The Inspiration of the Scriptures: First Corinthians: Part 1

1 Corinthians
Chap. 5 Special Design. 35A. 1 Corinthians
We now enter on a very different theme from that developed in the Epistle to the Romans, where the foundation of the gospel is in question, and the individual privileges and walk of the saint. The same apostle writes on the corporate walk of Christians, of the church. The difference of the divine aim is made evident in their respective addresses. To those in Corinth he writes, but to more, “to the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, to called saints, with those that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours.” It is a remarkable superscription, and, as written by the Holy Spirit, surely means to warn against an imminent danger to which the new institution of His grace, His assembly, was to be exposed. The work of grace in each is of course presupposed. That they were saints by God's calling is not forgotten in addressing them in their corporate position. Further, there is care taken from the start to guard against all independency, “with all that in every place,” etc. (vers. 1-3). No countenance is given to the assumption that the church is free to change or innovate; it has to walk everywhere, and, we may add always, obedient to the word and in holy fellowship.
The usual thanksgiving follows for the grace of God given them in Christ Jesus, which assuredly from the apostle was no mere form. But we may observe that it is not said for faith as he says of the Roman believers, but for gifts of grace while waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who also would confirm them as blameless in His day. Solemn responsibility with encouragement he thus awakens: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (vers. 4-9).
Thence he turns to their state, and reproaches them with their divisions. They had set up schools of thought among themselves, like the Jews and heathen, saying, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Assuredly Christ was not divided, nor was any servant of His crucified for them. The apostle thanks God that, as things were at Corinth, he had baptized only a few of them, lest any should say that he had baptized unto his name. His repudiation shows the mistaken place assigned to baptism. For he presses the superior dignity of evangelizing, which Christ sent him for, and the contempt which God puts on the world's wisdom by that which is its foundation, Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling-block, and to Gentiles folly, but to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Far from choosing the wise, powerful, and well-born, God had chosen the foolish, the feeble, the vile and despicable, yea things that are not to annul those which are, that no flesh should boast before Him. But he adds the position and blessing too: “Now are ye of him in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, He that boasteth, let him boast in the Lord” (vers. 10-31).
Hence when Paul first testified at Corinth, it was not the world's wisdom he urged, but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified. No truth makes less of man, and more of God, when those who heard were men, lea, guilty and lost sinners. But when believers can bear, they indeed need more; when they are not infants but grown men ("perfect” here as elsewhere), he could, and in fact, did lead them to learn of Him everywhere, incarnate, risen, glorified and coming again. Then he goes on to make known that all hangs for the truth on the Spirit of God, Who now does far beyond what the O.T. had revealed. We have Christ and redemption accomplished for the soul; and hence, as He is on high, the Holy Spirit is now sent down, God revealing by Him what had previously been reserved. Thus the all-important relation of the Spirit to Christ comes fully out. Revelation, communication by words, and reception, are alike and only by the Spirit of God. So foolish was it to cry up man's mind or the spirit of the world (chap. 2).
The Corinthians addressed were not “natural” as once; nor were they “spiritual” as they ought to have been. They were “carnal.” They falsely estimated their state, and, in fact, needed the food of babes rather than of men in Christ. The proof of their carnality, of their walking “as men,” was their setting up Paul and Apollos, as rival leaders with the saints as followers to each. The servants thus shrouded the Master to their loss, fleshly as they were. God gives the increase. The most honored fellow-servants are but God's journeymen; while the saints are God's building. If Paul was given as a wise architect, the sole foundation is Jesus Christ; and hence the serious question of what one builds on Him. Happy he who builds things precious that stand the fire! Sad is he, who, though saved, loses his building of what the fire consumes. Terrible is his lot who corrupts God's temple and is himself destroyed. Here the world's wisdom only ensnares. Besides it is real folly: for all things belong to the saints, not only Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, but world, life, death, present things and future: “all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's” (chap. 3).
