Summary: We don’t have to spruce the Gospel up.... Our job is to simply tell the story as clearly as possible – the power resides in the Gospel, not in our eloquence.
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
October 19, 2008
Series: The Church in Crisis
There is a major flaw in Christianity that no one seems to want to talk about. It is the elephant in the room, the gorilla in the corner, the unsightly blemish on the face that everyone stares at but nobody names. We all feel it, we all sense it, and most of us either look away altogether or we try to figure out some middle road – a way that we can address this problem and still sound credible.
You know what it is? The Christian message sounds like foolishness. This is not a new problem; in fact it has been with the church from its earliest years. Paul, that great Apostle and missionary, faced just such a problem as he proclaimed the Gospel among the Gentiles. Remember what happened to him in Athens? He spoke at Mars Hill among those who made their lives by debating the deeper issues of existence. They had overheard what Paul was teaching in the marketplace and grew curious about this strange idea of a resurrection from the dead. So they invited Paul to come and present arguments at one of their gatherings. Do you remember the outcome? A few believed and some even said they would like to hear more some other time, but that was by no means the full judgment. Some openly sneered at the message of the Gospel. The overall sense you get from Acts 17, where this story is found, is that Paul was at best tolerated and at worst he was seen as a kook who entertained them with wild stories and speculations. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the Gospel Paul preached.
And then there was the Corinthian church. The church in Corinth was in a hard spot from the very beginning. Paul came there after leaving Athens, maybe even feeling a bit beat up after his run-in at Mars Hill. Sure, he rejoiced with the few who believed – it was a tough place to plant a church – but there is no doubt he was rubbed a little raw by the ridicule he’d received. So Paul comes in a little roughed up.
He begins his ministry there as he has in every town – he goes first to the Jews – to the synagogue – to reason from the Scriptures how Jesus is the promised Messiah and call the people to repentance and belief. Again, he’s reviled. So Paul turned to the Gentiles there and began to see the seed of the Gospel taking root and producing a harvest.
At this point, all things seem copasetic – a church is being planted, leaders are being trained, God is being glorified; hallelujah, amen! Paul hangs out in Corinth for some time – in other words, he really gets to know these people; he loves them and he loves what he is seeing. Spiritual gifts are popping up everywhere; these people really seem to get it, they are equipped for every good work. So Paul heads out to his next port of call.
Now I said earlier that Corinth was a hard spot from the beginning, but based on what I just said, it doesn’t seem that hard, does it? If every outreach effort went the way Corinth did, we’d be busting at the gills. But it wasn’t getting the people of Corinth to a place of faith that was the problem, it was keeping them there.
Corinth was a crossroads – both by land and sea. Located on a major trade route and having two navigable harbors, it was a happening place. It was also the capital of the Achaia province and the seat for the Roman proconsul. It was the New York of its day, a place of great wealth and prosperity and a place of diverse culture.
And it was a place of great wickedness, as you might imagine. Anytime you get that many people in one place with that much wealth flowing around, bad stuff begins to happen. And it didn’t help that there was a temple there to Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love. Aphrodite’s temple was located on a hill in the midst of the city, a very visible location and had 1,000 temple prostitutes for carrying out the ritual sex that celebrated the goddess.
Folks, this place was a cesspool – not just a den of iniquity, it was the whole building. Now, on top of this, the Corinthians shared with Athens the Greek thirst for knowledge, so they were always impressed by a well-reasoned argument.
This is the environment the church was supposed to thrive in – one notorious for its immorality and that is full of people seeking whatever appears as wisdom. To be honest with you, it sounds a lot like modern North America. Rach did a google search for children songs the other day or something like that, it was something incredibly innocent and got hits for all kinds of sex stuff. Our society has become obsessed with sex – we have stripped it of its sacredness and made it a hollow imitation of what God intended it to be.