Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, An example to follow

1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

These concluding verses may be considered from different viewpoints. If we think about freedom or rights, Paul says positively that we should exercise that freedom to bring honor to God (1 Cor. 10:31) and negatively that we must not present any cause of stumbling, not cause any damage to the salvation of anyone (1 Cor. 10:32). These considerations limit the expression of freedom.

If we think in terms of loving others instead of seeking our own interests, verse 31 tells us that our loving actions glorify God. Any selfish action that causes others to stumble goes against Christ’s command for us and so must be totally avoided (verse 32). Gordon Fee denies that this has anything to do with hurt feelings. Instead we must not “behave in such a way as to prevent someone else from hearing the gospel, or to alienate someone who is already a brother or sister.”[1]

Since 1 Cor. 10:32 separately lists the “Jews” and “the church of God,” Anthony Thiselton observes, “The phrase ‘the church of God’ in this context calls attention … to a discontinuity, as if to imply that ‘the people of God’ are partly redefined.”[2] The church’s identity lies in union with Christ, not in Old Testament Israel. That is why we learn from the example of Israel (1 Cor. 10:6), but we do not keep the Law of Moses (1 Cor. 9:21), the old covenant.

Most English versions invite difficulty in verse 33 by using the verb “please.” NIV has Paul saying, “I try to please everyone” (1 Cor. 10:33), describing behavior that was not in Paul’s style (Gal. 1:10) and using a phrase that today is too easily misunderstood. Paul was not a people-pleaser. The standard Greek lexicon discusses this verb (Greek ἀρέσκω) by explaining that the Mediterranean world was very conscious of mutual obligations and valued people who tried to accommodate all interests.[3] For this reason, Thiselton translates 1 Cor. 10:33 this way: “In just the same way, I on my part strive to take account of all the interests of everyone, not seeking advantage of my own, but the good of the many, with a view to their salvation.”[4]

Paul’s conclusion needs no explanation: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

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) 489.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 795.

[3] BDAG-3, ἀρέσκω, accommodate, q.v.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

 

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:21-23, The best retirement plan of all

1 Corinthians 9:21-23

21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

In verses 21-23, Paul continues to explain his statement I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). The phrase those not having the law (1 Cor. 9:21) is clearly a reference to the Gentiles, who do not live by the Law of Moses or the interpretation of those laws by Judaism.

Even though Paul is a Jew by birth, he has already said, I myself am not under the law (1 Cor. 9:20). While discussing his approach to the Gentiles, Paul adds to his previous statement by saying, I am not free from Gods law but am under Christs law (1 Cor. 9:21). David Garland helps us see this change in Paul as a matter of identity when he says: [Paul] is speaking theologically about living under grace. Previously, his self-understanding as a Jew was bound up with his obedience to the law (cf. Phil. 3:6); now it is bound up with his relationship to Christ (Phil. 3:7-11).[1]

Gordon Fee adds some new elements when he says, For Paul the language being under (or keeping) the law has to do with being Jewish in a national-cultural-religious sense; but as a new man in Christ he also expects the Spirit to empower him (as well as all of Gods new people) to live out the ethics of the new age.[2] For another glimpse of the phrase the law of Christ, Paul says in Galatians, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). We who follow Jesus are to obey the law of Christ. As to what that means, we can look at what the apostles understood Jesus to mean as recorded in the New Testament.

In regard to the identity of the weak, we must exercise due diligence. In 1 Cor. 8:7-10, the phrase the weak refers to believers who are overly conscientious or believers who feel insecure about the exercise of their freedom in Christ. In the context of chapter 8, Paul identifies the weak as believers in 1 Cor. 8:12. However, in chapter 9, Paul seeks to save those he describes as the weak, and that means they are unbelievers. Anthony Thiselton describes the weak in chapter 9 by saying, In this context the weak may mean those whose options for life and conduct were severely restricted because of their dependence on the wishes of patrons, employers, or slave owners (emphasis his).[3] Garland agrees by saying, The weak in this verse represent non-Christians whom he seeks to win for the Lord.[4]

The second half of verse 22 is famous and widely quoted. What did Paul originally mean by it? Garland says that he is explaining how in his apostleship the principle of [self-denial] — in short, the principle of the cross — operates in his own experience.[5] Paul could have lived in one of the finest houses in Corinth, could have been revered as one its greatest orators, and could have enjoyed its finest banquets — although held in idol temples — every night of the week. All this he could have done while being financially supported by the Corinthian believers. But, for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:23), he made sure that even the weak were not left out by working among them as a man of the cross.

Given the choice between pleasure and profit now in the ranks of the upwardly mobile Corinthians or honor and glory later with Christ in the age to come, Paul chose to share in the blessings of the gospel. He shows us the path we must choose to take.

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) 431.

[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) 430.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 705.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 434.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 435, quoting D.A. Carson.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:19-20, Paul surrenders his freedom to benefit all

1 Corinthians 9:19-20

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

Paul is continuing his plea, which started in 1 Corinthians 8:1, that the strong Corinthian believers should curb their freedom in order to love and protect those in the church whose consciences were weak. The original arena for this discussion was the practice of eating meat that had some prior association with idol worship. Some felt free in Christ to eat this meat without qualm, but others saw them doing so and were tempted to go beyond what their consciences would allow. So, the freedom of some was causing damage to others.

In 1 Cor. 9:1-18, Paul has firmly asserted his rights as an apostle, particularly the right to financial support from the Corinthian church. But he voluntarily gave up that right (1 Cor. 9:12, 15) so that obligations to patrons and other financial issues could not possibly hinder the gospel. He is trying to convince the Corinthians by his own example that giving up your rights for the sake of the gospel is a loving act that follows the example of Christ and also benefits those whose faith is fragile.

Because Paul had given up his rights, he was completely free to act and had no obligation to anyone (1 Cor. 9:19), except to Christ. For that reason he could offer the gospel free of charge (1 Cor. 9:18). He follows that with the remarkable statement I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:20). David Garland says: He exchanges his position as a free man with high status for that of a slave . . . . Slavery to Christ necessitates slavery to all (cf. 2 Cor. 4:5; Mark 10:42-45). . . . Paul does not lead from a secure position above others but from a position below them, incarnating the folly of the cross.[1]

What Paul means by saying he made himself a slave to everyone becomes more apparent when he explains, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19b). The Greek verb for win comes from the world of commerce and means to gain an asset or make a profit. By winning others to Christ, Paul brings about lasting spiritual value. Arguments about advantage were a common element in Greek rhetoric.

It is truly ironic for Paul to say, To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews (1 Cor. 9:20). Anthony Thiselton says, Since Paul was in fact a Jew, this formulation shows how radically he conceives the claim that in Christ he is . . . in a position transcending all cultural allegiances.[2] Ask yourself whether you see identification with Christ as transcending all your own cultural allegiances. If not, you need a clearer understanding of your identity in Christ.

Those under the law (1 Cor. 9:20) probably means the Jews, although it could be a reference to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. More important is Pauls declaration though I myself am not under the law. Both then and now there are Christians who believe you must keep the Law of Moses — to the limited degree that is now possible — in addition to believing in Jesus, but Pauls statement demonstrates that they are headed in the wrong direction.

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)428-29.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)702, quoting R.B. Hays.