and not because Paul chose to feed them only milk. For the fact seems to be that they were to be seen as blameworthy even in this, as ‘fleshly’ demands.
‘No, even now you are not able.’ These still seemed not to be able to take what he taught as ‘meat’, the deep truths of the Gospel. They still would not fully receive the word of the cross. They did not learn from it to die to self and live to Christ (Galatians 2.20). They did not give the impression of abiding in the true vine (in Christ) and of producing Christ-like fruit (John 15.1-6). They were too concerned with other things, which showed that they were still controlled by ‘the flesh’ (human aims and desires, the feeding of the ego and the gratifying of the senses, the acceptance of teaching devoid of the Spirit), rather than with divine aims and ideas, with spiritual doctrine and to be part of Christ’s pure and mutually loving people. It may be that their spiritual gifts made them think that they were spiritual. Paul makes clear that that is not so. Having Christ’s spirituality would result in their being like Christ, and had they had that sufficiently they would not behave as they do.
‘For you are yet carnal (fleshly - sarkikos).’ This is here defined in terms of human emotions and reactions, ‘jealousy and strife’. Their human side is on top and they are too concerned about earthly things, and this has led them to be jealous about such things and to fight among themselves as rivals, splitting up into different parties and fighting for personalities. They are behaving as though they were just ordinary people not affected by the word of the cross and its message and power, and not appreciative of it. They are behaving as though they were earthly and not heavenly. They walk after the manner of men who are devoid of the Spirit.
3.4 ‘For when one says, “I am of Paul.” And another, “I am of Apollos.’ Are you not men?’
Instead of concentrating on learning about and knowing Christ, and loving one another, and pleasing God, and dying to themselves, they have taken sides supporting one or another particular approach to things, and certain particular men, possibly even using their spiritual gifts to that end, and have caused dissension on the basis of it (Paul and Apollos are only being cited as examples - 4.6). ‘Are you not men?’ That is, are you not behaving like ‘natural’ men (2.14)? Are you not behaving like mere men who have had no spiritual illumination.
“I am of Paul.” And another, “I am of Apollos”. The names of Paul and Apollos are given as examples to represent all who preach in Christ’s name (4.6). The point is that to lay too much emphasis on any man of God is wrong. They do not belong to Paul. They do not belong to Apollos. All are servants of the One on Whom attention should be set, that is, Christ. They belong to Christ (verse 23).
3.5-6 ‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Ministers through whom you believed, and each one as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.’
Elsewhere Paul will tell Christians that they must honour those who labour in preaching the Gospel and teaching the church the word of God (1 Timothy 5.17). But here he is concerned because too much emphasis is being placed on them to the detriment of the Corinthians. It is preventing them from concentrating on Christ. They are making too much of preachers, even good preachers, and their particular slants. So he points out that different men play their part in ministering the Gospel and the word of God, but that any success is not theirs but God’s. Thus none are to be exalted. They only do what it is their duty (and privilege) to do (Luke 17.10).
‘Ministers through whom you believed, and each one as the Lord gave to him.’ He, Apollos and others (and it is probably mainly the others that he has in mind) are merely ‘diakonoi’. The word means servants, waiters at table, those who are there to offer assistance. Thus they must not make much of themselves or attract attention to themselves but humbly carry out the task given to them by Christ. They only have the opportunity because the Lord gave it to them. Thus they should be grateful and not seek prominence. And this is how the Corinthians, and we, should see them (while at the same time giving them respect because of Whose servants they are. This does not encourage disdain, but true recognition of what they are).
Note the impersonal way in which he speaks of himself and Apollos. He is eager not to impose himself on the illustration personally. He is speaking of all who claim to present the true doctrines of the Christian faith, not just disputes about Apollos and himself.
‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.’ See Acts 18.1-11; 18.27-19.1. Paul first entered Corinth and preached in the synagogue. But due to the poor reception he received, although a number believed, including Crispus the ruler of that synagogue, he deserted the synagogue and began to preach in a private residence with great success, thus founding the church at Corinth. And he laboured there for one and a half years ‘teaching the word of God among them’. But inevitably he had to move on. Then Apollos later came to Corinth and ‘helped them much who had believed through grace’ and powerfully used the Scriptures to show that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 18.27-28). Thus, just as plants have to be planted and then watered and tended, so Paul planted, and Apollos watered and tended, each helping in establishing the church.
‘But’, says Paul, ‘it was not us who did it.’ The reason for the success was God’s activity. It was God who ‘went on giving the increase’. The sower sows the spiritual seed, and the gardener waters the spiritual plants. But it is God Who continually makes them grow and establishes them. Therefore the credit should go to Him and not to Paul and Apollos. We do not glorify the sower for sowing. We do not glorify the irrigator or the gardener for watering their seeds. They do what all do. It is to God then that the glory should go for the spiritual harvest.
The first two verbs are aorists, indicating here a period which came to an end. But God ‘continues to give the increase’ (imperfect). And that is the point. Men move on but God is always there carrying on His work through others and by His Spirit.
3.7 ‘So then neither is he who plants anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.’
So while we must properly appreciate what ministers do, if they do it humbly and faithfully, we must remember, and they must remember, that they are merely earthly vessels. Sometimes their work will prosper, and sometimes it will seem to languish (although the seed grows secretly). It will all depend on God’s activity, without which their work is useless. And sometimes work will seem to prosper which is earthly work and not heavenly work at all. But anything worthwhile that comes out of it will be God’s work, not theirs. It will be accomplished through the word of the cross, not through the word of men.
That Is Why These Teachers Are United In Their Work Knowing They Must Account To God For Their Ministry (3.8-15).
Paul now puts all these teachers, including himself, firmly in their place. They are but domestic servants whose responsibility is to point to the foundation Jesus Christ and to build on Him. Christ is all. Their works and teaching will one day be tested and either rewarded or dealt with as rubbish, but the foundation will endure for ever, and that foundation is Christ. For all is building up to the supreme glory of Christ, until finally all is of God (3.22-23; 15.20-28)
3.8-9 ‘Now he who plants and he who waters are one. But each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow-workers. You are God’s prepared land, you are God’s building.’
Paul continues his illustration and then changes it to a new illustration. He is dealing first with the illustration of agricultural work. Then he changes to the illustration of building. So Christians are first depicted as land prepared for the growth of crops (georgion - cultivated land). And men of God, if they are true men of God, labour on them, planting and watering. And they are all one in the work. Their aim is one, and their unity is one. ‘That they may be one as we are’ (John 17.11). And each will benefit individually according to how they labour. They work together as one, but as each is responsible individually, so each will be rewarded individually. For only God can see the heart. But the stress is also on the fact that they are only labourers in a small part of the field. It is Christ Who is central to it all. They are not of great importance, He is all important.
‘We are fellow-workers of God.’ ‘Of God’ may mean ‘who belong to God’, or ‘who act together as fellow-workers on God’s behalf’ or ‘as fellow-workers with God’. As the emphasis is on their service for Him one of the first two is almost certainly correct (note that ‘of God’ is repeated three times, in the two final examples definitely signifying possession)). The point is that they work together under God’s management to fulfil God’s work. It is the prepared land and the building which are important, not the farmers and builders. But we may also see the point as being that both the fellow-workers and the cultivated land/building belong to God. They share the same level as being His possessions. It is both a glorious fact and a great leveller.
If we take it to mean ‘in partnership with God’, which is least likely, we must remember that in that case He is the driving force, and they are very much junior assistants. They are sun-ergos, ‘workers together’ with God, working under His direction, and it is He Who pays their wages depending on the quality of their work. The thanks are due to the Owner and Managing Director and not his workers (although of course we may politely thank them too).
Then he changes his illustration to that of building, because he now wants to stress the centrality of Christ. The church of Corinth (and all churches) are seen as something being built. Initially therefore the following verses apply to Paul and Apollos and all those who labour likemindedly. But clearly in the final analysis they apply to all who work for God.
‘You are God’s cultivated land.’ God’s people are the cultivated, fruitful land. The workers are privileged to have been called to work on that land. They dig, and plough, and sow, and water. But it is God Who gives the increase. Without Him all their work would be in vain.
‘God’s building.’ The new illustration is necessary to bring Christ into the picture.
3.10 ‘According to the grace (of God) which was given to me, I laid a foundation like a wise master-builder, and another builds on it. But let each man be very careful how he builds on it.’
Following up the illustration Paul sees himself as the wise master-builder. This is a reminder of the high position God has given him. He is not inferior to these other preachers some of whom make so much of themselves. The master builder was in overall control with many builders under him. By ‘wise’ he probably means expert and efficient while also having in mind his previous references to God’s wisdom. He ensures that he builds as a good master builder and builds in accordance with God’s true wisdom. Along with his helpers, for as a master builder he has others working with him, he has laid a sound foundation, and he intends to use sound materials. Then others (in this case including Apollos by name) build on it. Each is hopefully doing the work of God, and each has one purpose in mind, to work with the others in making the building the best that it can be for God. Thus the picture in context is of spiritual teaching which will strengthen and establish the church of God, commencing with vital first principles as a foundation (the preaching of the cross, and the crucified One - 1.17-18; 2.2) and going on with further spiritual teaching, but not being too taken up with secondary matters. They are to plan their activity with greatest care under the guidance of God.
‘According to the grace of God which was given to me.’ Paul reminds them of his special calling, while recognising that it was all of God. He had been especially chosen as the master builder, and God had uniquely called him so that even the twelve Apostles had acknowledged his equality with them in taking the Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2.8-9; Romans 11.13). He was not arrogant at the thought of being a preacher, and especially of being a church founder, he was humbled by the thought. He recognises what a great privilege it was. And he recognises that he did not deserve it. In fact the opposite (15.9). It was all of the unmerited favour of God freely bestowed on him, and what had been accomplished was also all His doing.
And not only so, he also recognises his continued dependence on that grace, that unmerited favour of God for he knows that he can do nothing without it (if only the others would do the same).
‘The grace (of God).’ P46 omits ‘of God’, and so does Clement when citing it. For when Paul speaks of God’s grace, His undeserved active favour, towards individuals he does not usually include the genitive (Romans 12.3; Galatians 2.9). But the idea is always implicit.
3.11 ‘For no man can lay another foundation than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’
But now we come the crux of the illustration, there is only one foundation. All centres on Christ. They all profess to be labouring for God but woe betide them if they build on any other foundation. For there is no other. All who do God’s work properly must do so basing all they do on the one true foundation as Paul did, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. That is the foundation Paul initially laid for the Corinthian church by his preaching of the cross and the Crucified One. That is the only sound foundation that any man of God can lay for any church. There is no other. Thus the attention of all must primarily be on Jesus Christ.
It is in Christ as the Crucified One, and all that that implies of Godhood and Manhood and redemption, and righteousness and sanctification and eternal life, that all truth is found. And anything built on that foundation must be founded and established in Him and His work, for He is the foundation, the One on Whom all else rests. All must finally centre on Him. And it is He Who is the foundation of the Corinthian church.
Thus all of his fellow-preachers are, if they are true, to be united in looking to and building on that one foundation. Jesus Christ must be all. And the Corinthians themselves must be looking towards that Foundation, and resting on Him and not be gazing at the workers. For one day how they build will be tested. But the foundation will not need testing. The foundation is secure, permanent and true. Christ is beyond testing. He is the Truth.
But on that firmly laid Foundation on which the Corinthian church, and the world church, is built, on which the whole true church is built, and in a sense each individual member is built, there will be much building activity. The materials used for the building as now described clearly refer to sound or unsound approaches to teaching, true or deceptive doctrine, true wisdom and understanding or false wisdom and understanding. But the principle clearly applies more widely, for it also applies to all work done for God.
Note that the foundation is said to be ‘Jesus Christ’ not ‘the Gospel of Christ’. That is so that all eyes might look to Him as such on Whom alone all that they preach should rest. Of course the Gospel is Christ. That is what it is all about. But the centrality of Christ Himself, as against all others, is being stressed here. He is all.
3.12-13 ‘But if any man builds on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble, each man’s work will be revealed for what it is, for the day will make it clear to us, because it is tested out in fire, and the fire will prove each man’s work of what sort it is.’
He now moves on to consider building on the foundation that has been laid. Christ is the foundation. Christians are God’s building (verse 9). Now he comes to the adornment provide by the teachers. All who teach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus in any way must take heed of the materials that they use on the building .Their teaching, and all that they do, may be like gold, silver and costly stones, precious and valuable, surviving the test, precious, revealing the glory of God (compare Revelation 21.11, 18-21). Or it may be like wood, hay and stubble, temporary materials which are burned up and finally fail the test. It may consist of the wisdom of God which stands permanent in all its glory like the great Temple in Jerusalem, bejewelled, splendid and permanent, or it may consist of the wisdom of men and be like the booths erected at the Feast of Tabernacles, temporary and fleeting.
How much Paul foresaw of the future. He foresaw the building up of churches on sound teaching which would produce flourishing and spiritual Christians, and which would thus prosper, and, sadly, he foresaw the building up of churches on unsound and fallacious teaching which would not produce satisfactory fruit, and would wither and die inwardly, even if they continued to appear fine outwardly, and he knows that they will one day be destroyed, and that the destruction of them will be great (3.17).
The ideas behind the detail are based, although not directly, on Old Testament thoughts and passages. It is important to interpret them carefully for while the Old Testament passages are the basis for the ideas, the application is very different.
‘Gold, silver and costly stones.’ The main point behind the description is of that which is most valuable in man’s eyes used as building material, that which all men basically desire, and it has reference to the ‘wisdom’ previously mentioned - (1 Corinthians 1.24, 30; compare 2.10-12)). Paul may well have in mind Proverbs 3.14-15 which is describing true wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3.13) based on God’s instruction (Torah) and commandments (Proverbs 3.1). ‘The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. It is more precious than rubies, and none of the things that you can desire are to be compared to her.’ Also in mind may be Job 28.12 (Job is cited later), again speaking of wisdom and understanding, which ‘cannot be obtained for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for its price, it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx or the sapphire, --- the price of wisdom is above rubies’ (Job 28.15-8). Both these contexts link wisdom and understanding to gold, silver and costly stones, although, be it noted, in both cases the latter are not even comparable (see also Proverbs 8.19). However, as Paul has in mind heavenly gold, silver and costly stones, signifying true spiritual wisdom and understanding, he may well have this comparison in mind. Thus gold, silver and precious stones are the true wisdom of God given through His Holy Spirit to those who build wisely.
‘Wood, hay, stubble.’ The main point here is that of cheap and temporary building materials and adornments, and of what is worthless and useless, that which is easily destroyed in fire. What men really value they build permanently and gloriously. What is seen as of secondary value is built of lesser materials. Wood and stubble are temporary and fleeting. They are described as burned up in Malachi 4.1 which speaks of ‘the day that is coming’ (compare 1 Corinthians 3.13) which will burn as a furnace and in which all who are proud and all who work wickedness will be stubble, and ‘the day that is coming will burn them up, says Yahweh of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.’ The idea of Malachi is of judgment of the people, but that jusdgment is certainly based on their lack of wisdom and understanding (3.7). They are destroyed because their wisdom is false wisdom. It is clearly lacking. They have turned from God’s revealed wisdom to their own wisdom. Thus false wisdom and understanding is there clearly connected with combustible material that is burned up.
Furthermore Malachi contrasts God’s own peculiar treasure (3.17) with these false materials, and differentiates between those who serve God truly, and those who do not serve Him because of their false wisdom and understanding (3.18), and contrasts those destroyed like stubble with those who are like gold and silver passing through the furnace and coming out refined (3.3). Together with the reference to ‘the day’ it is difficult to avoid the suggestion that Paul has this passage in mind, while altering the ideas and fitting them into his scenario.
So everyone who teaches God’s word must beware how he teaches, for their teaching can consist of wisdom and understanding that is permanent, based on the One Who is the Wisdom of God (1.30), the true foundation, or it can be that which is only fit to be destroyed.
‘Each man’s work will be revealed for what it is, for the day will make it clear to us, because it is tested out in fire.’ Surely here Malachi is in mind. The idea here is that the teaching of those who claim to teach God’s word will be put to the test and proved as to its real worth. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or the local minister, or the Sunday School teacher, the work of each will be tested and proved, and will either stand the test or burn to ashes in the great Day that is coming.
‘The day will make it clear to us.’ With daytime comes light. All is to be seen in the light of the Day, the great Day of the Lord when God Himself will act openly and when all will be shown to be what it is, both men’s teaching and their behaviour and obedience (Malachi 3.2-3; 4.1).
This may be translated in the middle voice. ‘The day will manifest itself in fire’. Or it may be translated as the passive, ‘The day is to be revealed in fire’. Compare 2 Thessalonians 1.8, ‘in flaming fire rendering vengeance to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.’
God’s coming day is a day of fire for all. It will be a purifier and refiner of His people and a destroyer of those who have rejected His truth and wisdom.
‘It is tested out in fire, and the fire will prove each man’s work of what sort it is.’ The fire will test all doctrine and wisdom that has been taught, and the lives and motives that lie behind them, and will either approve them or destroy them. There is no thought here of direct judgment on people. No person is strictly thought of as being destroyed or refined (unlike in Malachi 3.3). It is the person’s work that is destroyed. There is no thought here of Purgatory (except in so far as the unscriptural doctrine of Purgatory will be one of the teachings destroyed) or of judgmental fires burning up the wicked (although the latter is found regularly elsewhere). The ‘fire’ is the penetrative eye of the One Who has eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1.14 compare Daniel 10.6) searching out and passing judgment on the teachings and activities of men of God, from Whom nothing can be hidden.
3.14-15 ‘If any man’s work shall remain which he has built on it, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned he shall suffer loss. But he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.’
The fire tests the work, it does not destroy the men (that is referred to later as a possibility for some - 3.17). Yet as the works stand firm and are purified, or as they are burned up, the men too experience the refining work of God. They are ‘saved as through fire’. (Note that it is ‘as through fire’, an illustration, not ‘through fire’ as a physical fact).
‘As through fire.’ The picture may be of God’s judgment in the terms regularly depicted in the Old Testament of a great city being burned as a judgment from God, with all that it has stood for being burned up, and the inhabitants escaping through the flames for their lives, ‘brands plucked from the burning’ (Zechariah 3.2; Amos 4.11).
‘On it.’ That is, on the foundation laid, which is Jesus Christ Himself and the basic teaching concerning Him as the crucified One, the word of the cross (verses 10-11; 1.18; 2.2).
‘If any man’s work shall remain.’ This has in mind the building work that has stood the test of fire, the gold and silver and costly stones. For such work the teacher will ‘receive a reward’. It is not a deserved reward. Go is in debt to no man. It is the reward of grace (see Romans 4.4-5). While strictly applying to the work of teaching true doctrine and wisdom the principle can be applied more widely to all means of testimony including the shining light of a godly life (Matthew 5.16). Compare for these ideas 1 Corinthians 4.5; 2 Corinthians 5.10; Romans 14.10-12; 1 Peter 4.5.
It should be noted that there is nothing in the illustration suggesting that any will be lost. All thought of here will be saved. It is not salvation that they are earning. That is the gracious gift of God. It is the reward that is also the great gift of a gracious God given in recognition of their faithfulness (4.5; Romans 4.4-5).
‘If any man’s work shall be burned he shall suffer loss.’ This refers to the building work built with the wrong materials, which has not benefited the church of Christ. The teacher suffers loss because he has achieved nothing (the case is exaggerated for effect). But his salvation is not in doubt.
‘He will suffer loss.’ The verb can mean ‘will be punished’. But it the New Testament it almost always refers to the suffering of loss, the destruction of what is theirs.
‘He himself shall be saved.’ This is not referring to false teachers who ‘even deny the Master Who bought them’ (3.17; 2 Peter 2.1), but to those who, while to some extent true to the central faith, have not taught wisely or in a spiritual way (2.13). They have allowed themselves to be esteemed more than they should be, and built up theories for man’s admiration. They have turned eyes on themselves and their ideas rather than on the crucified Messiah.
‘Yet so as through fire.’ The fire has removed the work that counted against them so that they can now come before the Judge without stain having come through the fire, although also sadly without reward, for they do so as those escaping from the flames but leaving all their life’s work behind. They have had their reward on earth.
One purpose of the whole passage is to bring out that true servants of God can in fact be at fault in the content and method of their teaching and in the way they seek to build up the church of Christ so that, even though they hold the central truths, their labours are of little value. It is partly to make such men consider their ways, and to make the church more discerning in the teaching it accepts, that Paul speaks like this. It is to stress the need to centralise on the preaching of the cross and of Christ the Crucified One, and to recognise that it should be central in all ministry. For the lack of this latter was the besetting sin of the Corinthians.
Of course neither of the two extremes strictly apply. No man’s teaching, apart from Christ’s, is perfect, ever being only gold, silver and costly stones, and no man’s teaching is totally useless, to be all burned up in the fire. Indeed each man shall have his praise from God (4.5). But the main lessons are brought out by vivid contrast. Each man’s work will be thoroughly tested, and where necessary it will be purged, bringing reward or loss.
The thought is partially parallel with the teaching of Jesus in John 15. There the disciples are the branches which should bear fruit, and there will be varying levels of fruit. But there the branches that do not bear fruit are thrown in the fire to be burned because they are useless. They have produced nothing at all, not even spiritual life.
The Church Is God’s Sacred Sanctuary For The Spirit of God Dwells In Them And They Are Hid With Christ in God. Let Divisive Teachers Therefore Beware (3.16-23).
