1 Corinthians 6 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Corinthians 6
Pulpit Commentary
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
Verses 1-11. - Litigation before heathen courts forbidden. Verse 1. - Dare any of you? rather, Dare any one of you? It is in St. Paul's view an audacious defiance of Christian duties to seek from the heathen the justice due from brother to brother. A matter; some ground of civil dispute. Against another; i.e. against another Christian. When one of the litigants was a heathen, Christians were allowed to go before heathen law courts, because no other remedy was possible. Go to law before the unjust. The "unjust" is here used for "Gentiles," because it at once suggests a reason against the dereliction of Christian duty involved in such a step. How "unjust" the pagans were in the special sense of the word, the Christians of that day had daily opportunities of seeing; and in a more general sense, the Gentiles were "sinners" (Matthew 26:45). Even the Jews were bound to settle their civil disputes before their own tribunals. The ideal Jew was jashar, or "the upright man," and Jews could not consistently seek integrity from those who were not upright. A fortiori, Christians ought not to do so. Before the saints. All Christians were ideally "saints," just as the heathen were normally "unjust." If Christians went to law with one another before the heathen, they belied their profession of mutual love, caused scandal, and were almost necessarily tempted into compliance with heathen customs, even to the extent of recognizing idols. Our Lord had already laid down the rule that "brothers" ought to settle their quarrels among themselves (Matthew 18:15-17).
Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Verse 2. - Do ye not know? The word "or" should be supplied from א, A, B, C, D, F, etc. Bishop Wordsworth points out that this emphatic question occurs ten times in these two Epistles (1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 1 Corinthians 9:13, 24), and only twice in all the rest (Romans 6:16; Romans 11:2). It was a fitting rebuke to those who took for knowledge their obvious ignorance. It resembles the "Have ye not so much as read?" to Pharisees who professed such profound familiarity with the Scriptures. That the saints shall judge the world. So Daniel (Daniel 7:22) had said, "The Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High." Our Lord had confirmed this promise to his apostles, "Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). Various modes of evading the literal sense have been adopted, but even in the Book of Wisdom we find, "They [the righteous] shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people" (Wisd. 3:8). All speculation as to the manner and extent in which the saints shall share in the work of Christ as Judge of the quick and dead, are obviously futile. Shall be judged; literally, is being judged - the present points to the future, as though that which is inevitable is already in course of fulfilment. To judge the smallest matters; literally, of the smallest judgments.
Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
Verse 3. - That we shall judge angels. Angels, i.e. some who belong, or once did belong, to that class. The statement furnishes no data for further speculation. It can hardly mean "evil spirits," for where the word is entirely unqualified it always means good angels; otherwise we might refer it to the "angels which kept not their first estate" (Jude 1:6). It is impossible, and not straightforward, to explain away the word "angels" as meaning Church officials, etc., or to make the word "judge" mean "involve a condemnation of them by comparison with ourselves." All that we can say is that "God chargeth even his angels with folly, and in his sight the very heavens are not clean" (Job 4:18); and that "to angels hath he not subjected the world to come" (Hebrews 2:5). We must take the plain meaning of the apostle's words, whether we can throw any light on his conceptions or not. The only alternative is to suppose that the word means "those who once were good angels," but are now fallen spirits. It was so understood by Tertullian, Chrysostom, etc. How much more; rather, to say nothing of. The accurate rendering of these verses is a matter of some difficulty, but not to an extent which affects the material sense, or which can be explained without a minute knowledge of Greek.
If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
Verse 4. - If then ye have, etc. The verse implies that civil disputes might naturally occur among them. What he is here reprobating is their objectionable method of settling them. Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. This implies an utter scorn of trivial quarrels about personal rights. Surely the lowliest, the most unregarded members of the Church - those of no account - have wisdom enough to decide in such small matters. Thus when there arose a murmuring between Hebrews and Hellenists about the daily distribution to widows, the apostles, thinking that they had much more important work in hand than the adjustment of such jealousies, left the whole matter in the hands of the seven deacons. Some understand "those held of no account in the Church" to mean heathens; but he is here forbidding them to bring their quarrels before the heathens. Of course, ideally, none ought to be "despised" or "held of no account" in the Church; but St. Paul is here speaking relatively, and with reference to the views of the Corinthians themselves, and not without irony. The perfect participle, "those who have been set at nought," perhaps means persons of proved inferiority of judgment.
