The Body of Christ

Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Christians not only represent the Lord Jesus Christ; they are to understand themselves as His body.

The Christians in Corinth were able to exercise spiritual gifts; it was evident they handled these gifts with great immaturity, using them to show off and to presume a greater level of spirituality than that of others. Paul attempted to explain to them another way: the way of love, the exercise of spiritual gifts to encourage and build up the whole as opposed to the elevation of the individual (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). As part of that exhortation Paul sought to focus the Corinthians on their participation in and as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul goes well beyond suggesting the metaphor; he elaborates on the connections and applications at length. A body has many individual parts but remains a coherent whole; so with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The individual parts of the body have different, unique, and important functions, and each is necessary to the well-being of the whole; so it is with the body of Christ, in which God has put every part according to His pleasure (1 Corinthians 12:15-18). Different parts of the body need each other to work most effectively; so it is with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-21). In fact, many of the most necessary functions of the body are the most hidden and “modest,” and given greater honor on account of their “humility,” and so the body of Christ is to maintain care and concern for its members, with each suffering and rejoicing along with those who suffer and rejoice, so that no division may exist in the body (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). In short, the human body is sustained because its constituent parts perform their individual roles while supporting the roles of others in an organic unity; it could be said that the parts have care for each other, recognizing the importance of all for proper function, and so it must be in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Paul manifestly used a metaphor to describe the church as a body; we are not physically interconnected with each other. But we should not deprecate what Paul says as “mere metaphor,” as if its metaphorical nature denies its substantive reality: Paul expected the Christians in Corinth to work together as a body, to care for each other as a body, and to give each member the respect and honor in valuation as critical parts functioning to build themselves up as a body. This is not a one-off message, either; Paul elaborated in similar ways in Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as communion, a joint participation in the body and blood of Christ, because we who consume the one bread and cup are the one body of and in Christ. It is possible to literalize Paul’s metaphor to the extreme in damaging ways, but it is hard to overstate the importance and the power of the image: Christians are the body of Christ. They do well to act like it.

Our age is a hyper-individualist one. Everyone seems to glorify and advance the standing of the individual. Western philosophy has led us to the point in which man is the measure of all things, and his or her individual judgment is elevated above all else. Over the past few hundred years we have seen a consistent pattern of advancing the interests of individuals along with a corresponding denigration and thus weakening of communal bonds and norms. “Middle class values,” especially as expressed in America, exalt the individual’s ability to rise above their station and to carve out a more prosperous life for him or herself and the “nuclear family,” yet without concern for the effects of such elevation on a local community, the larger community, or the environment. Political partisans argue about where individual rights, control, and power are to be exercised, but underneath never truly question the assumption. Likewise, for some reason or another everyone decries and laments the loss of community and shared values, yet none prove willing to question or challenge the cult of the individual to a sufficient extent to stem the tide. Some seek to hold on to both at the same time, and yet time and again we see that such is impossible. One can seek the interests of each individual, or one can seek the best interests of a community as a whole; the two at some juncture will always be at odds.

We are thus stuck in a similar predicament to that of the Corinthian Christians: the glorification and advancement of the individual comes at the cost of the betterment of the whole. The Corinthian Christians could use the spiritual gifts God gave them to exalt themselves and advance their selfish purposes, or they could use them humbly to serve one another and build up the body; they could not do both. This challenge was originally laid at the disciples’ feet by Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28: the world is always about glorification and advancement of one’s individual or small tribal interests to the expense of all others, but in the Kingdom of God in Christ this cannot be so. Those who would be in God’s Kingdom in Jesus must seek to serve and better others, as Christ Himself did. They must put the interest of others before their own (Philippians 2:1-4). One cannot seek the welfare of the body of Christ while seeking to exalt and glorify oneself.

Christians therefore must be careful regarding the elevation and exaltation of the individual. It is true that far too often communities have gone aside to the doctrines and spirits of demons, turning into cults or religious institutions which suppressed and did not advance the truth. As individuals we must come to God in Christ for salvation; we have our individual roles and functions in life that are independent of the work of the corporate collective of the people of God (Acts 2:38-41, 1 Timothy 5:16). But we must not miss the overriding emphasis of the New Testament: salvation is only in the body of Christ; God works through His people, but has always worked through His people for the sake of the whole. We may come to Jesus to be saved as individuals, but we cannot find salvation independent of His body; instead, we are to become one with each other as we become one with God in Christ (John 17:20-23)!

As long as the individual is elevated the community will suffer. As long as the individual insists on his own way, he or she is still of the world, and not acting according to Christ. We are members of the body of Christ; we have our individual efforts, but all our efforts are to be unto the benefit and advancement of the purposes of the whole. We must care for each other and value each other. Such is easier said than done; such is often quite messy and complicated in practice. People are hard to love. But that’s what God in Christ is all about: loving people and bringing relational unity where there has been alienation. May we seek to build up the body of Christ above all else, and sublimate our interests to that of the whole so as to glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Dehumanizing Deviance

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).

But it doesn’t hurt anyone, or so they say.

Few cultural shifts have proven so stark and happened so quickly as the ethos surrounding sexuality in the Western world. Within a generation ideas and behaviors once generally condemned have been not only tolerated but accepted into the mainstream. Cultural sexual morality has taken its cues from Epicureanism and libertarianism, preferring individual autonomy, privileging consent as the primary basis for justification of conduct, and encouraging whatever one desires to accomplish as long as no harm is done. As a result, among other things, many Westerners have become quite comfortable with frequent sexual behavior outside not only of marriage but even relationships (manifest primarily in “hookup culture”) and the widespread acceptance and even encouragement of the use of pornography.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians about such things. He recognized that porneia (translated “fornication” above, also “sexual immorality”; best as sexually deviant behavior) was a sin different from other sins. Whereas other sins are committed “without” or “outside” the body, the one who commits porneia sins against his or her own body (1 Corinthians 6:18). But how, exactly, can this be?

