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Introduction (1:1-2:16)

1. Paul reminds them of his calling (1:1)

2. Paul reminds them of their high and spiritual calling (1:2-9)

3. Paul exposes their worldliness (1:10-17)

4. Paul reminds them of the spiritual nature of their salvation (1:18-2:16)

Their worldliness (3:1-11:34)

1. Their worldly divisions (3:1-4:23)

2. Their worldly immorality (5)

3. Their worldly disputes (6:1-11)

4. Their worldly thinking about sex and marriage (6:12-7:40)

5. Their worldly attitude toward Christian freedom (8:1-10:33)

6. Their worldly attitude toward the role of the sexes (11:2-16)

7. Their worldly fellowship (11:17-34)

A guide to spirituality (12:1-15:58)

1. How to recognize genuine spiritual gifts (12)

2. Genuine spirituality will always be motivated by genuine love (13)

3. Genuine spirituality always emphasizes those gifts that edify others (14)

4. Genuine spirituality is based on Jesus Christ's resurrection (15)

Final instructions (16:1-18)

Final greetings (16:9-24)



1. The city

a. Its important location:
"A glance at the map will show that Corinth was made for greatness.  The Southern part of Greece is very nearly an island.  On the West the Corinthian Gulf deeply indents the land and on the East the Saronic Gulf.  All that is left to join the two parts of Greece together is a little isthmus only four miles across.  On that narrow neck of land Corinth stands.  Such a position made it inevitable that it should be one of the greatest trading and commercial centers of the ancient world.  All traffic from Athens and the North of Greece to Sparta and the Peloponnese had to be routed through Corinth, because it stood on the little neck of land that connected the two.  Not only did the North to South traffic of Greece pass through Corinth of necessity, by far the greater part of the East to West traffic of the Mediterranean passed through her from choice.  The extreme southern tip of Greece was known as Cape Malea (now called Cape Matapan).  It was dangerous, and to round Cape Malea had much the same sound as to round Cape Horn had in latter times.  The Greeks had two sayings which showed what they thought of it—'Let him who sails round Malea forget his home,' and 'Let him who sails round Malea first make his will.'  The consequence was that mariners followed one of two courses.  They sailed up the Saronic Gulf, and, if their ships were small enough, dragged them out of the water, set them on rollers, hauled them across the isthmus, and re-launched them on the other side.  The isthmus was actually called the Diolkos the place of dragging across.  The idea is the same as that which is contained in the Scottish place name Tarbert, which means a place where the land is so narrow that a boat can be dragged from loch to loch.  If that course was not possible because the ship was too large, the cargo was disembarked, carried by porters across the isthmus, and re-embarked on another ship at the other side.  This four mile journey across the isthmus, where the Corinth Canal now runs, saved a journey of  two hundred miles round Cape Malea, the most dangerous cape in the Mediterranean."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1977 by Westminster Press." 

b. Its immorality
"There was another side to Corinth.  She had a reputation for commercial prosperity, but she was also a by-word for evil living.  The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery.  The word actually penetrated to English language, and, in Regency times, a Corinthian was one of the wealthy young bucks who lived in reckless and riotous living.  Aelian, the late Greek writer, tells us that if ever a Corinthian was shown upon the stage in a Greek play he was shown drunk.  The very name Corinth was synonymous with debauchery and there was one source of evil in the city which was known all over the civilized world.  Above the isthmus towered the hill of the Acropolis, and on it stood the great  of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.  To that  there were attached one thousand priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and in the evenings they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth, until it became a Greek proverb, 'It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.'  In addition to these cruder sins, there flourished far more recondite vises, which had come in with traders and the sailors from the ends of the earth, until Corinth became not only a synonym for wealth and luxury, drunkenness and debauchery, but also for filth."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by Westminster Press."

2. The church at Corinth

a. The church's beginning
Paul started this church on his second missionary journey.  See Acts 18:1-18  He stayed in Corinth a year and a half, establishing this church.

b. The state of the church at Corinth
The church at Corinth was being influenced by the world more than it was influencing the world.  It was not influencing the world toward holiness, but the world's unholiness was penetrating this church.

3. The letter

a. It is the second letter to the Corinthians:
I Corinthians is actually Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church.   In I Corinthians 5:9 Paul talks about what he wrote in his first letter.

b. The reason for the letter:
Paul's letter is in response to the news that he had received about the unholiness and problems within the church.  See I Corinthians 1:11, 5:9, and 7:1




1. Paul reminds them of their spirituality. (1:1-9)

a. Salutation (1:1-3)
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

(1) Paul begins by asserting his authority:
"Called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God."  Paul had the authority from God to both start the church there and also to get it back on the right path.  Paul adds to these words: "and our brother Sosthenes."  Sosthenes was possibly the Synagogue ruler mentioned by name in Acts 18:17 who became a Christian, who was beaten, and who may have then went with Paul to Ephesus.  So, the letter would also have been from him.  It may also have been another Sosthenes, though, who they knew well and who was now with Paul at Ephesus.

(2) Next, Paul reminds them of their high calling:
"To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy,"  They no longer belonged to themselves, they were God's church.  And their sole purpose was to be God's holy church!  Paul adds - "together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:"  As we will see later, they needed to get their eyes off their little worlds, and recognize that they were part of what God desired to do everywhere in the world.

b. Paul is thankful for the way that God has spiritually blessed them. (1:4-9)
Paul often begins his letters with thanksgiving.  See Romans 1:8; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; I Thessalonians 1:2-3; Philemon 4  Though this church was in many ways acting no different than the world around them acted; nevertheless, God had graciously gifted them to be a fully effective spiritually-empowered church.  He had given them the ability to spiritually communicate His truths.  "I always thank God for you because his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every wayin all your speaking and in all your knowledgebecause our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful."

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about what is true of each of us because we are Christians?



Thought Question #2:  Why do you think Paul begins his letter with these positive words about them?  Is he being manipulative?  Explain your answer.



Thought Question #3:  What does the way Paul starts out his letter tell us about how we should start out when we are going to correct someone?



As we will see as we read through this book, the church at Corinth was a church that was not much different from the world they were living in.  When a young idealistic Christians says to a long-time Christian that he wants their church to be like the New Testament church, the old-timer has been known to say, "Do you want us to be like the Corinthian church?"  The old-timer is pointing out that the New Testament churches were not perfect.  But, Paul does point out here that even the church at Corinth was fully gifted spiritually and fully capable of being a spiritual church. 

Just like the other New Testament churches, the church at Corinth had been graciously given the supernatural ability to perform their God-given task in their city and their world.  What was their task and what is our task in this world?  As Paul will point out in chapter twelve, they and we are the Body of Christ.  When we are operating in our spiritual giftedness, people will see the life of Jesus Christ being lived through us.  As we will also see in chapter thirteen, it is most important that people see the love of Jesus Christ in us.  And as we will see in chapter fourteen, it is also important that we are constantly speaking Spirit-empowered and Spirit-led words to build each other up.

Even in their worldliness, therefore, this church was still fully gifted in every way and spiritually prepared by God to fulfill their God-given task until the return of Jesus.  So we and every true church of God is also fully prepared to fulfill our spiritual purpose until the Day when we will receive the completion of our spiritual inheritance and become fully like Jesus Christ.

At this point, Paul summarizes what will be the focus of the rest of the letter: their need to recognize that God has called us to grow until we experience our ultimate destiny, which is sharing in the blameless life of Jesus Christ.  At the moment, though, they were participating and sharing in the unholiness of the world.

2. Paul, then, reveals their worldliness. (1:10-17)
"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

Thought Question #1:  What was the primary cause of the divisions in the church at Corinth?



Thought Question #2:  How can what caused divisions in the church at Corinth also cause divisions in churches today?



Worldliness rather than spirituality in God's church will always create problems.  At Corinth, the worldly Christians were dividing their church over which man they should idolize.  Their lowered and worldly focus caused them to miss the larger picture that all of them were included within God's church. 

Paul begins in 1:10 to appeal to them to be united.  He appeals to them as "brothers."  This soft approach prepares them for the correction that is ahead. Not only should they be brothers, but they should also begin to act toward each other as brothers should act.  "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and in thought."  Notice that Paul expresses his exhortation to them in this verse in three different ways: in a negative way—"that there be no divisions among you" and in positive terms—"that all of you agree with one another" and "that you be perfectly united in mind and thought." 

Next, Paul explains in 1:11 why he was aware of the divisions among them:  "My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  Paul had received word from three at the church at Corinth about the problems that were occurring at their church:  "I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you." (I Corinthians 16:7)  Sometimes we can believe that we cannot talk about problems that are developing in our church.  Paul did talk with these three about the quarrels and division in this church.  It is not that we should not talk about problems that are occurring in our church, but what is important is how we talk about them.  Here, Paul immediately sets out to solve the problems.

Paul gets right to the cause of the divisions. What I mean is this:  One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.'"

It is uncertain as to why the church at Corinth was dividing over Paul, Peter, Apollos, and Jesus.  It is possible that, since Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles that the Gentile members of this church sided with Paul and the Jewish members sided with Peter.  The Gentile Christians at Corinth may also have been divided between Paul and the eloquent Apollos. See Acts 18:24-28  We know from II Corinthians that Paul was criticized in this church for not being a good speaker: they were saying that "his speaking amounts to nothing" and he said in response to their criticisms that "I may not be a trained speaker" (II Corinthians 10:10 and 11:6).  It is also possible that the intellectuals united around the well-educated Apollos.  And then there were those who certainly felt that they were superior, for they were the followers of Christ.  (They may have been those who actually saw Christ.)  Ultimately, the cause of the divisions was human arrogance.  We like to feel superior to others and even to other Christians.  We can feel that we attain that superiority if we follow a leader that we consider to be superior to all other Christian leaders, or that our pastor is superior to the other pastors in town.

Ray Stedman gives an interesting description of how this church may have become divided:  "There were first of all, the loyalists who said, 'We are of Paul.  He started this church.  We came to life in Christ by Paul, and Paul is the one we're going to listen to above all others.'  So, undoubtedly there was a big group that followed Paul.  Then there were the stylists, those who were attracted by the different kinds of preaching, and they had especially been drawn to Apollos.  From the book of Acts we learn that Apollos was an outstanding orator in a world that loved and appreciated oratory….I am sure there were many in Corinth who were saying, 'Oh, I love to hear Apollos!  He's a great preacher, a warm, capable, eloquent man, who can make the Old Testament come alive!'  Then there were the traditionalists (there always are), those that say, 'Well, I don't know about Paul or Apollos.  Let's get back to the beginnings.  Let's go back to Jerusalem.  We are of Peter.'  (Peter, evidently, had been through Corinth and had preached there.)  So they said, 'When Peter came, we really felt that we were on solid ground.  After all, he was one of the first apostles that Jesus himself called.'  So they were splitting and arguing and quarreling over the relative merit and authority of these various teachers.  There was still a fourth group and in some ways I think they were probably the worst.  They were drawing themselves up and saying, 'Well, you may be of Paul or of Peter or of Apollos, but we are of Christ!  We go back to the Lord alone.  What he says we'll listen to, not Paul or Peter or anyone else – it makes no difference to us.'  With that spirit of self-righteouss smugness, they were separating from the rest, dividing up the congregation and quarreling with one another over these things."  "Discovery Publishing."

Paul, himself, gave them little reason to worship him.  "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized into my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospelnot with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

Thought Question #1:  Pick out as many examples of Paul's wisdom as you can as he seeks to reunite the church at Corinth.



Thought Question #2:  How can we use the same wisdom today to work toward keeping our churches united?



Paul wants them to remember his place in the scheme of things.  He had not been crucified for them and they had not been baptized into his name.  He had, instead, emphasized the preaching of Christ.  He was also glad that he had not put himself in the limelight by baptizing many of them.  In fact, it was so unimportant to him who he had baptized, that he could not remember how many he had baptized. 

These verses are interesting because they show the humanness of Paul while he was writing the God-breathed Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit guided the very limited and human Paul to write without error the Word of God.  See II Timothy 3:16-17; and II Peter 1:20-21 and 3:15-16  Paul's words here are not in error, but they reveal also that Paul had human limitations while he was writing them.  Paul's main point that they should not worship him is highlighted by the fact that Paul could not remember all those that he had baptized.  Paul's ministry was very secondary to him compared to his supreme ministry which was to preach the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Paul's words about Christ were infallible, while Paul's memory about himself was fallible (The Crispus and Gaius that he baptized may be mentioned in Acts 18:8 and Romans 16:23.)

