1 Corinthians 1
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God; and brother Sosthenes,
Paul is just clarifying his function, not claiming any special position for himself.
2 to the assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, together with everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ everywhere, in all their meeting places and ours,
Almost every translation seems to think that Jesus Christ here is described as “their Lord and ours,” but I’m sure it actually speaks of the homes where the believers meet. Not critical, but different.
3 grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God on your account for God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus,
Everything we receive from God is “in Christ Jesus.”
5 that in everything you were enriched in him in all understanding and speech,
Translation note: I have used the acceptable alternative “understanding” to the more popular “knowledge” since the idea is to come to know Christ Himself and to grasp His moral wisdom in order to successfully live our daily lives, rather than to fill our heads with theology. I also felt that I should reverse the Greek order of “understanding and speech” since our speech is informed by our understanding (unless we are “praying in tongues”), and this speech is the expression of the indwelling Christ.
6 just as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you,
The testimony of Christ being their acceptance of, and commitment to, the gospel of Christ. This was clearly confirmed by the indwelling Christ appearing in their daily lives in the forms of faith, grace, universal love, wisdom, etc.
7 so that you are not lacking in any gift of grace while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
The gifts of grace are partially listed in Romans 12: prophecy, service, teaching, imploring, sharing, presiding, caring, etc. They are not, in any sense, positions of authority, as they would then contradict Jesus’ instruction to not rule over each other like the Gentiles do. Instead they are functions which are to be used among the brethren to build up, encourage and train each other in holy living—eg, the evangelist being the brother who teaches everyone, probably individually, by example out on the street, to share their faith fruitfully, etc. All these giftings the Corinthians had and practiced.
8 He will also secure you blameless until the end, on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Almost every translation either states or implies that our blameless state will somehow be achieved on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, but not before. Personally I’m sure, from my grasp of scripture and the word order here in the Greek, that we are to be blameless now, and all the time, right through to the end.
9 for God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Unlike all the other translations I have linked the previous two verses with “for” as the second is simply the ground for confidence in the first.
It says, “the fellowship of his Son” rather than “fellowship with his Son” (which is the form in almost all the newer translations) because it is referring to the assembly, and therefore the body of Christ, not in this instance to our personal relationship with Him.
10 I implore you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that your speaking be in accord with each other, without divisions among you, so you will be perfectly united in one mind and one purpose,
11 because some of Chloe’s group have told me that there are disputes among you.
The only way their (and our) speaking will “be in accord with each other,” is when we are all, independently, hearing the same thing from the Holy Spirit. This means that everyone is walking in step with the Spirit, which also means that those who teach have taught enough to make that possible, and that those who lead are encouraging the saints to do so. If we are not united, our witness will be compromised, and at least some of us will be walking away from the Lord.
The “one mind” is agreement on the thought of the Holy Spirit regarding the subject in question, and the “one purpose” is to perfectly obey God’s leadings, instructions and commands; fully trusting Him in all our circumstances. This is why Paul implores them—he knows how important it all is. Looking at “the church” today shows just how damaged is our witness by our divisions.
12 What I mean is that each of you says: “I am a devotee of Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” “I’m a disciple of Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
Translation note: I have elaborated a little on the structure of this sentence as a straight rendering of the Greek construction into English comes across as a bit boring and thus harder to read aloud.
13 Has Christ been divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you! Nor were you baptised in the name of Paul!
All the translations assume that there are three questions here, meaning that Paul was challenging them, but he is not giving them the opportunity to come back with the wrong answers—answers which they have already shown they would get wrong—so he makes exclamations of the truths. This may be confirmed by the negative applied to Paul being crucified, and the subsequent “nor.”
If we get our doctrine messed up, we will soon find we are defenceless against the lies of the enemy. Paul is really worried that they are so unprotected. He’s also horrified at the thought that he might be honoured for what Christ has achieved.
14 I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15 so no one can say that I baptised in my own name.
We cannot baptise into the name of any man without inventing a new, false religion.
16 I also baptised the household of Stephanas; apart from them, I’m not aware of baptising anyone,
17 for Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – and not with eloquent rhetoric, or the cross of Christ would be nullified.
Paul’s particular calling is to preach the gospel, God providing him with team members who were called to carry out the baptisms.
Simply preaching the gospel with “eloquent rhetoric” or clever words automatically robs the cross of its power and effect, and consequently, robs the preaching of its power to convict. The gospel is raw and uncompromising, the cross brutal and final, and when these aspects are given their proper value, in the power of the Spirit, sinners’ hearts are laid bare and they find the opportunity to repent or refuse. If, however, we soften and sweeten the message, people are presented with a false gospel and a powerless cross, so they rarely can find repentance or faith.
18 For truly the message of the cross is ludicrous to those who are perishing, but it’s the power of God to us who are being saved;
When we share our faith we must expect most people to think us fools, but when they ‘get it,’ it’s more than just sensible, it’s power to change their lives.
19 as it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and confound the understanding of the intelligent.”
This is (roughly) quoted from Isaiah 29:14. These are those who believe they are wise in the ways of the world and are intelligent, but only in the flesh: they will think the gospel foolishness because God’s wisdom destroys worldly wisdom and nullifies fleshly understanding.
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the educated? Where’s today’s man of reason? Hasn’t God shown that the wisdom of this world is stupidity?
When it comes to finding God or proving His existence or knowing Him, the wisdom and knowledge of this world is completely useless. God has gone further and, through the cross, shown that the world’s wisdom and learning are simply stupidity, unlike many translations which state that God made the wisdom of the world into foolishness: God didn’t make it stupidity, it always was.
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world cannot know God by wisdom, God deemed it good to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching,
Importantly, the tense of “know” here is the present, or ongoing tense: it’s not in the past tense as in all the other translations—the world will never be able to know God by its wisdom, not just in the past.
God is not trying to trick people, He is looking for those who will believe what He says, just because He says it.
22 since Jews ask for a sign while Greeks seek wisdom;
The Jews, Pharisees and scribes often asked Jesus for “a sign” which He refused them; the Greeks wanted wisdom so they could air it in their discussions.
23 but we preach Christ crucified: truly, to Jews offensive, and to Greeks absurd.
The Jews were offended because, for anyone to be crucified meant to be cursed—Galatians 3:13 refers back to Deuteronomy 21:23 which says, “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” So, as far as the Jews were concerned, Jesus was cursed by the law, so how could He be the awaited Messiah?
This was why the Jews wanted the Romans to execute Him in the first place—the Romans would crucify Him, thus ensuring that He was “accursed of God,” while the Jews could only stone Him. So they were making sure that their rejection of Jesus (whom they certainly recognised) was justified by the law: trying to use God’s law to disqualify His Messiah… through murder, which the law clearly condemned.
Most unbelievers today feel that the concept of Jesus dying in our place is ridiculous, and they mock.
24 But to those who are called, whether Jews or Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God,
Both God’s power and His wisdom are ours in Christ, if we appropriate them by faith. “Greeks” is used here as Paul’s alternative term for Gentiles.
25 since God’s foolishness is wiser than men, and God’s weakness is mightier than men.
That which seems foolishness to men as they are not privy to the understanding of God, while He reserves the term ‘foolish’ for those who despise His salvation and choose to remain in sin. God is neither foolish nor weak, but fallen man sees Him in that light—though they truly are foolish and weak.
26 Look at your own calling brethren—not many were wise in the flesh, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth,
This is a humbling thought for the Corinthians, they just have to look at themselves to see that God is not picking those the world would choose.
27 but to confound the wise, God chooses the world’s foolish, and to confound those in power, the world’s helpless
Every translation I could find has used the past tense for God’s choice, forgetting that God continues to choose the foolish and helpless. And all but the Aramaic Bible have also added ‘things’ to ‘foolish’ and ‘weak,’ basically stopping this verse from talking about people at all! Perhaps they couldn’t cope with the insult in the Greek as it would also include them.
The reason the Greek doesn’t specify ‘things’ is because it is referring to the people called. The proof that this speaks of people rather than things, is that “the weak things of the world” doesn’t refer to anything at all: what “weak things” did God choose? God has only chosen people, not “things.”
28 and low born. God chooses those who are despised and those who are of no account, that he might reduce to nothing those who have influence,
The other translations continue here to speak of things rather than people, thus reducing verse 29 to a meaningless remark with no purpose. The entire section is of a piece, simply talking about the humble origins of most of the people whom God calls. This is in perfect harmony with the Lord’s parable of the banquet in Luke 14:21, where He says, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” because those of significance in the world generally reject His salvation.
29 so that no one may boast in his presence.
No one who has been truly redeemed by Christ will have any desire to boast before Him; instead he will bow in gratitude and worship.
30 Yet it is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who through God has become for us not only wisdom and righteousness, but also sanctification and deliverance,
Translation note: the “not only…, but also” is the structure in the Greek. These are four separate things which logically pair in this way. All of them are ours as we abide in Christ: though if we allow ourselves to drift away we will find they are gone.
31 so that, as it is written, “whoever rejoices, let him rejoice in the Lord.”
Most translations put “boasts” rather than “rejoices” which forces the more alert to change the “in” to “by.” The problem is that “boasting” is an expression of the corruption of our flesh and, since it cannot be done in faith, is a sin. Many, many times we have been told that Paul was “boasting,” but every time it is due to mistranslating καυχάομαι (kaucháomai) which also means to glory, to rejoice, to exult, to take delight, to celebrate, to be overjoyed, so to insist on the one meaning which would put Paul into sin is clearly unacceptable. It also leads to some very convoluted arguments attempting to limit or justify his boasting.
This is, roughly, quoted from Jeremiah 9:24, which reads, (in the NKJ) “But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.
Most quotes from the Old Testament which appear in the New Testament, differ from the original. This is because the New Testament writer, in this case Paul, is writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, so what he actually puts is the “rhema” or living word of God, rather than just a direct quote, because the Holy Spirit is making a different point, or extending the original.
1 Corinthians 2
1 And when I came to you brethren, I didn’t come with fine speech or learning in proclaiming to you the testimony of God,
Translation note: I have used “learning” in preference to the more obvious “wisdom” because Paul means he wasn’t using worldly or fleshly wisdom or learning, not that he wasn’t using the wisdom of God—he clearly was.
2 for I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,
He means that his only subject and concern was to be the crucified Christ, but remember that Paul’s ‘knowing Jesus’ was a very deep reality to him.
3 and to you I proved myself weak, quaking with fear.
Most translations incorrectly put “came” as their version of γίνομαι. Thayer’s Greek lexicon however, among many alternatives (not including ‘came’), has “to show oneself, prove oneself; to be found, shown” as it is used in Luke 10:36: “Which of these three do you think proved himself neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Paul’s weakness was only in his flesh, so he never fell back on it: all his power came from the indwelling Christ, so his preaching was effective and fruitful.
4 My speaking and preaching were not with compelling words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit—of power,
His work was marked by healings and miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit; his words striking to the hearts of the hearers, deeper than human speaking could reach,
5 so your faith would not rest on human wisdom but in the power of God.
so the crowds could put their faith in Christ, not in the speaker or the worldly or fleshly wisdom, like so many do today. Perhaps these evangelists have not read this.
6 Yet to spiritual adults we are speaking wisdom; but not the wisdom of this world or its rulers, which is of no value;
Translation note: I have put “spiritual adults” rather than ‘the perfect’ or ‘the mature’ since the meaning is clearer: ‘mature’ hints at physical growth or aging, while ‘perfect’ in modern English implies a condition we cannot reach while yet we live in our bodies in a fallen society—being ‘free from sin’ and being ‘perfect’ not being equivalent to most people.
On a minor point, the word katargeō which gives us “which is of no value” applies to the wisdom, not the rulers, as all other translations insist, as it means ‘to bring to nought, to make void, to cause to cease, to annul, to abolish,’ etc: all referring to things rather than people. Where it refers to the body (being done away with as an instrument of sin, in Romans 6:6) it means the body as a thing, not as a person.
7 but we speak God’s wisdom, of the mystery which was hidden, which God appointed for our glory from eternity;
Paul is not speaking in a mystery, as most of the older translations put it, he is revealing that mystery by speaking God’s wisdom.
The mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
8 which none of the powers of this world understood, for had they known, they’d never have crucified the Lord of glory.
All the translations assume that those who didn’t understand God’s hidden mystery were simply those in worldly authority, like the priests and Pharisees, but I feel sure that those who were primarily and most importantly fooled, were “the powers of this world” in the spiritual realms who were operating behind them.
If they had realised they were ensuring that God’s plan would work perfectly, achieving exactly what He had ordained and prophesied, they (and Satan behind them) would have gone to great lengths to make sure nobody killed Jesus—particularly not by crucifixion.
9 As it is written, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,”
This quote is from Isaiah 64:4 which, in the NIV, reads, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him,” which seems to me to make this a very loose quote. This is not simply a language difference, since the Hebrew is talking about ‘no other God’ and, though it says He acts, it doesn’t imply any particular preparation for the saints. Many ‘quotes’ from the Old Testament in the New have a similarly loose relationship to the original, see verse 13. This is a clear example of a rhema, or living word spoken by the Holy Spirit for the moment, thus changing or adapting the verse from Isaiah.
10 but God shows us these things by his Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Just imagine, how deep are the depths of God? Woh! And the Holy Spirit brings just the right things from those depths to us as revelations, to give us understanding.
11 For who knows what’s in a man apart from the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows what lies within God apart from the Spirit of God.
This is interesting, as it doesn’t say that God knows, or the Father knows, just the Spirit; which neatly confirms that God is One.
12 So, we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, so that we may understand all that God willingly gives us,
If we also have the Spirit of God within, that makes us one as well with God.
13 of which we speak, not with words taught by human wisdom but with words taught by the Spirit—divinely inspired words to interpret spiritual thoughts.
There is a lot of variety on this verse among the other translations, but I am confident this is nearest to the actual meaning. Here we see that Paul’s loose quote from Isaiah in verse 9 was a “divinely inspired word,” or rhema word, taught him by the Spirit; as is the entire letter.
14 For the natural man cannot receive from the Spirit of God: to him it is nonsense and he is unable to see what must be discerned spiritually.
