Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:30–34 A supper about unity

1 Corinthians 11:30–34

30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

It is important to understand that communion is nothing to treat lightly. We are told why in 1 Cor. 11:30–32. Paul then summarizes his advice about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:33–34). Keep in mind that Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ and, therefore, speaks for Christ. Paul’s “advice” is more than advice just as the Lord’s Supper is more than just supper. The wise will listen and obey, and the others will continue to get sick or die!

Though one authority believes “weak,” “sick” and “fallen asleep” ( 1 Cor. 11:30) are figurative terms describing the spiritual condition of Corinthian Christians, most others believe physical condition is in view. Gordon Fee says that the Spirit has revealed to Paul that abuse of the “have nots” during the Lord’s Supper is the cause for the weakness, sickness and death, but he adds that this does not mean that all Christian illness and death are caused that way.[1] Note that “fallen asleep” is the standard way the New Testament speaks about death among Christians; showing that death is not the same for them as for others (1 Thess. 4:13–15; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51).

Verse 31 is what is called a “contrary to fact” condition or even “the unreal condition.” Had the Corinthians been discerning their disrespectful attitude (toward Christ) and unloving conduct (toward others) — but they were not — then they would not now be experiencing the incidents of weakness, sickness and even death, all of which are happening.

Being “more discerning with regard to ourselves” (verse 31) means having both a serious and repentant awareness of any sin in our lives as well as a consistent commitment to our new identity in Christ. Some of the Corinthians seem to have been more interested in what the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Anthony Thiselton summarizes Bonhoeffer this way: “Cheap grace is ‘the preaching of forgiveness without repentance . . . communion without confession, grace without discipleship . . . Christianity without Christ.’”[2] Some Corinthians did not want to share food with their hungry brethren in the faith, did not want to worship with lower classes, and did not want to give up their pagan culture, including participation in idol banquets and sexually immoral behavior.

As members of God’s family, we can expect his discipline (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:1–13) when we stray from the way of Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins. Thiselton’s remarks about this discipline reveal its purpose: “It should not give rise to doubt of salvation or be endured merely with resignation. It plays a positive role in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ in suffering as well as glory.”[3] The alternative to receiving the discipline that all believers get is that a person may be finally judged with the world, and no one wants that!

Paul’s command in 1 Cor. 11:33 for all to eat together has an entirely theological purpose. Their Christian identity makes them one in Christ, and they cannot be divided in their common worship. Similarly, 1 Cor. 11:34 is not mainly about food. Garland explains: “If they are intent only on indulging their appetites, then they should stay home. If the church’s gathering is to be meaningful, it has to be an expression of real fellowship, which includes sharing.”[4]

Many of the lower classes might not be able to meet as early as the more socially advantaged. “The strong” must wait to share with the others. Jesus could have eaten the finest food on earth every night, but he and the twelve ate together.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 565.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 898.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 898.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 555.

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 10:7–13 Paul’s cautionary examples of craving

1 Corinthians 10:7–13

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, “Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.”[1] That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.

First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry “can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshipping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the ‘censor’ [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.”[2]

So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: “’[Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.’ Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.”[3] Religious prostitution abounded.

As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahweh’s command (Exod. 32:27–28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Paul’s statement “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1–9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.

Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.

Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4–9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4–5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.

Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.

Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of God’s neglect.[4] The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.

Garland says that Paul may single out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts.[5] We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus “Lord” for nothing!

Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: “Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).”[6] This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up “strong.”

 God’s grace in temptation (craving)

Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.

In Roman Corinth “the strong” paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (“I have the right to do anything,” 1 Cor. 6:12; “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow “the strong” in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.

Thiselton forcefully states, “Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.”[7] Paul’s answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: “As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1–19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.”[8]

Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, “Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.”[9] But Garland cautions, “God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.”[10]

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

[1] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.

[6] 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) 459.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748–49.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.

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.