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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
1 Corinthians 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

Chapter 6

THE FOLLY OF THE LAW COURTS (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)

6:1-8 When any of you has a ground of complaint against his fellow, does he dare to go to law before unrighteous men, and not before God's dedicated people? Are you not aware that God's dedicated people will one day judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unfit to deal with the smallest matters of judgment? Are you not aware that we will judge angels--let alone things which have to do with ordinary everyday life? If then you have questions of judgment which have to do with ordinary everyday life, put those who are of no consequence in the eyes of the Church in charge of them. It is to shame you that I speak. Do you go on like this because there is not a wise man among you who will be able to arbitrate between one brother and another? Must brother really go to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? If it comes to that there is a grave defect among you that you have court cases with each other at all. Why not rather submit to injury? Why not rather submit to being deprived of something? But you injure others and you deprive others of things--and brothers at that!

Paul is dealing with a problem which specially affected the Greeks. The Jews did not ordinarily go to law in the public law courts at all; they settled things before the elders of the village or the elders of the synagogue; to them justice was far more a thing to be settled in a family spirit than in a legal spirit. In fact the Jewish law expressly forbade a Jew to go to law at all in a non-Jewish court; to do so was considered blasphemy against the divine law of God. It was far otherwise with the Greeks; they were characteristically a litigious people. The law courts were one of their chief entertainments.

When we study the details of Athenian law we see what a major part the law courts played in the life of any Athenian citizen; and the situation in Corinth would not be so very different. If there was a dispute in Athens, the first attempt to settle it was by private arbitrator. In that event one arbitrator was chosen by each party, and a third was chosen by agreement between both parties to be an impartial judge. If that failed to settle the matter, there was a court known as The Forty. The Forty referred the matter to a public arbitrator and the public arbitrators consisted of all Athenian citizens in their sixtieth year; and any man chosen as an arbitrator had to act whether he liked it or not under penalty of disfranchisement. If the matter was still not settled, it had to be referred to a jury court which consisted of 201 citizens for cases involving less than about 50 British pounds and 401 citizens for cases involving more than that figure. There were indeed cases when juries could be as large as anything from 1,000 to 6,000 citizens. Juries were composed of Athenian citizens over 30 years of age. They were actually paid 3 obols a day for acting as jurymen, 1 obol being worth about 1/2 pence. The citizens entitled to act as jurymen assembled in the mornings and were allocated by lot to the cases on trial.

It is plain to see that in a Greek city every man was more or less a lawyer and spent a very great part of his time either deciding or listening to law cases. The Greeks were in fact famous, or notorious, for their love of going to law. Not unnaturally, certain of the Greeks had brought their litigious tendencies into the Christian Church; and Paul was shocked. His Jewish background made the whole thing seem revolting to him; and his Christian principles made it even more so. "How," he demanded, "can anyone follow the paradoxical course of looking for justice in the presence of the unjust?"

What made the matter still more fantastic to Paul was that, in the picture of the golden age to come, the Messiah was to judge the nations and the saints were to share in that judgment. The Book of Wisdom says, "They shall judge the nations and have dominion over the people" (Wisdom of Solomon 3:8). The Book of Enoch says, "I will bring forth those who have loved my name clad in shining light, and I will set each on the throne of his honour" (Wis 108:12). So Paul demands, "If some day you are going to judge the world, if even the angels, the highest created beings, are going to be subject to your judgment, how, in the name of all that is reasonable, can you go and submit your cases to men and to heathen men at that?" "If you must do it," he says, "do it inside the Church, and give the task of judging to the people of whom you think least, for no man who is destined to judge the world could possibly be bothered getting himself involved in petty everyday squabbles."

Then suddenly Paul seizes on the great essential principle. To go to law at all, and especially to go to law with a brother, is to fall far below the Christian standard of behaviour. Long ago Plato had laid it down that the good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong. If the Christian has even the remotest tinge of the love of Christ within his heart, he will rather suffer insult and loss and injury than try to inflict them on someone else--still more so, if that person is a brother. To take vengeance is always an unchristian thing. A Christian does not order his dealings with others by the desire for recompense and the principles of crude justice. He orders them by the spirit of love; and the spirit of love will insist that he live at peace with his brother, and will forbid him to demean himself by going to law.

SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

6:9-11 Are you not aware that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Make no mistake--neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sensualists, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor rapacious men, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor robbers shall inherit the Kingdom of God--and such were some of you. But you have been washed; you have been consecrated; you have been put into a right relationship with God through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.

Paul breaks out into a terrible catalogue of sins that is a grim commentary on the debauched civilization in which the Corinthian Church was growing up. There are certain things which are not pleasant to talk about, but we must look at this catalogue to understand the environment of the early Christian Church; and to see that human nature has not changed very much.

There were fornicators and adulterers. We have already seen that sexual laxity was part of the background of heathen life and that the virtue of chastity was well-nigh unknown. The word used for fornicators is specially unpleasant; it means a male prostitute. It must have been hard to be a Christian in the tainted atmosphere of Corinth.