Paul now applies his building analogy to the idea of the Temple. When men seek to establish a religion they build a Temple. Well this is what God is also doing. On the foundation of Jesus Christ He is building His Temple, and this Temple is His people. It is not quite the same illustration. Previously the building being constructed was a general one (although the Temple could well have been called to mind) for Paul wanted the Corinthians to think of buildings that they knew. That building was God’s people (‘you are God’s building’ - verse 9) but the construction was pictured as being adorned with gold, silver, precious stones and so on. It was a picture of the church being adorned and established by the teaching and wisdom (either true or less true) of those who took responsibility for it. Now the building has become the whole people of God, established by God, in whom God has come to dwell by His Spirit.
3.16-17 ‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.’
‘Do you not know.’ A favourite expression to the Corinthians (3.16; 5.6; 6.2, 3, 9, 15-16, 19; 9.13, 24). He is stressing that they do not appear to know, or are ignoring, what they ought to know. It is only used once elsewhere (Romans 6.16).
The thought of God’s building leads on to the thought of His people being built together as His temple (compare Ephesians 2.20-22). The thought has been progressive - God’s cultivated field, God’s building, God’s temple; growth, establishment in truth, indwelling by the Holy God. The temple has not specifically been in mind up to this point, or it would have been mentioned earlier, but the idea springs from the previous idea of God’s building.
Verses 16-17 are in fact an advancement and an added warning. We come back to the main point in verses 18-23. But as Paul contemplated God’s building he was filled with awe at what the people of God, His ‘church’, represented. They are the holy temple of the living God, His dwelling-place on earth, sanctified as belonging to Him. And he is filled with apprehension as to what would happen to those who sought to destroy it. As men who touched the holy Mount were to be immediately struck dead because the living God was manifested there (Exodus 19.12-13), how much worse it will be for those who seek to destroy the holy dwelling-place of God.
‘Do you not know that God’s temple you are?’ The word for temple is ‘naos’, the sanctuary, the innermost and most holy part of the temple, the part where God was most seen as dwelling. For that is the thought that is being stressed, that they are the dwelling place of God through His Spirit. Just as God descended on the Tabernacle of old (Exodus 40.34-35), so has He descended on His people (Acts 2.1-2). It is thus needless to ask whether the whole temple is in mind, or just the inner sanctuary. For whichever it is the emphasis is the same. It is the personal dwelling-place of God that is in mind.
‘The temple of God.’ Lack of the article does not indicate just one of many temples. This is indeed the only temple. But when the predicate is placed prior to the verb it is regularly without the article (compare ‘the Lord’ in 4.5; John 1.1). It is the essential Temple of God, the temple not made with hands, but made by God Himself.
‘And that the Spirit of God dwells in you.’ This is a reference to the presence of the Spirit in all who are His (Romans 8.9), but the emphasis here is different. Here it is less on what benefit we have received by receiving the Spirit, and more on the holy position we have been put in by His indwelling. We are God’s holy, set apart and unique dwelling-place on whom God has descended in glory. We are sanctified by God. The earthly temple has been thrust aside and has been replaced by the temple which is God’s people, wherever they are, and they are one and indwelt by the holy God. Thus they are precious and under God’s specific protection. That is why those who minister to them must especially beware of how they minister. They are dealing with God’s holy dwelling-place. ‘For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.’
‘The Spirit of God.’ The Spirit is God in His fullness revealed as active on earth. We are in danger of so distinguishing the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son that we can overlook that He represents the fullness of the Godhead in spiritually manifested, visibly active form (as Jesus was the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2.9)). He is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10.20), the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8.9; Galatians 4.6), the unique and ‘totally other’ (in contrast to this world) ‘Holy’ Spirit, God represented in person on earth.
‘If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.’ Again the thought has moved on. This is not a reference to the builders, whether adequate or inadequate, but to the preciousness and sacredness of God’s people in His sight, and the assurance of full judgment on those who seek to destroy them, whether the persecuting Jews, the antagonistic Romans, belligerent peoples of other religions, or, worst of all, deceitful philosophers and the false preachers and teachers who have removed the heart from the Gospel and totally distorted it (for examples of the last see 2 Peter 2.1; 1 John 2.18; 2 John 1.7; Jude 1.4).
Of course there is the hint of warning here. The teachers in Corinth must beware lest they turn out not only to be hindrances but actually destroyers. Let them take heed and ensure that they point their hearers to the true foundation. Then they will be able to be sure that the worst of all scenarios will not be theirs. Not all will necessarily turn out to have been truly saved.
It is noteworthy here, in view of what we have seen earlier, that Paul still sees the Corinthians as God’s Temple. Lacking they may be, but they are His dwellingplace. They are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called His holy ones (1.2). He is not in total despair of them. But what he does dread is the terrible fate that awaits those among them who seek to lead them astray. For them he can only forecast the worst. The Greek is emphatic ‘if anyone the Temple of God destroys, destroy him God will’. He will receive what he has sown.
Having made the point the thought now moves back to those who are true ministers of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (the then Old and New Testaments, although the latter mainly at this stage in oral form).
3.18-19a ‘Let no man deceive himself. If any man thinks that he is wise among you in this world (or ‘age’), let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.’
Paul comes back to what has been his theme all along. The need to recognise the wisdom of God, that is, to recognise in Christ crucified the wisdom of God which must be central in all they teach (1.30), and not to be taken up with the wisdom of the world. There is to be no doubt about it. They must not deceive themselves. The man who thinks himself wise must deliberately become a ‘fool’ (moros) in the world’s eyes and in the eyes of the times in which he lives, in order to become wise. He must recognise in the foolishness of the cross his central message. Then he will be truly wise. For otherwise the wisdom that he has will be foolishness in God’s eyes.
‘If any man thinks.’ Compare 8.2; 14.37. Men thinks so much of themselves. Well let them think truly. If they think they are wise, or knowledgeable, or spiritual, let them consider. Let them be sure that they are right.
For if a man tries to build up a reputation for wisdom in any other way than through God’s wisdom (and how we love to be thought wise) let him remember that whatever men think of it, the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. Paul is not of course denying the usefulness of practical knowledge, he is speaking of ‘wisdom’ with regard to metaphysics and the things of God. Religion without the centrality of Christ the Crucified One is folly in God’s eyes.
The word ‘fool’ was used by Stoic and Cynic philosophers to describe those who showed no interest in philosophy. Paul turns the idea on themselves. He claims that they, and all who philosophise about God apart from Christ, are in fact such fools. That the real fool is actually the pagan philosopher, for he ignores God’s message and God’s ways now revealed in Christ.
‘This world.’ The word is difficult of exact translation for it signifies both ‘this world’ as against the world of heavenly minded people, and ‘this age’ as prior to, and opposed to, the coming age when God will be all in all. But in both cases the emphasis is the same. ‘This world’ is the world as it is over against the true God. It disregards God and is unaware of what He really is, and is basically antagonistic towards Him. ‘This age’ is the same. It represents the ideas of those who live in an age which is prior to, inferior to and opposed to the age of God, taken up with the present, treating God casually, and disregarding of the future. But while the Christian lives in this world and in this age, he is not of this world and he is not of this age. His thoughts are on God and His ways. He obeys God rather than men (although recognising earthly authority as for the good of all). He already has and lives out ‘eternal life’, the ‘life of the coming age’ and his citizenship is in Heaven, where his thoughts are also fixed. He knows that he lives in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1.19-2.6).
3.19b-20 ‘For it is written, “He that takes the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise that they are vain.”
‘For it is written.’ Paul now establishes his position from Scripture. This is not just an afterthought. He has been leading up to this. What he has been saying is in fact what the Scripture, God’s revealed word to man, itself says, and that is that man’s wisdom can only get him into trouble when he is thinking and talking about God.
Compare the commencement of this whole argument in 1.18-25. There too he began with ‘it is written’ (1.19) and referred to this age and this world. There the wisdom of this age and of this world were to be destroyed. Now having considered all it is to bring them low and be their downfall and to pass away as a breath.
For those who think themselves wise, but are not wise in Christ, have a bleak future to look forward to. God’s views on earthly wisdom are clearly given in the Scriptures. The thoughts and aims of the ‘wise’ are vain, for they finally get them nowhere and accomplish nothing. They are trapped in their own crafty inventions, their own clever reasonings. And they end with nothing, receiving the only end possible for those who have rejected God’s wisdom.
‘It is written’ signifies reference to the divinely inspired Scriptures. The first Scripture is cited from Job 5.13. Note how this brings out that the Book of Job is in his mind. There we read, ‘He takes the wise in their own craftiness.’ The thought is that the wise go racing on with their foolish ideas about God and build them up with great astuteness, only to be brought crashing down. That God interferes to prevent the crafty from achieving their ends, even utilising their own cleverness against them. In the end they are trapped by their own cleverness.
There is clear warning here. Beware of operating away from God’s word. Go running off on your own in order to establish how wise you are, and you will finish up falling over yourself. That is in fact what philosophy today has indeed accomplished. It has brought itself to a standstill. God is no longer at the centre of its programme. They disdain the idea that God can be known. Thus , Paul is saying, the truly wise will be those who are not such as to deserve the opprobrium of God by being caught up in their own cleverness.
The second is taken from Psalm 94.11 where we read, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a breath (that is, temporary and passing).’ Paul speaks of ‘the wise’ instead of ‘man’ because he is directly connecting the verse with his argument. The substitution, however, simply brings out the idea of ‘the thinking man of the world’ (the thoughts of man) which is inherent in the Psalm. Both agree that the thoughts of such men are vain. Thus the word of God, says Paul, confirms that men’s thoughts in contrast to God’s thoughts are nothing but a passing breath.
3.21-23 ‘Wherefore let no one glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.’
So their eyes are not to be turned on men and their supposed wisdom, nor must they glory in men. They are but passing. Indeed such things are not of real importance. They are merely the possessions of those who are God’s. Rather they are to glory in the Lord (1.31). They are to recognise that because they belong to Christ, and Christ is God’s, they possess all things (John 16.15; 17.10). They actually possess Paul, Apollos and Cephas because they are but God’s servants. They actually possess the world which is God’s creation. They possess life which is under the control of Christ their Master (John 5.21, 24, 25-26, 28-29), and they possess death which He has conquered (Hebrews 2.14-15; Revelation 1.18). And they possess things present and things to come. For both the present and the future are under His control, because He is the On Who is, and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1.8), the One Who is all in all (15.28).
‘Or life, or death, or things present, or things to come.’ For this compare Romans 8.38 where such phrases are linked with creatures in the heavenly world, angels, principalities and powers. Men’s destinies are controlled by greater powers than they know, but they Who are Christ’s need not be afraid for He controls all and all are subject to Him (see also Ephesians 1.21-22).
‘All things are yours.’ Not because they had an intrinsic right to them but because they belong to Christ, to Whom all else belongs. Thus in Christ they are above both earthly and heavenly creatures and teachers, and need and should look to none but Him (Ephesians 1.19-2.10).
‘And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.’ Here is the nub of the matter. They belong to Christ and are in Him (see John 17.9-26). They are His own treasured possession (Titus 2.14; 1 Peter 2.9-10). That is why they share all that is His. Why then look to men’s wisdom when they can know Christ Who is the wisdom of God, and indeed belong to Him? And not only that but they share with Him in the glory of His presence, dwelling in Him and He in them. They are His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all (Ephesians 1.23).
And what is more He is of the Godhead and dwells in God and God in Him (John 14.11). He belongs wholly to God. And as He is in the Father so we are in Him and He in us (John 14.20). And God is supreme over all things.
‘And Christ is God’s.’ Here we reach the ultimate of existence. Christ is the connection between God and men, not only because He is the supreme Man, the Spiritual One (2.15) but also because he belongs to God. He is of God and He is the mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2.5). For the new revelation is that He can only be this because He is both God and Man. He is enveloped in the Godhead. In the beginning He already existed as God in full communion with the Father (Jon 1.1-2). Before creation was, He was. But in His manhood He took the form of a servant, thrusting aside His equality with God (Philippians 2.6-8).
In His Godhood (to the manifestation of which God restored Him - John 17.5), He is Lord over all, Yahweh (‘kurios’ - ‘the Lord’), to Whom every knee shall bow (Philippians 2.9-11). Yet in His manhood He could say in His humiliation as man, ‘My Father is greater than I’ (John 14.28).
In His Godhood He is One with the Father, in such a way that he who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14.9-11), so that He has essentially the right to equal honour with the Father (John 5.23). Thus He and the Father are One in all things (John 10.30). Indeed in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2.9), a fullness revealed as He tabernacled among us (John 1.14, 18).
Thus when He, having become man and representing man, has finally gathered all together to reconcile them with the Father, He Himself as representing Man and creation will subject Himself to the Godhead, and God will be all in all (15.27-28). The Triune God will, as it were, have taken all to Himself.
So how foolish it would be to glory in men and the puny wisdom that they teach. And this now leads on to the final reminder that all such men will have to give account of themselves to God.
The Faithfulness Required of Christ’s Assistants and Stewards (4.1-5).
Having summed up all in Christ and in God Paul now comes back to the fact that all men are therefore accountable to God. He speaks openly of himself as an example. But he stresses that he is but an example. All he has said about himself and Apollos, his dear friend and colleague whom he knows he can trust and be frank about without causing offence, is applicable to all. He compares the whole church to a great household, the household of God and of His Son Jesus Christ (compare John 8.34-36; Galatians 4.1-7; 26.26, 28-31).
4.1-2 ‘Let a man so account of us as of assistants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Here moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’
All Christian teachers are to be seen as ‘assistants’ of Christ in the household of God. The word for ‘assistants’ originally referred to the lowest level of galleyslaves in a trireme, the lowest of the low, those at the bottom of the ladder. It was also used of the assistant at the synagogue in Nazareth who took the scroll of Isaiah from Jesus once He had finished reading (Luke 4.20). It stresses inferiority to a superior in a particular field, for example a ‘junior doctor’. They are learners and helpers to one who is knowledgeable in their field. So are Christian teachers learners and helpers in relation to Christ Who is Himself the source of their knowledge and understanding.
They are also to be seen as stewards, household managers of the mysteries of God. The stress on this continues. They are not the owner, they act on the owner’s behalf. They are responsible to administer what is His. This was a favourite theme of Jesus Himself and He constantly referred to men as servants and stewards of God. Their responsibility, says Paul, is to make known what was previously hidden to those to whom God has chosen to reveal it. It was a mystery, for although God had unveiled something of it in the Old Testament, it had remained veiled to man. But now it had been revealed in Christ. And as stewards of those mysteries it was their responsibility to unveil Christ, and not their own wisdom
They were thus not to be inventors of, or speculators in, religious matters. Others spoke of revealing ‘mysteries. The world was full of mystery religions. But they were mysteries of their own devising, not the mysteries of God. The responsibility of God’s stewards was to preserve and minister God’s word which has been committed to them, and to make Christ fully known as he had been revealed to them. For that is a steward’s responsibility, to be faithful to his master in relation to what is his. The steward of Christ should point to Christ and not to himself, should concentrate on Christ’s affairs and not his own, and should carry out his responsibilities faithfully.
‘Here moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’ In fulfilling that stewardship nothing was more essential than that the steward be found faithful. For it was only the faithful steward,, who was true to his master’s wisdom, who would truly unveil the mysteries of his master.
4.3a ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by man’s day.’
Indeed so essential is this relationship between master and steward that anyone else’s opinion becomes unimportant. It is to Him alone that the steward is accountable. The Corinthians may make judgments about him as much as they like. They may examine his ministry and ‘compare’ him with, judge him alongside (’anakrino), other teachers, but as long as he is being a faithful steward in so far as his abilities will allow, their judgments matter little. He is not of course talking about a situation where Teachers are clearly failing in their responsibility through neglect, arrogance or laziness. He is talking about judging a man who is doing the best he can with the abilities he has, and is concentrating on being faithful to his master
As Jesus Himself pointed out. To justify himself in their eyes would mean little, for it is God alone who knows the heart, and that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16.15).
‘Or by man’s day.’ He may also be judged by the world in the light of their own perspectives, their own way of life and ideas. For this is ‘man’s day’, when all is judged in the light of what man thinks suitable, fit or important. But, not understanding the ways of God, they are in no position to judge God’s servants. So he does not expect such people to pass a fair judgment on him. ‘Man’s day’, the time when things are judged from man’s point of view, here contrasts with the coming ‘Christ’s day’ when things will be seen differently, and are judged from His point of view.
4.3b-4 ‘Yes I do not judge my own self. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not hereby justified. But he who judges me is the Lord.’
He does not, however, want them to think that he is disparaging their judgment. So he points out that he will not even judge himself, because he is quite frankly not adequate to do so. He may be totally satisfied with what he teaches and how he behaves as an Apostle. He may feel he has done well. He may even fall into despair. But that does not declare him to be in the right or wrong. There is only One Who can do that, and that is the Lord (see Proverbs 21.2). So let them beware of making hasty and false judgments, just as he is.
Again we must stress that he is talking about those who are seeking to be faithful. It is right to judge those who are not of the household of God. Who are being unfaithful. It is right to urge stewards to greater faithfulness. But what is not right is to pass judgments on them and dismiss them by comparing them to others.
‘Yet I am not hereby justified.’ Paul knows very well that the fact that he knows nothing against himself does not mean that He will be accepted by God as righteous. It is God alone Who justifies or condemns.
4.5 ‘Wherefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make openly clear the counsels of the heart. And then shall each man have his praise from God.’
‘Until the Lord comes.’ Not the change in terminology. Jesus is ‘the Lord’. He is not just a superior Teacher. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ. As the Son He is Lord over God’s household. All are to live in the light of Him and His expected return, for then He will pass true judgment and men will have to give full account of all they have done. Compare the many parables of Jesus which describe exactly this (e.g. Luke 12.35-48)
‘Judge nothing before the time.’ He is here thinking primarily of teachers such as Apollos, Peter and himself, and all their fellow teachers (3.22). But it also refers to all who would teach faithfully and are accountable to their Lord. He does not mean that the Corinthians should not judge the rightness of doctrine, or wrongdoing, or immoral behaviour. He later shows that to be their responsibility. He is saying only that they should concentrate on Jesus Christ, consider what is given to them, and not pass judgment on the adequacy or otherwise of His assistants and their motives. It is the quality and spiritual effectiveness of men’s service that should not be judged. That is the Lord’s responsibility. When He comes what is unknown will be brought to light and men’s motives and aims, hidden within their hearts, will be made clear. Then will God praise each one according to what he deserves. Much of what they have done, which men admired and praised, will be burned up, revealed as dross, but other will stand the examination and will come through as pure, refined gold and silver and costly jewellery (3.13).
However what is said here also applies to all Christians. In the end we have to account to Him for all we do and say. Then judgment will not be on appearance but on what is true. What we have kept hidden within ourselves will be laid bare. And for all His own there will be some praise from God, for any who are unworthy of any praise have thereby proved that they were not truly His.
‘The hidden things of darkness.’ These are the things that men do not want to have brought to the light. All have had such things in their lives, wrong aims, wrong motives, lack of spiritual application. And sadly many such things have gone on in church affairs. Much is done that is done for wrong motives and for self-gain. And we can be sure that they will all come out. But these are things that only God can judge. For only He can pierce into the darkness.
‘The counsels of the heart.’ What men think deep within. What lies behind their smooth words, or their faithful and often misunderstood service. All will be made openly clear.
‘And then shall each man have his praise from God.’ Then the reward will be given. Then will He say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ Compare Matthew 25.21-23. Each will receive of the gracious giving of a solicitous Lord.
Those Who Are True To The Word of the Cross Endure Suffering For Christ. The Corinthians Need To Re-examine Their Foundations (4.6-13).
Paul now stresses that all that he has said has been with them in mind. He has done it gently as though he were speaking of himself and Apollos. (We can see what confidence he had in Apollos). But really he has been thinking of them and those who profess to be their teachers. He has wanted them to consider their ways.
For the truth is that those who are faithful to the word of the cross are enduring suffering for Christ as is evidenced by the Apostles and what they endure. Thus the belief of the Corinthians that somehow they are superior is clearly wrong. They think they are wise but they are neglecting the true wisdom, replacing it with what is secondary, and artificial. They are concentrating on different aspects of doctrines which they see as ‘wisdom’, and neglecting the true wisdom of God which is revealed through the word of the cross. They are failing to be true servants of Christ.
4.6-7 ‘Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to go beyond the things that are written, that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. For who makes you to differ? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?’
He now stresses that he has been using himself and Apollos as illustrations as he has gone along, altering the figure as he did so, whenever it was necessary, in order to suit the point he wished to make. But he points out that what he has said in fact should be applied to all Teachers. Each has his part to play but none should be exalted above the others. Christ and Him crucified, and not some Teacher, is the One Who must always be central in their thinking and teaching, and he hopes that from them (Paul and Apollos) they (other teachers, or the Corinthians themselves) might learn not to go beyond ‘the things that are written’. In view of use of the regular introductory ‘it is written’ we are probably to see in this a reference to the Scriptures. The Scriptures, ‘the things that are written’, point to Jesus Christ as Lord, the suffering Servant of God Who was finally exalted (Isaiah 52.13-53.12), they point to the One Whom God will send Who will be made Lord over all things (Isaiah 11.1-4; Daniel 7.13-14 with Matthew 16.27; Ezekiel 37.25) and they must not go beyond that by exalting some human wisdom or some human personage, being ‘puffed up for one against the other’, with pride exalting one against the other, or by introducing newfangled doctrines. They are to be good stewards of the mysteries of God.
