Category Archives: 1st Corinthians

1 Corinthians 9:1-18

1 Corinthians 9:1-7 (NRSV) – “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?”

This chapter picks up where the previous chapter left off, on the subject of refraining from certain activities under certain circumstances, even if we have the right to do so, for the sake of other believers. The topic discussed in the previous chapter was eating food sacrificed to idols. Given that this was a controversial issue in a divided church, Paul encouraged believers not to do it publicly (even though the “sacrifice” does not actually make the food idolatrous) to avoid causing other believers to join in and eat the food out of trust in another believer rather than their own conscience.

For Paul, giving up certain rights for the sake of those he has ministered to goes well beyond just issues of this nature. But he is concerned that the church does not appreciate it. As we saw in the first chapter of this epistle, while some believers self-identified with Paul, others chose to identify with the preacher Apollos, some chose the Apostle Peter, and others self-righteously claimed identification with Christ Himself.

Basically, to those who want to identify with Peter or Apollos instead of Paul, or who want to cast Paul aside in the name of following Christ, Paul is saying, “What reasonable issue could you guys have with me? I’ve waived my right to marriage so that I can direct my passion toward supporting you and other churches in the faith. Barnabas and I still work for a living so that we don’t have to bother you by begging for money or food.”

That was my paraphrase, but below is more writing from Paul himself:

“If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:11-12).

Here Paul is basically saying, “We have the right to be asking you for support, but we waive that right because we want you to hear our message, and we don’t want to turn you away. We don’t want to be a free service that bombards you with ads asking for money to the point where you tune out due to annoyance or guilt.

Further along in the chapter, Paul himself says,

“I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:15-18).

Paul apparently wants something to boast about. He has decided that he can boast in the fact that he does not claim his rights to any material benefits from his service to the church. He cannot boast about simply preaching the Gospel because that preaching was an “obligation” given to him, and if he doesn’t fulfill it, he says “woe is me.”

I will be very honest about something. I do not idealize the concept of feeling that you must do something for God, else face a sense of personal “woe.” But I also acknowledge that sometimes, this is the way certain good deeds predestined by God will get done.

A true attitude of grace in our minds does not come from our own endeavor to create and maintain thoughts that we consider to be in alignment with it. Instead, a real mentality of grace can only come through the Holy Spirit’s work to transmute everything going on in our minds, including feelings of obligation, or feelings of dismay if we were to not do something we are supposed to do. God can work through it so that it ultimately plays a role in bringing us into a deeper and more powerful understanding of grace.

Sometimes, it is difficult to have deep appreciation, or activate the power, of blessings in a certain area of life unless we have experienced the opposite. God knows that many humans, by nature, will sometimes do things for the sake of avoiding guilt. God plays along with it, not because it is an ideal situation in an of itself, but because when the time comes that you see how to live confidently and passionately in accord with God’s will in a certain area of life, you will see that it is truly by the wisdom of God’s grace that you developed that confidence and passion even when you could not get rid of the fear of guilt altogether.

1 Corinthians 7:36-38

1 Corinthians 7:36-38 (NRSV)- “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Here we are again with the subjects of passion and self-control. I think it is important to realize that being a believer does not create some magical ability to control natural passions. Now, we can set our vision for life on how the Bible teaches that we should live, and over time the Holy Spirit definitely works through our experiences and passions so that we develop into the lifestyle that God has called us to. However, at a given phase of one’s life, self-control in a particular area may be fundamentally lacking despite one’s faith.

Paul seems to acknowledge this. For instance, in the passage above he says that “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes.”

Earlier in the chapter, Paul stated “if they [single people] are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9).

Notice that Paul basically assumes that some believers may not be 100% successful at self- control. And interestingly, he doesn’t really say anything to shame them for it. Instead, he says they should get married.

Now, if for whatever reason, marriage really is not an option, God can work with people to develop self-control. Often times, struggles with self-control result from despair, anxiety, or a lack of inspiration about one’s purpose or future, although people may not realize that they are feeling this way. But it can be difficult to make yourself feel positive about circumstances to gain self-control when there is a burning, unmet need or a legitimate source of anxiousness that you are dealing with.