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?
Verse 5. - I speak to your shame. He adds this to account for the severe irony of the last remark. Not a wise man among you. Among you, who set yourselves up as so specially wise! To judge; rather, to decide.
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?
Verse 7. - Now therefore; rather, Nay more, already. Utterly; rather, generally, "altogether," "looking at the question as a whole." A fault. The word means "a defect," or possibly "a loss" (Romans 11:12, "the diminishing"). Your going to law is an inferiority or deficiency; you ought to know of "a more excellent way." Why do ye not rather take wrong? Strange as such advice would sound to heathens, who prided themselves on the passionate resentment of injuries as though it were a virtue, this had been the distinct teaching of our Lord; "Resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39).
Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
Verse 8. - Nay, ye do wrong and defraud. Thus they violated a rule which Paul had laid down to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:6), and incurred God's anger.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
Verse 9. - Know ye not; rather, Or know ye not, as before. Are you defying God, or does your sin arise from mere ignorance? The unrighteous; better, that wrong doers, the verb being the same as "ye do wrong" in ver. 8. Perhaps the Corinthians thought that they would be saved by the mere fact of having been admitted into God's kingdom (the Christian Church in all its highest privileges) by baptism. St. Paul here lays down, as distinctly as St. James does, that faith without works is dead, and privileges without holiness are abrogated. The spirit of his warning is the same as that of Jeremiah 7:4, "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord... are these;" or that of St. John the Baptist, "Say not unto yourselves, We be Abraham's sons." Christians have often been liable to the temptation of underrating the peril which results from the falling asunder of action from knowledge. There can be no greater danger than that of talking slightingly of "mere morality." Religion is not an outward service, but a spiritual life manifested by a holy living. Be not deceived. So our Lord says," Let no man deceive you" (Mark 13:5; comp. 1 John 3:7). St. Paul uses the warning very solemnly again in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Galatians 6:7, and St. James in James 1:16. The self deception of merely verbal orthodoxy is the most dangerous of all. Neither fornicators. The first four classes of sinners were specially prevalent at Corinth, where, indeed, impurity formed part of the recognized cult of the local Aphrodite (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:21). Lists of these "works of the flesh," which were the all but universal curse and stain of heathendom, occur also in Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Timothy 1:10, etc.; Colossians 3:5-7.
Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Verse 10. - Nor thieves, etc. (see Revelation 22:15).
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Verse 11. - And such were some of you; literally, and these things some of you were. As Gentiles, many of them had been "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). (For a similar contrast of the change wrought by the Spirit of God, see Titus 3:3-7.) But ye are washed. The voice and tense in the original differ from those of the following words. This cannot be accidental. It is better, therefore, to render, But ye washed away your sins; i.e. ye, by your baptism, washed away those stains (Acts 22:16). The very object of Christ's death had been that he might cleanse his Church "by the washing of water by the Word." But ye are sanctified, but ye are justified; rather, but ye were sanctified, but y? were justified, namely, at your conversion. By "sanctified" is meant, not the progressive course of sanctification, but the consecration to God by baptism (Wickliffe, "halowed"). (For what St. Paul meant by justification, see Romans 3:24-26.) In the Name of the Lord Jesus, etc. This clause and the next belongs to all the three previous verbs. Of our God. In the word "our" is involved that appeal to Christian unity of which he never loses sight throughout the letter.
