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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- 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 --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
Entering Idolatrous Temples and Eating Food Offered to Idols (8.1-11.1).
Paul now deals with a question central to the heart of every converted Gentile. In Corinth as in other Gentile cities idolatry entered into every part of life. It affected every aspect of life. The question then was how were Christians to approach the problem?
The main example dealt with in this chapter is the eating of meat offered in sacrifice to a god, within a temple or sanctuary. Such sacrificial meals took place regularly, often by special invitation from associates, involving sacrifices to the gods, in which of course no Christian could directly partake, followed by the separating of the meat so that some was offered to the god, some was eaten by the people, and some was placed on the sacred table, made available to priests and possibly also to the people. One main question was, should Christians publicly partake of such meat within the Temple precincts, or even at all? One important lesson that stems from the discussion is that of doing or not doing things which, while possibly not wrong in themselves, cause others to stumble spiritually.
8.1a 'Now concerning things sacrificed to idols.'
Paul here indicates by 'now concerning' that he is dealing with the second main question raised by the Corinthians through their visiting party (compare 7.1), the question of things sacrificed to idols.
8.1b 'We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.'
It would seem that many Corinthian Christians were claiming that their superior knowledge as Christians meant that to them idols were nothing. Nor therefore was meat offered to them of any significance. Thus they could partake of it whenever, and wherever they liked, whether in Temples or at home, because they had 'knowledge'. They were in the know. They disregarded idols.
Paul accepts that such knowledge is common to Christians, but points out that greater than knowledge is love (13.11-13). He too knew that idols were nothing. But having such knowledge alone can make a man puffed up. What is more important is the approach of love, love to others who might not have that full knowledge. Love will make a man what he should be, and make him behave as he should. It is that which edifies him, feeds him and builds him up. We must view all things firstly from the viewpoint of love, of consideration for others and what effect our behaviour might have on them.
This applies to all knowledge of God. It is good to be strong in doctrine, or in 'spiritual knowledge', but not if we are not strong in love, love for God and love for our fellow-Christians. Being strong in love is the first essential and should begin before we become strong in doctrine. It is the distinctive feature that binds us all together. It is the evidence of what we are. 'He who does not love does not know God, for God is love' (1 John 4.8). Love is especially expressed in showing consideration to others (see chapter 13). It is the evidence that we are 'known of God'.
8.2-3 'If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows not yet as he ought to know, but if any man loves God, the same is known by him.'
This applies especially in our relationship to God. We may have a little knowledge in this respect, but it is nothing like what we ought to know. Whatever our knowledge of God it is small compared with the reality. Our views of God are tiny and dim compared with what He really is (13.11-12). So if we are puffed up about our knowledge of God we are foolish. Each of us has different grades of knowledge about God, but none of us knows God remotely fully. But if we truly love God then we can be sure that we are known by Him, chosen, accepted and blessed. So true love transcends knowledge and must be the first consideration (13.13). This applies to all that we know which if acted on causes problems for others. So knowing about God simply leaves us aware of how little we really know, but loving God, and revealing it in our behaviour towards others, indicates that God knows us, and what could be more wonderful than that?
8.4-6 'Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as there are gods many, and lords many, yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we to him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.'
Paul can agree with the Corinthians that no idol is really in the world in any meaningful way. They are nothing. And that there is no God but One. Many were called gods, both in the heavens and on earth. There were multitudes of them, both 'gods' and 'lords', the latter especially in the mystery religions. But they were nothing.
For there is only one God, the Father, and He is the source of all things. All is 'of Him'. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, Who also is the source of all things, all is 'through Him'. The very fact of including Jesus Christ in the argument demonstrates that Paul saw Him as truly God.
We note here that other 'gods' and 'lords' are equated. They are all at the same level. They are included in ‘those called gods'. And in contrast is the one God Who is both God and Lord. Thus when he speaks of 'One God' and 'One Lord' he is equating Father and Son in one Godhood. There is one God and one Lord revealed in twoness of relationship, and yet One in being and essence. God the Father is the source of all things, and supplies it through His Son, the Lord, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1.1-3). There is but One God and One Lord, and the Father is both God and Lord, the latter made clear in the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ is both God and Lord. But the main point here is that they are the only God and Lord.
When speaking in the context of gods 'Lord' must signify the Old Testament name for God, Yahweh, the name above every name. That was always translated into Greek as 'Lord' (kurios) as here. And in Philippians 2.5-11 it is specifically applied to Jesus in that context. He has the name above every name. His name is 'Lord'. Thus the One God and Lord is here being contrasted, not with one another, but with the many 'gods and lords' and thus refers to the One God and Lord, Who incorporates the Father and Jesus Christ. They are the inter-communicating, inter-relational 'persona' within God. The Father reveals Himself in His Son.
To introduce the Lord Jesus Christ here as Lord when he is contrasting the One God with the many is to demonstrate His equal status in Godhood.
'And we to him -- and we through Him.' The first phrase stresses man's position as against God, as looking to Him and submissive and obedient to Him. The second stresses the redemptive factor, what we are now is through Him
8.7 'Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge, but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.'
But not all know fully within their hearts that this is so, that gods are nothing, and that there is but One God. Some still have a superstitious awareness of 'the gods' as though they were 'something' (just as many, even some Christians, have a belief in mascots, talismans and 'luck'). So when they eat of a thing sacrificed to an idol it produces in them superstitious ideas, for the idol has previously been their way of life. It had bound all that they did. Thus they feel when eating food sacrificed to such an idol that in some way they are participating in the god, that it is affecting their lives, that they are becoming involved again, and their consciences are smitten because they consider that they are honouring the god, which they know to be wrong. So by being encouraged by more knowledgeable brothers to partake of food offered to idols, and especially within the temple precincts (8.10), they feel compromised and defiled. (To say nothing of the witness before the world). And the result may well be a sinking back into idolatry.
The same can apply to us today. We should avoid all contact with the occult, with fortune-telling, with tarot cards, with seances, and so on, and in our multicultural societies with anything that savours of the worship of gods, because although they may seem nothing to us, those to whom they do mean something will misinterpret our involvement.
8.8 'But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better.'
So the strong should remember that the eating of food will never commend us to God, even eating it in defiance of idols. We are no better or worse for it. If we abstain from eating it we are equally commendable as if we eat it. But at the same time by eating it when it has been offered to idols we can be bringing others into great distress. Thus the conclusion should be that we should not eat of it, either within the temple precincts, or when we are informed that it has been offered to idols, lest it harm the weaker brother.
He elsewhere applies this same principle to all foods, whether those seen as unclean by Jews or that seen as defiled by Gentiles (Romans 14.1-4, 6, 14-15, 20-23).
8.9-12 'But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak. For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.'
We may ourselves be 'at liberty', be free from all superstition, free from all recognition of idols, but we should not thereby use our knowledge in such a way as to be a stumblingblock to the weak. We should ask ourselves, how will this affect others? In all things love must override everything else. For if we participate of idol meat in the Temple the weaker brother might see us, and knowing our spiritual position, and what he sees as our spiritual superiority, may himself feel that he can participate, his conscience satisfied because we have eaten, but it then result in his harm. For he may then consider himself as again involved in idols and be dragged down and defiled. He not having the strength to remain uninvolved.
So through our 'knowledge' the weaker brother, for whom Christ died, may perish (compare here Romans 14.15 which speaks of ‘destroying him for whom Christ died’). Thus we, by sinning against our brother and weakening his conscience, will actually be sinning against Christ.
'May perish.' The thought here is that this is 'a brother for whom Christ died'. Note that it is not 'a brother who is in Christ'. As with the community of Israel of old where there were included in 'the people of God' those outwardly dedicated to the covenant, whether inwardly so or not, so that the community was composed of both the true people of God and those who were only so outwardly, so in the New Testament too the church from one aspect was seen as including all those who outwardly believed and had been baptised, and included those whose true faith made them in Christ, and those who were bordering on being so, and could be seen outwardly as 'brothers', but could slip back and perish because they were not yet fully 'saved'. They had responded to the Christian message, they were learning and entering into faith, but they had not yet received full faith. They had 'believed in Christ' rather than 'into Christ' (compare John 2.23-25 and often). Christ died for all, but not all finally came.
Others would, however, argue that the sin is against Christ (Acts 9.5; 22.8; 26.15) precisely because the brother is in Christ. They see the idea as rather being that he will slip back and perish physically (compare 11.30) or possibly be spiritually shipwrecked and left adrift. He will be ‘destroyed’ (Romans 14.15).
8.13 'Wherefore, if meat causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, in order that I do not cause my brother to stumble.'
Paul's conclusion is therefore that he himself would do nothing that might make another stumble. If his eating of meat would cause another to stumble he will never eat of it for evermore. He would do anything rather than make another stumble, for whatever reason. Thus should we also have concern for the weaknesses of the weak, pandering to them so that they may eventually become strong.
Paul Now Points Out That He Refuses To Use His Freedom In Any Way That Would Cause Young Christians To Be Led Astray. His Next Example Refers To His Not Receiving Gifts For His Ministry Among Them Which May Brand Him As Greedy, Mercenary or Merely A Paid Orator, and Thus Promote Difficulties and Tensions (9.1-18).
The last verse of the previous chapter leads on to this chapter in which Paul again refuses to use his freedom in such a way as to cause offence. This time it is with regard to his right to support. No doubt he had also been criticised about this. Once a person comes under criticism all kinds of things are dredged up so as to discredit the person being criticised. So he points out that he has a right to partake of such support, as have all the Apostles, but he refuses to use it because it might lead others to doubt him. First he asserts that he is free to do what he will in this regard, and then especially stresses his position as an Apostle, which gives him the right to support as expressed by Jesus, but then he declares that nevertheless he will not accept such support while working among them. He does not want to be seen as a chancer or as a paid professional orator.
9.1-2 'Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you, for the seal of my apostleship are you in the Lord.'
He begins by asserting his freedom. Support is something he has a right to and he would therefore be free to receive it if he wished. And the reason he has that right is because he is an Apostle, one sent forth and therefore dependent on such support (Matthew 10.9-15). But because he is wholly free he can choose what he will do, and he has the right to do either.
His evidence that he is an Apostle rests first on that he has seen 'Jesus our Lord'. He has seen Jesus, the One Who walked on earth as man, the resurrected Jesus, as now raised to Lordship. And the second that his Apostleship has been revealed by his success in establishing this new church. They are his work in the Lord. If they enjoy spiritual gifts let them remember who first brought the Spirit among them. They are the evidence, indeed the seal of his Apostleship. They are proof of his Apostolic power and authority, and therefore of his rights.
9.3-6 'My defence to those who examine me is this. "Have we no right to eat and to drink? Have we no right to lead about a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right to forbear working?'
The word 'defence' is fairly strong. There were clearly those who were putting him in a position where he felt he had to make his defence and justify himself, so he asserts his rights as an Apostle. He illustrates his argument from what other Apostles do. They eat and drink at other's expense as provided by the Lord. So then could he. He has the right to do so as well. They take their wives with them who also receive support, for they too are believers. So then could he. He has the right to. Indeed the same is true of the rest of the Apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter). They all enjoy support from the churches they visit. Do he and Barnabas not then have the same rights? Do they not have a right to 'live by faith' rather than working for a living? Are they the only ones to be excepted?
This point may arise as a result of the fact that some were claiming that he worked to support himself precisely because he was not a true Apostle and was not recognised as having the right. Not so, he replies. He and Barnabas had a right to receive support, but they did not claim it lest it be misinterpreted. It was their choice, not the choice or will of the churches.
It is clear that at his stage Paul is well aware of the ministries of the other Apostles and that of Jesus' brothers. He knows that all are active in the field. Many consider that here he is including the brothers of the Lord as permanent ‘Apostles’. Certainly they had known the Lord in a unique way as an elder brother, so that being now converted they might well have been included in the number (James undoubtedly was). The matter is, however, disputed. But it is certainly clear that they were held in high esteem, almost on the level of Apostles if not actually so.
We in fact know little about the ministries of the other Apostles other than Cephas (Peter) and John, although fairly good tradition links Thomas with India. Otherwise most of what we ‘know’ is unreliable tradition, interesting but not necessarily true.
9.7 'What soldier ever serves paying his own costs? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat its fruit? Or who feeds a flock, and does not eat of the milk of the flock?'
This principle of having the right to be provided for in the light of his ministry can be evidenced from everyday life. Is a soldier expected to pay for his own keep? Of course not. Do not those who plant vineyards eat of their fruit? Of course. Do not those who feed flocks partake of the milk of the flock? Of course. Thus the soldier of Christ may expect to be fed, the worker in the vineyard to partake from the vines produced, the shepherd who raises a flock to participate of what the flock can provide. Those who serve expect to be provided for from what they serve. They have the right.
9.8-10 'Do I speak these things after the manner of men? Or does the law not also say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the corn. Is it for the oxen that God cares? Or does he say it assuredly for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because he who ploughs ought to plough in hope, and he who threshes, in hope of partaking.'
But it is not only that he can illustrate this from everyday life, it is also declared in the Scriptures. It is not only man who confirms such a situation, but God. For in the Law of Moses it says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn' (Deuteronomy 25.4 and see 1 Timothy 5.18). Surely the principle from that is clear. It is not just applicable to oxen, it applies to all who labour. Thus it applies to the labourers in the Gospel. The one who ploughs spiritually should plough in hope of provision, as does the literal ploughman, the one who threshes spiritually should thresh in the hope of partaking. He raises up seed, he should be able to benefit from the seed.
'Is it for the oxen that God cares?' This question is not suggesting that God does not care for the oxen. Various laws in the Law (the books of Moses, the Pentateuch) indicate that He does care for dumb animals. His idea expressed here is, 'Is it only for the oxen that God cares?' What Paul means is, does He in what He has said onlycare for the oxen, or does His concern not reach to a wider field, even to human beings? Yes, assuredly so, for God cares even more for human beings than for oxen. Thus it is more necessary that they be provided for when they thresh the spiritual harvest.
9.11 'If we have sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your fleshly things?'
So the Scripture is here declaring that those who sow spiritual things should be able to reap from the 'fleshly' things that are possessed by those to whom they sow spiritual things, those who are blessed by the spiritual things. That should only be as expected.
Note the change to 'we'. This probably includes his fellow-workers who were with him in Corinth as verse 12 confirms.
9.12 'If others partake of this right over you, do we not yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.'
Indeed there are others whom they acknowledge do have the right to receive from them, and does not Paul then have an even better right as the one who originally brought them the message of salvation? And yet he and his fellow-workers do not claim that right. Rather he and his fellow-workers pay their own way totally, and bear all expenses, so that they might not be a hindrance to the Gospel of Christ by being open to the accusation of greed and lazy living and professionalism (see Acts 18.2-3). He will do anything and go without anything if it means that there is no hindrance to the Gospel as a result.
Paul was not averse to receiving support from those who would not misunderstand it. He reminds the Corinthians later that he was able to continue his ministry among them unhindered as a result of a gift from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11.9). But he would never accept such support from Corinth because he knew how ultra-critical some of them were, always eager to seize any excuse to criticise him, and because he knew that their own greed made them sensitive to what they saw as 'greed' in others. Nevertheless he asserts his rights both in order to demonstrate that he is a true Apostle, and also because from them he wishes to bring home the lesson of being willing to do without one's rights for the sake of others.
9.13-14 'Do you not know that those who minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they who wait on the altar have their portion with the altar? Even so did the Lord ordain that those who proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel.'
The argument continues. God ordained that the priests and Levites should receive their portion from the Temple, and those who waited at the altar received their portions. Thus God provided both a system of their receiving portions of sacrifices and also of their receiving a proportion of the fruitfulness of Israel by tithes and offerings. Even so did the Lord ordain that those who proclaimed the Gospel should live by the Gospel.
'Even so did the Lord ordain.' The reference here is to Matthew 10.9-15 where Jesus taught His disciples that they must look to God to provide for them through the godly, those who were true to God. Among the Jews this was the recognised and established custom. By it they demonstrated their acceptance of the teacher. Note here that the Lord's very words are seen as parallel with the Scriptures as the word of God (Mark 7.13).
9.15 'But I have used none of these things, and I do not write these things that it may be so done in my case, for it were good for me rather to die, than that any man should make my glorifying void.'
But Paul himself has taken advantage of none of these things. Nor is he writing in order to do so. Indeed he would rather die than not to be able to say that he proclaims the Gospel freely and without charge. The last thing he wants is not to be able to glory in the successful preaching of the Gospel because by it he is seen as mercenary. He wants always to make it without hindrance (verse 12) and without charge.
9.16 'For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid on me. For woe is to me, if I preach not the gospel.'
But that is not to suggest that he has anything to glory of in doing so. He will not even glory in the fact that he preaches the Gospel. He will not take any credit for it. For he has nothing to glory of, in respect of himself, when he preaches the Gospel. He has no reason to feel proud or pleased with himself. Rather it is to him a divine necessity. If he did not preach the Gospel continually it would be a woe to him, something which would cause him grief and make him deserving of judgment, for it is his destiny, the very purpose for which he was born, and to which he was called (Acts 9.15), and he probably felt as Jeremiah did when he spoke of his message as being like a fire within him (Jeremiah 20.9 compare Amos 3.8). Thus he preached the Gospel because he had to, under divine command, and as a result of divine urgency within.
9.17-18 'For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward. But if not of my own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel without charge, so as not to use to the full my right in the gospel.'
So he is bound to preach the Gospel. If he does it of his own will, as a free man, without receiving any payment for it, he has a reward. And that reward is that he can provide the Gospel without charge, not claiming his rights to support under the Gospel. On the other hand, if he does not do it of his own will (as he has just suggested), but as a slave, it is because the stewardship of the Gospel has been entrusted to him. But either way he is rewarded in that he can make the Gospel without charge, and thus not use to the full his right in the Gospel to claim maintenance.
Thus will all see that it is his very life, that he is genuine in what he is doing. They will see that he does not preach in order to earn a living, as did so many of the preachers, teachers and philosophers who went around teaching in order to do so. Rather they may know that he does it because it is his trust, his calling, his life work, a demand that God makes on him, for which he seeks nothing but the glory of God.
In Fact He Puts Everything Into His Work Of Winning Men For Christ (9.19-26)
9.19-21 'For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews. To them who are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law. To those who are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain those who are without law.'
For it is he who is the debtor (Romans 1.14). He is a debtor to all, a slave to all. He is a free man, indeed a Roman citizen, a man with great privileges, but he deliberately makes himself a slave and in bondage to all men. And he is ready to shape his life in any way necessary in order to gain as many as possible for Christ. That is all that matters to him. The fact that he is free from all because he earns his own way does not affect his dedication to his task. It rather accentuates it.
To the Jews he becomes as a Jew so as to win them for Christ. To those who are under the Law (here possibly widening the scope to include God-fearers who meticulously followed the Law, although not Jews) he becomes as under the Law, just as Jesus had done previously when He had observed all the tenets of the Pharisees, while not Himself being a Pharisee. Even though he is not actually under the Law, he will observe it scrupulously before them, and when he is with them. He will do anything not to put them off as long as it does not contradict the Gospel.
And to those not subject to the Law he becomes as one without law, as one who lives under the principles they live by, although he stresses that that does not mean that he becomes wild, or careless, or lawless. He is not without law to God. He recognises the inward law established by conscience (Romans 2.14-15). And he is under law to Christ. he acknowledges his responsibility to follow Christ's teachings and Christ's example. He would not, for example, eat things openly seen as sacrificed to idols in a pagan temple. He is still under God's general law as revealed by conscience, and under Christ's principles of life. But while remaining in line with Christ's teaching he abstains from involving himself while among them with those things that would put off those not under the law, the ritual teaching, the food laws, the washings, the laws on cleanness, and any other things that really only affect the Jews. And his purpose is so that he might gain those who are without the law for Christ.
The point here is about religious behaviour not moral behaviour. He does not mean that he will literally do anything, whether sinful or not, to win men. He means that he will not allow particular religious ordinances to get in the way of the acceptability of his message. If it will help he will perform them, if it will not help he will avoid them.
9.22-23 'To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker of it.'
'To the weak -.' This ties in with the subject of the previous chapter, the weak who can still be led astray by idols, but it also expands to all forms of weakness. Paul takes account of all men's weaknesses. He takes only into consideration what will enable the saving and strengthening of the weak, without a thought for his own desires. If they are weak he will be weak. He will recognise their prejudices (where it does not compromise the Gospel). Indeed he is totally committed to what is necessary in order to win the lost. He will become anything that is not ungodly if by it he can win some for Christ. So his own lifestyle enforces the fact that he does not consider his own will, but only what will be for the benefit of others, just as he has asked of the Corinthians in chapter 8.
He has become all things to all men, all that is that is best and necessary, all that will assist him in winning their confidence, that by all means he might save some. There is nothing that he will not do that is acceptable to God, in order to bring about their salvation (thus the 'all things' is consonant with that).
'And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker of it.' And he does it because he is not only a debtor to all men, he is a debtor to the Gospel and the One Who is the good news declared in it. What he does he does for the Gospel's sake so that he may partake in it along with all who do so. The Good News of Christ crucified and risen is his life and his destiny. It is his everything.
9.24 'Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Even so run; that you may attain.'
Then he applies his thoughts to the Corinthians. Like he does, they also should put every effort into the race. They should consider that many run in the race but only one receives the prize. So the point is that they should run their race in such a way as to be prizewinners. They should not be satisfied with anything less than being top man in this regard. They should earnestly desire to come first, and sacrifice anything to do so honestly.
This is not saying that spiritual prizes are limited so that only the best obtain one. God has prizes for all who earn them. It is looking at what the attitude of the athlete is. Determination to be the very best. And that should be the Christian’s aim. To be the very best for God.
9.25 'And every man who takes part ('strives') in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.'
Furthermore let them recognise that all runners or others who strive in the games exercise self-control. They discipline themselves in preparation for the games. They discipline themselves while partaking. They keep themselves under control and put everything into achieving their goal. And if people will do that in order to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more should those who seek an incorruptible.
The idea of self-control ties in with the previous ideas of being willing to abstain from things for the sake of the Gospel, even though they are 'legitimate', things such as eating in the temples meat sacrificed to idols, to which he will come again shortly. Or the participation in the pleasures of life. He is not a killjoy, but nor will he let anything unnecessary hinder his fully serving Christ. Time taken up in pleasure is not available for spiritual activity.
'Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.' What was the reason that these athletes in the Isthmian games, held biannually near Corinth, went to such extents and sacrificed so greatly? It was to win a fading crown. For a while they would be widely popular, but then they would be replaced by others, and forgotten by all except possibly those in their own neighbourhood. They would become has-beens. How much more then should the Christian be willing to go to extremes in order to win a crown that will never fade, that will never be forgotten, that will shine as the stars for ever.
9.26 'I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so do I fight, as not beating the air, but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage, lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected ('rejected after testing').'
Indeed they should be like Paul who puts everything into his effort. Not running aimlessly and half-heartedly, but intent on obtaining the prize. Not fighting wildly and beating the air, but instead fighting with control and picking off his opponent. He fights carefully and thoughtfully. Indeed he also buffets his own body, in order, as it were, to make it controlled. He had no doubt seen boxers pummelling their own bodies in order to harden them. So does he use every means to bring his own body, and his spirit, under control and make it strong. He will do anything to ensure that, having taught others to do it, he himself does not lose out, and fail to achieve the prize.
Some see the thought behind his fear of being 'rejected' as that of being rejected from receiving 'the prize for being top man', not of being rejected altogether. And that would fit the immediate context. However, the verses that follow may be seen as suggesting that he is talking of being rejected altogether. But either way we should note that it is theoretical as far as he is concerned. He is not fearful that he will fail, he only recognises that in order not to fail he has to put in full effort. And so must all. There is nothing more dangerous than complacency.
Paul's point is that while it is true that God is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure, this should not make us complacent. We must co-operate. We should work out what He has worked in, 'with fear and trembling', that is with the greatest of care and effort. The fact that it is God Who enables us to walk and live the holy life, that Christ lives and walks within us (Galatians 2.20), should not produce slackness. Rather it should result in total self-control and effort as we allow Him to live His life through us. he cannot live His life through us unless we are responsive to His will.
'I myself should be rejected (adokimos).' The word adokimos means 'not standing the test, unfit, disqualified'. This raises the question in many minds as to whether someone who has become a true Christian can ever be lost. On the one hand are those who see it as referring it to merely being disqualified from being the prizewinner even though being a genuine participant. Aiming to win the single prize is what the passage is all about. On the other are those who would argue that it means finally rejected and lost.
Our view on that will depend on our views on the faithfulness of God, our views on what exactly He has promised, and on the nature of salvation itself. Those who believe that we have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and have been personally foreknown ('related to beforehand') by God Himself (Romans 8.29; Ephesians 1.4) will have no doubt that He will accomplish His purpose. Such people will point to 1.8-9; Philippians 1.6; Jude 1.24, John 10.28-29 emphasising that the saving work is in the hands of an unfailing Saviour. How then can it fail? But it should be noted that in both contexts there is the confirmation that such people will be made Christlike. There is no thought of salvation without eventual transformation, wrought by Christ.
However, others turn to this verse and the 'warning passages' in Hebrews 6.4-8; 10.26-31. In these the emphasis is on man's failure to persevere. And they feel that it suggests that it is possible for a saved man to be finally lost (even though it is a contradiction in terms). The question then is, do these verses point to true believers who are finally lost through falling short and turning from Christ, or do they refer to those who, although they may have made a strong profession, have a faith which is not really saving faith?
This last distinction is constantly made in Scripture. Jesus in the parable of the sower spoke of those who sprang up quickly but, because there was no depth of earth, withered away because they were not good ground (see Mark 4.16-19 in contrast with verse 20). Hebrews 6 also distinguishes between good and bad ground. It is those who are bad ground who fall away. John in his Gospel speaks clearly of two types of faith, outward and inward, faith in signs and personal faith in Jesus (see John 2.24-25). The thought would seem to be that they fell away because their hearts were not good ground, they had not been properly prepared by God, it was not the work of the Spirit.
The suggestion then is clearly that the final test of whether the ground is good is that they have true faith which results in perseverance, not just because the person perseveres, but because the Saviour perseveres in them. They are His sheep, secure in His keeping (John 10.28-29). If they stray He seeks them until he finds them (Luke 15.4). That being so they cannot finally remain lost. He has made them good ground, and will keep them so.
How then can I know that my faith is saving faith? Simply by asking myself what my true aim is. Have I come to Him because I want to be truly saved, because I have become aware of my own sinfulness and that Christ crucified is my only hope? Is it because I really want to be changed, because I really want to become like Him, even though I know that I cannot do it myself? I may feel inadequate. I may sometimes be almost in despair. But am I looking to Him to do that gradual transforming work within me? Do I really seek His Lordship? Do I genuinely want to please Him? Then I am truly saved, and He will not let me go simply because I am weak. It is not the weak who need to fear but the complacent. If my aim is simply to get to Heaven without my life being too much disturbed then I need to rethink my position. Salvation is not a fire insurance. I may end up being 'rejected after testing'. I may turn out to be a pretence, a counterfeit, a forgery.
The Example Of The Israelites At The Exodus and In The Wilderness (10.1
The illustration is now given from the account of the Exodus and what followed of the fact that not all attain the prize. Outwardly they may appear to be the people of God, but they are soon revealed as not being so. All took part, as it were, in the contest, but not all received the prize. We should note that it is being used as an illustration. It is not a comment on the individual eternal destiny of each one in the wilderness. It is not saying that all were lost. The fact that God persevered with them shows that He had not deserted totally them. It is true that they did not attain the prize of Canaan, but many died in God's love.
10.1-4 'For I would not, brothers, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual food, and did all drink the same spiritual drink. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.'
'For' connects back to his previous words. He had described how he put every effort into success. Let them now look back and recall others, others who failed. Thus he reminds them of the great privileges enjoyed by Israel on their redemption from Egypt. Firstly they were separated off from Egypt by the cloud, which went behind them and positioned itself between them and the Egyptians (Exodus 14.19), and then by the sea which allowed them through and then destroyed the Egyptians, sealing the way to Egypt and cutting God's people off from Egypt for ever.
By this also they were baptised into the great Moses (compare 'were you baptised into the name of Paul' - 1.13), firstly under the cloud that represented the presence of God (Exodus 14.19-20) and then in passing through the sea to safety (Exodus 14.21-22). It was a full commitment to Moses, a turning away from the past to follow Moses. By this they had done with the past and put themselves totally in his hands, something later sealed in the covenant at Sinai. What greater name to be baptised into apart from Christ? Thus they had been separated off from the world and baptised with a spiritual baptism, just as the Corinthians now were.
Then they ate God-ordained, God-provided, spiritual food in the manna (Exodus 16) and drank similar spiritual drink from the rock (Exodus 17), just as the Corinthians now partook of the Lord's Table. Nothing was missing of the blessings of God. And that rock represented Christ. So in figure they drank of Him.
The 'spiritual rock that followed them' may refer to the fact that they drank of the rock at the beginning of the journey (Exodus 17.1-7), and then lo, at the end of their journey to Kadesh, there it was again (Numbers 20.2-13), thus encompassing the whole journey. That is why tradition later had it that the rock had accompanied them through the wilderness. Compare a similar idea in Psalm 78.15-16.
‘For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.’ But alternatively, and more likely, this may be saying that they not only drank of the rock in the wilderness but also of God’s spiritual work done constantly among them by Him Who was their Rock and Who was constantly with them (Deuteronomy 32.4, 15, 18, 30) even though sometimes they forgot Him. It was He Who as their Rock followed them around. And the One Who followed them around and sought to sustain them was in fact Christ (the ‘angel of Yahweh’). Thus we should look to no other.
The way this illustration is put would seem to suggest that some Corinthians were making a great to do about who had baptised them, and about the power and knowledge it gave them, and about the efficacy of partaking of the Lord's Table, possibly suggesting that it made them immune from all failure and able to ignore idols and partake openly of idol food in idol temples. They considered that they did not need to fear temptation. Thus they are reminded of the failure of Israel who symbolically had all the same benefits that they had, and failed. They must beware lest having their benefits they fail too.
Note the 'our fathers'. Paul sees the church as the true Israel who can look back to the promises.
10.5 'Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.'
The spiritual benefits of the Israelites proved to be of no efficacy to them when it came to the sins of idolatry and sexual misbehaviour, both prominent in idol temples. They failed, displeased God and were overthrown in the wilderness one by one as they died off (Numbers 14.16 LXX). Their participation in sacraments had not saved them. Let the Corinthians beware lest the same thing happen to them. Note the 'most of them' taken along with the earlier 'all'. There were only a few of all the adults who originally received the spiritual sacraments who actually survived the stay at Kadesh, e.g. Moses, Caleb and Joshua.
So among these who had experienced these things some were specifically destroyed. Others died one by one, day by day, in the wilderness, their bodies left there in the wilderness. But only the few survived to enter Canaan. We may possibly (and rightly) distinguish between those who were finally lost, those who were saved but did not receive the prize, and those whose triumph was final, but that is not Paul's emphasis here. He is concentrating on the thought of their failure to receive the prize they were aiming at. The point is that they just did not get there. (Aaron fell in the wilderness but we are not to gather from that that God had eternally rejected him. It was simply that he came short of receiving the fullness of blessing).
This is now followed by four or five examples of the way in which the majority had failed. Lusting after evil things; its resultant idolatry, having in mind the molten calf incident when the 'play' probably included sexual misbehaviour as well as false worship (Exodus 32.6); fornication (Numbers 25.1-9); testing God through unbelief (Numbers 21.4-9); murmuring (Numbers 11.1-15). All these sins were being reproduced among the Corinthians.
10.6 'Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.'
So these things were examples for us, given as a lesson so as to prevent us from doing the same, that is, preventing us from setting our minds on evil things, idolatry, fornication, trying God and murmuring. 'These things' (compare verse 11) looks ahead to the verses that follow, for what came earlier would not have been examples that prevented the desire for evil things in the Corinthians.
'We should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.' This may refer to the cry of the people for 'the flesh pots of Egypt' (Exodus 16.3 compare Numbers 11.4-6) and stresses the danger of looking back, and regretting the loss of the past. This was the precise nature of the problem that could arise from knowingly eating food sacrificed to idols, a regretting of the past and a looking back, but his use of 'we' shows that it went wider than that. All, (Paul included), had to be aware of the danger of human desires and longings, and a looking back to the things of the world (1 John 2.15-16).
10.7 'Nor be you idolaters, as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.'
Reference here is to worship of the molten calf and its accompanying immoral rites (Exodus 32.6), again paralleling entering idol temples, and the danger of participation in their immoral behaviour. Note the stress on the fact that they ate in the presence of the idol which resulted in sin as a consequence. That is precisely what the danger was for the Corinthians.
Note also the change from 'we' (verse 6) to 'you' (verse 7) to 'us' (verse 8). Paul could not link himself to idolatry because he had never been involved with it. But he recognised his ever present, (although held under by his walking with the Spirit), propensity for sins of the flesh.
10.8 'Nor let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.'
Here the sin of sexual immorality is more clearly spelled out. If the reference is to Numbers 25.1-3 it also includes being influenced by idolatry, and eating in the presence of idols. But 'us' shows his consciousness that the sin is one he too might commit, so he does not emphasise the connection with idols directly. Sexual impropriety was highly prevalent in Corinthian society, as it is for many today. It was so easy to think, 'everyone does it, it is part of modern culture'. But Paul condemns it out of hand.
There would appear to have been a possible tradition that 23,000 died 'in one day', with the remainder dying soon after, making 24,000 in all (Numbers 25.9), or it may be that Paul is accentuating the severity of the punishment by stressing how quickly the large majority died, while not wishing to commit himself to all dying in one day.
The 24,000 may well have deliberately reflected twice twelve stressing the intensity of the punishment on the twelve tribes. Paul would recognise this. His 23,000 would then reflect the large majority, but not all, as dying in one day by a simple reduction by a fraction (a thousand). Numbers were regularly used in this kind of way in those days, to convey ideas rather than be exact. Note the mention of 'the day of the plague' in Numbers 25.18 which draws attention to the severity of the first day.
It is extremely unlikely that Paul got it wrong accidentally. He knew the Scriptures too well. That Paul clearly saw the 'one day' as significant in expressing the severity of the punishment comes out in the next verse where the imperfect suggests that in contrast the snake judgment occurred over a period of time, but he was clearly wary of saying that all without exception died in one day, thus he reduced the number lightly.
10.9 'Nor let us make trial of the Lord, as some of them made trial, and perished ('were perishing') by the snakes.'
Again they tested the Lord by looking back and comparing their present state with the past (Numbers 21.4-9 compare Psalm 78.18), an ever present danger in times of trial. The result for them was God's judgment in the form of the poisonous snakes in the camp. Their past spiritual experiences did not save them. So neither Paul nor the Corinthians must put themselves in danger of looking back (compare 9.26). It could be even worse for them.
Note: Some MS have 'the Lord'. Some have 'Christ'. Some have 'God'. 'The Lord' is found for example in Aleph and B. P46, D, G have 'Christ', easily seen as interpretive of 'the Lord'. A has 'God', again interpretive. An original 'the Lord' easily explains both variances, the change being made for clarity. But the matter is not certain.
10.10 'Nor murmur you, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer.'
The final example is of their dissatisfied murmurings. Examples of this accompanied by judgment are found in Numbers 11.1-3; 14.1-38; 16.41 but they 'murmured' on numerous occasions. The change to 'you' might seem to indicate that he has in mind their murmuring against him, as the people had against Moses, and this would favour Numbers 14.1-38 as being in mind, as would the connection of that passage with the people dying in the wilderness (compare verse 5 above). But the point is the same. The people murmured against Moses and against God and were severely punished and perished in the wilderness. In the nicest possibly way he indicates what happens to people who murmur against their God-given leaders.
'The Destroyer ('olothreutes).' Exodus 12.23 LXX speaks of 'the destroyer' ('olothreuon), and the destroying angel who utilised pestilence is described in 1 Chronicles 21.12, 15. In Jewish literature 'the Destroyer' is linked with the incident in Numbers 16. Thus the emphasis is on the fact that they were destroyed directly by God's instrument. God Himself was responsible for what happened.
10.11 'Now these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages are come.'
He stresses again that 'these things' (compare verse 6) happened 'by way of example' as an admonition to all who would follow. The imperfect, strictly 'were happening', stresses the continual nature of the happenings over time all through the wilderness period, just as would continue to happen among the Corinthians (11.30).