Sometimes, to deal with the underlying negativity that causes a lack of self-control, God has to shift one’s attitudes and perspective on life. This can come from His working through circumstances to cause a transformation in one’s thinking. It may seem as though an unmet need is a gap standing in between what you are and what you want to be. But regardless of whether you think your present experience is positive or negative, or whether you are optimistic or anxious about the future, you can believe for God to work through whatever is going on to bridge the gap by leading you to a clearer understanding of His purpose in your life at the present time. If you are having trouble seeing beyond the gap now, don’t let that be an extra source of worry. As you continue walking through life, there will come a time when you see something that transforms your perspective.

I’ll close this post, and my commentary on Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians, with Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

1 Corinthians 7:25-31 – “Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Regarding this passage, I want to address the “end is near” mentality that often pervades Christian teaching. Paul (writing almost two thousand years ago) stated that “in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are . . . the present form of this world is passing away.”

The overarching message of this passage has to do with not getting too attached to matters of the world. The reason is that, spiritually, God has transported us to the reality of a time far into the future.

First look at 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Now look at Revelation 21:1-5 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.‘”

The present world is passing away when seen from the perspective of this future world where our spiritual consciousness actually resides. When the present age is seen from that perspective, the two thousand years that have passed since Christ was on earth does not have to seem like such a long interval. A period of time, especially a difficult one, always seems longer when you are in the middle of it, or have just come out of it. But in our case, spiritually speaking, we are past it – way past it.

The death and resurrection of Christ was the climax of the eons, the turning point for humanity and all creation toward a redemptive destiny. Living beyond the climax of the eons, these are the “last days” for the world in its present form.

In the passage quoted at the top of this post, Paul’s message is that we should not make life “all about” matters of this world, whether it be marriage, moods, possessions, business, etc. Sometimes people think they have to get married because they think it’s just part of a normal life. Or people who are already married can get so carried away with certain issues within the marriage that they miss the bigger picture of life, which is essential to resolving whatever they’re going through. Or other people strive to maintain a certain mood in attempt to either master themselves or avoid being at odds with the prevailing sentiment.

However, when you see your life in this world from the perspective of the future reality that God has already placed in your spirit, you can feel liberated to pursue healthy desires in this world without having to worry about them consuming you. God has a purpose for us and works through these desires. The key is to know that we are just passing through this world; this is Phase 1 of our journey through the ages.

In the immediate context of this writing from Paul, the “impending crisis” he prophesies is probably the Jewish-Roman war of 66-73 A.D., with the destabilization of the Roman empire, natural disasters, epidemics, and persecution of Christians associated with the era surrounding that war. Jesus also prophesied about this era in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. But the perspective on life that Paul teaches is equally applicable to believers in the present day.

1 Corinthians 7:12-24

I do not have any commentary to make on 1 Cor. 7:12-20, but for the sake of context, the text is below. If there is anything regarding this passage that you would like for me to address, let me know. My comments resume with Verses 21-24 (see the section of the post after the line of asterisks):

1 Corinthians 7:12-20 – “To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife. However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

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1 Corinthians 7:21-24 – Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.”

I want to discuss the concept of being a “slave of Christ.” You might feel some discomfort with the idea of being a “slave.” But the intriguing, and ultimately liberating truth, is that if you are a believer, you are a slave of Christ whether or not you intend to be one or know that you are one.

There is a lot about yourself that is outside of your control. You were born with certain hardwired personality traits. You have a conscience that cannot be turned off. You have reactions to things that you see and hear, that often come on too quickly to be blocked.

The first key question is, where are all of these traits going to take you? As mentioned in the very first post in this series, God has ordained that certain things will be accomplished in our lives, and those things will be done. That leads to a second question, how are you going to get there?

