1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Click here to read the passage.

Although the imagery here is completely different, Paul is actually continuing the theme of the previous short passage (9:23-27). The entire section, from 9:1 through to 10:13 is like an extended diversion from the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols (as we shall see tomorrow). The message of 9:23 – 10:13 is that we need to work hard at being faithful to Jesus, and not take salvation for granted. Just as athletes need to keep training to stay viable in the competition, so the Israelites needed to keep their attention fixed on the Lord, and so do we now.

In this passage, Paul uses the scriptural example of the ancient Israelites to show that one can experience all God’s spiritual blessings, and yet fail to please him. All the stories he alludes to can be found in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Like the Corinthians, who were baptized into Christ and who share in the communion marked by bread and wine, the Israelite fathers were also baptized, though into Moses through the sea and in the cloud, and they shared spiritual food, manna and water, given miraculously by the Lord. But although they were part of God’s holy people, the Israelites failed numerous times: they worshipped idols, they committed sexual immorality, they put God to the test, and they grumbled. Therefore, almost the entire generation of Israelites died in the desert before they reached the promised land. Don’t be like that, Paul warns.

[Just a quick word of explanation: the Greek word peirasmos can be translated accurately as both ‘tempt’ and ‘test’. I prefer ‘test’ here because that word is broader and covers a larger range of situations which might lead me to fall.]

The one who thinks she is standing better watch out she doesn’t fall. Tests come. The tests the Corinthians (and we) experience are no more difficult than the tests which the Israelites faced: opportunities to give greater honor to things other than God; temptations to sin sexually; fear of not having enough to eat and drink; situations that lead to grumbling. These kinds of tests are common to all humanity, including you and me. We always want stuff that isn’t necessarily good for us. The good news is that God is faithful. Whatever tests may come upon us, he will make sure they are not beyond our ability to remain faithful to him, and he will make, along with the test, an escape from the test so that we are able to endure it.

What test are you facing today, this week, this year? What is it that you desire which might be against God’s will? What do you feel like grumbling about? No matter what is the trouble you are facing right now, the good news is that God is faithful. We may not be, but he is. We just have to put ourselves into his hands and trust him for the rest. But we have to make the commitment to put ourselves into his hands. Be aware of those tests, and be careful not to fall.

Prayer: God, this life is hard. There are so many things that would distract me from following you. There are things that I want, there are things that I grumble about. Help me to trust you at all times, to always turn back to you when the tests come. Thank you that you are faithful, even when I am not, and that you provide a way for me to turn back to you.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

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I like this section because it talks about sport, one of my passions also. Corinth was the host city of the Isthmian Games, held in the years before and after the ancient quadrennial Olympic Games, so the Corinthians understood about elite athletes and their competitions. I believe there is a lot we can learn from the world of sports, especially about individual efforts, about teamwork, and about leadership. I sometimes wonder whether I have learned more life lessons from the sports field than from the mission field! I certainly try to intentionally reflect on what I see happen in teams and bring it into my own life and ministry, particularly within the area of interpersonal relationships in pursuit of a goal.

Not content with just one sport, Paul here refers to three: running, athletics (?), and boxing. Those who participate seriously in such activities are characterized by intent to win, self-discipline, and single-minded purpose. Athletes do not endure pain for suffering’s sake, but because they enjoy competing and want to win. Paul makes it clear that he is speaking figuratively: the real prize is not a gold medal, but an imperishable crown, won by self-control and certainty in direction. Paul is well aware that even he, who preaches to others, could himself be distracted from the task and become disqualified from attaining the prize.

We might be forgiven for thinking that this passage appears very self-seeking: the prize is my happy life in heaven. Actually, Paul is not clear here, but in many other places we know that the goal is not our own glory, but God’s glory (cf Eph 1:3-14).

Jon Bloom, thinking in the way of an Olympic athlete seeking a gold medal, asks some helpful application questions as he reflects on this passage:

  • What am I currently consuming that would hinder me from gaining the prize? Are there any cravings that I am indulging which undermine my ability to get fit enough to obtain the prize?
  • Am I willing to deny myself things I enjoy in order to gain the prize?
  • What things do I need to stop doing so I have time to train?
  • What distracts me mentally or emotionally from focusing on the prize?
  • What areas of ignorance or weakness threaten my ability to win the prize without some skilled coaching?

