1 Corinthians | Unified in Christ
Sadly, the Corinthian church worship services were out of control, disorderly and sinful. They were not pleasing to God. And so Paul shifts topics from teaching them about how to conduct themselves individually, to instructing them on what they should and shouldn’t do in a worship service. Paul desires that when they gather to worship the Lord, it be done with reverence and respect, that they would be loving toward each other, that their worship service be distinguished by love for God and one another and orderly. The Corinthians are in desperate need of reforming their worship gatherings and Paul teaches them in chapters 11-14 about the changes they need to make.
The great conflict that Paul has been addressing in chapters 8-10 is the Corinthians misuse of their Christian freedom in selfish ways. They did not consider how their actions were affecting others or impeding the spread and progress of the gospel. Paul calls them to a higher and better way. A life driven to glorify God and seek the good of others. Paul beckons them to follow the example of Christ.
Through the Lord's Supper, the church is reminded that we belong to Jesus. This meal is a precious gift whereby we participate in the body and blood of Jesus and have fellowship with him. Through this meal we are nourished by Christ and the benefits of his death. And because we belong to Him, we cannot participate in the worship of any other being or thing. The Lord is jealous for our devotion and worship. We must guard our hearts and minds from being deceived into false worship.
In chapter 10, Paul continues to address the issue of exercising Christian freedom incorrectly. He addresses the Corinthian's insistence to use their Christian freedom to visit pagan temples and participate in a meal in which the food has been sacrificed and offered to idols. Here Paul takes his strongest stance, saying these meals are expressions of idolatry and warns the Corinthians of the dire consequences of persisting in idolatry. And he uses Israel’s history to do so. Paul cites examples of God’s people who did NOT exercise self-control, turned aside to idolatry and suffered mightily for it and failed to obtain the prize of eternal life. Paul follows his warning with a great encouragement, that those who exercise self-control, striving to resist sin shall be aided by God and provided a means of escape from temptation.
In 1 Corinthians 9:15-24 Paul uses the example of his own style of ministry to exhort the young church to cultivate habits of personal discipline and self control. Paul's hope for the Corinthians is that they might utilize their new found Christian liberty as a powerful tool for gospel progress. In our present culture - one where personal autonomy and authority is held in near idolatrous esteem - we stand to learn much from Paul's example as well.
Paul in the previous chapter, had been teaching us that love constrains liberty. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s always loving to do it. And in Chapter 9, we see Paul practicing what he preaches. He restricts his own freedom so that the gospel may go forth unhindered. Love constrains liberty in Paul’s life. He refuses and relinquishes his rights for the sake of others. Where does this desire come from in his life? How is it, in an entitlement culture when everyone else is demanding their rights, Paul surrenders his rights for the sake of others? Paul does this because the great burden of his life is that the Gospel might never be hindered. So Paul refuses to be compensated by the Corinthians for his ministry among them. He doesn't want anyone claiming that Paul is only in it for the cash. He wants the Gospel to come to them freely because it is a Gospel about a salvation that is free. Those who really grasp the wonder of the Gospel will do almost anything to get out of the way of the Gospel to let it come with full force and power for the good of others, even let go of their rights.
As we come to chapter 8, Paul begins to address the topic of Christian liberty as it relates to eating food sacrificed to idols. And if we are not careful, we may be tempted to think this chapter has nothing to offer us and want to skip over it. And that would be a big mistake. In the church, we are not perfectly unified on the expressions and boundaries of the freedom we have in Christ. For example, for some, their Christian conscience may provide them the liberty to vote a certain way or own a gun or consume alcohol. For others, their Christian conscience may not permit these things. So how shall we, the body of Christ, called to live in unity, treat each other? How then do we move forward together? What should guide our behavior when we disagree? This what the next 3 chapters of 1 Corinthians is about: Differing views in the church regarding Christian freedom and conscience and how to live together in peace and in a way that pleases God.
In the second half of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks about Christian contentment, regardless of our lot. And vital to experiencing contentment in our lives is understanding the call of God towards us. Paul argues that true, holy, lasting contentment does not come by way of vocational change or change in social status. Rather, Christian contentment comes from understanding the call of God towards us. Our earthly status is inconsequential when it comes to living for Christ and being satisfied in him. Furthermore, Paul affirms Christian freedom as it relates to marriage and lends his advice on how presently engaged couples should proceed. Believers in Christ are free to marry or remain single, each circumstance has its own spiritual advantages. But whoever marries must marry a fellow believer in the Lord.
Sermon Summary: Some in the Corinthian church had accepted a false ascetic teaching of depriving themselves of pleasurable material experiences in order to make themselves more spiritual. These ascetic beliefs lead to abstinence which for the married lead to frustration. Sexual immorality became common. Paul clearly rejected this false teaching and re-established the God ordained principles of marriage. Physical intimacy in a lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is to be enjoyed and is a means of protecting the marriage from Satan's attacks. Our culture faces differently misplaced perceptions of sexual ethics which swing toward liberalism. Anything goes so long as everyone consents. This too has lead to a breakdown of marriage and the family. In Ephesians 5 we see that the union of one man and one woman in marriage hides a metaphorical truth about Christ and the church. A distorted view of marriage therefore leads to a distorted view about God and his purposes for mankind. The ideal marriage, however, as revealed in scripture, is a picture of Christ's authority, unconditional love, mercy, affection, and commitment to His people. Our faithfulness in the church to model these qualities in marriage is a strong testimony to the world of the glories of Christ.
What does it mean to be a Christian? This is a simple question but it has a multifaceted answer. A Christian is a person who has been united to Jesus by faith. A Christian is a person who has turned from their rebellion towards God, received God’s salvation wrought for them by the perfect and completed work of Jesus and have come under the Lordship of Christ. Being a Christian does not mean merely believing in our head that Christ died for us. It means the truth of God’s love grips us and holds and controls us, such that a Christian is transformed by the grace of God so that they live in a new way, a way that is ruled by God. A Christian is a lot of things, but one thing a Christian is NOT is autonomous. Christians are committed to holiness and righteousness and faithfulness in all our actions and relationships and live under the Lordship of Jesus. This means our thought life, our resources, our relationships, our entertainment, our life decisions and yes, even our bodies all come under the authority of Jesus. In First Corinthians chapter 6, the Apostle Paul teaches how our union with Christ effects the stewardship or our bodies and even transforms our sexual ethics.