PROFILE OF A PERFECT CHURCH
1. BACKGROUND TO CORINTH.
In order to better understand Paul’s first letter to Corinth we must look at the situation in the city of Corinth. Whether we like it or not we are always influenced to a greater or lesser degree by the culture in which we live.
The church in Corinth was no different. BUT we have to bear in mind that they were all new Christians and so didn’t have the long Christian tradition that we have today. Tradition can, of course, also be a problem if we allow it to adversly affect the gospel message.
Corinth was an important city, not because it was situated in good farming country, but because of it geographical position. Corinth was the city that stood on the narrow strip of land that linked the southern part of Greece with the rest of the country. This strip of land called the Isthmus linked the Peloponese with the main part of Greece and separated the Saronic Gulf from the Corithian Gulf. It was four and a half miles across.
Rather than sail around the Penninsula small ships were “rolled” overland to the other side and larger ones were unloaed and the cargo reloaded into another ship across the Isthmus. Nero tried to build a canal across this strip of land but failed. A canal was finally completed in 1893!!
Corinth was therefore master of these East-West Harbours. Corinth was also dominated by a hill 1850 feet high, the Acrocorinth, which meant good military defense. It also had a good supply of spring water. Corinth was destroyed by the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. But then refounded by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. So it was a relatively young city by Paul’s time. No real aristocracy. Made up of freedmen from Rome, Greeks, Jews, slaves. There was an influx of people from east and west. The city had become very prosperous very quickly.
Vice and religion flourished in this new city. The Acrocorith, was the location of the Temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love. There were reported to be 1000 preistesses in the temple who were prostitutes. They applied their trade in the city at night.
The Temple of Apollo was also in the city. He was the god of music, song and poetry. Nude statues of him were many and his devotees displayed their devotion by homosexual acts with the god’s beautiful boys. It was a city were anything and eveything was to be found.
It was no different to many modern seaports. It was the Soho, Amsterdam and Los Angeles of the time. Commercialism, sexual-obsession, materialism and human philosophy dominated the city.
It could be a discription of any number of cities in the world today.
It was into this situation that the Apostle Paul came preaching the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [Acts 18v1-18]
As we read in Acts 18 Paul preached in the synagogue until he was thrown out and then moved into the house of Titius Justus. A number of prominent Jews and Greeks became Christians as well as many ordinary folk including slaves. After staying in Corinth for 18 months Paul left and went back to Ephesus
From the time of his leaving Corinth and the writing of 1 Corinthians Paul had actually written another letter which we have no copy of. He refers to this in 5v9.
This present letter is written in response to a verbal report and a letter which he has received. Possibly the verbal report given by the bearer of the letter.
2. THE PROBLEMS IN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH.
No church is perfect because it is made up of people who are not perfect – Corinth is no different.
It was a church wrought with a number of difficulties. It was a large Church but it had become cliquish – each following a different leaders or teachings. It was also a church where social class was very entrenched – snobbery was rife. There was very little church discipline, as a result immorality was tolerated and so also was false teaching. There was a distinct lack of “putting others first” Also, too much emphasis on dynamic spiritual gifts rather than Love grounded in Truth. AND finally a disregard for the authority of the Apostle Paul himself.
With all this background, which is important in the understanding of 1 Corinthians, we come to read what Paul wrote.
3. PAUL’S GREETING. [V1-3]
Paul called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God..
Part of the conflict in the Church at Corinth was the they were questioning the authority of Paul. Right at the outset he reminds them that his authority is directly from God. God called Paul to be an apostle- A sent one. He was commissioned by God to be God’s messenger. The authority is God’s, NOT his.
This is always the case with any leader in the church – not that any today have the same authority as the apostles had. That was a special calling for the establishing of the church. BUT any authority in the church must be based on the word of God alone.
Paul was specially called by God.
The peoples’ Calling
Not only was Paul called BUT so too were the Corinthian Christians. He reminds them that they are not the Church of Corinth but rather “The Church of God in Corinth” – there is no room for division in the Chruch. It is not the church belonging to this or that leader or denomination. The Church belongs to God. There will be no denominations in heaven!!
We are not the Church of Binscombe – we are the Church of God in Binscombe.
Ekklesia – “a company of those called out”. We are called by God, both individually and collectively. It is God who takes the initiative. Together, “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and Jesus is “their Lord and ours” No Christian or group of Christians has special claim to Jesus.
This was aproblem in Corinth as we will see 1v10-17 “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Christ”
It is healthy to be reminded that the Church is not our possession – its not MY Church or YOUR Church – its GOD’S Church and we are His possession. In Fact we are SAINTS.
“Called to be Holy” – hagios – ie Saints. The set apart ones.Saints are not a special group of pious self-sacrificing Chrsitains who have been singled out and connonized by and ecclesiatical council. NO!! EVERY CHRISTIAN IS A SAINT!!!
Amazingly Paul calls this bunch of weak, cliquish, Corinthian Christians, Saints. And so are we. We have St. Jane, St. Minnie, St. Roger etc…..
Unfortunately we don’t always act like Saints, do we? But that does change the fact that we are.