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
Verses 12-20. - The inexcusable sin and shame of fornication. Verse 12. - All things are lawful unto me. The abruptness with which the phrase is introduced perhaps shows that, in the letter of the Corinthians to St. Paul, they had used some such expression by way of palliating their lax tolerance of violations of the law of purity. By "all things," of course, is only meant "all things which are indifferent in themselves." They erroneously applied this maxim of Christian liberty to that which was inherently sinful, and thus were tempted to "make their liberty a cloak of viciousness." St. Paul, as Bengel observes, often, and especially in this Epistle, uses the first person generally in gnomic or semi-proverbial sentences (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 10:23, 29, 30; 1 Corinthians 14:11). But. This is St. Paul's correction of too broad a formula. Are not expedient. St. Paul illustrates this in 1 Corinthians 8:8-10. We have no right to do even that which is innocent, if it be disadvantageous to the highest interests of ourselves or others. "He alone," says St. Augustine, "does not fall into unlawful things who sometimes abstains by way of caution even from lawful ones." Will not be brought under the power. The play of words in the original might be imitated by saying, "All things are in my power, but I will not be brought under the power of any." In other words, "boundless intemperance" may become a tyranny. The pretence of moral freedom may end in a moral bondage.

"Obedience is better than freedom? What's free?
The vexed foam on the wave, the tossed straw on the sea;
The ocean itself, as it rages and swells,
In the bonds of a boundless obedience dwells."
I will be master even over my liberty by keeping it under the beneficent control of law and of charity.
Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
Verse 13. - Meats for the belly, etc. The argument of the Corinthians about the indifference of eating "meats" which were merely ceremonially unclean was quite tenable. Things Levitically unclean might be essentially pure, and both food and the body which lives thereby are things "which perish in the using" (Colossians 2:22). Shall destroy; shall bring to nought. This would occur when the physical body becomes a spiritual body, like that of the angels of God (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52). How vile, then, is it to make a god of the belly - only to sleep and feed! Both it and them. There shall be no need for the belly when men "shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more" (Revelation 7:16); and the meat alluded to is "meat which perisheth" (Luke 15:16). Now the body is net for fornication, but for the Lord. The argument, therefore, which would class this sin as a matter of indifference, as was the Levitical distinction between different kinds of food, at once fell to the ground. Food was a necessity, and the stomach was formed for its assimilation. Fornication is not a venial but "a deadly sin." It is not a natural necessity, but a consuming evil. The body was created for higher ends - namely, to be a temple of God. "God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:7). And the Lord for the body. Therefore our members ought to be used "as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 5:13), and our bodies presented as a living, holy, reasonable, acceptable sacrifice to him (Romans 12:1). The end of our existence is "to serve God here and enjoy him forever hereafter."
And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
Verse 14. - God hath both raised up the Lord. St. Paul always grounds man's resurrection] and immortality on the resurrection and ascension of Christ (see ch. 15; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 6:5, 8; Romans 8:11).
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.
Verse 15. - Members of Christ. We find the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 5:30. The Church is often alluded to as "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 1:23; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19, etc.). Elsewhere the union between Christ and Christians is described by the metaphor of a tree and its branches; a building and the stones of which it is composed (Ephesians 2:21, 22). God forbid. An admirable idiom to express the real force of the original, which means, "May it never be!" (for the rationale of the Greek phrase, I may refer to my 'Brief Greek Syntax,' p. 135). It occurs in Romans 3:4, 6, 31; Romans 6:15; Romans 7:7, 13; Romans 9:14; Romans 11:1, 11; Galatians 2:17; Galatians 3:21. The formula, which involves the indignant rejection of some false conclusion, is characteristic of the second group of St. Paul's Epistles, but especially (as will be seen) of the Epistle to the Romans.