Paul concludes by emphasizing that it is what was done on the cross for us by God that is to be lifted up, not men and their speaking and intellectual abilities!  May we today not lift up men, but lift up the One who made the supreme sacrifice for us.  If we understand the gospel, we will recognize that we have nothing to boast about and no reason at all to exalt ourselves over others.  See Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:27-28

3. Paul reminds them of the spiritual nature of their salvation. (1:18-2:16)
Paul reminds them that they were not saved by man or by man's wisdom, but by God's power and wisdom.  He desires that they get their eyes off of men and men's abilities, and again remember that they were saved by the wisdom and power that is solely from God and that is totally different from that of any that is on earth!

a. By men's standards, God's message is foolishness, but it is nevertheless the very power and wisdom of God. (1:18-25)
Paul divides those who hear the gospel into two classes:  (1) One group hears the message and concludes that it is total foolishness to believe that man's greatest needs are solved by a man dying on a cross.  (2) The other group hears the message and believes that the message about the cross is the greatest wisdom of all!  "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that the message of the cross was foolishness to the Jews and to the Greeks of Paul's time, and is also foolishness to modern man?



It helps us to see why preaching about a cross was foolishness to the people of Paul's time.  Today, we do not execute a murderer, for example, by hanging him on a cross.  Instead, we use the electric chair, poison gas, and the gallows.  Ray Stedman observes that it would be strange for us to see churches with a gallows on the roof or an electric chair on the roof.  It was also strange for the early Christians to have as their main emphasis, preaching about an execution done on a cross.  But, Paul says here that it is the message of the cross that man most needs.

Paul brings the wisdom of man into stark contrast with the message about the cross.  He asks, what have our greatest scholars and philosophers done for us if they have not lead us to a knowledge of God and into a relationship with Him?   "For it is written:  'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'  Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him.  God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

Thought Question #1: Why is the foolishness of God wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God stronger than man's strength?



Thought Question #2:  What does the cross mean to you?



Man's greatest intellectual attainments have not led us to God and have not led us to know Him, but the preaching of the simple gospel message dynamites us into a relationship with God.  The word here for power is "dunamis", from which we get our word "dynamite".  This simple gospel message made no sense to many of the people of Paul's time:  (1) The Jews expected an all-powerful and triumphant Messiah who would appear with supernatural signs, and not a weak and helpless crucified Messiah.  See Deuteronomy 21:23  The cross did not fit into their plans at all.  To them, the cross was not a way that man is dynamited into a relationship with God, but it was a "stumbling block" which prevented them from even considering the message that Paul preached. 

(2) The Greeks, on the other hand, expected the answers to life would come from the great philosophers who could eloquently answer all of man's questions.  The death of a man on a cross did not answer any of their philosophical questions.  In fact, it was foolishness to them that a god would suffer and die for men; nor does Jesus Christ and the cross fit neatly into any of man's systems of thought today.  For us to say that we are saved because God's Son died as a criminal on a wooden cross 2,000 years ago, seems by many to be totally irrelevant to our modern, computer age.  It is despised in every part of our society - in movies, at the Universities, at the Psychiatric hospitals, on talk radio, and in living rooms.  Nevertheless, to those who are dynamited into God's presence by the gospel, wisdom of the cross is far beyond the wisdom of man, and its power is unlike any on earth; for it is the very wisdom and power of God.  In verse 19, Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14

In verse twenty-five, Paul uses an oxymoron, the "foolishness of God."  Two words which seem to contradict each other.  Obviously, there is no such thing as the "foolishness of God."  But, Paul's point is that which seems like foolishness to men, is far beyond man's greatest wisdom. Paul also uses another oxymoron in verse twenty-five: "the weakness of God."  Obviously, there is also no such thing as "the weakness of God."

b. By man's standards, God chose the lowly that our boast may be only in him. (1:26-31)
This is one of the many sections of the Bible that presents the paradox that is the Christian way of life.  A paradox is something that appears to be self-contradictory, but is true.  As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, in God's Kingdom the poor are rich.  Those who come to God are those who recognize that they are poor without God.  Paul reminds them that it was not their worldly attainments, wealth, or wisdom that enabled them to become Christians or had helped them toward becoming Christians.  In fact, few of them were rich in a worldly way.  "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thingsand the things that are notto nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."

Thought Question #1:  Is it true today that not many of us who are members of the Twenty-first century church are "wise by human standards," not many are "influential," and not many are of "noble birth"?  Explain you answer.



Thought Question #2:  What is the reason why God delights to choose the lowly in society?



Those who come to Christ are those who also recognize their poverty without God.  Paul reminds them that it was not their worldly attainments, their wealth, or their wisdom that enabled them to become Christians or had helped them toward becoming Christians.  In fact, few of them were rich in a worldly way.  In the year 178 B.C., Celsus, a man who was critical of Christianity, wrote these words: "We see them in their own houses, wool dressers, cobblers and fullers, the most uneducated and vulgar persons."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."  Barclay, though, also gives examples from the New Testament of Christians who were wealthy and held high positions in society.  For example, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12), Dionysius (Acts 17:34), and Erastus (Romans 16:23)  But, these men needed to come to a place of humility before God, for them to have acknowledged their sinfulness and their need for a Savior.

Jesus said that it is difficult for the rich to become Christians.  It is easier for the poor and the humble in society to see their need for God, and to humbly receive Jesus as their Savior.  The rich and proud often do not see that they need a Savior.  "The things which elevate man in the world, knowledge, influence, rank, are not the things which lead to God and salvation." "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."  That which enables men to climb up to higher positions in our society is often the very opposite of that which causes us to see our need for God's grace. 

A team captain in a playground game chooses for his team the most athletic, the most skilled, and the most popular to be on his team.  But, God chooses the most needy for His team, so that all might recognize and so that there will be no question that true life is not a worldly attainment, but a gift from above. 

True life comes from Jesus Christ who brings to us true wisdom; for it is only through Him that we are able to understand the true meaning of life.  It is only through Jesus Christ that we are able to have true righteousness, for he alone makes it possible for us to be right with God.  And He alone provides true freedom, for it is only through Him that we are able to be free from slavery to sin, and free from the penalty for sin.  "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become our wisdom from Godthat is our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

For all of this, God alone deserves the glory!  "Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Thought Question:  Why should we only "boast in the Lord?"



Paul is quoting from Jeremiah 9:24.  Listen to Jeremiah's thoughts including verse 23:  "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight."  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)  We are to only boast in the Lord, for all that is good and is worthy of boasting about comes from Him!  We tend to boast in what we believe are our self-centered accomplishments.  That which is pure and holy comes only from God.

c. By men's standards, Paul's wisdom and eloquence were inferior, but he did this so that their faith would not be based on men's wisdom, but on God's power. (2:1-5)
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

Thought Question #1:  What do these words of Paul tell us about how we all should share the gospel with others?



Thought Question #2:  In what ways are Paul's words in these verses an encouragement to you?



(1) He was resolved to limit his message to the presentation of the gospel messagethe message that God's Son had died for their sins. (2:1-2)
Paul recognized his own insufficiency to do God's work.  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  He needed to resolve or to determine to not seek to impress them with his wisdom or eloquence, for it is always a temptation for us to put our knowledge and cleverness at center stage rather than God's good news.  The following is an example of the difference between a man being elevated and God being elevated:  "Two men visited church services one Sunday in London.  At the morning worship hour they went to hear a renowned pulpiteer deliver an address in a beautiful cathedral.  They came away saying, 'What a wonderful preacher he is!'  That evening they went to hear Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  As they left Metropolitan Tabernacle they remarked, 'What a wonderful Christ that man preached!'"  "Taken from The Church Stands Corrected by Paul R. Van Gorder.  Copyright 1967 by Victor Books."

(2) He did not come to them in self-confidence, but with a sense of his own weakness. (2:3-4)
And so in "weakness," "fear," and "trembling" he had come to them realizing he could not do God's work unless God gave him the power to do it.  "I came to you in weakness, fear, and with much trembling."  He knew that his human words, no matter how humanly eloquent or persuasive they might be, were incapable of arguing or smooth talking anyone into a relationship with God. 

"I think that ought to be one of most encouraging passages to any of us who have tried to be a witness as a Christian, because if we have tried I think we have all had this same experience.  Speaking of the things of Christ and the things of God is easy in a church like this where you are gathered with Christian friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord, because nobody objects; everybody agrees; you are not put down in any way.  However, when you try to talk about these things with worldlings, people who have come from entirely different backgrounds, people who are committed to the philosophy of taking care of number one first and who are out to seek for fame or fortune or whatever it may be, you find it very difficult.  You feel much personal weakness and fear and trembling.  Well, that is the way Paul felt, and that ought to be an encouragement to us."  "Taken from a message by Ray Stedman."

Paul was not without fear when he shared the gospel.  In fact, Paul, after he had been in Corinth for a while needed to receive this encouragement from God:  "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:  'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack you and harm you, because I have many people in this city."  (Acts 18:9-10)

But, God had honored Paul's acknowledgement of his weakness and had enabled him to powerfully share the gospel in Corinth. We also need to recognize our total inability to do anything for God in our own strength, and that we are to be totally dependent on God's empowering if we are to do anything in God's work.  Charles Hodge sums it up in this way:  "The success of the Gospel does not depend on the skill of the preacher, but on the demonstration of the Spirit." "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

(3) Paul had limited his message to the simple gospel message and presented the gospel in Spirit's power, so that their faith would not be in Paul's wisdom and eloquence, but in God's power. (2:5)
"so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's  power."  The Corinthian Christians believed in God and we believe in God because God has revealed Himself to us through the gospel and through those who have simply made themselves available to be used by Him to present the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Bill Bright the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ said many times that our responsibility is "to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God."  Again, Charles Hodge has an apt summary of Paul's words:  "The foundation of saving faith is not reason, i.e. not arguments addressed to the understanding, but the power of God as exerted with and by the truth upon the heart." "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

d. But, though Paul's message did not contain wisdom that the world understood, it did contain wisdom that God's people understood.

(1) It is a wisdom that is hidden from the rulers of this world, but has been revealed to the "mature" or the "perfect."  (2:6-9)
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written:  'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'"

Thought Question #1:  What is this secret wisdom that Paul is talking about in these verses?



Thought Question #2:  He says this wisdom is for "our glory."  What does he mean by it being for "our glory?"



Thought Question #3:  What does verse nine tell us about what is ahead for us after our deaths?



If the rulers of Israel in Jesus Christ's time had understood that Jesus Christ was the very Lord of Glory, they would not have crucified Him.  They crucified a Divine Person.  "Hence the deed was evidence of inconceivable blindness, and wickedness."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."  But the truth about Jesus Christ, both who He is and what He came to earth for, was hidden from them, for only God could reveal it to them.  God's wisdom is a "mystery."  "The Greek word musterion ["secret wisdom" in the NIV] means something that has hidden meaning, hidden from those who have not been initiated, but crystal clear to those who have.  It would describe a ceremony carried out in some society whose meaning was quite clear to the members of the society, but unintelligible to the outsider.  What Paul is saying is, 'We go on to explain things which only the man who has already given his heart can understand.' " "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."

"Musterion translated mystery, has about it nothing of the mysteriousness in our sense of the word.  It does not signify a puzzle which man is wholly unable to penetrate.  But it is a secret which God has now revealed.  At one and the same time the word points to the impossibility of man's being able to know God's secret, and to the love of God which makes that secret known to man.  Paul describes the secret as the hidden wisdom, emphasizing the fact that men outside Christ are still in the dark about it.  It is revealed to believers, but it is not a matter of common knowledge among the sons of men.  It remains hidden from unbelievers."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Co."

