1 Corinthians 4-6
1. One of the strangest things about human beings who live in a very worldly culture is observable as chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the first letter to the church at Corinth unfold.
a. It has to do with what happens to our capacity for moral discernment and our responsibility to make appropriate distinctions in a setting like that.
b. At Corinth, members of the church were tending to evaluate each other’s significance on shallow bases like social standing, or speaking style, or personal charisma, and they were choosing up sides and dividing into cliques over it (1:11-12; 3:3-4).
c. But, oddly enough, at the same time they were refusing to make deeply meaningful judgments where open moral conduct was in question, or where prickly disputes needed to be settled, or where crucial personal choices were concerned (5:1-2; 6:5-6).
2. When you think about the incongruity of those two habits, you can’t help but be reminded of the prevailing spirit of our own age.
a. Typically, we are big on personalities; but on principles, not so much. We’ll become critics on the shallowest personal matters, while playing the role of know-nothings when the weightiest issues of life are at stake.
b. The worst thing, in the view of our time, would be to consider any behavior to be unacceptable because it’s wrong. And, we certainly don’t want to decide one way or the other in any disputes, for we prefer to pass them all off as just the two sides every story has.
c. But watch us: as a people, we’re more than ready to evaluate how persons measure up by surface rules like looks, popularity, or success.
3. These are unacceptable habits among Christians, and Paul says so in his letter to the Christians in the worldly city of Corinth.
a. When we begin to evaluate where we have no ability, and by inappropriate standards, or where we seek to evade responsibility when moral judgment is demanded, we fall short of the fellowship to which we have been called (cf. 1:9).
b. So, the apostle uses the key paragraphs in this part of the letter to steer us back to the course that is healthy and right.
4. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5....Those who are tempted to engage in the sport of the critical evaluation of the job someone else’s servant is doing–as if to rate him–should consider whose place that really is.
a. What the Corinthians made of Paul or Apollos or Cephas has already been brought three times in the letter (1:12; 3:5-7, 21-22). The problem with these “ratings” is that they don’t make enough of Christ.
b. He is the captain of the ship and they are to be regarded as his under-rowers; he is the owner of the house and they are care-takers of things that belong to him (4:1).
c. What is required of anyone in such a position is not that he be considered impressive but that he be found faithful, trustworthy (4:2). The question is, who can “find” him to be that, or not?
d. No human court can judge this (v.3a). One person cannot know everything about where the other person started from, nor how far he has come, nor what kinds of obstacles and temptations he has had to overcome, nor what his motives are.
e. One cannot even judge himself in this sense (v.3b-4a). Attempts to do so may result in pride or depression, but not in justification. Even if he isn’t aware of anything against himself, it may be because he hasn’t been paying attention, or because he has rationalized things to himself, or because he has deceived himself.
f. It is the Lord who must judge whether his own servants have proven trustworthy (v.4b-5). He can bring to light what others don’t know about. He can disclose the purposes of the heart. He can commend what ought to be commended. We should serve him without submitting to any other “rating,” and we must not presume to take the Lord’s place by comparing and ranking his other servants.
g. “The business of praise and blame belongs to God.” (Richard B. Hays)
5. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8....Those who take pride in uncritical tolerance of, and association with, fellow Christians who are actively pursuing an ungodly way of life should consider the judgment required by that danger.
a. While the Corinthians were proudly weighing the talents and successes of their stars, they were arrogantly unwilling to hold their sinners accountable (v.1,2). There was among them a case of sexual immorality such as would not have been tolerated even among the pagans–and, instead of being ashamed of the immorality, they were proud of their broad-mindedness!
b. In Paul’s mind, judgment was already pronounced on the one who did such a thing (v.3), and he expected the church to judge him, too (v.12).
c. It had to be! The evil behavior was an urgent danger to that person’s own spirit (v.5), to the whole congregation which might be influenced by his continued wrongdoing (v.6), and to outsiders who might be turned away from the Lord by the assumption that this is how he leads people to act (v.12).
d. The picture the apostle uses to make the point is vivid and enlightening: the church is to understand itself as a house with the blood of the Passover lamb on it.
i. The illustration comes from the event that set the people of God apart from the destruction outside, placed them under his protection, and prepared them to journey to the promised land (Exodus 12).
ii. A big part of the observance of the Passover was the removal of all leaven from the house to indicate that these were people on the way somewhere.
iii. Paul says that Christ, our Passover lamb has already been sacrificed, so the leaven of malice and evil must be cleansed out of the house.
iv. That, of course, requires those in the house to recognize what doesn’t belong there.
v. This is done to celebrate the feast; the feast is the point, not the removal of the bad influences.
e. Notice that Paul is careful to specify who he is talking about “judging” in this sense: those who are inside the church, the ones who bear the name of brother, not those outside (v.11,12). He is not calling for Christians to retreat to a corner somewhere out of the world to avoid contact with anyone who behaves like the world (v.10).
f. And, he makes it clear that he isn’t calling for the avoidance of every brother who is not yet everything he should be. He clearly defines the destructive ways of life which, if a brother practices, are to be judged in the sense he is prescribing: sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, or swindling. These are not merely differences of opinion or momentary weaknesses.
g. We may not assume the Lord’s place in evaluating his servants, but neither may we ignore the Lord’s character in our association with his people.
6. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11....Those who are confused about how to settle disputes between brothers, or how to make appropriate personal choices, should consider these matters in view of what they know for sure.
a. It’s not immediately clear whether this important little paragraph goes with what went before it or what comes after it. The “do you not know” formula is used several times in both, so perhaps this is stating a principle needed for the exercise of good judgment in either case.
b. One brother might have a matter against another. That is no surprise (cf. v.1). What is a surprise is that the one who wants right to be done would take it to the unrighteous!
c. The apostle asks if there isn’t one person among them to settle a dispute between brothers (v.5). His question assumes that fellow Christians have a place in matters like these, are capable of identifying what is right, and may be relied upon to offer a resolution to a disagreement.
d. On the other hand, it is no surprise that some of the Corinthians were making poor choices with regard to the desires of their bodies. What is surprising is that they were using religious slogans to justify giving in to those desires: “all things are lawful for me” and “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (v.12,13). The result was that they were engaging in behavior which was wrong and destructive.
e. Paul’s series of “do you not know” questions (v.15,16,19) are calls for sound judgment by Christians about their own bodies: Can I do this with a member of Christ? Is it right for me to join him to this? Will he be at home with this?
f. It’s the verses in the middle of this that form the basis, in terms of convictions, for that kind of judgment. On one side of the coin is the fact that there are some ways of living which have no part in the life of a citizen of the kingdom of God, and we would be fooling ourselves if we acted like they did (v.9,10).
g. The other side of the coin is that we have been cleansed and set apart from such things (v.11). It would be very poor judgment indeed to return to them again! They may be what we were, but they must no longer be what we are.
7. Good judgment is basic equipment for meaningful Christian fellowship in the midst of the world.
a. There are three reasons.
i. It keeps us from making shallow, critical evaluations of the value of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
ii. It requires us to be responsible in holding each other accountable for a lifestyle that is true to Christ.
iii. It prepares us to be wise enough to make good personal choices and to help when disputes arise.
b. The root of the good judgment described in these chapters is the tie that arises because of the fact with which they conclude: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (6:19,20).