Lesson 12: Don’t Drink and Drive (I Corinthians 5-10)

I have always had a hard time making sense of chapters 5-14. Paul seems all over the place, going hither and yon in his reasoning and counseling. After a lot of struggle, I decided to take Paul at his word. There are no laws. Jesus grants us his Spirit which gives us freedom. The only criterion is love as defined by Jesus. With that assumption I began to comprehend what he was saying… I think.

First, the assumption. As we have read over and over again, Paul claims the Cross enables us to share the Spirit Jesus and his Father enjoy. In 2: 11-16 he says “we have received … the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God… We have the mind of Christ. In 3:16: “You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you”. In 6:17: “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”. In the first section, chapters 5-11, Paul addresses the moral life and uses some form of the word “free” nine times. He says “all is lawful” four times. Clearly Paul proclaims Christians are free, because they live in the Age of the Spirit.

The argument runs something like this: Jesus shared the Spirit of the Father and so was able to do God’s will. Because he was inspired by the Spirit, he did not need law to direct him. His crucifixion and resurrection makes that Spirit available for his followers. They now share the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Because they are inspired by this Spirit, they do not need the law to direct them.

However, the followers are not Jesus. They live in the overlap of the Age of Sin and the Age of the Spirit. Abuses of this freedom are bound to occur. And that is what we see in Paul’s first three problems. In addition, there are going to be all sorts of questions that arise about how you handle this new innovative situation. That is what we see in the other two.

Chapters 5- 10 deal with moral problems. The first three are horrific. The freedom of the Spirit has gone awry. A man is having sex with his father’s wife, a Christian is suing another, and people are visit prostitutes. They are clearly big-time abuses, and Paul addresses them as such. The next two are just ordinary questions that would arise in this new age. If the Age of Sin is passing so that there will soon be no need for having children, how should we treat sexual relations? And even if we know there is no unclean food, how should we act when we are with others who do not? These last two deal with every day life issues, and Paul handles them with common sense.

I will not go into the particulars of his arguments. Instead let me observe that he says he is concerned with abuses of freedom only as it concerns church members. The abuses make the church look bad and besides that they might corrupt other Christians. His argument about leaven is the same as ours about the “one bad apple that ruins the barrel”. So he says, “Throw them out”. That is not to say that they won’t be welcomed back, if they demonstrate they share the church’s Spirit. It simply recognizes that their actions do not represent that Spirit at this time.

Along the same lines, a Church that has been given Christ’s Spirit has all she needs to settle disputes. Going to a secular court not only makes the Church look bad, it also resorts to a less qualified judge.

You hear him ease up when it comes to debating normal questions about sexual practices as people wait for Jesus to return. He makes plain there is no one right way, no law. He is simply offering his apostolic opinion. We should notice he is trying to practice his teaching that Christ’s spirit overcomes the divisions between male and female. The society maintains women should always submit to men’s sexual desires. Paul says both should submit to each other.

Again he is simply offering common sense when it comes to eating food sacrificed to idols. Of course, nothing is unclean if all comes from God. Mature Christians understand they can eat such meat. However, if their freedom creates problems for less mature people, they should not offend or contribute to misunderstandings.

His discussion about moral issues ends with a passage that says the same thing and is used in the same way as I Corinthians 13 is in the discussion about worship abuses. Love defined as “not insisting on your way” is the criterion for judging the Spirit. “‘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 others…So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. “(I Corinthians 10:23-33)

Bob asks how we decide what is permanent and what is temporary in Paul. Myron asks where we find the wit and wisdom to figure out the difference between situational guidance and core Christian values that transcend time and place. I don’t think there is anything permanent in Paul but love. Everything else is temporary and situational. Myron, Anne, and I previously spoke of the Ten Commandments as being foundational, but are they really? They, too, are always interpreted in the light of the situation by the Spirit tested by love. And, of course, love is always defined by the life and passion of Jesus. For instance, modern money practices based on interest would be regarded as stealing by those who first spoke the seventh commandment; advertizing would be labeling crass coveting by the same people; worshiping on Sunday violates what they meant by Sabbath; etc. Obviously, we reinterpret even the commandments in light of the current situation guided by the Spirit.

Many of us are offended and embarrassed by so many other Christians who preach rigid law about all sorts of things they regard as absolutes. I have come to believe our church practice of remembering how God’s people handled an issue in an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel lesson and then asking one of our community to stand with only the Spirit and love to proclaim how we might handle it in our day is all we ever had. And I believe it is enough.

I think Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” in the Brothers Karamazov got it right. In this chapter Jesus returns to earth in Seville, Spain, at the height of Inquisition. The people flock to him, but the Inquisitor arrests him as a heretic. He then comes by night to accuse Jesus of oppressing people by offering them the freedom of faith instead of eternal happiness. People do not want nor can they handle freedom. So the Church has taken over imposing laws and promising people the happiness they really want by using the miracle, mystery, and authority Jesus rejected in his Temptation. He acknowledges the church has aligned with Satan rather than God to do this. And to make things clear, he declares he does not want Jesus’ love and does not love him. At the end of the tale Jesus kisses the Inquisitor, seemingly indicating like Paul that nothing can separate him from God’s love.

As Paul says we have to be very careful not to quench the Spirit even while we test everything, with love and love alone. (I Thessalonians 5: 19-21)

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