The apostle then in the beginning of chap. 4 exhorts that he and others like him should be accounted as servants or officials of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. These last are the Christian truths, previously hidden as being incompatible with the restricted object and the earthly character of Judaism, but absolutely essential to the gospel and the church. They have nothing to do with the notion of sacraments, which superstitious men have fancied. Now fidelity is requisite in a steward, and the Lord is the One that examines; not the saints, who have neither the place nor the power, but are responsible in matters of discipline as we shall see in chap. 5. When the Lord comes, He will make manifest the hidden; and then shall be to each the praise from God. He had applied the ease to himself and Apollos, not to set man up but to humble him and exalt the Giver (6, 7). In fact God appointed apostles to the extreme place in suffering at the grand spectacle that Christianity affords to the world, both to angels and to men. The light-minded worldliness in Corinth adds point to the comparison: “we fools for Christ, but ye prudent in Christ; we weak, but ye strong; ye glorious, but we in dishonor.” And as he had opened this in verse 8 by saying that they “reigned without us,” so in 11 he continues, “to the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are in weakness and buffeted, and wander homeless, and labor working with our own hands. Reviled, we bless; persecuted, we endure; blasphemed, we entreat; we became as the world's offscouring, refuse of all, until now.” How overwhelming the contrast, not for the Corinthians then only, but for the still more selfish and vain development in our day, as in fact ever since!
Yet he tenderly assures them, that it was not as chiding but to admonish them as his beloved children, he writes (ver. 14). “For if ye had ten thousand child-guides in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begot you through the gospel. I entreat you then, become mine imitators.” “Teachers” is not the word in ver. 15, but a servile term expressly. And in his love had he sent to them one so beloved and faithful as Timothy, “who shall remind you of my ways that are in Christ, according as I teach everywhere in every assembly” (ver. 17). The church, as the Christian, stands in liberty; but it is the liberty of Christ, never the liberty of differing as we like, or to oppose others. The Spirit of God dwells there to maintain the glory of the Lord Jesus, Whose mind is one. Petty man sets himself up. The apostle lets those know who said he was not coming, that he was, and quickly, the Lord willing; when he would know not the word of the puffed up, but the power. It was love, and to spare them, that he did not come sooner (18-21).
In the next division we have the apostle availing himself of evil rumors which had reached him, not about their general party spirit on which he had dwelt so fully from chap. 1 to 4, but on special evils, the abominable case of incest as yet unjudged in their midst (chap. 5), their worldliness in going to law before the unjust (chap. 6:1-11), and their abuse of liberty, or licentiousness, denounced and corrected (12-20). As the portion is short, we may dilate the more.
Desperately evil as were these disorders, general or special, the apostle did not lose confidence in the words of the Lord during the early days of his work at Corinth: “Fear not but speak because I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9, 109Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. (Acts 18:9‑10)). With these evils of theirs weighing on his heart he wrote to them as “the assembly of God that is at Corinth,” sanctified (as they were) in Christ Jesus, called saints (or, by calling). The inconsistency of their practical state with their standing, individually and corporately, was extreme; but he remembered the Lord's assurance, and pressed home their responsibility. There is no sufficient ground for assuming a lost epistle from chap. 5:9 of this Epistle, any more than an unrecorded visit from 2 Cor. 13:1, 21This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. 2I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: (2 Corinthians 13:1‑2), though not a few have argued for both. The worst enormity may glide into the church through its light state or individual pravity; and thus Satan incessantly seeks to dishonor the Lord and destroy those who bear His name. Then comes, as here, the testimony of the Holy Spirit to judge the evil and deliver the saints. It is the rejection of His testimony, the maintenance of the evil notwithstanding, for which they forfeit their place as God's assembly. From heinous evils, as here, the church may be restored, as the second Epistle proves; for incomparably less, if not judged, the church may have its candlestick removed, as we read in Rev. 2:55Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:5).
