Rev. Fr. Joseph Koterski S.J.
Reading the First Letter to the Corinthians - III
The application of this Christological focus to a variety of questions
With this Christological focus in mind, we can more easily see the significance of the various topics that Paul treats in the rest of this letter, including dissension within the community, confusion about what constituted sexual immorality, and disagreements about such disciplinary practices as head covering and the permissibility of eating meat that had been offered to idols. He also uses this Christological focus to provide a deeper understanding of the Eucharist, of the diversity in gifts and charisms found within the Church, and of the singular importance of belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead for Christian faith.
For Paul, the jealousy and strife that mars the community at Corinth comes from an immaturity in faith (ch.3). Those who have not yet become spiritually mature still have to be fed on milk, for they are not yet ready for solid food (3:1-4). In time the nourishment of faith will make them grow strong (3:5-9). Paul then changes his imagery: whatever it is to be built needs to have the solid foundation of faith in Christ crucified (3: 10-11). Those in whom this faith lives will come understand what it means personally to be God’s temple and to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within (3:16-17). To live on any other basis would be to deceive oneself about what is wisdom and what is folly (3:18-13).
It is not for the Christians at Corinth (or anywhere else) to think themselves capable of judging which parts of the Gospel of Christ are acceptable, as if they had a superior wisdom of their own (4:1-5). Rather, it is their duty to conform their minds to Christ. To help them, those who preach the message of Christ must always be trustworthy servants of Christ and of his divine mystery. They must add nothing of their own and they must even be ready to appear fools for Christ’s sake by preaching Christ crucified (4:6-8).
Genuine love requires giving corrections
Much of what follows comes as Paul’s fatherly correction to those who have become the adopted children of God by their baptism (4: 14-16). He clearly feels the need to be stern in places (6:15-18), but even the hardest things that he needs to say come from his sense that those whom God has called to be his people need to become holy in his sight (1:2, 7:17-24). The balance of the letter contains three long sections on the implications of seeing the crucified Christ as the incarnate wisdom of God.
The long section on the nature of Christian marriage and the proper understanding of sexual immorality (chs. 5-7) has this aspect of the mystery of Christ as its center. Each believer is a member of the body of Christ, and so the conduct of each believer needs to reflect that status (7:15). In passing, Paul also shows the application of this doctrine to greed, drunkenness, and theft (5:11), but his main concern is with those whom lust has so blinded (5:1-5, 6:9) as to make them forgetful of the baptism with which they were washed and sanctified (6:11).
As a remedy for such bodily misconduct, Paul gives a firm and insistent fatherly reminder: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:19-20). And as a reply to questions that the Corinthians had posed to him (7:1) Paul articulates in a fatherly way some of fundamental aspects of the Christian understanding of marriage (7:2-16, 7:25-39), with considerable detail and a sensitivity to the practical problems that people face in trying to live out the demands of Christian marriage.