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Christian Freedom in Corinth (3)

Why is 1 Corinthians such a mixed bag of instructions that seem to contradict each other?

Are men and women free from the laws of Moses?

What is Paul's advice to reduce the divisions in the congregations?

Does Paul discuss mutual dependence and equality?

Let's examine the most common contradictions and controversies.

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I divide my discussion of 1 Corinthians into 6 sections.

This is part 3 of 6, covering Chapters 8-10. Paul addresses Christian freedoms and rights, privileges, and idolatry. Paul weighs what is legal and correct against what is loving and beneficial.

1 Corinthians 8: Pagan Worship

Now, Paul refers to the question in Chloe's report about food sacrificed to idols. He quotes the Corinthian people, likely a specific group of outspoken men, saying "We all possess knowledge", and he corrects it by saying that knowledge builds a person up selfishly, while love builds up other people.

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Paul quotes the Corinthians (likely a group of vocal men) and what they say to defend their decision to eat food sacrificed to idols: "An idol is nothing at all in the world" and "There is no God but one." Eating meat sacrificed to Greek and Roman gods infers worship of pagan gods, and it goes against the beliefs of many followers of The Way. While Paul admits that idols mean nothing to believers, and they have a right to such actions, he discusses using their freedom to be loving and considerate. Paul suggests foregoing their privileges out of love for others, to avoid leading a brother or sister into idolatry.

Above all, don't let your freedom in Christ lead others to stumble or fall away from Christ. Jesus himself warns his followers against causing another person to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). Behave in a way that causes others to stand firm in the faith. Paul stresses love is more important than knowledge or legal rights.

Egalitarian Reflections

The church today is rampant with leaders who focus more on building up themselves than on building up the people in their congregations. Christians tend to focus on our rights and freedoms and judge others who may either limit our rights or abuse our freedoms. It would build up the church if we focussed more on foregoing our privileges and using our freedom to be loving and considerate. It's a two-step process:

  1. Think about whether you have rights or privileges that others do not have. Do you have to overcome obstacles that others don't face? Have you been judged by someone who doesn't know you? Have you been prevented entrance to a restaurant, hotel, or theatre? Has a bank put requirements on your loan application above the standard requirements? Has anyone ever taken away your ability to speak, act, or choose? Do you have the right to vote?

  2. Consider whether you are using your position of privilege to support your power and rights or foregoing them for the benefit of others.

1 Corinthians 9:1-18 Foregoing Rights Paul provides an example of how he places a higher priority on love than on knowledge, legal rights and privileges. Paul is free, an apostle who has seen Jesus and new believers are evidence of Paul's work. Paul has the right to take a believing wife along with him, just like the apostle Peter and the brothers of Jesus. A soldier does not serve at his own expense but has a right to his pay. A vineyard farmer has the right to eat its grapes.

A shepherd has the right to drink the sheep's milk. In the same way, Paul has the right to ask for them to pay for his labour, but instead, he works making tents for a living.

Paul quotes the law of Moses saying 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain' (Deuteronomy 25:4). Paul applies this as a legal principle that whoever plants and plows has a legal right to a share in the harvest. Paul quotes Jesus saying that those who preach should receive a living from it, "A worker deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7). Paul has planted spiritual seeds and has a right to reap a material harvest from them. But Paul does not use this legal right. He does not accept payment from the people of Corinth. Paul foregoes his privileges so that nothing will hinder the gospel of Christ. Paul says he is compelled to preach, without claiming his rights to receive a living for preaching the gospel. Paul holds himself as an example to them to forego some of their rights or privileges for the sake of others.

Egalitarian Reflections

The Corinthians appear to have been criticizing Paul's integrity and accusing him of greedily taking their money. Paul corrects their understanding, confirming that he has preached the gospel free of charge. He received support from Macedonian churches so that he could serve the people in Corinth and Paul promised never to be a burden to Corinth and expressed great love for them (2 Corinthians 11:7-11). Paul may also have received money from patrons, because he says that Phoebe has been a benefactor to many, including Paul (Romans 16:1-2). It may be that as Paul's benefactor, living close to Corinth in Cenchreae, Phoebe advised Paul from the start not to ask Corinthians for money. That may have been the vow he made, not to accept money for himself from Corinth, with Phoebe as his witness, and not to cut his hair until he fulfilled the vow and left Corinth, shaving his hair in Cenchreae (Acts 18:18). Paul overturns the traditional honour to the patron/benefactor (1) and gives honour to God as the ultimate benefactor and source of all things. Paul portrays human giving as a response to God's giving. Paul is teaching them how to practice gratitude.

