Summary: The problems that plagued Corinth - immaturity, carnality, worldly influences, division, style wars and the like - are still present today. Find out the comparisons and how to find peace in God despite the world around us.
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Imagine for me if you will, a city – bustling, modern – a major city with over six hundred thousand residents. In many ways – the city is the wealthiest, coolest, most multicultural city in the country. Trade from many nations flows through its ports. Though predominately middle class - some of the wealthiest people in the country call it home. These patrons help sponsor sports in a massive stadium – and the arts – drama, musical theater – one theater alone seats eighteen thousand people.
The city is also a religious center with churches and places of worship galore – one massive church sits on top of a hill overlooking the city drawing thousands regularly to services.
But as with most major cities – this one has its problems. Prostitution is legal, even encouraged, as well as immorality. The ideals of a culture that believes in pleasure for pleasure’s sake also run rampant.
In the midst of this atmosphere the church of Jesus Christ exists. Although outwardly successful, the church inwardly is filled with division. Leaders take sides against one another, drawing huge numbers with them. Some leaders are caught in sexual scandal – but far from dealing with it, others actually support the immorality. On the other side, some factions advocate for no sex at all.
Class struggles divide the church between the haves and have-nots. Arguments over style abound – mainly over the role of the Holy Spirit in worship – Pentecostal verse liturgical. The church is also madly litigious – infighting and lawsuits are common. In fact, the church has incorporated many private sector practices.
So what city am I talking about? Las Vegas? New York? Portland? Could be – but its not. I’m describing the city of Corinth in A.D. 51 or 52. Corinth was at the same time one of the bright spots of Greece – trade, culture, religion – but at the same time a cesspool of immorality. Religious prostitution was widespread, and you’ve heard of the “material girl” well the Greek word for Corinthian girl meant a “loose woman.”
The church at Corinth was full of problems – and its into this situation that the Apostle Paul writes the 1st Letter to the Corinthians. Actually it wasn’t his first letter to them, but the first one we have record of.
The beauty about studying this letter is that problems Paul addressed nearly 2000 years ago have direct application in today’s world and today’s church. Corinth was a problem church – but even if your church is healthy, as ours is, the same attitudes and environment can seep in to anyone’s life.
Before we get into chapter 1 I want to point out what I believe may be the key verse in the whole letter – actually two verses – Chapter 3, the last half of 21 and verse 22.
3:21-23 All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
The idea is that we are free – completely free – except that we belong to Christ and are only free in what He tells us to do, and Christ is of the Father – completing the chain of obedience. It will become more apparent as we move through the book – but keep this verse tucked away as we study.
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What might at first glance appear to be a rather normal opening to a letter of the period isn’t so normal as you look closely. Paul uses the phrase: “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”
Paul, of course, was a Pharisee bent on destroying the church until Jesus Himself appeared to him and called him to take the gospel to the gentiles as an Apostle. But one of the main reasons for trouble in the Corinthian church is that many rejected his apostleship – so his words of instruction and teaching meant nothing to them – and they were then influenced by the worldly system around them.
A vacuum of spiritual leadership will be filled by whatever’s available. That’s why its important to recognize the validity of the Scripture – and why its important to belong to a fellowship where you receive teaching and can glean from the experience of more mature believers. Christians weren’t created to be Lone Rangers, but tribe members.