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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Now, brothers,[a] if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

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Last week’s reading introduced Paul’s discourse on the false use of speaking in tongues in the church in Corinth.

The Corinthians who thought they were speaking in tongues were not speaking in a foreign language at all. They were speaking in gibberish, the way pagans did before their deities. Even they did not know what they were saying. Furthermore, they were having an experience of ecstasy while doing so. It was a carnal and sinful practice.

Paul’s use of the word ‘prophecy’ is the original: ‘preaching’. Last week’s post explains that the inclusion of prediction in that definition did not come about until centuries later in the Middle Ages.

Note 1 Corinthians 14:5 (emphases mine below):

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Paul continues his discourse by asking the Corinthians how they would benefit if Paul spoke to them in tongues — a foreign language (verse 6). In order for it to be of use, someone would have to interpret that spiritual lesson in Greek, the language of Corinth.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on this chapter in 1977, when many mainstream churches were undergoing what was called a Charismatic ‘renewal’ at the time. Suddenly, a spiritual gift that, for centuries, was considered one of the Apostolic Era — the earliest years of the Church — and died out because the number of Christians had grown sufficiently, became a trend which would continue for the next two decades or so.

I knew mainstream Christians who attended special Charismatic services at their church because they ‘felt better’ afterwards. They sought some sort of ecstatic comfort which they interpreted as emotional healing. They didn’t understand what they were saying, nor did they understand what anyone else was saying. It was entirely personal.

MacArthur says:

It’s amazing to me today that we have seen this one segment of the church put such an incredible premium on unintelligible communication that nobody, not even the speaker, understands. It’s also amazing to note that many, many times when the interpretation is so-called given as the true interpretation, it can be indicated that it is, in fact, not a true interpretation at all, as there’s many, many testimonies to the effect that people have experimented speaking in Hebrew and whatever, and somebody gives a translation that’s in no way related to what they said.

And somehow today we have made some kind of sacred cow, some kind of great, spiritual hierarchy out of people who have been able to communicate to nobody. Paul says, “If I came and used the true gift, it wouldn’t mean anything to you because you speak Greek.”

Also, referring to verse 9:

the only significant time for the use of the true gift in the Apostolic Era was when somebody was there who understood the language; and if it occurred in the assembly of believers, then it would be translated in order that the believers might even also, in addition, be edified by it. It must be easy to be understood, or you’re just blowing into the air.

In order to get his point across, Paul poses questions using musical illustrations, something that everyone would understand.

He asks whether the flute or the harp would make sense without different notes played to create a melody (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

Unintelligible language is like piping or harping without distinction of sounds: it gives no more direction how a man should order his conversation than a pipe with but one stop or a harp with but one string can direct a dancer how he should order his steps …

Similarly, Paul asks, what good would a bugle be in calling troops to battle if it played only one note (verse 8). We are all familiar with our respective nations’ military instrumental melodies. One tune awakens the troops, another readies them for battle and another announces the end of the day.

MacArthur says:

A military trumpet was the clearest and the loudest of all instruments; but no soldier would have any idea what to do if it didn’t blow something with significance.

Paul then asks the Corinthians how any of them, including the person ‘speaking’, as it were, will understand unintelligible speech; what good is that doing anyone but talking into the air (verse 9)?

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

Words without a meaning can convey no notion nor instruction to the mind; and words not understood have no meaning with those who do not understand them: to talk to them in such language is to waste our breath.

Paul brings his point to a close by saying that the world is full of different languages (verse 10) but if he does not understand a particular language, then he is a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to him (verse 11). In other words, the whole point of a spiritual lesson is lost unless one understands that particular language.

MacArthur says that Paul uses the Greek word ‘barbaros’ — ‘barbarian’ — in verse 11:

He says in verse 11, “Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the sound,” – or the voice – “I shall be unto him that speaks a barbaros, and he that speaketh shall be a barbaros unto me.” Now he says, “If you don’t talk in something I can understand, we’re two barbarians trying to talk.”

In case you don’t remember what a barbarian is, a barbarian is a term for a foreigner; and a barbarian was anybody who didn’t speak Greek. So he’s simply saying, “If you talk in that kind of stuff, we’re just going to be incommunicado, because it’s going to be like two barbarians, neither of whom have a common language.”

Interesting thing about the word. The word barbaros is, again, a word that is onomatopoeiatic. Remember that? A word that sounds – remember “bzzz” and “zip” and “hiss” – any of those kinds of words that simply repeat a sound. Well, this word really is the repetition of “bar-bar.” And what he’s saying is, “If you speak like that, and I don’t know the meaning of what you’re saying, it’s just ‘bar-bar-bar-bar’ to me. I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

So the whole point, you see, is the uselessness of unintelligible languages and pagan gibberish. It had absolutely no signification whatsoever. It is contrary to all the laws of sound and meaning, according to verse 10.

Paul ends with the same message he gave in 1 Corinthians 14:5: seek gifts of the Holy Spirit that will build up — edify — the church in Corinth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

“Seek that the church be edified.” He’s really dealing with their selfishness. The Corinthians came together; they were all seeking this experience. They were all seeking this ecstasy; they wanted the sensual experience.

And we still have that today. And I think that’s part of what is going on in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement is they all seek this personal experience, when Paul is saying “That’s the antithesis of the spiritual gift, which is to seek to edify the body.” So the position of tongues is secondary, reason number one, because prophecy will edify the church; and number two, tongues are unintelligible, and consequently have a very limited use. And, incidentally, that limited use was limited also to the Apostolic Era.

Many moons ago when I was in high school — around the time MacArthur gave this sermon — I knew a girl who stopped going to her family’s church and began attending Sunday service with her boyfriend and his family at the local Foursquare Gospel church. She said she preferred the services there because they were ‘exciting’ and one never knew what would happen next.

The preacher gave sermons, but she said she never listened to them because they were ‘boring’. She was there to watch someone experience personal ecstasy. For her, church was theatre. She thought every church should be like that.

I’m going to skip ahead to 1 Corinthians 14:33 and 40 for an answer to ‘church as theatre’:

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

40 all things should be done decently and in order.

Paul has much more to say on the topic of speaking in tongues, so more will follow next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:13-19

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Prophecy and Tongues

14 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

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Last week’s entry concluded Paul’s treatise to the Corinthians on Holy Communion. It included a warning about sickness and death afflicting those who took the sacrament unworthily.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul discusses the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Taking up where he left off, he begins by encouraging the Corinthians to pursue love and desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit especially that they might prophesy (verse 1).

Prophesying means preaching, as John MacArthur explains (emphases in bold mine):

It comes from the Greek word prophēteuō. Two words: pro, meaning before; phēmi meaning speak. It means to speak before. Prophecy is for somebody to speak before somebody else.

That’s what I do every Sunday, I prophesy. You say, “I thought it meant to predict the future.” No. No. You know the idea of predicting the future never came along until the Middle Ages when the English word took on that meaning. That’s never its intention in the Greek. It simply means to speak before somebody.

Matthew Henry’s commentary agrees:

While they were in close pursuit of charity, and made this Christian disposition their chief scope, they might be zealous of spiritual gifts, be ambitious of them in some measure, but especially of prophesying, that is, of interpreting scripture.

Paul uses two interesting verbs in that sentence: ‘pursue’ and ‘desire’. Today, ‘pursue’ suggests a police chase. As for the second, we think of the word in the context of ‘heart’s desire’, not entirely a religious thing to say.

Henry defines ‘pursue’ in Greek as follows:

Follow after charity, pursue it. The original, diokete , when spoken of a thing, signifies a singular concern to obtain it; and is commonly taken in a good and laudable sense. It is an exhortation to obtain charity, to get this excellent disposition of mind upon any terms, whatever pains or prayers it may cost: as if he had said, ‘In whatever you fail, see you do not miss of this; the principal of all graces is worth your getting at any rate’.

MacArthur addresses the context of ‘desire’ and refers back to 1 Corinthians 12 to make his point:

Now this word “desire” could be translated many ways, because it’s a kind of a form that could go a lot of ways. But when you study the context, it comes out as an imperative; and it comes out, I believe, as kind of a continuous imperative, so that it would translate this way – now watch: “Pursue love,” and then there is a de in the Greek, and de is like “but.” It is not equating equals; that would be kai. It’s adversative; there is a change here.

So he is saying, “Follow after love, but continue desiring spirituals.” In other words, “I’m not telling you to quit desiring gifts.” And then go back to 12:31, “You are pursuing the showy things. You should pursue love, but don’t stop pursuing gifts,” or the spiritual realm literally. In other words, “I don’t want you to quit, because you should want the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit. I’m not saying don’t have anything to do with gifts. But rather pursue love and continue to seek the spiritual realm, the realm of the operation of the Holy Spirit, the true things that the Spirit of God is doing. But” – now look at the end of the verse – “most of all, most of all, mallon, most of all that you should prophesy.” You see, tongues are secondary. “When you come together, instead of the chaos, and the confusion, and the gibberish of tongues, should be the clarity of prophecy.”

Paul says that speaking in tongues does not say anything to men; the person is speaking to God only, uttering mysteries in the Spirit (verse 2).

