Things I Didn’t Know were in 1 Corinthians
So, I’ve been slowly reading through the New Testament. It’s interesting how you can discover things you read over 18 times before. (One thing that has me tripped up is how you could almost substitute the Catholic Church for Israel inRomans 11.) It seems like every chapter in 1 Corinthians has at least one little slap across the face. Here are a few. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
I have a couple of Bible passages on the corkboard above my desk, and this one is going up. It’s encouraging for someone who doesn’t do so great speaking actual words out loud enough so people can hear. If Paul, a Jewish scholar and master orator, couldn’t trust himself to come up with the right words, I shouldn’t, either. But more than that, it’s a reminder that other people understanding truth isn’t dependent on my wisdom. Or, as Jesus put it,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” ().1 Corinthians 3:10-13
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stray – each one’s work will be manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test that sort of work each one has done.
I’ve read this passage a million times and heard it preached on a couple thousand. But it’s mostly been piecemeal. “Your good works will only benefit you in heaven and are only worth something if they survive the metaphorical judging fire.” I can’t recall anyone pointing out that this verse comes in the middle of a passage on the building of the church. And by “church,” I mean the whole “Christians sharing and manifesting the Kingdom of God to each other and the world.” That doesn’t necessarily alter the nature of the “gold, silver, [and] precious stones” that we are to exemplify. It does redirect our attention. It’s saying that as we act out our personal faith in Jesus, we do so in the context of the larger body of believers. Yes, either way we give cups of water to the thirsty, but the passage is saying that we do it as a representative of the church, a bringer of the Kingdom of God – not as a single person looking for more glory in heaven. We are not building a little hut off to the side – we are mudding a wall or installing a faucet or nailing a shingle on Christ’s foundation.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 4:3-4
I sometimes have a hard time understanding what Paul’s trying to say. These verses make much more sense if you hear them in an old man’s rambling voice (Gandalf works). He’s saying, “It doesn’t really matter much if you or any human court made some judgment against or for me. In fact, I don’t even judge my own motives. I mean, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong lately, but even that conclusion doesn’t mean I’m innocent. Leave the judging to God.” How many times do we hear, “I’m a good person – I’m going to heaven”? Paul himself (Philippians 3:4-7) didn’t trust his own judgment. How can we declare any righteousness in ourselves?
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.” 5:11-13
It’s a really hard thing when a believer falls into unrepentant sin. In the previous verses, Paul said we are not to engage in the cultural traditions that would indicate we have a close relationship with them. These verses are a little different. Basically he’s saying, “This doesn’t apply to unbelievers. If it did, we’d never get anything done. Plus, we can’t expect them to live like one of us because they’re not one of us!” This made me think of all the good mentors who volunteer for the trafficking recovery ministry I’m a part of. Our training tells us, if the girl smokes or cusses or talks dirty or does drugs (again), set healthy boundaries, but let it go. We can’t expect her to live like us. Give her grace. And don’t back out just because her language makes you feel uncomfortable.
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 6:7
This is a hard pill to swallow for those of us who believe justice is essential to the Christian life. Here, Paul mirrors Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. The integrity of the church and the integrity of your walk as a Christ-follower are more important than seeking justice for yourself in worldly matters.
Follow the steps in Matthew 18, but even if you don’t get a just resolution, don’t make a big deal out of it. For someone who can hold a grudge tighter than our children’s editor holds her Apple computer, this is convicting. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am├ö├ç┬¬I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 7:7-8, 32-35
What struck me recently isn’t the words or the concepts expressed here, but the placement. 1 Corinthians 7 – the chapter on marriage – is practically bookended by verses extolling the virtues of singleness. It is not necessary to be married to live a Christian life. It’s not necessary to have sex to live a fulfilled human life. In fact, in many cases, it’s better to not be married and, therefore, not have sex. Society’s made sex such an idol in this world, as the church often does with marriage. God created them to be good things, not mandatory things.
├ö├ç┬¬Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 9:1b-3
The passage goes on to argue that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (vs. 14). This only struck me because of some comments on an article the boss wrote on copyright laws. Mainly, that if you use our stuff, source it. And don’t download an entire article and turn it in as a class assignment! Two commenters (two!) complained that we were being prideful, saying truth belongs to God and to take ownership in our words is “plain spiritual elitism.”Here, Paul says differently. He says that it is reasonable to acknowledge when a particular teacher (we wouldn’t ever claim to be apostles!) has fed into your life. In his case, he’s talking about spiritual authority. In ours, it’s just the precise pattern of words we use to express truths and thoughts that can be found in many different places. Either way, a modest citation isn’t out of line, especially since this is the way we make our living.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home – so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. 11:33-34a
I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia├ö├ç┬¬I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia├ö├ç┬¬It was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 1 Corinthians 16:5; 2 Corinthians 1:16a, 23b; 2:1
I guess I find this interesting that Paul discerned that instead of getting in the Corinthians’ faces and hand-holding their spiritual growth, it was better that he remain away. Partially because he didn’t think his own frame of mind would be helpful, and partially because they needed more time to work things out on their own. In mentoring and spiritual leadership (and parental!) roles, it’s hard to stand back and let someone make mistakes. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed for them to internalize what they need to know.