Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:23–29 Proclaim the Lord’s death, not division

1 Corinthians 11:23–29

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Because Christian churches so frequently use the words contained in 1 Cor. 11:23–25 for conducting communion services, it is almost certain that you will initially believe that these words were originally given by Paul primarily for that purpose. But Paul had previously taught them the meaning of the Lord’s Supper — when he spread the gospel in Corinth — and was here seeking to correct abuses that had developed. Recall that Paul has just told the Corinthian Christians that the divided and class-conscious meal they are customarily having cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20).

Note carefully that verse 23 begins with the word “for” — with the sense “because” — to signal the fact that the problems Paul has just spoken about will become obvious in light of what he is about to tell them. David Garland explains Paul’s intent by saying: “He does not intend to teach the Corinthians something new about the Lord’s Supper or to correct their theology of the Lord’s Supper. He cites it only to contrast what Jesus did at the Last Supper with what they are doing at their supper.”[1] (emphasis added).

English versions of the Bible, including the NIV, speak of “the night he [Jesus] was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23), but increasingly scholars see this verb to be bearing its much more common meaning “hand over.”[2] Consider the italicized verbs in the verse: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread ….” (1 Cor. 11:23). The two italicized verbs are forms of the same Greek verb. Second, the latter usage of the verb is in the Greek imperfect tense, which generally means the action took place over a period of time in the past; Jesus was “betrayed” only once,” but he was “handed over” again and again during his trial and crucifixion including the moment when he voluntarily gave up his spirit in death for the sake of others (John 19:30).

You may be asking why this matters. Paul is not seeking to emphasize the sin of Judas, but instead to stress the sacrificial giving of the Father and the Son. Anthony Thiselton explains that the context in both the Gospels and here is that Jesus was “handed over” to death by God for our sins; God “gave him up” for all of us (Rom. 8:32).[3]

The sharing of the bread and the cup during the Last Supper involved everyone. Even though Peter James and John were arguably the closest to Jesus, they got the same bread and cup that everyone else got. As we have seen, that is not how things were done in Roman Corinth when the believers gathered to share the Lord’s Supper.

Garland explains how Paul’s conscious imitation of the Lord’s Supper allows him to make his point forcefully: “They are to imitate Christ’s example of self-giving. Everything they do in their meal should accord with his self-sacrifice for others. . . . Chrysostom [an early church father] . . . grasps the essence of Paul’s admonition: ‘He [Christ] gave his body equally, but you do not give so much as the common bread equally.’”[4]

“The new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25) looks back to the blood of the sacrifices which Moses sprinkled on the people to establish the old covenant with Israel. The blood Jesus shed in his death for us established the new covenant God had promised through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31–34); this new covenant is discussed more thoroughly in Hebrews 8 and 10.

When Jesus said we should eat the bread and drink the cup ”in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25), he is not speaking about remembering in the mere sense of mental recollection. To remember in the biblical sense includes acting on what you remember, and in this context it means to behave as Jesus did — to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Thiselton explains, “Remembrance of Christ and Christ’s death retains the aspect of self-involving remembering in gratitude, worship, trust, acknowledgement and obedience.[5]

Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper has one purpose: “to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Do you see the warning? The one who filled this special meal with meaning by his death is coming back! When he does, every Corinthian — high and low — will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). So, verse 26 gives a transition to verses 27–29, where judgment is the prevailing theme.

Paul does not say specifically what it takes to participate in the Lord’s Supper in “an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27). But by this point that explanation is not necessary. Garland points out the sea change in tone: “They cannot treat this meal as a pleasant gathering of in-group friends . . . . It is fraught with spiritual peril if they treat the meal or those gathered for it in a cavalier manner. They will incur God’s judgment.”[6]

The NIV has made a concerted effort to be gender-inclusive, and has generally succeeded, but not in verse 28. Paul uses singular nouns and verbs here to stress individual responsibility for self-examination. The Common English Bible does a good with “Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way” (1 Cor. 11:28, CEB). No one else can do this for you; you have to do it yourself! The verb Paul uses places emphasis on the result of the self-examination; did it affirm the genuineness of your faith or not?

