If there ever was an early church which could have been a soap opera, the Corinthian church was that church! The two letters we have in Scripture which Paul wrote to this struggling church are actually only a portion of the on-going correspondence he had with the believers there. In each letter Paul addresses a number of issues. In the first letter several of these issues have been reported to Paul by some of the believers from Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11) while the remainder are Paul’s response to a letter sent to him by the Corinthians beginning in 1 Cor. 7:1 with the question concerning celibacy (7:1-40) and continuing with food sacrificed to idols and Christian liberty (8:1-10:33), authority in regards to Christian liberty (11:1-34), spiritual gifts (12:1-13:40), the foundation of the Gospel and the importance of remaining steadfast in belief (15:1-58), a collection being taken for the persecuted believers in Jerusalem (16:1-11), and finally the disposition of Apollos and a charge to the Corinthians to love the Lord and one another (16:12-24). In the second letter (which scholars have determined is not actually successive to the first as there is a “lost” letter in-between the two), four concerns are prominent. First, Paul has had a change of plans regarding a visit to Corinth (2 Cor. 1:12-2:13, 7:5-16); Second, the issue of the collection is revisited (2 Cor. 8:1-9:15); Third, Paul defends his position as apostle and minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 2:14-7:4); and fourth, a defense of Paul’s behavior toward the Corinthian believers and an attack against false apostles (2 Cor. 10:1-13:14) who have accused him of being the same. In both letters Paul’s love and concern for the purity of this church is overwhelmingly evident. His dissatisfaction over their compromised faith and protectiveness over their seduction by false teachers is as fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs.
I remember reading through First and Second Corinthians in my teen and college years thinking that it was impossible that a church could be that “messed up” or dysfunctional as we might say today. Now, I’m not surprised at all! In fact, I have seen way too much compromise in the lives of people I know truly believe all that the Bible teaches. I have also seen Christians close to me incorporate New Age teachings into their faith as well and dismiss any Biblical truth I might point out to them when I recognize the deception of the practice of these things. It is a scary prospect to me that I know more Christians who are reading the latest best seller (Christian or otherwise) more often than they are reading the Bible. And in my own life I have had to keep a vigil on myself in order to remain true to what God’s Word tells me. It’s not easy to remain unstained and untainted by compromise or deception, but it is what we are commanded to do (1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 7:1). Like a health regiment that we hate doing, but know we must in order to stay healthy, the lessons of the Corinthian letters are worth remembering.
What are those lessons? In First Corinthians it is a reminder that God’s salvation story continues in us. Although the cross may seem like folly because it led to death, in the end the Lord has overcome it through the resurrection. He now calls us to live a transformed life through the power of that resurrection (1 Cor. 15:50-58). In Second Corinthians Paul’s zealous passion for his struggling brethren mirrors the Lord’s passion for us in our struggles. But the Corinthians were not helpless and neither are we. Paul emphatically demonstrates that our weaknesses are exactly the conduit for God’s grace and power to go to work, bringing us victory and glorifying God (2 Cor. 4:7-18) and it should now be our desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:1-10). I cannot in all honesty say that I’ve mastered these lessons- but I keep trying because I know it’s worth it (2 Cor. 9:15)! How about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/27/2015