Thought to Guide Your ReadingPaul argues that we have freedom but should give up that freedom when it sets things right.
Summary in 100 Words or LessDeal with openly-sinful Believers in the open. Better to be embarrassed than damned. We cannot control outsiders, but we should not accept insiders who openly disobey God.
Don't sue each other. You teach outsiders that God cannot be trusted.
All things are legal but not all things are helpful.
God gives the gift of celibacy and marriage. If your spouse is not a believer, stay with them if they are willing.
Be content where you are. Only God defines you—not marriage, religion, or slavery.
Physical things are unimportant to God unless they are used to throw others off track.
How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right
The Corinthian church valued tolerance over holiness.The major issue with including the man sleeping with his father's wife (whether or not she is his mother is unknown) was that the church thought they were so otherworldly that it didn't matter what the man did. Instead they devalued holiness to be open and accepting. Holiness, not tolerance, is the goal of God's Chosen People. Tolerance is an important trait to develop, but only towards outsiders. Anyone who makes a covenant to obey God should be held strictly to that covenant. If not, they should be asked to leave.
What does this mean for us today? I am afraid we have so misused this passage that most churches disfellowship those they should tolerate and tolerate those who they should disfellowship. Think about it—when was the last time a church openly confronted a person because of a sin in their life? Instead, we write open letters and tell members not to associate with other churches because of religious differences.
Also, we fail to live as a community. If a congregation were to openly confront a person because of a sin that person would simply go to another church that agreed with them. However, that does not negate its importance. A congregation must remove bad examples to both help the bad example realize they are jeopardizing their relationship with God and prevent the saints from losing their holiness. We must remember, though, that this is about holiness not religious unity. Bad examples are not those who have different views than us on theology. Bad examples are those who practice unholy acts, like sleeping with their stepmother.
The church models God's Judgment to the entire world.Paul has hard things to say about their inability to make judgments. They would rather be judged by people who do not respect God than trust a decision made by the wisest among them. He even said it would be better for them to allow an unjust decision to stand than to embarrass God's Chosen People in front of the world. Yet the reason Paul gave was not about justice or fairness. It was about God—it would prevent people in the world from setting things right because they would not trust God. When we become so critical of each other that we rather have people who do not respect God make important judgments, the world will not set things right.
Even if something is legal does not make it appropriate.Paul's encouragement is to look beyond the legal appropriateness of every act and instead see if it helps honor God. We do not need to see if God approves of what we do before we do it. We should look to see if it helps set things right or divides us. Sexual promiscuity and gluttony do not honor the Temple God gives us. Honor God through your body. Treat it well as the Temple of God. Just as God became angry that Israel mixed holy and common in the Temple, God becomes angry when His Chosen People mix holy and common within their bodies. In this way sexual sins are greater than all other sins. It takes something holy—intimacy and commitment—and mixes profane—lust and selfishness.
Marriage is meant to merge sexual urges with commitment and intimacy. If a person can live without sex, they should also live without marriage.Paul tackles a very difficult and complicated issue, one in which Christians battle over today. Paul seems to think marriage is necessary to help control our urges. This is why his first instructions were about submitting to each other—no husband or wife should stop the other from having their urges met. Abstinence is only good when it is mutually agreed upon. If not, the one wanting intimacy is tempted to go elsewhere. If an unmarried couple cannot manage their urges, they should get married. If a person can control their urge they should not get married enabling them to focus more on setting things right. Paul walked a fine line—on one hand he thought being single was more beneficial to setting things right, but on the other he did not want to encourage couples to separate or think they were second-class because they have sexual urges. He finished by warning them,
And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. (7:17, The Message)Although this is couched in Paul's opinion, he reminds the Corinthians that he has the Spirit of God. Disagree only if you are led by the Spirit, too.
Christians today have a rather strange view of marriage compared to Paul's instructions. I find it ironic that Paul states—with help from the Holy Spirit—that unmarried people make better workers for God yet congregations would rather have a married minister (or pastor). Our society has elevated marriage to the point that it is the goal of life—to live in a committed relationship with one person, not to set things right. It causes people who have the ability to become, as Jesus stated, eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom to get married and struggle with their relationships for a lifetime. It also encourages people who have never been married feel left out or second-class. We should remind Christians, especially younger Christians, to let God define their life and to be content where they are.
Paul instructed the Corinthians to stay where they were.Paul commanded in Galatians that they stop arguing over the Law. Here he reminds them that being or not being a Jew is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Slavery is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Marriage is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. Marriage to a person not dedicated to setting things right is neither a benefit nor an obstacle with regard to holiness. The most important part of obeying God is setting things right. If the spouse decided to stay, they could be won over through unswerving faithfulness. Where you are in life is not the focus for a Disciple. How you can use your position to set things right for God is the focus of life for a Disciple.
Meat offered to idols was a test-case for freedom vs. love.Paul and the Christians in Corinth knew that there were no such things as idol-gods. The meat offered to idols meant nothing to them. They were free to eat meat offered to idols without worrying about their loyalty to God. But not all of the members had that clean conscience. One person's freedom should not cause another person to split their allegiance to God. Freedom should be second to brothers' and sisters' relationships with God.
One thing I think we should remember is that Paul does not suggest these people are theoretical people. I have heard many Christians argue that we should not do certain things because in theory a Christian could stumble and fall. That isn't what Paul wanted them to do. That isn't freedom at all. If they knew a person that would be harmed by them eating meat they should defer to the other person's sensibilities. If they did not know of a person, they had the freedom to continue as they wished.
What else do you see here?