In our study of 1 Corinthians we have seen that the apostle Paul was used of God to correct many erroneous concepts and to suggest remedies for many wrong practices in the church of God in his day, but this letter with its varied instructions was never intended to be read only by the early Christians. It is addressed to “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” If the churches of God today would be subject to the teachings of this first Epistle to the Corinthians, we would be delivered from a lot of things that hinder the progress of the gospel and impede the working of the Spirit of God among us.
Resolving Disputes (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)
In this section Paul inveighed against a practice that was growing in Corinth and I am afraid has been in evidence in many other places since: Christians quarrel with other Christians about temporal matters and sometimes even drag one another into the world’s law courts for the adjudication of their difficulties. This is utterly abhorrent to the spirit of Christianity. Going to law puts the Christian in a false position both before the world and before his brothers in Christ. He is saying to the world, “We Christians are just as covetous and just as quarrelsome as you of the world are. We are just as much concerned about having our own way and pleasing ourselves. We recognize your judges as having authority over the church of God.” It is degrading to the Christian thus to act.
The apostle demanded, “Dare any of you?” He was stirred with indignation and his language was very strong. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another [he meant of course another brother] go to law before the unjust and not before the saints?”
Paul was not teaching that a Christian should never go to law. It is quite impossible at times to avoid it and even the apostle himself, when falsely accused before a Roman governor, said, “I appeal to Caesar.” Paul claimed his natural rights as a Roman citizen and insisted that his case be heard in the imperial court. I know some brethren are wiser than the apostle Paul and feel that he made a mistake. They are quite certain that if they had been in his place, they would have acted more wisely. It is a pity that the apostle could not have availed himself of their advice! But he acted quite within his rights as a Christian, for when he appealed to the caesar, he was not taking his brothers in Christ to court “before the unjust.” Rather he was asking for a chance to respond to the complaints of the Jews in a clear, straightforward way before the supreme tribunal of the Roman empire.
When Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi, the judges would have dismissed them and let them leave the jail covertly without a clear public justification, but Paul said in effect, “No, we have been wrongfully accused and unjustly treated by you magistrates. Admit you have made a mistake; make the admission publicly.” That was all perfectly right and proper.
But in 1 Corinthians Paul was addressing an entirely different situation. If Christians have disagreements that they are not able to iron out between themselves, they should go “before the saints.” The individuals involved should consult their brothers in Christ, bring together those in whom they have confidence, and agree to abide by these brothers’ judgment, just as they would have to abide by the decision of a worldly court.
When Paul asked, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” he was referring to something that many Christians have lost sight of. Our Lord Jesus Christ is coming again to reign for a thousand wonderful years. When He reigns we will reign with Him, for it is prophesied, “Judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Daniel 7:22). If we are going to reign with Christ, if we are going to sit on thrones of judgment with Him in that coming glorious kingdom age, it is absurd to think that we are not fit to judge “the smallest matters” on earth when our brothers are in difficulty.
After all, temporal things are so trivial; matters of money, matters of property, matters concerning personal reputation are such small things when viewed in the light of eternity. We may make a great deal of them; we may magnify them and give them a place of importance altogether beyond that which they deserve, but the apostle declared that they are relatively insignificant and he strengthened his position by adding, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” What was he saying? Are we going to sit in judgment on angels who are greater in power and might than we are?
Are angels going to be judged? Yes, we read twice in the New Testament of angels coming to judgment. Second Peter 2:4 says, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” And Jude 6 says, “The angels which kept not their first estate [their own principality], but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”
It is the final judgment that is in view here, and at that last great assize these fallen angels will all be brought before the throne of judgment. And who will sit on that throne? Our Lord Jesus Christ and all the redeemed throughout the ages who will be associated with Him as assessors. If this dignity is to be ours, if we are to judge the world during the kingdom age, if we are to judge angels when eternity begins, how can we be unfit to judge affairs of this life? How much more should we be able to judge between our brothers in Christ!
