Lesson Six – Life “in Christ” in the World

Life “in Christ” in the World

Lesson Text:  I Cor. 11:1-16. 


I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.  In that case you would have to leave the world.  I Cor. 5:9, 10

Paul’s advice to the Corinthians was to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” I Cor. 11:1.  He had taught the theologies, ethics and practices given to him by the Holy Spirit in Achaia for eighteen months.  He had lived what he taught as an example for both the insiders and outsiders (I Cor. 5:12, 13).  Paul said, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  I Cor. 9:19.  He had demonstrated how the gospel worked out in the daily lives of Christians even though they interacted with people of the world.  Paul sent Timothy to “remind you (them) of my way of life in Christ Jesus.” I Cor. 4:17.  John said, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”  I John 2:6.

In order to understand our text we will want to remember what we have learned about our Christian freedom.  We are not under a law that belongs in the category of the Law of Moses (Rom. 3:19, 20).  Christians have the law of life where “everything is permissible,” even though, our behavior must be constructive and beneficial.  Every farmer knows about this law.  The law of life for each individual “self” belongs in the category of the law of nature.   It describes the phenomenon of the life of our spirits (Rom. 8:1, 2).

From a study of our text we want to know how Paul’s instruction about head covering and long or short hair apply to the “here and now” – hermeneutics.  Some have related this kind of study to the subject of “historical precedents.” This is about the culture of the time and place in which the church lived versus a divine principle of life.   Are the issues Paul spoke of in our text about the way God created us or were they only important to the mores and folkways of the society in which the recipients lived?  We need an answer for this question.

Getting into the subject of “historical precedents” is to ask questions like; If the scripture we are considering does not tell us explicitly what to believe or how to behave then is it a law of life?  Another question is, if this issue is presented as a part of a story should Christians consider it as something we should practice?  Is it a command of our Lord?  This may sound like something we should leave to the scholars.  But Paul asked, “Where are the scholars.”  I Cor. 1:20.  Our higher learning religious institutions have completely failed to curtail the division problem Paul was writing to solve.  In fact, the scholarly institutions have produced more boasters (I Cor. 3:18-23).  Religious people are still rallying around men – and now women.

We will need to think about historical precedent in the context of a broader scene than the chosen text.  In this lesson we will look at the culture in which the Corinthian church members lived from the information we have in Paul’s letter.  He said a lot about what was happening in the Corinthian culture.  In fact, one aim of this lesson is to review the first ten chapters of I Corinthians to support the title of this lesson.  Christians need a clear view of the world realm.  Please see the chart in the introduction of Part III, Lesson Four.  We will review some of this information we have already studied and then consider the issues in our text in the light of the divine principles that have been clearly established.


The Corinthian church members lived in the culture that was spawned by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.  They had tried to sort out, or give meaning to the spiritual over the physical.  Pythagoras helped develop the theory of transmigration used in reincarnation.  In the third century B. C. Epicurus followed Democritus’ line of thinking about atoms.  The jiva/ajiva theory about the soul and body came from this “wisdom of man.”  Jainism is rooted in this philosophy as well as the anti-Christ in I John.  The Epicureans’ aim was to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Paul challenged the Epicureans when he was invited to a meeting on Mars Hill in Athens before he came to Corinth (Acts 17:16-23).

Paul also challenged the Stoics at the same meeting.  Their thinking had its roots in Zeno’s philosophy in the third century B. C.  Stoicism had been made popular by Seneca and later by Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century A. D.  Calvinists may have promoted these philosophers’ ideas by claiming judgment is predestined for mankind before a person is born.  The bottom line of the stoics was “what will be, will be.”  Don’t fight it and don’t complain was the wisdom by which they lived.

