We have now to encounter a worldly evil among the Corinthian saints, as distinguished from the fleshly state and the corruption which have already passed before us.
"Dare any of you having a matter against another, go to law [seek judgment] before the unjust and not before the saints?" (Ver. 1.) Here modern practice, or even thought, greatly differs from apostolic principle. Christians now-a-days have little conscience in appealing to a worldly tribunal. It is evident that the Holy Ghost felt it to be an outrage, nor could any Christian walking rightly think of prosecuting a suit before the world against another however wrong. He must forget what God accounts each to be: the world, as having rejected His Son; the saints, as those that are by grace separated from it to God.
Here however the apostle grounds his reproof on the anomaly of seeking judgment at the hands of those whom we shall judge at Christ's coming. "*Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy of the least judgments? Do ye not know that we shall judge angels? Much more things of this life. If then ye have judgments in things of this life, set up those who are of no esteem in the church." (Ver. 2-4.) The apostle thus brings in the light of the coming day to bear upon present matters. This is certain from verse 8, if any one could question verse 2. In vain the efforts of ancients (Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, etc.) to make it moral, or of moderns (Mosheim, Rosenmüller, etc.) to make it political and worldly. The future judgment of the quick in the kingdom of our Lord is a reality that acts on the apostle now. He uses it to judge the conduct of every day. How can it be a living truth if it operate not thus? Even the Corinthians did not doubt the fact as to the future; but, like all unspiritual persons, they had let it slip now where they ought to have remembered it.
* A B C Dp.m. F G P, at least ten cursives, etc., read ἤ omitted in Tex, Rec. on the authority of two or three uncials and most cursives.
It is evident however that "that day" was a truth so familiar and admitted on all sides by the saints that Paul could reason from it as unquestionable. The saints have the same life now, and the same Spirit; they have also the word of God. How monstrous then thus to ignore the glory with Christ to which grace calls them, and to fall into the ways of men! To faith it was the grossest inconsistency; for if the world is judged by the saints, are they unworthy of the "least judgments?" Such were and are the questions on which men usually go to law. Nor is it only the world but other beings the saints are to judge. "Know ye not that we shall judge angels? Much more things in this life."
The future judgment of the world and of angels has slipped away from Christians generally. They believe in the judgment of the dead, not of the living; and hence the ground of the apostle's appeal no longer exists for them. Scriptures such as these become unreal to their minds. So far they are practically infidel; and necessarily their practice is worldly in this respect. Alas! it is only a sample, not an exception. The difficult times of the last days are come, when men are lovers of self and of money, boastful and arrogant, abusive and disobedient to parents, lovers of pleasure rather than of God, having a form of piety but denying its power. From these we are commanded to turn away. Scripture is the grand resource; and this, not forgetting the apostle's conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecution, suffering, and the certainty that all who desire to live piously in Christ shall be persecuted, while wicked men and impostors grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. The time is come when men will not bear sound teaching, but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having itching ears, turning away from the truth as decidedly as they have turned aside to fables. What more mischievous delusion than a millennium to be brought in by the church's testimony and labours? It will really follow divine judgment when the Lord Himself comes, who, after executing it, will pour out the Spirit afresh on all flesh, when they see the salvation of God.
The Corinthians were not so far gone as the Christians of our day. They were well aware that the saints shall judge the world: only selfishness had dulled their remembrance of it. The Spirit of God now recalls the truth to them, and appeals to their sense of the evident incongruity that those who are to judge the world on the grandest scale were accounting themselves in feet unworthy of the smallest judgments. Such no doubt were those that could be then before the Corinthian brethren, whereas by-and-by the gravest will be held by them when glorified. And the apostle makes the inconsistency more pungently felt by characterising the world as the "unjust" and themselves as "the saints" - nay, by reminding them that we shall judge angels. Surely then things pertaining to this life between brethren ought not to go farther! Where was their faith and their love? Where their hope?
Some interpreters, as we know, take verse 4 interrogatively, others sarcastically. There seems no particular reason for the former, Matters of this life require no more than good sense and honesty; and surely the possession of these would not constitute a claim for honour in the church. Brethren might have both, and be little esteemed there, where the grace and power of Christ alone constitute such a claim. The decision of those matters in no way called for high spirituality. Indeed the apostle says, "I speak to your shame. Thus there is not among you one wise [man] who shall be able to decide between brethren" (literally, "brother [and brother]"). "But brother goeth to law with brother, and this before unbelievers. Already therefore* it is altogether a fault in you that ye go to law among yourselves. Why are ye not rather wronged? why are ye not rather defrauded? But ye do wrong and defraud, and this,† brethren." (Ver. 5-8.)
* p m. Dp.m., several cursives, etc., omit οὖν
† So it is, τοῦτο in A B C D E P, etc.; ταῦτα in Tex. Rec., with L and most cursives, etc.
