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Paul states clearly the sin in the church at Corinth is so bad even the Romans would consider it wrong. Why is the immoral man committing a sin like this? Most scholars thinks money is the main issue. Perhaps the wife was from a wealthy and prestigious family and she is trying to divorce his father. The younger man is attempting to keep any money or property in the family as long as possible.

A second more remote possibility is the man is exercising his freedom in Christ. It appears some early Christians believed they were free from the Law, so in order to demonstrate that freedom, they “sinned that grace may abound.” It is possible the young man was trying to demonstrate his freedom from the Law by breaking a very strong taboo and engaging in an ongoing affair with this step-mother.

Carol and GregSo why has the man not been arrested and charged with the crime everyone seems to know about? The problem may be that in order to prosecute, the husband would have to sue for divorce. If this was an arranged marriage between wealthy families, there would have been complications in setting the marriage aside.

Bruce Winter points out only the husband has the right to prosecute in this case, although there is a sixty-day period for him to do this, after which someone else could potentially bring charges. Perhaps the exclusive period has not expired when Paul is writing, or maybe there is no one that is “wronged” by the relationship and it is being passed over because of the man’s position and power.

Additionally, if the husband was not a believer the church didn’t have any sway with him to get him to press charges and exile his son. Because the penalty included loss of property, perhaps the man was not willing to prosecute and possibly forfeit some of his own property.

If this suggestion is correct, then there are two strands of culture that the church is struggling with here, the sexual sin and the favoring of the rich in the courts. Paul wants to deal with the sinful man within the church itself. This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. This was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.

How does this idea of dealing with sin “in house” work in a contemporary context? I am not advocating ecclesiastical courts, and people who have broken the Law should not find refuge in the church. How do we draw some connections between the first and twenty-first century with respect to church discipline?

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul calls himself and Apollos “stewards” who have been entrusted with the most important thing imaginable, the “mysteries of God.” Like a fund manager, he is to protect that investment but also see that there is a return on that investment.

But at Gordon Fee points out, God seeks stewards who are faithful, they are not chosen due to their “not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor ‘initiative,’ nor ‘success’—our standard requirements).” Those who have been entrusted with the Gospel are to humbly servant the master and seek his glory and honor alone.  The leaders of the Corinthian church are failing in just this regard, they are seeking their own honor rather than the one who has called them.

Paul and Apollos have been entrusted with the mysteries of God (4:1-2). A steward in this context is a servant entrusted with a task, a commission. Paul uses a slightly different word for servant in 4:1 than in 3:5 (ὑπηρέτης vs. διάκονος), but there is likely no difference in meaning. In both cases the servant is subordinate to a master and serves by doing the will of that master.

InvestmentA steward (οἰκονόμος) is a manager or administrator.  This could be a servant put in charge of a household (Joseph, for example, or the servants in Jesus parable in Luke 16). It can refer to a city official, such as a public treasurer, the word used to describe Erastus in Rom 16:23. An administrator is charged with a task (manage a city’s money, for example). In the LXX, the word translates Hebrew words of civil administrators (1 Kings 4:6, 16:9, Isa 36:3, 22, 37:2, etc., cf., eight occurrences in Josephus with the same sense).

The content of this deposit is the “mysteries of God.” Rather than a huge sum of money to invest and protect, Paul is a servant of God’s revelation. Mystery is typically something that must be revealed to be known, a secret hidden until the time is right. This is not something guess-able, but rather a revelation of something new and previous unknown.

In order to be a successful steward, they must be “found faithful.” If the steward is a money manager for a city, they have to protect the money entrusted to them and invest it in a way that returns a profit. Paul and Apollos are therefore accountable for their management of the mysteries of God. The preaching of the Gospel will naturally expand the body of Christ, and there are some strategies Paul might use to preach the Gospel in ways that are more likely to bear fruit. He goes first to the synagogue, for example, since that is where he will find people who already know the Scripture and may be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, as well as some God-Fearing Gentiles who are interested in the Jewish God. When he was in Athens, he went to Mars Hill, a place where people enjoy discussing new ideas and debating philosophy. His goal was to go to the location where he would have the best chance getting an audience for the Gospel.

If Paul describes Apollos and himself as servants and stewards, then certainly the leaders of the church at Corinth are servants as well! Verse 6a Paul says that the things he has applied to himself and Apollos are applicable to all Christian leaders at every level, from a nursery worker to the long-time elder to the Lead pastor.

The proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.”

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues God has inverted the thinking of the world by choosing the foolish to humble the wise; by choosing the weak to humble the strong. The one who is in Christ has the Spirit of God and the Mind of Christ and ought to be thinking differently than the world, especially when it comes to leadership within the Church.

Unlike Greek and Roman philosophers, the Christian should not to think of themselves as a disciple of any teacher or leader, nor should a leader think they are developing prestige or honor by attracting many followers. In contrast to the way the world things, the one who is in Christ ought to think of themselves as co-workers busy at work in God’s service.

Paul is primarily addressing the leaders of the church. This is in fact the longest discussion of the relationship of church leaders to their congregations in the New Testament (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 142). They are not like leaders in the Roman world who are adored and honored, they are simply co-workers in God’s service.