Some people go through life “playing the game,” whether at work or in a social setting. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, each of us must come to it with an attitude of humility and an awareness that we are dealing with Christ, not just some religious ritual. The phrase “discerning the body” (1 Cor. 11:29) — NIV adds the words “of Christ” to the phrase to point the reader toward an interpretation — contains a Greek verb which means “to make a distinction.”[7] Thiselton says the distinction believers must make is to “be mindful of the uniqueness of Christ, who is separated from others in the sense of giving himself for others in sheer grace.”[8]

Merely to go through the motions of communion is to eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:29). Tomorrow we will see just how far that judgment may go.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545.

[2] BDAG-3, paradid?mi, hand over, q.v.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 869.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 545

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 880

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 550.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 892.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 893.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 Two kinds of partnership

1 Corinthians 10:14–22

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: “Paul’s insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.”[1]

The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.

To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8–10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these “sensible people” to judge his words carefully.

Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16  the NIV uses the English word “participation” to translate the Greek noun koin?nia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say “communal participation” and explains that here “it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.”[2] That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koin?nia.

Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The “one loaf” is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said ,”Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, “we, who are many, are one body” (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.

Even though the final paragraph (verses 18–22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koin?nia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12–15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Paul’s question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.

Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!

Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 472.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 761.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 The importance of self-control

1 Corinthians 9:24–27

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

In the final section of chapter 9, Paul uses a series of metaphors whose unifying connection is the Isthmian Games held every two years near Corinth. Only the Olympic Games were considered more important. The first metaphor is the race (verse 24a) which we should understand is a reference to life in a competitive world, whether in ancient Corinth or our own locale.

The second metaphor is the prize a (verse 24b) which probably relates to the glory or honor earned by the victor since the ancient prize was a wreath of plant material worn on the head. Paul commands the Corinthians to run to win the prize (verse 24b). Since the culture encouraged and rewarded competition, this was likely welcomed by the Corinthian believers.

In 1 Cor. 9:25, Paul begins to turn up the heat. It turns out that the metaphors of the race and the prize have a significant twist. The non-Christians in Corinth (“they”) are running for a prize that perishes, but the Christians (“we”) are running for an imperishable prize. But Anthony Thiselton identifies the most critical issue of this section:

Can the Corinthians, then, not exercise due egkrateia, self-control or abstinence, when what is at stake is not a garland made from vegetation, or even the acclaim of the crowd, but “the brother or sister for whom Christ died” (1 Cor. 8:11)? This verse does not imply a theology of “Christian struggle,” other than the struggle for self-mastery to forego indulgence of “rights.”[1]

Unless we as Christians understand our identity as one of union with Christ crucified, freedom can lead to self-indulgence through overemphasis on “rights”; what is required instead is self-control guided by love for our fellow believers.

Once again Paul uses himself as an example in closing his argument (1 Cor. 9:26–27). For the most part Paul speaks negatively about what he does not do; we can probably assume that he does this because what Paul does not do is exactly what the self-identified “strong” believers in Corinth, with their alleged wisdom and maturity, are actually doing. They are like a runner who is running out of his lane or a boxer who hits only air (verse 26).

Paul speaks positively about his own approach (verse 27a), but the interpretation demands close attention. Paul is speaking in metaphors in verse 27. That being the case, we have to figure out what the verb translated “strike a blow” (NIV) means as well as what “body” means.

The disputed verb is the Greek hup?piaz?, which literally means to give a black eye and figuratively means to put under strict discipline or treat roughly. English translations divide between these two meanings with NIV and CEB preferring the literal meaning and ESV, NET, NLT, HCSB and NRSV choosing the figurative meaning. We join Thiselton[2], Gordon Fee[3] and David Garland[4] in preferring the figurative meaning. Paul is using the boxing metaphor to speak about the strict self-control he imposes on himself in preaching the gospel.