It is clear that the apostle in no way wished such disputes to be brought, in the first instance at least, before the assembly. The gravest cases should be, not lighter ones. Had they not even one wise man to decide them? He is slighting such questions as well as reproving themselves for their worldliness; and their moral state was worse to him than their lack of wisdom. The Christian is called to suffer, even when he does well, and to take it patiently, not to go to law. The Corinthians were sadly forgetful of the true glory of the church; and when Christians thus forget their proper standing and the conduct that suite it, they cease to walk even as upright men should. "Ye do wrong and defraud, and this, brethren." Nor is it so surprising, when we consider that it never was intended that Christians should walk well except by faith, any more than Peter could walk on the waves without looking to Christ. When he ceased to look to Him, he begins to sink at once, less safe than those who had never ventured out of the ship.
Failure in faith and hope too, I must repeat, will soon be found to involve failure in love. "Ye do wrong and defraud, and this, brethren." All through from first to last, it was a direct dishonour to God, and a false testimony to their relationship to Him, if indeed they were born of God. His sense of their failure as Christians does not lessen his horror at the dishonesty or other wrong which provoked the law-suits. "Know ye not that unjust [men] shall not inherit God's kingdom? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers of themselves as women, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor rapacious, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit God's kingdom." (Vers. 9, 10.) It is clear that the apostle, without confining himself to the actual case, is exposing severely the habits so common at Corinth - corruption much more than violence. He is speaking for profit and for solemn warning as the Holy Ghost always does, if He touches sin at all. He is not beating the air, nor denouncing sins only found elsewhere. Fleshly add worldly licence would surely end, if unjudged, in revolting excesses. Tampering with a little evil is the straight road to more and worse, and in none so certainly as the professing Christian. To indulge in any evil is in works to deny Christ. The business of a Christian is to manifest Him. The Corinthian saints were in danger of slipping back into the vilest ways of human corruption.
"And these things were some of you." This would give Satan an advantage if they looked away from Christ. Old habits then resume their power, and evil communications corrupt good manners. Then he adds, "But ye were washed" [literally, "had yourselves washed"], "but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus [Christ]* and by the Spirit of our God." (Ver. 11.) He reminds them of the gracious power of God in Christ on whom they believed by the action of His Spirit; and will not allow that this could be all in vain. In ἀπελούσασθε there may be an allusion to the administrative sign, as in Act_22:16; but the connection here points rather to the reality signified. The sanctification is clearly the setting apart of the Christian to God which the Holy Spirit effects in conversion, rather than the practical holiness which He afterwards works to make good, the former being absolute as the latter is relative. This is shown conclusively by its preceding justification, which has here of course its regular sense, when the soul is not only born of God but stands acquitted of all charge before Him through the work of Christ, and is then sealed by the Spirit.
* Χριστού is here read by B C D p.m. E P, some cursives, and almost all the ancient versions, etc.
The apostle turns next to fleshly abuses: the first in respect of meats, the second and gravest in fornication. He had shown that, whatever the grace of God is in calling the vilest, all such are saved after a holy sort. This he now exemplifies in two instances where some pleaded liberty to deny practical purity. Of this he will not hear. He will not diminish liberty one jot, but he asserts its character to be Christian, as all our other privileges are. If not of Christ, it is sin. So is it with all we boast: life, righteousness, peace, and glory. In this liberty differs not from the rest. What Christian could wish any of these in or for the flesh? It would be to abandon the Second man for the first: to wish licence for sin proves utter lack of love and honour for the Saviour.
"All things are lawful to me, but all things do not profit; all things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but God will bring to nought both it and them; but the body [is] not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised the Lord, and will raise up us by his power. Know ye not, that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then taking the members of Christ make [them] members of a harlot? Let it not be. What!* Know ye not that he that is joined to the harlot is one body? For, saith he, the two [shall be] one flesh. But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin which a man may practise is outside the body, but the fornicator sinneth against his own body. What! Know ye not that your body† is a temple of the Holy Spirit that [is] in you, which ye have from God; and ye are not your own? For ye were bought with a price: do then glorify God in your body."‡ (Ver. 12-20.)
* ἤ is read by A B C F G P and other authorities.
† to; σῶμα Ap.m. B C D E F G K P, etc,; τὰ σώματα Ap.m. L, many cursives, etc.
‡ The common reading καὶ ἐν τῳ πνεύματι ὑμῆν ἅτινά ἐστι τοῦ θεοῦ is absent from A B Cs.m. Dp.m. E F G, and many excellent witnesses.
If all things are lawful to the Christian, certainly all do not profit. As Christ never did what did not profit, so neither should the Christian. He is free, but it is only according to Christ for good, and this in love, the good of others. But there is another guard: if all things are lawful to the Christian, he refuses to be brought under the power of anything: were it not so, it would be bondage, not liberty. Thus to have regard for others' good must be kept up, as well the liberty itself intact. The Christian is called to serve others, never to be the slave of a habit in anything great or small.