What a grief for the apostle to write about the common rumor of fornication among the Corinthian believers, “and such as is not even among the Gentiles, so that one should have his father's wife (5:1)!” But it was a great aggravation that they, the saints generally, were puffed up, and did not rather mourn, in order that he that did this deed might be taken away from among them (2). Though not on the spot, the apostle could, and does, pronounce on the case. “For I, absent in body but present in spirit, have, as present, already judged him that hath so wrought this, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ye and my spirit being gathered with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, —to deliver such a one to Satan for destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (2-4).” Thus did it seem good to divine wisdom that we should have the extreme act of excommunication fully left on record. If the Corinthian assembly had known and discharged its duty, we could not have had it in so solemn a form. For in this instance the apostle joins the exercise of his own official authority and power with the duty of the church to put away the offender. He could deliver to Satan, and thereby to sore trial of mind and body, though with the good and holy aim of the flesh destroyed in order to the spirit's salvation eventually; as we learn in 1 Tim. 1:2020Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:20) that he could act similarly in cases demanding it without the church. But, with apostle or not, the church is bound not to tolerate but to remove the wicked person from themselves (6-13).
In order to explain the principle further, and to show its application fully, the apostle uses the figure of leaven, intelligible to everyone familiar with its working, and especially to such as knew the care to get rid of it required at the paschal feast, which bore typically on the redeemed. Leaven represents corruption—evil in its tendency to spread and in its character of contaminating. “Your glorying is not good: know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also, Christ, was sacrificed: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven nor with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened things of sincerity and truth.” Clearly Christ's sacrifice, set forth in the paschal lamb, is the ground and means by which Christians are unleavened. The feast of unleavened bread that follows figures the hallowed condition, that attaches to them imperatively. We who believe in Christ are now celebrating this feast during our earthly sojourn as pilgrims and strangers, if we rest on His redemption. But the Corinthians in their levity had ignored it; and the apostle most instructively rebukes them with the authority of that word which abides forever. If they did not yet know God's mind about discipline, divine instinct left them inexcusable. Granted that they had no elders, nor experience; but they had gifts, and if they had life eternal in Christ, they should have felt rightly. Instead of mourning, they were puffed up and boasting: never a becoming state, but how shameful at such a crisis! The will of God was now declared; theirs was to judge themselves and obey. Here we have authoritatively the fullest light from on high to guide us, and to guard from like error.
“I wrote [or rather “write,” the epistolary aorist] to you in the epistle not to mix with fornicators; not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or the covetous and rapacious or idolators, since then ye must go out of the world. But now I write [same aorist as before] to you not to mix, if any one called a brother be a fornicator or covetous or idolator or a reviler or a drunkard or rapacious; with such a one not even to eat. For what have I [to do] with judging those outside? Ye, do ye not judge those within? But those without God judgeth. Remove the wicked [person] from yourselves.”
Here the scope is shown to embrace not only the immoral but the evil generally, though in no way to give an exhaustive list; as other scriptures duly denounce other sins. For a plain instance false and wicked doctrine does not here find a place; whereas in Gal. 5 it is treated as “leaven” no less than immorality. In 1 John also fundamental error as to Christ's person is dealt with more stringently still as “antichrist,” or even not bringing Christ's doctrine. Thus is the church preserved from legislation and called to be true in this respect as in all others to Christ's glory. We have only to do God's will, as He did it perfectly.
In chap. 6:1-11 the apostle insists on the incongruity of the saints appealing to the tribunals of that world which they are destined to judge, yea, to judge even angels. Yet at Corinth, instead of bringing a difference before the saints, they like men who had no faith appealed to “the unjust” Even those of no account in the assembly could well judge such matters; for he speaks to make them ashamed. Why did they not rather suffer wrong? Alas! they did wrong, and to brethren, forgetting that wrongdoers (and he enumerates more than in chap. 5) shall not inherit God's kingdom. Their past evil was no plea; seeing that they were washed, were sanctified, were justified (a very observable order) in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
This introduces the abuse of liberty. It is not Christian to be under the power of anything. Even now the body is for the Lord; and as God raised Him up from the dead, so will He raise us. We shall be conformed to Him in that glorious change, and are to act now in faith of it. Our bodies are Christ's members. How shameful and disloyal to be joined to a harlot! For this was the habit, one might say the religion, of the old Corinthian community. Hence the enormity of fornication in a saint, who is one spirit with the Lord. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in us, and this of God. We are not our own, but bought with a price, and therefore to glorify God in our body. The rest of the verse in the Authorized Version and others is a spurious addition from bad manuscripts.
