As Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians, Interpol style, he greets many people as he usually does, and he left them with a few very short pieces of advice.
1Co 16:13 Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
1Co 16:14 Let all your things be done with charity.
Since this was Paul’s last advice in this particular letter, it is probably rather important. After all, he would have wanted this message to remain in their minds now that they had finished the entire letter.
There are two important things. We need to remain strong and faithful to what we have been taught. We need to do everything with love. That really sums up the Christian life in my opinion.
We have beliefs that we have been taught, and it would be ridiculous to not see the importance of those beliefs. I understand that Christians have differences of opinion on certain issues, but think about something like the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are not a Christian. We need to remain faithful to the core beliefs of Christianity. Part of me thinks that today many people want to keep parts of Christianity, but they want to discard the parts they don’t like. You simply can’t do that. If you’re going to call yourself a Christian, you need to follow the teaching laid out by the Bible.
At the same time, Paul also made sure that the people understood that love needed to characterize all of their interactions. We might have all the right doctrine and the right answers. However, if we turn everybody away because we are the most unpleasant people on earth, how is that helpful whatsoever? The truth is still serious, but nobody will want to hear it if we don’t explain that we care. Why do we share the gospel? Because we love people.
Paul knew this stuff was important, so even though these ideas had been interwoven throughout his entire letter, he thought it was wise to mention them one more time. Hold to the truth, and love other people.
I have heard many atheists ask what they would have to do to prove once and for all that Christianity was false. They argue that since Christians are people of blind faith anyway, then it really doesn’t matter what evidence they provide, Christians will still cling to their faith.
I think that the apostle Paul would dispute that strongly as shown in 1 Corinthians 15.
1Co 15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1Co 15:13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
1Co 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then Christianity is false. It is pretty simple now, and it was pretty simple in the time of Paul. If people wanted to make the Christians be quiet once and for all, all they had to do was go and find the tomb of Jesus and show that there were still bones in it. That would obviously be difficult today because we don’t know exactly which tomb was the tomb of Jesus, but when Paul was writing this letter, we are within 20 years. You could have opened up the tomb, but we have no evidence that anyone did. In fact, you think that would have happened within days of the disciples claiming that Jesus rose.
That is the interesting part about Christianity. We put our faith in God, and we believe based on the historical testimony that we have been given that God performed a great miracle by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Dead men do not rise every day, but if Jesus did not rise, then there is no way that Christianity can be right.
I guess that’s the criteria our atheist friends are looking for. What can prove Christianity wrong? We need evidence, not simply speculation, that Jesus did not rise from the dead. That is currently where the evidence seems to point. Without the resurrection, Christianity would not be what it is.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul has a lot to say about speaking in tongues. Personally, I’m not sure that he is speaking about tongues in the sense that we understand it today in the Pentecostal setting. I think back to the day of Pentecost, and the apostles were able to speak in tongues that were actually understandable languages. For their missionary ventures, they needed to be able to reach the world in a variety of languages, so it seems to make sense to me that they would have received this type of miraculous gift of communication. I don’t want to start the debate over that though because it is not in my opinion overly relevant to the main point I want to draw out of this passage.
Part of me says that is what Paul is referring to in this passage sees it was clearly a very important moment in the early church. That would have been relevant to all of his audience, and we know that that indeed happened. However, even if Paul is talking about speaking in tongues in the sense that our modern Pentecostal brothers and sisters experience that, we are cautioned that we cannot become wrapped up in either form this gift.
1Co 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
1Co 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
1Co 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
1Co 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
Paul did not have a problem with people speaking in tongues in whichever sense he meant to use that phrase, but he was more determined to build up the church. It was great to have this particular gift, but it was more important to be able to build up the church in some way.
Whether the language was earthly or spiritual, if nobody understood it, it wasn’t going to be a very much benefit to the people around. That makes sense.
I guess for us today then be obvious application that we might have a variety of gifts. There are plenty of gifts in the church, but it is not simply enough for us to have them. We need to use them in a way that benefits the rest of the body of Christ. As we have seen earlier, when we work together, we build a comprehensive whole that can do the work of God around the world.
