Summary: This lesson is an introduction to a series of sermons on 1 Corinthians.
A. Imagine, with me, a church wracked by divisions.
1. Powerful leaders promote themselves against each other, each with his band of loyal followers.
2. Someone in the congregation, maybe one of the leaders, is having an affair with his stepmother, but instead of disciplining him, many in the church boast of his freedom in Christ to behave in such a way.
3. Some of the church members are suing each other in the secular courts, some like to visit prostitutes.
4. As a backlash against this rampant immorality, another faction in the church is promoting celibacy.
5. Still other debates rage about how decisively new Christians should break from their pagan past.
6. Disagreements about men’s and women’s roles add to the confusion.
7. And a significant number in the church may not even believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ.
B. Does that sound like any church you have ever been a part of? I hope not!
1. Perhaps no contemporary church faces this exact cluster of issues all at once, but this is indeed what was going on in the first century in the church at Corinth.
2. And so the Apostle Paul wrote them a series of letters to try to help them with their problems.
C. Today’s sermon begins a new series that I am calling “The Most Excellent Way.”
1. This new series is a study of Paul’s letter called 1 Corinthians.
2. Studying the letters of the New Testament is always an interesting experience, because in many respects we are reading and studying somebody else’s mail.
3. The letter of 1 Corinthians was originally addressed to a fledgling mission church in the ancient Mediterranean city of Corinth.
4. I’m guessing that the Corinthian Christians of Paul’s day would have preferred that this correspondence not be broadcast to the ages, for it portrays them in an unflattering light and divulges a number of things that they might wished to have kept private.
5. Fortunately for us, however, the letter was preserved, widely circulated, and ultimately canonized as a part of the New Testament.
6. Thus, we are given a privileged glimpse into one particular tension-filled moment in the life of the first generation of the church.
7. Although the letter is not written to us, we are allowed to overhear a fascinating conversation in progress.
8. The truths that are conveyed by Paul as he tries to deal with their questions and problems, are invaluable to us as we try to do the same with the questions and problems that we face in our time and culture.
D. As we study 1 Corinthians, we will certainly experience a range of emotions. There will be many highs and many lows.
1. As Paul proclaims the wisdom of God in the gospel and the beauty of Christian life and service, our hearts will be filled with awe and joy.
2. But then as we learn of the carnal minds and wicked lives of many of the Christians at Corinth, our hearts will sink in frustration and disappointment.
3. One of the benefits we will gain from spending some time with this letter will be the contrast between the divine ideal and the human reality.
4. That contrast was certainly evident at Corinth way back when, but it is still the realistic life situation of God’s people on earth, in the here and now.
5. As painful and convicting as it might be, we need the ideal held before our eyes for the sake of our understanding and motivation.
6. We need to evaluate ourselves honestly in light of that ideal and then by divine grace, we need to grow toward that ideal.
7. But we need to remember and appreciate the magnificence of God’s patience with us in our weaknesses. He knows and we know that we will always fall short of that ideal.
E. As I’ve said, the church at Corinth had problems.
1. Division, immoral conduct, brethren fighting with one another in court, marriage and divorce controversies, abuses of the Lord’s Supper...the list goes on and on.
2. What is wonderfully amazing to me is that Paul didn’t give up on the church at Corinth.
3. While some of us might have been tempted to write off the whole bunch of them and said that God had no church in Corinth, the apostle Paul still regarded that troubled body as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2).
F. What should we do when there are church troubles?
1. Should we grumble?
2. Should we run from them by moving to another church?
3. Should we pull off and start a new congregation and have no fellowship with the old one?
4. Or maybe we should just “drop out” altogether and excuse it on the basis of all the turmoil in the church.