Food of the gods
In chapter 8, Paul discusses some major issues occurring in Corinth. Being a cosmopolitan city with people from all over the Roman Empire, there were many temples to a variety of gods. Each of these gods had at least one festival a year, and each festival was an opportunity for the people (most of whom were not free Roman citizens) to eat well and eat meat. Paul understood that many Christians ate at these festivals, as a means to have free food, while understanding that the gods were not real deity, but just statues.
However, some Christians still thought that to eat the festival meats was to eat foods sacrificed to real gods. It caused some members concern to see other Christians eating the sacrificial foods of other gods. This would be especially true of Jewish Christians, who sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem to God, and then ate of the sacrificed meats at Passover and other festivals.
Paul was concerned that such an example could become a stumbling block to those who were weak in their faith, and so encouraged all members to abstain from eating the meats offered to other gods.
This concept of setting a good example comes from verse 1, where Paul teaches, "knowledge puffs up while love builds up." We may know that the meat is only meat and that the Roman gods are not real, however the important thing is to have the kind of Christ-like love/agape that we wish to build up those around us.
“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth” (1 Cor 10:24).
The Corinthians were seeking their own. They had personal agendas, with which they sought to change the church to meet their own desires. They were selfish to the point that it was affecting their relationships within the church, and even within their families.
Paul was forced to give them guidance on the roles of husbands and wives, according to Jewish tradition. That tradition was that all should wear a covering, symbolizing that men are subject to God, and women to their husbands. Such guidance is still followed by some Christian religions, while others have adapted it some to modern times.
“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1 Cor 11-12)
In its Proclamation on the Family, the Church of Jesus Christ teaches that man and woman are equal, having many similar roles, but some that differ as well:
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng)
The Lord’s Supper
There seems to have been a tradition in Corinth, where people would attend the religious meetings of the various temples primarily for a free meal. The Lord’s supper seemed to have been used as a meal by many, and so was causing dissensions.
Paul complained that some were coming to the Lord’s supper only to engorge themselves or get drunk. Back then, it was an actual meal of bread and wine. He insisted they eat at home, and attend the Lord’s supper for the purpose of renewing the covenant with Christ.
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor 11:27-29)
The focus here is: those who partake of the bread and cup must remember the Lord’s sacrifice, and not their bellies. To partake of the blessed sacraments with no thought to the covenant one makes with God causes condemnation, for such a person does not take his covenants with God seriously. For the Corinthians, it became a very serious issue, because many were using the Lord’s supper as a place for food and wine, just as they did with at the pagan temples. Many in our day partake of the divine without first making themselves holy. They profane the sacrifice of Christ’s flesh and blood by their insincere actions and indifference.
Gifts of the Spirit
1 Cor 12
That Paul had to explain to the Corinthians how the Holy Ghost worked with people is telling of how far they drifted from the core Christian teachings. The pagan religions, which led people to worship “dumb idols” also encouraged many to believe Jesus was accursed: the common assumption of those people who were crucified. Yet, Paul insisted that only through the Holy Ghost can a person know that “Jesus is Lord” (vs 3).
With such an understanding, we can see that most Christians have been touched by the Holy Ghost with at least one gift: a testimony of the Savior.
Yet, Paul exclaims there are many different gifts available, all from the same Holy Spirit. And not only Christians, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (vs 7). All mankind is touched on some level by the Holy Spirit. This is not the same as the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” which in its fullest regard means the Spirit becomes a constant companion and guide in all aspects of a person’s life. It does mean that God inspires all mankind, giving them special abilities. And all of these special gifts come from the Holy Ghost.
Most of us know people who seem inspired with wisdom or knowledge. Did Einstein figure out his theories of relativity on his own? Or did God inspire him via the Light of Christ (Moroni 7), enlightening his mind so he could figure out such amazing theories? The ancient Greeks believed mankind was inspired by the muses. We know mankind is inspired by the Holy Ghost.
For those who embrace Christ, Paul seems to suggest a greater level of such gifts of the Spirit. Whether a person is Jew or Gentile, when they embrace Christ, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:18, 19:6), they become a vessel able to receive a greater portion of the Holy Ghost and its powerful gifts.
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Cor 12:28)
There is a pattern set forth from Adam on down that helps us see how the Spirit and God’s power work. The pattern begins with apostles and prophets, those holding the priesthood authority to perform ordinances of salvation (baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, Lord’s supper, etc), establish doctrine, and guide the Church in all things, even as the apostle Paul was now doing for Corinth.
Next, are teachers to explain the doctrines of the church to the believers and those investigating the claims of Christ as Lord. Paul sent this epistle to Corinth with teachers to correct the wrong occurring among the Christians there. Only after the foundation of leadership is established can the miracles and gifts occur in an orderly fashion.
“Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:29-30)
Not all are apostles or prophets. Not all have the gifts mentioned. These are important and necessary things in the Church of Jesus Christ. Without these holy men and gifts of the Spirit, the Church cannot function properly. Both are needed. As apostle Dallin Oaks noted, there are both formal and informal lines of power in the Church of Christ. The informal line is often called by the Protestants the “priesthood of all believers”, or the personal inspiration and guidance given each of us through the Holy Spirit. This is extremely important to our personal salvation and personal growth in Christ.
Yet the formal line of power and authority through apostles and prophets is also extremely important. Paul notes the struggle the Corinthian church was going through, precisely because they were listening to many claims of teachings by a variety of speakers. Yet none of these were apostles and prophets. No Christian prophet or apostle taught the Corinthian Christians to be unchaste, to eat the food of idols, or to be selfish. The key doctrines of salvation had to be established and preached by living prophets and apostles, or as in Corinth, they would sink into apostasy.
“ But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31)
Many believe that the “more excellent way” is a rejection of the Gifts of the Spirit, a rejection of prophets and apostles, a rejection of miracles. Some even believe it to be a rejection of the commandments. But Paul’s original epistle was not divided into chapters. His most excellent way is found in chapter 13: charity.
Faith, Hope and Charity
1 Corinthians 13
In chapter 13, Paul taught about the greatest gifts we can aspire to as a priesthood of all believers. There are three great gifts, greater than all the others: faith, hope and charity. Of these, Paul explained that faith and hope lead to charity, which is the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47-48). When it comes to spiritual things, if we do not have charity, we are nothing. The Celestial Kingdom does not have a long list of commandments. It has two: Love God and love our neighbor. Paul taught that we must learn to have great faith, hope and charity in this life, if we would ever hope to dwell with the Author of Faith, Hope and Charity.
In this world we often confuse the things of most worth for the things that glitter. The Corinthians had their focus on the things of the flesh: sex, food, drink, selfishness and the philosophies of the Roman and Greek idol worshipers. None of these things would make a real positive difference in the world. None would make any difference in the world to come.
Even to give all our belongings to feed the poor means nothing without charity. Why would someone give everything up, if that person did not have charity? What would be the motivation in doing so? Power? Fame? Glory?
Charity is everything that the Corinthian Christians were not. It is long suffering, not selfish, loves truth, hates sin, not given to anger. Only in developing our faith, hope and charity can we ever hope to have our works truly mean something here on earth and in the eternities.
As Latter-day Saints shift from home/visiting teaching to ministering under President Russell M. Nelson's guidance, we must learn that ministering is all about Christ-like love. We are not focused on saving people's souls. We don't make friends for the purpose of converting them, but to love them and minister to them. We can't save them. Only Christ can save people. Only the Holy Ghost can convert them. We can love them. Our responsibility is to love others even as God loves them. In so doing, we build connections that can lead people to Christ and His restored gospel.