BEING UNITEDLY FOCUSED ON CHRIST
It's amazing how mankind can take the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is set up to be the great equalizer, and distort it into some sort of caste system. It is a part of our fallen nature to be continually tempted by competition and comparison. In the city of Corinth, this was a particular problem. "Corinth was a large and prospering urban center with an ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse population" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2139). "The Jewish community in Corinth has been estimated to have numbered as many as 20,000" (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 128).
Paul follows his typical pattern of praising the good in a congregation or region before bringing up the points upon which they need to improve or change. 1 Cor. 1:1-9 are this pleasant salutation.
But then he immediately delivers the blow. The people are not unified in Christ, but have divided themselves into converts of the various missionaries. I love the sardonic way he drives the point home:
"Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Baius; Let any should say that I had baptized in mine own name...For Christ sent me not to baptize [or not to gather up a following of my own converts], but to preach the gospel [to simply tell them about Christ]; not with wisdom of words [or not because I'm so incredibly clever] lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" [lest the real message of the gospel would not get through to the listeners] (1 Cor. 1:12-17).
Paul itemizes how the humble preaching of the gospel affects three groups of people: the Jews, the Greeks, and the true believers whichever ethnic group they may come from. (See 1 Cor. 21-24.)
- The Jews "require a sign." They want definitive proof of Christ's atonement, and don't acknowledge that they have already received it. For them, the preaching of the gospel is a "stumblingblock." This word is translated from the Greek word scandalon, which refers not simply to a big rock that is sitting in the road, but actually to the trigger mechanism of a trap (Ogden/Skinner, p. 130). A stumblingblock can ensnare, completely halting any forward progression, and in addition, causing great pain.
- The Greeks "seek after wisdom." It is ironic that the Greeks who, despite their great philosophers, artists, and academicians, had created a huge and ridiculous mythological system of gods, and yet would consider the story of Christ's Atonement to be "foolishness."
- The believers (see footnote to verse 24), whether they are Jews or Greeks, see in "Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." They perceive truth through the Holy Ghost, and acknowledge that it comes from God.
GIVING GOD THE GLORY
Beethoven, writing 100 years later, said that Bach's name "ought not to be Bach [the German word for brook], but ocean, because of his infinite and inexhaustible wealth of combinations and harmonies." When Mozart first heard one of Bach's works, he said, "What is this? Now there is something we can learn from." But although Bach has been hailed as one of the greatest musical geniuses, he never considered himself to be anything more than others were. He very generously stated to a student that there was no secret to his success. "I was made to work; if you are equally industrious you will be equally successful." When his fabulous skill as an organist was praised, he replied humorously, "There is nothing very wonderful about it. You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest" (Kavanaugh, p. 19, 23).
We should exercise similar humility with any gifts and opportunities God gives us: use them for the benefit of others, while giving God the glory. Paul, the greatest missionary of all, knew that he did not convert one person: it is the Spirit who converts. He acknowledged that many people in various ways nourish the spiritual growth of a single soul: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase...Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one [or united in purpose]: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry [or farm], ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:6-11).
THE BODY OF THE CHURCH IS THE TEMPLE OF GOD
It is within this context that Paul posed the question, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
This scripture is often interpreted to mean the physical body is a temple, but "Paul's teaching here has another meaning. In a place where several temples were dedicated to Apollo, Aphrodite, and others, Paul taught about the temple of the true God, which is the Church of Jesus Christ. The temple of God spoken of in these verses is the body of believers in Christ, that is, his Church, and 'the Spirit of God dwelleth among or within you [the you being plural].' If any man defiles the temple of God--meaning an apostate who distorts the doctrine and draws away disciples after him--he will be destroyed by God...Paul teaches about Christ as cornerstone, apostles as foundation, and members fitting into their places as a 'holy temple in the Lord' (Eph. 2:21)" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 132). (Harper-Collins agrees.)