The point is that Paul needs words of power from the Holy Spirit so that what he says will have a spiritual impact on his listeners, leading them to conviction and repentance, because otherwise the thoughts of God make no sense to the natural man. This is why repreaching old sermons which had a huge impression on the listeners the first time, rarely works because the preacher needs to be preaching ‘in the Spirit’ to get through to people. This is also why we must read the Bible ‘in the Spirit.’
15 But the spiritual man truly examines all, yet is examined by no one,
16 for who has understood the mind of the Lord to assess him? And we have the mind of Christ.
Most translations get lost on this verse because they break the sentence at the end of verse 15 and then try to make verse 16 work on its own. In the process they also suggest that someone is trying to ‘teach’ or ‘instruct’ the Lord, which doesn’t fit with the flow of Paul’s argument. The word actually means ‘to compare (in the mind) or to consider,’ so it’s simply following on from the previous verse.
The spiritual man is qualified, by having the mind of Christ, to examine or judge all spiritual things, but no one who is not spiritual can possibly judge him in turn because his thought processes now operate in another reality altogether.
1 Corinthians 3
1 Brethren, I could not speak to you as spiritual, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
Paul loves these folk, but they have not learned to deny their flesh and listen to their spirits (where God communicates with us), and obey His leading and directions.
2 I gave you milk to drink and not solid food for you weren’t yet able to take it, and even now you still can’t,
Spiritual milk would be the very basics of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism in water, baptism in the Holy Spirit, laying on of hands, prayer, healing, obeying the Holy Spirit, etc. The solid food would be deeper teachings like suffering, temptations, spiritual attacks, and so on. These believers don’t want to talk about suffering or denying themselves in order to avoid sin.
3 for you are still in the flesh. For where there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and living like men?
Some of the newer translations put ‘the world’ instead of “the flesh,” and ‘worldly’ instead of “fleshly,” but there is a difference, and the Greek doesn’t actually mention the world at all. In this context their problem is their fallen nature, not Satan’s world.
As a result of their reluctance to move on and mature, they are falling into sin: being jealous of each other and falling out, rather than loving, serving and blessing one another in the joy of the Holy Spirit. As a result they are causing divisions among themselves, splitting the assembly which they are supposed to be building as they live and work in Jesus. This whole chapter is Paul’s response to that.
4 For when anyone says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” aren’t you in the flesh?
This would indicate a divisive or factious spirit among the saints, proving that they are not operating in the Spirit of God but in the flesh. If followed, the Holy Spirit will inevitably bring the assembly into unity as His leading to all will be consistent.
5 And who are Paul and Apollos, but servants through whom you believed—tasks the Lord provided for each of us.
Most translations seem to struggle with the meaning here. The last phrase refers to Apollos’ and Paul’s respective roles in soul-winning being assigned to them by God, which is confirmed by the next verse which elaborates on that.
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God brings about the growth,
7 so neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, only God who causes the growth.
Basically, “stop looking at God’s messengers, and look at Christ!” There is nothing any man can do to ‘build the assembly’ of Christ, all must be from Him—if it’s built by the soul of man, it’s not the body of Christ.
8 The one who plants and he who waters are one, yet each will receive his own reward for his own work,
All saints are ‘one’ in Christ but that doesn’t mean our rewards will be the same.
9 for we are God’s fellow labourers; you are cultivated and built up by God.
We all work with God or our labour is wasted. At the same time all our spiritual growth is thanks to God, not to any man or woman.
10 In line with the grace which God, as the wise architect, gives me, I have laid the foundation, and another is building on it. So let everyone take care how they build,
All the translations misread the Greek word order and assume that Paul is claiming to be the ‘skilled master builder’ even though the Greek says “the wise architect.” If they were correct it would reveal a pride in Paul which is not part of his character in Christ. We know that God is “the wise architect,” so we can see it has to be God. The architect specifies the foundation, not a master builder, however wise or skilled.
So we know that Paul’s role is simply to lay this foundation—to describe and define it—using the grace God has given him, so that another may build. And again, the ‘another’ who must build is Christ, not other people, as they imply.
Most translations also put ‘a foundation’ though there is only one as we read, in the next verse, that the foundation is Christ.
11 for no one can lay a foundation other than the one being laid which is Jesus Christ.
Important note: the building is not “the church,” which is a man-made deception built on many lies.
This building is firstly the assembly (ecclesia) or body of Christ, and secondly, the holy character of each believer. Both of these we build in Christ by faith, through our obedience. Jesus is the only possible foundation for each of these purposes.
12 Whether anyone builds gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or stubble on this foundation,
All the newer translations assume these various things are building materials, but they are actually the results of our ‘work of obedience’ in the body of Christ and in our own lives.
13 the work of each will be disclosed, for the day will make it obvious, since it will be revealed by fire, which will test the value of all that has been done by each one.
As co-labourers with God, each of us must build in the Spirit, through obedience, and by faith. If we do so consistently, what we build in our own lives and the lives of those God sends us to, will be “gold or precious stones.” If we resort to the flesh, what we build will not stand the spiritual fire, being “wood or stubble,” however good our intentions.
A building is also known as an ‘edifice,’ from the same root as ‘edify,’ both of which coming from the Latin word for ‘build,’ so we see that we are to build ourselves and each other up in the knowledge of Christ, the practice in holy living, and the life in Christ, as the Spirit leads, while Jesus builds His assembly. Everything we ‘build’ must be founded on Jesus Himself, having its source in God.
14 If anyone’s work in building on it endures, he will be rewarded;
15 if anyone’s work is burned up, he will lose the reward (though he himself will thus be purified by fire).
All the translations (apart from the Amplified Bible which hints at the meaning), struggle with this verse, forgetting that the fire is for testing and purifying, so where the Greek reads ‘made whole’ we can see that it means ‘purified’ or ‘restored’ through testing—otherwise, if it meant ‘escaping through the flames,’ as most translations have it, the failing believer would not be cleansed, and heaven would be faced with a crowd of smoke blackened believers looking for a way in.
What we are considering here is the responsibility of those who attempt to ‘build in the flesh’ thus introducing foreign elements into the assembly. They don’t understand that there is a divine unity and perfection to the body of Christ, so anything which does not originate with God has no place and defiles.
16 Don’t you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives within you?
The ‘you’ here is plural: the totality of believers is the temple of God, not each individually, though we do each have the Spirit. Here Paul reverts to his main argument: that their pointless divisions show a deep spiritual ignorance and that they are damaging the body of Christ by their fleshly behaviour.
17 If anyone damages the temple of God, God will destroy him; for his temple is holy, which is what you are.
Translation note: the word for “damages” or “defiles” is actually the same as the word for “destroy” in this verse, as the rabbis described a damaged or defiled sanctuary or altar as ‘destroyed.’ But, since Paul is not talking about ‘destroying’ the entire assembly of Christ, merely injuring it, and God would never ‘defile’ or ‘damage’ anyone, though He could obviously ‘destroy’ someone, I chose to follow the example of the King James version and use different words.
The point is that, as a divisive believer, one corrupts or ‘damages’ the body of Christ by forming a separate faction (as in “I follow Apollos”), thus breaking away from the body, possibly also taking others with you. In the process you would render yourself lost again and thus ‘destroyed’ when the world is judged. As believers we make up the temple of God which is holy, so separating or backsliding is cutting ourselves away—damaging that holy temple.
18 Let no one deceive himself—if anyone among you thinks himself wise in this world, he should make himself a fool so he may gain wisdom,
The worldly wisdom Paul is talking about is that which leads the “wise” to attempt to build in the flesh because they think they know best—because they don’t trust God to know better. The cure for this is to humble ourselves, accepting that our wisdom is foolishness compared to God’s understanding. This Paul describes as making ourselves fools in order to gain wisdom.
19 for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. As it is written, “he entraps the wise in their craftiness,”
This quote is from Job 5:13. Some people think that their wisdom, their intelligence or their cunning will save them, without reference to God, thus making their wisdom into a false god or idol. Clearly this is foolishness. Those who attempt to live this way are entrapped by their own cunning when it meets God’s real plan of salvation.
20 and again, “the Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are worthless.”
And this is from Psalm 94:11. These are not really wise, as the contradiction is built into the verse with ‘worthless.’ Again, they are just wise in their own eyes, treating their common sense or their intelligence as if it were an idol, expecting to be able to save themselves.
21 So, let no one boast about people, for all things are yours—
22 whether Paul, Apollos or Cephas, the world, or life or death, the present or the future—all are yours,
All these things are ours in Christ. Initially this reads like a way of saying “all things are yours,” but these are very specific. Paul, Apollos and Cephas fulfilled their various callings for the foundation of the assembly and also stand for all our brethren in Christ; the world and life being the opportunity and circumstance for finding God, bringing others to faith, and building our holiness as we fulfill our own calling; death will deliver us into His awesome presence and heaven; the present for our journey with Him; the future for our reward.
23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
1 Corinthians 4
1 So you should count us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,
This follows on from Paul’s discussion in the previous chapter. He and Apollos are just servants of Christ, like us. Being an apostle is not a position, it is a function or role, which Paul fulfills to the best of his ability in the power of Christ which works “so strongly in him.” He is determined that they shouldn’t continue to be seen as something special which is distracting the Corinthian saints from Jesus and dividing the assembly.
2 though it is also required of stewards that they may be found faithful,
Here he points out that his responsibilities demand faithful and complete performance of his duties,
3 yet it’s of little concern to me if I am appraised by you or anyone; I don’t even grade myself.
but it will make no difference to him whether anyone appraises his faithfulness or not. It is important however, for them to do so, as they need to see that he is faithful so that they can trust his teachings and build their faith on a firm foundation. In the meantime, Paul is so Christ-focused that he doesn’t bother to assess his own behaviour—he isn’t interested in even looking at himself.
4 I have nothing on my conscience, but that doesn’t justify me: the one who judges me is the Lord.
It is very important to maintain a clear conscience at all times, but, while it helps to keep us free from sin, it is no guarantee of purity, in itself. We are not going to be judged by our conscience but by the Lord, because the conscience can only respond to what it knows—what we know.
5 Therefore judge no one before the time when the Lord comes. He will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive praise from God.
Judging people in this context refers to ‘passing judgment’ in the flesh. We are still supposed to ‘know them (in the Spirit) by their fruit,’ so this is much more about pointlessly taking sides and therefore bringing division into the assembly.
All the other translations have used “nothing” for μὴ τις (me tis) or “not anything” even though it means ‘(not) a certain one, any man, another,’ and so on. I have corrected it to “no one” as this passage is not about judging ‘things’ at all.
Paul’s point is that first, we have no right to be judging each other as we are all equal servants of the Lord, and second, we are not qualified to do so, as we can never know all the salient points of another’s relationship with God, so we must not pass judgment.
This revealing which Jesus will do “on that day” will be a tough experience for many, but for those whose heart motives are good it will be a wonderful day.
6 Brethren, these things I have demonstrated for you using Apollos and myself, so that in us you may learn that one cannot think of anyone more highly than what has been written, so no one may boast of one against another.
They cannot go beyond what has been written, ie, scripture in general, which points out that Jesus alone is Lord of all, and before Him all people are equal with no claim to special glory—not even apostles, archbishops or popes. Therefore to promote one man above another in the body of Christ is to oppose scripture.
7 For who are you to discriminate? And what [right] do you have which you didn’t claim for yourself? But if you took it for yourself, why do you boast as though you didn’t?
Paul is challenging them for claiming the right to promote one apostle over another and for then rejoicing that their self-proclaimed division was somehow superior to any other (and was therefore God’s idea, ie, boasting as though they didn’t!). Not that they would have seen their behaviour in those terms, of course, but any creation of divisions in the body of Christ (not only by promoting men but also like any of the denominations) is in direct defiance of the whole thrust of scripture.
None of the other translations have this meaning for this verse, but it does fit rather better, without compromising the Greek at all.
8 Already you are satisfied, already you are rich! You have claimed your kingship without us! I wish that you really were reigning, so that we would be reigning together with you.
The Corinthians thought they had arrived and had started to strut and boast, not growing in grace with the apostles, who were well aware they all had plenty of growing still to do before they reached perfection.
9 For it seems to me that God has disposed us apostles in the last place, as those doomed to die, for we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to all mankind.
The apostles particularly were to suffer for the name of Jesus, but all saints are called to suffer—it’s the way we grow in grace—so Paul’s position is “stop kidding yourselves—get with the program!” True discipleship is about taking the last position voluntarily, and graciously (even gratefully) accepting the persecution which God allows.
10 We are fools on account of Christ, yet you are so wise in Christ; we are weak, yet you are strong; you are esteemed, yet we are despised.
Translation note: “fools” here does not simply mean stupid but also implies morally worthless in heart and character, rejecting God’s demands. Paul means that they are being written off by both the religious establishment and by the Corinthians, but for different reasons of course: the Pharisees were appalled that they (all those who followed the Way) weren’t obeying Torah; the Corinthians thought they (particularly the apostles) were fools for not using the power of the Holy Spirit to reign victoriously. But clearly the power we have in Christ is to serve God through serving others, not to rule over them.
At the same time “wise” here is more than prudent or intelligent: there is also a hint of conceitedness built in to the word, so we can see that Paul is being sarcastic about their view of themselves. In particular, the Corinthians are held in high esteem by whom but themselves?
11 Up to now we are hungry, thirsty and ragged; we are beaten and homeless;
12 we toil with our hands; when insulted we bless, when persecuted we endure it;
13 when slandered we implore; we have become the refuse of the world, the dregs of all things, right up till now.
Paul catalogues the struggles he and the other apostles face because he wants the Corinthians to see that their triumphalist lifestyles are completely inappropriate.
When he says ‘implore,’ he means that the response of the apostles to their defamation is to attempt to convince, and therefore convert, their accusers. He is also steadfastly refusing to take command over them.
Translation note: Not only do the Greek words for ‘refuse’ and ‘dregs’ mean rubbish or sweepings, they also referred to those ‘despicable men’ kept imprisoned for their crimes who would be sacrificed to Poseidon by being thrown into the sea, in order to ward off calamity, particularly earthquakes, on behalf of the community. So there is an appropriately sacrificial element here which is hard to reference in English.
14 I write these things not to shame you, but, as my dear children I’m exhorting you,
Paul is “exhorting” them to imitate his example, not “warning them” as most translations put it. And again, not commanding them.