'On whom the end of the ages has come.' To the early church the coming of Christ had introduced the ends of the ages, 'the last days' (Acts 2.17); 'the end of the days' (Hebrews 1.2); 'the end of the times' (1 Peter 1.20); 'the end of all things is at hand' (1 Peter 4.7); 'the end of the ages' (Hebrews 9.26). And the fact that we live in such vital times, says Paul, stresses the importance of right living and obedience to God.
10.12 'For this reason let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.'
So from all this the general principle arises that we should beware of complacency. We may feel that we are of such stature spiritually that we cannot fall, even that we 'have knowledge' (8.1), have been baptised and partake of the covenant feast, the Lord's Supper, but that is no guarantee against falling. There is only one such guarantee, the faithfulness of God and constant watch, disciplined living, continuance in faithfulness and prayer (9.26-27). Arrogance and self-confidence is excluded. We are most likely to fail when our confidence is in ourselves. We must therefore be constantly watchful in our ways (see 16.13), working out our own salvation with greatest care, but recognising that it is God Who is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13) as Christ Himself lives in us and through us (Galatians 2.20).
10.13 'There has no temptation taken you but such as man can bear, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.'
Paul now intervenes in his catalogue of exhortation (10.1-9) with the assurance of divine aid. 'If these failed what hope is there for us?' some may ask. He does not want to make them too discouraged. His reply is to turn them, and us, to the faithfulness of God, as he did in 1.9. There He was faithful as the One Who would confirm us to the end. Here He is faithful as ensuring that we are not tempted above what we are able to cope with, and as the One Who will provide the way of escape from any temptations and tests that He does allow us to endure.
'There has no temptation taken you but such as man can bear (such as is of a human nature, common to man).' The stress here is on the fact that the temptations and tests that Israel endured, and that the Corinthians now endure, were of earthly origin. They were ones that come on them from outside, that 'took' them, and were such that men can face them with the confidence that they will overcome with God's help. Whether having in mind the temptations of Satan in the world, or the trials of the world, all men experience them. And with God's help they can be overcome.
Indeed for such temptations they can rest confidently in the faithfulness of God. In His watch as their keeper He will not allow temptations that they cannot overcome, and will ensure that they always have a way out, a way of escape.
Note that this is not a promise that we will not be tempted. That would not be good for us. It is rather the promise that, if we are His, God will sift temptations in accordance with our ability to deal with them, and that when we are being tempted we will be enabled to bear it, partly because we are confident of God's willingness to provide the way of escape, and partly because He will be with us in it and will indeed provide that way of escape. It does not mean that we will never fail. Peter was an example of one who was warned, and yet fell, but he found a way of escape for he fled to the mercy and forgiveness of God and was enabled to bear it (Luke 22.31-32).
So we need not despair, for God is with us in our temptations and through them, and can give us strength and wisdom to overcome, and provide forgiveness when necessary. Note how Paul is turning their thoughts from their own ability to deal with such things, to God's. Their pride must not be in themselves, and what they are, but in what God is.
10.14 'For this reason, my beloved, flee from idolatry.'
All temptation must be faced in the right way. The way of escape from idolatry is to flee from it. This is significant. It is saying that they are not to say, 'God can give us strength to fight the evil influence of idolatry if we participate in these feasts'. Rather they are to flee from them That is the only way to fight their influences. For if we put ourselves in the way of temptation ('for this reason') we cannot expect God's assistance in overcoming it.
Idolatry has its own subtle pull. Men who have been involved with idolatry may feel that they have rid themselves of its influence, but at weak moments, if they pander to it, it will work its way into their hearts and drag them down, for by it they are consorting with devils (verse 20). Thus avoidance is the best way to deal with it. Elsewhere Paul applies the same principle to youthful lusts. They are to be fought by hasty, strategic withdrawal and careful avoidance of places which might produce the temptation, not by 'facing up to the temptation and trying to resist it’ (6.18; 1 Timothy 6.11; 2 Timothy 2.22). To watch films that are full of immorality so that we can prove that we can overcome our desires is a sure way to be defeated. But as always there are exceptions. Some may be called to go among such things that they may present Christ there. But those very exceptions prove the truth of the principle. For the vast majority such things should be avoided.
I knew a man in Christ who worked among the sins of Soho. He would sometimes take theological students with him, but always warning them never to visit the dens of vice alone. But one was sure that he was strong enough, and it was only because that man in Christ had friends who were concerned enough to contact him that he learned in time what was happening and was able to rescue that rather foolish young man from what would have destroyed his future. The word is true. Flee youthful desires.
This reminds us that in the main sins of the flesh are to be met by fleeing, sins of the mind by looking to the word of God and standing firm (16.13; Ephesians 6.10-18; 2 Timothy 2.15; Galatians 5.1), and the pride of life by humbling oneself, subjecting oneself to God and resisting the Devil (James 4.7). Each must be fought using the right weapons.
10.15 'I speak as to wise men. You judge what I say.'
He pleads now that they will think about the question. They put themselves forward as wise men, so let them use their intelligence and consider what is involved by comparing the situation with their own religious ceremonies. His argument will be that religious meals involve communion, a sharing with someone in something, a sharing in common, and that that sharing is in respect to that with which they have the meal, whether Christ, or the ancient altar, or demons. Indeed, he asks, how can they be the body of Christ and participate with demons in sharing a meal?
10.16-17 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? Seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body, for we are all partake of the one bread.'
Let them consider. When they partake of the cup of blessing, the wine of the Lord's supper, does it not bring them into oneness with the blood of Christ? They drink of Him by faith (John 6.35). Is it not a sharing in His death? This 'cup of blessing' is based on the third of the four cups in the Passover meal. It is the cup which He described as symbolising the new covenant in His blood. By partaking of it in His presence at the Lord's Table they renew their oneness in the covenant and in His sacrifice for them. They represent themselves as crucified with Christ, and as partakers in His death and resurrection. It is a partaking in, a communion with, a participation in, a uniting with, what the blood of Christ shed for them symbolises and represents. They are revealing that they are spiritually one with Him, in His death and resurrection, and in His life.
When they break the bread and partake of it, does it not bring them into oneness with the body of Christ, into participation in that body of which they have become a member by being baptised into Christ (12.12-13)? The one bread represents Christ, Who is the Bread of Life (John 6.35). By eating of the broken bread they become one bread together, as the bread was one, and by partaking of that one bread, indicate that they are the one body, the body of Christ, which that one bread represents. Here we have the heart of why the church is the body of Christ, because they are united with Him in His body (see 12.12-27; 6.15; Romans 12.5; Ephesians 1.23; 5.29-30), the one body, partaking of the one bread (John 6.35). He is one body and they are one body in Him.
This idea is central to the New Testament concept of the body of Christ. It does not so much teach that He is the head and we are the body, but that He is the body, and that by uniting with Him in His body through faith we also become the one body with Him (Ephesians 2.15-16). Thus in 1 Corinthians 12 some members of the body include the eyes, ears and head because they are all part of His one body (verse 16, 21).
The thought is of spiritual oneness with Christ and with each other. All are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3.28). In spiritual oneness we have died with Christ. We have been broken with Him. But in His resurrection we are all made one together. All is put right. And that is what eating the bread symbolises.
We are not His body in a physical sense. Nor are we united with His body in a physical sense. Nor do we eat of His physical body. It is through what He has done in His body through the cross, that we are united with Him (Ephesians 2.14-16), and this is by faith. We are 'eating' what He is for us. We are united with what He did for us. It is as though we died and rose with Him. We are conjoined with Him.
(There is of course a way in which Christ is described as the Head, but that is not in contrast with the body, but in respect of His full Headship as Lord over all and over His church. It does not signify that He is not Himself the body with which they are united, for He is. The ancients did not see the body as just controlled by the head, but as controlled by the heart, liver, kidneys and bowels).
Note on the Body of Christ.
The idea of the body of Christ begins with teaching concerning the literal body of Christ. Thus when Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread and broke it and said, ‘Take, eat. This is my body.’ (Matthew 26.26). ‘Take you, this is my body.’ (Mark 14.22). ‘This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19). ‘This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11.24), He was clearly pointing to His death on the cross in a physical body and equally pointing to the fact that they could nourish themselves from Him and His death. He was symbolising spiritual participation in the body of His flesh as the crucified One.
It is hardly necessary to point out that someone who was alive and well at the time could hardly have meant this to be taken literally. The bread could not be His body for He was still in His body. To claim that it was His body in a ‘mystical’ sense is to make such an idea meaningless. Such a ‘mystical body’ would not be His body in any meaningful sense of the term. It would not in fact be to declare a miracle but to argue a literal and factual impossibility, a contradiction. It would be to play with words. If we mean (rightly) that it was a symbol, a representation, then let us say that.
What Jesus in fact simply meant was that the bread was to be seen as representing His body symbolically, just as in the Passover, of which Jesus’ words were a parallel, the leader took bread and said ‘this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate’. Such a person did not mean that it literally was that bread of affliction, but that it represented it, it symbolised it. What he actually meant was, ‘this is to remind you of, and symbolises, and allows you to partake in, by inference, by thought transference, the bread of affliction’. Each time they ate they as it were entered into the experience of eating the bread of affliction. And in the same way each time we eat the bread at the Lord’s Table we enter by inference and by thought transference into the experience of His crucifixion, confirming that we are united with Him in His death, and united with Him in His body.
Our being members (individual parts united in one) of the body of Christ Himself is likened to the union between a man and his wife in marriage (Ephesians 5.28-29) and in sexual relations (1 Corinthians 6.15). These relationships make a man and his wife ‘one flesh’ (Genesis 2.24), acting as one in all things with the wife being totally responsive to her husband. It is the closest possible spiritual union, and in the ideal the closest possible spiritual co-operation. Its closeness is expressed in 1 Corinthians 12.12. It is Christ Himself Who is immediately represented in terms of the church as members of His body. The body is Christ. So in ‘the body of Christ’, Jesus Christ and His people are conjoined as one.
End of note).
Being then made one with Him, and partaking in His death and resurrection, can they go as members of His body (taking Christ with them) to participate in meals in the presence of, and dedicated to, demons? Can they take Christ's body into heathen temples to participate in its functions? Can they so degrade Christ? And showing oneness in the covenant of Christ by drinking, can they not see that by partaking of the sacrifice to idols they are also showing covenant oneness with them by partaking? Do they really wish to compromise Christ and what He has accomplished?
10.18 'Behold Israel after the flesh, do not those who eat the sacrifices have communion with the altar?'
His second example is the oneness with the altar, and all that it meant, of those in physical Israel who ate of the sacrifices offered on that altar. This was important because it paralleled exactly the worship of idols in the offering of a sacrifice and then partaking of it. As they ate of the sacrifices they were one with the altar because that was where the sacrifice had been offered, and they were one with all who participated of the meal, and one in benefiting from the efficacy of the sacrifice. They as it were ate before God (compare Exodus 24.10-11), and were seen as under His sovereignty. His point here is that in the same way if you participate of the sacrificial meat in the temple you are, at least in the eyes of others, uniting yourself with the sacrificial offering which was made to the god from whose altar the meat came. Thus you are making yourself at one with the altar of whichever god is in mind, and therefore professing yourself as under his jurisdiction.
'Israel after the flesh.' That is, physical Israel. We have here another reminder that the church is the true spiritual Israel. To suggest that this refers directly to the worship of the molten calf is to read too much into the wording. Had Paul meant that he would have made it quite clear. Rather he is making a point from true ancient worship.
10.19-20 'What do I say then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say, that the things which they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God. And I do not wish that you should be sharers in common with demons.'
He firmly insists that he is not by this saying that a thing sacrificed to an idol is anything special, or that an idol is anything special. What he is saying is that in fact idolatrous worship is not just harmless superstition, it is backed by demons, by evil spirits, and that whoever offer sacrifices to idols, whether Israel in its false worship of the molten calf, or Gentiles in the worship of idols, are thus unknowingly offering sacrifices to demons (compare Deuteronomy 32.17). They are not to be seen as worshipping God in any way. Their way is not just another way to God, it provides contact with the supernatural world of evil. So what Paul is encouraging them to avoid is to actually have things in common with 'the demons', that is, the whole world of demons.
10.21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons.'
That being so they only have to think about it. How can they at the same time drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons? How can they eat that which comes from the table of the Lord, and at the same time that which comes from the table of demons? The thought is abhorrent. For they would then be participating in the Lord while participating with those who are His worst enemies, with that which He hates. They would be consorting with Him and at the same time with all that is in opposition to Him. They would thereby be acting as doubleminded traitors.
10.22 'Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?'
By not fleeing from idolatry they are provoking the Lord to jealously (the symmetry of the passage connects the two statements). He thus compares the act of eating in pagan temples with lovers seeking to make their partner jealous by consorting with another. Is that what they are trying to do, make God jealous? Do they really think that they are so mighty that they can treat God in that way?
Or perhaps in the light of Deuteronomy 32.17 he is simply pointing out that they are deliberately rebelling by approaching false gods even while they pretend to worship the true God, and thus stirring God's 'jealousy', His concern that His people should only look to Him (Exodus 20.5). For In Deuteronomy 32.17 we read, 'they sacrificed to demons which were no God, to gods whom they knew not, whom your fathers did not fear' and this is followed by (verse 21), 'they have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God, they have provoked me to anger with their vanities, and I will move them to jealousy with those who are not a people, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.'
These foolish Corinthians, he suggests, are behaving just like those foolish Israelites of old (compare verses 5-10) and may therefore bring on themselves the same judgment, that God will show favour to others who are not His chosen and not to them who think they are. They are thus choosing their own way in defiance of God and thereby giving the impression that they think themselves stronger than Him. While what they are really doing is flaunting God.
10.23 'All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.'
Again he takes up their own challenge that 'all things are lawful to us' (compare 6.12). Quite right, he says, but they are not necessarily expedient, not necessarily for the best, not necessarily good. Such things may be lawful to them, but they edify neither them themselves nor those who see them in the act. Rather do they do them both harm. So what is of primary importance is not the assertion of liberty, true though it may be, but the concern to show love to one's fellow. Freedom is glorious, but misused freedom is in this case devilish.
Once again we have here an example of the danger of what seem to be sensible catch phrases, but which turn out not to be so, for they always have to be qualified in some way. Trite sayings misrepresent truth.
10.24 'Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbour's good.'
A much better catch phrase, suggests Paul, is, 'let no man seek his own but each his neighbour's'. In other words a man should not be always thinking of himself and his own freedom and his rights to this or that, but should be thinking of what is good for his neighbour (compare Romans 15.2). And this they were failing to do.
10.25-26 'Whatever is sold in the shambles (meat market), eat, asking no question for conscience' sake, for the earth is the Lord's, and its fullness.'
But having forbidden the eating of sacrificial meat in temples he now turns to the question of meat sold externally by temples to the meat markets, some of which might also have been sacrificed to idols. Must this then also be avoided in case it had been sacrificed to idols? Pious Jews were in fact expected to ask whether such meat had been sacrificed to idols, and if it had not to eat it. After Paul's previous words pious Christians might have felt that they should do the same. But Paul points out that for Christians whether Jew or non-Jew it is unnecessary. Meat itself does not become contaminated by religious use, it is known connection with such use that disqualifies it, because of the weaker consciences of others. Otherwise it can be eaten with alacrity.
The reference here is to meat bought in the meat market whose origin is unknown. In that case, he says, they may eat of it without asking questions, for being of unknown origin it is neither giving a false witness to others, nor is it in any way giving countenance to idols. For everything that is in the world is God's for Him to dispose of as He will and idols and demons cannot affect meat. It is only when there is a conscious connection with idol worship that such meat has to be avoided, simply because of the bad effect such eating may have on some people. So what he has previously said does not mean that they must question the origin of every piece of meat they come across. Let them express their loyalty to the Creator by eating of it secure in the knowledge that it is His provision, part of what He has given man in creation, and that none other supposed creators matter.
'For the earth is the Lord's, and its fullness (what is in it).' This phrase from Psalm 24.1 was regularly used in grace at Jewish tables. Thus we may well see Paul as saying, 'having given thanks for it you may certainly eat of it if no reason is given why you should not'. For it is all part of God's provision.
10.27 'If one of those who do not believe bids you to a feast, and you are disposed to go. whatever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience' sake.'
The same principle applies when they are invited to go to a pagan friend's house or banquet. There is no reason not to go if they wish to. Nor do they have to start asking questions about the meat. If its source is unknown they do not have to ask about it. Their conscience need not be so bound. They can eat whatever is set before them, accepting it as from the Lord and His fullness, and giving thanks to Him.
So the principle that he is stressing is that it is not whether the meat has been sacrificed to idols that matters. That affects things neither one way or the other. What really matters is when it is publicly known that it is so. Then it does matter because of the testimony it gives, and the effect that it might have on those who are spiritually weak. It is all a matter of testimony and concern for the thoughts of the weaker brother, not of the meat itself.
10.28-29a 'But if any man say to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice in a temple (hierothyton)," do not eat, for his sake who revealed it, and for conscience sake. Conscience, I say, not your own, but the other's.'
Thus if someone deliberately draws their attention to the fact that the meat has been offered to idols in a temple, then they must immediately think of the effect that their eating will have on others, and abstain from eating. This not for the sake of their own conscience, but for the sake of the conscience of the other who clearly sees it as significant. It will then be a testimony that they have nothing to do with idols and idolatry, and will not sow error or doubts in the observer's mind. It should be noted that the very fact that the question is being asked should put them on the alert that their response does matter and will be judged.
10.29b-30 'For why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness ('by grace'), why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?'
This may offend some who want to know why their freedom should be bound by someone else's conscience. Why, if they eat the meat with gratitude to God, or do so because they enjoy the grace of God revealed in their status before Him, should they be criticised for eating what they have given thanks for? Why should they judged in terms of what others think? If they are doing right from their own viewpoint, why should they be concerned with what others think?
Paul' reply would be, as he has already shown, that once again all their thought is of themselves and of what is for their own benefit, when what they should be thinking of is what effect it would have on others. They are lacking that consideration for others which is central to Christian love. (It is thus noteworthy that it is not only modern day men who demand their rights at any cost regardless of the effect on others).
10.31 'Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.'
Paul's reply is specific and clear. He points to the positive aspect, the need to do all to the glory of God. His reply is that they must ensure that, whatever they do, even in the eating of meat, they do it to the glory of God. It is not their own liberty and rights that they should be concerned about, but God's rights. Their thoughts should be on what pleases Him and what brings glory to Him. And what pleases Him involves consideration for the effect of the things they do on others. Surely they can see that no glory comes to God in doing something which actually causes harm to others of His people? That is the point, and the thing that has to be taken into account
10.32-33 'Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God, even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.'
For what should be their first concern is to give no occasion for tripping up or stumbling to anyone, whether Jew, or Gentile, or Christian. They are to be like Paul is, not seeking his own advantage or gain, but concerned to be rightfully pleasing and satisfactory to all men, living so as to present to them the best witness and the clearest testimony, so that they might profit, and, best of all, be saved (see 9.19-23).
Note the wide range of those who could be affected by the act of knowingly eating meat sacrificed in a temple to idols, each for different reasons, the Jew because the idea is abhorrent to all to which he has been brought up, the Gentile because he judges the eater as giving credence to idols, and the believer because it can raise doubts within him that can be harmful, and even destroy him.
11.1 'Be you imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.'
Paul is conscious that he has been laying great stress on his own example, so now he sets the record straight. They are to be imitators of him because he is an imitator of Christ. What he has been saying is precisely what Christ would recommend and do, and indeed did do (see especially Philippians 2.4-11). By this he brings them back again to 'Christ and Him the crucified One'. That is where it all began.
There may be a feeling in societies where food offered to idols is not a problem that much of what has been said in these chapters is not relevant to them. But if so they should quickly be disabused. For the basic lesson that lies behind Paul's words is of the importance of living our lives in such a way as not to cause unnecessary offence, in living them so as to be able to present the best possible case for the Gospel, and in order to prevent other Christians being harmed by our over liberality, in avoiding all contact with the occult and with superstition. He is not out to please men so that he will be hailed as a wonderful fellow, but so that he might remove any unnecessary obstacle in their coming to Christ.
So it is right that we have concern for a nation's customs, and where it will help in the spreading of the Gospel, be willing to conform to those customs. But once we face something in those customs which is offensive to the Gospel, or which suggests participation in other gods or other supernatural elements, or which causes doubts among fellow-Christians, or hinders our evangelism, then we must abstain from them for the sake of both ourselves and others.
Approach to Worship (11.2-14.40).
We now move on to a section which deals with the Christian approach to worship in the light of the particular problems of the Corinthian church. Chapter 11 covers the question of the covering or uncovering of the head in praying and prophesying, and its significance, followed by problems arising at the Christian love feasts and the Lord's Table, including the divisions caused by those problems. Note that it is all about problems arising from un-Christian behaviour and attitudes. Chapters 12-14 then go on to deal with the question of the church as one body with Christ, and with that of spiritual gifts for the edifying of that one body, and warns again against un-Christian behaviour and attitudes by misuse of the gifts. And embedded within the whole is the great chapter on Christian love (chapter 13) which should underlie all worship. All worship is to be founded on love, and what we do in worship should have in mind how it will affect others. Worship is never to be selfish. It is to be participating together for the good of all.
The Status of Men and Women in Ministry When Prophesying and Praying Is To Be Expressed In The Covering or Uncovering of the Head (11.2-16).
This question is of great importance in the church, because it deals with the matter of authority, and especially authority in ministry. It is usually misrepresented as though it somehow demeaned women. In fact it exalts women. But in spite of all attempts to modernise it and all attempts to tone down its message, its message does remain inviolable, once correctly interpreted.
It certainly declares that there is in the present order of things a grading in authority from God to Christ, from Christ to man and from man to woman. Yet this is not in order to degrade the woman, but in order to raise her to her rightful place as man's helpmeet in the things of the Spirit as well as in the things of the flesh. Woman is seen as not to be excluded from the whole. Just as God being the head of Christ does not demean Christ, it means that He operates at a lower level as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation, neither is it demeaning to a woman that man is her head. (It may, of course be unpalatable because she lacks Christ’s humility).
Fallen men and women tend to look on this question of a covering wrongly. Fallen man tends to look on it as a sign that women are inferior and should be submissive, while they should rather see it as an indication of the important position which God has given to women in Christ. (They should also look on it as a reminder that each man should treat his wife as Christ treats the church (Ephesians 5.24-33) because of how important she is. As under his authority he should care for her and nurture her). Fallen women see it as an imposition. They see it as humiliating. They dare not tell God to move over, so they tell man to move over. They have lost the heart of a servant which is at the very centre of Christian behaviour. Rather than gladly pick up the towel which Christ offers them they insist that Christ should still carry it and use it. They do not want to be thought of as towel-bearers. But a woman should rather see the covering required here as a vizier’s crown, declaring her important status before God, next only to the man. It is the proclamation of her important status to angels and to the world.
Rather, however, than do this modern woman spends much of her time arguing about her own status over against man and so overlooks Christ’s command to be the servant of all (Mark 9.35; 10.34). In the Upper Room there was only One who was fitted to take the basin and wash the feet of the guests at the Last Supper for only He was qualified by not being concerned about His own status. The remainder were too big and important to serve. But Jesus said, ‘I am among you as He Who serves’. He alone was therefore fit to serve. The woman who cavils at covering her head is simply demonstrating her total unfitness for the service of Christ.
Women in the modern day may be intensely annoyed at the suggestion that they should cover their heads when praying or prophesying in church (and cover them properly, not just with an eye catching hat). But apart from what has been said above they should bear two things in mind. Firstly that the idea is God appointed, and that while it might be annoying, perhaps we should recognise that God knows that it will finally be for the good of all. And secondly, that they should approach the question as a test of their true love for God. Love does not push itself forward, and puff itself up (13.4-5). Rather it submits to what God knows to be best. It is just possible that He knows more than we do, and that is that while there are exceptions to be accommodated (like Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Huldah the prophetess, who would both keep themselves covered) the overall authority of man is for the best, as long as man uses it in love and submission to God.
Paul actually had a high view of the woman's position, contrary to that held by many in his day. He recognised that at creation God had created the woman to share with man in the exercising of man’s God-given authority on earth. He could declare us all one in Christ Jesus. And yet he recognised at the same time that womankind as a whole functions best when observing man's God-given headship.
His message here had also especial importance for women in those days because the whole of society would judge them in terms of it. One question that could always arise for women was, were they in danger of depicting themselves as loose or rebellious women, especially in lascivious Corinth, because of how they behaved when praying and prophesying? Would they thereby bring discredit on the name of Christ? He wanted the proper order of things to be maintained, and the world to see that it was so.
But that it goes further than that comes out in 1 Timothy 2.12. There the final authority, especially in authoriatative teaching, was to be with the man. This probably has to do with the fact that on the whole men are more steadily rational than women, while women are more intuitive. (Of course there are exceptions to be accommodated or be warned about). And also to do with the fact that the revelation of God when used authoritatively needs dealing with rationally rather than intuitively. Intuition goes beyond what is there and can therefore in such matters lead astray. It is indeed interesting to note what part women have played since then in the spreading the kind of heresy that goes beyond the rational.
However, it would be unreasonable not to recognise also that women on the missionfield have played a huge part in the spreading of the true Gospel, and the building up of the body of Christ, and the training of men to serve the churches. And yet to their credit for the most part, even while they were thrust into having authority, they recognised the importance of the principles outlined above. They believed God's word and lived in accordance with it. They acknowledged the headship of man because had God declared it.
It should perhaps be noted that there is no mention in the passage of being 'in the church'. That comes later. Thus this is not necessarily dealing primarily with the question of how a woman should dress in church. It is dealing with the question of how she should dress when ministering by praying and prophesying. For a woman to pray and prophesy (and thus lead worship), wherever it took place, without wearing a head covering, was to usurp man's authority as king and priest before God, and this was not to be allowed. On the other hand the covering was not to be seen as demeaning, for the same covering indicated the authority that she did have in these things as man's appointed helpmeet (verse 10).
(The question is not so much one of wearing something on the head, as of what it indicated to all. The point is that she should give an indication that she is man's helpmeet, not his lord, nor his slave. She should not express total independence and lack of submission to man's authority under God. The church has no place for unisex, or power-mad women's movements which seek to displace men, but it does have a place for woman's participation in the work of God, under Christ and under man. The world today will disagree. But then the world disagrees with Christ on many things. And in so far as the church does so it has ceased to be the church, for the church is united with Christ and cannot disagree with Him and remain the church).
The lack of reference to being in church does not necessarily deny that much praying and prophesying would take place within the church as a whole. But it recognises that often it would also take place in women's gatherings (Titus 2.3-4, compare Acts 16.13 where it was in the open air), or in the open air, or even in private worship in people's homes. The point we are making is that it is not a woman's presence in the church that is primarily in Paul's mind in this section, but that of her praying and prophesying, and that wherever it was engaged in.
In chapter 14 we will learn of the great emphasis that Paul lays on prophesying for the edification of God's people. Such ministry was especially important when there was no New Testament. It was a gift of the Spirit (12.28-29) through which the church could be ministered to (14.31), although it had to be accompanied by safeguards to ensure its soundness (12.3; 14.29). Here we learn that women prophesied as well as men, and thus it was necessary for the place of women in such ministry to be both safeguarded and controlled.
It may be that one problem for us as we consider the particular passage is that we are still not really aware of what the dress and other customs of the ancient world were. We have clues here and there, but in the end we have to interpret this passage without being exactly certain what the background of some of the illustrations is. Some commentaries give various examples, and come to differing conclusions, but none of the customs described can be said to be universally applicable. Our knowledge is limited. Thus we have to approach the matter cautiously. However, we need to recognise that possibly that is irrelevant and that Paul is expressing an eternal principle.
Another problem we have, of course, is that we tend to look at things from a modern viewpoint and we thus tend to make Paul say what we think he should have said.
11.2 'Now I praise you that you remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.'
Paul opens this section by giving them praise for remembering so much of what he has taught them and for holding fast the ideas that he had delivered to them. To that extent they held firmly to the truth, and to that extent he is satisfied, and he wants them to know it before he mentions something about which he is not so content. He wants to be conciliatory.
Paul was a wise man. He knew that to constantly belabour men and women without some praise could only lead to bitterness. It was necessary that they recognise that he saw the good in them as well as the bad. And so for a moment he relaxes and commends them. For not all were caught up in the things that he has condemned.
11.3 'But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.'
But he is dissatisfied about their attitude towards authority, and especially of that of the women towards the men who are over the church, and possibly at their actual behaviour when prophesying. They were failing to recognise God's order of things revealed at creation. He thus lays down regulations concerning women being 'covered'. As he will make clear this is not just a matter of religious custom. Their very failure is symptomatic of what is wrong in the Corinthian church, the lack of recognition of general authority.
He first establishes the doctrinal position. The Christ is the head of every man, the man is the head of the woman, and the head of Christ is God. The last phrase establishes the basis of what we are talking about. In creation there is a defined order. Over all is the triune God. 'The Christ' came from God, emptying Himself of His Godhood and of His equality within the Godhead (Philippians 2.5-7), and fulfilling the task of redemption allocated to Him as true Man. He made a voluntary submission, and gladly took a subsidiary role. Becoming Man it was as Man that He acknowledged God as His Head, both as 'over Him' and as the source from which He came, so that having accomplished His divine mission He might then return to God and submit all things to Him (15.24). Thus Christ voluntarily placed Himself in a position of submission. He Who was the Creator of the world, chose to place Himself in submission to the Godhead, so that the Godhead was the 'Head' of Christ in this regard. That is, God is the One Who is set over Christ in His manhood and mission, and Who is the source from which He came. And Christ deliberately humbled Himself to that end, acknowledging a head over Him in His role.
The mention of this relationship is important both in itself and because it defines the other relationships. Christ was in voluntary and joyous submission to God. He sought only to do what pleased Him. There was no thought of constraint or of being taken advantage of. God did not lord it over Christ. Christ did not resent His position in any way. He had voluntarily become man and a servant and He gladly walked the way of submission that He had chosen. It was submission to love, and in love, not to tyranny.
Then, secondly, Christ is the Head of every man. As appointed by God to His task He is in authority over all men as the King over the Kingly Rule of God, and is the source of their life. All therefore are in submission to Him, and owe all to Him. He is both their ruler and the source of their life, their Head, and as such is the One to whom they should respond in obedience. But He expressed that headship in washing their feet. His whole concern in every moment of His life was for the good of those who were in submission to Him. While He could simply have demanded all, He gave all.
Then, thirdly, we have man as the image of God over creation, and therefore over woman who was created for his benefit, assistance and blessing. Man is head of womankind and lord of creation. His wife should be in responsive submission to him as his 'right hand woman', as Christ was to God, set apart as his main helpmeet in his task, living in voluntary submission following the example of Christ. This is confirmed by the fact that at creation man was the source of her being and had authority over her. She came from his side and is his helpmeet and his first minister, to whom he looks for assistance in fulfilling his own responsibilities before God. The whole line downwards demonstrates that this was not in order to make him a tyrannical despot, for God is not the tyrannical despot of Christ, and Christ is not the tyrannical despot of man. So, in the same way, man is not to be the tyrannical despot of the woman. She contains his life. She produces life, producing both man and woman from her body. The relationship is to be one of love, consideration, co-operation and thoughtfulness. The man is to be concerned for the woman and seeking her highest good. Nevertheless respectful submission remains at the differing levels and was to be seen in the case of man and woman as established at creation.
The use of 'head' (kephale) to depict both lordship and life source was necessary in order to incorporate both ideas. No other word would have achieved the same. Compare Colossians 1.18.
So here we have depicted God’s plan of salvation in its fullness beginning with God Who produced His deputy, the God-man Christ, the great Mediator, Who produced His deputy man and gave man his deputy, woman. These are over all creation and the grades of descent are clear.
11.4-6 'Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered (literally 'having a hanging down from the head'), dishonours his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonours her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn. But if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.'
This order of things, and the importance and status of the man and the woman in the scheme of things is now emphasised by reference to head coverings. The head covering now described is in some way symbolic of headship and authority, and this is confirmed in verse 7 where the lack of covering of the man relates to the fact that he stands on earth in the place of God. He is made in God's image, with no superior on earth. He has full authority. And this is expressed when he prophesies and prays in his uncovered head. When acting in Christ’s Name the man removes his head covering in order to declare to mankind, and to angels, and even to Satan, that he is free and with full authority over all God’s creation. He is submissive to none but his Head, to Christ.
It is arguable whether 'dishonours his head' refers to his own head or to Christ as his Head. But the principle behind it is the same. Any covering to his head when praying and prophesying publicly brings dishonour, because it suggest that he is inferior to what he is. Primarily it dishonours Christ because he is acting as Christ's representative in what he is doing, and if he was covered he would be demeaning Christ's authority and diminishing it in the eyes of men, secondarily it dishonours his own head because it depicts him as less than he is. As man he may be humbled in the scheme of things, under the authority of others, both men and women. But when among God's people and acting in Christ’s Name he is still lord of creation.
It is possible that in Paul's day it was recognised that a servant or slave had often to have his head covered before his master, depicting his inferior position, although there is no definite evidence for this. This would certainly explain why when they were praying and prophesying, and thus depicting their total freedom within creation, all men were to have their heads uncovered. It might also be seen as demonstrating to the church that in the church all men were equal and free, so that, while they were in the church there was neither slave nor free (Galatians 3.28). It would thus be a sign to all that before God they were lords of creation and free. They had no authority over them but Him. If that were the case then to cover his head when praying and prophesying, that is when acting very much as God's representative and lord of creation, would be to dishonour both his head as that of a free man before God (which statement would seem to confirm that in some way a head covering for a man was seen as degrading) and his headship as allocated to him by God. Once he went outside he might have to cover himself, he might have to be a slave, but while praying and prophesying, whether in the church, or indeed anywhere, he should depict himself as a free man.
But even if the custom suggested did not exist the tenor of the verse together with verse 7 suggests that the conclusion remains the same. 'Covering' the head was in some way seen as a denial of man's lordship over creation. It was therefore not to be considered when praying or prophesying, in which activities he was acting on God's behalf towards man, and man's behalf towards God, as God's free instrument in his new sphere set apart from the world within the Kingly Rule of God.
The Christian woman on the other hand wore the covering as a sign of proclamation that the man was the head, and she was his helpmeet. She was stressing that she did not herself make a claim to headship. She was the helper. And, says Paul if she did not wear the head covering when praying and prophesying she may just as well be shaved, something which would be seen as bringing grave dishonour on a woman, denoting her unfaithfulness or unworthiness. For it would declare her rebellion against her position in creation as established by God, and would also denote her sexual casualness (for all chaste women covered themselves in public). Outside the church women were men’s property, and their sexual revelation of themselves was tightly controlled, in such a way that if they did not follow the regulations they were revealed as loose women. Their covering denoted inferiority. But inside the church women were men’s helpmeets and their covering therefore declared their honoured position, acting alongside Christian man to bring the world to Christ.
It may well be that all this was partly based on the fact that all chaste women kept themselves modestly covered when they went out in public, so that what Paul is arguing is that they should behave in the same way in the church into which at any time strangers might come. But we must not see this as taking away from the main point of the covering which was to emphasise the woman's role as helpmeet when praying and prophesying rather than as principal. And this was to apply whether prophesying outside the church or in.
Today the full impact of this may not come over to us. But those who gathered in the early church came from many backgrounds and situations. Many of them were slaves. But once they met in the church they were for that period of time all free. If they were males their heads were uncovered. They left their slavery outside. Each was raised to his status of lord of creation. Each was as God meant him to be, and as he would one day be in heaven. Each was Adam restored to his full dignity. The woman on the other hand was his helpmeet. Each was an Eve restored to her full dignity as helpmeet to God’s earthly representative. And her covering was the badge that declared her dignity. Not for her to be treated as second class or as a chattel. As they met in church the God of creation was there, His Christ was there as mediator between God and man, man was there with bard head as His appointed ruler of creation and mediator on behalf of the world, and woman was there covered as man’s appointed companion and personal assistant, and assistant in his mediation.
We note here that praying and prophesying, the two basic elements of the Christian’s responsibility, activity towards God and activity towards man, are seen as man's main function. In them he acts on behalf of God before creation, and in them he acts on behalf of creation towards God. He is both king and priest. Some consider that the praying and prophesying of the women may well have been in all-women assemblies or gatherings (because they are to keep silence in churches - 14.34), although others interpret it differently. We will consider this more on 14.34. But when praying and prophesying they act in an important, even though subordinate position to men. They too act towards God and towards men. Even in women's meetings they act as men's representatives towards women, and the head covering makes this clear. It is man who is God's prime representative. The same would apply if they prayed and prophesied in the general assembly.