Henry says that the Corinthians were pleased with their notional ability to speak in tongues:

It seems, this was the gift on which the Corinthians principally valued themselves. This was more ostentatious than the plain interpretation of scripture, more fit to gratify pride, but less fit to pursue the purposes of Christian charity; it would not equally edify nor do good to the souls of menwhatever mysteries might be communicated in his language, none of his own countrymen could understand them, because they did not understand the language

MacArthur has more on this peculiarity, which was part of their pagan heritage. Sadly, they were returning to it. This was not even close to the 70 disciples speaking in tongues on the first Pentecost:

… as we come to the Corinthian situation – incidentally, the only time that the gift is ever mentioned after the book of Acts is in Corinth, and there because it was so confused and chaotic. But as we come to the Corinthian situation, we find that they had counterfeited the real gift and substituted a pagan, ecstatic kind of speech. The true gift had been confused with ecstatic tongues, which was the counterfeit

Remember that, for the most part, the Corinthians had allowed the entire world system in which they existed to infiltrate their assembly. For example, they were all hung up with human philosophies, the first four chapters say. They had a hero worship cult just like their society did; chapter 3 talks about that. They were involved in terrible, gross, sexual immorality; chapters 5 and 6 talks about that. They were suing each other in the court; chapter 6 talks about that. They had fouled up the home and marriage, and misevaluated that whole thing; chapter 7 talks about that.

They were all confused about pagan feasts and idolatry and things offered to idols; chapters 8, 9 and 10 talks about that. They had goofed up the proper place of women in the church; chapter 11 talks about that. They had misconstrued the whole dimension of spiritual gifts; chapter 12 talks about that. And they had lost hold of the one great thing, love; chapter 13 talks about that.

They had let the entire mass of the satanic system that existed in their society infiltrate the church. And once it all came in, in with it came pagan-style of religion, with all of the ecstasies, and all of its eroticisms, and all of its sensualities; they bought the whole bag.

In short, they were developing a syncretic version of Christianity:

It was Christianity in part and paganism in part, all wedded together.

This can be seen in some pseudo-religious movements which are popular today: New Age and vaudou, to name but two. However, one can also add the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism to the list.

MacArthur mentioned ecstasy, which is a key feature for the person speaking in tongues that no one else can understand. These people seek the mind rush, for lack of a better term, that they experience:

Now if you study the Greco-Roman world the time of the Corinthian church, you would know that they had various priests and priestesses; and people who were devotees of the gods would go to these great temples, and they would worship these priests and priestesses. And it was very common for a devotee would go into an ecstasy. An ecstasy means to go out of yourself. That’s the literal meaning of the word, to go out of yourself. They would literally flip out, and they would go into an unconscious state, in which they would have all kinds of phenomena occur, a psychic kind of phenomena. They would believe that when they went out of themselves, they literally left the body, and they ascended into space, and they connected to deity, whatever deity they were worshiping, and they began to commune with the deity; and once they began to commune with that deity, they would begin to speak the language of the gods.

This was a very common thing in their culture. So that term used in Corinthians, glōssais lalein, to speak in tongues, was not invented by Bible writers, but was a term used commonly in the Greco-Roman culture to speak of pagan ecstasy, and going out of the body, connecting with the deity, and in a mystical way beginning to speak the language of the gods, which came out as some kind of gobbledygook and gibberish.

Now the Greeks even had a word for this ecstatic religious experience. You’ll be interested to know what the word was. It was the word eros. Remember that word? We sometimes translate it as sensual love. But the word is a bigger word than that; it has a broader meaning. The word eros simply means the desire for the sensual, or the desire for the erotic, or the desire for the ecstasy, or the desire for the ultimate experience or the feeling.

And the kind of religion they had was erotic religion. It was religion designed to be felt. It was sensual, ecstatic kind of religion. And you’ll remember, if you studied those religions, that when they went to those temples and to those priestesses they actually entered into orgies, didn’t they. And that whole idea of erotic and sexual and sensual and ecstatic and the gibberish that went on with divine utterances, all was rolled into one big ball under the mystery religions that had spawned in Babylon and had come into the Corinthian society. And I’m not going to take the time to read you all of the information on that, but there is tremendous historical information that tells us that this did occur.

Now I’m afraid that what has happened today in the Charismatic movement is just a reproduction of exactly what happened in Corinth. The church, because of a deadness, and because of years of ignorance of the true work of the Holy Spirit, and because of a lack of really fine Bible teaching in many places, and because of just the dearth of anything really significant going on, people in the church began to reach out, and to want to feel God, and to sense reality, and Satan’s counterfeit came flooding in the door. And what happened now in the Charismatic Movement is simply Corinth revisited. The church has married the system of pagan religion again, and we have developed a sensual, feeling, experiential, erotic kind of approach to religion, only we call it the work of the Holy Spirit, when in fact it is the counterfeit of Satan. If you were to find time to talk with various people who’ve been involved in it, you would find that some of their experiences are very much in that way – very sensual, very feeling-oriented.

This is what speaking in tongues involved — and it was only ever a means for the early Church to expand into every possible nation in the ancient world. That time was known as the Apostolic Age or the Apostolic Era.

MacArthur explains:

when God gave the gifts to the early church, He gave them some miraculous gifts which were designed to be signs that authenticated the validity of the message of the new age. You see, God had spoken in the past by the fathers through the prophets; but in these last days, He has spoken in His Son, and there was a new message; and to let, particularly, the Jewish world know that this was a new era, and there was new revelation, and God was speaking again. There were attendant signs and wonders, and one of those was the ability that the apostles and some who worked with them had, to speak a language they did not know, under divine inspiration. That was the gift of languages.

We learned also that it was always a language, that it was the ability to speak a foreign language. In Acts 2, “Everybody understood in their own language,” it says.

As the Corinthians were not truly speaking in tongues, rather in a pagan gibberish, Paul encourages them to seek the desire to prophesy, or to preach, because good preaching edifies those hearing the message, that of the Good News (verse 3).

Paul goes on to say that those who speak meaningless words in tongues help no man, but those who can prophesy — preach — duly build up the Church (verse 4).

Paul says that he wants the Corinthians to speak in tongues — properly, one might add, as had the disciples in Acts — but more importantly, they should preach, so that everyone can understand what is being said and thereby benefit from it (verse 5).

MacArthur explains the Corinthians’ situation and that of some of the present day church movements:

In Christianity, it was the true gift of languages, used only when someone who spoke the language was present in order that it might be a sign that God was there, and that God’s people were speaking God’s truth. Never was it intended to be confused with paganism. But as always, whenever God does something, Satan counterfeits it, doesn’t he? And that confuses the issue.

And so Satan’s smokescreen to cloud the true revelatory work of the Holy Spirit in the early church were phony revelations and phony visions and phony tongues. And that’s why in 1 John, John says, “When somebody comes along and starts telling you they speak for God, you’d better test the spirits.” It’s easy to fall prey to the phony. And the Corinthians, because they had decided to marry the spirit of the age, were victims.

Now remember, Satan is called the god of this age, Satan is called the spirit who energizes the children of disobedience. Satan is the one who wants to be like God, and Satan appears transformed as an angel of light. He wants to counterfeit reality, he wants the church to buy a phony; that’s his business. And so we see in heathenism all that fake; and here in Corinth, it had engulfed the church.

And I’m afraid it’s doing the same today. There are no ecstasies, no sensualities, no eroticisms, no going out of yourself ever associated in the New Testament with the true work of the Holy Spirit – never, never. In fact, in 14:32 it says, “The spirits of the prophets must be subject to the prophets.” Nobody ever gives up his spirit. Nobody ever loses control. Nobody ever goes out of himself in terms of that which God has designed. And that’s why, at the end of the fourteenth chapter, the final word of the apostle Paul is, “Let everything be done decently and” – what? – “in order.” This is not the Holy Spirit’s way. It is not the Holy Spirit’s way to have everybody jumping up, “and everybody has a psalm” – verse 26 – “and everybody a doctrine, and everybody a revelation, and everybody an interpretation, and everybody wanting to speak in ecstasy, and everybody wanting to have a vision,” and so forth. That’s the confusion of paganism that has engulfed the church.

This is the reason why members of established churches are often called the ‘frozen chosen’. Long may they remain so.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:27-34

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[a] 31 But if we judged[b] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[c] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers,[d] when you come together to eat, wait for[e] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

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Last week’s passage discussed the church love feasts that the Corinthians held. These would be comparable to today’s church potlucks. Afterwards, they would receive Holy Communion. The problem was their irreverence and mutual hostility.

Some wealthier members deprived poorer congregants of food. Other people attending got drunk. Many argued at table. They were not in a fit state to receive the Lord’s body and blood.

Paul takes them to task for their irreverent behaviour, especially in the presence of the sacrament.

In last week’s post, I’d written that the church potlucks I’d attended were happy occasions where everyone was united over plates of homemade food and good conversation.

One of my readers, Rob, wrote about the potlucks he’s been to and has given me permission to post his comments, revealing a much different perspective (emphases mine):

This is a sad topic to miss out on in the 3-year lectionary. Addressing the disorder in the Corinthian church, Paul is relevant to today’s fellowships as well. I suppose it’s not the same as back in his day, with our socially dispersed lifestyles and varied views of the Supper.

One thing I think applies: today, there are the “in crowd” and the less visible hangers-on. One group is clearly more in fellowship than the others. Being ignored or dismissed because one is not “theological enough” or isn’t involved in popular trends of his church is analogous to what Paul is fighting in this passage.

