1 Corinthians 11 – Continuing Corrections

Read 1 Corinthians 11

Paul appears to shift focus in chapter 11, but he is not moving away from the continuing thought of avoiding bringing shame on the community which would damage the message of the Gospel.

In that light, he begins to address some of the issues that the church in Corinth was dealing with.  The first section, on the proper dress and appropriate place of women in worship, is hard to read for us 2000 years later.  Not only are our cultural contexts different, but we also are missing a piece of the puzzle: what issue is Paul actually addressing here?

A lot of what he is saying, though, comes from the continuing notion of not using Christian freedom in a way that jeopardizes or damages others.  Paul uses language of both dependence of both man and woman, and also mutual independence, perhaps leading to an understanding that it is about more than just “myself” and “my body” at stake here.  We always must consider others in our freedom and not use it to cause them to fall into sin.

What is acknowledged here is that sexuality is a real thing.  Long hair has often been a sign of status, of sexuality, and could even be considered a “private part” in that culture.  Is a woman free to wear her hair the way she wants?  Certainly!  Could doing so, both then and now, perhaps cause men to fall into temptation?  Yes.  Is that her fault?  Definitely not.  Paul is asking for her consideration of her weaker brothers in the same way he encourages people to stay away from eating food offered to idols in previous chapters.

The same is true with the Lord’s Supper discourse.  Likely what was happening was a deepening of socio-economic divides within the church.  Those who were rich and did not have to work would go ahead and begin the meal while the “blue collar” workers would come in later and find the food and drink gone.  This is clearly contrary to many, if not all, of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper.  It is meant to bring unity, not division.  Paul encourages them to check their hearts here.  Are there systems in place that cause divisions among believers?

While some of these words are difficult to read and place into a contemporary context, they are important.  In a culture where “my rights” and “my desires” are so often placed ahead of everyone else, Paul reminds us once again that the freedom we are blessed with in Christ is not for our own benefit, but to be used in the loving, humble consideration and service of all we encounter.

1 Corinthians 8 – Puffed Up

Read 1 Corinthians 8

Reading the middle section of 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to meander through issues in a scatterbrained sort of way.  He’s here and there and back again without any seemingly logical progression.  However, if we take a step back and look at the whole of this section, the same theme continues throughout: “Don’t let the way you act diminish the message of the Gospel.”  Sometimes he talks about this in reference to “outsiders,” here it is in reference to conduct with other believers.

Sacrificing food to idols is archaic practice if ever there was one.  I think this is why Paul frames this in terms of knowledge, not the act itself.  The reality is, in every Christian community, there are those that understand and embrace the freedom that Christ offers and those that are still working that out.  Those that have “knowledge,” meaning they understand the freedom they have, must temper how the act on it so as not to hurt others.  In this instance, some people may know that food sacrificed to a false god that doesn’t exist is fine to eat.  Yet younger Christians who may still be working that out could find it offensive… or perhaps even a temptation to fall back into their former sinful life.

Perhaps a more contemporary example would be the idea that drinking alcohol is not a sinful act.  However, expressing our freedom by drinking alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic causing him/her to fall back into that addiction is wrong, the very opposite of Christ’s call to love.

Christian freedom is always express in love and concern for others.  Knowledge is always expressed through the wisdom of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us use our knowledge to build others up… not to boast and be puffed up.