1 Corinthians

These are notes collected from studying with brothers in Christ. Anything good comes from the Lord. Everything else is from us!

I’m pretty blown away at how 1 Corinthians starts:

“To the church of God that is in Corinth…those sanctified in Christ…in every way you were enriched in Christ in all speech and all knowledge…you are not lacking in any gift…Christ will sustain you to the end, guiltless…you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2-9)

Just consider that high esteem he gives to them. This is right before he lambasts them for: bitter divisions (1 Cor. 1-4), factions (1 Cor. 11), sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5-7), lack of honoring one another (1 Cor. 8-10), lack of church discipline (1 Cor. 5), abuse of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14), shortcomings in love (1 Cor. 13), faulty views on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Shows so evidently how God’s justification is not tied to our works. If the Corinthian church can be called saints, so can we who mess up today. Of course, the rest of the letter is a charge to walk out the calling on their life in Christ. But I think it’s significant that he begins by affirming the work of Christ, and their covering in His work (their justification). In fact, Paul makes this the theme of the first couple of chapters (getting them grounded in Christ and his gospel as their foundation). After that is secure, then we can address walking it out.

Consider 1 Corinthians and how divisive they were. Nothing new–sadly. But I wanted to add that people estimate the Corinthian church was between 30-60 people large when 1 Corinthians was written. The low end of this range (30) comes from counting how many names are mentioned in the letter. The high end (60) comes from archaeology looking at houses in that place and time, and how many people they could fit (which is where they would’ve met).

But all to say, you can have deep divisions and factions within a fairly small group of people. We’ve seen that lived that in very small groups. We can even take it down to 2 people. Look at how many marriages are failing–that they have “irreconcilable differences” with just 2 people. I think smaller groups bring this to the surface more than large groups/churches would (because you can sort of avoid and hide out more there). Either way, this is not a new problem, but a very serious problem nonetheless.

God’s solution in 1 Corinthians:

  • Get focus back on the gospel: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” “the gospel…of first importance” (2:2; 15:1-3)
  • Focus on what God has revealed in Scripture (versus what you or I or culture thinks): “learn by us NOT TO GO BEYOND WHAT IS WRITTEN, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” (4:6)

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
1 Corinthians 4:1

Servants and stewards… not super-apostles.
Here is a man thoroughly touched by the cross. He rebuked them for making too much of him!

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
1 Corinthians 4:3-4

I find myself going back to this a lot. When others judge me—who cares? But that doesn’t mean my own judgments of myself are valid either. The Lord via his word will judge me. The best thing I can do is just keep going back to it over and over to keep yielding myself anew to everything the Word says. Be faithful in the Scriptures and the gospel they testify too—and be corrected where the Word reveals something I’ve missed.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
1 Corinthians 4:6

“Not to go beyond what is written.” – what a charge for us!!

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
1 Corinthians 6:7

“Why not rather suffer wrong?”

Could you imagine the testimony to the world if the church did this more? Reminds me of Les Miserable.

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?”
1 Corinthians 5:1-2

Up until somewhat recently when I would read this passage I was just confused.  Why in the world would they be proud that there was a case of incest within their own church?  I don’t actually know the answer for their particular context and situation, but I have seen how the church can slide down a slippery slope of “acceptance” into fully celebrating sin.  I could be totally misguided here, but could this be the case in this Corinthian church, that they were celebrating their “openness” and “acceptance” instead of speaking hard truths in love? (I have admittedly done zero research here, this is just what crossed my mind while reading it)

I find it so interesting when he says, “shouldn’t you rather have went out to mourning.”
We are to grieve sin (sexual and otherwise). Something our culture does not do. I have so many friends that are especially permissive of sin in the LGBTQ community (and other sexual sin) and I think this would grieve the Lords heart.

Regarding 1 Cor. 5:1-2…

I have thought the same thing when I’ve read that passage… namely, that they were so proud of being a “grace” church that they didn’t deal with sin. While Paul/God is really grieved over their permissiveness. Definitely mirrors what we see today.