There is much more to being a Christian than simply knowing the intellectual arguments and being a great presenter. In 1 Corinthians 13, we find out that our attitude is the vehicle that utilizes these other pieces of the puzzle.
1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1Co 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
1Co 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Without love, we’re not doing our job. If we preach perfectly and draw audiences like Billy Graham, if we don’t have the right attitude of love, then it is really all for nothing. That makes sense if you think about it. People are going to be drawn to us if they see that we care about them. When people understand that Christians are really trying to share news out of love rather than for some other ulterior motive, they become much more receptive to the gospel.
I think about a hypothetical situation where I am sharing the gospel, but my main motivation is to get more people in my local church so that we can have the biggest church in town. I’m not doing it in this situation because I care about the individual people, and that will come through in my presentation. Eventually, they will realize I don’t really care about them, and they will fade away as a result.
We need to make sure that we have the right heart going into it. As we work for the glory of God, we need to love the people we are working with. It makes a difference.
Again, I want to reemphasize the fact that we do not run this Christian race alone. Of course, God is with us always, but we were also designed to work with other Christians as well. Paul provides one of the most vivid examples of that in 1 Corinthians 12.
1Co 12:14 For the body is not one member, but many.
1Co 12:15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
1Co 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
1Co 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
It is rather obvious that we all have different talents and abilities. It doesn’t mean that we are any less valuable than one another, but what it does indicate is that when we all use them together, the whole is necessarily going to be stronger than any individual part would be.
I think about a braided rope. It is strong because all of the different threads of the rope are brought together as one unit. Individually, none of them are very strong. They complement each other.
We need to remember this in regards to our Christian service. There is value in being a Christian carpenter. There is value in being a Christian grocery store clerk. There is value in being a Christian missionary. The important part is that you are part of the body, and all of us are not going to be like the missionary and go to some faraway place to spread the gospel. However, perhaps our talents need to be used with the people in our office. Maybe we can demonstrate the love of God that way.
We are all talented in different ways, and God knows that. He made us. Therefore, we need to take on the role that we have been given and to the best of our ability.
Paul may seem a little bit egocentric at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, but I think he is trying to point out the importance of discipleship within the Christian community.
1Co 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
1Co 11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
Paul is not comparing himself to Jesus Christ by any means. He was one who clearly understood that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He would never compare himself to Jesus Christ, but in this chapter he identified as one who was committed to following Jesus Christ. Although he was not one of the original disciples, the term disciple applies in my opinion. He was committed to following the teachings that he had been given.
When Jesus went back to heaven, He commanded the apostles to go across the world and create disciples. How would those newly converted disciples know anything unless they were emulating the example of their teachers? In elementary school, we learn mathematics from our teachers who already know mathematics. It is not that our teachers are the source of mathematics, but they can help guide us along the way as we learn more and more about that subject.
Christians are the same way. We need others alongside us to help us nurture our relationship with Jesus Christ. Mentors are valuable; they can see things that we don’t recognize about ourselves. People were not made to live in isolation. Friends and teachers are important for all of us. Paul understood that he was able to provide this type of service to the church in Corinth. He could help them develop into a more mature church. He could provide that type of mentoring.
I hope that we all have some type of support structure like this in our own lives to continually help us and challenge us to move closer to Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul points out how the people of Israel suffered from a variety of sin issues while they were wandering in the wilderness. He used that as a way to encourage the church of Corinth that even though it might feel like they were entirely alone, human beings have been dealing with these issues from the beginning.
1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
I think that sin has a type of isolating effect. We often times think that maybe we are the only one who has this particular problem. Paul was writing to encourage the people from Corinth that there was nothing that would make God abandon them. Even if they felt tempted by a certain issue like idolatry, God would be able to help them come through it.
We all can identify with this I’m sure. We might all have different sinful tendencies, and what sets me back will be different than what sets you back. God promises that He will help us make it through. It doesn’t matter what the issue is.
