September 17, 2022 - 1st Corinthians Chapters 9-12

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Last time, we saw how Paul was explaining to the church at Corinth that we must make sure not to use our freedom in Christ in a way that would tempt fellow believers to fall back into sin. The issue was eating meat that has been offered to idols. Whatever you do, Paul says, don’t let your freedom tempt anyone for whom Christ died back into worshipping idols.

Paul’s not done with that subject yet, but as we come to chapter 9, Paul takes a few moments to defend his authority as an apostle whose word should be taken seriously. Paul can’t point to any event like the rest of the Twelve where he was officially chosen to be an apostle. All Paul can do is point out, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” His skeptics can say, “But that was after his resurrection. Any of us can make that claim.”

Another challenge to Paul’s authority is that he accepts no pay, and has no wife to accompany him, like the other apostles and the brothers of Jesus do. So here we learn that the 11 apostles and the brothers of Jesus are all married. Here we have an impressive argument (albeit from silence) that if Jesus was married, Paul would have certainly added Jesus to the list he cites. Paul is single by choice; he has the right, power, or authority (same word) to choose otherwise.

Notice how much of an issue being paid becomes in this dispute. Paul asks in verse 4-6, “Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Or is it only Barnabas and I who don’t have the right not to work?” Paul then builds an impressive argument for the right of all fulltime Gospel laborers to be compensated. Verse 7: “Who ever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat the fruit? Who tends a flock and never gets the milk?”

What does God say? “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Paul says, “Does God care about oxen here? No, God wrote that for us, so that those who labor for the harvest may share in the crop.” And what about those employed to offer sacrifices? Don’t they get the right to eat from the sacrifices they offer? Paul clinches his argument in verse 14: “the Lord commanded (or appointed) those who proclaim the Gospel to live from the Gospel.”

Paul argues that he has a right to earn his living as pay for his fulltime labor spreading the Gospel. Paul says in verse 11 that he has a right to reap or share in their carnal or material goods. But Paul has chosen not to, because he personally has been compelled by God to make the Good News free of charge. Paul says that if he preaches the Gospel willingly, he’s entitled to a reward, but Paul says, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel!” So Paul won’t accept any credit or pay for doing what he has no choice not to do. But Paul refuses to let anyone deprive him of his grounds for boasting because he doesn’t get paid. When the KJV translates in verse 18, “I make the Gospel without charge, that I abuse not my power in the Gospel,” a better way to translate is, “so that I do not make full use of my right in the Gospel.” Paul’s overall point in this chapter is that he has a right to be paid, but he chooses not to be paid.

That’s part of Paul’s mission strategy. Paul wants to eliminate any obstacles to the Good News of Christ. Paul says he’s free to do what he wants, but he makes himself a slave of all, so that he might win souls for Christ. Paul says that for Jews, he becomes like a Jew, so that he can win Jews. To the Greeks and Romans, he becomes like them. “I am made all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do it for the sake of the Gospel.” Paul is determined to do whatever it takes to present the Gospel in forms that both Jew and Gentile can understand.

Paul then takes a moment in verse 25 to talk about self-control. uses an image from the stadium: “Every athlete exercises self-control (engkrateia) in all things.” In 51 AD, had seen athletes training for the Corinthian games. Athletes there tortured their bodies with rigorous exercise preparing for action. Then they swore before a pagan altar that they had followed the rules in their training and would avoid cheating in order to win the crown.

Paul teaches that following Christ requires the self-discipline of an athlete. The athlete surrenders completely to the trainer, toughens their body with constant practice, and even cuts out harmless enjoyments like meat and wine, all for the all-consuming goal of winning. Likewise, Paul says, “I do not run aimlessly or box like someone beating the air.” Instead, I “punish my body and bring it into submission, lest after preaching to others (to enlist them for the race), I myself should be disqualified.” Paul does not want to be sidelined.

Paul points out how pagan athletes put in all this effort just to win a crown of pine or laurel that will wither and turn brown in a week or two. All that work, all that sacrifice, for a prize that doesn’t even last! But we who believe, Paul argues, are working to win, not a perishable wreath, but an imperishable crown.

It’s crazy how students who don’t practice self-discipline in their studies will practice amazing self-discipline in sports. They’ll do whatever the coach says. They’ll lose weight, they’ll show up for every practice, they’ll work till they drop, they’ll jump when the coach says jump. Why? Because making the team is their all-consuming goal. If an athlete will work that hard to win an award that doesn’t last, why not do that for a reward that does last? If we want it badly enough, we will do it. And for followers of Christ, our #1 desire should be to please our Coach.

