During my life, my parents would always tell me: “how many times have I told you…?!” These words would always follow me doing or saying something that I already knew I shouldn’t have done or said. My parents had trained and taught me the correct way, but I was a super knucklehead and didn’t pay attention, thinking I knew better—it never worked out for me.
The Apostle Paul basically single-handedly planted multiple churches in the Mediterranean rim and he had a heart for those he loved and ministered to and discipled. Paul, himself was chastised by God—basically with the same words:
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (Acts 26:14b, NIV).
Paul’s Tough Love
In multiple letters to multiple people in multiple churches in multiple cities, Paul clearly and forcefully shares the purpose for his writing—because of his great father-like concern and love for them and their spiritual, emotional, and physical health.
Remember, before God got a hold of him, his full-time job was tracking down, persecuting, imprisoning, torturing, and killing Christians. This guy was serious about what he did—yet, when God got a hold of him, Paul’s fervor, passion, drive, and laser-like focus changed from being against Jesus to being for Jesus. Paul was a nice and as kind as a Christian would allow him to be, but if he saw something, he would certainly address it and that’s why he wrote all those letters!
During our brief time together, I want to explore twelve instances where Paul clearly, but forcefully reminds Christians of what they’ve already been taught—in fact, he uses these exact words or a close derivation of them: “Don’t you know…?!”
Background for the books of Romans & 1 Corinthians
All the verses that we will be reading and discussing were written by the Apostle Paul. Specifically, he wrote both of these letters to Christians in two different cities: Rome and Corinth. Rome is located in modern-day Italy–being its capital. Corinth is located in modern-day south-central Greece.
The Christians in Rome were a new church established by the Jews who came there following Pentecost. The church there was comprised of mostly Jews but also contained a great number of Gentiles (or non-Jews). Paul had never been to that church and had planned to visit, so he wrote to the Christians in Rome to introduce himself and to give them a brief overview of the gospel message before he arrived.
Corinth was a major cosmopolitan city, a seaport and major trade center. It was also filled with idolatry and immorality, and much of this was beginning to seep into the church. It appeared that many of the Christians in Corinth—comprised out of the former pagan culture—just honestly didn’t know how to live as Christians.
The church, in fact, was largely comprised of Gentiles. Paul himself had established this church on his second missionary journey (I think that’s why Paul snapped on them so strongly and directly—because he loved them so much).
Paul wrote this letter to the Christians living in Corinth to offer solutions, and to teach them how to live for Jesus in a corrupt, relativistic, polytheistic, and highly sexualized culture/society. On a personal note, out of all the letters that Paul wrote—and he wrote a lot—I can totally hear my parents coming through loud and clear—I’m sure that as you read these verses, you will as well.
Passages from Romans and 1 Corinthians
As I share these passages with you it’s wise for you to read a couple of verses before and after, so that you can get the “flavor” of what Paul’s addressing. I would love to include them all, but space doesn’t allow for it.
- Romans 6:3
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Paul was addressing the popular idea then that the more someone purposely sins, the more grace God will give them! Paul was writing to clear that misunderstanding up. The reality is that in our thankful response to God for the receiving of His grace—God’s unmerited favor that He lavishes on us—we choose not to sin.
Grace isn’t license to sin, but the strongest reason why we don’t. He had already clearly taught this, but apparently, there were some Christians who were unwittingly following the surrounding culture’s perceptions of what “grace” was and how it functioned.
- Romans 6:16
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Here Paul, like any good parent, was still addressing the same issue he addressed earlier in the chapter; but in a different way. My teenage daughter would say that he was “beating a dead horse” but apparently, he felt compelled to clarify this crucial point.
He used the metaphor of slavery, that all Romans (and much of the world at that time clearly understood). His basic thesis was simple: as a human being, we’re never really “free.” We will always have to answer to somebody—whether it’s our own bad habits/addictions/sin (aka: Satan) or the life of peace, purpose, and power (aka: God).
To put it in the way my father put it to me when I complained about my first boss at my new job: “son, you’re always gonna have to answer to somebody!” Paul tells the Christians the same thing but just asks an obvious, rhetorical question—just like a parent.
The truth is that you don’t have to be a counselor or social scientist to know the common-sense answer to this question. I’m sure that you know of at least one person who has chosen to kick God to the curb—and is paying the price for it—maybe that person is you? Either way, Paul clarifies this fact as he does with the Christians in Galatia, when he makes the same point between a life characterized by “walking in/with the Holy Spirit” and one walking with the unholy Spirit; in fact, he uses very strong and direct language: “The acts of the flesh are obvious.” Want maximum peace? You must give Jesus maximum submission.
- 1 Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
In that culture and society—and that part of the world (Greece)—there were amazing temples. People during that time built the lavish temples because they believed that this is where they could come to commune and connect with that specific god. Paul here uses this imagery, which they can easily understand, when he reminded them that God’s Holy Spirit is not in a specific place, or even goes with you, but that it is to be in you. In fact, he takes it a step further and reminds them that each one of them is a temple!
Wow! Talk about mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting truth. Imagine how this would change a Christian’s perspective on their self-esteem to truly internalize this truth: “I am God’s holy temple!” Do you think that God thinks you are valuable to Him and that He loves you? Remember the whole lavish, beautiful temples? That’s what God thinks of you!
- 1 Corinthians 5:6
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?