Paul warns against becoming “slaves of human masters.” What is your ideal image for yourself and your lifestyle, and who is it coming from? If it is coming from peer pressures, religious leaders, cultural expectations, or whatever values are trendy at a particular moment, it is important to consider whether you have become a slave to them in your mind.

Now, there may be truth in what some of these people say. But as mentioned earlier, there is a lot in your personality and conscience that is outside of your control. Many people feel uncomfortable with themselves or have hidden guilt. Various influences in the world, and perhaps faulty ideas within one’s self, seize upon this discomfort or guilt by persuading people to adopt a certain view of themselves and the world around them. But these ideas often run counter to the mindset that Christ is working to impart to believers. And these problematic mindsets lead to actions that, while sometimes well-intentioned, cause behavioral patterns that counter Christ’s leading.

However, even with those problematic influences going on, what God has ordained for a believer’s life will still be accomplished, because believers’ consciences, in conjunction with their personalities, will still get them to do certain things eventually. But what will be lacking is a sense of peace with Christ’s leading.

On the other hand, to accept the fact that you are a slave of Christ, just believe that Christ is working with the aspects of yourself that you are uncomfortable with to bring you more in line with His will. Appreciate the things your conscience has gotten you to do in spite of internal opposition, and then you don’t have to worry about whether other people think you are good enough according to their worldviews.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NRSV) – “To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

My approach to the subject of divorce and remarriage is very much analogous to my commentary on suing in the previous chapter. It’s about putting the principle of grace into practice.

God does not “divorce” believers who don’t live the way He wants them to. And even if people alienate themselves from God in their own minds by failing to appreciate what He has done for them, His grand plan for the eons is still to bring them back. If He finds someone else who lives the way He wants, He does not use that person’s choice to obey as an excuse to prevent reconciliation with the one who disobeyed. Even though none of us do everything God would want us to do ideally, He works with our minds and attitudes so that we nevertheless move in the direction He has called us to.

As I said in the commentary on lawsuits, God does not deal with people in a punitive way and make them perform works or suffer to compensate for their disobedience. However, there is another principle I mentioned there that also applies here, which is that if someone is persistently interfering with God’s plans that He is working through believers, He still reserves the right to get the person out of the way somehow.

So, with regards to divorce, and remarriage, the most important thing is for people to carry an attitude of grace in their hearts and let this be a guiding principle for their lives and relationships. But at the same time, as with the matter of lawsuits, I respect your decision on what you have to do in order to experience the peace needed to pursue your calling, as opposed to being chained in a state of bondage or frustration.

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (NRSV) – “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

I want to start with end of the passage above and then work backward. Paul writes that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” This series of posts has discussed passion a lot. In particular, how faith in the transformation of believers through Christ allows us to accept our core passions and trust God to work through them.

In the case of sexual passion, it is important to understand that this kind of passion does not exist in a box. What I mean by this is, the hormones and neurotransmitters involved with it, such as testosterone, acetylcholine, GABA, and dopamine, are intrinsically involved with one’s physical and mental energy, central nervous system function, concentration, mood, and memory. This is a point which, unfortunately, I often perceive is not well appreciated in Christian teaching on abstinence until marriage.

It is not the ultimate goal of such teaching that I object to, but rather, the means of getting there. Particularly, the tendency to portray sexual energy as “rebellious,” “sinful,” “selfish,” or a threat to one’s spiritual purity that has to be fought against. Even though it is taught that people ultimately need to trust in God for power to deal with these passions and resist temptation while single, the appeal to trust in God comes only after painting a very negative, and sometimes harmful, picture of one’s natural state.

The consequence of this teaching is that it twists the natural functions of the brain into unhealthy patterns. If one’s mind is stressing out over the biochemical processes involved in sexual desire (and day-to-day mental function), the activity of these chemicals is suppressed, causing poor psychological health in one’s day-to-day life. And unfortunately, when these people eventually get married, their brains may be twisted out of shape already, and the damage can follow them into marriage.

Once people are married, God wants for them to be understanding and respectful of each other’s needs. Paul writes, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer.”