15 for though you have countless tutors in Christ, you don’t have many fathers: for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
Most of the older translations put “ten thousand” tutors, but the word primarily means “innumerable” or “countless” which is the meaning here.
‘Tutors’ were servants placed in charge of boys to train them in the responsibilities of manhood until they were old enough to take on those responsibilities, but the ‘tutors’ in this verse are actually passages scattered through the Torah, leading the Jews to faith. Paul is saying “even if you study the Torah, finding countless ‘tutors’ (arousing consciousness of sin)…I am your only father in Christ.” Even so, he would insist that no one calls him ‘father’ as Jesus said “call no man father,” since only God is our Father now.
16 so I implore you to become my imitators.
Paul’s claim to being their father is simply that they are to imitate his behaviour, faith and lifestyle—just like children learn to imitate their natural fathers and thereby become just like them.
17 For this reason I’m sending Timothy to you: my beloved and faithful son in the Lord; who will remind you of my conduct in Christ, in line with what I teach everywhere in every assembly.
Timothy is not Paul’s relative, far less his son, as we already know about his mother and grandmother without any reference to Paul’s relationship to either. He calls him ‘son’ in the same sense as he claims fatherhood over the Corinthians in verse 15.
Paul’s conduct among all the assemblies matches his teaching, thereby proving that a genuinely holy life is entirely achievable with the help of the Holy Spirit. As a son, Timothy has imitated Paul as his behaviour has matched Jesus, so he too lives a truly holy life having chosen to live without deliberate sin.
18 While I have not been coming to you, some have become arrogant,
He wants to confront the tendency of some to slip into the arrogance of divisions which he’s sure they couldn’t have done had he stayed with them.
19 but soon I will come to you if the Lord wills, and I won’t want to know the words of these boasters but their power,
20 for the kingdom of God is not of words but of power.
In other words, if all they can offer is words and boasting but no power, then they are not labouring for the kingdom of God. How many ‘churches’ today are run on many words and no power?
21 Do you want me to come to you with a rod, or in a spirit of love and meekness?
This is the only possible “warning” in this chapter—too far from the exhortation in verse 14 to permit that wording there. This is still Paul urging those responsible to repent and get their lives right, so he can visit in love and they can all be mutually encouraged.
1 Corinthians 5
1 It is actually reported that among you there is forbidden sexual behaviour, and such immorality that the Gentiles don’t even have a word for it—that someone has his father’s wife—
Reuben was the first to commit this wickedness, and later, Absalom did the same to his father David. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy this specific relationship is forbidden, but it was among the sins of Jerusalem listed by Ezekiel. I suspect it was one of the practices specifically demanded of those Jews engaged in idolatry, in order to offend God.
2 and you are proud! Should you not rather have grieved? The one doing this could have been taken from you,
Their totally misplaced pride was from a serious misunderstanding of the freedom we share—it’s a freedom from sin, not a freedom to sin. Paul is pointing out that flagrant sin at this level could easily have been judged by God and the guilty parties taken, like Ananias and Sapphira were. The whole assembly should have corporately mourned and repented on their behalf, and laboured to bring them back to faith.
3 for truly, though absent in body, I am with you in spirit, and I have already judged the one who has done this as though I were present.
Paul’s view of his spirit is interesting—he is somehow part of their meeting by his spirit, even though he is many miles away in his body. He also has confirmation in his spirit (by a word of knowledge?) that the man concerned is truly guilty, not simply misreported or misunderstood.
4 When you are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And in this state he is sufficiently involved that he can direct their actions—but only once his spirit is present, not simply through their obedience to this letter.
5 deliver him to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus.
Woh! They were to officially hand him over to Satan! Satan might take great delight in destroying a man, but why would he comply with Paul’s instructions and merely destroy the part of him which endangered his ultimate salvation? Was it just about providing some serious suffering? And what about his father’s wife—was this relationship not consensual?
6 Your boasting is not good. Haven’t you noticed it takes very little yeast to leaven all the dough?
Because yeast is living, it grows and spreads far further than it might be expected to, and in this metaphor, where yeast is an image of sin, we can see that very little sin in an assembly or in a believer’s heart, will corrupt far more than we expect.
7 So, thoroughly cleanse out the old leaven that you may be new dough, since you are unleavened for the Passover—it was for our sake Christ was sacrificed.
We must maintain a zero tolerance position on sin, both in our own lives and in our assemblies. Any trace must be eradicated without compromise.
All the other translations sneak in the word “lamb,” either literally, or by implication, so that they can state that Christ is our Passover. This is because the Greek mentions Passover and Christ in the same line and they know that Jesus was our Passover lamb. Forcing the meaning that far, however, is unsupported.
The point Paul is making here is that while we are initially cleansed (unleavened) by the new birth, we must maintain that position of holy sinlessness at all times by our free will, so that our hearts will always be able to benefit from Christ’s Passover sacrifice, and we will be able to live to God. We choose to live a life of sinlessness, with the help of the indwelling Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit; resorting to repentance only when we fall into sin contrary to our intention.
Otherwise, if we allow even a tiny sin into our lives, Christ’s Passover sacrifice will not benefit us any more and we will die to Him. This is what the Passover feast is all about: in those households which weren’t covered by the blood of the Lamb, the eldest son—the heir to the estate—simply died when the angel passed over.
Though the passing of the angel happened just once for the ancient Hebrews, it is a permanent state for disciples of Christ, which means that the moment we duck out from the covering of the blood by sinning, we die that moment to God and have to restore our relationship by repentance. If we choose not to, we are walking away from Jesus, rejecting His work on the cross for us and throwing away our salvation.
8 Consequently, we keep the feast not with the old leaven—the yeast of wickedness and depravity, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Again, we are not literally speaking of bread here nor of feasts, but of keeping our hearts holy, sincere and sin-free at all times, because otherwise, living for God becomes impossible.
9 I have written in a letter to you, not to consort with the promiscuous.
Promiscuity refers to any illicit sexual behaviour. This is Paul’s priority here as he is tackling that particular problem at Corinth.
10 I didn’t mean the promiscuous of the world, or the greedy, the extortionists or idolaters—or you would have to leave the world.
Now he clarifies that sinners in the world are not to be avoided, else we would have to die, and then how could we witness to anyone? This is the core of the error of monasticism—the attempt to leave the world in order to avoid its sin and its sinners. Because they relied on the isolation of the flesh rather than the grace of the Holy Spirit by faith, the monks always discovered that they had taken the sinner into the cloister with all his faults.
11 So now I’m writing to you not to mix with any so-called brother who is promiscuous or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunk or extortionist: don’t even eat with such a man.
Anyone who confesses the name of Jesus absolutely must be done with sin in all its forms. Otherwise they will bring corruption into the assembly, which will spread and others will die to God, losing their salvation. This does not mean utterly perfect lives as we can all slip occasionally, it means we choose to live sin-free, holy lives, and are quick to repent the moment we realise we have sinned. So Paul tells us to have nothing to do with a man who continues to choose sin in any part of his life. We cannot keep him as a friend because his choice of sin is liable to corrupt us too.
12 My concern is not to judge those outside, but you are to judge those within;
Those outside are the lost, so they will still be in sin. They have to be God’s responsibility to judge as we have no jurisdiction. We may still point out their sin to them as we share the gospel, but only by quoting the word of God, not in personal judgmentalism. Within the assembly however, God has given us, as a corporate body, the responsibility and the authority to maintain a holy fellowship.
13 God will judge those outside, so remove the wicked from your assembly.
When we remove the wicked from our fellowship they become ‘those outside’ where, ultimately, God will judge them. This is also where Satan can get at them and destroy their carnal self-life.
1 Corinthians 6
1 Does any one of you, having a case against another, dare to be judged by the unjust and not by the saints?
While considering judging those within or outside the assembly, Paul brings up the subject of brethren who are actually taking each other to the civil court.
Translation notes: The word for ‘unjust’ also means ‘unrighteous’ or ‘sinful,’ so he is talking about a court run by unbelievers, but it also implies that their judgment will not be in accordance with true justice; and that the main characteristic of unbelievers is their unrighteousness—their lack of justice. The word for ‘saints’ means ‘most holy ones,’ not only implying that their judgment will be in line with deep holiness, but also pointing out that a prime characteristic of a saint is true justice.
Whether the man taking the other to court in this way is hoping for a ruling in his favour rather than a just ruling (see note on verse 8), or if he simply doesn’t trust his brethren to be fair, we don’t know. Either way, his thinking needs to be challenged.
As believers, all we should seek in any dispute between us and anyone else, believer or not, is peace and God’s ruling, however painful that might be to our flesh. A demand for ‘justice’ from a secular court (or in any kind of meeting) is an attempt to hide from God’s dealings in our lives, and a fleshly attempt to defend or justify ourselves, even though defending and justifying us is God’s role.
2 Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? If you are to judge the world, are you unworthy to judge matters of such insignificance?
Paul’s argument here is that we really should be able to sort out our differences the way saints are supposed to do everything: by hearing from the Holy Spirit and doing as we are led—which will normally be self-sacrificially. The reason he describes these matters as insignificant, is because they pertain to the world and the flesh and are therefore insignificant to a believer: all that actually matters to us personally—our provision, defence, security, hope and future are all in Christ, not in anything a worldly court could rule on.
3 Don’t you know we will judge angels, and not at all the things of this life?
All the other translations seem to think that because judging angels is such an exalted task, then we will have no difficulty judging worldly matters. While this is true, it’s not what Paul is saying: we are called to the kingdom of God, where our concerns are not even on the same plane as those of unbelievers—all we are interested in is the will of God, whether it applies to angels or men. We are already not part of ‘this life’ in any real sense, so it’s not ‘…how much more the things of this life,’ it’s “…and not at all the things of this life.”
4 Indeed, if you have everyday disputes to be judged, you appoint those despised by the assembly.
These ‘despised by the assembly’ are the secular judges whose authority in the assembly is zero.
5 I say this to embarrass you. Is there nobody wise among you, not even one, competent to reconcile his brethren?
As believers we each have the wisdom of Christ, so a small matter of worldly property or rights shouldn’t be a problem for anyone in the assembly. Paul is not recommending setting up some kind of arbitration service within the assembly, he’s expressing his amazement that it’s even come up as a problem. His position is, “what are you thinking?”—see verse seven.
6 No—brother goes to law with brother, and this before unbelievers!
The outcome of these disputes, managed so badly, is not the justice they claim to seek, but a breakdown in relationships within the assembly and a completely compromised witness, ie, utter failure.
7 Truly, you have already suffered loss since you have litigation among you. Why not prefer to be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
They are trying to avoid material loss by litigation, but the loss they have actually experienced is the serious spiritual loss sustained by the entire assembly because they take each other to secular courts, displaying their worldly ways. It signifies utter defeat in their efforts to live as disciples of Christ. Paul is amazed that they have so misunderstood the nature of a disciple that they would even consider going to law.
If we are wronged, we need to see that God has allowed it, so we can take it as an opportunity for the indwelling Christ to respond in the Spirit with grace, blessing and forgiveness. This He will do as we turn to Him in faith, committing the brother and the situation to Him, refusing to do anything which might harm our brother.
8 No, you yourselves wrong and cheat others, even your brethren!
Here’s the bottom line: they insist on litigation because they plan to win, at any cost, to their brother’s loss. Their motive is not to reach a just verdict, but to cheat their brother. This should never be even considered by a disciple of Christ—everything we do is to be an expression of love or we dishonour God.
9 Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived: neither the promiscuous, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunks, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul changes the subject here, to return to their sexual misconduct. Basically, in whatever way you behave unrighteously, you disinherit yourself. This is not intended to be some kind of exhaustive list, just a scattering of the types of people who cannot be heir to the kingdom of God.
11 And that’s what some of you were, but you’ve been cleansed, sanctified and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
It was clear to them that such behaviour is not appropriate for believers, so they repented and came to faith. But here they were returning to their old sins.
12 Everything is allowed but not everything is helpful; everything is allowed but I will not be mastered by anything:
The Corinthians had been told, (by Paul) in respect of eating food sacrificed to idols, that “everything is lawful” but they had extended the application of this liberty to include the illicit sexual practices which are also related to idolatry.
Clearly this is not acceptable as sexual sin cannot be equated to eating or abstaining from food offered to idols, so Paul points out that some things are not helpful. He then repeats the phrase, so that he can, through a wordplay, make a further point about freedom. The wordplay is something like, “everything is lawful, but I won’t let anything become a law to me,” in other words, if we are enslaved by anything—any habit we can’t, or won’t break—then we have given up the freedom so dearly bought by Christ.
13 foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will bring them both to nothing.
Here he confirms his instruction regarding their possible liberties in food, pointing out that it’s really unimportant because, in the Day of the Lord, both foods and stomachs will be no more.
The body is not for promiscuity but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body;
Misusing the body however, in this way, is not appropriate since Jesus died to purchase us complete: body, soul and spirit, we belong to Him—so our bodies should be consecrated to Him to live a pure and holy life.
When it says “the Lord for the body” it is talking about how God feeds, shelters and clothes the body; how He is preparing an eternal dwelling for it; and He gives strength, healing and life to it daily, here on earth, by means of the Holy Spirit, so that we are fully equipped to serve Him.
14 and God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.
Finally we read that we will be raised up into resurrection bodies because we are in Christ who has risen. How magnificent is the Lord God who has prepared all this for us!
15 Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I then take away the members of Christ, by making them members of a prostitute? Of course not!
This is clear enough, but note the word ‘away’ because it tells us that if I unite my body with a prostitute, I am, at least temporarily, no longer a member of Christ, because I have cancelled my own membership. Many translations simply drop the word and thereby miss the implication.
16 Have you not seen that the one who is joined to the prostitute is one body, for it says, “the two will become one flesh”?
Sexual contact forms a permanent flesh-bond between those involved, simply because God declared that it would be so. This was so that marriage would be everything that God intended at creation, honouring Him and His word. This bond may be undone through repentance and renunciation when we come to faith, but it is very much better never to have made the join in the first place—and particularly if we are already part of the body of believers. The point is that we would be forming that bond, in sin, on behalf of all our brethren in Christ, against their will and that of Jesus.