What God does not promise is that it will be easy. You will be able to bear it. However, if you think about twisting your ankle, you are able to bear the pain, but it doesn’t mean that the pain is easy. I think that is the same way for us. We are inherently sinful people, and that is what we want to do. To break out of that pattern is not easy, but God will make it possible. It might seem to be the most natural thing in the world, and we might justify our sinful behavior as not so bad or acceptable given my personal circumstances, but we are told to run away from that. We are supposed to use the option that God will provide to us so that we can escape the temptation.
Temptation is not easy, but it comes to each and every one of us. We’re certainly not alone, and God is still right there with us. We just need to make a conscious effort to work for the freedom that He has given us.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is speaking about being called as a minister, and he explained that we ought to do our best at that endeavor. He draws an athletic parallel.
1Co 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
1Co 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1Co 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
1Co 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
He disciplined himself, he worked hard and he was working to win. I think this is an example for all of us. Notice that Paul did not necessarily say that he was trying to be other people. He was trying to do his best. It wasn’t that he was going to undercut somebody else in his mission, but he was going to do everything he could to do his best.
I think that that is something that the church falls into every now and then. We see congregations as competitions. I want to have the biggest church in my town, or I want to have the most kids in our youth group. Both of those are perfectly fine things, and somebody has to be the biggest, but we want to be careful that it does not descend into competition.
Every church ought to do what it does well. Every church ought to run the race just like every Christian ought to individually run the race. However, everything needs to come back to the idea that we’re still on the same team. It is like watching the Olympics when there are two American runners in the 100 m final. They are certainly on the same team, but they each do their best to maximize their own talent and win the race.
If it is Christian, it ought to be better, and the only way it is going to be better is if we do everything to our best.
Sometimes we just want to know what we have to do and what we should avoid doing. We want to reduce Christianity to a long checklist of concrete items that we can use to accurately evaluate our performance in a progression towards holiness. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way, and 1 Corinthians 8 points out the kind of difficult situation that I’m sure many of us have encountered before in a modern context.
1Co 8:7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
1Co 8:8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
1Co 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Paul was be about the context of eating food that had previously been offered to idols. For some people, that was a really big problem, and others were saying that it really was not that big of a deal. Paul did not think it was a big deal unless it caused someone else to stumble. If eating this meat was causing a division, then as he said in verse eight, it is not going to hurt us to abstain for that one meal.
It wasn’t that the meat was inherently sinful, but causing divisions is mentioned many times throughout the letters of Paul. If this becomes such a big deal that people are going to be offended by something that really doesn’t even benefit the consumer that much, then it is not worth doing.
It seems to me that this is somewhat similar to the perspective on alcohol. There are some people who don’t mind consuming some, and there are other people who do not think it is right to consume any. If you happen to be one of those who believe it is all right to consume some, I think this verse might be applicable for you when you are with one of those who believe that all alcohol ought to be prohibited. It is more about consideration for your fellow Christian, and it is more about preserving unity.
Obviously, we don’t compromise on major issues, but when we are causing problems for our brothers and sisters, we need to look out for their interests as well
I am not married, so I am probably somewhat unqualified to speak an awful lot about marriage. However, I find it interesting that Paul speaks about the relative advantages of marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7. This passage in particular stood out to me.
1Co 7:7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
1Co 7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
1Co 7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Paul was not married, and he thought that was a valuable thing. As he goes on to say later in the chapter, he did not have to worry about providing for a family if he did not have one. That meant that he could commit more of his attention to the calling that God had for him specifically.
However, as you can see in this passage, it is not as if marriage is a bad thing. Some people need that companionship. As Paul says in verse seven, everyone has their own gifts. Some people can remain single and be okay with that. Some people would really struggle without having a husband or wife. Above all, it is better to marry than to burn. It is rather vivid imagery, but I think the point is rather obvious. If you are called to get married, then that is what you should do. You don’t want to stumble into sin because you are neglecting the call that God placed in you to desire a spouse.
It does seem to me though that Christianity can get caught up in the necessity of the family, and on some level I think that is incredibly important. It is important for people to have children for obvious reasons. However, we also cannot forget that there are some people who, like Paul, simply do not need to get married. That is not their calling in life, and as Paul says, they have a different gift from God. They will have a gift of potentially more available time. They are still valuable members of the community.
The bottom line is that the body of Christ has room for everyone. That includes those who are married and single.