“The darling of heaven, high and exalted – who came to die for you, what an enigma – yet this is the One who you worship – you have trouble finding the words to describe how you see Me – in pictures and in My word. But, the reality is that I am here with you in this room, through My work on the cross. You have this privilege as billions of brothers and sisters also have, to be able to experience My presence right there with you. It is not because you are better, it is because I have chosen you before time began as I have many others. So, make the most of this time, make the most of this relationship – enjoy Me and My presence fully – that is my will for you today.”
So, we come to the end of 1 Corinthians, this week. Ch 16 appears to be almost an anti-climax after the soaring description of the gospel in ch 15, ending with the emphasis on the resurrection. As you can see ch 16 deals with a few personal issues, as Paul closes the letter.
The first paragraph of ch 16 has some very insightful teaching about giving, which is worth considering carefully. But today I want to ask you to think back over the whole letter and pick up what the main line of teaching is, again. It is easy to get lost in the detail and forget Paul’s main message, which is very important. So why don’t you just spend a bit of time thinking through what Paul was focusing on. Write it down and then I will share what I have picked up.
Firstly, try and visualise the situation of the church in Corinth at that time. Corinth was a totally pagan city, with widespread worship of various deieties, especially Apollo. This overshadowed the whole of society and the social scene. Most of the social activity took place in the temple of Apollo. This involved feasting and orgies and sexual interaction with temple prostitutes, among others. In this millieu, a number of people were saved as a result of Paul’s preaching. It seems some tended to revert back to their old social (mis)behaviour, while others distanced themselves from these activities totally.
Now as Paul writes his letter, he is responding to reports (there is a lost letter) he has received of this lack of good Christian behaviour. One commentator describes Paul’s letter as highlighting a number of issues and “scolding” the members for their misbehaviour. We can pick up that there were great divisions in the church, caused by pride, especially in the gifts that some had received. There were also cliques as different groups followed different leaders and their teaching. This was so bad that there were even court cases between members of the church. Then there were the sexual and marriage issues.
Now I want to suggest the key vs to Paul’s approach is 12:13. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”. He later expands this reminder with a description of the central gospel message, which had given rise to that baptism and on which their faith is built. 1 Cor 15:1-4.
You see, true Christian behaviour does not stem from trying harder to follow the law, it is a response to the gospel message of Jesus. It is living in the freedom of the Spirit to follow the law. (Galatians 5). So, in the center of the letter Paul focuses on the communion service, which should be a demonstration and reminder of the central belief of the members, drawing them closer into a sense of oneness and communion resulting from this One Spirit and One body. (Cf Ephesians 4:1-13).
After a discussion using the concept of the body’s functioning as a coordinated unit, he follows with the well-known message of love in ch 13. Who would continue to bicker and fight if they took these things seriously into consideration?
On reflection, it has been insightful to me to see how Paul faces up to the wrong behaviour, but drills down to the central teaching of Christianity. The gospel message. Looking around me I am supremely conscious of the many failures in Christian churches, yet I am not surprized as I hear the teaching which is being given in many places, where every other issue is raised except the central gospel of Jesus. (King Charles is, for instance agitating for an ‘interfaith’ service at his coronation)
That goes for personal counselling as well. The answer to brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin issues as well as discouragement and loss of hope, is , yes, the gospel. Change of behaviour does not come from scolding, chevvying one on etc, it comes from understanding the gospel better and responding to that.
I trust that you can see this letter then, in its entirety and that it will encourage you again in your Christian walk in the future. From next week I am going to go on to the second letter to the Corinthians and see what Jesus has to say to me from that. Please join me.
- Living in a Pagan World.
- Wisdom shown in the way we use words.
- The Great high Priest, The Author of our Salvation.
- Overflowing, All Sufficient, Grace.
- The Importance of Purity
- The Gospel - Proclaiming Him in whom is Hidden all Wisdom and Knowledge.
- The Love Feast.
- The Ministry of Reconciliation.
- What Response can we Expect?
- The Servant of the Lord.