The city of Corinth was both beautiful and seedy. Due to its location Corinth was an industrial, political and cultural crossroad in Paul’s day. As a regional capitol Corinth had a high political status. Its industrial and commercial strength came from its location. Corinth’s temples were artistically beautiful and they represented the broad spectrum of religions and culture within the city. Temples to Apollo, Isis, Aphrodite and Asclepius as well as a synagogue dotted the Corinthian streets. In spite of their apparent religious fascination the Corinthians were notorious drunkards and sexual immorality was rampant there.
Paul went to Corinth on his second missionary trip. Upon arrival he settled in the business district with Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tent-makers, and began ministering in the synagogue. Opposition to Paul’s teaching eventually arose so he moved to the home of Titius Justus. His most notable convert was a man by the name of Crispus who was the head of the synagogue. His conversion must have caused quite a stir and perhaps was the catalyst which brought Paul before Gallio the proconsul. Paul’s detractors were hoping to take advantage of Gallio’s reputation as a leader who could be easily persuaded to one’s cause, but he would have no part in their antagonistic relationship with Paul. He dismissed the case and in anger and frustration the accusers beat up an innocent bystander (Acts 18:1-7)!
Corinth was full of enticements: wealth, sexual pleasure, leisure, and self-centeredness. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, a plethora of religious practices and economic freedom, it was easy to let any or all of those things become a distraction. When you read the two surviving letters we have which Paul wrote to these believers, you will see that due to their environment the Christians in Corinth struggled with a number of sinful situations. It is easy to point a finger at them and wonder how they could get so mixed up. However, the more I look around at the church at large today, the more similarities I see and between my world and theirs.
The issues the Corinthians struggled with (unity: 1 Cor. 1-4; sin within the church: 1 Cor. 5-6; marriage and divorce: 1 Cor. 7; doctrinal disputes: 1 Cor. 8-10; the role of women in the church: 1 Cor. 11; the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit: 1 Cor. 12-14; and the certainty of the resurrection: 1 Cor. 15) are still being argued over today. The dynamics of living under the New Covenant (such as transparency: 2 Cor. 3; giving: 2 Cor. 8-9; and spiritual authority: 2 Cor. 10-13) are also just as important now as they were when Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
I don’t think those struggles have disappeared. In fact, I think they are alive and well within the church today. I meet more and more Christians who are willing to compromise God’s Word either to supposedly be a witness (I don’t buy it!) or so that they can avoid conflict. They adopt and accept psychology’s explanation (i.e. excuse) for Sin over the Biblical view of our fallen nature. A “touchy-feely” BFF view of Jesus and “experiencing” worship has taken away a balanced view of a loving but just God so much so that New Age and Eastern religions are viewed as acceptable modes of discovering Him. It all looks so pretty on the post card- but just go a few blocks in and you’ll find a garbage dump.
Paul’s challenges to the Corinthians are just as appropriate for us. Everyone runs for a prize (It all looks great on the outside.) but only a few receive one so the race is won by discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Choose what influences you wisely and be on the alert for negative influences (1 Cor. 15: 33-34). Be vigilant and stand firm (1 Cor. 16:13) because the mind can be easily led astray from simple and pure devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). If we find that we have been tarnished and muddied then we must rid ourselves of that which stained us (2 Cor. 7:1). Most importantly we are to be vigilant in testing and examining our lives so that our faith stays on track (2 Cor. 13:5). Are you buying into the Corinthian postcard of today’s culture? Don’t buy into the picture; instead set your sights on the Lord (1 Cor. 5:12-20; 10: 1-14, 31).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 7/16/2017