ILLUST: Presidents don’t always act like Presidents. Prime Ministers don’t always act like Prime Ministers. But the are still Presidents and Prime Ministers.
Christians don’t always act like Christians but they are still Christians. We have been saved, redeemed, we are in Christ and when God looks at us he see Christ and he considers us holy because of what Jesus has done for us.
Our position “in Christ” should compel us to improve our practice. [MacArthur]
4. PAUL’S THANKSGIVNG FOR THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS. [V4-9]
Paul gives thanks for two areas.
– What they have recieved from God
– What they will receive from God
What they have received from God. [v4-7]
Not only has the Church recieved salvation which is, of course, a gracious gift from God but they have also recieved ALL the gifts they need.
“… his grace given you … enriched in everyway … you do not lack any spiritual gift…”
It is important to note here that the “YOU” is Plural. The Church has all the gifts. NO individual Christian has all the gifts. Paul will deal with this in more detail in ch.12.
There is no room in the church for people who want to operate a one-man-band.
There is a sense in which we have received all of God’s grace – we have received Christ and with him we have received all things.
He who did not spare his own son,
but gave him up for us all –
how will he not also, along with him,
graciously give us all things? [Romans 8v32]
GRACE and GIFTS are very closely linked – charis & charismata. What we have received from God in terms of our salvation and our gifts – using these words emphasises that they are unmerited. There is nothing we could have done to receive them. We never deserved them and we can never repay God for them.
“Grace is a gift, not a loan. Grace makes us totally indebted to God, but because the cost is so great we cannot repay it,, and because his grace is so great we need not repay it. In other words we are completely indebted but we have no debt. We cannot pay for our salvation, neither before or after we are saved” [MacArthur]
ILLUST: When your employer pays you he is not being gracious he is simply being honest and just. He is giving you what you deserve.
Salvation is priceless you can’t pay for it!!
One of the problem in the Corinthian Church was the misuse of the SPEAKING gifts – tongues prophecy etc. The word used is logos – same word used to discribe Jesus in John1v1
In the beginning was the Word and
the Word was with God and the Word was God
There were those in Corinth as there are in every generation who thought that their gift/s was /were superior to everyone else. The same is true of the word KNOWLEDGE. There were those who thought that they had access to special knowledge. If you go this way you end up with 1st and 2nd class Christians. BUT we are all special to God from the most obscure unknown Christian to the Apostle Paul Himself – all are equal!!
BUT Paul is not speaking about Human wisdom or philosophy which was very popular amongst the Greeks of the day. Nor is he speaking about oratory or having a way with words.
ILLUST: Have you ever tried to talk to or discuss an issue with someone and you know what they are saying is not right but they have such a way with words that it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue with them.
BUT Paul is talking about God’s word and God’s knowledge which is given as a gift. The message of the cross is foolishness to the natural mind but is the power of God for salvation. It is ridiculed and considered anti-intellectual to believe the Bible.
Remember that in the context of what Paul is saying these gifts of ALL SPEAKING [LOGOS] AND ALL KNOWLEDGE are given to the Church. No one person has a monopoly of the word of God. That is why we are a team and must work as a team because the Spirit of God is at work within each one and EACH ONE has a contribution to make and is important to the healthy functioning of the body.
Having these things as gifts does not mean that we don’t have to study and learn!!
ILLUST: An athlete has God-given ability. But If Lindford Christie didn’t train hard and use his talent he would not be World, Olympic and European 100m Champion.
Our goal is to be doing the best we possibly can until Jesus Christ returns as you eagerly wait for Jesus Christ to be revealed.
What they will receive [v8-9]
He will keep you strong to the end.
so that you will be blameless,
on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God, who has called you into fellowship
with his son Jesus Christ our Lord,
is Faithful. [vv8-9]
“God saved us by his grace. He presently empowers us with gifts of his grace. He guarantees the final fulfillment of his grace. THE BEST IS YET TO COME.” [MacArthur]
God has called us into fellowship with Christ and he is not going to abandon us or go back on his word. One day Jersus Christ will come back and we will stand in the presence of God on the Day of Judgement – BLAMELESS.
This Corinthian Chruch with all its divisions and immorality and snobbery – blameless?? YES!!
This Chruch at Binscombe with all its imperfections and weaknesses – Blameless?? YES!!
Satan will not be able to bring a single charge against us. That Great Pursecutor of the Brethern will be silenced.
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies! [Romans 8v33]
Those he justified he also glorified …[Romans 8v30]
In spite of all the problems that Paul saw in Corinth he could still honestly thank God for them.
He could remeber what they used to be before God saved them and he knew what they would be when Jesus Christ returns – Holy and Blameless.
They same is true of us.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? in a church infected by a city like Corinth? Because God was at work in them and he wasn’t finished his work in them – AND he isn’t finished his work in us either. SO how is it possible to be blameless and holy??
GOD, ….. IS FAITHFUL [v9]
It is his doing; we can take no credit. We can only respond to his grace by living lives pleasing to him.
In the words of C T Studd that great English cricketer and pioneer missionary to China and Africa, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me then nothing is too much for me to do for him”
May God help us to live lives worthy of our calling!