TODAY’S READING: 1 Corinthians 9–11
We must not forget or diminish biblical context when interpreting and applying Scripture. Most Christians would be very familiar with our mandate to “endure all things,” be “a servant to all,” and “become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:12, 19, 22). What we tend to forget or diminish is that this missionary writing to the church Paul planted is in the context of insisting nothing hinder the gospel going forward to all peoples (v. 12) and of the necessity to preach the gospel to all peoples (v. 16) and by some means save some of every people (v. 22). All that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 9 he did “for the gospel’s sake” (v. 23). By all means let us endure, serve, and relate to all people, but if we are to be biblical, we do all this purely for the gospel to advance to all peoples for the glory of God. Endurance, service, and understanding divorced from the effort to take the gospel to all peoples is diluted obedience (at least as regards 1 Corinthians). This is why we run (v. 24); the prize we discipline ourselves towards is the gospel saturating the earth.
The example of our fathers is recorded for our admonition. To take heed lest we fall into temptation (vv. 12–13) is to watch that we don’t fall from the selfless pursuit of adding all peoples to the body of Christ to the selfish indulgence of our own particular body. We must not slip from the missions underpinning of all Paul’s correction to the Corinthian church. When he wrote that all must be done (or left undone) for the glory of God, it was for the direct purpose to give no offense to Jew or Greek that we might please all men in all things that they may be saved (vv. 31, 33).
The imitation of Paul was in this very explicit context of a missionary writing to a missionary church plant, telling them not to live selfish, sensual lives. Rather, they were to live and die in such a way that men and women of ever tribe, tongue, people, and nation be saved! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, saying “yes” and “no” according to what served that goal. Paul lived to see all nations represented in heaven worshiping Jesus around the throne, saying “yes” and “no” according to what served that goal. We are to imitate them. We are to determine what we say “yes” or “no” to by what makes the greatest impact on gospel advance to all the nations.
In this context of selfless living for the salvation of all men, Paul gave instruction for taking communion. We are to take the bread and cup in remembrance of Jesus. We are to keep taking the bread and cup until Jesus comes again. If we take communion without remembering that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world or without remembering that He is coming back to rule as King over the whole world, or without aligning our hearts again to this purpose of the cross, then we partake in an unworthy manner and are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (11:27).