Summary: This is the first sermon in a series addressing the need for the Church to preserve its nature and purpose the way Christ intended it. This sermon speaks largely to the meaning of true fellowship.
PORTRAIT OF THE CHURCH
Some of you may ask why I titled this study on Corinthians “Preserving the Church in a Pagan World”. You may even object to the word “preserving” as sounding too much like maintaining or holding out against the world when the Church should be boldly invading our world. Maybe it matters very little to you. Why “preserving”?
It bothered me too until I thought of the metaphors Jesus used of the Church. He said we are to be salt and light in the world. Salt is invasive and penetrates the flesh of our meat so that it can be preserved, that it can remain useful. Salt can lose its effectiveness though and become good for nothing. The question I wrote in the margin of my Bible is “How can salt lose its saltiness?” I’m not really sure but I know that salt that remains in the shaker doesn’t do anybody any good. It can clump and become difficult to shake out of those tiny holes. Humidity, the climate surrounding the salt causes this clumping, especially if the salt is not used for its purposes. That’s why restaurants put rice in the shakers – to keep things loose.
The Church is to be light in the world. That too is invasive, especially in dark places. But just as salt needs to be guarded against its climate, a lamp needs to be protected against the winds and gusts so that its flame does not go out. It needs to be preserved against the influences of common nature. Sometimes we have to cup our hand over the flame.
How does that sound now? Preserving the Church in a Pagan world! How much have the negative aspects of our culture seeped into the Church so that they appear normal? How often have we questioned a practice as unChristlike only to see a fellow believer doing it and then conclude that it’s okay? What makes us different from unbelievers? How has the influence of our world made us less salty and close to snuffing out our lamp?
A certain preacher read from 6:9-11 where it says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were…”
Then he said, “This was the makeup of the church at Corinth. These people had come out of this sordid background. Many of them, perhaps, still were struggling with much of the aftermath in their lives of these evil things. I am curious as to how many of you here have some of these things in your background.” Then he went further, he said, “If any of you have anything like this in your background I’d like to ask you to stand where you are…that we might know how much we’re like the church at Corinth.” (Stedman) Eventually two thirds of the church stood up and a new Christian said to himself, “These are my kind of people.”
That is how we should feel when we read Corinthians. There is no other NT church that is more like the church in Canada today. It was a city of multiculturalism, of wealth and beauty, with potential for great things. But it was also a city dedicated to the worship of sex. Let us turn then to 1st Canadians and allow me to lead you into this letter.
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.”
If you read Acts 18 about Paul’s time in Corinth you will find that Paul leads Crispus, the synagogue ruler to faith in Jesus. Then Sosthenes, the new synagogue ruler leads a mob to arrest Paul. They turn on Sosthenes and beat him to a pulp. The next thing we read about Sosthenes is that he is a believer in Christ. Strange how the Lord works.
“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: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul writes this letter from Ephesus to the church he planted in Corinth five years earlier. It is a reply to a letter he received from the church with questions about faith and life. We don’t know what the questions were but it would be nice to know. Some College profs ask their students to write the letter that might have made it into Paul’s hands.