(last updated 2/7/13)
We read in Acts 18 that Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, planting this church. This is the first of two letters (epistles) Paul later wrote to the church in Corinth. He apparently wrote three or possibly even four, but only these two are preserved for us in the Bible. The Corinthians apparently wrote a letter back to him after the first letter (which we don't have), asking him some questions, which he answers in this letter. This letter was written about four years after Paul's lengthy stay with them. Because of the amount of time Paul spent with them, and the two long letters written to them, we know more about this church than any others in the Bible.
Corinth was the principal city of Greece, with a population of about 400,000. This was now part of the Roman Empire, but the Roman Empire was strongly influenced by Greek culture. It was known for commerce and for the related condition we call materialism. It was also a center of vice, sin, pleasure, and vulgarity. Open sex, in the form of religious cult prostitutes, was practiced at the temple of Aphrodite. This is the cultural context for this church, its spiritual immaturity and its many problems--the background they come from, their society, the values that surround and influence them. It's probably not too different from the church today, which has been infiltrated by psychology and its glorification of Self.
The early church was made up of many brand new believers. Can you imagine new believers preaching, teaching, and running a church? Today the church is made up of a combination of mature and immature believers, yet the church in Corinth had many of the same problems we have in the church today: divisions, marital problems and divorce, doctrinal disputes, misunderstanding of charismatic gifts and the role of women. We see the issue of church discipline: the need for it, the reluctance to carry it out, and differences as to how to carry it out. We will also find a discussion of the Lord's supper and the resurrection.
Paul has much to say about spiritual immaturity to this church. We will see what characterizes the immature believer--in particular, pride, arrogance, the elevation of Self. In Paul's letters to the Corinthians, we see their arrogance--they are boastful, commending themselves and thinking they are wise. Note these repeated key words. The Gnostics claimed special knowledge not available to others, while the Judaizers were proud of their Jewishness. These two errors are addressed in many of the Epistles. He chides them by contrasting the wisdom of the world with godly wisdom, boasting of self with boasting in the Lord, and self-commendation with being commended to the Lord.
It's interesting that the longest epistles God left us are the two letters to the church in Corinth. Might this be because spiritual immaturity has always been one of the biggest problems in the church? Might it also be because when the church is caught up just before the seven years of tribulation, those who will become believers at that time, comprising the endtimes church, are all going to be brand new baby believers, and will need the teachings and admonishing of First and Second Corinthians?
1-3 Can someone just decide they are going to be an apostle, or how do they become one? Remember that an apostle was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ who was then sent out to tell others. Today we actually find people who (unbiblically) claim to be apostles. The Bible mentions nothing about any further apostles to continue later.
Paul talks to them as if they would know Sosthenes. Do you remember him from Acts 18:17? When Paul went to Corinth to preach, the Jews rejected his message so he began preaching in the house next door to the synagogue. The leader of the Jewish synagogue, Crispus, then became a believer, and Sosthenes became the leader of the synagogue. A year and a half later, the Jews, apparently led by Sosthenes, tried to have Paul brought up before the governor but the governor refused to deal with their religious issues, and Sosthenes was beaten. So what can we conclude must have happened to him after that? He not only became a believer in Jesus Christ, he is now with Paul at Ephesus a couple years later, probably as a fellow minister of the gospel. When we see him in heaven, we can ask him how that all came about! When we see people who don't look likely to be saved, what should we remind ourselves?
Do you remember what it means to be sanctified? It's a Bible word for being saved, for being set apart for God's purposes. Saints, another Bible word that confuses us, are merely believers, NOT super Christians or people in heaven that the Catholic church says to pray to (a teaching not found in the Bible). Are we perfect now? But ARE we righteous in GOD'S eyes because of Christ? And should our lives be characterized by Christlike-ness?
What two meanings of the word "church" do we find here? Paul defines "church" as both the local congregation (there in Corinth) AND the universal church--ALL who name Jesus Christ as Lord. The Bible never speaks of a church as a building to meet in.
As in all his letters, Paul opens by referencing what two key facts? Grace and peace were the typical greetings of the day; grace, the Greek, and peace, the Jewish. Grace and peace also define salvation; through God's grace, His undeserved favor (not our works), we have peace with God because of our faith in Jesus, resulting in eternal life not damnation. So we know that Paul is addressing his remarks to believers, not unbelievers.
4-9 Even though Paul's letters are usually written to address problems in a church, he tactfully starts out by saying something positive, as he often does. Even though the Corinthians have big problems, are they all bad? Is anyone all bad or all good? Thinking of the meaning of grace, we see that Paul starts by thanking God for their what? Salvation. Paul's letters often open with comments about how he prays, which we can study to see how we should pray. He says that what things are true even of immature Christians with problems? 5, what areas of our lives should Jesus impact? 7, Paul will speak more about gifts later in his letter.
Some Christians think we should not focus on the return of Christ; what does the Bible say, 7-8? Does blameless mean sinless? It means not guilty--having a clear conscience. The Bible often says that believers should be blameless, and that we WILL be found blameless before God. What important fact do we learn about God in 9? He is true and trustworthy. We probably all believe that; do we always ACT like we believe it? What happens if WE are not always faithful? What does II Tim. 2:12-13 say about our lack of faithfulness? To deny Christ is to deny that He is Lord and Savior--to remain an unbeliever. How does Mat. 7:21-23 clarify this? Can Jesus say to anyone who has believed, "I NEVER knew you"?
What does fellowship mean to you? We often talk about fellowshipping with other believers; the implication is often that of socializing (in a Christian context of course, although the conversation doesn't have to be always about Christian things). However, the Bible never uses "fellowship" as a verb, but always as a noun. It is not something we DO--it is something we HAVE. It literally means "partnership" (Strong's). The church's fellowship hall is NOT the kitchen/dining room, but where? The sanctuary. We think the sanctuary is for worship, but again, the New Testament never speaks of worship as something the church does when it gets together. The Bible defines worship, not as singing or even as getting together at church, but as our individual response of yielding to and serving God and, in the Old Testament, offering sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2, Gen. 22:5, Dan. 3). In the Old Testament, it does say that individuals go to the tabernacle or temple to worship, because that is where they were required to offer their sacrifices, but it was not a group activity. What did the early church do when it met, Acts 2:42?
10-16 Now Paul jumps right into the purpose of his letter--addressing problems. What is the first problem? Yet what do we see mentioned in almost every verse so far--what does he want them to focus on? Is it possible for this focus to get lost in the church? How does he know about this problem? We might choose to keep the source to ourselves, but Paul wants everything right out in the open, including names. Sometimes, by not naming names, we inadvertently encourage speculative gossip that can turn harmful.
Paul's statement in 10 seems idealistic to us. Why is there not one universal church today? Is it always a bad thing for groups to split from a church, or is it ever a good thing? What happens if believers in a church are NOT of the same mind about the Bible? What is the opposite of division? Should a church try to maintain unity at all costs, even if the only way to keep or attract people is to water down the Bible? Are we to distinguish whether different leaders or churches are biblically correct or not? But are we to have cliques within our church, or think we have more spiritual status than others? I don't even like to label myself as a "Baptist" or whatever church I happen to be going to; I tell people I'm a Bible-believing Christian. Some are so wrapped up in their church or denomination that it begins to sound like a "club," kind of like the Corinthians were talking.
17-25 What is Paul saying in 17 about effective preaching? Now he contrasts the wisdom and cleverness of man with the wisdom of God. Do all who are educated or wise understand, receive or believe the message of Christ and the cross? 22-24, Paul points out a paradox. The Jews were looking for signs and miracles to authentic a message from God; the Greeks valued wisdom above all else. Doesn't Jesus meet both criteria? Yet how does each group react, 23? The Jews were looking for a military Messiah; the Greeks were looking for religion (self-effort). And how do Jewish and Greek believers view Jesus, 24? Is Paul saying in 25 that God is foolish and weak? Then what IS he saying?
26-31 Are Christians mostly those who are the learned and powerful in the world? Did God choose the richest, smartest and most powerful when He chose Mary, Joseph, the disciples, or those in the early church? Why didn't He? Perhaps Paul is referencing his own about-face, having once thought the gospel was foolishness.
Did we believe because of our own doing? Compare John 6:44. We call this the doctrine of election; we will find many references to this fact as we go through the Epistles. God chose, or elected, us for salvation. In His sovereign love and wisdom, did He exclude ANY that would come to Him? If it was of our own doing, we could then do what, 29 and 31? Righteousness, 30, is a word we know; what is sanctification? The process by which our lives become more pure and Christ-like. Redemption is a word we don't relate to as much; it was related to the practice of slavery. To redeem a slave was to buy him and set him free. How does this relate to the Christian?
So we gain some insight into the Corinthian church, their cliques, their preoccupation with their own wisdom. Isn't pride the root cause of both problems?
1-5 Paul continues his discussion of wisdom, but what kind of wisdom is he talking about now? (Remember that the Bible's original manuscripts were not written with chapter divisions; editors added those later.) He talks about his time in Corinth. How does he describe himself at that time, 3? Compare Acts 18:9-10 for some clues about what might have been going on at that time. He could have been ill, or struggling with the danger of persecution, or he could have lacked self-confidence. We talked in Romans 6-7 about how that can be a good or a bad thing; is it good to have a lot of confidence in Self? Sometimes when we have too much self-confidence, doesn't God humble us?
But what was Paul's main message there, 2? So when we talk to people about Jesus, what should we emphasize? Don't many people talk as if the important thing is how Jesus will make your life better? How does Paul describe himself as a speaker, at least during his stay in Corinth? In writing, Paul comes across as impressive, but perhaps in person he was not. What does Paul mention in 4 and 5 that we too can have when speaking to others, even if we are not skilled at preaching or witnessing? Do you like a slick entertaining preacher? Why or why not? How might the wisdom of man differ from the wisdom of God?
6-9 "Yet" tells us that Paul is referring back to what he just said--what is he contrasting? What kind of Christ9ian does he mention in 6? In the next chapter, he will talk about another kind of Christian, and will talk more about spiritual maturity vs. spiritual immaturity--apparently a problem in the Corinthian church.
Who is the ruler of this age? John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, II Cor. 4:4, Eph. 6:12, I John 5:19. So here, who are the rulers of this age? This would include both Satan and his demons. Do they have God's wisdom? Why did God hide His plans, His wisdom, and speak in mysteries, 7? Does God make up His plans as He goes along? What is God's ultimate plan for us, 7? If Satan and his demons HAD understood what God was really up to, what the cross represented, what would they have done? This is why Jesus did not teach about the church, or the rapture. He waited until later to reveal it through Paul. Some make a distinction between the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul; they are NOT two different gospels, but this is why Jesus did teach spell out everything the church needed to know. He did allude to some things--we can now go back and see in Jesus's words where He WAS talking about and foreshadowing things of the church, and even the rapture (John 14:3). But to spell them out then would have given Satan an advantage. So we see that even though Satan has access to the Bible as we do, he does not have the wisdom to understand it. Satan thought he had defeated Christ at the cross. He did not foresee the resurrection or the church age--the Holy Spirit coming to indwell believers (the church) with power.
10-13 So was 9 talking about things we can't know about? How does the Spirit reveal those things to us--today should we be listening for voices, or looking for dreams or revelations? No (but some say yes, and not just charismatics--some actually believe that the Bible is not complete and that God IS continuing to reveal truth today). Does Paul say that the Spirit WILL tell us those things, or that He already did? So who is the author of the Bible? How can we know God's thoughts? Some people think we receive the Holy Spirit some time after salvation, so that some Christians have Him and some don't; what does 12 say? Paul doesn't refer to only those who have received Him, nor does he ever admonish believers to receive the Spirit. So what does Paul claim in 13 about his own teaching and preaching?
14-15 We have noticed before that Paul addresses the believers he is writing to as "you" and "we" but changes to "they/them" when speaking of unbelievers. Now he speaks about "he" and "him"--what can we conclude about the meaning of the term "natural man"? What does Paul tell us about unbelievers? What does Paul say about the things of God? That means they can only be investigated or known through the Holy Spirit. 15 talks about who? What does Paul say about this man? We can understand God's truth, but the natural man is not qualified to judge the spiritual man in spiritual matters. (Later Paul will talk about believers settling their own problems rather than going to the court system.) He can't be saying that the Christian is above judging or criticism, because he often tells believers to admonish other believers about unbiblical behavior.
16 Should we tell God what to do? Do we ever do that in our prayers, or by our whining and complaining about what He is doing or allowing? If we as Christians complain about "life," isn't that really a euphemism for criticizing God for what He has allowed? Does 16 tell us that man can just educate and improve his mind until he can understand God? Just like we saw in Romans that we have a new nature and are a new man, we also have a new mind. Does our new nature automatically take over and cause us to always do what is right? So does our new mind automatically take over so that we always think God's thoughts? In both cases, we must exercise our wills to CHOOSE to yield ourselves to that new nature and that new mind.
1-4 Now Paul actually scolds the Corinthians for their spiritual immaturity; keep this in mind as we study this book. He speaks of two kinds of Christians; how does he describe each? Do you know both kinds of Christians? Churches are made up of both kinds, as well as many unbelievers--some who know they don't yet believe, some who think they are Christians but aren't, and some who are make-believers (they want others to think they are Christians but don't actually believe). No wonder churches are full of problems!
Do you know which you are? Are you afraid you may be a fleshly/carnal Christian and wonder how to become a more mature believer? Are you a teacher of others and wonder how to help immature Christians become more mature? What do babies need to grow? The answer is in 2. Both milk and solid food (KJV: meat) refer to what? Then what is the difference between milk and meat--what is the milk of the Word, and what is the meat of the Word?
If a human baby or child isn't growing, what might be some reasons? If nourishing food is offered and the child doesn't want it, perhaps the baby is sickly; what might make a sickly Christian? Perhaps the mother is not feeding the baby; what are some reasons that some Christians are not being fed? Perhaps the mother is offering food that is bad or tasteless or without nutritional value; how might that happen for a Christian? Let's compare three other passages that talk about immature or fleshly believers.
According to I Pet. 1:23, how are we born again? In 2:2, how do we grow? Newborns long for milk; do we long for more knowledge of God's Word? Do we just dutifully read our "daily devotions," or have we learned to meet Him there, hear His voice and spend enjoyable time with Him there, getting to know and love Him more, developing our relationship with Him? Read Psalm 119, which is all about God's Word; it is mentioned in every verse. Significantly, this is the longest chapter in the Bible. In it, David tells us what God's Word is like and how he feels about it.
In Heb. 5:11-6:2, believers are being scolded for STILL being spiritual babies. They have been believers for some time now, because 12 says that by this time they ought to be able to be teachers themselves. Why do they still need milk, 13? Because they are not accustomed to, experienced in, or skilled in the what? They know about repentance, salvation, and eternal life, but that's about it. Have you ever gone to a church that pretty much just preaches salvation? Do you get bored because nothing more is really offered? Are young people challenged to get excited about living the Christian life by such sermons? Preaching a salvation message is fine, but since many in the church are probably already saved, they need to also hear more of the Word so they can GROW. Some churches have many programs: fellowship groups, sports, kids' clubs, exercise classes, outreach opportunities, etc., but how many people are involved in Bible study? How many are reading and studying on their own at home? Some churches don't even value or stress Bible study; some actually ridicule it, majoring instead in "spiritual experiences."
Another passage that speaks of immature Christians is I John 2:12-14. John speaks of three levels of maturity: little children (the term for infants), young men, and fathers. What do the "little children" know, 12? What else do they know, 13? They know the very basics--God is their heavenly Father and their sins are forgiven because of Jesus Christ. You don't really need to know anything else to be saved. What do we learn about the maturity level of "young men" in 13 and 14? These believers have developed some spiritual muscles, know God's Word (the source of maturity and spiritual strength), and are successfully applying it in life. What are we told about "fathers" in 13 and 14? Knowing God means having a relationship with Him. At first we believe--we exercise our faith; but then later, we KNOW--we are convinced, John 6:69. What does Paul say in Phil. 3:8-10, Col. 1:10? "Him who has been from the beginning" implies understanding that Jesus Christ is God, that God is the Creator, that God is eternal and sovereign. The mature Christian has come to know God's various attributes, as people who have known each other for a long time come to know each other well and deeply. Knowing Him who is from the beginning could also include the idea, for those who John was writing to at that time, that the oldest believers among the church were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ, which the younger ones would not be.
Some don't believe that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian--that carnal means unsaved. However, Rom. 8:4-13 also contrasts two kinds of believers: those who walk according to the flesh or the Spirit, who set their minds on the flesh or the Spirit, who live according to the flesh or the Spirit. Rom. 7-8 discusses the two natures of the believer--the old/sinful/carnal "nature" or "man" or "self" and the new/spiritual "nature" or "man" or "self." 13, by the Holy Spirit's power we are to do what? 14, we are being what? Do we always follow when we are being led? If you are taking your two-year-old by the hand and leading him through the store, does he ever struggle, try to pull away, yell, cry or complain? Do we ever do that to God? What would He like us to do? Does spiritual growth just happen to us over time, or do we need to make conscious choices in order to grow? Understanding this problem in the Corinthian church will help us understand this letter (and the next). Again he scolds them for their petty divisions, which he already brought up in chapter 1, telling them that they are actually acting like unbelievers might, with their little clubs and cliques. Have you ever been to a church that feels like that?
When we see how many problems are in the Corinthian church because it is full of immature believers, we can see a parallel to those who become believers following the departure of the church. All will be baby Christians, even the leaders. Those coming out of Western culture will be the product of the Self-oriented, lax moral mindset of popular psychology. Not being knowledgeable about God's Word, and not having the indwelling Spirit as did the church, they will be easy targets for the rampant deception of the Beast and his false signs and wonders. The spiritual pride and arrogance of the immature believer will again be a snare. They will need the admonitions of Paul's letters to the Corinthians.
5-9 Paul speaks of the leaders in the church. He kind of repeats what he told them in chapter 1; perhaps, because of their spiritual immaturity, he's not sure they will get it if he only tells them once. Why is it not important whose ministry they were saved under? In 9, is Paul speaking to individuals, or to the church? (clue: singular or plural?) How is the church like a field (KJV: husbandry--something cultivated) and like a building? What does this passage teach us about how God works, and how each of us fit into that process?
10-15 What is the foundation of the church? Do some leaders try to build the church on different foundations? What does it mean to be careful how they build on it? If a church or group is teaching that we MUST build on a certain individual, even a certain Christian leader, beware. Is Christ--the cross, the blood--the foundation of every church? What might it mean to build with "gold, silver, precious stones" (perhaps like marble or granite rather than jewels, which we really don't use to build things) or to build with "wood, hay, stubble"? Although Paul is speaking of the church--the body of Christ--does this passage also apply to how we as individuals "build" in our personal Christian life and growth?
He uses terms like quality, rewards, evident, revealed; he is speaking about the leaders of the church in particular, but does this also apply to all believers? What event is this speaking of? Paul clarifies in his next letter to them, in II Cor. 5:10; will the Christian be judged here for eternity in heaven or hell? Hasn't that already been decided? Leaders will be held accountable for how they have built the church, and we will be held accountable for how we have lived our Christian lives. There may or may not be rewards involved--why should we desire rewards? Rev. 4:10. So if your life has nothing to show for Christ, are you still saved, 15?
Rewards also come in the form of what we will be given to do in Christ's kingdom on earth following the Second Coming, Luke 19:11-19. Note the time element in this parable; Jesus (the nobleman) leaves heaven and comes to earth to receive His kingdom, but Israel rejects Him as Messiah. So He gives His followers (us) responsibilities to carry out while He goes away for awhile. 15, then He returns and receives His kingdom. Depending on what we have done with the circumstances of our lives, we will be given assignments for service. The body of Christ (the church) will reign with Christ on earth during His kingdom, II Tim. 2:12, Rev. 5:10, 20:6.
16-17 Does Paul speak of each individual as the temple of God, or the church as the temple? (Later he will speak of each body as a temple of God.) Before the cross, God's presence dwelt where? Ex. 25:8,10,17,22, 26:31-35. What happened during the crucifixion to change this? Mat. 27:50-51. What did this signify? So is God threatening to destroy us if we don't take good care of our bodies, or is God threatening to destroy those who would destroy the church?
18-23 In 22 Paul concludes this section by again referencing himself, Apollos and Cephas (Peter) so we know he is still talking about the same general subject. What pettiness does he again refer to in 21? So this gives us a clue as to how to look at 18-20. According to 18, what is another of the problems among these spiritually immature Christians? Is he literally saying that Christians ought to become foolish? How does 19 clarify what he really means?
