One Day They’ll Look to See We’re Gone, For Tomorrow He’ll Reign and So I’ll Follow God’s Son (1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1)

Gerald Ford was an athlete in his youth, took care of himself all his life and was still in great shape when he came to the White House. After he slipped one rainy day and fell headlong down the stairs coming off Air Force One, he developed the reputation for being a klutz. SNL and other comics had a field day.

You can go on-line and see hilarious compilations of celebrity trip-and-falls. Some falls are not funny:

Dr. Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame, died on April 17, 2003 in New York from head injuries suffered in a fall near his office. He was 72.

Dave Freeman, whose book 100 Things To Do Before You Die inspired the film The Bucket List, died after hitting his head from a fall at his home. He was 47.

Serious “falls” were a problem in the church at Corinth. Spiritual falls. In verse twelve we’ll read, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Comparing church age believers to the Israelites in their Exodus, Paul will say that they, “SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND ROSE UP TO PLAY” (v7).

Sit… Stand… Fall. It was a pattern of behavior in Corinth that needed to be corrected.
It should be replaced with what Paul encouraged in the first verse of chapter eleven:

1Co 11:1 (NIV)  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Sit… Stand… Follow is the pattern Paul provided to replace Sit… Stand… Fall. It will make more sense as we work through the chapter. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Take Heed To Not Sit, Stand, and Fall, and #2 Take Heed To Sit, Stand, and Follow.

#1 – Take Heed To Not Sit, Stand, and Fall (v1-22)

Satan sits on a throne. At least, he did in the first century, so probably he still has one today. In the Revelation Jesus told the believers in the church at Pergamos, “You dwell where Satan’s throne is” (2:13).

I don’t know where Satan calls headquarters today.

I do know that you don’t want to sit down with the devil, or any of his principalities and powers, or his rulers of the darkness of this age. But that is precisely what Paul told the believers in Corinth they were doing by dining in the pagan temples where the food was first ritually sacrificed to gods.

Paul began to address the issue with several illustrations from the Old Testament.

1Co 10:1  Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea,
1Co 10:2  all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
1Co 10:3  all ate the same spiritual food,
1Co 10:4  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

The believers Paul was writing to were mostly Gentiles, but they had a good knowledge of the Old Testament. Before looking at the particulars, here is Paul’s point: The Israelites were God’s supernaturally delivered people who used their freedom to indulge themselves and thereby were falling into sin. As God’s supernaturally delivered people, we should take heed and not do likewise.

Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage to Egypt. They were “baptized into Moses” means that they identified with him as their deliverer by passing through the waters of the Red Sea. In the wilderness, the Israelites ate and drank supernaturally supplied food.

Jesus delivers us from bondage to sin. A Christian is baptized into Jesus Christ. We have spiritual food and water to sustain our walk.

1Co 10:5  But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
What an understatement of the facts. All of them who left Egypt who were over the age of twenty died in the wilderness, over a period of four decades. All, that is, except two – Joshua and Caleb.

1Co 10:6  Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
1Co 10:7  And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND ROSE UP TO PLAY.”

This is Paul’s quick summary of the famous incident in Exodus involving the making and worshipping of the Golden Calf. They sat and drunkenly feasted around the newly-forged idol. When they stood, their feasting turned into an immoral orgy.

1Co 10:8  Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
This incident is from later in their history, recorded in the Book of Numbers. Moabite women came into the camp of the Israelites and the men were having sex with them. It brought upon them a judgment from God in which “twenty-three thousand” were killed.

1Co 10:9  nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;

In Numbers twenty-one the Israelites complained against Moses because all they had to eat was manna. God sent snakes into the camp – fiery serpents who bit the people and many died.

1Co 10:10  nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Numbers sixteen records that when the people complained against Moses a plague came and destroyed many of them.
Taken together, these incidents from Jewish history describe perfectly what the believers in Corinth were doing:

They were attending feasts to the idols reminiscent of the Jews feasting around the Golden Calf.
Some of them in Corinth were engaging in sexual activity with the temple prostitutes, similar to the Moabite women coming in to the camp of Israel.

The Corinthians were adding the wisdom of the world to the things of the Lord. Like the Israelites, they were not content with God’s provision of spiritual food and drink and were looking for other sources.
They were complaining against Paul and suggesting he wasn’t a ‘real’ apostle. Not unlike the complaints of the Israelites against Moses and his leadership.

1Co 10:11  Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

The things we read in the Old Testament are “examples” to “admonish” us in our walk with the Lord. We ought to take heed to them because we are those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” “Ends of the ages” can be translated the fulfillment of the ages. It means that we are to think of ourselves as living in the last days when the return of Jesus to resurrect and rapture the church is imminent.

1Co 10:12  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

The believers in Corinth thought they had good spiritual posture, and a strong walk, and could handle sitting at the pagan meals. Paul was strongly admonishing them that they were headed for an injurious spiritual fall.

1Co 10:13  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

This is one of those wonderful go-to verses. Let’s make sure we understand it. “Temptation” here means trial or testing. The way Paul used it is of some trial that comes upon you that God then uses as a testing. Two things help us put trials into proper perspective:

First, they are “common to man.” Trials are to be expected in this fallen world. They are commonplace. We should therefore not think it strange when trials come.

Second, trials are never beyond your ability to “overcome” with God’s help. There is always either “a way of escape” or the promise of supernatural empowering “to bear it.”

You can trust God to provide help in a trial that He has not necessarily originated, but that He has allowed.

Gordon Fee writes, “Paul’s point, then, is that in ordinary human trials one can expect divine aid. There is no danger of “falling” here. But it is otherwise with idolatry. The “way out” in that case is simply put [in verse fourteen],” Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

Listen: When you choose to behave wrongly, it isn’t a trial. I’ve talked to believers who feel they are being persecuted at work when the truth is, they are lousy employees.

1Co 10:15  I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.

This could be sanctified sarcasm, but since we can’t really know, let’s receive it as an appeal to sanctified common sense.

1Co 10:16  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
1Co 10:17  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

This, by the way, is not a teaching about communion. Paul was simply using communion as an example. When a Christian participates in the Lord’s Supper, he or she is sharing in fellowship with the Lord. It is more than just eating and drinking.

1Co 10:18  Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?

“Israel after the flesh” is referring to Jews under the Law of Moses. When a Jew brought his sacrifice, part of the meat would be offered to the Lord. Part of it would be given to the priests for them to consume. And part would be consumed by the offerer.

Both the Lord’s Supper and the temple sacrifices were times of fellowship. Paul applied this principle of participation to the pagan feasts that the Corinthians were attending.

1Co 10:19  What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?
1Co 10:20  Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.

Earlier Paul had indicated that an “idol” was, by itself, “nothing” compared to God. However, sitting down in the temple of the idol and participating in the ceremonies was something more. The idol might be a thing of wood or stone but behind all idolatry is the devil, who desires to be worshipped. Food sacrificed in the pagan temples is, in fact, being sacrificed to demons.

And because of the principle of participation, if you are there, you are fellowshipping with demons, whether willingly or unwillingly.

1Co 10:21  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.

They couldn’t have it both ways. They must choose the Lord over idols. It wasn’t a gray area.

1Co 10:22  Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

Participating in the ceremonies at the pagan temple would be like going out on a date with someone who is not your fiancée.

Paul’s statement, “are we stronger than He?”, was a rebuke to those whose argument was that they were so strong in the Lord that participation in the pagan ceremonies was no big deal. Instead of seeing how near you can come to idolatry see how far you can keep away from it.

How does this apply to us, in America, where our restaurants are mostly not sacrificing the lasagne to idols? Normally I’d talk about idolatry in general. But that is, well, too general.

How about this. It’s been said that you become what you worship. I think that’s true, to a point. It gives us an excellent way of examining ourselves with regards to idolatry in our lives.

Simply put, Who or what am I like? Another way of putting it – Who or what am I becoming like?

If I am like or becoming more like the world, more interested in material things, less interested in serving the Lord by a real sacrifice of my time, talent, and treasure, then it is a pretty good indicator I am sitting in the wrong places.

If, on the other hand, there is growing spiritual fruit in my life and ongoing spiritual service that actually costs me something, then it’s obvious I am taking heed to not stand and fall.

#2 – Take Heed To Sit, Stand, and Follow (10:23 – 11:1)

Growing up, there were four channels: ABC, CBS, NBC, and KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. There was no remote. And school was uphill both ways.

On those channels, I was warned to not smoke by the famous “Like Father, Like Son” public service ad:

A dad is painting the side of the house; his young son mimics him.
Dad is driving the car; his young son is in a little seat with his own steering wheel. (NOT a car seat, mind you; he could be ejected any moment. Or rear-ended and burn to death in their convertible ‘65 Mustang).
They wash the car together.
Afterwards they go for a walk and throw a few stones.
Then it happens. While sitting for a rest, dad lights up. He sets the pack down on the ground… The boy picks it up. The narrator bemoans, “Like father, like son? Think about it.”

Imitation can, however, be good – especially if you imitate the apostle Paul.

1Co 10:23  All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
1Co 10:24  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.

I am to always seek the well-being, the good, of others over my own good. Always. Period.

Verse twenty-three shows the principle in action guiding my decisions.

“All things are lawful for me” means that all the things that are morally neutral and not specifically condemned by the Bible are in the realm of liberty. But since I am seeking the good of others over my own, before I participate in any liberty I ask myself two questions:

Is this liberty going to be “helpful”? In the context it seems to mean, “Is it going to benefit others?”

Is this liberty something that can “edify”? The word means to build up. Once again it is building-up others, not myself, that I should be concerned about.

Whatever might be on the current cultural list of gray-area liberties available to me needs to be tempered by whether or not my participation in them will benefit and build-up others.

What follows, in verses twenty-five through thirty, is a series of practical situations that the Corinthians found themselves in. Paul put the principle he had just established into action. The first situation was meat being sold in the public marketplace.

1Co 10:25  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake;

It wasn’t the meat. It was eating it in the temple of the idol. He added a quote from Psalm 24:1. Since “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,” then the meat belonged to Him before it was ever sacrificed to an idol. If it was good to eat before the sacrifice, it was good to eat afterwards.

The second situation is a private dinner in the home of nonbelievers.

1Co 10:27  If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

You’re invited to the home of nonbelievers. You might “desire” to go in order to share Jesus with them. In that case, “eat whatever is set before you.” Don’t ask if the meat was sacrificed to an idol. Don’t act weird!

1Co 10:28  But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL ITS FULLNESS.”

The nonbeliever informs you that the meat was sacrificed to an idol. Why would they? Because they have some idea that, as a Christian, you might have a problem with it. That it might be off-limits to you. In that case, so as to not confuse the nonbeliever, you ought to abstain.

Why does Paul repeat the quote from Psalm 24:1? I think he means it in this second application to say that there is a lot to eat and drink that is not questionable. Eat or drink something else so as to not confuse your nonbelieving host.

1Co 10:29  “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?

Paul tells you it is the “conscience” of the “other” person, in this case the nonbeliever, that he was talking about.

“Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?” In other words, If my conscience is clear, why should I submit my behavior to the conscience of someone else?

1Co 10:30  But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?

I might be free to partake and give thanks to God for my liberty (in this case, food). But I don’t want to risk being “evil spoken of” for some liberty I exercise in the presence of the nonbeliever.

This happens all the time. I often hear a nonbeliever say of someone, “He claims to be a Christian but I saw him…,” and then they mention some behavior from the list of questionable practices.

Remember that Paul was dealing with the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Sure, it could be eaten. But the nonbeliever might have a hard time understanding why. After all, it just took three chapters to try to explain it to Christians.

1Co 10:31  Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1Co 10:32  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,
1Co 10:33  just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

To the glory of God, guided by the Gospel, so as to “give no offense,” which here means to create an obstacle, thereby stumbling someone. That’s your life principle.

1Co 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

Paul wasn’t being proud, saying he’d arrived. He was simply saying that he applied these principles in his walk with Jesus, and that they were successful in both keeping him on the narrow way, and winning people to salvation.

So… Where am I sitting, spiritually speaking? Ask yourself, because where you’re sitting will determine whether you fall or follow after you stand.

I Win Them One Peeps At A Time, And It Doesn’t Cost Them A Dime (1 Corinthians 9:1-27)

I don’t think I’m ready for Self-driving Cars. They are also called Autonomous Vehicles, Driverless Cars, and Robo Cars. One description reads like this:

Self-driving cars combine a variety of sensors to perceive their surroundings, such as radar, lidar, sonar, GPS, odometry and inertial measurement units. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage.

Nova (the program on PBS, not the classic Chevrolet) just released a pretty well-balanced documentary called Look Who’s Driving. To grab your attention, it opens with the now-infamous Uber self-driving car accident that occurred last year, which took the life of a pedestrian. There was a driver behind the wheel, but the car was confirmed to be in autonomous driving mode at the time.

You and I aren’t cars; but you could say we have to “identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles” as we walk with Jesus both in the church and out in the world.

Do you remember the bumper-sticker that read, Jesus is My Co-pilot? That’s downright demeaning. Jesus better be piloting my life.

That doesn’t mean that we can kick-back and enjoy the sights while Jesus takes the wheel. We are involved, actively making decisions, determining how to interpret and apply the Bible, as we progress on the narrow way and look forward to reaching the Golden City, whose builder and maker is God.

The apostle Paul is going to tell us how he navigated. He mentions “the Gospel” no less than nine times in these few verses – in 12, 14, 16, 18 & 23. He defends his activities in the church and in the world, among different groups, saying, “Now this I do for the gospel’s sake…” (v23).

We, too, are to navigate our walk with Jesus by the Gospel. We’ll see some of what that means as we work through chapter nine. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Let The Gospel Determine When To Wave Your Rights In The Church and #2 Let The Gospel Determine When To Wave Your Rights In The World.

#1 – Let The Gospel Determine When To Wave Your Rights In The Church (v1-18)

BTW: Human errors cause 94% of all serious motor vehicle accidents. Robots can’t do much worse.

The Gospel is that Jesus, God in human flesh, was crucified, buried and rose again, appearing to Peter and the other disciples and then to a great number (First Corinthians 15:1-5). 

“He was crucified for our sins and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). 

Paul preached the Gospel in Corinth. Men and women, mostly Gentiles but also Jews, were saved. They began to seek each other out, and gather together. But like any gathering of imperfect people, problems arose.

Paul had written them a letter, prior to this one, in which he addressed their problems.

The believers did not like his answers, so they disobeyed Paul. But in order to feel justified in disobeying an apostle, they took a second look at him. They suggested that he was not a ‘real’ apostle, like the twelve.

Paul felt he needed to answer their criticism, but he skillfully wove into his answer a bedrock principle: You should be ready to wave your rights if exercising or demanding them might hinder the Gospel.

1Co 9:1  Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?

These questions all require an exclamatory “Yes!” answer:

“Am I not an apostle?” Yes, he was, in the unique first century sense of laying the foundation for the church and exercising signs and wonders.

“Am I not free?” As an apostle, under the Lord’s authority, he was “free” from anyone else’s opinions or criticisms or leading.

“Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” Yes, he had, on the road to Damascus. It was one of the requirements for an apostle that they had seen the risen Lord.

1Co 9:2  If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Paul had founded their church and performed the miraculous works of an apostle among them. Even if others wanted to, they could not reasonably deny his apostleship in Corinth. Their criticism was a miscalculated dodge for their disobedience.

1Co 9:3  My defense to those who examine me is this:
1Co 9:4  Do we have no right to eat and drink?
1Co 9:5  Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1Co 9:6  Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?

These next three “Yes!” questions reveal three specific criticisms the Corinthians leveled against Paul’s apostleship:

Paul did not ask them for support, to be able to “eat and drink.” He worked to support himself. Apparently other apostles did receive support. So they concluded Paul was not a bonafide apostle.

Paul and Barnabas didn’t travel with wives like other apostles.

The Corinthians didn’t think it was “right” for an apostle to work. This might be a criticism that Paul wasn’t totally committed to the work of the ministry.

Thus they had formulated their own criteria for apostleship: An apostle must receive support rather than support himself, and he must travel with his wife. Notice none of it was spiritual; it was all fleshly.

1Co 9:7  Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?

These three illustrations from everyday life show that the receiving of material support for your work is customary. Apostleship, although a calling, is work, and those so-called have the right to support.

1Co 9:8  Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also?
1Co 9:9  For it is written in the law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE AN OX WHILE IT TREADS OUT THE GRAIN.” Is it oxen God is concerned about?
1Co 9:10  Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.

The “law” that Paul quoted was Deuteronomy 25:4. The “ox” was to be permitted to eat of the grain while he labored pulling the grinding wheel. While the verse established the ethical treatment of animals under our stewardship, Paul indicated that it was also intended to be applied to the proper treatment of human laborers. The worker is worthy of wages.

1Co 9:11  If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?
1Co 9:12  If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?…

So far this was a strange defense. Paul seemed to be agreeing with them. An apostle does have the right to receive support.

Paul and his colleagues had even more occasion to be supported by them, having founded the church by leading them to Jesus. Where was he going with this?

1Co 9:12  If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.

It never occurred to them that Paul was voluntarily waving his rights, and that he was doing it for them. Has it ever occurred to you… Or to us… to voluntarily wave our rights for the sake of others?

1Co 9:13  Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar?
1Co 9:14  Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

In God’s temple at Jerusalem, and in every pagan temple throughout the Empire, the priests were materially supported by those they ministered to. It was the expected, accepted practice. How much more deserving are ministers of the Gospel.

“Those who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel.” If you are being ministered to spiritually then you are to support the ministry materially. In Second Corinthians Paul tells us that we should give financially to the church we attend and that our giving should be regular, sacrificial, and joyful.

“Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the Gospel of Christ.”
Paul needed to answer the accusation that he was not a ‘real’ apostle; but the point he really wanted to make was that he waved his rights as an apostle in order to be most effective in sharing Jesus with others.

1Co 9:15  But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.

A paraphrase of this reads, “Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives” (The Message).

He wasn’t asking for back pay; he wasn’t demanding his wages. He had waved his rights.

You have the right to wave your rights – which you should if the Gospel warrants it in your situation.

Paul was extra-sensitive to any accusation that he preached the Gospel for material gain. He thus refused pay for it, so no one could impugn him, and thereby cast doubt on the Gospel itself.

Think about that word “die.” It is a hyperbole to emphasize just how serious it is to be hindering the Gospel. Wages weren’t the issue; winning souls was, and is.

1Co 9:16  For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

He didn’t choose his course of life. Jesus did, especially when He saved Paul on the road to Damascus.
1Co 9:17  For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

I found myself consulting alternate translation quite a lot this week. Here is verse seventeen in one of them: “If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid?”

Paul’s approach to being an apostle was that it was more like a stewardship, and that he was more like a steward. A “steward” (usually a slave) was one who has been “entrusted with” managing a household. Such a person was not entitled to pay. Their needs were met by the master, and he provided everything required and requested for the carrying-out of his orders.

1Co 9:18  What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.

It was rewarding to Paul to “present the Gospel of Christ without charge.” And it kept him from abusing his apostolic authority in that he could relate to the daily struggles of the believers – many of whom were stewards and slaves.

It wouldn’t be a misuse of these verses to examine our own lives. Is there something I am doing, or that I am not doing, that is hindering the Gospel from being preached by me?

Better yet, ask: “Am I a self-driving Christian, or am I navigating by the Gospel, with Jesus piloting?”

#2 – Let The Gospel Determine When To Wave Your Rights In The World (v19-27)

Church planting is a commendable activity. But I think there is too much church planting where there are already churches.

That wasn’t the case in the first century. Paul was pioneering churches – planting them where there were none by preaching the Gospel. In his travels he would encounter Jews first, then Gentiles. The two groups were wildly different. The Gospel is universal; Jesus is the Savior of all men. As the messenger of the Gospel, Paul had to fit in with both groups. He thus waved his rights accordingly.

1Co 9:19  For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;
Paul was “free from all men” in the sense that he could live as he pleased among all men so long as he didn’t sin. He decided to exercise his freedom in an unusual way: By giving it up in order to serve all men.
1Co 9:20  and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;
1Co 9:21  to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;
1Co 9:22  to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

Paul had no problem being kosher around Jews. They were still “under the Law” of Moses.

They practiced circumcision, observed dietary restrictions, celebrated certain days on the calendar. Among them he could function “as under the Law.” He could respect their customs without adopting them as being necessary for salvation. He could participate to a point. He could limit certain liberties because he loved the Jews and wanted to see them get saved.

Those “without [the] Law” (of Moses) are the Gentiles. They are all non-Jews. Around them Paul was not Kosher. He did not insist they be circumcised or that they restrict their diet or that they observe certain holy days. He acted as if he were “without Law.” He meant that his behavior around Gentiles was not in strict outward conformity with the Law of Moses.

Around Christians who had a “weak” conscience about certain questionable things he limited his liberty.
In their case he didn’t need to “win” them to salvation. His use of “win” is in the sense of not seeing them stumbled in their walk.

Note the phrase in parenthesis in verse twenty-one. No matter who he was around Paul never violated his own biblical morality and he never diluted or altered the message of the Gospel. His methods were adaptable, however, in order that Jesus might be glorified through his sharing of the Gospel.

1Co 9:23  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

It may require what seems to be sacrifice. But it is really a very small sacrifice because you embrace representing Jesus Christ as an ambassador as a great and precious privilege.

It is by those sacrifices of his liberty that Paul was “a partaker of” the Gospel.

“Partake” can mean participate. He was more interested in participating with God and with Christians in sharing the Gospel than he was in participating in some personal liberty.

1Co 9:24  Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
1Co 9:25  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

Corinth sponsored what was called the Isthmian Games. These contests were second only to the Olympics in Athens in terms of fame and popularity.

An athlete in training is “temperate in all things.” It means they exercise self-restraint in every area in order to be at their very best. They adjust their diet, their sleep cycles, and their social and personal calendars in order to be at their best.

1Co 9:26  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

Paul made a funny. When he said, “not with uncertainty,” he pictured a runner who, upon hearing the “Go!” started running in the wrong direction. He didn’t have the finish line in view but ran all over the place. For emphasis he switched from the track to the ring. He pictured a boxer “beat[ing] the air.” He was not talking about shadowboxing. That’s a good training discipline. No, he was picturing a boxer coming out and throwing punches that never landed. All that’s going to do is leave him exhausted.

1Co 9:27  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

“Discipline” has the sense of self-denial. Like an athlete, he denied himself certain things among various groups in order to “win” people.

Paul didn’t want to get to the end of his own “race” on the earth and be “disqualified.” He was thinking of his future meeting with Jesus Christ in Heaven after he died or was raptured as if it were like the Reward Seat of the Isthmian Games. There the victorious athlete would be given the laurel wreath and earn the praises of the judge.

Or he would be disqualified for any of a number of things! Let me point out that if the athlete was disqualified he would remain a citizen of Rome. We’re not suggesting in any way that disqualification means you forfeit eternal life and are lost for eternity.

You might, however, forfeit your eternal rewards. And even before you get to the end of your race you will forfeit your effectiveness for Jesus and hinder your testimony.

A Calvary Chapel pastor, called to minister in Mexico, gave up his American citizenship to become a Mexican citizen. Extreme, but good example of what Paul was talking about.

Your destination is Heaven, by way of the Reward Seat of Jesus. Jesus needs to take the wheel; but you are to navigate. Do so by the Gospel – what will adorn it, not hinder it.

Don’t Stumble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord (1 Corinthians 8:1-13)

File this under the category, “Who knew?”

When I was in sales, I would frequently take clients, or prospective clients, out to lunch. It was a fun perk, and to make the most of it, I tried lots of different restaurants.

There was this place in San Bernardino on Highland Avenue, near Del Rosa. I can’t remember the name, but it served Middle Eastern food. I arranged to meet with the two managing partners of a real estate office whose title insurance business I was after.

Things were going great. Menu looked good. Our waitress took our order in a prompt manner. Our conversation was good.

Then it happened.

Some rather loud cultural music began to play, and out came our waitress… But in a change of clothes. She was dressed, if you can call it that, full-on I Dream of Jeannie. She went from table-to-table belly dancing. She lingered at our table for what seemed an eternity.

It was before Yelp! How was I to know I’d be having lunch plus dancing?

If they had Yelp! in the first century, and if you used it to find restaurants in Corinth, you’d see that most of them were on the site of one of the twenty-six or so pagan temples. If you were in the mood for seafood, the Temple of Poseidon was always running a special. Temples to Apollos, Dionysus, Pan, and Aphrodite were all popular dining spots. One source I consulted indicated there would be several restaurants in each temple – sort of like a food court.

The believers in Corinth had frequented these establishments all of their lives. It’s where you went on date night. Or for any celebration, really. They continued to eat out at the various temple restaurants after they got saved.

At these temples, the meals were sacrificed to idols before they were served. In a previous letter to them that is lost to us, the apostle Paul had either strongly exhorted them or had forbid them from dining at the various temples, on account of the idol worship that was involved.
The Corinthians refused to obey Paul, arguing that “an idol was nothing,” and that “there is no other God but one” (v4).

Paul told them why they were wrong. Their arguments were not taking into account the potential for stumbling other believers (v9). One commentator put it like this: “Personal behavior is dictated not by knowledge, freedom, or law, but by love for those within the community of faith. Everything one does that affects relationships within the body of Christ should have care for brothers and sisters as its primary motivation.”

Love triumphs over liberty. As we work through the verses, we will try to bring them forward to see how they apply to us. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Have The Opportunity To Be A Building-Block, and #2 You Have The Obligation To Not Be A Stumbling-Block.

#1 – You Have The Opportunity To Be A Building Block (v1-8)

Just when you think this has no application, you’re watching season fifteen of Survivor. They’re in China. At the beginning of the game, the contestants went to a Buddhist welcoming ceremony. I remember thinking it was weird. Even though they told the contestants it was merely cultural, it was clearly a worship service. One contestant – Leslie Nease – refused to participate. She said it conflicted with her being a Christian.

How about a Hawaiian luau? It’s history is that of sacrificing food to various island gods.

For that matter, how about the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland? Among the gods there are Maui, Rongo, Tangaroa, and Wannahockaloogie.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves…

1Co 8:1  Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

There were three parts to these meals: the preparation, the sacrifice, and the feast. The meat of the sacrifices apparently was divided into three portions: that burned before the god, that apportioned to the worshipers, and that placed on the “table of the god,” which was tended by priests and priestesses but also eaten by the worshipers. The gods were thought to be present since the meals were held in their honor and sacrifices were made. They were also social occasions for the participants.

“We all have knowledge” is a phrase that summarizes the argument that the Corinthians were using. The knowledge they had, according to verse four, was that “an idol is nothing… and that there is no other God but one.”

They were right about the meal; but they were wrong about eating it without concern for how their behavior affected others. Paul answered them by saying “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” – it builds-up.

Because we live in community, connected with other believers, I must temper my “knowledge by love.

1Co 8:2  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

You can be orthodox but arrogant. You don’t know anything if you don’t show love by preferring others over yourself. Paul will expand on love in chapter thirteen, saying,

1Co 13:1  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
1Co 13:2  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1Co 13:3  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

1Co 8:3  But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

Your relationship to God is a love relationship. You love Him; and you are “known” by Him – intimately, wonderfully, lovingly known to His heart. Paul was implying that if you are loved by God, and you love God, then you will show it by loving those whom God loves.

1Co 8:4  Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.

Paul agreed with their knowledge, but knowledge wasn’t the real point.

1Co 8:5  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),

There were (and are) “so-called gods on earth, and in heaven:

On earth, men craft idols to represent their gods. Even though Paul said, “an idol is nothing,” he will later add, “… the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons” (10:20). The idol may be “nothing” to you, but there can be a genuine demonic presence that ought not be taken lightly.

“In heaven” is referring to real supernatural entities, like Satan and the principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age. In the Book of Job, we see that Satan still had access to Heaven. These supernatural foes war against us, and a pagan meal sacrificed to them is just the kind of foothold they are lost for.

1Co 8:6  yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

Commentators see this as a kind of early Christian doctrinal creed. We can identify monotheism, creationism, the deity of Jesus, and redemption – just to name a few things.

Here it serves to underline what Paul was getting at. We have a familial relationship with God; He is our Father, making us brothers and sisters in Christ. He is Lord over all things, and in our lives. We thus have opportunity to love one another in the family under His lordship.

Paul applied their argument that there is one God. Since they believed it, they should act on it more for love than liberty.

1Co 8:7  However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

The “idol” may indeed be “nothing” to some, but not to others. To them, it is still, in some sense, idol worship. They cannot in good conscience eat in the temple restaurants. If they were to partake, it would “defile” them.

“Defile” derives from a root word meaning soiled. We might say dirty. It would wound them, causing guilt for sinning against their conscience.

Leslie Nease was encouraged to participate in a Buddhist temple worship ritual. They told her it wasn’t religious. In the luau example… If you have the “knowledge” it’s nothing, that’s great. But don’t try to convince someone to attend who has doubts.

1Co 8:8  But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

Eating in the temples, or refusing to, “does not commend [you] to God.” In other words, it doesn’t make you more spiritual, or leave you less spiritual. These are personal issues to be decided in your heart between you and God. No one can or should overrule your conscience.

This is a very important point. You see, we tend to think of those who exercise greater liberty as being more mature, as being more spiritual. Not necessarily so! We likewise tend to think of someone without liberty in a certain questionable practice as being less mature, as being less spiritual. Not necessarily so! At least not from God’s perspective.

It’s important to realize this because often folks exercising liberty fool themselves into thinking they are growing when, in fact, they may be going backwards in their walk. Therefore they tend to want to flaunt their liberties and lead others into them.

Liberty is great; but the greatest is love.

