Things I Didn't Know were in 1 Corinthians

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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So, I've been slowly reading through the New Testament. It's interesting how you can discover things you read over 18 times before. (One thing that has me tripped up is how you could almost substitute the Catholic Church for Israel in Romans 11.) It seems like every chapter in 1 Corinthians has at least one little slap across the face. Here are a few.
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 2:3-5
I have a couple of Bible passages on the corkboard above my desk, and this one is going up. It's encouraging for someone who doesn't do so great speaking actual words out loud enough so people can hear. If Paul, a Jewish scholar and master orator, couldn't trust himself to come up with the right words, I shouldn't, either. But more than that, it's a reminder that other people understanding truth isn't dependent on my wisdom. Or, as Jesus put it, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (John 6:63a).
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stray — each one's work will be manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test that sort of work each one has done. 3:10-13
I've read this passage a million times and heard it preached on a couple thousand. But it's mostly been piecemeal. "Your good works will only benefit you in heaven and are only worth something if they survive the metaphorical judging fire." I can't recall anyone pointing out that this verse comes in the middle of a passage on the building of the church. And by "church," I mean the whole "Christians sharing and manifesting the Kingdom of God to each other and the world." That doesn't necessarily alter the nature of the "gold, silver, [and] precious stones" that we are to exemplify. It does redirect our attention. It's saying that as we act out our personal faith in Jesus, we do so in the context of the larger body of believers. Yes, either way we give cups of water to the thirsty, but the passage is saying that we do it as a representative of the church, a bringer of the Kingdom of God — not as a single person looking for more glory in heaven. We are not building a little hut off to the side — we are mudding a wall or installing a faucet or nailing a shingle on Christ's foundation.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 4:3-4
I sometimes have a hard time understanding what Paul's trying to say. These verses make much more sense if you hear them in an old man's rambling voice (Gandalf works). He's saying, "It doesn't really matter much if you or any human court made some judgment against or for me. In fact, I don't even judge my own motives. I mean, I don't think I've done anything wrong lately, but even that conclusion doesn't mean I'm innocent. Leave the judging to God." How many times do we hear, "I'm a good person — I'm going to heaven"? Paul himself (Philippians 3:4-7) didn't trust his own judgment. How can we declare any righteousness in ourselves?
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." 5:11-13
It's a really hard thing when a believer falls into unrepentant sin. In the previous verses, Paul said we are not to engage in the cultural traditions that would indicate we have a close relationship with them. These verses are a little different. Basically he's saying, "This doesn't apply to unbelievers. If it did, we'd never get anything done. Plus, we can't expect them to live like one of us because they're not one of us!" This made me think of all the good mentors who volunteer for the trafficking recovery ministry I'm a part of. Our training tells us, if the girl smokes or cusses or talks dirty or does drugs (again), set healthy boundaries, but let it go. We can't expect her to live like us. Give her grace. And don't back out just because her language makes you feel uncomfortable.
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 6:7
This is a hard pill to swallow for those of us who believe justice is essential to the Christian life. Here, Paul mirrors Jesus' words in Matthew 5. The integrity of the church and the integrity of your walk as a Christ-follower are more important than seeking justice for yourself in worldly matters. Follow the steps in Matthew 18, but even if you don't get a just resolution, don't make a big deal out of it. For someone who can hold a grudge tighter than our children's editor holds her Apple computer, this is convicting.

Contined on Page Two

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Published 7-17-2014