Paul sometimes uses paradoxes; compare II Cor. 6:9-10. He spoke quite a bit about two kinds of wisdom in chapter 2; what does he mean by "the wisdom of this world" in 19? Today we might call this "humanism." How does 23 echo what he said in 1:31? What conclusion does he draw for them in the end of 22, and 23? Yes, everything and everyone we are exposed to, as Christians, concerns and impacts us, but what does 23 tell us? Are we in control of all things, or is God? How is this like Rom. 8:28?
When we see Paul repeating, from a different angle, what he already told them about wisdom and pride in 1:18-21, and about their divisions regarding various apostles, what might we conclude about the Corinthians?
1-5 Who is the "us" in 1? Remember that the original manuscripts were not divided by chapters and verses; those were added later by editors. So we look back to see who Paul was just talking about: the apostles (3:22). What two things does he call them? Again Paul speaks in the context of their culture--slaves and servants were common. Servants were free men, not slaves; a steward would be the head servant, in charge of the other servants, and answering directly to the master. Who do the apostles answer to?
So what problem in the church is Paul addressing in 3-5, "but..."? The word "examined" in the NASB is "judged" in the KJV. In 3-4, he talks about what three kinds of judgment--by whom? Which is the only accurate kind? Taken out of context, 5 appears to just be telling Christians not to be judgmental, but taken IN context, who were the Corinthians being judgmental about? Their cliques were apparently the result of their judgmental attitudes about each of the apostles mentioned. Why does Paul put no stock in any man's opinion of him, or even his own opinion of himself? If we have a clear conscience, does that guarantee we are OK, 4? Why? So does our high or low opinion of someone, or ourselves, really mean anything? Can any person truly know any other person's real motives? But who does? When is "the time," 5?
Again, as in 3:10-15, Paul refers to the judgment seat of Christ when each believer will give account for how he has lived his life, II Cor. 5:10. Is God going to do something about that Christian you know whose business practices, family life, uncontrolled temper, etc., make you raise your eyebrows? What is He going to say to US? Again we see Paul repeating his previous point--why? Are we starting to get a pretty good picture of what this church was like? If you are judgmental of others, what is your own basic root problem?
Should we conclude from 5 that Christians should never judge each other? Is there more than one type of judging? Are we to judge and deal with sin in the church? Paul will speak to that in chapter 5. But are Christians to have a judgmental attitude toward others? Mat. 7:1-5 speaks of being hypocritical in our judging of others, if we fail to recognize and deal with our own sin. Rom. 14-15 also deals with a judgmental attitude toward others who may differ in areas not addressed in Scripture. We need to consider all the passages on judging before telling others "don't judge!" We can also surmise from 5 that Paul apparently expected Christ to come back in their lifetime. Was Paul wrong? Should we have that expectation and anticipation? Or is it a waste of our time to look for the rapture--does that interfere with following God TODAY? How should that expectation affect our lives today? Some Christians criticize and ridicule those who look for the rapture.
6-7 What word in 6 clarifies the problem in this church? They had inflated egos--their chests were puffed out. What word in 7 confirms this? The NASB makes it clearer than the KJV: "superior." So even though he said "us" (the apostles) in 4:1, now he says he was only using them as an example; who else was he really talking about? He may be talking about receiving salvation as a gift vs. thinking they earn it, or he may be talking about spiritual gifts they received vs. pride in thinking it is their own ability, or even something else. He will address their problem with spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. He warns them not to go beyond what is written--written where? In their judging, they were to judge according to the Bible's standards of judgment, but not to base their judgment on personal preference or petty distinctions. Is this a problem among Christians today? In behavior or doctrine, do some go beyond the Bible, either by adding things to it, or by just going past it or around it? We too have many things; are any of them really of our own doing, 7? What should be our attitude toward our own good qualities, abilities, blessings or possessions? What happens if our attitude is pride?
8-13 Now Paul uses sarcasm to make his point. Do they have any hunger for things of the Lord, 8? What arrogant attitudes does he mention in 8 and 10? In effect, he's saying, "wow, too bad us apostles haven't attained the spiritual level YOU guys have..." And by contrast, what do we learn about their attitudes toward the apostles? Apparently they have been judging, criticizing, even perhaps slandering them. Isn't it easier to talk negatively about someone when they are not around? And doesn't that kind of talk get embellished as it goes around?
It wasn't easy being an apostle. 9 appears to be a reference to how Christians condemned to death were humiliated by being exhibited and made to be spectacles in the gladiator arena. Then he goes on to tell the difficulties of the life of an apostle. These Corinthians valued the "good life" and probably found the harshness of apostolic life quite distasteful.
14-17 Is Paul's purpose to put them down, or to facilitate change and growth in their spiritual lives? He has spoken to them rather harshly; now he speaks more gently, as a what? We might raise our eyebrows at 16, but what is Paul's position? He is speaking as an apostle, and he is speaking to those who don't have the written New Testament, only the lives of the apostles to go by. And because he can't be there to help them in person, what did he do? When he adds "just as I teach everywhere in every church," is he implying, "you in Corinth who think you are so superior need to hear the SAME things I teach everywhere"? Like, they are NOT superior but actually are no better than anyone anywhere else--that they need to hear the same basic teaching that everyone needs. Or maybe he wants to make sure they don't think he's targeting THEM with some special admonishments.
18-21 Because he is sending Timothy, what might they be thinking, 18? We have seen how arrogant and immature the Corinthians are; apparently they think he might even be afraid to come to them in person. In 19 he repeats what word, reminding them (and us) of their root problem in that church? Does Paul claim to know God's will before it happens? Some Christians act like we can know, or should be able to tell. We can know God's will for our lifestyle and values: the Bible tells us clearly how God wants us to live. But God doesn't tell us what is going to happen to us; there are no verses to tell us this, so we must be careful in "interpreting" what we may think are "signs." Surely if anyone would know what God has in store for him, it would be Paul, but he doesn't.
Paul speaks of the kingdom; we have seen throughout the New Testament that there are two aspects of the kingdom--the present spiritual kingdom and the future earthly kingdom. From the context, which is he referring to here? What is he telling them? He gives them a choice, 21--make some changes (i.e., grow up!) or he will deal with them in person. Does God give us a similar choice? Why do we often fail to change until He applies the rod of discipline in our lives, through the trials He allows?
We see in this church that pride and spiritual immaturity seem to go hand in hand; they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Should we assume that the same is true in any church? Paul has his hands full trying to deal with this church by long-distance. He tries to be as tactful as he can, but yet not sidestep their sin that needs dealt with. Do some pastors ignore sin in the church? Why would they take that approach? What would be the opposite mistake?
Read through the whole chapter first to get the context.
1 What is going on in this church? Why might we guess the woman isn't also chastised by Paul? What is immorality? What is the only kind of sexual activity that is condoned in the Bible? All else is immorality. Is immorality a problem in the church today?
2 How has the church responded? Like today, were they maybe into "I'm OK, you're OK"? Tolerance for all? Why do you suppose they were arrogant? How do you suppose they rationalized this incest? Do Christians, and churches, take this attitude toward immorality today? Why is it harder to take a strong stand against sinful behavior if it involves your family, your friends, your business associates, or even leaders in the church? Paul says they should have done what?
3 What has Paul done?
4 He has done this in the name of and in the power of Paul or of Jesus? He makes it clear that as an apostle, he is acting in the authority God has given him. God had given the apostles attesting signs and wonders to establish that they were acting in GOD'S power and authority, not their own. Today we do not have apostles, and pastors are not given that apostolic authority. Unfortunately, some pastors try to take that mantle of authority.
5 How do we know that this is not talking about loss of salvation? What two words do we see that were discussed in Rom. 8: 1-13? Who is the god of this world, John 21:31, II Cor. 4:4? We see similar language in I Tim. 1:20. If this man is removed from the church, he is removed from the protecting influence of Christian teaching and fellowship, and is back in Satan's domain. So if this man is truly a believer, has he been living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit? This can be the result. Might this also include physical consequences, not just spiritual? The Bible repeatedly tells us that we reap what we sow. God sometimes did what to Israel when they incurred His wrath, Psalm 78:62? What does Prov. 23:14 say about a rebellious child?
6-8 Leaven is often used in the Bible as a symbol of what? If you don't know, can you tell from the context here? Is it something positive or negative? Paul told them in 2 that they were puffed up; what does leaven do to the dough? Yeast needs warmth to grow; air is added to the dough. So pride/arrogance/puffed up = hot air. Compare Mat. 16:11, Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1. In the Old Testament, leaven was not to be offered to the Lord in sacrifices. Leaven represents sin; this is why unleavened bread was used for Passover, and in our communion services. During the Passover feast, they were to clean out all traces of leaven from their homes. So what is Paul saying here? He points out in 7 that Christ fulfilled the Passover feast by His crucifixion on Passover.
9-11 9 apparently refers to an earlier letter that has not been preserved for us. What does Paul say three times about how to treat someone in the church who is engaging in a sinful lifestyle? Some churches call this "shunning," some call it "church discipline." Many churches actually refuse to engage in church discipline, even though it is taught throughout the New Testament--this is a controversial topic. Many who don't want to engage in church discipline say "the Bible says don't judge!" How true is that statement? Should we shun or discipline everyone in the church who ever falls into a sin? How should we decide who should be treated like this? How should this be handled--what should be said to the individual, and to the church?
What happens in a church where such discipline is not carried out? What does Jesus say about tolerating evil in the church, Rev. 2:20? What if the person refuses to comply? What if they then badmouth the church/pastor/other individuals to the community? What if the person just goes to another church? (This could not have happened in Paul's day because apparently there was just one church in each city at that time.) Can church discipline be misused? How might you relate to a believer that you or your church have chosen to separate from for biblical reasons--say if you run across them or have to be around them?
Where the NASB says "immoral" in 10, the KJV says "fornicators," which is more specific. Today wouldn't many, even some Christians, say that living together is not "immoral" because they love each other, and that the term "immoral" is subjective and depends on the situation? But fornication is fornication. In 11, the NASB says "reviler" where the KJV says "railer." Basically this would be a slanderer. Compare the "malicious gossip" in I Tim. 3:11, II Tim. 3:3, Tit. 2:3. Don't some people enjoy creating mischief in the lives of others? So did Paul say that every Christian who sins is to be kicked out of the church? Is he talking about stumbling once or twice, or a continually pattern, a sinful lifestyle?
12-13 What does Paul say about sinning believers vs. sinning unbelievers? Again he commands them to do what? Is there more than one type of judging addressed in the Bible? To judge can mean to damn, to condemn, to punish. It also includes these meanings, according to Strong's: to distinguish, decide, conclude, think, call into question. Are these things the Christian should do? The Christian is not to have a judgmental attitude toward others (arrogance, critical, looking down the nose) but we are to make biblically-informed judgments.
Can we know if someone in the church who is practicing a sinful lifestyle is actually saved or not? Has Paul told us if this man was definitely saved? "So-called brother" could be, someone who claims to be a brother (a believer); KJV, "any man that is called a brother." He was a part of the church. Which is the worse problem--the immoral believer, or the arrogant church?
In II Corinthians 2:1-11 we will find out what happened in this matter. Comoparing these two passages gives us an example of what Jesus taught in Luke 17:3.
In discussing the matter of church discipline, the question often arises: If people are told they are not welcome in our church until they stop a certain sinful behavior, don't we keep them from being exposed to the preaching and teaching they need to hear to change? Won't there be an awful lot of people we need to "kick out"? Isn't it better for them to be here? If we ask sinning believers to leave, what about all the unbelievers who come to our church? Many of them are also living in immorality, drunkenness, drug addiction, etc. Don't we want them to come so they can get saved?
One reason for this confusion is that our churches today do not really operate on the New Testament model. In Acts 2, Peter's great sermon led to the salvation of 3,000 people, who were baptized and added to the church. 2:42 describes for us the church gathering: those who were saved and baptized got together for 1) the apostles' teaching (teaching and preaching from Scripture and what Jesus had taught them), 2) for fellowship (the partnership and participation in the gospel--not socializing, as we have changed its meaning today), 3) for breaking of bread (the Lord's supper--possibly also taking meals together), and 4) for corporate prayer.
Today, we view church as a place to bring unbelievers to listen to a salvation message. This leads to the mindset of making church a comfortable place for unbelievers to come. Therefore, people living sinful lifestyles are tolerated and welcomed into the life of the church. In such an atmosphere, it becomes very difficult to think about asking sinning believers to leave when sinning unbelievers are welcome. We have muddied the waters of what church is to be about. Perhaps the church should be the place where those who are saved come to participate in the above four activities. As others are saved, we can then invite them to become part of our fellowship. In such an atmosphere, believers can then be held to scriptural standards of conduct.
If you would like to research the Bible's teachings on church discipline, here is a list of passages to consider. Mat. 18:15-17, Luke 12:51, Acts 5:1-11, Rom. 16:17, Gal. 2:11-14, Eph. 5:3,11, II Cor. 2:6, I Thes. 5:14, II Thes. 3:6,14-15, I Tim. 5:20, II Tim. 3:16, 4:2, Tit. 1:9, 2:15, 3:10, I John 1:6-7, Rev. 2:20.
1-4 We have already seen some of the evidence of the spiritual immaturity in Corinth--what else are they doing? Paul says they "dare" to do this--does he think this is a serious matter? He is not saying that the court system is bad; he uses "unrighteous" in the sense of the unsaved. Following Christ's second coming, believers (who have been changed into their sinless eternal state and having spiritual bodies) will rule and reign with Christ in His earthly kingdom, Luke 12:42-44, 16:10-11, 19:11-19, Col. 3:23-25, II Tim. 2:12, Rev. 2:26, 5:10. Paul tells the Corinthian believers in 2-3 that if they will be doing that, in such a realm of great responsibility--even sharing in God's judgment of the wicked angels--surely in this world they could manage to judge righteously in a small dispute within their church body.
5-8 What is this church so boastful about--what did Paul refer to repeatedly in 1:18-2:8? But when the rubber meets the road, are they what they say they are? What does he scold them about in 6-7? The unbelievable fact that two Christians take each other to court. And in 8? He is shocked that Christians, of all people, would even be doing things worthy of going to court! So we have further evidence of their immaturity and pride. Have you ever known of a Christian (or someone claiming to be one) doing such things?
Paul is talking about matters within the church--these are to be taken care of within the church body. How does he suggest that a mature Christian should handle being wronged by a brother, in 7? He is not saying that if a Christian (or a so-called Christian) commits an actual crime against you, that you should not take the matter to court. We saw numerous times in Acts that Paul used the court system to stand up for his legal rights. Some people even take this out of context so as to teach that a Christian should never go to court. What do you think of the idea of a church, or a denomination, having such a "court system"? Or is this covered by church discipline, which we talked about in the last chapter?
9-11 What might these verses have to do with 1-8? What is Paul saying here? Is he suggesting that perhaps some of the guilty parties are not really believers? Do our churches have trouble-makers that might not even be true believers? He says not to be what? Perhaps these people are purposefully trying to deceive others; perhaps not, but others ARE being deceived. Might we be deceived about people in our church? Can anyone truly know if someone's faith is true saving life-changing faith? We can't know for sure, but Mat. 7:15-20 tells us we can be fruit inspectors. Are Christians sometimes naive and gullible?
Twice here Paul mentions the coming kingdom--when Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years, Rev. 20:1-6, following the second coming, Rev. 19:7-21. When Christ begins to reign, there will be no unbelievers on the earth, only those who became believers during the seven years of tribulation and are still alive at the end (many will die before the end). Unbelievers who are alive at the second coming will apparently be removed alive and thrown into hell, kind of the opposite of the church being snatched up at the rapture. See Mat. 13:3-43, 47-50, 24:40-41. Many think 24:40-41 refers to the rapture, but if we compare 29-31, we see that this takes place after Christ returns. Mat. 24 appears to be in chronological order. The rest of Mat. 24 talks about how those alive when Christ returns will be held accountable, and Mat. 25 then goes on to talk more about how God will deal with those at that time, just before He institutes His kingdom reign.
Is Paul saying that if you commit any of these sins, you will not go to heaven? If you have been born again, can you lose your salvation by committing one of these sins? If so, none of us will make it, because we have probably all coveted. Paul is obviously talking about unrepentant sin, about people whose lives are characterized by these sins; if this is the fruit in someone's life, rather than the fruit of the Spirit, they may not be saved. Perhaps Paul is suggesting they need to examine themselves. What does he say about these sins in 11? What are some conclusions we might draw from the first phrase in 11? 1) Can people who habitually do these things change if they are born again? Today it is popular to say that homosexuals cannot change because it is their in-born basic nature, but that has not been scientifically proven (although many are trying hard to prove it, even claiming that it HAS been proved), and that is not what the Bible says. We see several types of sexual sin, even addiction, listed here. 2) Are these sins acceptable among believers? If someone's life has shown no change, they may not be truly born again. Paul is saying that the gospel DOES change people. We are not only forgiven, but can actually be delivered from sin, no matter how base, no matter how strong a hold it has on us. Some today say that we can ignore parts of the Bible condemning homosexual behavior because times have changes; they have not, because this sin was rampant and accepted in that day too.
12-14 Paul had probably told the Corinthians when he was there, in teaching about law and grace: "All things are lawful for me." Would he have meant this in the context of the many rules about clean and unclean things and dietary restrictions, or would he be including even the Ten Commandments? Apparently after he left, the Corinthians, because of their lusts, had twisted his words to include the Ten Commandments, based on the next few verses where he talks about their immorality being wrong, and based on the problem he discussed in chapter 5. Have you, or someone you've known, ever twisted Scripture or taken it out of context in order to rationalize immorality, or any sin? Would you agree that it is more common among Christians who are immature and lacking in solid Scripture knowledge? If you don't know your Bible, you are more likely to follow what others say whom you think are more knowledgeable than you are, without thinking for yourself. Why does Paul commend the Bereans in Acts 17:11? If you know Christians who jump on one issue, take it out of context, and blow it out of proportion, beware. We need a balanced, knowledgeable view of the whole Bible and not to let others do the thinking and studying for us. How does 12 give us a principle regarding various substances or habits, legal or illegal, to which believers today may becoming addicted?
In 13, "food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food" was probably a common slogan, but they had applied it to the body's sexual appetite, rationalizing their immoral behavior. Does this principle apply--what does Paul say? In 13, "immorality" covers all the sexual sins listed in 12, and surely even more (incest, pornography, bestiality, etc.) Are our bodies ours to misuse in any way we please? Why? At that time, and even today, some Christians rationalized sexual sin by claiming that our spirits are separate from our bodies, and that our spiritual lives only revolve around our spirits; what our bodies do has nothing to do with our spirits, so indulging physical pleasure is not sinful. What does Paul teach about the Christian's body? Not only our spirits are resurrected--what else is? What does "Lord" mean?
14-17 At Corinth, there were temple prostitutes, both male and female--part of the pagan sexual religious practices. Corinthian believers had grown up in a culture that condoned sex as part of religion. Today we might liken that to what is widely accepted as "casual sex." Is 15 talking about being a church member? How are we members of Christ? What is the only sex that the Bible condones? So what actually happens when a Christian has sex outside marriage, 15? What does Paul say is wrong with other sexual encounters?
18-20 Where the NASB uses "immorality," the KJV uses "fornication." The terminology covers any type of sexual activity outside monogamous marriage. What command does Paul give? What Old Testament story is a great example of that, and teaches that men CAN deal successfully with sexual temptation? Gen. 39. Did Joseph "stand" and try to be strong, seeing how close he could stay to the temptation without giving in? Why should you flee rather than just staying where you are and trying to withstand the temptation? How can Christians deal with dating in a way that encourages purity? Paul says that sexual impurity affects us in a different way than any other sin that involves our bodies; a clue to the reason why is found in Eph. 5:22-33. What is our motivation to avoid sexual sin, or any sin? Here Paul appears to be talking about individual bodies, not the church body as back in 3:1-17. Do we treat this fact as seriously as we should? How do we feel about not being our own? 20 refers again to their culture of buying and selling slaves. We were bought out of slavery to what? And set free from what? Who bought us? Why? What was the price? Remembering this should result in what? How might we do that? "Glorify" means to make larger, which implies that WHAT should become less?
1-5 This chapter is about Christians and marriage. Apparently the Corinthians must have had some questions for Paul on this subject. We don't have those questions or know the actual background of this discussion. For example, in 1, Paul may have been addressing a misconception they had about whether it was more spiritual for married partners to refrain from sex. Or perhaps Paul had previously told them, in warning them about avoiding immorality, that it was "good for a man not to touch a woman" in order to avoid temptation, and perhaps they took it out of context and took it to the extreme (as we've seen in previous chapters). 5 tells us what they were doing; what does Paul tell Christian couples about sex? Apparently Paul is telling them that if they do that, Satan will tempt them to engage in immoral behavior with someone else (for example, the temple prostitutes he just talked to them about).