17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
When we come to faith through repentance the Lord joins our spirit to His. This is supposed to be a permanent arrangement (ie, eternal) but since we can break that join with our sin, we need to trust Him to keep us. Being one spirit with the Lord, and therefore with all true brethren in Christ, is a magnificent privilege and honour—one we would be wise to cherish and guard.
18 Run from illicit sexual activity! Every sin a person commits is expressed by the body, but the promiscuous draws sin into his own body.
All the translations struggle with this. The problems (in the Greek) are: 1 The first part talks about ‘every sin,’ while the second part singles out sexual sin as different to ‘every sin.’ There is no ‘other’ in any form, but many feel they have to insert it to make sense of this line. 2 Every sin (in the Greek) is ‘out of the body,’ while sexual sin is ‘into his body,’ but they put ‘outside the body,’ which is clearly not true of ‘every sin’ and, not grasping the ‘into,’ put ‘against’ which really doesn’t mean the same thing. However, ‘out of the body,’ means ‘expressed by the body,’ which easily includes sexual sin, covering ‘every sin,’ and ‘into his body’ means brings, or ‘draws sin into his own body.’
Not only is the sinner directly hurting himself by bringing corruption into his own body—and thereby also risking demonic attention—he is drawing corruption into the body of Christ, which he shares with all the believers, bringing weakness and compromise.
19 Don’t you realise that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you received from God, and you are not your own?
Translation note: the ‘your’ here is plural, so Paul is not talking about individual believers at all, he is saying that the bodies of all believers form the temple of the Holy Spirit because He indwells each of us. He also clarifies our new ownership now we are disciples of Christ.
20 You are bought in honour, so now honour God in your body.
All the translations translate tē-mā’ as ‘a price’ where its far more common meaning is ‘honour.’ Clearly ‘a price’ tells us that a value is put on us, but it doesn’t indicate high or low. ‘Honour,’ however, in itself implies ‘high honour.’ It also ties far better to the ‘so honour God’ in the second phrase.
‘In your body’ includes the plural form of ‘you’ and the singular of ‘body,’ so Paul is saying, ‘Being purchased by Christ is the ultimate act of His highest honour, so (everyone) honour God in the body (the assembly) by individually fleeing from sexual sin.’
1 Corinthians 7
1 Now, concerning the matters of which you wrote, it’s good for a man to have no contact with a woman,
This is because sexual intimacy is only permitted within marriage, otherwise it is sinful. He seems to be answering a query regarding those who were attracted to particular people and thus in relationship with them—those who were ‘going out’ or betrothed.
2 but to avoid sexual sin, let each man have a wife of his own and each woman her own husband.
Paul says, “if you can do so, refrain from touching her at all; otherwise, get married and so avoid sin.” Sin in all its forms we need to avoid.
3 Let the husband fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise, the wife to her husband,
4 as the wife doesn’t have jurisdiction over her own body, the husband does; and just the same, the husband doesn’t have jurisdiction over his body, the wife does.
This tells us that each partner has a legitimate claim on the other for sexual intimacy. It doesn’t really mean that a wife is not in charge of her own body, just that she doesn’t have the authority to deny her husband for no legitimate reason. Withholding intimacy becomes a weapon which will quickly destroy a marriage. It doesn’t however, indicate that such a claim may be enforced against anybody’s will—that would be abuse or even rape. Partners must approach each other in a gracious spirit of affection, serving each other’s needs, always remembering that God is the third partner in every Christian marriage.
5 Don’t deprive one another except perhaps by mutual consent for a time that you may be free to fast and pray; coming together again so that Satan won’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Here’s the power—deciding together to fast for a brief spell from intimacy as well as food so that your prayers may be empowered, and then joyfully returning to each other. The core point being to avoid falling into sin or letting each other do so.
6 I say this as a concession, not a command,
Paul’s concession is regarding returning to intimacy with each other. He is aware of the power of human sex drives and how the enemy can manipulate people into living by the flesh by awakening their natural appetites.
7 for I would like all people to be as I am, but each has his own gifting from God—one has this gift, another has that.
8 So I’m saying to the single and the widows that it would be excellent for them to remain like me,
His gifting seems to be in the area of no great sex drive and so he’s content to remain single in order to serve God without distraction. Obviously his knowledge of the power of his celibacy in God’s service leads him to recommend the condition to these groups if they can live this way.
9 but if they cannot contain themselves let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with desire.
If they can’t “contain themselves” Paul tells them to marry each other because their yearnings for each other will incapacitate them spiritually if they are struggling to stay pure.
10 To those who are married I do command (not I but the Lord) that the wife must not leave her husband,
Interesting to note that Paul differentiates his words from the Lord’s as he is unaware that his readers will count his letters as the living words of God.
11 but if she does leave she must remain unmarried or return to her husband—and her husband must not leave her.
God is no fan of divorce, witness His heartbreak over having to send the tribes of Israel away because of their idolatry (infidelity).
12 To everyone else I, not the Lord, am saying, if any brother has an unbelieving wife who is happy to make her home with him, he must not leave her;
13 and if any woman has an unbelieving husband who is happy to make his home with her, she must not leave him.
Here he appears to suggest that this instruction is less binding, as it’s “not the Lord” speaking, but because it has come to be included in the Word of God we cannot actually take it to be so.
14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified in his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified in her husband—otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
To know that one partner’s faith is enough to ensure that God sees your children as holy is very reassuring for those whose partners are not believers. It was just this concern from parents which led the Roman Catholic church to instigate infant baptism for entirely false superstitious reasons.
It also shows that God is perfectly well aware that there will be unbalanced marriages, despite His warnings not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
15 But if the unbeliever chooses to leave, let him go—the brother or sister is not reduced to bondage in such cases, for God has called us to peace.
In other words, even if you have been wronged, don’t put up a fight to keep an unwilling partner, rather honour their free will just as God has honoured yours. God knows your pain but we are called to live in peace and to promote peace in all our relationships—particularly our closest ones.
16 For can you know, wife, if you will save your husband? Or husband, if you will save your wife?
We cannot know whether our attempts to manipulate by clinging (which are sinful as the Bible calls the attempt to manipulate others ‘witchcraft’), or our refusal to control through self-denial (the proper way), is more likely to help our partner to come to saving faith; so all we can do is place the whole matter into God’s gracious and capable hands, trusting Him to effect the transformation we long for. Don’t panic—the kids are already accounted for.
17 In principle however, let everyone continue to live the life assigned to him by God; just as the Lord has called him—this is my rule in all the assemblies.
Interestingly, Paul appears to be telling us that a believer being in an unequally yoked partnership could be “the life assigned to him by God; just as the Lord has called him,” because a person could be married already when he or she comes to faith, but their partner may never become a believer, and so even here we are not to separate for reasons of faith, but to allow the unbelieving partner to make that decision and not to despair or feel condemned if separation is the result.
Continuing to live the life one was living when he came to faith is a general rule, as the next few verses make clear, but this will obviously contain exceptions—the life God didn’t assign him to—such as someone professionally involved in any sinful activity, like prostitution, politics, assassination, extortion, and so on.
18 When a circumcised man is called he shouldn’t get uncircumcised. When an uncircumcised man is called he shouldn’t get circumcised.
Paul wants to make the point about not getting circumcised as he doesn’t want anyone getting dragged into trying to keep the law once they’ve avoided it by coming to faith, so he sets the stage with the, obviously impossible, reverse position of the circumcised Jew who comes to faith and, understanding about how faith supersedes the law, wonders if he should have his foreskin returned. If one situation is ridiculous, so is the other.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, what counts is following the precepts of God.
Despite Paul’s horror of legalism, he is mature enough in the Lord to see that uncircumcision, or the rejection of religious forms, is equally worthless in directing our lives, so he consigns both to the scrapheap of fleshly methods. The important thing we need to aim for is a happy and loving agreement in our spirits with the revealed will of God. For this to build our holy character we need to be a new creation, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Worrying about practicing religious rites or rejecting them is simply a distraction, fooling us into believing we are closer to God than we are.
20 Everyone should remain in the situation he was in when he was called.
Paul’s examples in this section are: married or not, circumcised or not, in servitude or not, virgin or not. He doesn’t actually bring up any other life condition because these are the primary ones, where even here continuance or cessation are unimportant.
21 If you were a slave when called, don’t let it bother you, but if you are able to become free then do so.
Being in slavery to anyone or anything other than Christ is going to undermine your single-minded obedience to the Lord.
22 For the one who was a slave when called is the emancipated of the Lord; just the same, the one who is free when called is the slave of Christ.
Paul stresses that the differences between these alternatives are irrelevant because the important thing is to live one’s life before God in purity; whether you do so as a slave or not, or as a virgin or not are truly of no consequence. We are generally driven to change our circumstances in order to get on, to improve our situation by the flesh, but here we are led to trust God with our circumstances when they need to change—in other words we are to live by faith since He owns us, not as the unbelievers live.
23 You were redeemed with inestimable value, so don’t become slaves of men.
Our redemption was effected with the divine life of Christ—a life of “inestimable value” so we were supremely honoured by that act. As a result, selling ourselves into slavery to a man is the equivalent of trashing Christ’s purchase.
24 Brethren, everyone should remain as he was called, drawing close to God.
25 Now, about virgins I have no command from the Lord, but I will give my opinion, as one who by the Lord’s mercy may be relied on.
It would seem Paul had received some kind of enquiry regarding the options open to the celibate and/or the young women. He is still clarifying that living a life free of sin is the target, so marital states are unimportant in themselves.
26 I think it best, because of the present need, to retain your current condition.
Exactly what this “present need” was is not clear, but it’s not going to derail Paul’s determination that all should remain in the situation their calling found them. Whatever our condition, we cannot improve it by changing our circumstances since even utter destitution with intimate fellowship with Christ is riches indeed. If we attempt to change our condition, what we are yearning for are actually the illusions of the world—the illusion that we can be in control of our own lives and circumstances without looking to God.
27 If you’re pledged to a wife don’t seek to be released; if you’re not don’t seek a wife.
28 Though if you should marry you’ve not sinned, and if the betrothed marries she has not sinned, but may well have troubles in this life which I would spare you.
29 But this I say brethren: the time is short so from now on those who have wives should live as though they don’t;
This is not Paul releasing married men to philander, he’s saying “don’t be absorbed in these worldly concerns at the expense of God’s program.”
30 those who weep as though they didn’t; those who rejoice as though they didn’t; those who purchase something as though it were not theirs to use;
31 and they who deal with the world, without using it, for the essence of the world is to deceive.
All the other translations tell us that the fashion, or way of the world, is passing away. Presumably they are hoping that this is the effect of having the gospel out there, but the Greek word means “mislead” or “lead away,” and a realistic assessment of history shows that if anything, the essence of the world, as antagonistic to the things of God, is getting stronger, not passing away. What it does do, however, is lead us away from the truth of God, deceiving us to our destruction.
Dealing with the world is as dangerous as using our flesh, so God has directed us to have as little to do with it as possible, and always remain terribly aware that it will burn us if we get too close. It’s all about humbly placing every aspect of our lives utterly into God’s hands in prayer to provide and direct, not using worldly methods to try to control anything for ourselves, but trusting Him to have our best interests at heart always.
32 I would like you untroubled by concerns—he that is unmarried is committed to the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord,
33 but he that is married is concerned about his worldly responsibilities—how he may please his wife.
34 This difference also separates a married woman from a virgin—the unmarried woman is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is distracted by the things of the world—how she can please her husband.
Other translations are divided on whether this verse stresses that the married man is divided between his wife and the Lord, or that the difference between the married and unmarried woman matches the difference between the married and unmarried man. I have gone for the latter since the Greek merízō (divided) is clearly attached to the two states of the woman, not to the concerns facing the man in the previous verse.
I think the concerns facing the married woman are very similar to the perfectly legitimate concerns that found Martha distracted by her domestic duties. This is what Paul is urging the single people in Corinth to avoid if they can, by not marrying.
35 Again, I’m saying this for your benefit, not to compel your obedience but so that you may honourably and diligently serve the Lord without distraction.
All the other translations include here some reference to “laying a trap,” “casting a noose,” or “ensnaring,” but Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains that bróchos (noose) also means “to constrain to obey some command,” so the difficulty of seeing his recommendation as a possible trap, when it clearly couldn’t be, is not a problem—he’s simply saying, “Don’t worry, this is not another rule for you to slavishly follow, just helpful advice for those who want to take their discipleship seriously.”
36 But if anyone is being unfair to his betrothed, who feels she is getting too old and so it ought to happen, if he is willing, let him do as she wants, he is not sinning, let them marry!
The other translations get very scrambled on this passage. Most conclude that it is advice to fathers on giving their daughters away in marriage, leading to some very peculiar authoritarian attitudes towards their girls—especially those who are getting past it! The translations which tackle the subject as pertaining to a man’s feelings towards his fiancée, universally take it to mean he is inappropriately lusting for her—so getting married is obviously the only answer!
But what Paul is actually addressing here is the situation between a man and his fiancée—she is keen to start a family but feels her youth slipping away; if he is willing, then he should stop unfairly delaying her and get married, and it won’t be a sin. Paul is still stressing that he is not trying to lay another rule on them.
37 Yet he who stands settled in his heart, feeling no pressure but having control over his own will, and has decided in his heart to retain his chastity, does best.
Most translations here hang on to their assumption that Paul is talking about the couple in verse thirty-six or the father with his aging daughter—none have realised that he is talking about the choice of celibacy. This is addressing the man who (like Paul himself) is single, master of his own life choices, and has chosen the celibate lifestyle.
38 So then, he that marries is doing well, but the one who doesn’t is doing better.
Those translations which were advising fathers with regard to giving away their daughters in marriage, insist that (cruelly) not allowing the girl to marry is the better option! Those talking about a man and his fiancée suggest that it’s better to leave her longing for a marriage she will never see. But we know that cruelty is never an option for a disciple of Christ and so is no option for an assembly either.
39 A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry another—if he belongs to the Lord,
Another example of someone who is single. The binding by the law is stopping a married woman divorcing or marrying a second husband while the first still lives.
40 but she is more blessed if she remain as she is, in my opinion, and in that I’m sure I have the Spirit of God.
Paul wants to let her know that while remarrying is entirely legal, and therefore not sinful, once she is widowed she will find her discipleship easier and more fruitful, and so she will be more blessed, if she accepts her new situation as from God and gets on with her life as a single widow.
