1 Corinthians 3:10-23

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (NRSV) – “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

After Christ’s return, we will undergo a review of our lives. My understanding is that by the time this happens, believers will have already been resurrected or converted to immortality. So, on a physical level, we will fully embody the new creation. However, our intellectual understanding of matters will still need to be adjusted. That is what the process described in the passage above will accomplish.

As I said in the first post in this series, when all is said and done, we accomplish in this life what we were made to accomplish. But at the same time, we do things and think things that are not in line with the new creations that we were made to be. It is often difficult to tell what deeds are in line with God’s ultimate vision for us, and which ones are not. We do the best we can in this life, but it is the fire described above that will ultimately set it all straight. The fire will reward acts that are in keeping with the gospel of grace and transformation, and also show us which acts were out of line with that message, so that we can arrive at a full understanding of the new creation.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

This means that a believer’s physical and psychological being is illuminated by God’s Spirit. Suppose there is a house that, normally, would not be very attractive to you. Maybe you don’t like the design or colors, or you think it’s messy. But if a person you really like and respect lives there, and you can think of the house as that person’s place, then perhaps you think more positively about it.

So it is with ourselves and God’s Spirit. Suppose that you do not particularly like another person’s personality, in and of itself. But if you can see that person’s brain as part of the Holy Spirit’s temple, then the person’s personality should seem fascinating and inspiring.

There is also a concept of justice associated with the treatment of God’s temple, as Paul writes, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” This applies to both physical violence and psychological violence. On a psychological level, if you destroy a person’s self-confidence over perceived faults, then the consequence is that your own conscience will disrupt your self-confidence by constantly nagging you over your own flaws.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”

The Holy Spirit works with people in ways that confound normal sensibilities. Instead of focusing on judging or critiquing other believers, why not just watch them out of curiosity and see what God is up to? You are going to see a lot of fascinating, and sometimes perplexing, things happen. To “become fools so that you may become wise,” as Paul writes, I think the key is to just get off the soapbox long enough to be intrigued and perhaps amused by God’s working with somebody else, and then you will see others with new eyes and be more capable of giving useful advice if needed.

On that note, Paul returns once again to the subject of sectarianism in the Corinthians church:

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 – “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Sometimes, unhealthy sectarian dynamics result not from substantive disagreement, but rather, just differences in personality or manner of speaking. But the teaching of believers being the Holy Spirit’s temple should enlighten people to be open minded to the way God works with others and resist the urge to separate into groups as a knee-jerk reaction to perceived differences.

Since this post opened with the subject of limitations in our understanding of spiritual matters, I will close by being honest about something. When Paul says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you.” 

I don’t know what that means.

1 Corinthians 3:1-6

1 Corinthians 3:1-6 (NRSV) – “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

Individuals in the Corinthian church were fixated on trying to affiliate with certain individuals, whether it be Paul himself or other church leaders. Paul said that this mentality of the Corinthians was “of the flesh” and in accord with “human inclinations” rather than a spiritual mindset. There is a lot of talk today about spiritual growth, spiritual maturity, and the difference between carnal Christians and mature Christians.

In the context of this passage quoted above, spiritual maturity is about recognition of God’s working. Spiritual growth, correspondingly, is about developing a more expansive view of God’s working. The more you recognize God’s influence in your life, the more you see how you have gotten somewhere or accomplished something that you would not have expected of yourself, the more you are growing spiritually, and the less “jealous” you will be of other people.

But what about the reference to “quarreling” in the passage above? This is a bit difficult because the fact is, believers have some very different doctrines and passions. I know from experience that it is difficult to engage in these matters among those who think differently without the discussions developing an argumentative tone. When you run into people who have a very strong conviction about something, and you say something to the contrary, the people you are talking to will see your comment as quarreling.

But sometimes I feel that I have to say something. For example, I will be scrolling through comments posted on Christian articles and videos, and I’ll see a comment that, while well-intentioned, really goes against certain core principles I carry. Typically, it will be a comment I consider unduly judgmental, critical, or pessimistic in a way that clashes with values connected to my faith. I will then scroll through the replies and see that seemingly everyone else posting agrees with the original commenter.

So, I post my own comment in reply. I sometimes get a reply back from somebody implying that I am quarreling. I never say anything judgmental or critical of the original commenter. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if I really needed to say what I said. If virtually everyone commenting thinks a certain way, should I have just let them be? But then, there are a few people who will click the “like” button on my comment or reply saying that they agree. I don’t live for “likes,” but nevertheless, it is meaningful to me to know that somebody read what I had to say and found it interesting. Perhaps they too were uneasy with the prevailing sentiment but did not know how to express what they thought or how to make a case for their own view. Perhaps they will think about something I said as they go about their day, and maybe this will lead to their own realization of something that will have a positive impact for them.