Does Paul refer to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? It would seem to make some sense: such diseases are the consequence of sexual behavior, and practicing porneia puts one at higher risk of contracting a STD. Nevertheless many people commit porneia and never get a STD; likewise, many are chaste but contract STD from less-than-chaste partners. Perhaps Paul has something else in mind?

Perhaps we get a clue from an earlier detail: Paul says that one who is joined to a prostitute (Greek porne) becomes one flesh with her, as it is written in Genesis 2:28. The reference to Genesis 2:28 is in the context of marriage; Paul indicates beyond a doubt that “two becoming one flesh” refers to the act of sexual intercourse.

Reveller courtesan BM E44

So what is the difference between marital sexual intercourse and this porneia, that which is done with a porne, or prostitute? In marriage a man and a woman “cling to one another”; God has joined them (Genesis 2:28, Matthew 19:4-6). God intended for that union to be an covenant featuring intimacy, in which a man and a woman, both made in God’s image, can become completely intimate and “naked,” physically for certain, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually (Proverbs 5:15-20, Malachi 2:14-16). The importance of the marriage covenant is underscored by its metaphorical use in describing the relationship between YHWH and Israel and Christ and the church (Hosea 2:1-23, Ephesians 5:22-33); as God is one in relational unity, and we are made in God’s image, so we humans are searching for unity in relationship, and the most important such relationship we develop is with our spouse with whom we are joined in a covenant seal by God (Genesis 1:26-27, Matthew 19:4-6, John 17:20-23, Acts 17:26-28, Romans 1:18-20, Ephesians 5:31-32).

Participation in porneia, however, is done outside of the confines of relationship; such is why it is best defined as “sexually deviant behavior,” involving a person becoming one flesh with one with whom God has not joined. The one committing porneia is gratifying desires, impulses, and lusts without reference to relational connection or intimacy. This is especially evident in terms of cavorting with prostitutes, the primary means by which porneia was committed in the ancient world: the behavior features a financial transaction, a bought and paid for experience, without any care at all for the feelings or welfare of the prostitute. The one committing porneia is using the prostitute for his or her gratification.

And so it may well be that such is the means by which the one committing porneia sins against the body: in so doing, he or she has disconnected the satisfaction of physical desires from the emotional/mental/spiritual relational dimensions of sexuality. In gratifying such desires one’s sexuality becomes less recognizably human and more animalistic; sexual behavior is no longer about becoming truly intimate with another person than it is the gratification of physical lust. In most respects, therefore, porneia proves itself a parody of what God intended for human sexuality; it proves to be a dehumanizing form of deviance, separating the physical from the relational, commodifying human connection, and often rendering its adherence incapable of a healthy and intimate sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage. Truly, indeed, a sin against the body!

Prostitution remains a big business in modern Western culture; “hookup culture” is becoming just as prevalent, and we are seeing generation after generation suffering from the disconnect. Many people who have been caught up in “hookup culture” find it difficult to maintain healthy sexuality in a marriage covenant; it proves difficult to bring together what they have separated in their conduct for years. Far too many are settling for a pathetic parody, a counterfeit sexuality, one which hinders them from fully satisfactory sexual relations within the marriage covenant.

These days we see an even more pernicious temptation which is similar to porneia: pornography. Pornography is not strictly porneia since at no time do two become flesh; sadly, the use of pornography is often even worse because of it. The one who searches out pornography is not only divorcing physical gratification from relational connection; they divorce physical gratification from any kind of connection at all! They seek gratification from pixels on a screen and/or vibrations from a speaker; it is all about them and their desires. We are beginning to see a generation of people who have fried out their brains on pornography; many find it almost impossible to even participate in actual sexual intercourse on account of it!

Sadly these sins against the body are not restricted to those in the world; pornography is already an epidemic among the Lord’s people. Statistically speaking it is almost certain that all men middle age and under have seen pornography; by the same standard half of them have seen pornography in the past month. Likewise, statistically speaking, young men are exposed to pornography by age 12. Teenage girls throughout America are frequently pressured to send naked pictures of themselves (called “sexts”) to teenage boys who frequently distribute such pictures to other boys in order to enhance their social standing. A whole generation of young people has learned about sexuality through pornography, and they believe that what they see in pornography is “normal.” Little wonder, then, that their expressions of sexuality tend to degrade and dehumanize women!

We must resist these trends toward dehumanizing deviance. We must treat those damaged and wounded by what they have seen and those whose intimate relationships have been betrayed on account of these things. And we must work diligently to train young men and women to understand the importance of holistic human sexuality incorporating the physical and the relational within the covenant of marriage and warn them that what has been seen cannot be unseen and will profoundly change one’s understanding of sexuality. Porneia and pornography certainly do hurt people: those who participate in them! May we turn away from porneia and pornography and affirm God’s purposes for human sexuality in marriage!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Lawful vs. Profitable and Edifying

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10:23).

“If I can, I should.”

The above statement can never be found in the pages of Scripture but it has been accepted as if it were by many people in the world today. In science rarely are limits imposed on ethical grounds; present levels of knowledge and technology are the major hindrances and there are always researchers seeking to push ahead regardless of potential consequences. It is only when things go horribly wrong that questions are asked in retrospect, yet even then, the impulse to do because it was possible is rarely challenged. This is not only a matter of science; how many times have people decided to exercise a given liberty just because they could? How do most people celebrate their 16th, 18th, or 21st birthdays? They “celebrate” their newly gained freedoms, often to excess. If responsibility is ever learned it is only after many painful experiences of excess.

The same mentality has infected the religious world thanks to the strong American emphasis on freedom. People want to justify what they want to justify; they look to Scripture for “authority” so they can do what they want to do. It is important to have Biblical authority for what we do (Colossians 3:17), but Biblical authority is not an end unto itself as Paul seeks to explain to the Corinthians.

