This is the first of two letters written by Shaul addressing problems that the community of believers was having in the town of Corinth. Those problems included interpersonal relationship issues, pridefulness with regard to which apostle they thought they should listen to, and sexual perversity within the congregation. It appears from this letter that these issues were not being handled, and the result was that this congregation membership was generally falling from faith.
If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.
This letter, as with all the letters Shaul wrote to the congregations he formed (that made it into the New Covenant) is not a prophetic warning or a direct-from-God message; rather, it is clearly a chiding of the people for having gone so far astray from the lessons Shaul first taught them when he organized that congregation. If anything, it is a letter like one would receive in a job as a First Warning, explaining what one has been doing that is not satisfactory and stating what actions are needed to correct the poor performance.
As always, Shaul starts off with a compassionate and loving greeting to the congregation, stating how he is so thankful for them.
Then he rips right into them, starting off with an appeal for them to get together and end the dissension and division within their congregation. Apparently, there are loyalties to different human teachers instead of loyalty to God.
Off topic a bit, the problem in Corinth was not so far from what happened within Judaism, as one of the famous “feuds” of our history is that between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, two famous and well-respected Rabbis who had differing opinions about the meanings within the Torah, as well as their interpretations of what was correct, vis-a-vis, Halacha (literally, the Walk, which is the Talmudic instructions for everyday activities and worship).
Back to the Corinthians….
Shaul tells the Corinthian believers that wisdom comes from spiritual maturity and from God’s spirit. He goes on to tell them that when he was there he gave them milk, not solid food- you may recall I stated in the introduction that Shaul did not try to convert people overnight, but slowly. Here he confirms this policy, as he tells the Corinthians how he only gave them “baby food”, and even states they are “infants in Messiah” (1 Cor. 3:1). He goes on to say they still aren’t ready for the meat. He even says that some of them have become arrogant, and he asks if he should come to them with a whip or in love?
Chapter 5 begins with Shaul berating them all for not expelling one of their brothers who is living with his father’s wife (based on how this is stated, I assume the woman was the man’s stepmother). Now, to make sure we understand this, I am not talking about a son living in his mom’s basement. No! This reference is that the son is having intimate relations with his mother: a real Oedipus. And despite this sin, which Shaul points out is even wrong for the pagans, the congregation has not done anything about it.
Another problem he addresses is that they are suing each other, instead of handling their problems as they should: together and within their own congregation. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with these two issues.
Chapter 7 talks about marriage, celibacy, and a well-known phrase- being unevenly yoked.
Here we have an interesting point: Shaul says in 1st Cor. 7:10 that he gives a command and specifies this is not his command but the Lord’s, in saying that divorce is not allowed and if someone does divorce, then they need to stay celibate or reconcile with their spouse. Then, in 1st Cor. 7:12, he states that it is his opinion, not the Lord’s, that in an unevenly yoked marriage if the unbeliever wants to leave, that’s OK, but the believer must not initiate a divorce.
Because Shaul specifically separates what he is saying from what people may think he is hearing from God, I believe this to be definitive proof that his letters are not from God, but from himself. I say that because he separated what he says from what God says, and so it is obvious- at least, to me- that unless Shaul specifically states what he is saying is from God, then he is speaking for himself.
Oh, yes, no doubt that at some times, in some letters, he was given divine wisdom, but that is not a direct command from God.
Shaul seems to me to be someone who really hates marriage. His advice in Chapter 7 is for women to remain virgins and men to not marry, as marriage not only has many problems, but also can separate people from God in that being married will, by necessity, cause them to be concerned with the ways of the world, such as thinking more of providing for the family than worship, getting along with people instead of doing as God said to do, etc.
If you ask me, Shaul had some issues, himself. And this argument against marriage is against what God said we should be doing from the very beginning: to be fruitful and multiply.
Chapter 9 is a conundrum to me: Shaul states that it is acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols so long as you are spiritually mature enough to know it won’t separate you from God because the false gods are nothing. Yet, he ends up saying that when it comes down to it, since there are so many who are spiritually weak, and think it is a sin to eat food sacrificed to idols, then he will not eat any meat, at all, just to make sure he is not causing one of these weaker people to stumble into sin.
