†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††Grace Theological Journal 4.1 (1983) 3-14

†††††††† ††††††Copyright © 1983 by Grace Theological Seminary.Cited with permission.


†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† A FRESH LOOK AT

††††††††††††††††††††††††† 1 CORINTHIANS 15:34:


††††††††††††††††††††††† OR A CALL TO PURITY?


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† HOMER A. KENT, JR.


†††† The church at Corinth was tolerating serious doctrinal aberra-

tions which were causing moral and spiritual difficulties in the

congregation. Paulís challenge: "Awake to righteousness. and sin not;

for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your

shame," was a call to sober thinking. It urged a return to holy

conduct, and a recognition that the presence of wrong doctrine was a

shameful condition which must be rectified.


††† ONE of the periodic discussions which has characterized the church

focuses upon the inadequacies that we perceive about ourselves.

Why aren't we growing? Why do we have conflicts? Why can't our

programs be as exciting and effective as they used to be? Before long

we concentrate so heavily upon the problems that we forget our main

business. In our very concern to find reasons for our lack of growth,

Our negativism makes us even more unattractive to the world we want

to reach.

Not only that, but focusing on our problems can so easily make

us lose perspective. "All is lost." "Things have never been this bad

before." "It's a different world now. There are no biblical precedents

or helps for us. We need a new program, a new formula, new

approaches, new leaders." These are the things we tell ourselves.

But a careful study of the Bible makes it sound strangely

familiar. Consider the congregation of the Christians at Corinth.

Here was a church that was founded on pure doctrine by an apostle.

It counted some very able people in its membership. Priscilla and

Aquila had been there from the beginning of the work. There was

Crispus, a man of recognized integrity and leadership so that he had

been made ruler of the Jewish synagogue in the city. His conversion

to Christ and the Christian faith led him and his household into the



new church at Corinth. The same thing seems to have happened with

Sosthenes, the successor to Crispus at the synagogue. Then there was

Gaius, whose gracious hospitality at Corinth made Paul's ministry

more pleasant (Rom 16:23). Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus

were likewise stalwart Christians with roots at Corinth.

The church at Corinth had also known some great Bible teachers.

Paul and Silas and Apollos had extended ministries there. Timothy

and Titus were no strangers to that congregation. Furthermore, this

church had witnessed some remarkable conversions and transformed

lives. Some of their members had once been idolaters, adulterers,

homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, and swindlers before they had been

transformed by the saving work of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:9-11).

The church was located in a strategic spot-a commercial and

transportation center, bustling with human activity, and desperately

in need of moral and spiritual direction.

In spite of these advantages, the health of the church at Corinth

was far from perfect. The congregation had conflicts and divisions

which threatened its growth and effectiveness. Apollos, Peter, and

Paul had their partisans, and then of course, there were the "super

spiritual" who claimed no toleration for anyone except Christ alone.

They began to look inward instead of at the whole body of

Christ. Because they were more concerned about their own parochial

interests, Paul had great difficulty in getting them to cooperate with

other gentile churches in raising a substantial collection for their

Jewish Christian brethren in Judea.

Furthermore, they started questioning their leadership. Such

questions as these must have arisen: "Why aren't our local leaders as

eloquent as Apollos, or as dynamic as Peter, or as logical as Paul?"

Dissatisfaction with their leaders led to disregard for the instruction

they had been given by those leaders. They began to compromise

their moral and spiritual standards. They were exceedingly tolerant of

sin in their midst and were becoming lax in their own spiritual lives.

Even some of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith were

being attacked. Prominent among these was the doctrine of physical

resurrection. Implications of their wavering commitment were frighten-

ing to the apostle, and he devoted a significant portion of his epistle

to a ringing call to reaffirm their faith.

All we need to do is change a few names and addresses, and the

situation is very contemporary. And if we believe the Bible is our rule

for faith and practice, then it surely has something to say to us.

How do you suppose Paul felt about the church at Corinth?

Frustrated? Undoubtedly. Irritated? Sometimes. Deeply disappointed?