Corinth was a Greek and pagan city. Most of its residents continued to participate in idolatrous observances; its practice was so prevalent that the meat sold in the marketplace had been previously sacrificed to the town’s idols and most everyone had no problem with that. Paul wanted to make it clear that eating the meat was not a problem in and of itself; the problems came in when either a fellow Christian who did not have understanding was tempted to honor idols or if pagans were making an issue of it (1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:27-30). Meanwhile Christians must flee from idolatry, not partaking of the table of the Lord and the table of demons as well (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). It is not as if the Corinthians were unaware of these things; they just seemed to feel as if they were fine.

The challenge is laid down in 1 Corinthians 10:23. There is some question as to how the verse should be understood: is Paul actually saying that all things are lawful, or is it a quotation of the statement or premise of the Corinthians? Strong arguments can be made either way. For our purposes we can be confident that such was the basis upon which the Corinthians acted; if Paul is making the statement he does so accommodatingly, always recognizing that matters of sin are not lawful (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21).

Thus “all things are lawful” was the operating mode of the Corinthians: we can do these things, therefore, we should. To the Corinthians eating meat sacrificed to an idol was lawful; the matter was thus settled.

Paul does not argue about the authority or lawfulness of the behavior; he has already affirmed that an idol is nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Eating meat sacrificed to an idol is thus “lawful.” Yet Paul wishes to go further: is it expedient (or profitable)? Does it build up? He makes one thing evident: just because something is lawful (thus, authorized) does not make it profitable or edifying (1 Corinthians 10:23). After all, Christianity is not about doing whatever one pleases; Christians should be looking out for the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Eating meat sacrificed to idols may be lawful, but causing a brother to stumble because of it is not (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Christians may be able to eat meat sacrificed to idols but should not cause pagans to think they are honoring the idol (1 Corinthians 10:25-33). If eating meat sacrificed to idols brings you back into an idolatrous orbit, it has become a stumbling block, and is no longer lawful (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). Christians cannot just go around doing things just because they can; they have to give consideration to themselves and to their neighbors. Is it profitable? Does it edify?

Paul’s lesson is sorely needed today. We need to have Biblical authority for whatever we do; all must be done in the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17). But the analysis does not stop there. The goal is not just to find Biblical authority, let alone to invent Biblical authority to do what we feel like doing. It is not enough for something to just be authorized; it must be profitable; it must edify, for all things ought to be done unto edification (1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). How will this practice influence my fellow Christians? Will it be a cause of stumbling? Will those outside the church think I have compromised myself by the way I exercise my liberty?

Even if “all things” are lawful, they may not be profitable; they may not edify. We should never do anything just because we can; we should do it because it glorifies God in Christ and is profitable unto edification. Let us seek the good of our neighbor, live under Biblical authority, but seeking to edify the Body of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Not in Vain

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate game-changer.

Some among the Corinthian Christians declared that the dead were not raised (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul writes strenuously in 1 Corinthians 15:1-57 to affirm the historical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus to the legitimacy of Christianity, and the nature of the bodily resurrection of believers rooted in Jesus as the first-fruits of the resurrection. He speaks of the day of resurrection to come when all the dead will rise and the corruptible will put on incorruptibility and the mortal will put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:42-54). This, Paul declares, will be the ultimate victory over sin and death; this is the moment we have all been waiting for and for which we continue to wait (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

But what does Jesus’ resurrection and the hope of our future resurrection mean for us now? In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul derives some present applications from the resurrection: be steadfast, immovable, and abound in the Lord’s work.

Why steadfastness and immovability? The Corinthian Christians had every reason to ground themselves in Jesus and His truth on account of His life, death, and resurrection, and they would face constant temptations from the world around them to compromise some of that truth. Paul says what he does to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 for good reason: in the eyes of the world the belief that Jesus has been made King because He was executed by the Romans as an insurrectionist but God brought Him back to life, transformed Him for immortality, and He now rules over everything from Heaven sounds nuts. The world remains convicted of what is generally a truth: once you’re dead, you’re dead. The notion that someone could be brought back to life from the dead never to die again (Romans 6:1-11), in worldly logic, is positively ridiculous. Those Corinthians who denied the resurrection were just maintaining the worldview they had obtained from their ancestors. Many Jews believed in resurrection but could not conceive of God coming in the flesh and dying. Yet, as Paul said, Christ crucified and raised grounds our confidence for living (1 Corinthians 1:18, 15:20-28). To deny those central truths would mean departure from Christ and from the hope of life in the resurrection in Him (2 John 1:6-9); so Paul exhorts the Corinthian Christians, and by extension all Christians throughout time, to remain steadfast and immovable, ever affirming Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship no matter how insane such a view is to the world!

Paul also declares that the Corinthian Christians, and by extension all Christians, are to abound in the work of the Lord on account of His resurrection and the hope of our own, and that we can maintain confidence that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). In this way Paul shows how the resurrection has changed everything. King Solomon, a millennium before the Incarnation of his Descendant Jesus, proclaimed that everything “under the sun” was vain (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8). Everything was vain, a breath or vapor, because of the universality of death: you lived only to die and everything you ever did or were would be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). All the labor you worked would perish or its benefit given to a descendant who would squander it (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26). It is good to be wise, but the wise man dies just as the fool (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16). The oppressor and oppressed both die (Ecclesiastes 4:1). Solomon as the Preacher saw the futility of life subject to decay and corruption because the positive joy of it all was as ephemeral as the activities that spawned it.