There is nowhere a suggestion that this is limited to married women. Woman’s role in creation is not dependent on marriage. Of course, many a woman on reading these words will be bristling. Anger will have risen up. For she has not yet learned the secret of godliness, that we are all here to serve. When Jesus took the towel at the Last Supper in order to wash His disciples’ feet it was not the gesture of a proud man trying to make Himself look humble, it was the gesture of One Who delighted in being able to serve those whom He loved. He did not take a golden bowl while a crowd looked on and applauded. He demonstrated to His disciples what His future was going to be, a constant washing of men from sin, and of His disciples from the guilt of any failure. A constant stooping to help His own. That is what His superiority made Him, One Who could stoop. When a woman wears her covering in church she indicates that she wants to be like her Master, not exalting herself but taking the lower place, revealing herself as a joyous but humble servant, one who can stoop in His service.
There may also be in this a deliberate attempt to control the excesses of certain types of women prophetesses. It was so easy for freedom to become excess when people were aroused into an excited state, leading on to extravagant gestures in ecstasy, often without regard to chaste clothing, gestures that were undesirable. By wearing a covering, and acknowledging authority they would hopefully be prevented from doing the opposite with themselves and their clothing while in ecstasy. It would be a constant reminder of their need to be under the control both of the church eldership and of themselves. This would help to explain the extreme illustration that he gives. To remove the covering was to depict them as wayward. But again this must not take away from the essential idea of showing respectful submission. This did not just apply to women. It is not only women who have to ‘submit’. Men in fact in various ways also have to show respectful submission to each other, to other men as well as to God. ‘Submit yourself one to another in the fear of God’ (Ephesians 5.21), that was God’s cry to Christian man, and this meant each submitting to the other. The Christian life is a life of submission because the Christian follows a Master Who accomplished His purpose through submission.
11.7 'For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man.'
In the end Paul brings it all back to theology. The previous idea is amplified. The man ought to wear no head covering in his approach to God, and to man on God’s behalf, because of what he is, God's image, God's glory on earth, established as such at creation. He is God's prime priest and king. The thought may be that he shares to some extent in the glory of God through his being the Temple of God, and indwelt by His Spirit, and that he also shares it because of the status the God gave him when He first created man. Thus to cover the head would be to mar that image and hide that glory, it would be to veil it, (as Moses did - Exodus 34.29-35) while God does not want His glory veiled. But it is all in order to bring glory to God, not to bring glory to the man. Paradoxically once a man begins to glory in himself, he loses his glory, for God withdraws from him. How can he glory in himself when in the presence of his Lord, and when representing the Lord? On the other hand the woman is the glory of the man, and shares the glory of the man. Her position is important but secondary, and has come to her through him. So while she shares his glory, and thus shares his privileged position, she must not try to take his place, she must not, by herself being uncovered, take away from before the world the fact that he has been appointed as lord of creation with the right to act in Christ’s Name. Her glory is in a sense a borrowed one, she is his helpmeet, but nevertheless it is a glory given to her by God. But to reveal her hair, which is her glory (verse 15), would be to take glory to herself, when she should in church be revealing herself as helpmeet, so pointing to man in his position as lord of creation.
We must of course recognise that the terms are all used in a Christian sense. There is no idea here of people seeking glory for themselves. The situation is indeed the very opposite. Each is intent on bringing glory to the other. The man is bringing glory to God. The woman is bringing glory to the man in the eyes of all and thus to God. (Does someone ask, who is bringing glory to the woman? The answer is, she is most of all, by demonstrating that she is God’s true servant, and God and man are as she shares the glory given to the man).
'The image and glory of God.' This might be seen as being a synonym of 'image and -- likeness' of God (Genesis 1.26) although there the emphasis, as here, is on image. The 'image' represents what God is like. Something of God is revealed to the world by man as he prophesies. He should not therefore be shown as in submission and under another authority. He is acting as God's representative. And God's authority is supreme, even as revealed by His appointed representative. But 'the glory' often has another meaning.
'The glory.' In the Old Testament the 'glory' of a man or king or nation was revealed in possessions, and even in armies. They were his/their glory (Genesis 31.1; Isaiah 8.7; 10.3, 16 contrast Isaiah 17.3-4 where the glory was at its lowest). It was their glory because it demonstrated what they were, what they possessed and ruled over and controlled, and what they could achieve. So man sums up both what God is and, as lord over creation, what He represents. Men are thus supremely God's 'glory', the main aspect of God's possessions, God's army on earth, what counts most in God’s scheme of things. Man is the main instrument for the carrying out of His purposes. He is God's wealth. Men are God's battalions. This had especially become true in the coming of Jesus Christ, and in the establishment of God's new people led by the Apostles. Thus for such a man to be covered as he acts in the name of Christ would be to degrade God, and such a covering would indicate that the man too is degraded. In normal life he may be covered, but when acting in Christ’s Name he must never be covered.
Even the lowest slave in his master’s house church, acknowledging by his clothing his submission to his master, removes his head covering when he prays or prophesies. For then he acts, not in his master’s name, but In Christ’s Name as God’s free representative.
'But the woman is the glory of the man.' The woman on the other hand is man's helpmeet from the time of creation onwards. She is his, and as his equal helpmeet is his main protagonist, his main glory in his service of God, that which he treasures above all. She is more treasured than anything that he owns. For she is there as his fellow-servant to aid his service for God, specially created so as to serve with him. She too may pray and prophesy, but always as acting in man's name as his second-in-command. She is subject to man. As in 1 Timothy 2.12 the idea is that the overall control should be with the male and that she should play a subsidiary, even though important, role.
We may liken her to the vizier acting in the name of the king. Such a person did not feel demeaned. They proudly wore their insignia depicting their position and authority, acknowledging that they acted in the king’s name. And yet at the same time they acknowledged that they were in submission to him, for that was their role. So is it to be with the woman as she wears her covering. It is to be both an indication of her authority (verse 10) as acting as his representative, and of her submission to man as she acts alongside him, because of his appointed status. She acknowledges that he is the lord of creation, and she is his vizier.
Thus he and she together in Christ are over all creation. That includes unsaved man, as well as unsaved woman. But this is only because she is within God’s plan. And this involves acknowledgement of saved man as her in Christ. Let her deny this and she sinks from her glorious position to the position of the lowest of all.
11.8-9 'For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man, for nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.'
This idea is then confirmed from what happened at creation. Who came first? The man came first and was first established in authority and as the source of humanity. The woman was then both created for the man as his helpmeet, and was created from the man as his companion. This is only seen as degrading if the man misuses his position or the woman fails to respond correctly. Among God's people the true position was once more to prevail, the man in loving lordship, the woman in loving response.
11.10 'For this reason ought the woman to have authority on her head, because of the angels.'
And that is why the woman must when prophesying and being open to the Spirit and thus entering the spiritual realm, wear the covering that both denotes her authority to act in this way, and the fact that as she does so, she does so acting as man's helpmeet and is thus submissive to him in the exercise of her authority.
Other commentators would, however, rather see the covering as primarily the sign that she is under man's authority, seeing 'authority' as signifying 'sign of authority', but the usual use of the word in this form is to indicate the authority of the person being described, thus it here declares the woman’s authority.
'Having on authority' may thus be seen as signifying the wearing of the badge of her authority, with the recognition that she has that authority as man's appointed helpmeet, or as an indication that she is under authority, a sign of the fact that she is under the authority of man. Either way, and the one really assumes the other, this having authority on her head is 'because of the angels'. She is indicating to them her right to pray and prophesy because she is man’s helpmeet, and that as his helpmeet she shares that authority.
So this may signify that the covering is to be seen as indicating to the angels that she is under the authority of the man as his helpmeet as she prays and prophesies, or that she receives her authority from her relationship with man in order to be able to do so. Either way it is not an indication of a downgrading of the woman, but of a lifting up of the woman in the eyes of the angels to her exalted position prior to the fall, a restoring of her privileges in Christ. This is why she can pray and prophesy as man's helpmeet. She is no longer fallen Eve, but Eve restored in her glory.
It is possible that it is also to be seen as indicating to the angels that as she actively enters the spiritual realm she is not open to angels or evil spirits for possession, that she as it were enters the spiritual realm with authority as under man's authority as God's spokesman, because she shares man's unique position. Thus she is not to be interfered with. It will be her protection. This with special reference to the angels who once coveted fallen women for themselves and possessed them (Genesis 6.1-2). It may suggest that the head covering is a reminder to any similarly minded angels that this woman belongs to man, is in submission through him to Christ as the Head, and is thus not available to be possessed, and that she enters the spiritual realm, not seeking to be possessed, but because she shares with man his authority over creation, with a right to minister as his representative on God's behalf. (Many women in other religions did very much open themselves to possession).
So her entry into that realm is not to be seen as an indication to the angels and spirits that she is available for possession and opening herself for possession, but rather, as indicated by her covering, that she comes as man's helpmeet and under the authority of him whose Head is Christ.
Thus the principle is laid down that 'to have authority on her head' is seen as emphasising both to men and to angels that she comes to serve God in praying and prophesying as man's representative in his function as God's spokesman. It indicates that she recognises that she is not a 'free spirit' but under respectful submission to man as God's prime representative. It is a sign of her own authority, but as a subsidiary authority, an authority given to her as man's helpmeet. It is because she is a junior partner to the man in God's enterprise that she is in this privileged position. Her covering is thus to be a reminder to the angelic realm, who were consulted at the time of the creation of both man and woman (Genesis 1.26-27), of God's purpose in creation, which she is now seeking to fulfil, of bringing all in subjection to Him. It is a badge of honour.
Alternatively 'because of the angels' may have reference to the fact that we should ever be aware that the angels observe our conduct (Luke 15.7, 10), especially when engaging in spiritual activity, and that the covering is to ensure that they will recognise the woman's renewed right to pray and prophesy in Christ as man's helpmeet, while at the same time ensuring angelic approval of the woman's sign of submission to authority, with the thought continually in mind that in the presence of angels women should remain discreetly dressed and submissive to man, while sharing his authority over creation.
This all indicates Paul's vivid awareness of the spiritual realm. The reason that he does not continually speak of angels is not because of lack of awareness but because he recognises that they have limited direct activity with regard to man. They watch, but they may not interfere. They remain within their bounds, unlike the angels who fell. When they act, they act invisibly without man's awareness under God’s command (Hebrews 1.14). They serve God, not man. Nor are they to be called on by man. Yet nevertheless they are there at all times, watching over the purposes of God. And their presence is acknowledged by the woman's covering.
Another less likely possibility is that there may be a reference to the seraphim in Isaiah 6 who covered themselves with their wings before the presence of God, who would thus approve of women showing the same idea of submission in worship and obedience, but this is less likely as the seraphim were not strictly angels, and the idea in their case is that their eyes were fixed on God and yet could not bear the sight because of His glory. It was not directly related to their ministry.
Overall then the woman's attitude is probably to be seen either as gaining and maintaining the approval of 'the good angels' as they minister to the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1.14) by testifying to her obedience to God, and/or as warning off the 'evil angels' and reminding them that she is under Another's authority as man's helpmeet, or as indicating to the angelic realm her important, but secondary, position in creation in accordance with God's purposes in creation, or possibly all of these, especially so where praying and prophesying results in magnified contact with the spiritual realm with its consequent dangers.
11.11-12 'Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.'
Paul then immediately goes on to stress that mutual respect between man and woman must be maintained. What he has said does not mean that the man can misuse his position or alternately that woman can rebel from hers. When both are 'in the Lord' they will observe His decree as expressed at creation. In the Lord both man and woman need each other, and honour each other, and respect each other. They were meant for each other. And in the Lord both are equally necessary. Indeed the woman is 'of the man', that is he was her original source, the status source from which she came, and 'the man is by the woman', that is every man is born of a woman, she has been the natural source from which he came, and therefore the source in a secondary sense.. Thus they are interdependent. In the end both men and women are of God. Statuswise he is the source of both. From His creative work came both, and in His service both play an important part, as is witnessed by the fact that both pray and prophesy in due order.
11.13-15 'Judge you in yourselves. Is it seemly that a woman pray to God unveiled? Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonour to him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her. For her hair is given her for a covering.'
Paul then seeks to confirm his argument with reference to the hair of both men and women. Even the length of their hair confirms that the one should be covered and the other not. Let them judge for themselves from nature. Does not nature naturally give a woman long hair? (Some Africans might disagree, but it is true in general). It is for them a natural covering and indication of their positions as helpmeets. Indeed do not women glory in their hair? But men do not glory in long hair (there are always exceptions to every generalisation, such as the Spartans). It is seen as a dishonour for it makes them seem effeminate. Men express themselves by trimming, or even shaving, their hair, women by letting it grow long. We may assume that this was certainly so among the Corinthians, and their neighbours. So does nature indicate that man should be uncovered and woman covered.
This is neither an instruction on how long the hair should be grown, nor stating that the hair is the covering Paul has been speaking about. It is rather drawing out significance from a natural illustration, suggesting that it is naturally intended to illustrate the situation between men and women. It should neither be analysed too deeply nor denied on the basis of exceptions. But there is certainly the suggestion there that nature intends to differentiate between men and women. Unisex is not pleasing to God. It is God’s pleasure that men and women are clearly distinguished.
'If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.' Paul finishes the section by indicating that a woman's hair is her glory. We have already seen that man is God's glory (verse 7), and woman is man's glory (verse 7), now the woman's hair is her glory, for it indicates her special place in the scheme of things as woman. It is her treasure and her status symbol. She is the life-giver (verse 12), and co-partner with man as lord of creation, in his service of his Creator. She is there to give him pleasure (as he is there to give her pleasure - 7.45). But she should not be flaunting her glory in church. In church all concentration should be on giving glory, not receiving it.
11.16 'But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the churches of God.'
Paul now anticipates contention. Let those who disagree recognise that in the churches of God there is no such custom as to allow a woman to pray to God uncovered (verse 13, the only probable antecedent). So having appealed to the word of God, and to nature, he now appeals to the example of him and his fellow-workers and to the example of the wider community, 'the churches', who all observe this principle.
When we come to modern worship the principle remains. Women are to be the helpers, even important helpers, but not the ones in overall authority. And this should be symbolised in some way by wearing a covering, not one that draws attention to the woman and brings glory to her, but one that brings glory to God. For it is to be made clear to the angels as well as to men that both observe and enjoy their rightful positions before God.
(Note. In this sphere as in many others man continually reveals his rebellion against God. On the one hand women are kept under harsh subjection in certain parts of the world, and the veil is a sign of her subjection, (although somewhat hypocritically portrayed otherwise when trying to justify it). That is not the idea here. On the other the veil is as it were thrown off and woman reveals, with man's approval, her total disregard of decency and chasteness by the way she dresses and behaves, or alternately her total disregard for God's order by trying to usurp man's place. Paul describes the happy medium as laid down at creation, a woman with freedom to serve God while still maintaining a true relationship with man. A woman who is chaste, accepting her role given to her from the time of creation, fulfilling her role as his true helpmeet, complementary to man, and working with him both as his equal and yet in respectful submission because it was for that that she was made. This is something only truly possibly under the Kingly Rule of God where the man also remembers his own responsibility in the partnership, loving his wife and womankind as Christ loves His church, His people.
And this brings out another aspect of the matter. We live in a sex ridden society. Women dress scantily and do up their hair in order to attract men. Men encourage it because they like to lust after women. But in church it is not to be so. There the woman should be bringing glory to the man and to God. The man should be bringing glory to God. The woman who trips into church with her latest hairstyle on display, and in her ostentatious or suggestive clothes is dishonouring God. She is reversing the scale of things. She is attracting worship to herself. To be fair to women they usually have no idea of the feelings they arouse in man. They do not realise that they are making true worship difficult for men and arousing thoughts that they should not have while seeking to worship God. They think men feel the same way as they do. But Paul knew. And God knows. And so He told women to keep themselves covered up in church).
Perhaps it may help to put the whole position in diagrammatic form:
The Forces of Good.
---God -----------------------Christ-------------------Redeemed Man ------------Redeemed Woman
--The head of Christ -----The head of man -----the head of woman ------- glory on her head
Universal Salvation(US)--- Author of US. -------mediator of US.------------assistant mediator of US.
The Forces of Evil.
--Satan -------------------Lost Mankind -----------Lost Womankind
--usurper of creation -- Satan’s helpmeet ------ Man’s chattel in rebellion.
Man is the glory and the image of God, the woman is the glory of man, the woman’s glory is her hair. Redeemed man’s status revealed in praying and prophesying uncovered and nurturing and caring for redeemed woman. Redeemed woman’s status revealed in praying and prophesying covered, and in working in harmony with man.
Criticisms and Instructions With Regard to The Lord's Supper in Church Worship (11.17-33).
But Paul's dissatisfaction goes beyond just the covering of the hair and lack of restraint while praying and prophesying. He is also concerned for their general behaviour and lack of restraint when the churches gather together.
11.17 'But in giving you this charge, I do not praise you, that you come together not for the better but for the worse.'
Having deliberately praised them in verse 2 he now points out that he cannot praise them with regard to their attitude towards each other in Christian gatherings. For they come together, not for the better, but for the worse. They lose rather than gain by their presence at worship because of their behaviour and attitudes. Instead of gathering as one in true Christian love, with concern for each others edification, they are gathering for dissension and to display individuality and selfishness, both in the way they behave towards each other (11.18-34) and in the ways in which they worship (14.1-40). It is a sad day when a church is informed that its meetings are not for the better but for the worse, especially when it is by such a man as Paul.
11.18 'For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear (present - 'am hearing continually') that divisions exist (present infinitive - therefore 'are constantly coming up') among you, and I partly believe it.'
The first thing that disturbs him is that there are divisions among them which keep rearing their heads, and these divisions do not appear to be the doctrinal ones of the earlier chapters but divisions resulting from social status that take place when they 'come together' as the church of Christ. (The 'first of all' is not specifically followed by a 'secondly', but the assumption is that what follows chapter 11 may be seen as the 'secondly'. Thus secondly might be seen as the divisions caused by the use of spiritual gifts).
'I hear --- and I partly believe it.' He has been informed of the situation by witnesses, and yet it is so incomprehensible that he is loth to believe that it can be true. Yet the strength of the witness is such that he finds himself having to believe it, although unwillingly. He hopes that he will be proved wrong. Certainly he hopes that it will not be as bad as has been suggested.
'When you come together in the church.' The early Christians did not meet in a church building, but in any convenient place, especially in larger cities in the large houses and courtyards of wealthier members. 'In the church' therefore means 'in the gathering of believers' wherever they met. 'When you come together' is also referred to in verses 18 and 20. The stress acts as background to the fact that in 'coming together' they actually accentuate their divisions. They come together to reveal their total disunity and lack of concern for each other.
11.19 'For there must be ('it is necessary for there to be') also factions among you, that those who are approved ('have stood the test') may be made manifest among you.'
He now gives a further reason why he 'partly believes it', and that is the necessity of it. This necessity arises either because he knows them well and views the Corinthians as being such that it is inevitable, or possibly because he knew that Jesus Himself had forecast that there would be factions and divisions, even within households, because of His name (Matthew 10.34-37; 24.9-13). And the divine result of these would be that those who were truly His would by them be revealed.
So while on the one hand he finds it difficult to believe that the church of Jesus Christ could behave in this way ('I partly believe it'), on the other he is sadly aware that this is not only possible but is forecast as something that is eventually coming. Thus he senses, knowing their propensities, that it may well be that the Corinthians are already caught up in it. There is a guarded warning here for them. Let them beware lest these factions demonstrate that they are not really of the truth.
11.20-21 'When therefore you assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord's supper, for in your eating each one takes before the other his own supper. And one is hungry, and another is drunken.'
In those days Christians regularly 'assembled together' to pray, hear the reading of the Scriptures, and the Testimony of Jesus (the traditions about the life of Jesus) and to hear letters received from such as Paul. They probably also sang psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5.19; Mark14.26). And, as we gather later, during these gatherings prophesying would also take place for the building up of the whole church.
And just as it was common in many religions of the day for worshippers to gather for a sacred meal, so it would seem that Christians had embraced the idea which had become a kind of love feast which was intended to express their love and unity (see Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7, 11 and compare Jude 1.12). This would apparently often take place while they were assembled. And during this feast, or after it, (we have no details), they would partake of the Lord's Supper.
'The Lord's Supper' was the name given to the partaking of the bread and wine in accordance with the example given by Jesus at the final Passover. It was 'the Lord's' because it was seen as belonging to the Lord, so that He presided over it, and because it was in His honour. Those who gathered at it came to meet with Him and partake spiritually of Him.
And the cause of his distress was their behaviour when they assembled together to eat such a meal, a meal during which they would partake of the Lord's Supper. For this latter, which was intended to be an expression of their total unity, had seemingly become impossible in any meaningful sense because instead of eating the earlier meal as a common meal together, different sections apparently took their own food, and ate apart in separate groups, the wealthier having sumptuous meals while others had little, and did it with scant regard that many had not yet arrived. What was worse some actually went hungry because they could bring no food and drink, or arrived too late, while others had so much that they even went to excess and became drunk, accentuating the awfulness of the situation (and many more would be 'merry').
There was thus a total lack of love and a sense of oneness. The whole thing, rather than being an expression of total unity and sharing in common, had become something emphasising total disunity and even lack of what was fit in God's presence. It had become a travesty of what the love feast, and especially the Lord's Supper, were supposed to be about. In observing these many of God's own people were left distressed, feeling left out and unwanted, while others partook while drunk or merry and in no state to worship. Godliness was forfeit. To pass around the bread and wine in such conditions was an insult to Christ.
‘It is not possible to eat the Lord's supper.’ In other words what they are participating in is not the Lord’s Supper, whatever name they like to give it, because it is denying all that the Lord’s Supper stands for. By it they are revealing disunity, lack of love and consideration, contempt for others, and even a contempt for God by appearing before Him drunk. It was a complete travesty.
We do not know the exact details that lay behind this complaint, and possibly it is as well, for it can then be applied to many situations. It is possible that the wealthy householders in whose house and courtyard the church assembled, invited those of equal status to themselves to partake of a separate meal in their dining hall (which would be too small to hold everyone), leaving others to see to themselves in the courtyard when they arrived, either leaving them to bring their own food or providing inferior food, but insufficient to satisfy all. In that case it is even possible that some of the lesser food itself was given out with discrimination, the better quality being designated by the householder for the slightly lower level of free men and important bondslaves, and a much lower quality, and even almost nothing, being made available for the lowest classes. And there would also be those who, through unavoidable circumstances, could only arrive late, for whom there would be nothing left. Such discrimination at secular feasts was certainly known and practised, but at a supposed feast of unity Paul saw it as disgraceful. Where was their oneness in Christ?
Or it may be that different groups each brought their own food and were unwilling to share it, preferring to stay with their own kind and in their own groups. Or it may include the fact that that some did not want to share what others brought because they despised it. But whatever the reasons it was destroying the oneness of their coming together. They were being split into factions, with different groups eating separately, and others going hungry, with no sense of oneness, and that at the table of the Lord.
It was clear that at this supposed assembly of themselves unity and oneness was not a consideration. It just did not exist. How then could they celebrate the Lord's Supper in such circumstances? For that was to be the one place where all were intended to be revealed as equal, where rich and poor were to be seen to be on the same level, where all races were to be seen as united as one, where they should have all things in common, and where they were intended to express their full equality in Christ, declaring that they were one bread and one body. Thus their gatherings had become a total travesty of what the Lord's table was supposed to be about.
All this went along with their party spirit (1.12), their arrogant view of themselves (4.8, 10, 19), their attitude to gross sin (5.2), their greed and covetousness (6.1-8), their selfishness and disregard for others in their use of their knowledge (8.11), and as we shall see later in the use of their spiritual gifts (14). They may have been 'sanctified in Christ' (1.2), but they were giving little indication of it.
11.22 'What, do you not have houses to eat and to drink in? Or do you despise the church of God, and put those to shame who have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.'
Could they not see that this open show of separation and disunity was the very opposite of what Jesus had declared when He said, 'by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another' (John 13.35). Would it not then be better that they ate at home, and held their feasts and their big meals with their friends there? Let them have their social gatherings at home, and be fully satisfied there, so that when they came to the church they could partake in a simple common meal together, in which all could join on equal terms, and feel equally at home, and during which they could celebrate the Lord's Supper in such a way that the unity of the church was revealed. Indeed, he asks, do they so despise the church, the very people of God, many of whom are of the poorer classes (1.28), that they put those who have little to shame by their behaviour? He is at a loss what to say to them. There is no way that he can praise them. He considers that their whole attitude is frankly appalling.
We note that Paul does not suggest that the remedy is that they all pool their food. The whole set up and the loose behaviour that it produces is not conducive to worship. And he does recognise also that outside the church there are social distinctions and customs which people feel bound by, and that thereby different sections of society do eat different types of foods. Indeed rich food provided to those used to meagre diets might not be helpful in both the short and the long term, causing first upset stomachs and then later disgruntlement and dissatisfaction and covetousness. And this would not be good for anyone. The Kingly Rule of God is not about what food we eat (Romans 14.17). Such distinctions may exist, and may even be necessary in their place. But the point is that they must not be introduced into the gathering of Christians to the detriment of some. At the Lord's Supper all must be equal and be able to partake equally.
In order to bring this home he then stresses what the Lord's Supper is all about.
11.23-24 'For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." '
This should be read in the light of 10.16-17 where the uniting influence of the bread is stressed and where it is seen as representing the oneness of the body of Christ. Note there the stress on the fact that all concentration is to be on the breaking and giving of the bread as a united people, a concentration which must have been lacking in the way the Corinthians were behaving, sitting apart from each other with no sense of oneness, and in some cases quite merry. Their minds should have been set on the Lord, and the one bread being broken, and the one body of Christ that it represented, and the giving of thanks, and the solemn remembrance of what it all represented in terms of the broken body of the Lord Jesus, dying to make them one in Him. But they were not.
It is often suggested that the church is the body of Christ on earth, but that is not the real idea or significance of the church as 'the body'. What it represents is that we are united with Him as it were in His body in Heaven. We are raised and seated with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6). We are one with Him in His death and resurrection. There is a spiritual union. Thus it is from Heaven, and as one with Him, that we operate as His body. We must not separate Christ from His body (even as its head) we must recognise the essential unity of Christ with His body and His body with Him, so that both operate as one.
'For I received of the Lord.' Some would see this as an assertion that Paul had had a direct revelation from the Lord about this. Others would see it as meaning that he received it from the Lord through the Apostles. The latter point out that tradition was often described as 'received', marking its genuine authority, having passed through a number of hands. It would then be 'delivered'. (These words were regularly used by the Jews of receiving and passing on authoritative tradition). A third alternative is that he is in fact citing the form of words used at a typical service, 'I received of the Lord' being the words of the original citer of the words. Different ones see different emphases but the important fact is that he is stressing that however it came this was something directly from the Lord, which was therefore most holy, and therefore a firm requirement of His which could not be argued about. It was something that as Christians they were committed to.
'That which also I delivered to you.' He had solemnly delivered it to them exactly as he had received it. The responsibility for it had therefore passed on to them. It had come to them authoritatively from an authoritative source, and he exhorts them to reconsider it.
'That the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread.' He wants them to recognise the supreme importance of this event. It was the very night in which their Lord Jesus Himself was betrayed that He did it, stressing its significance. How crucial it therefore was. There may be a hint here that they should consider whether they too were now betraying Him by their behaviour.
It is an open question whether the betrayal in mind here is that by Judas, the disciple who proved to be false, and therefore acts as an especial warning to erring disciples, or that by the Jewish leaders who betrayed Him to Rome, brother betraying brother. Either way it was applicable to this situation.
'Took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." ' They should note how, in that solemn time, He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, offering it as something by which He, and what He was about to do at the cross, would be remembered. This was done as a reminder that all who ate of that bread were those who had been made one in Christ and had received all the benefits of what He had done for them ('which is for you'). And as broken bread it was a reminder of His death for them, and what He had suffered for them. But the brokenness also indicated that each one might receive individually the benefit of His death.
'This is my body.' As always when interpreting a phrase we should see it in its context. The context of these words was originally the Passover where bread was taken and blessed with the words, 'this is the bread of affliction which your fathers ate when they came out of Egypt'. In the latter case each generation of Israelites 'entered in' to the deliverance in spirit. They did not actually believe that the bread was transformed into the same bread, but that it acted as a memorial which meant that through it they could identify themselves spiritually with the deliverance which reached down to all true Israelites through time. As they partook they recognised that they too were the redeemed of God and could express their gratitude by being faithful to the covenant, recognising that they were united within that covenant, and looking forward to future deliverance that the prophets had promised.
In the same way Jesus was not saying that the bread actually was His body. He was still in His body. No religious manipulation or miracle could make something which was not His body into His body when He was in fact still in His body. But through the bread He was representing what was about to happen to His body, it would be broken, and through the bread and their partaking of it He was stressing that by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6.35) they could partake of Him as the Bread of life. While they were partaking of the memorial they too could again enter into His experience on the cross. Having died with Him and risen with Him (Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 2.4-6), they could recognise their need to die daily with Him and rise in newness of life (Romans 6.11; compare Galatians 2.20), being one people together, united in Him and in His covenant.
But how could their thoughts be solemnly attuned to these great words, and their huge significance, and be concentrated on their participation in Him and His cross and resurrection in unity with all who were His, when at the very time of eating they were revealing both their lack of concern for each other, and their lack of oneness by being in separate groups, and by many of them also being in a merry state so that they could not approach the matter seriously and appropriately? This was especially so as the Supper was intended to be emphasising the unity of the body in Him. It was impossible.
'Do this in remembrance of me.' This was to be more than just seeing it as a mere memorial. The remembrance was in order to make them active participators in what had happened. As they partook they should themselves feel that they were participating with Him in His cross and resurrection. They should sense themselves as once again dying with Him and rising with Him. They should once more enjoy all the blessings that came to them through that experience by participating in Him by faith (John 6.35; Romans 6.11; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.16-19) and continually committing themselves to a life of sacrificial obedience (Romans 12.1-2).
With regard to the differing wording from Matthew, Mark and Luke we should note that different churches may well have used different forms of words, with the central core remaining the same (as it does in each version - see note below), which would help to explain the slight differences between them all, although this latter may equally result from the emphasis each writer is seeking to present as he translates from the Aramaic. Paul is certainly using the words to emphasise what he is saying here. No doubt in fact a number of factors played a part in the differences (see note below).
11.25 'In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
Paul here stresses that the cup also is a similar memorial. As they partake of the wine they are entering into the experience of His cross (as it were 'drinking His blood' - John 6.53). and recognising that through it they have been sealed as participators in the new covenant which itself was sealed by that blood shedding. They had thus, through His death, became one people in Christ within the covenant of His blood.
And as they drank of that special cup of wine set aside it was to be a reminder of that new covenant (treaty, contract, between an overlord and his subjects or a superior and his inferiors) into which they had entered. And what is that new covenant? It is the new covenant with God whereby through Christ's sacrifice of Himself they become His new people, and come within the orbit of His forgiveness, and of His acceptance, and of His 'setting of them apart' (sanctifying them) totally to Him, just as the old people of Israel had been set part as His holy people at Sinai. From the moment of entering that covenant they were to be totally His, acceptable in His presence and totally one with each other. How then could they then celebrate it when they were so conspicuously not showing love towards one another?
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Matthew and Mark have 'this is my blood of the covenant.' The latter exactly parallels 'this is my body' and also connects with Exodus 24.8, where God's covenant with His people at Sinai (Exodus 20) is sealed with 'the blood of the covenant'. In Exodus, however, the blood is the blood of animals, but here Jesus stresses that it represents His own blood. Thus He is referring to a covenant, a new one, sealed with His own blood, which is what Luke and Paul make clear in their paraphrase.
'Do this -- in remembrance of me.' And central to that new covenant was Jesus Himself. Above all they were to remember Him. It was In Him that they became participators in the new covenant. It was through Him that they obtained their acceptability with God. All thoughts were thus to be concentrated on Him, a remembering that meant accepting their part with Him in His death and resurrection.
Paul alone applies these words about remembrance to the cup, but there is no reason why we should not see the Lord as having said them as an after-comment on what we read in Matthew, Mark and Luke. They were indeed necessary for He would want to emphasise the epoch making change that He was introducing.
We often overlook, in our familiarity with this ordinance, what an earth-shattering claim Jesus was making. He was informing all who would hear that He had displaced the Passover, that great feast which had been celebrated for over a thousand years. He was saying that men should no longer look back to the great deliverance wrought in Egypt, because a greater deliverance was now here in Him. He was declaring that that old deliverance was to be put aside. Rather they should from now on look to the even greater deliverance wrought through His cross, where, as the true Passover lamb, He was sacrificed for us (5.7), leading us out of the world and into the Kingly Rule of God. The old covenant was replaced by a new one sealed in His blood. The old ways were gone, the new had come. Thus its importance was something that He would stress while He was introducing it and would then emphasise again. By the time the Gospels were written the emphasis would be unnecessary, for the feast was already established permanently, and the writers did not feel it necessary to mention ‘do this in remembrance of Me’, but it very much suits Paul's purpose to mention it.
'As often as you drink.' We do not know whether this signifies whenever they drank wine (which in the circumstances of the poorer ones might not be so often, although cheap wine was certainly available), or whenever they drank wine set aside by the elders of the assembly for the purpose in a special celebration. The latter seems more probable as Paul will now stress that the Supper should be a special event. How often the Supper was in fact celebrated in the early days we do not know.
11.26 'For as often as you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he come.'
And in their participation of Him in this way they should also recognise that they were proclaiming His death, in which they were participating, something they would continue to do until His coming again. This feast would go on and on being celebrated and would never cease until His return at His second coming. Through it they would continue to proclaim the Lord's death, and all that it signified, until that coming again. Thus the Lord's Supper was to be both a looking back to His death and resurrection (a proclaiming of His death and a recognition that we have been crucified and raised with Him - Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 2.6), a present participation in His death (reckoning ourselves daily as having died with Him and having risen again - Romans 6.11), and a looking forward to the final fruits of His death and resurrection when He would come in glory to be revealed as Lord of all (chapter 15). And it was an expression of His total oneness together with His people.
'You proclaim the Lord's death till he come.' Some see this as signifying that the proclaiming is not in the act of the meal, but a proclaiming that takes place while the meal is going on. But both are surely part of each other. The meal certainly proclaims His death, and no doubt verbal proclamation also took place. But it does emphasise that central to both is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him the crucified One (1.17-18; 2.2). It may be that some of the Corinthians were seeing other symbols from the meal than that of Jesus Christ in His death for them, possibly in terms of a magical reception of divine power and enlightenment. So Paul again emphasises the centrality of 'the word of the cross' (1.18).
11.27 'Wherefore whoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.'
This being so what a great sin it is that men participate in the Lord's Supper in anything but the most genuine way, and without the most serious of thoughts. Especially that they participate in a spirit of disunity. By doing so they are trifling with the cross, are guilty of His death because they treat it lightly, and are as it were crucifying Him afresh to no purpose (compare Hebrews 10.29; 6.6). And this is precisely what the Corinthians were in danger of doing, for they were openly negating one aspect of what He had come to do, the uniting in one in full equality of all who are His. And many of them were also approaching Him in a casual spirit.
'In an unworthy manner.' In context this means casually, both in casualness of spirit (being merry) and in sinful disharmony and with sinful discrimination (being in disunity), without regard for what the Lord's Supper represents. This does not refer to our not sufficiently appreciating what we are participating in, for none of us ever do that, nor does it refer to our not being in a state of total worthiness, for we never are although we should seek to be. Our total worthiness is rather in Christ. So it rather means not approaching participation in a totally casual way, which includes in this case overt disunity and lack of brotherly love, with the result that participation has become a meaningless exercise, trivialised and lost in other excesses.
11.28 'But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.'
So the warning comes that each one should test and prove himself, presumably by self-examination, by a coming to the blood of Christ for cleansing (1 John 1.7), and then by a deliberate act of unity in coming together as one with the whole church, before he partakes of the Lord's Supper. He is to examine his heart and ensure that there is nothing in his life which is at present displeasing to God. Then, once his heart is right, his conscience is clear, and he is at one with his brothers, he may eat of the bread and drink of the cup, in solemn reaffirmation of his faith and position in Christ.