Yes, the cliques are ever-present, though largely ignored or dismissed. The latest trends are regular old liberal theology, homeschooler superiority, subordination of women and then the typical class divide. Doubt it’s any different from any decade, really. Though folks are certainly more agitated and outspoken these days (social media).

Between last week’s and this week’s verses are the following, which are in the Lectionary:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Those are important because not only are they theologically precise but Paul wrote them before the Gospels were written.

John MacArthur explains:

this is directly taken from the statements of Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s practically certain. And I think that you’d find very few conservative scholars who would disagree with this. It is practically certain that 1 Corinthians was written before any of the four Gospels, though the four Gospels appear in your New Testament first in their order, they are not, in terms of chronological authorship, in that order. They were not written till a later period than this.

So, here is really the first statement of God in print regarding the Lord’s Table. For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And Paul says, “It was directly from the words of Jesus. He Himself instituted it.

There are two ordinances of the Church: communion and baptism. Both of them were set in order by the example of Christ and ordained and initiated by Him as well. And this is no different. So, he says, “This is straight from the Lord. It is His Supper. He has instituted it.” You notice in verse 20 “the Lord’s Supper.” It is His Supper.

One wonders how many people are familiar with today’s verses wherein Paul says that receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner can — not will — lead to illness or death. I only discovered these 12 years ago, thanks to another blogger.

No doubt this has applications beyond the Corinthians’ situation.

Paul says that receiving the sacrament in an unworthy manner is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 27).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

He lays before the Corinthians the danger of receiving unworthily, of prostituting this institution as they did, ad using it to the purposes of feasting and faction, with intentions opposite to its design, or a temper of mind altogether unsuitable to it; or keeping up the covenant with sin and death, while they are there professedly renewing and confirming their covenant with God. 1. It is a great guilt which such contract. They shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27), of violating this sacred institution, of despising his body and blood. They act as if they counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith they are sanctified, an unholy thing, Heb. 10:29. They profane the institution, and in a manner crucify their Saviour over again. Instead of being cleansed by his blood, they are guilty of his blood.

We say that we do not do that. Many of us receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner, however, it is easy to profane it.

MacArthur gives us examples:

I’ll tell you how you can come unworthily. The Corinthians did it. You can come – here’s the way you can treat the Table of the Lord unworthily. Number one, by ignoring it rather than obeying it. By just not doing it. You’re saying, “It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s unimportant.” Is that right? No, that’s wrong; that’s unworthy of you, and unworthy of Him.

Second, you can treat the Table unworthily by making it a performance rather than something meaningful, by just doing it rather than understanding it.

I’ll tell you another way you can pervert the Table and come unworthily is by making it into a saving thing rather than a communing thing. By thinking that it saves you to do it rather than understanding that it only causes you to make a fresh commitment and a fresh communion with Christ.

Another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it as a ceremony rather than as a personal experience. And another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it lightly rather than treating it seriously. If you come to this table with any bitterness toward another Christian in any way, shape, or form; with any unconfessed sin; living in any kind of sin that you will not repent of and turn from; if you come with any less than the loftiest thought about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God; if you come with anything less than total love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, you come to this Table unworthily.

And you say, “What’s the result?”

Look; you are liable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Paul advises the Corinthians — and us — to examine our consciences beforehand, then receive Communion (verse 28). If you have had an argument with someone, seek reconciliation. If you’ve done someone a wrong, right it. Then receive the sacrament.

Paul says that it is important to discern ‘the body’ — that means Christ’s body — beforehand. Contemplate our Lord’s suffering, the horrifying way He bore our sins on the Cross. 

Serendipitously, today’s Sunday Gospel reading, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B), discusses His sufferings. Christ’s crucifixion was a suffering of both body and soul. In that reading, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, John MacArthur points out that the Greek word psuche is used, which means soul, or inner person. Our Lord suffered our sins in an unimaginably intense way in order to reconcile us to God.

Returning to today’s passage, MacArthur discusses the Greek used in 1 Corinthians 11:29:

Look at your heart. Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? The word here in the Greek means a rigorous self-examination: your life, your motives, your attitude toward the Lord, your attitude toward the Lord’s Supper, your attitude toward other Christians. Be certain you’re not careless, flippant, indifferent, entertaining sin, unrepentant, mocking – all of that.

And when you’ve examined yourself, then let him eat of the bread and drink the cup. Examination first. Why? “Because he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks” – krima in the Greek; it should be translated chastisement. It’s not damnation. That’s the worst translation I’ve ever read of that. It means chastisement. Katakrima means damnation. That’s used in verse 32. Krima is a less intense word; it means chastening. “If you eat and drink unworthily, you will eat and drink chastening to yourself because you are not discerning the Lord’s body.”

Paul goes further and says that the reason many of the Corinthians are becoming ill and some dying is because of their unworthy reception of Holy Communion (verse 30). Older translations use a form of ‘sleep’ for ‘death’.

MacArthur says:

How does God chasten us? Well, in Corinth, this is what He did, verse 30, “Because of this, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” And “sleep” is a metaphor for death. The Lord said, “Because of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Table, some of them had gotten weak. They were mildly sick. Some of them were very sick, and some of them God had killed.

And incidentally, the Greek says a sufficient number were dead. I don’t know how many God killed in Corinth, but a goodly number. Why did he kill them? What evil did they do? The evil of coming to the Lord’s Table in an irreverent manner. You get a little idea of the seriousness.

He refers to Ananias and Sapphira who suddenly dropped dead in Acts 5 (another passage excluded from the three-year Lectionary) after cheating the church in Jerusalem:

I personally believe that Ananias and Sapphira, who were executed by God for their sin, were probably killed and executed at a communion service. That would be very, very stark, wouldn’t it? They probably dropped dead at a communion service, because that’s what the early Church did when it came together. And I’m not sure that it isn’t true that some Christians today are weak, others are sick, and some have even died because of how they treated the Lord’s Table: with indifference, sinfulness, whatever.

Paul offers a remedy. We are to judge ourselves so that God does not judge us (verse 31). That means examining our conscience (verse 28), repairing our broken relationships, repenting of our sins, then receiving Holy Communion.

Paul also points out that when the Lord passes judgement on us it is a chastisement for this world, one from which to learn, so that we may avoid judgement with ‘the world’ — non-believers — in the life to come (verse 32).

MacArthur explains:

I love this, “But when we are judged” – he says – “we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world.” We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world. Want to hear something? You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world.

People say, “Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I’m lost?”

No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that, you will be – what? – chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what’s that? Take you to heaven. See, that’s not too bad. The point of the verse – a tremendous verse – the point of the verse is, “Look, we are being chastened by the Lord in order that we would not be damned with the world.”

You say, “But maybe the Lord won’t chasten me.”

Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and every son He scourges. Every Christian is under the chastening hand of the Lord which prevents him from ever being condemned with the world. Is that a great truth? So, we have not that ultimate fear. I don’t know about you; I’d just as soon be healthy, happy, and alive for a little while. So, I want to check myself when I come to the Lord’s Table.

Paul closes with simple advice on church dinners, especially if followed by Holy Communion, as was the case in the early days of the Church. Those who are hungry should eat at home first (verse 34). When gathering together, wait until everyone has arrived before eating (verse 33).

Paul ends by saying that he will give the Corinthians more instructions — ‘directions’ — when he sees them again.

About that, MacArthur says simply:

I don’t know what the rest of the problems were, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Indeed we can.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

1 Corinthians 14 discusses the Holy Spirit’s gifts to those living in the Apostolic Era in order to increase the growth of the Church.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The Lord’s Supper

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[a] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

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Last week’s reading was about women’s hair, a particular instruction to the church in Corinth and not a general one, as that was the only time Paul discoursed on head coverings.

The rest of 1 Corinthians 11 is about the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Corinthians were partaking of the sacrament unworthily.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the situation (emphases mine below):

In this passage the apostle sharply rebukes them for much greater disorders than the former, in their partaking of the Lord’s supper, which was commonly done in the first ages, as the ancients tell us, with a love-feast annexed, which gave occasion to the scandalous disorders which the apostle here reprehends

The problem was not with the love-feast, or agape, but the manner in which they conducted that feast then received Communion afterwards.

The early church in Jerusalem instituted the agape out of love and mutual necessity. Shortly after the first Pentecost, the numbers of Christian converts grew to more than 3,000 people. Some had travelled to Jerusalem from afar — e.g. the Hellenic Jews — to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, and stayed in the city afterwards. They had no money or jobs. Acts describes how the Christians who did have money and property pooled together what they had so that every convert could be fed, clothed and housed.

John MacArthur gives us more history on the agape, which some small sects still practice, although it is not commanded in the New Testament. Our modern day equivalent would be coffee after a Sunday service, a time of fellowship. Another would be a church potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to be shared by others attending.

MacArthur says:

Notice verse 41 and 42 of Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” – and this is in response the message of Peter given on the Day of Pentecost – “the same day there were added” – and they would be added to those who had already believed in Christ – “three thousand souls.” Now, there is the birth of the Church.

And they continued steadfastly in four areas, four ways in which the early Church celebrated its life. One, the apostles’ doctrine. That’s teaching. Theology. Teaching that which the apostles received as revelation from God. Fellowship. That’s ministering. That’s carrying out the duties and responsibilities that believers have within the framework of the Christian community …

And then lastly, in prayers. Those are the four dimensions of the life of the early Church: teaching, ministering, communing with the living Lord, who had died for them, and praying.