The Greek word for “body” (NIV) is s?ma. Fee explains what Paul means by s?ma in this context: “He hardly intends his physical body as such to be the ‘opponent’ he must subdue in order to gain the prize. He uses ‘body’ because of the metaphor; what he almost certainly intends by it is ‘myself’ . . . but only as [his body] is the vehicle of his present earthly life.”[5]

Thiselton also sees the body as the vehicle through which our earthly life is lived, so he translates 1 Cor. 9:27 by saying, “My day-to-day life as a whole I treat roughly, and make it strictly serve my purposes, lest, after preaching to others, I find myself not proven to stand the test.”[6]

In the final analysis, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes self-control possible as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:23), but he does not force it on us. Grace works through love, not compulsion.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 711.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 715.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 439.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 442.

[5] Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 439.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 708.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:1–5a A change of venue

1 Corinthians 6:1–5a

1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5a I say this to shame you.

Paul’s indignation just about scorches the pages! The Corinthian church clearly has no clue about their new identity in Christ. Gordon Fee explains, “Here the aggravation comes from two factors: (1) that they have so little self-understanding as to who they are in Christ (verses 2–4), and (2) that this action so totally destroys the community before the world (v. 6).”[1]

This is plainly not a hypothetical case. The bitter irony is that one of the Christians, who was willing to overlook widely known incest by one of his brothers, found it necessary to take a monetary matter — as we will see — before the civil magistrates. That is like ignoring cancer but going to the emergency room for a reddened pimple.

Paul accuses the church of taking matters for judgment by those who are adikos (Greek), meaning “one who does contrary to what is right.”[2] How much sense does it make to take your case before an unjust judge? A lot if you are the plaintiff who believes the court can be influenced your way! The civil courts of Rome’s provinces have received a lot of attention, and Anthony Thiselton says, “It is safe to conclude the use of Roman provincial courts for minor cases and the near certainty of a result of questionable justice are virtually synonymous.”[3]

In trying to restore a sense of identity in Christ to the Corinthian believers, Paul asserts “that the Lord’s people will judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2). While it is not clear exactly how we will be involved, the mere fact that we will take part in such momentous events — a fact that the Corinthian church should have known — sets up Paul’s next point. How can those who will judge the world allow themselves to be divided over “trivial cases” (1 Cor. 6:2b) to the point that they seek adjudication by a pagan court? It is hard to see how the arrogant Corinthians could answer this withering critique.

But Paul is not finished hammering their wrongheaded conduct. Not only will the Corinthian believers be involved in judging the world (1 Cor. 6:2), but they will also take part in judging spiritual powers: angels (1 Cor. 6:3). It makes no sense for believers with such a future to take their own trivial cases before unjust civil courts that do not know God. David Garland says, “It reveals a fundamental inconsistency between who they are, as defined by their future destiny with God, and what they are doing.”[4] The Corinthian believers show little evidence of knowing their identity in Christ.

But they should have known. So, Paul uncovers his motivation: “I say this to shame you” (1 Cor. 6:5a). Thiselton says, “Here the situation is so blatantly at odds with Christian identity that Paul is quite willing to demolish the self-esteem of the socially influential if it will help them see the enormity of the attitudes and actions which betray their Christian profession as people of Christ and people of the cross.”[5]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 229.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 425.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 424.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 193.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 434.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Drawing a line in the sand

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

Part of the problem with the arrogance and boasting by certain Corinthians was apparently related to their (deliberate?) misinterpretation of a previous letter Paul had written to them. In that previous letter he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9), yet they are tolerating a man in the church cohabiting with his stepmother. Paul now reiterates and clarifies his previous remarks.

Pauls previous instruction was not to mix indiscriminately with (Anthony Thiselton, 409) sexually immoral people. But it should have been apparent that he was not referring to having casual contact with unbelieving people in society who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters (1 Cor. 5:10a). David Garland tells us, Sexual immorality was ubiquitous in the Greco-Roman world. So too were greed and idolatry.[1] To avoid all such people, you would have to leave this world (1 Cor. 5:10b) a phrase which can mean to die!

