Monday: Read 1 Cor 9:19-27
As we mentioned last week, Paul begins a discussion in 8:1-11:34 on the topic of idolatry and our concerns for the weaker brother/sister. Paul distinguishes between what “knowledge” says and what “love” says (8:1-3). In 9:1-27, Paul notes that he has forsaken certain privileges that he had every right to, for the sake of the others (to be paid and to have a wife). In Paul’s words, knowledge says that he could receive pay, but love says that he will not accept it (9:15). For Paul, this is what love does. Love demonstrates concern for the other as more important than one’s own rights and privileges.
In 9:19-27, Paul now summarizes his point. Paul’s primary concern is for the Gospel. And for the Gospel, he sacrifices everything—even his rights.
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- Having worked in Christian ministry for more than 33 years, I am convinced that this passage, properly understood and applied, might be one of the most important texts for the local church today. How do we apply what Paul says here to our contemporary settings?—oh let me count the ways.
- It means that we don’t have to make sure others hold to our political views before they can attend our church
- It means they don’t have to dress the way we do—or maybe that we might start dressing in a way that doesn’t make them uncomfortable
- It means that we make our buildings wheelchair accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities.
- It means that our weekly gatherings should not be about me and my needs or desires. Instead, it should be about how I can love others
- How much can you say with Paul that “I do all things for the sake of the Gospel?” (9:23). Ask the Holy Spirit for the ability to do so!
- Look at this passage again and note the things that Paul gave up for the sake of the Gospel, the kingdom, and others. Then ask yourself daily, “what am I called to sacrifice out of love for my neighbor?”
- “Run in such a way that you may win” (9:24).
Tuesday: Read 1 Cor 10:1-22
In 10:1-22, Paul warns the Corinthians of the dangers of idolatry by reminding them of what the Lord did to Israel. We suspect that Paul is addressing those who advocated for the eating of meat and who took their freedoms too far. Now they were in danger of falling into idolatry.
Paul begins by comparing their situation with that of ancient Israel. Israel was privileged (note 5 privileges in 10:1-4). Yet, God was not pleased with them (10:5). Paul concludes by stating that the death and destruction that came upon those who were privileged in the past and abused their privileges should serve as examples for us (10:11).
Paul then concludes, in very strong terms: (14)
- “Therefore”—which indicates that he is making his concluding remarks so pay attention.
- “my beloved”—a form of address that causes you to stop and pay attention because he is talking to you.
- “flee”—a command; not a suggestion or a recommendation, but a command!
What is it that they were to flee? Paul appears to be addressing the eating of sacred foods at the sacred ceremonies themselves. This is far different than taking advantage of good meat sold cheaply in the marketplace. This was attendance at the sacred feast itself. Such attendance had important social and economic benefits. And the lack of attendance had important social and economic consequences.
There were lots of reasons for going to such feasts. Paul says that the gods behind the feasts are demonic and by attending one is fellowshipping with demons (20). And we cannot have the Lord’s table (communion and Christian fellowship) and the table of demons (21).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- This passage is more difficult to apply in the modern western world. The reason is not because we don’t have idols, but because our idols are more covert. They are harder to recognize. One way to look at this is to understand that participation in pagan ceremonies was done for social and economic factors. Thus, we might ask ourselves what is it that we have compromised in order to ensure our social and economic well-being. I suspect that you may have trouble answering this question. And I suspect that this may be because our idols are harder to see. Ask the Lord to show you your idols and to help you repent and “flee” from them.
Wednesday: Read 1 Cor 10:23-11:1
In 10:23-11:1, Paul summarizes his present point. He begins by stating, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (10:23-24). This is likely an example of Paul quoting the Corinthians (perhaps from the letter they wrote to him) and then giving his own response. They were the ones who were saying, “all things are lawful.” Paul replies with his customary, “yes, but”: “Ok, let’s say that ‘all things are lawful’, Paul concedes, this does not mean that all things are profitable or that they edify others.”
This reiterates all that Paul has been saying. Sure you can eat the food, after all, “the Earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1). Knowing this is the result of knowledge. But knowledge alone is not what counts. What counts is knowledge working through love. And love is more concerned with your neighbor (10:24, 32). Love also seeks the glory of God (10:31).
Paul concludes, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (11:1).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- We might say that Paul was more concerned with the others and what his life and testimony meant for the sake of the Gospel than he was for himself. This message, when properly understood and applied, might well end most church disputes: what type of music?; what about the sermon?; what about buying more land?; what about . . . ? If we kept our focus on the issue of love and what does love look like in “this” situation we might be much better off. Of course, many might still be contentious because what they think is the most loving thing to do may not correspond to what others think. Thus, I would add that might ask: “what brings the most glory to God?” Even here, I can still see problems. So, I would add one more: “what is the right decision for the effective discipleship of all?” (Note that these final two questions put into perspective the two Great Commandments: love God and love others: Mark 12:29-31).
- I suspect that for many of us Paul’s conclusion to “imitate me” may come across as arrogant. But the reality is that what Paul says here is something we should all be able to say. “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” Of course, this would be arrogant if one meant, “because I am doing it right and without error.” But if one is saying, “join me in this messy life of cross-bearing love so we can struggle together and pick each other up and encourage one another to keep our eyes on Christ,” then one is not arrogant. Paul’s saying, in other words, is what the call to discipleship is all about. It begins by following Christ. It then invites others to follow along.
- So, are you relying on the Holy Spirit and following Christ? And are you discipling others so that they might join you?
Thursday: Read 1 Cor 11:2-16
NB: I wrote a series of blogs on justice and women (here is the link to the first one in the series of fourteen posts) in 2021. Three of those posts addressed today’s passage: 1 Cor 11:2-16. For more details on how to understand this passage, see post #1; #2, and #3).
