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How to relate to 1. Corinthians today

16 Mar

To really understand and see that we actually have a need of a change we many times need to look outside of our shelf of the little world we are living in. Many times we are not able to do that, until God shows us the way. Only because of him and through him we are able to make a difference. The first epistle to Corinthians speaks of pride of Corinthians and more love they need for each other. Through understanding of what Paul says in the first letter to Corinthians we can actually see what to do today when we are struggling with the same issues.

Skinning through the First Epistle to Corinthians

             First epistle to Corinthians starts with Paul’s greeting which already tells us much about in what position does he stand in a relationship with the Corinthian church. He introduces himself as apostle of Jesus Christ and as their brother. Paul does not write this letter alone, he writes it with Sosthenes who was thechief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth. Paul immediately after his introduction shows his picture of the church of Corinthians and also his stance on them. He is reminding them who they are and after he is sure they understand with what attitude he is writing he gets to the point.
The main problem described in letter, is the disunity of church in Corinth around leaders of church – Apollo, Peter and Paul.1 Paul is however pointing out that church is not built up on human leaders, but on Jesus Christ, who they were baptised to. He also explains why is Jesus the rock and base of whole Christianity, when he points out what plans God had with the crucifixion and also with choosing Corinthians to be a part of Christ’s body. Already in this part, Paul is very Christ-centric which is one of the signs of his letters.
In the chapters 2 to 4 Paul goes deeper into explaining why there can not be any other foundation than Christ. He makes himself an example and makes himself equal to whoever else when he calls himself a brother or Co-worker of Corinthians. On the other hand he shows that whatever he did among Corinthians was built upon the foundation which is Christ, not by his own wisdom, but through the wisdom and power of God. This whole explanation is ending with comparison of apostles and members of the Church in Corinth which is to motivate them to be humble and wise.
               In chapter 5 Paul rebukes idolatry inside the church. First of all he expresses his disgust over that idolatry is inside the church and also over the passivity of other church members even Paul gave clear instructions on how to deal with a problem like this. In the 6th chapter Paul again touches the same topic as in the beginning about disunity and now he reacts on the trials between church members outside the church. His admonition is, that they should handle these, inside the church, not outside.
Chapters 7 and 8 are response to questions some of the church members had about different topics. In chapter 7 he shares some of his opinions on married people, widows and virgins. He points out when he shares only his own opinion, just to avoid misunderstanding.2 Then in chapter 8 he writes about meat sacrificed to idols. In this case the question is more complex to answer and as Paul goes into depth of the topic he pulls out principle that says that we should not do things that would cause somebody else to fall into sin.
9th Chapter is not doctrinal, but it is his defense toward people who disagreed with Paul. He gives examples from his life and encourages Corinthians to do their best in following God. He shares with Corinthians his own point of view and the feeling of need of careful self-discipline of his body (control over his physical desires). These encouragements continue to the 10th Chapter, where Paul encourages Corinthians, but on the other hand also warns Corinthians so they would not repeat mistakes Hebrew fathers did
when they were on their way to the promised land. Again he focuses on Christ as bread and wine – this symbolizes fellowship with Christ. He emphasizes on that Corinthians should be separated from the sacrifices gentiles sacrifice.
Chapters 10 to 15 contain doctrinal parts of the letter. In these Paul opens topics of Christian freedom, Communion, Spiritual gifts, Unity of Church, Love, Meetings and Resurrection. All the time Paul is very clear about what he communicates. Paul does not push if not necessary but he rather asks questions to help Corinthians to understand. He is speaking very specifically to the circumstances and issues of Corinthian church. 11th chapter contains often used text, where Paul reminds what he received from Jesus about the communion.
12th chapter is mentioning what are the different spiritual gifts and then later also explains how should they be used for the growth of the church. Church is Illustrated as Body, where everyone is needed.
               13th Chapter speaks about love. Love is over everything else. This is in the center of Paul’s explanation of gifts of the Holy Spirit to show that these are nothing without love. But they are very needed as he explains later in 14th chapter. In connection with the usage of gifts Paul also speaks about how they should be used during meetings. Above all this, Paul reminds Corinthians about the gospel because as it seems some of them did not believe in that resurrection is reality. So he explains the importance, reasons, meaning, method and time of resurrection.
In the end of the letter Paul asks Corinthians to collect money for Jerusalem church, he announces that he will come and he prepares them for arrivals of Timothy and Apollos. Paul ends the letter with greetings from others and writes the ending on his own.
 

Background of the book

               As most of the Biblical scholars agree, first Epistle to Corinthians is written by Paul (one of the important figures of Christian history who supported this opinion was also Clement of Rome). Paul wrote this letter in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, most likely in the year A.D. 56. In this time, Corinthian church was around 4 years old. First epistle of Paul to Corinth as we already suppose from the name of the letter, is not only letter Paul wrote to Corinthians, but even we have two letters to Corinthians in the bible, we suppose that there were around four or five different letters Paul wrote to Corinth but we have only two of them in the bible.
              Corinth was founded around the year 1000 B.C. It soon established colonies around and around seventh and sixth century B.C. became one of very important cities of ancient Greece and later has taken a part in the Peloponnesian war (430 B.C.). As Roman Empire grew larger and larger Corinth did not stay independent Greek polis (city state) and has been destroyed in the year 146 B.C. 100 years later it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in the year 46 B.C. Maybe also because of Caesar’s support it could quickly grow and in the time when Paul wrote the letter, Corinth already became an important city. Geographically it was situated in between Italy and Asia and so it became a centre of trade, with rich cultural and religious background. Corinth was able to control all east-west commerce, and all Grecian north-south commerce.
The Commercial success was well seen by decadence of people living in Corinth. Corinth was well-known for its immorality. Greek comic and satyric writer Aristophanes even coined the Greek word korinthiazomai (means – “to act like Corinthian”) as a synonym of a sexual immorality. Besides immorality, which was obvious in connection with the temple of Aphrodite where were hundreds of temple prostitutes. There were also other issues in connection with alcohol, despite that there were also many different temples to different Greek gods as Apollo, Tyche, Hera, Demeter, and Kore. If Corinth would change in these areas, it would be a great testimony and evidence of power of Jesus Christ to Roman empire. That is why Corinth was such an important place to invest in.
               When Paul first time visited Corinth3 he lead several people to Christ. As a habit he had, he we
nt to synagogue first, but when people did not listen to what he was saying (even the leader of synagogue became a Christian) he went to pagans in the city. So even there were many Jews in the city, they were not the main part of the church in Corinth. This implies, people usually did not bring much of a “holy” character into church. However, Paul did not leave the church unprepared for upcoming battles, as he was leaving, because Jews were trying to move Paul into prison, Aquila and Priscilla were in the charge of the church. In the hard conditions in immoral city, young Christians in Corinth were left alone to do their best, to be church.
 