Instead, Pauls letter actually meant and he now makes explicit not to associate with those who claim to be Christians yet are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:11). So far, so good, but for us today greedy is a harder standard. Gordon Fee explains, The ancient world, both pagan and Judeo-Christian, had a special loathing for avarice that hundreds of years of legitimized greed in our culture have mitigated.[2] Anthony Thiselton says concerning greedy people in Corinth, This corresponds precisely with the social analysis of Corinthian society . . . that many at Corinth were obsessed the ambition to achieve, i.e., to gain more social status, power or wealth.[3]

The meaning of idolater is plain enough. Slanderer is a bit harder; Thiselton says that in this context the Greek word refers to people who cannot open their mouths without putting others down in a way which causes hurt and implies a scornful, superior attitude on the part of the speaker.[4] We hope no ones face springs to mind!

Since the word drunkard (1 Cor. 5:11) is used in a wine culture, we must take pains to see what it meant at that time and place. Fee says that in this context the word refers to that kind of person who is regularly given to drunkenness and the various forms of carousing with which it is associated.[5] Thiselton points out that drunkenness precludes the expression of love for others, which is a hallmark of Christian identity.

The term swindler (1 Cor. 5:10 and 5:11) is more subtle and interesting; it refers to those who exploit others in a way to gain disproportionate wealth. Imagine someone in a coastal city who knows a hurricane is coming and marks up the price of their plywood panels by 500%. Thiselton says, This, once again, may reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to get rich quick and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game. . . . Paul means someone who kicks others down the ladder in order to advance upward at any price.[6]

Eating with others meant more than just friendship in ancient Corinth. The act created a social bond in the eyes of the community. For a Christian to be seen eating with someone actively involved with blatant immorality would undercut the witness of the church, so Paul rules that out (1 Cor. 5:11).

The discerning reader will realize that all these descriptions require making judgments about who falls into these categories. Someone might think this violates what Jesus says about judging others in Matthew 7:1-2, but that is not the case. Jesus was advocating that judgments be made with fairness and mercy, and, when that is done, some still turn out to be dogs (Matt. 7:6) and pigs (Matt. 7:6) or even false prophets and wolves (Matt. 7:15).

Though 1 Cor. 5:12 has two rhetorical questions, those actually amount to statements. These statements revolve around two similar Greek words: ex? (outside) and es? (inside). God will judge those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13), but each church is responsible to judge those inside the church. Thiselton pointedly says, Against the laissez-faire [anything goes], consumerist culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle.[7] That being so, the wicked man cohabiting with his stepmother must be banished!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 185.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 224.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 411.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 414.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 411-414.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 417.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:1–5 Accountability to Christ alone

1 Corinthians 4:1–5

1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Ben Witherington has an excellent summary of what Paul is trying to do in chapter 4:

Paul is seeking to do for the Corinthians what Plutarch [a Roman biographer] advises in another context: ‘It is your duty to reduce this man’s swollen pride and restore him to conformity with his best interests’ . . . . So Paul’s point is to change the overinflated rhetoric and self-congratulation in Corinth by holding up the example of a suffering sage [Paul] and his coworker [Apollos] so that the Corinthians will come to their senses and see what is truly to their benefit.[1]

Beyond question, some Christians in Corinth have been critical of Paul in relation to both his message (“foolish”) and his style of leadership (“weak”). Since Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, it is not surprising — except to the Corinthians — that Paul teaches the exact type of leadership within the church that Jesus commanded in Mark 10:42–45, where Jesus said “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” He has just been discussing that idea by calling himself and Apollos “servants” (1 Cor. 3:5) and “co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9) who belong to the church (1 Cor. 3:22).

David Garland says that Paul’s leadership model “is radically different from the world’s perception of leaders as free, high-status dons bestowing benevolences on those of lesser status.”[2] That belief was certainly held in Roman Corinth, where so many aspired to fame and honor.

Paul has changed metaphors. Previously he was talking about the servant nature of their task under God, but starting in 1 Cor. 4:1 the metaphor changes to that of a household.[3] The phrase “those entrusted with” translates a Greek noun that “denotes a ‘steward’ (often a slave) who has been ‘entrusted with’ managing a household.”[4] The church is Christ’s household. Here is the point: even though Paul belongs to the Corinthians as Christ’s servant to them, he is not accountable to them. He must instead be faithful to the duties given him by Christ, and that is revealing the mystery of God, Christ crucified (1 Cor. 4:1–2).

