Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians

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 7:32-35

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NRSV) – “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.”

Why does Paul assume that married people are anxious? And why would he want for people to be “anxious” about the Lord? After all, Paul writes in Philippians 4:6 (NRSV), “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “worry” in this passage is the same Greek word underlying the word “anxious” in the passage from 1 Corinthians.

Well, in reality, people are anxious. On one hand, you can choose to trust God to deal with a situation instead of consciously entertaining worry about it. That does not necessarily mean, however, that there will not be some undercurrent of anxiousness running through your mind. Even while trusting in God, you are still trying to be responsible and diligent, and these efforts can cause a feeling of anxiousness even if you know that ultimately God has the situation worked out.

Believers want to please God, even though they may not be able to escape some degree of concern over whether they are doing everything they should. We see different sides of ourselves and can get anxious about how the different aspects of ourselves line up with God’s will. Likewise, married people, no matter how well they may generally get along, will always have some differences with their spouse, and to some degree, figuring out how to meet each other’s desires in spite of these differences can be a source of anxiousness.

Some Christians make a big point of saying that being a Christian is not easy. They seem to have a great fear of Christians becoming comfortable and complacent, so they take it upon themselves to knock responsibility and an urge for action into them.

But what I say is, why do you fear Christians becoming too comfortable? Believers have a new nature that wants to please God despite being in a body and mind with frustrating limitations. That makes life hard enough. Why do you feel you must make it harder?

So, basically, what Paul is saying to those considering marriage is, “You are already experiencing some inherent tension that comes with being a believer; are you sure you want to bring another person into the picture, and then have to maneuver through life amid both the tension as a believer and the tension as a spouse?”

Now as I have described in previous posts, there can be a deep sense of fulfillment that comes through marriage. Likewise, there is a very deep sense of fulfillment that comes from being a believer. For some, being married may result in a greater sense of peace in life, because of certain desires that can be met, and for you and your spouse to be able to support each other as you live for God. Paul is perfectly understanding of this, which is why he never tells people not to get married. He just seeks to give people something to think about before jumping into marriage too hastily.

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 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.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NRSV) – Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

The message of this passage is that the behaviors cited do not jive with the new life that God has given believers and the destiny that He is bringing them into. Those whose objective for life involves pursuing these behaviors indicate that they do not have the vision for life that comes from faith in the Gospel, and thus are actually unbelievers who will not be part of God’s kingdom in the coming eons.

Two behaviors on Paul’s list that have become rather controversial are those which the translation above (NRSV) renders “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” While these terms may seem to evoke the broad concept of homosexuality, in both the Old and New Testaments, the specific act referenced is sexual intercourse between two men (ex. Leviticus 20:13).

In the passage from Corinthians quoted above, where the NRSV says “male prostitutes,” some Bible translations (including the King James Version) have the word “effeminate,” which needlessly broadens the concept to allude to personality or expressions. To the contrary, Strong’s Concordance makes it pretty clear that this is referring to a role in sexual intercourse.

The other term Paul uses, “sodomites,” has been rendered with the generic term “homosexuals” in some translations (such as the NASB). However, Strong’s Concordance indicates that the term refers to sexual intercourse, with “male” in the word origin.

So where am I going with all this? I know that there are believers with same-sex attraction trying to figure out where they fit in with Biblical morality. Some Christian teaching on the subject has led these people to think that there is a systemic sinfulness associated with their attractions. I went into the translation of words to show why I do not believe in this notion. To the contrary, I believe it is important for these people to feel confident in their core nature and personality, and to have faith that God is working through their nature to bring forth positive developments in their lives.

But what about the specific act of male-to-male intercourse? Except for a small percentage of the population that does not feel sexual attraction to anyone, many people seem to think that if same-sex attraction in a general sense is viewed positively, then desire for intercourse naturally follows and would be seen as an expression of love.

But really, this is not different from some other behaviors on Paul’s list. Such as “revilers.” Sometimes, legitimately righteous indignation gets out of hand and leads to verbal abuse directed at those perceived as immoral or heretical, in the name of “tough love.” On one hand, these believers with righteous anger should respect their core concern about truth and morality. In fact, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25-27 (NRSV), “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” 

The key is for believers to have a positive view of their core passions but to have a vision for life that involves expression of these passions without problematic behaviors that Paul cites. It is ultimately God who makes this happen. He knows us a lot better than we know ourselves, and He leads us through life in a way such that our unique nature becomes an inspiration to others, and the more that this is realized, the more we receive insights and epiphanies on how to live in peace without the problematic behaviors.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 – When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.

Apparently, the Corinthians were quite inclined toward suing each other. Paul admonishes them to find wise believers to settle disputes rather than going to secular courts. I think he is concerned about an image issue. If the church’s faith has given believers a deeper perspective on life, but that does not enable them to solve practical disputes, and they are then reliant on non-believing judges, Paul is concerned that observers will wonder whether the Gospel is all that it is claimed to be. But Paul’s deeper concern is their eagerness to sue in the first place.