11.29-30 'For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he discern not the body. For this reason many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.'
For all who come eating and drinking of the Lord's Supper, who do not discern in it His body, and His dying for them, and through it His uniting of them all in His body as one, drink judgment on themselves. Indeed that is why there is sickness among them, and quite a few have died ('sleep' is the Christian synonym for death). This would suggest something unusual which had happened, above the norm, which Paul saw as the chastening of God, for it was not seemingly a judgment that affected their eternal future. It had openly happened, and all were aware of it. It was not theoretical. And it was to be seen as a chastening of the whole church.
'If he discern not the body.' In chapter 10 stress was laid on the fact that the bread was the representation of the body, and that that included both the body of the Lord Jesus and the body composed of His people as united with Himself. The bread represented His physical body, but it also represented His people made one with Him. Both have to be discerned as one for they are inseparable (Ephesians 2.15-16). Thus as we come to the Lord's Supper we must discern the Lord's body, that is, we must recognise that it proclaims His death for us and that we come as participators in His death and resurrection, and we must equally discern that we are all therefore one body in Christ sharing with Him in His death and resurrection.
11.31-32 'But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged (krino). But when we are judged (krino), we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned (katakrino) with the world.'
These things (the sickliness and the deaths) arise, he points out, because they are not discerning about their own state, they do not recognise themselves as not behaving like the true body of Christ (they do not discern the body). They arise from God's chastening of them as a result of His judgment on them, which, had they been spiritually discerning they would have avoided. Yet nevertheless they can console themselves in this, that His chastening is in order to prevent the necessity of His final judgment (katakrino) on them, the final judgment that is coming on the whole world. Let them take heed to His chastening, therefore, and repent.
So three ideas are prominent. The first is the need for us to discern 'ourselves' (doubly stressed), that is by self-examination and coming to the light of the Lord to examine ourselves and seek His forgiveness and renewal (compare 1 John 1.7-10). The second is that should we fail to discern ourselves God will do it for us and enter into judgment with us and chasten us. And the third is that, while He deals with us as His own by chastening, even severe chastening, the world outside awaits final severer judgment.
11.33 'Wherefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait one for another. If any man is hungry, let him eat at home, that your coming together be not to judgment. And the rest will I set in order whenever I come.'
So his ultimate conclusion is that they should not hold sumptuous feasts when they gather to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Rather, if they are hungry (desirous of large meals), they should have such at home, so that they will not by their behaviour reveal their greed and lack of oneness in the assembly. Then when they do come together prior to the Supper, they should eat only what all can eat so that they can eat together in unity. And let them wait until all are assembled and thus celebrate their love feast and the Lord's Supper rightly and with decorum. Let them demonstrate that they are one in Spirit and have all things in common. This would seem to confirm the idea that one of the problems was that some would have their sumptuous meals before all had arrived, leaving those who came late, because of their duties and the difficulty they had in getting away (who would probably mainly be the neediest), with little or nothing to eat, and simply left to survey the scraps of the large meals eaten by their 'brothers', and possibly even left to partake in a secondary Lord's Supper, the others having already participated.
'And the rest will I set in order whenever I come.' We do not know what this 'rest' consisted of but he clearly felt that it was not so important that he needed to deal with it in his letter.
Note on the Different Versions of the Passover Meal.
We shall first consider the breaking of the bread passages, putting in capitals the words which are exactly the same.
Matthew 26.26 'And as they were eating, Jesus TOOK BREAD, and blessed, and BROKE IT, and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; THIS IS MY BODY.'
Mark 14.22 'And as they were eating, he TOOK BREAD, and when he had blessed, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, and said, Take you, THIS IS MY BODY.'
Luke 22.19 'And he TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and gave to them, saying, THIS IS MY BODY which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.'
11.23-24 'For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed TOOK BREAD, and when he had given thanks, he BROKE IT, and said, "THIS IS MY BODY, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." '
Common to all is that HE TOOK BREAD, BROKE IT AND SAID, 'THIS IS MY BODY', stressing the essential unity of the passages. Matthew adds to Jesus' words, 'Take you, eat', Mark adds 'Take you'. Luke and Paul omit this but it is clearly implied. Luke adds, 'Which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me,' and Paul adds, 'which is for you, Do this in remembrance of me'. Paul's 'which is for you' parallels Matthew's 'take, eat' and especially Mark's 'take you'. Luke's 'given for you' simply amplifies the idea. Thus the basic idea is the same in all, with small differences of presentation in order to bring out particular points. The additional words, 'Do this in remembrance of me' are really required to explain the perpetuation of the feast in the early church. Thus even if we had not been told about it we would have had to assume it. Indeed, while 'This is my body' would certainly be impressive standing alone, it requires extra words for it to make sense to the hearers. It is possibly the writers and ministers, not the original speaker, who wish it to stand in its starkness, knowing that the readers/recipients would know its deeper significance. What His exact words in Aramaic were can only be postulated. The Greek in each case gives the true meaning.
Slightly more complicated are the words about the cup.
Matthew 26.27-28 'And he took a CUP, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink you all of it, for THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many to remission of sins.'
Mark 14.23-24 'And he took a CUP, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them, and they all drank of it, and he said to them, THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many.'
Luke 22.20 And the CUP in like manner after supper, saying, THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD, even that which is poured out for you.'
11.25 'In the same way also the CUP, after supper, saying, "THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
In each Jesus takes a cup and says, 'This is the covenant in my blood', or the more stark equivalent in Hebrew form, 'This is my blood of the covenant'. The former is interpretive of the latter. Luke and Paul add that it is a 'new' covenant, for they would want their Gentile readers to know that it was not the old Jewish covenant renewed. But all were aware that it was a new covenant, partly in accordance with God's promise in Jeremiah 31.31, and partly because it was 'in His blood' and looked to the cross, and Jesus' very words and actions demanded it even if He did not say it. Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that He said, 'which is poured out for ---'. Mark simply adds, 'for many', Luke adds. 'for you' and Matthew adds 'for many to remission of sins'. Paul omits this but adds, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me', which is actually required to be said by Jesus (or something like it) to establish the permanence of it as a symbol. As Mark's 'for many' probably has Isaiah 53,11, 12 in mind it has the same significance as Matthew's longer phrase 'for many to remission of sins'. 'Luke's 'you' simply personalises it, recognising that the 'you' is by then being spoken to the whole church who are the 'many' for whom Christ died. Thus the essential meaning is again the same. As with the bread the importance of doing it in remembrance must at some time have been said by Jesus for the Apostles to take up the feast and perpetuate it as they did. The slight overall differences emphasise the point each is seeking to bring out as they translate or paraphrase from the Aramaic, without altering the basic sense.
End of note.
Spiritual Gifts For The Well-being of Christ and His Body (12.1-14.33).
Paul now begins his reply to their question about spiritual gifts ('concerning spiritual things') and immediately gives an initial warning that such gifts can easily be perverted by the subtlety of evil spiritual forces. It is in the nature of spiritual gifts that they will be imitated and distorted by such evil forces with ill intent, for they are ever out to deceive, and will seek to mimic spiritual gifts (12.1-3). Today it may be in a more refined way, but it is still ever a possibility. That is why 'prophets' must subject themselves to the judgment of others so gifted (14.29).
This is then followed by a brief description of the gifts (12.4-11) and the stress that each is necessary for the well-being of the body of Christ. The seemingly least important members of the church with the least of the gifts is as essential as the most important (12.12-26). And the stress is on their benefit to the whole body. We should note here that there is no contrast between body and head. Here he is speaking of Christ's own body into which His people have been incorporated through inundation by the Holy Spirit into His body. The people are both head and body, made one with Christ in His body as in 10.16-17. The body is Christ and His people (12.12-13).
When Paul mentions Christ's Headship in Corinthians it is describing His authoritative position and has no direct connection with the idea of His body (11.3). He finishes the chapter here by outlining different ministries and gifts, and stresses that each should be desirous of playing a full part, consonant with their gifts, in the church, as members with Christ of the whole body of Christ (12.27-31).
So all have their part to play through the Spirit in nourishing Christ's body. He then stresses the way in which these gifts should be used. They are to be used in love and concern for every member of Christ's body, lovingly, gently, humbly, unselfishly, and thoughtfully (13.1-10), for no gift or act of service has any value unless used in love. Indeed our knowledge is restricted and dimly perceived, something we should recognise in all humility, but love is possible in fullest measure (13.11-13 compare 8.1-3). There is no limit to Christian love.
This is then further followed by advice and warnings with respect to the utilisation of spiritual gifts during church gatherings (14.1-33), stressing the importance of gifts that can benefit all, and warning against enthusiastic overuse. They must not be allowed to crowd out the essentials of Christian worship, the word, exposition, prayer and worship in song.
A Warning That Spiritual Gifts Can Be Imitated By Evil Forces (12.1-3)
12.1-3 'Now concerning spiritual things (‘what is spiritual’), brothers, I would not have you ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles you were led away to those dumb idols, however you might be led. Wherefore I make known to you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is anathema". And no man can say, "Jesus is Lord", but in the Holy Spirit.'
'Now concerning spiritual things (or 'affairs' or 'gifts' or 'persons'), brothers, I would not have you ignorant.' This is a response to a further query from the Corinthians to Paul about 'what is spiritual'. ('Spiritual' has no noun, it therefore has to be read in, thus the variety). Some of the Corinthians were clearly proud of what they saw as their spiritual knowledge and the manifestation of their spirituality through charismata (‘gifts of grace’, compare 1.7). They saw themselves as especially 'in the know' and especially spiritual, and nowhere more than in their use of 'unknown tongues', which they seem to have thought of as the language of angels. And it would seem that some constantly spoke in tongues loudly during church worship, with the result that it had become of concern to the elders. So Paul has to set the gifts in their rightful place, and to stress above all the need for unity and a right approach to their use.
The word 'spiritual' (pneumatikon) can be either masculine or neuter. It is used earlier in the letter to describe spiritual men (2.15; 3.1) and also spiritual things (2.13). See also 14.1 where gifts of grace are in mind as is evident from the fact that prophecy is specifically in mind, followed by the mention of tongues. Here the context seems to favour seeing it as meaning 'what is spiritual (or 'of the Spirit')', although the term might have become a technical one for the gifts.
Thus he begins with a stern warning of the danger that what are seen as spiritual gifts, and their expression, can be hijacked by spiritual forces of evil, even leading to the proclamation of false teaching. He reminds them that before they became Christians they were led by such evil forces in their idolatrous, occult world, where they had probably also seen, and even themselves partaken in, manifestations of tongues and prophecy connected with idols. And he reminds them that it is still possible for such false leading to take place. When getting involved in the spiritual world man needs to be especially careful for there are deceptive forces at work. The only way of avoiding being deceived is submission to the Lordship of Jesus in all we do.
'Those dumb idols.' Unlike God these idols do not speak, they have no wisdom or knowledge to give. They provide no revelation. They are not gods. They are but pieces of wood, or metal. On the other hand their followers made up for it by ecstatic utterances, and in speaking in strange tongues and in spirit possession, especially in the mystery religions, all evidence of the activities of evil spirits (10.20). And it was often demonstrably ‘out of control’ of the speaker. That these are not to be seen as parallel to the charismata in the Christian church comes out, however, in that the true charismata are subject to those who use them. If it is of the Lord they are not carried along in uncontrollable ecstasy but are under the control of the user. The spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets (14.28, 32). But this is not necessarily always externally distinguishable.
So they must for example measure any 'spirit' of a prophet against the body of Apostolic teaching. If for example the spirit says, 'Jesus is anathema' then it is clearly a false spirit. If however it says 'Jesus is Lord', signifying His full status in the Godhead (8.6), or reveals Jesus as Lord by the tenor of its message, then it is of God, for no evil spirit will willingly testify to His Godhood. But these two clear cut extremes may well be just that. They are probably also intended to indicate that there are other levels in between in which they can be falsely or truly led. But they can be tested by the impression that they give about Jesus. They must beware of being possessed by just any spirit, and must rather ensure that they are yielded to the Holy Spirit.
To put someone or something under 'anathema' was to cast it out, to reject it, to allocate it as God-rejected, and to bring God's stamp of disapproval on it. It was then under the curse and fitted for destruction. The thought being reflected by the false spirit here is therefore probably that the human Jesus will be so rejected by the spirit, who will magnify 'the Christ', as a semi-divine figure, who will then shine through, having left the human body in which it had dwelt. In other words it is a rejection of the true humanity of Christ. This may not be an actual example that has occurred in the church, possibly rather referring to well known examples among worshippers in mystery religions who were known to prophesy in this way.
While we must not read in here a full blown Gnosticism, some Corinthians clearly did believe that their spirits had full contact with the spiritual world, giving them special status, and did believe that eventually they would leave their bodies which would simply be left in the grave to rot, either because the body was tainted, and therefore cursed, or at the least because it was unimportant and not fit for the spiritual realm (15.12).
On the other hand someone might have seen some encouragement for this idea when mistakenly distorting such teaching as Galatians 3.10-13 where Paul speaks of Jesus as being under the curse of the law because He 'hung on the tree'. A Gentile who failed to understand the background to Paul's argument might gain the wrong impression from such teaching, especially in the light of their background, thinking that the human Jesus was being cursed so that the Christ spirit might go free (although we have no actual evidence for such being established as a doctrine until later in the first century). He may have, in attempting to prophesy, stated such a fact to the shocked horror of the whole church. Thus it may be that Paul is warning specifically against such false interpretations in terms of an example they all knew about, and is pointing out, as they would all be well aware, that the Holy Spirit could never possibly be the cause of such things being said. So the evil spirits are seen to be capable of denying both the true humanity (compare 1 John 4.2-3) and the full divinity of Jesus Christ.
Alternately Paul may have been selecting the worst possible scenario so as to establish the case. It would be obvious to all that anyone who spoke like that in prophecy could only be inspired by a deceiving spirit. On the other hand his argument might then to some extent lose its force which would be far better served by an example known to all. If that be accepted there is nothing at all unlikely in the thought that a vindictive or wildly misled attendant at a gathering of the church, caught up in the excitement of the meeting, might have spoken thus in 'prophecy'. The danger always of opening the opportunity of prophesying to all is that it will be misused by someone who is enthusiastic but mistaken. The Jews certainly thought of Jesus as accursed, precisely because He had died on a cross, which was one of their great stumblingblocks (1.23), and the idea may well have circulated in Corinth. We can imagine the shock if the church was going along with a prophecy which seemed sound, only to hear these dreadful words. It would have been a lesson indeed of the need to 'judge' prophets.
'Jesus is Lord.' This is the opposite position, that the human Jesus is also Lord of all. Compare here Philippians 2.9-11 where the fullness of what His Lordship involves is brought out. He is the One Who has the name above every name, the name of Yahweh, He is the One before Whom every knee in both Heaven and earth and the underworld will bow (see Isaiah 45.23), He is the One Whom every tongue will confess as 'Lord' (compare Romans 10.9; Acts 2.36; 16.31). And this will bring great glory to God the Father.
This statement is central to Christian belief. It is by declaring that Jesus is Lord that we declare our faith (Romans 10.9). It is an essential part of being saved. Thus all true prophecy must by its very nature reveal Jesus as Lord. It is the essence of true prophecy. For God’s purpose is that in the end the whole of creation will declare that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2.11). This is not simply a mechanical test, it is the whole basis on which all prophecy must be judged by others (14.29). It lies at the root of all truth.
There is here, then, a clear warning that spiritual gifts can be imitated, and that they are no necessary proof of spirituality, and that even some of the supposed charismata may in fact not be genuine. We must all beware when opening ourselves to the Spirit that we do not open ourselves to the sway of false spirits, or even false ideas, or our own false inner consciousness. The positive aspect is the emphasis on the fact that when such spiritual gifts are of God they exalt the Lord Jesus in the fullness of what He is. Here is a crucial test of what is a true gift. And here also is a test of true spirituality, a genuine recognition of Jesus as Lord, and a genuine desire to exalt Him. As with so much we must consider the motive.
12.4-6 'Now there are diversities of gifts (charismata), but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.'
Paul then goes on the point out that there are in fact diversities of spiritual gifts (charismata - 'gifts of grace'), all given and inspired by the same Spirit, differing ministries in the church, all performed and empowered under the same Lord, many types of workings in creation (or in all the churches, or in all Christians), but all energised through the One God, Who works everything ('all things') everywhere (or 'in everyone'). Thus there is one Spirit, one Lord and one God Who is/are responsible for true spiritual gifts, for true spiritual ministry and for all that goes on either in Christians or everywhere. Note that the stress is on oneness, thus stressing also the oneness in triunity of the Spirit, the Lord and God Whose activity unites the people of God as one.
(We use the verb ‘is/are’ advisedly. Our problem when speaking of the triune God is that we have no human language with which to adequately describe Him. In the Old Testament the word for ‘God’ was plural with a singular verb emphasising this dilemma. There is nothing on earth that remotely parallels God. God is One and yet revealed in plurality. ‘Is’ emphasises the unity, ‘are’ emphasises the plurality. Neither is adequate to express the full truth about God).
Not all have the same gifts. And yet, as he is at pains to stress, if they are genuine they come from the one Spirit. Diverse gifts do not indicate disunity and disharmony, for each is necessary in the fulfilling of the church's service and ministry This stress on unity is continued by emphasising that service within the church is through the one Lord, and that the bringing about of ‘all things’ in all (giving overall coverage of anything that takes place through the church, or indeed in creation) are the working of the one God. So, as with the Lord's Supper earlier, there is a stress both on the Godward side, and here the oneness of God is revealed in triunity, and on the oneness of all believers because all are in union with Christ's body, and all that they have comes from the one God. Note on the Godward side, the emphasis on the triunity of God; one Spirit, one Lord, one God (compare 8.6).
All ministries in the church are administered and empowered by the same Lord. This is not to separate the functions but to combine the activities of the Godhead in provision for His people. Ministries and gifts are seen as part of one whole in verses 28-20, the provision of both Spirit and Lord.
And it is God Who works everything everywhere/in everyone. This could mean everything in all the churches worldwide, or everything in creation. In context possibly it is the former that is intended. All that is true that occurs in the churches is of God's working. But we would not exclude the other.
12.7 'But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal.'
From considering the mighty power of the triune God in His working on behalf of His people, Paul now comes down to the individual believer. The mightiest Being imaginable resources every believer as He chooses. Thus there is no room for jealousy or boasting. Each one is in some way given the manifestation of the Spirit that all may profit. This may mean that each one who is given a manifestation of the Spirit is given it for the benefit of the whole church. Or it may signify that each member of the church can be sure that they will have some gift from God through His Spirit with which they can serve in the church and make the truth known in one way or another, so that all may profit. Both are in fact true, especially if we take the gifts in their wider sense as revealed elsewhere. And all are necessary to the wellbeing of Christ's body (Ephesians 4.15-16). None can do without the other.
'Is given.' The passive verb regularly indicates that the source is God. Thus the source of the Spirit's genuine gifts is God, and the manifestation of the Spirit at work is God's gift to His own.
12.8-10 'For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit, to another faith, in the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit, and to another workings of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another discernings of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.'
His emphasis that all is from God through one Spirit continues, repeated here four times. The gifts are many but the Source and Administrator of them is one. Dogmatism on what exactly each gift consists of is ruled out, for they are not defined or exhaustive. But they are clearly gifts which cover the whole aspect of a church's need for a teaching ministry, and they are being spoken of against what Paul has previously written. From the use of these gifts the church can receive from those so gifted true spiritual wisdom, and true spiritual knowledge, can manifest faith, which will be evidenced by all and strengthens the whole church, and see that faith in action in wonderful ways, experience healings and miracles, receive prophetic guidance, have those who can discern the true Spirit from false ones, speak with 'tongues' in private prayer and experience the interpretation of tongues so necessary if the gift of tongues is ever to be used in the church. All is there that is necessary for a full orbed ministry.
Various ways of looking at these differing gifts have been suggested, but whatever interpretation we put on them must take into account that they are gifts whose purpose is to continually edify the whole church. Thus to limit them to very unusual situations is probably to misunderstand them. And we must consider them in the light of what Paul has previously written. The first two are describing the enlightening of God's people, bringing to them 'wisdom' and 'knowledge'. These remind us of the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians where 'wisdom' (1.25, 30; 2.6, 7) and 'knowing' (2.11, 12, 14-15, 16) are prominent, in contrast with false wisdom (1.17-2.9), and false knowledge. There wisdom is finally found in those who come to know the One Who is the wisdom of God (1.25) and the wisdom from God (1.30). It is a wisdom not of this world, a mystery, a hidden wisdom now revealed (2.6-7). The message concerning Christ the crucified one was called 'the word of the cross'. In the same way the 'word of wisdom' must surely relate to the same idea. It is in contrast to 'wisdom of word' (sophia logou) and 'persuasive words of wisdom' (sophias logois - 2.4), and like Paul's 'word' (1.18) here demonstrates the activity of the Spirit. The 'word of wisdom' (logos sophias) indicates divine illumination in understanding about Him Who is the wisdom from God (1.30), and in having power from the Spirit in proclaiming the message revealing the fullness of Jesus Christ as the wisdom of God (1.24), causing the light to shine in men's hearts as they come to know Him as He is, so that all may have true wisdom.
The 'word of knowledge' would seem to be in contrast to the claim of some of the Corinthians to 'knowledge' (see 8.1, 10). Their knowledge was something that they boasted in and which led them into actions which could harm the body of Christ. But this 'word of knowledge' is surely therefore referring to the divinely given ability to know and to impart the true knowledge so that the church may be enriched and men may know the deep things of God (2.11, 12, 14). Compare 1.5 where Paul speaks of them as being 'enriched in all utterance and all knowledge'. This is not speaking just of any preaching, but of inspired preaching in which the Spirit is the inspirer of the preacher so that he goes beyond his normal abilities revealing knowledge opened up to him by the Spirit (2.11-16). A man may win an award as preacher of the year without knowing anything of the word of wisdom or the word of knowledge. But he cannot be a true preacher of the Gospel without experiencing both.
'Faith.' Many combine as a threesome 'faith', 'gifts of healings' and 'workings of miracles', and see 'faith' as describing an especially deep faith which can make things happen, like the faith of Elijah (James 5.17-18). That that is part of it we do not doubt. But James sees that as a faith similar to that resident also in the elders of the church (5.15), and he would probably have added in all Christians. Thus there is good cause for suggesting that 'faith' here is that faith which stands not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (2.5). It is the Spirit's gift given to all true Christians, first of all founding them in faith, and then resulting in their exercising that faith in fulfilling the purposes of God in both small ways and great, including the proverbial moving of mountains (13.2).
This would then tie 'faith' in with the previous two gifts as indicating that the response of faith to the first two gifts is also a gift of the Spirit, resulting in a God-sustained life of faith, and the blessings which come from the exercise of such faith. All Christians exercise Spirit-inspired faith, God's gift to His own, some more than others, and such faith builds up the church and brings honour to God. We must not underestimate the divine wonder of true responsive faith even in its basic form.
Jesus in His teaching constantly spoke of faith as something that could be exercised in differing degrees by all (Mark 9.23) and does not differentiate one faith from another in essence, only in degree. Faith in Him should result in the ability to exercise faith in all circumstances. Indeed the moving of mountains only requires faith the size of a grain of mustard seed! (Matthew 17.20; compare Luke 17.6). Although such faith could be built up by prayer (Mark 9.29).
It should be noted in this regard that ‘faith’ in verse 9 is preceded by ‘etero (‘to another’) rather than the ’allo (‘to another’) which precedes the other gifts, which suggests that it is to be seen as distinctive, even among the gifts. This may be intended to divide the gifts into two, which are specific witnesses to Christ, and seven, beginning with faith, which are manifestations of faith. Two is the number of witness and seven the number of divine perfection. (Unlike today, in those days such use of numbers was not something to be subtly utilised, but a very part of the way people thought. Rather than being mathematical they were descriptive). Thus ‘faith’ may be including all that follows (and all gifts) as contained within them all (compare Isaiah 11.2 where ‘of the Lord’ is then expanded in the other six gifts).
The whole point of these gifts is that they will be manifested regularly in the church. It would therefore be wrong interpretation to make them so special that they are hardly ever experienced, and all true faith was certainly seen as the gift of God.
Indeed we might from this see a progression. The coming of the word of wisdom enlightening them in Christ, the word of knowledge increasing their understanding of Christ to greater depth, which then results in the strong and well-founded faith that comes from God that can face all assaults of the enemy, and can 'move mountains', and is followed up by divine manifestations in healings and miracles, and inspired proclamation of truth, all resulting from faith.
However that may be the next gifts are of the 'gifts of healings' and 'workings of miracles' which stand together as manifestations of divine power. The early church expected to experience such things among them continually as God confirmed His word with signs following. It is the general lack of these in the New Testament sense in the centuries that followed that gives support to the suggestion that not all the gifts were permanent for all time. They are given as and when He wills. But nevertheless they do spasmodically appear.
The word for 'miracles' is 'powers', which is often used of healing miracles (Matthew 7.22; 11.20, 21, 23; 13.54; 14.2; Mark 5.30; 6.2; 9.39; Acts 19.11). Thus the two gifts, as general gifts of the Spirit, may simply reflect different kinds of healings including the exorcism of evil spirits, although exceptionally other kinds of miracles such as nature miracles might be included.
The final grouping is divided into two twosomes, prophecy along with the necessary discernment of spirits so that the prophets can be tested, and tongues along with the interpretation of tongues so that the tongues can be meaningful to the hearers. Some would see prophecy as limited to the recognised 'prophets' approved by the church (12.29), others would see it as a more general gift experienced more widely among members of the congregation. In either case it is a speaking forth under divine utterance, which is fully under the control of the speaker (14.32). The general impression from what follows in 12-14, and especially from the exhortation to the Corinthians that they should seek the gift of prophecy, is that it is a gift given as the Spirit wills to 'ordinary' members of the church (14.1, 31, 39), although not necessarily permanently. It is not necessarily always a once for all gift and may well have been exercised more frequently by some (the recognised prophets) than by others. We can compare here the example of those who 'prophesied' around the time of the births of John the Baptiser and Jesus (Luke 1.46-55, 68-79; 2.29-32, 38).
Prophecy is here an inspired forthtelling and exhortation (see Acts 15.32) rather than a foretelling, although the latter did occur at times among the recognised prophets. It would, however, seem that this was only rarely. Agabus appears to be the recognised exception (Acts 11.28; 21.10-11). We can also consider John in Revelation. The gift was to be exercised with restraint (by two or three) and tested by other prophets, a reminder that such inspiration did not necessarily guarantee truth (14.29; 1 Thessalonians 5.20-21, compare verses 1-3 above). Its purpose was that all may learn and be strengthened (14.31). The fact that both men and women would 'prophesy' in abundance was declared by Joel, and confirmed by Peter (Joel 2.28; Acts 2.17). But Acts gives us no examples of a special type of prophetic forthtelling of a type which would be common in meetings of Christians which was distinctive from the preaching of those who went forth in the Spirit, reminding us that 'prophecy' is probably to be seen as including true Spirit-inspired, divinely wrought, preaching.
This is not simply to equate prophecy with preaching, for the latter would better come under the heading of 'teaching', which of course should also be Spirit inspired (verse 28). Such an equation would be totally misleading. It is a manifestation of the Spirit's working, and certainly all preaching is not that. But nor can we simply suggest that there have been no prophetic speakers through the centuries, simply because the form in which they spoke did not conform to our way of seeing it. In mind is rather the forth-telling of truth, by men truly inspired by the Spirit for the purpose, in any form chosen by the Holy Spirit. And the spirit of the prophets was subject to the prophets. And others who hear must judge.
'Discernment of spirits' probably has mainly in mind the discernment as to whether prophecies were of the Spirit or were the work of deceiving spirits (14.29; 1 Thessalonians 5.20-21). But it may have included awareness of spiritual deceit generally as in Acts 5.1-10, and discernment in general of other charismata, including tongues. 1 John 4.1 also tells us that we must test/prove the spirits of the prophets (their own inward spirits) as to whether it is the Spirit speaking through them, or a deceiving spirit. There the test is as to whether 'Jesus Christ' is come in the flesh. That is, do they accept that the Christ and the human Jesus, Who came in the flesh as a human being, are one. Do they accept the true humanity of the Christ?
'Tongues' was an expression of worship in unknown tongues, and these were different and varied. Again its manifestation was controllable, and was to be controlled (14.27). But Paul saw them as speaking words when they did so (14.19) and so clearly thought of them as languages. The only description of their content is in terms of giving thanks to God (14.16-17). Paul restricted speaking in tongues specifically to not more than two or at the most three in one meeting (14.27), and then only when interpreted, and this was in meetings which could last for several hours. This was to curb their excessive use. He also rejected their public use in meetings unless they were interpreted. When an interpreter was present it could act as a means of ministry, and it was on interpreted tongues that the limit was placed. He gave no approval to public use of uninterpreted tongues. If no interpreter was known to be present they should not be used. Such manifestations were also known among worshippers in other religions, as indeed was a kind of prophecy, and it was therefore necessary to be careful on both accounts.
It is not the same as the tongues in Acts 2 which were in languages recognisable to the hearers and for a specific purpose, which included that they would be understood by the hearers. Paul is quite clear on the fact that the tongues mentioned here are unintelligible to people, whether they are real languages or not. There is no thought that it will be otherwise. 13.1 might indicate that he sees the language as heavenly, but there the idea might rather be connected with what the Corinthians thought. He specifically indicates that all do not speak with tongues (12.30) any more than all heal. On the other hand it is not to be totally forbidden in public use (14.39), as long as it is interpreted (14.27). It will come out later that one of his aims will be to prevent an apparent overabundance in the use of tongues in public worship in Corinth, while at the same time not denying its usefulness in public worship, when interpreted, and in private worship.
The interpretation of tongues is a gift of being able to interpret the meaning of unknown tongues spoken publicly (this stresses the fact that the tongues are expected to be unknown tongues). Without such an interpreter present, tongues were not to be so used. He is not necessarily a translator but an interpreter of meaning.
But that this is not intended to be an exhaustive or definitive list of all gifts comes out in that in this whole section of the letter Paul constantly lists gifts, and each time the lists differ. See 12.28-30; 13.1-3, 8; 14.6, 26. (Compare also Romans 12.4-8; Ephesians 4.11) So to these gifts listed here we could add:
Possibly also we can add 'having goods for giving to the poor' (compare Romans 12.8b; compare also 13.3) and sacrificial living or 'martyrdom' (13.3). Romans 12 also adds 'ministry', 'exhortation', 'showing compassion'. His emphasis here is not so much on what the gifts consist of, but on the fact that all such gifts are given for a purpose, the edifying and sustaining of God's people, and he selects the gifts accordingly.
(Note. These gifts are spread throughout the church and reveal themselves in different ways, and we must differentiate them from natural gifts. These are spiritual gifts, gifts of grace, and do not rely on natural abilities, although those with natural abilities will no doubt utilise them wisely when exercising their spiritual gifts, and the gift may well enhance a natural gift. But we must not bind the Spirit to our own particular ideas of how His gifts will operate. Pentecostalists and Charismatics may see them in one way, while others see them in another way. What we must not do is remove the direct link with the Spirit's working. The Spirit is sovereign. We cannot seriously doubt that God has gifted His true people by the Spirit through the centuries, even though not manifested in the way in which some might see it. It is not for us to tell the Spirit what He must do and how He must manifest Himself. We cannot and must not limit Him. He works through people as they are and to some extent in accordance with their temperaments, their environments and their expectations. Had He desired that all be overt Pentecostalists or Charismatics, or not so, He could easily have arranged for it to be so.
It cannot be doubted that in all centuries there have been godly people who were open to His working, and we must remember that the manifestations that came in the early days often came in spite of expectations, not because of them. So why not later? Certainly through the last two thousand years, once the first century AD had passed, the more spectacular gifts were in short supply even though there were godly and deeply spiritual men through whom they could have been manifested had the Spirit purposed to do so, while at the same time the New Testament was established as the final source of revelation and means of guidance and sustenance to the people of God in these 'end days' since Jesus came, which may partly explain it. Yet we can hardly doubt that the Holy Spirit continued to manifest His gifts in some way to God's true people. The growth of the true church continued.
Furthermore, in spite of many claims to the contrary, the gifts of healings and of miracles are quite obviously not permanently manifested today anywhere in the world in the way in which they were manifested in the first century church, and most of such that are overtly claimed can mainly be put down to psychological factors or the body's natural ability to heal, combined with the factors of prayer and faith. It is spiritual healing, not miraculous healing. Jesus healed all who came to Him. There were no exceptions.
Similar to those often described in fact occur among people of many religions and faiths and there do seem to be those who naturally have 'gifts of healing' of a kind. But these are different from the gifts described here which came to those who did not have natural gifts of healing. We can rightly look for such healings, and give thanks for them, but we must not overstate what they are. Spectacular instantaneous healings which cannot be doubted are in very short supply, although apparently not so in the early days. But there were many 'healers' at work in Jesus' day, who also saw 'psychological' healings of the kind described above. The difference, however, between Him and them was that He healed all who came. And some of those which occurred could be described as instantaneous and spectacular, try as He did to prevent them from being so (what a contrast to some 'healers' today). Nothing was able to resist His power. And the early church apparently experienced the same. Would that it were so today, but it is not.
There can also be no real doubt on the one hand that many spurious manifestations are ‘worked up’ in these days by human manipulation (as they no doubt were then, but it should be noted that the New Testament never hints at a need for such practises. The Spirit does not need a helping hand). And on the other hand that many spiritual churches flourish without the outward manifestation of spectacular gifts, although certainly not without gifts of the Spirit.
On the other hand we must not deny that genuine manifestations do occur and can bring blessing to many when rightly controlled. And control is one of Paul's specific emphases. The church must be open to whatever the Spirit wills to do, but should especially beware of false manifestations, human imitation, and lack of restraint. Many in some modern day charismatic churches sadly follow the Corinthians into a 'knowledge' which is not Scriptural. In the end the test of all must be that they bring men to appreciation of Scriptural truth. End of note).
12.11 'But all these works the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.'
Paul again emphasises that the one Spirit, the same Spirit, is responsible for all. This stresses that there are no other good spirits that speak through humans. Whatever ministry angels and spirits may have (Hebrews 1.14) it is not one of enlightening God's people through the workings of mind and heart. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and He alone, working through men of God. And He gives the gifts to each one as He will, so that we can be sure that the gifts will be there in the church. Yet none given such gifts can boast and feel proud, for they are not chosen because they are special, but because He has willed it. And what He gives He can take away. All are therefore to use their gifts for the wellbeing of the whole church, recognising the Spirit's sovereignty.
'Even as He will.' Note the emphasis on the will of the Spirit bringing out that He acts personally in what He does.
12.12 'For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.'
Paul here likens Christ and His people to a body with its many different parts, and he describes them not as 'the church' but as 'Christ'. This revelation of Paul's inspired thinking must be carefully noted. It is not that Christ is in Heaven and we are on the earth, it is that we are with Him in 'heavenly places' (John 14.18, 23; Ephesians 2.6; Philippians 3.20; Colossians 3.1-3), and He is present on earth with us and in us, manifesting Himself through us, so close is the union. It is not satisfactory to simply see these as metaphors, although they are partial metaphor. His nearness and indwelling in His people is a genuine reality. It is a oneness that goes beyond metaphor, although we must, while enjoying it, not build great theories on it. And the spiritual realm, the unseen realm, is a reality. In the end the body is the glorified Christ.
This verse should be writ large in all our hearts for it reveals Paul's central emphasis and will save much false interpretation. It is in close union with Christ's body sacrificed in death and its consequence that we are one body (Ephesians 2.15; Colossians 1.22), for it is through unity with Him that we are one (10.16-17). The body is primarily Christ, not the church. So it is in union with Him that we are the body, and the closer we sense our union with Him to be, the more will we see ourselves as one with His people in 'the body'. In all that follows we must remember that he is not speaking of the church as the body, but of Christ as the body with Whom they have been made one and through Whom the church lives. It is not a physical body at all, but a spiritual body, although partly and dimly manifested through physical bodies.
12.13 'For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit.'