None of our human senses can enable us to understand God's eternal plan.  But, God's spiritual type of wisdom has been revealed to the "mature" by God's Spirit.  Who, then, are the "mature"?  Hodge argues that it is the believer who is a completed man, for he has gone from being spiritually dead to God's wisdom to being spiritually alive to God's wisdom.  But, Paul may also be distinguishing the "mature" from the immature and worldly Corinthian Christians.  See also 3:1-3

It is very interesting that Paul says that God's wisdom is for the purpose of "our glory."  Ray Stedman has this to say about God's plan for "our glory":  "Therefore it is designed and intended, Paul says, for our glorification, i.e., to make us into men and women who are the kind of human beings that God designed us to be.  It is designed to produce beautiful people, not only outwardly but inwardly as well—loving, compassionate, strong and yet merciful and tender-hearted people who are filled with grace, beauty and strength.  That is a glorified humanity, and that is what this body of truth will do." "Discovery Publishers"

(2) Just as no one knows our deepest thoughts except our own spirit (and, of course, God), so no one knows the deep things of God, but His own Spirit. (2:10-12)
God has revealed to us who are His spiritual children in our spirits some of what are His deepest thoughts!  "but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us."

Thought Question:  What do these verses teach us about our relationship with God?



We can say that we know God on a level that we do not know anyone on this earth.  For it is only God that we know spirit to spirit.  Or should I say, spirit to Spirit.  If we are married, we may know our spouses very well.  Yet, our spirit does not connect directly with their spirit.  But, we who are Christians do have direct access to the Spirit of God.  This is a unique relationship among all relationships we experience. 

An analogy will bring out another aspect of God's Spirit to spirit communication with us.  It is somewhat like you and I communicating with our pet dog spirit to spirit.  We, of course, are not able to communicate with an animal like a dog.  Our dog turns her head from side to side as I talk to her.  She would very much like to understand what I am saying to her, especially if I might be talking to her about some treat I would like to give to her.  But, she is unable to understand my higher level of intelligence, and so what I say are just unintelligible words to her.  But, if I could somehow connect with her on spiritual level and give her understanding of my words, then she would be able to understand my words to her.  Also, we are not able to understand God's much higher level of wisdom apart from God connecting with us spiritually and giving us understanding of His words and thoughts.  Listen to Jesus' words in John 16:13-14:  "But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." 

(3) Paul's words in the Bible came from God's Spirit. (2:13)
The very words of the book of I Corinthians were Paul's words that were taught to him by God's Spirit and guided by God's Spirit.  "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words."

Thought Question:  What do these words tell us about how the Bible was written?



Paul's words were not a man's words, but God's words.  They were not the polished words of a worldly orator, but they were words given to him by God.  The things of the Spirit were expressed in words chosen by God's Spirit.  Paul did not use worldly words to give a spiritual message.  This verse teaches that the very words of the Bible are inspired or God-breathed.  The technical term for this is "verbal inspiration." 

Paul is not saying here that God dictated His message to him, and then Paul wrote it down.  God, by His Spirit, gave Paul understanding of His truths.  Then, God's Spirit guided him in the writing of the exact words that communicated those Spirit-illuminated truths.  These words also were a product of Paul's personality.  So, the words of I Corinthians are both fully Paul's words and fully God's words.

(4) The natural man (the unbelieving non-Christian) is unable to understand the things of the Spirit (it is foolishness to him), but the spiritual man (the believing Christian) is able to evaluate everything in a spiritual way. (2:14-16)
Just as a horse is incapable of understanding us, so a man without God's Spirit is incapable of understanding God.  The things of the Spirit are "foolishness" to him.  "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

Thought Question:  What do these words of Paul tell us about the non-Christian?



"The word (moros) foolish, as an adjective, means in Greek, dull, insipid, tasteless; as a substantive, one that is dull, or stupid; that is, one on whom truth, duty and excellence do not produce their proper effect.  Foolishness (moria) is that which is to us absurd, insipid, powerless.  When, therefore, it is said that the things of the Spirit are foolishness to the natural man, it means that they are to him absurd, insipid, and distasteful."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."  The word translated "man without the Spirit" is psukikos.  We get our word "psychology" from this word.  It means soulish.  The natural man operates on a soulish level, and is unable to understand that which is on a spiritual level.  God reveals to the Christian His purpose for life.  For example, he reveals His purpose for sex.  The soulish man tends to think that sex has no purpose but for physical gratification.  The spiritual man sees a much higher purpose for sex.  To the natural man, homosexual relations seem acceptable.  To the spiritual man, because they are contrary to God's plan, they are an abomination.

"The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:  'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?'  But we have the mind of Christ." 

Thought Question:  What do these words of Paul tell us about the Christian?



Also, as a horse is incapable of understanding and judging us, so the natural man is incapable of judging the spiritual man, for we have the mind of Christ.  As no one can judge Christ, so can no one can judge us who have the mind of Christ.  "The philosophers of Greece and the scribes among the Jews had sat in judgment upon Paul, and pronounced his preaching foolishness.  He tells them they were not competent judges."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.".

Worldliness can be defined as living as if this "world" is all there is; it is living as if there is no God and no life after death.  It is living for today and for ourselves, dependent only on the wisdom of men.  "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!"

1. Their worldly divisions (3:1-4:23)
In these two chapters, Paul gives us a pattern for handling disputes in the church.  In particular, he takes action against the factions that had developed among the Corinthian Christians.  Let's learn how he deals with their disunity.

a. "You are acting like baby Christians." (3:1-4)
"Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?"

Question #1:  In the Campus Crusade for Christ materials on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit, they state that this section describes what they call "Carnal Christians" or fleshly Christians.  Are they right?



Question #2:  What is the cause of these Corinthian Christians being worldly?  How can we tell if we are worldly?



Question #3:  What is the "milk" and what is the "solid food" or "meat" that Paul is talking about here?



Worldliness is not appropriate for God's people.  Just as babies grow into mature men and women, so Christians are to grow out of the baby stages of Christianity.  Paul could tell that the Corinthian Christians were still in these baby stages of their Christian lives, for they were acting no different than those in the world around them who were not Christians. 

Too often our churches are not much different than the clubs in the world around us.  Ray Stedman, in one of his messages, had this to say about many of the churches of his time:  "Everywhere I go I find it true that people try to operate the church very much as though it were a kind of religious country club, so they operate it like any other club - for the benefit of its members.  Little regard is given to what the church is as the instrument of God to reach a degraded, discouraged and defeated world." "Discovery Publishing"  But, we are not to be like the world.  We have another dimension, a spiritual dimension, to our lives that the world does not have.  This church in Corinth had this spiritual dimension in their lives, but it was not expressed in the way that they were living.  They were living no differently then those who were not Christians.

William Barclay makes this observation: "you can tell what a man's relations with God are by looking at his relations with his fellow men.  If he is at variance with his fellow men, if he is quarrelsome, argumentative, trouble-making creature, he may be a diligent church attender, he may even be a church office-bearer, but he is not a man of God."

The word translated "wordly" is actually a translation of a Greek word that could also be translated "fleshly."  Paul explains in these verses that the reason for the divisions among them is because they are acting just like men who are outside of Christ and have no Spiritual aspect to their lives.  They are operating as men who are only fleshly.  "In verse 1 he calls them sarkinoi.  This word comes from sarx which means flesh and is so common in Paul.  Now all Greek adjectives ending in -inos means made of something or other.  So Paul begins by saying that the Corinthians are made of flesh.  That was not in itself a rebuke; a man just because he is a man is made of flesh, but he must not stay that way.  The trouble was that the Corinthians were not only sarkinoi they were sarkikoi, which means not only made of flesh but dominated by the flesh.  To Paul the flesh is much more than merely a physical thing.  It means human nature apart from God, that part of man both mental and physical which provides a bridgehead for sin.  So the fault that Paul finds with the Corinthians is not that they are made of flesh—all men are—but that they have allowed this lower side of their nature to dominate all their outlook and all their actions."  "The quote above and this quote taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."

They were worldly or fleshly Christians.  They were, in a term that is used in some Christian circles today, "carnal Christians" (carnal is from a Latin word for flesh).  Paul explains that the reason that they were "carnal Christians" is because they had not grown spiritually as Christians.  They were still in the baby stages of their Christian lives.  They were "mere infants in Christ."  New Christians start out as spiritual babies, just as we start out in this world as physical babies.  But, also, just as there would be something seriously wrong if we did not grow past physical babyhood, so there is something seriously wrong when we do not grow past spiritual babyhood.  The church of Corinth had not grown past spiritual babyhood. 

Babies are given "milk" because they are unable yet to chew and digest meat. Because these Corinthian Christians were unable yet to digest spiritual meat, the Corinthian Christians could only be given spiritual "milk."

What is the difference between spiritual "milk" and spiritual meat?  Charles Hodge says that the difference between "milk" and meat is whether a teaching is given in very simple terms or in a more thorough, in-depth, and detailed manner.  He observes that much of what is taught to theologians is also taught to children, but it is taught to children in a much simpler manner.  Also, that Jesus paid the cost to give us a new life is "milk," but the cost of following Him in the new life and the details of all that is involved in that walk is meat.  That Jesus has given us spiritual gifts is "milk," but how we are to use them is meat.  In the book of Hebrews, the author also urges the Hebrew Christians he is writing to, to go beyond "milk" to meat.  He also urges them to persevere and move forward in their faith, even when it would have been much easier for them, with the trials they were facing, to drift backwards.  See Hebrews 5:11-6:3

The result of their worldliness, fleshliness, and baby Christian state is that there was "jealousy and quarreling" among them.  Ray Stedman observes that in the world we usually operate in a competitive, "dog-eat-dog" world.  When I was a non-Christian college student and moving into an apartment with three roommates I had never met, I heard a very startling prediction.  One of my new roommates had just taken a group dynamics' class.  He predicted, according to what he had learned in the class, that by the end of the year all of us were going to have the other three roommates gang up on them over some issue.  Sure enough, each one of us had had all of the other roommates united against him at least once before the end of that year.  Division, not unity, is typical of what happens in the world.  People outside of the church are each mainly concerned with themselves or their cause.  There are liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, men and women, young and old, the lumber industry and environmentalists, and many more divisions.  There are divisions in marriages called divorces.  Sadly, there are also many divisions in the church. 

What is the solution?  The whole book of I Corinthians provides the solution.  We need to stop thinking and acting in a worldly, fleshly, and babyish way.  We Christians need to stop seeing ourselves as in competition with each other; but see ourselves as co-laborers in God's work. 

b. "You should not be idolizing Paul and Apollos, for we are merely
fellow-servants of God. (3:5-9)
"What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what is the proper and improper way to look on the leaders of the church?  (What do these verses tell us about splitting the church into clergy and laity?)



Paul points out in these verses that the worship of men comes from a distorted outlook on life.  One practice of baby Christianity is to idolize men rather than to recognize that they are mere men, creatures of God.  Christian leaders are each servants of God, and are individually to fulfill different and complementary roles within God's work.  The worldly Christian, however, looks for the most glamorous, intelligent, or powerful men and worships them.  They do not recognize that each man has been gifted in these ways by God to perform certain roles of service within God's work.

Here, Paul puts things into proper perspective:  Apollos and he were like fellow-gardeners, each fulfilling an important role in the growth of a garden.  But, it was God's garden, and He alone was able to make the garden grow.  Also, Apollos and he were responsible to God, for He alone would determine how well they were fulfilling their responsibility to Him.  Would it not be futile to divide gardeners into only planters, or into only waterers?  Both are needed and neither should be exalted over the other.

Then, Paul explains in 3:9 that they—the Corinthian Christians—were the field that Paul had planted and that Apollos had watered.  But, their new life and their growth had not come from Paul or Apollos, but from God.  Paul and Apollos were fellow-workers, but it was God's field.  The Corinthian Christians did not belong to Paul or Apollos, nor should they receive the credit for what had happened in their lives.  They had a very small role in the change that had taken place in their lives.  For the Corinthian Christians were God's field.  Their focus should be on God and what He had done, was doing, and desired to do; and not on these who are merely fellow-workers in the field. 

"Ministers are mere instruments in the hands of God.  The doctrines which they preach are not their own discoveries, and the power which renders their preaching successful is not in them.  They are nothing; and therefore it is an entire perversion of their relation to the church to make them heads of parties."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

The clergy/laity split that has occurred in the church through the years is contrary to the message that Paul gives in these verses.  The idea that there are those who are Pastors, Priests, Pope, and others who are somehow at a higher level than the ordinary Christian is not taught in the Bible.  We always tend toward elevating some men or women to a higher level than others, and then worshiping them.  Paul was not impressed when the early church had elevated the Apostles, "those reputed to be pillars," to a place higher than other men. (Galatians 2:9)  Remember that the early Apostles were very common men (fishermen, for example), whom God had transformed into His workmen.  We should worship God alone.  All of we who are Christians are fellow-servants in God's work.

