1st Corinthians – Personal Disputes and Sexual Guidance

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul addresses another set of issues that rend unity among the Corinthian Church. Brothers are regularly asking secular magistrates to settle their disputes (cf. v. 1-2). The actions of these neophytes show they place self-assertion before the virtues of Christian sacrifice, prudence and charity. Paul informs them that choosing to stand before worldly authorities to settle these matters is a clear sign of their spiritual decay (cf. v. 4-6).

These brothers "wrong and defraud" their "own brethren" and are deceiving themselves (v. 8). He warns them that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom" of God and that "neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [the original Greek here lists two separate terms to include homosexual offenders and those who freely allow themselves to be homosexually offended], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 9-11). Paul knows that some of the Corinthians were previously chained to the sins listed above, and urges them to remember that they have been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (v. 11).

"’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything [...] the body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’" When Paul says this, he makes a masterful distinction between function and purpose. Any function of the body – which will be resurrected on the last day – must never lead one to forget that their bodies are "members of Christ" (v. 15). Violations of one’s body are offenses against that body and the person and purpose of Christ. If the purpose of human sexuality is that "the two shall become one flesh," then the function of uniting with a prostitute is an extreme aberration (cf. v. 16). There can be nothing immoral within Christians because they are, at the core, of Christ’s body.

In Chapter 7, Paul answers the questions posed him by the Corinthian Church. He begins "It is well for a man not to touch a woman" (v. 1). Knowing that men are weak and tempted to immorality, he writes that "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" when necessary (v. 2).

Neither commanding nor legislating the conjugal union between marital couples, he seeks to alleviate selfishness and other problems relating to intimacy (v. 3-5). He wishes "that all were as I myself am [celibate]. But each has his own special gift from God" (v. 7). He establishes that divorce and remarriage should not be commonplace among the Christian Church (v. 8 ff.).

He uses Jewish regulatory language to describe the ramifications of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (v 10 ff.). He writes, "the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy" (v. 14). Note that the "consecration" he speaks of here does not refer to a salvific grace, but instead to that grace which allows such a couple to live under the same roof and raise legitimate children who are able to be baptized.

Paul writes, "if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace," but he does not here advise the believer to remarriage (v. 15). Generally, he instructs the people to avail themselves of every opportunities live the fullest Christian life possible without compelling slaves, married men and others to unnecessarily disrupt their state in life (v. 20 ff.).

He then offers advice similar to that given in Matthew 19, where Jesus advises those who are able to become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom to do so. He explicates Christ’s message in greater detail, saying "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin [...] Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that" (v. 27-28).

His urge that "those who have wives live as though they had none," is not a call for universal celibacy within marriage, but instead a warning against living a married life as an ordinary man, but as a fully integrated Christian (v. 29).

A man with a family has more responsibilities than the unmarried man, and meeting the demands of the kingdom may be more difficult. Paul stresses that he wishes "not to lay any restraint upon [the Corinthians], but to promote good order and to secure [their] undivided devotion to the Lord" (v 35). He concludes "he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (v. 38).

Music: Gagliarda Terza from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com

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Posted in Podcast on November 29, 2008

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