Indeed it is God Who has given them spiritual gifts (12-14; Romans 12.6-8; Ephesians 3.7; 1 Timothy 4.14-16) and as they exercise these, the gift of prophecy, the ‘word of knowledge’, the gift of ministry, the gift of teaching, they will receive wisdom and knowledge, they will gain understanding, and are to impart it to others. But all that they receive will need to be judged against the Scriptures. Like Paul and Apollos they must spiritually discern (14.29). Nor must they exalt the channels of such illumination, for they are merely recipients and channels. The glory must go, not to the channels but to the source, to God (1.31). For if they become ‘puffed up’ through being puffed up by others, expanding their chests like a bullfrog, they will lose their usefulness.
These words apply to all gifts. Whatever talents or gifts we possess, they have come from God. We should therefore exercise them with gratitude and not with pride, for we do not have them because we are somehow more deserving than others, but because God in His sovereign power has graciously allowed them to us. And when we see others with these gifts we should give thanks to God for them too and not exalt the one so blessed as to have been given the gifts.
‘These things.’ He has written much and now he looks back over what he has written so that he can apply it to them. He mentions only Apollos and himself. This has been his practise when giving names as examples for illustration purposes. This is in contrast to 1.12; 3.22 where ‘Cephas’ (note, not ‘Peter’ but the Aramaic form) had been mentioned in order to draw attention to their party divisions, probably because some pointed to Christian teaching with a Jewish emphasis. But clearly such ideas were not in themselves central to the church’s problems or causing doctrinal difficulties, for they are nowhere specifically mentioned. The problems that had arisen were more to do with disagreement and division and concentration on secondary matters, on a supposed new wisdom, to the detriment of the word of the cross. (And he did not want them to think that he was attacking those who came from Cephas, or indeed Jewish Christians at all. They knew full well how he loved Apollos. To use him as an illustration would not mislead).
‘That in us you might learn not to go beyond the things that are written.’ Literally, ‘in order that in us you may learn the (to) not above/beyond what is written’. The Greek is probably colloquial but the idea would seem to be that Paul wants them to make sure that they remain Scripturally based. ‘What is written’ may refer to the Scriptural quotations and references he has given in the passage (e.g. 1.19, 31; 2.9, 16; 3.19-20), thus advising them to look only to the Scriptures or to God for wisdom, or it may refer to the whole Scriptural position that ‘is written’ generally. The ‘to’ (definite article) used in this way regularly introduces a quotation. Thus the suggested translation, ‘in order that in us you may learn the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written”. The stress is on the need not to be carried away with things not founded in Scripture.
4.8 ‘Already you are filled, already you are become rich, you have reigned without us. Yes and I would that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.’
But that is what they have been doing, and such ideas have given them ideas above their station. Paul here speaks with deep irony and contrasts their view of their own position with that of the Apostles. They have come to such an exalted view of themselves that they see themselves as satiated with blessings, as filled with heavenly wisdom, as already fully having all that God can give them spiritually, as already being rich in great wisdom and in spiritual knowledge and blessing, even as reigning. And all without Paul and Apollos being included, thanks to their spiritual gifts. And yet meanwhile they have been disputing hotly with each other, and expressing their own superiority as against each other, to the detriment of the centrality of Christ crucified.
It would seem that what they had received through their prophetic gifts, not wisely tested against Scripture, had given them the idea of their own great spirituality, and exaltation, so that felt that they could leave Paul and Apollos far behind. They seemingly saw themselves as in some way reigning in some supernatural way, possibly in view of earthly Messianic expectations (compare Luke 22.29-30). Unwise Christians can soon get such exalted ideas from unwise teachers in times when all is going well. Paul is sceptical. Sarcastically he says that he would that they did reign so that he and Apollos could reign with them! We are probably not to take this comment too literally, although if their ideas were connected with the Kingly Rule of God it may be that Paul nostalgically wished that it would indeed come.
‘Yes and I would that you did reign, that we also might reign with you.’ Paul sarcastically wishes that they really reigned as truly spiritual Christians so that he and his fellow-workers, who were truly reigning in life (Romans 5.17; 6.11-14; Revelation 5.10), could rejoice and reign with them. Then they would be united as one instead of being divided.
Alternately the idea (in view of what follows) might possibly be that he wishes that their doctrine of present Messianic blessing were true so that they could all share it together. But he goes on to point out that the fact that it was not true was demonstrated by what the Apostles were suffering.
He wants them to know that all their claims were certainly in contrast with the Apostles’ expectations, for he goes on to demonstrate that they certainly do not enjoy such fullness, such riches, such reigning as the Corinthians claim. Rather they are paraded around, they are mocked, they go hungry and unclothed, they are beaten and have no home, they are treated as the filth of the world. So it should be clear that by their claims the Corinthians are claiming to be superior to the Apostles themselves! And yet in the remainder of his letter he will demonstrate that far from reigning they are revealing their continuing moral inadequacy.
Corinth was a wealthy city, and many of the Corinthian Christians were thus seemingly well enough off to consider that this somehow demonstrated their spiritual superiority. Possibly they considered that they were enjoying these blessings because of what they saw as their spiritual status. Possibly they considered that they had entered into Messianic blessing. But sadly they were like the Laodicean church (Revelation 3.17-18), poor and wretched, miserable, blind and naked. There are many today who equally tend to look on prosperity as a sign of their spiritual status. There are some who teach it, and they too might profitably consider these words, especially when there is such need all around and their Christian brothers are going hungry and suffering around the world.
But the truth was that their spirituality was a show, a pretence. Their view of themselves based on their exercise of, and overindulgence in, spiritual gifts, was without regard to the quality of their lives. They did not really reign. They walked blindly. They stumbled and fell. They exalted personages, and debased those to whom they owed the most. They divided themselves into ‘wisdom schools’ arguing with each other over secondary matters, and criticising each other, while ignoring what should have been their central concern. They tolerated, and some even practised, immorality. They took each other to court. They criticised and attacked Paul and others like him. They treated idolatry lightly, even though it made others stumble. They grumbled at what God did. They were selfish and overlooked the good of others. Many got drunk at the Christian love feasts. Others failed to share their good things with their poorer brothers. They were inconsiderate, thoughtless and selfish. And yet they claimed to be reigning!
This tendency to interpret the Scriptures in the light of particular circumstances is prevalent today. Christians in Western countries may interpret them in the light of their affluence, as the Corinthians did (although not all), while those in countries where they go hungry, and suffer, and have little opportunity, may see them very differently. The lesson Paul is giving here is that if doctrine does not fit in with all cases then it is not correct doctrine.
4.9-10 ‘For, I think, God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death. For we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have glory but we have dishonour.’
These Corinthians seemingly thought that they had been put first. That they were specially chosen. That they were commencing the Messianic reign as God’s elect. Well let them consider the situation of those most spiritual of men, the Apostles, whose gifts from God far exceeded those of all others. They were seemingly doing the opposite of reigning. They had seemingly been put last. They were seemingly at the back of the queue when it came to prestige and honour and glory. Rather than being exalted they were doomed to death. This may refer to the fact that in the triumphal processions of Roman conquerors, in which their captives were made a spectacle, those captives who were doomed to death in the arena were made to walk last. So rather than reigning Christ’s Apostles were being made a spectacle in the sight of the whole world, both of angels and of men, and being paraded, as it were, as doomed captives, as animal fodder.
‘Of angels and of men.’ It may well be that the reference to angels had in mind that these Corinthians saw themselves not only as exalted above men, but also as exalted in the eyes of the angels, as almost angels themselves. Or he may be referring to the fact of the angels who are present to watch over God’s people (Hebrews 2.14) and are therefore spectators to all that goes on on earth.
Rather than boasting of wisdom and strength the Apostles were looked on as fools and could only boast of weakness and humiliation Note how all this fits in with what Paul has been saying earlier about those who were Christ’s (1.18, 23, 26-28). Indeed while the Corinthians were displaying themselves as wise in Christ the Apostles were being paraded as fools for Christ, as the truly wise. While the Corinthians rejoiced in glory, the Apostles, those especially chosen men of God, were despised and dishonoured. They were a show for others to jeer at or clap.
For Christ’s sake the Apostles were prepared to be looked on as fools, and to say things and behave in a way that made men think they were fools, proclaiming openly the word of the cross. Their only desire was to honour Christ. They had died to their own ways and desires so that they might live to Him, and it had led to poverty and worldly dishonour. Clearly someone had got their bearings wrong somewhere. Either the Corinthians were right, or the Apostles were. Paul is making his final bid to show them how wrong they in fact are. They are being misled about spiritual priorities because they are overlooking the cross. They need to leave their study of ‘wisdom’ and their experience meetings and take the word of the cross out to the world. They would then soon find then whether the Messianic age had come.
What a contrast then were these fleshly Corinthian Christians and their views when compared with the Apostles. They saw themselves as wise (sensible and prudent and with extra spiritual knowledge), and strong and glorious. But of course it was all an illusion based on their particular circumstances. They were really the opposite. They were not the spiritual giants that they thought they were. Rather they lived to excess in everything, in disputes about different Teachers and different wisdom teaching, in sexual misbehaviour (chapter 5), in legal disputes, taking fellow Christians before pagan courts (chapter 6), in partying and drunkenness (11.20-22), and in the misuse of spiritual gifts (chapter 14). They had no real concept of oneness in Christ, of chasteness and purity, of concern for others, and of the use of spiritual gifts for the benefit of others rather than themselves. Far from enjoying Messianic blessings they were Messianic misfits. They had not learned to live sacrificially, like the One Who had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8.20; Luke 9.58). And all this was evidence that the word of the cross was not pre-eminent in their lives.
‘God has set us forth.’ But they should note what God has done. It is God Who has done what He has to the Apostles. He has deliberately set them forth as a spectacle. How then does this tie in with the Corinthians’ way of thinking?
So we note here that in the last analysis it was God Who had brought these things on the Apostles. Paul is not complaining. He is giving them as an example. None need despair or lose courage for it was within His purpose and was the means by which He brought about His will. Those who are not God’s true servants may seem to ‘prosper’, but those who are His may expect to find themselves constantly assailed by trial and tribulation, (although their prayer must always be, ‘lead us not into testing, but deliver us from evil’, for their confidence must be in Him and not in themselves).
‘To the world and to angels and to men.’ For the idea of the angels as observers of men see 11.10; Hebrews 1.14. As suggested earlier this may indicate that the Corinthians had an exalted view of themselves as above angelic status. Or ‘angels and men’ might be intended to define ‘the world’ in which we operate, peopled by men, watched over by angels.
4.11 ‘Even to this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and are knocked about, and have no certain dwelling place. And we toil, working with our hands. Being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we endure, being defamed we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.’
Paul now defines the life of the Christian witness. How differently from many today those who sought first the Kingly Rule of God, and His righteousness, lived, those who walked the way of the cross. They did not feast. They hungered and thirsted and went without, they were not fashionably dressed but lived in minimum clothing, they were not pampered but were knocked about, they did not bask in luxury but toiled, working with their hands. They were regularly reviled, persecuted and defamed, and regularly misrepresented, because they thrust themselves into the spiritual battle among unbelievers. Indeed they were treated as refuse, as what men dispense with in disgust. And in return for their maltreatment they blessed their persecutors (see Luke 6.27-28), and endured, and answered in a friendly way, and continued to entreat men to come to Christ. They were those of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11.38). Perhaps there was a deliberate hint in this that the Corinthians were not obeying their Master in this and should learn to do the same.
In this the Apostles followed Christ. He too hungered (Luke 4.2; Matthew 21.18), thirsted (John 4.7; 19.28); was naked (Mark 15.24); was knocked about (Mark 14.65); had no certain dwelling place (Luke 9.58); and was reviled, persecuted and defamed (1 Peter 2.23; John 15.20; Mark 15.29-31).
‘Toil, working with our hands.’ This was toil resulting in calluses, weariness and fatigue (2 Thessalonians 3.8), the labour of love that works itself to the bone for those it loves (1 Thessalonians 1.3). There was no life of ease and relaxation for those who served Christ truly. And they wanted not to be a burden to others. The Jews respected toil. All Jewish teachers were expected to support themselves. But the Greeks tended to despise it. Such was for slaves and the lower classes. Thus Paul is indicating that they were seen as at a low level in Greek eyes.
Note Paul’s emphasis. ‘Even to this present hour --- even until now’. For those who served Christ faithfully the times of plenty were not yet here, the Messianic age was not yet come, nor would it until God’s purposes were come to fruition. So if the Corinthians boasted of their prosperity and of their luxurious living it was no indication of their spiritual status but rather of their spiritual bankruptcy.
The Corinthians are a picture of all who live in prosperity and excess while the world languishes. Paul is saying that evangelists and ministers who live in luxury are a contradiction in terms. Prelates who dress splendidly are a contradiction of the Gospel. Those who bask in fame and plaudits do but demonstrate their own unspiritual state. Those who own more expensive properties than their congregations and larger cars show their unspirituality and even hypocrisy. For those who serve faithfully will be living lives of sacrifice and self-control in order that Christ may be lifted up. By their fruits (by how they live and what they produce) they will be known.
While the Scriptures nowhere condemn godly men who have wealth, they certainly condemn those who fail to use it wisely to help the needy. Consider Luke 10.33-36; 12.18-19; 16.9, 19-23; 18.22. And they also command us to lay up treasure, not on earth but in Heaven (Matthew 6.19-20) and give us the example of the widow and her pittance which she gave to God, reminding us that God does not look at how much we give so much as at how much we have left (Mark 12.43).
‘The offscouring of all things.’ This described such things as the grease and grime wiped from pots and pans. That which was wiped off and thrown into the cesspit. See also Lamentations 3.45.
Let Them Then Remember That He Fathered Them And That Through Him God’s Power Was and Is Revealed (4.14-21)
4.14-16 ‘I write these things not to shame you but to admonish you, as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I brought you to birth through the Gospel. I beg you therefore, you be imitators of me.’
Paul now assures them that he writes this way as a loving father, not as a despot. He is admonishing them sternly because of his love for them. They are his beloved children, and he wants the very best for them. For in at least one thing he is unique, that it was he who first introduced the Corinthians to Christ, and through whom they found new life in Him. This at least proves his soundness and effectiveness. There are a multiplicity of Teachers (slave tutors) who will teach them many things, some good, some bad. But they do not have the same qualifications, as far as the Corinthians are concerned, as Paul has, for they are his spiritual children, and he was their spiritual father, and the way that he brought them to birth was not through ‘wisdom’ but through the Gospel (1.17-18). Thus he begs them to be imitators of him as a child so naturally is of a father, living the Christian life as he lives it, behaving as he behaves (in 11.1 he amplifies his words as ‘be imitators of me as I am of Christ’. There is no question of them imitating him for himself alone). Compare Philippians 3.17; 1 Thessalonians 1.6). For as the means of their conversion he has proved, at least this to them, that he enjoys the power of God. Can the other Teachers say the same?
‘Though you might have ten thousand tutors in Christ.’ Paul is basically saying that such tutors are two a penny. Anyone can set himself up as a tutor. They crowd round for the privilege of teaching the Corinthians their own ideas professing that it is in the name of Christ. The slave tutor had responsibility for children in a well-to-do family. He would watch over them, guide them, see them safely to school, watch over their morals, teach them good manners, and so on. But he was easily replaced if he turned out to be inefficient. The one who was really concerned for their welfare was their father. He was permanent.
‘Yet you do not have many fathers.’ This is the fact of the matter. Those who really care for them are relatively few. Those who have brought them to birth have demonstrated by so doing that God is behind them, and that they truly care. They are not seeking ‘a following’ but intent on leading them to Christ. Young Jewish students who were trained in the Torah by a teacher would recognise him as a ‘father’. Thus Paul is to be seen as their father, because he brought to them and taught them the traditions of Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures. He preached to them the word of the cross. Casual tutors seeking to usurp the father’s authority and seeking a following should not be seen as on the same level.
Jesus had to warn the Rabbis about seeking the title ‘Master’ and their students on calling them ‘father’ (Matthew 23.8-9). Both were to look to God as servants of God. Paul is not advocating such a thing. What he is doing is stress his loving concern and the events that have revealed that he is truly their father in Christ Jesus. Let them therefore hear him and look to Christ. It was a bad day for the Christian church when Christians began to look to men as their ‘father’. He came between them and Christ.
‘My beloved children.’ It is when Paul feels most deeply and speaks most strongly that he uses such endearments (2 Corinthians 6.13; Galatians 4.19).
‘I brought you to birth through the Gospel.’ Paul sees himself as a father giving them life through the preaching of the Gospel in power, resulting in them being born from above by the Spirit of God (John 3.1-8; 1 Peter 1.23) and receiving new life in Christ (Romans 6.4; 2 Peter 1.4). He is of course their father in a secondary sense, for it was the Father Himself Who of His own will really brought them to birth through the word of truth (James 1.18; 1 Peter 1.3). Paul was merely the channel. But that is Paul’s point, that he, and he alone was the channel through which God revealed His saving power, thus proving him to be a true channel of the Spirit.
‘I beg you therefore, you be imitators of me.’ As we have seen 11.1 adds, ‘as I am of Christ’. But here he is challenging their willingness to copy him, rather than the opposition. That in the end will be the test of their response to his words, and he is about to put it to the test in chapter 5. There he will discover whether they are willing to copy him or not.
4.17 ‘This is the reason why I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church.’
It is because of his love for them and because he is their spiritual father that he is now sending Timothy to them. Note the comparison and contrast between ‘beloved children’ (verse 14) and ‘beloved and faithful child’. Comparison because he wants them to have a fellow feeling with Timothy as all having been brought to Christ by Paul, and contrast because Timothy has stood firm and retained his faithfulness to the truth, unlike the Corinthians. Thus he is truly ‘in the Lord’. So Timothy is well qualified to remind them of Paul’s ‘ways which are in Christ’.
There is the definite hint here that their ways are not ‘in Christ’. They have chosen their own ways as he has already pointed out, and will again point out shortly. They need to return to the ways of Christ, the ways of lowliness and self-giving, the ways of obedience to Scriptural morality, the ways taught by Paul in every church. By these words he also makes clear that Timothy is his trusted emissary. They might well call to mind Jesus’ parable of the vineyard when the lord who had gone away sent his beloved son to the workers in the vineyard. Timothy has come to speak in his name, and he speaks in Christ’s name.
The fact that Timothy is not included in the initial greeting might arise from his youthfulness, or it may be because he was not there with Paul at the time. It is possible that Paul sent to him wherever he was and asked him to go to Corinth to represent him.
4.18-20 ‘Now some are puffed up as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the Kingly Rule of God is not in word, but in power.’
Now he turned his attention to those who seemed to think (and probably claimed) that he had deserted the Corinthians. They accused him of being a fly-by-night, and that he would not be coming back. Well, they were wrong. In God’s will he intended to come to them shortly, although it did of course depend on God being willing (compare 16.7; James 4.15), for Paul was an assistant to Christ and not His master. And then he would see what power these men who puffed themselves up really had in their ministry. For it in the end it was not a matter of words but the power of God. Through those who were His true servants, God works in power, for the Kingly Rule of God was revealed in power (Mark 9.1; Acts 1.7; 1.8; 3.12; 4.7; 4.33; 6.8) and continued in power. This would especially include power, not in mere words, but in the word of the cross. It finishes off where Paul began. But he may well have intended them to remember miracles that God had done through him. Could these puffed up ones speak of the same?
It is clear that these opponents were using any tactic to discredit him. They also tried to downgrade him by making out that he used gifts that he was given in order to look after his own needs and to make himself comfortable, and give himself plenty of free time (9.3-7). They accused him of misuse of funds and time-serving. Indeed they were spreading so many rumours and innuendoes that Paul felt it necessary to defend himself against the charge. Fortunately he had the perfect answer. He earned his own living. But he also makes clear out of deference to his colleagues that a soldier of Christ in the field has a right to be supported (9.7-18). So Paul is not just being unkind when he speaks of the being puffed up. He is defending himself against their unpleasantness and pointing out what they really are, boasters and liars.
‘Some are puffed up.’ Compare 5.2. This makes clear that they are self-seekers, but it is also preparation for the jolt he will shortly bring home to them when he deals with one of the causes of their being puffed up. In 8.1 he will state that ‘knowledge puffs up’. These are some who are puffed up by knowledge. And this has caused them to think too much of themselves. They see no good in anyone but themselves.
‘Not the word -- but the power.’ Here ‘the word’ represents their teaching. They may be eloquent. Their words might be beautifully put together and seem to have something heavenly and mysterious about their content. But are they spiritually effective? That is the test. Do they make men holy? He will in the next chapter demonstrate that they certainly do not.
‘The Kingly Rule of God.’ This is God’s present rule among His people revealed in His powerful activity and the resulting spiritual living and service. Compare Romans 14.17. Note that here the Kingly Rule of God is specifically linked with the word of the cross in power. We have no right to separate ‘the kingdom of God’ from the Gospel. Note also that it is expressed through power. Thus it ties back to the idea of the word of the cross in power (1.18).
In verse 8 he had hinted at the claim of these opponents that they were rulers in heavenly things and had sarcastically wished that it was true. Now he makes clear that it is not true. They lacked the power that suggested that they truly reigned with Christ under the Kingly Rule of God.
The reference to the Kingly Rule of God is also further preparation for chapters 5 and 6. What is to be described there is very much connected with what is being described here, and with the word of the cross. The reason that they can act as judges within the community of the church is because the Kingly Rule of God is here and because God has spoken in terms of the cross.
4.21 ‘What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and in a spirit of meekness?’