6 Some say this means Paul is not speaking here with apostolic authority but is giving his "sanctified" opinion; some say it means he IS, just that his teaching here is not based on the Old Testament (their Scripture) but on his actual revelation from Christ.
7-9 Is Paul married? Apparently he has been in the past, because as a Pharisee he was a voting member of the Sanhedrin, whose members were required to be married (Acts 23:6, 26:10). So his wife probably either died or left him after he became a Christian. Is Paul (and therefore the Bible) teaching that it is better for a Christian not to marry than to marry? We will see later in this chapter that Paul is talking about their specific situation, facing persecution and believing the Lord would return soon--in their lifetime. Again, we must always read the context of any teachings in the Bible. He will go on to explain his reasons, but he assures them that it NOT good to remain single if it means giving in to sexual temptation.
10-11 "Not I but the Lord": he is apparently referencing Jesus' teaching in Mark 10:11-12. What is God's ideal plan for marriage? If a Christian does not live up to this ideal, does he lose his salvation? Is divorce the unforgivable sin? Some Christians or churches treat it as if it were so. Does it mean that from that moment on, he is completely out of God's will and is washed up as a Christian? As with all sin, might there be consequences? Does God permit us to sin and fail? How does it impact us when we fall short of God's ideal?
12-16 How does Paul qualify his teaching here? Some say that means this section is therefore not authoritative or binding on the Christian; others say that because Paul is speaking from inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is just as authoritative as the rest of his teaching. Some think that he is just saying that the Scripture (Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus) does not address these specific concerns he is answering. What does he say about a Christian married to an unbeliever? What does he mean in 14? Is he teaching that the unbelieving spouse and children are saved through the believing spouse? Does the rest of Scripture support this possibility? So we must look further; what does "sanctify" mean? "Holy" does not mean saved or sinless--it means set apart for God's purposes. Might God's leading and working in the believer's life have a positive impact on the rest of the family? What might the implication be for children who die when at least one parent is saved? Perhaps children of unbelieving parents are not saved. Some think at the rapture, all children will be taken, and according to the "Left Behind" books, even unborn babies, but should we get our doctrine from fictional accounts of Bible teachings? This is a danger of biblical fiction (isn't that an oxymoron?). Perhaps only the children with a believing parent will be taken. 16, doesn't the salvation of one family member often lead to the salvation of others in the family?
17-20 Apparently there was a procedure some used to try to uncircumcise themselves; what is Paul's point here? Do outward marks, acts or rituals actually do anything to us or for us? How important is baptism compared to how you live your life before God?
21-28 The context key here is in 26; what is Paul referring to? Paul is not saying in 24 that Christians should never try to be anything other than what they are when they are saved; he is talking about their unique situation, and is addressing slaves, 21-23, the unmarried (virgins), 25-26, and the married, 27-28. Why might we agree with Paul's advice if we were facing increasing persecution, and were convinced that Christ was returning any day now? Instead of putting our efforts into trying to change our status in life, what might be our priority instead? In 28, he clarifies that if you don't follow his advice, you haven't sinned. When a Christian friend gives you godly advice, should you treat that advice as a word from God? Some Christians will tell you they have a word from God for you; they may call it a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, or a prophecy. This may or may not be true; can you know for sure that God actually spoke those words to them? Are you bound to act on such a "word from God"? Only the Bible is God's infallible Word.
29-31 Here is the key to understanding this chapter; what is Paul teaching here? The KJV says time is "short" where the NASB says "shortened"--a term used of sailing ships which shorten their sails as they pull into port. He obviously expected Christ very soon; if so, how might his advice apply? How much should we as Christians focus on our personal problems, success, or possessions? What SHOULD our priority be? This chapter may well become very relevant again during the seven years of tribulation, which may be just around the corner. When Christians face persecution, choosing not to take on a spouse and the possibility of children may save them from such scenes as this: "deny Jesus Christ or we will torture your family before your eyes."
32-35 These verses are generally true, but how might they be even more true under the circumstances Paul is talking about? If you miss the context of this chapter, you might think the Bible is diminishing the importance of marriage, but if Christians avoided marriage, what would result? What is God's plan for man and woman, Gen. 1:27-28? So this cannot be teaching that singleness is good--only under certain stressful circumstances. This section has erroneously led some to teach celibacy, as for priests and nuns. What word tells what the behavior of a Christian should be? The KJV says "comely" but the NASB is clearer: "appropriate."
36-38 Some think this section is talking about a man deciding if he ought to marry the virgin girl he is interested in. It appears to be talking about a father who is deciding if he ought to arrange a marriage for his daughter who has come of age, or, in the light of Paul's advice, that he not allow her to marry. In that day, did young people just fall in love and get married? Or were marriages arranged by parents? So Paul's advice would have more to do with the father than the young people, since it's his decision. But his decision will have a huge impact on the life of his daughter of marriageable age. If he chooses to marry her off, does Paul say that's wrong of him?
39-40 Paul reminds them of what the Mosaic Law says about widows. Paul then gives his opinion on her remarriage, and again, some take this as authoritative, while others do not. Again, he is speaking of their unique situation.
Now that we understand the specific circumstances Paul is talking about, we see that in some ways, this chapter isn't about us. But what is the application for us--what can we take away from it? They didn't know that Jesus wouldn't return for over 2,000 years--they thought it would be very soon. What should our attitude be about the Lord's return? Do we think about it much? Should we--is it biblical to be constantly thinking about the rapture? How did this thinking impact the priorities of Paul and the early church? How should it impact our priorities?
In our world today, comparing the Bible to the news leads to the conclusion that we could be caught up at any moment. But focusing too much on that could lead to a lack of planning for the future, or to making decisions now that could turn out to be unwise in the long run if the rapture doesn't happen as soon as we may think. Because world events and many Christian voices have had us on the edge of our seats, yet the rapture still hasn't happened, some say, "See? It's not really going to happen, or not for a long time--I'm tired of thinking and talking about it."
The biblically-informed Christian who pays attention to current events must live with a "split mind"--able to continue living and planning for the future, let willing and eager to leave those plans behind should we be caught up. The Bible tells us to think about, hope for and pray for the Lord to appear soon. In Mat. 6:9-13, we are told to open and close our prayer with pleading for the kingdom to come, which can't come until after the tribulation, which can't happen until after we are caught up. In I Thes. 5:23, Paul prays they will all be raptured, rather than experiencing the separation of the body from the spirit at death. Phil. 3:20, I Thes. 4:15-18, Titus 2:13, II Pet. 3:12, Rev. 22:20.
If a Christian ends up single, or chooses not to marry, how might their situation differ from a married Christian? Paul spoke with the authority of an apostle, but how authoritative should a pastor be in the personal life decisions of church members?
1-3 This chapter answers questions the Corinthian believers had about eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Do we have this problem today? So should we ignore this chapter or throw it out? Might there be principles we can use in other situations? Paul tells them that they do indeed have knowledge, but what is a danger with knowledge? Does this mean that all knowledge is bad, or to seek knowledge is wrong? Again we see that the Corinthians had a problem with what attitude? Have you ever seen Christians that are sure they have all the answers and want everyone else to see that they do? What is that often a sign of, 2?
Taking this one phrase out of context could lead to that thinking, and some people have used this verse to teach that we should not get too involved in the study of God's Word. However, we always study the context; the immediate context is the rest of the verse--how should knowledge be balanced? What happens if believers (or unbelievers( have knowledge of God's Word without love for God or others? What happens if believers have love without knowledge of God's Word? Taking the larger context, what does the rest of the Bible say about knowledge? Prov. 1:7, 15:14, 2 Pet. 3:18.
4-6 When pagans offered meat to their idol (usually a very good piece of meat), did the idol eat it? Part of it went to the priest, and part was sold at a discount at the temple meat market. What is the main point of these verses? This may seem obvious to us, but does the rest of our culture recognize this truth? How could we answer those who say everyone worships the same God--that whatever you think is God, is God for you, and that's fine? 7-8 So what was the problem for Corinthian Christians? Having come from this pagan culture, some still had hang-ups about idols. How might eating such meat affect their conscience? How did Paul describe a conscience that was bothered about that? So what is he implying about a healthy conscience? How might 8 apply to our thinking about taking the Lord's Supper? Catholics believe that taking Mass is how you receive God's grace, so they think you need to take it as often as possible, because after the priest blesses it, somehow it magically turns into Jesus--His body and His blood--in effect, re-sacrificing Himself weekly all over the world. If you don't do this weekly, you will lack God's grace. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we receive God's grace that way, or by doing anything else. We receive God's grace when we receive Jesus Christ, John 1:14-17, Rom. 3:24, 5:15. We have been noticing that "grace" generally refers to salvation--to the person of Jesus Christ.
9-13 Is Paul saying that eating meat offered to idols is right, or wrong? Does he give definite rules to be followed in the matter of meat offered to idols, or of any matter that is not "black and white" in Scripture? What are some issues today that may fall into that category? According to Paul, what is the conscience of the weak believer like? Are weak believers the same as legalistic believers? What is the conscience of the strong believer like? How is the stronger believer to act toward the weaker believer in matters where believers may differ? Does liberty mean we can do anything we want? In America we have liberty, but can we do anything we want? So what does liberty mean?
1-2 Paul's first question ties this chapter to the previous chapter and how we use our liberty. Some disputed whether he was a true apostle. The word "apostle" means: one who is sent, ambassador, messenger, commissioned by Christ with miraculous powers (Strong's). Did Paul see the resurrected Jesus? Acts 9:17, 26:16, I Cor. 15:8. Did he perform miracles, which authenticated his position? There are no apostles today in the biblical sense of the word because there are no eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. Yet many teach that there are indeed apostles today.
3-7 Here we learn that the needs of the traveling apostles were provided by those to whom they ministered. The half-brothers of Jesus did not appear to accept His claims in the gospels, but what do we learn about them now? Are most of the apostles married? Do their wives travel with them? There is a huge opportunity here to read between the lines: what do you suppose those wives did on these missionary journeys to the various churches that had recently been planted? We are not told anything about these women, but surely they were more than traveling companions. We think of the wives of pastors and missionaries. The needs of the traveling apostles and their wives are generally met by these churches, and rightly so; but what have Paul and Barnabas chosen to do? Why? What principle for today's churches and ministries do we find in 7? Compare Rom. 15:27.
8-14 Paul develops this idea more. 8-10, where is this principle found? What important truth do we find in these three verses about interpreting the Bible? Yes, we take the literal interpretation, but the Bible uses types, allegories, parables, metaphors, similes, etc. The Bible tells us how to interpret the Bible. If we say that something means something else, then we need to have a clear biblical reason for such a conclusion. We also learn that many Old Testament principles have New Testament application, and that much New Testament truth comes straight out of the Old Testament. Should the Christian bother to read and study the Old Testament? Many think not. What principle do we find in 12? Where else did we recently read this?
15-18 So does Paul expect churches to meet his needs when he travels? Is he hinting to them that they should? He can't even boast about how he is preaching the gospel, because boasting would say, look at what "I" am doing, yet he is doing it by compulsion--it is from God. He says he has no choice--if he doesn't preach, "Woe is me." If it had been his own idea, he might feel he should be rewarded for it, but it is a stewardship entrusted to him by the Lord. So then what is his reward? His "reward" is that he offers it "without charge," even though it would be his "right" to expect them to support him financially. We too sometimes feel we have "rights" that others do not respect, yet might we sometimes need to give up our "rights" for someone else's benefit? And to be OK with that, not resentful that we did it? And not patting ourselves on the back because we did this noble thing?
19-23 What familiar part of their culture does Paul use again in 19 for an example? He is a free citizen, BUT he enslaves himself to others, by his own free will--he gives up certain freedoms--for what purpose? We saw this in Acts; his presentation, and especially his opening words, and sometimes even his behavior, were different depending on if he was trying to reach Jews or Gentiles. What was his purpose in doing this, 23? How might we apply this principle? In 22 we read again that there are what kind of believers? We need to be careful around them.
24-27 Corinth was the home of some games similar to the Olympics; Paul is a master of using examples his readers are familiar with. How can we use this principle? Can we do this if we use a canned approach, or don't really get to know the person we are talking to, or are overly concerned with ourselves and what WE want to say? How do they prepare for these games? What is their strategy during the race? What is their goal? Do they get a gold crown that lasts forever? Since our crowns are a much greater reward, what is his point? Paul has been discussing the topic of Christian liberty; does the athlete who wants to win the race let himself do anything and everything he normally does while not preparing for a race? CAN he, if he wants to? What might result? Paul exercises self-discipline so that he won't be disqualified when the rewards (crowns) are handed out. Will all believers in Christ make it to heaven? Will all receive rewards? Why should we desire those crowns--are they for US, Rev. 4:10? How might we feel at that time if we have received no crowns?
1-5 Beginning with "For" lets us know that Paul is referring back to what he has been saying--we will soon see the connection. Again we are reminded of the Corinthians' immaturity and their pride/arrogance. Who are the "fathers" in 1? We saw in Romans 4 that Abraham is the spiritual father of the Christian just as he was the earthly father of the Jews, so the Jewish forefathers are our spiritual forefathers. What cloud, and what sea? "Baptize" in 2 obviously doesn't refer to getting wet, and they were not immersed in the cloud or the sea, so what might we conclude is the symbolic purpose of baptism? When believers are baptized, they make a public declaration of their identity with Christ; the children of Israel were identified with Moses.
What kind of food, drink and rock are specified? What is our spiritual food and drink? John 6:32-35,41,48,51, 7:27. How did God feel about these people? Why? So what happened to them? What is the rock? This is a common symbolic term used of God or of Jesus throughout the Old and New Testaments. What does Paul mean, in that the spiritual rock (Christ) followed them? Compare Ex. 14:19, 23:20,23. So is it true that the Old Testament is about Israel and the New Testament is about Jesus? Do you remember why Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land? How did he disobey God in the second instance of the water and the rock, Num. 20:7-12? Who was the rock symbolic of? John 7:27. Earlier (Ex. 17: 5-6) God commanded Moses to strike the rock and water came out; the Rock is only to be struck once (Jesus--the Rock--died once for all). The next time, Moses only needed to speak to the rock. We come to Christ ONCE for salvation; when we sin, we need not "be saved" again--that would be like requiring Him to be crucified again. We need only speak to Him in confession. Now, understanding the significance of striking the rock only once, we can see why God considered this disobedience serious enough to punish Moses.
6 So not only did these actual events happen in the Old Testament; God also planned that they would have symbolic meaning as "types" for us. Could any man have faked such a book as the Bible? Could man have faked the writing of prophecies that came true hundreds of years later? What do we learn here is one purpose of the Old Testament for the New Testament Christian? Can we learn these lessons if we don't know the Old Testament? So as we read the Old Testament (some of which is admittedly hard to understand), how should we look at it in order to learn the most from it? We can read it on at least two levels: 1)the literal historical meaning, and 2)asking what this passage teaches me about God, about the Bible, or about living the Christian life.
What evil things did the Israelites crave in the wilderness? Ex. 32:1-4, they craved a visual representation of God. Num. 11:1-6, they craved more and better food than God had provided for them--food like they had back in the land of their slavery before God delivered them. They had the "I want's." Hadn't God already done wonders for them? Were they trusting in God's love, wisdom, and leading? Are we ever like this? Are these the only things we are not to crave, or are these just examples of craving evil things? In reading the Old Testament stories, we are often not given "editorial comments" about the actions of the people; here we see that we are to learn from the examples we read there. We can ask ourselves questions like these: What had God commanded? Did they obey or disobey? What was the result--both short-term and long-term? Etc.
7-10 What four things are we specifically warned against? We think of the Israelites as being God's people, but what do we learn about them in 7? Besides the golden calf, what do we learn in Eze. 20:8? What is so bad about eating, drinking, and playing? Checking the context usually gives us more information and insight. The quote from Ex. 32:6 implies partying and sexual immorality; the NASB and KJV both use "play" but it is the same Hebrew word used in Gen. 26:8 where KJV uses "sporting" and NASB uses "caressing." God brought immediate consequences in 8, 9, and 10; does He always zap us immediately when we sin? What should we conclude from that? Is immorality a problem for Christians? Do we ever "try" the Lord? This means to put Him to the test--to try to get Him to do stuff, to twist His arm, to try to make deals with Him. Why do Christians do that sometimes? Do Christians grumble? Does God consider this a serious problem? Do we?
11 Because Paul repeats what he said in 6, what can we conclude about this point? Does God want us to read and understand the Old Testament? He gives us clear instruction through Paul how to do that. How does Paul describe the church of that day? The NASB correctly says the "ends of the ages." The KJV term "ends of the world" is confusing, as also used in Mat. 13:39,40,49, 24:3, 28:20, Heb. 9:26. This wording has led many to assume that when Christ returns, it will be the end of the world--that next on God's agenda is eternity. Rather, the Bible teaches that when Christ returns, this age ends and the next age begins--the age of the earthly kingdom when Christ will reign for 1000 years and we, the church, will reign with Him in our immortal bodies.
12-13 Who is Paul speaking about here--who "thinks he stands" and is in danger of falling? The Corinthians--those he has been chastising for their misuse of their liberty from the Law. He will soon go on to explain. They are being strongly tempted to eat meat offered to idols--why? It is the best meat! Their physical cravings are leading them to behavior that hurts the church; now we see what he was getting at in verses 1-11. Now we understand the temptation Paul refers to in 13--that of giving in to sinful physical cravings (lusts).
What do we learn here about temptation? Can we honestly make excuses for giving in to temptation? Do we really know how much we are able to endure until we've been tested? Does "a way of escape" imply an easy out, or might the way be difficult? What important information do we learn here about God? Why might it be part of God's plan to allow us to be tempted? Does God tempt us to sin? Did God tempt Job to sin, or did Satan? Did Satan tempt Job because Satan is so powerful he can do whatever he wants, or did he first have to get God's permission?
14-22 Now Paul starts tying this all together for the Corinthians. Some of them would like to eat that top quality meat that was offered to idols, but what does Paul tell them in 14? In 15, he again refers back to his earlier remarks about how wise they considered themselves; if indeed they are so wise, they should be able to see how unwise that is. 16, when we take the Lord's Supper, what are we doing? 17, apparently they broke pieces off of one loaf, symbolizing what? 18, the Jewish priests, under the Law, received the sacrificed animals as food for themselves and their families, since they did not have any land as did the rest, who supplied their own needs by raising food and animals.
So in effect, what are they doing when they eat meat offered to pagan idols? They are sharing in idolatry. Paul points out that a man-made idol is a nothing, but yet pagan "gods" are actually demons. What conclusion does he draw in 21-22? Isn't this what Israel was constantly guilty of in Old Testament times, as the prophets constantly warned them? 22, do we ever think we can outsmart God?
Do Christians today ever try to see how far we can go with the world and still be a Christian? Is this the mark of a mature or an immature believer? Do we ever have a false sense of security that because we're saved, we're "in"? "We're OK, so now we can do stuff and hey, what the heck, we're Christians! We're forgiven! We're not under the Law, so we don't need to be so legalistic!" Have you known "borderline" Christians like that, that try to walk the fence and not fall off? They think they can play around a little with sex, or with drinking, or partying, or whatever; they're not concerned that their flirting with sin might be the cause of stumbling to a weaker Christian, because they are only concerned with how much THEY can get by with. Do Christians ever play around with demonic influences--horoscopes, ouija boards, magic, spells, music or video games that dabble in this things? The tribulation saints are going to be faced with much deception, according to Matthew 24, and demonic activity, according to Revelation; this warning is for them also. Don't have ANYTHING to do with the Beast and his system, no matter how attractive.
23-24 Paul continues the discussion of Christian liberty--this must have been a big problem in the church at Corinth! Apparently one mark of immature believers is that "it's all about ME." Pride is about "ME." Humility is not concerned with Self, but with who? Paul actually repeats what he said in 6:12. We are no longer under the dietary restrictions of the Law, but does that mean we should eat anything we want? Not everything is profitable/expedient/advantageous. Not everything edifies/builds up. Builds up what or who? Should our own appetites be our primary goal as part of the body of Christ?
25-30 Now Paul gives some specific examples of how this approach might play out. If you go to the meat market and the butcher brags, "Oh, this meat is the best I have, it was offered to an idol," what should you do? If he doesn't volunteer that information, should you ask? Why not, 26? If you eat dinner with an unbeliever, should you ask him where he got the meat? If he brags that this delicious cut of meat was offered to an idol, should you eat it? Why or why not? If he doesn't mention it, should you eat the meat? Should you ask about it? Today, if you don't see anything wrong with an occasional drink, what should you do if you dine with an unbeliever who knows you are a believer and says, "Here--would you like a beer/glass of wine? Or are you Christians allowed to do that?" What if you knew he was an alcoholic, or a recovered alcoholic? Would all Christians come up with the same answer? Might one Christian say, "no, thanks, I'd prefer iced tea"? Might one Christian say, "no, thanks, I don't drink"? Might one say, "OK, I'm not a drinker but I don't mind having one now and then"?
