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?