#2 – You Have The Obligation To Not Be A Stumbling Block (v9-13)

Westley would do anything for his precious Buttercup. His tests consist of his swordfight with Inigo, his wrestling match with Fezzik, and his battle of witlessness with Vizzini. Then there is the Fire Swamp and the Pit of Despair. All for The Princess Bride.

I’m sure we all agree with Paul’s analysis. Love triumphs over knowledge. Now the question becomes, “How far are you willing to go for the sake of love?”

1Co 8:9  But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

They were at “liberty” to eat in an idol’s temple. It may not be advisable… But it was their choice. The real issue was whether or not their doing so would become a “stumbling-block” to those whose conscience prohibited them from doing likewise.

“Stumbling-block” means actively encouraging the so-called “weaker” brother or sister to participate. It wasn’t just that some of them were still having pizza parties at Pan’s Place. It was that they were inviting the weaker brothers and sisters, and urging them to come and get over their reluctance.

To paraphrase what Paul said, “Don’t use your liberty carelessly in a way that leads a Christian still vulnerable to those old associations to backslide” (The Message).

1Co 8:10  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?

Hmm. Is it just “seeing” them that is the problem? Here’s a perspective on that:

They seem to be urging others, whom Paul describes as people whose consciences are weak, to join them at these meals. This seems to be the best way to make sense of the fact that they “see” the “knowing ones” sitting at table (how could they “see” it if they were not present?). What is “destroying” them is the fact that they are under considerable pressure to accept – or have actually done so – the invitations of the “knowing ones.”

1Co 8:11  And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

Instead of seeing others as “weak” brothers and sisters, we must see them as those “for whom Christ died.” A Christian’s very life was at stake. They might “perish.”

That sounds serious; and it was… and it is. The brother or sister was probably a former idolater who was in danger of falling back into the grips of idolatry. They were being encouraged to return to the things Jesus had delivered them from.

They might “perish” by God killing them prematurely. This was happening in the first century church:

In The Book of Acts, there is the example of Ananias and Saphira being struck dead for lying to God.
Later in First Corinthians chapter eleven we will hear about believers who were defiling the Lord’s Supper becoming ill and even dying as a discipline.

1Co 8:12  But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

This sounds like Jesus saying to do something against one of the least is to do it against Him (Matthew 25:45). Or Hebrews 6:6, where to return to former sins is to crucify the Son of God all over again and hold him up to public disgrace.

Getting more technical, some commentators point out that the plural “brethren” might mean the entire body of believers in Corinth. Thus the ones with knowledge were sinning against all the believers as well as Jesus.

The ones with knowledge were in sin. Not for their liberty, but for their encouraging the weak to follow them. Because the weak are in Christ, people He died to set free – it is sin against Him.

1Co 8:13  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Paul wasn’t suggesting you go vegetarian. He was applying the principle of love triumphing over knowledge. The issue was foregoing your rights in order to edify other believers. It wasn’t just the eating of meat; it was eating it in a way that was a stumbling-block. We’ve seen that means encouraging or urging the brother or sister to partake or to participate against their conscience.

Back to the Enchanted Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki Room. You have liberty to sit there and enjoy the show. You’re in no danger of worshipping Wannahockaloogie.

If the believers you are with think it’s demonic, don’t encourage them to get over it. Don’t act as if they are immature. Those are stumbling-blocks.

To that end, as much at it might be your favorite attraction – the must see on every visit to the Happiest Place on Earth – maybe skip it for the sake of loving others.

While we’re on the subject, there is a difference between a stumbling-block and offending someone. A brother or sister without a clear conscience to participate in something doesn’t always see it as a liberty. They think that if it is wrong for them, it is wrong for you.

I’d say they are offended, not stumbled, as long as you’ve not urged them to participate. Them being offended doesn’t give them the right to tell you what you can and cannot do.

BUT – You might want to tone it down, or give it up, for the sake of love. Love sets limits on your liberty.

Genuine Christian maturity lies in thinking more about others than I do about myself. It lies in personal sacrifice for the sake of seeing others built-up in their faith in Jesus Christ.

If you think you’re mature – Be mature and defer to love.

Maybe you’ve been stumbled. There’s a scene from the film, Chariots of Fire, that comes to mind. One of Eric Liddell’s competitors pushes him rounding a turn in their race, and he stumbles to the ground. “Get up, man, finish the race,” mumbles the Italian coach to himself. Liddell gets up; he runs; he finishes and wins the race, head held characteristically high to suggest he runs for God’s glory.

Don’t push your brothers or sisters to stumble off the narrow way.
If you’ve stumbled, get up man; finish the race for God’s glory.

To Betroth, or Not to Betroth…That is the Question (1 Corinthians 7:25-40)

The longest engagement on record was between Octavio Guillan and Adriana Martinez. They were engaged in 1902 when they were both 15, but they didn’t get married until 67 years later, in 1969, at age 82.

Even though there is almost no other information to be found, I think it’s a trustworthy fact – appearing in the Guinness Book of Records. I mean, if you cant trust Guinness, who can be trusted?

The specific questions Paul will address in our text involve Christians who are single, and the subset of Christians who are single but engaged. He had earlier established that believers should “remain” in the state in which they were called. Is that what Octavio and Adrianna did???

Can, or should, the singles pursue engagements?

Can, or should, the engaged pursue marriage?

We will get Paul’s insightful answers. There is something else I want us to notice. Paul makes a few unusual comments:

1Co 7:25  … I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.
1Co 7:40  … according to my judgment – and I think I also have the Spirit of God.

One commentator put it this way: “The ultimate appeal is to Christ’s mercies, not to His commands.
Within this framework Paul will give his own judgment, which has as its aim not their obedience, but their own good.”

Here is the bottom line: If you give advice in an area where “there is no commandment,” be certain your “judgment” is filled with Jesus’ “mercies,” not your opinions or any legalism.

Ok… Let’s get into it. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Judgment To Christian Singles Needs To Be Full Of Mercy, and #2 Your Judgment To Christian Couples Needs To Be Full Of Mercy.

#1 – Your Judgment To Christian Singles Needs To Be Full Of Mercy (v25-35)

If you’re old enough, you remember exactly where you were when you heard that John Kennedy had been assassinated.

Unless you are very young, the terror attack on 9/11 is another day of infamy that you vividly recall.

If you were saved after the age of accountability, you ought to remember exactly where you were, and what you were doing, when you confessed your sin, repented, and received Jesus as your Savior.

You also remember what state you were in when you received the Lord. Specifically, you remember your marital status:

You may have been married to a believer.
You may have been married to a nonbeliever.
You may have been single.
You may have been engaged.

Some in Corinth were teaching that marriage was wrong, and to be celibate was right. What to do?

1Co 7:25  Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.

By “virgins” he meant single Christian women. Obviously his advice to them would profoundly affect the single Christian men.

The Lord had not taught on this subject. Paul was “giv[ing] judgment.” He was applying biblical wisdom.

The mention of “mercy” is precious. It was Paul’s way of saying that his advice was full of sympathy and understanding. It was caring and loving and came from someone who was “made trustworthy” to give counsel.

Biblical counsel can seem harsh.

Biblical counsel can be delivered harshly.

Worldly counsel can masquerade as biblical and be not only harsh, but harmful.

Don’t be in a rush to give advice. Or to receive it, for that matter. Truth is, a believer is their own best counselor – if you are submitted to the Lord and will humble yourself to hear and heed His voice.

1Co 7:26  I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is:

If you read the account of Paul’s time in Corinth in the Book of Acts, you’ll see that political and physical persecution had broken out against the believers. If you read history you’ll see that within a few years official state persecution would break out against the church under Caesar Nero. In light of that “present distress,” they needed to think soberly about their immediate future on earth.

We are not (yet) in a state of severe persecution. But “the time is” always “short,” as we look up for the Lord, and so we must carefully weigh out our life’s decisions.

1Co 7:27  Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

It’s important we read this accurately. You’ve probably noticed that I quote Gordon Fee most every week. Great guy, a scholar who knows the original languages, and is a noted Bible translator, and a solid charismatic commentator. Here is his take on verse twenty-seven from both the original Greek, and the historical context:

Both questions speak directly to the present situation. The clue lies with the word “loosed,” which is found throughout the papyri as a technical term for discharging someone from the obligations of a contract. If it means that here, then he is speaking first to the betrothed:

“Are you bound (i.e., engaged and under obligation to) a woman? Then do not seek to break off the obligation.”
The second question would then expand the point to include all singles: “Are you free from such obligations? Do not seek a wife.”

Well, there it is. Stay single. No; not exactly. Read on.

1Co 7:28  But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.

Some in Corinth were promoting the idea that you were more spiritual if you remained single and celibate. Paul said that was not true. There was nothing unspiritual or sinful about getting married. You were (and are) free to make the decision whether or not to marry.

Paul himself was unmarried and said that, at least at this time in his life, he had the gift of celibacy. Think how easy it would have been for him to over-emphasize singleness and celibacy.

We do that, if we are not careful. Not about singleness only, but about all kinds of things. Obviously, we think what we did, or are doing, is spiritual. It can be hard to admit it isn’t less spiritual for others to approach things differently.

In Corinth, as a Christian, life was hard, and about to get much worse.
“Trouble in this life” is how verse twenty-eight should read. It’s not referring to our inner lusts, but rather outward life.

This is merciful pastoral counsel – not a command.

1Co 7:29  But this I say, brethren, the time is short…

The specific counsel Paul gave needs to be understood in the context that this present life and all its institutions – including marriage – are passing away. We are eternal, looking forward to eternity, and should live in the present from a future worldview.

If you knew that tomorrow would be Day One of the Zombie Apocalypse, you would read these next three verses without much confusion:

1Co 7:29  But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,
1Co 7:30  those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess,
1Co 7:31  and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.

Marriage… Mourning… Merriment… Materialism… Every aspect of their lives would be affected by the trouble that was coming.

We don’t know if such trouble is coming upon us, here in the greatest nation on earth. As citizens of Heaven, we know that this world is passing away, and every area of our lives must be affected by the joy of our salvation, and the hope of our glorification.

You are in the world. You marry, you sorrow, you rejoice, you buy things, you make use of things in the world. But, as a Christian, you are no longer “of” the world. None of these things should dominate you anymore. You are free to live for the Lord.

Jesus once told a parable in which the excuse of one man as to why he could not accept Christ’s invitation was “I have married a wife.” Marriage and family is no excuse to quit serving the Lord. I’ve seen too many couples who try to ‘save’ their marriages by drawing-back from church and fellowship. It always backfires. If you’re married, and especially if you have kids, serve the Lord together.

You no longer “weep” as others. Whatever pain come your way is to be understood in light of eternity. Sure, we sorrow; but not as those who have no hope.

This mindset affects the way you “rejoice.” There’s nothing wrong with “rejoicing.” Paul writes elsewhere “rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). I am to rejoice at the things I ought to rejoice over – spiritual things, eternal things.

“Those who buy as though they did not possess” tackles the subject of materialism. I must assess and reassess my materialism in light of eternity. Material things deaden spiritual sensitivity. The things money buys are transient and ultimately trivial. One assessment of my materialism is how much (if anything) do I give to the Lord from my material resources?

“Those who use the world as not misusing it” has to do with just how immersed in the world I am compared to my commitments to the Lord.

The “form of this world is passing away.” Life as we know it is going to end. We are spiritual beings and should treat everything in this world accordingly.

1Co 7:32  But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord.
1Co 7:33  But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.
1Co 7:34  There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world – how she may please her husband.

Obviously if you get married it adds an additional “care[s]” to your life. That kind of emotional attachment can be exploited by persecutors. Paul would know because he had terrorized families before getting saved:

Ac 8:3  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Counsel from Paul, who had been on both sides of persecution, should be heard and heeded.

1Co 7:35  And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.

Paul did not “put a leash on you.” He didn’t say you must break your engagement and remain single. He didn’t say you must marry. It was up to you to decide. Decide with the mindset “that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”

Any judgments you make, or advice you give, should emphasize Jesus’ mercies. As I said – People are their own best counselor, helped by Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, and the indwelling Holy Spirit – the Comforter and the Spirit of wisdom.

Point them in the right direction, to counsel themselves.

#2 – Your Judgment To Christian Couples Needs To Be Full Of Mercy (v36-40)

Let’s start with a better translation of verses 36, 37 & 38. It reads like this:

If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better (NICNT).

These verses are sometimes read as applying to fathers and daughters.

That is not the best reading. They address a man and a woman who are engaged.

It is from the man’s point of view because he was the one who would take the initiative once a decision was reached.

To the engaged, Paul said break it off if you want… Or get married if you want. Neither is more spiritual, but singleness may be “better,” in light of the trouble that was only going to increase.

1Co 7:39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.

Biological man… Biological woman… Heterosexuals… Monogamous… Till death do they part. If death departs them, and you either are not gifted with celibacy, or you want companionship – marry a believer. A believer with a good record of obedience to Jesus.

1Co 7:40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Give remaining single a serious chance. Paul said you might find it “happier.” But if not, you’re free, and encouraged, to remarry a believer who is likewise no longer “bound” to their marriage.

The last sentence may be taken in one of two ways:

It is possible that this is a jab at the Corinthians who thought themselves superior to Paul in spiritual wisdom.
Or it may simply be a strengthening of his “opinion,” that he is not simply on his own in this matter. He also has the help of the Spirit in making such judgments.

Paul effectively cuts the baby in half, you might say. He lays down wisdom that is pure, peaceable; most of all, merciful. We should always do the same.

“The time is short.” Here are a few other ways of translating that:

“The appointed time has grown short“ (NRSV).
“The strategic, epochal period of time has been shortened” (Wuest).
“The interval has been shortened” (Moffat).
“The era is limited” (Concordant).

Or, as Dr. Steven Strange said, “We’re in the endgame now.”

After the ascension of Jesus, the church received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter made it clear that we were now in the Last Days – God’s endgame.

Really? Even though it’s been nearly two centuries?

Remember what Peter counseled those who thought the Lord was delaying His coming for us:

2Pe 3:8  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

It isn’t meant to be a formula for converting earthly years into heavenly ones.

Still, I think it’s OK to say that the 1986 years (or so) from the Day of Pentecost until right now are less than two days.

The relationship of Jesus Christ to those He has saved is often compared to a wedding wherein He is the Bridegroom and His church, the bride:

The apostle Paul wrote, “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.“ (Second Corinthians 11:2).

He compares the gift of the Holy Spirit to an engagement ring in Ephesians 1:14.

When we return with Jesus at His Second Coming, an angel says, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).

It can seem like the world record for the longest engagement. Especially when you become aware of the stress and suffering of others; or you yourself are hit with tragedy. Remember this:

It might be today we look into His eyes,
Might be today we see His face
Might be today He places His wounded hand
On our tear stained face

Honey, I Sanctified The Kids! (1 Corinthians 7:10-24)

You might remember the 2009 case of Carl Fredricksen. Redevelopment wanted to buy his house, but he stubbornly refused to sell. You see, his beloved wife, Ellie, died just before they were going to sell their house to realize their dream of moving to Paradise Falls. Their old house was more than real estate.