Again note the continued emphasis on the one Spirit (see verses 4-6, 11). His purpose is once more to emphasise the unity of all Christians as made one in the Holy Spirit in Christ. The oneness of the people of God with Christ through the one Spirit is seen as vital. In or by the one Spirit we have been inundated into Christ. Through the Spirit's overwhelming activity we are made one with Him, and have become that through which He reveals Himself and personally acts. Christ is seen as genuinely present on earth not just through His people but in His people (who abide in heavenly places - Ephesians 2.6). And all are therefore to be seen as equal and one, each a full representative of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.20), and each a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (6.19), even as we are all also together one sanctuary (3.16; Ephesians 2.20-22). Christ walks on earth, not as us, but in us, for He dwells within us.
'For in one Spirit were we all inundated (baptizo - deluged, baptised, overwhelmed) into one body.' John the Baptiser had proclaimed of Jesus 'He will deluge (baptizo - drench, baptise, overwhelm, inundate) you in/by Holy Spirit'. Here Paul says that this is the means by which He has incorporated all the people of God into Christ. In/by one Spirit we are incorporated into Christ as if in a mighty flood, coming from Heaven in the form of rain which becomes a mighty flood, giving us life, and filling us and satisfying us, and making us one with Him, just like a great flood brings all to the same level and unites all that it covers, and results in life wherever it goes (compare Ezekiel 47.1-12). Note that the emphasis is not on the deluging but on the Spirit. Whether we see water baptism here (which is doubtful) or not it is secondary to the reality. If water baptism is in mind here it is as a picture, and we must not lose the reality in the symbol. It is not baptism that incorporates us into Christ, but the overwhelming work and power and flooding of the Spirit.
It is doubtful whether Paul is thinking of water baptism, although it is always possible, even probable, that it may have been in the background of his mind, for 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' as described here was spoken of by John the Baptiser as being the fulfilment of what his baptism signified, the greater reality, of which His baptism in water was but the prophetic picture. And it was Jesus Who would baptise in Holy Spirit (Matthew 3.11; Mark 1.8; Luke 3.16), and Jesus Himself particularly contrasted baptism with water from baptism in Holy Spirit (Acts 1.5) and had in mind for the latter what happened at Pentecost. That was the initial 'baptism in the Spirit' into the body of Christ, (not just 'into the church', but into Christ Himself as one with His people by spiritual union) into which subsequently all who truly respond to Christ are incorporated in the Spirit.
'And were all made to drink of one Spirit.' Again drinking is never associated with water baptism, but it certainly is with life-giving rain (Hebrews 6.7), and the springs and rivers that result (John 4.14), and Jesus Himself linked 'coming to Him and drinking' with the coming baptism (drenching, overwhelming) in the Holy Spirit which firstly occurred in the Upper Room and at Pentecost (John 7.37-39). Thus both descriptions cover one and the same experience. Water was one of man's greatest blessings, and lack of it a curse. It was life-giving and life-sustaining. Man drank and was satisfied. The good earth drank and was fruitful. We should note that the only other verse which links drinking with the Spirit is in Isaiah 29.10 where LXX translates ‘poured out’ as ‘being made to drink’.
Man was experienced at channelling floods for the good of the soil. That was how the Negev was made fruitful. That was why Egypt was so fertile. Thus is the Spirit likened to God's provision of abundant water, inundating the earth and causing it to drink so as to produce fruitfulness. So in the background here is the thought of the life-giving rain as so often pictured by the prophets in describing the coming of the Spirit (Isaiah 44.1-5; 32.15; 55.10), and the life-giving water from the flood-river, spring or well of life which resulted (Isaiah 59.19; John 4.14; Zechariah 12.10 with 13.1). Compare also Ezekiel 36.25-28; 47.1-12. And through this deluge we were all made one body with Christ in His body and were all made to drink of one Spirit. Thus Christ's own body in which we are incorporated, and the Spirit within the body, are one, and we too are therefore one and are to manifest the fact. And constantly in Scripture behind the thought of the provision of rain and water is the thought of life and fruitfulness (e.g. Isaiah 44.1-5 and often; Matthew 3.8-12 linked to his baptism; John 4.10-14).
This emphasises the spiritual nature of 'the body'. The purpose of the body is not to walk on earth but to walk in Christ, as united in Him, and to grow into Christ (Ephesians 4.15). Walking on earth is incidental to the concept, and it is as incorporated into Christ that it is to be Spirit nourished and sustained, partly through the gifts He has bestowed. The doctrine of the body of Christ always emphasises this growth into Christ. It is a spiritual body. It is never used in Scripture as depicting the idea of the church active in the world. The church is active in the world, and Christ is active in the church, but the former is not the significance of the Scriptural idea of the body. It is rather associated with our being in Christ.
12.14-17 'For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, "Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body", it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, "Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body," it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?'
Having stressed the unity of the body Paul now distinguishes the individual members. The body is not one member, but many. There are feet and hands and ears and eyes (and head - verse 21). Each is a separate part of the one body, and the head is also but one member of the body.
He presents his picture quaintly and picturesquely as though different members of the body were trying to deny their place in it. (Which some of the Corinthians may well have been doing, thinking themselves superior). But they must recognise that they cannot, for the body needs all. All are necessary and not one must be lacking. All the members he selects are major parts and well separated from each other. And yet they are one in the body. It is clear that the body cannot do without them. They are all equally important to the whole.
In the same way, he implies, all the believers, with all their widely differing gifts, are necessary to Christ's body. It is possible that in his selection of members, eyes, ears, hands, foot, he intends us to see that he includes those who were inspired to see and hear the truth, and those who performed the truth by going forth and doing good by hand and foot.
12.18 'But now has God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him.'
And each member is set in the body by God as they are needed, and in accordance with His good pleasure, so that we can be sure that what the body requires will be provided. Every one individually is chosen and given their place in the body. So each is important to God, and each, if responsive, in his proper place.
'According to His good pleasure.' Compare 'to one is given' (verse 8), 'severally as He will' (verse 11). The emphasis is on the fact that all is done according to God's will.
12.19 'And if they were all one member, where were the body?'
Indeed if all the members were exactly the same where would the body be? There would be no body, just a pile made up of quantities of one particular member, a pile of legs or a pile of eyes, and so on. The idea is ridiculous. No, all the differing members are required to make up the body, and all need differing gifts for the benefit of the body, and all are interdependent.
12.20-21 'But now they are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you", or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you".
So the body being made up of many differing members, each has to recognise that all are necessary for the whole. Behind the statement, 'I have no need of you', is almost certainly the attitude of some of the Corinthians who saw themselves as spiritually superior and in no need of others. Sometimes Christians can gather in small groups thinking themselves to be superior, but they should then recollect their great need for the whole of Christ's body, of which they are a part, (and if separated, a disabled part).
Note again in all this that the head, eyes and ears are simply members of the body. There is no thought of Christ as the head. In 1 Corinthians that is a different concept (11.3), not connected with the body. It may be that the eye and head are to be seen here as superior members, with the idea in mind of those Corinthians who had inflated opinions about themselves, and looked down on the lesser members and saw them as unnecessary. If so Paul is bringing home to them how essential the other members are. We would not want to be without hand or foot.
12.22-24a 'No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow more abundant honour, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness, whereas our comely parts have no need.'
Indeed it is the seemingly most unimportant parts of our bodies, our 'less honourable' members and our most uncomely members, on which we bestow the most honour and care, ensuring that they are covered and clothed. (The verb for 'bestow' is used of clothing in, for example, Matthew 27.28). We treat them with honour and seek to make them comely. We clothe our feebler parts. So should God's people care for the meanest of their number so as to ensure that they too are honoured and made comely, as they can be sure that Christ, Whose body they are, certainly does (compare Ephesians 5.25-32).
12.24b-25 'But God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honour to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another.'
For God, in tempering (combining) the body together in Christ, has given more abundant honour to those parts which were lacking, so that all would be as one and there might be no schism, so that all may care for one another. In mind here especially would seem to be those Christians who in their physical poverty had not been cared for but had been allowed to go hungry (11.21-22). There may also be in mind some who criticised the use of spiritual gifts by others, and those who were criticised. The use of tongues seems to have been one of the dividing factors. Thus Paul says that while control was certainly necessary, their use was not to be forbidden (14.39). God's whole concern is that there be no schism in the body.
12.26 'And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.'
Indeed the literal body is so made one that when one member of a literal body is in pain the whole body is aware of it and suffers, for it affects the whole. When we have a raging toothache, for example, it affects the functioning of the whole body. In the same way Christ's body should be so one that when a member of Christ suffers, the whole of Christ's body should suffer with him, and indeed his suffering does, like a toothache, affect the functioning of the whole body, even if only in a small way. The body cannot feel whole while one member is in pain. And the same applies when one member is honoured. The whole body is (and should be) so united that it rejoices in his being honoured, for they share in his honour. Such should be the oneness of Christ's body in its divers manifestations.
12.27-28 'Now you (the 'you' is emphatic) are the body of Christ, and severally members of it. And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, guidance, divers kinds of tongues.'
So he reiterates that all Christians are united with Christ in His body, and that the Corinthian Christians are emphatically so. 'YOU are the body of Christ', each one being separately a member of that body. They must not avoid what they are. And in order for His body to be nourished, sustained and cared for God has set in the church people with many types of gift, and they should look to one another. For it is He Who is over all. First, at the head, come the Apostles. Then come the regular prophets. Then come the teachers. And then various other 'gifted' members, who reveal gifts such as miracles, gifts of healing, helps, (the cognate verb refers to helping those in need), guidance (those who govern, those who steer), various types of tongues.
Note how what we would call functions are intermingled with gifts. Each is seen as a gift to the church. Each has his function by reason of such a gift or gifts. (We note elsewhere how the Apostles had a combination of these gifts). The spread of gifts is intended to cover all gifts from top to bottom, and from spiritual ministry to practical. All are a necessary part of Christ's body. And all function for the benefit of the whole.
As always when Christ's body is in mind the thought is not of ministry to the outside world, but of that which builds up and sustains within. Oneness with Christ in His body, and the growth of the whole into the 'perfect man', 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4.13), is the idea behind the picture.
The unusual fact of grading the first three gift/functions is probably as a reminder to the rebellious among the Corinthian prophets and teachers that the Apostles, and he as an Apostle, are primary, and that therefore his word should be heeded. In God's eyes he is among those who are 'first', while they are but second and third. But at the same time the fact that he grades them demonstrates that he wishes to establish the importance of prophets and teachers. They are leaders of the churches (Acts 13.1). The final gifts are not graded but seen as in parallel (otherwise he would have continued to use 'then'). Oneness does not mean that there are not those who are in overall charge.
'Apostles.' This was the title given by Jesus to the twelve whom He appointed (Luke 6.13) as the foundation of the new congregation (church) of Israel (Matthew 16.18; 19.28). United with that group (as altered by the introduction of Matthias on the defection of Judas and probably James, the Lord's brother on the martyrdom of James) were Paul and Barnabas as the Apostles to the Gentiles (Galatians 2.8-9; Acts 14.4, 14). There is never any suggestion that individual churches had Apostles at their head. The term 'The Apostles' always has in mind the twelve and/or the two, although 'apostle' is twice a description used by Paul of messengers sent to or by him as ambassadors, but probably not as a permanent title (2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25). Also in 1 Thessalonians 5.6 Paul probably loosely includes Silas (or all his companions) in the term 'apostles of Christ'. But we should note that when he includes Silas with himself in the headings to his letters he unusually does not use the title Apostle. He clearly did not see Silas as an Apostle in the full sense of the word. Otherwise (apart from the reference in Hebrews of the concept to Jesus Christ Himself - Hebrews 3.1) there are only false apostles, man made apostles who set themselves up as Apostles.
This uniqueness is brought out in the qualifications necessary in order to be an Apostle. They must have followed Jesus from the beginning and be witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1.21-22). They were thus eyewitnesses and receivers directly of His teaching. Paul, as a part exception, saw himself as 'untimely born' (15.8) as a witness of the resurrection.
'Prophets' These would seem to be men who are seen as having a permanent gift of prophecy and thus hold a recognised position in the churches (Acts 11.27; 13.1; 15.32; 21.10; Ephesians 4.11). They are linked with 'teachers' as representing recognised leaders (Acts 13.1-3). (Had there been 'apostles' connected with churches they would surely have been mentioned in Acts 13). Their main ministry was exhortation and inspired preaching (15.32). Only Agabus is actually described as foretelling the future (Acts 11.28; 21.10-11). Thus while foretelling must not be excluded this was clearly not their prime function.
As prophecy in general is not mentioned in the list, in spite of its prominence in chapter 14, this might be seen as supporting the idea that prophecy was limited to the official prophets, but probably Paul also saw this mention of prophets as covering all gifts of prophecy under one heading so that it did not need to be brought in again. He was not trying to give a comprehensive picture.
'Teachers.' Our paucity of information about 'teachers' is such that dogmatism is excluded, but their position as leaders in the churches (Acts 13.1-3) demonstrates that along with the prophets they were responsible for the spiritual instruction of the churches. This would include delivering and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Testimony of Jesus, which would be the traditions on the life and teaching of Jesus officially passed on orally, and in some cases almost certainly written down (Luke 1.1).
The remainder of the list are gifts, and this is a reminder that the mention of these first three is because of the benefit they bring to Christ's body as gifts by God to His people. 'Helps' has probably in mind those who act practically and helpfully for the good of the whole as in Romans 12.8b; 16.1-2; I Timothy 5.9-10; Titus 2.4, and even in prayer (1 Timothy 5.5; Luke 2.36-38). 'Guidance.' The cognate word is used of steersmen on ships and this may signify moral guidance, or general guidance with respect to the affairs of life, both spiritual and physical, given both to the whole church and to individuals. Some translate as 'administrations', but we must recognise that the idea goes beyond just administrative functions.
It is noteworthy that tongues continually comes at the end of the lists. This cannot be accidental. This is partly because Paul sees it as mainly a personal gift (14.18-19), and thus as less beneficial in public use than other gifts. But it is probably also because it was mainly about tongues that the church was concerned when submitting its question (12.1), and because he intended to deal with it in some detail as a problem to be sorted out.
12.29 'Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?'
The questions are a reminder of their interdependence. As he has already demonstrated, the gifts are distributed throughout the body. All do not have all the gifts, and some have more than others, but all have their part to play in building up and establishing Christ's body. It should be noted here that not all speak with tongues any more than all do miracles or prophesy. There are no Biblical grounds for the statement that tongues is a sign for all of the reception of the Holy Spirit in a special way. (The passages in Acts that mention tongues will not bear the weight put on them. They refer to unique situations where tongues were a necessary sign so as to show that Jews of all nations, Gentiles and disciples of John the Baptiser, a unique group who were numerous in those early days, all had to be, and could be, incorporated into Christ by the Spirit).
12.31 'But desire earnestly (or 'you desire earnestly') the greater gifts. And moreover I show to you a most excellent way.'
At first sight this seems to contradict what has been said before about the gifts being given by God in accordance with His will, but the thought is not of trying to get the greater gifts for themselves, but of obtaining for the whole church the benefit of the greater gifts, and of aiming to be the best and most useful that they can be for God. No Christian should be satisfied to be an 'also ran', just there to fill up the seats. He is to earnestly desire before God the greater gifts, without demanding them for himself, so as to advance God's Kingly Rule. It is also probably to counter the desire of the Corinthians for what they saw as the more spectacular gifts such as tongues which they saw as the language of the angels. If you desire gifts, says Paul, desire the greater gifts.
The 'greater gifts' must be those so listed, prophecy, teaching and powerful miracles (if linguistic distinctions mean anything the others are shown as being on the same level). They are to be earnestly desired because of the benefit they are to the church. But there is an immediate caution demonstrating the spirit that must lie behind the 'earnestly desiring'. They must be sought so that they can be used in love. This must not be a matter of personal ambition and personal aggrandisement, but of longing to obtain the very best for God's people.
Some translate using the indicative, 'you earnestly desire the greater gifts' (which is possible), as a kind of rebuke, leading on to an admonition to act rather in love, but similar exhortation is found in 14.1, 39 of desiring to prophesy, which supports the imperative here.
'And moreover I show to you a more excellent way.' This qualifies the plea to seek the greater gifts. He will now describe the way in which these and all gifts should be used, in love and concern for the whole body, for without such an attitude they will be an empty noise. If love is not at the root of the request it were better not to seek them.
The Corinthians were walking in a way where 'the spiritual' was exalted, but sadly it was 'the spiritual' in false terms. It exalted special 'knowledge', it exalted wisdom, it exalted prophetic utterances, it exalted speaking in heavenly languages, it exalted manifestations. Even though it was causing disagreement and dissension and lack of unity, they were confident that they had found the true way. Paul therefore declares that he will show them a more excellent way, the way of love. It is love, he declares, that is the more excellent way. It is love which lies at the heart of true spirituality, not spiritual manifestations. And he will now reveal that, by showing that all spiritual manifestations are lacking if love is omitted, gain their true meaning by being used in love, and that love is over all.
It should finally be noted that the fact that we should earnestly desire the greater gifts is no guarantee that we ourselves will receive them. This is not an injunction to go on praying, and never stop, until we get what we want. It is rather an indication that, like Paul, we long for the fulfilment of God's purposes through us, and through the church, and to submit to His will in it. It will then be up to God to allocate those gifts as He pleases, and to show us the way that he wants us to take.
Love Must Lie At The Root Of All We Do Especially Our Ministry To The Church (13.1-13).
Paul now deals with what must lie behind the use of spiritual gifts, if they are to be truly spiritual. And in so doing he expands into a detailed description of what is involved in Christian love. It is a return to his brief statement in 8.1 where he pointed out that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. There the idea was primarily that the love was for God, for it is love for God which is the true source of knowledge of God and being known by God. So his first concern here is to indicate that without that love for God, and its consequent result in love for one another, any gifts are meaningless.
However, once the theme is begun, he waxes eloquent on the true basis of genuine Christian love, concluding that it is the greatest virtue of all because it will continue on when all else has passed away. He points out that it is the basis of all Christian behaviour and must be at the root of all responses to the Spirit. It is the end to which all else is directed.
The word used for love (agape) was one rarely used by the Greeks, and it was taken over by the Christian church as a suitable word to describe Christian love, that is, love which expresses itself spiritually and honourably, without any sexual connotations. It has nothing to do with romantic love or physical love (which if misused are anathema). The basic idea behind it can be understood from this chapter with its definition of such love. In the New Testament it is love which acts wholly out of concern for others, the true loving of one's neighbour (but see 2 Timothy 4.10 where, however, Paul may be deliberately using it as a contrast). This was not always so for agapao was sometime used of degraded love in LXX (e.g. 2 Samuel 13.1), but in general it was taken over as being free from having a specifically restricted meaning, and as often indicating a higher form of love.
The Greeks had different words for love, primarily phileo which referred to the solid affection of good friends, and erao which reflects romantic love. In the New Testament agapao often parallels phileo but never erao.
We should note that the thing that has primarily caused Paul to digress somewhat in this direction is his exhortation to desire the greater gifts. He has recognised immediately the danger of that exhortation, and so he seeks to put it in its vital context. The desiring of the greater gifts must arise out of love for their fellow believers, not out of a desire for self-glorification. Once that fact is settled he will then return again to the exhortation (14.1).
Indeed we may consider that such a reminder as this about love is overdue. He has been dealing with the different problems in the church, and stressing the unity of believers in Christ. But Jesus Himself had taught that central to that unity was love (John 13.34-35; 15.12, 17). He had stressed that it was by their love for one another that people would know who were His disciples. Thus to deal with the present situation without laying stress on love would have been to fail to follow the Master's guidance.
So Paul here says, 'Do not seek the gifts for themselves, but seek them because you love your fellow-believers and desire the best for them, and do not look at whether someone has tongues, or prophecy, or all knowledge, or great faith, or is self-sacrificial and generous in an extravagant way, look rather to whether they have love, whether their lives and behaviour reveal the essence of God's love as described in verses 4-6. Then you will know if the gifts are truly genuine.' It is that, not the demonstrating of what purport to be manifestations of the Spirit, that is the test of the truly spiritual man.
No mention is made in the passage as to whether Paul is talking only of love for one another, or whether he also includes the idea of love for God. However, 8.1 really settles the argument. He is thinking of love as a whole. It is love for God that results in the knowledge of God and being known by God, and it is that which results in love for our brother. Thus here Paul has in mind love in its essence, reaching up to God, and reaching out to the people of God, although having the second primarily in mind in the detail, for that is the love which can be witnessed. But always at the root we love because He first loved us (1 John 4.19). So the love of which he speaks results from resting in the love of God, and letting it flow into us and through us so that it reaches back up to Him and out to His people.
We should note that in this chapter, while he speaks of the manifestations, he nowhere speaks of them in this context as 'gifts' or 'spiritual things'. For what he describes here, if not backed by love, can be manifestations which are not gifts of the Spirit, but false manifestations brought about, either by human endeavour, or even worse by the deceitfulness of evil spirits.
All 'Spiritual' Activity Is Devoid Of Value If Love Is Lacking (13.1-3)
13.1 'If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding bronze, or a clanging cymbal.'
We note immediately Paul’s movement to the first person. He is following his own suggestion. He is revealing true love. He does not want anyone to think that this is a direct attack on them, and so he directs any criticism against himself. He is not questioning their love, he is theoretically questioning his own. None can accuse him of discrimination. Yet all know that he is speaking of all.
The fact that he opens this section by referring to tongues confirms that tongues was an issue in the Corinthian church (previously it has come last). Some were seemingly making great claims on the basis that they spoke the language of angels, and they considered that this was setting them apart from ordinary believers (and from the world). And they were seeking to encourage all to speak in tongues suggesting that it would indicate that they lived on a higher plane and were special. Or Paul may have in mind certain Jewish literature in which speaking in the tongues of angels was spoken of. So Paul gets to the heart of the matter. He declares that it is not tongues of whatever kind which show whether they are living on a higher plane, but love for God and for each other.
He does not argue about the nature of tongues, which he later himself declares can be a spiritual gift. He later even encourages the use of genuine tongues in private prayer. But he says that what tongues are, whether the tongues of men or of angels, matters little if they are not accompanied by love, by love for God and by true love and concern for God's people. Tongues themselves, without the love that should go with them, both upwards and outwards, are just a loud and meaningless noise.
The 'sounding bronze', was possibly a gong as used in pagan worship. The clanging cymbal was associated with the mystery religions, especially with the cult of Cybele. Thus both indicate that what Paul is suggesting is that tongues without love can come from the empty air, or from spirits other than the Holy Spirit. But the main emphasis is on the fact that they are empty and meaningless, merely a loud noise, not something which is significant. However, what is certain is that they are no proof of spirituality. They are emotional gimmicks which actually say nothing but simply make a noise, like gongs and cymbals do, rather than genuine vehicles of God's truth.
13.2 'And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.'
And this is not only true of tongues, it is true of the other manifestations as well. It is not only tongues that are in his sights. He does not call such manifestations gifts in this chapter, nor does he say they are manifestations of the Spirit. Indeed, without love they clearly are not, for it is love which is the hallmark of those whom God has chosen. He merely mentions them by description.
I 'have prophecy', that is the ability to prophesy devoid of love, (note how 'have prophecy' contrasts with 'have love'), I may appear to know all mysteries and all knowledge, I may appear to have an abundance of faith so that I can work miracles and deal with great problems, but if I am lacking in love then, as far as God is concerned, I am nothing. Indeed both Jesus and John confirmed this, for Jesus said that love is the basis of all the commandments, including the commandments to honour and worship God (Mark 12.29-31), and John stressed that if we do not have love we do not know God at all (1 John 4.8; 3.10).
We should note that this is not just Paul's idea. Jesus Himself confirms that prophecy and miracles are no proof that a man is truly a Christian. He declared quite specifically that men could think that they were prophesying in His name and could do 'miracles', professedly in His name, and yet not ever have been known by Him (Matthew 7.22). Such manifestations are no proof of genuine faith in God.
Paul's case is, of course, deliberately exaggerated for emphasis. Note the use of 'all'. And he does not use the words 'appear to have', for he is speaking of outward manifestations which can be seen. They have the manifestations whether they are of God or not. We have used the words 'appear to have' because no one who truly has these as gifts from God through His Spirit will be lacking in love. It is rather a warning to those who outwardly appear to have 'gifts', but whose gifts may be imitations and may have come from another source, that they need to consider the true source and value of their gifts.
'If I have prophecy.' Prophecy without love is empty. It is thus self-induced, or worse, induced by false spirits. I may 'have prophecy' almost as though it were mine to do what I like with, but I may not have the Spirit. Here we have a clear indication that outward manifestations are not necessarily a proof of spirituality.
'And know all mysteries and all knowledge.' This was probably exaggerating a claim that some Corinthians were making as a result of still being influenced by their previous background in the mystery religions (compare 8.1-2). There men claimed wisdom and knowledge and an understanding of mysteries. These Corinthians saw themselves as achieving the same in the Christian church. They saw themselves as above the rest, as not needing the rest. 'All mysteries and all knowledge' probably parallels 'wisdom and knowledge' for in 2.7 it is made clear that mystery is a part of wisdom, the mystery that is linked with the crucified Lord of glory.
Yet the same ideas can be transformed and seen to be true for the Christian as the 'word of wisdom' and the 'word of knowledge' indicate, although there the wisdom and knowledge (and mystery - 2.1, 7) are closely associated with the full revelation of Christ, and with the Holy Spirit (12.8 with 1.24, 30; 2.6-7, 11-16). And Daniel declares in Daniel 2.21-22 (see especially LXX) that true wisdom, and knowledge and revealed mystery are given by God.
'And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains.' Paul almost certainly has indirectly in mind the words of Jesus in Mark 11.23 and Matthew 17.20, although 'moving mountains' may well have been a proverbial saying. Here he is depicting not only faith as depicted in 12.9 but an extreme of faith, 'all faith', and therefore certainly sufficient to remove mountains. (Jesus said that it would only need the faith of a grain of mustard seed, but Paul is looking at it as seen by men. He is thinking of 'faith' as exalted by men, not true faith in God which is hardly possible without love).
13.3 'And if I bestow all my goods to feed others, and if I give my body that I may glory (or 'to be burned'), but have not love, it profits me nothing.'
''And if I bestow all my goods to feed others.' Even charitable giving to the extent of total self-sacrifice in which one is personally involved over a long period (the verb signifies feeding bit by bit), the giving of all that one has and with personal involvement, is without benefit (to us) if it is not accompanied by love. He is not suggesting that this is something that we must necessarily do, but describing the ultimate in sacrifice from the world's point of view, a life of self-giving and involvement and constant giving away of personal wealth, and he emphasise that unaccompanied by love it would be nothing. This is a warning to us that when we 'surrender all' we must ensure it is out of love for God. If it is but a gesture in order to earn a reward or to impress others then it profits nothing.
This example may well have been taken from what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, that he should go away, sell all that he had and give to the poor, although there the giving of his wealth was to be once for all. Beware, says Paul, as far as spirituality is concerned, even that is useless without love. It is an empty gesture spiritually speaking if it is not done in the love of God and if it does not result from loving and following Jesus. The poor will rejoice, but the giver will receive no benefit.
'And if I give my body that I may glory' or 'if I give my body to be burned'. The former has by far the stronger and earlier manuscript support, but the change demonstrates the difficulty found in understanding it. 'And if I give my body to be burned' gives us a straightforward and sensible meaning. We may see Paul as thinking in terms of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in Daniel (Daniel 3.19-20) who in a sense did 'give' their bodies to be burned (Daniel 3.16-18). It is the final sacrifice. But if it is done without love it is nothing.
However the extremely strong manuscript support, and the greater difficulty of the sense, emphatically point to the more difficult reading, for while we can see why, once many in the church suffered martyrdom by fire, the change might be made to read 'burned', we can see little reason why it should have been altered the other way. And we then have to ask what Paul means.
'And if I give my body that I may glory.' We know that in fact Paul did glory in the sufferings that he had to face for Christ (Romans 5.3 compare also 2 Corinthians 11.18 with 23-30; 12.9-10), which he has already mentioned in 4.9-13, partly because he knew that it would work within him that which was pleasing to God, and partly because it was proof of his genuine concern for the churches.
And in the closing verses of chapter 9 he has spoken of beating his body and bringing it into bondage, giving of himself that he may win the prize, which he now says is nothing if done without love.
So he may well be saying that even if he gives his body up to suffering so as to endure in order to be able to glory in the result, (something which in fact ascetics did constantly), it would be without profit if it was without love. Endurance out of love for Christ and God's people is praiseworthy. Grim endurance for the sake of some earthly seeking after perfection, or in order to glory in what I am doing because I see it as good, without love for God and His people being involved, is meaningless.
But now lest we now despair because we cannot find the right emotion welling up in our hearts, (for we tend to think of love in a sentimental way), Paul goes on to define love.
How True Love Is Revealed (13.4-8a).
This definition of love covers all angles. Because it portrays the essentials of love looking from our point of view, it gives us a totally rounded view of what true love is. It thus covers what God's love to us is like. It covers in depth precisely what Jesus' love was like. It covers what our response to Him should be like. It covers how we should behave towards those we love, and especially to our fellow believers. And finally it covers what our behaviour should be like with regard to spiritual gifts, both in their use and misuse. Thus we would need to expound these verses a number of times, and more, if we wished to draw from them the fullness of their meaning. It is primarily a picture of true and genuine godly love, both God's and ours.
13.4-6-8a 'Love suffers long, and is kind. Love envies not. Love does not behave conspicuously like a braggart, is not puffed up, does not behave itself disgracefully, seeks not its own, is not provoked, does not take account of evil, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.'
This is the evidence of true love. Firstly as an overall idea this depicts God's love for those whom He has chosen, although it is not all directly applicable. His love is longsuffering and kind. It is true and righteous. It seeks only our good. He is never like a jealous man or a braggart, nor is He easily provoked. Rather He rejoices in the truth found within us. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all thing. It is constant and true. And it will not fail in the end. And it is our consciousness of this love which will enable our true response in love, for it is when we behold His love that we know what love is like.
But this also describes the love that was revealed by Jesus and what God's love for us should produce in our hearts. And that alone fully satisfies all the facets described in the words. And it does so as regards life in general, and as regards spiritual gifts in particular. For it is the attitude of heart described here which is what results in a free and open channel of blessing through which the Spirit can manifest Himself, so that the fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5.22). And there is no doubt that Paul picks his words carefully here as a rebuke to some of the Corinthians, for these failings appear elsewhere in the letter.
The love that is truly from God is longsuffering and patiently enduring. It is kind and compassionate. (Compare here Romans 2.4 for both these ideas). It never feels envy, for it wants others to be blessed. It is not jealous, because it seeks the good of others and delights in their happiness. It rejoices in what others have in their prosperity, unless that prosperity is harmful, and in their blessings and gifts. It does not try to push itself forward or seek credit or admiration for what it does. It is not proud and boastful for its thought is only of others. It never behaves in any way that is unseemly, for it is fully thoughtful and considerate of others, and is clean and pure. It does not seek things for itself, for it is totally unselfish. It does not insist on its own way, it does not constantly demand its own rights, its thoughts are not concentrated on its own advantage. It does not react to provocation, or become irritated. It behaves well even to those who have behaved evilly towards it, for it does not take their evil into account in its response The point here is that it will not let its behaviour towards someone be affected for the worse by the memory of those wrongs. It will, of course, unselfishly keep in mind what people are in making its decisions, for the good of the whole, but it will not allow it to affect personal regard.
It is sad at the bad behaviour of others because it knows what the consequences of that bad behaviour will be for the person concerned, and it gets no joy from their weakness and failure. It wishes well for those who behave badly. It rejoices when the truth is at work because aware that it will bring blessing and deliverance to many. It rejoices when it sees truth operative in men. And it always rejoices in truth however manifested because it knows that in the end truth will help to bring all to rights. It puts up with anything thrown at it, with any insult or bad behaviour towards itself. NEB puts it, 'there is nothing love cannot face'. It covers up in others everything that might badly affect its own response. (Stego can mean to bear, to endure, to cover). It always believes for the best, without thereby being foolish, for it is also thinking of the good of all. It always trusts that God will act in all situations for the fulfilment of His own will, and acts accordingly. It always hopes for that which is best, for what is for the good of all. It endures through thick and thin. We could speak of the tenacity of love. It is unfailing in all its ways, and is itself unfailing. For 'love never fails'.
So is presented in microcosm the full orbed Christian life, the basis of true spirituality, the evidence of God working within, the consequence of walking with Christ, the result of His life being lived through us, the essence of what God is. Without at least the beginning of this springing up in our hearts we cannot call ourselves Christians, for this is the result of God working within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13), and of our knowing God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4.8).
And when it comes down to the question of spiritual gifts exercised in the church that love will be revealed in the same way. It is longsuffering with those who use the gifts unwisely or amateurishly, it is kind in its attitude to such situations and to those involved. It does not envy those who have greater gifts. It does not push itself forward because of the gifts it has. It is not puffed up if it has the greater gifts. It does not use its gifts in an unseemly way, or respond in an unseemly way to the way others use their gifts. When it seeks gifts it does not seek them for its own benefit, but for the benefit of all. It does not allow itself to be provoked, either by what is done or what is said. It does not respond badly because the user of the spiritual gift has behaved badly towards it previously.
It does not rejoice at those whose wrong use of spiritual gifts leads them astray, although it may seek lovingly and in gentleness of spirit to put the situation right. It rejoices whenever the spiritual gifts result in the truth being known and enjoyed. It bears with love every manifestation of gifts whether it approves or not, it believes, unless it has knowledge to the contrary, that those using the gifts are probably doing so with the best intent and reacts accordingly. It hopes and longs that any problems will be sorted out so that the user comes into full blessing. It puts up with and endures even that with which it is sometimes unhappy. Thus it is not always passing judgment on those whose lack of true knowledge makes them immature in using the gifts. And it will always do what it can to help such people, for it never fails.
This does not mean that such love demonstrates a lack of concern for any misuses, for, where it has responsibility for the control of the church meeting, it will play its full part in controlling the use of those gifts, and will use discernment where it has a duty to do so, but it will always do so compassionately and tenderly, with the thought of the good of all, even the perpetrator, in mind. Otherwise it will leave matters to be dealt with by those responsible in the proper way without passing judgment. So the one who loves ensures the continuation of the use of spiritual gifts while looking to God and the eldership to enable them to be used for the best. That is why Paul later gives the guidance that he does.
And by taking up these right attitudes that love will ensure that the one who is himself revealing that love can himself use his spiritual gifts to the full benefit and blessing of the whole of the church, for his heart will be right and he will be a true channel for the Spirit's blessings.
In contrast some of the Corinthians do envy (3.3); do boast (e.g. 3.18; 8.2); are puffed up (4.6): some of their women do behave disgracefully (11.5-6); they are self-seeking (10.24, 33), and so on. They need to look to their beginnings.
This description of love, which lays it bare to its foundations, must for one brief moment surely cause us to put all else aside, firstly as we bask in God's love for us, and then as we bask in the love that should flow from us to others. But then having done so, we must move on to see its importance and its permanence
Love Will Indeed Outlive All Spiritual Gifts, and Is Even Greater Than Faith and Hope (13.8b-13).
For then we are brought back to how such love compares with the subject in hand. Prophecies, tongues and 'spiritual knowledge' are all temporary, for they will fade away when the reality comes. Christian love on the other hand is permanent. It will continually abide and is the greatest bestowal known to man.
13.8-10 'Love never fails. But whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.'
First we learn of the transitoriness of spiritual gifts, even true spiritual gifts, in contrast with the unfailing nature of love. How sad then if our spirituality is dependent on these gifts! For all prophecy, whether true or false, will one day be done away. All tongues, whether true or false, will one day cease (they are not the language of Heaven after all). All earthly and spiritual knowledge of whatever kind will be done away. For in the general resurrection and future transformation all will be changed (15.35-58).
For both our prophecy (whether foretelling or forthtelling) and our knowledge is partial and passing. It can only deal with what is to come prior to the resurrection and can only make us aware of the outskirts of God's being. For once we know in reality the fullness of His presence in Jesus Christ, then all our earlier glimpses and efforts to understand will vanish, to be replaced by a full knowledge of Him. Prophecy and the word of knowledge will no longer be required. When what is perfect comes, what in our folly we thought of as our grasp of the truth will be seen for what it is, as we recognise how very little we had known and appreciated. The folly of any boasting will be revealed. Thus must we remember the inadequacy, in comparison with love, of all prophecy and all knowledge. They are only minimal in what they can do in revealing God to us. But in love we come close to the heart of God even now, and love will go on for ever, beyond the resurrection and into eternity. Therein lies true spirituality.