Christians live in a world governed by the wisdom of man.  We can live in this world as long as we abide by the wisdom of God “in Christ.”  However, the wisdom of man had slipped into the fellowship in the Corinthian church and it was causing divisions (I Cor. 1:10-12).  It is like the old axiom; “It is alright for the ship to be in the sea but it is not alright for the sea to be in the ship.”  The problem with the philosopher, the scholar and the wise man of the first century was their failure to see God in Jesus of Nazareth.  “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  I Cor. 2:8.  When people suppress the truth about God, they do not have proper guidelines for satisfying their natural urges (Rom. 1:18-20).  Lust pushes them to seek unnatural ways but lust will not be satisfied (Rom. 1:26, 27).

Sexual immorality is rampart though out the world, and with the advent of wireless pictures, it is boiling over into sex related crimes against children (I Cor. 6:9, 10).  Christians can live with this situation, if we each have our own spouse (I Cor. 7:2).  Since the church is a fellowship; that is, a communion of our lives with one another and Deity, we cannot tolerate immoral people in our fellowship.  The church must “hand this man over to Satan” for his or her benefit and for the members salvation (I Cor. 5:5).

Yes, the courts are ungodly even at their best but this is all right for Christians.  If we feel we are being dealt with unjustly by a brother we can work it out by letting the saints judge the case.  We are saints living in an “unholy” world (I Cor. 6:2).  Christians do not go to war against the ungodly with guns and bombs; however, we are continually at war (II Cor. 10:4, 5).  They may enslave our bodies but they cannot enslave our spirits (I Cor. 7:20-24).  It will not get better out there in the world because their sins overcome them while they are trying to find satisfaction for their inherent needs (I Cor. 5:9, 10).  The way they satisfy their needs is unlawful unless it is according to God’s law of life.  God offered mankind the law of life in the person of His Son (John 1:1-5).  Unless the people in the world find Jesus they cannot be saved to live now or later.

The marriage of one man and one woman is just as sacred for people in the world as it is for one man and one woman in the church.  God ordained the marriage covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:22-24).  Although He allowed divorce and a plurality of wives at some points in history, “from the beginning it was not so.”  God’s original covenant has not changed today (Matt. 19:3-9; I Cor. 7:17, 39).  There is one very good reason for the marriage covenant to apply to all people.  The main force for bringing people of opposite gender together is because of the God-given desire for a sexual relationship.  This is a very pleasurable and desirable engagement when two become one; however, this same pleasure sometimes makes three persons of the two.  A child is born.  It does not matter if that child is conceived by a couple in the world or a couple “in Christ,” the spirit of every baby comes from God (Heb. 9:12; Isa. 43:6, 7).

Paul may have had both the sanctity of marriage in mind as well as the children born to a couple where one is a believer and the other is a non-believer in I Cor. 7:14.  This may be the thought; marriage in the world is made by God.  The marriage of the non-believer is still valid even though his or her spouse is now “in Christ.”  The non-believing spouse is still an outsider (I Cor. 5:5, 12).  He or she belongs to Satan’s kingdom.  However, the unbeliever and believer are still one “in marriage.”   The unbeliever is sanctified because the marriage covenant has not become null and void for him or her in this new relationship.

Because he or she is an unbeliever, they have not been added to the assembly of the saved (Acts 2:47).  Still they are sanctified in their marriage and their future children would be holy.  Neither the Christian husband nor the Christian wife should give up on their spouse becoming a believer, even though they may not be willing to hear the word of God.  Peter tells us how they may still have hope (I Pet. 3:1-7).

Of course, if the case should be true that when one party in a marriage relationship is transferred to the kingdom of God while leaving the other in the world realm, this would cause God to invalidate the marriage covenant, they would no longer be married with the privilege of a sexual relationship.  Should they continue to behave as if they were married and conception happened, we can understand how their off spring would be an illegitimate child.  This may be what Paul has said in I Cor. 7:14.  However, since God does not invalidate the marriage covenant when only one party becomes a Christian, sexual relationships are holy.