The case made the news when Carl got into a fight with a construction worker named Steve over his broken mailbox.

The court labeled Carl as a public menace and ordered him to move into Shady Oaks Retirement Home.

Carl is an example of someone wanting to remain in their situation. I thought of him because the apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth to “remain with God in that state in which [you] were called” (v24). Specifically, he addressed three groups:

To those who were married to a nonbeliever, he said “Remain.”
To those who were uncircumcised Gentiles, he said “Remain.”
To those who were slaves, he said “Remain.”

Not just “remain.” Remain to sanctify.

In verse fourteen, for example, we read, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband…”

You might say that the Christian is to ‘remain to be seen.’ Your situation should always take a back seat to your living-out the Christian life right where you are.

I’ll organize my comments around two questions we should ask ourselves: #1 Is Jesus Calling Me To Remain In My Social Situation?, and #2 Is Jesus Calling Me To Remain In My Spousal Situation?

#2 – Is Jesus Calling Me To Remain In My Social Situation? (v17-24)


Dug the talking dog in the Pixar film, Up, was distracted upon seeing a squirrel.
In case you didn’t see it, the story I told about Carl Fredricksen is from that film.

We can get distracted reading the Bible. One way we get distracted is by focusing on something of interest to us in a passage that may not be its real point.

Marriage, remarriage, and divorce are a biblical squirrel. Any passage even remotely mentioning it attracts our immediate attention. It is certainly understandable. Almost nothing touches our lives so intimately.

When we read these verses, we tend to focus on the counsel Paul gave about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Except for two things:

He never once directly said anything about remarriage.
Marriage was not his primary emphasis.

The primary emphasis is “[remaining] in the same calling in which [you] were called” (v20).

That’s why I want to take these verses in a different order – looking at verses seventeen through twenty-four first. In them Paul established the principle which guided his counsel to believers about what to do in various situations, including their marriages.

1Co 7:17  But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.

In Corinth, three issues were affecting the new believers:

Some had become believers and were married to nonbelievers. Should they split? After all, believers ought to only marry other believers.
Most were Gentile believers who were being told to convert to Judaism. Maybe they ought to at the very least be circumcised.
Others were slaves. That can’t be right; maybe they should escape.

These were sincere questions. After all, these believers did not have centuries of history and biblical commentary to guide them.

God had “called” each to salvation exactly were they were “distributed.” They ought to “walk,” i.e., walk with the Lord, in the situation they were in when saved.

Paul ordained this principle “in all the churches.” It’s for us every bit as it was for the first century. It’s a general principle. Wisdom is needed to apply it. If, let’s say, a Corinthian prostitute got saved, of course she or he should not “remain.” Nevertheless, remaining needs to be our first goal.

1Co 7:18  Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.

God gave Abraham circumcision as a sign of His covenant with him and his descendants. It was an outward physical sign of the cutting away of the flesh of our hearts.

All Jewish men were circumcised. All Gentile converts to Judaism were circumcised. It was so important to the Jews that in the Bible, Jews are referred to as “the circumcision,” and Gentiles are called “the uncircumcision.”

Add to the history that there were Jews visiting the Gentile churches teaching that circumcision was still necessary for salvation, and you see the confusion in Corinth.

People do this today, but more often it’s baptism, or keeping the Sabbath, that they promote and claim is necessary in order for you to be saved.

If you were a Jew, how could you “become uncircumcised?” It’s obviously spiritual. Paul meant at least two things:

Theologically, you need no longer keep the rituals of the Law of Moses as a requirement of your salvation. You were free to continue to go to the Temple, and to celebrate the Feasts, etc. But you did so in the light of what they represented: The life and work of the Savior, Who fulfilled all their symbolism.
Practically, you could have fellowship with Gentiles. To the Gentiles, you could be a Gentile, as it were, eating their food, for example, in order to share in the fellowship of Jesus, or to share Jesus with them.

Paul exampled this. He could be among Gentiles, and live like them, but also visit the Temple, and take a vow.

The Gentile could “become circumcised.” Not physically; spiritually.

One way was to heed the directives of the Church Council in Jerusalem, which instructed Gentiles, “that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Acts 15:29). Adhering to that counsel would give opportunity to preach Jesus to Jews.

1Co 7:19  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.

Whether you were a Jew or a Gentile was irrelevant. What mattered was your obedience to God.
1Co 7:20  Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.

Your situation is irrelevant. You are to walk empowered by the Spirit, in obedience to God, in any situation you find yourself in.

This counsel was originally for the relatively new believers in Corinth who were unequally yoked in marriage, or who were Gentiles, or slaves. It still has application to anyone who receives Jesus and finds themselves in a less than ideal situation – like being married to a nonbeliever.

Not that we can never change our situation; but we should only change it as God leads. It isn’t enough that our home or job isn’t ideal. It isn’t enough that we are having a tough time. We are to walk obediently, trusting in the Lord, until He definitely opens a new door for us.

I absolutely hated my sales job after I got saved. It seemed so unimportant. But I will readily admit that some of my greatest times of witness were right after I got saved, in that less than ideal situation.

1Co 7:21  Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.

If you were “called while a slave” you were to be the best slave you could. You were to be the Lord’s slave, looking past your master on earth to Jesus. If you could acquire your freedom, go for it. Otherwise don’t “be concerned about” the fact you were a slave. God knew it when He saved you.

1Co 7:22  For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.

The slave has been set free spiritually. The free man is Jesus Christ’s spiritual slave. In other words, social status has nothing to do with spiritual status. We are all equal in standing before the Lord and social status means nothing to Him. The Lord called and worked through slaves. He called and worked through free men. Your situation is irrelevant.

1Co 7:23  You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.

“You” meant all of them, whether slave or free man.
Jesus “bought” them all in that He paid the price on the Cross to release the human race from sin and death and set us free:

Slaves should not “become slaves of men” by thinking their social status made them spiritually inferior.
Free men should not “become slaves of men” by thinking their social status made them spiritually superior.

Your “call” to salvation came to you in a social setting. A change in your social setting is spiritually irrelevant. It won’t make you a ‘better’ Christian and, in some cases, it will hinder your spiritual progress.

We live in a society that values upward mobility. We should rather value spiritual stability. It isn’t always a good thing spiritually to move upward socially. I’ve seen a lot of Christians become carnal as they get farther up the ladder.

Remain where you are unless and until Jesus calls you to something else. His call may not always be upward in society. But it will be forward in the Kingdom of God.

1Co 7:24  Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

This was, first of all, an answer to the three specific situations the new believers in Corinth found themselves in. It serves us as a principle to not think the grass will be greener if we get out of, or away from, our current situation.

#2 – Is Jesus Calling Me To Remain In My Spousal Situation? (v10-16)

It’s tempting to jump right in and talk about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. We shouldn’t do so until we mention what Paul said in verse fourteen, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.”

In a nutshell, this means the presence of the believing spouse creates the atmosphere of a sanctuary within which the nonbelieving family members may get saved.

I don’t think it’s going too far to apply that to the other two groups – Gentiles and slaves. Remain as a witness. Remain to be seen.

Keep that in mind as we work through these verses.

1Co 7:10  Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband…

In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter nineteen, Jesus appealed to the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as the gold standard for marriage. One biological man, and one biological woman – heterosexuals – to remain in a monogamous relationship until the death of one spouse. I would add that a believer must only wed another believer.

The word “depart” has essentially the same meaning as “divorce.” A Jewish wife had no legal recourse to divorce. If she wanted to leave her husband she simply departed the relationship. Greek wives did have legal recourse to divorce, but it wasn’t necessary. Typically, they simply departed the home, and married another.

Corinthians were getting saved. They were suddenly in mixed-marriages with nonbelievers. Some had “departed.” No, no, no.

The departed wife was to “remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.” The same was true for the husband:

1 Corinthians 7:11 … And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

Don’t “divorce” your believing wife. The structure of the argument implies that if you do your options are the same: Remain unmarried or be reconciled.

I know that I am belaboring this point, but it’s important. Paul was addressing a specific situation in Corinth. Believers were departing their nonbelieving spouses because they felt it was spiritual and even necessary to do so. It wasn’t because they no longer loved them, or were looking for a way out. They thought it was the right thing to do.

We typically go to these verses to establish that abandonment by your nonbelieving spouse is biblical grounds for divorce and subsequent remarriage. In Corinth, it was the believers who were abandoning their marriages.

1Co 7:11  But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.

A Corinthian believer had split from their nonbelieving spouse for what they thought were spiritual reasons.
Just the opposite is true – they should stay with the nonbeliever for spiritual reasons. Get back together; definitely don’t get remarried to someone else.

1Co 7:12  But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.
1Co 7:13  And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.

Jesus never taught on this subject so Paul does, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The same principle is applied: Remain married. A new condition is added, however: The nonbeliever must be “willing to live” with you in your newfound relationship with Jesus.

1Co 7:14  For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

The non-believing spouse “is sanctified.” It means simply that he or she is now set-apart by God to receive the witness of the saved spouse. He or she suddenly has a missionary living in the home. We don’t encourage missionary dating but we do encourage missionary marriages.

The kids, too, are “holy” – same word for sanctified – in the sense of being set-apart by God to receive a witness.

If the kids are “holy,” what did Paul mean when he said, “otherwise your children would be unclean?” I’m pretty sure Judaism taught that kids under the age of accountability were saved. Regardless, I think what Paul is saying is something like this: “If you were somehow being defiled by being married to a nonbeliever, then your children would also be unclean… But they are not. They are holy.”
BTW: We need to think more about it, but if this is a valid reading, then it gives us one more Scriptural argument that kids who die before the age of accountability go to Heaven.

In a previous study we talked about our bodies being the earthly Temple of God the Holy Spirit. The presence of the believing spouse makes the household a Temple in which the nonbelieving spouse and children are exposed to salvation.

Gordon Fee says of this, “Paul is setting forth a high view of the grace of God at work through the believer toward members of his/her own household, and for him that constitutes grounds enough for maintaining the marriage.”

The apostle Peter said the same thing, focusing on wives, “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear” (First Peter 3:1-2).

1Co 7:15  But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.

Your nonbelieving spouse may opt to “depart” from you. Whatever else you do, “God has called us to peace.”

You have peace with God; you can experience the peace of God; and you are empowered to produce peace in your circumstances as a fruit of your yielding to the indwelling Spirit.

1Co 7:16  For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

These words counsel you on the statement “let them depart.” While it is true that the believer has a sanctifying influence in the home, that does not mean every nonbelieving spouse will get saved. If your nonbelieving spouse departs, abandons you, if they divorce you – let them go and let the peace of God continue to rule your life.

Let’s pause briefly to discuss marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Adultery on the part of one spouse is biblical grounds for divorce and subsequent remarriage to another believer. Divorce isn’t required. Reconciliation is often a better course of action.

But listen: If divorce is allowed, it doesn’t make it less spiritual than reconciliation. If you choose divorce on account of your spouses adultery, you are not some second-class Christian.

The death of your spouse releases you from marriage and allows for remarriage to a believer. Remember, though, that Paul suggested you stay single, if you are able, to better serve the Lord.

Paul never really addressed remarriage after abandonment; not directly. He did say “a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.” We do interpret that to mean that the believer is not bound to the marriage – they are set free – and therefore may remarry in the Lord.

The more we desire to simplify marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the more we see that each case has its own complexities. What constitutes abandonment? If pornography constitutes adultery, how much gives the spouse grounds for divorce? More importantly – Is the believer seeking divorce and remarriage really wanting to glorify God?

Obviously this really hits home. Anymore almost everyone has been affected in some way by divorce. Still, the place for two believers to start resolving their marital status is by acknowledging that their marriage was intended to be a lifelong commitment; that neither the wife nor the husband ought to depart; that if one did depart and there was no physical adultery they ought to attempt to reconcile.

No one is saying that a spouse needs to stay in an abusive relationship. No one is saying there are not difficulties, complications, and unique situations. If you need help thinking through your particular circumstances I’d be happy to talk with you. No one should leave here burdened. Convicted maybe, but not burdened.

God hates it, but He permitted divorce in this fallen world to protect injured spouses. We don’t have time to look at it, but in the Old Testament, when Moses spoke about providing a certificate of divorce, it was to protect the innocent spouse.

No biblical teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage should punish injured spouses.

It was necessary to spend a little time on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. But that isn’t the main point of these verses.

You are to be a sanctifying influence in your current situation. It doesn’t mean you can never get out of your situation. But your situation is somewhat irrelevant to your mission of representing Jesus.

“Remain” may not be the word you want to hear… But it’s a word of grace, from the Lord, Who is working in you as He works through you.

Remain to be seen, and it remains to be seen how the Lord can use you.

The Abstinence-Minded Professors (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)

“One may find a woman so stubborn and thickheaded that it means nothing to her though her husband fall into [sexual immorality] ten times. Then it is time for the man to say: If you are not willing, another woman is; if the wife is not willing, bring on the maid. But this only after the husband has told his wife once or twice, warned her, and let it be known to other people that her stubborn refusal may be publicly known and rebuked before the congregation. If she still does not want to comply, then dismiss her; let an Esther be given to you and allow Vashti to go, as did King Ahaseurus.”

Who made that outrageous outburst – appealing to the petulant behavior of a pagan Old Testament king as his biblical justification??

Let’s just say, if you are a wife, be wary if your husband suddenly wants to take you to a Lutheran church. Yep, the great reformer himself, Martin Luther, was serious about his sexual satisfaction.

(No disrespect intended to Lutherans; as far as I know, this is not what they currently teach).

The Puritans were serious about sexual satisfaction. If a Puritan man did not frequently or adequately perform what they called his “husbandly duties,” the consequences could be severe. One such man, James Matlock, was accused before the church of denying “conjugal fellowship” to his wife. He was excommunicated from the church.

Think of it. If we were Puritans, instead of a weekly Prophecy Update, we’d have a Frequency Update. (Well, we’d have one, and then no one would ever come back).

These are decisions couples ought to make on their own. You need principles, not policies – especially not policies set by others in the church or by the surrounding culture.

Where do believers derive these outrageous ideas? Mostly from the first nine verses of First Corinthians chapter seven. Our text in First Corinthians does touch on these (and other) matters, but in a way that encourages you to think spiritually rather than issue ultimatums.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 If You’re Married, It’s Spiritual To Enjoy Intimacy, and #2 If You’re Single, It’s Spiritual To Enjoy Celibacy.

#1 – If You’re Married, It’s Spiritual To Enjoy Intimacy (v1-6)

Take a peek at the end of verse one, where it says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Who said that?

Not Paul; it was a saying that was being circulated in the church at Corinth. Paul wrote to correct it.

Where did the believers – at least some of them – get such an idea? Let me suggest where it might have originated.

First, thus far in First Corinthians, we’ve had two references to angels:

Paul spoke of he and other apostles being “a spectacle… both to angels and to men” (4:9).

He said that in the future “we shall judge angels” (6:3).

Going forward, there will be another mention of angels. In 11:10 we read, “the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” We’ll talk about what it means when we get there. For now we just want to consider that the behavior of angels was of particular interest to the believers in Corinth.