‘When that which is perfect is come.’ Some have sought to relate ‘perfect’ to spiritual maturity, (one of its regular meanings), as though once we are spiritually mature we no longer require the gifts. There is a certain level of truth in that but it is certainly not Paul’s meaning here. He himself delights to use the gifts (14.18), and who was more spiritually mature than him? To him the gifts properly used were of great benefit to all. There is no suggestion that he wanted them to pass away. He wanted them to be used so that all might benefit. Besides verse 12 relates the meaning to seeing God face to face (compare 1 John 3.2), and that suggests seeing Him in eternity.
Others have pointed to the completion of the New Testament as being the time when that which is perfect has come. But that is to idealise a situation which was not as black and white as suggested. And while that certainly did make the gifts not quite so necessary, the church did still need people gifted by the Spirit, for the word had to be interpreted, was not easily available, and not all had trained preachers. Not all ‘declaring forth’ was to cease with the completion of the Scriptures. It was rather that the declaring forth could be made with more certainty. But others still had to judge, and that was anyway not the main purpose of the gift of prophecy which was for exhortation. The fact is that if prophecy had not been inhibited by the growing church, it may well have been the better for it. It is true that part of the problem lay in the rise of influential false prophets, prophecy became looked at suspiciously, but formalism would turn out to be the greater danger. And again verse 12 does not obviously refer to anything other than seeing God in eternity.
13.11 'When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.'
So we must recognise the inadequacy of prophecy and of our knowledge. We will in that day recognise that we have seen things as though we were still children. Paul illustrates this from his own experience. He remembers what it was like when he was a child. It affected how he spoke, how he felt, how he thought, with a child's minimal and distorted knowledge of the world. But now that he is grown up and has become a man he sees things totally differently, with an overall view, as they really are. So are we now also but children, and so it will be that when we 'grow up' and are spiritually transformed at the resurrection, all will be seen differently.
13.12 'For now we see in (literally 'through') a mirror, obscurely; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.'
For now we see things obscurely as in a mirror. Mirrors in those days were made of polished metal such as bronze, and what was seen in them was imperfect and distorted. Men spoke of seeing themselves ‘through’ a mirror, and saw themselves obscurely. In the same way when we at present look at heavenly things what we see is also dim, imperfect and distorted. But then, after the resurrection or transformation (15.52), when we have passed into God's presence, we shall see all face to face. We will not see obscurely as through a mirror. No mirror will distort our vision. It will be a face to face. encounter. Our eyes will see the King, fully in His glory. And then we shall know fully in the same way as we have been fully known. So it is foolish to put too much emphasis on prophecy and present knowledge, for they are fleeting and imperfect, they give but an obscure image.
'Then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.' Full transparency will produce fullness of glory. And then we will know God fully as He really is. And we ourselves also will have been fully known. All half knowledge will have been stripped way. Every heart will have been laid bare. The hidden things of darkness will have been revealed (4.5). What we truly are will have come out. Imperfection will have been forgiven, done away and replaced by full perfection. We will be fully known, and fully restored. As we walk at present we are contradictions. We are children of God and yet so unlike His children. We are sons of God and yet so unlike His sons. But then all that will be done away. We will be fully known and all that causes blemishes will have been removed. We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). And what will shine forth will be our love. And so will we be able to fully know the fullness of God.
We would suggest that had there not been prior reasons which influenced interpretation no one would ever have interpreted this as other than signifying meeting God in the hereafter.
13.13 'But now abides faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.'
There are in fact three things that, unlike spiritual gifts, are permanent and enduring, continually abiding now and which will abide through the resurrection and beyond, faith, hope and love. Unlike prophecy and knowledge these have become essential parts of what we are ourselves. And unlike them they are abiding, so that we have them now and we will have them in eternity. Faith because it is the channel of our life in Christ and will continue ever more fully when we see Him, for then we will trust Him even more fully than we could ever now think possible; hope because it continually uplifts us now and will, when we see Him in eternity, continue on making the future ever more bright, for, as we hope on, eternity will continue to reveal more and more of what we can never now even begin to comprehend (compare 15.19); and love because of what love is, unchanging and eternal, revealed in God and experienced in our own hearts from the moment when we became His, which will reveal more and more to our hearts of what He truly is.
But faith and hope are our response to what God is and what God offers, while love we share with God Himself. Love alone is reciprocal. He too loves, for He is love (1 John 4.8, 16), and we love because He first loved us. So His love reaches out to us and our love reaches out to Him. Thereby do we know each other. Thereby we enter into the heart of God. Thus even of these three love is the greatest for thereby even now we know God in a fuller way than prophecy or knowledge can teach us, and as we continue to grow in love we will continue to know Him more and more. So let love prevail for it is over all and beyond all.
The Use Of Spiritual Gifts in the Gatherings of God's People (14.1-40).
Having raised us up to heaven Paul now brings us abruptly back to earth as he continues to advise on the use of spiritual gifts. But before doing so he urges once more that in the light of what he has just said, all follow after love. Then, thinking very much of the church meeting, he concentrates on the gifts related to prophecy and tongues. The detail in which he goes into this demonstrates his great concern, and the concern that there was in the church at Corinth. This makes it seem probable that in Corinth there was an overemphasis on, and an overuse of, tongues.
So of the two he exalts prophecy delivered in love. This is not so much because it is greater in itself, but because it is greater because it is of most benefit for all. For it feeds the mind and the heart, whereas tongues by its very nature only feeds the persons themselves.
Comparison Of Tongues And Prophecy (14.1-25)
14.1 'Go on following after love, and go on being earnestly desirous of what is spiritual (spiritual things). But rather that you may prophesy.'
So they are first of all to go on pursuing love. And yet all he has said about love is not to put them off seeking what is spiritual, from seeking spiritual things. Love will seek spiritual gifts in the church for the blessing of all. Let them go on walking firmly in the path of love, and let them also go on earnestly desiring what is spiritual, including the gracious gifts of God he has described, in order that they may be used in love. And especially let them desire that they might prophesy. For now, if they heed his words, it will be for the right reason, because they love their brothers and sisters and long to benefit them. And of these gifts which will benefit the church as it gathers, prophecy is pre-eminent. For by that they will benefit most their fellow believers. And so he desires them to seek to prophesy above all else.
But why should we seek that which is in the sovereign hands of God? The answer lies in the nature of God's salvation. It is wholly God's free gift and wrought by God and yet men are to seek it and respond to it because that is the human side of the way in which God does things. So it is with His gifts. They are under His sovereign control and yet we are to seek them, not demandingly, but gratefully, because we seek the good of all. It reminds us constantly of our dependence on God.
14.2-3 'For he who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men, but to God. For no man understands, but in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks to men edification, and exhortation, and consolation.'
This is because the man who speaks with tongues, which has been their favourite test of spirituality, does not speak to men at all. He speaks to God. For no one understands him (note that Paul assumes that the tongues will not be understandable. (Unlike at Pentecost, that is not the point of these tongues). He may be speaking in the Spirit but he is speaking mysteries. It is of benefit to none but himself.
The gift of tongues is a gift by which men can speak in unknown languages to God. Paul describes speaking in tongues as 'speaking words' so that they would seem to be some form of language. But neither speaker nor hearer understand them. They are a means by which men speak to God, and as described here clearly contain an element of thanksgiving, although, unless the tongues are interpreted, only God knows about it. Yet their use brings private blessing to the heart. They provide some kind of spiritual relief and assistance in private worship whereby the heart is drawn to God. This is thus mainly a gift for private use and that is the question that Paul will deal with, for some of the Corinthians were making a great show of tongues in public.
Tongues which could actually be described as known languages have (rarely) been known in the present day, and have been evidenced, but it is not usual for them to be recognised, and it is not their purpose. And even so they did not have the purpose of edifying. The recognition of the language was usually purely 'accidental' because say a missionary was present who recognised the language. Pentecost was an exception. Sadly many who have enthusiastically sought to set them forth as real commonly known languages have in their ignorance often made fools of themselves. We need to beware of over enthusiasm not backed up by solid evidence.
But today so many are artificially worked up that it is doubtful whether they are genuine tongues at all, simply babbling. Whether that was so in Paul’s time we do not know.
On the other hand the one who prophesies in love speaks to men, edifying, exhorting, consoling. Rather than him speaking to God for his own private blessing, God is speaking through him for the blessing of all. And the whole church is blessed. By 'edifying' is meant benefiting spiritually or improving morally, building up the inner man. Exhortation (parakaleo) encourages, and spurs on, and strengthens and comforts. Consolation comforts and nurtures and encourages. Prophecy of this type was not intended to produce new revelation.
Prophecy was an especially important gift in the early church because as the church spread it had to depend on only partly trained men. The special inspiration of men by the Holy Spirit was, next to the Scriptures and the Tradition of Jesus, the life-blood of the church. Today we are better trained. But we would do well to seek to prophesy by the Spirit as we preach.
14.4 'He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.'
For this is the nature of these gifts. Tongues are for self-edification, prophecy is in order to edify all. Thus, in church, prophecy should have preference.
14.5 'Now I would have you all speak with tongues, but rather that you should prophesy. And greater is he who prophesies than he who speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.'
This preference for prophecy, Paul stresses, is not to demean tongues, for he would be happy for all to speak in tongues when praying privately, but rather because prophecy benefits all. He is not against tongues. He could wish that all might have the gift. But he would rather that they all prophesied. For this wish for something for all without it actually necessarily coming to fulfilment compare Numbers 11.29, which may well have been in Paul's mind (see also 7.7).
He then agrees that an exception can be made when an interpreter is present, for interpretation makes tongues edifying to all. An interpreter is someone with the supernatural gift to interpret the tongues and put them into the language known to the church members. Then the church members can also be benefited by tongues.
'Greater' in this case means 'of more value'. They are greater because what they do is more useful to all.
14.6 'But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?'
He asks them to consider. What profit can he be to them when he comes to them speaking in tongues and nothing more? It may be that he knows that they would be delighted for him to come to them speaking in tongues in the church. He would then be supporting their stance, for the way he is speaking shows that they have been putting undue emphasis on tongues. What clearly matters to them is that tongues should be seen as giving status and seen as evidence of a special spirituality.
And yet he knows that their answer, if honest, must be 'none at all'. For they will have to admit that it may please them but it would not profit them. He can in fact be of no benefit, he suggests, unless he also manifests another gift, one such as revelation, or knowledge, or prophesying, or teaching.
'Revelation' means a revealing of divine truth. The Book of 'Revelation' is the supreme example of this. In verses 30-31 it is closely linked with prophecy (as it is here). It is a prophetic function. And yet it is also distinguished from it. A revelation has precedence over prophecy (verse 30). It is a special message from God of a more direct kind. Possibly the kind, for example, that Agabus received (Acts 11.28). Paul also went up to Jerusalem by revelation in order to consult with the Apostles (Galatians 2.2). When God was indicating a particular course for His people it came by revelation, and it would seem that in those days it was a fairly regular, but not common, occurrence.
'Knowledge' here parallels 'revelation' and indicates the building up of spiritual knowledge so that men might be founded in the truth. This is imparted through both prophecy and teaching.
But the main overall point is that if the hearers are to benefit, they must receive an understandable message in their own language. He will not use tongues just for the sake of it. They are no proof of special spirituality. He wants to be understood.
14.7 'Even things without life, giving a voice (noise), whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?'
Let them consider the example of worldly things which make noises. Even though they are without life we still expect them to make intelligible noises. If they play sounds which are not distinctive who will know what is being conveyed? The player must ensure that the music he produces is meaningful to the hearer. The inference is that we who have life and are intelligent should ensure that we make noises in public that are intelligible, whereas there is nothing in tongues that can be distinguished by men, and from which they can themselves benefit.
14.8 'For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for battle?'
The same is true of the war trumpet as is true of musical instruments. Different ways in which it is sounded indicate different things. If it blares out just anything who will know what it is saying? The army and the people will not know what to do.
14.9 'So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech easy to understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for you will be speaking into the air.'
The same is true of speaking to the church. Unless members speak in easily understandable speech, how will others know what they are saying? How will they know what to do? Their words will vanish into thin air, which will absorb them unheard (because not understood). Only the fresh air will hear them, just as the uncertain notes of the trumpet disappear into the air 'unheard'.
However, it must be seen as possible that by 'you will be speaking into the air' Paul wishes them to have in mind 'the air' in which spirits were seen to exist. Ephesians 2.2 speaks of 'the prince of the power ('power' there was the equivalent of 'kingdom' - compare 'power of darkness' (Colossians 1.13)) of the air'. In this case he would be reminding them of his words in 12.1-3. (This may have been more obvious to them than to us if 'the air' was generally recognised as a sphere of spirits). He may be saying that publicly spoken tongues are only of interest to the spirit world, and without love may well be an indication of the interest of false spirits. However, few commentators see it that way. If it does have that in mind the thought is not expanded on.
14.10-11 'There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification. If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him who speaks a barbarian, and he who speaks will be a barbarian to me.'
Indeed the world has many voices that speak (he avoids the word 'tongues' specifically so as not to confuse the issue), and each one means something. And yet if I do not know the meaning of the voice I will be to that one simply as a barbarian, someone who does not know his language, and he will be a barbarian to me, because I do not hear his language. Non-Greek speakers were thought of as 'barbarians' simply because their language sounded to the Greeks like 'bar-bar-bar'. The whole point is that that is what tongues sound like to the church as a whole. They were a meaningless jabber.
14.12 'So also you, since you are zealous of spirits, seek that you may abound to the edifying of the church.'
Now he turns to apply his words directly to his hearers. He recognises that they are 'zealous of spirits'. 'Spirits' must have in mind their own spirits, through whom the Spirit operates. Compare the 'spirits of the prophets' (verse 32), Paul's own 'spirit' (verse 14), 'the spirits of the prophets' in 1 John 4.1. Thus he must mean 'zealous of inner spirits that are active spiritually', presumably, in context, in the use of spiritual gifts. In that case, he says, seek to abound with a view to edifying the church. In that way they will be manifesting love and giving exhortation and instruction which benefits all.
14.13 'Wherefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.'
So if someone does pray in a tongue in the church publicly he should pray that he might interpret, that all may benefit. Otherwise he should keep silent.
14.14 'For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.'
For praying in a tongue does not benefit the church at all. Indeed, says Paul, it is not only the church which does not understand me when I pray in tongues, I also do not understand myself. My mind is not involved. Praying in tongues may be of spiritual benefit because my spirit comes in close contact with God, Who does understand, but it does not benefit or assist my mind or my understanding. Nor does it benefit others.
14.15 'What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.'
So what shall his choice be? This could be interpreted one of two ways. Firstly, that he will choose to pray in both ways. Sometimes to pray in private in tongues so that his spirit is in special rapport with God through the Spirit inspired words, and sometimes to pray in his own language so that as his heart reaches up towards God his mind also understands what he is praying and he can be directly involved rationally. The same then also applies to singing in tongues, and singing with understanding. But if this is in mind, and the context would support it, he has in mind here, at least for the tongues, private prayer, and private singing, for he is aware that the church will not benefit from either. Thus for use in the church he will keep to rational praying and singing.
The alternative meaning is that when he prays in church he will combine spirit and understanding. He wants both to be at work. Then it is referring to the fact that this is what he will do in the church. For he confirms elsewhere that he does use tongues in private prayer.
14.16-17 'Else if you bless with the spirit, how shall he who fills the place of the unlearned say the Amen at your giving of thanks, seeing that he does not know what you are saying? For you truly give thanks well, but the other is not edified.'
He confirms the point made in verse 15 by pointing out yet again that if an individual 'blesses' with his spirit in tongues, that is offers praise, worship and thanksgiving, those who are there as 'unlearned', will be unable to respond to his giving of thanks to God, because they will not know what he is saying. While he will be giving thanks well, (something he could do equally well in private), because he is, if the gift is a true one, Spirit inspired, no one else will be edified.
We could in fact argue that actually in such a case (of insisting on using uninterpreted tongues in public) it will be questionable whether the tongues are Spirit inspired, for it is hardly likely that the Spirit would inspire selfish praying which is now seen as forbidden. That is why we must translate with a small 's'.
'How shall he who fills the place of the unlearned say the Amen at your giving of thanks.' We note here that the one described as 'unlearned' would be expected to say 'Amen' and will fail to be edified or built up. This would point to such a person being a Christian. This might suggest that the person is so described simply because they cannot understand the tongues. 'Unlearned' may even have been a slightly derogatory term used by those who spoke in tongues of those who did not.
Others point to verse 24 and consider that it probably means those who have not yet full understood and responded to the Christian faith. This might then suggest that special places were reserved for such. Then it would demonstrate that Paul was especially concerned for them. He would see it as tragic if they were put off by too much in the way of tongues. It would in his eyes be important that they could participate in the worship and understand sufficient to be able to say 'Amen', that is, indicate their agreement and participation.
Or in view of the reference to edifying it may mean the Christian novices. But whichever it means the point is the same. The word actually connects with a root which can indicate someone not particularly trained, the ordinary person in contrast to the trained expert, although there is some evidence for a technical meaning as signifying one who still attended pagan worship but was interested in Christianity.
His assumption that the church will say 'Amen', a Hebraism, is interesting. 'Amen' was said in synagogue services in response to prayers (compare Psalm 106.48; 1 Chronicles 16.36; Nehemiah 5.13; 8.6). This would tend to indicate that to quite some extent church worship was patterned on synagogue worship.
14.18-19 'I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all. Howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.'
He sums up the point from his own example. It is not that he is against tongues, in fact he uses them frequently. Indeed he can thank God that he is sure that he speaks with tongues more than all of them. (So let them not think that they are so very special).
But in the church he would prefer to speak only five intelligible words in order to instruct others than to speak ten thousand words in a tongue which is not understood Thus he follows his own guidance.
(These words in fact throw a great light on Paul's prayer life. This confidence must arise because of the hours he spent in private prayer. He was clearly certain that it was more than those Corinthians who thought themselves 'ultra-spiritual'. And as he also prayed equally as much with the understanding it demonstrated how much he prayed, although he does not point the fact out specifically. He leaves them to infer it).
We note from this that he considers that genuine tongues are composed of words, and thus are languages of a kind. And the previous verse has suggested that a main use of tongues is thanksgiving, so that we are beginning to get some idea of what tongues are.
14.20 'Brothers, do not be children in mind. Yet in malice be you babes, but in mind be men.'
He then appeals to them to think in an adult way. Children mainly think totally selfishly and without fully considering what they are saying (compare Jeremiah 4.22), not because they are totally selfish but because to them life revolves around them and their affairs They thus might be satisfied to continue babbling meaninglessly in company, and even enjoy it. But no sensible adult would do so. Sensible adults recognise the wider horizon. Thus they should behave like adults, and take many things into consideration.
Then he remembers some of the maliciousness he has heard with regard to this question, or possibly seeks to prevent it rising, so he adds, 'if you want to be children then be babes as far as malice is concerned'. In other words, be adults when thinking of what will benefit God's people, but do not let your malice develop and grow like adults would, rather let it remain small and temporary and quickly forgotten like that of little children.
14.21 'In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak to this people, and not even thus will they hear me, says the Lord.'
He now turns to the Scriptures quoting from Isaiah 28.11-12, either from some version that we do not have (it has similarities with Aquila's Greek translation), or as being paraphrased from the memory. This refers to the fact that in response to his opponents’ suggestion that he, Isaiah, is speaking on the same level with little children and in childish language, God would deal with Israel in judgment by bringing against them armies of men who spoke strange tongues and who would speak with the lips of strangers with nothing to say to them. This referred to the Assyrian armies who would be God's instrument of judgment. They would hear these strange tongues at their gates, and rather than having anything to say to them the strange tongues would be a sign that they were doomed to judgment. This is how God would speak to them. They would hear strange tongues and recognise that they were about to suffer judgment because of their unbelief.
14.22 'Wherefore (‘so that’) tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to the unbelieving. But prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to those who believe.'
The ‘wherefore’ (so that) connects back to the previous verse. In the same way, he says, if you speak to the unbelieving in indecipherable tongues you will simply be confirming to them that God has no message for them, that judgment is at the gates. They will infer that they must be under judgment and that this God to Whom they have come to listen has nothing to say to them. Having come in to hear words from God it will be apparent to them that God is deliberately keeping His mysteries from them. And so their unbelief will be confirmed. Such will go away unbelieving. They will go away empty.
On the other hand, he says, if you prophesy then it will indicate that there is a real message from God for them and that it is for those willing to believe, and they will respond accordingly. Hope is offered. Belief will be the response. So tongues will only turn men away, while prophecy will draw them to belief.
'To those who believe.' That is, those who subsequently believe as a result of hearing the prophecy, those who are ready to believe, those who are potential believers, in direct contrast with those who go away confirmed in unbelief because of tongues. We can compare here those in Acts 17.32. Some mocked (strange tongues would have been good enough for them), others said, ‘we will hear you again on this matter’. As potential believers they must be spoken to in an understandable way.
14.23 'If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving, will they not say that you are mad?'
Then he brings a second argument, taking the worst case scenario, which confirms what has been said. Suppose there is a gathering of the whole church, and suppose an unbeliever or someone untaught comes in and finds that everyone, one by one, speaks in tongues (or even all together) and nothing else. What will his impression be? He will simply say that they are all mad. So the two arguments emphasise that those who are seeking will think that God has nothing to say to them, and those who are simply curious will write them off as mad.
The case is an improbable one. There was no way that the whole church would gather and do nothing but speak in tongues. It is exaggeration to bring out the point.
This in no way indicates that all could speak in tongues, any more than the next verse means that all could prophesy. It is a theoretical case which brings out the inadequacy of tongues as an evangelistic medium (they might well have thought that what they themselves saw as something wonderful would convince everyone else as well).
14.24-25 'But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all, the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.'
But what a different situation it will be if all are prophesying one by one when the unbelieving or untaught person comes in who is potentially a believer. What then? He will be reproved by each one as they prophesy, he will recognise himself as judged by each one as they prophesy, the secrets of his heart will be laid bare as the truth shines within him, and he will fall down on his face and worship God. He will no longer think that there is no message for him. Rather he will recognise that there is, and that he is judged by God, and he will respond accordingly. He will be converted and declare that God is truly among them indeed. He will become a believer. (As opposed to going out with no message, feeling that God has refused to speak to him, or even thinking that they are mad, because of tongues). The idea behind this last phrase comes from Isaiah 45.14. So will the miracle of conversion take place among the erstwhile unbelievers.
Consequent Instructions For The Church Meeting (14.26-33).
14.26 'What is it then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edifying.'
So being satisfied that he has satisfactorily dealt with that question Paul now moves on to positive instructions. He asks them to consider a typical gathering of Christians on the assumption that they are all coming inspired by the Spirit and filled with love and concern for one another. What is the situation? They will all come inspired in a different way. One will have a psalm that has been laid on his heart so that they can sing together rationally, another will have some teaching that he feels the Spirit wishes the church to know, another may have a revelation that God has given him about some matter, another has a tongue, and another its interpretation. All will have as their main aim and desire the edifying of the whole church. What a difference from if they all come in to speak in tongues, each for his own individual benefit.
Nevertheless even then they must act thoughtfully and considerately. They must exercise their gifts with a view to edifying others.
It is noteworthy that he does not mention prophecy which up to now has been prominent, and especially so in view of verse 31. This would suggest that he considers that what he has mentioned adequately covers the same ground as prophecy, possibly the psalm and/or teaching. The psalm may signify a prophetic psalm. Note how the prophecies in Luke 1 & 2 read like psalms. ‘Revelation’ would appear to be an exceptional and not too common gift (see below), although it would also arise out of prophesying.
14.27-28 'If any man speaks in a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most three, and that in turn; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself, and to God.'
So if a man does come with a tongue, it should be by two, or at the most three, and should be 'in turn'. And even then it must be interpreted. And if no interpreter is present then the person should 'keep silence'. He should rather speak quietly and privately to himself and to God.
The restriction is quite specific. Three should be the upward limit of tongues, and this in a gathering which will last several hours. And the fact that it is to be 'in turn' might indicate that in practise in the past people have been speaking in tongues at the same time, conflicting with each other and causing disruption. Thus they are not to use tongues in unison.
We carefully note the grammar here. Paul begins by speaking to the individual who commences speaking in tongues. He then diverts to consider how many individuals shall be permitted to do this. He then returns to the individual and declares that his tongues must be interpreted. (Thus the interpretation directly follows the tongue). Indeed if no interpreter is present he must refrain from speaking in tongues, as must the possible other two. This demonstrates that the idea that the two or at the most three is simply referring to the number before an interpretation takes place is fallacious. It has nothing to do with when the interpretation takes place. It refers to God's limitation on the number of times this means of revelation can be used.
'Let one interpret.' In a verse where numbers are in use the emphasis on 'one' may signify that the interpretation should be left to only one interpreter. Perhaps when people spoke in tongues interpreters had been so eager that a number had done so at the same time. Or perhaps the emphasis is on the fact that the same interpreter should interpret in each case to maintain continuity of thought and idea. Interpretation was not necessarily to be seen as word for word translation.
There was clearly a great deal of content to their gathering that is not mentioned here. We may probably see it as being occupied by prayer, the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures and exposition on the same, as in the synagogue, hearing some of the traditions of the life of Jesus from someone knowledgeable, almost certainly given word for word from memory as delivered to him (see 11.2), or even from a written source (Luke 1.1), followed possibly by an expounding of the tradition, a reading of any letters received from important sources (1 Thessalonians 5.27), psalms and hymns, and then a common meal followed by, or including, the Lord's Supper (compare 11.17-34, but the Corinthians were misusing the idea). Not necessarily of course all in this order.
This passage might suggest that a specific amount of time was to be laid aside for exercising the charismata. It was to be a blessed time, but restrained. Thus three interpreted tongues would be quite sufficient and leave room for the exercise of other gifts. And as time was precious (this would for many be the only worship gathering of the week because of their duties), they should only be exercised if they were to be interpreted and thus bring blessing to all. Otherwise they should leave room for more edifying ministry.
14.29 'And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern.'
The same was to apply to the prophets. Two or three would speak while others judged what they said. This may mean that the whole congregation would 'discern', but the connection of the word with 'discernment' of spirits suggests otherwise. Clearly great care was taken by the eldership to ensure that what was said was soundly based on the truth (Romans 12.6), and some at least would have the gift of discernment. Note that the numbers allowed are not quite as strict as for tongues, but they are still limiting. God does not overload His people, nor does he want the prophets to be too limited by the fact that many want to speak.
Again the suggestion that this simply means 'only two or three prophets should speak in any one sequence' cannot be accepted, even though the gathering went on for a long time. The 'if all prophesy' of verse 24 does not mean that all might prophesy. It was an exaggeration to get over the point. Verse 31 is often cited to dispute this, but verse 31 in fact says too much if that is the case. For it gives no indication of the necessity for a gap in the series of prophecies.
14.30-32 'But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence. For you all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted, and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.'
Whatever these verses mean they cannot mean blatantly that 'all can prophesy one by one' without restriction. That would be to contradict the 'two or three' on any interpretation. And it would cause the meeting to be taken over by prophecy, which would go on and on, resulting in listener fatigue, and the hearing of large numbers of prophecies that were in fact never completed because others kept stepping in. Paul can surely not mean that?
What then does he mean? The answer would seem to be that firstly he is pointing out that if a special revelation from God comes they must remember that there will be many future opportunities to prophesy, and thus prophets must be prepared to give way. For the fact is that all such prophets (over a number of gatherings) will have ample opportunity to prophesy one by one. Furthermore prophecy is under the control of the prophet. But revelation only comes more rarely and is specific. And this is said so as to justify the fact that someone who receives a revelation can interrupt a prophet.
'But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.' For there may be a time when a particular prophet receives a special revelation from God which cannot wait, and the urgency of this is such that it is seen as justifying the interruption of a prophecy. This confirms quite clearly that such a revelation had precedence (compare Acts 11.28). This was not just speaking of another 'prophecy', and it would not be something that would be happening all the time. It was speaking of a specific revelation from God, possibly an instruction on something that required doing (see Galatians 2.2). But when it did come it must be given preference.
'The first' is the first prophet as compared with 'another'. He will usually be allowed to give out his full prophecy, with an exception arising in the circumstances when another receives 'a revelation'. His prophecy might normally be followed by another prophecy, but a revelation overrides such prophecies. So if a revelation from God comes, then any prophet can be interrupted. We see from this that from time to time the early church did expect to receive such special revelations from God.
14.33 'For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.'
This confirms our view of verses 30-32. It is difficult to think of anything more confusing (or unhelpful) than prophets constantly standing to prophesy, and constantly being interrupted by other prophets. This could only lead to perplexity and disharmony. And peace was to reign, not confusion, so that this was not in view. But an exception could be made for a special revelation from God. When that came, and the recipient felt that he had to interrupt the meeting to tell everyone, confusion might well have arisen had it not been for these instructions. Thus these instructions were given for the maintenance of peace in such circumstances. It prevented God being the author of confusion.
But this statement is also a finalising statement. It is not limited to this particular case. Having dealt with different aspects of ministry Paul now refers all his arguments to God. He declares that God is not the God of confusion, which is why he has said what he has. And this can in fact be seen as looking back to all he has been saying about controlling the ministry to His people, not just to the last verses. God does not want confusion at all. If tongues and their misuse, or their overuse, cause confusion then God is not their author. If anything else causes confusion in their meetings, such as too much prophecy, then God is also not its author. God is never the author of confusion, so that anything that causes confusion is not of God. Unlike in the mystery religions, which were not to be taken as a model of Christian behaviour, God's prime concern for His people is peace. And He will not support anything that disturbs that peace. That is why Paul has instructed them in line with the behaviour of all the churches. He has not simply been attacking them. He has rather been giving them the example of the worldwide church and the instruction of the God of peace.
Note here the denial that God is the author of any manifestations that disturb peace. This was an extremely important confirmation that all should look to their gifts of grace to ensure that they were gifts of grace, and not just psychological phenomena or worse.
But this then reminds him of another thing that had been said in the letter to him, and that he feels he must briefly respond to, and that is the confusion that has been arising because women were constantly chattering and asking their husbands about anything that they did not understand, disturbing the atmosphere of the gathering and the ability of others to concentrate and hear, or to meditate. And this may even have been exacerbated by the fact that the women sat separately from the men as they did in the synagogue. (This is by no means certain, but it is possible). So he briefly turns his attention to this problem. Such chattering in church is shameful because it breaks down the atmosphere and indicates insufficient reverence. It also demonstrates lack of submission as they disrupt the words of the male public speakers, and is unnecessary because they can ask at home.
14.34-35 'Let the women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak. But let them be in subjection, as also says the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.'
That women were allowed to prophesy we know from chapter 11.2-16. Whether they could do so in the church we are not told, but it would seem likely that that was one of the main reasons why she had to wear a covering when she did so, so that she was not seen to be challenging the headship of man. Thus this does not seemingly refer to that.
We have, however, had one or two earlier cases of people who were to keep silence. The man who had 'a tongue' when there was no interpreter present was told to keep silence (14.28). The prophet is to keep silence if a special revelation from God comes (14.30). Thus the command to keep silence is not for women alone. All should keep silence who have nothing at that time to contribute to the edification of those present. Why then should women particularly keep silence as a whole? Paul supplies the answer. It is because it is they who had the tendency to chatter. It is because it was they who constantly asked their husbands questions, and thus tended to be noisy, and even embarrassed the prophets who spoke. It was the women who tended most to chatter and to gossip (1 Timothy 5.13). It is because, unlike the prophetess who keeps her head covered, they are often oblivious to what they are doing and get so noisy that they seem to forget the headship of man. They forget the need for submission and tend to disturb the meetings. It is even possible that they had much to do with the misuse of tongues. Nothing would have caused more confusion than excited women endlessly expressing themselves in tongues, interrupting what was going on.
Thus, like the man with a tongue when no interpreter is present, they are to maintain a dignified silence. It is not permitted to them to speak. They are under authority. They must not chatter. They should speak to themselves and to God (verse 28). They must not cause any confusion in the church service, especially by continually asking questions.
Of course, there is an unstated assumption that if one had a genuine gift of grace (charismata), they may utilise it in accordance with what Paul has been saying, for that has been stated in chapter 11. There was no forbidding of that. Although even then it was only when wearing something that indicated their submission to the headship of man and of Christ. Then it was permissible. They could also no doubt sing and take part in worship. What they must not do is chatter and ask questions of their husbands.
Again reference is made to the Law concerning the need for a woman's submission to man as indicated by Genesis 1-2, as he has previously indicated in his arguments in 11.3-16. They must recognise continually God's order of things.
So if women wish to understand anything that has taken place in the church gathering, or that has been said in a prophecy, they should not start up a conversation about it, they should remain silent and ask their husbands at home, indicating by this their recognition that they are helpmeets not heads.
(The difficulty that these verses caused in the Western church comes out in that Western manuscripts, and they alone, placed verses 34-35 after verse 40. Someone was unhappy with them where they were. Yet all the earlier manuscripts (which are non-Western) without exception have them in the correct place, and there is no early evidence at all for them not being a part of the text. Apart from these Western witnesses, the evidence for their inclusion is overwhelming in the terms of textual criticism.
That the change took place very early comes out in the unanimity of Western witnesses. It is possible that the change took place so as to connect verse 36 directly with what has gone before rather than it being seen as a comment on verses 35-36, some in the Western church seeing verses 35-36 as interrupting the flow and relatively unimportant. Or it may have been due to the influence of highborn women in Rome who used their influence when the first copy of the letter was received and read out, to minimise the influence of the verses by this change, the church refusing to excise them altogether.
Most of those who would remove them today probably do so for the same reason as the Western church moved them to follow verse 40, because they do not fit in with our view of how Paul should have written his letter and somehow they do not fit in with our ideas. They are inconvenient. So let us put them out of the way. Then they find arguments which will justify the decision, as we always can. (This is not of course done consciously. We are all at times guilty of this process, and should be aware of it). But their arguments are certainly not conclusive, and are not sufficient to overthrow the combined witness of the early manuscripts.
For we can quite understand why some highborn aristocratic Roman women, offended at the implication of these verses and the limit they might place on them, might have been able to use their great influence (not paralleled elsewhere) to prevail on the Roman church to make them a postscript to the section rather than part of the instructions about church worship, thus minimising their influence. Yet it would indicate that even these women could not carry enough weight to have them moved completely. They were Scripture. In other parts of the world there were not such pressures. (This may be so or it may not. But in the end we will never know).
14.36 'What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? or did it come to you alone?'
This refers back to the reference to 'all the churches'. Are the Corinthians going to set themselves up as different from all the others? Do they really consider that the word of God originally went forth from them? That they were the only ones who received it? So much so that they have set up their own ideas in a way which is contradictory to how all the others see things. None others have such extreme manifestations, so much emphasis on them, so conceited a view of their own spirituality. So let them learn from them.
14.37-38 'If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant (or 'he is not recognised').'
Manuscripts of equal weight contain either the present passive indicative or the present active imperative, thus 'he is not recognised' or 'let him be ignorant'.
So Paul now challenges those who claim authority, if they really are prophets or spiritual, to consider what he says and recognise that it is the commandment of the Lord. He is claiming that his letter is a 'revelation' directly from Jesus Christ. If they do not so recognise it they are merely showing their ignorance in spiritual things. So they may choose. Agree with what God has shown him, or manifest that they have no true spirituality but are spiritually ignorant. In which case they may go on in their ignorance for they have no place in the true church of Christ (or they simply are not recognised).
14.39-40 'Wherefore, my brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. But let all things be done decently and in order.'
So he now summarises the position to them as his 'brothers' in Christ. This is the fourth time he has used this word in the chapter. He is seeking to be brotherly to them so that they might recognise his good intentions. They should earnestly desire to prophesy (for the edification of the church), they should not forbid men to speak in tongues, as long as it is done in line with what God has shown him, and they should ensure that all is done 'decently and in order', again as God has shown him.
Note. How Should We React Today?
Convinced Pentecostalists and Charismatics will require no further assistance over these matters, and those who are confident that the gifts of the Spirit are not for today, likewise. In all cases their position seems to them secure. They know what they believe. We would, however, say a few words to those who are uncertain, and who ask, how does this apply today? What should the modern Christian do about tongues, and prophecy and so on?
The first thing, of course, must be to develop love. If we begin to live chapter 13, we can trust that chapter 14 will come spontaneously in any way that God chooses. We should neither become desperate for gifts, nor should we lag behind. What matters most is to trust Him to do in us His good pleasure.