Many of those who have been elevated to a place higher than other men have come crashing down, as some sin in their lives was exposed.  It became very evident, then, that they were very much like other men.  In my lifetime, many of those whom I tended to idolize at one point in my past have fallen due to a dramatic failure in some part of their lives.  The message is that there is a vast difference between men and God.  God alone deserves to be worshiped.  The rest of us are fellow laborers in His work.  We should be working shoulder to shoulder, not dividing up over what men we are following or what men we are worshiping.

c. "Be careful of what you add to God's building." (3:10-15)
"By the grace God has give men, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about how we will be rewarded by God for our Christian service?



Thought Question #2:
  What happens in heaven to the person who genuinely becomes a Christian, but has little involvement in Christian service?



In these verses Paul illustrates that the worldly works of men are worthless and will be burned up.  He changes the figure of speech used to describe the church from a field or a garden, to a building.

The foundation for this building (the church at Corinth), was laid by Paul.  Paul had begun the church in this city with the gospel message; a message that was foolishness to the world.  Now they were building on to the church with the wisdom and the ways of the world.  Paul warns them that their work would be tested by God in the Day of Judgment.  If they added on to God's church with true and godly wisdom, their work would remain.  For just as fire will not burn away gold, silver, and costly stones, so the fire of God's judgment would not burn away that which was precious and lasting.  But, if they built on to God's church with worldly wisdom and worldly ways, all of their efforts would be of no value and would be burned up in the same way as fire burns up wood, hay, and stubble.  The church at Corinth, at the time that Paul wrote this letter, was mostly adding on to the gospel with wood, hay, and stubble.

Paul says that even if they build with only wood, hay, and stubble they will still be saved; but, he will be like someone who escapes out of fire.  He will be like someone who learns his (or her) house is on fire, but is only able to save himself.  He is saved, but he has nothing left but himself.  We who are Christians who do not build on to what God has done in our lives through the gospel with a life based on God's ways—on love—will be saved; but we will enter Heaven alone, taking nothing with us from our lives on this earth. 

What is the reward for building on to our lives in the proper way?  Ray Stedman, who is now with the Lord, believed that a key is found in I Thessalonians 2:19:  "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy."  What is the reward?  Listen to his answer:  "I think the reward is simply, joy, joy over having spent your life in a way that counts." And I believe he is right! "Discovery Publishers"

Roman Catholicism's doctrine of purgatory is based on these verses.  They believe that these verses teach that Christians cannot enter heaven until our sins are purged from us by fire in a place called, "purgatory".  Instead, Paul is teaching in these verses about the way that we can evaluate our Christian service, to help us to determine whether it will be of value to God.

When we stand before Jesus Christ, He will determine what was pure and what was impure.  What we did out of pride and selfish ambition, and what we did out of love for Him and for others.  What was done out of pure love, will be our joy and what was done out of impure motives will be burned up, worthless, and gone.  Throughout the book of I Corinthians, Paul exhorts these early Christians toward that which is pure and lasting.  His words speak to us today and exhorts us toward that which is pure and eternal.

d. You (plural) are God's  (singular), and God's Spirit is in you; if you destroy God's church with your worldly wisdom and ways, you will also be destroyed by God. (3:16-17)
"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple."

Thought Question:  What is meant by members of a church destroying God's temple and God destroying them?



In these verses, Paul gives the grave message that worldliness in God's church will lead to God's judgment on the people of that church!  For (1) the church is God's holy "temple," and (2) when we destroy God's holy "temple" we can expect an equally severe and destructive judgment from God. See Acts 5:1-11 

The first reason why God will judge the worldly and a sinful church is because, in the same way as the "temple" in Jerusalem was God's holy "temple," so the Christian church is also God's holy "temple."  When God's holy "temple" in Jerusalem was desecrated by money changers, and in many other ways, we remember Jesus' anger as He drove the moneychangers out of the "temple."  See Matthew 21:12-13  We are told here that God is equally angry when we desecrate His "temple," the church.

Because there are two Greek words that can be translated by the English word "temple," it is important for us to know which Greek word for "temple" was used in the original Greek text in these two verses:  "There are two Greek words for 'temple', hieron which includes all the temple precincts, and naos (used here) which denotes the shrine proper, the sanctuary.  The word points us to the very presence of God."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."  So, we the church, are the Holy of Holies; we are the very dwelling place of God.

The solemn warning of these verses is that we are the very Holy of Holies, and if we destroy God's holy "temple," we will also be destroyed.  The Corinthians had brought the worldliness of the city of Corinth into God's holy church.  They could not destroy God's holy "temple" without expecting that God would destroy them.  The Jews brought sin and idolatry into the "temple" at Jerusalem.  In Ezekiel ten, because of Israel's sin and the desecration of the "temple," the glory of the Lord departed from the "temple."  See Ezekiel 8-10  Then, in 70 A.D., because of Israel's continual rejection of God, the "temple" was totally destroyed by the Romans.  Paul warns these Corinthians that if they also desecrate the church in Corinth, they would also be destroyed.

God had already begun to judge their church, for Paul gives a specific example of this judgment from God in 11:27-32:  "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep." (11:30)  Paul was saying that the sicknesses and even deaths that had occurred among them were the judgment of God on them.  Because of their sin and worldliness, they were destroying God's holy temple.  God was responding to their sin by destroying them.  Paul is revealing to us that what we, the modern-day church, do in our private lives and in our church gatherings is of holy concern to God.  We need to be concerned unless we also incur the holy wrath of God against us.  Paul also says in chapter 11, that if we judge ourselves, we will not be judged.  See I Corinthians 11:31

In Revelation two and three we see the words of the glorified Jesus Christ to the seven churches in Asia.  Some of those churches are warned that if they do not cleanse themselves of the sin that they have allowed to have a place in their churches, they also would be judged by Him.  He gave them the following warnings: I will "remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 1:5), "I will come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (2:16), and "I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (2:24).  Although the Apostle Paul is not giving us a warning, nor is Jesus speaking directly to us, we still need to know that these warnings by Paul and Jesus are a warning to us as well.  There is a warning from God in all of these verses that if we destroy God's holy temple, we also will be judged and will even be destroyed. See also Acts 4:1-11

e. "So, do not deceive yourselves and think that because you are wise by the world's standards, that you are wise toward God." (3:18-20)
They were deceiving themselves by thinking that they were wise.  In God's eyes, instead, they were fools.  "Do not deceive yourselves.  If anyone thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool.'  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.  As it is written:  'He catches the wise in their craftiness; and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.'"



Thought Question #1:  What do these verses teach us about the way we should seek after God's wisdom?



Thought Question #2:  What do these verses tell us about the wisdom of such "great" philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Nietsche, and Bertrand Russell?



Worldliness must go before we can become truly wise.  The Corinthian Christians felt that they were wise and in their wisdom.  They had set themselves up as critics of God's spokesmen; concluding for example, that Paul was unpolished in his speaking abilities.  See II Corinthians 10:11 and 11:6  In these verses in chapter three, Paul quotes two verses from the Old Testament to show them God's attitude toward the wisdom of men.  Here are God's two conclusions:  He is not fooled by the wisdom of men.  "He catches the wise in their craftiness."  (Job 5:13).  And, He knows that men's wisdom leads to emptiness.  "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."  (Psalm 99:11)

What is the application for us in these verses?  There are times when we are impressed with the world's wisdom.  For example, we may think that men and even God is impressed with our wisdom.  At these times we need to catch ourselves and remember what Paul says here.  We need to remember that God is not impressed with our puny attempts to explain things.  The so-called great philosophers of our world are not great in God's eyes.  Instead, they are foolish men because they are trying to figure out on their own what only God can give to them.  They and we need to humble ourselves and admit that we have been fools.  Then, we need to seek after His wisdom.

Also, the degree to which we follow Paul's instruction and empty ourselves of the world's wisdom and fill ourselves with God's wisdom will determine the degree to which we experience God's power.  "When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's  power." (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

f. "Do not give yourselves into the possession of some man, but realize that he is your servant; in fact, the world, life, death, the present, and the future have all been given to you for your sake; and you are Christ's and Christ is God's. (3:21-23)
"So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the futureall are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God."

Thought Question:  What does Paul say here that will prevent us from boasting?



Paul's conclusion is that they should not give themselves over to some little splinter group led by some man, but they should recognize that the whole universe is theirs (and ours), they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.  We are a part of a plan that includes everything and we are a part of God's eternal plan.  Therefore, we should not allow ourselves to become involved in petty issues and in man's petty wisdom, but we should seek God, His plans, and His wisdom.  Notice how Paul, throughout this letter, seeks to widen the Corinthians' perspective off from their little and narrow viewpoint and on to the wide perspective of God and His ways and plans.

"The passage reaches its climax with Christ is God's.  We have noted more than once how Paul sets Christ on a position of equality with the Father.  He regards the Son as fully divine.  This passage does not contradict such teaching, for Paul is not speaking of Christ as He is in His essential nature, but with reference to what He has done for men.  Paul does not lose sight of the deity of the Son.  But he does not lose sight either of the truth that the Son became man, and took a lowly place that He might bring about man's salvation.  The extreme statement of this subordination is found in 15:28.  There, as here, the thought is that the Son did indeed take a place among men when He took upon Him to deliver man.  He, too, is God's."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Co."

g. "Do not judge us as if we are responsible to you, for we are not servants under you, but servants of Christ."  (4:1-5)
"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make one innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God."

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about what is the wrong way to judge our spiritual leaders?



Thought Question #2:  What is the right way to evaluate our leaders?



Thought Question #3:  What are the "secret things of God?"



Thought Question #4:  What do these verses tell us about how to judge ourselves?



How do we evaluate the pastor in the church we attend?  How does a pastor evaluate himself?  Paul's words here give us an inspired answer to these two questions, but his words refer to more than just the pastor of a church. For, in verse six he will also include Apollos as a servant or minister of Christ.  Today, when we think of a minister of Jesus Christ, we tend to think of the pastor as the minister.  But, Paul is talking here about those who are faithful in teaching and guiding God's people in God's truths and ways.  In a healthy church there will be many in this category who are guiding God's people in God's truth.  Thereneeds to be many who are guiding God's people in God's truth!  One man cannot do all that is needed to be done to guide God's people in God's truth.  There were many who were guiding the church at Corinth in the truth.  Peter, Paul, and Apollos had all taken part in the guiding of this church.

The Corinthian Christians had set themselves up as judges of Paul and Apollos, just as we can believe that we are judges of our pastors, but Paul made it very clear that he and Apollos were responsible to God alone.  He was "a servant" of Christ.  The Greek word translated "servant" is not diakanos as in 3:5:  "What, after all, Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants."  Here the Greek word for servant is huperetes, a word which Paul uses only in this verse.  "It applies originally to an 'under-rower', i.e. one who rowed in the lower bank of oars on a large ship.  From this it came to signify service in general, though generally of a lowly kind, often service with the hands."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

The Corinthians who lived in a port town were very familiar with the lowly position of the rowers in the large war galleys who served and obeyed the captain of the ship.  They rowed when he said to row and they stopped rowing when he commanded them not to row.  In this way, Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ.  Paul's points are obvious.  He was not obeying them, but Jesus Christ.  Certainly a lowly under-rower should not be idolized and worshiped. 

Also, Paul was one of those "entrusted with the secret things of God".  Paul "thinks of himself and his fellow preachers as stewards of the secret things which God desires to reveal to His own people.  The steward (oikonomos) was the major domo.  He was in charge of the whole administration of the house or the estate; he controlled the staff; he issued the supplies, but, however much he controlled the household staff, he himself was still a slave where the master was concerned.  Whatever a man's position in the church, and whatever power he may yield there or whatever prestige he may enjoy, he still remains the servant of Christ."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by Westminster Press." 

