“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
What do you remember of your first “communion?” I was baptized on Sunday, October 10, 1965. I was twelve. We had no baptistry so after assembly, we drove in a small caravan to the seaside where my father baptized me. There is a small picture of the event it in my office.
An elderly lady missionary had her birthday celebration that day and after my baptism, we went to her party at the YMCA (they had a room large enough to hold the crowd). Then, a few hours later, we met with a congregation near there (no evening service for us) and I was served the Lord’s Supper. I knew I had that day crossed over and was now counted one of the People of God. From that day to this, every Lord’s day, I’m reminded of that fact.
To a goddaughter at her first communion C.S. Lewis wrote: “Don’t expect (I mean, don’t count on and don’t demand) that . . . when you take your first communion you will have all the feelings you would like to have. You may, of course, but also you may not. But don’t worry if you don’t get them. They aren’t what matter. The things that are happening to you are quite real things whether you feel as you would wish or not, just as a meal will do a hungry person good even if he has a cold in the head which will rather spoil the taste. Our Lord will give us right feelings if He wishes – and then we must say ‘Thank you.’ If He doesn’t, then we must say to ourselves (and Him) that he knows us best. . . . For years after I became a Christian I can’t tell you how dull my feelings were and how my attention wandered at the most important moments. It is only in the last year or two that things have begun to come right – which just shows how important it is to keep doing what you are told.”
Poverty among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Judea was a big concern for Paul. He’d been asked by the Jerusalem leadership some time before not to forget their poor. Paul came on the idea of soliciting a collection among gentile churches for poor Jewish Christians. He believed this would cement a bond between Jews and gentiles.
As this letter to the Corinthians closes, he references his previous directives for the contribution again. It won’t do a lot of good. He will have to remind them again of it in the second Corinthian letter. All of this comes at the end of his third missionary journey. As Luke recounts in the book of Acts, there appears to be no contribution from Corinth to the Jerusalem church.
There is another issue in this closing chapter. Paul is concerned how Timothy will be treated by the Corinthian brethren. He is also concerned that faithful brethren in the Corinthian church who are well known for their devotion to the cause of Christ might also be mistreated. And so it goes. Christian people ought to respect one another because they are disciples of the Lord. But there should be greater recognition and higher regard for those who have quite obviously devoted themselves to the service of the Lord by serving His people. The problem was in Corinth, and even today, that many Christians want respect and recognition they do not deserve and resent others who have set a better example. This is not the way things ought to be. Though the collection mentioned in this chapter gets more air time among expositors, it is this latter matter of respect that occupies Paul’s greater attention as this letter comes to a close. I’ve seen wonderful servants of the Lord vilified by petty Christians who simply resent the notion that anyone would be honored above themselves. Church leaders, in an effort to calm these troubled waters seldom tell the petty what they need to hear: That they should hush, repent, and try to better emulate the lives of their exemplary brethren.
In a way, 1 Corinthains 8 – 10 and 11 – 14 are about the same thing: how we treat one another. Chapters 8 – 10 have to do with how we treat one another in our daily lives. Chapters 11 – 14 have to do with how we treat one another in worship.
Chapter 11 spoke to the matter of men and women sharing the same roles in the assembly, then to the procedure of observing the Lord’s Supper while remembering that none of us is an island; God has made us a body. Chapter 12 extends this discussion into the exercise of spiritual gifts, remembering that whatever gifts we have are not to exalt ourselves, but for the benefit of all. Chapter 13 drives home the abiding principle that should guide all our dealings with one another: love.
In chapter 14, Paul proposes practical solutions to the exercise of spiritual gifts. First, that exercise should be for the benefit of others. Second, there should be order in the Christian assembly. Not everyone gets to speak at any one gathering. Third, disruptions should not be tolerated.
It’s along this last line Paul makes a comment about women speaking in the assembly. The idea is not that they should not speak (for he has already allowed it in 1 Corinthians 11), but that they should not interrupt. This kind of speaking is simply not allowed. Paul is very specific here. The idea context is the notion of “interrupting,” the asking of a question. There is a place for asking questions. Our modern Bible classes encourage that and the passage is not dealing with that scenario. The passage is dealing with presentations much like our sermons, where interruptions are properly considered rude and inappropriate.
I doubt any Christian in my home country ever thinks about whether it is appropriate to eat food sacrificed to idols. Idolatry, at least of the sort Paul has in mind here, never intrudes into our daily lives. We are not, however, the only Christians and for many in the world, this is a very relevant issue.
The over-all point Paul makes is indeed a matter all the Church should take seriously.
Paul has asserted that idols are nothing and the gods they represent are nothing. Some Christians realize this and therefore eating meat sacrificed to idols means nothing to them. But, Paul says, not everyone, even in the Church, feels this way. To eat meat offered to idols might, by your example, actually promote idolatry among those people (chapter 8). In Chapter 9, Paul says that care and concern for your brethren is more important than personal feelings, and we should do whatever will help them and not hinder their spiritual growth. In Chapter 10, Paul deals with this in a practical way. First, even if we discount the viability of idolatry, you don’t want to be too accepting of it. The next thing you know, you will be enmeshed in its rituals. Second, though we may not believe in other gods, our participation in their rituals indicates to others that we do believe – a notion we must not perpetuate. So, third, eat what’s put in front of you and don’t ask any questions. But if it becomes known that the meat is connected with idolatry, refuse it. You don’t want to give the false impression.
The point for us moderns is that we do have to care about where our behavior leads other people. While food offered to idols might not be part of our experiences, the notion of putting the welfare of others above our own certainly should be a part of our practices.
So which is it: Is there one God, or are there many gods?