Now, those things, again, are indicated in part in verse 46, “They continued daily with one accord in the temple” – and apparently that’s where they gathered for teaching or apostles’ doctrines, very likely – “and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart.” And the idea there again is you have breaking of bread and fellowship, and certainly prayer would be thrown in as well.

So, in the life of the Church, notice, they continued every day breaking bread. I’m convinced, along with many other Bible scholars and historians of this period, that the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Table on a continual basis. In fact, it is not unlikely that they may have had communion with every meal they ate at the close of that meal. That is not an impossibility. That is, perhaps, a likelihood …

Now, we see this as we go through the book of Acts. And eventually, that fellowship meal became known as the love feast, became known as the agapē, or some of you may have heard it pronounced agapē. It was the love feast, the common meal, the sort of early Church potluck that they ate and followed it with the communion.

Now, it seems as though, in the early days, they were doing it every day. They were fellowshipping all over everywhere all the time. Now, remember this; that at the time when Peter preached at Pentecost … in that whole long period of feasting in Israel, many pilgrims had come to the city and were living with other Jewish families. This was part of the culture. When many of those pilgrims were saved, they didn’t want to go back; so, they stayed in the community. And when they stayed in the community, then the Christians had to take care of them. That’s why it says in chapter 2, verse 44, “They had all things in common and were selling their possessions and goods and giving them to the people that had need,” because there were all these people who had come into the city, whose needs had to be met. They had no livelihood.

In addition, instantly, at the point that the Church began, slaves were saved. And there became a common brotherhood of the slave and the rich man, and the slaves’ needs were then being met by rich men who could meet needs. And there was a beautiful commonness. They ate in different houses. They began to mingle their lives, and part of this was the celebration of the breaking of bread commemorating the communion of our Lord.

Eventually:

this became a pattern in the early Church. The church came together the first day of the week. They had a fellowship meal, followed by communion, followed by a sermon. Now, that became pretty much the pattern. And as time progressed, it stayed with us. And in fact, even today, there are many churches that meet together on every Lord’s Day, have the breaking of bread, followed by a sermon.

The love feast, long ago, faded away. The love feast was not something instituted by our Lord. It was not something instituted by the apostles. It was something that was a holdover from the culture. And so, it never really stuck. The early custom to connect the Lord’s Supper to the ordinary meal of every day began to fade away a little bit. They didn’t do it with every meal. Then they did it with the common meal, once a week, and even that began to fade.

Now on to today’s verses.

Paul begins by saying that he is not about to compliment the Corinthians on the way they gather for Holy Communion, because it is for the worse, not the better (verse 17).

He says that when they gather together as an assembly — a church — they do so with divisions among them (verse 18).

Recall that in the early parts of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them to put their divisions aside, come together and follow Christ.

MacArthur explains:

Verse 18, “For first of all, when you come together in the church” – and the word church – ekklēsia – is never used in the New Testament in reference to a building. Never. It is always used in reference to an assembly of people. Whether they’re living, dead, universal, or local, it’s always people. A church is an organism. So, “When you come together in the church, I keep on hearing” – again and again is the Greek – “that there are schismata among you, and I partly believe it.”

Now, schismata is an interesting term. It refers basically to a difference of opinion. I want you to understand the word here, because I think we’re seeing another dimension in the messed up life of the Corinthian church. It refers basically to a difference of opinion …

So, he says, “When you come together, I continually hear that there are differences of opinion among you.” When the Church comes together, instead of uniting and fellowshipping, all you do is argue. Argue.

Now, this adds another dimension to their already messed-up church. They had already split the church on at least two other accounts. The rich and the poor had drawn a big line between them, and they were totally alienating each other. So, they were split on that basis – the sociological split.

They were split theologically – “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” “I am of Christ.” Everybody had his little clique. We’ll read it in chapter 1 and chapter 3. They had their own little theological group, and the amazing part of it was that the different groups didn’t even disagree theologically; they just isolated around personalities.

And so, here there were personality cults, segmenting everybody. There was a split sociologically between the rich and the poor. And now here we find that in just the – every week, week in, week out, discussion and interaction of the life of the church, there was a constant wrangling about differences of opinions about everything.

Interestingly, Paul says that factions have to exist in order for the peacemakers to emerge (verse 19).

Henry interprets that verse as follows:

Note, The wisdom of God can make the wickedness and errors of others a foil to the piety and integrity of the saints.

Paul says that the Corinthians are not coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper (verse 20). Instead, they are behaving like gluttons and drunks with others among them going hungry (verse 21).

Henry explains:

They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions they themselves brought, before the poor were allowed to partake; and thus some wanted, while others had more than enough. This was profaning a sacred institution, and corrupting a divine ordinance, to the last degree. What was appointed to feed the soul was employed to feed their lusts and passions. What should have been a bond of mutual amity and affection was made an instrument of discord and disunion. The poor were deprived of the food prepared for them, and the rich turned a feast of charity into a debauch. This was scandalous irregularity.

Paul asks why they have to behave in this manner (verse 22). Do they not have homes where they can privately enjoy a feast? Or are they behaving like that because they hate the Church, especially in their humiliation of sending the hungry away empty? He rebukes them for their actions and says they deserve no commendation at all for their love-feasts. In fact, he implies they deserve condemnation.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians:

what kind of a potluck is that, where you go and sit in a corner and eat your own food? Selfish. And one is hungry. The poor man, he can’t get anything, and another is drunk. You have extremes there. The rich are drunk, and the poor have nothing. And you call this the love feast? You call this the Lord’s Supper? You say this is communing, and then you enter into the communion in that kind of a situation, hating each other, fighting each other, antagonizing each other. How can you celebrate the common unity of the saints? How can you do what he says in 10:16, “How can this be communion with the blood, communion with the body? How can you be that one bread and one body of verse 17? How can you celebrate that you’re a one-bread family? You’ve destroyed it. There’s no room for that.”

And then Paul, in just a frustration, as if he were groping for a reason why they’re doing it says in verse 22, “What? What am I to think? What is the answer? Is it because you don’t have a house to eat and drink in? I mean do you roam the streets, and the only place you can go to eat is here, so you’ve got to come here and stuff your face? Is that it? You don’t have a home, if you’re hungry, that you could go home to and eat or drink? You got to turn the fellowship meal into a gluttony and drunkenness exercise because you don’t have a house you can eat and drink in? Is that it?

Or maybe it isn’t that you don’t have a house. Maybe it’s that you despise the church of God. Maybe your problem is you hate the church, and you’d just as soon destroy it. Maybe your desire is to take the thing which Jesus has bought with His precious blood and wreck it. Is that what you want to do?

I hope this does not happen these days. I haven’t been to a church potluck for 40 years. I remember them as being happy occasions of fellowship, with tables full of food, more than enough for everyone.

Paul isn’t finished with his criticism of the Corinthian love-feasts. In fact, he issues a severe warning about receiving Communion unworthily. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Head Coverings

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband,[b] and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife[c] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[d] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

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My last instalment in this series discussed Paul’s exhortation at the end of 1 Corinthians 10 to do everything for the glory of God whilst taking care to not offend Jews, pagans or Christians.

Today’s reading is a contentious one, and even John MacArthur admitted he was reluctant to preach on it back in 1976 (emphases mine below):

First Corinthians chapter 11. And I tried to delay it as long as I could but finally I just really ran against the wall, and I couldn’t think of anything else to get out of it, so here we are. And it has to do with the subordination and equality of women.

The following week, he asked the congregation for their patience:

This chapter is very interesting, and I want all of you to please remain until I’m finished this morning and not duck your head or be inclined to leave until I’m finished. This is a very interesting passage, and you’re going to find some very interesting truth, I’m sure, applied perhaps in a way you’ve never really understood it before.

This was a time when women were entering the job market en masse in the United States. Some were married, some were divorced and the end result was that the demographic of work — and the family — would change irreversibly. How many women are single or divorced heads of households today?

Our reality of the 21st century makes this a particularly difficult passage.

However, MacArthur says something highly interesting that puts these verses into perspective:

this isn’t a universal principle; this is a custom. Paul never said anything to the – to the Jews or the Romans about hats or not hats or covered or uncovered. It was an issue in Corinth. And in fact, Paul, as a Jew, was uttering language here entirely antagonistic to the Jewish custom of rabbinical teaching. The Jew always wore a tallit, a covering. And Paul is saying, “Don’t wear a covering.”

We say, “Paul, you know the Jews always wear a covering.”

Yeah, but these aren’t Jews, and if they do, it’ll be wrong for their society. It’s cultural. Paul isn’t laying down an absolute rule to be observed by all Christians. And I just – I read something this week that said that this proves that women should never come to church without a hat. It doesn’t prove that at all. That used to be the feeling of many people, and then the hats got so bad, no one could see, and the thing kind of died down a little …

But that isn’t the point. It’s fine to wear a hat. That’s wonderful. But that isn’t what he’s saying. He’s simply saying, “Accommodate yourselves to the custom of the Corinthians. If for a Corinthian woman to appear submissive and modest she wears a veil, then women, you wear a veil. And men the opposite.” Don’t violate customs that have significance in your society. The man and the woman are – to be sure they acquiesce to those.