When he says, “I’m sure I have the Spirit of God,” he means that his spirit has a settled peace from God in regard to the points he’s just been making.
1 Corinthians 8
1 In the matter of food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge leads to pride, but love promotes spiritual growth,
Knowledge in the flesh “leads to pride,” which is offset against love because the best antidote to pride is love. Love promotes spiritual growth both among the saints as they love one another, and within each individual disciple as he practices love. Like all spiritual knowledge, idols and idol sacrifice need to be known by revelation through our position in Christ, not by memorising facts.
2 and if anyone considers himself knowledgeable about anything, he has not known anything yet in the way it must be known,
Considering oneself knowledgeable is an expression of the pride of the flesh. The idea is that knowledge in the flesh, in this case regarding food sacrificed to idols, is not the way forward as it leads to setting traps for each other in our pride; though not necessarily deliberately. However, if our knowing is by revelation from the Holy Spirit, we find that it is humbling, in itself, and leads us to love. We are to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5).
3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.
If we come to understand things by hearing from the Spirit, in love, loving God in our obedience, we actually learn about the reality of those things and, at the same time, we will discover that God will fellowship with us, deeply and intimately, leading to our spiritual growth through humility.
4 So, concerning the eating of idol sacrifices, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there are no gods apart from one;
In Christ we properly learn that there are no other gods, so idols are nothing and deserve no attention. Responding in any way to them, positively or negatively, is an expression of the flesh, and is just a waste of time that would be far better spent on the one true God.
5 for even if some are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, even as there are many gods and many lords,
6 nevertheless, for us there is just one God, the Father, out of whom come all things, and we are in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom is everything and we through him.
If we are in God (in Christ) then we need have no concerns at all regarding idols because we are not of the world but in God’s reality, where idols are nothing.
7 But not everyone knows this; some, whose conscience is still influenced by idols, eat the sacrifice as something offered to the idol, and, because of the weakness of their conscience, it is defiled.
Paul is not saying the meal is defiled, nor the idol, since both are nothing, but the conscience of the doubting saint.
8 But food cannot get us closer to God; we are no better if we eat, neither are we worse if we don’t.
Faith, love and obedience get us closer to God—food is entirely beside the point, whether we eat something particular, or avoid special foods. We must approach both our food and our freedoms in love, by faith.
9 So take care that your freedom doesn’t in some way become a stumbling block for the weak,
10 for if a weak brother sees you who have this knowledge eating in a shrine, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat things [he sees as] offered to idols?
Which would be sin for him. It’s not that eating is good or bad, but if we do something contrary to our faith, whatever our thoughts, we fall into sin as we have not acted in faith, but by comparison and reasoning. Action that is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23 MCV).
11 Then should the weak brother, for whom Christ died, be lost through your knowledge?
Note that this weaker brother has been snared into sinning—and Paul says that he might actually be lost through doing so! Throughout his letters he consistently maintains the deepest horror of sin in all its forms. This also confirms that “once saved, always saved” is simply a fiction.
12 In sinning in this manner against the brethren, injuring their weak consciences, you are sinning against Christ,
Since Christ died to save each one of us, to then stumble a brother is to undo Jesus’ sacrifice for him—truly a serious sin against the Lord.
13 so, if my food snares my brother, I will eat meat no more, in order to spare him.
Paul again utterly determined to avoid sin at all costs. This particular concern doesn’t really apply to us in the west today as we would never be in a pagan shrine looking for something to eat in the first place (though we might be offered a dish containing halal meat by a friendly neighbour).
The point of the above applies to any situation where we allow our understanding of spiritual principles to release us to do something which a less knowledgeable brother would be uneasy doing, but might feel it’s acceptable once they see us do so. We must prayerfully consider how our behaviour might be observed and refuse to do anything which might undermine a weaker brother or sister—because we must avoid sin at all costs, particularly involving leading another into sin. For this we need to be alert to the ‘check in our own spirit’ where the Holy Spirit lets us know that the situation is tricky.
1 Corinthians 9
1 Aren’t I an apostle? Aren’t I free? Don’t I know Jesus Christ our Lord? And aren’t you my workmanship in the Lord?
Paul suddenly breaks off to defend his position. He feels his judges should realise he has rights, as an apostle, to be provided for and supported—so he can point out that these are rights which he has voluntarily surrendered for the sake of the Corinthians and the gospel.
2 Even if I’m not an apostle to others, surely I am to you, as you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 This is my answer to those examining me.
He doesn’t explain who is examining him—and apparently finding him wanting. The idea that he might not be an apostle to others is entirely their idea as we know he was, as we have the letters. The Corinthians themselves, as a vibrant assembly, are the proof of Paul’s commission from the Lord, and thus his answer to these self-appointed judges.
4 Don’t we have a claim for food and drink?
Here he goes on to outline the regular rights of those in his position to strengthen his case that he and Barnabas have chosen not to claim any of them.
5 And don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
He’s just covered the whole ‘wife’ subject, pointing out that his personal gifting includes not having a wife, even though the rest of the apostles take theirs along, so he’s making his case, not pretending to be concerned by the lack.
6 Or are only Barnabas and I excluded from taking a break from working?
7 Who goes to war and provides his own rations? Who plants a vineyard and eats none of its fruit? Or who tends sheep and consumes none of their milk?
Being fed from one’s normal employment rather than having to feed oneself is a reasonable thought.
8 Do I say these things merely from a human perspective, or does the law not say the same?
9 For in the law of Moses it says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it treads the corn.” Is God really concerned about oxen?
God has already covered this point in Deuteronomy 25:4.
10 Surely he says it for us? Yes, it is written for our sakes, so that he who ploughs and he who treads the corn can both look forward to a share in the harvest.
Ploughing here, and treading the corn, are pictures of different aspects of labouring in the kingdom of God, so the harvest would cover material provision for the workers.
11 If we have sown spiritual seed to you, is it too much to reap a material harvest from you?
So basically, you owe us.
12 If others have this right over you, do we not have it even more? Nevertheless, we have not claimed this right but endure anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
Here is Paul’s real point: he and Barnabas refuse to claim this right but would rather suffer hardship and loss so that the gospel could spread without hindrance.
13 Are you unaware that those who serve in the sanctuary of God eat from the offerings, and those who serve at the altar get their portions from that?
14 In the same way, the Lord ordains that those who announce the gospel will live of the gospel.
The word for “live” here implies much more than simple life, it is referring to the resurrection life we are called to live by faith in Christ: a new life, dedicated and acceptable to God. It is the same life Habakkuk (2:4) refers to: “by faith the righteous will live,” as quoted in Galatians 3:11.
15 Yet I have claimed no such privilege; nor have I written these things that it might be done for me—for it would be better to die than have anyone deprive me of this joy.
The other translations wrongly conclude that Paul’s argument and claim here is his “boast,” but Paul is filled with holy joy that his life utterly belongs to Christ so he can spread the gospel without seeking material provision from anyone. He doesn’t need to claim his right in this context because he is already living the resurrection life, without any need of material support apart from God, the receipt of which causes him much joy—not boasting—a joy he would be so devastated to lose that death would be far preferable, particularly as death would take him into the eternal presence of Christ. His very next verse confirms that boasting is not on his mind.
16 For in preaching the gospel I have nothing to boast of—I am compelled to—woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!
17 For if I willingly do it I have a reward, but if I were unwilling I am still entrusted with this obligation.
Paul does find his preaching a very rewarding occupation since it produces so much good fruit, but he would still have to do it even if he hated it, as God has laid a heavy obligation on him.
18 What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may offer it without charge and so not claim my rights as a gospel preacher.
His reward is in doing it all without material benefit—denying himself to serve Christ. This takes a deep revelation of spiritual values: self denial and suffering are privileges for servants of Christ—privileges which Paul is determined to claim.
19 Though I am free from all men, I become the servant of all in order to win the maximum:
Paul is not sacrificing his liberty in Christ, he is practicing a level of holy subterfuge to gain a hearing for the gospel by drawing close to all his listeners.
20 I become as a Jew to the Jews to win Jews: as one under the law (though not being under the law) to those under the law, to win those under the law;
All the other translations read this verse as two distinct categories: “the Jews,” and “those under the law,” but we know that these are simply two descriptions of the same group.
Paul is saying that he practices the Mosaic laws when with the Jews—not so that he won’t be persecuted, but so they will be open to hearing what he has to say—possibly a narrow line to tread. He may have been commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles, but Paul knows that it really doesn’t matter who he reaches, Jews are not out of bounds: all are invited into the kingdom of God.
21 to those without the law as one without the law (not that I am outside of God’s law but under the law of Christ) in order to gain those outside the law;
Here Paul’s behaviour is the more purely Christian—he takes no notice of the Mosaic laws and so fools the Gentiles into seeing him as one of themselves rather than as a Jew, but lives every moment in obedience to God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. The prompting to do so, and thereby gain more Gentiles, is from Christ. The law of Christ fully covers God’s law.
22 to the morally weak I became as the weak to win the weak—I have become all things to all people in order to save some.
All the other translations simply put “weak” each time in this verse, but asthenēs also implies a moral or ethical impotence, so these are people who don’t have the backbone to even try to do the right thing. Paul becomes like them, without actually rejecting his moral position or lifestyle, so again runs the implication that he is playing a role so they will listen to him.
23 And I’m doing this for the sake of the gospel so that I might be a joint partner in it.
Paul truly finds his calling fulfilling; everything he does is to further the gospel, at whatever temporary cost to himself—ultimately he will receive his prize.
24 Don’t you see that those who race in the stadium all race, but only one obtains the prize? So race for victory!
Here he moves on to practical instructions for winning this life of the disciple, starting by urging total commitment to victory.
25 He who competes practices self restraint in all things. All this to win a perishable wreath—but ours is incorruptible!
In other words, worth so much that any and every sacrifice, particularly self-applied, is worth it.
26 So I don’t run aimlessly; and I fight, but not punching the air;
27 I discipline my body, keeping it in slavery, for fear that somehow, while preaching to others, I might myself be disqualified.
So his constant habit amounts to an intense training regime which actually involves some kind of self-selected sufferings for his body—probably fastings and sleep deprivations to train it to know that it has no claim on his behaviour.
Paul is saying, “this is worth fighting for, so bring your body into submission and don’t ever think of giving up!” On the way, however, we need to note that he was fully aware that his flesh could still undermine him and even he could be lost. And if we’re not very careful too, we too can be lost—if we are not vigilant and tough on our flesh.
1 Corinthians 10
1 I don’t want you to be ignorant brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea,
2 all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
3 all ate the same spiritual food,
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, as they drank from the spiritual rock they followed, which rock was Christ.
The word for “followed,” akoloutheō refers to walking the same road as the master in the role of disciple and is used often in the gospels to signify following Christ. So the Hebrews were set up for all the blessings of discipleship in the practical details of the exodus.
5 But God was unhappy with most of them, and they were cut down in the desert.
They didn’t understand how lavish were the blessings on offer and rebelled against the loving lordship of Christ.
6 These things are examples for us, so that we should not yearn for evil things as they did,
We are to examine their behaviour and take lessons from it—longing for the will of God in our lives and cleansing ourselves from any taint of sin.
7 nor become idolaters as some of them were: as it is written, “the people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to revel.”
Any compromise with sin is going to lead to death so we would be very wise to seek the will of God instead.
8 We must not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand died in one day,
That’s a lot of people up to no good! God kept taking out the wicked, in the hope that the rest would take heed and live their lives in trust, obedience and blessing.
9 nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.
The Hebrews were complaining about God’s provision for them in the desert, suggesting that He wasn’t up to the job. Actually He was miraculously feeding the entire nation every day in His grace and love.
10 Nor grumble as some of them did and were killed by the destroyer.
Grumbling and complaining are utterly opposed to a loving trust of Almighty God. We are to accept all that comes our way as from His hand, trusting that He loves us and has our best interests at heart. Even if not, His plans are far more important than our comfort or well-being. We are offered the privilege of suffering for Him so how can we complain?
11 All these things happening to them are examples, and were written down to warn us who are facing the ends of the ages.
The reason these warnings are particularly necessary for us at the ends of the ages is that the spiritual atmosphere in which we live today is much darker than it was in earlier ages, so we need to be as well equipped and informed as possible to maintain a truly holy life.
12 So the one who thinks he stands firm needs to take care that he doesn’t fall.
If we look around we will see many falling into sin and deception around us. This is because they are failing to look to the Lord for deliverance in the time of temptation.
13 No temptation has taken you which isn’t common to everyone, but God is faithful: he will never allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will provide, together with the temptation, the way of escape so you can resist it.
I always think this is one of the best promises in the Bible—God will never leave us to slug it out alone, He will always fight our corner. He really wants us to be victorious!
14 So, my beloved, flee from idolatry!
If God is going to remain utterly faithful to us, providing and protecting, blessing and guiding, how can we be so foolish and ungrateful as to jeopardise our eternal security by being unfaithful to Him? This idolatry is in contrast to the points he has just made about eating without worry since idols are nothing: if we don’t see that idols are nothing, then eating food offered to them is idolatry.
15 I’m talking to rational people, judge for yourselves what I say—
16 the cup of blessing which we bless, isn’t it sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, isn’t it sharing in the body of Christ?
Here Paul looks to the table of the Lord so he can compare it to the table of demons. As believers we share in Christ’s eternal sacrifice and form the body of Christ.
17 Because there is just one bread, we many are one body, for we all feed on the same bread.
The one bread being Jesus, on whom we all feed, becoming His body.
18 Consider Israel in the flesh: aren’t those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?
This is to point out that eating sacrifices which we see as offered to idols will make us participants in the pagan rituals.
19 So am I saying that an idol is anything, or that an idol sacrifice is anything?
20 No, but what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I don’t want you to have communion with demons.
If the sacrifice we eat has been offered to a demon then we will be in communion with demons unless we have the revelation that the idol is nothing, and the demon behind it is powerless against us as we are in Christ.
21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons too.
This is talking about worshiping at both. We cannot do so as we would have to be facing in two directions at once. And we cannot do so as we belong to the Lord.