Second, you will recall that the believers were divided into groups. Some were of Paul; others were of Apollos; others were of Peter. There was another group who claimed to be “of Jesus.”

Because there was an “of Peter” group, scholars think it likely that the big fisher of men had visited the church in Corinth. It is not a stretch to think he shared the marriage teachings of Jesus with the believers.

What if the “of Peter” and the “of Jesus” groups knew of Jesus’ teaching that, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30)? After another of Jesus’ teachings on marriage, the disciples said, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

Coupled with the fact that Jesus was celibate, it would go a long way toward explaining why some of them were advocating abstinence in marriage. Why not be like Jesus and the angels right now? Why wait for eternity?
If there is no marriage or giving in marriage in Heaven, wouldn’t it be more spiritual to live that way now?

Keep this in mind. It will help us to not misunderstand Paul if we remember the context of his remarks.

1Co 7:1  Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Chapter seven begins a new section in which Paul answers comments that they made, or questions that the Corinthians asked him, in a letter he received from them. He will comment on the following subjects: marriage, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of the dead, and the missionary offering for the Jews.

“To touch a woman” was a polite Greek idiom for sexual intimacy. It has become popular to use crude language in Bible teaching. It’s trendy. One popular preacher earned the nickname the “Cussing Pastor.” All of our speech ought to be seasoned with grace. The culture we are trying to connect with expects better of us. Paul was straightforward, even blunt at times, but not crude.

It may have been mostly wives that were gravitating towards celibacy. In the previous chapter, the Corinthians were defending visiting prostitutes. How much more would they be apt to consider prostitutes if their wives were withholding sex.

1Co 7:2  Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

One paraphrase of this verse reads, “It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder” (The Message).

“It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (and vice-versa) if you are unmarried.

If you are married it is absolutely wrong to think of abstinence as more spiritual. It is normal and therefore spiritual to enjoy sexual intimacy in your marriage.

“His own wife… her own husband.” A biblical marriage is one biological man, and one biological woman – heterosexuals – in a monogamous covenant of companionship that is to last until the death of one spouse. I should add that if you are in Christ, you are to marry a believer. There are biblical grounds for divorce and subsequent remarriage in the Lord. Sexual immorality is one.

1Co 7:3  Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.

Paul again chose modest words. “Affection” means, or can mean according to Strong’s Concordance, conjugal duty. It is “due” in the sense that it is expected by your spouse as part of a healthy, normal marriage. To unilaterally decide it is more spiritual to quit rendering such physical affection is not spiritual.

1Co 7:4  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

“Honey, your body belongs to me. I’m having a sexual urge. You have no say in the matter. If you don’t satisfy me then I’m going to tell the church during the weekly Frequency Update and they will discipline you publicly. If that doesn’t work I’m going to dismiss you and find someone like Queen Esther who can satisfy me.”

Does that sound about right to you? Of course not!

I made-up that exaggeration to make a point. A lot of people want to make just that kind of application of this text.

Listen to this. It’s from a commentary on The Song of Solomon by a well-known Bible teacher: “It is NEVER right to withhold sex from your marital partner. You not only hurt your partner but you also hurt yourself. If one partner needs it, the other is to respond willingly and enthusiastically.”

Sadly, he had to step down from ministry because he got a little too enthusiastic with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

Is that what Paul meant? Here is a quote from a much different perspective:

“Does the fact that we shouldn’t withhold ourselves from our spouse mean they have the right to demand sex from us? The answer is “no.” In marriage, Christ calls husbands to love their wives like He loved the church. Jesus’ love for His bride was utterly selfless in that He gave himself up for her. This call to love unselfishly extends to our sexual relationship within marriage.  We should, as Paul exhorted, have the mind of Christ, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Selfish sex within marriage can be just as sinful as sex outside of the marriage covenant, since it is a way of laying our spouse down for us, instead of laying ourselves down for our spouse.”

Which approach sounds like Jesus?

Remember: Paul was addressing spouses who made a unilateral decision to no longer be intimate.

He was simply saying that they do not have the authority over their own bodies to make that decision.

Here is another way of looking at it. If a spouse has authority over his or her spouse, then they can tell them what not to do as well.

Let’s play this out in a scenario. For the sake of realism, the husband will be the demander. He comes home from work, and says, “Babe, I’m having an urge to have sex right now. I’m exercising my authority over your body to satisfy me.”

The wife answers, “I’m in the middle of cooking dinner. So I think that I will exercise my authority over your body and tell you, ‘No.’ ”

The husband responds, “Wife, Jesus said you are to submit to my authority as head of the household.”

To which the wife answers, “And Jesus is your Head, telling you to love me the way He loved the church and put aside His authority to minister to her.”

This verse has been abused to create all kinds of mischief in marriage. Paul was talking to the spouse who has adopted the teaching that they are more spiritual by withholding sex. Paul was telling them they do not have the authority in marriage over their own body to make that decision.

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Keep in mind that Paul is replying to definite questions. He is not spelling out a complete “theology of marriage” in one chapter. It is necessary to consider as well what the rest of the Bible has to say about this important subject.”

Paul wasn’t addressing the question of how frequently a married couple ought to be intimate. He wasn’t teaching that all sexual urges must immediately be fulfilled. He wasn’t suggesting there is no such thing as self-control. He was saying that married couples are responsible to reach mutual – not unilateral – decisions about their intimacy.

1Co 7:5  Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

He anticipated that some of the believers, whether they were affected by this abstinence teaching or not, might want to abstain from sex as a fast before the Lord. In that case both spouses must “consent” to the terms of such a fast in order to avoid sexual temptation. The emphasis is again on “consent,” on their mutual decision making.

Let’s talk about “self-control.” There are seasons in marriage when intimacy isn’t possible. Can you say “deployment?” If you are military, you’re going to be separated from your spouse for months at a time. Self-control is the answer – and it is made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

But didn’t Paul indicate that we lack self-control? He said that those who fast from sex in marriage might stumble their spouse by challenging their self-control.

In other words, by trying to be spiritual, they might be tempting their spouse to sin.
Abstinence, or declaring a fast from intimacy, cannot be your decision acting alone. Your sexual appetite is unlike your other appetites in that it involves your spouse.

1Co 7:6  But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.

There is no “commandment” to abstain from intimacy. There would be if it was something that could make you more spiritual.

Here is the bottom line on these verses. Sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed in a biblical marriage. It is part of God’s design for marriage. You can’t make a unilateral decision to abstain. There is nothing spiritual about abstaining from sex. Whatever your personal desires might be you should want to meet the desires of your spouse. Sexual intimacy is a matter for mutual discussion and decision, not demands.

#2 – If You’re Single, It’s Spiritual To Enjoy Celibacy (v7-9)

Was Paul married? There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that he was married during the span of his ministry.

He almost certainly was married at one time. It would have been a disgrace for him to be single when he was Saul, a Pharisee’s Pharisee. The description he gives of himself as to his zeal among the Jews presupposes he had a wife at one time. He would never have climbed the ranks in Judaism as a single man.

What happened to Mrs. Saul? I’m not clear on whether or not a Jewish wife could legally divorce her husband in the first century. In this case, after Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, I’m thinking the Jewish religious authorities would have strongly encouraged Mrs. Saul to abandon her husband.

Or she may have died, leaving Paul a widower. Either way, Paul had real insight into these issues.

1Co 7:7  For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.

He “wish[ed] that all men were even” as he was, i.e., single. Why? A couple reasons he’ll suggest later in this chapter:

If you are married you are less free to serve the Lord because you are commanded to first care for your family.

If you are married you are more affected by persecution when it comes.

Paul was single. As all single believers should, he practiced abstinence. Sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral; it is sin.

But he said something more about his particular case. He said he had a “gift.” It’s the same word that is used for other gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Celibacy is refraining from marriage and from sexual relations. Celibacy can be a gift – a supernatural enabling – given by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit.

Something to contemplate: Can celibacy be a temporary gift? One commentator wrote, “There is the temporary state of celibacy which everyone experiences. Many of you, perhaps, do not feel called whatsoever to the celibate life, but, you are not yet in the married state. This is the state of temporary celibacy.”

“One in this manner and another in that” continues Paul’s theme that celibacy and abstinence in marriage are not more spiritual than marriage with sexual intimacy.

Apparently another part of the teaching that was going around in Corinth was that if you were unmarried you should stay unmarried, that it was always most spiritual to abstain from sex. Paul addressed that in these next two verses.

1Co 7:8  But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am;

It is “good” to remain single doesn’t mean it is more spiritual. It just means there is nothing wrong with it; and it can free you up to serve the Lord without other family obligations.

Let me say this. We tend to look suspiciously on Christian singles. Some, at least, are called to remain that way.

1Co 7:9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Here is a more literal translation of verse nine: “But if they are not exercising self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to continue being inflamed [with lust]” (ALT).

They were not exercising self-control. This doesn’t mean that they had to sin. It wasn’t an excuse. Just the opposite. Self-control is possible as you yield a yourself to God. If you find it a struggle, you ought to marry.

The teaching that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” wasn’t working for them. They should get married because marriage is God’s design for those He has not gifted to remain permanently celibate.

Maybe God will give you celibacy as a gift. You’ll be free to minister for the Lord with fewer cares and commitments.

If He doesn’t give you the gift of celibacy, it is not spiritual to try in the energy of your flesh to remain celibate. Get married or remarried and enjoy sexual intimacy within the beautiful boundaries of a mutually satisfying marriage.

Don’t sin. Trust that you can yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit for self-control.

Flee, Fly, Go, Run… You’re Bought With The Blood Of The Risen One (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

“Right now, poised at the edge of the galaxy, Emperor Zurg has been secretly building a weapon with the destructive capacity to annihilate an entire planet. I alone have the information that reveals his only weakness. You, my friend, are responsible for delaying my rendezvous with Star Command.”

To which Woody responded, “You… Are… A… TOY!!!”

Buzz Lightyear believed he was a space ranger for Star Command stationed at the Gamma Quadrant, Section Four, on a mission to stop the evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance. He didn’t know he was a toy that belonged to Andy.

The believers in Corinth had something in common with Buzz. They didn’t “know,” not fully, Who they belonged to:

In verse fifteen we read, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”
In verse nineteen we read, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”

Until now in this letter, the apostle Paul had been referring to the assembly of believers, corporately, as God’s Temple on the earth. When we are not together, we remain God’s Temple individually as each of us is indwelled by God the Holy Spirit.

It is from that amazing truth that Paul challenged them to take another look at their habit of having sex with prostitutes.

It’s as if he were saying to them, “You… Are… A… TEMPLE!!!”

I’ll organize my comments around two questions: #1 Do You Believe Your Body Is Owner-Occupied?, and #2 Do You Behave Knowing Your Body Is Owner-Occupied?

#1 – Do You Believe Your Body Is Owner-Occupied? (v19-20)

We’re going to see that the believers in Corinth were, as Paul put it, “joined to… harlot[s]” (v16). I’m going to assume that all of us here agree that sex with prostitutes is sexually immoral.

The believers in Corinth thought visiting prostitutes was an area of Christian liberty. They offered arguments to defend their behavior. Paul counters their particular arguments in verses twelve through eighteen. I want to begin with verses nineteen and twenty. Absorb what they teach and you’ll never need a talking-to like the believers in Corinth received.
1Co 6:19  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
1Co 6:20  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
I want to look at each phrase in more or less the chronological order they would be in from our earthly perspective. First of all, we were “bought at a price.” It invokes thoughts of the slave market. We are to think of the human race, in our natural state, as slaves to sin and Satan.

Before Disney became politically correct, in their classic ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, at the slave auction, the pirates would exclaim, “We wants the redhead!”

She’s no longer for sale. The ‘new’ redhead, uncreatively named Redd, is now a strong female character.

(As if the entire ride isn’t politically incorrect).

Slaves have a purchase price. Our purchase price was the coming of God in human flesh in order to die on the Cross. We are purchased out from sin and Satan by the blood of Jesus Christ:

Being lifted-up on the Cross, Jesus said He would draw all men to himself. His sacrifice on the Cross is therefore sufficient to save any and all.
We also know that He is the Savior of the world – especially those who believe. His death on the Cross is effective to save any and all who believe.

When you are saved, the Holy Spirit is “in you, whom you have from God.” The Holy Spirit is a gift to every believer in Jesus Christ. Among other things, He is the guarantee of our future glorification.

He doesn’t come and go. He takes up permanent residence in you. That is what I mean by “owner-occupied.”
Your physical body becomes the earthly “temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you.” There is a famous, and very effective, tract called, “Christ’s Heart, My Home.” The thing is, a Temple suggests a lot more than a home. It suggests worship; rest; contemplation; study; sacrifice; prayer; separation. It is expected to be holy.

“You are not your own.” You were bought for the purchase price, indwelt by the Spirit residing in you, in order to be enabled to perform God’s will as His submissive slave.

In his ‘Freedom Speech’ in The Avengers, Loki tells a terrified crowd, “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

It’s worded a little differently by Paul in Philippians 2:10-11.
He wrote, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

A blood-bought, Spirit-filled, submissive Temple slave, will only, always, want to “glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

When we look at verses twelve through eighteen, we’ll see that the believers in Corinth thought they could glorify God in their spirits no matter what they chose to do with their bodies. Not true; the body and the spirit need to be in synch.

You are God’s owner-occupied traveling Temple. He sets you up, so to speak, everywhere you go.

One of our worship choruses from the late 1980’s captured this:

Lord prepare me, a sanctuary,
pure and holy, tried and true
And with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary, for you

I would only add that, by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you are ALREADY prepared as God’s sanctuary. We are to believe God, and be what we already are.

#2 – Do You Behave Knowing Your Body Is Owner-Occupied? (v12-18)

The believers in Corinth were the Temple of God. But because of their behavior, Paul saw them as a house of prostitution.

I’ll try to return to this, but let me get you thinking. You and I are the Temple of God; but what do others see us as? Am I a stadium? A mall? A golf course? A nightclub? A stadium? A gymnasium?

How about a café? Hold that in mind.

1Co 6:12  All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
1Co 6:13  Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

If you talked to a believer at Corinth you’d eventually hear three arguments they were using to justify certain behaviors:

In verse twelve you read, “all things are lawful for me…” In other words, “I’ve been set free from the rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law.”
In verse thirteen you read, “foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods…” In other words, “My physical appetites were given to me by God to enjoy so there is nothing wrong with satisfying them – including sex.”
In verse eighteen you read, “every sin that a man does is outside the body…” In other words, “Since the ‘real’ me is spiritual, what I do with my physical body does not affect me spiritually.”

Armed with that mindset, the believers in Corinth – mostly from an immoral pagan background – justified all sort of sinful behaviors. In these verses we learn that they continued to visit prostitutes for sex.