Divisions over leadership are immature (3:1-4 ). The church at Corinth are not maturing like they should have, they are not “spiritual” yet, they are still “fleshly”  Spiritual (πνευματικός) refers to a person who has the Holy Spirit, someone who is led by the Spirit of God.  “People of the flesh” (σάρκινος) refers to the fact they are still thinking as they did before they came to faith in Christ. The noun refers to physical human attributes, often the weakness of human flesh (contrasted with spiritual life, Rom 7:14, 2 Cor 1:12).

The irony is that the church at Corinth made the most use of the gifts tongues and prophecy of the Spirit in the New Testament (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 109). It is possible members of the church thought of themselves as “spiritual” because the manifestation of the Spirit characterized their worship. They are not spiritual simply because they have those spiritual gifts.

Baby Eating MeatIn this section, Paul uses the metaphor of caring for a child. When he was with the church, he fed them milk, since that was appropriate for a child. But as a child matures they are ready for solid food. Paul’s point here is the church is not progressing toward maturity in a normal way, they are spiritual stunted and still need “milk not solid food.”

Everyone has an idea what the “meat” is as opposed to the “milk.” Usually it is “the hard doctrines I understand but you do not because am more spiritual than you are.” First, this cannot be a “secret doctrine” Paul holds back until people are more mature. There is no secret or hidden teaching Christianity holds back until people can handle it. 1 Cor 2 made this point very clear, the secret mysteries of God have already been revealed!

Second, Paul’s point is not that there is a mix of spiritual and unspiritual in the church at Corinth. The whole church is immature and infantile in their thinking because they have these divisions. It is not that Apollos their teacher is highly advanced spiritually and the others are lagging behind. Because there are divisions, the whole church is not growing properly.

Third, Paul is not exhorting the “slow people” to catch up, but the whole church to come together in unity and grow spiritually. He is not pointing fingers at individuals in the church that are bringing the average down, he is saying the local manifestation of the Body of Christ at Corinth is stunted and not growing properly. The whole Body has to grow, not just a part.

This view of church leadership has the potential to transform the way a local church does ministry. In fact, there are many examples of selfless leaders humbly serving their congregations. How could Paul’s vision for the Corinthian change the way churches function? How does the milk.meat metaphor work when applied to church leadership in a modern context? Is “meat” always “hard doctrine”? Should we only ordain people to ministry who properly understand Calvinism?

1 Corinthians begins with four chapters directed at reported divisions in the church. In 1:11 Paul uses the noun ἔρις (eris), quarreling or discord. This word refers to a “hot dispute” between rivals (Ciampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 77). It appears in Sirach 40:9 in a list of things that will come upon the sinner: “death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities and famine and ruin and plague.”

This is not a football rivalry (although those can get heat up fast); it is more like standing in the lobby of the Creation Museum with a sign that says “I believe in Evolution,” or visiting Planned Parenthood wearing a pro-life t-shirt. This word describes an emotional flare-up, going beyond reasonable discourse

Greek OratorHow can the presence of “divisions” be described as “worldly?” The “divisions” seem to be over leadership: some considering Paul their authority, other Apollos, others Peter, and still others only Jesus. It is within the context of describing these divisions that Paul describes the church members as worldly.

Bruce Winter describes the Greco-Roman practice of discipleship in the second chapter of his book and finds a great deal of parallels between the disciple-teacher relationship in the culture of Corinth and the problem of divisions in the church over the authority of teachers.

Dio Chrysostom visited Corinth about A.D. 89-96.  He described the activities of the disciples of the Sophists – the professional orators who were able to command large audiences, high fees for educating youth, and often a great deal of power within the city. The skill of oration involved not only speaking skills, but also an attractive demeanor, the best orators were good looking, athletically trained men.  Orators might be employed as lawyers, gaining clients from the very highest ranks of the city. Dio Chrysostom also observed that the disciples modeled himself after his teacher, taking the imitation seriously, including style of speech, dress, and even walk.

There was extreme competition among the orators for honor and power.  The better the orator, the higher the fee, and the more disciples he will attract.  Dio complained that Corinth was filled with “wretched” sophists, many of whom were debating one another with “shouting and abuse” near the temple to Poseidon.

Disciples could be fiercely loyal to their teacher, the term used to describe a loyal student is “zealot.”  (This is not to be confused with the Jewish Zealots of the mid-60’s in Palestine.)  The teacher expected exclusive loyalty from the student, which included the defense of that teacher or the ridicule of other competing teachers.

Bruce Winter reports the story of students following a rival teacher and his disciples listening for mistakes of grammar or rhetoric (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 39). When the mistake was made they would ridicule that teacher as deficient. Philostratus tells the story of a teacher that was so ridiculed that he ordered his slaves to thrash the disciple that was mocking him.  The slaves actually beat the rival teacher’s disciple to death!

Obviously Christian teachers are different than an orator or philosopher. If the Corinthian Church is thinking about their Christian teachers as a Greco-Roman orator, then they are importing “worldly thinking” into the church and risk the unity of the Body of Christ. To what extent does this kind of thinking cause trouble in a modern context? While I would love to see the Beth Moore disciples go after John’s Piper’s disciples in a turf-war, I am not sure the Christian church is effected in by the world in quite the same way—or is it?

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Christian Theology

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