“While Paul was waiting for them (Timothy and Silas) in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols.”  Acts 17:16.  After getting very little positive response to the message about Jesus Christ, he shifted to Corinth and preached in a Jewish synagogue.  His reception by the Jews was even less positive in that they became so abusive he went to the Gentiles “and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.”  Acts 18:8.  There is no reason to believe the city of Corinth was any less populated with temples where idols were worshipped than in Athens.  Perhaps, they were a bit less sophisticated.

In a nation where idolatry is the major religion, we can expect the very fiber of the culture will be heavily tainted with mysticism, witchcraft, demons, rituals, luck offering, auspicious days, noisy festivals and so forth.  All the Gentile converts would have had this culture “dumped” on them in their pre-school passive learning stage.  Their lists of what is good and evil would have been developed from the environment in their homes and in the street.  All peoples’ conscience functions from this list.  The human conscience has a very sensitive capability, especially when it has been cleansed of guilt by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:14).

A new Christian in Corinth would understand there is “one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ,” and yet in the city there were so many gods.  The phrases Paul used were “questions of conscience” and “for conscience sake.”  I Cor. 10:25, 28.  The challenge for these “babes in Christ” would have come when their friends and relatives invited them for a meal.  The question Christians face in the nations where idol worship dominates the culture is, what do I allow and where do I draw the line?  Paul tried to help the Corinthians answer these two questions.  We can understand this is a continuous challenge for Christians today because Paul gave so much detailed attention to it in his letter.  We must keep our conscience clean because when it condemns us it robs us of our glory.  The need for glory is a subtle but ever present strong innate desire.

Paul gave the answer for a preacher and a teacher of the gospel in I Cor. 9:21.  We never set aside the law of life.  This would be like God setting aside the law of nature.  Mature Christians can become all things to all people in order to win some but for new Christians this can be fatal.  So what do mature Christians do with our great freedom?  What do we do about all those sinners in the world realm?  We practice “bracketing.”  This is what Paul meant by becoming all things to all people.  He knew the new covenant let him “set aside” (bracket) that which gave him freedom.  He knew the Jews were wrong to reject Jesus as the Christ (I Cor. 9:20).  He knew the Gentiles were sinners, but he was able to set aside what he knew so he could teach them the gospel.  He could give up his freedom and get into the world where his “lost in sin” audience lived.  He could empathize with their worldview.  He could practice empathic listening.  In this way he could win some.  Later he would teach those who were born again about the issues he had temporarily “set aside.”

“Bracketing” is what Paul practiced when he arrived in Jerusalem with the collection for the poor saints.  See Acts 21:20-24.  He could even “set aside” his pain and love for the Corinthians when they were not responding to him in love (II Cor. 6:11-13).  We cannot give up what we never had.  People in the world do not have freedom; therefore, they cannot give it up.  Christians are free (Gal. 4:31-5:1).  We give up our freedom for our weak brothers in Christ (I Cor. 8:12, 13).  We give up our rest now to evangelize the people who are not free so we can have the rest God promised (Heb. 4:9).  This is Christians’ mission because it was Christ’s mission for the people still in the world realm.  We are Christ-like.

Some things Christians do not give up:  We do not give up to our sinful nature (I Cor. 5:5).  We “will not be mastered by anything.”  I Cor. 6:12.   We never give up the law of life for it is the roadmap to our prize (I Cor. 9:18, 21, 27).  This review of the first ten chapters brings us to our text in I Cor. 11:1-16.  We do not follow Paul as the Corinthian Christians were asked to do.  We do follow Christ because He is our head.

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  I Cor. 11:3    

We do not bracket (set aside) the foregoing “peck order,” if you please.  This is chicken pen talk we can understand by observing hens.  They develop a hierarchal order by pecking one another until each accepts their status level.  Paul’s declaration is how things were in the beginning of time.  It is the order God maintained in history before Israel was a nation and in Israel.  See Gen. 2:7, 18; 7:1; 12:1; 17:1, 2; 49:1; Ex. 3:1, 10; Deut. 34:9; Judges 1:1.  The point in all of this is that God set up the order of God, Christ, man and woman.  The Bible is God’s story about how He arranged mankind and worked with His arrangement in history.  The story of Athaliah’s usurping the throne is a sad story in Jewish history (II Kings 11:1-16).  However, it brings to mind how there were no queens selected by God to rule His people.