“All things are lawful for me” was the first argument you’d hear from a Corinthian. Today Christians say, “I’ve got liberty,” to justify questionable or even sinful behaviors. Yes, you do have liberty; you are not under the Law. But there is a “but.” Two, in fact:

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.” The word so translated means profitable or advantageous or to answer to the purpose. I ought to ask myself if my so-called liberty will profit my walk with the Lord; if it is advantageous to my testimony before other believers and nonbelievers; and if it answers to the purpose for which I was saved – which is to glorify God.
“All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Too often what I might claim as a freedom in Christ begins to take hold of my life, dominate my life, and have power over my life.

“All things are lawful” is further qualified by the understanding that anything inherently sinful cannot be a liberty. In the case of the Corinthians, having sex with a prostitute was not a liberty by any stretch of the principle.

1Co 6:13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

“Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods” was a second argument. God made you with physical appetites and He has provided the means to satisfy those appetites.

True, but it doesn’t follow that we should always act to satisfy or indulge our appetites. “God will destroy both it [the stomach] and them [the foods].” In other words, our current fleshly appetites will soon be left behind as we are resurrected or raptured. Why spend so much time, effort, and energy satisfying things that are temporary? Why not focus on the future and thus on spiritual appetites? Why not seek first the kingdom of God?

As to the specific appetite that the Corinthians were claiming was their liberty to satisfy – sex – Paul pointed out that “the body is not for sexual immorality.” Period. End of argument.

Sexual behaviors outside of the biblically defined marriage relationship are sin. How does the Bible define marriage? One biological male and one biological female – heterosexuals – in a monogamous marriage until death parts them.

“Now the body is… for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” This makes more sense since we started in verses nineteen and twenty. If my body is His Temple, then it is “for the Lord” to be used by Him as He sees fit to edify believers and to evangelize nonbelievers.

1Co 6:14 And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

Jesus was raised-up in a real, physical body and so will you either be raised-up or raptured to have a real, physical body. Thus it stands to reason what you do with your body now is of some consequence.

When we get to chapter fifteen, we’ll see that the believers in Corinth were downplaying the resurrection of Jesus. It no longer mattered to them if He rose from the dead in a real body.

Except it does. If Jesus isn’t risen in a real body, there is no Christianity; there is no salvation. Thankfully, “He is risen indeed!”

1Co 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!

The metaphor of the church as Jesus Christ’s body on the earth is common in Paul’s writings. He pictured Jesus in Heaven but able to accomplish more than ever on the earth because instead of having just one body in Israel the Lord has millions of them around the globe. It’s what the Lord meant when He told us that after He went to Heaven we would do “greater works” than He had done (John 14:12).

If I am in the body that Jesus is inhabiting by His Spirit, and if I have sex with a prostitute – and I say this with all carefulness – it is like Jesus having sex with her! “Certainly not!” Paul rightfully exclaimed.

We sometimes suggest that if something is questionable you ask yourself if you’d be comfortable taking Jesus along with you. It might be better to ask if you would force Jesus to be participating in it with you since you are Owner-occupied.

1Co 6:16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “THE TWO,” He says, “SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”

Paul drew from the Genesis account of the first marriage to give us some insight about sexual intimacy. The goal of marriage is for the “two” committed partners to “become one flesh” over the course of their monogamous relationship. Now by “flesh” it doesn’t mean just the physical. The original marriage was two becoming one physically and spiritually.

Sexual intimacy was a component of this larger goal of two becoming one – a component designed to be enjoyed in marriage, not apart from it.

If you join your body with a prostitute, you are doing outside of marriage something reserved for inside of marriage.

Paul wasn’t being mystical. He was arguing that using your body to have sex with a prostitute was a significant misuse of it. It does matter what you do with your body.

BTW – Regardless the agenda our surrounding culture is bent on promoting, biblical marriage is the gold standard and everything outside it is sexual immorality. The California Legislature passed a resolution blaming religious leaders and groups that support sexual orientation change efforts therapies for the suicides and attempted suicides of those who identify as LGBT.  In a party-line vote, the state Senate approved Assembly Concurrent Resolution 99, which demands that people of faith in the state change their approach to ministering to same-sex attracted men and women and others who identify as LGBT. We love people too much to follow a worldly agenda.

BTW #2 – Having sex with someone doesn’t mean you must marry them, or that you are somehow married in God’s eyes. Marriage may be recommended in some cases, but sex isn’t marriage. Marriage is called, in a couple of places in the Bible, a “covenant of companionship.”

The argument, then, that having sex outside of marriage is for satisfying a physical appetite God gave us is false. Sex is more than a physical appetite. It is part of the covenant of marriage as God intended it.

As an appetite, it is significantly different than eating. Nowhere does the Bible say eating is confined to marriage. And I might add, even with eating, there can be sin, e.g., gluttony.

1Co 6:17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Again, think of this in light of verses nineteen and twenty. As His Temple, you are “joined to the Lord,” you are “one spirit with Him.” A.W. Tozer tries to illustrate this by using a sword being forged in fire. The fire is one substance; so is the metal. In the forge, the fire joins with the metal; it becomes part of it.

Paul placed the Lord in bed with you and the prostitute. Or in front of your TV, movie screen, strip club, or computer monitor filled with pornography.

1Co 6:18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.

The Corinthians had another argument. They said, “every sin that a man does is outside the body.” They had convinced themselves that what they did to or with their physical bodies – even if it might be characterized by some as “sin” – had no lasting effect on their spirit and thus was their liberty in Jesus Christ.

Notice the sad progression in their thinking:

By claiming “all things are lawful” without any qualifiers, they started to separate the physical from the spiritual.
They started living carnally, for the flesh, thinking that “food is for the stomach, and the stomach for foods.”
It led to this terrible idea that even if something for someone else might be “sin,” it had no lasting effect and might be a liberty they could enjoy.

Not true, Paul said. Sexual immorality is always sin and it is “against [your] own body.”

How so? In Christ, your purpose is to “glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (v20).

They were seeking to gratify their own body, and thereby they could not glorify God’s body.

Bottom line: “Flee sexual immorality.” “Flee” is a strong word. One commentator wrote:

“The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril.”

George Knight points out that “Paul always uses ‘flee’ in relation to particular sins, not sins in general.” His concern, then, is to warn you about those sins that are especially attractive and deadly:

Later in this letter we will read, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (10:14).
In First Timothy 6:9-11 we read, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things…”

Materialism… Idolatry… Sexual immorality. They are Satan’s three-peat against believers throughout history.

Using the world he is god over, and with the help of principalities and powers and rulers of darkness, he entices our unredeemed humanity to pursue these rather than flee from them. They become goals rather than gross.

Earlier I suggested several buildings we might represent other than God’s Temple. It wasn’t meant as a rebuke; obviously you can go to any of them that are not blatantly immoral.

In fact, you should go to them. The idea is that you are God’s moveable Temple set-up IN them.

How do you behave like God’s Owner-occupied Temple in each place you find yourself? Good question… To ask Jesus as we close.

The Sues Brothers (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)

Naruto was just an anonymous macaque living in the jungles of Indonesia. One day in 2011 the photogenic primate happened upon a wildlife photographer’s unattended camera and snapped a “monkey selfie.”

Naruto may have just been monkeying around. But it became a matter of monkey business when PETA got involved.

PETA, which stands for “People for Putting Naked Actresses on Billboards,” filed a lawsuit on behalf of Naruto asserting that the monkey should enjoy copyright protection on the selfie. The organization hoped to use the proceeds from the picture to benefit the animals.

In 2017, PETA and the photographer settled. The photographer agreed to donate 25% of future revenue from the photo to groups that protect crested macaques and their habitat in Indonesia. Both sides also asked the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals “to dismiss the case and throw out a lower court decision that said animals cannot own copyrights.”

We call this a “frivolous lawsuit.” It never should have come before a judge in the first place.

There was at least one lawsuit involving believers in Corinth that should never have come before a judge. In verse six we learn “brother goes to law against brother.”

It was worse than frivolous. It was (according to verse seven) “an utter failure.”

There isn’t anything wrong with courts and judges or the legal system in general. We are not told to avoid it because it is corrupt or unfair. It is wrong, however, for two believers to go to the secular court and submit their civil matter before a judge.

The context of First Corinthians 6 is civil legal disputes, not criminal prosecution. A Christian may look to a secular court to prosecute anyone (including Christians) who committed a crime against them.

What should we do rather than sue? I’ll organize my comments on Paul’s instruction around two points: #1 When You Are Wronged, You Should Prioritize Your Testimony Before The World, and #2 When You Do Wrong, You Should Ponder Your Testimony Before The Lord.

#1 – When You Are Wronged, You Should Prioritize Your Testimony Before The World (v1-6)

A brother here in our fellowship called me at home because there was someone at the building who said he had something to give me.

The guy got on the phone. I grew suspicious when he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I finally wore him down: He had been sent to serve me with a subpoena.

It was a case of a Christian suing another Christian.

I knew both parties and had urged both sides to meet and let other believers judge. The offender refused to meet, and the saints – in this case the church board – did absolutely nothing.

I want to tell you, I was sick to my stomach, being dragged in to their mutual failure to act Biblically.

I hope you haven’t noticed, but lawsuits between Christians are on the rise:

If you are a supporter of Gospel for Asia, you know they just came through a lawsuit brought against them by professing believers. It was frivolous.

A well-known pastor in Chicago brought a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a Christian credit union. I read that he abandoned the suit once he realized some things that might make a monkey out of him were likely to surface in discovery.

Jerry Fallwell, Jr., head of Liberty University, has been the subject of growing public criticism by former employees. He was recently quoted, “I’m not going to dignify the lies that were reported yesterday with a response, but I am going to the authorities and I am going to civil court.”

He added that Liberty has hired “the meanest lawyer in New York” to pursue civil cases.

It’s not that the litigants are unfamiliar with these eleven verses in First Corinthians. They are reinterpreting them to ‘suit’ their situation.

1Co 6:1  Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?

When you become a Christian, God declares you “righteous” on the basis of Jesus’ death on the Cross. The judges were men who had not been declared righteous by God. They were nonbelievers.

Whatever “matter against another,” it could have been, it should have been, brought before the “saints.”

You might think that the “saints” are not qualified to judge certain matters; that the courts would do a better job.

1Co 6:2  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

Let me make a general observation before commenting directly about this verse. The apostle Paul seems always to, in the present, be thinking about the future. His counsel on lawsuits is grounded in future events; in unfulfilled prophecy. He was looking forward beyond the rapture… beyond the Great Tribulation… to the one thousand year Kingdom of God on the earth.

We ought to approach our lives in the present as futurists. We are living here, but are looking forward to the city whose builder and maker is God.

It doesn’t just correct our attitude towards lawsuits; it corrects our attitude about everything.

We who are saved in the church age will rule and reign over the world with Jesus. We are enabled now to rule on matters among us.

Paul refers to the lawsuit or suits among the Corinthians as “the smallest matters.” He doesn’t mean the matters were insignificant, or that saints are only to judge small things. He means that, by comparison to what and who saints will judge in the future, everything is a small thing.

Too often an offense gets blown out of proportion. You become convinced something must be done. We put too much weight on this life and not on what is coming.

“Are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?”

It’s a sarcastic rhetorical question. We are able to judge all matters between Christians.

1Co 6:3  Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?

There are fallen angels. We believe one-third of the angels followed Satan in his pride and rebellion against God. Some of these fallen angels are already incarcerated. In the end, they will all be sentenced to the Lake of Fire – to the place “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

We’re not told exactly how we will participate in this final judgment of fallen angels. That isn’t the point. The point is, if in the future we will judge supernatural beings, how much more are we capable already to judge the small matters of “this life.”

Way back in the late 1980’s, a couple in our fellowship bought their first Hanford home in a new tract. After moving in, the house smelled dank. The carpets were wet. It was coming up from the ground, through the concrete slab.

After many attempts to resolve the matter, they were going to sue the builder. He was a Christian, attending another church. I arranged a meeting with him and his pastor. At first he was resistant, because of the threatened lawsuit. But after applying biblical pressure, he did what was right and took action to resolve the faulty construction.

It can happen. The saints can resolve civil issues without the courts.

1Co 6:4  If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?

A more literal translation of verse four is, “If then there are questions to be judged in connection with the things of this life, why do you put them in the hands of those who have no position in the church?” (BBE).

If you go to court, you might get a Christian judge; but even then, you can’t expect to be judged by a biblical criteria. He’s not going to abandon state law and issue a ruling from Deuteronomy.

Let’s assume you don’t get a Christian judge:

He or she isn’t going to pray about your matter. The nonbelieving judge has no concept of asking God for wisdom to decide the case. There will be no cutting babies in two.

He or she doesn’t seek Scripture to apply to your case. The judge isn’t going to appeal to you to obey God’s Word.

The judge isn’t being led by the Holy Spirit. He or she cannot receive a supernatural word of wisdom, or word of knowledge, that could resolve the matter.

When you really stop to think about it, taking your matter outside the church, to a nonbeliever, is as dumb as a left-handed monkey wrench. You cut yourself off from all spiritual help.

So – what are some of the reasons Christians give for suing other believers?

I call one “the principle of the greater good.” The offended party or parties claim that it would do more harm to not sue. They are forced to sue, for the greater good. Trouble is, I can justify almost any lawsuit as being for “the greater good.”

In the lawsuit I was subpoenaed in, one statement used to justify suing was that “people won’t tell the truth until they are under oath.” In other words, Christians are liars until they swear on the Bible in court. The plaintiffs therefore convinced themselves suing was not just permissible – it was necessary to get to “the truth.”

One pastor I know teaches that the prohibition on lawsuits only applies to believers who attend the same fellowship.

It’s been suggested that our understanding of these verses needs to mature because our culture has become so much more complicated.

Another line of thought is that the church can declare the accused offender “not a Christian,” clearing the way for him or her to be sued as a nonbeliever. Convenient.

I just don’t see that kind of wiggle room in Paul’s words. What he said was blunt, straightforward, and impossible to misunderstand.

1Co 6:5  I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?

This is definitely sarcasm. In our previous studies in First Corinthians, we’ve mentioned that the believers were trying to integrate worldly wisdom with the Word of God. They boasted about their wisdom. But now, in the act of filing a lawsuit, it was shown that their wisdom was deficient. They were acting like there was no one in the fellowship wise enough to make a judgment in the smallest of matters.

1Co 6:6  But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!

They were quarreling before the unbelieving world. Their lawsuits had gone viral.

Think about it. The believers in Corinth had heard the Gospel and been saved. God the Holy Spirit indwelled them. They had come behind in no gift. Like any other believers, they were sharing their faith in Jesus. The Lord was being presented as having power to save. He was God Who can heal both physical and spiritual afflictions. The future was written in advance by Him, and was advancing toward its culmination. Believers need not fear death, because absence from the body meant being present with Jesus in Heaven. We could go on-and-on.

And while that was their testimony – they behaved as if Jesus couldn’t solve everyday problems.

The priority ought to be our testimony to the world, and in the world. Who will nonbelievers think Jesus is if we sue one another?

A lawsuit against another believer is a declaration that Jesus fails us in everyday matters. If wet carpeting can’t be resolved, how can Jesus possibly be trusted in the weightier matters of salvation and eternal life?

