III. Response to the Corinthians’ Letter (1 Corinthians 7:1–16:4)
III. Response to the Corinthians’ Letter (7:1–16:4)
A. Sex and Marriage (7:1-40)
7:1 Paul begins to address matters that the Corinthians wrote to him about. A literal rendering of the Greek text into English is, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Touching a woman is a euphemism for engaging in sexual activity with her. Thus, for those who are single, abstinence is God’s good plan until marriage. God created sex for marriage between one man and one woman. He designed it and knows best how it is to be expressed. Pursuing it outside of the covenant bond of marriage is sin and will not bring the fulfillment that God intends.
7:2 Since sexual immorality (fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc.) is so common, Paul encourages men and women to pursue marriage so that each man may have sexual relations with his own wife, and a woman . . . with her own husband. Of course, a Christian isn’t to marry just anyone, but to marry “in the Lord” (7:39)—that is, to marry a fellow believer who is likewise submitting to Christ and pursuing his kingdom. But Paul’s main point is to emphasize that sexual expression within marriage is not immorality.
7:3-4 Since marriage is God’s answer to preventing sexual immorality, husbands and wives must fulfill their marital duties to one another (7:3). This isn’t to say that having sex is a “duty”; rather, it emphasizes that husbands and wives should not be selfish and should focus on the needs of their spouses.
Husband, if you’re really serious about meeting your wife’s needs, you’ll talk with her more, listen better, compliment her more, and serve her. You’ll regularly show her that you value and esteem her—and not just after the sun goes down. Strong marital relationships foster true intimacy. And true intimacy involves vulnerability with your spouse, selfless giving to one another (7:4; see commentary on Songs 4:1–5:1).
7:5-6 Husbands and wives are to protect one another from sin by not depriving one another. The only exception to regular sexual intimacy is when the couple agrees to a limited time period in which they devote themselves to prayer (7:5). We might refer to this as “sexual fasting.” To fast is to temporarily give up satisfying a craving of the body in order to focus and give extra attention to a spiritual need. If a husband and wife need God to intervene in a situation, a sexual fast for the purpose of prayer is in order; nevertheless, Paul offers this as a concession, not as a command (7:6). But, as the apostle reminds them, they must come together again in sexual intimacy so that they don’t fall prey to Satan’s temptations to sexual immorality (7:5).
7:7-9 Paul says, I wish that all people were as I am—that is, single (7:7). For those who were unmarried or widows, he recognizes the benefit of remaining unmarried (7:8; see 7:32-35). Nevertheless, if people lack self-control . . . it is better to marry than burn with sexual desire (7:9). Unless God has granted the gift of celibacy, marriage is a wise and legitimate pursuit.
7:10-11 Paul tells Christians in the Corinthian church that they are not to leave—that is, divorce—one another (7:10). Instead, if a husband or wife does leave, he or she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to his or her spouse (7:11). When two people marry, there will always be struggles and challenges. But, even when there are difficult problems, Paul urges the pursuit of reconciliation—not divorce. Thus, Paul stands in agreement with Jesus (see commentary on Matt 19:1-9) and the Father (see commentary on Mal 2:10-16).
7:12-14 Believers are to marry “in the Lord” (7:39) and not to partner together with unbelievers (see 2 Cor 6:14-15). But what happens when a Christian is married to an unbeliever? Perhaps a woman comes to faith in Christ after marriage and finds that her spouse refuses to believe. Some of the Corinthians were apparently experiencing things like this, because Paul gives counsel for such scenarios. By saying that his instructions are from himself and not the Lord (7:12), Paul means that Jesus never spoke directly on this subject during his earthly ministry. Nevertheless, as an inspired apostle, Paul provides guidance from the Holy Spirit.
A believing spouse is not to divorce an unbelieving wife or husband (7:12-13). Why? Because the unbelieving spouse is made holy by the believing spouse (7:14). In other words, the Christian husband or wife serves as a channel of grace in the marriage. Not only can the believing spouse share the gospel with the unbelieving spouse and their children, but he or she also brings a covering of God’s blessing to the marriage and family. Consider Rahab’s situation (see Josh 2:8-14). When she confessed faith in the Lord and sheltered his people, she and her unbelieving family were delivered from the destruction that God brought upon Jericho.
7:15 Paul recognizes that an unbelieving husband or wife may not want to stay married to a Christian. So if the unbeliever leaves, the believer is not bound. Thus, abandonment (like adultery; see Matt 19:9) is an exception to the biblical prohibition against divorce. Sometimes abandonment happens when a spouse physically leaves the home, or it can happen when a spouse abandons his or her divinely ordained role. For example, if a husband becomes physically abusive toward his wife, that would be a form of abandonment of his role as husband. In such a case, the wife “is not bound” to the marriage because God has called us to live in peace. Thus, if a Christian spouse has done everything possible to preserve the marriage but the unbeliever still leaves the home or his divinely ordained role, Scripture considers such a situation legitimate grounds for divorce (and, thus, the believing spouse would be free to remarry). Importantly, accusations of abandonment must be validated by the church.
7:16 Why should a Christian seek to remain married to an unbelieving spouse? Because the believing spouse just might save the unbeliever through the gospel witness he or she brings to the relationship. Daily exposure to the verbal and visual message of the gospel is a powerful testimony that God might use to bring someone to faith in Christ.
7:17-19 Paul’s counsel for believers to remain married to unbelievers (7:12-16) is an application of his overall principle that every Christian should live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him (7:17). Whether one is circumcised or uncircumcised before becoming a believer does not matter (7:18-19). Externals are non-essential. What matters is internalizing God’s commands and keeping them (7:19).
7:20-24 This also applies to those who were slaves. If they could avail themselves of their freedom, Paul encourages them to do so (7:21). But if unable to gain it, Paul tells them that they can still serve Christ. For even one who is called by the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Believers have been bought at a price by the blood of Christ, so regardless of our status in life, we are to serve as Christ’s slave (7:22-23). Christian, no matter your vocation, you are called first and foremost to render faithful service to the Lord who saved you.
7:25 Having spoken about a kingdom view of marriage, Paul also addresses what it means to live as a kingdom single. A kingdom single is an unmarried Christian who is committed to fully and freely maximizing his or her life under the rule of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ. An unmarried believer is to approach life as a follower of the King. Paul’s instructions here follow the same principle he just outlined in 7:17, 20, and 24: Believers ought to remain in the situation in which they were called to Christ. He applies this to single believers, whom he refers to as virgins because according to a biblical worldview unmarried believers are not to be sexually active. Paul says he has no command from the Lord about this situation but provides his own opinion (or decision). What he means is that the Lord Jesus didn’t teach on this matter during his earthly ministry, so Paul gives Holy-Spirit-inspired instruction (see 7:12).
7:26-28 Paul argues that it is good for a man to remain as he is (7:26). Given the distress and trouble that believers will have in this life (7:26, 28), both marriage and singlehood will include difficulties; thus, he encourages single and married Christians to remain as they are (7:26-27). Nevertheless, if a single person gets married, he or she has not sinned; Paul is simply trying to spare them trouble (7:28). Marriage, even Christian marriage, has unique challenges because it’s the uniting of two imperfect people. So no one should go running about in a flippant search for a spouse. That will inevitably bring some level of trouble, so Paul wants them to give the matter careful investigation.
7:29-31 Time is limited, so we need to be wise about how we live in the present world (7:29). The world in its current form is passing away; therefore, we must not live with a temporal mindset as if this world is all there is (7:31). We must not lose sight of heaven by maximizing the time spent in earthly pursuits. Make decisions based on an eternal perspective and not based on earthly pressures.
