Study Guide

Corinthians Community

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Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 1:10-11)

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. (KJV 1 Corinthians 1:10-11)

Not quarrels! Paul starts out his first letter super sad by news of divisions. Can't the Corinthians all just get along? While we're at it—why is it any of Pauls' beeswax?

Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. (KJV 1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

No man is an island, right? Here Paul is just saying that the actions of one person affect everyone. What other metaphors does Paul use throughout Corinthians? Why doesn't he ever just say what he means?

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? […] I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 6:1, 5-8)

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? […] 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? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. (KJV 1 Corinthians 6:1, 5-8)

Paul is pretty ticked that the Corinthians have actually been suing each other. If they absolutely have to settle problems with each other, he says they should take it to the community. If you think about it, in order for this to make it into Paul's letter—let along into the Bible—it must have been a pretty big issue at the time.

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (KJV 1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

So eating food offered to idols is no biggie, right? Food is food, so who cares? But Paul warns that thoughts like these can accidentally hurt people who don't agree. For the purpose of getting along, he thinks it's better for everyone just to avoid this food (even though it's technically okay). It's kind of the equivalent of not arguing with your crazy, drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. You know he's wrong, but who wants a huge fight over the turkey?

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (KJV 1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

For Paul, communion is the ultimate sign of unity. The people aren't just sharing—they're sharing in Christ. Has this sentiment lasted through to the 21st century is any Christian communities?

"All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. (KJV 1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

Translation: you may be right, but that doesn't mean you're not a selfish jerk. Paul doesn't see the point in having individual knowledge if you're just using that to cut down other people.

When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you![…] So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 11:18-22, 33-34)

When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not[…] Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. (KJV 1 Corinthians 11:18-22, 33-34)

Paul is pretty big on the communion meal, so he's kind of ticked when the Corinthians get it wrong. If they're hungry, they should eat at home so they don't lord it over those who have less. If they're not willing to share, then they're really not part of the community. Is this some early iteration of the redistribution of wealth, or is it something totally different?

So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 14:12-17)

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (KJV 1 Corinthians 14:12-17)

This is why speaking in tongues is the least helpful of God's gifts—no one can understand what the heck you're saying. Speaking in tongues only benefits the speaker and the rest of the community is left out. How do you think a 21st century tongue-speaker might react to these lines?

What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up[…] Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 14:26, 29-31)

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying[…] Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (KJV 1 Corinthians 14:26, 29-31)

Paul is huge on order in church. People can't be all talking at once—otherwise no one can figure out what's happening. If people take turns sharing their gifts then everyone can enjoy. And then church doesn't turn into a whole look-at-me-I-speak-in-tongues fest.

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little." (NRSV 2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack. (KJV 2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

When Paul talks about community, he doesn't just mean Corinth—it's Christians everywhere. Here, Paul wants the Corinthians to give generously to other Christians in Jerusalem. One of the reasons he tells them to open their wallets wide is because he knows many of them have tons of resources and could easily part with some. He's not asking them to go without, but to share what they already have in excess. According to Paul, charity may begin at home, but it's supposed to travel all over the world.

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