There were idolaters. The greatest building in Corinth was the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, where idolatry and immorality flourished side by side. Idolatry is a grim example of what happens when we try to make religion easier. An idol did not begin by being a god; it began by being a symbol of a god; its function was to make the worship of the god easier by providing some object in which his presence was localized. But very soon men began to worship not the god behind the idol but the idol itself. It is one of the chronic dangers of life that men will come to worship the symbol rather than the reality behind it.

There were sensualists. The word (malakos, Greek #3120) literally means those who are soft and effeminate, those who have lost their manhood and live for the luxuries of recondite pleasures. It describes what we can only call a kind of wallowing in luxury in which a man has lost all resistance to pleasure. When Ulysses and his sailors came to the island of Circe they came to the land where the lotus flower grew. He who ate of that flower forgot his home and his loved ones and wished to live forever in that land where "it was always afternoon." He had no more any of the stern joy that comes from "climbing up the climbing wave." The sensualist desires this life in which it is always afternoon.

There were thieves and robbers. The ancient world was cursed with them. Houses were easy to break into. The robbers particularly haunted two places--the public baths and the public gymnasia where they stole the clothes of those who were washing or exercising themselves. It was common to kidnap slaves who had special gifts. The state of the law shows how serious this problem was. There were three kinds of theft punishable by death: (1) Theft to the value of more than 50 drachmae, that is, about 2 British pounds. (ii) Theft from the baths, the gymnasia and the ports and harbours to the value of 10 drachmae, that is about 40 pence. (iii) Theft of anything by night. The Christians lived in the middle of a pilfering population.

There were drunkards. The word used comes from a word (methos, compare Greek #3178) which signifies uncontrolled drinking. Even little children in ancient Greece drank wine; the name for breakfast is akratisma and it consisted of bread dipped in wine. The universality of wine drinking was of course due to the inadequate water-supplies. But normally the Greeks were sober people, for their drink was three parts of wine mixed with two of water. But in luxury-loving Corinth uncontrolled drunkenness abounded.

There were rapacious men and robbers. Both words are interesting. The word used for rapacious is pleonektes (Greek #4123). It describes, as the Greeks defined it, "the spirit which is always reaching after more and grabbing that to which it has no right." It is aggressive getting. It is not the miser's spirit, for it aimed to get in order to spend, so that it could live in more luxury and greater pleasure; and it cared not over whom it took advantage so long as it could get. The word translated "robbers" is harpax (Greek #727). It means grasping. It is interesting to note that it is used for a certain kind of wolf and also for the grappling irons by which ships were boarded in naval battles. It is the spirit which grasps that to which it has no right with a kind of savage ferocity.

We have left the most unnatural sin to the end--there were homosexuals. This sin had swept like a cancer through Greek life and from Greece, invaded Rome. We can scarcely realize how riddled the ancient world was with it. Even so great a man as Socrates practised it; Plato's dialogue The Symposium is always said to be one of the greatest works on love in the world, but its subject is not natural but unnatural love. Fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors practised unnatural vice. At this very time Nero was emperor. He had taken a boy called Sporus and had him castrated. He then married him with a full marriage ceremony and took him home in procession to his palace and lived with him as wife. With an incredible viciousness, Nero had himself married a man called Pythagoras and called him his husband. When Nero was eliminated and Otho came to the throne one of the first things he did was to take possession of Sporus. Much later, the Emperor Hadrian's name was associated with a Bithynian youth called Antinous. He lived with him inseparably, arid, when he died, he deified him and covered the world with his statues and immortalised his sin by calling a star after him. In this particular vice, in the time of the Early Church, the world was lost to shame; and there can be little doubt that this was one of the main causes of its degeneracy and the final collapse of its civilization.

After this dreadful catalogue of vices, natural and unnatural, comes Paul's shout of triumph "and such were some of you." The proof of Christianity lay in its power. It could take the dregs of humanity and make them into men. It could take men lost to shame and make them sons of God. There were in Corinth, and all over the world, men who were living proofs of the re-creating power of Christ.

The power of Christ is still the same. No man can change himself, but Christ can change him. There is the most amazing contrast between the pagan and the Christian literature of the day. Seneca, a contemporary of Paul, cries out that what men want is "a hand let down to lift them up." "Men," he declared, "are overwhelmingly conscious of their weakness in necessary things." "Men love their vices," he said with a kind of despair, "and hate them at one and the same time." He called himself a homo non tolerabilis, a man not to be tolerated. Into this world, conscious of a tide of decadence that nothing could stop, there came the radiant power of Christianity, which was triumphantly able to make all things new.

BOUGHT WITH A PRICE (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

6:12-20 True, all things are allowed to me; but all things are not good for me. All things are allowed to me, but I will not allow any thing to get control of me. Foods were made for the stomach and the stomach was made for foods; but God will obliterate both it and them. The body is not made for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. God raised up the Lord, and by his power he will raise us too. Are you not aware that your bodies are the limbs of Christ? Am I then to take away the limbs which belong to Christ and make them the limbs which belong to a harlot? Or, are you not aware that he who has intercourse with a harlot is one body with her? For these two, it says, will become one flesh. But he who unites himself to the Lord is of one spirit with him. Strenuously avoid fornication at all times. Every sin which a man may commit is external to his body; but the man who commits fornication sins against his own body. Or, are you not aware that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, the Spirit which you have received from God? So you are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. So then glorify God with your body.

