Today we continue in the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul addressed the divisiveness in the church, and now moves onto another problem he was told about: sexual immorality in the church (5:1). Paul tells them that the sin in their church is so bad, that even non-Christians would not allow it in their midst. A man was in a sexual relationship with his step-mother (or former step-mother) (see Deut 27:20). Paul’s accusation of arrogance in verse 2 speaks to the Corinthians allowance of this, perhaps an abuse of their Christian freedom, believing that they can live as what we might call “carnal Christians.” But their hearts should be broken over this sin and they should remove the impenitent sinner from among them (see Matt 18:17).
Since they have been unwilling to carry out discipline in this matter, Paul takes it on himself (v. 3). He instructs them to excommunicate the offender (vv. 4-5). The goal is to turn him over to his sin so that he reaches the point of repentance. Paul then admonishes them for their allowing this to continue. Allowing sin in the church corrupts the whole church (v. 6)! Removing the sin will make them new (v. 7). The reference to the unleavened lump “as you really are unleavened” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed Passover (see Ex 12:17-20). Paul is comparing the “salvation” through the blood of the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread that followed to the spiritual reality of Christ’s sacrifice and the removal of sin (“leaven”) from among His people. The time between Christ’s comings is our spiritual Feast of Unleavened Bread, where sin is removed from us (v. 8). Let’s live like it.
Paul now corrects a misunderstanding the Corinthian church had. He had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (v. 9).1 The church there apparently believed that this meant not associating with unsaved people that committed sexual immorality. But Paul says he meant quite the contrary. The church cannot avoid the unsaved sinners of the world, because then there’d be no point in being here (v. 10). Paul is talking about church discipline. Anyone who bears the name “Christian” and lives in sin is to be avoided (v. 11). We are not to judge the world (that’s Christ’s job!), but each other (vv. 12-13).
Paul then addresses another issue. People in the church were suing one another in secular courts (6:1). As he just said, we are to judge each other. In fact, when Christ comes in judgment, we will judge wicked man and wicked angel with Him – how much more should we be able to judge disputes within the church (vv. 2-3)? In-house disputes (even non-religious disputes) are to reman in-house (vv. 6-7). To go outside the church for judgment is a loss for the whole church (v. 7). It would be better to lose in the dispute than willingly lose in that way. Paul ties this in with the sin previously discussed. By taking their disputes outside the church, they are sinning just as the sexually immoral man was sinning (vv. 9-10 – see 5:11). But they are, in fact, not sinners because of the work of Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit (v. 11). So why act like something they’re not?
Paul then expounds on the issue of their freedom in Christ. We have freedom, to be sure, but we are not the only consideration in how we use that freedom (v 12). We have to consider each other, and we have to make sure we are not giving in to sin. The “all things are lawful” seems to be the excuse the Corinthians were using to live carnally. The same goes for the “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (v. 13). Paul is talking about excusing sin. God will destroy both sin and the sinner. So we should use our bodies (the flesh) to please God rather than our sin nature, because God will redeem even our bodies (v. 14).
Paul now speaks about the body as a metaphor for the church. For those of the church (the body of Christ), our bodies belong to Christ (v. 15). How can we also be “members” of sin? This is echoing what he said in 5:6-8. We cannot join ourselves to sin, because we are joined to Christ (v. 17). We should therefore flee all sin (v. 18). The “sexual immorality” is metaphorical for all sin. Paul then reiterates that “your body” (their church) is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19 – see 3:16). God bought them for Himself, so they should use their body (the church) to glorify Him (vv. 19-20).
Paul now turns to the matters about which the church wrote to him (7:1). As was typical in much Greek thought, the Corinthians saw the physical as inherently evil. To abstain from all physical desire was seen as a virtue, including abstaining from sex with your own spouse. But Paul tells them that sex with one’s spouse is a means of avoiding sexual temptation (v. 2, 5). It is for this reason that Paul says nobody should withhold sex from their spouse (vv. 3-4). Note that “authority” in the marriage in this sense goes both ways.