You may ask, since eating meat sacrificed to idols was one of the four “No-No’s” the Elders in Jerusalem included in their letter to the Gentiles (Acts 15), why is Shaul going against the Elders? According to the NIV Study Bible, the Council in Jerusalem existed from 50-51 AD, but this letter to the Corinthians was written around 54-55 AD, so Shaul certainly should have known about that letter. This is so confusing to me: why would Shaul go against the Elders? I wish I knew!
Shaul starts Chapter 9 with another one of his “Look at me” conversations. He states how he neglected many of the rights he has being an apostle of Yeshua. He goes on to say that he has always worked for himself and not depended on any of the congregation to support him, even though the Torah itself says not to muzzle the ox when it is grinding out the grain- in other words, the worker deserves his wages. He actually would rather die than be deprived of boasting about how he is self-sufficient, waiving, so to speak, his rights to be supported. This is something Shaul does often in his letters- he constantly kvetches about how he has suffered for his loved congregations, how he hasn’t been a burden to them, and that he is suffering so as an example to them how they should be.
You know what it sounds like to me? It sounds like a guilt trip.
Now we come to a very important statement by Shaul, one which helps us to understand the foundation of his approach to the Gentiles he was converting to a righteous form of worship and lifestyle, through acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah; and consequently, why he has been so misunderstood.
In Chapter 9, verses 19 through 23, he states that he approaches everyone he is trying to get to accept Yeshua as the Messiah in a way they will understand. To put it plainly, he is saying that he plays to his audience. To the Jews, he speaks as a Jew, and to the Gentiles he speaks as a Gentile (he was, after all, a Roman citizen.) He concludes with telling us why he was such a successful missionary: his secret to reaching people is that he “becomes all things to all men in order that he can get the word of God out to everyone.”
This is important to understand because it is, I believe, the very crux of the problem which has caused so many to misunderstand Shaul’s letters. He doesn’t have a single approach to everyone, but rather different approaches to different people, speaking in a manner they will be familiar and comfortable with, in order to get a singular message across: that message being Yeshua is the Messiah, God is the one and only true God, and the only way to receive salvation and eternal life is to accept Yeshua as the Messiah and live a Torah observant life, as best as they can.
For the Jew, their lifestyle will not change, only their understanding of the Torah (Yeshua taught us the deeper, spiritual meaning and not just the plain language text); for the Gentile, it will mean a paradigm shift in lifestyle, so they do not have to become “Jews” overnight, but only at a pace they can handle.
(That is why he is telling these Corinthian believers that they are still babies in Messiah and being fed milk instead of meat.)
Shaul goes on to chide them some more because of their eating at services, specifically about how they do not share the food to ensure that everyone gets a part of the meal. He says it is wrong for them to eat in cliques, the result, no doubt, of the problem he pointed out earlier regarding different loyalties. Their prayer services are improper, and the eating of food and drinking of intoxicating liquor is wrong. He tells them that anyone who eats or drinks in a manner unworthy of the Lord is sinning. He ends up saying if they can’t wait for everyone to eat at the same time, then they should eat something at home before they come to services, so they won’t be so hungry.
He goes on to talk about spiritual gifts, and how no one gift is really more important than another, all being like parts of the body working together. But the most valuable gift is love. He states that the most important things are faith, hope, and love, and that love is the greatest of all. And as for speaking in tongues (the fancy term for this is Glossolalia), anyone who speaks in tongues should be silent unless there is someone to interpret what they are saying, which would be by the spirit of God. I can tell you that in my experience this is one of the most ignored instructions, having been in multiple congregations where people just mutter out loud, incoherently, not edifying anyone but appearing to be oh-so-spiritual.
Shaul finds that there were so many different opinions floating around about the End Days (in Hebrew, Acharit HaYamim) that he repeats his lessons about the resurrection of Yeshua, what will happen to us, and about what the resurrected body will look like.
He finishes this first letter with a plea for contributions to the work he is doing for other congregations, relating how other congregations have already helped. He says he wants to visit, but not for just a short visit and hopes to do so soon, but now he is busy in Ephesus (you can read how busy he was in Acts 18).
Next, we will see how well the people listened to him in his second letter to them, written less than a year later.
I hope to see you then, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!