What Can We Learn from the Corinthians?

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When you read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (or at least the two we currently have) it is hard to find too many things to compliment the church at Corinth on. Paul offers them a few compliments in the opening verses and while I am sure he was honest I am also aware that some of his thanksgiving section (1:4-9) is also present due to social convention/epistolary form. We read about the factions, divisions, and quarreling among them. Imagine if the members at your church each started claiming allegiance to particular elders rather than to Christ! That would probably be awkward at best. There is just very little we can find in 1 or 2 Corinthians we would want to emulate. If you were at a lecturship and saw a class on “How to Imitate the Corinthian Church” you would probably either attend out of sheer curiosity or else discard it altogether.

I want to point out one area that I admire these Corinthian Christians for. The problems they were facing (which we can get more into later) had come to the brink of tearing this church apart. It is pretty clear from the language of the letter that Paul wrote this letter to help the church hold together and be unified, even amongst disagreements. Here is what I want to compliment that church on. Despite all the conflicts. Despite all the differences of opinion. Despite all the rhetoric and hard feelings. They were still communicating with each other and seeking out common ground (through Paul – as they had previously written a letter to Paul with some questions about their situation)! They hadn’t totally severed their cords with each other yet. They were still in each other’s homes. Yes they had differences of opinion. Yes they had their arguements but there they were, present with each other. There they were, worshipping with each other. There they were reading Paul’s letter togetherwith a willingness to trying to make this thing work.

What makes it even more uncomfortable is that people in that church were dealing with some pretty perverse behaviors, specifically elicit sexual immorality. Christians today would feel they had every right in the world to walk away from a church like that. And maybe they do. Maybe we do have lots of rights that we are better off not exercising.

People today wouldn’t put up with a church like that. We would say it makes us uncomfortable. Or we would say they just don’t see things the way I do. Our churches today have become so consumer driven that people are in it to get something for themselves from church (which was also a problem at Corinth). If church A doesn’t provide it there is probably another one out there that can. And people search, not for a place that will help them focus on God, but on a place that will give them the focus. And when we get our feelings hurt or the focus shifts to someone else, we cut and run. We develop our exit strategy and split over the smallest issues.

When self took center stage there was no room left for God. When people started discarding Philippians 2 and began looking first to their own interests and last to the interests of others our churches have become battle grounds. And you can understand why people get upset. We are dealing with the deepest and most fundamental part of people’s lives, their faith. Surely they must have possessed some patience in Corinth and a little bit of grace. I think there are some things we can learn from the Corinthians. I am certainly not saying they had a good grasp on unity, because that is exactly what Paul is saying is their problem. But what I am saying is that we sure could use more people who were willing to be present with others they don’t agree or get along with. We need to teach people how to extend grace to others, as ministers, by first modeling it ourselves.

Where did people learn this from? Did they learn it solely from culture? Have they learned it from Bible study (I sure hope not!)? Or how about from ministers who have left over the smallest issues? Who have their role models been? Where has this attitude that sacrifices unity for the sake of preserving our comfort zones come from? What do you think?

0 Responses

  1. Excellent post!
    I believe that as I read Corithians I see love being the key. We have ignored the center of what Chrisitianity is about and do fuss and fight over things that don’t matter. We must set the example for the world by our love. We must preach love, grace, forgiveness, healing, acceptance and unity. Above all things strive for unity and love. I have found that as a young minister has been my focus.

    Again grea thoughts and an excellent post as as always.
    Keep them coming!

  2. From personal experience with two separate individuals who would have split a couple of congregations I have worked with, I would say that their divisive behavior was learned from models. There are people in the church who will not tolerate differences (of interpretation, opinion, et. al.), and they teach others not to tolerate them as well. JMO …

    It is encouraging to know that there really is nothing new under the sun. The Corinthians, Ephesians, and Philippians all appear to have struggled to learn how to have unity, whether their struggle was diversity, doctrine, or personalities. The early Christians are to be commended to remaining at the discussion table.

    Have you seen the recently released book by ACU’s Jack Reese? It is about this very issue. I admire him as a role model of Christian amicability, even when private E-mail’s of his are posted in ultra-conservative publications.

  3. Preacherman,
    Thanks for the thoughts. Love is clearly the key as is laid out in 1 Cor 13 (which is broadly taken out of context in so many instances).

    I have not yet looked at that book but have heard about it and will certainly read it one of these days.

  4. Matt,
    My memory is a little fuzzy, but did we have a class or two together at Harding Grad? I’ve been meaning to respond to your first response earlier on my blog and have been so distracted trying to get settled that I haven’t just yet. So now I’m replying.

  5. I ran across your blog through a link somewhere and noticed you were in Eustus/Mt.Dora. I remembered there being an opening there that James.M. (who I am sure you know) mentioned to me quite a while back. Other than that, your name does sound pretty familiar. Did you take an online course in the Psalms?

  6. Yes,I took Psalms online with Dr. McMillan. It was probably back in the spring of 2004. What courses did you take at Harding Grad and when? I took Intro to Grad studies the summer of 2003. I’ve been back for NT Exegesis (June 2005) and NT Advanced Intro (June 2004).

    I’m assuming James M. is James Moore, president of Christian Home and Bible School which is just around the corner from us. I found out about Mt. Dora because one of our members at Tabernacle, NJ (where I’ve been for the past 10 years) was here with the Sojourners working at Central Florida Bible Camp.

    I hope your work is going well. I’ve put your blog as a link on my blog. I’ll check in with you on occasion. Hopefully we will get a chance to meet face to face one day.

  7. I am pretty sure we did have the psalms class together. It would be a little hard to lay out the classes at the grad school as all but psalms was on campus. I took Intro to Grad studies in Fall 2002. I believe I had advanted intro to the NT in the Fall 2005. We probably just missed each other a few times. Glad to hav your comments and someone who has been to the grad school. It is certainly a wonderful place. Take care,


  8. You said, “Imagine if the members at your church each started claiming allegiance to particular elders rather than to Christ! That would probably be awkward at best.”

    Sort of like those who use Campbell and Stone side by side with scripture huh?

    One of the things the fathers restored quite nicely was division. It was wrong in the first century to be focused on men like Peter, Paul, and Appollus and it is just as wrong today. Our message must be Christ, our motivation must be Christ, and our ministry must be Christ.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  9. Peter and Paul were inspired and admitted they didn’t deserve that kind of attention. Let’s just keep pointing toward Jesus.

  10. First, thanks for stopping by my blog. I hear what you are saying. I have been wrestling with Corinth lately.

    What keeps floating through my mind is the question, is Corinth more normal than we realize? I mean should we be so surprised when our churches do have issues? I kind of look at Corinth and say that is how we shouldn’t be, and I know that is true, and yet I wonder if it should caution me that this is often how we are.

    Does that make sense? Maybe these letters are a good reminder that the struggle to be who Christ called us to be has always been a part of the church and always will be and yet the church grows and moves? We can’t use it as an excuse, Paul gave Corinth no excuses, but maybe it should help us when we think shouldn’t it be better. It has been that way from the start.

    Maybe that realization allows us to stick it out like you are talking about.

  11. Thank you for your comment Darin. I am sure there are some churches that have the same problems that went on at Corinth. However, today we don’t have the community structure to be aware of many of the things that are going on in our midst. It seems they spent more time with each other and knew each other quite a bit better than in most churches today.

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