Some forms of postmodernism in our day tend to make the individual the master of all meaning and opinion. Paul, however, discounts the opinion or judgment of the Corinthians, that of any human court or even his own opinion (1 Cor. 4:3). The only opinion that matters is the Lord’s (1 Cor. 4:4).

Paul goes so far as to command that no judgments about him and his ministry be considered final until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 4:5), because only then will secrets be brought to light and the motives of many hearts will be disclosed. The existence of secrets and hidden purposes are critical factors in rendering final human judgments suspect. But God will have everything before him in deciding what praise is awarded to each one by his grace.

Note that in 1 Cor. 5:12 and 6:5 the Corinthians will be responsible to make judgments about conduct within the church, but since Paul was sent by Christ, he is answerable only to Christ.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)136.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)126.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 159.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 159.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 Grace and a test by fire

1 Corinthians 3:10–15

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul consistently gives credit to God, but he does not hesitate to speak about the responsibility God has placed on him. When Paul mentions “the grace God has given me” (1 Cor. 3:10), Fee says, it “would refer especially to his apostolic task of founding churches.”[1] The updated NIV says Paul’s role was “builder,” but most other translations say “master builder” (ESV, NET, HCSB, CEB, NASB, NAB, RSV, NEB, KJV) for the Greek architekt?n, a combination of recognized skill and project oversight.[2] In matters of identity, details matter because it is God who has given us our identity in Christ. In relation to the Corinthians, Paul was not merely a wandering teacher, he was the God-appointed master builder.

Paul changes from the metaphor of the church as a field (verses 6–9) to the church as a building. What makes him a “skilled master builder” is that he laid the foundation of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 3:11). Now others are building on that foundation, but with what skill? “Each one should build with care” (1 Cor. 3:10).

Ben Witherington makes the notable point that “Paul’s work could be harmed either by the Corinthians tinkering with the foundation and changing it or by the Corinthians building the wrong sort of superstructure on the right foundation.”[3] The reason to build carefully is based on the certainty that a fiery day of testing is coming to “test the quality of each person’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13). Garland pointedly says, “Whether one’s work will endure awaits more than the test of time; it awaits the test of the end time.”[4]

Whether or not the Corinthians have concern for Paul’s opinion, “the Day” (1 Cor. 3:13) is coming when “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” David Garland says, “’The day’ refers to the end-time judgment (cf. Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Thess. 2:2).” The more fully expanded name is the Day of the Lord, an Old Testament term that Paul converted into “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).

Verse 14 seems plain enough — “if what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward” — and yet it has produced controversy. Gordon Fee says: “The theme of ‘reward’ harks back to v. 8, and suggests that appropriate ‘pay’ will be given for appropriate labor. For some this has been a difficult idea to reconcile with Paul’s doctrine of grace [God’s kindness toward us in Jesus Christ] . . . . How can grace receive ‘pay’?”[5]

Your understanding of grace — God’s kindness — will be greatly enhanced if you pay attention to what it says about God rather than what is says about us. Out of a heart of love, God sent his Son to die for the sins of the world (John 3:16). This act had nothing to do with obligation and everything to do with the merciful nature of God. On this basis of Christ crucified, this gift of grace, God made it possible for us to accept the amnesty he offered and be saved from eternal judgment.

In a similar way, God was not obligated to offer reward for faithful service, but it pleased him to do so. Jesus expressly taught his disciples that he expected their faithful stewardship until he returned and that they would receive reward commensurate with that service, some more than others. See Luke 19:12–27, Matt. 25:14–28 and Matt. 24:45–51 for the details.

There will be some whose work is consumed by the fire of judgment (1 Cor. 3:15), and yet their salvation will stand. Garland aptly summarizes both outcomes by saying, “Brilliant work does not earn salvation; lackluster work does not lose it.”[6]

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 137–138.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 308.

[3] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 133–134.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)117.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 143.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 118.