We have been studying the book of 1 Corinthians in our series “Church in the City”. Here are some thoughts that I have had as I have studied. I hope they will help you better understand Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
In his book “Patronage and Power: The Study of Social networks in Corinth”, John K. Chow ask the was asked where in 1 Corinthians 5-7 do we see evidence of upper-status members. Crow talks about the issue that Paul is dealing with in chapter 5 and the man that is either living with his step-mother or has married her. Chow’s view is that because this was not accepted in either Jewish culture or Roman law that the man had to be a person of influence within the community to get away with this. Not only can we see that the man could have been a man of influence within the community but also the man could have been of influence within the church as well being that the church did not take a harder stand against the sin. As a patronage of the church there might have been those of like influence that looked at this as something that either could not be dealt with, for fear of losing the man, or something that they did not need to deal with because they agree with the lifestyle that he was living in. As Crow pointed out the main issue that Paul had was not with the man, because he knew what needed to be done with the man, his issue was with the church not dealing with the issue. One of the things that I see in reading the bible and text such as these is that even after thousands of years we are still making the same mistakes that were made back then. We see this in some times in churches today when there is a member that has means and may be doing something that they should not but rather than dealing with them many times they allow it to go rather than dealing with it because of what the person may give.
The second evidence that we see is in chapter six where members of the church are having lawsuits against one another. In the readings we learned that many times those of means would sue those that did not have as much because they knew that they could win the case. This most likely was the case in the church of Corinth. Paul share that this is not the way the church should act but that the church should take any issue that they had with one another before the church. He tells them that an unbeliever should not judge a believer. In seeing this we can see that this could have brought more division in the church between the haves and have-nots., so that the higher status people were living in the church just as they had lived out in the world.
The last place that I believe that we have evidence of this is found in chapter six and verses thirteen through twenty. Paul seems to deal with two issues; the first is that they over indulge in eating and other appetites. He also deals with a much more serious issue of sexual immorality. Paul shares in verse sixteen a question. “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” This would seem to be aimed at those with money and means. Those that believed that because they had money and influence that they could do anything they wanted. In verse nineteen and twenty Paul lets them know that they are not there own and that they were bought with a price. I believe we see this pointed out to those that are of higher-status. I believe that Paul is showing them that in the church there is no distinction between people no matter what they have or do not have.
One of the issues that Margaret MacDonald talked about in her writing “Women of Corinthians” was the fact that a large number of the Corinthians had as she put it “saw their transcendence of the material world reflected in complete abstinence from sex”. This is an issue that Paul deals with in chapter seven. For those that are single Paul does let them know that this is a better way to live but there could be a problem if they do not think that they can live up to this standard. Paul shares with them that it is better for them to marry and avoid the temptation if they believe that the temptation will overtake them. We find a deeper meaning to this group of scripture as well, in that though Paul does not state it outright he is sharing that any sex outside of marriage is sin. He does this by sharing with them the fact that if they cannot keep themselves from having sex then they should get married.
The greater problem that Paul deals with is, as MacDonald points out, the fact that some that was married believed that they should live an abstinent life as well. Paul share in 1 Corinthians 7:4 that the body of the wife is not hers but the husbands and the body of the husbands is not his but the wife. Paul tells them by withholding themselves from each other it causes temptation to come and gives an avenue for the enemy to attack. What we see in these three chapters is a church that has so many different groups and ideas. One group has come to believe in a gnostic way of thinking that anything goes because they are free in the spirit, while the other group believes that they should have no sex what so ever even though they are married. For me I read this thinking how could a community be so split and so far off the truth but then I think about the church of today and see that we, with the Word of God at our disposal, still can get off if we are not careful.
Lastly we see the eschatological language mostly in chapter six where Paul is sharing with them not to go to court against one another. In verse nine after asking them why they are taking their case to the world to judge and he states “is there not a wise person in the church”, Paul says “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”. Paul wants them to know that the church cannot be judge by a person that is not on the same journey. Paul wants them to know that they are apart of something bigger than the world and that they should not allow those that are on the outside to settle things between members of the church.