From chapter 10 through 16 Paul begins to answer the questions the Corinthians had asked him by letter, beginning with the question of marriage. Paul consistently states his strong conviction that true Christians, as slaves of Christ are wholly claimed by Christ for His own service. Because of this Paul recommends that Christians remain single, but he also conceded that getting married is not a sin. Both Paul and Jesus encouraged a celibate life for God’s sake. (Matthew 19:10-12). Paul’s emphasis on celibacy is shaped by his expectation that the end of the age is near. For the Corinthians however, Paul recommended marriage, tempering the ideal of a celibate life with awareness of physical realities. Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, married Christians must always be considerate of the physical needs of their spouse. It is clear that Paul’s preference is singleness, but he also recognizes that both being single and being married are both gifts from God. If one remains single there are no worldly distractions but even with its distractions, an honorable marriage is much better than living a life dominated by unsatisfied desire. He also reminds the people that a believing husband and wife should not leave each other, but if they do then they should remain unmarried. Next Paul turns to the case of a believer married to an unbeliever. He doesn’t have a direct command from Jesus but his counsel is consistent. Believers must be faithful and honor their marriage commitment, and by remaining, the believer brings holiness to the unbelieving spouse. This also extends to the children, who benefit from the holiness of a Christian parent. If the unbeliever breaks up the marriage, the believing spouse is free to let them go. God’s desire is that His people live in peace, rather than the intolerable conflict of a mixed marriage no longer desired by the non Christian spouse.
There is always the hope that the believing spouse will win the unbelieving mate to faith in Christ. But there are no guarantees. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they should accept their God given lot in life and as a rule should continue in the social situation in which they first became believers. Circumcision was also an issue though Paul tells this church it doesn’t matter one way or the other. It is much more important to keep the commandments, such as the commandment both to love God and love others. Slavery was widespread in the Greco-Roman world and many Christian converts served rich families. Like circumcision, slavery is also a relatively unimportant issue for the Christian. Even as a slave the Christian is spiritually freefrom the power of sin, death, and the law. And even if you are free to begin with, all of us are slaves to Christ. All of us have been bought at a very high price. Paul gives three reasons why it is generally preferable for single people to remain unmarried.First, single people have fewer everyday problems than married people. Second, because the end is near, Christians ought not let marriage and the things of the world be their dominant concerns. Their primary concern should be Christ and eternity. Third, because marriage brings earthly responsibilities and divided interests. Those who remain single can devote their whole lives more fully to serving Christ. Finally, a widow may marry another man, but only if he loves the Lord. Paul strongly discouraged the marriage of Christians to unbelievers. This is what is known as being unequally yoked.
Next comes the issue of food sacrificed to idols. Throughout the Greco-Roman world there were temples and shrines dedicated to pagan gods. It was common for worshipers of those gods to offer animal sacrifices. The excess meat was sold then in the market by the pagan priests. The question arose as to whether Christians were free to eat such meat. Is meat taken from an animal that has been sacrificed to a pagan god inherently defiled? Paul makes no mention here of the prohibition made by the Jewish Christian leaders in Acts 15:20,29, but emphasizes that one’s actions must be governed above all by loving consideration of others. Here is what Paul has to say. “We all have knowledge” was evidently a common saying of the Corinthian Christians. The knowledge in question is religious knowledge, paraded by certain Christians who might have felt their superior understanding made them unaccountable to the opinions of others. It is those who truly love God, not just those who know all the answers, who are acknowledged by God asHis own. In reality, the idols to which such meat is sacrificed are not gods because there is only one God. He is the Creator of everything, including the meat in question. The only ultimate reality is God, the Father, and the one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created. Many of the Corinthian believers, having grown up in the pagan world, viewed eating meat as an expression of devotion to the god to whom the meat had been sacrificed. For such Christians, to eat meat presented to an idol would violate their weak consciences. Paul told them that their relationship with the living God was not affected by eating or not eating, whatever the source of food. But, believers must be careful that what they do does not cause others to stumble. For instance, believers insisting on eating food sacrificed to idols…because their superior knowledge assured them that they are free to eat such food…could destroy less mature Christians who understand eating meat sacrificed to idols as an expression of worship to pagan gods. This is serious business for Paul. He told the Corinthians that making immature believers sin by violating their conscience is the same as sinning against Christ who has claimed them for Himself. Personal rights must be subordinated to the larger commitment not to cause another believer to stumble.