To this day the Preacher is right about all things “under the sun” in their own terms: if we trust in this world only we will be frustrated and forgotten. Yet, as Paul makes clear, the resurrection changes everything. Hope in the resurrection gives meaning where the Preacher could only see vanity. “Under the sun” all things might be forgotten, but they are not forgotten by God; labor under the sun may seem futile, but on the day of resurrection, when all are raised and stand before God, all will be judged and will obtain what is coming to them on the basis of what they have done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). All things may seem futile when seen only in terms of this life but maintain some meaning when seen in light of the life to come in the resurrection: the oppressor will have to pay for what they have done to the oppressed, the wicked will obtain their comeuppance, the righteous will see their reward, and what was formerly a breath or vapor will remain forevermore (1 Corinthians 15:1-57, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Ever since Babel humans have been making monuments to their own greatness in their fear of death (Genesis 11:1-9); those remain futile endeavors, as vanity and striving after wind, lasting only for a moment before being forgotten, and the world moves on (Ecclesiastes 1:2-12:8). Yet all the labor expended in the name of God in Christ endures, for such efforts will not prove futile, a breath or a vapor, since our God is a God of resurrection. Our bodies may presently be subject to corruption, decay, and death; the day is coming when this corruptible will put on incorruption, and this mortal will put on immortality, death will be fully defeated, and righteousness shall reign (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Yet how can we know? God is presently building that new creation through the resurrection of Jesus and those who have put their trust in Him as their Lord, living in the “now” despite the “not yet” of resurrection and salvation (2 Corinthians 4:1-5:21, 1 Peter 1:3-9). In Christ we become a new creation, having obtained reconciliation with God, and our efforts expended for His Kingdom will remain eternally with that Kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21, 2 Corinthians 5:17-20). Let us therefore, as with the Corinthian Christians before us, remain steadfast and immovable in our confidence and conviction in Jesus’ Incarnation, life, death, bodily resurrection, ascension, lordship, and the expectation of the day of judgment and resurrection to come, and always abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that through Him and His resurrection all will not be in vain!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Is Christ Divided?

Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, “I am of Paul”; and “I of Apollos”; and “I of Cephas”; and “I of Christ”.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

If things got much worse in Corinth there might well have been the Pauline Church, the Apollonic Church, the Petrine Church, and the church of Christ, as opposed to just the singular “Church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Even though many issues were problematic in Corinth Paul begins with what he had heard from Chloe’s people: the Corinthians were contending amongst themselves and lines were being drawn around various people: Paul, Apollos, Cephas/Peter, and Christ (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Paul will address this issue in various ways from 1 Corinthians 1:10 until 1 Corinthians 4:21, attempting to emphasize that God is the one who deserves all the glory, that such divisiveness exposes a carnal/fleshly mentality incompatible with the spiritual wisdom of Christ in the Gospel; these growing divisions indicate jealousy and strife, works of the flesh, walking after the manner of men, and not after Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4). The church is God’s building, God’s temple; it is not for man to divide, but, as Paul says, for all to speak the same thing in subjection to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10, 3:9).

The New Testament is full of warnings about what would happen in the future with many false teachers attempting to lead Christians astray (e.g. Acts 20:18-35, 1 Timothy 4:1-3); while such false teachers existed even in New Testament times, by the end of the first century local churches still maintained the pattern of organization they received from the Apostles and recognized each other as fellow churches seeking to glorify the Lord and hold firm to the faith as delivered by the Apostles (Jude 1:3, Revelation 2:1-3:21). Churches in different towns were not different denominations but local congregation of the Lord’s people in different areas. Nevertheless, we do see the principle of denominationalism strongly condemned here in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. Paul did not want to see Christians drawing lines against each other on the basis of their favorite preacher; if there were a “Pauline Church” and a “Petrine Church” in Corinth it would be a failure of God’s purposes for unity, not merely in pretense, but in substance: to have the same mind and same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:11). There may not be the “Pauline Church” and the “Petrine Church,” but there are the Lutheran Churches, Mennonite Churches, and the Wesleyan Churches, named after the men whose preaching or teaching influenced those who would follow them. Other churches are denominated by their pretense toward universalism or correctness (Catholicism, Orthodoxy), by church polity (Presbyterians, Congregationalists), or by geographical origins (Anglicans). While many such groups have come to understand the need for unity based in John 17:20-23 none have yet proven willing to uphold Paul’s standard in 1 Corinthians 1:10 to not be divided by party or names of past preachers but instead to be of the same mind and judgment, to be part of the Temple of God, His one church, where Christians work together according to the truth of the Gospel to advance His purposes. In the end, if Paul chastised the Corinthians for their jealousy and strife manifest in following particular preachers, how can such practices and denominations be justified today?

Such “cults of personality”, jealousy, and strife are not limited to “those denominations.” Many more are recognizing that the divided heritage of Christendom is an embarrassment to Christ and the faith, the opposite of the unification of mankind in His blood as was God’s eternal plan (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 2:1-18, 3:10-11). Yet even then many will follow a particular preacher. Among churches of Christ many have spoken strongly against denominationalism and for unity in the Lord’s church in the truth yet delineated themselves along the lines of various publications or movements or trends. In the end “I follow this paper” or “I follow this school” is no better than “I follow Peter” or “I follow Luther”; they are all evidence of division and strife in the church which ought not be!

It is interesting, however, that Paul includes among the various “divisions” or “sects” those who say “I follow Christ.” Some have speculated that these last people were the ones who truly understood God’s purposes, yet the text provides no such indication. Paul identifies these four as the various “sects” developing in Corinth (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), and then immediately asks, “is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13a)?

One can imagine what those of the “Christ-sect” were thinking as the letter was read aloud. They, after all, could give all the “right” answers. “Was Paul crucified for you” (1 Corinthians 1:13)? No, of course not; neither were Cephas or Apollos. But Christ was (1 Corinthians 1:23). “Were ye baptized into the name of Paul” (1 Corinthians 1:13)? No, nor into Cephas or Apollos, but they were all baptized into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:14-15, Galatians 3:27). So the “Christ-sect” had all the right answers. So how could they be condemned?

The problem is not their answers; the problem is not really in being “of Christ.” The problem is the jealousy, strife, and contention for which Paul chastises all the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11, 3:1-4). The sectarian mindset and attitude is the problem: you can have the “right name” and the “right answers” but maintain the wrong attitude.

This is an important warning for members of churches of Christ. We do well to seek to be of the same mind and the same judgment, one in the faith in the truth as Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Yet the danger of denominating remains ever present, to consider oneself “Church of Christ” as another considers himself a “Baptist” or another a “Lutheran.” If, in the end, the Restoration Movement simply created new denominations, then its energizing spirit has failed and proved a lie. If the Restoration Movement has merely spawned some new denominations it proves little better than that against which it arose.