7:32-35 Paul wants single Christians to know that there can be kingdom benefit to singlehood. An unmarried believer is free to be concerned about the things of the Lord in a way that a married believer cannot (7:32). The married believer has obligations to his spouse, so his interests are divided (7:33-34). But, sadly, many Christian singles are divided as well—consumed with finding spouses when they could be using their singlehood to serve the Lord without hindrance, to maximize their kingdom calling, and to enjoy the completeness of being fully free. Again, Paul is not trying to put a restraint on the Corinthians and prevent them from marrying but to help them be devoted to the Lord without distraction (7:35).
Adam was consumed with his calling until God gave him Eve. Likewise, every Christian single should maximize the freedom of his or her single status until God brings a mate. It is okay to have the desire for a mate; it is not okay to allow the desire to become a spiritual distraction.
7:36-38 Paul is saying that fathers who have made a pledge to dedicate their virgin daughters to the Lord are free to break such pledges when their daughters reach marriageable age and desire to marry (7:36; see CSB notes on 7:36-38). However, if a daughter is not pressing the issue, a man does well to keep his desire for her to be fully devoted to the Lord. The issue is not a matter of right or wrong (7:37-38; cf. 7:28).
7:39-40 Before leaving the topic of marriage, Paul considers the inevitable situation in which a spouse dies. A Christian husband or wife is bound as long as the spouse is living. But if the spouse dies, a believer is free to remarry anyone . . . only in the Lord (7:39). In other words, a believer in Jesus Christ must marry a fellow believer. Many people talk about finding a soul-mate, but the Lord wants us to find a spirit-mate. Within that context, there is freedom of choice. As Paul writes to the Corinthians later, “Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. . . . What fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14).
Though marriage is permissible in this case, Paul concludes by again providing Spirit-inspired counsel: If a believer has lost a spouse, Paul believes he or she is happier remaining unmarried (7:40).
B. Food Sacrificed to Idols (8:1–11:1)
8:1-3 The next topic that the Corinthians had asked Paul about is food sacrificed to idols (8:1; see 7:1). But before addressing the issue, Paul exhorts them to do everything with love. Whatever knowledge they have, it must not be exercised without love. Biblical love is the decision to compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seek the well-being of another. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (8:1)—that is, knowledge can lead to pride if it’s not accompanied by love to strengthen others. Such a person assumes he knows but doesn’t know at the level he ought (7:2). Better to love God and be known by him (8:3). When a person uses knowledge with love, it becomes a ministry and reflects favorably on God.
8:4-6 Paul makes it clear that idols are nothing, for there is no God but one (8:4). No matter how many so-called gods and lords the Greeks and Romans revered, for Christians there is one God, the Father, the source of all things (8:5-6). And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, the agent of creation (8:6). We know these things to be true. But, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that this knowledge must be accompanied by love.
8:7 Since there is no God but one, then food that unbelievers sacrificed to idols means nothing, right? Why worry about the issue? Paul explains: Not everyone has this knowledge. Some new believers had been so used to idolatry before their conversion that to eat food sacrificed to idols would defile their conscience. They wanted nothing to do with it.
8:8-11 Paul acknowledges that food in and off itself can’t bring us close to God, regardless of whether we eat it (8:8). At issue here is not harming brothers and sisters in Christ by practicing something that is a stumbling block to them (8:9). After all, we don’t want to do something that causes a fellow Christian to fail to move forward in his or her faith. Some of the Corinthians rightly recognized that idols are nothing and, so, had no problem eating food sacrificed to idols. But, if their liberty encouraged a believer with a weak conscience to also eat the food, the latter would experience spiritual harm. We must not ruin the faith of a brother or sister for whom Christ died (8:10-11).
Paul is talking about believers who are seeking to honor God and grow in their faith, but are not yet at a spiritual level where they can exercise the full spiritual freedom they have in Christ. We should not intentionally do anything to harm the spiritual progress of such fellow Christians. We don’t want to exercise our knowledge and freedom in such a way that we cause them to stumble. Our Christian liberty may be legitimate in and of itself, but if it causes a weaker brother or sister to fall, we have sinned against them. So let’s act in love toward such individuals so that their faith is strengthened and not undermined.
8:12-13 Paul takes this matter a step further. To insist on exercising our liberty at the expense of weaker Christians is not only to sin against them but to sin against Christ (8:12). As Paul himself learned, Jesus takes sins against his church (his “body”) seriously (see commentary on Acts 9:3-5). Therefore, if eating meat sacrificed to idols caused spiritual harm to other believers, Paul would never again eat it (8:13). He would go out of his way to avoid hindering the spiritual development of another Christian. Love for one another must come first.
Are you willing to let your freedom be subordinated to love? Let us not use our knowledge to hurt someone else who does not yet have our knowledge. Don’t trip up others in their spiritual progress; rather, help them on their journey to know, love, and obey God.
9:1-6 Having encouraged the Corinthians to set aside their rights for the sake of the gospel and the body of Christ, Paul explains how he himself had engaged in such sacrificial behavior as an example to them. He asks four rhetorical questions that assume an affirmative answer, highlighting his authority as an apostle of the risen Lord Jesus (9:1-2). Of those who wonder if he practices what he preaches, Paul asks further questions to show that he has rights as an apostle. These rights included eating and drinking whatever he chose, taking a spouse, and ceasing his tent-making vocation to support himself (9:3-6). But Paul was willing to forego his freedoms for the benefit of the church and the advancement of the gospel.
9:7 Paul illustrates his entitlement to these rights with several examples. A soldier doesn’t go to war at his own expense. The one who plants a vineyard and the one who shepherds a flock each have the prerogative to enjoy some of the fruit and milk associated with their labor. Similarly, an apostle of Jesus Christ is certainly entitled to receive remuneration for his work. Nevertheless, Paul chose not to exercise this right so the gospel wouldn’t be hindered.
9:8-10 Even the Old Testament law supports Paul’s argument: Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain (9:8-9). Ultimately, this command was not written for the sake of the oxen but for the sake of God’s people. If an ox has the right to eat of the fruit of his labor, do people not have the same right (9:10)? Thus, those who engage in Christian ministry have the right to receive compensation for their work.
9:11-12 Paul had invested heavily in the Corinthian believers. His spiritual ministry was significant and, thus, he had a right to expect material benefits from them (9:11). If the Corinthians had been willing to support other Christian ministers who had followed Paul, surely they should have been willing to support the one who had first brought them to Christ and founded the church. Yet, though Paul had a right to compensation, he never exercised it among them. He didn’t want to be falsely accused of engaging in ministry for profit and, thus, hinder the gospel of Christ (9:12). He didn’t want to risk staining the credibility of the gospel or be the cause of anyone rejecting the message of Christ, so he had relinquished his right to financial support while among the Corinthians.
9:13-14 Paul once again points to the Old Testament. The priests who served in the temple had the right to receive the sacrificial offerings as their food (9:13; see, e.g., Num 18:8-32). In the same way, the Lord Jesus had commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel (9:14; see Matt 10:8-10; Luke 10:7).
9:15-18 Clearly, then, Paul had every right to receive financial support for his missionary work, but he refused to exercise those rights so that he couldn’t be accused of acting from wrong motives (9:15). The apostle wasn’t motivated by money but compelled by God to preach (9:16). He had been entrusted with a commission from the Lord Jesus to serve as his ambassador, proclaiming the gospel to the world (9:17 see Acts 26:12-18). So he was willing to give up compensation and relinquish the full use of his rights in the gospel and offer it free of charge. Paul’s reward was seeing lives transformed by God (9:18); therefore, he preferred to secure his own financial support rather than lose out on that joy.