Now, if someone has filed a lawsuit against you, there is nothing in this passage to forbid you from making your case in court. In this case, the passage above is directed toward the person that issued the lawsuit.

The real question is, what if you have signed a document such as a license agreement with another believer, which the other believer subsequently violates. Paul appears to advise that certain believers act as “judges” to handle disputes among other believers. But in most societies today, with churches split into many different congregations and denominations, I really do not see how such a “judiciary” among believers is possible. Furthermore, Paul assumes that if the Corinthians took their case to a government court, that they were taking their case before unbelievers to decide. But today, depending on where you live and whether Christians can serve in the judiciary, that may not be the case.

Paul also says “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). What should we make of this?

As with some other matters we have discussed in this epistle, I think it really comes down to attitude. I think what Paul is referring to are situations where a believer may feel the urge to sue another believer simply on the basis that some “right” was violated. I think Paul is encouraging us to exercise the principle of grace in real life. God has the right to punish any of us on the basis of immoral things we have done, but He does not exercise it, and as believers in Christ, God sees us as free from Law (Romans 7), and He works with us so that over time our lives line up with the way He wants us to live.

Similarly, instead of laying the law down on other believers and harassing them over our “rights,” Paul is implying we should be patient with them as God is with us. We can pray for God to work with them so that they become motivated to honor their commitments more seriously, and trust in God for wisdom on how to talk to them about the issue.

At the same time though, even though God does not deal with people in a punitive way, He has determined that His will shall be fulfilled in this world, and He can get people out of the way if they would obstruct what He is working to accomplish through believers (as we saw with the immoral man in the previous chapter). Likewise, in a situation where another believer has obviously wronged you and refuses to correct the situation, and the infraction could derail your progress toward fulfillment of your calling in life, I respect your judgment on what you believe to be the correct course of action. They key is to not make it a self-centered endeavor to defend your rights, but rather, to take whatever action you believe is correct to keep pressing toward the vision for life that God has given you, which is ultimately for the good of those He has placed in your life.

1 Corinthians 5

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NRSV) – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

There is a man in the Corinthian church living in an incestuous relationship. Paul takes this extremely seriously and urges the church to do so as well. But what really are the circumstances with this man?

Suppose that this man believes that Christ died and rose from the dead to set him free from sin and make him a new creation. Suppose that this man believes in God’s calling to him, and believes that God is working with him toward a future in which he will accomplish great things through righteousness. But at the moment, he is in a sinful relationship. Suppose God has finally had enough of it and tells Paul and the church to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What would this accomplish? In my view, it would accomplish nothing except to end his life prematurely. Under that scenario, this man would have a vision for his life that would last until he’s dead, and would never come to true fulfillment.

To the contrary, I believe that what we are dealing with here is a man who is building his whole identity and vision for life around this immoral relationship. For him, this relationship is what life is about. This contradicts the Gospel message, which should remind us that there is more to life than our passion at the present moment. God has made us new creations and set us on a new path in life as part of his working of all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11). The Christian life is about living in appreciation of this. I believe that the point of this man in Corinth being handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is to get him to think about God rather than the sexual relationship. If he gets sick and fears that his life is coming to an end, he may seek knowledge of something that transcends this life and recognize that God’s sovereign purpose and the power of grace that comes through Christ are what really give meaning to life. Through this recognition, his spirit would be saved. If anything else were required, salvation would be of his own works or effort at holiness rather than by God’s grace through faith.

Paul strongly urges the Corinthians to recognize the serious of this man being in their gatherings. He calls for the man to be excommunicated. He criticizes the church for being arrogant, yet in all their supposed wisdom, failing to recognize that a person in fellowship with them held an attitude about his life that contradicted the vision of the Gospel message. By maintaining fellowship with this person, the church was legitimizing his attitude and compromising the entire church’s sense of vision for a righteous future. In order to preserve the integrity of the church’s vision, that man had to be removed.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.

Again, we are dealing with people who claim to be believers but whose vision for life revolves around these immoral behaviors. Paul wants true believers to have no association with such people. Notice that Paul explicitly says that he does not apply the same standards for association with nonbelievers. There are cases in which you might know a nonbeliever who, despite having built his life on some wrong things, still has some common interests with you on other matters. In this case, Paul is not exhorting us to cut off communication.

It is really important that we view this chapter in light of the previous four chapters, which were all about unity in the church on the basis of respecting God’s calling to each other. If we utilize principles of this current chapter to cut off interaction with other believers simply because they have some issues in their lives, we are discarding the message of unity in the prior chapters, and exhibiting a lack of faith in God’s ability to work things out in others’ lives according to His will. What we are dealing with in this chapter are people with an attitude that is toxic to the vision for life that God instills in believers.