Now Paul moves onto his rights, giving personal examples of his giving up his own rights for the sake of other people. He began with four rhetorical questions each of which should receive a positive answer. The first is an assertion of Paul’s freedom from Jewish ritual obligations, though as he later emphasizes he freely accommodates himself to the practices of Jews in his desire to win them to Christ. The other three questions are assertions of Paul’s apostolic authority, which apparently was being questioned by some in Corinth. For those who might be skeptical, the reality of Paul’s apostolic calling was verified by his firsthand encounter with Jesus our Lord onthe road to Damascus. Also, the Corinthians themselves who came to faith through Paul’s evangelism were proof of his status as an apostle. Paul’s answer or defense is that as an apostle he had the right to expect food and housing from those to who he ministered. Nevertheless, to avoid any possible criticisms, he did not take advantage of this privilege. He also had the right to have a wife like many others but he did not exercise these rights. The examples in verses 7-10 support Paul’s point that he and other Christian workers had a right to be supported by those they served. It is hard to tell if Paul is angry or merely pointing out facts here. Compared with other Christian workers supported by the Corinthians, Paul claimed an even greater right to be supported by them because he was the first to bring them the Good News. To avoid criticism, he never exercised these rights. Paul may have been referring to the Levites and priests in God’s temple in Jerusalem but it would have been the same for thepagan priests in temples around Corinth. Paul never pressed his rights, not was he now seeking to do so. Instead, he was illustrating the importance of giving up one’s rights for the sake of another. Paul also reminded all who read that he was compelled by God to preach the Good News and it would be horrible for him if he didn’t or couldn’t. His satisfaction came from preaching the Good News without charging anyone. This is another example of the way Christians must be willing to give up their rights out of consideration for others.
Paul placed himself in the position of a slave in the household. He shows just how far he is willing to go in adjusting his lifestyle and behavior to that of the people to whom he was preaching in order to win them for Christ. To illustrate how seriously the Corinthians must take the discipline of their salvation, Paul alludes to the familiar Isthmian games, an athletic competition held every two years in Corinth. Strict self discipline is required for athletes competing for a prize. In Paul’s day, athletes endured months of rigorous training before competing. In the same way, strict self discipline is required if a person is to gain the eternal prize of salvation. Christians must submit daily to obeying Christ. And Christians are called to engage in the real contest of obedience rather than simply goingthrough the motions. Those who are disqualified from a sporting event have no hope of winning the prize. To avoid losing the eternal prize, Paul disciplined himself severely, like an athlete, so that he would not be led away from Christ into a life of sin.
After illustrating from his own life the key principle of giving up one’s own rights for the sake of others, Paul turns back to the specific question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. He warns believers of God’s wrath on those who sin, especially on those who engage in idolatry. Even though the Israelites were God’s people and experienced His salvation and provision they still came under His judgement because of their disobedience. All of them were baptized in the cloud. Paul drawls a parallel here between the Jews and the Corinthian Christians. God graciously and supernaturally provided food and water in the wilderness, especially for the people of Israel. The Corinthian situation was analogous. The spiritual rock here alludes to the rock Moses struck to get water. Early Jewish tradition understood both occurrences to involve the same rock that was traveling with them. That rock was Christ. Paul’s interpretation of Israel’s experience provides a parallel between God’s provision in the wilderness and the Lords Supper. Both the Israelites and Christians share in the spiritual provisions of Christ; and just as the Israelites were therefore judged for their sins, so Christians will be judged if they sin. When Paul speaks of feasting and drinking he is referring to celebrations in honor of pagan gods. Paul still is pointing towards the Israelites, with the snake bites.
Paul also gave the Corinthians a final warning against falling into sin and he reminds them that God is faithful. God will not allow them to be tempted or tested beyond their capability to endure. The cool thing is that God will always provide a way out. We just need to take it! He warns the Corinthians against anything that might be interpreted as idolatry, which includes eating food in honor of a pagan god. He also affirms the spiritual meaning of sacred meals. In the Lord’s Supper, believers share in the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Sharing one loaf unites believers as one body in Christ, just as with the pagans religious meals unite them with the gods they worship. The truth is that idols have no reality or life and sacrifices made to them accomplish nothing. The sacrifices pagans made to idols are actually unknowingly made to demons. So, those who share in these meals are uniting themselves to demons. Believers should avoid participating in religious meals eaten in a pagan temple because those united to the Lord cannot be simultaneously united to demons. To ignore Paul in this matter is to rouse the Lord’s jealousy and judgement, just as Israel did.
The Corinthians had a saying, “I am allowed to do anything” but Paul qualifies the assertion of a Christians freedom by doing what is the most beneficial for others. When Christians are invited to a meal with an unbeliever, the Christians are free to eat what is set before them, unless warned that the meat has been offered to an idol. In that case, the Christian should refrain from eating it out of consideration for for the conscience of the other person, who might misinterpret it or be hurt by believing that such eating honors the god to whom the meat has been sacrificed. Paul concludes his discussion by summarizing the two principles that are to guide Christian behavior in issues like this. First, believers are to do everything for the glory of God. Second, believers are not to give offense and should avoid doing anything that would harm another’s Christian faith. Christians behavior is to be guided by what is best for others rather than by personal privilege.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W