Summary: How can you pray for problem people? Yes, Paul’s example is good. But it won’t happen until Jesus makes you really, really want to pray.
Imagine you are an avid long distance runner and someone comes up to you who has never run a marathon and asks, How can I run a marathon? What would you say?
You’d probably ask them about how much they currently run to diagnose how far along they are and then you’d start talking about the kind of training they need to do, the kind of diet they need to be on, the kind of running shoes they need to invest in, and all sorts of other tips you have learned over the course of your running experience.
That’s how you would answer the “how” question: viz., Here are the things you need to do. Keep that in mind as we look at 1 Corinthians 1 today. Because I am going to be talking today about how to pray for problem people. Here are the things you need to do.
I am so struck by Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians in 1:4-9, because of the things going on in Corinth and what led Paul to write the letter. Here’s a snippet of what the NIV Study Bible says: Paul received information from several sources concerning the factions and disturbing moral irregularities in the church. Immorality had plagued the Corinthian assembly almost from the beginning. Paul had written previously concerning moral laxity. Although the church was gifted, it was immature and unspiritual. Most of the questions and problems that confront the church at Corinth are still very much with us–problems like immaturity, instability, divisions, jealousy and envy, lawsuits, marital difficulties, sexual immorality and misuse of spiritual gifts.
It’s helpful to know what Paul was facing as he wrote this letter. But things were worse than that. Many in the church were at odds with Paul himself and were rejecting his authority as a leader. In short, they were disrespecting him.
For Paul this was a problem, not so much because of what they thought of him, but if they disrespected him they were in effect rejecting the gospel he was bringing. And that was a killer for Paul! So the question is what were their problems with Paul?
In this chapter and the ones to follow you get the idea that Paul is dealing with some cocky people who valued intellect, human wisdom and public speaking skills. They didn’t think Paul had those abilities and wasn’t worthy of respect. So Paul had to remind them that…
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not –to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
It appears that their high value on philosophy and wisdom pushed them toward intellectual arrogance and that was the reason they tended to take sides:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas ’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
You can almost see them puffing out their chests with pride. Later on we will see that this arrogance led some of them to mock Paul and accuse him of not being worthy of their attention or obedience.
So here is what Paul is dealing with: disrespect bordering on disdain. Disobedience. Disarray and dysfunction in the church. Distortion from the pulpits. Corinth was a mess. These people were a problem to Paul. So much so that this letter was not received well. These people persisted in their arrogant opposition to Paul so that Paul had to get even stronger with them. He wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” he visited them again, and then he wrote a fourth letter that we now call 2 Corinthians.