Prayer: Lord God, King of the Universe, let me not be distracted from your glory by my own self-seeking. Help me to be self-disciplined and focused on the prize for which you have called me heavenward in Christ.

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1 Corinthians 9:1-23

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This chapter seems to have little connection to what has preceded. One possible link may be that Paul is thinking about sacrificing his right to eat whatever he wants, for the sake of the people to whom he is ministering (Chapter 8). In this vein, he continues writing in Chapter 9 about how he has sacrificed his other rights as an apostle, such as his right to receive financial reward or ‘in kind’ benefits from the church, and his right to have a wife (cf Chapter 7). On the other hand, he may simply be working through a list of issues which the Corinthians raised in their letter (cf 7:1), the issue here being why he does (or more likely doesn’t) receive wages for his Christian work.

Paul is making an argument here that is a kind of legal defense of his position. The evidence he presents is the Corinthians themselves; that they are Christians at all shows that he is an apostle, given that the church was born as a result of his ministry there (cf Acts 18:1-18). As such, he is entitled to the rights of other apostles, including receiving money (or food and drink, and probably lodging, though it is not mentioned here). He shows the Old Testament scripture as a precedent, that oxen are allowed to eat as they work, as well as common sense examples like farmers, soldiers, and temple-priests. When people work, they receive a reward. Paul’s work is spiritual, but he hopes to receive a material reward.

However, Paul has not asked for (and presumably not received) any reward. He worked as a literal tent-maker while he was with them (cf Acts 18:3). Some people in the Corinthian church may have been thinking that this showed that Paul wasn’t really worth paying, and therefore they counted him as less worthy than Apollos and the others – back to the situation we read about in Chapters 1-4. But Paul argues here that the issue was not whether he was paid, or deserved to be paid. For him, preaching the gospel was something he had to do because God had entrusted him with the responsibility. He didn’t preach in order to be paid, but because he was obligated by God’s call.

Paul was therefore free in the human sense; he was not obligated to the Corinthians (or anyone else), because he wasn’t being paid by them. Being completely free, he was therefore able to make himself a slave to whoever he wanted (cf 7:22). He was able to make himself like whomsoever he was preaching to: Jews, people who do not put themselves under the Mosaic law, those who are weak. He did this in order to win these people over to his way of thinking, so that some might be saved. The other reason he gives is that he might share in the blessings of the gospel, that is, the good news that Jesus is the King.

There is so much to apply to ourselves here. First of all: the issue of wages. Christians may validly accept financial reward for the Christian work that they do. But they may also just as validly work as tent-makers, and their Christian work has just as much validity. This is a very important principle for those in cross-cultural work. The most important thing is not who is getting paid by whom, but whether we are fulfilling the obligation that God has put on our lives by using the gifts that he has given to us.

The second important point I see here is our relationship to others. I believe Paul uses the word ‘slave’ (which could also be translated as ‘servant’) as a rhetorical device. He is not suggesting literally enslaving ourselves (or rather, himself) to others. The idea is that we subject our own rights, needs and desires to the needs of others, for their sake, so that they might hear the gospel of Jesus’ lordship, by both word and deed. We don’t expect others to become like us in order that they can learn about Jesus; we get ourselves onto others’ level. If we are with religious types, it’s OK to be like that. If we hang out with non-religious types, be like them, speak their language, be relatable, never be ‘holier-than-thou’ with them. If we are reaching out to the weak and disempowered, don’t approach them with all our power and knowledge, but in a way that they see us like them. We will be able to more successfully communicate the love of Jesus by meeting people in their own mental, physical, and emotional space, understanding them right where they are.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love people like you do. Give me your Spirit to enable me to give up my rights and desires, just like your Son did when he came to earth, to be able to meet people where they are. Let me be faithful to the calling you have put on my life.