22 Or we will provoke the Lord to jealousy—and we are not stronger than him.
It’s never a good idea to provoke somebody bigger and stronger than we are, and the Lord is the most powerful being in the universe.
23 Everything is lawful for me, but not everything is desirable; everything is lawful for me, but not everything will edify.
When he says “everything is lawful for me” he’s referring back to his comments on eating meat which is uncontaminated because idols are nothing. Now, however, he wants to add a rider to that for the sake of the weaker brethren.
24 No one should seek his own benefit, but the benefit of others.
Seeking his own benefit would mean having a good meal in the shrine without worrying about anyone else. There is though, another consideration.
25 Eat anything sold in the meat market, asking no questions of conscience,
26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and its abundance.
This is if you are not with other believers.
27 If you are invited to dinner by an unbeliever and you are happy to go, eat anything placed before you, asking no questions of conscience;
This is really the same point as the meat market—since idols are nothing, the meat cannot be contaminated simply by a ritual.
28 but if anyone says to you, “this meat was offered to an idol,” don’t eat it—for the sake of him that spoke, and for conscience’s sake;
Paul is not reverting to his argument from chapter 8 here, this is slightly different. This person is trying to catch you out, so you have to do what he is certain you must do, so that he won’t feel your discipleship is a fraud, which would undermine his chances of coming to faith.
29 the other’s conscience I mean—not your own, for why should my liberty be called into question by another’s conscience?
30 If I’m partaking with gratitude, why am I being vilified because of something for which I give thanks?
He is not complaining that his behaviour can be modified by the beliefs of others, as he is more than happy to humble himself in any way to help others come to faith.
31 So whether you are eating or drinking, or doing anything, do all to the glory of God.
In other words, do everything in the way which will bring glory to God; don’t take chances or compromise, ever.
32 Don’t become a stumbling block: to Jews, to Gentiles, or to the assembly of God,
Don’t ever let your actions undermine anyone, blocking them from salvation.
33 just as I try to please everyone in all I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 11
1 Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.
This could mean “imitate me, while I imitate Christ,” so His behaviour will get passed down to you, or “imitate me where I imitate Christ,” so you will only imitate me where I am getting it right. I suspect it’s the first, and I’m not too sure it matters either way.
2 I commend you, brethren, that you recollect all my teachings, and are holding them fast just as I gave them to you.
All the other translations have Paul praising them for remembering him, but he’s actually talking about them remembering his teachings and advice, and, of course, living them out properly.
3 But I want you to know that every man’s head is Christ, the woman’s head is the man, and Christ’s head is God.
God has set up a structure of authority on earth to illustrate His authority structure in heaven: the man, as the image of God, is ‘head’ of the woman who is the image of Christ, thus illustrating the authority relationship between God and Christ.
4 So any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head,
Covering the head signifies subservience, so for the man to pray or prophesy publicly with his head covered subverts God’s illustration and His authority structure. This dishonours his head—which has particular relevance to Jewish believers who struggle with discarding the ‘kippah’ (yarmulke).
5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head since it is just as if she were shaven.
Again, since the covering signifies subservience, for the woman to reject the cover is to reject God’s illustration and His authority structure. This in turn disgraces her head, just as if it were shaven.
6 If a woman does not cover her head, let her hair be cut off; but if it’s shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved, let her cover her head.
7 A man should not cover his head, being inherently the image and glory of God; but the woman is man’s glory,
8 since man didn’t come from woman, but woman from man,
9 nor was man created for woman, but woman for man.
10 Therefore the woman ought to have a token of authority on her head, because of the angels.
And this is why God set up the illustration: so that the angels (and demons) would see it as an expression of obedience and submission of all the believers, and glorify God. Ephesians 3:9-10 tends to confirm this: “…to enlighten all regarding the dispensation of this mystery, which from the beginning has been hidden in God who created all things, so that through the assembly, the many aspects of God’s wisdom would be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,”
He wants us, who form the body of Christ, to make known the wisdom of God, in all its rich variety, through our faithful obedience, to all the spiritual beings who witness our holy lives, despite our carnal heritage in our flesh, as God reveals Christ in each of us.
11 However, in the Lord the man is not independent of the woman, nor is the woman independent of the man,
12 for just as the woman came out of the man, so man is born of woman, but all are of God.
This makes us mutually dependent, designed to support each other.
13 Judge for yourselves, is it acceptable for a woman to pray to God uncovered?
14 And doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man grows his hair, it dishonours him?
15 But if a woman’s hair is long it is her glory, as her hair has been given her as a covering?
16 If anyone wants to dispute this, we have no such custom, nor do any of God’s assemblies.
This is very strange—it seems to be one of those worldly rulings which cannot possibly be of any importance in living, in the Spirit, the overcoming life of the disciple. How can the length of one’s hair, which is down to culture, personal preference and fashion, have any bearing on one’s holiness? And how does “nature itself teach” anything of the sort regarding hair length? And Paul even contradicts his own words from verses five and six—if a woman’s hair has been given to her as her covering, then she won’t need another.
If one is living in the Spirit, and God didn’t approve of you being fashionable, He would nudge you to get your hair cut, so the rule is unnecessary. Paul often tells us that we cannot live this life by rules as they will, in themselves, corrupt us (see Colossians 2:20-22 MCV and 1 Corinthians 7:31 MCV) which is why Jesus died to set us free—free from rules (the law) as well as free from sin.
17 Yet this I declare: I cannot commend you, for your meetings together are not for the better but for the worse.
18 Firstly, when you meet together in the assembly I hear there are splits, which I partly believe,
It’s not clear whether these splits are visible, physical divisions among the group or differences of opinion; I suspect they were actually dividing up into cliques based on their different allegiances. I’m not sure what he means by “partly believe.”
19 for there must be diverse views among you, that those of integrity may be revealed.
Interesting that Paul thinks that the genuine disciples will stand out against the rest because of the different positions being taken. Hopefully this will be noticed by everyone and they will get with the program.
20 When you assemble together it’s not to eat the Lord’s supper,
The reason it’s not the Lord’s supper is that the heart attitude is totally wrong. Always as disciples it’s about our hearts before our words, or even our deeds.
21 for everyone proceeds with their own meal to eat first; so others are left hungry; and another is drunk.
It’s amazing to think that this fellowship, which Paul founded and taught, are so far from living even civilised behaviour, far less loving each other as they should. No wonder Paul is embarrassed!
22 Do you not have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the assembly of God by shaming those with nothing? What can I say to you? Shall I commend you for this? I think not!
23 For I learned from the Lord what I deliver up to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was delivered up, took bread,
Paul was given this information directly by Jesus, since he wasn’t there at the time. All the other translations put “the night he was betrayed” which, though it was, and it is one possible meaning of the word, it is not really what Paul is saying. He actually says “the night he was delivered up,” using the same basic word he has just used to pass on the story, deliberately echoing the word, just as I have put it in the English.
This is because on that night, Jesus was “delivered up” for us, by the Father and by His own will in perfect agreement with the Father’s, so Paul is not talking about His betrayal. Jesus wasn’t killed by the chief priests, though they intended to, nor the Romans, though they crucified Him—He gave up His spirit at the right moment in accordance with the authority given Him by the Father to do so, so our salvation doesn’t rest on His murder, nor depend, in any sense on Judas, nor the chief priests, nor the Romans.
This bread is the unleavened bread prepared for the Passover meal which they were sharing. It is symbolic of Christ’s body which was about to be broken for the forgiveness of our sins. The bread was unleavened in order to depict purity—the complete lack of sin, so we partake of His purity.
Paul is going over the “Lord’s supper” as Jesus gave it to him, in order to make clear that what they’re doing is a hopeless travesty—it is a particularly important practice to keep up and honour in their hearts as they do it.
24 and giving thanks, broke it, saying, “take, eat, this is my body being broken for your sakes, do this to keep me in mind.”
Jesus gave thanks, not simply for the unleavened bread of God’s provision of nourishment and the potent representation of His body, but also for the opportunity to fulfil the task set before Him, and rescue humanity from our sins and sicknesses.
Christ’s body was “broken” in the sense that He was beaten and crucified, treatment which would have ended His life had He waited long enough, but it is actually talking about the sacrificial nature of the Father’s giving Him up for us: the breaking duplicating the practice of the Passover feast.
From that moment on, believers were to gain much of their spiritual nourishment from their spiritual intake of Christ Himself, in the form of unleavened bread as part of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ We have rather consigned that to mere symbolism in “the church” in the west, but as a sacrament it actually has a tangible reality worth restoring. What we are consuming is the purity, passion and potency of Christ Himself.
25 In the same way also he took the cup after the meal, saying, “this is the new covenant in my blood, do this every time you drink to keep me in mind.”
This cup is also a regular part of the Passover meal, but for Jesus to suddenly tell them it stood for a whole new covenant superseding the mosaic covenant, and that it also represented His blood which was about to be shed (at the same moment that that year’s Passover lamb was to be sacrificed), would have been very shocking to the disciples.
This practice of sharing the cup was also to continue, forming the other part of the spiritual intake of Christ by the believers, in order to keep the assembly focused on the main thing. Importantly, both the bread and the wine were to be shared throughout the assembly.
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you are declaring the death of the Lord until he comes
Partaking of the bread and wine at the Lord’s table is a declaration of our unshakeable faith in Christ’s sacrifice and His unchallenged lordship—to each other and to those in the heavenly realms.
27 so, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord disrespectfully sins against the Lord’s body and blood.
Since we are commanded to do this, failure to show respect to Christ and to our brethren, is to demonstrate our rebelliousness and our rejection of His sacrifice. This is very offensive to God and therefore pretty thin ice on which to skate.
28 Each one should examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks from the cup,
This self-examination is not so much the general, “am I compromising with sin in my life?” which we are often taught, but “am I failing to honour the body of Christ by my attitude to this meal together?” If we are, of course, then repentance is necessary.
29 for he that eats and drinks without respecting the Lord’s body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
Respecting the Lord’s body means honouring our brethren in Christ by loving them in the Spirit, which will lead to graciousness, serving, sharing, and good manners to all.
30 This is why many of you are infirm and sick and many sleep,
So God was already declaring judgment on those whose rebellion had got the better of them, and they were actually dying off—like Ananias and Sapphira.
31 but if we discerned ourselves we would never be condemned.
If our self-examination is serious and deep, it will lead to either a clear conscience or repentance. Either way we will never have to be condemned by God over a shared meal.
32 Yet, when judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so we won’t be condemned with the world,
When the Lord gives us weakness or sickness in this context, it is His discipline. If we die, however, isn’t it too late? The world here means the entire system devised by Satan to deceive us into attempting to live our lives without God’s input and guidance, but it will also include all those who are still living this way “in the world.”
33 so, brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another;
34 and if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you gather together it won’t lead to judgment. When I come I will sort out the other matters.
1 Corinthians 12
1 Now, concerning spiritual gifts brethren, I wouldn’t want you to be uninformed.
Spiritual gifts, being unique to the assemblies, are a whole new subject to the Corinthians so Paul tackles it here.
2 You know that when you were unbelievers, you went as you were led, to idols that can’t speak at all,
Paul’s point here is not so much that these ex-Gentiles used to worship idols, but that these idols couldn’t speak.
3 so, I want to assure you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will say that Jesus is cursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Now that they worship the one true God, they are to know that His Holy Spirit can and does speak, and that His speaking can be recognised by its truth.
4 Now there are assorted gifts, but the same Spirit,
Not only does the Holy Spirit speak, to each one at various times, He also distributes spiritual gifts to the saints. Each one is permanent as “the gifts of God are without repentance,” which means He never takes them back.
5 and there are various kinds of service, but the same Lord,
This is the reason for the giftings—to serve: the Lord, each other, and the lost. The Corinthians had rather missed the point here and were misusing them.
6 and there are different workings, but the same God performs all things in everyone.
So whatever gifting or power you have received, it is from God by the Holy Spirit.
7 Now to each one is given the expression of the Spirit to benefit all.
All the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to individual members of the assembly (not the “church”) so they can be used to build up and benefit the saints.
8 To one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
These are similar to prophecy in that the Holy Spirit actually gives the believer the meaning to share with the assembly.
9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
Faith as a gift would be more than the basic faith of each believer. Presumably it would be for a specific purpose or task.
Interesting that healing involves more than one gift. Perhaps this is something to do with different types of sickness, or different approaches to bringing healing to the patient, or different reasons for the sickness. The one with the gifts of healing is to teach the saints how to heal each other and those outside the kingdom. All believers are generally expected to pray successfully for healings, particularly the elders.
10 to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to yet another discerning of spirits; to a different one various tongues; to yet another the interpretation of tongues:
Miracles are to be performed as the Spirit directs; prophecies delivered to the assembly; discerning of spirits is associated with casting out evil spirits but also includes assessing the origin of prophecies and teachings on behalf of the assembly; the tongues to be spoken out in the meetings, followed by the interpretation, as the Holy Spirit gives it.
11 yet all these gifts are the work of one and the same Spirit, distributing to each person as he chooses.
Paul seems to be concerned that the Corinthians might think that each different gift is given by a different spirit, thus radically corrupting their doctrine, so he keeps repeating his refrain “the same Spirit” and “the same Lord.” At the same time, he wants them to realise that everyone will be gifted by the Spirit in some way.
12 For just as a body is singular with many members, and all those members, though many, form one body; it’s just the same with Christ.
We need, as members of Christ, to be gifted by the Holy Spirit; otherwise we contribute nothing.
13 For in one Spirit we are all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free men, and we all have to drink into one Spirit,
Everything works by the Holy Spirit. We have to live in the Spirit to be functioning members of the body, and the way to get there is to drink of the Spirit and be filled.
14 as the body is not a single member, but many.
This is all about assembling all believers into a single body, the body of Christ. We are baptised into the one body, and we all partake of the one Spirit. This is so every member will properly contribute to the Spirit-led workings of the assembly. Throughout this passage, Paul never considers the possibility that any believer might not contribute fully at every meeting.
15 If the foot were to say, “as I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that wouldn’t mean that it’s not part of the body.
16 and if the ear were to say, “as I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” neither would that cancel its membership of the body.
Here Paul extends his explanation to those who feel isolated or that they have been given the wrong gifts, reassuring them that they are still part of the body, however they may feel.