And this leads right into the next issue:
THE LEAVEN OF MALICE
Apparently there was a member of the congregation who had taken his father's wife (his stepmother, not his mother) as his own. Everyone was winking at this, letting it go unaddressed, as if it wasn't a problem. They had not "mourned" this sin. They had not "delivered such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh [put him out of the congregation so that he could repent], that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:2, 5). "Critics who find this prescription too severe should note that the excommunication is not permanent, and that it has two positive purposes. The first is that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord...The object of depriving the offender of fellowship with other believers (v. 11) and exposing him to the afflictions that God will permit Satan to cause him because of his sin, is to bring him to his senses, so that he will repent. When he does, giving up his immoral behavior, he should be accepted again...The second purpose is to protect others in the [church] from being drawn into sin" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 447).
"Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump [or batch of dough]? (1 Cor. 5:6).
Today we have different kinds of leavening agents such as soda, baking powder, eggs, or commercial yeast, but the leaven of the Israelites was a natural leaven, drawn from the impurities in the air, much like sourdough. The flour and water were allowed to sit for a few days. Microorganisms in the flour and in the surrounding environment would begin to grow and ferment the dough, producing bubbles, and eventually causing the bread to rise when baked. The flavor of the bread would be altered by the natural yeast; in fact, the character of the entire loaf would be changed.
"Purge out therefore the old leaven..." (1 Cor. 5:7).
The evening before the Passover, every Jewish family had to clean every bit of leaven from their home, getting rid of every crust of leavened bread, every drop of grain liquor. "That evening the special meal during which the Haggadah (the liturgy recalling the Exodus from Egypt) is read. At this meal and throughout the week...the only kind of bread that may be eaten is matzah (unleavened bread)..."
"It may be significant that the prescribed punishment for violating this ordinance is the same as that for sexual misbehavior with one's stepmother...In the New Testament, chametz (leaven) often symbolizes wickedness and evil, with matzah representing purity and truth" (Stern, p. 447). The word chametz literally means sour. Something that had been leavened according to the leaven available in that day had fermented or gone sour and was therefore impure.
The eating of unleavened bread was a reminder of the speed of the Exodus--that there was not time for bread to rise before following the prophet of the Lord to freedom. But there is another meaning as well. "Some Jewish thinkers see chametz, that which rises and becomes leaven, as symbolically representing those tendencies in a man which arouse him to evil. They see the whole process of searching for the chametz and eliminating it as a reminder to man that he should search through his deeds and purify his actions. Mere renunciation of the imperfect past, one's own chametz, is not sufficient; it must be destroyed" (Mordell Klein, Passover, quoted in Stern, p. 448).
PURGE OUT THE OLD LEAVEN
But "purging out the old leaven" both in oneself and in the congregation is only the first step. The next step is to become "a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7-8). What is meant by "old leaven"? David Stern translates it as leftover leaven, and interprets the passage to mean that once we have repented of our former sinful behaviors, it is not right for us to dwell upon them.
Musicians who perform well know how to leave the past behind. If they make a mistake while they are performing (which they will do--no performance is perfect), they must immediately leave it behind and continue with the music. The beat marches on and they cannot go back. If they try to replay the missed note, the error is made worse. If they fret about the mistake as they perform the remainder of the piece, they cannot focus on what is coming up and more mistakes are sure to follow. A great performer must forgive himself continually.
When we repent, we become a "new lump," unleavened, made holy through Christ's sacrifice. It is not right for us to dwell upon the past sins of ourselves, or of one in our congregation. Once repentance has been completed, we let it go, we do not bring it up again, we do not continually judge them, or bring attention to that person's past. We let people move on. As individuals or as congregations, we are to become a new lump, without any leftover leaven.
"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:8).
COMPANYING WITH FORNICATORS
Paul advised the saints "not to company with fornicators" but we must read this passage carefully. He specifically notes that we can't (and shouldn't) get entirely away from the company of sinners in the world, because we have to live there (1 Cor. 5:10). Since it is our job to lead others to Christ, of a necessity then, we must be associating with people who have not found him yet. But we must not allow a blatant sinner to continue in fellowship within the church, "a man that is called a brother" (1 Cor. 5:11). The problem must be addressed appropriately by the leadership.