9:19-22 Even though Paul was free and no man’s slave, he made himself a slave to everyone, serving all people so that he might win them to Christ (9:19). In non-essential matters, he was willing to adopt the ways of either Jews or Gentiles so that he might gain a hearing among them for the sake of the gospel. Since Paul was himself a Jew, he was willing to engage in Jewish practices and live like one under the law—even though he was free from the law—so that he might win Jews to Christ (9:20; see commentary on Acts 16:3). Similarly, he was willing to live like one without God’s law in order to win Gentiles—though, of course, Paul was still under the law of Christ (9:21). In other words, through Paul was free from the Old Testament law, he wasn’t free to sin. As a Christian, he was obligated to God’s moral law in accordance with God’s character. Thus, Paul was willing to become all things to all people, so that . . . by every possible means he might save some (9:22). Because of God’s call on his life, Paul would do whatever he had to do to fulfill it.
What motivates you? Is it money or power or notoriety? None of these things will ultimately satisfy, and none of them deserve your allegiance. Instead, following your Savior and adjusting your life as necessary to make him known ought to be your highest ambitions. When we truly grasp his great love for us, we come to see that serving him and winning others to him should be our passion. After all, “God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Let that be your motivation, and resolve to let nothing prevent you from exalting your Savior and making the good news known to others.
9:23-24 Paul subjugated his personal preferences to the gospel, so that [he might] share in the blessings (9:23). The apostle knew that payday was coming. One day God will reward us for our sacrificial service to and love for him. Therefore, Paul was motivated to receive God’s blessing. Using athletic imagery, he asks the Corinthians, Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize (9:24). In the race of the Christian life, Paul wasn’t content to receive a participation ribbon. He wanted to obtain the gold.
True athletes don’t compete for mere exercise; they compete to win. Followers of Christ shouldn’t merely go through the motions either. Instead, we should run the Christian race for the prize. There is nothing wrong with wanting to climb the ladder to reach the top. Just ensure that your ladder is leaning against the right wall. You want to scale the ladder that has Christ at its top. You should long to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:23).
9:25 Paul again uses athletic games to illustrate his point. Those who compete know they must exercise self-control in everything if they are to win. Without maintaining strict control over eating habits, sleeping habits, and training routines, an athlete can’t expect to be in the running for the prize. That’s why athletes must discipline themselves and focus all their energy on the end goal. In ancient times, they competed to receive a perishable crown. In other words, they labored long and hard to obtain something that lacked long-term value.
Paul tips his hat to such devotion but nevertheless says, in effect, “That’s not our plan. We aim higher. We strive from an eternal perspective.” We seek an imperishable crown. God’s rewards do not fade, rust, or perish.
For what are you living your life? All Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be “repaid for” our service to our Master (2 Cor 5:10). He has seen everything since your conversion, the good and the bad. Nothing has been missed. So, how will you fare when the day comes? Maintain a kingdom perspective and strive for the imperishable reward.
9:26-27 Whatever the Corinthians decided to do, Paul’s mind was made up. He says he has no intention of running aimlessly or flailing his arms like a boxer who doesn’t know his purpose (9:26). Rather, he disciplines himself so that after preaching to others, he’s not himself disqualified (9:27). Paul’s mission was to fulfill his King’s agenda. No matter what happened, he was not going to let anything prevent him from maintaining that focus and receiving Christ’s approval.
Only one passion in your life is worth your total commitment and pursuit: Loving Christ and serving him. Don’t disqualify yourself for the prize by quitting the race, running in the wrong direction, or breaking the rules. Run to win.
10:1-4 Having spoken about the possibility of being disqualified (9:27), Paul exhorts the Corinthians to serve the Lord. He points to the negative example of the Israelites in the wilderness. In speaking of the Israelites’ experiences, Paul repeatedly uses the word all to emphasize the fact that every one of them experienced the supernatural benefits of the deliverance, guidance, and provision of God. The Lord guided them by his glory cloud and delivered them through the Red Sea (10:1). They were baptized into their spiritual leader Moses, ate the same spiritual food (manna) that God provided, and drank from the spiritual rock that followed them—which was Christ (10:2-4). This is another indicator that the Son of God was active in Old Testament times before his incarnation.
10:5 In spite of this, God was not pleased with most of them, disciplining them severely. Because of their perpetual disobedience and ungratefulness, God struck them down in the wilderness (see Num 14:1-38). Thus, being recipients of God’s kindness is no guarantee of avoiding his disciplining hand for our rebellion.
10:6-11 The worldliness in the Corinthian church was putting them in danger of divine chastisement. Therefore, Paul warns them to consider the example of the Israelites and not to desire evil things as they did (10:6). Specifically, he urges them to avoid idolatry (10:7), sexual immorality (10:8), and complaining (10:10). These sins led to the downfall of the Israelites (see, e.g., Exod 32:1-6; Num 16:41-50; 25:1-15), and they can lead to ours. Paul tells his readers, These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction. The apostle didn’t want lessons of old to be lost on the Corinthians. What happened to Israel was included in the pages of Scripture as a warning for their benefit—and for ours.
Christians are those on whom the ends of the ages have come (10:11). The consequences are high for any believers in the church age who choose to follow the sinful example of Israel’s wilderness generation. Remember God’s warning to the Galatians: “God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).
10:12-13 Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to fall like Israel had done in the past, so they needed to be careful (10:12). Temptations to sin and trials to develop us come to all Christians alike. No matter what temptation confronts you, know for certain that you are not alone. You have encountered nothing except what is common to humanity (10:13). None of us can claim to have experienced a temptation worse than anyone else’s. Just as Israel’s path from Egypt to the promised land took them through the wilderness, the same is true for all of God’s people. To get where God wants you, he will test and develop you through wilderness experiences.
Take heart, though. God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. No temptation or trial will prove overpowering because Christians are no longer slaves to sin; we have the freedom to choose what is good. God will provide a way out; he will grant you the strength so that you may say “no” to sinful temptation (10:13). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to withstand the temptation and pass the test.
10:14-22 In light of the help that God provides in the midst of temptation and trials, Paul urges them to flee from idolatry (10:14). He reminds them of the intimacy Christians are able to share with Christ through Communion. The cup represents the blood of Christ, and the bread represents the body of Christ. When we partake of it together, we are sharing in a special time of spiritual intimacy with Christ (10:16-17). But some of the Corinthians were apparently attempting to share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons (10:21) by partaking of Communion and also eating with unbelievers who were sacrificing to idols in pagan temples. Though idols are not truly gods, Paul contends that demons stand behind them (10:19-20). A sacrifice offered to a false god, then, has actually been offered to a demon. You cannot draw closer in intimacy with Christ and experience his kingdom blessings, while at the same time drawing closer to demonic activity (10:21).
These believers were attempting to have it both ways by participating in both meals. But, Paul contends, they would only succeed in provoking the Lord to jealousy, causing him to discipline them and withhold his blessings.
10:23-24 Paul gives the proper balance and understanding of Christian liberty by saying that the exercise of freedom must be tempered and regulated by the principle of love. Paul insists that what is permissible may not be beneficial or edifying to fellow believers (10:23). We are called to seek the good of others, not our own good (10:24).
10:25-29 Paul insists that they may eat any food sold in the meat market, for everything in creation is the Lord’s (10:25-26). The point is that Corinthian believers didn’t need to research whether or not a piece of meat had been part of a pagan sacrifice prior to being delivered to the market. Moreover, if unbelievers invited them into their homes, they were free to go and eat what was set before them (10:27). However, if a host told them that the food had been sacrificed to an idol, Christians were to abstain from the meal—not because it would bring harm to the mature believer’s conscience but to the unbeliever’s conscience (10:28-29). If a believer knowingly eats food sacrificed to idols, someone might interpret it as a compromise of their faith and a participation in idolatry. This could hinder some from coming to Christ, and it could injure a weak believer’s conscience.