I suspect this understanding and respect is harder if a couple enters marriage with their brains distorted by harmful teaching during their single years. If years were spent trying to conquer one’s self, I am concerned this could lead to an attitude in marriage that is excessively focused on one’s self.

The challenge, while single, is to confront the faulty ideas, fears, or personal pursuits that keep someone from being able to find fulfillment of desires. For instance, if what you really want in life is to be in a sexual relationship, but you have personal quests, or carry certain fears, or believe certain things about yourself or others that inhibit you from getting married, you can seek God to reorient your thinking so that you can be open to getting married but make a wise decision.

On the other hand, if marriage is really not an option, you can believe for God to lead you to an activity or a non-sexual relationship that expresses your passions. But you need to have a positive view of the chemistry behind your passions in order to see how God can do a creative work through you.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (NRSV) – “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

This passage is centered on the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse. It is important to analyze what this means in order to understand the Biblical mindset for sexual morality.

When Paul writes “the two shall be one flesh,” he is quoting the part of the Genesis creation account that depicts the creation of Eve from Adam:

The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:21-24).

Although most translations say that God removed a “rib” from Adam to form Eve, I don’t think that is exactly correct. The word translated “rib” is the Hebrew word “tsela,” which is translated as “angular organ” in the Concordant Version of the Old Testament. The commentator William W. Bentley, Jr. viewed the term in this context as suggestive of female sexual anatomy (see “Scene 3” in exposition), writing, “Whereas Adam had been created a bisexual human, God separated the male and female reproductive function by removing an angular organ from Adam and forming another body around it.”

Another commentator, Martin Zender, describes another instance of the term “tsela” that occurs in Ezekiel 41:7, describing the structure of a temple’s “side chambers,” which resemble the shape of a uterus (see 14:00-16:00 in the linked video). Zender also states that the normal Hebrew word for rib would be “ala,” not “tsela” (12:10-12:30).

The “rib” translation is convenient for a kids’ Sunday school class, but the real meaning of the term unlocks a powerful truth about how God works with humanity.

The original Adam, created intersex, had a sense of balance not found in humanity since then. If God simply wanted Adam to have a partner, He could have created another human like Adam. But God was up to more than just that!

I doubt that Adam woke up from this operation feeling good. He probably felt internal irritation and weakness. But, together with Eve, he found something resembling the balance that was lost. Male-female attraction is actually a symbol of humanity seeking God, because ultimately all humanity is lacking something that God has, leading to irritation in life.

During times in life when there seems to be continual frustration from something needed for peace and balance getting taken away, my belief is that God ultimately causes/allows (whichever you prefer) these things to happen, and if it makes you feel any better about it, He’s been doing this since the very beginning of humanity, starting with the disruption He caused inside of Adam. But ultimately, this sets the stage for the Biblical process of redemption, in which God transforms humanity into a new creation, restoring what was lost and creating something even more glorious. And we can believe for this transformation to play out in circumstances of our present lives.

Now, getting to the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse, the significance of sexual intercourse in the Bible is that, by uniting male and female genitalia, humanity is brought into a new state of being that resembles the completeness that it had before the disruption. Since this affects the core essence of one’s existence, the Bible is concerned with the circumstances under which it occurs, and who it occurs with. This is why Paul writes that “every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor. 6:18).

Sexual immorality is not fundamentally about utilization of sexual organs. Rather, it is about creating a new state of humanity with another person which takes us farther from, rather than closer to, the state of being God has called us toward.

Paul writes that “The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Cor 6:13-14)

God is working on our entire being through this power to bring us into our destiny. The exhortation toward sexual morality is meant to encourage us to live in harmony with this transformative power.

Paul also writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

This is an encouragement to trust in what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of us. On one hand, there is still a lack of balance in humanity stemming from the disruption to Adam, but the Holy Spirit is working with believers on this, so this should be an encouragement to stay optimistic and trust in the process rather than resorting to immoral sexual intercourse out of hopelessness.