So he closes this section by leaving them a choice. Do they prefer severity, or love and gentleness. As a concerned father he is prepared to use the rod of chastening (Hebrews 12.5-11 compare Proverbs 13.24; 23.13-14) but would prefer to come in love and gentleness. It is up to them and will depend on how they respond to his letter. The rod may have in mind ‘the rod of iron’ (Revelation 2.27; 12.5) as in Psalm 2.9, ‘the iron sceptre’ of judgment. The latter would tie in with his claim to reveal the Kingly Rule of God in power. But the context more suggests the father’s correcting rod. Perhaps he wanted some to see one and some the other. However he is making it clear that he would prefer to come as a father, arriving in love and gentleness to greet responsive children. Some see here a reference to the Holy Spirit, but in view of the contrast we are probably intended to see it as signifying Paul’s own spirit.
This leads immediately into chapter 5. He is about to exercise his fatherly authority. Let them consider how they will respond to it.
Important Scandals That Have To Be Dealt With (5.1-6.20).
Having dealt with the central spiritual concern which has been to do with their divisiveness over secondary matters, over ‘the wisdom of words’, which were in danger of squeezing out ‘the word of the cross’ (1.18), Paul now moves abruptly on to two scandals which are among them. These are important for their own sake, but equally important because they demonstrate that the teachers who are opposing him have clearly not been concerned about moral behaviour, whereas he has.
He has given a hint of this in what he has already said. But he now moves straight into the issues with vivid and forceful directness, for he wants to catch them by surprise. He wants to take them unawares with something that they are not expecting. But he does not directly use them as an illustration to back up his point, for he does not want their impact to be lessened by suggesting that they are simply a part of the controversy, thus making them simply appear to be an arguing point. He is genuinely distressed at the dreadful testimony they are giving about Christ. He wants them to land among them like bombs exploding. By moving straight in he emphasises their seriousness in their own right and prevents their force from being degraded.
This explains the abrupt change of subject which comes without any connecting word or phrase. This is deliberate. It is partly so that his words about the scandals will make a full impact in themselves, demonstrating that he is extremely concerned about the sins for their own sake, and partly so that it will catch the teachers who are sitting listening to the letter, by surprise, and prevent them from formulating their arguments for the defence against what he has already said. With one swift movement he pulls the carpet from under them.
That is also partly why he does not want to soften the impact of what he says by simply suggesting that they illustrate what he has been saying. He wants them to stand on their own in all their starkness. However, having said that, we should note that he does, while drawing attention to them, cleverly draw out their connection with what has gone before by relating what he is saying to the topics of righteousness (5.6-8; 6.9, 11), sanctification (5.7-8; 6.11, 19) and redemption (5.7; 6.19-20). Compare 1.30. He is drawing attention to the fact that when it comes to dealing with sin it is the word of the cross that enforces holiness on men, not the ‘wise’ teaching of these men whose words and ideas have no real power. Let them, while they are facing up to the dreadfulness of this behaviour that they have simply passed over, just pause and consider that. He knows that they can have no answer to such a dilemma.
The first scandal he brings out is the church’s willingness to allow to go unpunished among them an act of grave sexual misdemeanour (5.1-2). He then directs what should be done to put matters right (5.3-5) linking this with his teaching about the cross and sanctification (5.6-8) and then gives further advice about such matters (5.9-13). He leaves unmentioned the question of how this could happen in the light of his opponents’ wisdom teaching, although pointing out that the word of the cross deals with the matter quite clearly.
His final comments on this then lead on the second scandal, the question of going to the secular law against fellow Christians, which he forbids because it brings shame on the name of Christ (6.1-8). Let such things rather be judged by the church, he says. The Kingly Rule of God is here, and those who will one day judge angels should not draw back from judging God’s people. And he then draws an important spiritual warning from his comments, expanding the definition of sin to include many forms of sinful behaviour, and again links it with what Christ has done for them, once more introducing the ideas of righteousness and sanctification (6.9-11). So all manner of sin is being dealt with by him in the light of the word of the cross, which the wisdom teachers seem to have overlooked.
This is then followed by further emphatic teaching on sexual misbehaviour, this time in connection with having sexual adventures with prostitutes, many of whom would be connected with idolatrous religion. Their very behaviour is thus in itself blasphemous. So he draws out again how dreadful such sins are to those who are members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, and finishes by reminding them that they are in fact not their own because they have been redeemed. They have been bought with a price, sanctified as the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, and belong to Another (6.12-20). They should therefore recognise that their bodies are His. So while dealing emphatically with, and condemning, the sins he is describing, he draws out again that it is his teaching about the word of the cross that deals effectively with such sins, not the ‘wisdom’ of those who have allowed such things to continue among them.
We must now consider these matters in detail.
The Corinthians Must Deal With the Immorality in Their Midst (5.1-13).
The Great Sin Among Them (5.1-2)
5.1-2 ‘It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you has his father’s wife. And YOU (emphatic) are puffed up and did not rather mourn, that he who had so done this deed might be taken away from among you.’
He has challenged them whether they want him to come with a rod or in a spirit of gentleness and love. Now he suddenly faces them up unexpectedly with certain knowledge that he has received which has disturbed him, a particularly dreadful case of sexual misbehaviour. Try and imagine that you are sitting in the Corinthian assembly and have been following his argument about the word of the cross and the divisiveness of many in the church. He has told you that the divisiveness has been a result of your concentrating your thoughts on secondary matters and on the teachers of ‘wise words’ who have been called to account, rather than on the word of the cross through which you were saved. Hopefully you are feeling a little ashamed. But you are now waiting to hear what defence these same teachers will bring up, and you are confident that it will no doubt be an eloquent one.
And then suddenly and abruptly these words are read out. Like everyone else you are caught napping. All thoughts of defence flee away. You yourself are now on the defensive. You are found guilty along with the rest. And whereas you had not previously thought about it, now you can see that you have no defence. Along with the rest of the church you have been taken unprepared, challenged and found guilty. It also leaves no time for defence against what has previously been said. By the time you have finished defending yourself against this charge the previous ones will appear unimportant. No defence against what was said earlier will be constructed until it has lost its initial impact in the face of this enormous charge that faces you all. You are suddenly made to face the fact that, in the midst of your exercise of spiritual gifts, you have allowed, without protest, the grossest of sins. And this makes you realise that any charge you would make against Paul pales into insignificance besides this. It demonstrates conclusively that the teaching that you have been trusting in has undoubtedly failed at the moral level. It faces you directly with the question as to whether what you now believe in even has a moral dimension. And on your decision as to that will depend your reply to all his previous arguments. For you are made to recognise that the moral dimension lies at the back of all Paul has said. That is why Christ died.
This is surely the reason why Paul now indirectly illustrates what he has been talking about with these vivid examples. They demonstrate as nothing else could that these ‘wise’ teachers, like the whole church, have been condoning gross sexual immorality, and even boasting about it. They have claimed that Paul was lax in his attitudes. But nothing could possibly be as lax as this. For it has included such an example of sexual immorality among them as even the Gentiles would be ashamed of. A man making love to his father’s wife, and possibly even setting up home with her. Any defence that they were thinking of making to his former arguments has been ripped apart. If they have any concern for morality, and that was probably initially why many had responded, this incident has in itself demonstrated that their teaching has failed. They have lost the moral concern they once had.
We must assume that ‘his father’s wife’ was not speaking of the young man’s own mother, but probably of a young wife whom his father had later married. Thus this man is not only guilty of sexual immorality of a kind that would appal even the idolaters, but also of failing to honour his father and his father’s family. He has committed gross sin. He has dishonoured his father, destroyed the unity of the family, and done what even the most open-minded of outsiders would consider a shameful thing.
And what is more the self-opinionated Corinthian Christians, instead of mourning over this dreadful sin, have been puffed up, thinking themselves very broad-minded and quite happy to allow such dreadful behaviour among them. There has been no thought of church discipline or of bringing the guilty person to account. Thus they have all brought dishonour on the name of Christ, for in this way they have all shared with him in his sin. Can you now appreciate what immediate impact Paul’s words would have had? They will sit in silence and shuffle in their seats.
But what could have made the Corinthians consider this case acceptable even for a moment? One reason may have been an emphasis on the great ‘love’ that they had. How could such love possibly be wrong? Did not Christ teach us to love one another? Such distorted reasons are often appealed to, overlooking the difference between erotic lust and spiritual love. Another may have been that having both had experiences of spiritual gifts they had convinced themselves and others that they were bound by a spiritual bond which they had a right to work out by a ‘spiritual’ union which included physical union, excluding the father who was outside their own sphere of spirituality. Such ‘spiritual union’ is often looked on as a good excuse for satisfying the flesh and disobeying convention and the Law of God. The teachers of ‘wisdom’ may well have approved of it. But whatever it was Paul brings it down to earth. They have committed gross sin.
‘Puffed up and did not rather mourn.’ Jesus had said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted/strengthened’ (Matthew 5.4). Mourning over sin, although to be kept within bounds, was to be a regular part of the spiritual life, both mourning over one’s own sin and mourning over the sins of others (James 4.9-10 compare Isaiah 22.12; Jeremiah 12.4; Joel 2.12). And, because this great sin was in the church, the church should have mourned over it even more, for it was making God’s holy temple, the living church, the sanctuary of God, unholy. And by not dealing with it immediately they all share the guilt.
‘Puffed up’ may be a statement or a question. Either ‘are you puffed up?’ or as above. But either way the suggestion is of some who have not only condoned the sin but have actually arrogantly accepted it. This may have been because in their ‘wisdom’ they did not consider moral sin very important. What mattered was the manifestation of spiritual gifts, especially tongues (this is what chapter 14 suggests). Or it may be because they felt that it demonstrated their own tolerance. So Paul says let the whole church now judge themselves. Are they satisfied with such teaching, or are they going to do something about it? Such an attitude as they have does not conform with the word of the cross (verses 7-8).
But further, while Paul here deals with a particularly dreadful example of immorality, he will shortly make clear that that is but the symptom of a deeper disease, a disease not only of immorality but of dishonesty and greed discontent more generally perceivable in the Corinthian church, as subsequent comments will make clear (5.9, 11; 6.9, 15, 18; 7.2; 10.8). He was clearly not just concerned about one person (although he was very concerned about that), but about their whole general state and attitude of mind. This is what their foolish ‘wise’ teachers have brought them to. But not wanting just to launch into an argument about such immorality he has first cleverly shocked them into facing up to their sinfulness by using this undeniable example. Then once he has done that he faces them up to the rest. Perhaps now they will be willing to listen to more.
Paul Demands Judgment On It By The Whole Church (5.3-5).
5.3 ‘For I truly, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as though I were present, judged him who has so wrought this thing.’
While they have been so lax Paul has been far from lax. What has happened has grieved him. Even at a distance from them he has felt bound to act. Although not present with them in the body he has been present in spirit, partly through thought and prayer, for they are his children, but probably he also saw himself as spiritually transported to the scene to carry out his judgment, as Ezekiel was spiritually transported to Jerusalem (8.3, 7, 14, 16 - no one saw him but he was there in some spiritual experience), and as present in spirit he has passed judgment on the man who has so behaved. And he now explains what that judgment was.
5.4-5 ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’
This was Paul’s judgment. That gathering together ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus’, that is with the authority given them by Christ and in the light of His teaching, and recognising that Paul is among them in spirit, they should exercise the power of ‘our Lord Jesus’ and deliver him to Satan. Thus it is the almighty Judge who is to act, for it is in His name that they are to gather. And it is with His power (dunamis) that they are to hand him over to Satan.
The idea here is expulsion of the man from the inner church meetings which are specifically for true believers, through the authority of Christ. As they sit in judgment Christ sits with them, along with Paul. The New Testament church saw itself as given to Jesus out of the world so that they were in the world but not of the world (John 17.6, 11, 16). They saw themselves as being in the hands of God (Ephesians 2.4-6), while the world lay in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5.19; John 17.15). The gathering of His people was seen as an enclave of heaven, an embassy from Heaven in the world under the protection of God (John 17.11-12 compare 2 Corinthians 5.20; Philippians 3.20), for they dwelt spiritually in ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 2.6). To be deliberately and judicially cast out of such a gathering was thus to be handed over to Satan, ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2.2).
This description brings out how much the early Christians saw themselves as having entered under the Kingly Rule of God. Gathered together as one they were God’s representatives in the world while being citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20).
It is often commented on that the woman is not mentioned. This is probably because she was a pagan, a non-Christian. Pagan’s were left in God’s hands to be dealt with. (A ‘pagan’ means a ‘civilian’. While Christians had become soldiers of Christ under their Great Lord and Commander, non-Christians had remained ‘civilians’). The man can be dealt with because he, at least theoretically, acknowledges the authority of Christ and admits to being under the Heavenly Rule of God (4.20). If the woman is a pagan, however, the church has no sanctions against her. (We can compare how later an unbelieving husband is to be let go for this same reason - 7.15).
But it was not just an expulsion. It was the exercise of the power of Christ to commit the man to Satan (see also 1 Timothy 1.20). It was expected that through prayer it would have a spiritual impact. Just as Christ as the strong man had bound Satan and delivered those under his control (Mark 3.27), now that same power will be exercised in handing him back to that control. He is to be seen, and to see himself, as going back into the ‘power of darkness’ (Colossians 1.13). But the aim was merciful. It was intended to make him think and consider his ways. It was for the ‘destruction of the flesh’, that sinful flesh which was responsible for the man’s sin and was supposed to be crucified with Christ (Romans 8.3; Galatians 5.24). It was to bring home to him his sin so that he might once again come to the cross to be crucified afresh, crucifying the flesh with its affections and desires. Should he do that he can be restored. It was to bring the man to repentance as, if he really was a Christian, he would appreciate the horror that he was then experiencing. It was so that his fleshliness might be crucified with Christ and he could thus be restored and his spirit thus saved in ‘the day of the Lord Jesus’. If this interpretation is correct it demonstrates Paul’s confidence in Jesus’ continuing saving activity (1.8).
If this is correct the thought is not that Satan contributes to the destruction of the flesh. That is the last thing he wants to do. It is that the sinner, having been committed to Satan, comes to his senses and himself ‘destroys his flesh’ by coming again to experience his crucifixion with Christ (Galatians 2.20; 5.24) once again escaping from Satan’s clutches which cannot hold him because of Christ’s effective power.
‘In the name of our Lord Jesus.’ This may refer either to 1) acting in the name of the Lord Jesus as a heavenly court, 2) delivering the man over in the name of the Lord Jesus, or 3) gathering in the name of the Lord Jesus to act. Whichever way we take it the principle is clear, they are acting in His name. Alternately it may be that it refers to Paul making his judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus. But overall the final responsibility is seen as His and His alone.
Some however have seen it as referring to the man having actually sinned ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, increasing the heinousness of his sin by giving it a false spiritual motive under some false ‘spiritual’ emotive experience..
‘With the power of the Lord Jesus.’ This may refer to ‘delivering the man over with the power of the Lord Jesus’, or ‘assembling with the power of the Lord Jesus’, but in both cases the power of the Lord Jesus is effective in the man’s delivery into the power of Satan. Alternately the idea of ‘power’ may parallel Spirit with the thought that the Spirit is there to act on Christ’s behalf, so that the gathered church, the spirit of Paul, and the ‘power’ of ‘our Lord, Jesus’ are all present to pass the verdict for the expulsion of the gross sin and its perpetrator.
‘To deliver such a one to Satan.’ Compare 1 Timothy 1.20. He is to be excluded from close fellowship in the church, from the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1.13b), and cast out into the world over which Satan is in some kind of control, into the power and rule of darkness (Colossians 1.13a). The hope is that there he will come to his senses and again respond to the word of the cross.
‘For the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved.’ The remedy is drastic but it has a saving purpose. The aim is the destruction of that fleshly element within the man which has clearly been very strong and has dragged him down. The flesh has tugged strongly against the Spirit and the man has fallen (Galatians 5.17). But he can be raised up again through the power of the cross so that, having repented, his fleshliness can be destroyed and his spirit be seen to have been delivered in the day of the Lord Jesus. This probably refers to the destruction of fleshliness (3.3) by means of a renewed experience of dying with Christ. This use of ‘flesh’ is not its normal significance later in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but it accords with Romans where it is common and with 1 Corinthians 3.3 where this significance of being fleshly is in mind. Then his spirit can rise above it through the Spirit’s work resulting in restoration ready for that Day. The contrast of flesh and spirit supports this idea.
It is difficult to see how it could be seen as referring to literal destruction of the flesh, presumably through literally dying, for then repentance would not be possible. There is however the possibility that it refers to serious illness which would bring the man to his senses and produce repentance (compare 11.30 - those who are sickly being hopefully brought to repentance, those who sleep possibly having no hope. They have shown their hardness of heart by their callous attitude to the Lord’s Supper). But here there seems to be no thought of illness specifically and the emphasis is on restoration. His flesh must be prevented from having the victory by drastic action if he is to have any real hope, and that drastic action is through the power of the word of the cross dealing powerfully with the flesh.
But some do see it as referring to death. For later he will say that some of those who do not discern the Lord’s Table will also ‘sleep’, presumably without the opportunity of repentance (11.30). Then we would have to see death as the punishment for this gross sin without it affecting the man’s eternal state, for his spirit is to be ‘saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’. But the fact that such are to be avoided while still alive (verse 11), and that he may well have later repented and been restored (2 Corinthians 2.5-11), is against this suggestion, as is the regular Scriptural promise of restoration by the Shepherd of those who fall into sin. Nowhere in Scripture do we ever have the direct suggestion that a man can be living in deliberate disobedience to God and have hope for the future if he dies in his sin (compare Ezekiel 33.8). This is not because his salvation depends on his remaining sinless, but because the assumption is there that if he truly belongs to Christ, Christ will not allow him to remain in such a sinful state. Thus in our view this must be speaking of spiritual destruction of the flesh, which is a central thought in Paul
‘In the day of the Lord Jesus.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 1.14. This is the day when the Lord Jesus comes for His own and His people come before His judgment seat. It is similar to ‘the Day of Christ’ (Philippians 1.10; 2.16 compare 1 Corinthians 1.8; Philippians 1.6). It is the Day of Salvation (2 Corinthians 6.2) and Redemption (Ephesians 4.30). It is a glorious day.
It contrasts with ‘the Day of the Lord’, which, while similarly speaking of the end of all things, does so from the point of view of a period of God’s judgments on the whole world, however short or long, and as a consequence the establishing of the new heaven and the new earth in ‘the Day of God’ (2 Peter 3.12), and comes ‘like a thief in the night’ (1 Thessalonians 5.2; 2 Thessalonians 2.2; 2 Peter 3.10 and compare 1 Thessalonians 5.4). Jesus spoke of it as ‘the Day of Judgment’ Matthew 10.15; 11.22-24; 12.36; Mark 6.11; 2 Peter 2.9; 3.7; 1 John 4.17 compare Romans 2.5), although in this latter expression concentration is made more on a specific point in time rather than on a period of judgment when men have to give account to God.
Having Rid The Church Of This Sin The Whole Church Must Then Purify Themselves By A Spiritual Feast of the Passover, Purging Sin and Experiencing The Word of the Cross Through Him Who Is The Passover Lamb Sacrificed For Us (5.6-8)
This is similar to John’s description of Christian’s purifying themselves from sin in 1 John 1.7-10), although there it is individual. Here they are to do it as a whole church.
5.6-7 ‘Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For our Passover has also been sacrificed, even Christ.’
The Corinthians were glorying in what they saw as their high spirituality and their tolerance, but Paul points out that they have no right to glory while there is open sin prevalent among them. A small amount of leaven will soon permeate and affect a whole lump of dough. In the same way a relatively small amount of fermenting sin is infectious, it will soon affect the whole church (compare Galatians 5.9 where the same point is made about false teaching, which is also in the background here).
So the people of God must rid themselves of sin, and especially cast out those guilty of open sin unless such sinners are ready to repent and put right what is wrong, and they must begin with this man who has sinned so grievously. But having purged him from the assembly they must also purge themselves within the assembly. Thus will they become like a new lump of dough that is unleavened, for they will have removed sin from among them.
This picture of leaven leavening bread is taken from the feast of the Passover and unleavened bread. There, before the feast began, all leaven had to be removed from the houses of the participants and a diligent search made to ensure none was left. So must Christians root out sin from within and among them. Paul was probably hoping for an instant revival, while practical enough to know that it might not happen like that. But that it did happen to some extent is suggested by 2 Corinthians 2.5-11.
Leaven consisted of old dough which had been allowed to ferment. It was then introduced into new dough with its leavening effect, causing the new dough to expand. The leaven would spread through the whole which was visibly affected. It was seen as a type of corruption. There would indeed come a time when the leaven had become too acidic and was unhealthy, thus the wise necessity for getting rid of all leaven once a year and starting again.
‘Christ our Passover.’ The thought of leaven and unleavened bread leads on to the thought of Christ as the Passover lamb. Having cleared themselves of leaven the Passover would follow. So the reason why they should get rid of the leaven is because they know that the unblemished Lamb Himself has been sacrificed for us once for all (aorist) so that we might be cleansed from sin and partake of what is holy. This is why Christ died as a sacrifice, for the forgiveness and removal of sin. And God’s people, ‘the church’, must therefore be holy, set apart to Him in purity and righteousness, as they set their eyes, thoughts and hearts on Him. If the Lamb Who was sacrificed for us was unblemished and holy (that the Passover offering could not be eaten outside the dwelling established its essential holiness), with no bone broken, an indication of His complete perfection, so must we who benefit from His death, and from His sacrifice of Himself, and who partake of Him by faith, be concerned to be a holy ‘lump’ free of all corrupting leaven.