1 Corinthians 8

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In this chapter, Paul finally gets onto a new topic: eating food sacrificed to idols. This may seem a totally meaningless issue for those living in the west, but in South East Asia it is something we face daily. The situation is not exactly the same (the meat in Corinth’s markets was the flesh of animals literally sacrificed to idols in the temple), but the issue remains: everything in the market has been offered to the spirits for their blessing.

Paul’s argument goes like this: Even though there seem to be many gods and other spiritual authorities, we know that there is only one real God, for whom we exist, and there is only one Lord, through whom we exist. The food we eat or don’t eat doesn’t change our relationship with God. But not everyone knows this, and some people are so influenced by their culture that they still believe in other spiritual authorities. If they see a believer doing something which they believe to be wrong, it may lead to them acting against their conscience, and then everyone is put in a place of sinfulness – both the one who believes it is wrong, and the one who doesn’t believe it is wrong but causes the other to sin. Therefore, Paul has made a commitment to sacrifice his own right to eat what he wants, in order that his Christian brother will not be led into sin.

Although it appears to be a new topic, Paul uses a few words in verse 1 to show that he is still teaching the Corinthians about the same issue over and over: knowledge puffs up. From the first chapter, we saw that the Corinthians have been elevating knowledge over love. In this instance, their knowledge that idols/spirits have no power is making them insensitive to those who still live in fear of spirits. They own arrogance is adversely affecting others.

I see this most commonly in Asia when it comes to drinking alcohol. Many Western Christians know that there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation – in fact, Paul himself encourages Timothy to drink wine (1 Tim 5:23). But for most Asian Christians (and those of other religions too), drinking any alcohol is a sin; I have seen local Bible translations where every positive reference to wine is translated as ‘grape juice’. This is a good parallel for us to think about making the same kind of sacrifice as Paul.

Of course, there is in Asia also the more acute issue of actual idols and spirits. There may well be Christians in our Asian churches who continue to fear and respect the spirits. Those of us who think this is foolish and/or evil need to be sensitive to their culture and traditions; not that we should never bring correction, but we need to do this with love and care, lest our brothers and sisters themselves are destroyed in the process. Take heed of Paul’s dictum: “one who loves God is known by God” and allow God to do his work of building his church while you act as co-worker.

Prayer: Lord God, I am for you and for your kingdom. Give me wisdom how to live and speak so that your church is built up in truth and in love.

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1 Corinthians 7

Click here to read the passage – a long one today.

I had never noticed that Paul writes about sex so much in 1 Corinthians! Here is one more chapter on the topic, although now he is talking more about sex within the legitimate boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman. This time Paul is responding to issues they had written about to him. It is a long chapter and fairly clear in its message; I will summarise with a few short points rather than going through every verse or section.

The first point Paul makes, as already mentioned, is about sex. Sexual immorality – porneia – should be avoided, but sex within marriage is seen as a responsibility to be discharged. Husbands and wives have given up absolute authority over their own bodies and rendered them to their spouses. Sex is thus encouraged within marriage so that husbands and wives won’t be tempted to have sex outside of marriage. Sex and marriage are clearly not sinful, but those who marry will have troubles – I can testify to that! Married people have many pulls on their heart and cannot be single-minded in serving the Lord and being wholly set apart for him alone.

Paul says the Lord forbids permanent separation and divorce, but he allows that it does sometimes happen. In fact, if a believer’s unbelieving spouse wants to leave, Paul recommends letting her or him go. His command is that anyone in this situation – separated or divorced – must not remarry (although marrying after a spouse has died is fine). I believe we all have remarried friends, even within the church. What do we do with this? We can only operate in grace, right? I find it interesting that many Christians will not tolerate homosexuality, but remarrying is no problem to them. Why do we pick and choose bits of Scripture to obey, whereas others are a matter of context? Each person should live in the situation to which God has called them.