In 1 Corinthians 6:4 Paul said something that evidently was not very clear, it seems to me, to the minds of those who years ago prepared the wonderful King James version. It says, “Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.” According to this translation, the thought being expressed was that these matters are so trivial, they are of so little importance, that even those who are least esteemed in the church ought to be fit to adjudicate such cases. I question whether that is what the apostle was really saying, for in the next verse he added, “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” There he was implying that if the church is to take up matters of this kind, there should be wise men to give decisions; and that thought hardly seems to be in harmony with the King James rendering of 6:4.
Another translation turns the verse into a question: “If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, do you set them to judge who are of no account in the church?” In other words, Paul was saying, “If you drag your Christian brother before one of the judges of this world, you are bringing him before a man who, whatever his place in the world may be, is of no account in the church of God (unless he himself happens also to be a Christian). His dignity and probity do not give him a place in the church. Whether honorable or not, if he has not been born again, if he has not been converted, he is of no account in the church.”
In going to court, the Corinthians were degrading themselves and therefore ought to have bowed their heads in shame. What they were doing was altogether wrong: “Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.” Paul said, “There is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another.”
Someone might say, “I do not know of any Christian to whom I could submit my case,” but even if that is true, there is another way out. “Why do ye not rather take wrong?” Paul asked. “Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” You do not have to insist on your own rights; it is not necessary that you should always be cleared of charges; it is not necessary that you should always prove that you have been wronged in matters of this kind. You can, if you will, bow your head and say, “I leave all with God. I am not going to say anything about it; if they wrong me, He understands.”
When I was a little fellow I attended a church in Toronto where some difficulty had come up between members and they did as the apostle suggested. My dear mother took me along to the hearing. Little pitchers have big ears, and I well remember how horrified I was to see men whom I esteemed and had been taught to respect so indignant with each other. One man sprang to his feet and with clenched fists said, “I will put up with a good deal, but one thing I will not put up with. I will not allow you to put anything over on me; I will have my rights!” An old Scottish brother who was rather hard of hearing leaned forward holding his ear and said, “What was that, brother? I did not get that!”
“I say, I will have my rights,” said the man.
“But you did not mean that; did you? Your rights? If you had your rights, you would be in Hell; wouldn’t you? And you are forgetting—aren’t you?—that Jesus did not come to get His rights. He came to get His wrongs, and He got them.”
I can still see that man standing there for a moment like one transfixed, and then with tears in his eyes he said, “Brethren, I have been all wrong. Handle the case as you think best.” He sat down, buried his face in his hands, and sobbed before the Lord, and everything was settled in three minutes. When Christians are in this spirit, it is so easy to clear things up; when we bow before the Lord, He straightens them out.
After reminding the Corinthians “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul set forth a fearful catalog of sins and transgressions against God, nature, and man. As he recited this awful list, he turned to that redeemed company and said, “And such were some of you.” Paul was saying, “These are the sins from which you have been delivered; these are the transgressions that have been forgiven; from these unholy, wicked, impure things you have been cleansed. Think of what grace has already done for you. Think of how marvelously God has dealt with you in spite of all the sin and iniquity that you have been guilty of in the past. You were sinners of five hundred pence, but God has forgiven all [see Luke 7:41]. Should you hold your brother accountable because he owes you some small debt when God has so graciously dealt with you?”
“Such were some of you,” he said, “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Notice the order: washed, sanctified, justified.
I went into a mission in San Francisco years ago and sat for perhaps half an hour listening to marvelous testimonies of redeeming grace. One after another rose and painted a dreadful picture of his past life and then told how God had saved him. I had come to that meeting with a sermon all made up, but as I sat listening to these testimonies, I thought, O dear, my stupid little sermon! To think I imagined I could go into my study and develop a little discourse that would suit a congregation like this. I had no idea of the kind of people I was going to address. So I just “canned” my sermon; I put it out of my mind, and when I rose to speak, I took this text: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.” It was easy to preach to them then even without a lot of preparation. The sermons that I get up are hard to preach, but those that come down are much easier.