What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
Verse 16. - What, know ye not, etc.? The clause is used to explain and justify the strong expression which he had used in the previous verse. It involves an argument against the sin which is the most original and impressive which could have been used. To this passage especially is due the tone taken by Christians as to these sins, which differed so totally from that taken by heathen. They two. The words do not occur in Genesis 2:24, but are always so quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8; Ephesians 5:31). Saith he. This is a vague Jewish formula of quotation, adopted to avoid the needless introduction of the sacred Name. "He" is "God" in Scripture. Shall be one flesh; rather, shall become. This appeal to Genesis 2:24 (Matthew 19:5) is equivalent to the rule that no intercourse between the sexes is free from sin except under the sanction of marriage.
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
Verse 17. - That is joined unto the Lord. This phrase, indicating the closest possible union, is found in Deuteronomy 10:20; 2 Kings 18:6. Is one spirit. There is a "mystical union," not only "betwixt Christ and his Church," but also between Christ and the holy soul Hence, to St. Paul, spiritual life meant the indwelling of Christ in the heart - the life "in Christ;" so that he could say, "It is no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 3:17).
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
Verse 18. - Flee fornication. In the battle against sensual sins, there is no victory except in absolute flight, for the reason which immediately follows, namely, that these sins have their dwelling in that body which is part of our being, and which yet they tend to destroy. They make a man his own deadliest enemy. Every sin... is without the body. Some have supposed that this cannot apply to gluttony and drunkenness, which they therefore class with fornication; but even in those sins, as in suicide, the cause of and incentive to the sin is external, whereas the source of uncleanness is in the heart and in the thoughts, which come from within, and so defile the man. Other sins may be with and by means of the body, and may injure the body; but none are so directly against the sanctity of the whole bodily being as fornication. Sinneth against his own body. By alienating it from the service of him to whom it belongs; by incorporating it with the degradation of another; by staining the flesh and the body (Proverbs 5:8-11; Proverbs 6:24-32; Proverbs 7:24-27); by subtly poisoning the inmost sanctities of his own being. St. Paul is here thinking mainly, however, if not exclusively, of the moral injury and defilement.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
Verse 19. - That your body is the temple (or rather, a sanctuary) of the Holy Ghost. He has already said that the Church is a shrine or sanctuary of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16); but here for the first time expression is given to one of the deepest and newest truths of Christianity (comp. 2 Corinthians 6:16). Three great epochs are marked by the use of the word temple. In the Old Testament it means the material temple, the sign of a localized worship and a separated people; in the Gospels our Lord uses it of his own mortal body; in the Epistles it is used (as here) of the body of every baptized Christian, sanctified by the indwelling Spirit of God. Ye are not your own. We cannot, therefore, use our bodies as though they were absolutely under our own control. They belong to God, and, "whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
Verse 20. - Ye are bought with a price. That price is the blood of Christ, wherewith he purchased the Church (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Revelation 5:9). This metaphor of ransom (1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1) has its full and absolute applicability to man. The effect of Christ's death for us is that we are redeemed from slavery and prison, and the right of our possession is with Christ. Thus by various metaphors the effects of redemption are revealed to us on the human side. When we unduly press the metaphor, and ask from whom we were purchased, and to whom the price was paid, we build up scholastic systems which have only led to error, and respecting which the Church has never sanctioned any exclusive opinion. The thoughts touched upon in this verse are fully developed in the Epistle to the Romans. Glorify God; by behaving as his redeemed children, and therefore by keeping yourselves pure. In these few brief words St. Paul sums up all he has said, as he did in 1 Corinthians 5:13. In your body. The following words, "and in your spirit, which are God's," are a perfectly correct and harmless gloss, but are not found in the best manuscripts, and are foreign to the drift of the passage. Your body is a temple, and in that temple God must be honoured. (As Augustine says, "Dost thou wish to pray in a temple? pray in thyself. But first be a temple of God.") "Unchastity dishonours God, and that in his own temple (Romans 2:23)" (Meyer). In these clauses St. Paul has touched on three subjects which occupy important sections of the remainder of the Epistle, namely,

(1) the relation between the sexes (ch. 7.);

(2) the question of idol offerings (ch. 8.); and

(3) the doctrine of the resurrection (ch. 15.).

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