10:30 Paul didn’t want believers being judged by non-Christians because of what they ate. Thus, believers are not to participate in meals in pagan temples (10:19-22), nor should they eat meat sacrificed to idols if it’s offered to them by unbelievers (10:25-29). Our Christian freedom must be exercised in such a way that we do not bring spiritual harm to ourselves or other believers, nor set up a stumbling block that prevents unbelievers from coming to faith in Christ.
10:31–11:1 Everything a believer does—whether a significant task or something as mundane as eating and drinking—ought to be carried out with a heartfelt desire to bring glory to God (10:31). Paul exhorts the Corinthians to imitate his example as he imitates Christ, giving no unnecessary offense to Jews or Greeks or the church (10:32; 11:1). Why? Because God’s reputation is more important than our personal preferences! The gospel is at stake. Eternity hangs in the balance! Let us not seek our own benefit but seek to compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seek the wellbeing of others so that they may be saved (10:33). Let’s live such faithful lives that people see our King on display and marvel at how glorious he is.
C. Proper Order, Love, and Spiritual Gifts in the Church (11:2–14:40)
11:2 Paul praises the Corinthians for remembering the traditions that he had delivered to them. Nevertheless, in the next several chapters he addresses matters that were causing them significant problems.
11:3 Paul raises the first topic with a thesis statement that lays out God’s chain of command, so to speak: Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ. The description of one person as “the head of” another introduces the concept of headship. Just as the head provides guidance and leadership to the human body, one who is the head in a relationship serves in a leadership role as a governing authority (like a head of state, for instance). This, however, does not imply inferiority on the part of those under the headship. Rather, in the orderly nature of God’s design, headship provides a covering under which people are to function and flourish.
Let’s start where Paul concludes: “God is the head of Christ.” According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is himself God, sharing the Father’s divine nature (see John 1:1; 10:30). Yet, the Son is also distinct in person from the Father and functioned in a subordinate role to the Father during his earthly ministry (see John 8:29; 14:28). So he is equal in essence to the Father but subordinate in role and function.
So when the apostle says, “the man is the head of woman,” Paul is not saying that every man is the head of every woman. Here he is speaking of the headship of the husband over the wife (see also Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18-19). Paul is also not saying that the husband is superior to the wife. As the Father and Son are equal in essence while different in function, so the husband and wife are equal as human beings and in their spiritual standing before God (see Gal 3:28-29) but different in their roles in marriage. The wife is called to submit to her husband’s spiritual leadership—though, of course, she is never to follow her husband into sin or to submit to abuse, since her commitment to Christ is to transcend her commitment to her husband (see commentary on Eph 5:22-33; 1 Pet 3:1-7). Refusal to submit to her husband’s legitimate authority can result in the loss of God’s spiritual covering.
Importantly, the man is not autonomous. He is also called to submit: “Christ is the head of every man.” He is not free to lead his wife and children as he deems fit; rather, he is to lead in full submission to the lordship of Christ. When God’s people operate within this divine order, there is covering and protection. But, like a car, we’re in danger of crashing when we get out of alignment.
11:4-6 Paul moves from this general statement of divine order to specific matters of worship. It was an accepted custom that whenever a man prayed or prophesied in the church, he was not to cover his physical head; otherwise, he would dishonor his (spiritual) head, Christ (11:4). On the other hand, a woman was to pray or prophesy with her physical head covered; otherwise, she would dishonor her (spiritual) head, her husband (11:5), and violate the prescribed church order. This is the exception to Paul’s prohibition against women speaking in the public worship of the church (see 1 Tim 2:11-14). A woman is permitted to do so if she is operating under the approval of the legitimate male authority of her husband and church leadership.
Paul’s comments in verse 5 reflect the first-century practice of a woman wearing a head covering. He argues that if either the husband or wife rejected these common distinctions between men and women, it would signal a rejection of God’s design and order for men and women. But apparently, women in the Corinthian church were expressing their own version of women’s liberation, rebelling against any sense of submission to their husbands’ spiritual authority by refusing to wear a head covering during worship. Paul said if a woman disregarded this male-female role distinction by uncovering her head, she might as well go all the way and shave her head (11:5-6)—and thus look like a man! To reject submission to authority is to reject God’s prescribed order.
11:7-10 Here Paul is not talking about a distinction in essence between men and women but a distinction in function. The husband glorifies God through his kingdom role as head, and the wife glorifies God by fulfilling her kingdom role to help her husband (11:7-9; see commentary on Gen 2:18-25). This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (11:10). In that culture at that time, the head covering was a visible symbol of the woman’s submission to her God-given role. “Because of the angels” is Paul’s way of saying that if a woman operates out of alignment with God’s will (uncovered), either in the home or in the church (see 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-14), she will lose angelic assistance. Angels serve as God’s heavenly messengers, helping to bring about his will in our lives. But when a wife rebels against his revealed will, she will lose divine support. The same is true for the husband (see 1 Pet 3:7).
11:11-12 Men and women should view themselves as mutually dependent. They certainly are not independent of one another (11:11). The first woman (Eve) came from the first man (Adam), but every other man is born of a woman (11:12). Thus, God has demonstrated through his creation design that neither can do without the other, and neither is superior. Men and women need each other to fulfill God’s kingdom agenda.
11:13-16 Even nature itself, Paul argues, confirms the distinction between men and women. In his day, women wore long hair, and men wore short hair. To do otherwise was disgraceful (11:14-15) because men ought to be distinguished from women. We should not do anything to blur the lines between the two. God designed and created men and women equal, yet different. And as he concludes this topic, Paul maintains that this is not merely his own opinion. All of the churches of God submit to this teaching. Gender distinctions are to be evidenced visibly, although Paul did not require every church to abide by the external symbols.
Though the wearing of a head covering was tied to a particular culture at a particular time (since Paul acknowledges it was a custom; 11:16), it was nevertheless an expression of a biblical principle that transcends culture and time. Even as Christ submitted to the Father, so also wives are to submit to the legitimate authority of their husbands, husbands are to submit to Christ, and both are to submit to the Lord and to the leadership of their church in a visibly clear way. Our humble submission to divine design and the theological, covenantal kingdom principle of headship frees God to accomplish his work in our lives.
11:17-22 Turning to Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, Paul describes the shameful behavior that had been reported to him. What was supposed to be an intimate time of worship and remembrance had turned into a circus. The church was to come together as one, but there were divisions among them instead (11:17-18). For instance, they weren’t partaking of the Lord’s Supper together (11:20). Instead some ate their own supper, others went hungry, and still others got drunk (11:21-22)! Their actions showed disdain for the church of God and humiliation to those who had nothing to eat. There was nothing about the warped way the Corinthians celebrated the sacrificial death of Christ that Paul could praise (11:22).
11:23-25 Given the chaos surrounding the Corinthian practice, Paul gets back to basics, reminding them of what he had passed on to them when he was with them. He recounts for them the final Passover meal that the Lord Jesus shared with his disciples on the night when he was betrayed (11:23). Jesus infused the meal with new significance. The bread represents his body, and the cup is the new covenant in his blood. The disciples were to eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of him (11:24-25; cf. Luke 22:19-20). This was the institution of the church ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
A covenant is a divinely created bond through which God administers his kingdom program. Those who operate under a covenant receive its intended blessings. “The new covenant” refers to the new relationship that God established through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If you are a Christian, one who has trusted in Jesus as the substitutionary atoning sacrifice for your sins, you are a member of the new covenant—along with the rest of the people of God.