Every lawsuit brought by a believer against another believer ought to start with a disclaimer: “I declare that I do not trust Jesus, or His saints, to rule on my behalf, so I am going to behave no differently from a nonbeliever and demand my rights according to man’s laws, not God’s. My greater good is more important to me than the glory of God. I am knowingly abandoning my testimony that Jesus has power to help me in my daily life.”

#2 – When You Do Wrong, You Should Ponder Your Testimony Before The Lord (v7-11)

Finish this sentence: “You have the right to remain…”

We live in a great country. We have civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
We are simultaneously citizens of Heaven. Based on our heavenly citizenship, there is another way to finish that sentence. It goes like this: “You have the right to remain… wronged.”

Jesus most certainly exercised His right to remain wronged. Everything about His Crucifixion was wrong. He gave up His right to act like God in His incarnation. He did it in humility, in order to be the Savior of the whole world – especially those who believe.

The apostle Paul certainly exercised his right to remain wronged. He was terribly persecuted. When he did claim his rights as a Roman citizen, it was to further the Gospel, never for personal gain or comfort.

He told the believers in Corinth to remain wronged rather than initiate lawsuits.

1Co 6:7  Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?

By “utter failure” Paul meant that even if you won the lawsuit, you had lost what was much more important – your testimony of Jesus.

I cannot stress this enough. Christian vs. Christian in court is a failure and by it the parties destroy their testimony.

Most believers who file a lawsuit will say it was their “last resort.” The problem with that statement is that Paul said it wasn’t a resort at all – not even a last one.

“Accept wrong… Be cheated.” What does that mean in the Greek??? It means to accept wrong and to be cheated.

The last few weeks we’ve been encountering the principle that it costs you something to be a believer.
Accepting wrong, and being cheated, is something it might cost you to be a believer who refuses to sue another believer.

1Co 6:8  No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

Paul turned his attention to the offender. It was incredible to him that a believer would “wrong and cheat” anyone, let alone the members of their spiritual family.

If thus far it seemed like the offender(s) were getting off too easy, Paul issued a severe warning in the closing three verses.

1Co 6:9  Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
1Co 6:10  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
1Co 6:11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

The place to start is with the phrase, “and such were some of you.” It indicates a radical difference between the world and the church.

The world was outside, where nonbelievers are characterized by awful, evil behaviors.

Inside the church there is grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love for one another.

When we talk The Omega Man, I’m thinking Charlton Heston, not the Will Smith remake. (Nothing against Will Smith; but Charlton Heston was the Man!).

He survived a global pandemic that turned everyone else into murderous nocturnal albino mutants.

He lived atop a fortified apartment building equipped with an arsenal of weaponry. Inside, he was safe; outside was carnage.

It’s a typical SyFy or horror film device – just outside the house or building or city is terror and destruction that must be kept out at all cost.

It’s a biblical idea. In the Revelation we read,

Rev 22:14  Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
Rev 22:15  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

Paul’s comments are based on this understanding that the church is the fortified building in the midst of the world.

The believers he was addressing (and he definitely understood them to be saved) were now safely fortified and should not allow their former fleshly behaviors to enter.

Verses nine and ten are a reminder that the “unrighteous,” i.e., nonbelievers, will not be in Heaven. He then lists some of their behaviors – things that are typical of the flesh. They do these things, Why? Because they are not saved, and are dominated by the sin nature.

I don’t think we need to spend time describing each behavior. It isn’t the individual behavior that needs to change; it’s the individual.

I think we should note that Paul is mentioning these behaviors alongside of filing lawsuits. It was just as much evidence of the flesh as anything on the list.

Nonbelievers have no power to change without the promised Holy Spirit. Get saved and God will effect change from the inside out.

Then the responsibility is to guard against yielding to your flesh. Don’t be the one who brings the horrors into the church.

1Co 6:11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Gordon Fee writes,

The previous list is what the wicked are like still, and because of that they will not inherit the kingdom. Now in Christ Jesus you are something different, so live like it. Stop defrauding, living in sexual sin, etc., because you are no longer among those who do.

Can a believer really act these ways? Sure can; the Corinthians were believers who were acting those ways. If pressed, we say that a person who persists in these behaviors must be unable to overcome them and is not born again. It is therefore a for-real warning.

Paul described life inside:

“You were washed” – At the Cross we see that Jesus “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5).

“You were sanctified” – At the Cross “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

“You were justified” – Also at the Cross we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

It anticipates you being face-to-face with the Lord at His Reward Seat. Do we really think cheating and wronging a brother or sister, or suing those who have wronged you, is going to survive His fiery scrutiny on that day? You don’t want that monkey on your back.

It’s like I said last week: Be what you already are:

Be a person who exercises the right to be wronged.

Be a person who has left the behaviors of the old sin nature outside the blood-bought church.

Sex & The Audacity (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

Several periods in history have been referred to as “the sexual revolution.” One was in the United States from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The so-called “sexual liberation” it brought included things like:

Increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships.

The normalization of contraception and the pill.

Public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, and alternative forms of sexuality.

The legalization of abortion.

The sexual revolution ushered in a more permissive society. A permissive society is one in which social norms become increasingly liberal, especially with regard to sex.

We are becoming increasingly permissive:

According to a 2015 research study, in the early 1970’s premarital sex was accepted by 29%. It rose to 58% in the period between 2010 and 2012.

Attitudes towards sexual activity among two adults of the same sex also changed: Accepted by less than 20% before 1993, it rose to 44% in 2012, and 56% for the generation born after 1982.

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that granted same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry. The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage nationwide, including in the 14 states that did not previously allow it.

According to a recent article I read,

Kindergarteners and other elementary-aged students in California’s public schools will be taught to reject “gender stereotypes” – such as about clothing, colors and toys – and to accept transgenderism as normative if proposed health guidelines are approved. There would be no opt-out option for parents.

One recommended book in the guidelines tells the story of a boy who wants to be a princess. Another recommended book teaches students there are at least 15 genders. That same book also tells children it’s impossible to know if a baby is a boy or a girl.

To be accurate, a follow up article stated, “The California Department of Education approved controversial sex education guidelines for public school teachers… that encourage classroom discussions about gender identity and LGBT relationships, but removed five resources and books, including one that explains sex to students as young as kindergarten.”

It’s definitely permissive; but is it progressive? That’s one of the arguments for permissiveness – that it is humanity making progress.

Blow the dust off of the 1934 book called Sex and Culture. Anthropologist J.D. Unwin found a universal correlation between monogamy and what he called a civilization’s “expansive energy.” A non-Christian, he insisted that he offered “no opinion about rightness or wrongness” concerning sexual norms.

Among the 86 different societies he studied, he not only found monogamy to be correlated with a society’s strength, but came to the sobering conclusion that, “In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.” 

In other words, once a society abandoned monogamy and became sexually permissive, it began to degenerate.

First century Corinth was typically permissive and sexually immoral. That, however, wasn’t the problem.

The problem was that the believers were even more immoral.

1Cor 5:1 (CSB) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles – a man is sleeping with his father’s wife.

They were worse than the world. Thus Paul’s focus is on them – not on the world.

The church must take a stand against permissiveness. We must decry sexual immorality.

But that starts at home – not outside. Our best efforts for biblical morality in society is to “Flee sexual immorality” ourselves (First Corinthians 6:18). God’s will is for us to “abstain from sexual immorality” (First Thessalonians 4:3).

Along those lines, I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Do You Have Zero Tolerance When It Comes To Sexual Sin In The Body Of Christ?, and #2 Do You Have True Tolerance When It Comes To Sexual Sinners Outside The Body Of Christ?

#1 – Do You Have Zero Tolerance When It Comes To Sexual Sin In The Body Of Christ? (v1-8)

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

That’s pretty much everything I remember about the presidency of Bill Clinton. He is infamous for redefining what constitutes having “sex.”

If we are going to talk about sexual immorality, we need an understanding of what constitutes biblical morality with regards to “sexual relations.”

It’s simple, really. It’s in the opening pages of the Book of Genesis, and verified by the reference Jesus made to marriage “in the beginning.”

God’s gold standard for sexual morality is one biological male and one biological female – heterosexuals – in a monogamous marriage for as long as they live.

God hates divorce, but has given biblical grounds that allow for divorce and subsequent remarriage in certain circumstances. They are infidelity on the part of your spouse, or abandonment.

God says of His standard, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

We don’t really need long lists of behaviors that constitute sexual immorality. Anything and everything sexual that does not adhere to God’s standard is immoral.

The believers in Corinth were way short of the gold standard.

1Cor 5:1 (CSB) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles – a man is sleeping with his father’s wife.

Everyone knew about it – including nonbelievers outside the church. Their liberality wasn’t attracting them to Jesus.

When he said it wasn’t “even tolerated among the Gentiles,” it means that in their sexually immoral secular society, incest was considered deviant.

I want to pause briefly to discuss the city of Corinth. We always hear that there were over a thousand male and female prostitutes in the Temple of Aphrodite. Not exactly. Turns out, that was true of what historians call “Old Corinth,” destroyed two centuries before Paul was writing.

Another historian writes:

The size of the Roman temple of Aphrodite… ruled out such temple prostitution; and by that time she had become Venus – the venerated mother of the imperial family and the highly respected patroness of Corinth – and was no longer a sex symbol.

Don’t misunderstand: Corinth was exceedingly wicked, and sexually immoral; a seaport filled with vice. But if we appeal to history, we need to fact check. (And, yes, I’ve been guilty of perpetuating this incorrect info).

A man was having sexual relations with his step-mother. We don’t know if the father was out of the picture; or if they both were having sex with her. The father and the woman were not believers, or else they would have been included in the recommended discipline.

Nonbelieving Corinthians would not “tolerate” incest; the church did, and it was out of arrogance.

1Co 5:2  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

Maybe they thought tolerance would show God’s grace. It did not. Instead of arrogance, they ought to have “mourned” for the man, and disciplined him for his own good.

How could Christians be so far off? We have what we call a Judeo-Christian heritage. When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it was The Wonderful World of Disney – not Masters of Sex or Californication. There was a biblical standard in our society adhered to by nonbelievers by which sexual immorality was judged.

Corinth had no such prior standard. They were pagan through-and-through. It was expected for a man to have several concubines and a mistress as well as a wife. Fornication and adultery were normal to them.

1Co 5:3  For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.

One way Paul was “present in spirit” was by the inspired letter they were reading. Gordon Fee writes, “He probably… thinks of the reading of the letter in the gathered assembly as the tangible way in which the Spirit communicated his prophetic-apostolic ministry in their midst.”

He didn’t need to be there to “judge” the “deed,” because it was well-known to all. Which is also why Paul cut right to the chase without taking any disciplinary steps leading up to expelling him.

1Co 5:4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

That sounds pretty official. The assembled church had both the authority and the “power” in Jesus to discipline a sinning member. With Paul’s letter, they were told what to do.

1Co 5:5  deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Paul was describing the two realms of life:

The world outside the church is where Satan prowls about; where he is ruler; where his principalities and powers, and rulers of darkness, dwell. It is where lives are ruined.

The church is the place of light and life. It is replete with Holy Spirit power to be changed into the image of Jesus. It offers spiritual protection.

It’s hard for us to understand the gravity of being put out of the church. Today when believers sin, if their church starts to deal with it, they simply go next door to another church that either doesn’t know them, or doesn’t care to get involved. Or they stop attending church altogether with little to no remorse. Often they retain their Christian friends; or their Christian friends overlook the sin.

According to one source, 200,000 free citizens and 500,000 slaves populated first century Corinth. The one and only church is estimated to have been under 200 believers. On one website, I counted 150 churches in Fresno. Get the picture?

The “destruction of the flesh” relates to the desired effect of being put out of the church.

One commentator wrote, “though the old sin nature is dead, having been crucified with Christ, the flesh lives on, having been “educated” in sin by the old nature, the devil, and the worldly culture around us.”

The incestuous man would be made to see that his behavior was carnal, so he could put to death the things of his flesh.

It was also a warning that he could be headed for a premature death. In the First Century, God was killing a few believers in churches.

“That his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” looks forward to the discipline resulting in repentance and restoration – getting him back on the path of reward when he sees Jesus.

1Co 5:6  Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

First let me say this (and this was new to me): “Leaven” is different from “yeast.”
Yeast was not plentiful in Bible times; but beyond even that, yeast is considered to be fresh and wholesome.

In contrast, “leaven” consisted of keeping back a portion of last week’s dough, allowing it to ferment, then adding it to this week’s. It would eventually become corrupted.

One scholar speculated the following:

Although the Old Testament does not expressly specify, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as well as being a religious celebration, was probably a health provision. Because of the fermentation process, which week after week increased the dangers of infection, the Israelites were commanded once a year to purge their homes of all leaven. During the Feast they would bake only unleavened bread, from which dough they would then start up the process again after the Feast. Thus in the New Testament leaven became a symbol of the process by which an evil spreads insidiously in a community until the whole has been infected by it.

The “old leaven” was the incestuous man. They were a “new batch of dough,” in danger of spiritual contamination. Great illustration.

1Co 5:7  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

Knowing Jesus is like a perpetual Feast of Unleavened Bread. We need not be contaminated.

There is a super-duper important principle in this verse; or I should say, behind Paul’s thinking in this verse. It is this: Be what you already are.

They weren’t becoming “a new lump” by works over a period of time. They already were a new lump, because of the “sacrificed” Jesus – the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

Too much of Christianity is people trying to become better on their own through various methods and programs sold in Christian bookstores. What is missing is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

You ARE crucified with Jesus; you ARE raised from the dead in Him; you ARE seated with Him in the heavenlies.

You HAVE everything you need for godly living.

You ARE able to deny the flesh.

You ARE able to yield to the Spirit.

The application of “Be what you already are” in Corinth was to be the unleavened lump they already were by judging and removing the sin in their midst.

1Co 5:8  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Simply put, stay unleavened; but if you find leaven in the lump – mourn, and remove it.

I’m not going to go into a talk about church discipline. This text doesn’t really give details; it simply acknowledges that churches have both the authority and the responsibility to discipline.

The incestuous man was put out of the church to be exposed to the world. Too often the modern believer chooses on their own to be exposed to the world.

We are called upon to reveal to nonbelievers the gold standard for sexual morality. Be what you already are.

#2 – Do You Have True Tolerance When It Comes To Sexual Sinners Outside The Body Of Christ? (v9-13)

Whether you ought to be tolerant or intolerant depends upon how you understand the words. This quote will help:

The original definition of tolerance and the way in which the word is used now are quite different.
Originally, tolerance meant to acknowledge that others have differing beliefs and accept that it is their right to do so. In this way, Christians are to absolutely be tolerant. Recently, tolerance has come to mean accepting that those other beliefs are true – something Christians absolutely cannot do.

Paul suggested a general level of tolerance towards sinful nonbelievers in order to give them Jesus.

1Co 5:9  I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.
1Co 5:10  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world…

There is what scholars call a “lost letter” that Paul wrote prior to this one. He gave them wise counsel that was misunderstood. He assumed they’d understand he was talking about keeping company with believers.