In this section of the Epistle we have answers to questions which seem to have been submitted to the apostle on marriage and meats, with a notice of the detraction of his authority.
There is a spiritual energy which raises one to whom it is given above ordinary conditions; but the institution of God, as here marriage, remains all the same. If Paul was a witness of the former, none the less does he maintain the latter. Marriage is the rule as laid down of God; but the Holy Spirit may and does exceptionally lift up this one or that for worthy reason above the need of marriage. It was a question of God's gift; so that he who marries does well, and he does better who does not marry. The contrast of this holy wisdom is seen in the world-church, which turns the exception of grace into an ecclesiastical rule of corruption, and builds up thereby a city of confusion hateful to God and ruinous to man. The apostle calls for mutual consideration in married life, as well as for prayer, as having to do with God and the adversary.
This leads him, in an interesting and instructive way, to draw the line between what he counseled, and what the Lord commanded by revelation, though the apostle was inspired to give both. He deals also with mixed marriage, and, looking at position and occupation, reminds us that God has called us in peace. Hence too, if one were called as a bondman, it was not to be a concern; but if one could become free, to use it rather. For the bondman called in the Lord is His freedman; likewise the called freeman is Christ's bondman. Bought with a price, they were not to be bondman of men, but abide with God in that wherein they were called. He presses also the time as straitened, and the passing away of this world's fashion, as reason for not setting the heart on change. Such is the outline of chap. 7.
In chap. 8 he speaks of meats of animals sacrificed to idols; and, quite allowing the nullity of an idol, he points out the danger for conscience in those who lacked that knowledge seeing a Christian at table in an idol-temple. Gracious thought for another is better than knowledge empty, and selfish, and sinning against Christ.
This largeness of heart in the apostle exposed him to the false charge of looseness and self from those really guilty, and brings in the parenthetical chap. 9 in which he vindicates his apostleship, and glories in its grace. He maintains title to eat and drink and lead about a sister-wife, as also the other apostles, specifying the Lord's brethren and Cephas. “Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right not to work?” Yet he draws the plain title to support for all laborers—from the soldier, the husbandman, the shepherd, and the herdman. Nevertheless he used no such title, supported though it was by the clear case of those that served the altar in the law. While asserting the right, he refused to use it for himself (not “abuse”) in the gospel. It was God's grace in it that filled his heart and led his course, free from all yet making himself bondman, so inexplicable to man and hateful to the worldly mind, becoming all things to all that he might save some. A fellow-partaker with the gospel, he was living what others only preached, lest he, after preaching to others, should himself be rejected or reprobate.
This warning, though transferred to himself (as he says in chap. 4:6, “to himself and Apollos for their sakes” who were in danger), he follows up in chap. 10 by pointing out the ruin of so many in Israel of old, who all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink (10:1-4). Is the Christian more indifferent, because privilege is now greater? Idolatry is a great danger for the professing Christian, as it was for the Jew. Yet what condemns it more than Christ's death? What more inconsistent with the Lord's table? For demons were behind the idols; and this is a serious reality. True liberty is profitable and edifies; it cannot be at the expense of God's glory, unto which we as Christians are called to do all things, giving no occasion of stumbling to Jews or Greeks or God's assembly. So it was the apostle pleased all in all things, not seeking personal advantage, but that of the many that they might be saved; and he called them to imitate him, as he did Christ (11:1).
We have here another section of the Epistle, as distinct, or nearly so, from what precedes as from its concluding two chapters. Before coming to the assembly which was compromised in more ways than one at Corinth, the apostle regulates the relative place of the man and the woman in themselves. The importance of this is the more evident from the humanitarian freethinking of our own day which leaves out God's mind and order. Paul wished them to know that the Christ is the head of every man (ἀνδρὸς), but woman's head is the man, and the Christ's head God. Hence not men, but women, in praying or prophesying were to have their heads covered before others in token of subjection, as the act otherwise seemed to deny it. For the woman was created for the man and of him, though the man by her; and angels looked on who should see godly decorum. Neither is without the other, but all things of God, which unbelief forgets or takes no account of. For woman to act like a man is to her shame, and that of the contentious person who ignores God's will (2-16).