In verses 6-8, Paul suggests that those who are unmarried remain so, unless they are sexually tempted (v. 9, 36). But if someone is married, they are to remain married (this is a command, not a suggestion!). If they do not, they are not to remarry (vv. 10-11). Even if one of them was married to an unbeliever, they should not initiate divorce (vv. 12-13). That the believer makes the unbelieving spouse and their children “holy” is not speaking about salvation (v. 14). It means that the saved person in the family is a means of restraining the rest of the family from sinning. That person is also a very possible means of bringing the others in the family to salvation (v. 16). But if the unbelieving partner leaves the believer, they are released from the marriage (v. 15).
Paul then clarifies that he is not calling for anyone to change their family situation because of their salvation (vv. 17-24). Becoming a Christian does not entitle anyone to anything. Rather, now that we belong to God (v. 23 – see 6:20), we are to serve Him in the situation in which He saved us. Paul then clarifies why he suggested what he did in verse 6. We are to remain in our situation when we are saved (vv. 26-27), and marrying is not a sin (v. 28), but the commitment of marriage is great, and it will require time and energy that could be spent furthering the kingdom (vv. 32-35). And time is short (v. 29)! This world is going to come to an end, so we should spend as much time and energy as we can on advancing the kingdom no matter our situation (vv. 29-31). If you can avoid marriage, do so, but neither way is sin (vv. 36-38).
In verse 39, Paul is addressing Christian widows in particular. If a woman’s husband dies, she is free to remarry, as long as she marries a believer. However, he warns that staying as she is and serving God will make her happier (v. 40). Paul’s reference to himself (“I think that I too have the Spirit of God”) may be a rebuke of those in the church that gave conflicting counsel to his, claiming that they are speaking by the Spirit. Some have suggested that in addition to that, Paul is speaking of himself being a widower and speaking from firsthand experience.
In chapter 8, Paul addresses food offered to idols in pagan worship rituals (and Greece was a hotbed for that!). His “all of us possess knowledge” (8:1) is likely another quote from the letter(s) he received from the Corinthians. Whatever their position was on eating the food offered to idols, they were arrogate about their “knowledge” of what was right (v. 1-2). That kind of knowledge isn’t to be sought. Rather, the knowledge God had of them (their salvation) was what mattered.
Paul then sets the record straight, and as it turns out, this is not a cut-and-dry issue (not much is). Paul says that idols are not real and that there is only one God (v. 4) though there are many “so-called gods” (v. 5). Yet, Paul says in the same breath that “indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords.” Paul is saying that there are other heavenly being that are called “gods”, but that they are not at all real gods. They are demons (see 10:20-21). There is only one true God Who is sovereign Creator (v. 6). That this is “for us” means that they know the truth, because for those that don’t, there are other gods.
That’s why Paul says, “not all possess this knowledge” (v. 7). Here, he is speaking about Christians, weak in faith, who formerly worshiped false gods. They may feel that is is wrong to eat food offered to idols. But eating such food or not is a matter of indifference to God (v. 8). Yet, knowing that does not mean we should eat the food (see 6:12-13). If it places a stumbling block before the weaker brother, it is sin to do so (v. 9). It may encourage him to violate his own (however weak) conscience and eat the food (v. 10).2 Then we have misused our knowledge of the truth because we have tempted a weaker brother (v. 11). We in the church need to consider more than ourselves when we take any action. We are to consider each other. Otherwise, their perceived sin is our actual sin before Christ Who died for us (v. 12). We must consider each other in all things (v. 13).
1 Paul had evidently written a previous letter to them.
2 Many Christians misunderstand a “stumbling block” to mean doing something any other Christian believes is wrong. But that is not what it means. It means encouraging another Christian to themselves do what they believe is wrong. In other words, drinking in front of a teetotaler is not setting a stumbling block before them unless they are then tempted to drink themselves.