I can back this up with an essay on hermeneutics that Dr Craig S Keener wrote several years ago. Hermeneutics involves studying historical and cultural context when interpreting Scripture. My post which included this example from 1 Corinthians 11 is here, and Dr Keener’s essay, which I cited, is here.

In citing Ephesians 5, Keener discusses the order of authority in the family unit in Greek and Roman societies:

from Aristotle onward Greeks and Romans often emphasized that the male head of the household must rule his wife, children and slaves. But Paul, while taking over the topic, modifies the instructions: he tells a husband not how to rule his wife, but how to love her (Eph 5:25). The wife must submit, but as a form of Christian submission that all Christians must learn to practice (Eph 5:21-22). If we read this passage as if Paul were saying exactly the same thing as Aristotle, we would miss his point

As for head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11, Keener says:

… knowing why women wore head coverings in Paul’s day helps us understand why he gives the instructions he does. Most women in the eastern Mediterranean world covered their hair in public as a sign of sexual modesty; thus the lower class women in the churches were concerned when some upper class women refused to wear them.

But would Paul solve matters of sexual modesty or class division in the same way in every culture as he did in Corinth? Would the head covering provide a solution to such issues in every culture? Could head coverings in some cultures become signs of ostentation, showing off wealth? Could they in some cultures actually become tools of seduction the way jewels and costly array sometimes were in Paul’s culture? What of a culture where only well-to-do people could afford to wear head coverings, thus introducing class division into the church? Is it possible that in churches in some parts of the world, wearing a head covering (as opposed to not wearing one) might draw attention to the wearer?

This is why it is so important for us to take into account cultural background and read Scripture consistently in light of it

Jesus claimed that what mattered most was justice, mercy and faith (Matt 23:23)–the heart of God’s word. Paul in the same way disagreed with his contemporaries on what was fundamental, arguing that it is God’s own power that saves us, not secondary issues like circumcision or food laws. This method of interpretation requires us to keep central what matters most (the gospel and obedience to God’s will), rather than becoming legalistic on secondary matters that could distract us from the heart of the gospel

You can read excerpts and find source links to all of Craig Keener’s essays on biblical hermeneutics here. They help to explain much in the Bible.

Now on to today’s reading.

Recall that Paul is responding by letter to questions that the Corinthians have been sending him. He begins by exhorting them to follow his example in all things, because he is ‘of Christ’ (verse 1). In other words, when the Corinthians are in doubt, they should do what he does.

1 Corinthians addresses difficult topics, so, in prefacing his remarks, Paul compliments the congregation for remembering his teachings and maintaining the traditions as he taught — delivered — them (verse 2).

MacArthur explains that this was Paul’s way of saying that they understood the Gospel message and Christian doctrine:

… I think what he’s saying there, and I’m not going to give you all the background, except to say if you check the word there “ordinances,” it’s the word “tradition.” And as it’s used in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, it is used to speak of doctrine. And whenever the word “delivered” is used, it is used in connection with teaching content.

And so, what he’s saying there is, “I’m glad that you at least asked me questions, and you have maintained the doctrine that I gave you.” You see, as you read the whole of 1 Corinthians, he doesn’t straighten them out on doctrine. He doesn’t have to tell them about the deity of Christ, or the truth of God, or the ministry of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t have to discuss the believer’s life pattern as it operates in the yieldedness to the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t go into those doctrinal issues. Because apparently, they were really hanging in on those. Apparently there weren’t doctrinal impurities. Chapter 15 may indicate some misunderstanding about resurrection, but for the most part, they didn’t have questions about the deity of Christ or his saving work. He doesn’t have a grace vs. works section in here.

Doctrinally, they had heard and received and maintained, and they were at least consulting him about things, and he says, “For that I just want to praise you. I just want to…” And it’s a very strong assertion of praise; a very, very strong term is used there.

The problem with the Corinthians was their personal conduct as Christians who were young in the faith. Corinth was a highly decadent city where all manner of sin was committed.

Paul began his explanation of head coverings by laying out the authority in the family unit which was common in Greek and Roman societies at that time, as explained above, but in a Christian context. Christ rules over every man, every husband is his wife’s superior and Christ submits to God the Father (verse 3).

MacArthur explains the theology behind that verse:

Think of it this way: if Christ does not submit to the Father, then redemption is not accomplished. Man is lost; he is doomed; and God is at war with Himself if the Son does not submit.

If man, on the other hand, does not submit to Christ, then man is lost. His destiny is denied, and judgment falls on him. If woman does not submit to man in the family, the family is shattered, and society is wrecked. So, God is saying, “These are the principles, everybody. There is a submission principle between man and man, between man and God, between God and God. It pervades everything.

Paul then goes into prevailing social customs whereby a man looks like a man and a woman a woman. For Gentile men — i.e. the bulk of the Corinthian congregation — that meant having one’s head uncovered in worship or prophecy (verse 4). For a woman, it meant wearing a veil for prayer or prophecy, as would be the custom outside of worship (verses 5, 6).

According to some Bible scholars, there was a social movement with women who were discarding their femininity in order to look like men. Furthermore, only prostitutes went around without veils:

In that society, when the veil was on, a woman was taking the place of submission; she was honoring the sanctity of a woman’s virtue, and of marriage. We would even go further in to say it was the custom in the Corinthian society for prostitutes to be unveiled because their business was to make sure they got seen. How could they drum up business if they had a veil on? And so, they would throw their veil aside.

There is another interesting historical note that we find in studying the Corinthian situation, Eerdman points this out; and that is that there were women in the Corinthian society, and in much of Roman society, who were making statements against the sacredness of marriage. There was a feminist movement, even on a broader base, in the Roman Empire, and women frequently would take their veils off and cut their hair. And the cutting of their hair to look like a man, and the throwing away of the veil was a protest against the inequality of men and women, and it was a statement of their antagonism toward the sacredness of marriage.

So, you see, what we’re seeing today isn’t anything new. It’s nothing new at all. You can read it in history. And so, in the Corinthian situation, the church was right in the midst of a society that was struggling with this very issue. And the word that Paul gives to the church, simply stated, is this, “Look, whatever standard your society sets up as the way in which you manifest a submissive spirit, you abide by that standard so that society knows you are following the God-ordained pattern. If it’s a veil, wear it; don’t throw it away. Last of all, don’t throw it away in the name of Christian liberty.”

Paul supports his points for the natural order of the family by referring to the creation story in Genesis. He purports that a man should not cover his head because God created him (verse 7). God created Adam.

Furthermore, woman found her creation from the man (verses 8, 11, 12). God created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Still following the creation story, Paul says that man was not created for woman, rather woman was created for man (verse 9) as a help meet to him. He explains that this is why a woman wears a veil, or a ‘symbol of authority’ on her head, because of the angels (verse 10).

To us, this sounds strange and harsh, but MacArthur says that Paul was attempting to put the order of society into a new, Christian context.

MacArthur explains why some women in ancient societies rose up and became feminists:

In the Roman and the Greek world, it takes very little study at all to determine that women were thought of purely as slaves, purely as animals and nothing more, not allowed to make any contribution beyond that of servitude.

So, when Christianity came along and announced equality of women spiritually, equality of women in personhood, equality of women in capacity and so forth, this was liberating. This was not confining. But when it maintained the distinction in role, it was also not confining women, but it was helping women and men to see their God-ordained design and therefore be able to fulfill it with a commitment

In the Roman society, for example, women were definitely abused. And out of the abuses, there grew a feminist movement. And in some senses, we would agree that it was justifiable. But when Christianity came along and truly liberated women, that feminist attitude should never have carried into the church, but it did. In fact, if you study the feminist movement of ancient Rome, you will find that they had all of the characteristics of the feminist movements of all the times in history, most all of them, and of today.

For example, women were stating their independence, in those days, by leaving home; … by refusing to have children, or if they had children, refusing to care for them; by demanding jobs always held by men; by wearing men’s clothes and discarding all signs of femininity; by violating their marriage vows; by seeking independence in general, etcetera, etcetera. All of the things that were characteristic of that time in feminist movements are pretty much what’s going on today.

And so it was that culture had brought abuses to womanhood. And womanhood was reacting to the cultural abuses. Christianity came in and truly set women free to be what God designed them to be, recognizing their equality in every dimension except in the assignment of a role within society’s framework.

Why did Paul bring angels into his reasoning? MacArthur explains:

There’s one principle angels really recognize very well. There’s one principle angels understand completely. There’s one principle they never have to ask questions about. You know what that principle is? Authority and submission. You read Hebrews chapter 1 and find how many times it tells us in there that angels are under the authority of God. It calls them ministering spirits, serving spirits. It says, “The Son is here, and the angels are here. To which of the angels has He ever said, ‘Sit here on My throne and rule?’” It says that Christ, in verse 4 of Hebrews 1 is a better name than angels. So, they understand the authority of God and the submissiveness of their own service.

Paul says that all things are from God (verse 12), a reference to the natural order of mankind and society. Matthew Henry offers this brief analysis of checks and balances:

The authority and subjection should be no greater than are suitable to two in such near relation and close union to each other. Note, As it is the will of God that the woman know her place, so it is his will also that the man abuse not his power.

Paul asks a question in the social context of the Corinthians (verse 13): is it proper for a Corinthian woman to pray with her head uncovered? The answer would be ‘no’. Today, it would be like asking if a woman should go to church in a swimsuit. Everyone would agree that she should not.