What are the "secret things of God" or "the mystery of God"?  There are things that we as Christians understand that the world does not understand.  In II Thessalonians 2:7, Paul talks about the "secret power of lawlessness."  There are those who believe that the world can improve and eventually become a utopia.  We, as Christians have been taught by God's Word and God's Spirit that we are sinful by nature.  We also know that there is an evil being and evil forces that are at work and even ruling our world.  We who are Christians understand that there is a spirit of rebellion in our world that is going to get even worse in the last days.  People outside of the church do not understand about this principle of lawlessness that is controlling our world.  What we know is not known by them.  In I Timothy 3:16, Paul talks about the "mystery of godliness."  Into this sinful world, godliness entered through Jesus Christ and through Jesus coming into the life of Christians.  "Christ in you, the hope of glory."  (Colossians 1:27)  Paul was an administrator of these great secrets that God had given to man through Jesus Christ.

We as Christians are now very familiar with the "secret things."  But a large part of the reason that we are so familiar with them is that we have learned them from Paul's 13 letters in the New Testament.  We have learned them from him who was a steward of the "secret things" and who has revealed them and passed them on to us.

Paul was servant of Christ and an administrator of God's secrets.  So, who was he accountable to?  He was not accountable to men, but he was only accountable to the One he was serving.  God alone would judge how faithful he was in fulfilling the task that God had assigned to him. "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My concern is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God."

Worldly fleshliness twists and turns evil into good and good into evil.  The Corinthian Christians felt no need to judge the obvious immorality in their midst (see I Corinthians 5), but they took it on themselves to judge the secret motives of a man like Paul.  Paul had things in perspective and knew that their opinion of him meant little.  He was only concerned about God's judgment of him, for God alone would be able to judge what was in his heart and how faithfully he had carried out the work that had been given to him.

If each of us is honest before God, we will admit that what Paul says here requires a very real emptying of self; for it is very human for us to seek the praise of men.  We much prefer to have our service recognized in some public way, rather than to have our efforts ignored or even despised by those whom we are serving.  It is very human to do what we know will be well received by men.  But, Paul is saying here that he was above all seeking to be faithful to God; even if pleasing God meant he would be despised by men.  His goal was not to do well in their eyes, but to do well in God's eyes.  Our pastors and our church leaders are called to follow Paul's pattern.  We each are called to follow Paul's pattern.

Paul was aware that he was not even capable of judging himself.  As far as Paul knew, his motives were pure.  But he also knew that only God is able to impartially judge us.  Paul is being realistic here.  We tend to see ourselves through rose-colored glasses.  He knew that even though his conscience was clear before God that did not mean that he was totally innocent.  For only God knows our true motives for doing what we do.  Certainly much of what we do, we do for some selfish motive.  But, certainly also there are some things that we do that seem small in our eyes, but are great in God's eyes.  So, we must leave the final judgment with Him.  Paul understood that the final judgment of him needed to wait until Jesus returns.  Then God "will bring to light what is hidden" and He will "expose the motives" of our hearts.  And at that time we will receive our "praise from God."  We should today work for that praise and not the praise of men.

Ray Stedman who has already gone on to be with the Lord had this to say about what it was going to be like when he stood before the Lord:  "I often try to think of this.  I live continually in the awareness that one of these days my whole life is going to be examined by my Lord.  He is going to walk with me back through all the record of the years.  There are some things that I do not want him to see, but I have already faced them so I am not afraid; he has already seen them.  There are other things that I am anxious for him to see.  I think he is going to praise me for them, but I may be wrong.  He may come to them and instead of saying anything he may silently look at them.  He does not condemn, but he goes on, and I am disappointed.  I think, 'Oh Lord, I thought I had it that time.'  Then we will come to some area that I really do not want him to see, and he will say, 'Ah, that was the moment.  You pleased me then.  You were not looking for self-glory; you were not looking for a pat on the back; you did not want anything of it for yourself.  You did it for me and you did not feel very good about it afterward, but I did.'"

h. "Do not compare men with men, exalting some men over others, for we have nothing to brag about, for whatever we have was given to us by God."  (4:6-7)
"Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying,  'Do not go beyond what is written.'  Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.  For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?"

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, what is wrong with comparing men with men?



Thought Question #2:  According to these verses, what should we do instead of comparing men with men?



A worldly, competitive perspective leads to us exalting one man over the other.  A godly perspective leads to us seeing that each man is gifted by God for His purposes.  Paul used Apollos and him as examples to show them that neither Apollos nor he were any more than servants of God and should not be lifted above other men or above each other.  For all of our talents and abilities are not some thing we have accomplished, but they are gifts from God.  Should we exalt one man over another man because God has chosen to gift him more than the other?  When we do so, we are elevating men when the Bible teaches us that we are only to elevate God.  See Jeremiah 9:23-24  "There is a sense in which Christians may rejoice in the leadership given by their eminent men.  But when they find themselves so much in favor of one leader that they are against another they have overstepped the bounds."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company." 

i. "Stop being arrogant and be servants as we are."  (4:8-21)
Their worldly arrogance needed to be replaced with a servant's heart.

(1) They arrogantly saw themselves as far superior to Paul. (4:8)
"Already you have all you want!  Already you have become rich!  You have become kings—and that without us!  How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you!"

Thought Question:  Why does Paul use sarcasm in these verses?  When is it okay to use sarcasm?



The Corinthian Christians saw themselves as having reached the height of spiritual attainment.  They saw themselves as being kings spiritually who needed nothing.  Because they felt they had already arrived at the end of their spiritual journey, it would have been pointless for Paul to encourage them to grow in their Christian lives.  They were baby Christians and did need to grow, but they thought that they already were spiritual giants.  How does Paul go about getting them to see their need to grow?  He uses sarcasm to help them to see how arrogant they had become and how immature they really were. 

In our rich country, we can also have this same type of attitude.  We can be like the Laodicean church that Jesus needed to speak to because they were complacent and lukewarm:  "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…"  Jesus also used sarcasm to expose their complacency and their belief that they had arrived.

In our opulent churches in the United States we can feel that we also have arrived.  Our large attendances, wonderful buildings, and exciting music can cause us to believe that we are successful in God's eyes.  We can feel that we have it all.  But, what is needed most of all is for Jesus Christ to have more of us so we can love others in the humble and sacrificial way that He loves them.  Then, we will be a truly rich church.

It is only when we are growing in love for each other, growing in holiness, and growing in a passion for the lost that our churches are truly successful.  We also need to be awakened from our complacent sleep and become aware that we also have a lot of growing to do.

(2) In comparison to them, they saw the Apostles as the refuse of humanity. (4:9-13)
"For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.  We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.  We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." 

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about ways we are to be different than non-Christians?



Paul uses sarcasm beginning in 4:8 and through 4:13 as a way of strongly pointing out to the Corinthian Christians how arrogant they had become.  For, they had actually concluded that they had progressed far beyond Paul and the other Apostles.  Instead of Paul seeking to compete with them in a worldly way, Paul seeks to show them that while the Corinthian Christians were seeking to be great in the world, he and the other Apostles were willing to be least in the world for the cause of Christ.  They were willing to be "fools for Christ".

Paul and the other Apostles had chosen a path that was the very opposite of what was honored in their world.  Following Christ had led them to hunger, thirst, poverty, abuse, and manual labor!  The very opposite of what was looked up to in their world and in ours.  "That a man should freely subject himself to hunger, thirst, and nakedness, and submit to be buffeted, and homeless, for no selfish purposes, but simply to preach Christ, was indeed, in the eyes of the world, foolishness."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

"When a Roman general won a great victory he was allowed to parade his victorious army through the streets of the city with all the trophies that he had won; the procession was called a Triumph.  But at the end there came a little group of captives who were doomed to death; they were being taken to the arena to fight with the beasts and so to die.  The Corinthians in their blatant pride were like the conquering general displaying the trophies of his prowess; the Apostles were like the little group of captives doomed to die.  To the Corinthians the Christian life meant flaunting their privileges and reckoning up their achievement; to Paul it meant humble service and a readiness to die for Christ."  "The Letters to the Corinthians The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."  Paul and the others had willingly chose a path which lead to them to being the "scum" and "refuse" of the world.

Are we willing to follow Christ even if it means that we will be laughed at and ridiculed for our beliefs and lifestyle?  Much that we believe in is now politically incorrect.  In movies, Christians and pastors are portrayed in the very worst light.  We are right wing extremists, narrow-minded, preaching Hell-fire and damnation.  We are homophobic, against choice, fundamentalists; and all of this is said with a sneer.  Do we soften our stances to be accepted by the world, or do we continue to be faithful even though we are despised?

Paul also provides us here with an example for all Christians:  "When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly."  We are to choose a response to injustices that seem foolish to the world.  This is the way that Christ taught us to respond to those who direct evil against us.  When we are treated like garbage, we are not to lash out but we are to seek to be at peace with everyone.  See Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36; I Peter 2:19-24; and Romans 12:14-21

(3) Paul did not use this sarcasm to shame them, but to warn them as their spiritual father. (4:14-16)
"I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.  Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.  Therefore I urge you to imitate me." 

Thought Question:  Why was it not arrogant for Paul to ask them to imitate him?



Paul reminds them that though they have many spiritual guardians, they have but one spiritual father.  "The 'guardian' was an entrusted slave who took the child to school, and generally looked after him.  But at best he was a subordinate.  He did not belong to the family.  Though he might love the child dearly, he was not bound to him by ties of natural affection.  The father stood in a different relation altogether.  He had begotten the child, and he had the chief care for the child's welfare."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company."

Paul's strong words were not harsh and unloving words, but they were correcting words from a loving father.  Paul is not angry with them, and venting his disapproval of them in harsh words.  Instead, he is seeking, as a loving father, to do that which will get them to change their direction from a worldly pattern to a Spiritual direction for their lives.

Then, he urges them to follow the pattern of their spiritual father:  "Therefore I urge you to imitate me."  Listen to what Ray Stedman says about this statement.  "Many people think that Paul is conceited when he says that.  But he is not.  He is recognizing the universal psychological principle that people will always follow what you do, not what you say.  You can talk your head off to people, but, if your life does not reflect what you say, they will not follow you.  They will pay no attention to it, because coming through all the time is that non-verbal communication that is saying, 'Yes, I am saying all this to you, but it is not really very important because I do not bother to do it myself.'"  "Discovery Publishers"

Another reason that it was not conceited for him to ask them to follow him is that he was not asking them to follow Him as a respected and praised leader of the church, but he was asking them to follow him as the one who was being considered "a fool for Christ."  His opposition had a very low opinion of him.  He was asking them to follow him even though it meant that people might also come to have a low opinion of them.

(4) To further help them, he was going to send Timothy to them (4:17)
"For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.  He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."  Timothy would remind them of the teachings of Paul and of his manner of life.  It is not clear whether Timothy left before this letter was sent or if he took the letter to the Corinthian Christians.  This visit may also be described in Acts 19:22.  See also I Corinthians 16:10-11

(5) Paul further warns them that he is coming to them (even thoughsome are arrogant and confident that he won't come to them).(4:18-21)
"Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you   But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.  What do you prefer?  Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?"

Thought Question:  What kind of power is Paul talking about in these verses?



"His sending Timothy was not to be considered as any indication that he himself did not intend to visit Corinth as some in their pride and self-confidence supposed.  It appears from numerous passages in this and the following epistle that the false teachers in Corinth in various ways endeavored to undermine Paul's authority.  They called in question his Apostleship, 9:1-3, II Cor. 12:12; they accused him of lightness, or instability, II Cor. 1:17; they represented him as weak in person and contemptible in speech, II Cor. 10:10.  These were the persons who were puffed up, that is, so conceited as to their own importance,…. as to give out that he was afraid to come to Corinth, and therefore sent Timothy in his place."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

But Paul would come and then they would find that those who opposed him were just so much hot air, for they would not be able to back up their words with spiritual power in their lives as Paul was able to do.  "Paul meant to put to the test, not what these men could say, but what they really were and did; that is, their true character"  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."  Were they really able to live out and do what they so confidently talked about?  Jesus said of the false prophets, "by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:20)  See also 7:15-23

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power."  Those who opposed Paul at Corinth were saying that they were superior to him; but when Paul got there they would see that it was Paul and not his enemies at Corinth who had God's power to live the Christian life. See II Timothy 1:7

Paul preferred that they would respond to his loving correction so that he would not have to come to them and continue to correct them.  Just as a loving parent does not enjoy correcting his or her children, so Paul did not enjoy correcting them.  He would much prefer to be gentle with them.  "What do you prefer?  Shall I come to you with a whip or in love and with a gentle spirit?"  Paul hoped that he would be able to come to them in love and gentleness.