Remembering (“in remembrance of”) is not just recalling. The Lord’s Supper offers a uniquely powerful time of spiritual intimacy with the Lord in the same way that physical intimacy in marriage serves as a special time of intimacy between a couple. This is why we are encouraged to partake of Communion as often as possible. It is a special sharing with Christ beyond the normal relationship, enabling access to heaven at a deeper level. Communion is also designed to demonstrate the unity of the church at a common meal with the Savior.
11:26 When the church of Christ gathers to partake of the Lord’s Supper, Paul says we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We evangelistically proclaim it to the world to invite them to trust in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. We triumphantly proclaim it to the devil and the demonic realm (see Col 2:15; 1 Pet 3:18-19) to remind them of their defeat and their coming judgment. And we gloriously proclaim it to one another to recognize anew the victory over sin and the spiritual authority that Christ won for us on the cross.
11:27 Having once again explained the significance of the Lord’s Supper and the sacrifice to which it points, Paul here returns to how the Corinthians had been making a mockery of the meal (see 11:20-22): So, then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. By “unworthy” Paul isn’t referring to personal worthiness. We are all sinful; no person is worthy of salvation. That’s why we need God’s grace. Rather, Paul is talking about the illegitimate manner in which they participated in Communion. They were taking something sacred and treating it as common. This special moment of remembrance and intimacy with the Lord and his people had lost its solemn significance because of the self-centered way they engaged in it.
We are not required to come to the Lord’s Supper without any sin in our lives. If we had to be perfect, we’d never be able to partake. But we must take it seriously, recognizing its significance and the principle of the unity of his body (the church), which this ordinance is designed to encourage. We must not sin against the Lord by showing contempt for his sacrifice.
11:28-29 Therefore, Paul says, let a person examine himself so that he may partake of this holy meal in a worthy manner (11:28). In view here is not only the addressing of personal sin but the way in which believers relate to one another. The absence of unity and the presence of racial, social, and class division are to be avoided. How we relate to Christ’s body affects how God relates to us. To treat it with anything other than respect is to eat and drink judgment on oneself (11:29), which brings to mind the case of Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11). Unless you recognize that the Lord’s Supper represents Christ’s victory on the cross, through which he transfers spiritual victory to your life, and unless you are also in fellowship with his spiritual family, the Communion moment that’s intended to bless you could actually hurt you.
11:30-32 Paul explains that the Corinthian believers had been experiencing such divine judgment. Their selfish actions around the Lord’s Table had resulted in many of them becoming ill or falling asleep (i.e., dying). Since they had not judged their own actions properly, God had severely disciplined them.
The Bible is clear that suffering and poor health are not necessarily a result of personal sin. Job, for instance, was a righteous man who suffered much. A man whom Jesus healed was not born blind because of anyone’s sin but “so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Nevertheless, sin can result in suffering, sickness, and even death. That’s what had happened to many of the Christians in Corinth. So examine yourself before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Ask, Do I recognize that it points to the judgment of God, the forgiveness of sin, the defeat of Satan, the victory of grace, and the unity of the church? Do I expect God’s blessings to flow to me through Communion, while I ignore known sin and disunity in my life? This will allow repentant believers to access the healing benefits of the cross (Isa 53:5; Jas 5:15-16)
11:33-34 Paul concludes the matter by urging them to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. When you gather together with Christian brothers and sisters, show love and hospitality. If you’re hungry, eat at home before Communion. Approach the Lord’s table with reverence—not only reverence for the Lord but also for his spiritual family—and receive his blessing.
12:1-3 Next Paul takes up a lengthy discussion of spiritual gifts (12:1). The essential feature of all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ is that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Before coming to faith in Christ, the Corinthian believers were pagans . . . enticed and led astray by mute idols (12:2). But by the power of the Spirit, they were enabled to turn to God and say, Jesus is Lord (12:3).
12:4-7 Before discussing the multiplicity of gifts that the Spirit provides to believers, Paul wants to emphasize the unity believers ought to have. The different gifts Christians receive equip them for different ministries and different activities. Yet making all of this possible is their triune God: the same Holy Spirit . . . the same Lord Jesus . . . the same God (12:4-6). Though our God exists in three persons, yet he is one God (see Deut 6:4). And since the one God stands behind each gift received by every Christian, then he intends for them to work for the common good (12:6-7).
Not only is the church of Jesus Christ made up of a variety of people of both genders and of different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and ages, but all those individuals receive from God a variety of spiritual gifts. Our physical and spiritual variety is good. But we were all created—and recreated in Christ (see 2 Cor 5:17)—by the same God who saved us for a single purpose: service in his kingdom. A spiritual gift is a God-given and empowered ability to serve him in ways that benefit others. Our variety is to be unified in submission to our King’s agenda for the good of all. We must not use our spiritual gifts for selfish ends, promoting division among God’s people.
12:8-11 Next Paul mentions some of the various spiritual gifts that the same Spirit makes available to believers (see also Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11). Notice that one Christian is given this gift, and another Christian is given that gift (12:8-10); thus, no one obtains a spiritual monopoly. Rather, within the church, we are dependent on one another for the exercise of all these different gifts. Furthermore, one and the same Spirit distributes to each person as he wills (12:11). You don’t choose the spiritual gift of your preference. The Spirit gives as he sees fit. He knows what you and his kingdom need better than you do, so trust him to supply you with the spiritual ability with which you can best serve him and bless others.
12:12-14 Paul uses the analogy of a human body to describe how the church—the body of Christ—ought to function. Indeed, a body best illustrates what the church is: many parts that are one (12:12). Not only does the body consist of a variety of external parts but also many complex internal systems, including the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, skeletal, and digestive systems. Nevertheless (when working properly!) all of the parts and systems function together for the good of the whole. Indeed, the body is not one part but many (12:14).
Though the Corinthians consisted of Jews or Greeks . . . slaves or free, they were all made a part of the same body. Paul elaborates, noting that believers are baptized by one Spirit into one body (12:13). The Greek verb baptizo means “to immerse.” It could be used to describe the action of immersing a cloth into a dye to change its color. The baptism of the cloth in such a case brings about a transformation that changes its visible identity. In the same way, the Spirit transforms all believers for a new way of life that is to be done together. They are baptized “into one body”—the body of Christ, the family of God.
12:15-16 What happens when Christians operate on their own, when they disconnect from the church and do not benefit others? Paul describes the absurdity of this by again using the human body analogy. If a hand or an ear says, I don’t belong to the body, breakdown results. Because of the loss of use of the hand or ear, the body is left incomplete. Moreover, the severed hand or ear does not benefit from the rest of the body.
Too many believers are detached from the church, unwilling to commit to being fully functioning members. As a result, both the believer and the church lose out on the blessings God intends. A light bulb may be in a light socket, but if there’s no light coming through, it’s just taking up space and providing no benefit. Similarly, believers who are disconnected from active involvement in the local church are living outside of the will of God.
12:17-20 No single person in the church is more valuable than any other. After all, Paul asks, If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? (12:17). We must not expect everyone to be exactly like us. Without the multiplicity of spiritual gifts operating within the church, we lose out on essential functions. No single body part is more important than all the rest. But while you are a critical part of the body of Christ, you are only one part. You’re not the whole thing; it’s not all about you. Nor should you expect everyone to be just like you. If every part of the body were the same, it would cease to be a body (12:19)!