31-33 So what principle does all this talk boil down to? If we choose to glorify God, who are we choosing NOT to glorify? Paul says this principle applies to more than eating or drinking; how can this principle help us in the gray areas of Christian life, which the Bible doesn't seem to address, and in which Christians differ? We also see that we may choose NOT to do something for several different reasons: we think it's wrong FOR US; we think it's wrong period; we don't think it's wrong but it just may be wiser to not do it, for various reasons. God is concerned not just with our actions and choices, but also with our motives.
There is ME, there is GOD, and there are OTHERS. How does the world rank these three priorities? How should the Christian rank them? Why, 33? Is it possible to not give offense to anyone? So what is Paul saying here? Are we responsible if others choose to take offense at us? Does that become an excuse for not caring if we offend others? Some teach that the church has replaced Israel in God's plan; how does 32 refute this? Greeks and Gentiles are basically the same category.
The reader should be aware that there are varying interpretations of the issues Paul discusses in this chapter.
1 This statement sounds suspicious to some because few of us would dare say such a thing. However, keep in mind that the early church was in a far different situation that our churches today. It did not have the written New Testament; their only Scripture was the Old Testament, and even that was not in the hands of every individual as is our Bible today. The only example of mature Christianity these new believers had was the visiting apostles. They had to model Christianity to those they taught. It's not that Paul is claiming to be so perfect; what is he saying at the end of 1?
2 Some think Paul is being sarcastic here; based on the preceding chapters, that is very possible. But perhaps not. What is meant by "traditions"? Today there is disagreement between Catholics and Protestants over the importance of the traditions of church teaching vs. strictly following God's Word. Those who believe in the Bible PLUS traditions might jump on this verse as supporting their position. However, again we must consider the historical context. At the time Paul wrote this to the young Corinthian church, such traditions did not yet exist! According to Strong's, the word may also be translated: transmissions, precepts, ordinances. He may be referring to what he personally has been teaching them. Remember, they had no written New Testament, only Paul's teachings. These letters to the new churches would eventually be saved, added to the Old Testament, and become the Bible we have today.
However, Strong's has one more possible translation of "traditions": Jewish traditionary law. This meaning is also quite possible when you look at the following 14 verses, where Paul talks to them about what is on their heads. The New Testament does not give rules about dress as did the Mosaic Law, so it seems possible that among the new Jewish converts, they still followed many of the rules of the Law itself and the many man-made traditions that were added to it.
3-16 There are a number of ways to look at this passage which discusses what is on the head of men and women in church, and the biblical roles of men and women. Many believe the issue here is whether men and women today should wear hats or some type of head covering in church. Many think it is about the proper length of hair for Christian men and women today. We also read about the topic of authority and headship.
Paul mentions hair several times, and the length of hair. He never mentions clothing of any type--not a hat, a veil, or any type of cloth placed on the head. He talks about what is appropriate, and why it is appropriate. That obviously will be different in different times and cultures. The Bible, especially the New Testament, also teaches that God is much more concerned about what is inside than what is outside. Understanding the times and culture in which the Bible was written also gives insight. In Corinth, pagan temple worship included temple prostitutes, who could be recognized by their shaved heads; most women at that time had long hair and also wore veils. Apparently some Christian women decided they no longer needed to have the traditional long hair. What does Paul say about that in 5?
He points out that common practice has always been for men to have shorter hair than women and for women to have long hair. (These actual lengths have varied greatly in different times and places, as have customs about men's facial hair. The Bible DOES teach that men are to look like men and women like women and not the other way around.) He says this illustrates what spiritual principle? Is Paul saying that women are inferior to men? What do we see in 5 that women did in the church? (We will discuss prophesying when we get to chapters 12-14.) If inferior, then he would also be saying in 3 that Christ is inferior to God; is He? What fact from Genesis is the reason for this order in the chain of authority? However, 11-12, what should we also keep in mind? The mention of their "practice" in 16 leads me to believe that Paul is talking about commonly accepted customs of that time, and possibly supports the idea that "traditions" in 3 is talking about the Jewish traditions. We noticed in studying Acts that Paul was not against a believer continuing to observe some of the Jewish practices if they wished.
The context of this book--the previous chapters--tells us that the immature, arrogant believers in Corinth were misunderstanding and misusing the concept of the liberty we have in Christ. They were trying to be as much like "the world" as possible; does this go on today also? Why? Sometimes also Christians inadvertently adopt dress, language, even items of decoration (rainbows, crystals) that are associated with such beliefs as New Age, drug culture, gang culture, Satanism, homosexuality, etc. We need to be careful how we may be coming across to others.
"Because of the angels," 10: I don't know what this means. Some views: the fallen angels would be tempted by women who are not indicating they are under some man's authority or protection; the angels (good or bad or both) are the audience and we are the players here on earth in the drama in which God has set us; good angels are present when the church gets together; an angel is assigned to each church. I'm sure there are more views but these are views I am aware of.
What important event is referred to in 8-9? What key word do we see in the middle of 9? If God used evolution to "create" the world and all life, with all its supposed transitional forms, could there have been an Adam and an Eve? If somehow there could have "evolved" a first human, how likely is it that there evolved TWO humans at the same time, in the same place, of both sexes, to be Adam and Eve? Many Christians have compromised on their acceptance of the first few chapters in Genesis, either drawing such ridiculous conclusions, or, more likely, arguing that the account of Adam and Eve is merely a symbolic account of the origin of man. But Paul, Peter, and Jesus Himself believe and refer to the literal creation story, so what are we to make of that? Were they confused, wrong, or lying to us? When you reject any part of the Bible, or try to "explain it away," you get the "domino effect"--other parts of the Bible also must be rejected, ignored, or explained away.
17-22 Since Paul emphasizes twice that he does NOT praise them, it seems quite possible that his "praise" in 2 was indeed said in sarcasm, which Paul does use from time to time in his writings. Now he chastises them for their behavior when the church convenes. He again mentions their divisions, or schisms, which he discussed in depth earlier, but adds an interesting comment in 19. Now he adds that even though they are bad, they actually serve what good purpose? Have you ever noticed that bad things in our lives can serve some good purpose? Have you ever noticed that even some sin, while displeasing God and often bringing its own painful consequences, may be the means of bringing about some later good? God's will is that we do not sin; that is His "ideal" will. He permits us to sin; that is His "permissive" will. If we fail to obey His ideal will for us (that we do what is good and right according to the Bible), are we now completely out of the "will of God"? Some teach this. But we see often in the Bible that when we don't cooperate with Plan A, God has Plan B for us, and Plan C, etc. He works with us where we're at, and we CAN continue to experience God's leading and blessing in our lives even though we've sinned and repented.
So when there are divisions in the church, people show their true character. It becomes obvious who are walking according to the Spirit and who are walking according to the flesh (Rom. 8). It becomes obvious which believers know and are following God's Word. God's Word is the standard that will sort things out. Is it hard to stand up against other believers in your church if you believe the Bible is not being taught or followed correctly?
Where the NASB uses "factions" in 19, the KJV uses "heresies." This word is emotionally loaded as we tend to associate it with something worthy of being burned at the stake. Heresy basically refers to false doctrine, an unbiblical teaching or practice. Other translations in Strong's: a choice, a party, a sect, disunion. There are two other passages where this word is found. In the KJV it is used in Gal. 5:20, where it is one in a list of sins. In both KJV and NASB it is used in II Pet. 2:1, where it is something that false teachers introduce. So to accuse someone of heresy is merely to say you believe they are holding or teaching a doctrinal error.
But the problem they have when they convene is discussed in 20-22. The custom was that they first met for a "love feast" or "agape feast"--maybe like we would have a potluck--then they ate the Lord's Supper. Their society was based on classes--the rich and the poor, free and slaves. What was going on at their love feast? Notice Paul's very harsh tone. As a side note, apparently Christians DID drink wine in those days, as we also find in the Gospels. Drinking wine is never condemned (I Tim. 5:23) but drunkenness is. Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine.
23-26 Paul reminds them of what the Lord's Supper is. Did Paul hear about this from the other apostles? The bread and the cup are symbolic of what? Some manuscripts leave out a word: the KJV says, "This is my body which is broken for you," where the NASB says, "This is my body which is for you." Was the body of Jesus broken? John 19:33,36. Paul tells us what Jesus told him is the purpose of communion: what phrase ends both 24 and 25? What does 26 say? According to 26, what else does communion point to besides the death of Jesus for our sins? This is often not emphasized during the Lord's Supper. So taking communion does not DO anything for us; why do we need to be frequently reminded of this basic fact of Christianity? Does this tell us how often to do it? Some churches do it weekly, some monthly, some twice a year. What is the new covenant about? This is echoed in Heb. 12:24; Heb. 9:15 spells out just how that works. II Cor. 3:6 tells us that as partakers of the new covenant (the shed blood of Christ), we are no longer under the what (hint: the letter of the what)?
Catholics believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus, but when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper with His disciples, His actual body and blood were right there before them, and they obviously did not eat or drink them. Even if they had, Jesus had not yet died for our sins, so they could not have had any value. Is cannibalism consistent with the rest of the Bible? In Acts 7:55, Stephen looks up in to heaven and saw "Jesus standing at the right hand of God." Acts 3:21 also says that Jesus's physical body is in heaven and He will remain there "until the period of restitution of all things"; His body cannot be present in the Mass because it can't be in two places at once. Catholics believe that taking Mass (the actual body and blood of Jesus) is how you receive God's grace, so they think you need to take it as often as possible, and if you don't, you will lack God's grace. Nowhere does the Bible teach that we receive God's grace that way. How do we receive God's grace according to John 1:14-17, Rom. 3:24, 5:15?
27-32 Is anyone truly worthy to take the Lord's supper, or even to be a Christian? Our worth is only because of who? So 27 can't be talking about individuals being more or less worthy to have communion. According to Strong's, "unworthy" means "irreverent" which fits with the context--the problem described in the previous verses. Rather, reverence leads to what, 28? Is 29 talking about judging Christ's physical body, our physical body, or the church body? Do you think 30 is talking about sinful members being ill or dying, or do you think it is talking about spiritual weakness and apathy? Or both? The church is to judge its members, as we saw in I Cor. 5, or there may be consequences. If we don't take care of things, God has to step in and discipline, 32.
33-34 Paul sums up the discussion about how they ought to handle this meal, reminding them again of possible judgment. Remember that we have been seeing how spiritually immature and prideful this church is, and we continue to see how that plays out in various problems in this church.
1-3 A number of times in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gets after this church for their arrogance and their thinking that they are so wise in spiritual matters. He has had to correct their ignorance in many areas. Again he points out that they do not know as much as they think they know--about what?
Paul will spend three chapters discussing spiritual gifts, and uses two different Greek words, the more common being "charisma" from which we get the term "charismatic." This is found in 12:4. In 12:1 he uses the term "pneumatikos" which has the connotation of supernatural, and may also connote demonic spirit activity. Is everything that appears to be supernatural, from God? Verses 2-3 seem to be saying that when these Gentile believers were previously involved in pagan idol worship, demonic powers were at work, including supernatural manifestations. Perhaps these immature believers were even continuing to mimic or engage in the ecstatic utterances that had been part of pagan worship, confusing these with the true speaking gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps those who did not have the gift of speaking in other languages (tongues) were jealous and trying to fake this gift; babbling sounds or gibberish can easily be created by any person at will and do not necessarily mean that the speaker has the true gift of languages. It sounds as though many in the church were Gentiles.
3 sounds like both of these statements had been made in the church of Corinth--otherwise why would Paul warn them so strongly? If those speaking in a supernatural manner speak of Jesus Christ as Lord--supreme authority--then the supernatural activity is from the Holy Spirit. But if Jesus is spoken of negatively, then this manifestation is NOT of the Holy Spirit. I John 4:1-3 warns of the same problem, with the same test. Apparently false prophets and deceiving spirits were a problem in the church from the very beginning. They were hard to spot and people were easily taken in by them. Paul warns them of this danger again in his next letter, II Cor. 11:3-4.
Do we today ever see supernatural spiritual manifestations that we wonder if we should believe? If something seems supernatural, does that mean we should accept it? Mat. 7:15 warns about the possibility of what? How are we to recognize them, 16-20? 21-22 tell us that they MAY even claim to operate in the Lord's name; should we accept that unquestioningly? Is it unchristian to question people or ministries that claim supernatural manifestations? Look in 23 at what Jesus will say to them; "never"--could Jesus truly say this to any Christian? He accuses them of operating OUTSIDE the Law of God. So false prophets may claim to be Christians and may show signs and wonders, but may not actually be saved. What is the first word of 15?
4-6 compare true spiritual manifestations. Do you see the Trinity in these three parallel verses? The Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, God the Father. They are equated here--doing the same things. Paul describes spiritual manifestations by what three terms? What repeated word tells us these aren't the same for everyone? "Gifts," "administrations," and "operations" appear to refer to the same thing. The three synonymous terms parallel the idea that the three members of the Trinity are the same with different names. Strong's: Gifts = spiritual endowment, religious qualification, miraculous faculty, free gift. Administrations: service, ministering. Operations: an effect, operation, working. They are all about service.
7-10 The Spirit exhibits or expresses Himself to which believers? For what purpose? Are they given to make the individual look good, to look spiritual, to draw attention to him, or to make him feel good? The common good refers to what group? Now Paul lists several spiritual gifts; he does not talk about how to determine what their gifts were, or give other details or definitions, so apparently they knew. He does not define the word of wisdom or knowledge; there are a number of different definitions floating around churches today, depending on whether or not you go to a charismatic church. They both were speaking gifts; they were not personal wisdom or personal knowledge, but perhaps speaking of God's wisdom or speaking with God-given wisdom--speaking of God's knowledge or speaking with God-given knowledge. We know what faith is, but don't all exercise faith as the means of salvation? Rom. 12:3 says God "has allotted [distributed, divided] to each a measure of faith." Eph. 2:8 says that even the faith we put in Christ is a gift of God and isn't our own doing. Yet somehow this spiritual gift seems to be something more or different, perhaps for the developing of faith in the church.
Miracles are different than healing--two separate gifts. We are familiar with prophecy from the Old Testament; prophets spoke God's words to the people, and also foretold future events. I John 4:1 says not to believe every spirit but to try or test them to see if they are from God or are a false prophet; then John gives the same test that Paul gave in 12:3. Since this gift is mentioned just after prophecy, they appear to go together. Distinguishing or discerning of spirits (small "s" and plural, so not the Holy Spirit) also takes us back to verses 1-6: distinguishing between the true working of the Holy Spirit, or the false signs of demonic spirits. Apparently it was hard to tell a true prophet from a false prophet in the church, and could be easily counterfeited, or a gift for this wouldn't be needed.
Now we have the first mention of tongues since Acts, where the believers supernaturally spoke in other languages on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit was first poured out on believers. Where is this gift located in this list? Why would this gift be needed? At that time, there were many language groups, and Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city. We saw in Acts 2:5-12 that God supernaturally gave Christians the ability to speak in languages they had not learned, in order that all present would hear of the deeds of God. A related gift is that of interpretation (Strong's: translation) of tongues. If a believer who had the gift to speak in a particular language were to exercise his gift by speaking a message in that language in a group where none present spoke that language, no one could benefit unless someone could translate. Paul will speak more about these gifts.
There is a great deal of dispute in the church today about the purpose of spiritual gifts and whether any or all of them are still for today's church. Therefore, we are going to take a lengthy digression to examine this subject.
There are four Bible passages that list spiritual gifts: Rom. 12:6-8, I Cor. 12-14, Eph. 4:7-11. I Peter 4:1 just mentions speaking and serving, which would seem to summarize all the gifts. There are several views on spiritual gifts: 1) they are for the church today ("continuationism"), 2) they have all ceased ("cessationism"), 3) some of them ceased ("partial cessationism"). Some believe that only the supernatural gifts ceased but the others remain today; I don't believe the Bible makes a distinction of any of the gifts being more or less supernatural--all were supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Others claim that the miracles and healings in the Old Testament were spiritual gifts, but the Bible does not identify them as such. Spiritual gifts are only mentioned in connection with the church.
I take the position (cessationism) that the spiritual gifts were all supernatural and unique to the time of the apostles. I think that Christians who claim there are spiritual gifts today are confusing abilities with supernatural gifting, and in so doing, are often redefining biblical terms. Much of what we see as the more spectacular "gifts" today can be faked or counterfeited; even the Bible warns of this. Because this topic is so controversial and the source of much division over charismatic vs. non-charismatic, let us look at what the Bible says about spiritual gifts. Also, keep in mind that the Bible distinguishes between the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to all believers at salvation, and the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Rom. 1:11. Gifts were for the purpose of the church at Rome being "established." Strong's: to make stable, place firmly, set fast, fix, to strengthen, make firm, to render constant, confirm one's mind. The church in that day was something new, and the church was not yet firmly established. Spiritual gifts were imparted by apostles, and were to authenticate this Way as being from God, and to enable all these new believers to function effectively as a body.
I Cor. 14. Spiritual gifts were not an end unto themselves, but were for what purpose? What important word is found in each of these verses? 14:3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 26. According to these passages, who is to be edified (built up) by these gifts--the individual using the gift, or the church?
Eph. 2:20. Those who had the gift of being apostles or prophets provided what for the church? The church was something new, a new dispensation, a mystery that had not been revealed to God's people before and was shown to be of God by the miraculous sign gifts that God gave to authenticate it. But once the foundation of the church had been laid, they were no longer necessary. There is little mention of them in the later epistles.
Eph. 4:11-13, these gifts were for the equipping of believers and for the building up of the church, "until" what? Until they had unity, knowledge, maturity, things that accompany the fullness of Christ. What did the early church lack? Mature believers, mature leadership, the complete written Word of God. The early church was not like our churches today. Can you imagine a church of several thousand brand new Christians, led by immature Christians? In those first years, when the epistles were written, not enough time had passed for there to be mature Christians, able to accurately teach, lead and evangelize. 4:14, apparently, because of this problem, the believers were like children, easily swayed by wrong doctrine.
Heb. 2:3-4, the purpose of signs and wonders and miracles was to "bear witness," (Strongs's: to attest together with, to join in bearing witness, to unite in adding testimony), to confirm (Strong's: to make firm, establish, confirm, make sure) God's message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that at that time, this message was new; Jewish believers were struggling to reconcile these new teachings with the Law they had grown up with, and Gentile believers were still strongly influenced by their pagan culture. Also II Cor. 12:12.
I Cor. 13:8-13. The gift of prophecy will be done away, tongues will cease, knowledge (the gift of the word of knowledge) will be done away. 9, these things are partial. (This cannot be referring to knowledge of God in general; the entire Bible stresses the importance of the knowledge of God, of Christ, of God's Word.) 10, when the perfect (Strong's: brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness) comes, the partial (spiritual gifts) will be done away. 11, like comparing a child to a man; once maturity is available to the believer, once the complete written Word of God is available to the church, those other things will no longer be necessary. In fact, they will seem childish in comparison. It would be strange if grown men continued to hang on to childish things they used to do. 13, "now abide," apparently the other things he mentioned don't abide, don't continue on.
Scriptural accounts of gifts hint that they perhaps could only be conveyed through the laying on of hands by the apostles. See Galatians 3:5; Acts 4:19-21, 29-31; Acts 19:1-6; Romans 1:11, I Tim. 4:14. IF the gifts could only be conveyed by the apostles, then when they died, this would be further evidence that the gifts ceased with the death of those Christians who had received these gifts from the apostles.
Gifts are discussed in 1 Corinthians. Acts mentions the gift of the Holy Spirit, referencing salvation. Mentions of gifts are found in the earlier epistles--Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. There is no mention of them in the later epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy (other than Timothy's own gift), Titus, 2 Peter, and John's epistles. This supports the idea that the gifts were foundational for the early church. The New Testament writings were then being circulated, and the doctrinal truths and the abiding graces of faith, hope and love, rather than the exceptional gifts, were what the Church was to rest on. The tongues, as foretold in 1 Cor. 13:8, were already in the process of ceasing in the apostles' day.
Let's look at several of the gifts, beginning with apostles. Apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord, Acts 1:21-26, I Cor. 15:5-9. Today there are no eyewitnesses. The gift of apostleship ended with the death of the apostles; the Bible says nothing about further apostles. It is possible that the apostles manifested ALL the spiritual gifts. How could a true apostle be recognized, II Cor. 12:12? We see healings and miracles by the apostles only; we have no evidence that others in the church had these gifts. Since miracles are mentioned separately from healing, the two must be different; we know that both Peter and Paul each miraculously raised the dead on two separate occasions. We know they evangelized so they had the gift of evangelization. They acted as pastors and teachers. On the day of Pentecost, obviously all the apostles present (eleven) spoke in tongues. Paul says in I Cor. 14:18 that he speaks in tongues. He implies in I Cor. 13 that he has the gift of prophecy, the gift of knowledge, and the gift of faith. So it seems logical to assume that he, and probably therefore all the apostles, could exercise all the gifts.