Peter and Paul agreed that women could be co-labourers for Christ. Peter and his wife are co-workers (1 Corinthians 9:5) and Paul credits many women as co-workers (in Romans 16 and other letters). Giving a woman the title and compensation of a 'coordinator' while she has the education, experience, and functions of a 'pastor' seems to disobey both Jesus and Deuteronomy. If a woman would like to forego her rights to compensation, that may be her choice. Paul discusses voluntarily foregoing your rights out of love for God and brothers and sisters. Paul does not tell authorities to remove a woman's rights or reduce a woman's rights below those of a man's rights. Paul seems to advocate for the right for equal pay for equal work.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27: Personal Example

Paul says that while he is free, he makes himself a slave to everyone in order to win as many as possible to Jesus. He relinquished his right to financial compensation and instead is content with two rewards (2) his boast that he did not profit materially from them (2) he sees many people accept the gospel of Christ. He voluntarily restrained his own freedom from the laws of Moses to better reach unbelievers. Paul becomes like other people in order to bring them to Christ. Paul compares the way he foregoes some of his rights and freedoms to the way an athlete foregoes leisure and abides by a strict exercise and training regimen.

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Egalitarian Reflections

When might our freedom lead a brother or sister away from Christ? What rights might we forego for the sake of another person? We may want to be considerate of who we are with and whether our actions might bother them. For example, often it is kind to order a non-alcoholic drink when with an alcoholic. Sometimes, we may eat vegetarian to make another person feel at home. Is it the considerate thing to say the blessing before the meal while with unbelievers? Is it loving to go to a dance setting that might tempt your friend? When might acting on our freedom oppose the most loving path? What actions would be most likely to bring others to Christ?

1 Corinthians 10: Historical Example

Paul uses an example from the history of Israel to show that God does disqualify undisciplined or ungodly people. God blessed the Israelites with freedom from slavery in Egypt, baptizing them with Moses, eating the bread of God, and drinking what God poured out. Many of the newly freed Israelites did not know how to handle their freedom. Paul lists some of their immoral behaviours that we should avoid: indulging selfish or evil desires, fornication (having sex with someone who is not your marriage partner), whoredom (prostitution or promiscuity), grumbling, testing God or worshipping false gods. God disqualified most of them from entrance into the promised land and they died in the wilderness.

With the historical example, Paul compares the way God blessed the Israelites and the way God blessed the Corinthians, by baptism in Christ, eating the bread and drinking the wine of Communion. Similarly, many of the followers of Christ use their new freedom to indulge in selfish desires. It is possible that the Corinthians thought baptism and communion gave magical protection so they did not have to be disciplined or godly.  Paul uses the example from history to destroy this false security and show that God could disqualify them or discipline them (1).

Paul encourages them that with Christ they can overcome the temptations to indulge their selfish desire. He says he does not let his body master him, but instead, he masters his body. Paul says he makes himself a slave, doing everything possible to achieve his purpose or goal. He disciplines himself so that he will not be disqualified from the race.

Does being disqualified mean we will die young? In the example from history, Paul says Israelites died in the desert. No, the historic example is to tell readers to take God's discipline seriously and to use their freedom responsibly.

Does being disqualified mean we might lose our salvation? No, Paul says in many places that we are saved by God's grace as a free gift and that our behaviour does not earn our salvation (Romans 10:9, 11:6, Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:9).

What might happen if Paul is disqualified?

Paul might lose his ability to be an effective advocate for Christ. He might be disqualified from ministry. He might lose the crown of recognition for serving Christ well, lose the boast that he did not profit materially from them, lose the reward of seeing many people accept the gospel of Christ. Disqualification does not mean losing salvation.