This passage is immensely difficult primarily because we do not know what the problem was that Paul is addressing. In addition, it is very difficult to discern what were the words of the Corinthians and what is Paul’s response to them.
It is my conviction, that in 11:2-16, Paul transitions to the wealthy men’s efforts to suppress the newfound rights of the women in Corinth. We know that Paul is still addressing those who are “weaker” (though now he is speaking of weaker in the context of the Roman society). The discussion of the “weaker” members, which began in 8:1, continues through 11:34.
When we approach the issue of women in the church (who were significantly “weaker” in the Roman culture), we must bear in mind Joel 2:28-32—which was cited by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). The church has given women, gentiles, and others who were deemed weak (e.g., people of disabilities), privileges and status alongside men: including the rich and powerful men in Corinth.
These men, who were concerned about their own status in the eyes of others in the city, tried to limit the power and privileges of the women who had gained freedoms, power, and privilege in the Church. It appears that these wealthy men in Corinth attempted to impose restrictions on women that in Paul’s eyes undermined the gospel and devalued the women. Thus, they tried to make the women wear head coverings (4-5). It was they who were arguing that the woman came from the man and that women were, therefore, inferior (11:8)
Paul’s response of “yes, but” begins in 11:11.
This passage then is not Paul advocating for the subordination of women to men. It is the opposite. It is Paul’s response to the (wealthy) Corinthian men who were trying to suppress the women
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- One of my arguments for elevating the role of women (and any others whose rights and privileges in the church are suppressed) is that in doing so we are living in accord with the New Creation. In the New Creation (think New Jerusalem of Rev 21-22) there will be equality between everyone: (i.e., genders and races and socioeconomic status as Paul says in Gal 3:28). It is my opinion that what Paul is doing here is saying that we should begin to implement such equality now.
- Spend some time thinking about gender and racial inequality (of course, we have other aspects of inequality also: such as people with disabilities; single parents; etc) in society and in the church. Talk with people who are in such positions and learn their stories and their struggles.
- Then ask: “what can you do?”: that is, what can you do to not contribute to the problem; and what can you do to help alleviate the problem?
Friday: Read 1 Cor 11:17-34
This passage is Paul’s famed discussion of communion. And it is my conviction that this passage is often misunderstood and taken out of context.
In 11:17-34, Paul concludes the larger section that began in 8:1 by addressing the Corinthians’ (most likely he is referring to the wealthy men) violation of the law of love with respect to how they treat the poor during their gatherings (17). They were shaming “those who have nothing” (11:22; i.e., the poor). Paul concludes that their gatherings were “not for the better but for the worse” (17).
To understand the NT’s view of communion it is necessary to recognize that communion looks both backward to the Cross and forward, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (26). Communion is centered on the cross and what Christ has done as well as what His victorious resurrection assures us that He will do!
But there is something else. And this is what Paul is addressing in 11:17-34. Namely, that communion is rooted in the Passover. Passover was the formative event in Israel’s history that recognizes God’s deliverance of them from bondage and their formation as a people. In other words, Passover is a unifying event. And communion should be as well.
In Corinth, however, the wealthy were eating and drinking (and even getting drunk) before the poor had even entered. We might suspect that while the poor were still working, and before they had gathered during their noontime break, the wealthy, in whose homes the meetings were taking place, were indulging in the communion meal and the wine.
This brought shame on the poor who had little food and had to work all day just to have hopes for their daily needs. The rich, however, did not have to worry about working or whether or not they had enough food. Their indulging, in other words, reminded the poor of their lack. This is what angered Paul and is the basis for his denunciation of their gatherings! They are shaming the poor “who have nothing” (22).
This is, in my opinion, what Paul means when he says that they were eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner” (27). And this is why some of them were getting sick and dying (30).
Let me clarify. When Paul says that we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves (29) if we do not “judge the body rightly” (29)—or as the NIV says, “without discerning the body of Christ” (29)—I believe that he is referring to the body of believers (i.e., the body of Christ, that is the Church).
NB: the Greek says, “the body” in 11:29. It does not say, contrary to the NIV reading, “the body of Christ.”
What does Paul mean by “the body.” He can certainly mean the body of Christ Himself. But the context here suggests that he is talking about the Church.
For one, the larger context beginning in 8:1 centered on how we treat weaker members. Second, the immediate context beginning in 11:17 addresses how the wealthy were shaming the poor at the communion meal. Third, that Paul is continuing the conversation regarding the wealthy members and their treatment of the is evident by the fact that Paul concludes this passage with reference to the abuses he pointed out in 11:17-22. Thus, Paul concludes by saying, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment” (33-34). Paul is still addressing the rich eating and drinking and shaming the poor. Those who were getting sick and dying for not discerning “the body rightly” (29-30) were the rich.
In saying this, I am not denying that we disgrace communion when we fail to recognize Jesus for who He is and then take communion. I am simply saying that this is not what Paul is saying here. Paul is addressing Christians who are disgracing other Christians.
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- What I have argued here means corresponds precisely with what Jesus says in Matt 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” This means that we should not take communion unless we have reconciled—at least done our part in reconciling—with one another.
- Paul’s statement that their gatherings are “not for the better but for the worse” (17) is an incredible statement regarding a church gathering. I fear that it is also quite true of many churches today—although I am not sure that those churches would be capable of recognizing it. What might be the test for whether such a gathering is for good or harm? I suspect that we should ask if it glorifies God (1st commandment) and edifies others (2nd commandment). Of course, every church is going to contend that they indeed do both.
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 This guide is meant to be done either as a group study over the course of 2 or 4 meetings (Day 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-20), or as a private devotion over the course of 4 weeks (or a calendar month—5 lessons per week).