Note how it is the connection with the sacrifice on the cross that ensures that all sin is dealt with. Because He has been sacrificed for us we can and should again be made clean (1 John 1.7-10) having set sin aside. In the light of that sacrifice all should recognise that the old leaven must be totally removed. No sin can be allowed to endure the presence of the crucified One. The word of the cross is the great purifier. No sin can be allowed to remain in its way.
‘Purge out the old leaven.’ The fact that the ‘old leaven’ is spoken of in such a way as to suggest it is different from the leaven of malice and wickedness has led some to see it as referring to the old doctrines of Judaism as incorporated into a form of Christianity by certain Teachers, which have to be done away with and rooted out (as in Galatians 5.9). They bring the wisdom/folly of the scribes which must be purged out (1.20). This might then be seen as especially spoken of those who ‘belong to Cephas’.
Or ‘the old leaven’ is seen by others as something known to them and Paul, some defiling thing on which they disagree. For central to this passage here is the fact that Paul is speaking in the context of a case of gross immorality. Thus any doctrines in mind might be such as caused such immorality to be overlooked, that is, some form of lax doctrine which allows such behaviour, some form of antinomianism (lawlessness) that concentrated on spiritual gifts at the expense of morals. Thus the ‘old leaven’ might point to the teaching of some of the ‘wisdom teachers’ in the church which has resulted in sinful licence. But alternately it may refer to the gross sins and their contaminating influence which have to be put aside if they are to be restored to holiness.
‘That you may be a new lump even as you are unleavened.’ Paul desires that the Corinthians become a ‘new lump of unleavened dough’. He wants all corruption removed. He wants them as it were to come back to the word of the cross through repentance and begin again, having been cleansed in the blood of Christ (1 John 1.7-10). He wants them to be renewed. This parallels his pleas elsewhere that Christians put off the old man and become ‘a new man’ (Ephesians 4.22-24 compare Romans 6.11; Galatians 4.19), something which in one sense happens once for all, but in another sense has to be repeated (Galatians 4.19). He wants them not only to have newness of life but to walk in newness of life (Romans 6.4). They are to become a new pure lump through their connection with the Passover sacrifice.
5.8 ‘For this reason let us go on keeping the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’
This leads on to the consideration of wider sins. Life is now to be for us a continual Passover. ‘Let us go on keeping the feast.’ The sacrifice has been completed once for all but the feast continues. So they are to search out sin and any false teaching continually. Then coming to God’s Passover Lamb for forgiveness through His one time sacrifice of Himself, and partaking of the crucified One, the Passover Lamb, by faith (‘he who eats of Me (by faith - John 6.35) will live because of me’ - John 6.57), they are to keep away from all leaven, the leaven of false teaching and malice and wickedness, of divisiveness and discord, while partaking of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The Christian must thus live purely day by day in the light of the cross and its significance. Thus he must daily be totally honest, seeking daily cleansing, without malice, positive in goodness, concerned for the truth and must keep away from all that is wrong whether in word or deed.
‘Malice.’ The word means badness and wickedness generally, but with a special emphasis on malice, ill will, malignity. ‘Wickedness.’ Again a general word for baseness, evil thinking and evil doing. ‘Sincerity.’ Refers to purity of motive, genuineness of life, openness.
‘Truth.’ The whole Christian life is to be based on truth, and to reveal truth. This includes a knowledge of the Scriptures, an understanding of Jesus’ teaching and Christian teaching in the New Testament (this is for us, these readers had no New Testament), and a oneness with Him Who is the truth (John 14.6). This will then result in total honesty in word and life.
Having Faced Them with The Need For Renewal Paul Now Warns Against The Fleshly Sins To Which They Have Been Subject, But Assures Them That This Does Not Involve Having To Avoid Pagan Sinners (Although They Have To Avoid Their Sins). It Means Rather The Exclusion of Christians Whose Sins Are of a Severe Kind (5.9-13)
5.9 ‘I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with fornicators.’
Corinth was famous for its licentiousness and this had permeated the Christian church, helped on by false teaching. Paul had written to them previously concerning this, warning them against sexual misbehaviour and those who indulged in it, and had warned them to avoid such people. But they had failed to do so. This demonstrated that their failure to deal with the problem was not due to their being unsure what they should do, but to their lax attitude. However, there had been some misunderstanding of what he meant so he now sought to clear this up.
5.10 ‘Not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters. For then it would be necessary for you to go out of the world.’
He points out that he was not talking about dealings with non-Christians when he said avoid such people. Otherwise Christians would never have anything to do with any non-Christians, for they all disobey the commandments. Thus, while their ways must not be followed, and their sins must not be partaken of (Ephesians 5.7; 1 Timothy 5.22), Christians may have general dealings with them and befriend them. Judgment of them can be left to the judgment of God.
This does not necessarily mean that his teaching had not been clear. It may well be that he had expressed it clearly in a general sense but that it had been distorted by his critics who had wanted to bring him into disrepute, which they had done by deliberately misinterpreting what he had said.
Now he includes not just sexual immorality but also misbehaviour of any kind. If they were to avoid all immoral people, all greedy and ambitious people, all deceivers, cheats and blackmailers, and all idolaters, there would be no one left for them to keep company with in everyday life. And that would make life impossible. The only way to achieve it would be to leave the world altogether, and as slaves or employees many of them could not do that.
5.11 ‘But now I write to you not to keep company if any man who is named a brother is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one not to eat.’
However, when those who claim to be Christians behave in the ways described they are to be ostracised by fellow-Christians because they are bringing the name of Christ into disrepute. They are not to be openly acknowledged as brothers in front of the outside world. Nevertheless they are not to be counted as an enemy but admonished as a brother in private, because the purpose of the ostracism is to restore them to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3.14-15). Christians regularly met, not only for worship, but also for fellowship meals. So those described must be excluded from such meals and thus from the Lord’s Table. Note the sixfold description below and their connection with 6.9-10 which says that such people will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God. This is why it is so important. Not to exclude them would give a false impression that they were safely under the Kingly Rule of God;
But these are, of course, major examples. The treatment would apply to any open sin which is against the commandments of God.
5.12-13 ‘For what have I to do with judging those who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside, while those who are outside God judges? Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.’
It is not Paul’s business to act as an official judge on non-Christians, those outside the church, nor is it the church’s. They can be left to the civil authorities. What he means by a judge here is one who passes a verdict which results in civil punishment. Clearly he is to pass judgment on them as being sinners and as being in need of mercy. But it is not for him in that case to exact the punishment. That is in God’s hands.
But those who claim to be Christians and are in the church thereby submit themselves to the judgment of the church, and are subject to the discipline of the church. They are claiming to be under the Kingly Rule of God. Therefore they must put away the man whom he has earlier described, and all who behave openly sinfully, so that they no longer come among them living a life of pretence (5.1), but come to repentance.
‘Put away (or ‘drive out’) the wicked man from among yourselves.’ Or alternately ‘put away the evil (or ‘wickedness’) from among yourselves’. (‘Poneron’ can be masculine or neuter). For this compare Deuteronomy 17.7; 22.24 LXX where the same verb is used and the remainder of the sentence follows exactly. See also Deuteronomy 13.5. Paul’s words here are a command to follow that Scriptural example.
Some take the words as meaning ‘put away the Evil One from among yourselves’. But the above direct references from Deuteronomy exclude that as the basic meaning, although the idea is similar. By putting the wicked man out, and by putting away evil they are effectively putting away the Evil One. (On the other hand they are also committing them to the Satan, the Evil One- verse 5 - which demonstrates that it is not he directly who is being ‘put out’).
Christians Are Not To Go To Court Against Their Fellow-Christians (6.1-9a).
The idea that the church judges internal matters like sin leads on to the idea that the church can also act as judge in disputes. The general principle behind this passage is that Christians should be able to sort out matters between themselves and not resort to local civil judges in the market place or to civil law courts. By doing do they encouraged the mockery of non-Christians. But Paul’s main concern is probably really with the failure of Christians to follow Christ’s injunctions (Matthew 5.23-26; 5.38-41) and their failure to love one another (John 13.34; 15.12, 17; Romans 13.8; 1 Thessalonians 4.9; 1 Peter 1.22; 1 John 3.11, 23; 4.4, 11, 12). Such things should be dealt with internally.
In Paul’s day one danger was that in going to a pagan court the Christians drew attention to themselves, especially where the dispute might be related to Christian matters, and that they did it in front of courts which were based on submission to the Emperor of Rome, which were not always favourable towards Christians. Thus when times of trouble came they and their affairs were known to the courts and in the public domain and thus more easily attacked. But there is also the principle that for Christians to reveal unchristian aims and behaviour before non-Christians (for usually one side must be in the wrong, or both be partly in the wrong) is to be a bad witness, especially where they were brought out into the open before the judgment seats in the marketplaces before crowds of ordinary people. Dirty Christian linen should not be washed in public.
6.1 ‘Dare any of you, having a matter against a fellow Christian, go to law before the unrighteous and not before those who are holy (‘the saints’)?’
‘Having a matter.’ The use of the middle voice might suggest a hint of selfishness , ‘having their own matter’.
Paul’s point here is that Christians see things differently from others. ‘Dare any of you - ?.’ This suggests that while pagan judges might be perfectly fair and reasonable, they might not see things from a Christian perspective. To go before them was a risk both morally and socially. ‘The unrighteous’. Such judges or magistrates are not subject to God’s Law nor are they aware of what is right in Christian eyes, and indeed in God’s eyes. ‘Those who are holy’. This refers to the godly in the church. They look at things from God’s viewpoint. Surely, he is saying, it is better to be judged by those set apart to God, those who see things from God’s point of view.
We can compare how Rabbis warned against taking such matters before non-Jews, because Gentiles lacked the Jew’s high moral perspective. They also had in mind, among other things, the discrimination that might be revealed against them.
6.2-3 ‘Or do you not know that God’s people (‘the saints’) will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge in the smallest matters? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?’
But the church’s expertise in such matters may be questioned, so Paul points out that Christians are destined to be judges in the spiritual world. They will share with Christ in His judgment of the world (Revelation 20.4; Daniel 7.27). Thus they should surely be seen as fit people to pass judgments on earth. The latter judgments referred to are, of course, relating mainly to disputes between Christian parties. These should be settled privately without drawing the world’s attention to them.
In the present day much harm has been done by such disputes between so-called Christian leaders. Established Christian bringing established Christian to court has resulted in mockery of the name of Christ and a spoiled witness in the eyes of the world. ‘So this is what Christians are like’, they say, and turn away, or mock. Paul was, however, talking about a situation in which ‘the church’ in a certain place was united in its leadership, although by necessity split into different subsections within the place where they were. (Slaves had limited freedom and could not go where they liked). Thus there would be central leaders with the experience to act in such matters. And there was a close bond of fellowship in the churches then, as there should be now.
Jesus taught a similar principle from a slightly different viewpoint when he warned against going before judges with a contentious matter because the case might go against you and the consequences be more serious than they needed to have been (Luke 12.58; Matthew 5.25-26). It is far better to solve a matter in a friendly way rather than risk potential problems.
Of course in modern society there are certain things which have to be dealt with in court because they have legal consequences, but the point is to use the courts only where strictly necessary. Indeed experience of courts often produces a realisation that they do not deal with such things satisfactorily because of limits on time and cost. Thus they come to arbitrary judgments in smaller matters, judgments not based on all the facts.
‘Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ This is presumably because in some way we will participate in the great judgment when angels too will be judged (Isaiah 24.21-22; 2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6).
6.4-6 ‘If then you have to judge things pertaining to this life, set those to judge who are of no account in the church (or ‘do you set to judge those---’). I say this to move you to shame. Is it so that there cannot be found among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers, but brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers?’
In Judaism the synagogues were given various powers of judging and making decisions and to a limited extent these were accepted by the law. Thus Paul is aligning Christian churches with the synagogue, and as the outside world still saw Christians as a type of Jew, their judgments too might have been found acceptable by the law. But Paul’s case goes far beyond this.
‘Set those to judge who are of no account in the church.’ This may be Paul’s way of saying ironically that in their case those whom they least value are probably those who would give the fairest judgment because the more prominent themselves behave in such a way as to exalt the wrong people.
Alternately, ‘Do you set to judge those who are of no account in the church?’ The question then is asking whether they really think that the church should use as judges ‘those of no account’ from God’s point of view. Surely they should look to those respected and chosen by God. It is seeking to give them assurance that they can rather trust their church leaders to do the right thing.
A third possibility is that ‘those -- of no account’ refers to pagan judges, that is, of no account when it comes to decisions between Christians, of no account under the Kingly Rule of God. The use of these judges by a Christian would then suggest that they did not think that there was even one person in the church fit enough to judge.
Whichever is true Paul is bringing home the fact that their behaviours shows that they have a poor view of their own church. It would seem that the Corinthian church had this as a special problem because they had so many well-to-do church members and businessmen who were constantly in dispute with each other. And by their actions they were bringing Christianity into disrepute.
‘If then you have to judge things pertaining to this life.’ There seems to be a hint here in the ‘if’ that in most cases it should not be necessary to do this in the courts if they are living as true Christian brothers. Would brothers in a family behave in such a way?
‘One wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers.’ There may, however, be a dispute between brothers, although it should not be. Then surely it is better to go to a member of the ‘family’ to decide the case. Can they really doubt that, with so much wisdom of words among them, there is someone wise enough to do it?
‘Brother goes to law against brother.’ This is even worse. They cannot settle their dispute reasonably. ‘Before unbelievers’. The greatest shame of all. They are accounting unbelievers as better able to achieve what is right than Christians, and humiliating their Christian brother publicly, and at the same time making clear to the world how badly Christians can behave. Note the downward progression.
‘Is it so that there cannot be found among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers, but brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers?’
The Greek is difficult to us. This might mean, ‘you appoint unsuitable Christians, is it in order that you can demonstrate the church’s unfitness to judge?’ Or it may mean, ‘You appoint pagan judges. Is this in order that no one will arise who is wise enough in the church circle to act as judge?’ Either way it is condemned. They should be striving with all their might to ensure that the church is able to judge such matters. For otherwise brother goes to law against brother before unbelievers, those who by their unbelief have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to decide rightly about sin, and that is a shameful thing.
6.7 ‘No already it is altogether a defeat (or ‘defect’) for you that you have lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?’
Indeed it demonstrates to the world a spiritual defeat, and is itself a spiritual defeat. For to have lawsuits between Christian brothers before the world is for the world to witness a spiritual defeat, a spiritual defect in one or the other, or both. And to submit oneself and a brother to the world’s judgment is also a spiritual defeat, a sign of an inability to deal with the matter in the presence of Christ. In such cases the Gospel has failed to fulfil its potential. And this is made openly apparent to outsiders. Instead of genuinely saying, ‘see how these Christians love one another’ with feeling (John 13.34; 15.12, 17; Romans 13.8; 1 Thessalonians 4.9; 1 Peter 1.22; 1 John 3.11, 23; 4.4, 11, 12) they will be saying it derisively. Would it not be better to accept the wrong in Christ’s name or allow themselves to be defrauded (Matthew 5.39-41)? Then at least Christ would not be dishonoured.
6.8 ‘No, but you yourselves do wrong and defraud your brothers.’
But even worse than the bad witness of Christian brothers falling out is that in fact some of them are actually using the law to defraud their brothers. They have become extortioners. They have learned to use the law to their own ends. And we must always remember that what is legally right in a worldly court might not be morally right. Thus they are behaving unjustly. They are using pagan courts to get their own way, often unfairly, against Christian brothers. This can only bring them into condemnation. In such cases they win the case before men but lose it before God. And God loses as well.
It is very probable that Paul had good knowledge of some of these court actions conveyed to him by his visitors. And this may have affected what he put in his lists, coveting and greed, extortion and cheating, reviling and destroying men’s characters, and so on. And all before unbelievers. Shameful.
6.9a ‘Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God?’
Do they not realise in all this that those who behave unjustly or wrongly thereby reveal that they are disqualified from the coming Kingly Rule of God? Paul is always quite firm in his view that those who continually fail to reveal Christian virtues, those who do not seek to ‘put on the new man’, thereby reveal that they are not really truly Christian at all. Those who are at ease in Zion may well discover that they are subject to God’s woes (Amos 6.1). For whom God loves He chastens (Hebrews 12.6). Whom Christ saves He gradually transforms (2 Corinthians 3.18). So to be without chastening from God in some way, to be without some evidence of improvement as a Christian, is a sure sign that someone is not Christ’s. So when they win their unfair court case let them recognise that the verdict may eventually also exclude them from the Kingly Rule of God, for it has shown that they are not willing to be subject to that Kingly Rule in the church, and that simply for the purpose of obtaining unjust gain. Thus they will be known by their fruits.
The Contrast Between Sinners and Those In Christ (6.9b-11).
Paul now expands on the idea that those who are unjust in their dealings will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God by pointing out that this is true of all sinful men and women, whether professing but not practising believer or pagan. He then contrasts the majority of the Corinthian church with those who face this dreadful prospect, brought about because of what Christ has done for them in delivering them from sin.
6.9b ‘Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who offer homosexual sex for money, nor abusers of themselves with men (those who engage in homosexual sex for lust), nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingly Rule of God.’
‘Do not be deceived.’ Compare Galatians 6.7. Paul has no truck with those who water down God’s judgments. It is so easy for a man to convince himself that he need not be too strict about sin because there is always a way of cleansing. So Paul warns such not to be deceived. If they behave like those doomed to judgment, they will be doomed to judgment whatever claim they make.
The list of sins and sinners is expanded from 5.11. They are to recognise that such people as practise these things will not only be expelled from the church and its fellowship in this life, but will certainly be excluded from life under the Kingly Rule of God in Heaven. They will have no inheritance in the future blessings of God. Those who continue blatantly in sin cannot expect mercy.
For the details of the list see on 5.11. But here there is an increase in the emphasis on sexual sin, in that practising homosexuality and those who allow themselves to be so used for money (rent boys or rich men’s favourites), behaving in a way contrary to the general natural order of things, are also condemned, as is the specific act of heterosexual adultery, the leading astray of another person’s marital partner. There are some for whom, sadly, life is more difficult because of various tendencies, which men try to justify by calling them natural, but they must be fought against just as men must fight against the natural tendency to free and unbridled sex.
But they are not condemned alone. Also condemned are thieves, fraudsters and deceivers, greedy people, those who live with their minds set on being wealthy, those who misuse alcohol, those who use false means to get money out of others. Those who practise such things will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God, because thereby they have openly rejected it (whatever their claims may be that they are ‘Christians’).
‘Will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God.’ This is because their attitudes are already set against His Kingly Rule. They are openly and deliberately refusing to obey Him now, and have no intention to do so. Thus they can have no hope of a part in His future Rule, in the blessings of the coming age. They ‘hear His word and do it not’ so that all their hopes will collapse (Matthew 7.22-27 which we try to sideline at our peril). 6.11 ‘And such were some of you. But you washed yourselves, but you were sanctified, but you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in (or ‘by’) the Spirit of our God.’
Paul has no qualms in pointing out to the Corinthians that in their sick society many of them had been exactly like that. This adequately described what they had been. But he then goes on to describe the transformation that has taken place in those who are truly in Christ, with the result that they had put all that behind them. Thus even while condemning these gross sins he indicates that even for the worst there is hope in Christ if only they will repent and believe.
‘You washed yourselves.’ It is very questionable whether this refers to baptism. Had it been so it would surely have read ‘you were baptised’. It is true that the middle voice might act as a passive (thus balancing the verbs), but it is far more likely that the middle voice draws attention to a deliberate response by them as in Isaiah 1.16-17. Baptism is rarely, if ever, likened to ‘washing’, as though sins could be washed off (Jeremiah 2.22), and the verb used is never used of ritual washing. It rather has in mind the rains and snow from heaven producing inward fruitfulness (Job 9.30; compare Isaiah 55.10-11), as in John’s baptism and Jesus’ description of the new birth, and the dying and rising again to new life. The idea here is rather that they ‘washed themselves’ by repenting, and turning from sin, and ceasing to have dealings with it, and by availing themselves of the blood of Christ (Revelation 7.14). They put aside what they were and began to live anew in Christ. They obeyed the words of Isaiah, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek what is right --” (Isaiah 1.16-17 compare Jeremiah 4.14). It is the equivalent of true repentance.
Note On ‘Washing’.
It must be remembered that ancient man did not see personal cleanliness in quite the same way as modern man with his greater facilities. While there were exceptions, this was on the whole true. Water brought to his mind fruitfulness in the fields from rain and river rather than bathing and making himself clean.
Some have suggested a connection of ‘washing’ with baptism seen as connected with the Old Testament ‘washings with water’, but quite apart from the fact that apolouo is never used of such washings, in the Old Testament ceremonial washing in itself never ‘cleanses’, and we are specifically told in every case that the Old Testament washings left the person ‘unclean until the evening’. In other words it was not efficacious in cleansing. That required the waiting before God, probably in the tent. Indeed Peter makes clear that baptism does not represent ‘the washing away of the filth of the flesh’ and relates it to the resurrection, dying and rising again (1 Peter 3.21, compare verse 18 with 22-23)
This statement is repeated with monotonous regularity with respect to washing in water, and suggests that the cleansing itself actually arises through the time alone with God after the ritual washing, and the efficacy of the daily evening sacrifice on behalf of Israel. Whatever therefore the washings indicated, it was not immediate spiritual cleansing. In fact the idea was probably the removal of ‘earthiness’, of the taint of the world, prior to ‘waiting on’ a holy God for cleansing. Thus David in Psalm 51.2 was not referring to ritual washing but was using his regular royal baths as a picture of cleansing. But there he is referring to God washing him, as his attendants did, not his own action.