If what I say is able to have this impact for somebody, I do not consider it quarreling in the way that Paul describes in the passage above, because my objective is not to be dissentious. That said, the content of what I say is better if it comes from a desire to express the values I have to help people, rather than making a pronouncement of the fact I disagree with something that was said. I try to focus on appreciating the values that I believe God has instilled in me, rather than focusing on how those values differ from those of other people.

The next post in this series will continue on in Chapter 3 of this epistle.

 

1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NRSV) – “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

When it comes to writing these articles, each week in this series I am fascinated to see what happens. On one hand, I am actively thinking throughout the week about what I am going to write regarding the week’s chapter. But in another sense, I see myself as an observer of the series.

Paul says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” and that his message was delivered “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” While I am not able to put myself fully into that experience, I observe these articles coming out as though it is part of God’s plan for me now to do this blog. My thoughts leading up to these writings originate from mental energy states that span from low to high, but I get energy and inspiration from watching this series take form.

Regarding Paul’s message, he also states that “among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:6).

I tend to see myself as an outsider, though I do not have a deliberate endeavor to be one. I just find that the popular worldviews (both secular and religious ones) do not quite resonate with me. There are, however, individuals in both realms with principles and attitudes that I respect and value.

Paul seems to be particularly passionate about conveying the fact that his teaching came from the Spirit of God rather than human reasoning, because he brings up the point again:

“What human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12).

As I look at my own experience, how do I distinguish between the “human spirit” and the “Spirit of God?” What I would say is that my “human spirit” is behind my psychological reactions to situations and my natural approaches to problem-solving and processing information. But I see the Spirit of God as inspiring the faith and vision that I have for my future, and the Spirit works through Scriptural teaching and life’s experiences.

Lastly, I want to discuss Paul’s statement that “those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny” (1 Cor. 2:15).

When you have beliefs on the basis of Scripture, I do not want for you to worry about scrutiny and criticism from those who may question the character associated with or produced by your beliefs. Believers can, from time to time, adjust their understanding based on insights from others, but I do not want for anyone to be guilted into changing their beliefs.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NRSV) – “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

 

Understanding the Cross involves understanding that God’s plan for humanity is not something that humans designed or engineered. For one thing, the fall of humanity into sin and mortality was not something that any of us had personal involvement in. Nevertheless, despite humanity’s problems after Adam’s transgression, humans still had a conscience that knew what was right according to God (Romans 2:14-15). It was there, ultimately, because of God, not human ability to determine what was right. Because of mortality, nobody can follow the conscience perfectly, which is why, through the Cross and Resurrection, God created a new humanity. Again, that work was done without our involvement. That’s our story; it was just something that happened to us.

Why does Paul call it “foolishness to those who are perishing?” He continues, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24)

When relating Paul’s writing about “Jews” and “Greeks” to the contemporary world, I think it is helpful to think of “Jews” as people associated with the Judeo-Christian culture, and “Greeks” as people outside of that culture.

Some people in the Judeo-Christian culture stumble over the Gospel because, while they may accept the concept of being a sinner and needing a Savior, they are simultaneous fixated on their choice to believe and their works to prove salvation. But these people’s spiritual zeal can burn out and then their faith is derailed. On the other hand, if our faith in salvation is rooted in Christ’s transformative work and His calling to us, then we have a foundation that stands whether or not we are feeling the zeal.

For those outside the Judeo-Christian culture, the Gospel message does not jive with the prominent philosophical schools of thought, political ideologies, or popular worldviews. All of these systems, despite sometimes having legitimate merits, are focused on what humanity can do to engineer a better future. The idea of mankind going from an old creation to a new creation, apart from individuals’ involvement, does not necessarily fit into these systems, and is thus often disregarded by those who build their lives around these systems.

Paul says the Gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” On one hand, both believers and unbelievers are perishing because of mortality. But believers, who will be vivified at Christ’s return and fully experience the new humanity in the coming eons, have this vision for their future as a guiding faith that brings inspiration and energy to their present lives. Not having this inspiration in the midst of mortality, or this future with regards to the eons, is what Paul refers to as perishing.

Paul continues, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

I do not want for people to get the idea that intelligence is a hindrance to faith. Believers can be intellectually brilliant and successful in many ways, including philosophy on life, science, finance, and creative pursuits. And these talents can get attention and respect from people in the world, including nonbelievers who have a healthy appreciation of life and the individuality of others. But you may be opposed by the established systems out there, potentially both secular and religious ones. You might be told that you do not have the right priorities and attitudes, or that you are not proficient or knowledgeable enough, simply because you do not fit in with the worldviews and values systems that are popular at your time of history.