In case you want to know the specific sins Paul is condemning in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, here is a present-day translation: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [effeminate in the KJV] , sodomites [abusers of themselves with mankind in the KJV], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10, New Revised Standard Version). Harper-Collins Study Bible commentates: "Fornicators are persons who engage in sexual conduct regarded as immoral. Male prostitutes [were] adolescent boys who sold sexual favors to older males; or, if the term is being used generally, the more passive male in a homosexual act. The Greek word translated sodomites is a term that seems to be used of the more active male in a homosexual act."
But in the very next verse is the rescue of Christ's atonement once again: "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" (1 Cor. 6:11). Wow! The atonement is amazing.
(Note the Joseph Smith Translation change in the footnote to verse 12, which completely reverses the verse's meaning.)
THE PHYSICAL BODY IS ALSO THE TEMPLE OF GOD
At the end of Chapter 6 we find the real reference to the physical body as the temple of God. "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? For ye are bought with a price [the great Atonement]: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Elder Bednar expounded wonderfully upon this small scripture in the Sept. 2001 Ensign:
- "What we put on our temples. The Church’s temples are recognized throughout the world for their beauty. The buildings themselves are made of the finest materials and constructed with true craftsmanship. And the areas immediately surrounding a temple are always neat and well maintained." President Harold B. Lee said, “Do not underestimate the important symbolic and actual effect of appearance. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them."
- "What we do to our temple. Imagine the reaction you or I might have if we saw defacing graffiti on the exterior of one of our Church’s temples." President Spencer W. Kimball said, “How far, we wonder, will men and women go to pay ovations to the god of style? Will men wear rings in their noses when style dictates? Will young people still fall prey to their god of style, which they worship?”
- "What we do with our temple. The temples of our Church are built and dedicated to accomplish righteous purposes." President Packer counseled, “Please, never say: ‘Who does it hurt? Why not a little freedom? I can transgress now and repent later.’ Please don’t be so foolish and so cruel. You cannot with impunity ‘crucify Christ afresh’ (see Heb. 6:6). " (All of the quotes above are found in Elder Bednar's article.)
The gospel of Jesus Christ, although it seems foolishness to some, unfashionable to some, politically incorrect to some, is even greater, more merciful, and more joyous than anyone can comprehend. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). Living the gospel will definitely be worthwhile.
Earth life is a community effort. The only way to obtain Zion is to help each other, as Paul counseled: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).
We are all on the same team, building Zion (the temple in 3:16), and building individuals (the temples in 6:19), and none of it can be done without Christ. "For who makes you different from another? What do you have that you did not receive [from God]? And if you received it [from God], why do you boast as if it were not a gift? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!" (1 Cor. 4:7-8, New Revised Standard Version).
We would do well to follow the examples of great believers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. "Bach's devotion to God and his drive to express that devotion musically gave the world a gift for all to appreciate." Bach was completely blind by the age of 65. Only 10 compositions out of the 60 volumes he wrote were published in his lifetime. He died in relative obscurity to be buried in an unmarked grave. But he did not care: he exited this life confident in his standing before the Lord. His last work, "dictated from his bed, was a chorale entitled Before Thy Throne I Come" (Kavanaugh, p. 22).
If we live our lives and share our gifts in humility for the glory of God, we may say at life's end as did Paul, "I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith," and we may be confident and peaceful like Bach as "before God's throne we come."
(It might be nice to end the lesson with one of Bach's worship pieces, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The words begin: "Jesu, joy of man's desiring, holy wisdom, love most bright; Drawn by thee, our souls aspiring, soar to uncreated light." There is a lovely version of it by Celtic Woman on YouTube at this link or available for purchase on I-tunes for $1.29. It is also available on more than a half-dozen Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs, and sold on I-tunes for 99 cents. In fact, there are 50 versions of this chorale on I-tunes! With just this one work, Bach indeed "gave the world a gift for all to appreciate.")