And the same applies to Psalm 51.7, although there he probably also has in mind the ‘water for impurity for the removal of sin’. The parallel ‘purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’ in verse 7 suggests this, for hyssop was used to sprinkle water purified with the ashes of a sacrifice (Numbers 19.9; 17-19). This ‘water for impurity for the removal of sin’ was water containing the ashes of sacrifice, and was itself sprinkled to remove uncleanness, not in order to wash. It signified the efficacy of sacrifices for sin.
Notice in Numbers 19.19 how the careful distinction is made. First the person is sprinkled with the ash-connected water, then they wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water, then they wait for the evening when they ‘become clean’. The washing and bathing is carefully separated from the idea of cleansing, and seems therefore again to have more to do with becoming physically fitter to wait on God for cleansing, removing the earthiness and odours, preparatory to cleansing. Ezekiel also connects this sprinkled ‘purified’ water with the purifying of Israel in a passage connected with the coming of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36.25-27). Notice that there God will use ‘clean water’, i.e. water that has been cleansed.
In Acts 22.16 Ananias does say to Paul, (the only clear example of washing being even remotely connected with baptism), ‘Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’. But notice that the baptism is something done to him whereas the washing is something he must do for himself as with Isaiah 1.16-17. Had Ananias been directly linking the two he could have demonstrated it by using a participle or by saying ‘have your sins washed away’. If he is to be seen as linking the two specifically, as some insist, it would be the only example in the New Testament, for the only other washing from sin is in the blood of Jesus (Revelation 7.14). Elsewhere baptism is seen as symbolising the rain from heaven producing new life (in John’s baptism), or as a dying and rising again.
So Ananias’ statement ‘wash away your sins’ should more probably be seen as directly connected with ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, rather than specifically as directly connected with ‘be baptised’. In other words he is saying ‘firstly be baptised signifying your entry into the new age of the Spirit and secondly deal with the sins in your life by repentance, calling on the name of the Lord.’ It is significant in this regard that Ananias is shown as using ’apolouo for ‘wash’ and not louo. ’apolouo is used only once in LXX, and that is to represent washing in snow (Job 9.30 - water directly from heaven - which is connected with the going forth of new life in Isaiah 55.12), in contrast with louo which is used of ceremonial washing. This strongly suggests he was wanting to exclude the idea of ceremonial connections.
End of note.
So by ‘you washed yourselves’ (aorist middle) Paul is stressing how they did in the past truly repent and make a determined effort to turn their backs on sin in the name of Christ and by the power of the Spirit, something that they now needed to renew. You are now free from sin because you have washed yourselves by being born of the Spirit.
‘But you were sanctified.’ The verb is aorist passive indicating a once for all situation. God sanctified them, setting them apart as His in Christ and accepting them as holy in Him. Thus although unholy in themselves they are seen as holy in Him. That is why they could be called ‘saints’ (see on 1.2). See Hebrews 10.10 which declares that we have been sanctified by His fulfilling of the will of God through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. But the act of being sanctified also had an effect within them, for the Holy Spirit took up His dwelling within them (verse 19), working new life and holiness within them as they commenced their life of faith. They were both set apart and regenerated.
‘But you were justified.’ Again aorist passive. They were declared righteous by God through the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and, as it were, put to their account (Romans 5.17-19; 2 Corinthians 5.21). The verb dikaioo (justify) refers to a judicial verdict by which a man is declared free of any charge against him. He is declared as being without a stain on his character.
‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ All these blessings were theirs through the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ and through His name, that is, through what He essentially is and has done, and were wrought in them by the Spirit of God Himself, working in effective power through Christ and Him crucified (1.23; 2.2). Now he is calling them to remember what they are and to begin to live appropriately.
So once again his stress on the requirement for morality is linked with the word of the cross. Sin cannot survive where the word of the cross is at work. This is what has been lacking among the Corinthians and is why they need now to turn back to the centrality of the crucified Christ Who has died for them calling them to be crucified with Him. For it was through the cross that they had come to God so that they washed themselves by repentance from sin, and were sanctified and justified once for all in God’s sight. Note his assumption that they will no longer be engaging in such sins. If they are he offers them nothing.
Thus do his current words confirm and prove what he has previously said about the word of the cross. Through ‘the word of the cross’ sin is excluded and dealt with, unlike the effect of ‘the wisdom of words’ of his opponents which had resulted in the acceptance of such sins by the church as allowable.
Paul Now Stresses that All Immorality Is To Be Avoided At All Costs (6.12-20).
6.12 ‘All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’
It is probable that Paul had had quoted at him, ‘all things are lawful to me.’ It may indeed have been his own phrase, but twisted to a new meaning. This may have resulted from his teaching that Christ had freed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3.13), that the law was a schoolmaster, but that now we are free from the schoolmaster (Galatians 3.23-25), that we are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6.14). Thus the Law no longer condemning what we do because its penalty has been met at the cross, all things are lawful for us because, having become new men, we will choose what is lawful. But its perversion would come from people who had misinterpreted his words, either deliberately or accidentally. So he counters by saying, yes, but not all things are expedient, not all things are helpful. The Christian being in Christ (verse 15) and being a Temple of the Holy Spirit (verse 19) must seek to do what pleases Him. Thus what is contrary to Christ is excluded, it is not expedient, nor helpful.
Or it may be that his opponents made this their watchword, saying, ‘If we experience spiritual gifts and blessings our behaviour is unimportant. Because we are ‘spiritual’ all things become lawful to us. We can then do what we like. We rise above the flesh.’ Thus he is then seen as countering them by saying, ‘Yes, but all things are not helpful to those who would know God.’
Furthermore, he then adds, nor will I ‘be brought under the power of any.’ Freedom is freedom to be free, he says, not freedom to do what we like and become enslaved by it. Had not Jesus said, ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin’ (John 8.34). But men do not go with a prostitute because it is a releasing experience (whatever they may claim), they do it because they are slaves to sexual desires. And no Christian should choose to come under the power of the flesh. So he is declaring that the Christian’s freedom from the law means being free from the slavery of sin and bad habits. It means being free to live for Christ. It means being free to turn our back on all that defiles. It means being free to walk as He walks. (See Romans 6-7). ‘If the Son shall make you free you will be free indeed’ (John 8.36).
6.13-14 ‘Meats for the stomach, and the stomach for meats. But God will bring to nothing both it and them. But the body is not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised the Lord and will raise us up through his power.’
Again this is probably dealing with a further argument brought against him, that sex is a natural appetite and that therefore we have a right to it. Meat, they say, is there to satisfy the stomach, and the stomach to receive meats, thus eating is right, and in the same way the body craves sexual expression and therefore any means of sexual expression is right.
To this he replies that the comparisons are not equal. It is true that the food is for the stomach, but both the food and the stomach will come to nothing. They are not important in the scheme of things. They are purely physical. But it is different with the body, for the body is for participating in eating, which is necessary for life, but it is not for fornication. The latter was forbidden from the beginning (implied in Genesis 2.24). It is an intrusion into God’s perfect plan. Rather the body is for the Lord. Eating does no harm, indeed is helpful, but fornication is harmful. The body of the Christian is here seen as directly linked with the Lord and His body and belongs to Him, it is united with His body, and in a similar way He belongs to it, so much so that in 12.12-13 the body into which we have been baptised is Christ Himself.
‘The Lord is for the body.’ Furthermore Christ Himself gives Himself to His body. He came so that by eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood they would find life through Him. That is, they partake of him as the Bread of life (John 6.35), the very source of continual spiritual life, and partake of Him through benefiting from His death in which they are seen to have participated. Christ’s very purpose in coming was that He might deliver the body from sin, and incorporate each individual believer into His own body, in the course of which He cleanses them from sin and makes them one with His body (Ephesians 2.16). He came to gather to Himself all His own. So His coming is in order to possess the body which will share Heaven with Him.
The Christians’ body is therefore in fact part of Christ’s body (12.12-13), it is a ‘member’, a limb or organ, of His body (verse 15), for by partaking of Him through faith it has become united with Him, and His very purpose in coming was to possess it. That is why He came. And we are to partake of His One body (10.16-17). Our body thus has a wonderful and holy present and future in the closeness of its union with Christ, and thus a holy status, and because of its oneness with Christ it is to be raised by God (verse 14). It has a very much a spiritual aspect which excludes its misuse in fornication. It is in all ways holy. To unite it with a prostitute would be to defile it.
While it is not Paul’s main purpose here this once for all does away with the idea that the body is essentially sinful. The Greeks saw the body as a prison from which we needed to be released. The Bible teaches that it is a blessing yet to be made more wonderful.
‘And God both raised the Lord and will raise us up through his power.’ This is another reason why the body is special, because it is to be raised a spiritual body (15.44). Its destiny is to be unfleshly. The same mighty power that raised up Christ from the dead will work in us to transform and renew our bodies so that we are presented before Him without spot and blameless (Ephesians 5.27), presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11.2). How then can we commit it to the grossness of fleshly living, even worse, to a prostitute? Our destiny is Heaven. Can we then consort with anything that is degraded?
6.15-17 ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ. Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it not be. Or do you not know that he who is joined in close union to a prostitute is one body, for “The two, says he, will become one flesh”. But he who is joined in close union to the Lord is one spirit.’
The fact that our bodies are members of Christ is stressed. And these arguments bring out that in sexual relations there is a metaphysical aspect which is not present in eating. Such relations not only result in physical unity but in a kind of metaphysical unity. This is why they were provided and are so tightly regulated, and abuse of them so decried and so serious in God’s eyes. Sex binds men and women in a unique way which goes beyond just a physical experience.
As members of His body we have been made one with Him in His body. That too is a spiritual experience which goes beyond the physical. We have been united with Him in spiritual unity. But to have sexual relations with a prostitute is to prostitute that unity, it is to destroy that unity and produce rather a fleshly ‘spiritual’ unity with the prostitute which is totally degrading, as well as being both temporary and meaningless, and it is especially harmful because it is metaphysical and mars our spiritual union with Christ. Indeed this is one reason why all sexual misbehaviour is harmful for it has the same result. Sex affects us in our deepest beings. In it we give of ourselves. We must choose between the prostitute or Christ. We cannot have both.
The union between Christ and His people is wonderfully expressed here. By ‘eating of Him’ by coming to Him and believing in Him (John 6.35) we have been made one with Him and are united with His body, something which we express every time we take the bread and wine (1 Corinthians 10.17). It is because of this spiritual union that we will be raised with Him, and have been raised with Him (Ephesians 1.19-2.6). Thus we are ‘members’ of His body.
So we are to see that in a unique way our body is the Lord’s and sacred to Him. That is why to engage in illicit sex is to insult Him, misuse His body, and cause a break in our spiritual union with Him. How can we make His sacred body one with a prostitute, especially a godless or idolatrous prostitute? (The quotation comes from Genesis 2.24).
What a contradiction is this, a body which is a member of the body of Christ, crucified for us, and our spirit made one with the Lord, and then to make our body, which was to be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11.2), one flesh with a prostitute. This cannot be. It is only to say it to realise how inconsistent, indeed how horrific, it is, and even more so when the prostitute is probably a sacred prostitute seen as united to a ‘god’ and to devils (10.20). We can only turn away in horror from the very idea.
The argument also brings out the glory of true sex. Between a man and a woman who are united in marriage it is a holy thing. Two persons who are both members of Christ’s body, are themselves by it united as one within that body. That is one reason why we should not be ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6.14). We then unite outside the body. Although God then graciously ‘sanctifies’ those in the home (puts them under His protection from evil) as in the case described the marriage took place before the person became a Christian (7.14).
‘But he who is joined in close union to the Lord is one spirit.’ This contrasts with becoming one body with the prostitute, for Paul has to guard against any suggestion that uniting with Christ in one body has anything to do with physical alliance. The union with Christ is a spiritual union through the Spirit.
6.18 ‘Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.’
Thus picture now widens. What Paul is saying not only applies to consorting with a prostitute, it applies to all sexual misbehaviour. So there is only one thing to do with such desires of the flesh and that is, not to stand and fight them, but to flee (compare 2 Timothy 2.22). The man who would avoid the fornication or sexual misbehaviour which he is tempted to, must remove himself from the place of temptation and make his plans so that he is not put in that position again. And it is important to do so, for of all sins this is the only one that is actually a sin against the body itself, which has permanent effects within the body and the psyche, and which defiles as no other. And this the body which is one with Christ’s body and a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is thus a direct sin against Christ to defile it by degrading contacts.
‘Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.’ The context has stressed that the Christian has become one body with Christ’s body. In the redemptive purposes of God he is one with Christ. When a man sins it reveals what is still within him, but it occurs outside the ‘body of Christ’. He does not make Christ and His body sin. But when a man commits a sexual misdemeanour his sin is actually affecting the whole body. He is uniting the body with a prostitute or fornicator. This is a heinous sin. He does not, of course, make Christ sin, but he produces an unacceptable situation in that part of him is united with Christ and part with a fornicator. He, as it were, tears apart the body of Christ.
Another way of looking at it is that, as with the previous verse Paul has to use a phrase that distinguishes one fact from another. In verse 17 he has had to temporarily drop for that purpose the picture of uniting with Christ’s body, and speak of uniting in spirit, for that experience could in no way be paralleled with physical union with a prostitute.
Here he has to distinguish between sexual sin and all other sin. But Jesus had made clear that all sin comes from within, out of the heart of man (Mark 7.20-23). Sin results from contamination of the inner person. Paul is not denying that. He is not saying that sin is outside the heart of man, he is saying that while it comes from the heart of man its effects are outside the body. In other words it does not directly affect the physical body in its connection with the body of Christ in the way that sexual sin does. Sexual sin introduces sin into the man’s body. All sin contaminates the heart, but it is effectually and clearly worked out outside the body. On the other hand sexual sin, he says, uniquely contaminates the body and all that that signifies. Its effects thus go even deeper. The man’s body is contaminated and defiled. That defilement cannot, of course, enter Christ’s body. Man can only be united with Christ once purified. He thus tears himself apart and robs Christ of what is His.
6.19-20 ‘Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.’
Now he expresses his incredulity that a Christian should forget his unique position in Christ. Are Christians not aware that they are each a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? The sin of sexual uncleanness is made even more severe in view of the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the Holy Spirit Whom God has given us, and that we are His temple, and each His sanctuary. Thus we are each made holy (3.17). How then can we defile His sanctuary by uniting it with an idolatrous prostitute or with sexual uncleanness? Note how carefully he makes each sanctuary individual. The fornicator does not defile the whole temple, he defiles himself as one of the sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit.
This is similar to the idea in the previous verse where his body is defiled without contaminating the body of Christ. The defilement robs God, but does not defile God. It does however defile what belongs to Him.
And that is one further thing that we are to remember, that we no longer belong to ourselves. We have been bought with a price. We now belong to Him by purchase. 7.23 may be seen as suggesting that the prime idea here is that we have been bought by God from sin in the slave market, and are thus now His bondservants. Others see it as suggesting that just as a slave who has been ‘bought by a god’ in order to set him free (a legal fiction) is seen as belonging to that god, so we too belong to the living God. But in our case He lives, and we are therefore really His, and we are responsible to Him as our Master. How then can we take what is His and use it in this dreadful way? We have no right. It is His body.
A third possibility is that slavery is not in mind at all and that the thought is that the sanctuary has been bought for its holy purpose at a great price. There is no thought of slavery in the context (whereas in 7.23 that is the context). The emphasis is on the buying and the price, the former stressing God’s ownership, the latter stressing how much the purchase cost God in the death of His Son (1 Peter 1.18-19). And the context is of a sanctuary of God. This would tie in with the fact that we are a part of God’s building (3.9), a part of the whole larger Sanctuary of God, the church of believers (3.16).
So the argument against immorality has revealed the positive side for the Christian. We are members of His body and will be raised by the power of God to be with Him, we are one spirit with the Lord, bound in the closest of unions, we are sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us, Who was given to us by God, and we are bought with a price, the most precious price that was ever paid, the blood of Christ as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot (5.7; 1 Peter 1.18-19), a contract sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1.13-14; 4.30). How then can we behave contrary to God’s will and defile what we have contribute to Him?
We note here how Paul is also demolishing the doctrine that the body has no connection with the heavenly and will therefore be done away. He has firmly put the body within the heavenly. The body as well as the spirit has been redeemed. Thus all teaching that the body does not matter is done away with. What we do in the body does matter. (Pneumatics had probably argued that as we are to leave our bodies what our bodies do does not matter).
‘Therefore glorify God in your body.’ What else can we do? Away sin, away evil, away immorality, for we in our bodies are His and His for ever. Thus our bodies must ever bring glory to God.
Instructions Concerning Marriage and Abstinence from Marriage (7.1-40).
The thought of being united with Christ’s body and the grievously harmful effect of being then united with a prostitute leads on to the consideration of marriage. Does marriage also mar the union with Christ? Paul’s answer is that while the single state might be preferable for certain reasons, such as greater usefulness in Christ’s service, it is no sin to marry (verse 36). For many it is indeed to be seen as commanded because of their uncontrollable sexual appetites (7.2). Thus it does no harm to the relationship of men with Christ, and in many cases it is vitally necessary.
Scripture emphasises that marriage is honourable in all if the participants are pure (Hebrews 13.4). Its initial purpose was for the procreation of the human race (Genesis 1.28) and for companionship and mutual cooperation between man and woman (Genesis 2.18) and it is thus a part of the fulfilling of God’s purposes. It is also ordained for the pleasure it gives to men and women (Proverbs 5.15-19). But Paul then adds that for some it is better not to marry because such a state means that the person can give full attention to the Lord, and because difficult times were coming in which not having to be concerned about a marital partner may be helpful.
However it should be noted that there is no suggestion that celibacy is recommended for its own sake. Among ancient religions, and possibly among many of the Corinthians, the ascetic, the man who abstained from all that men desire, was admired and feted. The more he brought suffering on himself the greater his reputation. This was partly because such religions saw the flesh as evil and therefore saw the ascetic as punishing the flesh and separating himself from evil and becoming more ‘spiritual’. But that is never taught in Scripture. Some men of God did live like that but they are never specially commended for it. The point here is availability to serve the Lord more fully, not some idea of punishing the flesh.
A parallel question raised is as to whether sexual relations harm the spiritual life. Does normal married life, and normal sexual relations, indicate that the men or women involved are somehow spiritually lacking? Paul’s answer is ‘no’. It is part of what human beings were before the fall. There may be reasons for abstaining for a time, and there may be good reasons for some not to marry at all if God has so made them that they can do so without running the risk of sexual misbehaviour, so as to better serve Christ, but there is no question of sexual relations within marriage damaging the spiritual life if engaged in with self-control.
But this chapter is also the commencement of Paul’s answers to questions specifically raised by his visitors through a letter brought on behalf of the church. This is the first of them. Notice the places where Paul says ‘concerning ---.’ These indicate that he is now dealing with their specific questions (7.25; 8.1; 12.1; 16.1, 12).
Christian Husbands and Wives and The Alternative For the Unmarried and Widows (7.1-11)
7.1-2 ‘Now concerning the things of which you wrote. It is good for a man not to touch a woman, but because of fornications let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.’
Paul will now deal with the first questions in their letter. Is it good for a man not to touch a woman (i.e. engage in sexual relations with her)? Is marriage sinful? What rights have partners as against each other? Is it wrong not to marry and reproduce?
His reply is that being single is certainly an ideal which is quite permissible. ‘It is good.’ But he does not say necessarily better than being married. He said ‘it is good’ because some, influenced by Judaism, saw the unmarried state as being open to censure. But he did not say that it is morally better.
Indeed he will point out that because of man’s make up it is in many cases ill advised. If certain men and women do not have their sexual desires satisfied licitly, they will seek to satisfy them illicitly (as the celibate priesthood has in many cases made clear). Thus to save men and women from the latter, each man should have his own wife, and each wife should have her own husband. This is God’s provision for their needs, and it would be wrong of them not to take advantage of it.
‘Fornications.’ That is, acts of fornication. Man has been made for marriage. Thus if he is deprived of legitimate sexual relations he will find other ways of satisfying his desires. So marriage should be encouraged. But that does not make it the final good. The time has come when other things have to be taken into account. Christ has come. The next thing will be the end. So at this exceptional time not being married can also be good for those so gifted.
However we should not see this as the main purpose of marriage. It has only been a purpose since the fall. The main purpose of marriage is that each should be a support and help to the other (Genesis 2.18). It adds to the solidness of life. In less exceptional times it is the earthly ideal. But in these exceptional times of the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God those who are so gifted should take advantage of the fact so as to serve God more fully. The celibate will lack comfort and strength that comes from being married, but will find that his support and help will come from God. For him/her not to be married is good.
But the man who through practising celibacy is tempted into sexual misbehaviour is doubly guilty. He is guilty of the sexual misbehaviour, but he is also guilty because he neglected God’s provision for man and has ignored his own weakness and the normal way of life taught in Scripture. He has taken up a position that he cannot maintain. He should not do so unless he is aware that he is physically capable of doing so. We should especially remember here that Jesus said that to look on a married woman with sexual desire was to be an adulterer. There are some men who have no problem with this. Their sexual desire is minimal and controllable. But for the majority of men it is a constant problem, some more than others, and marriage can go a long way to preventing them from sinning in this way. For such marriage is a positive good, and indeed is a commandment. We cannot pray ‘do not lead us into testing’ and then put ourselves in the way of testing. Man is to avoid all unnecessary forms of temptation.