In the next two verses, Paul applies social convention once again. Men in that era did not have long hair. Women did. Paul asks if it would be appropriate for a man to have long hair (verse 14). He asks if a woman should have short hair, since her long hair is ‘her glory’ and ‘a covering’ (verse 15). During the Second World War, the French shaved the heads of women who were helping the Germans and forbade them from wearing a head covering. It was a humiliating, if somewhat justified, punishment for aiding and abetting the enemy.

Paul ends by saying that the Church has no provision for contentiousness (verse 16). He wants the Corinthians to obey social convention and not introduce provocation or controversy.

Henry explains:

Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency. And the common practice of the churches is what would have them govern themselves by. He does not silence the contentious by mere authority, but lets them know that they would appear to the world as very odd and singular in their humour if they would quarrel for a custom to which all the churches of Christ were at that time utter strangers, or against a custom in which they all concurred, and that upon the ground of natural decencyThose must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.

MacArthur offers a scientific explanation:

Hair grows in a three-phase cycle. Number one in the cycle is the formation and growth of new hair. Secondly is the resting stage. Thirdly is the fall-out stage with which some of you are so well acquainted. Okay? So, you have beginning the formation and growth of new hair, the resting stage, and the fall-out. And then after the fall-out the cycle starts all over again.

Now, the male hormone, testosterone – the male hormone speeds those three phases so that quickly the man gets to phase three, fall out. That’s why you see bald men but never see bald women. Aristotle said, “I have never seen a bald child, eunuch, or woman.” There’s a reason for that. Testosterone , the male hormone, causes the speed up of the steps to get you quickly to step three. And that retards the process of growth in a man. The female hormone, estrogen, in the woman causes the cycle to remain in stage one, the growth stage, longer than it does in a man. That’s why a woman’s hair will grow longer than a man’s over the same period of time.

So, does not nature teach you? Hasn’t God put right into human physiology the truth that short hair belongs to men, and long hair belongs to women. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s interesting. You all look so stunned.

All right, now listen; I’m not through with you. The second term, phusis, the second way it can be translated is by the word “instinct.” Instinct means the instinctive sense of man as he recognizes what he sees in society. So, he’s saying, “It isn’t just physiological, but it’s just plain obvious.” Look around you in society. Isn’t it obvious that men have shorter hair than women? Nature has made it so, and man has agreed to nature, and that’s the way it is. And around the world, and for all history, men have generally had hair shorter than women. You can verify that, and you can cover a lot of ground historically, and you’ll see it verified.

Now, sometimes men’s hair was long enough to be at the shoulder, but the women’s hair was down around the tops of the legs. But always there was the distinction. In ancient Rome, it was considered a mark of effeminacy to have long hair. And it was ridiculed by Roman writers. In later times, early Church councils condemned men with long hair.

He concludes:

You take to heart what the Spirit of God says to you. And please, as I said earlier, don’t go running around, because you have long hair, thinking you’re spiritual. You might be, but that isn’t it. Or because you have short hair you can’t come back to church for the next eight weeks. No, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to think about it; I want you to pray about it. I want you to deal with it as God reveals it to your own heart as He has to mine. And let’s see where the Spirit of God leads in your life. And I’ll leave that up to Him and to you. Let’s pray.

In thinking about couples today in Western countries, one cannot help but wonder if continued role reversals over the past few decades have led to fewer marriages and fewer children. Something to ponder in the week ahead.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Do All to the Glory of God

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 (C)Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

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Last week’s post discussed the dangers of mixing Christianity with pagan worship, something which the Corinthian Christians were prone to doing. An admixture of Christianity and other religions is called syncretism.

After telling the Corinthians not to engage in such a practice because it might drive them away from their eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, Paul puts his proscription in a more positive way.

Here he returns to what he said in Romans 14 and 15 about weaker and stronger Christians. The stronger should not offend the weaker, lest they drive them away from the Church. My posts on the subject follow:

Romans 14:13-19 – food, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 14:20-23 – food, alcohol, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, conscience, faith

Romans 15:1-3 – the example of Christ, weaker brothers, stronger brothers, selflessness

Now on to today’s reading.

Paul says that, although Christians have freedom in Christ — therefore, ‘all things are lawful’ — not everything is ‘helpful’, nor does every act of freedom in Christ ‘build up’ a Christian in the faith (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the gravity of that verse (emphases in bold mine):

A Christian must not barely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, and for the use of edification. A private Christian should do so even in his private conduct. He must not seek his own only, but his neighbour’s wealth. He must be concerned not to hurt his neighbour, nay, he must be concerned to promote his welfare; and must consider how to act so that he may help others, and not hinder them in their holiness, comfort, or salvation. Those who allow themselves in every thing not plainly sinful in itself will often run into what is evil by accident, and do much mischief to others. Every thing lawful in itself to be done is not therefore lawfully done. Circumstances may make that a sin which in itself is none. These must be weighed, and the expediency of an action, and its tendency to edification, must be considered before it be done. Note, The welfare of others, as well as our own convenience, must be consulted in many things we do, if we would do them well.

I highlighted that sentence in purple because I have been guilty of that in the past. Those are relatively seemingly simple things, such as going to a party. Don’t force believers to go if they do not wish to attend.

Logically, it follows that we should not seek our own good in human interaction, rather the good of our neighbour (verse 24). The Lord hates sin. Therefore, if we encourage others to sin, even in their own conscience, we have committed a sin against God. Say that one invites a friend to a Super Bowl party or to a Rugby World Cup celebration. Certainly, believers can attend both. However, those who are abstemious or are under self-imposed food restrictions might see those as wrongful gatherings. Stronger Christians — who can attend, enjoy within reason and leave — should not force weaker Christians to take part in such parties, lest they be tempted to sin — in their own conscience — with alcohol or, perhaps, food.

By the way, I’ve been to a Rugby Union party, given by a former England player. They are the best in terms of endless food and drink. Yet, there is no drunkenness, and no arguments occur. I cannot think of better hospitality. This is the dilemma: do we invite the weaker to celebrate or do we decline extending such an invitation? For some of our friends, we would have to decline such an extension, unfortunate though it is.

Paul lays out ground rules for food consumption in verses 25 to 27. Eat whatever the market sells, for God permits all His animals to be eaten, even at the house of an unbeliever.

But — and as we say today, ‘it’s a big “but”‘ — there is an exception. If someone tells you that what you are about to eat has been sacrificed, then refrain from eating it. You would not do this as much for yourself personally as for the person informing you of that fact (verses 28, 29).

Paul asks why our personal choices can offend another believer (verses 29, 30).

John MacArthur provides answers which explain those verses:

If you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian.

You say, “Hey – well – we’re trying to win them?” The way to win them is for them to see the validity and the honesty and the purity of your Christianity. Right? And if you’re sitting at the table, fighting each other, he’s not going to get a Christian message no matter what you eat. You see?

“The way to win people,” Jesus said, “is to love each other.” Isn’t that right? You love each other, and the world’s going to know we’re His disciples. So, you have to choose between offending a Christian and offending a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian, and make sure you maintain the unity of the love of the body of Jesus Christ, because that’s the greatest testimony that we have in the world. See, that’s his point.

So, condescension rather than condemnation. Don’t do something that’s going to make your Christian brother condemn you. Verse 29, “Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?”

In other words, I certainly don’t want to say, “Well, I’m going to do this,” and have him condemn me for it. I don’t want to get in a position where my liberty, my act of liberty is going to be condemned by another man’s conscience. The word “judge” means condemn. Don’t let him condemn. Injure your host, if you will, and you know what your host will see? He will see an act of love.

And he will say, “If that man loves that other brother enough to make that sacrifice, there must be something to that. Verse 30 adds a further point, “If I by grace be a partaker” – in other words, if I recognize God has given me this food – “why would I be evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?”

Now, let me tell you what that means. It would be pretty ridiculous to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the gracious gift of this food,” and then go ahead and eat it while your brother was condemning you. That’s inconsistent. Don’t thank God and go out and do something that’s going to make some other Christian condemn you for doing it. “Lord, thank you for the marvelous liberty that you’ve given me. Lord, bless this meal,” and eat up, and drink up, and here’s a Christian brother condemning you, condemning you. That’s ridiculous. You can’t think God for something that another Christian brother is going to stumble over.

So, condescension over condemnation. If you have to choose between a Christian and a non-Christian, offend a non-Christian at that point in order that your love might be made manifest to the world. And I don’t mean that you should just run out and offend non-Christians just at will. Just in case you might think that, verse 32 says, “Give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God.” The basic rule, beloved, don’t offend – what? – anybody. But if you have to choose, offend yourself before you offend a weaker brother; and if you have to choose, offend an unbeliever before you offend a weaker brother. But if you can, don’t offend anybody. Condescension over condemnation. Don’t do anything that’s going to cause somebody else to condemn you.

Paul ends on a positive note, saying that a believer should give glory to God in whatever activity he is engaging in: eating, drinking or other things (verse 31).

Nothing that we do should offend anyone — Jew, Gentile or our fellow believers — following Paul’s own example, in order that many more can be saved (verse 32).

Henry concludes:

Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.

My next post on 1 Corinthians will appear after Easter.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel:[a] are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s perspective on congregations paying their church ministers, which he said is obligatory for the spiritual guidance they provide.