Saying that, another read of the passage is to link it with what he said in 1 Cor. 1-4 about how they are boasting that they are so “spiritual” by being part of Paul’s philosophy… or Apollos… etc. In 1 Cor. 1-4 they were bragging about how spiritual they were, and Paul’s looking at them and thinking, “you are the opposite!”. So then in 1 Cor. 5 he points out one way they are immature: they tolerate sin. Thus, when he says “And you are arrogant”, it would read more like:

You are immature and it shows in your going beyond the word and the cross to extra-biblical divisiveness [see chap. 1-4]. Another proof of your immaturity is the sexual sin happening in your midst. This sin is so bad that even Pagans would be ashamed. Yet you claim you are mature!!!??! You even boast about how great you are!!?? Take a look in the mirror.

In other words, I’m not sure they were boasting specifically in tolerating sexual sin (though they could’ve been). My money is more on the other boasting happening in chaps 1-4, and then he adds this in the backdrop to show how backslidden they really are. If that makes sense.

Saying all that: the clear thrust of 1 Cor. 5 and 6 is that the church should discipline sin. And this includes sexual sin (which includes homosexual sin–see ch. 6). Jesus only mentions the local church 1 time in his entire ministry, and it’s in Matt 18. This is in the context of church discipline. It obviously is important to the Lord. But note it is discipline unto restoration. Not discipline to make people feel bad and only punish. Sort of like disciplining children–we do it to change their character, and it will hurt them; but we don’t get joy out of it like an abusive father.

That would make sense that he was saying they were generally proud, not necessarily specifically proud about this case of incest.

Following Jesus is tough. He lived in a way that was equal measures grace and truth. He never condoned sin, but he was also never a jerk and was so loving all the time to people who were consistently messing up. We are called to live this way too, but it is a tall order. Lord have mercy on us.

1 Cor. 12: 26 “If one member suffers all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together.”
I love this picture of how the body is to function at its best together.

1 Corinthians 15 is a great chapter to spell out the gospel and share the gospel.
I love v. 17 “if Christ has not been raised your faith is still futile and you are still in your sins.”
And v 19 “ If in Christ we have hope in this life only we are of all people most to be pitied.”

1 Corinthians 13:12
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
This gives me so much hope. Life is difficult, but it is manageable knowing that one day we will get to see Jesus face to face.

Our faith hinges on Christ’s resurrection, and if he didn’t rise then all of this is pointless. But he did, and the story is true!

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

I love the image of us being transformed into his image. The process of sanctification is never done while we are alive, but as we seek the Lord and keep in step with the Spirit HE continually transforms us.

Reminds me of a story I’ve heard in multiple places (you may have heard it too)…
a man went to a silversmith and saw them burning the silver to remove the dross, so he asked when he knew it was done. the man said, “when I can see my face in it”. I love that image of going through the refinement and we know we’re done when the image of Christ is clearly reflected in us

  • “you…maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you…” (1 Cor. 11:2) – what followed was head coverings
  • “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” (1 Cor. 11:23) – what followed was communion
  • “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…” (1 Cor. 15:3) – what followed was the gospel

I just wonder if there is a subtle hint in how important these things are based on how Paul talks about what he delivered to them:

In the case of head coverings, he doesn’t say it comes from the Lord or from elsewhere, and doesn’t list it as important. The Scripture is still binding, but I think the main gist is that Paul sees these things as culturally bound (consider he ends that section with “if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” (11:16). In other words, we don’t currently practice this in the church. But going back to how he starts this section, notice that Paul does not bind this as a tradition given by Christ.

In the case of communion, there Paul DOES say the tradition he is passing onto them came from the Lord. This would obviously be binding for all people of all time.

And in the case of the gospel, not only is this a tradition Paul received, but it’s a tradition that he ranks as first importance. Thus it gets the ultimate trump card in terms of priority.

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