‘Not to touch a woman.’ This is another way of saying ‘not to have sexual relations with, not to marry’. But it is a reminder also that until marriage women were not to be physically interfered with in any way. The assumption is also that the man of God will not physically ‘touch up’ a woman unless he is married to her. To do so would be to humiliate and defile her. So the godly man does not ‘touch up’ women.
7.3-4 ‘Let the husband render to the wife her due, and likewise also the wife to the husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband. And likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife.’
In view of this fact husband and wife have a responsibility to each other. They must satisfy each other. The woman has a responsibility to allow her husband to enjoy her body, and vice versa. Each ‘has authority over’ the other’s body, that is, has the right to be sexually satisfied from it. This is often forgotten by husbands (and in these days even by wives) who sometimes only consider their own pleasure. But here the husband is told that he must consider his wife’s needs as well. She has a right to be sexually satisfied from him. And vice versa.
In this Paul reveals his full appreciation of women. In Christ ‘there can be no male or female, we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28). In other words they are not viewed differently in God’s eyes. They are accepted on equal terms, one is not superior to the other before God, although living to fulfil their functions. Paul’s view of a woman having equal sexual rights to a man should be seen as extremely enlightened. This does not however alter the fact that the woman is there as man’s support and helper. It rather is a reminder of the loving and responsive relationship that there should be between the two so that the man does not take advantage of his headship but rather recognises that it places him under a greater obligation to be reasonable and to show true love.
7.5 ‘Do not defraud one the other, unless it is by consent for a time, that you my give yourselves to prayer, and may be together again , so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.’
Indeed to refuse intercourse and proper lovemaking without good reason is to defraud one’s partner, and therefore sinful. It is failing to recognise their justifiable needs, and to recognise those needs is man’s duty (verse 3). An exception may be made, by agreement, for a short break, for the purposes of a time for prayer and spiritual advancement, but this should not be overlong and they should then come together again after a reasonable time in case Satan gets the opportunity to tempt them due to their inability to control their desires.
Notice here that the abstinence is not because sexual relations within marriage are somehow ‘sinful’ but simply in order to concentrate more on the particular spiritual activity in mind.
Satan is here seen as the shadowy background figure who will take any opportunity to cause men to fall.
7.6 ‘But this I say by way of permission and not of commandment.’
While he gives this advice, he says, it is not something he has received direct from the Lord as an instruction. It is not found in the Old Testament or in the words of the Lord. But he is satisfied that he has God’s permission to say it because He has revealed it to him. It is noteworthy that Paul does differentiate something direct from the Lord (verse 10), and something which he has reasoned out for himself prayerfully before God with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and for which he then obtains God’s consent. This last is important. What he says has God’s consent. It is not just an unsupported opinion. But it makes clear that continual sexual relations within marriage is to be seen as the norm.
So even Paul, the recipient of God’s inspired truth, demonstrates the respect the early church had for the actual teaching of Jesus, so that clear differentiation was made between His actual words, and teaching that arose from it.
7.7 ‘Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. However each man has his own gift from God, one after this manner and one after that.’
His own predisposition is, for those who have the gift like he has (‘I would that all men were even as I, gifted to remain unmarried’) to favour being unmarried , because that way a person can give themselves full time to the direct service of God, but he recognises that different people have differing gifts and many do not have the gift of celibacy, while others do not have the gift of marriageability. This is not their fault. Each have their own gifts and must direct their lives accordingly. Thus both the celibate and the married ways of life result from God’s gift. Men actually do not choose which they are destined to be. It depends on how they have been gifted. No man can be seen as more spiritual or less spiritual because of how they have previously been gifted. That is God’s choice not man’s.
In referring to gifts we must not see these as ‘spiritual gifts’. They are in fact very much fleshly (in the best sense) gifts. They are gifts, but they are the basic ‘gifts’ of how a man or woman is physically made, although enhanced by strength received from God. Paul is very conscious that his own life has been under God’s surveillance from start to finish and he can thus speak of ‘gifts’ given in readiness for being converted.
7.8-9 ‘But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have the ability to control their desires, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to go on burning with unrequited desire (literally ‘than to burn’).’
Paul is saying here that the unmarried and widows will do well if they remain in that state just as Paul is. There is nothing wrong with it. It is not contrary to God’s commands. And there are certain benefits, which he will shortly point out, which, all other things being equal (which sexually they rarely are) favour celibacy. There is no sin in remaining unmarried for those so gifted that they will not be excessively tempted by it. It is ‘good’ (just as marriage was recognised as being ‘good’).
Elsewhere, however, Paul makes clear that this advice is dependent on what gift a person has. He recommends younger widows to marry (1 Timothy 5.14). He had come to recognise that they were not necessarily good judges of their own self-control. He recognised that celibacy was not to be recommended for the majority of younger people. But he would still have accepted that there were exceptions to the rule.
But those who do not have the self-control which enables them to abstain from sex without undue temptation should marry. That is their gift from a gracious God. It is better than having to constantly fight the sexual urge (present tense) or give way to it illicitly. Constant committing of adultery in the mind would be far more harmful, and far more of a hindrance to their Christian lives, than being married. We must not be ashamed to admit to weakness. All men and women have weaknesses. Thus we must cater for them as seems fit. (Many find such obedience difficult even when they are married. But marriage prevents such desires from becoming uncontrollable).
7.10-11 ‘But to the married I give charge, yes, not I but the Lord, that the wife does not leave her husband, (but and if she does depart let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband does not leave his wife.’
Now he warns against misapprehension. He is not recommending divorce or separation so as to better serve God. It is God’s direct command that a wife does not leave her husband, and a husband does not leave his wife. This is God’s view of Christian marriage and He sees it as indissoluble. Thus they do God no service by disobeying Him. They are commanded to remain married.
‘Leave’ here means leave permanently and with intent. It does not include such situations as Peter leaving his wife at home, to follow Jesus, but still acknowledging her as his wife (although it is, of course, possible that Peter’s wife was one of the women who ministered to Jesus. Certainly she goes around with him in his later ministry - 9.5). There are times when such sacrifices are justifiable. But only if they do not lead into sin.
Paul, however, seems to accept that legitimate situations might arise where a woman can depart from her husband. This might be, for example, in cases of continual harshness, violence or insanity. Such situations can arise through great pressures or various illnesses which are not the fault of anyone. But in that case she must remain unmarried, with the alternative of returning and being reconciled with her husband if he becomes more amenable. That this is the possible scenario comes out in that there is no thought of a husband leaving a wife. He should be able to cope with his wife’s violence. But this does not make her free to marry elsewhere. Marriage is binding for life.
Thus Paul is as firm as Jesus in stating that divorce is not permissible. However, as Jesus pointed out, the one thing that does permit divorce is when the other party is guilty of ‘fornication’. For that breaks the marriage bond because the person has now become linked to an adulterer. Under the Law indeed they should be put to death (Deuteronomy 22.22), and the innocent party would then be free to marry again. Thus in view of the relaxation of that Law the same outcome is considered to arise. The guilty party is ‘seen as dead’.
Alternately in the case of such women Paul may be providing for cases of leaving the husband in straight disobedience to God’s command, although if that were so it is difficult to see Paul accepting it so placidly, and if it is so why not vice versa as well? Even if he has a particular case in mind why does he not command a reconciliation? By his statements she is guilty of disobedience to God. Thus the ‘leaving’ is possibly rather seen as due to necessity for one reason or another, something so severe that it justifies leaving. He is not speaking of just walking out due to personal preference.
In view of the stated purpose of marriage in the whole passage it is difficult to think of any other grounds for desertion which would be acceptable to Paul, especially in view of his statement in 7.3-4 and his other injunctions in this verse. Presumably ‘remaining unmarried’ here means not seeking to obtain a divorce in order to remarry. But his main point is that a woman who has left her husband is not free to marry another while he lives. Marriage is inviolable unless destroyed by sexual misbehaviour which breaks the marriage bond.
‘Not I but the Lord.’ It is probable that this is put in for special emphasis because this issue was especially alive and pressing and one in which some were saying, ‘it is only Paul who is saying that. We have been inspired to see it differently’. The issue was so huge that he wanted it to be quite clear that the authority behind his words was the maximum possible. This was not just the words of one ‘prophet’ as against another, or even of an Apostle, they were the words of Jesus Himself. Thus Paul is saying, ‘take especial note that this is not just my command, it is the Lord’s.’ The inviolability of marriage was primary and was directly Jesus’ commandment. Nothing could circumvent that. Once and for all the issue was decided.
Instructions Where One Partner is a Non-Christian( 7.12-16).
But another question they had seemingly asked had in mind cases where one partner had been converted and had become a Christian. It does not refer to cases where someone who has become a Christian subsequently marries a non-Christian, for that is wrong in itself (2 Corinthians 6.14; compare Ezra 10.10) and must raise doubts about whether the person really is a Christian, for it is wilfully combining a citizen of heaven with the kingdom of darkness, combining righteousness with unrighteousness. It is contrary to the principles enunciated in the last chapter. But on conversion a Christian could find themselves in that position through no fault of their own.
7.12-14 ‘But as to the rest, I speak, not the Lord. If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And the woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother, otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.’
‘As to the rest.’ He has dealt with their main questions on the subject. Now he will deal with the remainder.
‘I speak, not the Lord.’ He acknowledges that in this case he does not have direct words of the Lord to cite or direct evidence from the Scriptures, but nevertheless he speaks as an apostle with spiritual authority, being guided by the Spirit. He has God’s seal on what he says. The distinction is made to confirm the stress on the previous ‘not I but the Lord’. It would be apparent that the Lord could not have said this because Jesus spoke in a situation and environment where the question was unlikely to arise.
The principles are simple. The new Christian does not need to seek separation from an unbelieving partner, which they might have considered as necessary in order to cut themselves off from a godless situation in the home and to prevent their continuing to be of one flesh with an unbeliever. This is because their own presence (as temples of the Holy Spirit) ‘sanctifies’ the home and those in it. Whatever else this means it means that they do not lose out spiritually by remaining with the unbelieving partner.
Not so simple is the use of the word ‘sanctify’. Here the word ‘sanctified’ means that the presence of the Christian in some way makes the other partner come within the sphere of God’s earthly, temporal blessing, and under God’s temporary protection, and wards off evil spiritual influence. This follows the pattern that whatever touches what is holy becomes holy (Exodus 29.37; Leviticus 6.18). They are not ‘saved’, as verse 16 emphasises. But they enjoy temporary blessing as being part of a Christian enclave, just as a ‘stranger’ dwelling in Israel enjoyed certain benefits while he was there by being under the umbrella of the people of God (Deuteronomy 24.14, 17, 24; 26.10-13). He enjoyed a peripheral part of the covenant.
In Romans 11.16 Paul can describe all Israelites within the covenant as ‘holy’. They were in a unique position before God, set apart as His people and as such enjoying certain special blessings from God. But the corollary was that more was expected of them. And Paul tells us there that in fact because of their rejection of Christ they had been cut off from their position. But the idea of ‘holiness’ as embracing even those who were not fully believing, all through the Old Testament period, is similar to here.
Thus by their conversion the Christian has brought their whole family within the sphere of God’s earthly temporary blessing, and especially their children who are seen as in some way enjoying the favourable influence of God. The power of Christ in the Christian neutralises the powers of darkness, and brings positive blessing to the home. Their being the temple of God makes the home ‘holy’.
We can compare to some extent how in Job 1.5 Job ‘sanctifies’ his children after they have been feasting by offering sacrifices for them. He returns them within the sphere of God’s blessing in case they have forfeited it by sin.
‘Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.’ The children of non-Christians are indirectly here seen as ‘unclean’, that is not within the sphere of God’s specific temporal blessings. They are not specifically set apart by God as ‘holy’ and set apart to be God’s. They enjoy God’s general blessings on mankind as a whole, but not His more specific temporal blessings which includes the spiritual influence of a Christian parent. But once a parent becomes a Christian that ‘sanctifies’ their children in the sense that they do come within the sphere of God’s specific temporal blessing. They are in a privileged position. They come under His cognisance and protection. We would probably understand it better if we knew more about the unseen world and its effects. What matters in respect of Paul’s readers is that the believer’s children are not put at a disadvantage as far as God is concerned by being in a home where one person is an unbeliever. They come under the same blessing of God as the children of Christian parents, as every Israelite child came within the covenant unless and until they deliberately rejected it. All the blessings of the covenant came to them, but even then eternal salvation depended on genuine response to the covenant.
It should be noted that it is the presence of the Christian parent that produces this effect. We have no real reason to think that it has anything to do with baptising, or otherwise, the children.
7.15a ‘Yet if the unbelieving one separate themselves, let them depart. The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases.’
Where the unbelieving partner seeks a divorce, or walks out because the person has become a Christian, or turns the Christian out, then no blame can attach to the Christian. They may let them depart. They need not feel bound to try to sustain, and make great efforts to preserve, what has become an impossible marriage, especially as this would usually mean that the other partner was seeking to pressurise them and the children into turning their backs on Christ.
‘Not under bondage in such cases.’ This may simply mean that they need not feel bound to make excessive efforts to prevent it, or it may mean that they are seen as released from their marriage and may therefore divorce the unbeliever and marry a Christian. This latter would seem intrinsic in the words, (although not directly referred to), in view of the invidious position a Christian woman may find herself in in such a case, especially if she had children to look after and bring up. It would also seem to be confirmed by seeing this position as contrasted with that in verse 11 where the woman was bound to remain single. But if so it is the exception that proves the rule and arises because of the decision of the non-Christian partner. However, Paul’s emphasis is on the fact that she need not feel under a burden to continue the marriage. It cannot be seen as a general approval of remarriage. Earlier Paul has made clear that in general the opposite is the case.
We can compare this case with that of the Ezra 9-10 (although that is more like the case of a believer actually marrying an unbeliever). There the presumption must be that having put away their idolatrous wives they were permitted to marry again although it does not actually say so. Permission was presumably given by default.
7.15b-16. ‘But God has called us in peace, for how do you know, oh wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, oh husband, whether you will save your wife?’
‘But God has called us in peace.’ When God called us it was essentially in the sphere of peace, peace with God and peace from God. God does not seek to bring His people into a position of antagonism and conflict, nor does He want it. It may arise because of the nature of the unbelieving, but it is never God’s aim. If the result of trying to maintain the marriage is conflict on religious matters which results in the partner walking out then he/she need not feel burdened at his/her failure to maintain it because of their partner’s behaviour. But if they can live in peace with their unbelieving partner and prevent conflict then that is good. For Christians are to love their neighbours, including the unbelieving, and that includes an unbelieving partner. Indeed it must be recognised that there is a good chance that their influence might lead to their partner’s conversion as well (1 Peter 3.1-2). Thus they too will enjoy God’s saving power. The Christian seeks to spread peace and goodwill, although not at the expense of faithfulness to Christ, and to seek to win others to peace with God.
On the other hand it is not necessarily true that they would save their partners. How do they know? Thus they are not bound if the other partner leaves. The very act would reveal an obstinacy of heart against God.
‘Called us.’ Here Paul is referring to God’s activity in calling men to Himself. The verb is in continual use from now until verse 24. Whatever their state the Christian partners can see themselves as people whom God has called, people who are chosen of God and special in His eyes. Besides this their worldly station is irrelevant. They are now God’s own, beloved people (Titus 2.14; 1 Peter 2.9).
Christians Need Not Feel Compelled to Leave the State in Which They Were When They Were Called (7.17-24).
Paul now stresses that from a spiritual point of view Christians need not worry about their earthly state and position as it does not affect their spiritual position before God. From a spiritual point of view it is irrelevant. Neither having been married to an unbeliever nor being circumcised nor being uncircumcised nor being a slave affects them in God’s eyes. He agrees that if a slave has the chance of freedom he should take it. But although it may be greatly to his physical benefit, it is not necessary for his spiritual benefit, because God sees all men as free.
This principle of remaining in the state in which they were before they were converted is echoed throughout the chapter. The point is that becoming a Christian need not change status in life, nor will current status put the Christian at a disadvantage as a Christian. What basically matters is the state of the heart towards God.
7.17 ‘But as the Lord has distributed to each man, as God has called each, so let him continue to walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.’
Here the position in which each man finds himself when he is ‘called’ is seen as God’s previous distribution to him within His general purposes. Thus he may accept his lot and continue to walk in that way. It will in no way affect his spiritual position before God, as long as it does not interfere with his personal obedience to God’s commands..
The purpose here is not to restrict them to a particular station in life but to show them that from a spiritual point of view their station in life is unimportant. They need not be desperate to get out of it. But he is not saying that they should not get out of it if the opportunity arises. (Just as earlier the unmarried can marry or not as they see best before God).
‘And so I ordain in all the churches.’ He wants the Corinthians to know that he is not restricting them more than he does the other churches. He treats all the same and requires the same of all. Furthermore he may have hoped that this would be an encouragement to them as they felt themselves acting in unison with their Christian brothers.
7.18-19 ‘Was any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised. Has any been called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.’
Physical signs, or the lack of them, are nothing to God. If a man is circumcised he does not need to have an operation to show that he is no longer a Jew. Indeed as a Christian Jew he can continue witnessing to Jews, just as Paul does (9.20). If a man is uncircumcised it will not benefit him at all to become circumcised. God will not thereby look on him differently. Such outward things are irrelevant.
What matters in both cases is submission to the will of God demonstrated by keeping His commandments (see Romans 2.25-29), and these centre around ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Romans 13.9-10; Galatians 5.6, 14; James 2.8; Ephesians 6.2; 1 Timothy 1.5; 6.11-14). The wide view we are to take of ‘commandments’ is demonstrated in John’s letter (1 John 2.3-5; 2.8-11; 3.23; 4.21). In the end what God looks for is obedience to Him and love for one another. This is the responsibility of every Christian, not in order to attain salvation, but because they have received salvation, because they have been ‘sanctified’ and are God’s dwellingplace..
Paul’s declaration here was important. The Jews despised those who were uncircumcised, and the Greeks tended to despise those who were circumcised and had thus marred the perfect body. But God says that neither condition matters. What is relevant is that He can use each in the sphere in which he finds himself. The circumcised have the advantage when witnessing to the circumcised, the uncircumcised when witnessing to Gentiles. But elsewhere he will point out that circumcision, like the sacrificial system, has in fact come to fulfilment in the crucifixion of Christ. The shedding of blood in circumcision looked forward to His work on the cross, and those who come to benefit from His death are circumcised spiritually through union with Him in His death as a result of putting off the body of flesh, the old life and the old ways. The old physical rite is therefore done away, replaced by the spiritual, which is a sign of their death to sin and their new obedience (Colossians 2.11-13).
7.20-21 ‘Let each man abide in that calling in which he was when he was called. Were you called being a bondservant? Do not worry about it. But if you can become free use it rather.’
As he makes clear Paul is not here saying that no man should try to rise above his station. Indeed he encourages the bondservant to take any chance he has of becoming free. What he wants is for them not to become concerned about their condition because they feel that somehow it prevents them from truly living the Christian life. He does not want them running away and becoming fugitives because of some false idea that being a slave demeans them in God’s eyes or restricts their service for God. God is not pleased when His people fail to fulfil their responsibilities on the pretext of spiritual service. All Christians are to fulfil their civil, family and marital obligations.
There were two sides to being a bondservant as Exodus 21.5; Deuteronomy 15.16 make clear. On the one hand freedom was restricted and he was looked on as a chattel. But on the other, if he had a good master he was cared for and provided for and given such protection as his master could provide. His future, and that of his family, was guaranteed. The freeman might theoretically be better off, but he might still be looked on as a thing of no account, little better than a chattel. And he might be paying a great price for his freedom, for a freeman was dispensable and could find himself in poverty and with nowhere to live, left to struggle along in the gutter. Many preferred to be bondservants and enjoy security.
In the passage the concentration is on calling to a station in life, to something not easily changed, not to a trade or profession, although many interpret it partly in the latter way. But there is no justification in the text for doing so. In fact there were some trades and professions which a Christian would have to change from because of its associations, or because it was against the commandments of God. This principle can be overruled by other more important principles which are direct commandments of God.
7.22 ‘For he who was called by the Lord, being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman. Similarly, he who was called being free is Christ’s bondservant.’
God sees all men as the same, with the same dignity and the same significance. He sees the bondservant as a freedman. He sees the freeman as a bondservant to Christ. Thus the one is not better off from the point of view of spiritual blessing and usefulness as the other. Nor can the freeman see himself as superior to the bondservant, for he himself is a bondservant to Christ.
‘Is the Lord’s freedman.’ He has been made free from servitude to sin, and grovelling under it as though it were his master (John 8.34-36; Romans 6.20-23), he has been freed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3.13) and is no longer bound by all its restrictions, he has been freed from the power of Satan working in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2.3). He is free to meet with God’s people on equal terms as ‘a brother’. He is free to serve God faithfully.
‘Christ’s bondservant.’ He is duty bound to obey God in whatever He requires and to do His will without questioning it (although he may question whether something really is God’s will unless it is clearly taught in the Scriptures). He is a slave to righteousness (Romans 6.18-19). He is bound to do all, whether in word or deed, to the glory of God (10.31). He is in bondage to men to do all that is necessary in order to reach out to save them (9.19-23).
7.23 ‘You were bought with a price. Do not be the bondservants of men.’