1 Corinthians 10 is about idolatry.

Some of what Paul says here appears to contradict what he wrote in Romans about stronger and weaker Christians. Stronger Christians should make sure they do not offend weaker Christians, particularly in matters of food and drink, lest the stronger drive the weaker away from the Church. That would be an act deeply displeasing to God, because those people would be driven away from the salvation that Christ brings us.

Today’s reading contradicts that as Paul says that no Christian should be eating meat sacrificed to idols, stronger believers included.

Therefore, it is useful to add context and a bit of background to the situation the Corinthians were in. Theirs was a highly idolatrous society and the Christians in Corinth thought they could dip in and out of it and still be faithful to Christ. Not so, says Paul.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning (emphases mine below):

the Corinthian society was totally overwrought with demons, manifesting themselves behind these different idols; and idolatry was a part of everything, I mean everything. There couldn’t be any kind of public occasion or anything else that wasn’t connected with idols. That was their entire society just multiple gods; and everything they did practically within the social framework of the Corinthian society had idols in it.

And so the mature Christians, the Corinthian Christians, you know, who were the smug confident ones who had been around a while, they were saying this: “Hey, look. We’re in the society; we’re mature; we’ve been well-taught, apostle Paul’s taught us; we’ve studied under him for 18 months. We know our way around. Look, we’ve got to be a part of our society. We can go to the festivals, the social occasions, the ceremonies, and we can attend the celebrations of our society. We can get involved in all of those things; and we really don’t have to fear, because we’re so confident, we’re so mature that that stuff just doesn’t really bother us. And if we have to eat idol meat, meat offered to idols, that’s really no problem; we’re able to resist the temptation. And even if there is an orgy there, why, we’ll just sit in the corner and discuss theology. We’re not going to really get involved, and we’ll be strong enough to handle it.” And so everywhere these mature, smug, confident Corinthians went, they were exposing themselves to the whole gamut of idolatry that was around them and trying to stay separated. But could they?

“Look at Israel,” – Paul says – “look at them, hardly out of Egypt. And out in the desert there weren’t even any idols around; but the first opportunity they had, the first time their leader was gone, they reverted back to Egyptian idolatry.” And here were the Corinthians not like Israel in the wilderness, but living in the middle of idolatry. And if the Corinthians continually expose themselves to idolatry, they were constantly being a part of it. Believe me, it would creep right in.

Is Paul not overstating his case by talking about ‘demons’ in this context? No.

MacArthur says that there are several references to demons and idolatry in the Old Testament:

When you go out and do what the rest of the world does, when you participate in the rest of the world’s activities, you are communing with demons. That’s Paul’s whole point here. It’s demonic. Because Satan is the prince of this world, and because he rules in this world by the use of his demons, his demons move around and impersonate all the religious systems of the world. His demons fill and maintain all of the evil systems of this world. No matter what you get into, you’re communing with them, and you can’t avoid it. It’s a serious thing.

In Psalm 96:5, the Greek translation of that verse is this: “All the gods of the heathen are demons” – that’s the Septuagint, the Greek – “All the gods of the nations” – or – “All the God’s of the heathen are demons.” If they worship a false god, a demon will impersonate it. Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 say the same thing, “They sacrifice to demons.” So, they’re fellowshipping with demons.

So, here you have a Christian. He’s over here, and he’s communing with the Lord, and he’s got the cup and the bread. Then he turns around and goes to an idol feast. And as soon as he enters that idol feast and participates, he becomes a communer with demons. A communer with demons.

This can be extended to other worldly things and activities, too. MacArthur has a bit in one of his sermons about sexual temptation in this context:

You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I can handle it. I can go here and do that, and go here and do that.” You know, young people, it’s amazing. Young people always thing they’re in control of everything. “Well, you know, I can go out and park and, you know, I can handle it. I’m a Christian. We just get so far, and then we just start quoting Bible verses, you know. Yeah, we got a little program worked out, you know.” Yeah, sure. Or, listen, “It’s no problem for me. I can handle the girls in the office, no problem. I can have lunch with them and dinner with them; it doesn’t bother me a bit.” Mm-hmm, famous last words.

“Oh, yeah,” pastor says. “Oh, counseling women, no problem at all. No, none at all.” I just heard of a pastor who lost his pulpit because there were multiple dozens of women who had had sexual relations with him in counseling, I mean multiple dozens, folks. You can handle it? You better not push your freedom too far. Many Christians today have been rendered useless because they couldn’t handle sex. They’re out of the race to win people to Christ – shelved.

MacArthur discusses our society today, comparing it with that of the Corinthians:

Look at the morality of our day. The morality of the church has changed dramatically, and the reason it’s changed so dramatically is because we have been slowly brainwashed. Like fifty years ago, the morality of Christianity was much tighter, much more rigid, much more confined to the Scripture. And now, little by little, the morality of even “Christianity” begins to dissipate; and the reason is because we’re in a society that is destroying all morality, that is wiping out all morality, and consequently we find ourselves buying the bag. Just subliminally it approaches our minds, and before we know it we’ve got a watered down morality. And some of the things we would do, some of the places we would go wouldn’t even have been conceived of by Christians fifty years ago. The reason is we have slowly been brainwashed by the media.

Paul is, in a sense, saying to the Corinthians, “You can’t set yourself up as somebody who thinks he stands without potentially falling; and especially you’ll never be able to just waltz around your whole with idolatry and not have it affect you. You’re going to come up with a syncretism. You’re going to come up with a wedding between idolatry and true worship.”

Now verse 7, “Neither be idolaters, as were some of them,” notes that not all Israel worshipped at the golden calf; some of them did. It was an individual thing. Again, in dealing with Israel in the wilderness, remember everything that occurred was an individual thing. And so in Corinth the same thing was true.

Look at chapter 5, verse 11. Some Corinthian Christians were idolatrous. They had already made this wedding of Christianity to idol worship. Verse 11: “I’ve written unto you not to company if any man that is called a brother.” Now he’s talking about Christians. “Anybody called a brother” – or at least called himself a Christian – “be a fornicator,” – sexually evil – “a covetous, or an” – what? – “idolater, don’t have anything to do with him.” But apparently within the congregation of the Corinthian believers, there were some worshipping idols. You see, by fooling around with that, they couldn’t keep separated.

It slowly creeps in. It insidiously comes in. You can’t continue to expose yourself to that and not have it affect your theology and find a place there. The line gets blurred, folks. It just gets blurred he said. And idolatry suddenly creeps in when freedom is abused by getting too close to the contact.

Those are the reasons why Paul says to flee from idolatry (verse 14).

He leaves it to the Corinthians to judge for themselves the truth of that statement (verse 15).

Then he discusses Holy Communion. He asks whether taking the bread and the cup are not participation in the body and the blood of Christ (verse 16). Furthermore, do we not commune with each other when we participate in that holy sacrament together (verse 17)?

Paul is saying that Holy Communion is a solemn occasion, one that cannot be defiled with participation in idolatry later on in the day.

MacArthur explains the significance of Holy Communion:

One of the words, eucharisteō, from which you get the Eucharist, means to give thanks. It is to thank God for that cup. And so, the cup of blessing, that is the one the Lord blessed and set apart, is the one that we bless and thank God for.

Now, what is it? What is this cup? Verse 16 again, “Is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” Now, when you drink the cup at the Lord’s Table – listen to this – you are communing with the blood of Christ. Now, we have to understand something, because this is very, very misunderstood. What does this mean? What does it mean to commune? It’s more than a symbol.

We say, “Well, this is a symbol of his blood.”

Well, listen to this. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the symbol of the blood of Christ? Is that what it says? No. It’s more than the symbol. It is the communion; it is the, if you will, in the Greek, participation, or it is the sharing. It’s an actual involvement that’s taking place when we take that cup. There is a spiritual reality going on there, far more than just a symbol.

For example, if you see a picture of somebody you love who has died, it isn’t just a picture. As soon as you look at the picture, the whole of that person is actualized in your mind. Right? All of a sudden, everything about that person is alive to you. I look at pictures of people that have gone on, and I have instant memories. My mind is flooded with reality. They are actualized. And communion is the same thing.

To partake of the elements actualizes Christ’s death; it makes it vivid; it makes it real; it intensifies my sensitivities to the reality of Christ dying for me. You see? It isn’t just a symbol; it is a symbol that is activated by the Spirit of God to make Christ’s death a living reality to me. That’s the idea of communion

Now, let’s go a step further, verse 16, “The bread” – or literally the loaf, to correspond more with cup – “The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

Now, our Lord said of the bread, that last night, “This is My body, given for you.” Now body – now, I want to say something, too, that may be new to you – “body” in Hebrew thought refers to the totality of earthy life, earthiness, humanness. For example, the word for earth is adamah. The word for man is adam. It’s a form of adamah, because man was taken from the dirt. He is earthy. “And God took the dirt and formed a body.” Adam from adamah.

And that is the point that connects man to the ground, to the earth, to earthiness. We are human, and that is the significance of the body. When a Hebrew thought of the body, he thought of earthiness; he thought of man’s connection to the ground, to his humanness.

Now, note; when we commune with the bread, it is the body of Christ. This is not primarily a reference to the cross. Stick with me on it. It is not primarily a reference to the cross. By the bread we remember and commune with our Lord’s incarnation, His human life, his humanness. We remember that which makes Him a sympathetic High Priest, as well as a bleeding, dying Savior.