At its best the Restoration Movement emphasized both unity and truth. Truth without unity is sectarianism headed toward Pharisaism and even Gnosticism, the “enlightened” clearly superior to the “ignorant” masses. Unity without truth is what we can find in the modern ecumenical movement, an attempt to declare victory in failure, seeking to affirm all they agree upon while dismissing the very real remaining divisions as irrelevant, and the goal of 1 Corinthians 1:10 as stated to be a pipe dream. Meanwhile Jesus is the truth and has prayed for unity among those in the truth (John 14:6, 17:20-23). Christians do well to call themselves Christians or believers and to speak of churches in ways seen in the New Testament, honoring God in Christ and not named after men or church polity. Christians do well to follow God according to the New Testament and not the creeds and cults of personality of men as Paul well describes in 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. Yet it must always be remembered that sectarianism is a work of the flesh; all division is the result of jealousy and strife, and for good reason all three are reckoned as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). When such things take place it hardly matters who is “right” and who is “wrong” doctrinally; the division is wrong, the sectarianism is wrong, and we must do all we can to encourage all who believe in Christ to fully reflect the unity He desires, not merely in pretense, but in truth, having the same mind and judgment, one in Christ. Let us be one as God is one and thus testify to His great power!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Speaking for Understanding

But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching? Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for war? So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air (1 Corinthians 14:6-9).

There are times when people practice something so long or in such depth that the basic point and purpose has been forgotten. This seemed to plague the Christians of Corinth in terms of the assembly.

Difficulties abound in 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40. From the text we can tell that God has poured His Spirit out upon the Corinthians and they are able to exercise spiritual gifts. God gave those gifts with one specific purpose: to build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16). In order to build up the church, the Body of Christ, those gifts would have to be used in love primarily for the benefit and encouragement of others. Yet it seems that the Corinthians were much more excited about the ability to use and manifest spiritual gifts than to exercise them for profitable functions. Christians would speak in tongues, that is, foreign languages, with none to interpret. More than one would do so at the same time. Perhaps some people were trying to prophesy at the same time as well. It seemed like madness!

Thus Paul is attempting to set the Corinthians straight about how the gifts should be exercised in an orderly and profitable manner. Love for one another should inform everything they do, especially the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Yet Paul feels compelled to spend much time in 1 Corinthians 14:1-26 on one primary point: all things must be done for building up. The only way that such building up can take place is when those who hear actually understand what is being said.

Part of this argument is seen in 1 Corinthians 14:6-9. Paul wants to know: if he comes speaking in a tongue (e.g. German, Scythian, or the like), what benefit will they gain (1 Corinthians 14:6)? He would have to come with some specific message from God which they could understand in their own language. He then provides parallels with instruments: how can one know what a pipe or horn is playing if there is no distinction in the notes? If a trumpet is not sounded out boldly, who will get ready for war (the trumpet being a summons for an army; 1 Corinthians 14:7-8)? The point is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 14:9: the Corinthians need to speak in comprehensible language. They must speak so as to be understood or they are just speaking into the air. Speaking into the air is not edifying.

In their zeal for the exercise of spiritual gifts the Corinthians missed out on the core purpose of what they had come together to do: build one another up. God had not given them spiritual gifts merely for the purpose of using them haphazardly. He certainly did not grant them for them to speak so as to not be understood. He gave them so that Christians could encourage and build one another up. Edification demands understanding.

It is lamentable that many who would claim these gifts remain for the church persist in the same distortion of God’s purposes as the Corinthians did. Nevertheless, Paul envisions the day when that which was prophesied “in part” would be subsumed in its completion and thus see the end of prophecy and speaking in tongues, and so it occurred with the demise of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Nevertheless there is much for us to gain from this passage; edification and understanding remain high priorities for God’s people to this day!

Even though “speaking in tongues” through supernatural means empowered by the Holy Spirit may be a in the past, many are essentially “speaking in tongues” in the assembly. Some speak in the “tongue” of unnecessarily complicated language or over-reliance on Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, seemingly more interested in impressing fellow Christians with their studiousness, Bible knowledge, or fancy speaking than in actually facilitating comprehension and thus edification. Frequently well-meaning Christians also speak in the “tongue” of “Christianese,” using jargon understood only by their fellow Christians. Who else knows what a “gospel meeting” is? How does the “watery grave of baptism” sound to someone who is not well-versed in the language of the church? It might sound to them like a horror film! Granted, there are times when it is best to use very precise words, refer to Hebrew or Greek, or use “church language,” but whenever we do so we must make sure to explain what we mean so there might be understanding.

Edification demands comprehension: this is the theologically compelling aspect to 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. Far too often “edification” is defined as “a warm fuzzy spiritual feeling received when going through some kind of spiritual experience.” That seems to be the very definition the Corinthians are using, and for that Paul chastises them. True edification demands actual comprehension of God’s message; when God’s message in Christ of salvation, redemption, righteousness, and hope is understood, it builds up to strengthen faith not just in the assembly but throughout life. An experience may feel great on Sunday, but what will sustain your faith on Monday? God intends for us to know Jesus His Son so as to believe in Him and do what He says (John 20:31, 1 John 1:1-2:6); thus, to build one another up demands that we instruct and exhort in His truth.

Paul’s presupposition remains profound: since edification demands comprehension, and all things we do in the assembly are to be unto edification (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 9, 26), it is clear that God intends for His message to be communicated in comprehensible ways, and thus that all men should understand the truth about God in Christ. This truth must never be taken for granted; far too often in human history some have attempted to keep others from having a full knowledge of what God has made known. In the past people would assemble to hear God’s message proclaimed in a foreign tongue, Latin, and none to truly interpret. To this day some demand Scripture to be understood only in the straitjacket of antiquated language, according to a church tradition, or assume that since they are just “regular” people that the message of Scripture cannot be understood by them but only by specially religiously trained or called individuals. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 proves that none of this ought to be! God has always intended for His message to be understood. He wants it to be communicated so that the people hearing can understand it and put it to work in their own lives. He communicated to people in the language of their time in ways familiar to them. We do well to take this message to heart, seek to communicate the Gospel to one another and those outside of Christ in ways they are able to understand so that all can be built up in Christ. Let us speak so as to be understood to the glory of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Better to Be Single

So that he that gives in marriage does well, and he that does not give in marriage does better (1 Corinthians 7:38 LITV).