The order Paul proclaimed for man and woman was not a cultural thing peculiar to Corinth.  It was not Paul’s wisdom.  It is the wisdom of God.  It was the way it worked, in what we call the Old Testament history, and it is the same order of things in the New Testament.  Jesus chose twelve men for apostles.  Men were selected to shepherd the church (Acts 14:23; I Tim. 3:1).

The head covering and the length of the hair does not have the historical precedent to give these issues the same support as the foregoing order does for mankind and Deity.  Why then did Paul make such a fuss about a covering on a woman’s head and not on the male members?  We can say many things but the fact was that coverings were no doubt, very important in the world culture of Achaia at the time.  They are important in different world cultures today.  They may be important to certain people in a culture or in the church.  “Everything is permissible” but Christians are concerned about the benefit of our behavior for our “self” and others.

There is one question we must always answer: “Does this issue involve a law of the spirit of life.”  Does what we are speaking about describe how our spirits develop?  Are we dealing with why and how people have been created by God?  Does it deal with the welfare and health of the body of Christ?  If we are discussing one of these things, we are not free to “set it aside.”

Galatians 3:26-29 may be the best commentary on I Cor. 11:8-12.  The spirit of all male children came from God.  The spirit of all female children came from God.  God created mankind male and female (Gen. 1:27).  There is no difference in their spirits; the difference is in their bodies.  The brain is a part of the body.  There is a female brain and a male brain.  God designed mankind as male and female for different roles while we live in our bodies.  We will be free from our specific roles when we are freed from our bodies.

“If any one seems to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.” I Cor. 11:16.  Contentious has been translated from the Greek word philoneikos.  It means to be stubborn.  This scripture has been understood in different ways.  Does the scripture say the head covering and no short hair is the only practice of the church for women?  Or does it say some may be stubborn, or contentious, but the church has no such custom?  In any case, the principles stands, “Everything is permissible,” if it is beneficial and constructive.  It would not be beneficial for women to pray and prophesize with their head uncovered if this was the standard custom in the society.  The church is not of the world but we must socialize with people in the world to be a member of Jesus’ mission to “seek and save the lost.”  Luke 19:10.  We do not disregard customs unless they are against the law of life.  “Sin is lawlessness.”  I John 3:4.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why had Paul sent Timothy to visit the church of God in Corinth at the time he was writing this letter?
  2. To what extent did Paul request the church to follow his example?
  3. Give two guidelines for the freedom of behavior for Christians.
  4. What is different about the categories in which we find the Law of Moses in the old covenant and the “law of life” in the new covenant?
  5. Why do Christians need to understand the mores and folkways of the community in which we live?
  6. Why is it not plausible that a nation would ever be governed by the wisdom of God?
  7. What is the “axiom” that has been quoted in this lesson?
  8. How can Christians avoid being caught up in sexual immorality that is prevalent the world societies?
  9. How do Christians settle their differences without the use of ungodly courts?
  10. List one reason why God’s marriage covenant applies to people in the world the same as it does for Christians.
  11. Give your understanding of I Cor. 7:14.
  12. How might being born and reared in a city full of idol temples influence a child?
  13. Why did Paul go into great detail about the subject of conscience in relation to living in a city where idolatry is the norm?
  14. What is meant by bracketing?  How does it work in evangelism?
  15. List some things Christians do not “set aside.”
  16. Paul introduced the subject of head covering in the same thought with the hierarchal order of God, Christ, man and woman.  Why might we say the hierarchal order cannot be ignored in all cultures but head coverings should be practiced in some places but not necessarily in others?
  17. What is meant by historical precedent?
  18. List one rule Christians can follow while studying the text for this lesson to determine if a scripture is a command from our Lord.

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