The communion, then, relates us to the living Christ who came and suffered and thought it not something to hold onto, to be equal with God, but found Himself in the fashion of a man, humbled Himself, and so forth. And He did it in order that He might become a sympathetic High Priest in all points, tempted like as – what? – we are. The bread reminds us of His life. The bread reminds us of His body, reminds us of His humanness.

God gave Himself to us as a human being in order that He might suffer what we suffer, in order that He might hurt where we hurt, in order that He might be tempted where we’re tempted, in order that He might succor us, in order that He might be our faithful, sympathetic, and Great High Priest

There is an actual communion that occurs. Let me show you what I mean. There is confusion about that, and there are different views of how that works. The word koinōnia there, communion in verse 16, is the word to participate. The verb means to share, or to partake of, or to participate, or to be a partner in. The noun koinōnia means participation, partnership, fellowship, communion.

As a Christian, we literally participate in Christ. First Corinthians 1:9 says we participate with the Son; 2 Corinthians 13, we participate with the Spirit; Philippians 2:1, we participate in the ministry; 2 Corinthians 8:4, we participate in the Gospel; Philippians 3, we participate in suffering. We are fellowshipping all the time with Christ, sharing Him, His Spirit, His ministry, His Gospel, His sufferings. And when we come to the Table, we participate in His death. We are sharing the benefits of His death. That’s what it means. We are sharing in the meaning of His death, the purpose of it, the point of it.

So, it’s more than just remembering; it’s sharing, fellowshipping, participating, partaking, communing. It’s like that picture I mentioned. We come to that, and you look at the cup, and you look at the bread, and they aren’t just a cup and bread. They aren’t even just symbols. All of a sudden, Christ is alive. All of a sudden, you are sensitized. And the reality of Christ is actualized in your mind, and you see His cross, and you see your union with Him, and you see His body, and you see it given in your behalf. And you see the fact that He lived, and He suffered, and He’s a sympathetic high priest. All of that is actualized

Everybody who comes to the Lord’s Table … not only enters into communion with Christ, but He enters into communion with everybody else who’s also at the Lord’s Table. Do you see what he’s saying? We all come to that one bread; we all partake of that one bread, so we all constitute one body. Communion then means we are actually communing with Christ and actually communing with everybody else who’s there.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the way the Israelites worshipped together with regard to their sacrifices (verse 18).

MacArthur says:

Israel was involved in sacrificing. They were involved with each other, and they were involved with God. So, what is he saying then? Participation in religious ri[te]s has deep, spiritual meaning. It implies a real union between the worshippers and the one being worshipped. That’s what he’s saying. So, you can’t do this with idols without having that reality take place.

Israel brought sacrifices, a portion of which were consumed by the priests, a portion of which were burned on the altar. The rest were divided between the priest and the worshipping Jew. And there was a communion between the Jew, the priest, and God as they partook of the altar. Now, that’s Paul’s point. Worship is identification, communion with whoever’s being worshipped.

So, if you’re going to be like Israel, in verse 18, communion with the altar for the Jews meant fellowship with God and everybody else at the altar. Communion with Christ at the Lord’s Supper, for the Christian, means fellowship with Christ and everybody else at His Table.

Paul asks the question some of the Corinthians were asking: was an idol nothing at all (verse 19)? If not, then what was the problem?

Matthew Henry explains:

By following the principle on which they would argue it to be lawful, namely, that an idol was nothing. Many of them were nothing at all, none of them had any divinity in them. What was sacrificed to idols was nothing, no way changed from what it was before, but was every whit as fit for food, considered in itself. They indeed seem to argue that, because an idol was nothing, what was offered was no sacrifice, but common and ordinary food, of which they might therefore eat with as little scruple. Now the apostle allows that the food was not changed as to its nature, was as fit to be eaten as common food, where it was set before any who knew not of its having been offered to an idol.

However, Paul answers their question by saying that pagans were making sacrifices to false gods — demons — and not to God (verse 20). Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians they could not participate with demons.

Henry sums the verse up as follows:

Doing it is a token of your having fellowship with the demons to whom they are offered. I would not have you be in communion with devils.

Paul tells the Corinthians that they cannot worship at the Lord’s Table and worship demons (verse 21). The two are completely incompatible.

Paul ends by asking the Corinthians if they wish to provoke God to jealousy and if they think they are stronger than He (verse 22). God will not put up with rivals. And if we fall into His wrath, we will be the losers in that contest.

The Bible has numerous references to God’s ‘jealousy’. MacArthur lists them:

Do you want to make the Lord jealous? And in Deuteronomy 32:21 he said, “They have stirred me to jealousy with what is a no-god. They have provoked me with their idols.” If you want to stir God to jealousy, then you better be stronger than He is or you won’t be able to handle Him, because He deals very strongly with idolatry. All you got to do is read the Bible about that. You just read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 16, Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 44; just read Revelation chapter 14, chapter 21, chapter 22. There are inferences in all of those places about the vengeance of God against idols and idol worshippers. The only way you’ll ever want to provoke God to jealousy is if you’re stronger than He is. It’s offensive to the Lord. He judges idol worshippers, and you won’t escape; no one ever has. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Paul concludes his thoughts on idolatry by telling the Corinthians to focus on doing everything for God’s glory. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:36-40

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,[a] if his[b] passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s advice on marriage and celibacy.

He had been answering questions from the Christians of Corinth on which state was better. Paul replied that both were good, although celibacy afforded the ability to devote oneself entirely to God. Marriage, on the other hand, detracts from that as one is always concerned about pleasing one’s spouse, never mind raising one’s children.

The English Standard Version of today’s verses are a bit vague and read better in the King James Version (emphases mine below):

36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

The social convention at the time was for young men and women to marry. Both Jewish and Gentile parents arranged marriages for their children.

Then, as now, to a certain extent, there was always a question mark over the person who chose to remain single.

Matthew Henry says:

It was in that age, and those parts of the world, and especially among the Jews, reckoned a disgrace for a woman to remain unmarried past a certain number of years: it gave a suspicion of somewhat that was not for her reputation.

John MacArthur thinks that verse 36 is addressed to fathers with virgin daughters: try to keep them single, but, if you find they must get married, then allow a wedding.

Henry also reads it that way but allows for another interpretation, one which ties in with last week’s verses. His commentary says that Paul could equally be speaking to young adults themselves. ‘His virgin’ could refer to a celibate man’s own virginity:

But I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity.

Henry points out that confirmed bachelors were not looked upon all that kindly:

… it was a common matter of reproach among Jews and civilized heathens, for a man to continue single beyond such a term of years …

Verse 37 appears to lend itself more to fathers with regard to their daughters. If a father finds that his daughter has no desire for marriage, then he does well to keep her celibate.

Ultimately, the father who marries off a daughter who desires a husband and a family does well, but the man who has a daughter wishing to maintain her virginity does better because she can devote her life to the Lord (verse 38).

As MacArthur has pointed out before, celibacy is a gift. Most people have the desire for a sexual relationship with someone else. If a parent does not allow that young person to marry, sexual desire will out in one way or another:

The Spirit of God didn’t give her that gift, and that’s a gift the Spirit of God gives. If she doesn’t have the gift, the father’s saying, “Man, it’s obvious she doesn’t have the gift, all she talks about is this guy. And apparently there’s a guy there, or it wouldn’t say, “Let them marry.” There’s a them. Somebody’s hanging around. And, you see, he is behaving unfairly toward his daughter, because if he doesn’t let her get married, he’s going to tempt her to immorality – physically to immorality in her mind and to seduction.

And so, he realizes, “I can’t do this to my lovely little daughter. As much as I’d want to devote her to the Lord, there’s a guy here, and she’s saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and I’m saying, ‘No, no, no,’ and it’s not right.

So, dads, hey, it’s a super idea if you want to devote your daughter to being single, or your son, but if they get to the age of sexual consciousness, and they require marriage, let them marry. It’s no sin. You don’t have to keep some vow. We’re not in the vow age anymore.

In the concluding verses, Paul turns his thoughts towards widowhood.

Unfortunately, MacArthur skips these verses entirely.

Paul says that it is entirely appropriate for a widow to remarry, provided she has given careful reflection and prayer to that decision (verse 39).

Henry says:

In our choice of relations, and change of conditions, we should always have an eye to God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God’s blessing only when they are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, in the change and choice of a mate – when they can look up to God, and sincerely seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their conduct.

Paul concludes that a widow is better off not remarrying (verse 40). As with the celibates, she can better serve the Lord with no husband, who would divide her interests.

Paul ends by saying that he, too, has the Spirit of God (verse 40). That remark is addressed towards his detractors. Recall the the Corinthians had allied themselves with different pastoral leaders, some of whom were false teachers.

Henry offers this interpretation:

Whatever your false apostles may think of me, I think, and have reason to know, that I have the Spirit of God.

Ultimately:

Note, Change of condition in marriage is so important a matter that it ought not to be made but upon due deliberation, after careful consideration of circumstances, and upon very probable grounds, at least, that it will be a change to advantage in our spiritual concerns.

Agreed.

We should take our time in evaluating a prospective spouse. There is no rush. As the nuns used to say, ‘Act in haste. Repent at leisure’.

1 Corinthians 8, which concerns food offered to idols, was read in 2021 as the Epistle on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B).

1 Corinthians 9 is about personal freedom in daily activities.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:1-7

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