The first application of the apostle is to meats, which he deals with in terms so curtly contemptuous as to decide the question for every godly soul. "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats, but God will bring to nought both it and them;" He then points out an analogy as forcible as it is surprising and withal no less true: they mutually suit one another, and both perish under God's dealing. They are but temporary. It was the more striking, as coming through one who had been a Jew to those who had been Gentiles; and all know the place meats had in Judaism. But Christianity brings in the light of God and of the future for our present guidance; as we see in the second case still more at length. For "the body is not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." If the belly is put down to its true and passing use, the body is exalted to a place of which philosophy knew nothing. As it was not formed for unhallowed or promiscuous indulgence, so it is for the Lord and the Lord is for it.
Never was the honour of the body set in its true light till Christ came and proved it not only in His own person as man but in ours as redeemed by His blood and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (Compare Rom_6:12-13; Rom_6:19; Rom_8:10; Rom_12:1 ; Col_2:23; 1Th_4:4; 1Th_5:23; 1Ti_4:3-5.) Even now the Lord disdains not this temple of the Spirit: how much less when changed into the likeness of His glory? (Rom_8:11; Rom_8:18-23; Php_3:21.) In this body we shall have the portion of our Lord. For "God both raised the Lord and will raise up us by his power." (See 1 Cor. 15; 2Co_4:14.)
It is not merely that our spirits go to be with the Lord in heaven; our bodies shall be raised like His at His coming, as many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of their graves after His resurrection. For if death shows man's weakness, resurrection displays God's power. The actual spiritual effect of this is immense. Not our souls but our bodies are declared to be members of Christ. Those who descant on the soul only may claim a superior elevation. But it is never really so in practice or in theory. On the contrary the immortality of the soul is easily perverted to man's pride; not so the resurrection, which not only exalts God and humbles man but delivers from present ease and indulgence where it is held in faith. Of this the Holy Spirit is the earnest, who joins us to the Lord and constitutes our bodies members of Christ. Hence the enormity of fornication. (Vers. 15, 16.) How basely inconsistent with such intimacy, yea union, is impurity with a harlot! It was the more needful to urge this on a city more than any other noted for this sort of licence, besides the broad fact that the heathen in general regarded fornication as an indifferent act like eating and not as in itself a sin. "The two, saith he, shall be one flesh; but he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit." (Vers. 16, 17.)
But its incongruity with our relation to Christ is not all that the apostle urges. Fornication he would have avoided earnestly, because of its peculiar character, differing as it does from every other sin in this that it is against the body itself, while others are external to it. How dreadful then to think not merely of the body so misused, but the Christian's body, temple of the Holy Spirit as it is! not from any mere consecration to Him but from His being in us, and this from God, on the ground of purchase by Christ's blood. Therefore the apostle's appeal to glorify God in their body.
It was only because of Christ's work that the Holy Spirit could thus be given to us and dwell in us. He quickened souls before Christ shed His blood, but He never sealed them till after. Jesus, the Holy One of God, is the sole example of man so sealed without blood. But He is the exception that proves the rule. Adam was not, because, though innocent, he was not holy nor is ever said to have been; the Second man was, and only He apart from redemption; and therefore was He sealed by God the Father in virtue and witness of His intrinsic perfection. If we can be and are, it is solely in virtue of being perfected by His one offering, and we are therefore exhorted not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption (that is, of our bodies). The Spirit given is the expression of God's love shed abroad in our hearts; He is also the measure by which we should try our conduct, and the power of enjoying and representing Christ aright. Bought then so that we are not our own but God's, we are called accordingly to glorify God in our body. A wondrous fact to be assured of on divine authority that such as we by grace can and should glorify God!
These then are the motives for us. We are bought with a price, and we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. "Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that is in you, which ye have from God; and ye are not your own? For ye were bought with a price." It enhances the presence of the Spirit in us when we are told that we have Him from God. It could not be otherwise of course; but to have it thus stated is precious and solemn God would have us to remember and feel that it is from Him we have the Spirit thus given.
But let us not forget that it is in our body we are to glorify God. Many a one deceives himself in the thought that he is all right in spirit, though he dare not say that he keeps his body under and brings it into subjection. The Christian is bound to glorify God in his body.
So in the consecration of the priests under the law (Lev. 8) we may see that the washing of water preceded the putting on of blood, and the anointing of oil closed the matter. It is just the same order of truth which is discernible here, and which is true of the Christian in fact. Of old followed the duties of the priestly office according to the instructions of Jehovah; as we see the Christian here exhorted to glorify God. What a claim! How God values the spirit, ways, communion, and conduct of the Christian! How lowering to the standard when, like the Corinthians, we forget that we are no longer men striving to walk with decency through the world, but our body the temple of the Holy Ghost and ourselves the purchase of Christ's blood, and with such an aim set before us as glorifying God! The unbelief of believers is the delight of the adversary and the saddest hindrance to His glory in and by us. It is the fertile source of every failure and of the most grievous sins in the saints. It is the main stumbling-block for every serious man in the world. It makes the glorifying of God an impossibility. May we be enabled then to meet the simplest matter of every-day propriety in the faith that is familiar with the richest and highest displays of God's grace in the redemption of Christ and the gift of the Spirit!