This is not the expected narrative, either in the world or in the church.

The church in Corinth was experiencing a whole host of difficulties, mostly self-inflicted, and had sought the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul. One subject regarding which they sought further understanding involved whether to marry or not, if it were good for a man not to touch a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1). In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40, Paul provides his counsel on this subject, and his message is consistent throughout: marriage is not sinful, it is better to marry than to burn with desire, but if one can exhibit self-control and not marry, they do better. Those who are married have divided interests, seeking to please both the Lord and their spouse, whereas those who are single can fully devote themselves to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul wishes that all could be as he is, single, but recognizes that different people have different gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). On account of the “present distress”, Paul counsels the betrothed and widows to remain as they were called; to remain single if they can, but if they have to marry, they have not sinned, or, as he says so efficiently in 1 Corinthians 7:38: those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40).

The interpretation and application of Paul’s counsel has been complicated by disputes regarding the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 and who is giving whom in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Many have interpreted the “present distress” of 1 Corinthians 7:26 in narrow contextual terms and thus consider all of Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 6-9, 17-40 as limited to its context and not as applicable to people afterward. Yet the text provides no indication of any major persecution event being experienced by the Christians of Corinth at this time; granted, with all of the worldliness in the Corinthian church, there would not be much worth persecuting. More importantly, in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul describes this “distress” more fully, and he is not speaking of a contextually limited persecution that would pass away so that conditions could return to “normal”; instead, he counsels the Corinthians in very apocalyptic terms since the “fashion of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). At the time it would not be surprising for people to interpret Paul as meaning that Jesus would return quite soon, the present age would end, and therefore marriage and childbearing would prove irrelevant; after more than 1,950 years, it is evident that such immediacy did not come to pass, but the conditions remain the same as when Paul wrote this: the fashion of this world is passing away, and we must not be of this world while we live in it. Therefore, the “present distress” is as applicable and relevant to the twenty-first century as it was to the first century; Paul’s counsel remains valid.

Another complication involves 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 and the “man and his virgin”. In the ancient Roman world, a father would be the one deciding whom his daughter would marry; therefore, the RV, ASV, NASB, and a few other versions interpret and translate 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 as if it speaks of a father deciding what to do with his virgin daughter. While such an interpretation might make some sense of the use of ekgamizo, “to give in marriage,” in this passage, it does not sit well with “if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin” in 1 Corinthians 7:36, since it would demand that the father is not behaving appropriately toward his daughter, which would be a problem demanding far more censure than is expressed in the text. Therefore, it is better to understand the text in terms of a man and his betrothed. In the first century, parents would make the connection between a man and woman and they would be betrothed, like Joseph and Mary in Matthew 1:18-25. Betrothal had the commitment level of marriage yet without the behavior of marriage; to dissolve it would require divorce, but the betrothed were expected to not consummate the relationship until the official wedding ceremony. Therefore, whereas two young Christians would have had little choice in a betrothal, they did have control over whether they would either actually get married, or, once married, whether they would consummate the relationship. In 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul advises young betrothed Christians that if they can exercise self-control and devote themselves fully to the Lord, they do better to remain betrothed but not married. If they cannot exercise that self-control, they can marry, and have not sinned. But it is better to stay unmarried than it is to marry.

There are vast differences between conditions in the first century Mediterranean world and the twenty first Western world, and singleness and marriage are high among them. In the first century, young people would have been married off quite young, the decision would have been made by their parents, and if they remained continent for the Lord’s sake, it was by mutual decision of a man and his betrothed virgin. Only widows were in a position to choose a mate; that is why Paul counsels them to marry “in the Lord” if they have to marry, but they also would do well to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:39-40). In the twenty-first century Western world, marriages are not arranged, and they are taking place in the late twenties; culture and society expect sexual experimentation to have taken place beforehand, yet in Christ young people are expected to remain sexually chaste and pure before marriage, often between 10 to 20 years after sexual maturity (1 Corinthians 7:2). Many single Christians would like to be married but have yet to find a spouse. A situation akin to what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, a “betrothed” Christian man and woman who have mutually agreed to remain unmarried so as to serve the Lord fully, would be unthinkable.

Yet perhaps the greatest shift in the past two thousand years involves the treatment of singleness and marriage. Paul honors singleness and full devotion to the Lord and makes concession for marriage; too many in Christianity today honor marriage and make concession for singleness. Too many single Christians are marginalized and made to feel incomplete and insufficient because they are not married; as opposed to being honored as full inheritors of the grace of life and for making, at least for the time being, the better choice, they feel constantly pressured to find someone to marry and thus conform to the norm of marriage. We are not used to hearing that marriage is less than ideal, a concession, and a choice demonstrating a lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:6-9).

We should not be too terribly surprised to see that honoring singleness goes against the grain, because it always has. In Israel the worst possible curse was childlessness, for if your genealogical line ended, your property would go to another and you would be extinguished within Israel. To this day people seek some level of immortality through the passing along of their DNA in their offspring. Our hyper-sexualized culture these days cannot truly fathom a person voluntarily renouncing all the pleasures of sexual behavior in order to more fully dedicate themselves to the Lord Jesus. The choice to be a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven is always counter-cultural and often controversial, yet it truly expresses a very deep faith in the God of resurrection. As usual, Jesus is the model: He did not marry while on earth and therefore had no offspring. He was cursed for our sakes, indeed, but by taking on that curse, He freed us from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:10-14). Jesus did not need offspring in order to continue to inherit the promises of God; through His life and death He obtained the resurrection of life, and lives forever (Romans 6:5-11).