In this verse Paul was addressing many members of this church who were apparently cool with—and boasting about—a sin that not even their pagan neighbors would do: incest. Paul rightly diagnoses the problem and, again, brilliantly uses an example of daily life (baking bread) that they would all clearly understand.
Growing up I used to watch “The Andy Griffith Show” and one of my favorite characters was the silly and often-bumbling Deputy Barney Fife. His favorite line was something that Paul was trying to strongly get across to this church: “you got to nip it in the bud!” The application is clear: if a Christian has a growing, long-standing sin, one that is also clearly affecting an entire church, something drastic must be about it immediately! Or else, it will continue growing and only get worse.
- 1 Corinthians 6
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Man, this church was a wreck! Paul uses this term a total of six times—just in this one chapter! What could have been happening that needed his emergency intervention? Well, I think it’s easier if I just list the issues and then briefly discuss each one’s importance:
- Paul gives this church a triple-whammy by addressing the fact that there is not just division in the church, but public That church members should endeavor, as much as it depends upon each of them, to arbitrate and resolve disagreements/division, among themselves, without the aid/need for an outside source. This is important for two reasons:
a) Anytime something like this happens, it gives God’s church a “black eye.” Non-Christians should be able to view the church as different and distinct—and I’ll just say, “better,” than what the world is. Public division and lawsuits don’t reflect that well.
b) The second reason is that simple, it’s no fun going to a church that is always full of division and strife. For the church members’ own sake, they need to quickly and quietly resolve these issues. Life without division, strife and lawsuits will be better for everybody—in and out of the church.
c) And lastly, if God trusts Christians to judge others for salvation’s sake, then we should be able to rightly exercise this role here on earth, namely in our churches.
- Paul reminds and warns the Corinthians that they have bought into the lie that they can go on sinning and be saved. In fact, he gives them this rebuke: “Do not be deceived” (v. 9b); the inference, of course, is that those Christians were being deceived. In this instance specifically, he applies this principle to all sorts of behaviors that have outward manifestations of sin, but the same principle applies to those sins of our thought life, as well.
He also reminds them that this is who they used to be. But because they’ve been washed by Jesus and His Spirit (v. 11), they are no longer to act and think in this manner—in fact, because of God’s Holy Spirit power, they can choose not to—and so can we.
- Paul reminds his readers that our bodies belong to God—and are part of Him! He also clarified the principle of soul-connection with sexual acts/behaviors. Apparently, the sexually permissive and promiscuous society/culture believed that sex was simply a biological action, but Paul reminded those Christians that if someone chooses to connect themselves to another human being in the most intimate and personal way possible, there will be serious consequences in many different parts of their lives.
Sex isn’t just physical; in fact, it’s both emotional, and ultimately spiritual. Imagine super-gluing two things together and then separating them. The results wouldn’t be pretty. The same is true for people who choose to have sex (pornography and masturbation included) either before or after marriage (with someone other than their spouse). There is an enormity of research to back up this fact and the craziest thing is that much of it is done by non-Christians! The bottom line is this: choose to sin, choose to suffer. It’s as simple as that.
- Paul, like any good parent, circles back around again to make a point clear which he already previously made clear—you and your physical body (all of you) belong solely and exclusively to God! He owns you! If you are uncomfortable with that statement, then you should rethink your understanding of Christian theology about salvation. Jesus created you and then when you went AWOL, He died to buy you back. He owns you! And anything you choose to think about, eat, look at, listen to, etc., deeply affects your relationship with Him.
I find it interesting that there is truly nothing new under the sun. In today’s culture, I hear the phrase: “It’s my body. I can do with it what I want!” This statement incorporates everything from substance abuse to tattoos to abortion. But, don’t be fooled—take your relationship with God seriously and be holy, as He is holy. He has given you the Holy Spirit to live in you and to tell you about sin, truth, and to give you both the motivation and power to be like Him.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Paul is championing (pun totally intended) the need for self-control and discernment in a Christian’s life. Paul clearly made the point that Jesus died to make us free from sin but that we shouldn’t use our Jesus-bought freedom as a license to sin willy-nilly.
Let’s be clear, though. Paul isn’t being prudish and saying that as Christians we can’t have any fun, laugh, or be happy and that we have to all quit our jobs, ignore all society, and live by ourselves in some moldy mountain home.
What Paul was advocating was balance in the Christian life. Earlier in this chapter, he speaks to his own rights as an Apostle. The Christian life should be one of balance and seriousness in all things. Paul wanted his readers to remember that there is more to this existence than what we can experience with our senses. He reminded them—and us—to focus, not on the here and now, but the real goal: Heaven and a forever relationship with God!
Bringing It All Together
I think we, as Christians, can learn a lot from the Apostle Paul and imitate him. He was a strong personality and obviously had a lot to say to the disciples in the early Christian churches. He felt personally responsible for the growth and health of the church—as we all should. Paul wasn’t critical or fault finding but he also wasn’t a pushover and didn’t shy away from addressing a problem when he saw one.
Paul’s overarching worldview was one of ultimate, radical submission, at any and all costs, to Jesus. This he taught that to all he with whom he came into contact. His perspective on his life and mission could be best summed up by the introduction to the letter he wrote to the Colossian Christians in the ancient city of Colossae in Denizli, Turkey:
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:24-29, NIV).
May Paul’s mission be our life’s calling as well.
 See Galatians 5: 13-26.
 Galatians 5:19, NIV; emphasis added.