At the close of the meeting a dignified man came up to me and asked, “Do you know that you got your theology terribly mixed up tonight?”
“Did I?” I replied. “Straighten me out.”
“You put sanctification before justification. You have to be justified and then you get the second blessing.”
“Pardon me, but you are mistaken,” I said. “I did not put sanctification before justification.”
“You most certainly did.”
“I most certainly did not; it was the apostle Paul who did.”
“Why, you cannot blame your theology on him.”
“I was simply quoting Scripture.”
“You misquoted it. It reads, ‘Ye are justified, ye are sanctified.’“ And he began to read, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified,” and then he said, “Why, there is a misprint there. Wait a minute; I will get a revised Bible.” He got it, looked at it, and read, “Washed, sanctified, justified.”
“Why,” he said, “I never saw that before; all I have to say is that the apostle Paul was not clear on the holiness question when he wrote that!”
What was the apostle really saying? “Ye are washed.” What does that mean? Paul was referring to the washing of regeneration. When an individual is first awakened and turned to the Lord and the Word of God is applied to his heart and conscience, he is delivered from the impurity of the old life. We are cleansed by “the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
“Ye are sanctified.” What does that mean? To be sanctified is to be set apart to God in Christ, and everyone who turns to the Lord Jesus Christ has been thus set apart. There is a work that begins even before a man is conscious of his justification. Were it not for that, not one of us would ever turn to Christ. The Spirit begins that work which disturbs and convicts and leads us to feel our need, and through the Word we are washed and cleansed; thus Christ is revealed to our souls and, putting our trust in Him, we are justified from all things.
“Washed”—that has to do with the practical cleansing. “Sanctified”—that has to do with being set apart to God in Christ. “Justified”—that has to do with being judicially cleared before the throne of God; He has nothing against the man who stands justified before Him. These are the blessings of every believer. How our hearts ought to thrill with worship and praise as we think how God has dealt with us!
The Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
In this passage Paul considered some of the practical results of the believer’s cleansing, sanctification, and justification. If we have been redeemed to God by the precious blood of His beloved Son, if we have been regenerated by the Word and the Holy Spirit, we are no longer to live to please ourselves. We are to live to please the One who has made us His own at such a cost, and so the apostle particularly stressed the importance of recognizing that our bodies belong to our risen Lord.
The honor of the body was never really revealed until our Lord Jesus Christ came. If you are at all familiar with the different heathen philosophies and pagan religions, you know that men as a rule distinguish between the inner man and his relation to God and the body and its relation to earth. Many philosophers and teachers would tell you that how you use your body does not make any difference, for it is merely physical and when you die, it is gone; even though your soul may persist after death, your body will never rise again and therefore it is impossible to defile your soul by anything you may do with your body.
That was the essence of the philosophy that was being taught in Corinth, where the apostle had been used of God for the calling out of a company of redeemed ones whom he addressed as “the church of God.” There was grave danger that these converts might retain some of their old pagan concepts and as a result fail to appreciate the holiness, the purity, that should be connected with the physical as well as the spiritual life of the believer.
The apostle showed that the believer has not come into any legal relationship with God; he is not under law. He has marvelous liberty, but not the liberty to do wrong. He must distinguish between license and liberty. An instructed believer will never say, “Oh, I am in Christ, and it does not make much difference what I do.” A man who talks like that shows that he has never comprehended the reality of what “in Christ” means. The very fact that I am in Christ means that God has claims on me that He did not assert when I belonged to the world. Then I was allowed to take my own way, but now I am called on to present my body, not merely my spirit, as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,” which is my intelligent service (Romans 12:1).