Taken literally this would contradict what he has said above. But he does not intend it to be taken literally. It continues the thought that Christians are bondservants to Christ (verse 22). He is saying that having been bought by Christ through the giving of His own precious blood (1 Peter 1.18-19, and having been redeemed through His suffering, they should be His slaves and not slaves to every wind of men’s devising. They should not let men determine their lives and how they lived, especially where they required that which was abhorrent to God. They should obey God rather than men (Acts 5.29). They may have to serve men because God has ordained it, but they should not see it as service to men. Indeed their service to men should be seen as service to God, so that they served not as menpleasers but as God pleasers (Ephesians 6.6; Colossians 3.22). For from now on all their service should be seen in this way, a service honoured in that it was the way Christ walked (Philippians 2.7; Mark 10.43-45).
The word for ‘price’ contains within it reflections of honour (compare the use of ‘tim-es’ in 1 Timothy 5.17). What we pay a good price for is highly valued, and what is highly valued we pay a good price for. Thus as these have been bought with such a price they are so important that they are above slavery to men.
7.24 ‘Brothers, let each man abide with God in whatever position he was in when he was called.’
The Christian is to commit his life to God in faith and leave it in the hands of God. He is to walk with God and let God see to his future. If God destines freedom then he should take advantage of it. But if not let him continue serving God where he is. For that is where he was when God chose to call him, and unless He indicates differently, that is where He wants him to serve. The early church contained a large number of slaves and poor people. Such are often most easily and profitably helped by their own.
Paul followed out his own teaching. In Philippians 4.11 he could say, ‘I have learned, in whatever state I am to be content with it’. And again ‘godliness with contentment is great gain, for we have brought nothing into the world for neither can we carry anything out’ (1 Timothy 6.6). And in Hebrews we read, ‘be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have’ (Hebrews 13.5).
None of this means that we should not work to change things for the better. But it does mean that we should do it for love of Christ and not for personal gain, because we are righting what we know to be wrong, and not because we are seeking our own advancement.
Further Instructions Concerning Marriage In View of the Urgency of the Times (7.25-40).
7.25 ‘Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.’
‘Concerning virgins’ here, in view of verses 26-27, probably means ‘concerning those who have not yet married’, whether men or women, whom he assumes to be pure (compare Revelation 14.4). Although it may be that he was asked a question about virgin women and chose to answer it at first more generally, for in verse 28 and later the virgins are women.
It is clear that Paul had been asked whether ‘virgins’ should marry. In many pagan sects there were women who were called ‘virgins’ who did not marry. They were dedicated to the gods and offered their bodies to men so that the men might come into ‘communion’ with the god through sexual activity. It was typical of men’s deceitfulness in making what was disgraceful appear even a ‘good and pious’ thing.
While we must presume that the Corinthians were not thinking fully in these terms, yet the idea of pure virgins being separated to God, and to God alone, may well have seemed attractive, and may suggest they mainly had women in mind. Paul, however, answers in respect of both.
Paul gives his answer on the basis of His Apostleship, ‘as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful’, as in verses 6 and 12. There was nothing he knew of in the Scriptures or in the Lord’s teaching on such matters. Perpetual virginity was never considered a godly notion among the Jews, and Jephthah’s daughter bewailed the fact that she must die a virgin (Judges 11.38), while for men the married state was seen as a necessity. (But compare Jesus’ words in Matthew 19.12 of which Paul may have been unaware).
‘As one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.’ He received His Apostleship by the Lord’s mercy, having been deliberately chosen in accordance with that mercy (1 Timothy 1.12-13, 16). And as a chosen Apostle his responsibility was to be faithful in all things pertaining to God. Thus they can be sure that when he gives his guidance it is as one who is being faithful.
But even as Paul begins his reply about virgins he wants it clear that the principles do not just apply to virgin women but to all. Virgin women are not to be seen as particularly under pressure.
7.26-28a ‘I think therefore that this is good by reason of the present (or ‘impending’) necessity (distress, calamity, necessity, compulsion, means of compulsion) namely that it is good for a man to be as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But and if you marry you have not sinned.’
There are two words in this verse which are crucial to the interpretation of what follows, ’enestosan (present, impending) ’anagken (distress, calamity, necessity, compulsion, means of compulsion - compare its use in verse 37). The question is, does this refer to some current or impending distress or calamity facing only the Corinthians, or does it refer to the ‘present necessity’ or ‘impending distress’ resulting from the fact that it is the end of the age (10.11; 1 Peter 1.20; 4.7), together with the divine compulsion that such a situation applies, or to a general divine necessity.
In favour of the first would be the view that Paul is not describing a normal attitude but one dependent on the fact that the particular times are unusual, but will pass. In favour of the second is the language in the following verses which may be seen as suggesting the brevity of life and the final days of the age, and the fact that it is strange, if such a specific calamity were coming, why it is not more specifically mentioned elsewhere in the letter.
The New Testament certainly sees the people of God as living in ‘emergency times’. To the Romans Paul said, ‘And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time for you to awaken from sleep, for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore throw off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light’ (Romans 13.11-12). And again he says, ‘they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10.11). While John also tells us, ‘Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. From this we know that it is the last hour’ (1 John 2.17-18).
Whichever interpretation is right, he approaches his answer to the Corinthians’ question in terms of both men and women. He does not want the principle he is applying to be seen as something that only applies to virgin women. It applies to all. And that principle is that ‘in view of the present (or ‘impending’) necessity (or distress or divine compulsion)’, whatever it is, it is better for men not to change their married or unmarried state.
‘This is good.’ That is, remaining single.
‘The present distress.’ Using this translation it would suggest that, at the time, times were possibly hard, or were expected to be hard, either due to persecution or due to the threat of civil disturbance or even war. In such circumstances men had enough to cope with without a change of marital state and its possible repercussions. To be unmarried would be helpful in facing up to the crisis for they would have no one to consider but themselves. But such a situation was not a good grounds for seeking to break up a marriage. And if indeed they did decide to marry, he assures them that they will not have sinned.
So the idea then is that it is not marrying or not marrying that he is advising against but marrying under those particular unique circumstances.
If we translate ‘in view of the present (or impending) necessity’, meaning the divine compulsion of it being the end of the age, then his words here describe what should be a permanent attitude. In the light of the urgency of the situation and the imminence of the coming of Christ, says Paul, celibacy has great advantages.
But that, some say, would seem to make the advice contradictory to what has been said earlier in the chapter, where marriage has been recommended to those who have strong sexual desires. However, in answer to this we could argue that that recommendation was because of the recognised weakness of man and that here Paul is recommending what he sees as the more ideal position for those able to take it, giving a different slant on things, while at the same time also allowing for man’s weakness, as earlier, by pointing out that it would be no sin to marry. But he does point out the troubles that could ensue.
‘By reason of the present necessity.’ This might also be translated, ‘in view of the present (or impending) distress’, ‘in view of the impending Messianic woes’, ‘in view of the present necessity caused by our responsibilities to reach out to the world’, ‘in view of the present divine dispensation’, ‘in view of the present compulsion in the light of the second coming’ and ‘in view of the methods of compulsion presently available to the authorities’. So what may be in mind may either be a period of distress coming on the Corinthian church, a God impressed necessity, a present divine dispensation, an awareness of the imminence of the second coming or an expectation of the application of pressure, or even torture, by the authorities in a period of persecution. Pressure and torture is much harder to fight when loved ones are involved.
Even if it was present or impending distress that was in mind it may be suggested that the ‘distress’ was so severe, or expected to be so severe, that he took it as an indication of the possibility of the Lord’s imminent return, as one of those signs that should awaken men’s thoughts to such a possibility, for he speaks of time being shortened and seems to speak of the need for Christians to be ready and prepared as they live through difficult conditions (verses 29-31). In that case his words would have general application. But it is equally possible that he had in mind some expected distress of some duration which was or would be peculiar to Corinth and its surrounding area, so that nothing major should be entered into until it was past. Then his words would apply to all such situations.
7.28b ‘And if a virgin marry she has not sinned. Yet such will have tribulation in the flesh, and I would spare you.’
There is no question of it being sinful for a virgin to marry, he points out. God does not require perpetual virginity. Paul’s only hesitation is as to whether it will put her into a position of greater hardship. (Here the virgin must be a woman as it is paralleled to a man’s behaviour).
‘Such will have tribulation.’ This may be just a general statement suggesting the preferability of not being married, having in mind such things as the pains of childbirth, the distress of infant mortality, and the possibility of future family problems and dissension, or it may be suggesting that the present or impending distress will lead to such tribulation of the flesh.
As, if there was a period of distress, we do not know what the distress was, or was expected to be (if it existed), we cannot interpret the latter in more detail. The Corinthians would have known. But the principle applies in all difficult times. It was no doubt applied by some Christians in the two world wars of the twentieth century who would argue that in the circumstances it was better not to marry. Certainly many who did marry had ‘tribulation in the flesh’ when husbands were killed or severely wounded.
7.29-31 ‘But this I say brothers, the time is shortened that from now on both those who have wives be as those who have none, and those who weep as those who do not weep, and those who rejoice as those who do not rejoice, and those who buy as though they owned nothing, and those who use the world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passes away.’
The passage is vivid and descriptive. If it is referring to a ‘present distress’ its point is that, because of it, time is short and that in the ‘distress’ things will be such that natural things must take second place. Normal marital relations will not be a first priority, there will be no time or place for mourning or for laughter, if they buy something there will be no opportunity for them to use it. They will be staid and sober in their behaviour because they will see that the fashion of this world, or the world as they know it, is passing away. All this would point to something great in its severity, such as an all out war, or great persecution, or the possibility of the second coming itself following a period of expected distress.
But many see ‘the time is shortened’ as referring to the shortness of life, or of time before the Parousia, the time having been ‘shortened’ by the crowning of the Messiah, and the need to live in the light of this fact. They think in terms of the divine necessity and compulsion that results.
The others counter-argue that it is difficult to ignore the meaning ‘the present (or impending) distress’, and that what follows describes an emergency situation and is surely not describing life as it would be lived in normal times. It certainly does not seem to tie in with verses 4-5.
To that a reply might be made that either some cause of distress was used in verse 26 as a reason for that injunction but not applicable here, or that the distress refers to the anticipated troubles prior to Christ’s coming, or that, in view of the non-mention elsewhere of the ‘distress’, the alternative idea of ‘necessity’ and divine compulsion should rather be applied there and that here the idea has been expanded to include the greatest compulsions of all to Christians, the brevity of life and the imminence of the Lord’s return.
Then what follows would be seen as not to be taken strictly literally but as an indication of what our attitude of mind should be in view of the shortness of our lives (and they were much shorter then) and of the time. Marriage, sorrows and joys, and possessions would all be subjected to the greater fact of making the most of the time we have, and being taken up with worldly things would need to be avoided in view of the fact that the illusory fashion of the world is certainly passing away at His coming. In the New Testament the second coming of Christ is ever used as a spur to Christian behaviour.
‘Those who have wives may be as though they had none.’ He is not suggesting abstinence from sexual relations except as provided for in verse 5, but that the people of God should not allow their marriages to take prime place. They must always take second place to the service of Christ. We should consider here the words of Jesus, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not love his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, less than Me, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14.26).
‘Those who weep as those who wept not.’ This has in mind the sorrows wayward children can bring, or bereavement, or any other earthly sorrow. In the end the people of God must not allow such things to be an undue hindrance to their responsibilities under the Gospel.
‘Those who rejoice as though they rejoiced not.’ In contrast earth’s blessings also should not interfere with such responsibilities. We must always remember that they are temporary, while the people of God should be seeking what is eternal.
‘Those who buy as though they possessed not.’ Earthly wealth and possessions must not act as a drag on obedience to God’s demands. They must be held on to lightly.
Jesus was very clear about the need to use possessions wisely. Jesus told His disciples that they must sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12.33), and He told the story of the rich fool, who thought he could cling on to all his possessions (Luke 12.16-21). He taught His disciples to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6.19-20), and He said that they should be used to ‘make friends’ of God’s people ‘that they may received you into eternal habitations’ (Luke 16.9). In other words His emphasis was that they should be used for the furtherance of the Gospel and the relief of those in need.
‘Those who use the world as not abusing it (or ‘as not using it to the full’), for the fashion of this world (or ‘the world in its present form’) is passing away.’ The idea is that in their use of things of the world they will be moderate, neither abusing them nor using them ‘to the full’. In other words they must be kept in their proper place. They must not try to extract the maximum from them at the cost of other things. Or we might translate ‘using the world as not using it.’ The point is that things are or will be such that moderation must be the rule. This could have in mind something like a siege situation or something that will produce a great change in the society as they know it (such as anticipated widespread persecution). Or it could simply mean recognising that in view of the shortness of life and the imminence of Christ’s return the things that the world offers should be mainly rejected or kept in their proper place (Hebrews 11.24-26; 2 Peter 3.10-13).
7.32-33 ‘But I would have you free from cares. He who is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he who is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife.’
Here Paul comes to the crux of the matter. His recommendation of celibacy has nothing to do with the fact that the flesh is thought of as sinful, or that asceticism is seen as making a man spiritual, it has to do with practical reality. He wants them, in view of the emergency times, to be free from other cares. The married person has cares and responsibilities that a single person knows nothing about. His wife will expect not to be neglected and will need her wants seeing to. This will partly depend on whether he has married a wife as dedicated as himself, but even if he has, life is such that problems can arise that take up his time and attention that would not have arisen if he had been single. He must provide a home for his children. He must watch over them and care for their needs and wants. And we could go on.
But it is clear that a married man will have certain distractions which may well prevent his hundred-per-cent attention on what would please the Lord given no distractions. Of course his proper attention to his wife and family pleases the Lord, and in return they provide him with support, joys and experiences beneficial to his spiritual life. He may well be a stronger Christian because of them, and if he is a man of strong sexual desires he almost certainly will be. But compared with the single man he has a considerable number of things that he must watch and control in order to be the best he can for the Lord that the single man knows nothing about. His full dedication to God’s service is therefore all the more difficult. He has so many distractions.
On the other hand we can argue that in the long term it is Christian families who have been the mainstay of the church through the ages. And we would be right. But if we are honest we can see that Paul’s point is valid. There will always need to be those who are so free from distractions that they can go anywhere, and do anything, without fear of the consequences for loved ones. And married men who have sought to behave as though they were as free as single men have often thereby brought great distress on those whom they should have been caring for. How difficult it is to tread the fine line between obedience to the Lord in service and obedience to the Lord in family responsibilities. And this the single man knows nothing about (except with regard to close relatives).
But we must note here two things. Firstly that Paul knew very well that a large proportion of men would, in the light of his advice given earlier, need to marry. No one would have been more surprised than he if all the Corinthians had become celibate. What he was seeking was the select band of those who would be available for service of any kind. And secondly that he does not in any way indicate that such people are more spiritual or more deserving than those who are married. His point is practical and not judgmental.
7.34 ‘And there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin. She who is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit, but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’
Paul points out that his arguments are equally the same for women. Paul’s view of women is very high. He treats them on the same level as men. Because of certain teachings about a woman’s psychological make up (1 Timothy 2.12-15), which many would accept are in general justified, he has been accused of being a woman hater. But this was far from so. In a day when all men looked down on women as only useful for certain things Paul exalted their status and saw them as equal with men in the service of God, even though he did at the same time see their main ministry as having a different slant.
Here then he points out that the unmarried woman, the virgin, can concentrate all her attention on pleasing the Lord, concentrating on holiness of both body and spirit. She is not distracted by the fleshly desires that the married woman has to cultivate for the sake of her husband if not for herself. All her feelings can be directed at the Lord, free from family and sexual restraints. She is as far distant from the pagan idea of virgins as it is possible to be. She is free to carry out whatever ministry the Lord opens to her. How different would have been the story of the evangelisation of the world, especially on the ‘mission field’ in the last two centuries, had it not been for such women.
Thus she can concentrate on prayer and service, on doing good and helping those in need, on giving spiritual and practical guidance to others, and on teaching the word of God. She is not distracted by family requirements. She is not to dominate men, or make her teaching the final arbiter in matters of God (this was especially true in the days when there was no New Testament), but should, where possible, act as helpmeet to those in authority in the church. Paul recognised that with her partial dependence on intuition a woman was more likely to fantasise. But he had nothing but the highest regard for them. (As he recognised men’s weakness in the sexual realm so Paul recognised women’s weakness in the intuitive realm. But his recognition was practical. He did not thereby degrade them).
‘The married woman is careful for the things of the world how she may please her husband.’ This has in mind his advice given in 7.4, referring to sexual matters, and all the concerns that result as children come into the world as her responsibility, a responsibility she must not neglect. All direct effects of marriage are ‘of the world’ (in a good sense) for in heaven there is neither marriage not giving in marriage (nor are there sexual desires). So Paul is here referring to all the different responsibilities that marriage brings. She who is free from these things is free to keep her whole attention on God.
We should however note that this advice assumes a full dedication to the Lord. It does not recommend being single for its own sake or for selfish reasons. It refers to a dedication that is real and will need to be maintained. Sadly all too often being single is seen rather as an opportunity for getting on or avoiding the problems of parenthood, without it being combined with full dedication to Christ. This advice does not apply then.
7.35 ‘And this I say for your own profit, not that I may cast a noose on you, but for that which is noble (or ‘proper’) and that you may attend on the Lord without distraction.’
Paul emphasises that he is not trying to restrict them or trap them. He has their own advantage in mind. He wants them to lead noble lives (compare Mark 15.43 - ‘ a noble councillor’, same word, one well thought of and highly respected). He wants them, like himself, to attend on the Lord without distraction.
But he is well aware that many younger women are just as sexually motivated as men, and often need the tie of marriage, and what it involves, to motivate them in the right direction, and that is why in Timothy he enjoined that in general younger widows should remarry (1 Timothy 5.11, 14). He recognised that he was dealing with the vast complexities of human nature (in its best sense) and gave his advice but left them to consider it accordingly. What he did want to bring home was that, contrary to much thought on the subject, remaining single was not wrong, and could be beneficial.
7.36 ‘But if any man thinks that he behaves ignobly towards his virgin, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so demands, let him do what he will. He does not sin. Let them marry.’
There is some difficulty in interpreting the following verses in determining whether it is speaking of two persons who are in some sort of platonic relationship or to the relationship of daughter to father, or both. No mention of ‘daughter’ is made in the Greek so that much depends on the interpretation of Greek words. For example does gamizo (verse 38) mean ‘marry’ or ‘give in marriage’. Both are possible, but the fact that gameo has been used previously may suggest the second. But it is not of vital importance because the principle remains the same whichever we take.
In this verse reference is made to ‘his virgin’. Does this mean his virgin companion or does it mean his virgin daughter, or both? It may be intended to be inclusive. The use of ‘them’ in ‘let them marry’ slightly favours the first, as only the virgin and the one who is acting on her behalf have previously been mentioned, while connection with verse 38 may be seen as supporting the second. However, it may simply be that Paul assumes the husband without mentioning him.
But the principle is that if the virgin is likely to suffer through her virginity, whether it be emotionally, psychologically, sexually, through the attitudes of society, or in any other way, especially when she begins to get a little older, then she should either be allowed to marry a husband, or her platonic companion should marry her. Her basic needs have to be considered and met, and to do otherwise would be wrong and sinful. In this case for her not to marry would be wrong.
7.37 ‘But he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power as touching his own will, and has determined thus in his own heart, to keep his own virgin state, shall do well.’
We must interpret this verse in the light of verse 36. It cannot therefore be saying that if the man nobly determines to force his daughter to remain a virgin against her will he is doing well. That would be heartless and wrong. It must therefore be referring to a man making a decision about himself and we must add ‘state’ to virgin as we have done in the translation. This would then favour verse 37 as referring to father and daughter.
Here then Paul is commending the man who is able to have full control over his own will, and is confident of his own steadfastness (and he should not be if he has strong sexual desires, for they will eventually wear him down), and is full of determination to lead a single dedicated life. That man, he says, does well.
Alternatively Paul may be signifying a case where father and daughter are equally determined, and the father may in some cases be hesitant, either because he wants grandchildren and male heirs or for the sake of status. In these circumstances he would not be behaving ignobly towards his daughter (verse 36). In this case, Paul says, by denying himself for the sake of his daughter’s desire and dedication he does well. This would fit in better with verse 38.
7.38 ‘So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who gives her not in marriage will do better.’
‘Gives in marriage.’ The verb is gamizo which is an intensive form of gameo - ‘to marry’ - and means ‘give in marriage’, but can also mean ‘to marry’. It could thus be translated, ‘he who marries his own virgin does well and he who does not marry her does better.’ However Paul’s change of verb suggest the translation above is correct. But whichever we use the principle remains. It is good for her to be married, it is even better if, through her full dedication to the Lord, she freely of her own choice decides not to marry so that she can devote her life totally to his service. No pressure must be put on her, either by companion or father. They must behave nobly and honourably towards her. For it to be good the choice must be hers. In the end for both men and women marriage is good but the ability to live a life of total dedication to the Lord in order to serve Him faithfully is better, conditionally of course on it being maintainable without sin directly resulting.
7.39 ‘A wife is bound for as long as her husband lives, but if the husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she abides as she is, according to my judgment. And I consider that I also have the Spirit of God.’
Finally he deals with a wife whose husband dies. She is now faced again with a choice whether to marry or not. Again the same principles apply. For her to marry is good. There is no sin in that and it could have positive results, as long as it is ‘in the Lord’, that is into a genuine Christian marriage. He would not say this about marrying an unbeliever or a nominal Christian. But to dedicate herself solely to Christ’s service would be better as long as she can maintain that dedication. If she will have difficulty with this on her own she is better to marry again (1 Timothy 5.11-14).
‘And I consider that I also have the Spirit of God.’ This applies to all he has been saying on the subject. Paul is confident that what he says has come because he is being directed by the Holy Spirit. Thus these are not just his own opinions but the word of God.
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