For generations the single, the childless, and the widow were considered unfortunate or even cursed. Yet such is not the case in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom those who are single, childless, or widowed are family in the household of God (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Timothy 3:15); they have no need of offspring to continue their lineage, for they will endure forever in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Those who are single can fully devote themselves to the purposes of Jesus, the Risen Lord, and set their hope fully on Him and His Kingdom; they are blessed, and all believers ought to honor them as blessed. Let us affirm the apostolic Gospel no matter how counter-cultural, even when it goes against settled norms among Christians and churches; let us affirm that while marrying is good, staying single to fully serve the Risen Lord is better, and honor and dignify those who remain single in the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Abide as Called

Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24).

If you have much experience in a church, you have seen this situation play out and have likely experienced it yourself. When young men and women reach a marriageable age, they start being asked how the search for that “special someone” is going. If a particular young man takes an interest in a young woman, and vice versa, they will be asked when they will get married. Not long after marriage they will be asked when they will have a child. Soon after having the first child they will be asked if and when there will be a second. Soon afer the second they will be asked whether they will have any more. If they go to three and especially to four they will be asked whether they have figured out how that works and/or if they are possibly done yet. Their children are then put through the same sequence, and so on and so forth.

We can certainly understand why this trend takes place: there is an inherent expectation that young men and women will get married and raise children. The future leadership of the church depends on at least some of them doing this (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-12)! Yet, while people who engage in this practice likely have good intentions, we must be careful about the implicit message it brings: your value in the church is based on whether you are married and/or the production of children. A man or woman who does not end up marrying, for whatever reason, is made to feel less valuable and important as those who did marry. Couples who are childless for whatever reason feel ostracized or perhaps even judged and condemned for their lack of children.

This is not the attitude of Paul in the New Testament. In the midst of a discussion regarding celibacy, marriage, and slavery in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39, he twice exhorts people to remain in the same calling as when they were called (1 Corinthians 7:20, 24). If one was called in Christ as a slave, he can continue to serve God while a slave, but if he can be freed, he should take that opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:20-23). Was one circumcised when called? He should remain circumcised. Was one uncircumcised when called? He should remain uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18-19). Is one married when called? Stay married. Is one not yet married when called? Do not feel as if you have to get married (1 Corinthians 7:27).

We do need to be careful with Paul’s exhortation here in 1 Corinthians 7:1-39. These exhortations should never be taken absolutely: Paul provides plenty of caveats throughout. As noted, if a Christian slave can obtain his freedom, he should. Timothy was uncircumcised when called but Paul circumcised him on account of their mission among the Jews (cf. Acts 16:3). Paul also makes it clear that there is no sin if a man and woman get married (1 Corinthians 7:9, 28). Furthermore, he writes that they are presently in some time of distress, a tumultuous time where all that seems stable is uprooted (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29-30). We must keep these matters in mind when we consider what Paul has to say.

These concerns do not negate Paul’s main point: God can use us as we are and where we are. Those who are married with children can glorify God in their relationships. Yet so too can those who are single or married without children. The widows can as well. Those who are free and those who are less than free can also find ways of serving and glorifying God in their condition.

It is easy to develop a mentality in which we are always looking elsewhere to find satisfaction. We may constantly worry whether we are fulfilling God’s will for us in our lives. Those who are single and/or without children are often made to feel as if they are not fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives. And yet here Paul says that we are to abide in the calling in which we were called. We can find ways of doing God’s will wherever we find ourselves and in whatever situation we are placed.

Paul does not condemn traveling to find a better job or to find a better spiritual situation, nor is he condemning looking for a spouse and having children. He is making it very clear, though, that our primary focus in whatever situation we find ourselves is to glorify God. Many may be single and never marry, instead focusing their efforts on the Lord; they should be praised and not criticized. Many may serve the Lord through marriage and children; they also are to be praised and lifted up. Some will never move far from where they were born; others may travel far away. In all things we must seek to glorify and honor the Lord and encourage their fellow Christians not necessarily to seek to change their condition in life as much as encouraging them to serve God in the calling in which they have been called.

Too often we seem to focus on the future of young people in terms of marriage and children when we would do better to focus on how they can presently serve and glorify the Lord in their current condition and calling. Many will, no doubt, marry and have children, but they have not fallen short of God’s purposes if they do not. We do well to remember Paul’s exhortation to abide in our calling and always look to serve God in the present in our circumstances, and let the future take care of itself!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Source of Our Hope

If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The Greeks told the story of Pandora, the first woman on earth. She was given a box (really, a jar) and told not to open it. But she became curious, and opened the box. Immediately came forth all sorts of evil that quickly spread all over the world. She quickly closed the box, leaving only one thing left in it: hope.

While the story of Pandora and her box is mythical, there are good reasons why it is told: there are plenty of evils in this life, and they provide all sorts of misery. People get sick. People get hurt. Things fall apart or decay. People die. These things are all distressing and sad, and to what do we look to ease the pain? Hope.

But is that hope a good thing? In the myth of Pandora’s box, it may or may not be. Maybe hope is seen as something that helps people; but one could also interpret hope in that story as another evil imposed upon men by the gods. If there is nothing better than this life, with a dreadful underworld awaiting us, hope is cruel. It gives the pretense of better days without ever being able to truly deliver.

So it is with all hope in this life. If this life is all there is, there is no good reason for hope: evil persists in the world and will continue to persist no matter what. People do bad things to one another. We can try to improve our lot, but we are still all going to die. There are good reasons why Ecclesiastes seems depressing: it looks at things only in terms of life “under the sun.” And if it is true that there is nothing beyond this life, then the most pitiable people are Christians, because they expended their entire lives in this most foolish hope that something better awaited them. They experienced all sorts of deprivations and sufferings, and all for nothing!

The sad reality is that any and all hope based in this world will fail. If there is nothing beyond this life, there really is no good reason for hope at all. How depressing! How intolerable!

Yet, as Paul goes on to declare, Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We have reason to hope, but this is not a hope based in the way this world currently works. Our hope must be rooted in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom which represents the expectation of a new and better world, one in which righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-13). We might presently be subject to death and decay, but the day is coming when we will overcome such in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25). That is hope indeed!