The gift of healing is not apparent throughout the epistles. Paul had a thorn in the flesh; God did NOT answer his prayer to remove it. He did not heal himself and did not have it healed by someone with the gift of healing, II Cor. 12:7-10. Instead, he tells that God may inflict physical problems upon us for our good, and we should be content with that knowledge. Epaphroditus was sick and almost died, but Paul mentions nothing about supernatural healing as an option, Phil. 2:25-27. Paul gave Timothy advice about his ailments without suggesting he get healed, I Tim. 5:23. Apparently this sign gift was already passing away.
Some teach that healing is for all believers, as if God had given this gift to assure continued good health of believers and to prevent early deaths in the church; however, those healed in the Bible do not appear to be those in the church. The two instances of known believers being healed (Lazarus and Dorcas) were actually both raised from the dead, not healed; if they could be raised from the dead, why were they just not healed before death overtook them, as the Jews asked in John 11:37? Because healing was not for general health purposes; it was for a sign, as was the raising of these two from the dead. As a result of these miracles, many believed; this is the purpose of miracles--not the personal health of Christians. We never read of church members healing one another; we only read of the apostles healing, so it is very likely that this gift was only exercised by apostles. We also do not read of them using it within the church, but rather, when they are evangelizing in pagan areas.
What about prophecy? Prophets in the Old Testament spoke God's Word to the people, Deut. 18:18-19. Those messages were written down and became the written Word of God. The Bible speaks much of false prophets; how could the people know if a prophet was true or false? God gave them a litmus test, Deut. 18:20-22. A prophet was to foretell an event in the immediate future; if it happened as he said, he was from God. If it didn't, he was a false prophet, and they were to kill him. How many leaders in the church today have made predictions that have not come true, proving that they are NOT prophets (so they either lied about being a prophet or were self-deceived), yet continue to teach, preach, write popular books, and are followed by many Christians?
The gift of prophecy in the New Testament, in the early church, was for the purpose of imparting God's truth because they did not yet have the complete written Word of God; when it mentions "Scriptures," it is referring to the Old Testament, which is all they had at that time. Eph. 3:4-5, for understanding about Christ; I Cor. 14:24,26,31, for conviction, teaching, edification, learning, exhortation; I Cor. 13:2, for the purpose of knowledge. Paul visited and taught at various cities, and letters were passed around. But once the teacher or the letter was gone, they had to rely on their faulty human memories. God supernaturally met their need by speaking through individuals; but because false prophets were a problem then (as now), the others were to be cautious about accepting the message as being truly from God. (Some say the gift of prophecy is what a preacher has today, but that can't be true because Eph. 4:11 lists the gifts of pastor and teacher as separate from that of prophet.)
The gift of discerning or distinguishing of spirits is mentioned in I Cor. 12:10 right after the gift of prophecy; they are related. Paul had just warned them in 12:1-3 of the danger of demonic spirits and the test to determine if someone is speaking by the Holy Spirit or by some other spirit. John gives us the same test in I John 4:1-14, warning us that false prophets speak in a spirit that is NOT from God. So we know that Paul's warning in I Corinthins 12 was also for the purpose of identifying false prophets; because of this danger, a supernatural gift was given the church.
Earlier it was stated that Paul had revelations; I Cor. 14:26 speaks of individuals in the church having revelations, but obviously this would not be the imparting of doctrine contrary to or going beyond what had already been taught. It sounds like Paul is actually chastising them for the fact that when they assemble, each one is trying to exercise a gift; the context, 23-34, is teaching that only a few are to exercise spiritual gifts in an assembly, and one at a time, not all at once. This would create confusion, 33, and cause visitors to think they were out of their minds, 11, 23. The church was NOT being edified when each vied for attention (pride) with some gift, real or counterfeited. These carnal Corinthians were being ruled by selfish motives rather than the motive of edifying the church.
In the context of 14:26-33, it appears that "revelation" is used synonymously with "prophesy." (Sometimes we say we had a revelation or that God revealed something to us, meaning that the "lightbulb" came on, that we just had an "aha!" moment.) Women were not to exercise tongues or prophecy in the general church assembly because these were teaching gifts, and what does I Tim. 2:12 say about women teaching men? Why does the Bible teach this? Because the original sin came about through a woman disobeying the man's God-given authority, Gen. 2:16-17, 3:6, I Tim. 2:13-14; her punishment would be that she would forever desire to usurp that authority but would not be allowed to, Gen. 3:16. Hence the warnings of Eph. 5:22 and I Tim. 2:12.
Is God still revealing truth today, or is the Bible complete? Today when someone claims to speak a prophetic word, are they writing down their messages from God and compiling a new revised version of the Bible that is more complete than what we already have? If not, why not? Deut. 4:2 and Rev. 22:18-19 are sober warnings to these people. Those today who claim to prophesy must believe that the written Word of God is not complete, but that God has more to say. Many believe in continuing revelation, but they don't value God's words enough to put them on the same level as the Bible. Some define prophecy for today in other terms, but there must be a biblical basis for such definitions, otherwise Scripture becomes subjective and open to any interpretation at all.
If their messages are merely rephrasing what is already in the Bible, then there is no need for such messages. Heb. 1:1-2 makes it clear that in the past God spoke through His prophets, but that in these last days, He has spoken through His Son. He is not continuing to speak through prophets. I Cor. 13:8-13 makes it clear that the gift of prophecy would pass away when the perfect/complete comes-the completed Word of God.
I heard a speaker, who believes in spiritual gifts, emphasize that the gift of prophecy is not to bring new truth, but to take a Bible truth and rephrase it to someone, telling them that this is God's word to them right now, and speaking it in such a manner as to imply that God is giving that speaker words right at that moment. I agree that this is what many do, and rightly so, not adding to the revealed Word of God. But this is misleading, if not outright untruthful, and unnecessary, since the so-called "prophet" could simply take that person to Scripture and show that what God has to say about their particular need. Any believer can do this; the "gift" of prophecy is totally unnecessary. And it would be much wiser, since you would then be teaching that person how to hear God's voice in Scripture, and how to be "accurately handling the Word of truth," II Tim. 2:15, which is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness," II Tim. 3:16. These are skills which are sadly lacking among many Christians, and need to be taught by those who know the Word.
With the advent of the internet, much can be learned about what is called "prophecy" today by browsing through websites of those who claim to have prophetic messages. If you are knowledgeable about the Bible, it is not hard to see, when reading these so-called "prophecies," that many are obviously from the minds and spirits of people, not from God. If God were still speaking, everything He said today would line up exactly with what is revealed in the Bible. We are to test these things and not be deceived.
Interestingly, the only passage dealing with the use of gifts is to Corinth, a church with many problems and full of immature Christians (I Cor. 3:1-4). Paul frequently chastises them for their pride and arrogance--apparently a mark of spiritual immaturity. Paul spends much time correcting their misuse of gifts, as well as correcting their many other problems which all stem from their spiritual immaturity and their pride. Epistles to the other churches do not give any instructions for using spiritual gifts.
What about speaking in tongues? Without going into a detailed study, think about why God might have given people in the early church the ability to speak in languages they did not know. Look at the first instance, in Acts 2:5-11. In that region, at that time, there were many language groups. God wanted everyone to hear the gospel; He made a way for others to not only hear and understand, but to see that this miraculous phenomenon was indeed from the true and living God. It was also a way of demonstrating to Jewish believers that God was indeed saving Gentiles, not just Jews; we covered this in Acts in the passages that speak of tongues: Acts 2:1-11, 10:4, 19:6 (and not mentioned, but implied, in 8:17). Please see my notes on those passages. As the church became established and spread into many regions where people could be taught in their own language, this sign would not be necessary. In fact, any teaching about speaking in tongues is only mentioned in the epistle to the Corinthians. We don't even know that speaking in tongues was found in any other church. If it was important and was to continue as a part of the church, why didn't Paul teach about it in every epistle, as he did about so many topics?
One important reason for the gift of tongues was as a visible sign that someone had received the Holy Spirit--in other words, a visible sign of salvation. Why was this important? The Jews had trouble with the idea that salvation was even for the Gentiles. Read Acts 10:1-11:18, especially noting 10:44-48 and 11:15-18. In the beginning of this new dispensation, tongues was necessary as a sign--a proof--that God was doing a new thing. Also compare Acts 15, especially 8 and 12; tongues were a sign.
Today, is this phenomenon necessary to reach those in our churches? Of course not. Is it necessary to validate the truth of the Scriptures? Not any longer. Is it necessary to prove that all men can be saved now? Not any longer. This fact has been established. If it was for today, missionaries would not have to go to language school; they would just go to a foreign country and rely on the gift of tongues. Those with the gift of tongues, or the gift of interpretation of tongues, would become missionaries and be able to reach the entire world. But everyone knows this is not the case. Why? Speaking in tongues was originally for the purpose of sharing the gospel with people of many languages. Today it is mostly practiced in churches where all speak the same language, yet on the mission field, we do not find God giving the gift of speaking in tongues to share the gospel with other language groups. Why?
When tongues (glossalalia) are practiced today, does anyone know what the message is, or if it's even really from God? Paul had this gift, I Cor. 14:18. 14:6-28 discusses the true gift of tongues and its purpose at that time; 28, without an interpreter, the individual is to remain silent. This is not what usually happens today in churches where this practice is found. Tongues without interpretation is unbiblical. Anyone can let something that sounds like tongues come out of his mouth; that does not mean it is the true gift of tongues, or that it is from God. Tongues are easy to counterfeit. Cults and pagan religions also speak in "tongues." This could indicate demonic influence, or simply a little-understood phenomenon of the brain. People who are completely non-religious tell of speaking in tongues (do a Google search on glossalalia); some speak of it happening spontaneously during sex. Most say that while engaging in glossalalia, a feeling of deep peace comes over them (even non-Christians), which Christians will tell you is proof that it's from God. Studies on the brain raise possibilities of release of endorphins. This could be similar to the self-induced trance-like state that comes from meditating and repeating a "mantra." True tongues were actual known languages; they are not repeated nonsense syllables or "prayer languages" which basically repeat a few nonsense syllables over and over. We are to have discernment; we are not to be deceived.
The interpretation of tongues is another spiritual gift. Paul emphasizes the importance of interpretation of tongues in I Cor. 14. He says all languages have meaning, but unless those who hear understand the meaning, it is pointless and immature to speak in tongues. According to 14:5, the person who had the gift of tongues might also have the gift of interpretation.
Since it appears that biblically speaking, at least some of the gifts are not for today, then one wonders if others have ceased too. The early church was made up of young or baby Christians; there were no mature believers to teach and lead. They did not have the complete written Word, only the Old Testament Scriptures. Today the church is equipped with mature believers, and we have the complete written Word of God. The indwelling Holy Spirit works through yielded believers to impart wisdom and knowledge of God, faith, the desire and ability to give, to help, to preach, to teach, to evangelize, to serve, exhort, show mercy. These are the natural outworkings of yielding to and being led by the Spirit. I think it is very possible that spiritual gifts are not in operation today--that they were given to the early church to fulfill a need that no longer exists in the church. Today it seems more likely that perhaps the Spirit may endow various people with certain gifts at different times, as the occasion warrants.
Today, you probably hear about spiritual gifts in your church. If your church is on the Pentecostal, charismatic side, you probably mostly hear about the gifts that sound more supernatural (even though ALL the gifts are, by definition)--tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, even apostleship. You are even EXPECTED to show one or more of these--tongues, at the very least. If you go to a Baptist-type church, your church probably teaches that some of those gifts are no longer given to the church, so you hear about the gifts of teaching, leading, speaking, helping, administration, exhorting, etc. For some reason, these gifts are not talked about as much, or desired, by Pentecostals. There is little evidence that speaking in tongues was common in the church throughout history; they appeared in 1906 at the beginning of the Pentecostal movement--the Azusa Street Revival. They have been common, however, throughout the history of the Mormon church, and are also common in various pagan religions.
Should we really think that we need a supernatural "gift" to serve, teach, exhort, give, lead, or show mercy? Aren't these abilities that arise naturally out of a maturing walk with the Lord? Why is there so much confusion and uncertainty about what gift you have? If you had one, you would know it. Paul never speaks of needing to discover your gift; he talks to his readers as if they know which gift they have. If gifts were a mystery, surely the Bible would tell us HOW to discover them, and not leave us in such confusion.
Humanly-designed "questionnaires" to determine one's gift are not only unbiblical, they are a travesty of Scripture. They are not a product of the Bible, but rather, come from secular humanistic psychology. They can be used by unbelievers as easily as by believers to determine one's "gift" in life. They are based on the idea that your gift has to do with your natural abilities and interests; they are so subjective, you could take the "test" many times and come up with a different gift each time.
On the contrary, I think God often asks us to serve in ways that are NOT natural or comfortable to our natures, so that we would learn to depend on HIM, not on ourselves and our own strength. If serving required supernatural gifts, then many in the church could claim they can't or don't need to do these things because that is not their gift. But in the early church, filled with baby Christians with a minimal amount of knowledge, supernatural abilities from God helped the church to function. The faith, hope, and love mentioned in I Cor. 13 and 14:1 are not spiritual gifts; they are being contrasted with spiritual gifts. Everyone is to exercise faith, hope, and love.
Failing to understand that the gifts of the Spirit were for the unique circumstances of the early church leads to confusion today. Taking the short gifts passages out of context leads to faulty interpretation of the Bible. Understanding the transitional nature of the early church and the apostles solves the mystery of why I can't figure out my spiritual gift. But if you insist that they must still be for today, then you have to find them where they are not found. Then we end up with unbiblical questionnaires. You end up redefining what is meant by prophecy; many say that today, giving out the Word is prophecy, but that can't be because that is the gift of preaching, or teaching. People who have an ability to do something well in the church, whether music or teaching or governing or organizing, are told that that must be their spiritual gift, even though they may have had that ability before they were believers, or they got that ability through practice, falling on their faces many times, and old-fashioned hard work. One must ask: at what point did that ability become a supernatural gift? Spiritual gifts, according to the Bible, are supernatural manifestations of the Spirit; the church today has redefined them as human abilities or interests.
What about those today who seem to display these gifts? When you take the approach of looking and listening for messages from God, and trying to interpret feelings and circumstances, you become open to subjective influences, whether from Self or from Satanic counterfeits and deception. Some believe this is the way to hear from God rather than reading in His Word what He has revealed to us. These messages may be lies, may be your own (innocent) inspiration, or may be from Satan. Mt. 7:22, Jer. 23:25, 26, 32, 27:10, 14-16, 29:9, Ez. 13:2.
Even a passing familiarity with psychology makes it clear that auto-suggestion is a very powerful force. In churches which stress the gifts, there is often pressure (spoken or unspoken) to display a gift, to prove you are saved, baptized in the Spirit or are Spirit-filled. It isn't hard to let repetitive babbling sounds come out of your mouth, especially if you REALLY want them to, but how can you know if that is actually from God? Wise counsel or biblical messages may come from your lips, and you may claim they are a message from God, but are they supernaturally from God, or from your own biblically-informed thoughts? How can others know for sure? Someone who claims to interpret tongues may be giving a subjective message, not truly from God. They may just be speaking something from the Bible that they already know God has said.
Many who speak in tongues repeat a couple of sounds over and over; is this truly another language? Language specialists have taped people speaking in tongues and tried to analyze the sounds to see if they actually resemble the syntax of a language; they do not. Tape recordings of people claiming to be speaking in tongues have been played for various people who claim to have the gift of interpretation of tongues; each interpreter has come up with a completely different message. Pastors have attempted to control their flock by babbling repetitively, then telling people that if they didn't "get it," that just proves the person is not spiritual; of course people are going to pretend they "got it" so as not to become a spiritual outcast in their church. These things may be real, but we must be careful we are not deceiving ourselves. Some churches stress gifts and signs more than they stress knowing God, the study and application of God's Word, or the importance of spiritual growth and yielding to God in all aspects of our lives.
Why do spiritual "gifts" appear for the most part in churches that teach this phenomena? If God was still in the business of imparting spiritual gifts to the church, wouldn't we see Him bestowing them equally among all kinds of churches, wherever there are true believers? It would have nothing to do with their belief system; gifts would appear in ALL churches. God would not be limited in His gift-giving. I find this quite suspicious, and an indication of the power of suggestion within certain groups. Some say that people in "traditional" churches don't ask for gifts, because they are taught gifts are not real. I know people outside of charismatic circles that have sincerely sought spiritual gifts, wondering if they are missing something God has for them--studying, praying, seeking, even repeatedly having hands laid on them by others who have "gifts." Why did God not give them any gifts? Some say, maybe they have them and just don't realize it. The account in Corinthians does not give us any reason to believe that gifts were secretive, that believers had to use questionnaires to discover whether or not they had them or what gift they had. Their gifts were obvious; they just needed to exercise them properly.
God obviously may still work miracles or heal people, whether gradually or miraculously. He leads and guides and works through us in many ways. We've all seen things happen in our lives, large or small, that can only be explained as a miracle. However, God does not seem to still be in the business of raising the dead. It is possible that in some circumstances God still uses these supernatural gifts, particularly as reported by missionaries in foreign countries, to establish their message as authentic truth in contrast to pagan belief systems. But I don't believe He gives individuals these supernatural gifts, such as that of complete and instantaneous healing of all that come to them, as Jesus and the apostles did. Nowhere do we find the church told that from now on, they can get healed whenever they are sick or think they're dying. When people aren't healed today, they are sometimes told that they are, and now it is their responsibility to "claim" their healing so it will manifest itself; if they entertain doubts or negative thoughts, it won't happen. Nowhere in the Bible do we find people healed but leaving in the same state in which they arrived; nowhere do we find them told to "believe" for their healing. We see immediate and instantaneous healing. Lame people jump up, walk and run; they don't need months of therapy to learn to walk. We need to make sure that our theology is based on the Bible, not on experiences, appearances, or feelings. Our Christian walk is to be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, not the gifts of the Spirit.
For further biblical evidence that supernatural spiritual gifts are not needed in the church today, I am including a section on the spiritual gift of teaching. We will look at scriptural reasons why you don't need the supernatural spiritual gift of teaching today.
BIBLICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHING
I Timothy 3:2, "A bishop [overseer, NASB] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach."
The requirement is that he is "apt" (able) to teach, not that he has the gift of teaching.
II Timothy 2:2, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
The requirement is that they be "faithful" and "able" to teach others, not that they have the gift of teaching.
II Timothy 2:24, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient."
The requirement is that he be a godly man and "apt" to teach, not that he has the gift of teaching.
Titus 1:9, "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers [refute those who contradict, NASB]."
Paul is giving Titus the requirements for choosing elders or overseers in every city. There is no mention of the gift of teaching, only that he be "able" and strongly committed to God's Word.
Titus 2:3-4, "The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness [are to be reverent in their behavior, NASB], not false accusers [malicious gossips, NASB], not given to much wine, teachers of good thing; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children."
Older, more mature believers are to teach younger ones. Nothing is said about having the gift of teaching.
Hebrews 5:12, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat."
Paul says that believers who are maturing should be teaching others. He does not qualify this idea with the possession of the spiritual gift of teaching.
The Epistles are the section of the Bible that gives God's directions to the church. What do the Epistles say about teaching? A study of passages that use some form of the word "teach" shows different Greek words in use: didasko, didache, didaskalia, didaktikos, kataecheo.
One Greek word, "didaskalos," includes more in its meaning than "instructor" or "teacher;" it has the connotation of "master" or "doctor." In Strong's, this word for "teacher" is listed as 1320. This term for "teacher" is applied to Jesus many times in the Gospels. It implies great respect. The verb form of 1320 would be 1321, so that word for "teach" would imply teaching with high authority, not just teaching someone what you happen to know.
This sheds some light on the issue of women teaching men. I Timothy 2:12 uses this term for "teach" where women are admonished not to teach men. Apparently women are not to be in the highest position of teaching with authority over men--not functioning as a pastor. Perhaps this may leave room for the possibility of a woman teaching a class that men may be part of, if the woman is not functioning as a "master" teacher in the church.
Paul uses this term in I Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11 in the lists of spiritual gifts. Apparently this gift of teaching is that of a "master" teacher--one who establishes the doctrine to be taught. Apparently this contrasts with the "average" teacher--anyone with some knowledge who is teaching someone else with less knowledge.