It is clear from what we have seen that there is no suggestion in the Scriptures that tongues are a proof of any special spirituality. They are a gift given mainly for use in private and as such can be a blessing. But they are not to be overmagnified, and there is certainly no case for trying to force them to come. Babbling in the flesh 'in faith' will not result in tongues in the Spirit. It will result in spurious nonsense.
Those to whom God gives the gift will find that it comes spontaneously. Those who would have the gift should pray to God concerning the matter and then wait on His will. Should He please to give the gift they should allow its manifestation through them, should He not then they should accept His decision by which He has shown His will, while open for anything further that He shows them. But they should remember that the greater gifts are those which benefit the whole church and pray accordingly.
With regard to prophecy only those who attend a church where there is opportunity for individual ministry will be able to manifest the gift even if it is given, but all who preach should certainly pray that the gift might be manifested in their preaching, and look to God to speak through them. Again, if we are genuine, God will bring about His will.
One thing we cannot doubt. God has given the gifts in one way or another through the centuries, even if not as some would have expected. And He still has these gifts for us today. What we must do is be open to His will and commit ourselves in faith into His hands. He does not necessarily fit into our patterns as history has shown. As we commit ourselves to Him, and trust Him to work His will within us, we may be sure that He will do so. And must be content with where He leads, and ready for what He pleases to give. But it should never become a burden to us. Then faith has failed. If we look to Him in faith we can be sure that when we are ready He will give us all we need in order to be a blessing to His people. Let that be our aim.
With regard to healings we may certainly pray for God to heal, and seek to exercise the prayer of faith, possibly even anointing the sick in Christ's name (James 5.14-15). But we do well to avoid extravagant claims which are not in fact realised. Again we can know that God will do His will.
End of note.
The Truth of the Resurrection (15.1-58).
Paul now seeks to end his letter by outlining to the Corinthians as a whole the true Gospel of Christ. He had begun emphatically with the cross (1.17-18). He now confirms its importance and comes to detailed proof and treatment of the resurrection. And this was partly because there were some among them who were denying the resurrection of the body. This probably indicated such a belief in their 'spiritual' state that they considered that they did not need a resurrection but would live on in the spirit in the angelic world in which they considered that they already partook by speaking in tongues. Seemingly they were beginning to fall away from the idea that redemption was necessary. Paul therefore seeks to bring out that the truth is more specific than that. God's purposes must be completed from beginning to end. Redemption for man is necessary. And he can only enter into the fullness of spiritual life through a physical resurrection. It is an essential part of God's final triumph. Thus the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead repudiates finally the position of these people.
While the theme appears new it is closely connected with what has gone before. It is a reminder that we have not yet achieved full spirituality. We are still fleshly. Thus the idea of some of the Corinthians that they were above all fleshly things and parallel with the angels was shown to be false.
He commences with the facts of the Gospel which immediately repudiate their position.
The Facts of the Gospel (15.1-4).
15.1-2 'Now I make known to you brothers, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, wherein also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.'
Paul has already emphasised the centrality of the cross (1.17-18; 2.2) and he now confirms it, along with emphasis on the resurrection, as ‘the Gospel’ of Christ which he wishes now again to make known to them, the Gospel (Good News) which he had previously preached to them, and which they had received. It is also the Gospel in which they now stand and by which they are also being saved as long as they hold fast the word (of the cross) which he had preached to them. And that Gospel includes the resurrection of the body of Christ. It is the very opposite of what some of them are now saying.
'Now I make known to you, brothers.' The word 'brothers' is all embracing and includes 'sisters'. It refers to all. Paul especially uses it in this letter when what he is saying is controversial, here because many of the Corinthians clearly laid doubt on the bodily resurrection. Having dealt with many of their questions he now comes to deal with the central matter, the content of the true Gospel.
'The Gospel which I preached to you.' He is bringing them back to the Gospel which he had first proclaimed in Corinth, that Gospel which had been so effective among them.
'Which also you received.' He reminds them that then they had received it gladly. But it may also include the technical sense that they had 'received' what had been 'delivered' and therefore had a responsibility towards it. It was received from God.
'Wherein also you stand.' This Gospel is the stance on which the Corinthian church is founded, the basis of what they represent, and what they are now standing on against the world and the Devil. It includes the fact that they know that they have been justified by faith and stand firm in the grace of God (Romans 5.2; 1 Peter 5.12), and are protected from the Enemy's onslaughts by the truths of the Gospel and of the word of God (Ephesians 6.12-17).
'By which also you are being saved.' The present passive confirms that they are in the process of salvation, a process which is continual, and the passive indicates the source, that their salvation is of God. They are 'being saved' ones, and that by God, and that is because of their faith in this true Gospel that he is about to expound on.
'If you hold fast the word which I preached to you.' And yet that salvation is dependent on their holding fast to 'the word' that he had preached to them, that is 'the word of the cross' (1.17-18). That is where he began and that is where he will finish. Salvation lies nowhere else. That is the essence of the Gospel, and includes, as Paul now makes clear, the reality of the bodily resurrection of the Christ, and the hope of the resurrection for all who are His.
'Unless you believed in vain.' This means either that if they do not hold fast to it, it will be because they have believed in vain, or that the whole Gospel hangs together in such a way that unless in fact their belief in it has been in vain (which is clearly not true) it must all be held as one. They cannot pick and choose, for the Gospel not only consists of the cross, it consists of bodily resurrection.
He wants to bring them back to what had first brought them to Christ, so that they might consider the whole. That is why he now makes it known to them afresh. Let them recognise that in this is their hope. Without it they have no hope, whatever their professed spirituality. It is only if they stand in that Gospel that they are 'being saved', that God is doing His saving work within them. They must hold it fast, for in that alone are they eternally secure.
15.3-4 'For I delivered to you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures.'
'First of all.' This had been his first concern when he came to them, for it was why he was sent by the One from Whom he received it.
And what is the Gospel which he delivered to them? It is the Gospel that he 'received', both directly by revelation from God (Galatians 1.16-17), and also from the Apostles whom he later consulted (Galatians 1.18; 2.2). Just as he stated that the prophets should be 'judged' so did he submit to the judgment of others the revelation that he had received, as we must also when we receive special insights.
'Received' and 'delivered' were technical terms among the Jews referring to the passing on of authoritative tradition. Thus Paul makes quite clear that the Gospel he preaches is a Gospel that was preached before he arrived on the scene, and is the same Gospel as was preached by the Apostles, and was long prophesied in Scripture. And that Gospel is that 'Christ' died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (compare Luke 24.45-47).
'Christ died for our sins.' Note the title. It was 'the Christ' Who died for our sins. It was the Christ Who suffered. It was the Lord Jesus Christ in the totality of what He was as God's anointed Who died. It was God’s chosen and anointed One Who suffered. And that was just what the Scriptures had taught in, for example, Isaiah 52.13-53.12, backed by all the Scriptures which pointed to deliverance through suffering, whether of man or sacrifice (e.g. Psalm 22; Daniel 9.26; Zechariah 13.7 with 9.9 and 13.1). So the real death of the Christ is declared. His body was a part of what He was.
'For our sins.' Contrast verse 17 and compare Galatians 1.4; Romans 4.7; Ephesians 2.1; Colossians 1.14; Titus 2.14 and see Isaiah 53.4-6, 8, 11, 12 LXX). Christ is here declared to be an atoning sacrifice (compare 5.7) dying for men's sins, and bearing in Himself the sins of all who call on Him (compare 2 Corinthians 5.21). In the words of Jesus, with the Servant of Isaiah 53 in mind, He gave His life 'a ransom in the place of many' (Mark 10.45).
That Jesus was early identified with the suffering Servant of Isaiah comes out in that He was declared to be the Servant at His baptism - 'my beloved, in whom I am well pleased' (Mark 1.11 compare Isaiah 42.1) and the idea is applied to Him in Matthew 12.17-21; Luke 2.32; 9.35 (RV/RSV); 23.35, and we might add John's declaration that He was the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world (John 1.29). For the fact that He identified Himself with the Servant see Mark 10.45; Luke 22.37, and He also identified Himself with the anointed one of Isaiah 61.1 (see Luke 4.17-21).
'He was buried.' The certainty of His genuine death comes out in that He was buried. This was no illusion, no pretence. In His physical body He was assuredly laid in the grave. He was dead, stone dead. This was testified to by those who had been there. This stated fact demands that the next clause refers specifically to physical resurrection from that grave, and therefore to the reality of the empty tomb.
The importance of this in Paul's argument is that the fact that He was entombed, and that Jesus was then seen to have been raised from that tomb, demonstrates that His resurrection was a genuine bodily resurrection.
'And that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.' And in that body, lying as it was in the grave, He was raised again from the dead, and this too was in accordance with the Scriptures. (See especially Isaiah 53.10-12 with 25.8; 26.19; Hosea 6.2). Note the perfect tense, He rose and still lives. The resurrection of the body was important because it stressed God's complete deliverance. The curse of sin had been wholly removed. His resurrection was the beginning, and in its significance the source, of the redemption of the whole creation (Romans 8.20-21).
'On the third day.' The Gospels tell us that Jesus Himself forecast that He would die and rise again after three days, or on the third day (Matthew 16.21; Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.34; Luke 9.22), and that was in fact the period after which the resurrection took place. Indeed given the significance of 'three days' as regularly indicating 'a short, complete period' any other period could hardly have been used to mean 'almost immediately, within a short period'; for 'three days' is shorthand for any complete period from one and a half to around five days (compare its use in Joshua 1.11; 2.16, 22; 3.2). In Jewish literature even so definite a period as 'three days and three nights' could indicate a part of a day, a day and a part of a day. (We can also compare how in Genesis any shortish journey is a 'three day' journey, and a longer one a 'seven day' journey).
'According to the Scriptures' may not apply to the length of time, but if it did so the thought in mind is probably Hosea 6.2 where the period from Israel being smitten to its rising up is three days also, that is, it will take place 'in a short fixed time period determined by God' (compare 2 Kings 20.5; Jonah 1.17). Later Jewish literature for this reason saw three days as signifying a period resulting in divine deliverance. Jesus may thus have been seeing Himself as accomplishing what was prophesied to happen to the nation. As the suffering Servant He represented Israel. Compare also how He said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again', that is 'within a short, divinely determined period of time' (John 2.19-22).
If the Jewish belief that the body began to corrupt three days after death was held at this time then the promise that 'nor will you give your Holy One to see corruption' (Psalm 16.10), utilised by Peter in Acts 2.15, could also be seen as prophesying a resurrection within three days.
The Witnesses To The Resurrection (15.5-10).
15.5-10 'And that he appeared (literally 'was seen by) to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one unfortunately born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the Apostles, who am not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.'
Note the fourfold events, 'Christ died --- He was buried --- He has been raised --- He was seen.' The verbs are pregnant with meaning. Note the contrasts. 'He died', a necessary death for the sins of the world -- 'He has been raised and lives.' Death has been vanquished. 'He was buried' (life over and hidden from view) --- 'He was seen' (visibly appeared with new life and revealed to all, although He now does so no more). The death has been cancelled, the burying reversed, all has begun anew both physically and spiritually.
The stress on the fact that He 'visibly appeared' now comes out in a listing of resurrection appearances. It was the fact that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, and that He spoke to them and ate bread among them, that gave new hope to the Apostles, and was central to their preaching from the beginning (Acts 2.14-36). Peter contrasts that fact with David who 'died, and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day' (Acts 2.29). Had he not been confident of the empty tomb he would never have drawn attention to David's tomb. David was still in his tomb, but Jesus' tomb was empty. Without that all someone had to do was point to Jesus' tomb and his argument would collapse. But it never happened.
When Christ rose He ensured that there were witnesses. First he appeared to Peter (Cephas) (Luke 24.34), then to the twelve (John 20.19-23), then to a group of five hundred, most of whom were still living witnesses, then He appeared to His brother James, then again to all the Apostles. There were thus plenty of living witnesses to the fact that Jesus had been seen as alive from the dead. And He made it clear by blessing bread, and breaking it and giving it to them (Luke 24.30; John 21.13), by showing His hands and His feet (Luke 24.40; John 20.20, 27), by receiving fish and eating among them (Luke 24.42-43).
This listing demonstrates that the fact that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead was a central fact in the teaching of the early church, and more so if, as many believe, Paul is quoting an early creed. It is noteworthy that the appearances to the women are not mentioned. While important to the early church they would not have carried weight before the world.
The specific mention of Peter and James is revealing. It was to Peter and James that Paul spoke when he first visited Jerusalem to meet up with the Apostles (Galatians 1.18-19). From them he received personal confirmation that they too had seen the risen Christ. This brings out Paul's close relationship with both Peter and James. He met up with them on his first visit to Jerusalem after being converted. He later considered them to be two of the three pillars of the Christian church (Galatians 2.9) and was received by them with the right hand of fellowship, and he reported to James and the elders of Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary tour (Acts 21.18-19). The idea that there were conflicts between Paul and the Apostles is totally refuted.
'The twelve.' A technical term meaning 'the body of those appointed by Jesus as Apostles' seen as a whole. Only ten were present at the first appearance (or eleven if Matthias was with them). But all twelve, if we include Matthias, certainly saw Him.
'Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.' Had this not been common knowledge among Christians Paul would not have cited it to doubters. This may have occurred on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28.16-20), or it may have been another appearance. Five is the number of covenant so that the number is probably a round number in which the covenant element is stressed (compare the feeding of the five thousand). The covenant community had also seen Jesus in their representatives. Paul also cites the well known fact that most of them are still alive, although some sleep (are dead). As a result of the expectancy of bodily resurrection death could now be described as sleep. The body slept in the grave awaiting the resurrection, the spirit was with God. Such a bold statement to doubters about five hundred witnesses demonstrates that the facts could be verified.
'Then he appeared to James.' We know nothing about this appearance apart from its mention here. It was when brother met brother, and helps to explain why Jesus' brothers, who had previously been doubtful of His claims, were one with the Apostles immediately after the resurrection (Acts 1.14).
'Then to all the apostles.' Thomas had not been present at Jesus' first appearance to 'the twelve'. That was later rectified (John 20.24-29). But more probably the reference is to the final appearance when Christ ascended for the last time (Acts 1.2-11), and may also be intended to include Barnabas and James, the Lord's brother, thus signifying both the cessation of the appearances and that all those recognised as 'the Apostles' apart from Paul had seen the risen Jesus during this period, which had then closed. This explains the repetition of an appearance to 'the Apostles' and would tie in with the next phrase which refers to Paul's own experience which occurred as it were out of step, but in which he emphasises his own Apostleship on a par with theirs.
The purpose behind this delineation is partly to connect himself with the recognised leadership, and the foundation members of the church, Peter, James, the twelve, all the Apostles, and the whole covenant community who had seen Jesus. He was one with them in the privilege of having seen the risen Lord.
'And last of all, as to one unfortunately born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.' In this phrase is contained the depths of Paul's own sense both of how he had been a persecutor of Jesus, and of how graciously the Lord had appeared to him and called him after the resurrection appearances had ceased.
He was clearly both awe-stricken and burdened by the fact that Christ had so graciously appeared to him even while he was engaged in persecuting Him in His church (he never forgot this - Acts 26.9-11; Galatians 1.13; Philippians 3.6-8; 1 Timothy 1.12-14). He recognised that he had been 'unfortunately born'. The appearance of Christ to Him, which was so necessary for his acceptance as an Apostle (Acts 1.22), had occurred out of step because he had been so obdurate. But he makes clear that the appearance was not merely a fleeting vision, but a genuine appearance. He appeared to him as He had to the other Apostles.
And it had led to his appointment as an Apostle of Christ, and the inference from the context in which it is stated is that he was the last to be so appointed. But he considered that it was right that he should be the last, for he was also the least, the most unworthy as a one time persecutor of Christ in His people, of God's own church. While Paul would defend His Apostleship to the last, and counted himself among them, he had no sense of superiority over the other apostles, but rather a recognition of his own unworthiness. He alone of all the Apostles had not walked with Jesus and absorbed His teaching. While He was on earth, he had been His enemy.
That Paul had been in Jerusalem when Jesus taught there must be seen as probable. He had been a disciple of Gamaliel and he would hardly have been absent from Jerusalem at the Passovers. What he actually saw of Jesus at that time we have no indication, which possibly suggests that he saw little. His teacher was not one of those intent on persecution (Acts 5.34-39). But he would have been very much aware of all that was being said about Him, both good and bad, and would probably have been present at the discussions about Him. And included among what he heard would have been words that Jesus was said to have spoken. That was no doubt why he especially felt the fact that he had retained his antagonism when others had been more sympathetic. He had not responded to Him when others did, and he should have done.
'As to one unfortunately born.' The word occurs only here in the New Testament but is found in LXX in Numbers 12.12; Job 3.16; Ecclesiastes 6.3 where it refers to stillbirth giving the impression of misfortune and horror. The idea may simply here be of a birth which is not normal, because so late. But its containing the idea of horror suggests that Paul saw his late birth as something horrific. His delay had been inexcusable.
Some see it as pointing to Paul's own unfortunate personal appearance, which is also hinted at elsewhere, so that the Corinthians had mocked him for it, and that this is his reply. Unfortunately born, yes, but born under the grace of God to be an Apostle (Galatians 1.15). This is then tied in with his phrase 'the least of the Apostles' as referring to his appearance ('Paul' means 'the little one'). But Paul refers that to his being a persecutor. Thus it seems more likely that this refers to the horror of his having left it so late, and the added horror that in his prior almost unforgivable behaviour he had actually prided himself on serving God.
15.10 'But by the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace which was bestowed on me was not found to be vain, but I laboured more abundantly than all of them, and yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.'
But he does not want them to gain the impression from this that he is not therefore a genuine Apostle. He is what he is by the grace, the unmerited favour and goodness, of God Who had chosen him from birth (Galatians 1.15). And God does nothing by halves. Even while he had not known Him God had been fully preparing him for the task that was to be his. And that grace was not bestowed in vain, for of all the Apostles he had been the most active. He had laboured more abundantly than all, working hardest, reaching furthest, writing letters to the churches in which he had laboured. And yet the credit was not due to him. It was due to the unmerited favour of God. This was no criticism of the others. It was due to the grace of God which was with him. It was that which had driven him on and enabled him. It had been God's miracle. He owed all to God.
The Argument For The Resurrection (15.11-19).
15.11 'Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so you believed.'
But let them recognise in the end that it matters little which Apostle they appeal to. All teach the same. All are at one in their doctrine. All proclaim this message he is declaring. And it is the message that the Corinthians themselves originally believed. Let them consider that.
15.12-13 'Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.'
Some of the Corinthians were declaring that there was no resurrection of the body from among the dead, as though such a thing could not be. Paul counters by pointing out that Christ has risen from the dead in bodily form, and is still alive (perfect tense - has been raised and is still raised). Thus their basic premise is wrong. Then he reverses the argument. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Christ has not been raised, and therefore the Gospel they preach as defined in verses 2-4 is a vanity which is not true, and the witnesses, Peter, James the Lord's brother, all the Apostles and the covenant community, are all found to be liars. Furthermore as their own faith is dependent on that Gospel they too are still in their sins because their belief too is false and useless, and those who have died in Christ are not merely sleeping but have perished.
'But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.' Some see this as simply saying that if, dogmatically speaking, there can be no resurrection from the dead, Christ cannot have been raised. Others take it further and add that Paul means that the resurrection of the dead as a coming reality and the resurrection of Christ go together. If one occurred then the other will occur. Thus if Christ has risen, the resurrection of the dead is guaranteed.
15.14 'And if Christ has not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain.'
The whole of the Apostolic teaching was based on the fact that Jesus Christ had died, been buried and had risen again. The resurrection was not only the source of their faith in the effectiveness of what He had done, but was itself also the evidence of God's acceptance of it. And it was the spur that drove them on. It was as it were their trump card. Without that they had no message. Without that the Master was dead, and there was no avoiding the fact. Glorious though His teaching was, without the resurrection it was just another addition to the wisdom of the ages, even if a unique one. It was the fact that Christ had risen that had brought men new hope. It was that that had made the Apostles certain about the future, and confident that He was what He had said He was, the Lord of glory. It was that that had demonstrated that He had been declared both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36).
A living on of the soul would have proved nothing except that the soul could live on, and how could they ever have known that it was true? But the resurrection of the body, after His giving of Himself up to death, had made all the difference. It had revealed that He had been right in all He had said, it had declared the success of Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross, it had demonstrated the defeat of death, and it had shown God's full satisfaction with what He had accomplished. It was moreover also a pointer to the coming redemption of all things. So without that the Apostolic preaching was but a vanity, a nothing, and if that was so it meant that the faith of the Corinthians was also useless and nothing and empty. They had accepted an invalid message.
15.15 'Yes, we are found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ, whom he did not raise up, if so be that the dead are not raised.'
Now we come to see why Paul went into such detail as to the witnesses of the resurrection. With Peter, James the Lord's brother, the twelve, all the Apostles and the covenant community all involved as witnesses the Corinthians will certainly be disassociating themselves from the whole church if they deny their reliability. In order to deny the resurrection they will have to declare them all false witnesses. That is, they will have to declare the accepted revealers of God and those who had walked with Christ on earth to be false witnesses about God.
For they had all seen Christ when He had been raised from the dead, and bore witness of God that He had raised Him up. Yet if we dogmatically say that the dead do not rise then Christ cannot have risen. For if He has then at least some dead do rise. Thus either the Apostles and their fellow-believers are liars and false witnesses about God or it is possible for the dead to rise.
15.16 'For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain, you are yet in your sins.'
But to declare that the dead are not raised is to declare that the dead Christ cannot have been raised. And if that is so their faith is vain and worthless and without purpose, it is meaningless, and they are still dead in their sins. Christ's death can then offer them nothing because His death has no seal on it and He has been proved a fake. All His promises and His insights are shown to have been in vain. He still lies cold in the grave.
And yet that is the whole uniqueness of the Christian message, that it puts forward as factual the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on the basis of solid witnesses and the subsequent effectiveness of their message. And intrinsic in that is that the resurrection is the hope of every believer because their sins have been forgiven through Christ's death for them.
15.18 'Then those also who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished.'
So the preceding suggestion that the dead do not rise, that Christ has not risen, and that they are thus yet in their sins, removes any hope for the future. They have died in sin and could only expect to perish. There can be no thought of them being in a state of 'sleep' awaiting the resurrection. Rather they are stone cold dead. They are not 'with Christ' (Philippians 1.23) in an intermediate state of bliss, their bodies sleeping in the grave. Rather they have perished.
15.19 'If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.'
For the fact is that in spite of all that He brought men, without the gift of eternal life which He promised, and which was the great hope he offered men, all else that He brought will be seen as a chimera, a dream, a pretence. What good is hope without fulfilment? We will have been filled with hope in vain and only misery will result from becoming aware if it. We will be the most miserable of men.
Christ's Death And Resurrection Has Cancelled Out Adam's Failure So That Triumph Is Assured (15.20-28)
15.20 'But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those that are asleep.'
Having established his position Paul announces his conclusion triumphantly. 'Now has Christ been raised from the dead.' He has risen and He is the firstfruits of those who sleep, those who are dead in Christ. That is why they only sleep and will one day wake to eternal life beyond the grave. The firstfruits were the first growth that announced that the harvest was coming, and Christ's resurrection is the guarantee of the full-scale resurrection of all God's people.
So the resurrection of Christ is not only a glory in itself, it is the precursor of all that inevitably follows. Once Christ has risen the rest is guaranteed. He is the firstfruits. the final resurrection and triumph is the harvest that is sure to follow, until God is all in all.
15.21 'For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.'
This was why Jesus had to come as man. By man, and his sin, death came into the world. It was therefore necessary that another Man should come Who would defeat sin and death, provide the ransom, and demonstrate it by rising from the dead, thus making resurrection from the dead a certainty for all who are God's.
15.22 'For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.'
As a result of being 'in Adam' all men are dying. His sin and its taint carries through from generation to generation. All sin, and all are dying and will die. This is the due result of Adam's first sin, and of our connection with him. But in Christ a transformation has now taken place. Those who are in Christ, that is who have believed in Him, who have responded to Him, and who have come to Him through the cross, will all be made alive. He has received them and they are His. He was fully righteous in His life, and they have become righteous in Him with the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21). Having originally been affected by the sin of Adam believers have now been enveloped in the righteousness of Christ (1.30). This argument is expanded further in Romans 5.12 onwards. And in being enveloped in His righteousness they are borne along with Him towards the resurrection.
15.23-24 'But each in his own order, Christ the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's, at his coming. Then the end, when he has delivered up the Kingly Rule to God, even the Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power.'
But the predetermined order must be fulfilled. First will be Christ, the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's at His coming. The firstfruits will be followed by the harvest. For at His coming the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up, transformed and will meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall ever be with Him (15.52; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). The harvest will have been gathered in.
'Then the end.' Once the resurrection has taken place, and the harvest has been gathered, it will be the end. Then Christ the King will deliver up the Kingly Rule to God, even the Father, and then will He abolish all rule and authority and power. As vividly depicted in Revelation 19.11-21 the Enemy will be defeated, the rebels judged, and Christ will be finally triumphant over all evil in process of yielding all to the Father.
Note the close connection between the abolishing of all rule and all authority and power and the delivering up of the Kingly Rule to God. The one follows close on the other, indeed are almost instantaneous. Both verbs are active aorist subjunctives.
The natural significance of these words is that 'then the end' follows immediately on the resurrection. Once the final resurrection has taken place, death has been destroyed, and nothing remains but the final triumph, when that which began with God is fully restored to God, so that He can be all in all (verse 28). (But those who believe in a Millennium to come, which does not appear to fit in here, have to leave a gap so as to allow for it. But there is no room for a gap. The resurrection of His people results in the end of all earthly things. That finalises redemption. There is no point in anything further. And can we seriously think that someone who believed in the Millennium would have given no hint of it here?).
'He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.' Paul regularly refers to the heavenly antagonists of God in these and similar terms. Satan rules the 'power (= the kingdom with all its powers of evil) of darkness' (Colossians 1.13), he is the 'prince of the power (all that contributes to the power of his kingdom) of the air' (Ephesians 2.2). See also Romans 8.38; Ephesians 1.21; 3.10; 6.12; Colossians 1.16; 2.10, 15). Their rule and power will be rendered void, their positions of authority will be abolished, defeated through the cross.
15.25 'For he must reign, until he has put all his enemies under his feet.'
For Christ having taken His throne after His resurrection, has continued His reign, and must go on reigning until the final defeat of all His enemies both in Heaven and earth. And once they are under His feet as a result of His second coming, when all rule and authority and power has been abolished, then He will hand the crown to His Father.
'Rule and authority and power' indicates all that is in rebellion against God, all who have chosen to be independent of Him and establish themselves over against Him, whether Satan, his minions in the heavens, or his dupes on earth. All are to be 'put under His feet'. This idea, related to Kingship, comes from Psalm 110.1 compare Matthew 22.44, revealing Jesus Christ as the greater David, God's Anointed, and Philippians 2.10 as taken from Isaiah 45.23.
15.26 'The last enemy that is being abolished is death.'
And the final enemy that is being defeated is death. Once God's throne is established, and the resurrection has taken place, there will be no more death. It will have ceased. It will have been abolished. Thus the last enemy is being destroyed by the resurrection (compare the similar idea, although expressed differently in Revelation 20.11-15), and this being so all His other enemies must be defeated at His coming and at the resurrection.
When Adam sinned, death received its power, and it has reigned through the ages. It was Isaiah who declared that one day death would be swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 25.8) and followed it by speaking of a resurrection of bodies (Isaiah 26.19), and Hosea spoke of its conquest (Hosea 13.14). Now that hope will come to reality. Death will be destroyed by the resurrection to eternal life. And with it will be brought to nothing him who had the power of death, the Devil (Hebrews 2.14). That will be the end of all things, and the beginning of all things new.
Those who believe only in the spirit living on and the body remaining in the grave to end in nothingness, fail to look to this glorious hope and this final triumph of God. They see only the continual cycle of existence. But the glory of the Gospel is that one day God will bring to a final end all sin, all suffering and all rebellion, and all death and will rule over all. For just as all had a beginning, so all will have an end.
15.27 'For, "He put all things in subjection under his feet". But when he says, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things to him.'
The words are a quotation from Psalm 8.6 where man's destined final triumph is declared. And in Christ as the great representative man this has been accomplished and will be accomplished, and it will be accomplished for Him by the Creator. It will be God Who will finally subject all things under Him.
The Psalmist portrayed a truth beyond his understanding. Somehow he knew that God had destined man, made a little lower than the angels, to be crowned with glory and honour, for had He not made him in the image of God, destined to rule? And he therefore knew that it must be. But he little realised how it would be brought about. We are to have the privilege of seeing the fulfilment of his hope in Christ, (and no doubt he will be standing there with us). Christ, the second man, raised from the dead and accompanied by His people whom He has also raised, is crowned with glory and honour with all things under His feet. He has fulfilled man’s destiny.
But that being so, there is One not put under Him. God alone, in the fullness of His Being, is that One. He is the great Exception. Man is to have total triumph over all things in Jesus Christ, but that triumph is under God.
15.28 'And when all things have been subjected to him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him who did subject all things to him, that God may be all in all.'
And then once the Son, as glorified man, having already received all authority and power (Matthew 28.19), has all finally subjected to Him, then He Himself will subject Himself as man’s Redeemer to the Godhead. And God will be all in all.
We must note carefully here the terminology. Christ has been raised and received Kingly Rule, then His own are raised with Him (verse 23), then having abolished all authorities and powers (verse 24), as the Son (verse 28), He delivers the Kingly Rule to God the Father (verse 24). Then God is all in all. In this is made clear the mission of the Son, to come as the Anointed of God to bring about the redemption of all things, so that He might deliver all to the Father, at which point the Godhead become all in all.
'God will be all in all.' Once Christ's second coming has brought about the resurrection, and all enemies have been defeated, including death, and He has then handed all things over to God the Father, God will be all in all. God will be everything in all creation. He will be the sum of all things, to all. He will be the all sustaining sufficiency in all. There will be no need for a Mediator. God will be all, in all.
Does this then make the Son inferior to the Father? That is a human question. There is no inferiority in the Godhead. Jesus shares with the Father the glory that He had with Him before the world was (John 17.5), when with the Spirit they had been all in all. But the Son was commissioned by the Godhead to the task of redemption, and for that purpose emptied Himself (Philippians 2.6-7), making Himself lower than the angels (Hebrews 2.8-9), making Himself man, that dying on the cross of humiliation and shame, He might restore to God the Father the people whom He had chosen. And in His glorified manhood, having paid the price of sin, He was raised, and He was given again the name above every name, the name of Yahweh, so that all was subjected to Him, that in the end His re-establishment as 'Lord' (Yahweh) might be to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2.9-11). But in the end it is God (not just God the Father) Who is all in all.
Further Arguments For The Necessity of Resurrection (15.29-34).
The assumption behind what follows is the belief among some of the Corinthians that man was made of both body and spirit, and that the body was unimportant, even evil, and would one day be cast of, while the spirits of all men were involved in the spirit world and all that was necessary was for them to be developed and enjoyed through manifestations of the spirit. Doing whatever they liked in the body and development of the spirit through spirit contact had become the basis of their lives. Then when death came their bodies would be buried and their spirits would live on. There was no need for redemption or the cross. They had fallen away from the Gospel. And yet they were still consorting with the church in Corinth.
15.29 'Else what shall they do who are baptised for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptised for them?'
This first argument was possibly based on a custom at that time of baptising the dead by proxy (or possibly the mortally ill who could be described as 'dead' and in no condition to be baptised?). It would seem that it had become a custom in Corinth for people to be baptised on behalf of Christians who had died unbaptised or were so close to death that they could not be baptised. So 'for the dead' means being baptised for Christians who had died before they could be baptised, or were about to die and could not be baptised, so that there might be no loss by their not being baptised. The use of the article with 'dead' indicates from its use elsewhere that it is Christian dead who are in mind. When used of the general dead it does not generally have the article.
One point that he might be making here might be that once someone has died their spirit has passed on. If, as some of the Corinthians stated, their body is now finished with, what on earth point is there in someone going through a bodily ceremony for them? The baptism would be declaring these dead to be Christians, of what point would that be on bodies which had been cast off?
Others have referred it to being baptised on behalf of relatives who had died before the Gospel had reached Corinth, in the hope that it might be effective for them as those who had had no opportunity to receive Christ, or even on behalf of friends and relatives, in a general hope for those who had died unsaved. But Paul would hardly have accepted such ideas without protest. He has made quite clear earlier that it was the word of the cross that saved, not baptism (1.17-18).
Thus the first is the most likely to be the case, otherwise it would have smacked of that very thing that in chapter 1 he had rejected, that baptism was necessary to salvation, and could bring about salvation, in contrast with his view that it was the word of the cross that saved. He would hardly have quietly accepted that.
For in the case of the baptism on behalf of Christians who had died or were mortally ill Paul could see it as declaring to the world that the person had died (or was dying) trusting in Christ, saved by the word of the cross, and so could be seen as a physical and outward manifestation by proxy that he belonged to Christ. Thus he could go along with it. But what, says Paul, would be the point of that if the dead are not raised? It is the body which is being indicated to be Christ's, not the spirit.
This practise is not witnessed to anywhere else in the New Testament and is found in none of the earliest Christian literature, even though baptism had by then gained a deeper significance. It must therefore be assumed that it was a local practise. But all the Corinthians were seemingly involved in it. Indeed these whom he was disputing with clearly had a 'high' view of baptism (1.13; 10.2), so he points out that their practise is contrary to what they teach.
Other interpretations include the suggestion that ‘baptised’ here refers to the baptism of suffering which Jesus faced and which would face at least some of the Apostles (Luke 12.50; Mark 10.38-39). Thus by this Paul would be saying, ‘Why should those who have suffered overwhelmingly in order to bring to Christ those who have now died in Christ, have done so if there is no resurrection?’ This would fit well the following verses, where the same thought would then be applied to Paul personally. Or alternately that the meaning is ‘baptised in readiness for being dead ones’. In other words why are Christians themselves baptised at all if they are not to rise from the dead? For Paul saw baptism as a depiction of that rising from the dead (Romans 6.4).
15.30-32 'Why do we (emphatic) also stand in jeopardy every hour? I swear by that glorifying in you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'
His second argument (or continuation of the first) is based on the fact that being ready to suffer and die for the Gospel is folly if the view of these particular Corinthians is right. If the spirit already has its place in the spirit world, and the body is not to be raised, but to be cast off, why bother about physical life at all. Why not just enjoy it while waiting for the body to fall away?
But his own behaviour and that of his fellow-teachers is in contrast with this. Why do they gladly suffer as they do? It is because of their concern for people as people, and because of their belief in the importance of the body and its purity, because of their belief in the resurrection of the dead, and of their own resurrection, that he and his companions are prepared to face death daily, yes even hourly, as they are doing.
'I swear by that glorifying in you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.' Paul rejoiced and gloried in the fact that he had founded the church at Corinth, as they well knew, and he now uses this recognised fact as a form of oath to stress the dangers he faced at Ephesus. He swore by that most precious thing that things were such that he faced death daily.
His was not a life of ease. ‘Fighting with beasts at Ephesus’ almost certainly indicates the savagery he has had to face in Ephesus from men who opposed the Gospel. So it is clear that during his time in Ephesus his life was constantly in danger. And yet he continued boldly preaching the Gospel, because he was confident that should he die he would finally experience the resurrection of the body. Thus he cared not what they did to his body. And he was concerned that others too might enjoy a similar resurrection.
'If after the manner of men --- .' If he simply faced mortal danger for the same things and for the same reasons for which men would do it, it would be no gain to him at all. In fact it would be folly in his view to face daily the possibility of death for such reasons. To him it was only belief in the resurrection of the dead that justified it. But if these Corinthians were right what he was doing was folly.
'If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.' Indeed, he says, if there is no resurrection of the body why not just enjoy life to excess, for then the Gospel has nothing about it that is worth sacrificing for. If the body is simply bound for the grave why not then reflect the same hopeless and frivolous attitude as was reflected in the besieged men of Judah in Jerusalem at the time of Sennacherib (Isaiah 22.13)?
No, the whole behaviour of he and his fellow-teachers was proof of the resurrection of the body. They considered that the behaviour of the body was important because that had been set apart for Christ. (This argument might not have carried much weight with the die-hards, but Paul has in mind those who are still open to considering all the facts, and who still favoured him and his ministry).