Paul reminds his audience at Corinth that just entering the race doesn’t guarantee you a prize. There’s a race to be run, and God wants us to run to win. There’s room for millions in the winner’s circle, but we can easily lose the race by letting our lives slide. That’s why Paul says he does not waste his punches or run aimlessly. Paul uses every ounce of strength he’s got to press forward toward winning the goal.

Self-control is key, whether we’re dealing with anger, careless talk, sexual desire, laziness, or habits that are harmful to our health. We also need self-discipline to create positive habits like daily prayer, reading God’s word, systematic giving, worship, and service. There’s a war going on between our souls and our passions, and without self-control, we’ll be defenseless against the attacks of the enemy. But as we talked about in our broadcast on Romans 8-11 three weeks ago, human willpower can’t win that battle. Only the Holy Ghost can give us that power.

In chapter 10, Paul comes back to the issue of meat offered to idols. Paul points out that Israel in the desert had all been baptized into Moses when they passed through the Red Sea. They ate the same bread from heaven, and they drank the same supernatural water from the rock (which stood for Christ). “But with most of them God was not pleased.” Their dead bodies were scattered all over the desert, as a warning or example to us.

What was the warning? Don’t worship idols, like they did! Don’t get into sexual sin, like they did! Don’t put Christ to the test! Idol worship and sexual sin were the same temptations that plagued the church at Corinth. But Paul assures them in verse 13, “No temptation has taken you but what is common to man. But God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted above what you are able, but will also with the temptation make a way of escape, so you may be able to bear it.” God never lets you suffer a temptation that is more than you can endure with God’s help.

So flee from idol worship! Run away from it as fast as you can. Look at what happens when we take the bread and the cup: aren’t we sharing in the body and blood of Christ? So what happens when we knowingly eat from an idol’s sacrifice? We become partners with demons. That’s who the pagans are sacrificing to: not to make-believe gods, but to demons! As Paul warns in verse 21, “You can’t drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can’t partake of the Lord’s Table and the table of demons. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

So Paul says, “Eat whatever is sold in the shambles” (meaning meat market) without asking questions. Go ahead if a pagan invites you to dinner, unless they warn you that the meat is from a sacrifice. “Whatever you eat or drink,” Paul says, “do all to the glory of God.”

Paul spends the first half of chapter 11 addressing the issue of head coverings. The issue is cultural, so Paul does not command here, Paul simply urges them to understand the cultural message we send by whether or not we wear a covering on our head. Paul says in verse 16 that if anyone wants to be contentious about this issue, churches at this time are unanimous that women should wear a head covering as a sign of submission to authority. In our culture, men show respect to God by removing their hats. But if you go to the Temple Wall in Jerusalem, men must wear hats (if you don’t have one, they’ll put one on you!), but women don’t have to wear hats there. Verse 14 is where Paul states that it is a “shame” for men to have long hair, yet Paul says so in a day where shoulder-length hair was normal on men, and where the Greeks believed that hair that was too short, or shaving the beard, made men look like women. These are all cultural issues.

Next, Paul addresses the Lord’s Supper. If there hadn’t been abuse of the Lord’s Supper at Corinth, Paul might have never written about it, and our understanding of the Lord’s Supper would be that much poorer as a result. Back then, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated as a full meal, like the Passover, only much more often. The problem at Corinth was that some believers were dishonoring God by treating this meal as their own private pig-out. Little did those who did so realize how badly they were humiliating those who had little or nothing to eat.

Roman history tells us it was not uncommon for a dinner host to serve choice food and larger portions to his upper class guests, and lower class food and smaller portions to his lower class guests, all at the same meal. That’s what’s going on here at Corinth. Those who had nothing were going hungry at this meal, while those who had plenty got loaded (in more ways than one). Here at this meal that was supposed to bring believers together, the social class lines were still sharply drawn. Believers were not even sharing the same food!

Such injustice was a scandal to the body of Christ. Paul asks, “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” To treat fellow members of the body of Christ this way is an insult to Christ himself. Paul says that to eat the Lord’s Supper in a way that makes a joke out of Christ and his sacrifice is to sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Paul warns that whoever eats and drinks without recognizing what this meal is all about, eats and drinks judgment on themselves. In their feasting, the Corinthians had lost sight of why they had come to this table. That’s why Paul has to go back and remind them why, in the earliest written account of this meal.