17 If the entire body were an eye, where would hearing be? If the whole body were just hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
They are looking at each other’s giftings and allowing envy and dissatisfaction to bring separation into their thinking, even though every member’s gifts are needed for a healthy assembly.
18 But now God places each member in the body as it pleases him,
19 and if they were all a single member, how could they be a body?
So don’t complain: God knows what He’s doing. If everyone faithfully operates in the gifts God has assigned them, everything will work beautifully.
20 So there are truly many members and one body,
21 and the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” neither can the head say to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
We don’t know if anyone was actually rejecting others based on their giftings. Paul may be simply completing his teaching on “many members with valid giftings in one body.”
22 No, those members of the body which are considered weaker are essential;
Everybody is part of the team.
23 and those body parts we consider without honour, these we give greater honour, so those which are indecent we treat with special modesty,
This is clear with respect to our bodies but his point gets really tricky at this point.
24 whereas our presentable parts don’t need it. And God assembles the body, giving more honour to those members that lack,
Here he says that God actually makes up the lack in those members who are not honourable! I have always thought that He would discipline them, so I have to assume this just means those members whose giftings are minimal.
25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members should have a mutual care for one another,
If everyone respects everyone, knowing that giftings are allocated by God, not earned in any way, then they will treat each other as equals before God.
26 and if one member suffers, all the members share their pain; or if one member is honoured, all the members share their joy.
Here we see that the body is a vital reality where every member is aware, spiritually, of the condition of the body, so they suffer or rejoice with each other as appropriate.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you a member,
28 and in the assembly God has clearly appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miraculous powers, then gifts of healing, assistants, wise counsels, and various tongues.
This list picks up on much of what Paul has already covered, but here he seems to rank the gifts and roles within the assembly. I suspect the ranking refers to their importance to the proper functioning of the assembly, not the relative importance of those who hold the giftings. Again, every gifting is for the benefit of the assembly, not the recipient of the gift, and we are specifically told not to lord it over each other.
29 They’re not all apostles, neither are all prophets; not all are teachers, nor all work miracles;
30 not all have gifts of healing, nor do all speak in tongues, nor all interpret;
All the other translations have assumed that all these are little questions, but I don’t think that is at all necessary—it just makes it harder to read aloud. Paul’s point, as all agree, is that these gifts are dotted about among the saints, so not to worry if you aren’t a prophet or you can’t interpret a tongue.
The speaking in tongues here would be the gift of declaring a tongue publicly—everyone may have the private gift.
31 so zealously pursue the greater gifts.
These are pursued through prayer. There is no indication how many one can seek, but presumably you are either called to be an apostle or you aren’t.
And yet I will now reveal to you the most excellent way.
Much more important than spiritual giftings, however great.
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have no love, I have become like blaring brass or a clanging cymbal.
It is very easy to read this section and worry whether or not we have love enough, but the truth is, we have Christ in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, so of course we have love enough. We do have to walk in it though. Here Paul tells us that tongues in themselves are futile.
2 And if I have a prophetic gift and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all the faith needed to move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.
And here, that prophecy and faith even, don’t amount to much.
3 And if I donate all my belongings to feed the poor; and if I surrender my body to the flames, but have no love, it gains me nothing.
Nor charity or martyrdom. All need the love of Christ to give them any value.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, love doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, is not proud;
All this description of love is a description of the transcendent life of Christ within us, how it will look, and how it will behave. We will recognise it within ourselves and within each other. If we don’t see it, then we need to reassess our lives.
5 it is never rude, is not conceited, is not provoked; keeps no account of evil;
6 it takes no joy in evil, but rejoices with the truth;
7 love bears all things, always believes, always hopes, always endures.
8 Love never fails; but where there are prophecies they will cease; where there are tongues they will pass; where there is knowledge it will vanish.
Prophecies, tongues and knowledge have a limited lifetime, but love will continue for ever.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,
10 but when the perfect comes, then what is partial will be gone.
The perfect is the fulfilment of all prophecy and knowledge, so partial understanding will be no more.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I had the opinions of a child; but now I have become a man I am done with the ways of childhood.
Here Paul is referring to his understanding of spiritual things: early in his discipleship he was impressed by prophecies, tongues and knowledge, but now his understanding has matured he can see that beyond love, nothing matters much.
12 For now we see indistinctly as in a mirror, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.
The reason he uses a mirror to illustrate seeing indistinctly, is that mirrors in his day were made of a copper or steel plate, polished as best they could by hand. The result was hardly optically ideal. Seeing Jesus face to face will answer all our questions.
13 And now faith, hope and love remain—these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Faith and hope will be unnecessary in heaven, but love will always be needed.
1 Corinthians 14
1 So chase after love and yearn for spiritual gifts, particularly that you may prophesy,
The disciple’s entire life should be an eager pursuit of love, but Paul’s direction here is more to do with edifying the assembly.
2 for anyone speaking in a tongue speaks not to people but to God—no one understands since he speaks mysteries in the Spirit,
3 but the one who prophesies speaks to men, edifying, exhorting and comforting them.
Prophecy in the assembly is not generally about foretelling future events, but about building and improving the assembly. Paul’s major concern in this passage appears to be that the Corinthians have got excited about praying in tongues and they are overdoing it, at the cost of more valuable gifts like prophecy. They can use the gift of tongues without the specific go ahead of the Holy Spirit because they are just using the private gift publicly, not waiting for the Spirit to bring a word.
4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but he who prophesies enlightens the assembly.
Speaking in tongues has some kind of a practical and positive effect on the speaker, even though he also understands none of it.
5 I would like you all to speak in tongues but rather that you prophesy, for prophesying is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the assembly may be enlightened.
Most translations tell us that the prophet is greater than the one who has a tongue to share, but this is not about one person being greater than another—that would imply that God is promoting individuals by giving them a prophecy to share. Which cannot be true—all are equal before God—Paul is simply pointing out that prophecy is of more immediate value to the assembly, because everyone will get the message. And, when you think about it, whether they get a prophecy or a true tongue, the form is selected by the Holy Spirit.
6 So, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues; and if I don’t speak by revelation or knowledge, in prophecy or teaching, how will I benefit you?
Paul is very determined to reduce the use of private tongues in the assembly, on the grounds that no one is any wiser by its use.
7 Even with lifeless instruments that produce sounds, like the flute or lyre, if no distinction is given between the notes, how will anyone know what’s being played?
8 And if the trumpet sounds an ambiguous call, who will prepare for battle?
Two examples of ‘meaningless’ noises being useless.
9 It’s the same with you too—unless your tongue speaks intelligibly, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will simply be vocalising into the air.
Here, of course, Paul’s use of “tongue” refers to the tongue itself, rather than the unintelligible language of heaven he’s been talking about.
10 Surely there are many types of speech in the world and none is devoid of meaning.
This would include all languages, and in this context heavenly ones; it’s just that we cannot grasp the meaning of anything spoken in a language we don’t know.
11 If then I don’t comprehend the meaning of a language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and he to me,
12 and so will you. Since you are such zealots for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in the edification of the assembly.
I’m pretty sure the first four words here form the tail end of the previous verse, though all the other translations accept the break and end up with a phrase that doesn’t comfortably fit the meaning at all.
13 So let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret,
14 for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit is praying but my mind yields nothing.
And I think we probably get the point now.
15 Then what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit, but also with my mind; I will sing in the spirit, but also with my mind.
This means that he prays in the spirit to himself, but prays ‘meaningful’ prayers from his mind out loud. Otherwise his ‘tongue’ would be followed by his prayer, when somebody else should be giving the interpretation.
He also keeps the music he makes in the spirit in his heart in order to cause nobody a problem. If Paul could sing with his mind, ie, compose the song as he went along, he truly was multi-gifted, as most people can’t approach that kind of talent. But more likely he means simply singing hymns and psalms with the proper words.
16 Else, when you declare a blessing in the spirit, how can anyone in the place of the uninformed say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he doesn’t know what you are saying?
Come to that, how could anyone, since no one can know what you are talking about?
17 You are giving thanks perfectly well, but the other is no wiser.
18 I thank my God, I speak more tongues than all of you,
I suspect this means ‘more than any of you,’ rather than ‘all of you put together,’ but I’m not at all sure how he would know anyway—who’s counting?
19 but in the assembly I would rather speak five clear words from my mind, in order to instruct others, than endless words in a tongue.
Translation note: The word for ‘endless’ means ‘countless’ but also, in the Greek idiom, can be translated as ‘ten thousand’ which is what all the other translations have gone for, but I think Paul’s true irritation with their behaviour is better captured with ‘endless.’
20 Brethren, don’t reason like children—be infants regarding evil, but in reasoning be fully mature.
Getting excited about a pointless practice of something fairly odd is a particularly childish way of looking at things. He allows childishness when it comes to practicing wickedness but implores them to start thinking as adults.
21 It is written in the law, “with unknown tongues and unfamiliar lips I will speak to this people but they won’t listen to me, says the Lord.”
This is in the form of an illustration taken from Isaiah 28:11-12. Paul is pointing out that hearing strange tongues (ie. Babylonians and Assyrians) from strangers’ lips, were for a sign of wrath and punishment to unbelieving Jews of the fulfilment of prophecy against their unbelief, and, of course, the sign wasn’t accepted.
22 So tongues are not a sign to those who have faith, but to unbelievers; while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for the saints.
Even so, these tongues were still going to have the same effect on unbelievers—they were not going to convince hardly anyone—so far better to spend your time in prophecy, worship and prayer using normal language so the saints can be edified.
23 Therefore if the entire assembly comes together into one place and everyone is speaking in tongues, and the unlearned or unbelievers enter, won’t they say you’re demented?
Because the “unknown tongues and unfamiliar lips” are not going to reach their hearts, just as they never reached the unbelieving Jews, so they will ridicule the saints and their meeting. When it says “everyone is speaking in tongues” it means people are speaking in tongues rather than normal language, not that everybody is speaking at once.
24 But if all are prophesying when an unbeliever or unlearned soul enters, he is convicted and searched by all that’s said,
Again, this simply means that those who are speaking are prophesying, not that everybody is prophesying at once. What he hears will reach his heart and lead to conviction of sin, because he fully understands it.
25 so the secrets of his heart are revealed; and he will fall on his face and worship God, admitting that God is truly among you.
Because he will realise that only God could have put a finger on his guilt with such unerring accuracy.
26 So what’s the conclusion, brethren? When you come together, each person brings a psalm or a teaching; a tongue, an interpretation or a revelation. But let all be done to build each other up.
Now Paul gets on to instructions regarding the proper way to behave in the assembly. The first thing is to bring something from God to share, the second is that it must be something intended to build up the body, instructing, encouraging, informing, consoling, exhorting, etc.
27 If anyone speaks a tongue, two, or at most three should speak, one at a time; and then someone must interpret,
28 but if there is no one to interpret, the speaker should stay quiet in the assembly, speaking to himself and to God.
Simply, how to operate sensibly in tongues: very limited, in contrast to the Corinthian practice so far.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and the others weigh their words,
Serving in prophecy is similar: keep it limited and get everyone to consult the Lord for themselves as to the accuracy and purpose of the prophecy.
30 and if revelation is made to someone sitting there, the first should yield,
Even when prophesying, prophets must yield to one another—revelation, and thus edification, being the core of prophecy.
31 for you can all prophesy in turn, so everyone can learn and be encouraged.
All saints can prophesy in the assembly, though presumably not all in the one meeting, just the two or three. The learning implied here is learning to prophesy, which would be taught by the ones with the gift of prophecy—that’s what it’s for.
32 Prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets
In other words, you can start and stop under your own volition, there is no compulsion from the Holy Spirt. If the saint is compelled to prophesy, this will normally be a sign of demonic interference and needs to be addressed by the body, normally the elders.
33 for God doesn’t bring chaos but peace.
Again, chaos and confusion would be a sign that all is not right in the meeting, whether the fault is the flesh or the enemy, and it needs to be dealt with.
As in all the assemblies of the saints,
Unlike the other translations, I have linked the last phrase of this verse with the next verse as it fits better.
34 your women should remain silent, for it is not permitted to them to speak but to subject themselves, as the law says,
Going back to chapter 11, verse 5, we read that women were to prophesy or pray with their heads covered, so the silence rule clearly did not apply to all speaking. I suspect that, since the prohibition seems to only cover preaching, teaching and taking authority over her husband, that sharing their experiences of God in their lives, and bringing a psalm, a tongue, an interpretation or a revelation—just not teaching—would have been acceptable.
1 Timothy 2:11-12 has Paul saying much the same thing: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
Those women who were not married would be in submission to their fathers in the same way, though it probably wouldn’t occur to them to speak out anyway, but other varieties of relationships are not clarified at all. (eg. a woman whose husband has dementia.) Consulting the elders away from the meeting would have worked.
The reference to the law is God’s sentence on Eve in Genesis 3:16, where He says, “…Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” This would seem to be in perpetuity and a rule God wants honoured in all the assemblies. I think it all hinges on her voluntary submission, confirming her faith by her obedience.
However, in more recent times, God has clearly used many women to preach and teach, with much fruit, so perhaps the restrictions were more related to the time of writing, since the Jewish practice in the synagogues was much the same.
35 and if they want to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in the assembly.
Asking the husband at home would put pressure on him to be a deeply spiritual man, who could sensibly answer her questions, which would obviously be good for both of them and their children. It seems to be shameful for women to speak in the assembly simply because of the prevailing Jewish custom.
36 Or did the word of God come from you, or did it come to you only?
Paul has said a lot about how limited tongues are compared to prophecy and now, apparently in irritation, he says, “what makes you think your ideas are so great? Did you originate the word of God? Or are you the only ones who have read it?”
37 If anyone thinks he’s a prophet or spiritual, he must accept that what I’m writing to you are orders from the Lord,
When he says “spiritual” he means “those who feel they are qualified to deliver a tongue to the assembly.” If these two sets of people are truly qualified to do so then they will be well aware that Paul’s letter is divinely inspired.
38 but if anyone can’t see that, let him remain ignorant.
But if they don’t see it, they are not qualified in their ignorance to do either.
39 So brethren, be keen to prophesy but don’t forbid speaking in tongues—
He puts “but” here because of the amount of the letter which has spoken against tongues, and they might have felt after reading it that it would be best to forbid the practice altogether. He also reiterates that prophecy is the one to seek.