2. Their worldly immorality (5)
Paul now shows us how to handle another sin that can permeate the church.  In chapters one through four we learned how to deal with divisions in the church.  Now, we learn how to deal with sexual immorality in the church.

a. Paul first exposes the sin. (5:1)
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immortality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans:  A man has his father's wife."

Thought Question:  What are some types of sinful behavior today that we should be shocked at, but our society has become "tolerant of?"



A man in the Corinthian church either was married to or had a sexual relationship with his step-mother.  It was certainly his step-mother or Paul would have said that he was this man's mother, and not called her "his father's wife."  The Old Testament clearly taught against a man having this type of sexual relationship:  "Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father." (Leviticus 18:8)  Leviticus 18 warns the Israelites against participating in the ugly and perverted sexual practices of the Canaanites and Egyptians.  One of those twisted sinful practices occurred when a man had sexual relations with his step-mother.  See also Deuteronomy 22:30 and 27:20  This type of immoral sexual sin was taking place in the church at Corinth.  And, apparently, this sin was disgusting even to the people of the immoral city of Corinth.  "Cicero ….speaks of such a connection as an incredible crime, and as, with one exception, unheard of."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

Before sin can be removed from the church, it must first be exposed as sin, and exposed in all its ugliness.   Paul, immediately exposes this sin, and immediately reveals how shameful it is that such a thing was being practiced in their church.  He does not approach this sin by tippy-toeing up to it.  He boldly and fearlessly confronts their sin.  I recently heard of a new pastor in a church who boldly confronted his new church for tolerating a man who had been regularly sexually abusing children in that church.  The sin of this man was finally exposed and dealt with.  The church, though, rewarded this pastor by replacing him with another pastor.  Nevertheless, he was following the pattern set for him by the Apostle Paul—for both boldly confronted sin in the church.

b. Paul rebukes them for not responding to the sin themselves. (5:2)
"And you are proud!  Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and put out of your fellowship the man who did this?"

Thought Question:  How is what Paul meant by "you are proud" similar to our modern-day emphasis on "tolerance"?



"It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked by it."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."  But the Corinthians had lost their sensitivity to the wickedness of this incestuous relationship. The proper response when something shameful is done is to be shocked and disgusted by it.  In this case, they should have been grieved that this sinful relationship was occurring in their midst; and they should have continued to mourn about it until the man repented or was cast from their fellowship. (The step-mother apparently was not a Christian for Paul does not talk of her sin, or of her being removed from the church fellowship.)

A very politically correct word in our society today is "tolerance."  There is an emphasis on man's rights and not on God's Commandments.  We have devolved to the place where it is wrong to call as wrong that which is morally abhorrent.  In fact, right and wrong, bad and good are terms that our society has come to frown upon.  For example, we are no longer allowed to be shocked and repulsed by abortion, open homosexuality, paganism, adultery, and other practices that were once considered not only wrong, but morally reprehensible.  Are there sins in our society that we are now shocked by that will also become acceptable in our society at some time in the future?  Are we in the church also becoming tolerant and numb to sin?  That is what had happened to the church at Corinth.  They had become accepting of and even gloried in this sin that Paul exposes in this chapter.

What is meant by them being "proud" of this sin?  It probably means that they had such a high opinion of themselves that they believed that they were the ones who decided what was acceptable and what was not acceptable.  In their prideful eyes, they could do no wrong.  This man was one of them, and so they had decided that what he was doing was okay by them.  A church can become tolerant of some sin because a person is one of them, and becausethey have decided what is tolerable and what is not.

Notice that Paul holds the whole church accountable for this sin and not just the church elders.  This is one of the arguments for the congregational form of church government.  Personally, I believe that the Bible teaches that ultimately each person in the church should be seeking to be led by the Lord of the church, and that we should choose leaders who will lead us in seeking to do His will.

c. Paul instructs them to remove the immorality from the church. (5:3-5)

(1) First, they were to publicly hand this man over to Satan. (5:3-5)
"Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.  And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I was present.  When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, when should we make judgments about people and when are we wrongfully being judgmental?  See James 4:11-12 and Matthew 7:1-5



Thought Question #2:  What is meant by handing someone over to Satan?



What Paul says here seems to contradict Jesus' words in Matthew 7:1-5 and James words in James 4:11-12.  Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1)  James said, "Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it." (James 4:11)  Yet, in these verses, Paul judges this man for his sexual immorality and rebukes the church at Corinth for not judging him.  There is clearly a difference between being arrogantly judgmental and appropriately judging some type of sin in the church.

It is unquestionably wrong to proudly look down our nose at someone who is sinning, as if we have earned a higher status and as if we would never commit a sin such as the one he or she has committed.  Jesus described this attitude in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:  "To some who were confident of their our righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  'Two men went up to the  to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector." (Luke 18:9-11)  Paul describes the proper attitude to have when we correct someone who has sinned:  "Brother, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently…..If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself."  (Galatians 6:1,3)

Because the people of the church at Corinth had not decided to take any steps of correcting this sin themselves, Paul himself makes the judgment against the man, and instructs them to carry out his judgment as if he was in their midst.  They were to deliver "this man over to Satan" for the destruction of his flesh, and so that "his spirit" will be "saved on the day of the Lord."  Hodge gives the following explanation for what is meant by the words, handing a man "over to Satan."  "There have from the earliest times been two prevalent interpretations of this expression.  According to one view, it simply means excommunication; according to the other, it includes a miraculous subjection of the person to the power of Satan.  Those who regard it as merely excommunication, say that 'to deliver to Satan' answers to 'might be taken away from you,' in v. 2 ["put out of your fellowship" in the NIV] and therefore means the same thing.  The Corinthians had neglected to excommunicate this offender, and Paul says he had determined to do it.  Besides, it is argued that excommunication is properly expressed by the phrase 'to deliver to Satan,' because, as the world is the kingdom of Satan, to cast a man out of the church, was to cast him from the Kingdom of Christ into the kingdom of Satan.  Comp. Col. 1:13."

Hodge now presents the argument for being turned over to Satan meaning something more than a person just being removed from the fellowship:  "In favor of the idea of something more than excommunication, it may be argued, 1. That it is clearly revealed in scripture, that bodily evils are often inflicted on men by the agency of Satan.  2. That the Apostles were invested with the power of miraculously inflicting such evils, Acts 5:1-11, 13:9-11, II Cor. 12:8, 13:10,11.    3. That in I Tim. 1:20, the same formula occurs probably in the same sense.  Paul, there says, he had delivered Hymeneus and Alexander unto Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme.  4. There is no evidence that the Jews of that age ever expressed excommunication by this phrase, and therefore it would not, in all probability, be understood, by Paul's readers in that sense.  5. Excommunication would not have the effect of destroying the flesh, in the sense in which that expression is used in the following clause:  Most commentators, therefore, agree in understanding the Apostle to threaten the infliction of some bodily evil, when he speaks of delivering this offender to Satan."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

In I Corinthians 11:30, Paul does say that many among them were weak and sick, and even some had died, because of their sins.  This would seem to support the viewpoint that handing someone over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh means just what it says.  But it is also true, though, that when someone chooses to leave God's path, he will be on a destructive path. An example of this type of destruction is found in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Certainly, Jesus was describing how destructive it is when someone leaves God's ways.  There are many flesh-destroying agents outside of God's path such as alcohol, drugs, immorality, sexually transmitted diseases, and the effects of sin on the body.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the consequence of his choices ultimately leads him back to his father; which symbolizes us returning to God the Father after once choosing a life of sin.  What Paul is doing here is saying that the Corinthians were to publicly condemn the choices that this man was making; they were to publicly and in unity make it clear that he was no longer a part of their church, and, then, they were to let Satan have his way with him.  The hope is that this discipline would lead him back to God, and restore him to fellowship.  See II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; Matthew 18:15-18

(2) Secondly, Paul instructs them to remove all of the old fleshly practices from their midst. (5:6-8)
"Your boasting is not good.  Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what does the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover have to do with how we live our Christian lives, both as individuals and as a church?  See Exodus 12:14-20



(a) For a little sin will work its way through a church like yeast works its way through a lump of dough. (5:6)
"Your boasting is not good.  Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?"  Hodge points out that this is "not intended to express the idea that one corrupt member of the church depraves the whole, because, in the following verses, in which the figure is carried out, the leaven is not a person, but sin.  The idea, therefore, is, that it is the nature of evil to diffuse itself.  This is true with regard to individuals and communities.  A single sin, however secret, when indulged, diffuses its corrupting influence over the whole soul; it depraves the conscience; it alienates from God; it strengthens all other principles of evil, while it destroys the efficacy of the means of grace and the disposition to use them."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

If we allow sin to have free reign in our lives or in our church, it will not be long before it will spread like crabgrass or weeds throughout the church. For example, if we allow a member of a church to gossip and we do not confront it and call it wrong, it will not be long before this sin will spread throughout the church.

(b) We Christians are new people, so we should remove sinful practices from our lives (then our new lives will be free from the yeast of the old life). (5:7a)
"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeastas you really are."  Yeast represents our sinful nature in the old life and the new lump without yeast represents who we "really are" now in Christ—a new creation, created to be like God.  See II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24, and II Peter 1:3-4  So, therefore, we should get rid of the sin which is so contrary to our new nature. 

The world needs to see that we are new and different.  If we do not remove the sin from our church, they will see us as being no different from the rest of the sin-enslaved world.

(c) Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb, so we should remove sinful practices from our midst as the Israelites removed leaven from their homes during the Passover. (5:7b-8)
"For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth."  At Passover time, the Israelites were to remove leaven from their homes.  Then, afterwards, they had a festival or a celebration.  We as Christians can only celebrate when the sin has been removed from our lives and from our churches.  If our church is infested with sin, we need to remove it.  Then we also can have a celebration.

Jesus Christ our Passover Lamb has rescued us from slavery to Satan, just as the Passover lambs of Israel rescued them from slavery to the evil Pharaoh.  And as Israel was to leave the leaven of Egypt behind, so we are now to leave the sinfulness of our old Satan-enslaved life behind.  The Christian life is to be a perpetual celebration or Festival of Unleavened Bread; a festival in which we continually seek to remove the sinfulness of the old life from our new life in Christ. 

Here, Paul says that they were to remove the "yeast of malice and wickedness."  "Poneria, wickedness, is a stronger word than kakia, badness.  Anyone who does wrong is kakos, bad;  but he who does evil with delight is poneros.  Hence, Satan is called ho poneros, 'The evil one.'" "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

Instead, our lives are to be made up of "sincerity and truth."  "Sincerity…is purity, transparent clearness; something through which the sun may shine without revealing any flaw.  Truth ….. means that inward state which answers to the truth; that moral condition which is conformed to the law and character of God."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

(3) Paul instructs them to not even associate with this man. (5:9-11)
"I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.  In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.  With such a man do not even eat."

Thought Question #1:  How should we apply these verses in the modern-day church?



Thought Question #2:  Why do you believe that being a slanderer is included in the same list with being an idolater or being sexually immoral?



Paul had already instructed them not to associate with those who are sexually immoral.  Apparently, they found this to be very difficult in Corinth where almost everyone was immoral.  Possibly they used this as an excuse for tolerating immorality in the church.  But Paul did not mean that they were not to associate with the immoral and those who are defiantly sinful in the world, for then they would have had to leave the world.  But, they were not to associate with those who continued defiantly in sin after they had declared themselves to be a Christian brother or sister.  In fact, they were not to even eat with them!

Paul includes within his list of sins that are not to be tolerated in the church, "a slanderer."  Van Gorder makes the following comments about what a church's response to the slanderer ought to be:  "A church should never permit the abusive 'character assassin' to remain in its fellowship.  He should either repent or be expulsed from the membership.  The Apostle puts the responsibility squarely upon the congregation to shun this individual, just as it was to stay away from the incestuous person."  He adds the following exhortation to the modern-day church:  "The instructions are very clear and dogmatic.  The church is given no recourse but to obey them.  But tragically, this command which Paul states so positively is the least practiced in the church today.  There is always the fear of 'offending someone.'  Also, those who are called upon to exercise this authority are sometimes guilty themselves, or some member of their immediate family, and therefore their hands are tied.  As a result, the Word of God is violated and the church is made corrupt.  Instead of having genuine spiritual vitality, it is anemic and helpless."

