4. Sexual sins condemned and instruction given regarding marriage, (I Cor. 6:12-7:40). In this section Paul deals with two basic issues.
First, the fact that fornication is not a matter of Christian liberty (I Cor. 6:12-20). Christian liberty is expressed as, “all things are lawful to me, but all things are not convenient,” or helpful, (I Cor. 6:12). Sins are not lawful. They are condemned by God. Nor are they helpful, but always impair. Fornication is a sin, not a matter of Christian liberty. Eating food is a matter of Christian discretion. It satisfies a physical need. But sex is not the same; our bodies belong to Christ (vs. 15). He redeemed them (vs. 20). Through the resurrection of Christ, our bodies belong to Him eternally (vs. 14). Fornication violates the exclusive union we have with Christ; it is a spiritual act of adultery (vs. 15-17). Hence it is a sin against the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (vs. 18).
Secondly,. there are times when it is better to be single (unmarried) than married (I Cor. 7:1-40). We must remember that Paul was writing during a time of distress, persecution (vs. 26). He does not belittle marriage in general. Consider that Paul specifically states, in I Tim. 4:3, that “forbidding to marry” is a sign of apostasy; and in Eph. 5:22-33 he tells us that marriage is a reflection of Christ and His marriage to the church. Paul also instructs those who have not the “gift of continence,” who have the desire for sexual expression, that they should marry (vs. 7-9), and also married people must not look upon sexual relation as something bad, but that which must be considered as part of marriage, so much so that he warns husbands and wives not to abstain from sexual relations for a long period lest they be tempted to sin, (vs. 3-6). Divorce is wrong and a married person should not seek the spiritual advantages of being not married by leaving his spouse ‘(vs. 11). Also regarding unequal marriages, in which one is a believer and the other an unbeliever, brought about by the conversion of only one spouse after their marriage, he writes that if the unbeliever is willing to live with the believer, then the believer should accept this (the marriage is sanctified by one being a believer and perhaps the believer may be the means to save the unbeliever). If the unbeliever departs, let him depart (vs. 12-17). Incidentally, this same principle applies to circumcision and servants, (vs. 18-24). He goes on to advise virgins (both male and female persons who are unmarried) that they should not marry, not because it is wrong, but because there are two advantages in remaining unmarried. First, they will have less suffering during the time of tribulation (it is a fact that during persecution a husband and wife and parents carry more of a load when they see their loved ones suffer) and Paul would spare them this, (vs. 25-31). In addition, unmarried people have more time and effort to devote to the service of spiritual things than married, (vs. 32-35). Hence parents too must not forbid the marriage of their children, but must counsel them concerning the responsibilities of marriage and to marry in the Lord, (vs. 36-40).
During this discourse, Paul refers to the lack of commandment and he gives his opinion, (vs. 6, 12, 17, 25, 40). By commandment he refers to the Old Testament Scripture. He cannot quote from it; there is no reference. His opinions are spiritually guided and inspired so that they are indeed the Word of God, binding upon the churches, vs. 17.
5. The problem of eating food offered to idols (chapters 8-10). According to Acts 15:29 the Council at Jerusalem decided that the Gentile converts should abstain from meat offered to idols. The Corinthian situation was different and so he sets forth two principles. First, there is no sin in the food itself, (vs. 1-7). Second, we may not give offense (vs. 8-13). A strong Christian knows that idols are vanity; but if a weak Christian thinks there might be something to an idol; he would be tempted to sin and worship the idol, hence be offended. We must be careful that we do not lead another into sin and thus give offense.
Paul illustrates this principle from his own life. There are times in a Christian’s life when he will deny himself something for the sake of weaker brethren. Paul did this in connection with taking money from the churches. As an apostle, he was entitled to financial support (I Cor. 9:1-18). The churches were obligated to support him, even should he be married, as was the case with Peter, vs. 5. The ox that ground corn in Israel ate freely and was not muzzled, (vs. 8-10). Yet, he did not take money for his preaching. Rather he engaged in tent-making as a means to support himself in order that no one in Corinth could accuse him of preaching for money, (vs. 15-18). In his ministry he accommodated Jews and Gentiles in many ways, in order that he might gain the more, (vs. 19-23). In this way a Christian gains the prize of the high calling, (vs. 24-27). This says something to ministers and members of the church concerning a willingness to deny ourselves legitimate things for the sake of the gospel of Christ. The history of Israel in the wilderness is proof for the need of self-denial (I Cor. 10:1-8). They were well taken care of, yet they yielded to idolatry, fornication, and tempting Christ.
There is another reason why they should not eat meat offered to idols. They themselves might sin. The Corinthians faced this temptation. If they saw nothing wrong with it, they might want to attend the public feasts in the city. If they did this, it would be an act of idol worship, because such a one identified himself spiritually with the feast, (I Cor. 10:9-22). It is a different matter if one buys food in the market and eats such food at home, (vs. 10-27), provided that no one makes a big deal about it. If someone says, I bought this in the market and it was offered to idols, he obviously is tempting, and one should not eat of it, (vs. 28, 29). This might lead him to justify idolatry.
