If you are familiar at all with the New Testament, you’ve likely heard of the church in Corinth. The book of 1 Corinthians is well known, especially for chapter 13, the famous “love chapter” of the Bible. But in reality, this group of believers was far from loving. They were pretty far from a lot of godly things, actually. While the content of 1 Corinthians is encouraging and highly applicable to believers today, the members of the church in Corinth weren’t exactly people you’d want your friends and family hanging around.
History Of The Church In Corinth
The city of Corinth was a major metropolis in the Roman Empire when the gospel was first introduced there. Because of its location, Corinth was a key to the trading world, receiving heavy traffic by land and sea. It was a hustling and bustling city full of merchants and was a melting pot of different cultures. Jew, Greeks, Italians and more took up residence in Corinth, all bringing different lifestyles, values and even gods with them.
Over the years, Corinth became known for its rampant prostitution. A high percentage of the population was slaves, and temples dedicated to Aphrodite, Neptune, and other gods were a huge part of their polytheistic culture. In fact, the Corinthians incorporated sex with their temple slaves into their lives so much that around the world people began to nickname loose women “Corinthian women”.
It was into this context that Paul walked one day, around 51 AD. He was ready to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ to a city living in darkness. Paul faced a lot of challenges in Corinth; just read Acts 18 to get all the details. But he was able to form a friendship with a guy named Titius Justus. Titius Justus gave him a place to stay, and for the next 18 months Paul established relationships with people and witnessed to anyone who would listen.The gospel began to take root in Corinth. A few people here and there placed their faith in Christ.
A steadily growing group of believers formed. The church in Corinth was born.
The State Of The Church In Corinth
After establishing a growing church in Corinth, Paul moved on to spread the gospel in other cities. He kept tabs on the Corinthian believers, however. What we know as 1st Corinthians was at least Paul’s second letter to them, and he planned to go back and spend time with them whenever the opportunity arose.
But while he was away, trouble was brewing. The Corinthian believers were engaging in some seriously messed up things. From sexual promiscuity to getting drunk in church to quarreling amongst themselves, these guys were far from the ideal loving and thriving church body.
The believers were in a downward spiral of carnality. When a few of the church members went to visit Paul, they spilled the beans and told him everything that was going on. After hearing about the true state of the church in Corinth, Paul reached out to them by writing 1 Corinthians. The church at this time was about four years old, and engaging in such evil behavior that even the unbelievers around them seemed to have higher morals.
The situation didn’t look too hopeful.
Paul’s Approach To The Church In Corinth
Have you ever had to confront a friend or family member about issues in their life? How did you approach them? Is it more tempting to address them lovingly, or with guns blazing, pulling out a list of their wrong-doing?
In our eyes, Paul would have had every reason to be angry with the Corinthian believers. He had presented the gospel to them, discipled them, taught them, and poured his life into them, and this is how they were choosing to act? This is how they chose to respond to the Lord, Paul, and the free gift of salvation – by acting worse than unbelievers?
And yet this is how Paul approaches them:
” I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace” (1 Corinthians 1:2-3 NLT).
This is Paul’s first words to a failing group of people. He doesn’t shout or demand an explanation of their behavior. He doesn’t threaten them to “shape up, or else”. He doesn’t even bring their sin to light yet. He goes on to say,
“I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”(1 Corinthians 1:4-9).
One of them main reasons Paul wrote this letter was to address sin in the Corinthians’ lives.
But before he talks about what they are doing, Paul reminds them who they are.
Instead of immediately addressing the condition of their lives, he causes them to stop and remember their position in Christ.
The Corinthian believers had strayed from morality and God’s desire for their lives, but they would always, after having placed their faith in Him, be His children.
Paul actually thanks God for these people. He points out their God-given strengths, and assures them of God’s ability and faithfulness. He promises that they will be blameless when Jesus comes back. How can Paul do this, when we know that their lives were full of blame?
Our President, Dan Falls, is the current teacher of 1 Corinthians here at our New Tribes Bible Institute Michigan campus. He sums up this first portion of the letter by saying,
“Paul points these believers back to God’s grace and peace before any struggles are discussed. While their lives are full of blame, he promises they will be blameless before God – why? Because God is faithful. He isn’t banking on their faithfulness or repentance, but on God’s character.”
Just The Beginning For The Church In Corinth
As we move along in the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul does address the sin issues in their lives. He urges them toward godly sorrow, repentance, and brokenness. But because He starts out by reminding them who they are, affirming his relationship with them, and building them up in Christ he has a loving platform to do so. Instead of ripping them to shreds, he graciously builds a foundation of security for them, and then addresses the work that needs done.
Faithful In Corinth, Faithful To Us
Our God is a gracious God. Just as with the church in Corinth, he see the failures, mistakes, and immaturities in our lives, and no, He is not just okay with them. But instead of angrily condemning us, he deals with us as a loving Father deals with His children. His goal is to transform us into the image of His Son, and he will stop at nothing until He accomplishes this. God is a faithful God. He seeks to change us on the basis of the fact that we are already in Christ. He knows who we are, secure, justified, and in Him, even when we forget our identity and choose to sin.
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Anna Wishart is a graduate of Ethnos360 Bible Institute, and continues to seek ways to be involved with missions through writing. She currently lives in Winchester, Virginia, and enjoys biking, art, friends, the mountain views, and serving at Fellowship Bible Church.