Van Gorder continues his exhortation to the modern-day church with this story:  "A friend of mine went with a missionary on Sunday morning to visit a large assembly of believing Indians in Mexico.  As they approached the open building that housed this gathering, my friend noticed two Indian men sitting on a bench outside of the church.  Others were going directly under the shelter to engage in worship and fellowship at the Lord's Table.  These two men sat crying as other believers passed them by without even acknowledging their presence.  My preacher friend asked the missionary what was happening.  He was told that these two men, both Christians, had committed moral sins, and in the New Testament manner they had been temporarily excluded from the fellowship of the church.  The disciplinary action had taken the desired effect, and the true repentance could readily be seen.  'Soon,' said the missionary, 'they will be back in the assembly.'"  "I know a few churches that conscientiously purge out sin, and they evidence a vibrancy of spiritual health.  Because the early church practiced discipline, God's power was upon it, and in a few short years it shook the foundations of the Roman Empire."  "Taken from            The Church Stands Corrected by Paul R. Van Gorder.  Copyright 1976 by Scripture Press." 

When sin is not dealt with in a Biblical way, it is not long before sin of all kinds becomes acceptable behavior in the church.  And the name Christian means very little.  Instead, we should be miserable, mourn and weep over the sin in our midst.  See James 4:4-10

(4) He rebukes them for not judging the man themselves. (5:12-13)
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.  'Expel the wicked man from among you.'"  Paul and we do not have the authority to judge and discipline those outside of the church.  God alone will do this type of judgment, but we do have the responsibility to judge those inside the church.  In this case, they were to expel this man from their midst.  The time may come when we may have to do something like this as well.

3. Their worldly disputes (6:1-11)
Paul has shown us how to handle divisions and immorality in the church, now he gives us a pattern for handling disputes between Christians in a church.

a. Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for going outside of the church to solve their disputes. (6:1)
"If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?"

Thought Question:  What does this verse tell us about the Corinthian Christians?



"Some months ago the newspaper told the ugly story.  Litigation was before the Court, brought by deacons against a pastor, to remove him from his position and bar him from using the church facilities for his office and home.  He in turn had filed a countersuit asking the Court to force the church to pay his back salary.  I think the newspaper must have gained a new subscriber with that issue - Satan!  With gleeful delight  he must have viewed the account spread across the page."  Taken from The Church Stands Corrected  by Paul Van Gorder.  Copyright 1976 by Scripture Press Publications, Inc."

The church at Corinth was doing the same type of thing that happened between these deacons and this pastor in our modern-day world.  In Paul's time, they also were dragging their disputes out into the public arena.  Paul was horrified then, as we are horrified today by the church fight between the pastor and the deacons that was fought before the eyes of those who followed it in the daily newspaper.  This does not mean that courts made up of those outside of the church are incapable of making just decisions.  Paul is saying, though, that we Christians should be able to solve our own disputes without having to seek help from those outside of the church.  Even a pagan judge realized that this was true.  See Acts 18:12-16

What Paul says here does not mean that it is wrong to seek justice from a government judge.  Paul himself appealed to the legal system when he appealed to Caesar.  "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?"  (Acts 22:25)  But it is wrong for us to go to unbelievers to solve disputes between ourselves.

b. Because we Christians will judge the world and angels, we should be able to solve our own internal disputes. (6:2-3)
Paul puts what they were doing in proper perspective:  Christians will one day judge the world and even angels; could they not, then, resolve their tiny disputes among themselves?  For example, if the members of the Supreme Court of the United States had a dispute among themselves, how absurd it would look if they had to go to a court of the city of Washington, D.C. to get their internal problems solved.  They would not be acting as those who were qualified to be the highest court in the land.  Christians should also be acting like those who will one day be on the highest court in the universe.  "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?  Do you not know that we will judge angels?  How much more the things of this life?"

Thought Question:  Did you know that we are going to judge angels?  How should this affect how we handle disputes in our churches and in our homes?



The books of Daniel and Revelation predict a time when Jesus is going to suddenly intervene in history.  At that time, Heaven will be opened up and mankind will see Jesus coming as Conqueror and Lord.  See Daniel 7:22 and Revelation  19:11-16  The Bible reveals to us that we who are Christians will share in this conquest and in this rule.  See Revelation 20:26; Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; and II Timothy 2:12

Not only will we judge the world, but Paul also tells us that we will judge angels.  This may refer to the judgment on the fallen angels described in Jude 6 and II Peter 2:4  "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment."(II Peter 2:4)

Hodge offers another possibility as well, that judging could also refer to the church's rule over good angels.  "So in this case before us, 'Know ye not that we are to be exalted above the angels?'  May mean, 'Know ye not that we are to be exalted above the angels and preside over them?'" "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

Paul's point is obvious.  If we will act as judges over the world and even over angels, shouldn't we be able to handle the small disputes among us Christians? Shouldn't we also be able to solve our own disputes?     

c. They should be able to find someone among them to serve as their judge. (6:4-6)
"Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church. I say this to shame you.  Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?  But instead, one brother goes to law against anotherand this in front of unbelievers!"

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about how Christians should live before the unbelieving world?



Paul concludes for them, then, that they who think themselves so wise should be able to find someone among them wise enough to solve their disputes.  In fact, they who will judge the world and angels should even be able to choose the very least among them for such a small task.  But instead, they were taking each other to court before unbelievers.

Paul is again using sarcasm to make his point:  "Your have such a high opinion of yourselves.  Why can't you solve your own disputes?"  Taking each other to court contradicted their own pride in themselves.  If they were so wise and self-sufficient, why couldn't they tap into all of that wisdom and solve their own problems?

He said in 4:14 that his goal in what he was saying to them at that time was not to "shame" them, but to "warn them."  But what he is saying in these verses he is saying "to shame" them.  They should be ashamed of taking each other to court.  Paul's sarcasm was directed toward helping them to see that they needed to humble themselves and see their need for God's help and their need to do things God's way. They needed to see that they were not as on top of things as they thought they were.  In fact, their circumstances were on top of them.

d. Paul points out how badly they have failed. (6:7-8)
"The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this all to your brothers." 

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about how we should handle it when we are wronged or treated unfairly?



Thought Question #2:  What does the way that Jesus responded to wrongs and injustices teach us about how we should respond to wrongs and injustices?  See I Peter 2:19-24 and Hebrews 12:4



Their lawsuits before unbelievers were a public demonstration of their failure, for they were publicizing before the whole world that they were not able to get along with each other.  The non-Christian world must have looked at them and thought, "You are no better than we are, for you also are embroiled in arguments you cannot solve.  What do you have to offer us?"   It would have been better if they had kept everything quiet by silently allowing themselves to be wronged and by not demanding their rights.  But instead, they were retaliating against each other-adding wrongs to wrongs.

As Ray Stedman points out: "what is the loss of a few hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, or a hundred thousand dollars, if the whole cause of Christ and the gospel is going to lose attractiveness in the eyes of those who need it in the world around?" "Discovery Publishing"  What is most important to us who are Christians should not be whether or not we are getting our own way or whether or not we are being treated fairly, but whether or not God is having His way in people's lives.  We should not be primarily concerned about how well people are thinking about us, but we should be primarily concerned about how people are thinking about God.  We should be concerned about doing right and not about our own rights.  Finally, we should not be concerned about an "eye for an eye," but we should be concerned about being merciful and gracious to others as God has been merciful and gracious to us.

Ray Stedman tells of something that was told to him by the distinguished Bible teacher H. A. Ironside:  "When he was only eight years old, or so, his mother took him to a meeting of the Brethen who were discussing some kind of difficulty among themselves.  Evidently there was some terrible injustice that one felt others had done.  Young Harry Ironside did not know what the trouble was, but it was clear they were deeply disturbed.  He said that one man stood up and shook his fist and said, 'I don't care what the rest of you do.  I want my rights!  That's all!  I just want my rights!'  There was an old half-deaf Scottish brother sitting in the front row, and he cupped his hand behind his ear and asked the man, 'Aye, brother, what that ye say?'  And the fellow said, 'Well, all I said was that I want my rights.  That's all.'  The old man said, 'Your rights, brother, is that what you want, your rights? Why the Lord Jesus didn't come to get his rights.  He came to get his wrongs, and he got them.'  Harry Ironside said, 'I'll always remember how that fellow stood transfixed for a little while.  Then he dropped his head and said, ’You're right, brother, you right.  Settle it any way you like.’'  And in a few moments the whole thing was settled."  From a message by Ray Stedman on I Corinthians.  "Discovery Publishers."

When we put winning a dispute as our highest goal, we may win the dispute, but the cause of Christ will lose.  Instead, we should be willing to do that which will further Christ's work, even if it means that we will suffer injustice after injustice.  Jesus willingly suffered the greatest injustice for our sake!  See Matthew 5:39-40; Proverbs 20:22; I Peter 2:19-24, Hebrews 12:4; and I Corinthians 4:12-13

e. Paul reminds them that they are much different than the unbelievers who run the courts. (6:9-10)
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Thought Question:  Do you find yourself (before you were a Christian) anywhere on this list?



They were allowing the wicked to decide their disputes; the sexually immoral, thieves, greedy drunkards, swindlers, and slanderers.  He is asking, what are God's people doing taking their disputes before the ungodly?  Paul is saying, "Do you not recognize how different you are from them?"

These verses are also undoubtedly a list that described the people of the corrupt and immoral city of Corinth.  It is also a list that more and more describes the people of the world that we know today.  The farther a society moves away from God and His moral light, the more people feel comfortable expressing the dark fruits of their sinful nature.

f. Many of them had been like those in their society, but now they were washed! (6:11)
"And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Thought Question #1:  What is meant by us being "washed," "sanctified," and "justified?"



Thought Question #2:  List ways that you are different today than you were before you were a Christian.



"Calvin maintained that all three terms—washed, sanctified and justified—refer to the same thing, though from different aspects."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company."  With this in mind, we can see these three terms as describing how we, through Jesus' blood and through the Holy Spirit have been set free from the effects of sin:  "Washed" = cleansed from the inner pollution of a sinful nature through our new life in Christ.  God has given you a new you.  You are now able to have pure and clean motives, you are able to have God's motives for living your life!  "Sanctified" = being set apart to a new and holy life through the empowering of God's Spirit in us.  God has started the process of supernaturally changing you into a godly person!  "Justified" = being freed through the blood of Christ from the legal penalty that is deserved because of our breaking of God's holy laws.  You are now legally accepted before the holy Judge of the universe!

Ray Stedman tells of a man with a checkered background reluctantly attending his first service at the church in Palo Alto, California that Ray pastored most of his adult life, who learned that he was not alone.  Ray was speaking on this passage and decided to ask the congregation if there were any there who fit the description of the gross sins described in this passage.  At first there was no response, and then an elderly lady boldly rose to her feet.  Then, all over the church men and women rose to their feet.  Our new visitor felt more and more at home with each one that stood up.  Some of us, most of us, all of us can also look on this list and find that somewhere on it is a description of the type of person that we once were.  Look at the list in verses 9 and 10 again.  Can you find yourself described anywhere on this list?  Would you have stood up at the service in Palo Alto?  But, as Christians we have been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God."

One thing that Paul is saying here is that they should consider how God handled the injustice of our rewarding His creation of us with all kinds of ugly rebellion and disobedience of His holy laws.  What did He do?  What if He had demanded His rights?  Instead, He forgave us and made us His children.  How should that affect the way we treat each other?  Should we also demand above all that we get our rights?