6. The problem of women appearing in church without a veil (I Cor. 11:1-16). The veil upon a woman’s head was a symbol of sexual modesty and willing submission to her husband. This was not only true in the church of Paul’s day, it was part of eastern culture everywhere. Paul proceeds to show that by wearing the veil, believing women would express their agreement with these two qualities. God established that the responsible head of the woman is the .husband, and the wife must submit herself to him, (vs. 4). And a woman without a veil acts as a shorn woman, one marked as a whore (vs. 5, 6). Both must accept their God-given place which was determined already in creation (vs. 7-9). This is especially true in public worship when the angels are present (vs. 10). As head, man is not independent of the woman, nor by submission is a woman slave to a man, but both need each other and assist each other (vs. 11, 12). Even the natural growth of the hair indicates that God wants a woman covered, while a man loses hair and becomes bald, (vs. 13-15). This is a spiritual matter at heart and therefore he adds that anyone who wants to argue over this point for the sake of argument must not be entertained (vs. 16). We must learn from this that outward conduct both in dress and appearance reflects what we are inside. As Christians we must not project ourselves as ungodly, but as children of God.
7. The problem of corrupting the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:17-34). The church of Corinth connected the Lord’s Supper with eating a meal. This influence may have come from two sources: the heathen were accustomed to eating a meal with their sacrifices; and the Christian churches were celebrating love feasts in which they provided a meal for the poor and distressed, (see Acts 2:42, 46). Now the Corinthians decided to have this meal in the church; and sometime during or after the meal they added the sacrament of, the Lord’s Supper. This explains the corruptions mentioned here and the stern warning that by so doing they were worse off (vs. 17-19). At these feasts some were neglected and went hungry while others drank too much and became drunk (vs. 20, 21). This practice took away from the Lord’s Supper its purpose, namely to look to Christ for spiritual food and not to come to the supper for natural food or even alcoholic drink (vs. 22). Paul reminds them of the original purpose as instituted by Christ (vs. 23-25), which requires of them confession of sin and self-examination (vs. 26-29). Mutual discipline is important because God will judge those who corrupt it (vs. 29-33). Social eating and Christian hospitality must be practiced at home, and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper reserved for the church service (vs. 34).
8. The problem of speaking in tongues and the orderly conducting of the church services (I Cor. 12:1-14:40). Speaking in tongues was one of the many special signs given to the New Testament church by the Holy Spirit to show His presence. By speaking in tongues a person spoke in a foreign language with which he was not acquainted. Joel prophesied this would take place, (Joel 2:28), and Christ mentioned it, (Mark 16:17, 18). In the Corinthian church it became part of their worship service. This led to many abuses, all of which can be reduced to this one thing, that they made too much of it.
Quite naturally, when the whole church is excited about speaking in tongues, some will speak out of human emotions and not of true spiritual enlightenment. Paul warns them that they should know the difference, since they were converted from idolatry, and all spiritual activity should acknowledge that Christ is Lord (I Cor. 12:1-3). The purpose of speaking in tongues should be profit, edification (vs. 4-7). Speaking in tongues is only one of many gifts which the Spirit gave the church. Paul mentions wisdom (to enable one to lay hold of the gospel), knowledge (set forth the revealed truth), faith (ability to triumph by its power), healing (restore health to the sick), miracles (a broader term including raising the dead), prophecy (receiving revelation from God and speaking it forth), discerning the spirits (able to see difference between truth and error), speaking in tongues and interpreting them (foreign languages and to convey the truth of the gospel while others could translate this), verses 8-10. One thing is clear, these gifts are of the Lord alone (vs. 11).
To understand the place of spiritual gifts in the church, Paul now draws a comparison between the human body and the church. He enumerates these points: first, as the body is a living organism, so also is the church, (vs. 12-13); second, as there are many organs yet one body, so there are many members yet one church, (vs. 14); third, as all the members of the body are not alike, so also in the church, (vs. 19); fourth, as all members of the body need each other or they cannot function, so also in the church, (vs. 15, 16); fifth, as God has determined the place of each member of the body, so He also does this in the church, (vs. 18); finally, as even the least esteemed member of the body is important, so in the church, (vs. 20-23). From these points of comparison, Paul draws out the following principles that apply to the situation in Corinth and so for us as well. First, whether a member has special gifts or not must not interfere with the harmony of the church, because God tempers the whole church by giving to the member that lacks, a special gift, (vs. 24); second, all the members must care for each other to prevent division, (vs. 25); and thirdly, there is a mutual joy and sorrow reflected in the triumphs and defeats of the membership, (vs. 26). The conclusion to all of this is that God gives offices and gifts to the members of the church not for their personal exaltation, but for the well-being of all the members. It is good to seek the best gifts for the sake of the entire church, (vs. 28-31).
—to be continued