And so Paul told us in 1 Corinthians, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [befitting].” I am “not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), but there are many things that are utterly unsuited to a Christian, things that would bring my testimony into disrepute. There are a great many things about which there is no direct instruction in the Word of God, and thus some people think they don’t matter. But the question I must ask is, What effect would it have on other people if I as a Christian were to indulge in them? I belong to Christ, and men will form their opinion of Christ as they watch me; my behavior therefore must commend Christ to them.
Paul repeated, “All things are lawful for me,” then added, “but I will not be brought under the power of any.” That is a good answer to those who, excusing their use of intoxicants and tobacco, say, “Well, why shouldn’t a Christian feel perfectly free to indulge himself if he wants to?” It is bad to create habits that are not easily broken, and the apostle said in effect, “I will not allow myself to be a slave to appetite.” There are things with which one cannot tamper without being brought under their power. You lose your liberty when you say, “I have liberty to form habits like this,” for in forming such habits you become a slave.
So Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Applying the same principle in a different way, I could say, “I am the Lord’s free man and I am going to preserve my liberty in Christ. I am free to please Him, not free to please myself, even in the matter of food and drink.”
Proverbs 23:21 says, “The drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty.” Notice that it is not only the drunkard but also the glutton. During pagan festivals in Corinth the people gorged themselves in the most disgusting way in honor of their heathen gods, but we as Christians honor the true God by being careful not to overeat.
The saying is true, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats.” The two are created for each other: food is suited to the digestive tract, and the digestive tract is suited to food. But you are not to live for these things; you are not to live to feed your bodies, for “God shall destroy both it [the belly] and them [meats].” Do not live as though your major business in life is the gratifying of your appetite. Let there be some higher goal before you. As Christians your business is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul also referred to the sex instinct, for there were those who said, “God has implanted certain appetites in the bodies of men and women and it does not make any difference whether people indulge these appetites in or out of the marriage relationship.” To counteract the influence of this kind of philosophy, the apostle wrote, “The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” The body is not to be used for vile gratification that is contrary to the holiness of God; it is to be kept for the Lord and as it is kept for the Lord, the Lord is for the body.
It is the resurrection of the body of the Lord Jesus that has given dignity to our bodies, for as Paul affirmed, “God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.” Since our bodies too are going to be resurrected, we must remember that they are not to be used for any degrading purpose here on earth.
The apostle continued, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” You know that your spirit is a member of Christ, and you know that your soul belongs to Christ, but do you think as often as you should about the fact that your body is a member of Christ? What a wonderful relationship we have been brought into! It is not merely as an aggregation of redeemed souls that the church is “the body of Christ” (12:27). As men and women having physical constitutions we belong to Christ, and therefore our bodies are to manifest the holiness of Christ. Our bodies are to be used in devotion to Him.
Since our bodies are “the members of Christ,” how can we take the members of Christ, these bodies of ours, and defile them by using them for unholy purposes? How can we who profess to have been bought with the blood of God’s dear Son do that? Paul asked, “Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.”
The apostle continued, “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” What a mystic union this is! The same Holy Spirit who dwells without measure in the Head now dwells in every member of Christ’s body here on earth. Thus the body is “for the Lord.” This truth can solve every problem in regard to sensual pleasure and worldly folly. For example if you are invited to go to a place where you are not quite sure you can glorify God, you can stop a moment and say, “My body is a member of Christ; is it consistent for me as a member of Christ to go where He will be dishonored?” You must not go where you cannot glorify Christ. That is the Christian standard.
Because of our union with Christ, we must flee everything that is of a carnal, corrupt nature. “Flee fornication,” Paul wrote. “Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” Many other sins do not affect the body, but this sin is ruinous to body and soul alike, and so Paul said in effect, “Run from anything that would tend to stir the body to unholy lust.”