In his last Passover meal with his followers, Jesus gives the breaking of unleavened bread and the cup of wine a whole new meaning. Jesus says that now, this broken bread from Passover is his body broken for us, and the cup they share is now the blood of the New Covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus commands that we are to eat this bread and drink this cup “in remembrance of me,” and Paul tells them that as often as we do so, we proclaim his saving death until he comes again. Let each person examine their attitudes before they eat, to make sure they’re here for the right reasons. If anyone wants to pig out, let them do that at home.

We are told not to eat this supper in an unworthy manner. These words have been so misunderstood, they have caused heartache to countless millions who have felt they could not take the Lord’s Supper because they were not worthy enough. That’s not the idea! When we examine ourselves, it’s not to see whether we are “worthy” or not, but to realize that we are all un-worthy. No one can come to this table without first recognizing how much we need a Savior, and how lost we are without him. This table is for sinners only.

Is the Lord’s Supper necessary for salvation? No, we don’t have to use bread or the cup to place our faith in the sacrifice of Christ. However, Jesus did command us to do this. Why? First, faith is reinforced by a symbol we can see, touch, and even taste. The Passover uses bitter herbs to remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery. Horseradish drives home the point! So also when we taste the bread and the cup, we are tasting vivid reminders of Christ’s body and blood.

Second, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we receive what Christ did for us. These elements are like a handshake or a kiss, both of which communicate what they symbolize (friendship, romantic love). Eating the bread and drinking the cup are a tangible way we receive what Christ offers to us. Finally, the Lord’s Supper is a unique way of connecting with Christ himself. How? That’s a mystery I am unable to put into words. All I can say is that the Lord’s Supper is an act of sharing that unites us not only with Christ, but also with believers around the world. (The word “communion” is the Greek word koinonia, which means literally “sharing.”)

In chapter 12, Paul tackles the subject of spiritual gifts. The church at Corinth seems to have made this into still another subject to boast and argue about. Paul begins by reminding the church that not all supernatural phenomena come from God. That’s why Paul warns, “No one speaking by the Spirit ever calls Jesus accursed.” Counterfeit tongues and counterfeit prophecy are all potential dangers. That’s why you need people who can discern true spirits from false ones.

Paul explains that there may be all sorts of different spiritual gifts, but “it is the same God which worketh all in all.” then names wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues as gifts of the Holy Ghost. Some of these gifts are obviously more supernatural than others. But insists that they all come from the same Holy Spirit, who distributes these gifts “as he wills.” No one can boast about worthiness or achievement here. It is totally a divine management decision for which we can claim no credit or favor, and no amount of effort or begging will change God’s decision.

Verse 14: “For the body is not one member, but many.” Paul gets some amazing mileage out of the image of the Church as the body of Christ. By the one Spirit, both Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, have all been baptized into the same body. Paul says no one can claim they are not part of Christ’s body because they are not an eye or a hand. Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now God has set the members in the body as he pleased.”

And no one can claim they are more important than any other part of the body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, or the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” No, the parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with greater care, which the other parts don’t need. So God arranges the body to give more honor to the parts that lack it, to deprive the parts of the body from anything to fight about, so that all will have the same care for one another. Verse 26 expresses it well, and gives us a wonderful verse we can use when people are grieving: “When one part suffers, all suffer together. When one part is honored, all rejoice together.”

Paul now recaps how God has ordered the body of Christ. The list Paul uses is somewhat different from the list he started the chapter with. Paul puts apostles at the top of the list, an office for which there is no spiritual gift per se, and which is necessarily limited to those who personally witnessed the life and teachings of Jesus. Next, Paul lists prophets (plural) and then teachers (not on his first list). Then Paul lists miracles, healing, and tongues (which he mentioned before), plus helping and “governments” (or “leadership”), which he did not mention before.

Does everyone get all these gifts? Paul’s answer is, No. We must not feel deprived if God has not given us a gift like tongues or prophecy or teaching. Does God still give all these gifts today? I believe the answer is Yes, although as Paul warns at the beginning of this chapter, not all of such supernatural displays necessarily come from God.

As we look ahead to next time, Paul tells the bickering Corinthian church that there is one gift that is far more valuable than all of the spiritual gifts they’ve been boasting about. We’ll talk about that gift, along with more on the subject of spiritual gifts, plus some landmark teaching from Paul about the resurrection, next time on Biblical Words and World!