Relating to the First Epistle to Corinthians

                Alcohol, Sexuality, disunity. Does it sound familiar to us? Are these some of the main problems in society? Who else can see this epistle as current to their surrounding? 
 

Alcohol

               We act as we have freedom to do whatever they want. Alcohol is no longer something that is used in a healthy matters and even we are going deeper in it, they do not know how to stop it. We need serious separation from this world. But to do that, somebody has to start. Again this letter shows very simply, why even in small amounts, if we drink with somebody who is of weaker faith, we should not do that. Many times in my life I experienced and even I was the one who was showing the wrong way to people who were young in faith. I do not want to repeat this mistake again.
 

Sexuality

                We walk around city and half naked billboards tempt us and chase us. You walk around city and you see sex-shops, nearly more then small groceries stores. Porn around internet, porn in magazines. Society is full of sexual immorality. And we are to defend ourselves. When we are caught in a trap we are choosing between two choices. Be alone? or play a hypocrite? But the simplest answer is Christ. If we seek the kingdom of God first of all, we will find an answer. (See article; “Can Christians Masturbate??” where I go deeper into this whole subject)
 

Disunity

              Maybe one of the major problems inside the church in Corinth seems like sexual immorality but maybe, Paul is not as much concerned to this topic as to others. What I think is that Paul goes much deeper in his writing.  As Jakob Vagner says; “Church is not about agreement but about unity.” we can not be united in a different way than through Christ. Paul writes about Christ as a foundation he laid and says that no one can lay another foundation on this one which is already laid. In Corinth there was a problem of disunity among people inclining to different church fathers(Paul, Apollo, Cephas). How many times did we experience the same situation? I do not think you are Christian… you should listen to what my favourite pastor says… Even this is a serious topic, we never open it in front of a whole church but I believe that it is very important to deal with this problem.
              This whole problem with disunity seems not big enough to be discussed but it is in fact bigger than it seems. This favouritism of different pastors is a background of two groups there are in the church. There are people who are on one side, very strong in their spirituality, but sometimes miss more practical faith. On the other hand there are great theologians who also love to do projects and organize things, think and do, but they miss more of their heart in serving. I put myself in this group of people and I say, we need more passion and crazy faith for Jesus. We are not courageous in our decisions and we play this “safe game”. Paul provides very easy solution. He points to Christ, all the time. We need to understand and to keep in mind what Jesus did for us and who He is. As Paul writes; For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”4 Whatever we are going through we are to point back to Christ and we should not think that we alone can do good or good decisions. It is through the Spirit of God who knows everything because He knows God. It is only pride speaking when we say that we can do something  good on our own. Never ever we are able to make a good decision without Him, unless he gives us grace. Wise people need to pray more to see things unseen through their physical eyes.
               Tendency of people who are focused on the “spiritual” sight of their faith have sometimes serious problems with their not biblical procedures. On the other hand if they are put in some boundaries there is a tendency for them to be afraid to be active. That’s why wee need at very first place be loving as Paul writes it in the 13th chapter. No spiritual gifts, no wisdom, wealth, activities anything can really help us if we do not act in love. We will never stay united if we do not love each other. Church is full of splits. All of the denominations are a results of different splits inside church. Nowadays relationship between these churches are slowly being solved but we are not as close as we were before. We should be willing to learn more from each others strengths and weaknesses and encourage each other to run the race so we would get the first price as Paul encourages Corinthians. We should not think that we do not need some of our brothers and sisters just because they seem less talented or less spiritual. We all should cooperate and together seek the will of God. We need to hear him speaking and one of the ways he speaks to us is through people’s lives. We just need to create space for it. We need more tongue speaking, interpretation of tongues, prophecies, healing, we need the word of wisdom and also all other gifts of the spirit. Everybody has something. We just need to find the balance between leaving way too much space for some special individuals and leaving no time for people who are not naturally involved on Sunday meetings. Listening shows love, love is  fulfilment law. To love God, seek his thoughts and love neighbour as ourselves. And if somebody is different, is solution to try to change him?

Application

            Different conditions but the same word of God. Always throughout the ages, human pride lead us to sin again and again. Church needs love and understanding of the word of God. We need to know God so we can do what he wants us to do. Through Holy Spirit, in Christ we walk. Unity in Spirit and truth, which we need to speak to each others lives. We need courage and we need to walk in faith which is practical, obedient and courageous. Through the mercy of God and because He loved us first. There is hope for us in Christ’s sacrifice. We need to take our chance. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”5

5 1. Corinthians 13:13

written by Jakub Kriška
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Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Theology

 

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