Is Paul saying that those who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)?

Paul speaks strongly about salvation being a free gift of God's grace. Some teach that homosexual activity must be condemned to save them from losing the inheritance of God's kingdom. Paul speaks against exploitative sex or using young boys as prostitutes. Paul does not address or condemn adult consenting homosexuality in the list of examples of wrongdoing. Paul lists wrongs that are common to all people: we idolize wealth, fame, nudity, or sex. We are greedy, jealous, drunken. We slander, swindle, and cheat others. Paul lists behaviours we can change and temptations we can overcome.  Sexual orientation is a gift when God created you, not an action over which you have control. He instructs believers, regardless of sex or orientation, to avoid adultery, fornication, prostitution, and promiscuity. Paul is telling people to change their actions: be faithful, generous, loving, and behave in ways that encourage others to stand firm in the faith.

What might disqualify a person?

While God will never take back the free gift of salvation, each person has the freedom to turn away from Christ and make immoral choices or act like an unbeliever. We can abuse our freedom and hurt others or cause them to stumble or fall away from Christ. Paul says to master your body, instead of letting your body master you.

The only temptations or trials that come to you are those that are common to all humans. But God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength and God will give you and escape so that you will be able to stand firm, endure, and overcome temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Like the newly-freed Israelites, many of the Corinthian believers do not know how to use their new freedom from the laws of Moses. Paul warns against the use of their freedom to indulge their selfish desires and succumb to temptation. The way out of temptation is not to indulge in it but to resist it. Paul says God is faithful and can help them endure and overcome temptations.

Egalitarian Reflections

This verse does not promise that God will not give us more than we can bear. It says God will not allow us to be tempted to do evil more than we can resist with God's help. Paul specifically does not say that God will not give you more troubles than you can bear. Many people in this world have troubles and suffer to the extent that they have lasting psychological or physical conditions and some have troubles that they do not survive.

Paul is not talking about God allowing you to suffer, but about enabling you to overcome temptations to do ungodly things. With God's help, we can resist drunkenness, cheating, and pornography. Purity culture has tended to teach us that men cannot resist lust, and must indulge in the temptaton. Patriarchal preachers have taught that if a woman does not agree to sex at any time, it is her fault if her husband indulges in an affair, prostitution, or pornography. But Paul doesn't say that. Paul says the way through temptation is not to indulge it, to rely on God to resist it. Science agrees that indulging in pornography makes the addiction worse; it does not solve the problem.


Love is more important than knowledge. Your knowledge of Christ gives you freedom but let your love for others limit your freedom. Paul says that the freedom Christ gives is not for self-indulgence but for selfless service. It may be better to forego some of your rights and privileges, as Paul did, in order to win more people to Christ. Don't let your freedom lead others to stumble or fall away from Christ. Paul encourages the believers to be disciplined, like an athlete in training, and stand firm so that they are not disqualified.

  1. Introduction to 1 Corinthians and discussion on chapters 1-4 on divisions

  2. Post 2 of 6 on 1 Corinthians 5-7 discusses sex and morality in Corinth

  3. This is post 3 on 1 Corinthians 8-10 discusses Christian freedom in Corinth.

  4. 1 Corinthians 11 discusses public worship in Corinth.

  5. 1 Corinthians 12-14 discusses Spiritual Gifts in Corinth.

  6. 1 Corinthians 15-16 discusses Christ's Resurrection, the Cornerstone of our Faith


2 Lowery, David K. “1 Corinthians.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, New Testament Edition, edited by John  F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, SP Publications, 1983, pp. 505–549.


Elaine Ricker Kelly empowers women at home, church and society by advocating for equality for all people based on the Bible. She was an investment and insurance advisor for thirty years and has three grown daughters. Elaine R. Kelly lives near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and enjoys hiking, tennis, music, history and culture.

Books by Elaine Ricker Kelly:

Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold  - biblical fiction offering hope and healing to anyone who feels forgotten, belittled, or out of place.

The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role - a non-fiction book of 104 flashcards with an objective, memorable look at the rationale for diverse views on gender roles.

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