Paul claims to be such a master teacher in I Timothy 2:7 and II Timothy 1:11. In II Timothy 4:3 he warns against the wrong kind of master teacher. In Hebrews 5:12 he chastises those who should be master teachers but instead need to relearn the basics. In James 3:1 he warns that not many should become master teachers because of the stricter judgment to which they will be held. This term is not used in the listing of gifts in Romans 12:7, where Paul is apparently talking about teachers in general, rather than a master teacher.
POWER TO TEACH
In Acts 1:8, what did Jesus promise to all Christians? Power. I Corinthians 12:13 says that all believers have been baptized by the Spirit, and Romans 6:1-7 says that all believers have been baptized into Christ. God provides all believers with His power.
Colossians 1:29, "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working [power, NASB}, which worketh within me mightily."
I Thessalonians 1:5, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance..."
Not every mention of "gift" in the New Testament refers to "spiritual gifts." In every passage in Acts that speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the word used for "gift" (dorea) refers to the Holy Spirit whom God has given us, not to "spiritual gifts." Every believer receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit. A check of Strong's Concordance can clarify which use of "gift" is used in various other passages.
Abilities and interests are often referred to in church circles as spiritual gifts. This may or may not be true. Everyone has a unique set of abilities and interests, whether they are Christians or not. When you become a Christian, those abilities and interests do not suddenly become your spiritual gifts. You may refer to your special abilities as your spiritual gifts if you like, and in a sense, the abilities we have are from God. But the Bible indicates that spiritual gifts are supernatural.
Many teach that spiritual gifts are related to your personal preferences and strengths. The Bible says just the opposite--God often uses our weaknesses instead of our strengths, so that we will have to rely on Him, not Self. Like mud pots, we are weak, breakable, lowly. Lack of self-confidence, even timidity and fear, are not proof that you are in the wrong ministry. Determining and understanding your personality type could be interesting and helpful. But keep in mind that God may be more interested in stretching you or changing you than using what you think are your strengths.
II Corinthians 4:7, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us [Self]."
II Corinthians 12:9, "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength [power, NASB] is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my infirmities [weaknesses, NASB], that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
We find the same principle in the story of Gideon and his army, Judges 6:1-7:25. God went to the family that was least in its tribe, and then chose the youngest of that family--Gideon, a man who struggled with fear and lack of faith. When 32,000 men volunteered to help Gideon deliver Israel, God dismissed all but 300, saying, "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves [Self] against me, saying, 'Mine own hand [power, NASB] hath saved me.'" (Judges 7:2)
Acts 4:33, "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."
What if you do suffer from timidity, fear, lack of self-confidence, stage-fright, self-doubt or whatever? Acknowledge your weakness, do whatever you can to prepare yourself for whatever He has given you to do, and then choose to rely on God's power. In your teaching, keep the focus on God and on those you are teaching, not on yourself or your uncertainties. Discipline yourself to stop focusing on your feelings--on Self.
II Timothy 1:7, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind [discipline, NASB]."
Another teacher may have just the opposite struggle--with ego, pride, cockiness, boastfulness, confidence in Self, a desire for recognition and admiration. The Gideon principle applies to this teacher also. God will find a way to convict that boastful spirit or to keep you from relying on yourself. We are to use our God-given brains to the best of our abilities, but Proverbs 3:5 says we are not to "lean" on our own understanding. God will humble the one who is proud, Job 40:12, Daniel 4:37.
If you have the desire and opportunity to teach and have studied and prepared yourself, rely on God's power to work through your humble efforts. God will "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power" (II Thessalonians 1:11). Any able Christian can teach, or try teaching, just as anyone can learn to play the piano if he practices and desires to play. As with any skill, practice and study improves one's ability level. Some have or will develop a knack for teaching, while others will dislike it, struggle, be ineffective, be discouraged or quit. Not everyone will become a teacher, and even fewer will become master teachers, but perhaps the only way to find out is to try.
Because of a faulty understanding of spiritual gifts, one could claim, "I can't try teaching. I don't think I have the gift of teaching." Or a poor teacher, by claiming he has the gift of teaching, could justify hanging onto his position or not improving his teaching. The New Testament does not support the idea that today one must have the spiritual gift of teaching in order to teach. All believers have been given the capacity and the power to serve God in whatever opportunity He brings our way. "According as his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him…" (II Peter 1:3).
If you are struggling with your teaching opportunities, that is not necessarily an indication that you shouldn't be teaching. God often puts us in situations where we feel inadequate--for what purpose? Paul is a great Bible teacher, yet look at what he says about his teaching ability: "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:3-5). See also II Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:13, I Peter 4:11.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends much time correcting their misuse of gifts, as well as correcting the many other problems stemming from their carnal, immature spiritual lives. He chides them for focusing on these gifts, rather than the "more excellent way," which is love (I Corinthians 12:31, 13:1-13). He mentions spiritual gifts in the letters to the churches in Rome and Ephesus. In both instances, as in the Corinthian letter, he then points them to the importance of love, relating the discussion to growing and being conformed to Christ (Romans 12:1-13 and Ephesians 4:11-16). Worrying or wondering about your spiritual gift takes the focus off God and puts it on Self. Focus on God and His Word--trust and obey--and the rest will take care of itself.
Now back to I Cor. 12. Hopefully this lengthy digression will help shed light on our study of this and the next two chapters.
11 All these gifts are energized by whom? Do individuals get to choose gifts they want? In the previous verses, he continually stresses that these supernatural manifestations are from God, the Lord, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit; why does he stress this? Because of Paul's warnings at the beginning of this chapter, we must assume that these supernatural manifestations mentioned can be counterfeited by demonic spirits. Accounts of this can be found in the Bible and elsewhere. Again, we see the gift of distinguishing of spirits listed right after that of prophecy, to enable the early church to know who was speaking by the Spirit of God and who wasn't.
12 What three bodies are pictured here? How is each a picture of the other? Do you feel like a necessary part of your church? What does this say about that? What if you don't go to a church--are you still a "member" of the "body"? Remember the word "church" has two meanings: the local congregation that meets together, and all believers, dead or alive, who have believed on Jesus since the resurrection.
13 Again Paul emphasizes the ONE Spirit--God's Holy Spirit, as he has been stressing in 1-13. Perhaps they not only were getting false messages from false prophets, but also were being told that there were different spirits at work in these messages. If you are familiar with New Age and occult practices, you know that they are in contact with spirits that go by various names: ascended masters, elder brothers, the cosmic christ, master Jesus, cosmic beings, cosmic masters, avatars, the ancients, angelic beings, lord of karma, chanelled spirits, inner guide, inner light, aliens, space brothers, spirit guides, masters of wisdom. These spirits often give themselves names, even claiming to be Jesus and Mary. Christians who are lacking in knowledge (v.1) can easily be deceived by these spirits. We read that in the tribulation, angels and demons are going to be very active, and the many new, immature, ungrounded believers will be in great danger of being deceived, Mat. 24:24.
As we look at 1-13, a picture emerges of spiritual deception at work in this church. We have seen that they are immature, fleshly, babes in Christ, convinced of their own wisdom, smitten by pride. It seems that everything Paul has taught them, they have taken out of context, taken to extremes, and misused. False teachers are at work in their midst. They are ripe for deception, and now it appears that along with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, provided by God for their edification and growth, false spirits are also present in their midst. Who or what are these false spirits that they are unaware of (v.1)? Demonic spirits--fallen angels. Do demons appear us as scary dangerous beings to be avoided? Read Paul's warning to them in II Cor. 11:13-15. Does Satan have power to perform false signs and wonders? Might he empower false teachers or false apostles to perform what appear to be "gifts of the Spirit"? So some who claimed to bring a prophetic message from God were saying "other" things, and the Corinthians were accepting them. Often Christians are naive and gullible, as long as the person mentions God, Jesus, and the Bible. There is no room for "other truths" that "God" has revealed to someone--God does not change or contradict Himself or His Word. Should you check your pastor's messages to make sure they line up with the Bible? What about people you hear on Christian radio or TV? What about Christian books?
Besides the fact that Paul is warning the Corinthians about other spirits, what do we learn in 13 about all believers? Is it referring to the water baptism of all believers in the church, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit? What makes us part of the body of Christ--getting wet, or receiving the Holy Spirit? How many times does Paul use "all" in 12-13? Some don't believe that Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation, that you must then seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a separate event; these generally teach that you can know you have received it when you speak in tongues--if you've never spoken in tongues, then you are not Spirit-filled. The Bible says here that all believers are Spirit-filled, but charismatic churches use the term to mean "speaking in tongues."
Peter tells us the same thing in Acts 5:32; what does "obey" mean? To those believers who do a good job of obeying? Some teach this; but how good is good enough? From the context, 27-33, we can see that Peter is talking about those Jews who have obeyed God by believing in Jesus Christ as the risen Savior for forgiveness of sin.
14-26 Again Paul uses the picture of the human body and the church. The Corinthians must have been doing and saying what? What can we learn in 18 from the words "just as He desired"? What do 18 and 24 say about the possibility of evolution?
27 Why did Paul give that long explanation about how a body works? What does it mean that we are Christ's body? Do you see in this verse both meanings of the word "church"?
28 Paul lists some of the spiritual gifts; other gifts are also listed in Rom. 12:6-8 and Eph. 4:11. Here Paul seems to rank the gifts in importance. What gifts are first, second and third? What is last? Which is ranked higher, teaching or miracles? Why do you suppose that is?
29-30 Do any of these gifts belong to ALL believers? Paul asks this question repeatedly in such a way as to imply a "no" answer. This would seem to negate the teaching that all true believers must speak in tongues or all who have the Holy Spirit must speak in tongues. Does it sound like believers then, like today, had trouble identifying their gift? Or does Paul speak to them as if they all know their gift? The problem was not that they didn't know their gift, or he would have spoken to them about how to determine which was their gift. The problem was that they misused their gifts. If we had supernatural spiritual gifts today, it seems our gifts would be obvious to us also; this is one reason to doubt that such supernatural gifts appear today. Today God is still working in the church and promises us the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we do not see these gifts obviously bestowed on all believers. In those churches that claim to have them, we must then ask, can any of these gifts be faked by those who wish they have them or think they have them? Can any of these gifts be counterfeited by false spirits who would like to lead the church astray? We are to be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11, examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
31 Apparently they were coveting or desiring certain showy or exciting gifts that were NOT what Paul would call the greater gifts. In doing so, apparently many were faking what sounded like foreign languages, but Paul had warned them about engaging in practices that had been brought over from their pagan background, 1-3. As we go on through chapter 14, we will find that the controversial gift seemed to be that of tongues--of speaking in an unknown language. Where did Paul rank this gift?
It would seem difficult to fake being an apostle, but apparently some were doing this, as Paul warns them in II Cor. 11:13. We don't read here of that problem in their church, though. He is obviously not telling them to desire that gift. What is the next ranked gift? Why is prophecy ranked so high? Prophecy is the giving of God's Word. Did they have the written New Testament? They didn't even get to keep Paul's letters--letters were passed around to various churches. All they had was the Old Testament, but how could they remember all Paul's teachings to the church? How could a church function without the Word of God as we have it today? God spoke supernaturally through prophets, as He did in the Old Testament. Wouldn't this be the most important spiritual gift to the church? What gift is listed next? God supernaturally gave to some of these believers, immature and self-centered as they were, the ability to teach those truths that the prophets spoke. He will speak more about this gift in the next two chapters. No one seemed to be coveting or faking teaching--I wonder why? Many were more interested in speaking in tongues, whether they be true languages or faked gibberish.
So Paul gives us the ranking of the gifts and is glad they are desirous of spiritual gifts, but now he points them to something even better, if that is possible. So the Corinthians were to ask themselves, what could be more excellent than supernatural manifestations of the Spirit? "Excellent" is a superlative word. Strong's: supereminence, pre-eminently, beyond measure. The word "more" added to that makes it even greater. Wow! Surely THIS will attract all those who are seeking after something spectacular.
This chapter is the classic passage on love. What does love mean in the Bible? Falling in love? Being in love? We often hear those terms used--being or falling in love with Jesus. Do we really find that terminology, or even that meaning, in the Bible? What is different about falling in love or being in love, vs. loving someone? Are you in love with your father or brother or best friend? Jesus, or God, are often talked about in those terms in the Bible. Who are you in love with? The connotation is always romantic, therefore even sexual--this is such an irreverant way to talk of our Lord.
Does the Bible tell us to be in love with our neighbor, or our Christian brother or sister? Being in love has to do with how the other person makes ME feel; loving someone has to do with how I feel about and, more important, how I treat someone else, regardless of how I feel. If you can fall in love with someone, you can fall out of love when you decide they no longer make you feel a certain way. The Greek word used in the Bible is "agape." Agape love is an action, a choice--not a feeling. Love is defined for us in Luke 10:27-37. Is God in love with us? Are we lovable in God's eyes, or are we sinful? Does God love us because He just can't help Himself, or because He chooses to in spite of our sinfulness, because of His own nature? Can you love someone you don't like?
Getting a proper perspective on love will help us understand this chapter, and the rest of the Bible. Also keep in mind that this chapter is sandwiched in the middle of Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts, so that is the context.
1-3 What does Paul say about love in each of these verses--what is his closing statement? He speaks of various spiritual gifts operating without love--are they then of any use? Have the Corinthian believers been exercising love--putting others first--or were they putting Self first? In this book, have we seen that they are mostly concerned with worshiping God and edifying the church, or with their own personal agendas?
Earlier it was stated that linguistic experts have determined that "tongues" are not any true language because all languages have a recognizable syntax. Charismatics will look at 1 and say that they are speaking in the tongues of angels. Let's look at the context. In 1-3, Paul speaks hypothetically, and in superlatives. He did not say we can or do speak in tongues of angels. We do not even know if there is such a thing as angel language; in the Bible, when angels appear, what language do they speak? Human language--whatever language is appropriate to the person they appear to. Can angels be understood or do they speak what sounds like gibberish? Since we know that the Corinthians were NOT exercising love, what does Paul say about their great desire to exercise the gift of tongues? This gift is useless if exercised from the wrong motive.
Do ANY of the gifts have value if exercised from wrong motives? The Bible says we are to do good; are any of our good deeds of value if the motive is to be seen or congratulated, or to feel good about ourselves, or to win points with God? If so, our good deeds may have some value to others, but not in God's eyes.
4-7 Now Paul describes what the Corinthian believers should really be like. Love is patient and kind--then Paul tells what love is NOT. Were the Corinthians being kind in their use of spiritual gifts? Were they jealous or each other's gifts? Were they bragging about "MY" gift? Were they arrogant in how they used their gifts? We saw the word "arrogant" earlier in this book. Were they acting unbecomingly as they exercised their gifts? Were they seeking their OWN agendas? Were they getting provoked at each other regarding their gifts? Were they keeping track of wrongs and hurt feelings? Were they gloating over things they shouldn't have? Instead, they should have displayed just the opposite behavior of this list.
Paul uses four parallel phrases, with each quality applying to ALL situations: bear, believe, hope, endure. They should "bear" all things--what might that mean in their circumstances? Strong's: to cover with silence, to endure patiently, to suffer. If others were wrongly displaying or bragging about their gifts, how should a mature Christian respond? Believe: they were not to believe obvious lies, but they were not to go around being suspicious of others. Hope: they were to have confident expectations of one another, and above all, to focus on their hope in the LORD. Endure: they were to steadfastly bear up under trials, even to patiently suffer wrongs done unto them by others, rather than retaliate, get hurt feelings, gossip, etc.
Now that we have looked at the immediate historical context of this passage, we must think about it's application to our lives. Even if the problem in our church is not how we exercise spiritual gifts, isn't this a prescription for how we ought to "do" church? Wouldn't Paul's advice solve most of the problems in our churches? Is spiritual immaturity and arrogance a problem in many churches?
Then we can also apply this teaching about love to other situations and personal relationships. Is the love described here about how someone makes us feel, or about our own choices and actions? Can this approach to love solve many of our marital problems? What if you have committed to love someone in a permanent marriage relationship, but that person does not love you in this way? Is this a check-list for the other person, or for you? Does 7 teach that a Christian wife should be a doormat? Some take it out of context and teach this very thing, but we must always ask ourselves, what else does the Bible say on this subject? Does it mean that a wife should submit to abuse, or, how much abuse?
8-10 Love never fails; that is a great-sounding phrase, but what does it mean in real life? "Fail" could be reworded several ways, according to Strong's: to drop away, to be driven out of one's course, to lose, to become inefficient, to be cast away, to fall off or fall away, to take none effect. Exercising agape love--God's kind of love--toward others will keep us from veering off course, will keep our Christian lives from being ineffective.
What things WILL fail, cease or vanish away? Paul lists several of the spiritual gifts; we might wonder if that would imply ALL the spiritual gifts. Cessation means a ceasing, hence the term "cessationism" to describe the belief that all the gifts will expire at some point, as stated here and implied elsewhere, especially in studying the original purpose of spiritual gifts in the early church. Some believe that only some of the gifts ceased: apostles and the supernatural sign gifts (miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and some would include the word of wisdom and word of knowledge) that were originally for the purpose of authenticating this new message of Christianity; this position is called "partial cessationism."
"Knowledge" and "know" in 8 and 9 appear to refer to the gift of the word of knowledge, since grouped with the gifts of prophecy and tongues. Knowledge in general, or knowledge of God, will NOT be done away; the Bible speaks often of the foundational importance of knowledge of God. Compare Ps. 19:2, Prov. 1:7, Phil. 1:9,3:8,3:10, I John 5:13-20. Paul says, 9, the gifts are only "partial" and will be "done away" (Strong's: cease, fail, vanish away) when something comes that is "perfect" (Strong's: complete). "Perfect" is used as "complete" or "mature" many times, Col. 4:12, Acts 24:22, James 1:4. What was not yet complete at that time, that was coming in its completed form--what did the early church lack that the supernatural spiritual gifts partially filled? The written complete Word of God. Some think the gifts disappeared following the age of the apostles, some think at the completion of the written New Testament a bit later.
11-12 What two examples does Paul use to contrast spiritual gifts (the partial) with the complete Word of God? Again we see the picture of maturity, completeness. And of course, our knowledge will be even more complete when we see Him face to face in heaven. Some think that "when the perfect comes" is speaking of Christ's return, and our mortality will be done away with as we receive our immortal bodies, but that doesn't seem to fit the context of what Paul has been teaching about. It is possible that when Paul said the perfect is coming, that he may have been anticipating the very soon return of Christ. His return hasn't happened yet, but He did give us the complete Bible--His complete Word to us.
13 Paul has just spoken of what things that will cease, that will not abide? What WILL remain? What is faith, Heb. 11:1? We often speak of hope as wishful thinking, but the Bible uses it to mean confident expectation or anticipation (Strong's). No matter what we lack in this life, what happens to us, or what may be taken away from us, can these be taken away from the Christian? So what is more excellent than supernatural manifestations of the Spirit? We often find that those involved today with a focus on spiritual gifts make that their primary focus, even above the Bible, the pursuit of Christian maturity, and the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23, of which love is only one.
So, is this passage about love, or about spiritual gifts, or about church malfunctions? Or, how about all three? Many Bible passages have meaning and application on more than one level; we don't HAVE to say, it's this OR it's that. This chapter is often pulled out of its context regarding Corinthian misuse of spiritual gifts and just applied to Christian love in general, and there is an obvious application there for us. But remembering that it is about arrogance vs. love in the body of Christ could go a long ways toward addressing problems in our churches today.
Chapters 12 and 13 have paved the way for our understanding of chapter 14. The entire book of I Corinthians so far has set the tone for what has been going on in this church. Remember that this chapter was not written to us today--to our churches--but to a specific church in a specific setting at a specific time. Good Bible interpretation must begin with the historical interpretation. A correct understanding of historical and biblical context will lead to correct interpretation here.
1 Paul virtually repeats what he said in 12:31. So he has "bracketed" chapter 13 with these parallel comments. In this discussion of spiritual gifts, what does Paul say is really the most important thing? Is love as exciting as spiritual gifts? Why does he say to "pursue" love--what does that imply about love? We pursue something that is just out of reach, something that we desire enough to make an effort to follow after. Within the church, does love just happen naturally? Is it easy to show?
In 12:31 he said "the greater gifts" (referring back to his ordered list), while in 14:1 he specifies prophecy. In his list in 12:28, apostleship was the first and greatest gift, but obviously they could not aspire to that God-given position. So the next greatest gift was prophecy--why? Because it was the giving out of God's Word.
Tricky pronunciation warning! Many readers have difficulty distinguishing between "prophecy" and "prophesy." "Prophecy" is a noun, as in "the gift of prophecy" and is pronounced "pro-fuh-see." An easy way to remember is, if it has a "c" rather than an "s," you say "see" which rhymes with "c."