The person who is single has the benefit of being able to devote themselves totally to the Lord’s service and pleasure. Only if their sexual impulses are unbearable to control should they marry, according to Paul’s thinking. This is not a command, Paul affirms, but his opinion. (Although how this fits with my doctrine of Scripture has always been a difficult nut for me! cf v40.) Having been both single and married on the mission field, I can definitely attest personally that I was able to serve the Lord more devotedly, more single-mindedly (excuse the pun), before I married. But I did also struggle with my sexual desires and more than once I was in grave danger of losing the battle of self-control.

Paul also mentions the situation of being a slave in this passage (vv21-23), although it is of less concern to us in the 21st century. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating to think about this social condition, apparently different from what it is today. Men and women could sell themselves to others, and buy their freedom back – which Paul recommends. Paul advises not being the slave of another person, because we are already slaves of Christ, which equals freedom. Again, it is an issue of divided loyalties.

The conclusion of the passage actually comes in its midst, verses 29-31. The time is short, the world is passing away. Let us then not waste time with the things of this world, whether marriage, passing emotions, or possessions. Instead, as Paul expounded in Colossians 3, let us fix our minds on things above, not on earthly things. Yes, we have to live in this world, sometimes with spouses, sometimes with earthly masters, always with earthly needs for food and clothes and a bed and transport (cf Matt 6:24-25). But let’s try not to concern ourselves overly with them with the result that we are distracted from attention to the Lord Jesus and his kingdom.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the situation that you have placed me in. Help me to serve you devotedly here, right where I am. Forgive me the times I am distracted by the things of this world. Father, comfort those who are sad in their singleness, whether through never marrying, divorce, or widowhood. Help me to bring grace to everyone regardless of their situation.

1 Corinthians 6

Click here to read the passage.

In this chapter, after a brief diversion into lawsuits within the church, Paul returns to the topic of Chapter 5, sexual immorality. But his discussion goes both deeper and broader.

Verses 1-8 concern brothers within the church who take each other to court to settle disputes. Rather disconcertingly, having just said in 5:12 that Christians are not to judge ‘outsiders’, he announces that Christians will indeed judge the world (6:2). If we are so equipped, Paul argues, can we not settle our own internal disputes? In fact, he states, that there are court-worthy disputes at all is already a major problem; it would be better to be wronged or to be cheated than to argue against such issues in secular court. I wish this paragraph had no application in modern times, but I have heard stories about pastors and missionaries prosecuting their governing bodies for various offenses, such as unfair dismissal. Is it right that they do this, or should they simply suffer unrighteousness against themselves, as Paul suggests here?

Although it is not so clear in English, there is a linguistic link from this section to what follows. Variously translated as ‘unrighteous’ (v1), ‘wronged’ (vv7-8), ‘wicked’ (v9), and then its antonym translated as ‘justified’ (v11), is the little word adikia. Paul from verse 9 reverts back to the theme of wickedness in general, providing a long list of people who will not inherit God’s kingdom. That is to say, those who do not act like children of God will not be rewarded as his children.

The focus of Paul’s attention, as in the previous chapter, is sexual immorality. This is one of two places in the New Testament where the word we usually translate as ‘homosexuality’ appears, the other being 1 Tim 1:10 (cf also Rom 1:26-27 which doesn’t mention the word). The word arsenokoitai literally means ‘man-bedders’, and there have been various arguments attempting to prove that Paul didn’t actually refer here to all the people who identify as homosexual today. (See this article for a scholarly discussion about the matter.) He also talks in this passage about the practice of using prostitutes; it is interesting to note that there is nothing here explicitly condemning the prostitute, but only the one who buys her services.

Paul’s conclusion is that our bodies are intended for the Lord’s service. Having been bought by the blood of Jesus, having been washed and set apart for him, we belong to God. Our bodies no longer belong to us, but are members of Christ, and temples where God dwells by the Holy Spirit. We no longer live as though we belong to the kingdom of this world; now that we have been made right in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God, we know that we will be raised into the heavenly kingdom just as Jesus was. Nothing and no one else has authority over us, not food nor alcohol nor sex nor money. We live in God and for his glory.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for washing me, setting me apart, and making me right with you. I recognize in my old self some of the sins listed by Paul here, and some of them still tempt me. Help me to live in your Spirit, and for your glory, in the name of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5

Click here to read the passage.

