Hopefully one of the outcomes of this devotional series for the consistent reader is to be renewed in understanding as to when Paul wrote his various letters to churches and individuals as it fits within the context of his overall ministry and travels. Today we look at the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.
In the same way we in America often look at Vegas as “sin city,” Corinth had something of a similar reputation in the ancient world. In Plato’s classic work “Republic,” when making reference to a prostitute he used the expression “Corinthian girl.” Indeed, much of the wealth and depravity in the city was due to the thousand temple prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite.
Located on the sliver of land from the mainland that connected the large peninsula of Greece (known as Achaia), it was a crossroads of both land and sea commerce.
Likewise, the church of Corinth is well-known by even lesser-informed Christians today as the community of believers in the New Testament that was the most immature. Many factors worked together to make it a challenging environment for holy and sanctified living. Churches are essentially spiritual hospitals, and the church of Corinth was therefore the ultimate Mayo Clinic!
Here are some of the messy issues afflicting the Corinthians … issues that can repeat themselves even in modern era churches that give into human desires over obedience to divine revelation.
- Divisions, squabbling, fighting among themselves …
Paul had received reports about how they had divided into camps around their favorite teachers …
1 Corinthians 1:10-11 – I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
This behavior demonstrated their immaturity …
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
- Failure to live holy lives and deal with sin …
1 Corinthians 5:1 – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 – 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.
The practices of the surrounding world were simply a part of the church community and not confronted toward living a different life. This therefore led also to Paul needing to answer a variety of issues surrounding marriage in chapter 7.
- They were insensitive in regard to Christian liberties …
1 Corinthians 8:9-11 – Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
- Their focus on spiritual gifts was wrong, reveling in grandiose personal expressions, rather than seeing the gifts as given to serve others …
1 Corinthians 12:24-27 – But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
- Some denied, while many others undervalued the central teaching of the resurrection …
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…
We might tend to look back at these Corinthians and wonder how these folks could be so clueless and entirely messed up. But remember, this is still very early in the church era. They didn’t even yet have the gospels to reference, along with the writings of Paul, etc. We’ve already referenced their geographical and cultural setting. They had been Christians for only a very short time and had no models around them of people who had walked with Christ for decades. This is not making excuses, as Paul himself said they should have been more mature in faith; but these factors do help to give some explanation for the complications unique to this church.
But, having said that, how unique are they … really? We too live in a crossroads community with many worldly problems. Issues of morality, sensuality, addictions, and generational dysfunction are all a part of our community as well (and to a large extent in most communities). If in our church community we ever allow division to rule the day, sin and licentious living to be unaddressed, and a focus upon wrong priorities to govern our values and energies, we have far fewer excuses or explanations. We live with the completed word of God. We have the resource of the cumulative writings of two millennia of Christian leaders and scholars. We have everything we need to run the Life Race well.
After having seen so much of churches that have a high opinion of themselves, I was slightly concerned reading the subject of today’s blog that you might have a higher than warranted view of our contemporary church and contemporary situation even in our local church.
Sometimes it seems like the churches that have the most exalted view of themselves grow the fastest. Certainly some cults promote themselves and ridicule others.
Your typical Jehovah Witness thinks he or she is somehow better because they use the name “Jehovah” almost all the time they refer to God. Even their New Testament bible deliberately changed the Greek word Kurios to read “Jehovah.” Yet there approved interlinear translation still has “Lord” when the Greek word Kurios is translated.
Then the Mormons have an entire extra book, (a book of fiction) that they put on par with the Bible.
Time does not allow me to discuss Islam and the Koran — though historical innacuracies abound in it. It deviates greatly from the Old Testament in its telling of events in the Old Testament.
Most perplexing is that Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was crucified or died on the cross. … It is so confusing (what they believe) that I can’t even adequately summarize or understand what they believe about that. I remember they have divergent views – so I’ll try not characterize what they believe. And then if you say anything about what they believe —— their is apparently a command in their scripture to kill you. You might argue that such commands in their scripture serve to limit dialogue and “truth seeking.” It certainly quells “open-mindedness.”
Yet lest we become proud, let us remember that the Apostle James said.
NIV James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. (James 3:1-2 NIV)
And as you said, “We have everything we need to run the Life Race well.”
Jesus said something that you might have in mind when you wrote today’s blog.
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.
But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48 NIV)
The setup for this teaching from Jesus was a question by Peter. Peter wanted to know about if Jesus teaching about servants being ready for their masters return applied only to the disciples following Jesus or to “everyone.” My reading from Jesus two-tier punishment system at the Judgment is that his teaching applies to both, but especially to those of us who have a high level of awaremeness of what Jesus wants.
Jesus doesn’t want us to draw back from serving him … though what he assigns each of to do may change over time. There are plenty of false teachers out there who should take heed of what James wrote in James 3:1.Some of them should not be teachers in the first place.
Another scary thought for those who desire to be an elder is that scipture sets the bar fairly high for the qualifications of a minister.
That reminds me of another quirk of the Mormon church. Young men walk on our street with little pins on them saying “Elder ~~~~” ——— just little babes given the title of “Elder” by their church.
They are frequently nice people all attesting to have had a “burning in their bosom” when they read the “Book of Mormon.”
Trouble with this subjective thinking is that I can feel any part of my body if I concentrate on it. Can you feel your left elbow (or choose any of your thousand body parts — at least that is what the soap commercial used to say) is there a burning or tingling sensation?
I guess the Mormon fire isn’t too intense. If their bosoms actually felt like they were really “burning” they might be trying to remedy that pain.
Paul wrote this about the techniques of divisive church leaders and cultists.
17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them.
18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. (Galatians 4:17-18 NIV)
Note that THEY are characterized by zeal. Jehovah Witnesses in particular are zealous to attack the divided nature of the Christian church and to prove that this somehow makes them a good alternative.
One pair of Jehovah Witnesses (a long time ago, in another state) came to my door and in their approved Bible quoted their version of the fruits of the flesh. They had a very strong emphasis on the word “factions” (or the synonym in their New World Translation) in this passage.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Gal. 5:19-21 NIV)
I was incredulous as I heard this Jehovah Witness talk on an on about all the “factions” of Christianity as if it disproves all of them. Finally I asked, “Are the Jehovah Witnesses ecumenical?” He answered in the negative and gave up that line of attack.
Yet we too need to be humble for we only “see through a glass darkly” and we don’t do all that well living up to the most important of commands which is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”