40 just let all things occur respectably and in order.
So whatever you do, do it by the Holy Spirit, and do it with self-restraint and consideration for each other.
1 Corinthians 15
1 Now I am clarifying for you, brethren, the gospel I preached to you, which you accepted and in which you stand,
2 and through which you are being saved, if you are holding fast to the gospel I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
The gospel only works to save those who keep the teaching uncorrupted, who live in obedience to it, and stand by faith in it. Any other practice Paul calls “believing in vain.”
3 For I gave you to begin with what I received: that Christ died for our sins in fulfilment of the scriptures,
4 that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, as the scriptures foretold.
Some of the detail here is a little suspect: firstly we know that Jesus was raised after three days, so He couldn’t have been raised on the third day.
5 He was seen by Cephas, later by the twelve,
And we know that this should read “eleven,” as Judas had already removed himself from ‘the twelve,’ and Matthias had yet to be added to their number at that time.
6 and then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once, of whom the majority are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
These last have clearly died, but I chose to retain the euphemism from the Greek.
7 Later he was seen by James, then by all the apostles,
8 and finally he was seen by me, as to one born prematurely.
Paul is always dismissive of his own value, here likening himself to an abortion, since his sins were so terrible.
9 For I am the least of the apostles: not worthy to be called an apostle as I persecuted the assembly of God,
We see here that Paul, though he often describes himself as an apostle, is almost embarrassed by the label as he cannot see that he is worthy of anything, so we know that he is truly never boasting of his role or calling.
10 but by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace on me is not wasted—I work harder than them all, yet not I but the grace of God which is with me.
Here we see that, though Paul’s labours were utterly exhausting for him, he doesn’t count these efforts of his flesh as anything—the only thing that counts is what he achieves by faith, what God does, working through him. Nothing else is of any concern at all.
11 So then, whether it was I or they, this we preach and this you believed.
He is not claiming any credit for his own preaching—that of the other apostles is plainly just as good.
12 But since it’s preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how are some of you saying there is no resurrection of the dead?
These Corinthians are a handful: some of them are trying to convince their friends that the resurrection could not have happened, regardless of the apostles’ teaching. As Paul points out, that makes no sense since the only reason they are part of the assembly is that they believed the preaching they heard, so now they must have rejected that belief.
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either,
14 and if Christ didn’t rise, then our preaching is for nothing, and your faith is also for nothing.
This is just a logical assessment—and the whole idea is ridiculous. Would we waste our time and our efforts on a gospel which isn’t true and could not have any bearing on our eternal condition?
15 Also, we are shown to be false witnesses of God, as we testify that God raised Christ, whom he didn’t raise if the dead are not raised,
16 for if the dead are not raised, Christ was not raised either,
17 and if Christ was not raised, your faith is pointless: you are still in your sins.
This is terrible: “you are still in your sins,” but the real trouble is, for those who have decided the dead are not raised, they have jettisoned their faith and they are back in their sins!
18 As a result, those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost;
19 if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are more to be pitied than all people.
Logical analysis of the implications of their unbelief.
20 But Christ has been raised from the dead, becoming the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,
Paul spells out the truth again, the real gospel, so they can get back on track. Christ really was raised from the dead, so there really is an eternal future for all who believe.
21 for, since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man,
The one redemptive act undoes the original sin—for all.
22 so even as in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.
Each problem must be dealt with correctly, in turn. The death we all inherited from Adam, will be completely overturned by the life we inherit by faith in Christ.
23 But each in his own order: initially Christ the firstfruits, then those of Christ at his coming,
Christ’s resurrection guarantees our own when He comes.
24 then comes the end, when he will give the kingdom to God the Father, having brought the end to every beginning, and to every authority and power,
Every other translation puts “rule, authority and power” or something to that effect. Actually the primary meaning of archē is “beginning” which is what Paul is meaning here, since “rule” or “dominion” would be redundant in this sentence.
The idea is that Jesus brings to an end every initiative and everything which is happening, so that all the loose ends are tied up. He also brings to an end all worldly and spiritual (angelic and demonic) authority and power, leaving just His own kingship.
25 for he must reign until he has put all his enemies beneath his feet.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
27 For God puts everything beneath his feet; but when it says that all have been subjected, it is clear that he who puts all things under him is excepted,
This has always seemed to me a strange point to make—you’d have to be remarkably literalist to need this pointing out.
28 however, when everything is subjected to him, then the Son will also be subject to the one who put all things under him, so that God may be all in all;
At this point God (the Father) is fully in kingship over everything and everybody, including Christ. Of course Christ has been fully in submission to the will and authority of the Father all along, so this will be no great change. God will then be everything to everybody, the supreme indwelling factor of life for all. Alleluia!
29 otherwise, what will those do who are baptised for the dead? If it’s certain the dead are not raised, why be baptised for them?
This is not talking about a normal Christian practice, it seems to be a superstitious one, nevertheless, as he points out, it hardly makes sense to be baptised on behalf of dead people who are never going to be resurrected.
30 And why are we in danger all the time
Danger from antagonistic Jews in particular who fiercely resisted the gospel.
31 despite your boasting? Every day I die in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All the translations struggle here—including the Mouse Companion! Eventually I decided to append the start of this verse to the previous as it at least made sense, which none of the others do.
Paul is saying that their strutting and boasting were totally out of place since those who were out in the harvest fields, still labouring for the gospel, were being attacked, mocked and persecuted.
32 If, as a mere man, I oppose merciless men in Ephesus, what do I gain if the dead are not raised? “Let’s eat and drink now, because tomorrow we’ll be dead!”
“As a mere man” means ‘in the flesh and not the Spirit.’ In the other translations the Greek for “wild beasts” is rendered as is, but I feel sure that Paul would have listed “wild beasts” among his sufferings for the gospel in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 if they were meant literally, but he doesn’t, so I take this to mean that he is referring to the human opposition he faced in Ephesus as described in Acts 19:28-34.
The quote is from Isaiah 22:13, where God is declaring a curse on Jerusalem for, among other things, “eating and drinking” when they should have been mourning. Here he is rather pointedly telling them that their behaviour is dangerously close to the kind of sin that God actually responds to directly—with a curse or worse!
33 Don’t be deceived, degenerate friendships corrupt innocent character.
So look out who you spend your time with.
34 Sober up decently and stop sinning, for to your shame I say, some of you know nothing of God!
If some know nothing of God, this shows up some serious shortcomings in the leadership of the Corinthian assembly: where were the teachers, the elders, the preachers? Apparently they were mixing with the wrong sort, getting drunk and sinning, when they should have been instructing the saints.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”
Back to the question of the resurrection of the dead. This is a strange question to pose on their behalf, so I assume it was actually asked, in some form at least, maybe in their last letter.
36 You fool! What you sow will never grow until it dies,
As always in the kingdom of God, resurrection follows death, forgiveness follows death, fruitfulness follows death, holiness follows death, etc; all these refer to the death of the flesh in co-crucifixion with Christ. What we sow in this discussion is the mortal body we’ve used during our time on earth.
37 and what you sow is not the body that will be, but the bare grain which may be wheat or something else,
38 but God gives it a body he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body.
He takes their opposition to the doctrine as their inability to see that their resurrection bodies will differ from their earthly bodies. Using the “simple grain” compared to the healthy wheat growing in the field, tells us that the resurrection body will be not just very different in kind from the earthly body, but also that it will have far greater glory in itself.
39 Not all flesh is the same: people have one type of flesh, and animals have another, fish too are different, and so are birds.
He wants them to see that there are all kinds of glories or splendours, depending on what is being discussed, so he runs through a few examples:
40 Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and the glory of the celestial is quite unlike that of the terrestrial.
First he points out that heavenly bodies differ in splendour from earthly ones.
41 The glory of the sun differs from the splendour of the moon; the stars are different again; and one star is more radiant than the next.
Now he compares all sorts of heavenly bodies, showing that they vary in glory.
42 The resurrection of the dead is the same: it is sown in corruption and raised incorruptible;
When Paul says “the same,” he means that here too we find different levels of glory. A dead body which will decompose is very different from the resurrection bodies we can look forward to, which will last for ever as they cannot decay.
43 it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
The “dishonour” is human corruption, the “glory” is the glory of God; the “weakness” is human frailty, the “power” is the power of God.
44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Just as there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body too.
45 So, it is written, “the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam a life-giving spirit.”
The point being that we are transferred utterly from the first condition into the second: we inherit all that is in Jesus’ resurrected body and spirit—most particularly His life, which is indestructible. We will each become a “life-giving spirit” in Christ.
46 However, the spiritual isn’t first, but the natural; then later the spiritual.
We have to go through this in the right sequence, by which Paul means that we don’t need to doubt our resurrection just because we have unimpressive natural bodies—a natural body is what comes first.
47 The first man was natural, of earthly dust; the second man is the Lord of heaven;
How utterly “other” is the Lord to us! His entire being consists of God stuff.
48 as the earthly one was, so are those of the earth; and as the heavenly one is, so are the heavenly ones,
People still living on earth, in their natural bodies, are made of earthly stuff, just like Adam was; those who live in heaven, in their heavenly bodies, are made of heavenly stuff, just like Jesus, our Lord.
49 and just as we wear the likeness of the earthly, we will also wear the likeness of the heavenly.
So when the last trumpet sounds, our earthly bodies will be instantly translated into bodies made of heavenly stuff, and revealed in glory.
50 So I declare, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God—neither does the corruptible inherit incorruption.
Paul is not saying here that we cannot inherit the kingdom of God while we still live in our natural bodies, what inherits the kingdom of God is our spirits, which we already have. When the last trumpet sounds, that which is mortal, that which is corruptible, will not inherit incorruption, it will be replaced by incorruption.
51 Take heed! I am telling you a mystery: not everyone will sleep, but we will all be changed,
52 in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will blow, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.
Basically, every believer who is still alive despite all the enemy has done to destroy all Christians (and the Jews), will be spontaneously transformed into their heavenly body.
53 That which is corruptible must be clad with incorruption: the mortal with immortality,
Translation note: The word translated “clad” here generally refers to putting on clothes and is often used in the New Testament to refer to being clothed with power, the armour of light, the new man, the whole armour of God, the breastplate of faith and love, etc. From this I infer that the incorruption (immortality), both here and in the next verse, is a quality—from God at the moment of the last trumpet— which will infuse the body, translating it into a new state of glory, and totally replacing the quality of corruptibility (mortality). Otherwise we will have a corruptible body ‘wrapped’ or ‘enveloped’ in a garment of incorruptibility… the two obviously cannot work together, and the combination sounds rather unpleasant.
I’ve combined the two descriptions with a colon since they are both describing the same thing, and joining them together with the ‘and,’ as all the other translations do, is unnecessary in English and implies that they are two different things.
54 so when the corruptible puts on incorruption, when the mortal puts on immortality, then the word which is written will be fulfilled, “death is swallowed up in victory.”
This word is from Isaiah 25:8. Death is swallowed up in the victory of Christ.
55 “Where, o death, is your sting? Where, o death, is your victory?”
And this one is from Hosea 13:14, though it was changed a little by the Holy Spirit when Paul was writing this. The original reads, “Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” This kind of divine amendment is called a ‘rhema’ word.
56 Death’s sting is sin, and sin’s power is the law,
The reason sin is the sting of death, is that without sin, we wouldn’t need to die. And even though sin, at bottom, is really breaking faith with God, the law gave us definitions and penalties which had the effect of empowering sin which crushed us.
57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
God has taken the ultimate victory from Death and given it to us!
58 So then, my dear brethren, be unwavering and immovable, excelling in the Lord’s work, always aware that your labour in the Lord is not vain.
So, in response to this victory being ours, don’t let anything distract you from being totally committed to the Lord’s work.
1 Corinthians 16
1 Now, about the contribution for the saints; do as I directed the Galatian assemblies:
2 on the first day of each week let each one lay up money in store, according to how much he has prospered, so that there need be no collections when I come.
This is just practical instruction: nobody needs to be embarrassed or put out.
3 Then when I come, whoever you approve, I will send with letters to Jerusalem to deliver your gifts,
4 and if it is appropriate for me to go too, they will go with me.
5 After I have passed through Macedonia, I will come to you; for I intend to pass through Macedonia,
6 and I may stay with you, or even winter there, so you can speed me on toward wherever I may be headed.
As always, Paul awaits his directions from the Lord as he doesn’t yet know where he will have to go.
7 For I don’t want to just see you in passing—I’m hoping to stay with you for a while, if the Lord permits,
8 but I will stay at Ephesus until Pentecost,
9 as a wide door has opened for me to do effective work, though many oppose it.
10 If Timothy should come to you, see that he has nothing to worry about. He labours for the Lord, just as I do,
All the other translations suggest that Timothy might have reason to be afraid of the Corinthians, but I’m sure Paul’s comments are much softer than that.
11 so let no one look down on him, but send him on with your blessings that he may come to me—I await him with the brethren.
The reason some might look down on Timothy is that he lives and behaves just as Paul does himself, in humility and gentleness.
12 Regarding brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the brethren, but he was not willing to go just now: he will go when he gets the opportunity.
13 Stand firm in the faith! Be vigilant! Be valiant! Be strong!
Translation note: I changed the order here as it reads more poetically in English this way.
14 Let everything be done in love.
Final exhortations to really commit to the program.
15 Now I urge you, brethren—you know the house of Stephanas, who were the first converts of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to serve the saints—
16 that you may subject yourselves to such as these, and to all those sharing the work and labouring with us.
17 I am glad Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus are here as they have made up for your absence,
“Absence” here is a better rendering than “lack” as appears in most translations.
18 for they refresh my spirit and yours; so then, recognise such people.
19 The assemblies of Asia send you their greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the assembly that meets in their home, greet you warmly in the Lord.
20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 Salutations in my own hand: Paul.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, he is accursed. Come, Lord!
All the other translations put “let him be accursed,” or similar, but this verb ‘to be’ is in the present tense, ie, rather than Paul saying, “let him be accursed,” he is just pointing out that he stands accursed until he comes to faith. If Paul were faced with an unbeliever, he would preach to him and pray for him and attempt to convert him—he wouldn’t despair of him and curse him!
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
24 My love to you all in Christ Jesus, Amen.