"Prophesy" is the verb, as in this verse: "especially that you may prophesy," and is pronounced "pro-fuh-sigh." When the verb "prophesy" is followed by an "s," many say "pro-fuh-sizes" but it is simply "pro-fuh-sighs."
2-5 Paul contrasts the spiritual gift of tongues and that of prophecy. One received a message from God that he gave out in a language he did not learn or even understand, for the hearing of someone of a different language or dialect that might come to their meeting. This was a major concern in that region. The other received a message from God that could be understood by the church. Paul explains to them WHY he would rather someone would exercise their gift of prophecy than exercise the gift of tongues in a church meeting. It is clear from the context that Paul is speaking of praying in tongues in a public meeting; he is not speaking of private prayer in tongues.
If no one present is of that language, the one with the message in a foreign language is understandable to no one but God; his message is a mystery even to his own spirit (his mind). He is personally edified, not because of the content of the message (which is a mystery to him) but apparently because he knows he is exercising his God-given spiritual gift. But what happens when someone prophesies in the church meeting? Who is edified? Note the word "edified"--this word is important in this chapter.
Why does Paul wish they all spoke with other tongues? He just explained why it wasn't always such a good thing. Is he contradicting what he said in 12:30? They don't all speak with other tongues. Apparently he wishes they were all receiving messages from God that they were sharing with others of different language groups, who would then surely take the message to others. Paul was a missionary, and was very missions-minded. But there was no point, no edification for the church, of speaking in the language God gave them unless someone who had the gift of interpreting that particular language was also present. It sounds like those with the gift of tongues probably had the gift of speaking in one particular known language, and those with the gift of interpretation had the gift of interpreting one particular known language. We have seen no evidence so far that tongues was an unknown language, with the repetitive babbling of today's tongues-speakers. But if they were imitating the pagan "glossalalia," some, who WISHED they had this exciting gift, may have been doing this very thing. Again we note that it appears that each person knew what his gift was; there is nothing about trying to determine their gifts, or how that might be done.
6 Again Paul stresses that speaking in a foreign language has no value unless the hearer is hearing and understanding some sort of biblical teaching.
7-11 Charismatics today teach that there are two kinds of tongues: real languages, and a "prayer language" that no one knows or even needs to know, for which no interpreter is required, and which bypasses the mind, speaking directly from your spirit to God, speaking "mysteries" (that which is unknown) as mentioned in 14:2. Paul says that even a lifeless musical instrument always plays distinct notes; what is his point? What does he say about languages in 10? A barbarian, 11, is a foreigner--one who speaks in a language you don't know. He leaves no room here for nonsense syllables repeated over and over. It doesn't matter if that speaker insists he is speaking a real message to God; he can't prove it, and the Bible seems to deny that possibility right here. We do not find in this chapter that God wishes us to pray in such a way.
Paul gives much instruction to the church on how to pray; Jesus told us how to pray in Mat. 6:8-13. And even more interesting is what Jesus says just before He teaches His disciples about what we call the Lord's prayer: "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them," Mat. 6:7-8. The Bible says nothing about God wanting us to pray without knowing what we are saying; how could that even be called prayer? Eph. 6:18 and Jude 20 speak of praying in the Spirit, which charismatics claim is praying in tongues, but nothing in these verses indicates that praying in the Spirit means praying in tongues.
Rom. 8:26 is also used by charismatics to support the idea of a prayer language, but is says nothing of the sort. 26-27 says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when our prayers aren't lining up with God's will. His "groanings" "cannot be uttered," so this cannot be speaking of language. Charismatics say that when you just don't know how to pray in a particular situation, you just pray in tongues. Yet the Bible has told us how to pray in that type of situation; we don't need to tell God what we would like Him to do--we just need to say, "Thy will be done."
12 Where else did Paul just say this? What important word do we find repeated in 3, 4, 5, 12, and down in 17? Who is to be edified? Spiritual gifts were not given for the personal benefit of any individual, and were to be exercised in the motive of love, as we saw in chapter 13, for the purpose of building up the church by receiving messages from God.
13 One with the gift of a particular language may even be given, on occasion, the ability to interpret that language without the benefit of another person with the gift of interpretation. Today some say that "interpret" doesn't literally mean to translate, that it can mean loosely to give a message inspired by God, which may or may not be the literal meaning of the person who just spoke in tongues. Of course, if neither gift actually exists today, both the person claiming to speak in tongues and person claiming to interpret are not actually doing either of those things. If so, they may be self-deceived, or deceived by false spirits masquerading as true spirits, as in the days of Paul.
14-15 The person with a gift of a foreign language, using his gift for the benefit of someone present who speaks that language, may speak, pray or even sing in that language. Again, if no one like that is present, the tongues-speaker knows in his spirit he is praying, but his mind does not understand, so what benefit is there even for him? Apparently the only benefit is to stand up in front of others and display your gift, for the purpose of being seen: pride, ego, Self. Paul says it is better to speak, pray and sing in a way that is beneficial to the spirit AND the mind.
16-17 Otherwise, if there is an ungifted, or unlearned, person present, how will he say "amen" to what you have said? What does "amen" mean? Is it the way to end a prayer, saying, "I'm done now" or "that's all"? It means "so be it" or "surely" or as we would say in today's vernacular, "YES!" Who might be this unlearned or ungifted person? It could be an unbeliever, or it could be a believer who is not yet learn-ed or taught in the matter of spiritual gifts. Earlier it was suggested that there was some evidence that gifts were not automatically given to believers at the moment of salvation, unless one of the apostles laid hands on them, conferring the gift. Here is more possible evidence that some believers had not yet received spiritual gifts. And again in 17 we see the "e" word.
18-19 Does Paul speak in tongues? Keeping in mind the purpose for this gift, and that gifts are true known languages, and Paul's missionary journeys, it is easy to see why Paul uses this gift so much. He could not possibly know the language or dialect of every province he visited, but God gave him the gift of speaking in whatever language was needed. Does this happen to today's missionaries? Why not? If the gift of tongues, and the gift of interpretation, are still active today, WHY do missionaries have to study for years to learn the many languages and dialects in our world? Why are so many language groups still unreached? This is one of the strongest evidences that these gifts are not active today. Charismatics might argue that tongues are a prayer language. Why would God give a prayer language to believers so that they could pray without knowing what they are saying, while allowing millions to go unreached because He will not give the gift of a true language to those who are trying to reach the unsaved? This does not make sense, and cannot be biblically supported. Does Paul "show off" his language gifts when speaking to the Corinthians in their church meeting? He is scolding them for doing this very thing.
20 What is the problem with the Christians at Corinth? Might we have this problem also? If so, what can we do about it? What does he mean, "in evil be infants"? But Paul says this in the context of their understanding of spiritual gifts, and of tongues in particular.
21-22 Why would Paul quote the Old Testament? Isn't the gift of tongues only for the New Testament? The knowledgeable Christian needs to read and study the whole Bible. It's amazing to find how similar principles are in operation, how some Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament, and how God spoke through the prophets of old to foreshadow things He would reveal later. Is. 28 is a prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel, that judgment is coming. It speaks of their arrogance and their spiritual immaturity. God promised the unbelieving Jews that because they refuse to listen to Him, He will speak to them through a foreign tongue--that of their captors. Jer. 5:15-19 gives even more detail. Paul now explains another purpose of tongues; it is a sign to who? Unbelievers, and specifically unbelieving Jews. Paul shows from Scripture that God is following the pattern He gave long ago. Who is prophecy for? It is a supernatural sign that God Himself is speaking.
23-25 Many today have had the experience of attending a charismatic meeting for the first time--it can be quite shocking. Even Paul agrees that speaking in foreign languages, or babbling, whichever they were doing (or both), can be very off-putting to unbelievers or someone who doesn't know what is going on or why. What does he say is the better way to hold church meetings? What will result? What are the secrets we hold in our hearts? SIN. He will be convicted of his sin and will then do what?
As an interesting sidenote here, our response when we find ourselves in the presence of God is to fall down and worship (whether we literally fall down or whether inside, in our heart and mind, we bow before Him). Is such a person described here as falling forward, or falling backwards? There is an unbiblical practice common among charismatics called being "slain by the Spirit" in which a person is touched, or even just pointed to, and they fall backwards, with people standing behind them appointed to catch them. Where in the Bible do we find anything approaching this? In the Bible, everyone who falls down before God's presence is described as falling on their face--do a search. Three instances tell of those who fell backwards; notice the context. I Sam. 4:18, Is. 28:13, John 18:6.
Compare II Cor. 11:20. At the end of 20, Paul is probably speaking metaphorically--but, maybe not. Have you ever seen a Christian hit another person in the face? It takes place all the time today in some charismatic circles. What happens to the person who was hit, or even just touched, on the face? Is there any scriptural base for this practice? None. And here we even have a possible mention of this practice--does Paul condone or condemn it? Being "slain by the Spirit" is NOT a biblical practice. It's possible some may fall because of auto-suggestion, but if these people are actually falling because of some power, and this power is not biblical, where might that power come from? Why would Satan give deceptive power? The Bible speaks of power given by Satan: Ex. 7:11-12, 20-22, 8:7, Mat. 24:24, II Thes. 2:9-10, Rev. 13:13.
Much of what is today claimed to be "manifestations of the Spirit" or the "anointing" is also to be found in pagan cults: "slain in the Spirit," speaking in "tongues," uncontrollable laughing, physical jerking, animal sounds and roaring, visions, prophecies, revelations, trances, miracles and healings, manifestations imparted through laying on of hands, reading of minds, revival-like meetings with repetitive singing and chanting and hypnotic music. Is the measure of truth what we see, feel and experience, or is it God's Word? What if our experience doesn't match God's Word? For those who are involved in these experiences, does it draw them deeper into God's Word and Christian maturity, or does it draw them more deeply into the pursuit of these experiences? Are these Christians as interested in putting to death the deeds of the flesh as they are in being what they call "slain in the Spirit"? Which type of "slaying" does the Bible teach?
26 Many people think that Paul is giving a pattern for what a church meeting should look like, with each individual exercising his spiritual gift. But in the context--the passage both before and after this verse--we see Paul scolding the Corinthians for misusing and overdoing their gift. Here, Paul is describing with dismay what their meeting is like. At the end of the verse he tells what they should REALLY be doing--not flaunting themselves. What "e" word do we see again as key?
27-28 Rather than everyone trying to speak in tongues, what should happen instead? Since Paul reminds them to take turns, what can we assume was going on that he did not approve of? Is this what we often see today in churches that claim to be exercising spiritual gifts? He also reminds them that an interpreter is required, so what else can we assume? The phrase "if there is no interpreter" implies that all knew their gifts and the gifts of others, unlike today when most are trying to figure out what their gifts are--a confusing search if indeed spiritual gifts are no longer given to the church, as Paul just explained in chapter 13. Why were tongues not to be used if there was no interpreter? Paul clarified this in 1-19. Do those who claim to speak in tongues today always have an interpreter to translate? If no interpreter is available, the one with the gift of tongues is not to speak in front of the church, but instead commune silently with God.
29-33 Now Paul addresses those with the gift of prophecy. Apparently this gift was also being used to show off and dominate the meeting. How many were allowed to give a message? What were the other prophets to do? This takes us back to 12:1-3 where we saw that not every spirit was speaking from God. Or perhaps "others" refers to others present who may have the gift of discerning of spirits. If a prophet is speaking and another prophet receives a message, should the first prophet continue to dominate the meeting, or should both just speak at the same time? Can anyone learn if people are speaking at the same time? Why would people speak when others are speaking--what does that reveal about those individuals? 32, could a prophet claim, "I couldn't help myself, I received a message and it just started coming out of my mouth"? Would this also apply to those speaking a message in another language? 33 gives a governing principle; this implies that confusion WAS characterizing their church.
34-36 In other epistles, Paul talks about "women"; here he speaks of "the women" so it sounds like he is talking about some women in particular. Compare Phil. 4:3, "these women," where he is talking about particular women. He can't be saying that women in general are not to speak at all in church; compare 11:5. The Bible does not contradict itself. Always compare the context--Paul has been talking about teaching and edifying the church by the "speaking" gifts of prophecy and tongues. Apparently women had these gifts also, and some were being outspoken or disruptive or setting themselves about the male teaching authority that God has ordained in the church. Paul says this needs to be regulated, as he has been teaching all through this chapter; what had he just said in 33? What does he say in 40?
We don't have enough information to know the exact problem with these women he is talking about, but he is addressing some sort of problem that had arisen. Their behavior was improper and disruptive and should be addressed at home. Perhaps, as we've all seen happen in church, some women were habitually engaging in noisy whispering or chitchat and were out of control. Since the epistles speak of women prophesying and teaching, we know they are not to be "speechless," but "speak" seems here to refer to public teaching. Perhaps the women only taught and prophesied in front of other women; it is very possible that in their culture, there was often separation by gender. 36 sounds like Paul is being sarcastic about their arrogant attitudes, which he has commented on throughout this whole epistle.
37-40 Paul sums up this lengthy discussion of spiritual gifts. Apparently not everyone in the Corinthian church was open to Paul's teaching--again, we see their spiritual arrogance. He says such a person is not to be recognized by the others; if anyone ignores Paul's teaching as from the Lord, then HE is to be ignored by the others. Prophecy is upheld as the most important gift--why? Speaking a message from God to others in a foreign language has its place if done in the prescribed manner that is pleasing to God. Paul's closing statement sums things up; how does it apply to the way we "do church" today, even apart from spiritual gifts? Is it good to have a church constitution and bylaws? Is it good to have written policies? What problems can arise if you don't have these things?
Even though there is no longer a need for supernatural spiritual gifts, we know that God does give each person abilities that we are to use responsibly. Abilities should not be confused with spiritual gifts. We are not only to be faithful in using them--we are to develop them, and will be rewarded accordingly, Luke 19:11-19. This parable is about money, but the principle is the same; whatever God has blessed you with, use it for Him. We also recognize that even though God no longer gives individuals the spiritual gifts of miracles or healings, He still works miracles if He desires, or heals someone if He desires. There is no longer a need for the gift of prophecy or revelation, for God has said everything He has to say in His written Word, the Bible. There is no longer a need for signs and wonders to authenticate the new message of Christianity--it has been established on the foundation laid by the apostles. Hopefully this discussion on gifts has made a clear, logical, biblical case for the cessation of the spiritual gifts given to the early church.
If the cessationist position is the correct interpretation regarding spiritual gifts, then we must wonder about those today who claim to be exercising such gifts, especially tongues, healings, and miracles, even apostleship. (It's interesting that there is not much talk in charismatic circles about seeking gifts such as faith, giving, helps, teaching, exhorting, leading, showing mercy, serving.) Either a gift is being simulated in one's own strength in order to appear that you have it, or you are knowingly faking it (for several possible reasons), or some power other than God is at work, displaying false signs and wonders (which the Bible does warn us about). Why might Satan do this--what could be his motives? How might people be distracted or misled by focusing on seeking spiritual gifts? What might they be distracted FROM--what might they be led away FROM?
It's noteworthy that Paul hasn't talked to them about problems with them trying to display the gifts of apostleship, healings, or miracles. This supports the belief that apostles were ONLY those chosen by the Lord and eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord to establish the early church. I think it's very possible that gifts of healings and miracles were given only to the apostles, to authenticate their ministry; we have no evidence that they were given to any others. Today there are groups that claim apostles, who exercise great power over others. If we examine what the Bible has to say about apostles, we can avoid many of the spiritual "snares" of having "apostles" today. If someone is indeed an apostle today, they would indeed have apostolic authority, but the Bible teaches this is no longer found in the church. Such assumed authority opens the door to all kinds of abuses of leadership, such as accepting their pronouncements as being from the Lord, without question.
A time is coming, perhaps in the very near future, where the church will once again be composed of many brand-new believers. Following the rapture, the Bible tells us many will believe. It repeatedly tells us that the seven years of tribulation will be characterized by spiritual deception. Because they will all be spiritually immature and biblically illiterate, they will be in a very similar situation to the church at Corinth; without knowledgeable leadership, they will be ripe for deception.
1-2 What is Paul's topic now? How are we saved? What does "saved" mean--saved from what? Today many claim Jesus as their "Savior" yet all they said was, "I believe in you, Jesus, I receive you, Jesus," and did not confess their sin or recognize His payment for their sin. Is such a person saved? Paul used a few more words to define "saved." "Stand": abide, continue, establish (Strong's). "Hold fast the word I preached": have, keep, possess, retain, stay (Strong's).
Some teach that you can lose your salvation, and might say that this verse teaches that you have to continually do some things to stay saved. Some teach that there are righteous and unrighteous believers--that some are more worthy than others based on their works as Christians. Do some Christians do a better job of living for the Lord than others appear to? Do our works give us any standing in God's eyes? Whose work gives us our standing in God's eyes? Paul talked to the Corinthians about being fleshly, carnal believers, walking like mere men. But if we grow in our Christian lives, who is responsible for our growth, 3:7? If you do grow, where did you get that ability, 4:7? If it came from yourself, what would be the danger?
Then Paul adds that it is possible to believe "in vain": idly, without reason or effect, without cause (Strong's). Could this be a true believer--someone whose belief results in a changed life? Sometimes the Bible uses "believe" to speak of false conversions--those who appear to believe, but who are not truly saved. We find this in Acts 8:13. Simon appeared to believe; Philip thought he was saved, because he baptized him. However, the next events, and Peter's words in 20-23 and Simon's response in 24 (his refusal to even pray) make it clear he was not truly saved. Surely Judas appeared to the disciples to believe, because even they, his close friends, did not suspect him when Jesus said there was a betrayer in their midst. True saving faith, then, is faith that results in what?
3-8 Paul gives us the gospel, 1, in a nutshell--what is this good news? Some say Paul came up with these teachings--what does he say to that? The Scriptures of their day was the Old Testament; what does 3 say about Jesus' death for our sin? The classic prophetic passage is Isa. 53. What word in the middle of 4 is the key to the gospel? Paul will speak more about this word throughout this chapter. What repeated word in 5,6,7,8 prove the gospel message? In a court of law, eyewitnesses = FACT. This many eyewitnesses cannot be argued with, and what is important about them, 6, about 20 years later? Since they were still alive, they could refute Paul if he were lying.
We should not be hesitant to say the Bible account of the resurrection is a FACT--how does it weaken our presentation to say, "well, I just believe it" or "you just have to take it by faith"? Should another person believe it just because YOU do? What if they say, "well, here's what I believe..." Personal belief is a great testimony, but your belief carries no more weight than their belief. Talk about facts, about eyewitnesses. What does Paul say to King Agrippa in Acts 26:22-26? These events were widely known and beyond dispute. Compare Acts 1:3.
9-11 How did Paul compare himself to the other apostles? Why did he try to labor harder than them? Was he puffed up because of who he was now? Do we ever compare ourselves to other Christians? How do we feel if we compare favorably, or unfavorably, to others? How should we feel?
12-19 Now Paul picks up the topic he raised in the first few verses. What word is repeated in 12,13,14,15,16,17? Pagan Corinthian philosophy or religion denied the possibility of physical resurrection--some believed in an immortal spirit. Is the church today infiltrated by worldly thinking like in Corinth? Do Christians sometimes find it difficult to leave behind their old ideas of secular humanism, of psychology, of evolution, of tolerance for all? All our beliefs have consequences; we need to know what the Bible says, and to think logically. What are the implications of the Corinthian error? Likewise, if you continue to believe in any form of evolution, you have death BEFORE sin; if death was not the result of sin, then Christ's entire sacrifice served absolutely no purpose, and the Bible is wrong, for that is its basis, and Jesus was either a liar or a fool.
Many churches who claim to be "Christian" do not teach that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Some do not even teach that He died on the cross for our sins. Is there any point in believing in such a Jesus, according to this passage?
Many people say they believe in Jesus, but they do not believe He was God in the flesh or that He actually rose from the dead (proof that He is God). They believe in a good man named Jesus who, they say, came to earth to show us how to love everyone and be tolerant. Do these people, like Oprah, believe in the Jesus of the Bible, or a different Jesus? According to this passage, is there any point in believing in such a Jesus? Can such a Jesus forgive sin? Many who believe in this other Jesus do not believe in sin anyway, or the need for forgiveness of their sin--they follow one of the many religions of good works. They believe everyone will go to heaven by following their own religion and the deity of your choice (some do not even believe in heaven). And if good works DO get you to heaven, then it WOULD make sense that any "religion" will do, as long as you sincerely follow it. What might you say to a person with these beliefs?