This, to me, is a fascinating chapter. Overall it is fairly simple, but there are a number of interesting issues to comment on. Essentially, Paul here writes to the Corinthians about what he has heard: that some man in the church is having a sexual affair with his father’s wife, presumably his step-mother. This was not acceptable, even among Gentiles without the Mosaic law, and Paul instructs the church to remove this man from their group.

The word used here of sexual immorality is porneia (from which we derive pornography), which used to be translated as ‘fornication’. It is a broad term referring to any kind of illicit sexual intercourse. We will encounter this word in the next two chapters also.

Paul uses the imagery of the Passover to talk about getting rid of evil from their midst. During this festival, the Jews would (and still do) get everything which has yeast in it, including the Vegemite, out of their houses for seven days (cf Ex 12:14-20). Of course, there is nothing inherently evil about yeast, but it was a common symbol of rotting fungus that can spread quickly and silently. Leaving the wicked man in the congregation of the faithful, and even boasting about it – as an evidence of grace? – risked contaminating the entire church.

Therefore, Paul instructs, ‘hand him over to Satan’. Paul doesn’t mean that Satan tortures the bad guys, as popular culture might have us believe.

Cinema 4: Cel Bloc: Countdown to Halloween: Heavenly Puss (1949)

Rather, his thinking is that Satan is the temporal ruler of this world (cf Eph 2:2), in contrast to God, who is the eternal ruler and lives beyond this world, in heaven. Handing over (paradidomi) the sinner to Satan really just means letting the man live in the world, with its rules, as he wants to do anyway. It is similar to the idea in Rom 1:24-26, where the idolaters and sexually immoral are handed over (paradidomi again) by God to do what they want.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside? asks Paul. I also ask this question, especially when I see Christians publicly condemning practices they don’t agree with. To be sure, God will judge them as he sees fit. But it is not our place, as they do not have to subscribe to our laws.

How about judgment inside the church then? Paul warns us not to associate with those who are greedy, idolatrous, abusive, drunken, or extortionate. Of course, we can’t avoid meeting these people in the world, and associating with them there is acceptable. But what about when we meet them in the church? I wish I could say that such people are not in our churches, and that if they are, then they are false brothers, Christians in name only. If only that were true! Because I think I can identify all these people in the churches I go to. In fact, I think I might sometimes do the things that characterize those people too. Should the pastor kick me out? Or you? Do we risk contaminating the church with our evil ways?

Praise be to God, that the Passover lamb has indeed been sacrificed in our place. Although in this passage Paul referred to a sinful man as the yeast, I want to wrest out a different interpretation of yeast and say, let’s get the sin out. Let’s cleanse it out, in order that we might be a new lump of dough, just as we are in Christ, holy (cf 1:2). Let us feast, together, with yeast-free sincerity and truth.

Prayer: God, cleanse my heart and my mind, and help me to live a new life with you. Forgive me both my past and my present sins, by virtue of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf. Give me and your church leaders wisdom about anyone in the church who persists in unrighteous lifestyles.

1 Corinthians 4

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This chapter is the conclusion of Paul’s argument that began way back in 1 Cor 1:10. As we have seen, the problem that Paul has been addressing is factions in the church tied to specific church leaders or founders. The way the church members have been assessing these leaders has been according to worldly ways of evaluation: mostly, who is the best speaker, or who they assess to be the smartest when it comes to words. The Corinthians’ desire was to have the best rhetorician – something the church was based upon, according to Acts 18:1-4 (Paul) and 18:24-28 (Apollos).

However, Paul argues here, these church founders are simply household servants and stewards; the essential criterion for evaluating them should simply be faithfulness. He adds to this that true evaluation comes from the Lord, Jesus, and particularly on the last day. Just as in 3:13 the last day’s fire reveals the quality of each builder’s work, so also here in 4:5, the day when the Lord comes will reveal whatever has been hidden, including motives of the heart. So it is not the place of the church members to evaluate between leaders, in order to decide which one they like the most and want to side with. (Evaluating church leaders is important, Paul will argue elsewhere, eg 1 Tim 3, but this is a different context with a different aim and result.)