4. Their worldly thinking about sex and marriage (6:12-7:40)
The city of Corinth was known for its sexual immorality.  As Ray Stedman summarizes, Corinth "was a city given over to the worship of sex.  A thousand priestesses from the temple of Aphrodite that stood on a little hill behind the ancient city would come down into the streets at night and ply their trade." "Discovery Publishing"  These verses are Paul's extended instructions to the church in this immoral city about God's holy standards for sex and marriage.  It is also God's instructions to us in today's church on how we are to live sexually holy lives in a world that is bent on living sexually immoral lives.

a. Their problem with license:  What about free sex?  (6:12-20)
Corinth was an immoral city where few limits were placed upon sexual activities.  The Corinthian Christians were undoubtedly arguing, "if we who are Christians are truly free, then there should be no restriction placed upon us when it comes to how we satisfy our sexual desires."  This type of thinking is very similar to what we hear expressed in many ways on our television sets, on our radios, on our movie screens, in the work place, and throughout our society today. The Christian God is depicted as a cosmic killjoy, who is determined to search out everyone who is enjoying themselves and bring an end to it.  Christians who believe in living within God's rules are portrayed as prudes or as bent on depriving others from enjoying their sexual drives.  But God, not Satan, invented sex and He alone knows how we can fully enjoy His gifts to us.  In these verses, Paul exposes the weaknesses in the Corinthian's line of reasoning.  He reveals how a freedom to do whatever we want to do can actually prevent us from experiencing all that God created us to enjoy.

(1) Their false thinking exposed (6:12-17)
"Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial"

Thought Question #1:  According to this verse, what is true freedom and liberty?



Thought Question #2:  According to this verse, is it possible for something to be bad for one person and good for another person?  Explain your answer and give examples.



The Corinthian Christians apparently had confused license for liberty.  They believed that there should be no limits put on what they did.  C. S. Lewis said that Satan always sends error into the world in pairs which are opposites.  We Christians often walk on a narrow path that leads us to walk between two extremes which are opposites from each other but are equally wrong.  Examples of these two extremes that are both wrong are legalism and license.

Legalism is a system where someone demands that you obey his or her rules.  This person, though, demands that these rules are not his or her rules, but God's rules.  The legalist uses every means to force you to follow his or her rules, such as pride, guilt, fear, and social pressure. 

License is the exact opposite, but it is equally wrong.  License simply says you are under no law and you can do anything you want to do.  One of the main problems among the Christians in Corinth was license.  The Corinthian Christians were probably saying what Paul quotes in the verse:  "Everything is permissible for me."  To put it another way, they were saying, "I can do whatever I want to do."  As it says in a song: "It's my life and I will do what I want."

Paul argues that there is liberty for we who are Christians, but that liberty is experienced as we live within God's limits and according to God's design for us.  The Corinthians believed that no one should put limits on what they could do.  Paul immediately demonstrates that there should be limits put on them.  The first way we should all limit our liberty is that we should only do that which is "beneficial" to us and to others.  For example, bowling can be beneficial to one person as a means of relaxation, and a controlling obsession with someone else.  Are we as Christians free to go bowling?  Certainly we are.  But, there are those who need to gain control of their bowling, rather than being controlled by it.  I, of course, chose bowling for no other reason than I needed an example.  I could have just as easily chosen any number of activities which are neutral, not wrong, but can become wrong if they are not beneficial to us or others.

License is when you are free to do whatever you want to do, even if you hurt yourself and/or others while doing it.  "It is both absurd and wicked to do anything which is injurious to ourselves or others simply because it is not in its own nature sinful."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

True freedom is not the freedom to do anything we want to do, but it happens as we live within God's limits.  Just as a train is freer on the tracks than it is when it gets off of the tracks or just as a trained pianist is freer than a person who just hits whatever keys he wants to hit, so we are to live a controlled life which is beneficial to ourselves and to others.  A freedom to destroy ourselves and others is surely not freedom.

"Everything is permissible to mebut I will not be mastered by anything."  Paul's second argument is that we are not truly free if we are doing something that has enslaved us.  "Often a man says, 'I will do what I like,' when he means that he will indulge the habit or passion which has him in its grip."  "Taken from The Letters to the Corinthians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by The Westminster Press."

Much of what is called freedom today is really only slavery.  It is interesting that those things which can be harmful to us also are habit forming—for example, alcohol use, drug use, over-eating, addiction to some form of pleasure, and others.  It is common pattern that when something starts to be harmful to us, it has also started to be an enslaving habit to us.  Eating is lawful to us, but it becomes wrong when it becomes harmful to us and when it becomes addictive and enslaving to us.  We are not free when something is controlling our lives.

"Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food—but God will destroy them both.  The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."

Thought Question #1:  The Corinthian sexual freedom advocates were using the same argument that is often used today.  Do you recognize it?  What is the argument?



Thought Question #2:  Why can we not treat sexual desires in the same way as we treat a desire for food?



Paul is presenting an argument that was being used in Corinth to justify unrestrained sex.  Dr. Willard Aldrich, former president of Multnomah School of the Bible, makes this observation:  "The argument is obvious, when we have a hunger for food, we freely gratify it; why can't we also gratify our sexual hungers as freely?  The White House Conference on Youth of 1971 came to the same conclusion:  They interpreted liberty 'as the freedom of all human beings conscientiously to choose their own way of life when their choices do not limit or harm this right in others. . . Human beings are sexual persons.  Ideal sexual relationships are sensitive, concerned and responsible expressions of human beings.  Every person has the right to fully express his or her individual sexuality.  Furthermore, any sexual behavior when occurring between consenting, responsible individuals, must be recognized and tolerated by society as an acceptable lifestyle. . . . Resolved, we demand sweeping repeal of legislation which restricts and represses individual freedoms. . . . Laws as those forbidding fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism and so-called 'unnatural acts' restrict such freedom.  Furthermore, laws restricting or prohibiting abortion or distribution of contraceptives affect this right.  Contraception and education must be available to every person and abortion is an individual right and choice, a matter to be solely decided by the woman and her physician."  "Taken from    The Battle for your Faith by Dr. Willard Aldrich.  Copyright 1975 by Multnomah Press."  This youth conference in 1971 was sadly prophetic of the moral state of our country in our present twenty-first century world.

After stating their argument that we should be able to indulge our hunger for sex in the same way as we indulge our hunger for food, Paul answers their argument by explaining that there is a difference between our hunger for food and our sexual desires.  How does Paul's statement, "God will destroy them both" answer their argument?  Simply, he is saying that our bodies are not just meant for supplying our hungers in this short life.  Our bodies will be destroyed, or in other words, they will die.  But, God has a much higher purpose for us than just for us to eat, feed our sexual desires, and then die.  As he will explain later in these verses, we and our bodies have an eternal purpose.  Earthly food and our earthly stomachs will be destroyed, but as he will explain in detail in chapter fifteen, our bodies will be resurrected, transformed, and have an eternal purpose.  God has no plan for our physical and earthly stomachs beyond the grave, but he does have a plan for our resurrection bodies that transcends this temporary world.

"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."  Food serves a temporary purpose in God's plan, but his ultimate purpose for bodies is that they be holy dwelling places for God.  Unholy sexual immorality and a holy dwelling place for God do not mix.  Our bodies were made for a holy purpose, not for an unholy purpose.

"By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also."  As was mentioned earlier, our bodies were not meant just to gratify our fleshly desires, but our bodies have a purpose beyond the grave.  See I Corinthians 15:35-55

"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?  Never!  Do you know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?  For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.'"  Sexual union is not the same as eating a sandwich.  They are much different.  Leon Morris puts it well:  "For Paul the sexual union is such an intimate union as virtually to make one body out of the two."  "Taken from The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians by Leon Morris.  Copyright 1958 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

Also, as Christians we are already united with Jesus Christ.  So, when we unite with someone sexually, we take Jesus along with us in this intimate union.  Dave Roper, my college pastor when I was a brand new Christian, does an excellent job of clarifying and bringing up-to-date Paul's words in these verses:  "Do you understand what he is saying?  When we become Christians we are joined in spirit with Jesus Christ.  He comes to live in the spirit of man.  And because, Paul says, the body is so closely united with the spirit, whatever we do with our body implicates the Spirit of Jesus Christ who lives within us.  Do you see that?  The two cannot be separated.  What you do with your body involves your Lord who lives within us.  So if you go to an X-rated movie you take the Lord along.  Do you see that?  Or if you are involved in an immoral sexual relationship, Christ is implicated in it.  Whatever you expose your body to, the Lord is exposed to.  So Paul says, 'may it never be that you take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot.'" "From a message by Dave Roper at Peninsula Bible church in Palo Alto, California.  "Discovery Publishing" 

In summary, sexual union is much more than being hungry and eating.  The body that God gave us was made to be united with Jesus Christ, to live eternally, and to serve a holy purpose.  It is abhorrent, then, for any Christian to think that it is okay for us to use our bodies which are now united with a holy God and then unite them with a prostitute.

"But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit."  We who are Christians are not to be united with a prostitute because we are united with Jesus Christ.  Being united with a prostitute is the lowest form of union for a man, but the Christian is a part of the highest type of union that is possible for we are united with God.  In these few verses, Paul annihilates this argument used by some of the Christians in Corinth who believed that it was okay for them to be involved in unrestrained sexual expressions.  He also annihilates the same argument when it is used in our sexually-liberated society of the 21rst Century.

(2) Paul exhorts them to keep themselves sexually pure because they are no longer living just for themselves, but for God. (6:18-20)

(a)"Flee from sexual immorality!" (6:18)
"Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body."

Thought Question #1:  Why can Paul's words "Flee sexual immorality" be helpful to someone who struggles with being controlled by sexual temptations?



Thought Question #2:  Why is sexual sin the only sin against one's body?



Paul's solution to sexual temptation is the method Joseph used when he was tempted by Potipher's wife.  He got away from her as fast as he could run. See Genesis 39:1-12  The simple solution for sexual temptation is that we are to run from it.  When we suddenly see something on television or in a magazine that is suggestive, we are not even to pause, for that pause may be all that it takes for the temptation to hook us and reel us in.  Instead, we should immediately run from it.  Augustine, a famous early Christian, heeded this warning:  "Augustine was walking in a section of a city where in earlier days he had been a profligate [sexually wicked].  When a former woman companion saw him Augustine started to run.  She called out, 'Augustine, why do you run?  It is only I.'  He looked back and answered, 'I run because it is not I.'  With this he quickened his pace and put distance between himself and the old temptation."  "Taken from the The Church Stands Corrected by Paul R. Van Gorder.  Copyright 1976 by Victor Books."

 All other sins a man commits are outside of his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his body."  Ray Stedman brings up a good point about this verse:  "Many people have struggled with that verse because it seems to suggest that fornication, sexual promiscuity or sexual indulgence outside of marriage is unique in its effect upon us as a sin.  It is not like other sins, and yet we know that other sin affects our bodies.  Drunkenness, for instance, will destroy the human body.  You only have to take a walk down through skid row somewhere to see the awful effects of drunkenness upon the human body.  And there are other sins that affect the body.  Drug abuse can destroy the mind, twist the features and turn the individual into a twitching, nervous wreck.  Why didn't Paul mention that?  Drug abuse was known in his day.  Even gluttony can destroy the body.  Too much food continually indulged in distorts and warps and changes the whole beauty of the human body and makes it into an ugly caricature of what God designed….So what does Paul mean when he says other sins are 'outside the body but fornication is a sin against the body?' " "Discovery Publishers."  He says that the answer to that question is found in the next two verses, and I agree.

(b) You are no longer your own. (6:19-20)
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore honor God with your body."

Thought Question #1:  Make a list of everything that you observe in these rich verses.



Thought Question #2:  What is meant by "you are not your own?"



Thought Question #3:  How should the fact that you are a "temple of the Holy Spirit" change your life?



The answer to the above question about why sexual sin is the one sin that is committed against our body, is because it is the one sin that takes our body that was meant to be a holy temple to be indwelled by God, and unites it or merges it with another for an unholy purpose.  We have been purchased at a great price—by the blood of Jesus Christ, to now serve a high and honorable purpose.  Can we take our body which is a temple of the Holy Sprit and involve it in an immoral sexual union?

"There are two things characteristic of a temple.  First, it is sacred as a dwelling place of God, and therefore cannot be profaned with impunity.  Second, the proprietorship of a temple is not in man, but in God.  Both these things are true of the believer's body.  It is a temple because the Holy Ghost dwells in it; and because he is not his own.  It belongs to God."  "Taken from Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Charles Hodge.  Copyright 1950 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co."

Every one who is a Christian is a temple of God.  We should now only do that which is fit for doing to God's temple.  The Christian is no longer independent, for each of our decisions not only involve each of us, but our decisions now also involve He whom you and I are united with.  Because of this, each of us should only do that which God would do.  Therefore, as God's temple and purchased by Him to fulfill His purposes, we should only do that which will bring honor to Him.


Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Corinthians