As we enter into 16-week study on Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians, let me repeat for you here the sermon series description overview, just in the event that you did not read it on the home page or see it on the print brochure at church.
“I’m OK, You’re OK” was the name of a best-selling, pop psychology book published 50 years ago. Sounds good, but it’s lousy theology. A better title that truly describes the human condition would be, “I’m a Mess, You’re a Mess.” And when we think of Christians who were renowned to be a mess, the “exhibit A” that first comes to mind is the church in Corinth. At a crossroads of travel on the isthmus of Greece, it was 50 miles west of the Greek capital of Athens. And in Hagerstown, we’re an hour west of another capital, also located at a travel crossroads of interstates – for better or worse. Are we a modern Corinth? Let’s talk! Yes, We Got Issues, but we’ll also see that we’ve got answers!
A major component of biblical study is to understand both the original audience being written to, as well as the author. So let’s review for a moment some of what we know about the city of Corinth and the Corinthian people.
Greece is shaped somewhat like an hour-glass, the two sections held together by a mere sliver of land. The mainland of Greece (which included Macedonia) was connected to the large peninsula area known as Achaia. It is easy to imagine how this narrow place where Corinth was located became a crossroads of both land and sea commerce. You can see how land traffic would flow back and forth from the southwest Greek peninsula to the northeast. And sea merchants would rather off-load and re-load cargo across the isthmus than risk the treacherous voyage around the peninsula. Smaller ships were even dragged across the land bridge.
Destroyed originally by the Romans in 146 B.C., it was rebuilt about a century later as a Roman colony. Populated first by Romans, there were Greeks as well; and varied peoples from all over the empire became a part of this very cosmopolitan and multi-cultural place not far west of Athens. This included Jews, and hence there was a synagogue.
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. There was a phrase at that time – “to Corinthianize someone” – and it meant to lead them fully into the ways of the devil.
So Paul’s motivation to go to Corinth would certainly be to bring the gospel to this unique place of special darkness and spiritual need. Yet also, fruits of the gospel here would have the benefit of spreading from this place to regions beyond.
It was likely rather early for most of us in our growth of knowing the Scriptures that we became aware that the Corinthians are most often regarded as the most carnal and immature of the early churches in the New Testament.
You might right now be thinking, “Now hold on Pastor Randy. When I hear you saying that ‘We are Corinth; Corinth is Us, that doesn’t feel so good. You do that and then, yes, ‘we got issues.’ You’re not getting us off to a very good start here in 2019!”
Hey, I see what you’re saying. And no, I’m not saying that we compare poorly with all other churches as the worst and most problematic – as the Corinthians did relative to most of the other New Testament churches. That certainly is not true of us; quite the opposite is the situation. When I’m with pastors and we “talk shop,” I always come away from those sessions thinking I’ve got a pretty sweet deal in being at TSF.
What I’m saying is that we do, and always will, have some “issues” by the mere nature of being sinful people in a sinful world. We’re not perfect, and we’re going to have to work through some church life and personal complications at times, even as we seek to be the very best family of God that we can be.
And, speaking of family, we can’t disown the Corinthians as blood relatives in every way. And we need to recognize our same capacities for problems, especially given the reality of some surrounding, cultural similarities that are more abundant than may at first be evident. And, as we’ll conclude regularly through this series, we are well-resourced to deal with these occasional difficulties.
So, yes, we’ll admit to having some issues. But the greater truth is that we have answers.
Reminds me that James wrote that we all stumble in many ways.
John wrote in a letter that if we claim we are without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
So yeah, if we are bristling at the thought we have issues … we aren’t seeing clearly.