In the Old Testament, the Bible presumes there are many gods. The Lord says: “You will have no other gods before me.” That would seem to presume that other gods actually existed. Paul, here in chapter eight, after affirming there is but one God, goes on to say there are many gods – though he classifies them as “so-called” gods. Paul refers to “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). But the point is, next to the God of the Old Testament, these are no gods at all.
Since they are nothing, what’s the harm in offering a sacrifice to them?
Paul says the harm comes when someone who believes in these gods sees you offering a sacrifice and concludes that Christianity is a fairly tolerant and accepting religion; it doesn’t matter what you believe, Christians can have it both ways. This, Paul says, simply won’t wash. It makes Christianity less than it really is.
There are some things that are critical to our faith. The notion there is only one God is one of those things. The critical things cannot be compromised, and one’s behavior should not lead an onlooker to think that it can.
If chapter five did not underscore the distinctiveness of the Christian life adequately, chapter six makes it abundantly clear. Worldly values and behavior have no place in the Kingdom of God, and those values are seen in sexual misbehavior (which includes homosexual behavior), thievery, greed, drunkenness, unethical business dealings and slander. Christians who engage in such shenanigans have no hope of living with God.
But Paul does not confine the list to these.
He includes Christians who cannot get along with one another, who mistreat one another to the point there is legal liability. Christians may have a right to the law courts of the land, but they may not use them on one another. To do so would be to submit the differences of princes and princesses to the courts of commoners. That’s how distinctive the Christian life really is. It is above the world, and should be lived above the world. We have become one flesh with the son of God Himself, a temple dwelling place for none other than the Almighty. We cannot act like mere people of the world. Our lives must be distinct from the world, and they must honor God in every way.
“The straight and narrow.” That’s sometimes how we refer to the Christian life. Jesus said it was a “narrow way.” He also said following him meant denying self and picking up a cross.
In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul pointedly takes on the case of a man and woman living together who have no business living together. They both know better. The Church knows better. Everyone is scandalized, but no one wants to do anything. Their pride keeps them from taking action in such a messy relationship. They do nothing.
Some relationships God forbids. Incestuous ones are among them. God simply found them abominable. It was all the reason God needed or gave. If you allow acceptance for these, what will be the excuse for not accepting others? And so Paul commanded the couple be removed from Christian fellowship.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. This relationship was unacceptable. But what really got Paul’s dander up was the fact that the Church knew it and did nothing about it. God calls the family of believers to be closer than that, and to be vigilant against sin. Periodically, we all need to be reminded of the message of 1 Corinthians 5: our relationship with God is a relationship with one another, and it is serious business.
Who is Paul talking about in chapter 2 when he mentions those “without the Spirit?” Does he mean that if you don’t have the Spirit of God, you cannot understand the will of God?
Calvinism teaches the necessity of having the Spirit to even begin the journey to a relationship with God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 is one of the proof-texts for this.
But Paul isn’t talking about this at all.
Paul is addressing people who already have the Spirit of God, but whose lives are anything but spiritual. Theirs are lives led more by the worldly values than spiritual. They are “Christian,” but immature.
Paul would like to speak to these Christians, but though they have the Spirit, they are not led by him, and so they have difficulty understanding Paul’s message. This is Paul’s point. The Corinthians will not like that point. Spirituality is a big deal with them. They think they are spiritual, but they are not. Their behavior betrays them through their jealousy and quarreling. It is worldly behavior, lived by Christian people. Perhaps that’s why Paul doesn’t really write “The man without the Spirit” in 2:14, but “the worldly man,” using a term appearing only five times in the New Testament. James uses it to refer to his readers as unspiritual in the following passage: Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:13-15).
Often called the “resurrection chapter of the Bible,” 1 Corinthians 15 presents Paul’s defense of the resurrection.
To non-Christians, the very notion that there could be a resurrection of the dead was more than undesirable. The called it a “hope of worms, a detestable thing which God cannot and will not do.” The very idea that bodies, long decayed, could be brought back to life simply made no sense.
Paul addresses this matter in three points:
First, the resurrection is a crucial doctrine of Christianity.
Second, Jesus was resurrected, and there are eyewitnesses to back up that truth.
Third, the resurrection is not the breathing to life of a decayed body, but the recreation of a spiritual body that differs from the decayed one in that the new one can never die again.
Why is this so important?
Because the resurrection speaks to the very hope of Christianity. If there is no resurrection, then there is no judgment, and certainly nothing to look forward to. Jesus died for nothing.
But also because the resurrection is a figure of what God intends for our lives here. Raised with Christ through faith and baptism, we are called to live no longer like decaying people, but like people who will live forever.
To want what we want when we want it is, unfortunately, common to us all. To expect to get what we want when we want it, or insist on it, is the heart of selfishness. This self-centeredness is at the heart of the trouble in the Corinthians church. You see it in their desire to “fit in” and sacrifice to idols. You see it in the disorders of the worship assembly in chapter 11. And you see it again in chapters 12-14 as Paul discusses the exercise of “spiritual gifts.”
The early Church was characterized by abilities given and empowered by God’s Spirit. Some were miraculous and commanded the attention of others. Unfortunately, they also fed the self-centeredness of the Corinthian church.
In chapter 12, Paul makes points: First, that while everyone has different gifts from God, they all come from the same God and are dependent solely on God’s choice – so no one should elevate himself above another just because he has a particular gift. Second, these gifts are not given to distinguish Christians from one another, but to empower them to serve one another. Finally, all the gifts are equally important because each is simply a part of a whole. For the body of Christ to be what it needs to be, all the gifts God gives are important.
Each of us has a place in the body of Christ. While some of us might get more “air time” (face time), all are important and none are dispensable. If you feel you are not being valued, it may be that your church is overlooking you. On the other hand, it is more likely that you are not living up to the potential God has given you.