In this passage Paul is up against a whole series of problems. It ends with the summons, "Glorify God with your body." This is Paul's battle cry here.

The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, "The body is a tomb." Epictetus said, "I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse." The important thing was the soul, the spirit of a man; the body was a thing that did not matter. That produced one of two attitudes. Either it issued in the most rigorous asceticism in which everything was done to subject and humiliate the desires and instincts of the body. Or--and in Corinth it was this second outlook which was prevalent--it was taken to mean that, since the body was of no importance, you could do what you liked with it; you could let it sate its appetites. What complicated this was the doctrine of Christian freedom which Paul preached. If the Christian man is the freest of all men, then is he not free to do what he likes, especially with this completely unimportant body of his?

So, the Corinthians argued, in a way that they thought very enlightened, let the body have its way. But what is the body's way? The stomach was made for food and food for the stomach, they went on. Food and the stomach naturally and inevitably go together. In precisely the same way the body is made for its instincts; it is made for the sexual act and the sexual act is made for it; therefore let the desires of the body have their way.

Paul's answer is clear. Stomach and food are passing things; the day will come when they will both pass away. But the body, the personality, the man as a whole will not pass away; he is made for union with Christ in this world and still closer union hereafter. What then happens if he commits fornication? He gives his body to a harlot, for scripture says that intercourse makes two people into one united body (Genesis 2:24). That is to say, a body which rightly belongs to Christ has been prostituted to someone else.

Remember that Paul is not writing a systematic treatise; he is preaching, pleading with a heart on fire and a tongue that will use whatever arguments it can find. He says that of all sins fornication is the one that affects a man's body and insults it. That is not strictly true--drunkenness might do the same. But Paul is not writing in order to satisfy an examiner in logic, but in order to save the Corinthians in body and in soul; and so he pleads that other sins are external to a man, but in this he sins against his own body, which is destined for union with Christ.

Then he makes one last appeal. Just because God's Spirit dwells in us we have become a temple of God; and so our very bodies are sacred. And more--Christ died to save not a bit of a man, but the whole man, body and soul. Christ gave his life to give a man a redeemed soul and a pure body. Because of that a man's body is not his own to do with as he likes; it is Christ's and he must use it, not for the satisfaction of his own lusts, but for the glory of Christ.

There are two great thoughts here.

(i) It is Paul's insistence that, though he is free to do anything, he will let nothing master him. The great fact of the Christian faith is, not that it makes a man free to sin, but that it makes a man free not to sin. It is so easy to allow habits to master us; but the Christian strength enables us to master them. When a man really experiences the Christian power, he becomes, not the slave of his body, but its master. Often a man says, "I will do what I like," when he means that he will indulge the habit or passion which has him in its grip; it is only when a man has the strength of Christ in him that he can really say, "I will do what I like," and not, "I will satisfy the things that have me in their power."

(ii) It is Paul's insistence that we are not our own. There is no such thing in this world as a self-made man. The Christian is a man who thinks not of his rights but of his debts. He can never do what he likes, because he never belongs to himself; he must always do what Christ likes, because Christ bought him at the cost of his life.

In the section of our letter which stretches from the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 to the end of 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 , Paul sets himself to deal with a set of problems concerning which the Corinthian Church had written to him, asking advice. He begins the section by saying, "With regard to what you wrote to me about...." In modern language, we might say, "With reference to your letter...." We shall outline each problem as we come to it. 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 deals with a whole series of problems regarding marriage. Here is a summary of the areas in which the Corinthian Church sought and obtained advice from Paul.

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 : Advice to those who think that Christians

should not marry at all.

1 Corinthians 7:3-7 : Advice to those who urge that even those who

are married should abstain from all sexual relations

with each other.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 : Advice to the unmarried and to widows.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 : Advice to those who think that married

people should separate.

1 Corinthians 7:12-17 : Advice to those who think that, if the

marriage is one in which one of the partners is a

Christian and one a pagan, it should be broken up

and dissolved.

1 Corinthians 7:18; 1 Corinthians 7:24 : Instruction to live the Christian life in

whatever state they happen to be.

1 Corinthians 7:25 : Advice regarding virgins.

1 Corinthians 7:36-38 : Advice regarding virgins.

1 Corinthians 7:26-35 : Exhortation that nothing should interfere

with concentration upon serving Christ because the

time is short and he will very soon come again.

1 Corinthians 7:38-40 : Advice to those who wish to remarry.

We must study this chapter with two facts firmly in our minds. (i) Paul is writing to Corinth which was the most immoral town in the world. Living in an environment like that, it was far better to be too strict than to be too lax. (ii) The thing which dominates every answer Paul gives is the conviction that the Second Coming of Christ was about to happen almost immediately. This expectation was not realized; but Paul was convinced that he was giving advice for a purely temporary situation. We can be quite certain that in many cases his advice would have been quite different if he had visualized a permanent, instead of a temporary, situation. Now let us turn to the chapter in detail.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-corinthians-6.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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