1Co 5:10  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

We should not “go out of the world” by isolating ourselves. We’re all part of the Great Commission.

It’s too easy for us to overlook that the people around us are not saved. We expect them to be honest and kind and respectful when it is not human nature, and when they have not the indwelling Spirit.

1Co 5:11  But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list – although it hits a lot of things. Christians living in sin must be approached differently from those not living in sin.

For one thing, it ought to make us mourn for them. It’s pretty hard to keep company with someone if you are weeping openly over their choices.

Some have interpreted “not even to eat with such a person” as excluding them from the Lord’s Supper – but that can’t be it. If they’ve been put out of the fellowship, there’s no opportunity for them to partake.

No, this has to do with our personal relationships with believers in sin. I certainly do not have all the answers. Here are a couple of thoughts:

We must begin to see the sinning saint as someone headed for destruction, needing to be helped. The help they need is to be made aware of how heinous sin is both to them and to others they claim they love.

When we do encounter them, we ought to urge them to repent. That’s really all there is to talk about if a believer is living in open sin.

But won’t that drive them away? Well, if you mean that they will be out in the world instead of enjoying the fellowship of believers, yes – and that’s a good thing according to these verses.

1Co 5:12  For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?

They had the wrong posture towards “those… who are outside” the church. Of course nonbelievers will be sexually immoral idolatrous covetous reviling drunken extortioners. THEY NEED JESUS!

We should think of ourselves as First Responders, sent to save them by the Gospel. A firefighter who rolls up on a traffic accident doesn’t determine who the drunk driver was and then ignore him or her, leaving them to die. It’s not theirs to judge.

1Co 5:13  But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “PUT AWAY FROM YOURSELVES THE EVIL PERSON.”

We judge inside, not outside, of the church. That can mean putting them out into the realm of the world, no longer associating with them – not even over a meal. I would add: Unless it is to mourn and seek their repentance.

I’ve heard and read many Bible studies that speak of homosexuality in a way that goes beyond the Bible into hate speech. I’ve never heard believers committing adultery spoken of in such a manner. The church, in general, has become permissive of certain sexual sins.

Christians ought to do everything we can to legislate biblical sexual morality in our society.

We must always be aware of the fact that nonbelievers who oppose us are already condemned and perishing. God is not willing they should perish but, rather, that they repent. They need the illumination of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel we share with them.

The real message in our text is that we are empowered to live-out God’s gold standard in this wicked and perverse generation. We are called upon to be more truly tolerant of nonbelievers than we are of believers.

Be what you already are – vessels which contain God the Holy Spirit. Thereby “flee sexual immorality” and show the world the way of truth.

Apostle-like Now (1 Corinthians 4:1-21)

The world’s most dangerous jobs have spawned a few television shows besides Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers. The most recent, on the Discovery Channel, is Hard to Kill. Here is the description:

As a Green Beret Special Forces sniper who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tim Kennedy is uniquely familiar with tough, dangerous jobs. Now, Tim risks life and limb by tackling some of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Episodes feature bomb techs, bull fighters, and avalanche rescue workers.

Researchers recently conducted a study to determine the 25 occupations with the highest fatality rates. (They reviewed fatal injury rates for 72 occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries). I find the list surprising. Here are the top ten:

Fishermen and related fishing workers
Aircraft pilots
Refuse and recyclable material collectors
Structural iron and steel workers
Truck drivers
Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers
First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service and groundskeeping workers
Electrical power-line workers

Since you’re wondering, Law Enforcement was 18th and Firefighters 24th.

I couldn’t find any lists for the most dangerous jobs in the First Century, but I’d put “Apostle of Jesus” in the top five, if not at #1. As far as fatality rates, of the eleven original apostles who remained after the resurrection, ten were martyred. That’s a 91% fatality rate. John was the only original not martyred – but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

There were other First Century apostles. The apostle Paul described apostling as being hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, homeless, reviled and persecuted. In verse nine he said, “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.”

Aren’t you glad we are not apostles? Before we finish breathing that collective sigh of relief, however, we read in verse in verse sixteen, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me.”

This isn’t the only time Paul will play the imitation card:

In verse one of chapter eleven we read, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
In his letter to the Philippians he wrote, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do…” (4:9).

Before we ask of ourselves, “Am I imitating Paul?” we’d do well to get more of his behind-the-scenes insight into the life of an apostle. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The Life You Are To Imitate Is Costly, and #2 The Life You Are To Imitate Is Compassionate.

#1 – The Life You Are To Imitate Is Costly (v1-13)

I hate hidden costs. They come in a variety of sneaky ways. Consumer Affairs calls one “the grocery shrink ray.” A couple of years ago the magazine found that companies have reduced package sizes by as much as 20% without reducing prices:

Ivory dish detergent, which used to come in a 30 ounce bottle, now comes in a 24 ounce size.
Haagen Dazs ice cream containers used to hold 16 ounces, but now hold 14.

Companies make subtle changes to the packages but generally keep the price the same because consumers are more attuned to changes in price than packaging.

There are no “hidden costs” with Paul. He didn’t portray the Christian life as a walk in the park; he said it was like a march of captive, condemned men. Let’s count the cost with Paul.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve. To be Christ-like is to be a servant; to be Apostle-like is to be a servant. We’ve come to think a servant is a volunteer for some relatively easy, temporary task; something we ‘sign-up’ for. We think that we can quit at any time. Serving God is costly, not convenient.
A “steward” was a devoted servant who was in charge of the master’s house and household. He was the administrator, the manager, the overseer, of the master’s property and people.

Paul’s spiritual stewardship was to preach the “mysteries of God,” which means to reveal things previously unknown – like the church. Perhaps this was a gentle reminder to the Corinthians that they were saved only because God had directed His obedient steward to bring them the Gospel at great personal cost.

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

I love this because it is doable. You may not have much in the way of talent or ability. Your gift-set might seem weak compared to others. But all of us can be “faithful” to what the Lord has given us to accomplish.

I like the phrase, “found faithful.” Can you be “found” when it comes to serving? You can be. It’s doable.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

Paul was, in fact, being “judged,” or criticized, by the Corinthian believers. He describes himself as looking like a homeless guy. I’m guessing they’d have been embarrassed to introduce him as their pastor – even though he was their founder and pastor for 18 months.

A few weeks back I referenced an Instagram account, PreachersNSneakers. It’s a site about church leaders wearing expensive designer shoes. It started when the Instagramer saw a pastor preaching in Yeezy 750 Boost sneakers. “They are “super rare” and retail for upward of $1800.” There’s a lot of Gucci belts and jackets on there, too.

I have mixed feelings about the site, but I think it is safe to say that the apostles didn’t wear rare Yeezy sandals.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

He wasn’t trying to justify himself. He had been faithful to Jesus and that was the only judgment that should matter to a servant. You answer directly to your master. (That doesn’t cancel out reasonable accountability to others).

It’s natural to want to justify ourselves; it’s supernatural to ignore that natural bent and keep working as unto the Lord, despite criticism.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
The “hidden things of darkness” are probably those things we do when we think no one is watching or listening.
The “counsels of the heart” are our motives. Even good works can have wrong motives. The Lord will sort out all of that and reward us accordingly.

In the church we are to “judge nothing before the time.” It doesn’t mean we ignore things like sin and disobedience. No, we must “judge” them and we’ll see an example of that in chapter five as Paul tells them to put out of the church a sexually immoral man.

It means that we are to quit passing judgment on one another’s earthly service.

“Until the Lord comes” is a good everyday philosophy. The Lord could come at any moment. When He does I want to be found serving Him as His steward.

1Co 4:6  Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

The “things” were the “figures” – the illustrations – that we looked at earlier in this chapter and in chapter three. He compared himself and Apollos “figuratively” to farmers, builders, servants, and stewards. He used himself and Apollos as examples to imitate so the believers could “learn in” them how to serve on the earth.

The Corinthians were “thinking beyond what was written” in God’s Word by bringing human wisdom to bear on spiritual things. One result was that they were being “puffed up” by embracing one teacher or teaching over another.

1Co 4:7  For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
“Who makes you differ from one another?” Paul’s point seems to be that each of us has our own unique gifting and personality from the Lord. If it is from Him then who are we to judge one another or to prefer one another?

“What do you have that you did not receive?” Even your natural abilities are gifts. Certainly any supernatural abilities are His gifts. So when I look at a Christian I am looking at God’s vessel, the way God made them and then gifted them. I should thus be awfully careful judging them or criticizing them as long as their ministry is godly.

“Why do you boast as if you had not received it?” In other words, Why are you filled with pride, drawing attention to yourself, because of your supposed abilities? The man or woman who draws you to themselves is always carnal.

1Co 4:8  You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us – and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!

I don’t think we have to wonder if this was sarcasm. Since it is in the Bible, however, it is sanctified sarcasm. I’m sarcastic… And now I have a biblical defense for it.

A recent study published in the Babylon Bee found that, “People who pepper their speech with sarcasm are great witnesses – way better than Christians who are nice all the time.”

The Corinthians were living like kings while the apostles were grinding out the ministry. They had no spiritual cred because they were short on sacrificing and suffering.

Now is not the time to think we are reigning. It’s not the time to enjoy being “rich” with this world’s goods or to work only to be “full” and satisfied with earthly pleasures. No, it’s the time for farming, for building, for serving, and for stewarding while the Master is away.

1Co 4:9  For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.

The word “displayed” might refer to the doomed gladiators who were forced into the amphitheaters to fight and die. I say ‘might’ because other scholars say it refers to condemned criminals who were exhibited last, after the gladiators, to be devoured by the wild beasts as a sort of finale to the festivities.

The word “spectacle” refers to the custom of parading conquered people chained through the streets on the way to the amphitheater.

While the believers in Corinth were armchair quarterbacking the church, the apostles were going about risking their lives, persecuted by the world, in order to take the Gospel everywhere.

“Made a spectacle… both to angels and to men.” Interesting that Paul mentioned angels, and before men.
Apparently the angels don’t know everything God has planned either. I’m sure they look down on the earth and wonder why God insists on using people when they would do a much better job.

1Co 4:10  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!

The Corinthians thought of Paul as “foolish… weak… and dishonored.” His comparison is more of his sarcasm. The value system by which the believers were judging was exactly the opposite of what it ought to have been. No matter how hard we try, the world’s value system is always creeping in to the way we evaluate ministers and ministries.

1Co 4:11  To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.
1Co 4:12  And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;
1Co 4:13  being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

Most of these words need no further explanation – except to point out that Paul was not exaggerating. He and the other apostles suffered all these and much more. He could have added imprisonments and shipwrecks and many other terrible things.

“Filth” is the dust and dirt of the ground swept up and thrown away.

“Offscouring” is the stuff that sticks to your pots and pans after cooking and needs to be scrubbed off.

Alternate translations are scum and garbage.

Put THAT on a poster announcing an outreach:

“One Night Only! The Filth and Offscouring of the World Come to Hanford!”

Or think of it as a name for a Christian Band – Filth & Offscouring. (Skillet comes close – although that’s not why they chose it).

Or a best selling book, “40 days of Scum.”

This was the knitty-gritty of being an apostle and, therefore, being Apostle-like. I’m not saying we must have these experiences as imitators of the apostles. I know few people in the west who do, although elsewhere many of our brothers and sisters in Jesus are being mistreated in just these ways.

We are to imitate the apostle’s faithfulness as servants.

Faithfulness will sometimes be costly. We need to embrace the reality of suffering as servants, and thereby be ready for it.

#2 – The Life You Are To Imitate Is Compassionate (v14-21)

We haven’t mentioned one of the toughest jobs of all. It’s not going to appear on any list… But it should. It’s parenting. If you’re a parent, no argument. If you’re not a parent… Better to just keep your opinions to yourself.

The apostle Paul suddenly becomes Papa Paul. He compares himself to a father who will discipline the children “with a rod” if necessary.

The way the Corinthians were treating Paul, you’d think he’d write them off and devote himself to the believers that liked him in Philippi. Instead, he had the compassion of a parent.

1Co 4:14  I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.

Paul dealt with believers in a context of loving them, and of always having their best interests in mind. If he used sarcasm, or spoke bluntly, it was because he considered them his spiritual kids.

1Co 4:15  For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

There were no believers in Corinth when Paul arrived. As a steward of the mysteries of God, Paul preached the Cross and people responded and were saved. Why dishonor him by criticizing his style, and preferring the ‘sneakers’ of others who had made no real investment in them?

There’s a poignant moment in Rocky V when the young fighter Rocky had been training gives all the credit to his new manager. It hurt.

1Co 4:16  Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

Certain words and phrases get introduced into discussions and make the rounds before they become overused. For a while now, believers have been describing certain distinctives of their church or beliefs as being “in our DNA.” You might say future prophecy is in our DNA, for example.

Well, since God had sent Paul to be the founder of the church in Corinth, they ought to have imitated him. It ought to have been in their spiritual DNA to be like him – to have his values. Really, he should not have needed to remind them to be like him.

1Co 4:17  For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.

Timothy was one of the best known of Paul’s companions and fellow-laborers. But check this out: the apostle describes him as his beloved and faithful son in the Lord; and in First Timothy he writes to “Timothy my true child in faith” (1:2); and in Second Timothy he addresses him as “Timothy my beloved child” (1:2). You can bet Timothy was like Paul and could and would restore Paul’s philosophy of ministry.

1Co 4:18  Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.
1Co 4:19  But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power.

Apparently some of the believers in Corinth thought that Paul was afraid to visit them. Seriously – with the dangers Paul faced every minute of every day, do you really think a puffed-up carnal Christian would strike fear into his heart?

Paul trusted in “the power” of the Cross, not the “word” of those integrating worldly wisdom with God’s Word.

1Co 4:20  For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.

One commentator remarked, “The final test of wisdom is power; the word of the Cross not only has the power to mentally illumine, but also to morally save.”

Whatever so-called ‘wisdom’ the Corinthians were being drawn to had no power to save or to sanctify. Only the Gospel promises that enabling through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

1Co 4:21  What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

Dads and moms always prefer “love and a spirit of gentleness.” I always despaired at the “wait until your father gets home” days. Had to “come… [with] a rod.”

Paul was filled with compassion for them. Now you might think that was easy because, after all, they were his children. Not so. It’s much easier to disown, or abandon, spiritual children. His so-called kids were, after all, dishonoring and disowning him.

Factor in that apostling was life-threatening, and you see how incredible it was that Paul maintained compassion. All that mattered to him was that they were in danger. Their attitude toward him was a symptom of something that could ruin them.
Their treatment of him hurt, but it could not cause him to quit on them.

In English, the word “imitate” can mean two almost contrary things:

It can mean to pretend, or to do an impression of.

It can mean choose or take something as one’s own.

I’ll know if I’m pretending to be Apostle-like if I refuse to pay the cost as a servant; or if I have no compassion upon others – especially those who wrongfully malign me.

Hopefully, we can all be found choosing to be Apostle-like – taking the example as our own – as we wait patiently for the Lord’s coming.