In fact, by evaluating their leaders, the Corinthians seem to have put themselves above Paul, Apollos, and the other apostles. They perceive themselves, Paul ironically notes, as satisfied, wealthy, intelligent, strong, glorious, even kings. In contrast, the apostles are on display like prisoners on death row: foolish, weak, dishonorable, hungry, thirsty, naked, beaten, homeless. They work hard, they are abused, they are persecuted, they are defamed, and yet they continue to endure, to bless, and to encourage. These men who are the scum of the world are the ones whom the Corinthians are fighting over, puffing themselves up about. How ridiculous it seems to Paul!

And yet, he sees himself also as a father to them, to have begotten them. The Corinthians, warped as they are, he sees as his own children. Therefore, they should imitate him. They now have Timothy right there with them, to remind them what Paul is like and what he teaches. They better get their act together, because father is coming soon to see what is really going on in Corinth. He will soon find out whether these puffed-up people have any real power beyond their words.

Verse 20 may be a sharp rebuke to many of us who might call ourselves evangelical, who trust in the word above all else. Paul says the kingdom of God is not ‘in word’ but ‘in power’. Of course, the Bible reveals that God’s power does indeed come from his word (eg Gen 1:3 cf Ps 33:6). But in this context, Paul is arguing, let us not get caught up in who has the best words. Note that in verse 6 he also warns them not to go “beyond what is written”. We may infer that Paul is referring to the scriptures, wherein is power, but that what is taught or spoken coming out of those same scriptures is not necessarily the word of God. Let us continue to trust in the Lord and his word, not in men who speak about that word.

I don’t experience this kind of factionalism as a big problem in the Christian communities where I live and serve. What I do observe among some is a tendency to trust in those church leaders whose words seem to hold sway over large groups of people: Tim Keller, John Piper, etc. In the past we have seen these kinds of rhetoricians rise and sometimes fall. We should give thanks for great Christian leaders and wordsmiths, but it should always be the word of the Lord that we trust in, not the word of its interpreter. The criterion by which Christian leaders should be evaluated is faithfulness, particularly faithfulness in the face of suffering. And if we evaluate our leaders in this way, perhaps it suggests how we should evaluate our own selves. When we are persecuted, when we are insulted, when we are struggling, do we remain faithful?

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the wonderful teachers of the Bible you have provided in my life. Please help me to be faithful to you, no matter what suffering comes my way. On the final day, may it be revealed that my heart’s motive is to glorify you.

1 Corinthians 3

Click here to read the passage.

Paul’s argument continues in this chapter. By attaching themselves to particular leaders, the Corinthian believers were demonstrating that, not only was their wisdom a worldly kind of wisdom (as in Chapter 2, but here also in 3:3, 18-20), but that they were no better than spiritual babies. The evidence Paul sees to make such a bold assertion is jealousy and strife. Isn’t it true we see this among toddlers battling over toys? If we see jealousy and strife in our Christian communities, we had better start asking questions about the maturity of the people involved – even if we ourselves are the ones who are feeling jealous and causing or feeding dissension.

Paul then changes tack, focusing away from the Corinthian problem and onto the topic of Christian workers. Everyone has a role. He starts with agricultural imagery and then will move onto building imagery. The Greek is much more simple and staccato than the English; a literal translation would be: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God grew [it].” Another way of describing the process is that, as a wise architect, Paul laid the foundation of the building – which is Jesus Christ – and others are continuing to build on top of that foundation. Each person in the process has a role to play, and their work will be judged and rewarded accordingly.

The building metaphor is developed further. Different builders may use different materials, some beautiful and enduring like gold and silver, and others, well, not so much. When that building goes through a fire, it will be clear whose work was most valuable and really lasts. This is superb imagery, but let’s not forget that Paul is talking about a group of people, not a church building. When trouble comes, will the church – that is, a group of people – stand? The Coronavirus is a wonderful test of the quality of your church or other Christian community. How is it holding up? The Corinthians did not face such a test at that time, but it was about to come in the form of severe persecution. Would they stand together? Would they bicker and fight, and hand over family members to the Roman authorities? So far, Apollos’ work is perhaps not looking great to Paul, if it is resulting in a community full of jealousy and strife. The Christian worker will be saved even if his work fails, but with scorch marks.