No question about it. But he never gave way to total despair. His

attitude was: "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this

††††††††† KENT: A FRESH LOOK AT 1 CORINTHIANS 15:34†††††††††††† 5


all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard

pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair;

persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed"

(2 Cor 4:7-9 NIV).

That is the challenge: to maintain a balanced view; to be thanking

God for accomplishments; to recognize needs and problems; to deal

with failures while staying encouraged.

Paul managed to do it, but it was no easy task. Take a moment

to analyze the Corinthian church from Paul's standpoint. Why should

he have expected a church to begin and flourish in Corinth? It was a

busy commercial center, not much given to contemplation or to the

spiritual values of man and his destiny. It was a city with no apparent

lack of religion. Today's visitor can inspect the impressive ruins of the

temple of Apollo and the sites of other temples and not fail to be

awed by the historical references to the temple of Aphrodite which

crowned the heights of acrocorinth, just beyond the city. To the

superficial observer, there would have seemed to be no need for

another faith.

Yet when one searches deeper, there were some tremendous

reasons, and Paul found them. The largely transient population left a

spiritual void that cried out to be filled. Pagan religion, prevalent

though it was, was either meaningless or corrupting. Immorality was

rampant. Materialism was paramount. In such a city, Paul preached

the gospel of the grace of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and a

church was founded.

But that church was now in trouble. When Paul wrote the 15th

chapter of 1 Corinthians, he was grappling with their confusion over

the great truth of resurrection. Some were denying that Christians

could look forward to a literal resurrection (v 12). Some were actually

denying the reality of any kind of resurrection, thus implying that

Christ himself had not been raised (v 13). Some apparently rejected

the whole idea because they could not explain what sort of body a

resurrected person would have (v 35). Greek philosophy and con-

temporary culture had a stranglehold on their thinking.

The implications of that doctrinal confusion were frightening. It

was not a matter of theological hair-splitting. Rather, it was a

wavering before one of the foundational truths of the Christian faith.

To question the very principle of resurrection was to deny the validity

of Christ's resurrection (v 13). Their faith would be worthless, a

dream without substance (vv 14,17). Paul's preaching would be based

upon falsehood (v 15). Christians who had died would have perished

forever (v 18). There would be no hope beyond the present life (v 19).

Earthly and temporal pleasures would be man's only satisfaction

(v 32).



Against the backdrop of this potentially disastrous situation,

Paul issued the ringing challenge: "A wake to righteousness, and sin

not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your

shame" (1 Cor 15:34). The advice he gave is just as momentous today.

If Christians are to fulfill their role in the light of the commission

which the Lord Jesus Christ gave, these words of Paul can provide

insight that may prove to be crucial if success is to follow.




Meaning of the Term


In the stirring words of the KJV, Paul's challenge is rendered:

"Awake to righteousness," NASB treats the verb as "become sober-

-minded." NIV translates it: "Come back to your senses." This verb

used by Paul occurs nowhere else in the NT. However, it belongs to a

word group that is represented nine other times. The word is actually

used in two ways. Its basic meaning is to become sober, whether

physically from a condition of drunkenness, or metaphorically from

intoxication with one's own thoughts. Its other meaning is to awake

out of sleep.

Clearly, in the Corinthian letter, the meaning in view is a

soberness of mind, the opposite of mental fuzziness, The readers are

urged to be on guard against mental or spiritual intoxication from

their own thoughts about life and death-thoughts which are not

God's thoughts. It is probably significant that every other occurrence

of the cognate verb in the NT is used in a context where the reader is

being urged to think rightly about the coming of Christ, the resurrec-

tion, or the life to come. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about

Christ's return, he said, "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but

let us watch, and be sober" (1 Thes 5:6). "Let us who are of the day,

be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a

helmet, the hope of salvation" (I Thes 5:8). As he warned Timothy in

the light of Christ's coming kingdom, he said, "But watch thou in all

things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim 4:5),

Peter used the same word: "wherefore gird up the loins of your mind,

be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto

you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:13). He also said, "But

the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto

prayer" (1 Pet 4:7). And after reminding his readers that Christ, the

Chief Shepherd, will appear, he urged them to "be sober, be vigilant

because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about"

(1 Pet 5:8).

Thus Paul's point in this letter to the Corinthians is that believers

must be thinking clearly,' not fuzzily, not with confusion, or befuddle-



ment, or intoxication. Their minds must be alert, functioning prop-

erly, and focused on the crucial issues.


Implications in the Context


What did this command imply to those original readers? The

theme of this part of the epistle is clear. Paul was discussing the

resurrection. The readers were being told to be sober-minded in

contrast to wrong thinking in denying the resurrection. To develop

merely an emotional attachment or loyalty to some outstanding

speaker, without thinking clearly through his teaching, was poten-

tially disastrous. They were being called to think straight. The reality

of the believer's resurrection must be clearly understood, not just as

part of a recited creed, but as part of their mental process. If so, it

would condition whatever they did.

Furthermore, it is implied that they were already somewhat

intoxicated in their minds. They were commanded to "sober up." Too

much wrong teaching had already clouded their minds. They had not

gone so far as to apply logically all the ramifications that denial of

resurrection involved, but Paul told them they were on the way, and

the end would be disaster.

It is also clear that the Corinthian readers needed to guard

themselves against moral contagion from those deniers of the literal

fulfillment of the scriptural promise of resurrection. If they continued

to associate with those who denied resurrection, the very underpin-

nings of morality would be cut away. The "bad company" of those

teachers of would "corrupt good. morals" (v 33). It would not

take long until the weakening of their future blessed hope would

bring the converse emphasis upon the present sensual and material

life, and the inevitable philosophy would take over, "Let us eat and

drink, for tomorrow we die" (v 32).


The Truth for the Church


What is the truth from this passage for the church today? Surely

it is clear that unrighteous. living is the product of improper thinking,

and Scripture calls it spiritual drunkenness. It is an aberration. It is

contrary to that renewing of the mind which regeneration has secured

for us. It means that fuzziness, befuddlement, or downright insensi-

tivity has taken the place of the Spirit-filled intelligence which God

has made possible for his children.

In addition, the passage indicates that spiritual sobriety is not

just optional; it is commanded. This statement leaves no room for the

notion that Christians are given the option of how doctrinally correct

and how morally pure they wish to be. The only choice is to obey


8                                               GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


God's word or disobey it. If Christ is one's Lord and Master, then the

response to follow his instruction was settled long ago.

Furthermore, the passage is clear that one's mindset is the key to

the matter. 'Become sober-minded" is the command. It is easy to

become mentally befuddled. All too often Christians have been led

astray by that curious and non-scriptural dichotomy of "head versus

heart" and have drawn the strange conclusion that one can trust his

"heart" but not his "head." The Bible most often uses those terms

interchangeably: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov

23:7). When believers fail to focus their thinking on the teaching of

the Word of God, they are in danger of mental and spiritual drunken-

ness, useless to themselves, and a disgrace to the cause of Christ.

Finally, the truth should be obvious that contamination from

others within and outside the church continues to blunt the impact

that Christians should be making on their world. Wrong thinking

leads to wrong doing, and this in turn blurs our witness, destroys our

integrity, and makes Christ's transforming power invisible to an

unbelieving world.


The Manner of Compliance


One additional matter in this opening clause calls for special

comment. The common rendering "awake unto righteousness" states

the goal or content of this spiritual awakening. In fact, however, this

is not the most accurate way of translating these words. Paul actually

used an adverb which means "rightly, justly, properly." He was not

naming the object of their sober thinking, but the manner in which

they were to carry it out. It is the same usage as is found in Luke

23:41, where one of the crucified thieves commented on the appropri-

ateness of their punishment and used the identical word: "and we

indeed justly." He meant that is was the proper sentence for their

crimes. Thus the NASB translates our verse: "become sober-minded

as you ought." The NIV renders similarly: "Come back to your senses

as you ought."

In the context, therefore, the sense is that there was a proper

mindset which they ought to have regarding the resurrection. There

was a standard whereby their thinking could be measured, and they

were as erratic as drunkards if they failed to measure up. That

standard was the truth of apostolic teaching and the whole context of

biblical revelation. They had heard the gospel of a risen Christ and of

regeneration which they could acquire. At one time in their lives the

Holy Spirit had opened their eyes to enable them to grasp the truth of

the new birth, eternal life, and resurrection. There was really no

excuse for their present confusion except their own imbibing of

contradictory teaching. That some of them had drunk too deeply of



doubtful doctrine was becoming painfully obvious to others. They

needed to return to the standard of the Word of God and its

revelation to them. No longer must they let themselves be captivated

by the appeal of a spellbinder. As residents of Corinth, they had

heard many a Greek orator in the theater or the marketplace, and

should have known full well that mere eloquence or charisma was no

guarantee of truth. They must not be so willing to adopt the latest

fad or be influenced by contemporary morality. "Sober-minded as

you ought" meant they were obligated to think in harmony with that

apostolic teaching which they had received.

People don't like the word "ought" very much. They didn't like it

in first-century Corinth. Neither do we like it in twentieth-century

America. Even Christians struggle with the concept. We love the

Scriptures which tell us that Christ has set us free; that we are not

under a yoke of bondage; that we are not under law but grace. When

it is suggested that there are modes of conduct that Christians are

obligated to follow, some will protest such ideas as nonsense, or old

fashioned, or legalism, and proudly call themselves liberated. How

easy it is to forget that the same apostle who said that "Christ has set

us free" (Gal 5:1) also commanded us to "fulfill the law of Christ"

(Gal 6:2). In the words of our text, we ought to be sober-minded. We

are obligated by our Christian commitment to have the right mindset

toward spiritual truth. It is not just a piece of helpful advice-well-

meant, but optional. It is our solemn responsibility. "Become sober-

minded as you ought." There is a Christian propriety, and it is based

upon the Word of God.




There is a second implication in our text. It tells us that there is a

holiness that is expected in our lives.

ďStop sinning" is the command. Its close connection with the

previous command may suggest the particular sort of sinning the

apostle had in mind.


Meaning of the Term


There are various words in the Bible that describe man's violation

of the will of God. The one used here is the commonest one in the

NT and the one with the broadest meaning. It describes sin as a

missing of God's desire for our lives. The parallelism employed in

Rom 3:23 helps us understand its meaning: "All have sinned and

come short of the glory of God." We have missed the goal which men

made in the image of God should have been aiming at. We have

failed to fulfill God's will. We have fallen short of the expectations of

a holy God.

10††††††††††††††††††† GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Now this term for sin is the broadest one in the NT and

embraces most of the aspects which the other words for sin empha-

size. For example, there are NT terms for sin which emphasize

transgressing, unrighteousness, and lawlessness. I John 3:4, however,

says that "everyone who doeth sin (our word in I Cor 15:34) doeth

also lawlessness (a]nomi<a), and sin is lawlessness."

The use of the negative with this particular form of the verb tells

the readers that they are not to continue engaging in their present

practice. Usually it means to stop doing what one is now doing. The

simple rendering "sin not" of the common version, is rendered a bit

more precisely by the "stop sinning" of the NASB and NIV.

The two verbs in this part of our verse could well be understood

like this: "Come to your senses and do not continue to sin." The

readers are challenged to think straight and live accordingly.


The Context


This verse has often been used as a general admonition for

Christians in almost any circumstance. Surely its application is appro-

priate to all believers in every situation. Every Christian ought to

think clearly and live in holiness.

Paul, however, gave these commands in the midst of a specific

discussion. He was talking about a particular doctrinal error at

Corinth in which some were denying the resurrection. Failure to

believe the teaching which God had sent them through his apostle

indicated their cloudy thinking, and was in turn a falling short of

what God expected. It was sinning and they needed to get rid of it.

Furthermore, Paul has explained that failure to grasp the truth

of resurrection would inevitably lead to a substitution of materialism

and self-indulgence for the spiritual values that should be motivating

believers. The philosophy of "eat and drink for tomorrow we die"

would soon take over. Paul reminds us that life is interwoven. What

we think determines what we do. We live the way we do because of

the mind set we have. At Corinth the deviant views on the doctrine of

resurrection were not just harmless philosophical speculations. They

had a direct connection with the purity of their lives. To abandon

apostolic teaching was to pursue a course of sin. It was to live in

direct defiance of the command of the Word of God.


A Mark of Immaturity


The Bible says that sin in the lives of Christians is one of the

marks of spiritual immaturity. Paul had already called the Corin-

thians "carnal" because they had allowed the superficial, the temporal,

and the cultural to dominate them. In the Epistle to the Hebrews,




maturity is explained as the ability to discern good and evil (5:11-14).

One's knowledge of the word of righteousness-God's Word-enables

the believer to acquire God's standards, so that he can choose the

good and shun the evil. And this is no mere option. Spiritual growth

must take place. If it doesn't there is something terribly wrong.

Spiritual immaturity is not just disappointing in the lives of Chris-

tians. Paul says it is sin and calls upon us to get rid of it.




The passage concludes with the sober words that carry with them

a great challenge to the church. "For some have not the knowledge of

God: I speak this to your shame." This statement is often applied to

the great need of lost mankind for the gospel. The fact that millions

of men and women are ignorant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ,

some in lands beyond the seas and others in our own communities, is

a matter that ought to shame us if we are doing nothing about it.

When Paul wrote these words, however, he was not talking about

evangelizing pagans, but about correcting wrong doctrine. The point

of the statement was not primarily outreach, but purity. He was

warning them of the abysmal ignorance of God on the part of those

who had infiltrated their church and were upsetting their faith.


Existing Situations in the Church Are Often Less than Ideal


These words serve as a reminder to us that existing situations in

the church are not always ideal. Our verse speaks of "some" who are

without knowledge of God. Presumably these are the "some" first

mentioned in v 12, "some among you say that there is no resurrection

of the dead." They were not pagan citizens of the city, but certain

ones in the church. They had promoted a culturally-conditioned

theology which denied literal resurrection. The outcome was that

emphasis was transferred from a future life to the present one. "Let us

eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (v 32). Moral decline had

followed. Holiness of life did not seem very important. Separation

from sin was ignored. "Bad company corrupts good character" was

Paul's concise evaluation (NIV, v 33).

Earlier Paul had said that he didn't expect the Corinthians to

have no contact with unbelievers, for that would have required a

physical departure from the world (5:10). He did not forbid them

from joining pagan friends at dinner (10:27). But to cultivate bad

company and take pleasure in it was another matter. The "bad

company" in this passage seems to be inside the church. The danger

Paul feared was the growth of spiritual contamination from those

who were spiritually sick or dead. Tolerating false doctrine was


12††††††††††††††††††† GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


exposing the rest of the church to the infection of moral and

theological disease. On another occasion Paul spoke of false teaching

as spreading like gangrene (2 Tim 2: 17). Ignorance of God and his

word exists not only outside the church. At Corinth, it existed inside

as well.

Surely the church of today has reason to heed the counsel of the

passage. It is no great surprise to find churches where some lives are

not honoring God; where some are joining with those who are more

concerned with personal gratification and enjoyment of this present

world than they are with spiritual goals and present sacrifice; where

some are really without the knowledge of God, his holy character,

and his will for his children.


Some Less-Than-Ideal Situations Are Positively Shameful


"I speak this to your shame." At Corinth, it was shameful

because it was contrary to what the church had been taught. They

knew better, and thus they were without excuse. Christ had risen

from the dead. He had taught his followers that a day was coming

when those who were in the grave would hear his voice and come

forth in resurrection (John 5:28-29). To believe or to teach otherwise

was a clear repudiation of the truth implicit in the gospel.

Furthermore, the situation at Corinth was shameful because the

church was tolerating this false teaching. By letting this "bad com-

pany" exist in their congregation, they were implying that it didn't

matter; that doctrine was less important than more "practical" mat-

ters. In so doing, they were virtually joining forces with those who

were ignorant of God and his revelation.

In addition, it was shameful because it was leading the church

into impure living. The Corinthians knew perfectly well the standards

expected of a child of God. Their former lives had been recognized as

sin. The new life in Christ had been startling in its contrasts. As new

converts they had revelled in the fact that their guilt before God had

been cleansed and that their sordid lives had been transformed. But

now they had allowed a situation to develop in their church in which

spiritual values were being subordinated to material and temporal


It is one thing to acknowledge that local churches are less than

perfect. It is far more serious when we learn to be at ease with

impurity in our midst. Within Christianity today, we can find almost

every sin known in the world being tolerated in some congregation.

There are congregations consisting of practicing homosexuals. There

are churches where adultery is so commonplace that partners ex-

change mates and all parties continue in good standing in the same

†††††††††† KENT: A FRESH LOOK AT I CORINTHIANS 15:34 ††††††††13


congregation. Surely Paul would term this sort of thing an absence of

the knowledge of God and a matter that ought to cause us shame.


Paulís Challenge Was to Grasp the Truth, Decide to Obey It, and

Then Put It into Operation


If this challenge was needed at Corinth, and none will deny that

it was, it is surely needed today. There is still great ignorance of God,

not only in our communities, our nation, and in the regions beyond,

but also as at Corinth in our churches. I am convinced that there is

not nearly as much understanding of biblical truth as the average

Christian thinks he has. I have often heard it said that most Christians

already know enough doctrine; they just need to put it to work. I

would like to counter that notion by insisting that the reason we are

not "putting it to work" is because far too many of us don't

understand God's truth all that well. When we really have the

knowledge of God and his program, it will grip our minds and propel

us into appropriate living. Those who have really come to "the

knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6)

have no problem deciding to obey it. Our attitude, our mindset is

what Paul is appealing to. We can decide to do it. We must never

allow anything else, no matter how temporarily attractive, to sidetrack

us from the emphasis upon the Word of God-his revelation to us,

the instrument by which we know God and avoid the problems Paul

was warning the church against.

This challenge is just as relevant to us as to Corinth. We too are

finding that the people in our churches are not exhibiting much

distinction from the world. The continual pressure from our culture,

which through the astounding effectiveness of the news and entertain-

ment media has injected its influence into every home, has blurred

our distinctiveness. Christians are not easily recognizable any longer

by the things they do or don't do. The need is not for arbitrary,

legalistic taboos, but for intelligent, meaningful discernment followed

by consistent choices of what is right, not only on Sundays, but every

day of the week. "Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop

sinning" is a challenge every Christian should take to heart.

Finally, this challenge to make up our minds to do the will of

God carries with it the need for sensitivity to the condition of others,

both inside and outside the church. "Some have not the knowledge of

God." There are those in our neighborhoods who live in spiritual

darkness and need to be reached by godly Christians whose lives

manifest the transforming grace of God. There are those in other

cities whose veneer of sophistication in so-called Christian America

really masks a hopeless groping for meaningful lives that is doomed


14                                       GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


to failure unless God's people share their knowledge of God. But

there are even some within our churches who have the kind of

ignorance of God Paul was speaking of here: their knowledge of his

truth is minimal. They have never been sufficiently challenged or

effectively taught.

Paul's desire for his readers is still relevant: that each of us will

be so captivated by what God has done for us in Christ, and by what

he has planned for us as revealed in Scripture, that it will make a

difference in our lives; that it will lift our eyes to spiritual goals; that

the world's values will be less attractive; and that our excitement over

what new life in Christ really means will make us sensitive to others

whose greatest need is the knowledge of God.



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

†††† †††††† Grace Theological Seminary

†††††† †††† 200 Seminary Dr.

††††††††††† Winona Lake,IN†† 46590


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:thildebrandt@gordon.edu