20 Based on the previous verses, it seems that Paul might be emphasizing the word "has." Does Paul teach that it doesn't really matter what you believe, that all beliefs are valid, as long as you're sincere? Does he say, as our culture believes, "well, that's YOUR truth, but this is MY truth"? This teaching is the crux of our message--we can't waffle on this. We MUST be convinced within ourselves and know what the Bible teaches. Who are those who are "asleep"? See 18. Firstfruits are the first of the crop. So this is saying that since Christ has been raised bodily from the dead, with an immortal body, we can be assured that what else? Several people in the Bible were raised from the dead, so WAS Christ really first? Were those people raised to their resurrection immortal bodies, or were they raised only to later die a natural death, still in their earthly bodies?
The feast of first fruits was one of seven feasts God gave Israel in the Law of Moses--four in the spring, three in the fall. Paul wrote in 5:7 that the feast of Passover was symbolic of what? Now he writes that the feast of Firstfruits is symbolic of what? So we can safely assume that all seven of the feasts are prophetic of whom? The seven feasts are described in Lev. 23.
Jesus died on the day of Passover, 23:5, (some say, on the day of preparation of Passover, when the lambs were being slain and prepared). He was buried on the feast of Unleavened Bread, 23:6--leaven in the Bible often picturing sin. He was raised on the feast of Firstfruits, 23:10. In 23:11, what day of the week would that take place? What day of the week was Christ raised? According to Acts 2:1-4, what event fulfilled Lev. 23:15-16?
Because the four spring feasts pictured the work of the Messiah and were fulfilled on the exact day, many believe that the three fall feasts must also symbolize His work and must be fulfilled on the exact day. The next feast to be fulfilled is the feast of Trumpets, Lev. 23:24-25. This is also called the feast of Rosh Hashanah, and is a two-day feast, falling on the first day of the Jewish calendar month, which was determined by the new moon. What is the next event in prophecy that we are awaiting? Note the trumpets at the rapture in I Thes. 4:13-18, I Cor. 15:52. Many believe that the rapture will take place during this two-day feast; of course, no one knows what year. Jesus said we would not know the day nor the hour--no one could know in advance which of the two days it would occur. Is it possible Jesus would give us clues in advance of a sign of the rapture, or other signs that the endtimes are upon us? Mat. 16:3.
If the feast of Trumpets might be fulfilled at the Rapture, what about the last two? The Day of Atonement might be fulfilled by the second coming of Christ at the end of the seven years of tribulation, when Jews that are still alive recognize Him as their national Messiah. The feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) might be fulfilled at the instituting of the millenial kingdom, at the marriage feast of the Lamb and His bride.
On the other hand, many believe that the feasts were given to Israel and are only for Israel, not the church; they are prophetic of God's plan for Israel, not for the church. If so, the feast of Trumpets would not be connected with the rapture, but with God's dealing with Israel. If so, the rapture would already have taken place, ending the church age, and restarting God's "clock" with Israel--fulfilling the last week or "seven" of the 70 weeks of Dan. 9. According to this view, the church has been given no signs for the rapture but is told to always be ready, watching, and expectant. The remarks Jesus made about signs were given before the church, therefore perhaps only to Israel; the Bible teaches that God has a timetable for Israel, but no dates or times given for the church.
Just as the tabernacle pictured the work of Christ, so do the feasts, whichever of these views you hold. What does Col. 2:16-17 say about these Old Testament pictures? Just as the author of a good novel uses foreshadowing to give hints to the observant reader, so does the Author of the greatest book ever written. We need to study and compare all Scripture to determine as well as possible that we hold a biblical view.
Do 18 and 20 teach "soul sleep" as some religions teach--that at death our souls go to sleep rather than going to heaven or hell? The Bible often uses "sleep" to refer to death. Is the soul conscious after death? Compare the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Luke 1:19-31. I Thes. 4:14-16 teaches that the souls of believers who have died are in heaven, apparently with some sort of temporary body; at the rapture, they accompany Him and are reunited with their resurrected bodies, and we who are alive are changed as we rise to meet Him.
21-22 How does 21 contradict evolution? If fossils are evidence of life before man, what should we do with this verse? Can both be true? Fossils are evidence of the worldwide flood, when all life outside the ark was destroyed and buried in sediment. Nor does the Bible tell us of an age of life before Adam, as many teach in order to explain the fossils. Again Paul, like Jesus, speaks of Adam as a real man, not an allegorical figure as many Christians teach who compromise with evolutionary teachings. These two verses speak of the doctrine of original sin; the Bible does not use that term, but here this teaching is stated. How is Adam contrasted with Jesus? Each man's action affected the eternal destiny of ALL mankind. What does "in Christ" mean? What will happen to those in Christ?
23-26 Here we have a timeline of endtimes events. What has already happened? What will happen next? Does "His coming" point to the rapture or the second coming, or could it include both? We have often seen more than one layer of meaning in prophecy. According to I Thes. 4:14-17, at the rapture what will happen to those believers who have already died? What then happens to those of us who are alive? Can that happen in our earthly mortal bodies? If we are in a building or vehicle when the trump of the Lord sounds, can our earthly bodies go through those roofs, or would we fall back down? What does I Cor. 15:51-53 say will happen at that time?
At the second coming, following the seven years of tribulation, Old Testament believers will be raised so that they can inherit the earthly kingdom promised in the Old Testament, Mat. 8:11, Dan. 12:13. Then what event follows the second coming of Christ? The earthly kingdom reign of Christ for 1000 years. 25 says He must what? Until what--what happens at the end of the 1000 years? Compare Rev. 20:7-10. 24 speaks of the "end" when Christ does what?
And finally, 26, after the 1000-year kingdom, what will be done away with? The kingdom gives way to eternity. Some teach that healing is always God's will for all Christians. This teaching robs dying believers of the joy of looking forward to heaven, because they are told they must constantly "believe" for their healing, and any "negative" thoughts (such as accepting the fact that they are going to die--going to heaven) will prevent them from receiving their healing. How should the Christian face death according to Psa. 23:4 and Phil. 1:20?
What does John 5:28-29 say happens to unbelievers after death? So they too will receive some sort of resurrection bodies in which they will experience eternal punishment in hell, and finally, following the Great White Throne judgment, Rev. 20:11-15, the lake of fire.
27-28 Can you see the distinction in "He" and "Him" between God the Father and God the Son? What is this saying about their relationship in the Trinity, even though both are completely God? This gives us a clue as to the relationship between husband and wife, where the wife is to be in subjection to the husband, Eph. 5:22--does this mean the wife is inferior? Does "all things" in 27 include Satan?
So in what way will life on earth be different during Christ's reign? Will business or government be getting by with the corruption that goes on today? Psa. 2:8-9, Phil. 2:9-11. Does that mean all will believe during the millenium? Rev. 20:7-10 tells of a great final rebellion at the end of the millenium following Satan's release from the abyss, so as in every age, many will not believe, even though their outward obedience will be required. At the beginning of the 1000 years, only believers will populate the world, but many in future generations will not receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.
29 It's not clear exactly what this verse is about, but we CAN establish what it does NOT mean. Does baptism save you? If baptism cannot save a living person, could it possible save a dead person? How is a person saved? Can the dead do that? Does Paul refer to the people doing this as "we" or "they"? Regardless of what situation Paul was addressing--whether an error inside the Corinthian church or whether a pagan practice of that time--was he teaching the practice of baptism for the salvation of the dead, as the Mormons do?
30-33 If there is no resurrection, Paul asks the rhetorical question, why would I continually put myself in danger every day? As we saw in Acts, Paul's life was in danger daily because of the message he preached. There is no mention of Paul fighting with animals (as a gladiator) so he may be referencing the wild crowd at Ephesus that attacked him, Acts 19:28-34. He concludes, if there is no resurrection, and therefore no judgment day, why not just live for today. If you are around people who believe like that, might you start acting like them?
34 Comparing translations, the NASB says, "Become sober-minded as you ought," where the KJV says, "Awake to righteousness." The Corinthian church was asleep at the wheel, or even in a state like a drunken stupor. This fits with what Paul has been scolding them about throughout his letter: spiritual immaturity. Paul doesn't mince words; what does he command them? Is this a problem in the church today? What harsh fact does he tell them about their church? Is this a problem in churches today? Paul says this is shameful--do we think that, or are we complacent about both these problems?
35-37 The tone of Paul's answer in 36 is a clue to the questions being asked in 35. In that culture, even many pagans believed in the resurrection of the soul--an afterlife for the soul. But they, and those in the church still engaged in worldly thinking, did not believe a decayed body could be put back together and come back to life. His no--nonsense answer and this lengthy chapter tells them how crucial this teaching is. How does Paul answer their thinking? WILL our physical body come back together to be given new life? What example does Paul use to illustrate?
38-41 He elaborates on his point by mentioning different kinds of bodies that God has created--they are NOT all the same kind. How is evolution refuted here? Can one kind of creature turn into another kind? Compare Gen. 1:24-25.
42-44 Paul makes what four comparisons of a natural body to a resurrection body? So what four qualities will our resurrection body have?
45-49 Some Christians who hold a compromise position with evolution teach that there was a race of pre-Adamite, pre-human man-like creatures, so as to create an explanation for fossils and supposed long ages (which the Bible does not support). How does 45 refute that position? (These people will try to get around that by claiming these creatures were NOT men.) Who is the "last Adam" referred to here? Again we see Adam and Christ compared, as each did something that affected the eternal destiny of all men. How does Paul contrast them? What then does he conclude about us? He expands on this in II Cor. 5:1-8.
50-52 Paul has been answering those who do not believe in a bodily resurrection; he has been speaking of believers who have died. Now he tells of believers who will be changed in a different way. What has God revealed to him, 51, that had not been revealed in earlier times? The rapture was not taught directly by Jesus, although He hinted at it in John 14:3; He revealed it to Paul for the church. When will this happen, 52? Earlier Paul had written to the church in Thessalonica that the dead in Christ would not be left behind at the rapture of the church. Where did their spirits go when they died, II Cor. 5:8? In whatever form they are now in heaven, they would return with Christ as He catches up the church to meet Him in the air, and will be reunited with their resurrected immortal bodies. Living believers will rise to meet Him in the air. Here he explains how that will happen: our bodies will be changed. How long will this process take? So what two things take place when the trumpet of the Lord sounds? So not all believers will die, but all will get new bodies, at the same time.
Did Paul think the rapture was going to happen in his lifetime? Does he say anywhere that he knows for sure? He appears to expect Jesus, and tells the church to expect Him--believers of every age have awaited that trumpet. Does anyone know for sure when it will be? Are all believers eagerly watching for Him? Why should we be? Some Christians teach that not all believers will be taken at the rapture, only those who are watching for Him and are living in the most worthy manner; what word in 51 refutes this?
53-57 For those who have been changed, what results? When, where and how did death enter the world? If man had not sinned, would death have entered the world? Many people blame God when things happen that are the result of sin entering the world: death, disease, disasters, the actions of sinful people. Who should be blamed for sin--God or man? When things like this happen, we should be humbly reminded of man's sin and the need for God's remedy. And how did we learn about sin's power? Satan's victory was only temporary--what did God tell him in Gen. 3:15? And when did Satan receive this fatal head wound? Heb. 2:14. Is the sting of death removed completely now, or only for those in Christ? Should the Christian fear death? And who delivered this fatal blow to Satan?
58 How does Paul sum up his teaching to the church at Corinth? He has been bold and forceful in his teaching and reprimanding, but he ends on a positive note. We should be what? Why? Had the Corinthians been steadfast and immovable? What influences might tempt or cause us to waver in our beliefs, to compromise our stand? What is the "work of the Lord" for you--what has He given you to do? Luke 19:13, Col. 3:23. Is the study of correct Bible teaching an end in itself, or should it result in something? "In vain" takes us back to 14--is faith merely a form of positive thinking--mind over matter? "Toil" (KJV, "labour") is a stronger word than "work," including the idea of pain, weariness, reduction of strength. Some of us have little experience in that type of work for the Lord, but think of pastors and missionaries. What will be the result of our labor in the Lord? Luke 19:15-17, Mat. 24:45-47, Mat. 25:21.
1-4 1-4 Now Paul wraps up his letter with a number of closing remarks. The Corinthians will be sending what with him when he comes? Does he remind them to tithe--give ten percent? Tithing is not found in the epistles; how does it differ from proportional giving? Incomes vary; how does 10% of $1200/month compare to 10% of $10,000/month? Might God expect more of a wealthy Christian than a poor one? Many Christians tithe--some because they believe we are commanded to, and some because they think that is a good plan based on biblical principles.
Many churches teach that Christians are to tithe--to give 10% of their income. Some present it as not being optional or variable, but as a rule. Most quote Malachi 3:10, a promise God made to Israel, and most take it out of context. Mal. 2:1 this was directed to the priests. It sounds like they had been "skimming" instead of bringing the whole tithe to the storehouse, 8-9. If this indeed applies to the church, then all Christians who don't tithe are under God's curse, 9, and Gal. 3:10. But "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us," Gal. 3:13. This is what happens when Scripture is quoted out of context, and without an understanding of the dispensations. As per Galatians, if we put ourselves under one part of the Law, we are liable for ALL the Law. But instead, we are under grace!
God did not promise the church financial blessings (although many Christians will testify that in tithing, that God has indeed fulfilled this promise to them financially). Some preachers actually present tithing as a literal give-to-get plan, making God into a divine vending machine, even showing figures of how much God is required to give back to you if you give the church (the "storehouse") a certain amount. We need to be careful not to apply Old Testament requirements and promises to the church. Yes, the principle may apply, II Cor. 9:6-8, but we find no requirement of 10%. Giving, yes; tithing, no. God is more concerned with our attitude and motive, II Cor. 9:7. Are there other ways to give to the Lord and to His work besides giving money to a local church?
When does the early church appear to be meeting? Sabbath-keepers say that the Sabbath was never changed to Sunday; this is true, because the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week--Saturday, Ex. 20:10. According to Ex. 31:12-17, it was given as a sign between God and Israel, to remind them of God the Creator, who rested from His work of creation on the seventh day. Creation was the defining work of God in the Old Testament; numerous times He is identified as God the Creator. The Sabbath was given as a day of rest, not a day of gathering to worship. (Actually most people do have Saturday off, as a day of rest from their work.) Later when the Jews were put out of their land and could not worship (offer sacrifices) at the temple at Jerusalem, they began to meet on the Sabbath in synagogues where rabbis (teachers) would preach and teach from the Old Testament Scriptures. Heb. 4:10 tells us that Jesus, who fulfilled the Law on our behalf, is our Sabbath rest--He is our rest from works. This is the meaning of the Sabbath for the Christian.
We find the early church meeting on the first day of the week, to commemorate the resurrection, the defining work of God in the New Testament, Acts 2:1, 20:7 (compare Rev. 1:10, apparently by then the church referred to Sunday as the Lord's Day). Some think that we should "keep" Sunday as they kept the Sabbath. This is not commanded in the New Testament, and Christians differ on whether or not to "observe" this as a special day, or how to observe it, so this differing falls under the principles of Romans 14. Some Christians refuse to work for pay, to do yard work, housework, or other chores at home (but cook and wash dishes). Others have no problem with those things as long as they don't interfere with going to church. Many like to eat out for Sunday dinner; others see that as wrong because it forces others (in restaurants) to work on Sunday for your benefit. Some refuse to take jobs that involve working on Sunday; others whose jobs keep them from church may meet with other believers (the church) on other days of the week.
5-9 Paul has plans for the future. But even Paul does not know for sure if his plans will happen; he says "perhaps," "may," "hope," "if the Lord permits." What does James 4:13-15 say about making plans for the future? Do we get upset when our plans don't happen? If we believe that God is in control, knows the future, is protecting us, is guiding us, and wants what is best for us, should we get upset when our plans get changed? What should we conclude instead? Sometimes God guides us by providing what, 9? Does this mean that every "open door" is one we should walk through? If we want to do something and that door doesn't open, should we force it open? If that door is closed, God has probably provided another open one somewhere else. Why doesn't God always want us to know in advance what is going to happen or what we will be doing, II Cor. 5:7? Why does God want us to do that?
10-12 The church at Corinth seemed to lack respect for Paul and his apostleship--what was his concern about Timothy? Timothy was 40ish, apparently at that time considered young to be a pastor. He also may have lacked confidence and authority; Paul wrote two letters to him, reminding him to teach sound doctrine, to suffer hardship, not to be ashamed of the gospel, to be disciplined, to pay close attention to himself and his teaching, to flee youthful lusts, and also mentioning his frequent ailments. So it sounds like Timothy was not the strong leader as was Paul, his mentor; how might he be treated by the Corinthian church when he arrived? What did Paul warn the Corinthians about him? So apparently Timothy just didn't command a lot of respect. Is every pastor a great leader, or a great person? Is a pastor a super-Christian? In what ways is a pastor like or different from his congregation?
Who else would be visiting them? So there were a number of apostles and other leaders traveling around the churches, teaching, encouraging, setting things straight. Remember these churches did not have the New Testament yet. Was Apollos under Paul's authority? Do we see either Paul or Peter being over the other apostles in authority? Peter was not the first pope, nor do we see anyone acting as supreme authority in the church--only Christ is the head of the church.
13-14 What do Paul's final admonishing words tell us about this church? These must have been problems for them. Were they spiritually alert or sluggish? What are we to be on the alert for? Were their eyes on Christ or on Self? Were they firmly grounded in the faith, despite the year and a half Paul spent with them? If they were not acting like men, what WERE they acting like, 3:1? Were they strong believers? Love puts others first--were they characterized by love of others, or love of Self? Are any of these things problems for us today, or in our churches?
15-18 Because Paul has to remind them how to act toward visiting workers, as he did Timothy, what can we conclude about this church? We remember how many times Paul has scolded them about their preoccupation with their OWN wisdom. It sounds like they weren't too teachable. Have you known believers that were impressed by their own wisdom and knowledge? Are all others equally impressed? Are WE teachable? Do we have a humble spirit or a haughty spirit? These men were the first to be saved in that region; how did Paul feel about them, 18? Comparing 17 and 18, we see that Paul did NOT feel the same way about the Corinthians, but he wished he could.
19-24 In New Testament times, a church was not considered a building; what was it? Where did they often meet? Greetings are sent. Christians are reminded to greet one another warmly; in our culture today we do not kiss--how do we normally greet one another? The ceremonial kiss was a common method of greeting one another, as we might hug or shake hands--often between men or between women. Why this command--did he need to remind them to give each other a kiss, or, did he need to remind that it was a HOLY kiss? WHY did he need to say this? What is NOT a holy kiss? A sexual kiss or a deceitful kiss (a pretence of warmth and friendship). Might some Christians today need to warned that their kiss, hug or touch should be holy, not sexually hinting? Are our "friendly" greetings or demeanors among Christians ever faked? So how might we reword the idea in this verse? Paul signs in his own hand, so we know someone wrote this for him. This is one of the references that lead us to think that perhaps Paul's eyes were bad.
Paul closes with two Greek words. "Anathema" means "cursed" or "excommunicated." Might he be reminding them of the state of unbelievers, or might he be suggesting that some of THEM did not truly love the Lord and were therefore in great danger? Or both? Today we tend to downplay the fact of hell and damnation for unbelievers, but it is a reality that needs to be dealt with. Are you comfortable with discussing this with unbelievers?
"Maranatha" means "our Lord come" or "o Lord come" or even "our Lord has come." It is often used today to indicate a looking for the Lord's return, but it may have been referring to the fact that the Lord HAS already come--both are true! The KJV shows "anathema" and "maranatha" in the same sentence, where the NASB shows a period between them. The original manuscripts did not contain punctuation; it was added later by scribes.
22 is one of the few places Paul talks about us loving the Lord or His love for us. Most references to love are about loving others. In fact, in the entire New Testament, we do not see the heavy emphasis on love that we find in the church today. The Gospel of John has the most references, in the words of Jesus. It seems that perhaps the church in the last few decades has emphasized the importance of love more than the Bible itself does. Paul's preaching is not about taking God's love to the world. It is about sin, repentance, who Jesus is, and the resurrection. It's interesting that the church went from "hellfire and damnation" to "love" around the 60's, as the culture began to focus on peace and love, and as psychology began to infiltrate the church with its feel-good emphasis on feelings and self-fulfillment.
Paul's closing benediction is of God's grace and love, even though his message of love was a no-nonsense one. Don't we often prefer to be told "nice" things from God's Word? Is God's message always a nice, feel-good message? Paul opens and closes his letter with the focus on who?
The problem of distorted doctrine and practice we see in this letter is very much like what we see today in many Christians and many churches and Christian organizations. So much false teaching comes from taking Scripture out of context, or from twisting some portion of Scripture. False teaching results when egos get out of control, when pride is more evident than humility, when someone tries to create a personal following by trying to invent some new twist of doctrine. We need to continually read the Bible, study, compare Scripture to Scripture, and ask questions until we are satisfied we have biblical answers.
Copyright 2011 Jan Young
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