In his Confessions St. Augustine related how in his unconverted days he had allowed himself to become the willing victim of vile and fleshly lusts. He lived carelessly like the pagans of that day and associated with the corrupt and wicked members of society. When he was converted, the great question on his mind was, “Will I ever be able to live according to the Christian standard of holiness? Will I ever be able to keep myself from the vile, sensuous life in which I have lived so long?” When he first yielded himself to Christ, he took as his life-text Romans 13:13-14, in which the apostle exhorted the believer to “put… on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”
For a long time after his conversion Augustine did not dare go near the part of the city where his godless companions of former days lived. But one day a matter of business called him there, and as he was walking along the street he suddenly saw one of the beautiful yet wicked companions of his folly. The moment her eyes lit on him, her face was illuminated with delight and she came running with outstretched arms and crying, “Austin! Where have you been for so long? We have missed you so.” He turned and gathered up his long philosopher’s gown and started to run. It was not a very dignified proceeding for a doctor, a professor of rhetoric, to run up the street with a godless girl running after him. She called to him, “Austin, Austin, why do you run? It is only I!” He looked back and exclaimed, “I run because it is not I.” And he was off again.
“The life which I now live in the flesh,” Paul said, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That is our standard and so in all our behavior, in the use of our bodies, we are to glorify Him.
Paul came to the crux of the whole matter when he asked: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple [the sanctuary] of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Note how the Holy Spirit links us again with Christ. When Christ was here on earth, He said to the Jews of His day, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They, misunderstanding, looked at the great temple on mount Moriah and said, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” But we are told, “He spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19-21). He, the holy One, had a real human body and that body was the sanctuary of deity. Now He has gone back to Heaven, saved our souls, claimed our bodies, and sent His Holy Spirit down to dwell in the body of each believer.
So we read, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Do we think about this as much as we should? If we were constantly meditating on that statement, would we allow many things about which we are careless? We regard a church building as a sanctuary set apart for the work of the Lord. We step in from the outside and immediately our hats come off. We teach our boys and girls not to be boisterous or frivolous in the church building, for it is the house where we meet God and we realize that reverent behavior should characterize us there. But do we remember that each of our bodies is a sanctuary? It is the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells, and how careful you and I ought to be that we do not grieve the blessed One who dwells within! How careful we ought to be that we do not bring dishonor on the name of the Savior who has sent His Spirit to live in our bodies!
Say these words over and over again to yourself until they get such a grip on you that you will never forget them: “My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in me.” Then you will realize the dignity of the body and the responsibility that attaches to it.
Paul said, “Ye are not your own”—does your heart respond to that?—“for ye are bought with a price.” And what was the price? The precious blood of God’s dear Son. At Calvary He purchased us to be His own. An old Puritan writer remarked, “Calvary was the marketplace where the Saviour bought us with His blood, but He never got His money’s worth.” We have been such poor servants; we have responded so poorly to His love. We should be able to sing with sincerity:
Not my own, but saved by Jesus,
Who redeemed me by His Blood;
Gladly I accept the message,
I belong to Christ the Lord.
Not my own; to Christ my Saviour
I, believing, trust my soul,
Everything to Him committed,
While eternal ages roll.
Not my own; my time, my talents,
Freely all to Christ I bring,
To be used in joyful service
For the glory of my King.
Not my own; the Lord accepts me,
One among the ransomed throng
Who in Heaven shall see His glory,
And to Jesus Christ belong.
(Daniel W. Whittle)
It will be wonderful to be His own up there. I would not want to miss it then, but it is a great privilege now to be His own as we walk the streets of this world.
Paul concluded, “Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” In another translation the text stops here, but our King James version adds the words “and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I think that someone making a copy of the original Greek manuscript did not understand the thought at all, felt that there was something left out, and added those words in the margin; and later a translator incorporated the marginal words into the verse itself. But “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit” is the very thing the apostle was not saying here. What he was saying is, “Be guided by this thought: your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; if you glorify Him in your body, you will glorify Him in your spirit.” In other words, “Glorify God in your body, and the spiritual side will take care of itself.”