In today’s reading Paul continues to try to work with the divisions of the church in Corinth. He’ll continue dealing with the “denominational” division of the groups who wanted to follow Paul, Apollos, and Peter. He also addresses two moral issues that threatened to split the church — sexual sin and law suits! The principles that he uses to straighten things out are important for church leaders to still know and practice.
Learn not to exceed what is written — 1 Cor. 4:6
One of the doctrinal things that some of the Corinthians appear to have gotten wrong, is the timing of our glorification. Somehow, they had gotten the impression that they were already in a glorified state — perhaps because of the miracles that some of them were performing (speaking in tongues, healing the sick, prophesying, etc.). It had puffed up their pride and caused them to scorn the apostle Paul, who had brought them the Gospel, and look down on their other Christian brothers and sisters. Paul sets out to correct this here and later, too; but here he reminds them to not exceed what is written in Scripture.
This principle applies in many, many other situations in matters of Christian faith. One of the biggest problems among those who claim Christianity is exceeding, going beyond, what is written in Scripture. Like these first century brothers in error, men still sometimes think that they’re wise enough OK things that God has not OK’ed and forbid things that God has not forbidden (see Matthew 18:18). This principle is part of the idea of following the pattern (Romans 6:17) — you don’t cut too much off and you don’t add anything more to it. Christianity really can be just fine, perfectly inspiring and fulfilling exactly as is in the Bible; it can give us the salvation that we need, the hope that we long for, and the way to live that we must have — no human tinkering needed.
Just as I teach everywhere in every church — 1 Cor. 4:17
Here is more evidence of that pattern that Paul was hoping they were adhere to. Contrary to what some would say, Paul’s letters weren’t intended to be uniquely occasional. He certainly applied commands and principles to circumstances that the various churches faced, but they were standard commands and principles that he taught everywhere in every church. They applied to Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus in the 1st century as well as to New York City, Los Angeles, and Mexico City in the 21st century.
Withdrawal of fellowship — 1 Cor. 5
It certainly isn’t something that any sincere disciple would hope to happen, but sometimes circumstances do arise in which someone in the church needs to be withdrawn from. When someone in the church is sinning publicly and unrepentantly the Lord demands that fellowship be withdrawn from him. Legitimate reasons include matters of morality (as in this case in 1 Cor. 5), division (Romans 16:17ff), doctrine (Galatians 1:8,9), and leading an unruly life (2 Thess. 3:6). It should be done for two important reasons: 1) the offender needs to understand the seriousness of what he has done (that it has put him out of fellowship with God and His church) and 2) the church itself needs to be protected from a sinful example and implied consent from the leadership regarding such behavior. It is always a tremendously difficult — even heart-rending — thing for the leadership and the church to do, if the fellowship and love are what they are supposed to be. But Christianity calls upon us to do the difficult things.
Lawsuits? — 1 Cor. 6:1-11
The Roman world was almost as law-suit happy as we are. The problem in the Corinthian church was that some were even bring their brethren to court. Such a state of affairs was shameful and brought reproach on the church from the world. Paul rebukes bringing a brother to secular court, and offers a couple of interesting but very seldom used solutions for problems among Christians. One was put together a Christian court and let their decision be final. A second solution was to just choose to be wronged and forget all about your law suits, knowing that God would make things right in the end.
Sexual immorality — 1 Cor. 6:12ff
Sexual morality was a serious problem in the first century world. The philosophers had taught and encouraged every other virtue, but the only generally recognized sexual sin was adultery — for women. Consequently, soliciting prostitutes and engaging in homosexuality were widely practiced by even married men. Enough so that reining in such sexual desires constituted a real challenge and the reason why Paul needed to deal very sternly with the brother in chapter 5 and the rest of the congregation. Such sin, Paul said, was unlike other sins which were outside the body; it effected the body itself, which was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This principle still applies to us today, especially in a time when the lines of sexual morality is once again blurred in the world around us. Which also tells us that we probably need to teach and preach more specific lines about sexual immorality.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.