The final piece in Paul’s reasoning in this chapter again develops the metaphor further: this building is actually God’s temple, filled with his Spirit. But it is made of people, not bricks and mortar, nor gold and silver. Here, unlike 1 Cor 6:19, the temple image refers to the whole church, not to the individual believer. By jealousy and factional strife, that temple may be destroyed – and the ‘reward’ for such destruction is destruction in kind. Instead of jealously clinging onto one, and/or rejecting another, Paul demands, the Corinthian believers must understand that they already possess all – leaders, the world, life, death, the present and the future – so there is nothing to be jealous of or to fight over.

Toddlers fight over toys. Little brother doesn’t even want the train until big brother starts playing with it. Then ensues demands, snatching, and tears. As adults we look on and wonder why they are fighting over what already belongs to both of them. Can’t they take turns, share, and play with the toy together? The Corinthians looked like ridiculous toddlers to Paul. Enjoy what you have. All the toys are yours. You belong to your parents, and your parents supplied all these toys for you in the first place.

If there is factionalism going on in your church or other Christian community, don’t be a part of it. Don’t be jealous of others’ roles or rights. Be part of the building, not part of the tearing down. Build the community with materials that will endure testing and trials.

Prayer: God, forgive me if I have been acting like a baby. Thank you for giving me the privilege to be your co-worker. Help me to build on the foundation of Jesus in a way that will help your people to grow and endure trials.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Click here to read the passage.

In this chapter, Paul does an almost complete about-face regarding the value of wisdom, but he contrasts the wisdom he has and speaks with the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of this world and this age does not help to understand spiritual things, and this is what Paul will delve into in these verses.

God’s wisdom is hidden and mysterious, not open to all, but only discerned spiritually. Just as only I know what is going on in my own mind, only God’s Spirit knows what is going on in God’s mind, even within its depths. But God has given his own Spirit to every believer, so that we can grasp what is going on in God’s mind. And that, primarily, is glory. God has prepared glory for those who love him. This is revealed only by God, through his Spirit, so it seems like foolishness to those who do not have God’s Spirit. One important result of the ignorance of God’s mind through his Spirit is that the leaders of this world, without that knowledge that comes through the Spirit, crucified Jesus, the Lord of glory. People without God’s Spirit cannot understand or accept things that are revealed only by his Spirit. On the other hand, those who have God’s Spirit are able to determine even the depths of God’s mind.

The Old Testament quote (2:9) is fascinating in this context. It is probably from Isaiah 64:4, although it doesn’t match up perfectly with what we read there. What I find interesting is the connection with the quote in the previous chapter (1:19), which was from Isaiah 29:14. These two passages are connected by the imagery of the potter and the clay (29:16 and 64:8); these are the only two references to potter and clay with this meaning in Isaiah (the one in 41:25 is about something different), and Paul has brought them together – but without referring to this potter/clay part of the passages quoted. Associated with the destruction of the wisdom of the wise is the accusation that the clay thinks itself above the potter; the clay even declares that the potter does not understand. But in connection with the verses about God’s help and salvation, the people declare that God is Father, potter, and creator. The implication is that those who think themselves wise reject God’s wisdom, but those who receive God’s Spirit acknowledge that he is their loving creator and ruler.

In the next section, Paul will return to where he started: Why do you follow the worldly way of wisdom with its factions and jealousy? The point of his overall argument is to create a choice between two paths: worldly wisdom, and spiritual wisdom. Worldly wisdom leads to a rejection of God and eventual destruction. Spiritual wisdom comes from God and leads to glory. Which path will you choose?

Prayer: Father God, you are the potter and I am the clay. Fill me with your Spirit and grant me your wisdom. Let me know your mind and lead me into the glory you prepared in advance for me.

The Potter & The Clay | The Blog of Patrick Vincent