Nor was it in private only. The Corinthians publicly were coming together for the worse. Schisms already existing would surely lead to heresies or sects, which in effect deny the one body of Christ, the church, though the approved are thereby made manifest. How sad too at such an occasion as the Lord's Supper the dishonor put on the poor! It was really on the church of God; so that such a supper was not the Lord's. Therefore as he emphatically received the Supper from the Lord, he here also delivered it to them in all its grace and holy solemnity for the remembrance of Him, the center of the church's worship. Here the Lord's death makes selfishness in any form hateful, yet fills the heart purified by faith with thanksgiving and praise, and claims vigilant self-judgment, lest any slight might bring on the Lord's chastening now, that one be not condemned with the world by-and-by. So the apostle rules the severance of a meal, even were it that called the love-feast or Agape, to hinder such disorder in future (17-34).
Thereon follows the greatest unfolding which scripture furnishes of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in the assembly with the love so essential to right and worthy operation, and the Lord's regulation of it accordingly against abuse, in chapters 7-14. It is designedly apart from the Lord's Supper, though that Supper was in fact the most indispensable aim on the most important occasion for which the assembly met, the Holy Spirit acting in all holy freedom. But it seemed good to the Lord to treat of His Supper separately, and before entering on “the spirituals” (or manifestations of the Spirit) which are here explained. The apostle opens it by guarding against the imitative intrusion of demons, whose aim is to debase Jesus, the Son of God, as the power of the Spirit works in exalting Him. Now there are distinctions of gifts, but the same Spirit; as there are of service, but the same Lord; and of operations, but the same God that worketh all in all (12:1-6).
It is a question here, not of souls saved but of discerning spirits, who sought to dishonor the Lord, and deceive if it were possible the very elect. None the less but the more is the Holy Spirit sent down and here in the church to glorify the Lord and bless His own as His witnesses of Jesus in glory. The presence of the Spirit is more momentous than even the gifts He distributes and directs. It is that which constitutes the one body; and the assembly is bound to own and act on it; which is exactly what Christendom has in effect denied since the apostles, perhaps the most perverse of the perverted things the apostle warned of as at hand. There was but one Spirit, as also but one body; as faithfulness means walking by faith, so it is the shame of any to confess truth which they do not seek to carry out at all cost. The Corinthians were light and carnal, and their failure is turned to everlasting profit by the inspired instruction and corrective (7-13).
The gifts are manifestations of His power Who dwells in the church and works, though sovereign, to the Lord's glory; the one Spirit's baptism at Pentecost established that unity, which unbelief overlooks and in effect denies. Every true assembly is Christ's body, as the apostle told the Corinthians they were, though their state was bad enough to draw out the gravest rebuke. But it is the refusal to how to the word and judge the evil which forfeits the title of God's assembly; and the Corinthians did bow to their restoration, as the Second Epistle shows. Again it is in the assembly as a whole that God set, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, etc. (14-28). Ministry therefore (that is, gift in exercise) is set in the church. The gift in its variety is for all. There is no such idea in scripture as the minister of a church; which supposes and generates all sorts of error. The edifying gifts are on the same principle and from the same soiree as the sign gifts (miracles, healings, tongues, etc.), but far more important and permanent and set in the higher place, whatever Corinthian vanity might prefer.
There was however a quality higher than all, and of deep necessity for the right working of every gift, as indeed for the well-being of every saint, to the Lord's praise. It was love: a sad word among the Greeks, who readily claimed the most refined place of the first man; but how blessed and blessing and divine as heard and seen and proved to death and deeper still in the Second! And this is essential both for the individual Christian (who alone loves, as begotten of God), and for the assembly. Again, it accounts for its place here, between the presence and the operations of the Spirit in chap. 7, and the order of His action, for which every member is responsible, in chap. 14. It is striking to observe how the passive characters of love take precedence of the active, while the intermediate dwell on that joy in good which is truly godlike, as it well becomes the children of God now on earth. Now love never fails and abides forever.