Many view this hope in escapist terms, assuming that the hope of the resurrection does not really change anything about life now. Such could not be further from the truth; our lives in Christ and the lives we are to live as conformed in His image are grounded in the hope of the resurrection (Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). We can live our lives in this world the way God would have us live them precisely because we have hope for better days; if we somehow think we are just sitting around and waiting to get our ticket punched, we will find ourselves terribly disappointed on that final day (Matthew 7:21-23)!

This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so utterly critical: without it, there is no reason for hope. Without the resurrection, life is that meaningless trudge through pain and misery envisioned by the Greeks. Without the resurrection, we are lost in our sin without hope.

Little wonder, then, that Paul constantly emphasizes how we must be rooted in Christ and live for Christ (Romans 8:29, Colossians 2:6-7). He is the source of hope; through His resurrection, we have confidence that life is not meaningless and life is worth living. The reality of pain and misery is still there, but it need not define us or lead us to despair. We can overcome through Jesus in the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. Let us praise God for Jesus and the resurrection and be sustained by our hope for the better world to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Profit of the Many

Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

To say that we live in a self-aggrandizing world would be an understatement. It certainly seems as if most people are out for “#1,” and “#1” is not God or family. According to worldly standards, we must work toward our own best interest, advancing our own agenda, because if we do not stick up for ourselves or try to get a bigger piece of the pie, then others will come in and take what could be ours. Television is now dominated by oversized personalities, and while they may have certain ideologies or causes, much of what they are attempting to do boils down to self-promotion. The more coverage– positive or negative– the greater the “media personality,” and the greater the benefit.

The world of first century Corinth was probably not much less based upon self-aggrandizement, and therefore Paul’s message to the Corinthians must have sounded as shocking and radical then as it does now. Paul does not call believers to self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, or even concern for one’s own agenda. Instead, Paul calls believers to not cause offense or stumbling to others. They are to be like he is, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Our goal should not be to please ourselves, but to please others.

In context, Paul addresses how the believers in Corinth should handle a situation in which they have been informed by a well-meaning pagan that the food they are eating together was sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:14-33). Had the pagan said nothing, there would have been no difficulty– everything belongs to God, idols have no real substantive existence, and food is food (1 Corinthians 10:27). But if he does inform the believer that it is meat sacrificed to an idol, then the believer ought to abstain from eating, not because he would violate his own conscience, but on account of the conscience of the pagan (1 Corinthians 10:28-29). The believer should not be giving the impression that he is honoring any form of pagan idolatry!

But Paul knows that he is walking on a razor thin wire. Jews consider meat sacrificed to an idol abhorrent, no matter the circumstance; Greeks eat it without any concern whatsoever. The church of God at that time is made up of both groups, and 1 Corinthians 8 has already established how the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols has been contentious there! Therefore, Paul feels compelled to lay down these principles. Yes, his liberty should not be determined by another’s conscience (1 Corinthians 10:29). Since God has not condemned, in truth, Paul should not be denounced for eating meat sacrificed to an idol if he partook with thankfulness (1 Corinthians 10:30). Nevertheless, in all that believers do– eating and drinking, or whatever– all should be done for God’s glory and honor (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is why believers are to act without offense to any, seeking to please everyone in what is done, seeking the profit of many (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

A word must be given about the idea of “pleasing everyone.” Paul is not saying that we should sin against our own consciences or against God in an attempt to please others; this is not a call for compromising God’s standards at all (cf. Romans 14:23, Galatians 5:17-24, etc.). Instead, Paul is advocating a conciliatory approach toward other people, seeking, whenever possible, the path of least resistance and greatest acceptance, while remaining within the law of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21).

In short, we should not be seeking to be ornery or difficult. We must not be obnoxiously asserting our liberties and “rights.” Instead, we must give thought to do whatever we can do seek the spiritual welfare of the many, and not ourselves. As Paul told the Philippians in Philippians 2:3-4, believers should count others more significant than themselves in humility, seeking not only his own good but also that of his neighbor. As Christians, our goal should be the same goal as God’s– that all men may come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). As Christ’s representatives, we reflect upon Him, for good or ill (Matthew 5:13-16). Therefore, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that all we need to worry about is ourselves and our own salvation. We are expressly charged to seek the profit of as many others as we possibly can.

This seems like a pretty restrictive fence– we must not provide occasions of stumbling for the Jews, the Greeks, or the church. We can understand this today in terms of those who tend to at least look like they are self-righteous and sanctimonious in their knowledge of right and wrong, those who are of the world and who think as the world, and those who are of God. It is very easy to start pointing fingers at any of these groups: the sanctimonious are easy targets because of their hypocrisy, the unbelievers are easy to frown upon because of their ungodliness and immorality, and it is easy to bear down upon God’s people because of our love and our desire for us all to better reflect Christ. Yet, in the end, we must not do so. We must seek the profit of the sanctimonious, the unbeliever, and the fellow believer, and to do so at the same time!

This is quite counter-intuitive and counter-cultural; it always has been, and as long as the earth continues to exist it most likely will be. America’s myths of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and the icon of the “self made man” do not make this any easier. Ultimately, however, our goals must not be the same as those of the world around us. Many will not understand why we would live thus, but we do it to please the God who redeemed us. We must remember, at all times, that Jesus came not to please Himself but to please others, that He did not seek His own profit, but the profit of us all, and that while His cross is reckoned as a stumbling-block, it is only thus for those who refuse to believe– in truth, the cross kills the hostility and allows the Jew and the Greek to be one in the church of God (cf. Matthew 20:28, Romans 15:2-3, 1 Peter 2:1-8, Ephesians 2:11-18).

It is hard work to please others and not ourselves. It is challenging to not provide occasions of stumbling. But let us remember that as God loved us and gave His Son for us when we were alienated and unlovable, so we must love our fellow man, even if he seems unlovable (Romans 5:6-11). Let us not seek our own interest, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry