Do it Right: Human Activity in 1 Corinthians

by J. Randal Matheny, editor

Doing as human activity is a central focus of Paul’s in 1 Corinthians. In some instances he uses the word “do” (expressed in Greek by poieo or ginomai), though he often concentrates on the specific acts in each problem he deals with in the letter. But when he does use one of these words for human activity, he often tells us that we should do it right.

Paul tells us to do things in the right way. The Corinthians should “do” the offering right. “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do” (1 Corinthians 16:1 ESV; note: all references that follow are to 1 Corinthians). It would have been shameful for them to have to scramble and put things together once he got there. So Paul, teaching the same thing in all the churches (see 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33), told the Corinthians to do the same. Shouldn’t we?

Doing things in the right way means following God’s order. “And do everything in a decent and orderly manner” (11:40), because “God is not characterized by disorder but by peace” (11:33). As he often does in this letter, Paul bases human activity on divine nature or action. He lays down a whole series of very specific instructions to be followed so that God’s order can be respected.

Paul would have us to do things for the right effect. “Let all things be done for the strengthening of the church” (14:26), rather than to gain celebrity status before the brethren. Ego must be vanquished, or it will value lesser things that will not have the power to edify.

Paul also wants us to do things with the right thoughts. The Corinthians weren’t remembering what the Lord’s supper was all about, so he quotes Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me” (11:24, 25). Every action should have the thought that gives it special meaning. Sacred things demand and deserve that we recognize their sacred meaning.

Paul tells us to do things for the right reason. The Corinthians had a pride problem. The answer to that was love. So Paul ends reminding them to do things for the right reason: “Everything you do should be done in love” (16:14).

Paul wants us to do things with the right motivation. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (10:31). Glory is, literally, a “heavy” concept. In old times, heavy meant valuable. To give glory means to recognize the greatness of God and, in the hearts of men, increase or awaken that awareness.

Paul saw the one great activity which really gave glory to God as doing all “so that [many] may be saved” (v. 33). In fact, his own service took on the nature of Christ’s in this way, so he recommends it to the Corinthians: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (11:1). In order “to gain even more people,” Paul became a slave to all. Then he said, “I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it” (9:19-23). Because preaching that gospel gave glory to God.

When we do it right, God gives the harvest and the doing doesn’t go unrewarded. “So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58).

Of course, God is behind it all. He is also “doing.” He will “make” a way out of temptation (10:13). “God is faithful,” is how Paul begins this letter, reminding the Corinthians and us that God always does things right. And so should we.

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