We know, however, that we have some deficiencies. If we really think about how we accomplish everything that we do despite these deficiencies, it reminds us of the wisdom of God, and this is His design so that we admire His working rather than boasting in ourselves.

Additional Thoughts on Sectarianism: 1 Corinthians 1:11-13

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 – “It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided?

 

One thing that always amuses me about this passage is that Paul puts the people who say “I belong to Christ” in the same group as the sectarians. We cannot overcome sectarianism by setting ourselves up in opposition to it. It is natural to seek fellowship with other people who think the same way. Even people who simply “follow Christ” have beliefs and values that are of particular personal importance. For some, it is evangelism. For others, it is social causes. Others really emphasize being nonjudgmental.

What causes sects to develop unhealthy dynamics is when there is a lack of trust in the character of people in other groups. But as described in the previous post, if groups respect members of other groups for who they are in Christ, the groups will steer away from harmful discourses.

This does not mean that we have to excuse, condone, or downplay teachings that we take issue with and deem unscriptural. But we can also see that underneath those teachings is legitimate passion that comes from God. If two groups of Christians with clashing beliefs can see this foundational passion in each other, their own beliefs will gain nuance and maturity, and unhealthy sectarian dynamics will dissipate.

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul opens the epistle by greeting the church and telling them that they are “not lacking in any spiritual gift.” I believe we should see ourselves in the same way. We are not fundamentally deficient in anything spiritual. Maturing as believers is about focus of attention, perspective on life, and experience that comes from seeing how God works in our circumstances. But to develop in these areas, it is important that we appreciate the spiritual nature that God has given us and have the confidence to live from that nature, knowing that God will work with it so that our lives evolve according to His will, as opposed to thinking that we are problematic people who need some intervention to live as God intended.

Paul then says that Christ will strengthen believers to the end, so that they may be blameless on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ (probably referencing the day of Christ’s return when believers are resurrected or converted to immortality). This is a bit of a difficult passage, given that I do not seem to hear that believers reach the end of their lives in a state of total perfection. My interpretation of this would be that God will work with us so that, by the end of our lives, we accomplished everything He intended for us to accomplish. Despite never becoming perfect in our earthly lives, we end our earthly lives blameless in the sense that, if there is some ideal that we failed to fully attain, God justifies the life we lived. The fact that we accomplished the good works that we did, despite personal issues, is a testimony to God’s grace and transformative power which will operate throughout the universe in the coming ages after Christ’s return.

Moving on in the chapter, Paul writes, 

 

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).

 

We need to consider what is the ultimate cause of quarrels among believers. I do not think we are as worried about each other’s beliefs as we may think we are. The real concern has to do with character. Believers tend to worry about whether other believers are responsible or properly focused on God. Individual believers have their own ideas about what doctrines (or which teachers) promote these values, and this becomes the basis for sectarianism.

The solution to this issue ultimately lies in the preceding verses, which taught that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift, and that it is God who makes us blameless. On the basis of this teaching, we should be able to trust in each other’s character, as long as there is evidence that a believer regards morality.

When we trust that our core nature is of God’s design, and that He has a sovereign plan to accomplish all that He set out to do with us, we do not have to obsess over the details of other believers’ faith. God will work things out with them.

Now, I do realize that some well-meaning believers teach things that are hard to justify Biblically, and some of these teachings can be hurtful. Paul’s writing does not forbid us to speak against such teaching. However, even in these cases, we can still be of “one mind” with those we disagree with, in the sense of respecting each other as new creations in Christ and participants in God’s plan. And I believe that if this respect is truly held, teachings that are particularly hurtful will be dropped eventually.

 

The next post will address the rest of Chapter 1.

New Series: 1st Corinthians

Ist Corinthians is an epistle by the Apostle Paul with some of the most quoted and debated Scriptures in Christianity. While the epistle to the Romans often serves as a theological framework for Christian teaching, worldviews and practical advice often come from 1st and 2nd Corinthians. Of all the New Testament epistles, these writings have the most examples of addressing specific issues and controversies in a church.

1st Corinthians has a direct and often impassioned nature of writing, and it does not shy away from boldly addressing controversial issues. However, the epistle’s core theme encourages Christians to be reasonable and respectful toward each other. Paul was trying to get the attention of some crazed church members who were not thinking straight. When some stern and seemingly judgmental passages are seen in that light, the epistle depicts encouragement and grace toward thoughtful, concerned, and appreciative people.

This series will address every chapter of the epistle in weekly posts. My goal through the commentary on this epistle is to use 1st Corinthians as a foundation to develop greater confidence in the passions that God has given us individually to address moral and spiritual concerns.