15.33-34 'Do not be deceived. Evil companionships (or 'conversations') corrupt good morals. Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not. For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to move you to shame.'
Paul finally uses his arguments to stress the need for right behaviour, and to declare that wrong doctrine produces wrong behaviour. Some Corinthians behaved badly because they considered that the body was not important, that only the spirit was involved in redemption. The others should recognise that mixing with the wrong people who teach such falsehood will corrupt their morals.
'Do not be deceived.' Compare on 3.18 where there was a danger that they would be deceived by false wisdom, the same situation as here. See also 6.9 where he warns against their being deceived about the fact that those who commit sin easily will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God. So, he says, let them be quite clear on the fact, that, as the proverb says, 'evil companionships (and their conversations) corrupt good morals (character, habits, moral attitudes)'. This latter comes from the Greek poet Menander's 'Thais' but had by this time become a popular saying. The word for companionships can also signify conversations. The principle is simple. Listen to the wrong people and you will be morally bankrupted.
'Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not.' The verb may mean simply to wake up, but can also refer to waking from drunken stupor, which is a play on the idea in verse 32. Thus Paul is saying 'awake to soberness, and in so waking be righteous and behave righteously, and sin not'. They should wake up from their folly and not behave with folly. This would confirm that those who rejected the resurrection of the body were also careless about morals.
'For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to move you to shame.' And the result of their excessive so-called spirituality is that they are seemingly not aware that among their number are those who have no knowledge of God. They are too taken up with 'spirit' activity to recognise their own failings and lack. While boldly claiming divine knowledge they are failing to pass on that true knowledge to their adherents. There are now those in the church who, for all their outward manifestations, do not know God. And he seeks to move them to shame about it.
So in this important section Paul differentiates between his own Gospel and their Gospel, for they have fallen away from and have ceased to proclaim the true Gospel, so much so that some of their adherents do not even know God. They have not experienced the power of the Gospel. These Corinthians consider that they already talk with angelic speech and that they are one with the spiritual world, and the consequence is that they consider that that is all important and that the body and its behaviour is unimportant.
So he appeals for them to awake from their drunken stupor and recognise the truth. Let them consider his own endurance, and that of his fellow-teachers. Let them recognise from that the truth of the resurrection of the body, (for why else would Paul and his fellow-teachers endure what they do?), and that the consequence of that is that what the body does is important, and let them recognise that the spiritual experience they now have is at least partly spurious, and is actually leading them into sins in the body for which they will have to give account (4.5).
What Form Will The Resurrection Body Take? (15.35-49).
Up to this point Paul's emphasis has been on the resurrection of 'the dead'. Now he begins to deal with the related question, the resurrection of 'the body'. When we speak of the resurrection of the dead, with what kind of body will they rise? Paul answers that it is in some way connected with the old body, but is a spiritual body, arising out of the physical but not itself physical.
The Resurrection Body (15.35-
Certain of the Corinthians, with many Greeks, could not believe that a human body could enter the spiritual world. Thus the idea of the resurrection of the body was foolishness to them. This is therefore the next question with which Paul deals.
15.35 'But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come?'
The question arises as to the nature of the resurrection body. The body dies and is laid in the grave where it corrupts and disintegrates, and becomes food for other creatures. Some are blown up into small pieces, others are destroyed by fire. From where then comes the resurrection body? And how can such a body enter into a spiritual world? How can it live on for ever? Of what is its nature?
15.36-38 'You foolish one. What you yourself sow is not made alive except it die. And what you sow, you do not sow the body which shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind. But God gives it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own.'
Paul, now calling them foolish for being so undiscerning about what God can do, replies by pointing to nature. As nature reveals, for seed that is sown death is not the end, rather it is the precursor of life. Men do not sow the full body of what shall be, but merely the bare grain. And from that small beginning comes the full growth of whatever crop it is. Nobody looking at the acorn would imagine that within it was a mighty oak. So God takes each seed and produces from it its own body, and there are many varieties. The thought is that in the case of human beings who are raised from the dead a new body will be produced, resulting from the seed of the old which has died. This is intended only to be an illustration, not a scientific explanation. It is simply saying that God does not need much of the old with which to create a new spiritual body which shares the essence of the old, and that death is therefore not necessarily final but can be the precursor of new life.
‘You foolish one.’ In the Old Testament those who fail to take God into account are regularly called ‘fools’ or ‘foolish’. Compare Psalm 14.1; 53.1; 74.18-22.
15.39-41 'All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial. But the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory.'
He points out that there are also many types of body. There are fleshly bodies. Men, beasts, birds and fish all have differing types of terrestrial body. But there are also heavenly bodies as well as terrestrial. And their glory is above that of the terrestrial, and each differs in glory. Thus there are the sun, moon and stars, and they all differ in glory. So may we also expect that the resurrection body will be different again, and again differ in glory.
We note that the earthly bodies are described in terms of flesh, although they do have a certain level of glory, while he speaks of the heavenly bodies solely in terms of glory. Thus the movement from earth to the heavens is a movement from a lower glory to a higher one, as all can see simply by examining the heavens. This is in preparation for speaking of the fleshly, terrestrial body of man, as connected with earth, becoming the glorious, heavenly body of resurrected man, as connected with Heaven, where all is glory, and yet as having a glory even greater than that of the heavenly bodies.
Paul was almost certainly thinking back to Daniel 12.2-3 where the resurrected dead were to shine as the stars for ever and ever. But he is careful not just to associate the new spiritual life with the glory of the stars, for they not only differ with each other in glory but are inferior to the resurrection body. At this stage he has on mind three types of body, fleshly, with its lower level of glory; heavenly and thus celestial and glorious; and spiritual, which we learn later has its own heavenly glory.
'There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial.' To catch his meaning here we may translate, 'As well as terrestrial bodies there are also heavenly bodies.' (Compare for a similar construction 16.18a).
15.42-44 'So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.'
'It' must in context refer to 'the body'. So the resurrection body, while connected with the old in some way, is totally new and unlike anything else we know. The dying and disposal of the old body is like the sowing and dying of a seed. The body is sown as a corrupt and decaying body. But what is raised is incorruptible and undecaying. It is sown in its humble earthly state, but what is raised is honourable and glorious. It is sown in a state of weakness, as a weak and frail body, but it is raised in power, as strong and vibrant and whole. It dies a natural (soulish) body, connected with the earthly creation, it is raised a spiritual body, connected with the spiritual world. Yet this must not just be seen as its spirit existing on. It has some kind of relationship with the previous body. Through Christ death results in new life for the body. But while emphasising that, he also emphasises the clear distinction between the two bodies. We must not expect to rise again as we are now. Our new form will be not liable to corruption, it will be honourable and glorious, powerful and spiritual. There will be no more disfigurements, no more disabilities, no more frailty, all will be perfected.
This might be seen as important with relation to the make-up of man. It suggests that the 'physical body' contains a spiritual element which is outside the range of science to discover, and is yet an integral part of the man's 'body', brought to life by his new birth in Christ by the Spirit, for it is that part which will form the basis of the new resurrection body.
We know a little of Jesus’ resurrection body, but it would be dangerous to argue from Jesus' resurrection body to our own. Certainly His was not an ordinary body. He could come and go instantaneously. But it was necessary that it be recognisable and that the nail prints and spear wound could be seen, and that He be able to eat earthly food. Nothing of that will be necessary for the resurrection body of God's people.
15.45 'So also it is written, "The first man Adam became a living soul." The last Adam was a life-giving spirit.'
He then illustrates this from history and Scripture. 'The first Adam became a living soul' (Genesis 2.7). When man was first created God breathed into him and he became a living being with a body of flesh, and he passed on life to those who followed him. All who were produced from him and his seed, owed all they were to him, and were by nature like him. He was a 'living soul', a body with life breathed in by God.
But in contrast the last Adam is a life-giving spirit, a Spirit Who in essence has spiritual life in Himself which He can dispense to others. Through what He was, and now is through His resurrection, Jesus not only had life in spiritual form but was also a potential giver of that life. All was totally different. As Adam began the old creation, and passed on earthly life to his children, a life he had received from God, so Christ, the last Adam, begins the new creation, and gives spiritual life to His own, a life which comes from Himself and from God. And they too become like Him (1 John 3.2).
We note that Jesus is the last Adam, not the second. Jesus Christ is the ultimate, the final life-giver. There can never be another. A third is not a possibility. No other will be necessary. He has fulfilled all that God had intended in Adam, and is the beginning of the new humanity.
It would, however, be a mistake to think that it was the resurrection which made Christ a life-giving Spirit and that He had not been so before. What it did do was reveal Him as a life-giving Spirit to those who were dead in sin. Prior to that He could give life, for ‘the Son has life in Himself --- and makes alive whom He will’ (John 5.21, 26). But nevertheless He also declared Himself to be the One Who would give final resurrection life (John 5.28-29). So all life is in His hands, both that given while He was still alive, and that which is in the future. And the life Jesus gives includes finally the resurrection of the body, for only so is the full restoration of the creation seen to occur. And that was only possible because He would suffer for our sins and rise again. From the very beginning in Him was life and the life was the light of men (John 1.4) and it was from Him that Adam received his life (John 1.3-4). And He could therefore confidently declare 'I am the Life' (John 14.6; 11.35). The giver of life to Adam. The source of life for His own. Yet it will be through the resurrection that that fact will be especially manifested in the raising of men to a perfect life so that He could declare ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11.35). So Jesus, John and Paul agree together.
15.46 'Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual.'
But there is an order to things. First comes what is of nature ( natural, soulish), where life is imparted to the flesh by God, and then that which is spiritual, with full spiritual life being received from Him Who is Spirit and Who is the life-giver. The one was always to precede the other. Had Adam not sinned he would have progressed from soulish man to spiritual man. But when he sinned the seed died within him. Thus another, a second representative Man, had to come, who could provide that heavenly life which was lost in Adam.
15.47 'The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven.'
For the first man, the source of the life of all men, is earthy, and is of the earth, as are they. But the second man is of Heaven. Paul has now come to the point where he feels that he can speak of what is heavenly without it simply being connected with sun, moon and stars, but rather being seen as that which is greater than the stars. Again Genesis 2 is in mind. Man was made of the earth, and as such returned to the earth. But the second man was not only made of earth, He was of Heaven. That is central to what He is.
By sin man had lost that heavenly part of himself, and had shut himself up ever to be earthy. But the second man was of Heaven. He had not lost that heavenly part of Himself. It was central to what He was. And although He had come as earthy, although He was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14), it was in order to be the source of that new heavenly life for men.
So they must see that life in Christ has changed everything. Those who have that life are no longer just living souls, they have received life from above, heavenly life, coming from the Life-giver Himself Who while on earth could say that He was the man from Heaven (John 3.13) and could claim 'I am the life' (John 14.6; 11.35). They can thus not only be described as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), but are in their bodies imbued with heavenly life which will come to its full fruition in the resurrection. Even while on earth they dwell in Christ in the spiritual realm, in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6).
15.48 'As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.'
And just like the first man was of the earth, and so produced earthy descendants of similar nature to himself, so is the second man heavenly, and produces heavenly seed of like nature. Those who look to Adam will die. Those who look to Christ have everlasting life (John 5.24). They have passed from death to life. They are, as it were, already heavenly men.
15.49 'And as we have borne the image of the earthy, so let us bear the image of the heavenly.'
That being so, says Paul, consider how it should change our whole attitude to life. When we bore only the image of the earthy and were in Adam it was natural that we would behave in an earthy fashion. But now that we are united with the One Who has heavenly life, and Who has imparted to our mortal bodies that heavenly life so that we bear the image of the heavenly, how different we should be. In those who are in Christ all should see the image of the heavenly in their mortal bodies, for they will behave like Christ. And in the end at the resurrection that image of the heavenly will shine through to such an extent that it will become all prevailing, so that as we ourselves originally bore the image of the earthy, so on resurrection we will bear the image of the heavenly to its fullest extent, and will be spiritual and glorious and Christ-like.
An alternative rendering of the second section is ‘so shall we bear the image of the heavenly’. But all the best manuscripts apart from B, both Eastern and Western, support the above reading, and it is the harder reading. We can therefore see no grounds for not accepting it as the original.
15.50 'Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Neither does corruption inherit incorruption.'
He then emphasises that flesh and blood, our earthy body as it is, cannot inherit the Kingly Rule of God in its heavenly form, cannot come into God's presence as it is. What is corruptible and decaying, cannot as it is inherit a life which is incorruptible. There will therefore need to be a mighty transformation through resurrection. But this need for transformation also includes those living when Christ comes. They too cannot be taken as they are. They too must be transformed.
What then will bring about this change that means that earthly Christians can inherit their heavenly kingdom? It is by their bodies being made spiritual and heavenly, being made incorruptible, by the power of God. They will no longer be flesh and blood. They will be heavenly.
15.51 'Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.'
The answer lies in a mystery of God now revealed. And that is that although we shall not all die because some will be living when Christ comes, nevertheless whether living or dying we who are His shall all be changed, shall be transformed. In a moment it will happen, as quick as the eye can blink, for we shall all be changed at the sounding of the last trump. For when that trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised in their new form as incorruptible and undecaying, and the living saints will be transformed.
The ‘we’ indicates the possibility, but not the certainty, that Paul will still be alive when Christ comes. It basically means ‘we who are His’. There will be some Christians living when the Lord comes.
Reference to the last trump in this way would naturally be seen as indicating the end of all things physical. The battle is over. The final trumpet is sounded. It seems to be linking back with verses 23-26 and saying that at this time God is bringing all things finally to completion. Compare Matthew 24.31; 1 Thessalonians 4.16. It is God’s call to final deliverance for the righteous and final judgment for the unrighteous. However, those who believe in a Millennium and a post-rapture tribulation have a difficulty here, for they have to try to fit it into their schemat by some means or other, none convincing. For in context here it is difficult to conceive that Paul could have spoken like this had he not thought that this indicated the final glorious hour, the end of all things physical (compare verses 23-26). The whole passage rings with finality. From that time on death is no more. The eternal future begins. He is not obviously speaking of a stage in the process of events, but of the final triumph of God when creation is restored.
15.53-4 'For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then will come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.'
Indeed he accentuates that fact. All is changed, and death ceases. God’s people will no longer live in decaying bodies, they will have been clothed with incorruptible bodies. They will no longer be mortal, they will have become immortal. Elsewhere Paul tells us that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6.16). Now this will be changed. He will give it also to His people.
And this is the time when death is swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 25.8) in victory. This surely indicates God's final victory, when death ceases and we have the introduction of eternity. It describes the end of corruption and decay, the end of mortality, and this fact is doubly emphasised. For then death ceases, it is swallowed up in victory. Surely this is the end of all things old, and the beginning of all things new. It is what all has been leading up to (verses 23-26). There is no room for further earthly events.
In Revelation 20 John describes all this in terms of a great white throne of judgment with the righteous whose names were written in the book of life going into eternity and the unrighteous being destroyed, along with death and the grave. The picture of victory is the same as here. The death of death and salvation for His own.
(Some may ask, but what of the thousand years in Revelation 20.4? Our reply is that it refers to the period between the resurrection of Christ and His final coming as a period of completeness and perfection. Compare 2 Peter 3.8. For the New Testament knows nothing of any other millennium).
But from where does Paul obtain the thought of victory? In Isaiah 25.8 the word translated ‘for ever’ can also (as repointed without changing the letters) be translated ‘in victory’, which is elsewhere in LXX used as a synonym for ‘for ever’. Thus Paul draws the idea of victory out to indicate that the triumph over death is not only permanent but a symbol of victory. It is everlasting victory.
15.55 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'
Paul now comes back to the present and is so carried away with the glory of the idea that he chides death itself as he considers the resurrection of the dead. So death thought that it had won? Death thought that it would be always victorious, that it had the victory? For had not all died? Ah, yes, that was true until the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But now all is different. There is now One Who has defeated death. Death has not finally won, for in Christ life has triumphed. Death has lost its sting. The one thing that gave it invincible power has been dealt with. The victory no longer goes to death, it belongs to Him.
There is an echo here of Hosea 13.14, but the general ideas expressed are dissimilar. It is the form, ringing in his mind, and some of the ideas, rather than the basic meaning that Paul has utilised, just as we sometimes may use Biblical wording to express something different from its original meaning. Note that he does not say, ‘it is written’.
15.56 'The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.'
He visualises death as like a vicious insect or scorpion with its poisonous sting. And what was death’s sting? It was sin. Once man had sinned, he was sentenced to death. And subsequently all men sinned, and therefore all died. All were stung by sin. And it continues so to be. But then One came Who had not sinned, and yet He too was sentenced to death. He too died. And in that was Satan’s error. For He Who died bore the sin of all who would be His (verse 3), of all who had been given to Him by the Father (John 6.39). And thus was death rendered powerless. In Christ the power of sin was broken, the guilt of sin was removed, and for those who submitted themselves to Christ, death had no further sting. It was sheathed in Jesus Christ in Whom it could have no everlasting effect, because He was the ultimate sacrifice and the Lord of life.
‘And the power of sin is the Law.’ Here too there is tragedy. The Law that should have given life gives only death, for it is the Law that condemns man unceasingly. When a man sins the Law points at him unerringly. It declares, ‘man, you have sinned, for you have broken one of my precepts.’ And he knows then that he is doomed, and that death is the inevitable consequence. That he has no hope. He has sinned and he must die. And the more he sins the more the Law condemns him. The Law which should have been his hope, and should have meant that he could live triumphantly, could now only condemn. By his sin man has turned God’s blessing into a curse. For once he had sinned it became his accuser.
This idea of the Law is amplified later in Romans 7.7-14. But whether Paul here means the Law of Moses, or the general law that governs mankind (Romans 2.15) we cannot be certain. There has been no prior emphasis on the Law in 1 Corinthians. Yet the question is not a vital one. To Paul God’s Law underlay all law (Romans 2.14). And the principle remains the same. Moral law, which is intended for good, condemns once sin is committed.
15.57 'But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory continually (present tense) through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
But now all is changed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection we are delivered. We are being given victory continually, victory over sin now, and finally the victory over death that Christ has accomplished. When the Law condemns us we point it to Jesus Christ. ‘You have sinned,’ thunders the Law. ‘Christ died for our sins,’ we reply, ‘and the sting of death has been sheathed in Him. And He has been raised from the dead. Thus do we know that His sacrifice of Himself was accepted.’ God has given Him, and is giving us, the victory, so that even as we die it is in hope of the resurrection.
And that victory will finally be fully established at the resurrection. Then death will be conquered. It will be no more. And it is all due to Him. It is through God, to Whom we give thanks, and through our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are given the victory, the final victory of everlasting life in all its glorious perfection.
15.58 'Wherefore, my beloved brothers, be you steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.'
What then does this mean for us? Does it mean that we can sin freely because all our sin is laid on Christ? We can surely hear Paul say quite clearly, ‘God forbid!’ Indeed it is because of this, he says, that you must be ‘steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord’. Having received so great a deliverance they must concentrate every effort on being Christlike, on letting Christ do His work through them. On showing the love of 1 Corinthians 13, on revealing the true spiritual gifts in ministry to God’s people, on true and united worship, and on holy and righteous living. And last but not least, on reaching out to the lost in order to bring in God’s harvest. (Compare 16.10). Our lives must mirror the perfection and purpose of His life.
‘Steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding.’ This represents full commitment, firm faith, and continual activity in Christ in all spheres. There is no place for sin, no room for selfishness. All that Christ would do on earth we must do. That is what the promise of the future demands of us. We are to reveal the heavenly nature (verse 49) and the heavenly power.
‘Forasmuch as you know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.' And this is why we must do so. Because we know that the Lord has triumphed. Because we know that He will raise us up. For from now on we know that in the light of His resurrection the purpose of our labour is meaningful, and the reward for our labour is certain. Because of this our service can never be in vain. Difficulties may arise. The way may be hard. But the final triumph is assured. How then can we fail to play our full part in it?
We should note here how Paul chose to end this passage. It is with an exhortation to righteous living and holiness. The doctrine was important in order that we might know the truth about the resurrection, but equally important is our response to that doctrine. Without the latter the former is but empty words. Paul has no room for great theoreticians whose lives do not reveal the truth of what they teach. Like James he would say, ‘faith without works is dead’.
The Final Question. The Collection On Behalf Of God’s Needy People (16.1-4).
Illustrating the previous verse Paul now brings them down to practicalities. They had asked concerning the collecting of money for those in need. Well, this was one work of the Lord now to hand, the collecting of relief funds for the needy in Jerusalem. So he gives practical advice on its fulfilment.
16.1 'Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do you.'
We may assume that the Corinthian Church had heard about ‘the collection’ Paul was bringing together for the poor saints in Jerusalem (verse 3), possibly in Paul’s earlier letter, and wanted to make their contribution. This concern of churches for their worse off brethren was a common feature of the early church, and James, Peter, and John had encouraged Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor when they were visiting Jerusalem (Galatians 2.10; compare Acts 11.27-30).
We have no record elsewhere of the directions Paul gave to the Galatian churches (‘as I gave order to’), to which he refers here. These were probably the churches of southern Galatia, which included Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Paul had passed through this region as he moved toward Ephesus from which he wrote this epistle (Acts 18.23). He now repeated his directions to the Corinthians commending them to follow them as well (‘so also do you’).
16.2-3 'On the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whoever you shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty to Jerusalem.’
'On the first day of the week.’ From the earliest days of the church Christians seem to have assembled on Sundays, ‘the first day of the week’, in order to worship, probably in commemoration of the Lord's resurrection. This was not an instruction of Christ, nor is it mentioned as required by the Apostles, but it quickly became customary (Acts 20.7). It was in contrast with the Jews who worshipped on the Sabbath (Saturday), and it may be that in the first stages it was precisely because it made it possible for Christian Jews to maintain their regular Jewish Sabbath worship, while also worshipping with the whole Christian church on the first day of the week, that it came about. It would be some time before, for many Jews, the clear distinction between being a Jew and being a Christian became patent, which was partly a result of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Many Jewish Christians still saw themselves as Jews, although as Jews who followed their Messiah, and they continued worshipping in the synagogues accordingly. Even Paul was willing to have offerings offered for him and to purify himself while in attendance at the Temple (Acts 21.26). And certainly many later did observe both days even among Gentiles. But the first day of the week is never called the Sabbath, and it was never as far as we know seen as a day of rest from labour.
Every week on that day each one was to lay aside a certain amount which was to be accumulated for the purposes of sending it to their needy brethren. It was to be assessed according to how each had prospered. In other words, they would give what they could afford, depending on what the week had brought. There is no suggestion of tithing and the point was that each would give as they were able. The sum so gathered would then be brought out when Paul came, and be committed to approved men for delivery to Jerusalem, where there was much poverty among Christians. It would be accompanied by letters from Paul, which would demonstrate his obedience to the Apostolic requirements, and would hopefully bring Jewish and Gentile Christians closer together. The personal presence of representatives of the donating churches would contribute towards that mutual understanding and love.
The church in Jerusalem, and probably later in Judea, suffered through persecution (Acts 8.1; 11.19), which in many cases could affect their livelihoods, they certainly at times suffered through grievous famine (Acts 11.28-29), and it may well be that the synagogues began to withhold alms from the Jewish needy who were Christians, such as for example the many widows who became Christians (Acts 6.1). On top of this the love-inspired, well-meaning sharing out of all their goods and property so that none would be without food and clothing (Acts 4.34-35), would later have left the Jerusalem church economically in a poor state with nothing to fall back on.
We note Paul’s careful use of ‘approved men’. He wanted no one to be suspicious of the use to which the money was put. It is always wise to take precautions when dealing with church finances. Thereby many have been defiled.
‘Them will I send with letters.’ Letters of introduction were a common feature of the early church so that the churches who received them might be assured of the good standing and orthodoxy of the one who bore them (Acts 15.23; Romans 16.1; 2 Corinthians 3.1-3 compare Acts 9.2; 22.5). They might also include news of treasured friends.
16.4 'And if it be meet for me to go also, they shall go with me.'
And he assured them that if the situation was right and it proved suitable, and agreeable to them, he might himself accompany them. But there is no suggestion that the money be entrusted to him. It would have been foolish for him to lay himself open to the possibility of false accusations. Paul was very much aware of the danger of money to a Christian minister.
Paul Promises That If At All Possible He Will Soon Visit Them But Meanwhile Asks Them To Give Timothy a True Christian Welcome, And Assures Them Too of Apollos’ Concern For Them (16.5-12).
Paul knew the importance for the faithful in the assembly at Corinth of knowing when they might expect to see Paul himself, or one of his colleagues, so he outlines something of their plans. It is not lack of will that prevents them coming, but the Lord’s business elsewhere. He is reminding us that it is important that we let people who are dependent on us be fully aware of where we are and what we are doing.
16.5 'But I will come to you, when I shall have passed through Macedonia; for I pass through Macedonia.'
He wanted them to know that he longed to visit them, and assured them that once he had passed through Macedonia, something which it was his intention to do, he would come to them again.
16.6-7 'But with you it may be that I will abide, or even winter, that you may set me forward on my journey wherever I go. For I do not wish to see you now by the way, for I hope to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.'
Indeed his purpose was not only to visit them but also to stay with them for a time, and possibly even to spend the winter with them, that they might then set him on his way to wherever the Lord would direct him. That is why he was not suggesting a quick visit on the way to somewhere else. For if the Lord permitted, he wanted to stay with them for a goodly period.
Thus Paul wanted them to know of his desire to spend time with them, and that the calumnies of those who said that he no longer cared for them were untrue.
‘If the Lord permit.’ He was aware that he was a man under orders, and probably remembered the last time when he had had a sudden call to go to Macedonia (Acts 16.9). All his arrangements had to be subject to the Lord’s requirements. Thus he makes this necessary proviso (compare James 4.13-15).
In fact his plans suffered a change. At the time of writing it was his plan to head north from Ephesus and then spend some time in Macedonia. Macedonia was the Roman province north of Corinth where Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea were. Then he planned to travel south to Corinth. But Paul changed his plan and travelled directly from Ephesus to Corinth for a visit that was quite hurtful (2 Corinthians 2.1; 12.14; 13.1-2), after which he returned to Ephesus (compare 2 Corinthians 2.5-8; 7.12). Later he visited Macedonia and then Corinth again (2 Corinthians 2.12-13; 7.6-16). This change of plan might have resulted from news of how his letter had been received.
While Paul did spend a winter in Corinth, it was in fact the winter after the one when he had expected to be there, the winter of about 57-58 AD rather than about 56-57 AD (compare Acts 20.2-3; Romans 16.1, 23), for he sensed the need to spend a goodly time in Corinth, and in view of the problems in the church that he has mentioned in this letter, and had had confirmed by his visit, we can understand why.
16.8-9 'But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost, for a great door and effectual is opened to me, and there are many adversaries.'
On the other hand things were going so well at Ephesus, in spite of the opposition there, that he felt that he must stay there until Pentecost. There was a huge opening there, and they were being very effective through the power of God. He wanted them to understand that his visit was being delayed for good reason. He was not his own master. Perhaps too there is the hint here to the Corinthians of how God is with him and working through him, proof of the evidence of His Apostleship.
‘Until Pentecost.’ The Jews celebrated Pentecost in late May or early June, so Paul probably wrote 1 Corinthians in the spring of the year (compare 5.7; 15.20). The fact that he refers to Pentecost demonstrates that he expected the Corinthians to have some awareness of Jewish feasts, especially those connected with great past events for the church, such as Pentecost when the Holy Spirit so vividly revealed Himself to the early disciples, and through them to Jews of many nations who became Christians forming the first infant church (Acts 2).
16.10-11 'Now if Timothy come, see that he is with you without fear, for he works the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man therefore despise him. But set him forward on his journey in peace, that he may come to me. For I expect him with the brothers '
He is also aware of the probability that Timothy will shortly visit them, possibly on his way back from somewhere to Paul in Ephesus with some other brothers, or it may be that he himself has sent Timothy and that the ‘if’ signifies ‘whenever’ (as it can). Either way he commends Timothy to them (see Acts 19.22). If he is able to come there they are to treat him gently, remembering his youth and the understandable fears of a young man still only at the beginning of an important ministry, for he works the work of the Lord just as Paul does himself. Thus they are to welcome him, take due regard to what he has to say (they are not to despise him), and set him forward on his journey to Paul in peace. The ‘setting forward’ would include provision for his journey.
This sending of Timothy illustrates the fact that, while there were opposing views to Paul in the church, he did not see them as such that they would make things impossible for Timothy.
16.12 'But as touching Apollos the brother, I besought him much to come to you with the brothers, and it was not at all his will to come now, but he will come when he shall have opportunity.'
Meanwhile he lets them know that he had urgently asked Apollos to visit them, but that it had not yet proved possible, although as soon as it was he would come. Whether Apollos’ reluctance was due to God’s call to another sphere, or whether it was due to the fact that he had a deeper awareness than Paul of the hardened attitude of many in the Corinthian church, we do not know. Perhaps he felt that if he went at that stage it would simply make the relationship between Paul and the church more difficult. But what Paul wants the Corinthians to know is that he and Apollos are at one and not rivals.
Final Words (16.13-24).
Paul comes to the end of his letter with an exhortation. It has similarities to that in 15.58. This is then followed by a further exhortation to take note of their leaders and honour and obey them, and all who truly serve Christ, a commendation of them for sending these men to him to encourage him, and a greeting to them from the wider church, including people whom they knew. He then finishes with a word in his own handwriting, demonstrating that he has been using an emanuensis (a kind of secretary) to actually write the letter.
16.13-14 'Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.'
He pleads with them to be both men of strength and men of love. Strong against both what is within and without that would challenge their faith and their lives, and loving to all who are within. They are to keep alert and watchful against all spiritual dangers and in readiness for Christ’s coming (15.58), they are to stand firm, they are to behave as true men in the face of battle, they are to be strong.
‘Watch, (be alert, be vigilant).’ This word was regularly used by Jesus of what our attitude should be to His coming. It may specifically mean that here, while at the same time indicating the need to be vigilant about maintaining purity of doctrine and avoiding being led astray.
‘Stand fast in the faith.’ This is another exhortation which is constantly repeated elsewhere (compare 15.58 and 15.1-2). They are to stand firm against the Enemy, holding true to the faith, and themselves being strong in faith (compare Ephesians 6.10-18).
‘Quit you like men.’ They are to show by their behaviour that they are truly strong. Such an order as this might well be given before a battle, and Paul is aware of the battles that lie ahead for the churches. Even the weakest of them is to be like a mighty man in the face of troubles that might arise (see Romans 5.1-5).
‘Be strong.’ This reinforces the previous phrases. They are to be strong, strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6.10). In watching, in standing firm, and in battle they are to be strong with that inner strength that comes from Christ and that never yields against the Enemy and his forces. Psalm 31.24 may well be in mind here.
‘Let all that you do be done in love.' But lest any misinterpret his words he now stresses again the importance of Christian love. They are not to be hard with each other, but loving and tender. They are to show the love of chapter 13 towards each other.
16.15-16 ‘Now I beseech you, brethren (you know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have set themselves to minister to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such, and to every one who helps in the work and labours.’
‘Brethren (brothers and sisters).’ His constant reference throughout the letter to the fact that they are his brothers, even when dealing with them most sternly, expresses his hope for them that they are truly in Christ, that they truly love the Lord (verse 22). He does not easily write them off. He feels that all they now need is good leadership and guidance.
He commends to the Corinthians those who truly ‘help in the work’ and labour, those who already follow the injunction in 15.58, and especially draws attention to Stephanas, who had come to him with others, bringing the questions from them. The description is probably in deliberate contrast with those who are so spiritual that all they can do is speak in tongues excessively. Here is one who sets himself to minister, to work and to labour in Christ. We can almost certainly assume from Paul’s words that Stephanas was a prominent, trustworthy and reliable leader in the church.
So he especially commends to them Stephanas, who was one of his early converts and was, along with his household, the Lord’s firstfruits in Achaia, initial converts for whom thanks could be given to God, along with all who are like-minded. He has shown his quality by setting himself to minister to God’s people in Corinth, along with others of his household. Here at least was one sure place to which they could look for the truth and for guidance, a solid rock of truth.
‘Be in subjection to such.’ That is, with a willing subjection because of their worthiness. They may choose to whom they will be in subjection, therefore let them choose such worthy people as these (compare Ephesians 5.21; 1 Thessalonians 5.12-13).
16.17-18 ‘And I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, for that which was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Acknowledge you therefore those who are such.’
He wants them to know how much he has appreciated the coming of these three men as representatives of the whole Corinthian church. They had given him the spiritual encouragement and refreshment in spirit that was lacking because he had not been able to visit the Corinthians. It had assured him that, in spite of the problems, all was really well at heart.
‘They refreshed my spirit and (as well as) yours.’ This probably signifies, ‘these men were a constant refreshment to your spirits, and now they are to mine too.’ Compare 15.40a where a similar construction is used.
‘Acknowledge you therefore those who are such.’ That is, they are to acknowledge those who are refreshers of their spirits. Those whose ministry produces genuine blessing are to be acknowledged and looked to. They are the true shepherds.
16.19-20 ‘The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Prisca salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss.’
He then adds the salutations of the other churches, so that they might feel a oneness with them. All the churches were to see themselves as one. This includes especially the church in the house of Aquila and Prisca (Priscilla) for these two were well known to them (Acts 18.2). He wants them to know that their hearts are with them still (‘salute you much in the Lord’). ‘All the brethren’ probably signifies all Paul’s helpers, for the churches have already been mentioned.
Aquila and Priscilla were clearly wealthy enough to own a house large enough to act as a gathering place for Christians. Aquila, like Paul, was a tent-maker (Acts 18.2-3). The unusual placing of Priscilla first in Acts 18.26; Romans 16.3 may suggest that their earthly wealth and status came from her side, Luke correctly acknowledging her status in his description.
‘Salute one another with a holy kiss.’ While hearing the salutations of others they are to also salute each other in the conventional way, with a holy kiss (he may have in mind that there may have been kissing among them which was not really holy). Such a kiss was a recognised part of worship among the early church. Thus the reading of his letter is to be a cause of mutual salutation and awareness of the salutations of all the churches, a recognition of fellowship between all.
(It is regularly a problem to know when Paul is the innovator, and when he simply describes what was the custom in the churches, for his is often the first mention we have of what were later certainly customs within the church, as revealed for example in the Didache).
16.21 ‘The salutation of me Paul with my own hand.’
He finishes with his own salutation. He has now taken the pen in his own hand and adds this postscript in his own writing. This both guaranteed the genuineness of the letter and assured them of his personal concern and love (compare Galatians 6.11-18).
16.22 ‘If any man does not love the Lord, let him be anathema. Maranatha.’
But he is so moved by the situation in the Corinthian church that he adds as his own comment, ‘If any man does not love the Lord, let him be accursed, for behold the Lord is coming.’ In the end with all their spiritual manifestations the central test is whether they love the Lord. Is their trust in Him? Do they look to Him? Are they taken up with Him? Is it their concern to obey Him? If not they are still under the curse.
The use of the Aramaic ‘maranatha’ suggests that Paul is reminding them of a solemn early credal statement, which binds the Lord’s people to love Him, that would be recognised by all. It is thus not his personal curse, but one recognised by the whole church. He reminds them that on the one hand are those who are in Christ who love Him, on the other those who are anathema, devoted to destruction, when the Lord comes. Let them consider their ways.
‘Anathema.’ Compare Galatians 1.8-9 where any, whether man or angel, who preach another Gospel than the one Paul has defined is anathema. In LXX it often translates cherem, devoted to God and therefore to be destroyed. (See also 12.3; Romans 9.3; and Acts 23.14, where it is a votive offering under which the man calls for a destructive curse on himself if he fails to keep his vow; for the use of the term).
‘Maranatha.’ An Aramaic term. The words in ancient scripts ran together so we may read as marana tha (‘our Lord, come’) or as maran atha (‘our Lord has come’). It became, or had become, part of early church worship as witnessed in the Didache where it is used in connection with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But Paul’s use of it here must surely point forward to the time of coming blessing and judgment at Christ’s coming when all comes to an end (15.24). Note how he too connects ‘until He come’ with the Lord’s Supper (11.26).
16.23-24 ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.’
He finishes with his conventional greeting, praying that the unmerited favour of the Lord Jesus Christ might continue to be with them, and unusually adds an expression of his own love for them all in Christ Jesus. His hope and yearning is that they might all prove to be lovers of the Lord and so he directs his love towards all.
‘Amen.’ So be it.
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