Study Guide

Corinthians Authority

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Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny. "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 2:15-16)

But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ. (KJV 1 Corinthians 2:15-16)

This is pretty heavy. According to the passage, Christians—like Paul—actually know the mind of Jesus. We guess the fact that he's been put in the Bible is a pretty big vote of confidence.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 3:10)

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. (KJV 1 Corinthians 3:10)

Basically, Paul started the church in Corinth and allowed others to build on it. But let's not forget who started this whole house raising party, shall we?

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. (KJV 1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Yes, anyone claiming to represent Jesus has to pass a kind of honesty test. Okay, that makes sense, we guess. But then, Paul goes on to say that the Corinthians really don't have the authority to judge him—only God does. Which is it, Paul?

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 9:1-3)

Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this. (KJV Corinthians 9:1-3)

Paul sums up how he got this sweet position right here. He's been called by God and he's also seen the Risen Christ. Impressed yet? If that weren't enough, he's also founded churches, which must be proof that he's doing something good. Are you sold?

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 15.24-26)

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (KJV 1 Corinthians 15.24-26)

This is what God thinks of human authority figures: he's gonna crush them. Paul believes that the end of the world will shift the balance of power, and authority will move to new, Christian hands.

For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 2:17)

For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. (KJV 2 Corinthians 2:17)

Doubting Paul's authority? Just remember that he's not only sincere, but he was actually "sent from God." That's probably the high point of his resume.

I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters[…] Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 10:9, 11)

That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters[…] Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. (KJV 2 Corinthians 10:9, 11)

Paul is so hardcore. He doesn't just talk the authoritative talk in his letters. He plans to walk the walk when he comes the Corinthians' way, too.

I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient—since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 13:2-6)

I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. (KJV 2 Corinthians 13:2-6)

Holy, serious accusation, Paul! The Corinthians need proof of Paul's authority, and he tells them just to take a look at themselves. If they really love Christ, they'll see that he's the real deal. And if they come to the opposite conclusion… well, they must not be very good Christians. Ouch.

So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. (NRSV 2 Corinthians 13:10)

Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. (KJV 2 Corinthians 13:10)

Paul could totally rip into the Corinthians if he wanted to (God told him it was cool), but he's seriously hoping he won't have to get all authoritative on their butts. So sure, he has authority, but he doesn't want to use it?

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