In the same way that God designed the human body with each part functioning exactly as he intended, so also God has arranged each part of the body of Christ just as he wanted (12:18). The one who created you gave you the spiritual gift that he wanted you to have. To insist that you want to serve the church in a different capacity than what God intended is like an ear insisting on being an eye. Not only is such a stance futile, but it is also a prideful rejection of your King’s wise and perfect plan for you.
12:21-22 No part of the body can say to another part, I don’t need you! (12:21). Every part is necessary. We may not always be aware of how a certain part is contributing or visibly observe its contribution, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless. As Paul says, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable (10:22). For instance, the internal parts of our bodies that we cannot see are incredibly significant! Without their functions, the external parts could not function.
Often we place too much emphasis on members and ministries that are visible. But this wrongly equates visibility with value. Not every member has the same gift, the same role, or the same level of responsibility. But every member matters. Those whose ministries go on behind the scenes are vital to the health of the church.
12:23-24 Paul notes that we give greater honor to the less honorable parts of our bodies (that is, our private parts). We treat unrespectable parts . . . with greater respect (12:23). Though they are not displayed for the world to see, they perform indispensable functions. So it is in the body of Christ.
12:25 In light of the necessity of every body part, there should be no division in the church so that every member has the same concern for each other. If every member is needed, then we ought to be concerned if any one member is suffering or experiencing dysfunction. This, in fact, is why Scripture places such emphasis on caring for one another (see, e.g., John 15:12; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32; 1 Thess 5:11). We are responsible to and accountable for one another because we all share in the same body.
12:26 A little toe may seem fairly insignificant. But if you stub yours, it will shut you down! The pain affects the whole body. Indeed, if one member of the body suffers, all the members suffer with it. Therefore, don’t be concerned only for your own needs within Christ’s body. As Paul says elsewhere, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). This is simply an application of the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
12:27-31 The church in Corinth (and every other local church) is an expression of the body of Christ, and all Christians are individual members of it (12:27). Paul mentions several offices within the church for which individuals are spiritually equipped. Their ranking (first . . . second . . . third) has to do with the level of the office. The apostles were those who had seen the risen Jesus and were appointed by him as foundational leaders to teach doctrine to the church. The prophets communicate God’s revelation to God’s people. Teachers explain the meaning of God’s truth (12:28).
Notice that various kinds of tongues are mentioned last on the list (12:28). Though more is said about this topic in chapter 14, given how controversial the issue of speaking in tongues is today, note two important things. First, since it comes last in the list, it should not be given such supreme importance as some have assigned it. Second, observe that Paul asks, Do all speak in other tongues? (12:30). This question implies that not all Christians have been given this gift; therefore, it is not a super-Christian status indicator or the only sign that someone has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s instruction regarding tongues is written to a carnal, divided church (see 3:1-3). Thus, the exercise of the gift of tongues is not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity.
Paul’s questions in 12:29-30 indicate that no one receives every gift. But each receives the gift that God intends him to receive. Nevertheless, Paul says it is not wrong to desire the greater gifts to be manifested in the church (12:31)—that is, the higher-ranking gifts (if God chooses to grant them)—in order to provide the broadest edification to the church.
13:1-3 Paul insists that love is critical to any understanding and application of spiritual gifts. If love is absent, spiritual gifts do not edify. No matter what language one speaks (angels only spoke human languages in Scripture), without love the sound is nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (13:1). No matter how visible and effective my gift or ministry may be, if I do not have love for my fellow Christians, I am nothing and I gain nothing because spiritual gifts are for the benefit of others (13:2-3). The gift does not matter when love is missing.
13:4-7 What does love look like? Paul explains what love does and what it does not do. Biblical love is the decision (not merely a feeling) to compassionately (out of concern for someone else), righteously (based on God’s standards), and sacrificially (giving to meet a need) seek the well-being of another. Notice each of the characteristics of love: it is patient . . . kind . . . not [envious] . . . not arrogant . . . not irritable. These things are only possible when we put others before ourselves (13:4-5). Love does not affirm someone in their sin or their false beliefs because love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth (13:6). Love does not quit; it endures through thick and thin (13:7).
13:8-10 One day when we experience the joyous intimacy of God’s presence, spiritual gifts will come to an end because we will no longer need them. But not love. Love never ends (13:8). When the perfect comes, though, the partial will come to an end (13:10). By “perfect,” Paul is referring to spiritual maturity. The more a person grows in spiritual maturity, the less dependent one is on the particular gifts of prophecy and tongues (13:8).
13:11-12 A child speaks, thinks, and reasons like a child. But a man has grown in maturity and put aside childish things (13:11). Our Christian goal is spiritual maturity. Full maturity will only finally occur in God’s glorious presence, but we are to progressively mature now. Currently, our experience is like looking at our reflection in a dim mirror, but eventually we will see face to face. Even as I am fully known to God now, one day I will know fully reality as God meant me to know it (13:12). All will be made clear.
13:13 These three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love. In eternity, you will no longer need faith because you will have sight. You will no longer need hope because your expectations and anticipations will all have been met and exceeded. But the love that will characterize our eternal relationship with God will continue since “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
14:1-5 Since love is critical and eternal, Paul exhorts them to pursue love. Love is superior to spiritual gifts and enables one to understand and utilize spiritual gifts rightly. Though he wanted them to desire spiritual gifts (14:1), exercising them was not for the purpose of self-exaltation because that would be contrary to love.
Apparently, the Corinthians were using the gift of other tongues to show off; thus, Paul confronts them. He prefers that they prophesy because the one who does so brings a clear word from God to everyone, edifying and encouraging the gathered body of believers (14:1, 3). But the one who speaks in another tongue speaks only to God. Unless someone is able to interpret the tongue, no one understands, and the church is not built up (14:2, 5). Since the person who speaks in tongues only edifies himself, while the person who prophesies edifies the church, prophecy is clearly the greater gift of the two (14:4-5). Paul wishes they all spoke in other tongues (14:5) so that someone was always available to interpret. But, of course, as he already said, God doesn’t give the gift of tongues to everyone (see 12:30).
It’s important to understand what Paul means regarding the gift of speaking “in another tongue.” Though some interpret this to mean “a heavenly language,” the New Testament evidence favors the meaning “human language.” Note the key passage in Acts 2:4-11 when the apostles had been “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (2:4). The context makes clear that these “tongues” (2:4, 11) were actually various native languages (2:6, 8) spoken by those who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost.
14:6-12 In these verses, Paul emphasizes how important it is that all believers understand what is spoken when they gather together. Even if the apostle Paul himself came to a meeting speaking in other tongues, the church could not benefit if he communicated something that no one could understand (14:6). After all, if someone plays a musical instrument—a flute or harp or bugle—without playing clear notes, the result will be incoherent noise (14:7-8). In the same way, an uninterpreted tongue is unintelligible to anyone who hears it (14:9). It’s nothing but hot air. Without an understanding of the meaning of the words spoken, members of the church will be like foreigners to one another (14:10-11). Shared understanding is necessary for communication to be meaningful. Thus, Paul wants their zeal for spiritual gifts to be matched by an equal zeal for building up the church (14:12) so that the Spirit could do his work among them.
How do you view the spiritual gift that you have received from the Holy Spirit? Is it a tool for winning attention, admiration, and praise from others? Or do you consider your gift to be an opportunity to glorify God and lovingly build up your brothers and sisters in Christ? It could be that you need to reread 13:1-7. In any case, don’t misunderstand the purpose of spiritual gifts, and don’t forget the chief element of exercising them: love.
14:13-17 In light of Paul’s concerns, he urges those who do have the gift of another tongue to pray for the gift to interpret (14:13). For to pray in another language without understanding is unfruitful (14:14). Prayer and praise must be accompanied by understanding if anyone is to hear and say, Amen (14:15-16). How can you affirm what someone has spoken if it’s unintelligible gibberish to you?
14:18-19 Though Paul himself spoke in other tongues more than all the Corinthians, he didn’t consider it a badge of honor to be flaunted (14:18). He preferred to utter five comprehensible words that edified others, than ten thousand incoherent words that benefited no one (14:19). May God grant that our convictions be the same as Paul’s.
14:20 The only case in which its beneficial to be childish and immature is with regard to evil: we do not want to be experienced in wickedness. Otherwise, we want to be adult and mature in our thinking. Excitement about exercising exotic spiritual gifts that no one can understand is immature. A more mature stance is to exercise gifts for the good of others.
14:21-22 Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12, which recounts the defeat of the rebellious and unbelieving Israelites at the hands of the Assyrian army which spoke a language the people couldn’t understand. Based on this, he says, speaking in other tongues . . . is intended as a sign . . . for unbelievers—that is, a sign of judgment—while prophecy is for believers.
14:23-25 If the church is gathered and the members speak in other tongues when unbelievers are present, the unbelievers will think the Christians are crazy since they hear what they can’t understand (14:23). But if the unbelieving visitor hears prophecy, he can be convicted by the truth of the gospel, be saved, and acknowledge God’s presence among them (14:24-25). Thus, Paul desires the meaningful use of spiritual gifts.
14:26-28 Still concerned that the church be edified, Paul next moves to the issue of orderliness in the gathered church. If each person has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation, Paul insists that everything is to be done for building up and in an ordered manner (14:26). A coherent process should be followed. At most there should be three people speaking in another tongue; however, if there is no interpreter people should remain silent, speaking only to themselves and God (14:27-28; see 14:13).
14:29-33 Prophecy should likewise be regulated, Paul insists. Only two or three prophets are to speak at one gathering, and those prophecies are to be evaluated to determine that they are true, as the Word of God is applied to a particular circumstance in the life of the church (14:29). Thus, the exercise of prophecy has to be orderly. One can’t irrationally begin spouting off a prophecy; rather, people are to prophesy one by one so that all can learn and be encouraged (14:30-31). The prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets—meaning they must exercise self-control in giving prophecy because God is not a God of disorder but of peace (14:32-33).
These last words are important for both individual believers and the church as a whole to apply. Since “God is not a God of disorder” (since he is unified in his triune nature), then he expects his people to do everything in a proper and orderly way (see 14:40). Such behavior promotes understanding, edification, and harmony.
14:34-35 When Paul says women should be silent in the churches (11:34), he’s not forbidding a woman from praying and prophesying when the church gathers. After all, he has already made clear that a woman can do so if she submits to the spiritual authority of her husband and the church’s leadership (see 11:5). Apparently, though, some of the women in Corinth were being disruptive during the church service and not submitting themselves to their husbands (11:34; see commentary on 11:4-6). Rather than engaging in disorderly and distracting conduct when prophesies were being given, they were to ask their own husbands at home (11:35) to preserve order and peace in the gathering.
14:36-38 For those who might become disgruntled and oppose Paul’s instructions on these matters, comes this reminder: the word of God did not originate from them (11:36). Rather, Paul had proclaimed it. Furthermore, he maintains that anyone who claims to be a prophet or a spiritual person will recognize that he wasn’t offering mere personal opinion but the Lord’s command (14:37). Thus, to reject this teaching is to reject the Lord. Such a person will be ignored by the Lord (14:38).
14:39-40 Paul concludes the topic with an exhortation to engage in these spiritual gifts—prophecy and speaking in other tongues—in accordance with his instructions so that everything is carried out decently and in order. Obedience to this invites the blessing of God who “is not a God of disorder but of peace” (14:33). Righteous unity is critical for the church to experience God’s presence in its midst.
D. The Resurrection (15:1-58)
15:1-2 Paul seeks to make clear for the Co-rinthians the gospel—the good news—that he had preached to them on his previous visit, which they had received, and on which they had taken their stand (15:1) In other words, he was repeating to them the same thing he had told them then. The gospel they had received had kept them standing thus far—and would continue to do so. Paul also affirms that the same gospel that justifies sinners, giving them eternal life, also sanctifies them as saints (being saved here refers to present tense salvation for deliverance from the power of sin). But they must continually abide (i.e., hold fast) in the knowledge and application of God’s Word (15:2).
15:3 There were many things that Paul could have spoken about to the Corinthians when he first visited them. What did he tell them? What had he himself received and passed on to them? What was it that he considered most important?
First, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. The reason these facts are so significant is because of who Christ is and what his death accomplished. Jesus Christ is the God-man. He is the Word of God who became flesh (John 1:14). He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Godhead, who became a man without giving up his deity (see Phil 2:5-8). He is the one and only person with both a divine nature and a human nature, unmixed forever. Therefore, he could serve as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for sinners because as God he is without sin, and as a man he could die in our place. By bearing our sins on the cross, he suffered the wrath of God that we deserved so that we might be forgiven, receive eternal life, and be saved (see, e.g., 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24).
15:4 Second, he was buried. Jesus didn’t merely swoon on the cross; he died. The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would give his life as a sacrificial offering (see Isa 53:4-12), and the New Testament record assures us that this was indeed true of Jesus (see John 19:33-42; Phil 2:8).
Third, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Jesus suffered and died on our behalf; he made payment for our sins. Was this payment accepted? We can be certain that it was because God raised him from the dead. This is the clear and consistent testimony of the early church (see, e.g., Acts 2:24-32; 3:15; 5:30; 10:39-41; 13:29-37; 17:31). Jesus has risen from the grave, and the apostles and many others were eyewitnesses to this. The resurrection, then, is your receipt that God accepted Christ’s payment for your sins and mine. And all of this happened “according to the Scriptures.” The Old Testament not only foretold the Messiah’s death but also his resurrection (see Ps 16:10). As Paul essentially says later in this chapter, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity (see 1 Cor 15:13-19).
15:5-8 The risen Lord Jesus wasn’t seen by merely one or two people. On the contrary, Paul assures the Corinthians that there were numerous eyewitnesses to the resurrection. He appeared to Cephas (Peter) and the Twelve (the apostles) (15:5). One of the qualifications of being an apostle was to have seen the risen Christ (see Acts 1:21-22). Besides this, he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time—most of whom were still alive and could verify this claim. This was no conspiracy concocted by a small band of people, then. Hundreds saw him! He also appeared to James (15:7), the Lord’s own half-brother. Though he didn’t believe in Jesus during his earthly ministry (see John 7:3-5), when he witnessed the resurrection, James believed, became a leader in the early church (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18), and wrote the New Testament letter bearing his name. Finally, Paul says, he also appeared to me (15:8). The persecutor of the church had been called by the risen Lord Jesus himself to be an apostle (see Acts 9:1-22).
These are the essential truths of the gospel. Through the sacrificial substitutionary death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, all those who place their faith in him are forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, adopted as his children, and receive eternal life. Sinners can be saved. This is the good news that the church is called to proclaim to the world.
15:9-11 With his typical humility (see 1 Tim 1:15), Paul declares that he is the least of the apostles and not worthy to bear the title of apostle since he had been a violent persecutor of the church (15:9). He never forgot the horrific actions he had taken against God’s people when he was an unbeliever. But the grace of God bore fruit in his life; it was not in vain (15:10). Paul’s understanding of and appreciation for God’s grace through Christ inspired his labor and love. This appreciation for grace is what should empower and motivate Christians for service. Paul didn’t care whether he or others received the credit for the spread of the gospel, as long as the good news was proclaimed and sinners were saved for God’s kingdom (15:11).
15:12-14 Some of the Corinthians were claiming that there was no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Whether the teaching had come from within the church or from outside is unknown. Perhaps they thought Christ had risen spiritually to heaven but not bodily from the grave. Whatever the origin or the particulars of this heresy, Paul confronts it because it strikes at the heart of the gospel. The resurrection is essential. If Christ has not been raised, Paul’s preaching—and the Christian message—would be empty and meaningless. Moreover, the Corinthians’ faith was wasted because you can’t have a living faith in a dead Savior (15:14).
Our salvation depends on the truth that Jesus Christ is the sinless Son of God whose death paid for our sins and whom God vindicated by raising him from the grave. Without this, we have no sinless Savior, no high priest who always lives to intercede for us (see Heb 7:25), no forgiveness, no hope of being raised from the dead ourselves.
15:15-18 Paul continues stating the implications of a denial of Christ’s resurrection. It would mean that Paul and the other apostles were false witnesses, lying to Jews and Gentiles about what God had accomplished through Christ (15:15). If Christ has not been raised, then their faith was worthless. Instead of being alive with Christ (see Eph 2:4-5), the Corinthians were still dead in [their] sins (15:17; see Eph 2:1). A dead Savior is no Savior at all. Therefore, believers who have died would be lost forever (15:18).
15:19 Then Paul sums things up: If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. Indeed, if our belief in the resurrection is something that does not extend beyond the grave—that is, if it’s not true—then we have no hope of eternal life after death, are living a lie, and ought to be pitied by the world.
15:20 Contrary to what some Corinthians were claiming, though, Paul insists that Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep—that is, of those who have died. The use of “firstfruits” here calls to mind Leviticus 23:10-14. In that passage, the Israelites were to bring the first portion of their harvests to the priest as an offering to the Lord. This was done in anticipation of the full harvest that was to come, as they trusted in God to provide. Thus, Christ’s resurrection is the promise that believers will one day be raised.
15:21-22 Adam disobeyed God and brought both spiritual and physical death to the human race. But through his own resurrection, Christ—the second Adam (see 15:47)—has made eternal life available to all.
15:23-28 God has a plan and an order to his resurrection process. Christ, the firstfruits, was the first to rise. At his next coming, all those who belong to Christ will receive resurrection bodies (15:23; see 1 Thess 4:13-18). At the end, after his millennial reign, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, and abolish all his enemies—including death—putting everything under his feet (15:24-27; see Ps 110:1). With everything else subjected to him, the Son will in turn be subject to the Father (15:28).
The Son will have succeeded where Adam failed and fulfilled the created kingdom destiny of man to rule (see Ps 8:4-6). He will have established a kingdom to defeat Satan’s kingdom, ruling on behalf of humanity for God. When he hands over the kingdom to the Father at the end of his millennial reign, his earthly mission in history will be complete, ushering in eternity. And God will be all in all (15:28).
15:29 Paul mentions a practice that some in Corinth were engaging in: being baptized for the dead. It appears that some were being baptized by proxy on behalf of those who had died before they could be baptized. Paul isn’t advocating this practice; rather, he’s pointing out its absurdity if there’s no resurrection. Why be baptized for the dead if the dead are not raised?
15:30-32 Paul speaks about how the truth of the resurrection affected him personally. He was in mortal danger on a regular basis because of his gospel ministry (15:30-31). Both Jews and Gentiles had tried to kill him. He contended with wild beasts in Ephesus—which may be a reference to those who opposed God’s kingdom. Yet, what was the point if the dead are not raised? If there’s no resurrection, Paul says, quoting the self-indulgent attitude of the Israelites in Isaiah 22:13, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (15:32).
15:33-34 The apostle argues, Bad company corrupts. The Corinthian believers needed to stop hanging out with those who were promoting false doctrine, denying the resurrection, and living unrighteously. You cannot make unbelievers your constant, intimate companions and think you will escape unscathed. Cozying up to heretical teachings and lifestyles is dangerous. Thus, Paul tells the Corinthian believers point blank, Come to your senses and stop sinning (15:34).
15:35-44 To those naysayers who ask, How are the dead raised? and, What kind of body will they have? Paul exclaims, You fool! (15:35-36). In their attempts to ridicule the resurrection, they forgot that what you sow does not come to life unless it dies (15:36). What is sown is only a seed (15:37). God gives us bodies as he pleases. In fact, there are bodies for humans, animals, planets, and stars (15:38-41). The human body is like a seed. It is sown in corruption and weakness, but raised in glory and power (15:42-43). Just as seeds are transformed, so our bodies will be transformed. A dead natural body will be raised as an eternal spiritual body (15:44).
15:45-49 Paul compares Adam to Christ; he discusses the first Adam and the last Adam. Adam is Hebrew for “man.” The first man, made of dust, became a living being through the power of God. But the second man, who has come from heaven, became a life-giving spirit (15:45, 47). The natural man could only die; the spiritual man can give life (15:46). We have all borne the image of the man of dust. What we need is to bear the image of the man of heaven (15:49). From birth, all human beings are “in Adam,” but through faith in the gospel we are “in Christ” and granted the hope of resurrection to life (see 15:22).
15:50-57 One day we will all be changed . . . in the twinkling of an eye (15:51-52). Our corruptible bodies will be clothed with incorruptibility; our mortal bodies clothed with immortality (15:53-54). Pain, sickness, disease, disability, and suffering of every kind will be gone. Our resurrection bodies will be indestructible and incorruptible. For all those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no sting to death, for death will be swallowed up in victory (15:54-55). Death is the result of sin (see also Rom 6:23), and sin gets power from the law (15:56). When God’s law commands, “Do not,” the sinful human heart desires the opposite (see Rom 7:7-11). But because of his faithfulness to perfectly keep the law and bear our sins, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the victory (15:57).
15:58 Therefore, Paul concludes at the end of this glorious chapter on the resurrection, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. The salvation Christ accomplished through his cross and resurrection is the gracious gift of God for sinners. We can’t earn it. But after we’ve received it, we’re not to sit back and do nothing. In light of our victory over sin and death due to our faith in King Jesus, believers are encouraged to labor for their Lord.
So make God’s kingdom agenda your own. Don’t become weary or give up because your labor “is not in vain.” It’s not wasted. You’re not spinning your wheels when you engage in faithful kingdom service. God sees your work for him, and he has a reward in store for you that will exceed your wildest expectations.
E. Collection for the Church in Jerusalem (16:1-4)
16:1 Following his exhortation in 15:58 to do “the Lord’s work,” Paul encourages them to apply this principle by taking up a collection for the saints. Though Paul doesn’t say explicitly whom the collection is for, references elsewhere make it clear that he’s talking about a relief gift for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17; Rom 15:25-26; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15).
16:2 He asks them to take up the collection on the first day of the week (Sunday) as a part of their weekly worship gathering. Paul desires that each person set something aside in accordance with how he is prospering. Thus, giving was to be planned—not haphazard—and based on one’s personal means. Moreover, setting aside the offerings in advance would prevent Paul from having to chide or browbeat them when he visited, avoiding embarrassment for everyone.
16:3-4 Paul had a burden for the poor in Jerusalem. He greatly desired that the Gentile believers might bless Jewish believers in their time of distress. As he told the Christians in Rome, “If the Gentiles have shared in [the Jewish believers’] spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to them in material needs” (Rom 15:27). His plan was to send the gift to Jerusalem through trusted representatives whom the Corinthians selected (16:3).