18 February, 2018
We continue our march through the Bible. One book a month over seven years and today we arrive at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Written by Paul in around 55AD, it was one of the earlier letters written by him.
[G-1] 私たちは聖書を通して私たちの行進を続けます。 1冊の本を月に7年間、今日、私たちはパウロのコリント人への最初の手紙に着きます。約55ADにパウロによって書かれた、それは彼によって書かれた以前の手紙の一つだった。
It’s worth noting the type of city that Corinth was at the time of Paul’s writing. It was a large Greek city, filled with various temples and shrines. For young Christianity, there was plenty of spiritual competition. But perhaps more than anything else, Corinth – like any large commercial city – was famous(infamous) for its immorality. In fact, they were so immoral that the city name became a verb in the Greek language, where ‘to Corinthianize’ came to mean ‘to practice sexual immorality’.
[G-2] パウロの書いた時にコリントがあった都市のタイプに注目することは価値があります。それは様々な寺院や神社でいっぱいの大きなギリシャの都市でした。若いキリスト教のために、多くの精神的な競争があった。しかし、おそらく何よりも、コリントスは – 大都市のように – その不道徳のために有名でした（悪名高い）。実際、彼らは都市の名前がギリシア語の動詞になったように不道徳なので、「コリント人に」は「性的不道徳を実践する」という意味になりました。
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians addresses a number of problems in the church, of which we will look briefly at seven:
- sexual immorality
- marital difficulties
- misuse of spiritual gifts
- misuse of the Lord’s supper
The problems addressed in this letter makes it a highly relevant letter for churches today because these problems persist!
These seven problems that Paul addressed all come under one of three issues:
And these three issues are big matters for any church, and are central to its health.
We don’t have time today to get into the details of all the problems of the Corinthian church or the solutions that Paul proposes, in any sort of comprehensive way. But I do want to provide a brief overview of both the problems and the solutions, so that if we ever find ourselves confronted with similar situations, we can at least know the basic principles to find resolution and recovery. And if you would like to know about how to deal with any of these more deeply, please let me know and I’ll address them at a later time.
Problem 1: Divisions in the church
Some in the Corinthian church liked Paul’s way of doing things, others thought Peter was the supreme authority, while for others Apollos was the head of the church and was to be followed as such. I don’t believe we have such issues in our church, but can you imagine how harmful it would be if we started breaking into little factions, with some people saying ‘You know Pastor Mike [image] is more qualified so we should listen to him, and others said that Pastor Andrew [image] is the senior pastor so he must be very wise and the one to follow, and then others say similar things about Pierre [image] or Esther [image] or Bradley [image].
Solution 1: What’s the solution to such disagreement?
Focus on Jesus. Recognise that we were all baptised into Christ, and that He is the undivided head of the church, and that the servant leaders of the church are just that: servant leaders under Christ.
Problem 2: Immaturity
Paul described the Corinthians as “mere infants in Christ” who were not ready for solid spiritual food because they were still worldly. You cannot be a mature Christian and worldly at the same time. If any Christian’s life is characterised by things like envy, gossip and materialism, then they’re still immature and need to grow up in you faith.
Solution 2: What’s the solution to immaturity?
The solution is surprisingly practical. We are to be very careful how we build our lives. Paul says we must understand that we all have the same foundation for our faith, which is the gospel of Christ. So we should then be careful how we build our lives on that foundation. If we build with spiritual riches – the fruit of the spirit – then when our lives are tested, we will have reward. But if we build with worldly pursuits and values, then we will still be saved by the grace of God “but only as one escaping through the flames”. (3:15) Let’s be careful – and this requires effort – to build our lives toward maturity in the faith.
Problem 3: Sexual immorality
Sexual immorality appeared to be particularly perverse in the Corinthian church: “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans”. But sexual immorality of any kind is wrong, is harmful to the individual, is damaging to relationships present and future, is detrimental to the church, and is offensive to God. It’s also, sadly, common in many churches today.
There are two types of solutions the church could apply here.
The first is a liberal, worldly solution that says,
- “Did God really say that’s immoral?”
- “Don’t worry. No-one’s going to judge you.”
- “It’s not such a big deal – everyone’s doing it”
- “Times change”
- “It’s natural”
- “It’s no-one else’s business”
- “Don’t worry, God understands” – Choose your favourite soundbite! None of these are God’s way!
The second solution is a Biblical solution which Paul presents in no uncertain terms – not for those who sin and then repent, but for those who live, unrepentant, in sinful relationships: put such people out of the church. Expel them. “Hand them over to Satan”(5:5)! Why? Firstly so that they will repent. As harsh as it sounds, this is a remedial solution. Also because sexual immorality is a cancer. If left unchecked, it will spread and it will kill a church. The solution to sexual immorality is not tolerance. It’s discipline.
Problem 4: Lawsuits amongst believers.
The Corinthians lived in a highly litigious society, not unlike the west today. Even believers were suing each other. What kind of witness was that? We’re not likely to be suing each other, but when disputes do come up, the principle is the same:
Solution 4: Settle matters within the church.
It’s better to be wronged than to publicly malign the name of God by having public spats. Use the elders of the church and the wisdom of the Spirit to settle disputes.
Problem 5: Marital Difficulties
Paul presents a range of common marital difficulties from deciding whether to marry in the first place, to relations within an established marriage.
I encourage all those who are married or are of marriageable age to carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 for Paul’s very concrete answers to the various marriage-related difficulties that can come up.
Problem 6: Misuse of spiritual gifts
The Corinthian church struggled with an awkward combination of spiritual giftedness and spiritual immaturity. Their church abused the use of spiritual gifts and lacked any sense of godly order in their assemblies.
Solution 6: There are three possible solutions here.
- The first is for a church to become a spiritual cemetery. To avoid any abuse of spiritual gifts, simply don’t allow them. Easy! But by doing that, you will have a church that is dead to the Holy Spirit.
- The second is to become an insane asylum. In fear of becoming one of those cemetery churches, throw off all inhibition and go “tongues-mad, babbling away en masse, chirping like birds and barking like dogs ‘in the Spirit’ (Cymbala). Then we become just like the Corinthian church that Paul was trying so hard to correct.
- The third solution is to seek and embrace the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy, and to use them in the church in a fitting and orderly manner, and always in love, without which the gifts are utterly useless. I don’t believe our church has found the right balance here yet. I believe we need to more passionately seek and embrace the gifts of the Spirit, and I’d like to encourage you to continue to seek, pray and talk about this with me.
Problem 7: Misuse of the Lord’s Supper
Some in the Corinthian church were taking communion – the Lord’s supper – inappropriately, without properly recognising Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and so were falling sick as a result.
Solution 7: Proper self-examination and recognition of Jesus as Lord.
Through proper self-examination we will understand the magnitude of our sins, and our need to heartily turn from them, and be forgiven and delivered from them. Proper recognition of Jesus as Lord leads us to understand that He[Jesus] is the only one who can forgive us and deliver us from our sins.
This leads us to today. Today is the first Sunday in Lent. It’s the beginning of the Easter season during which we prepare our hearts to better understand the Easter sacrifice and miracle, and to receive the new life that it brings.
At this time, people often choose to forgo something that is important to them, as a reminder that God gave up something very important to Him at this time – His Son. You might want to think and pray about what you can give up (sacrifice) as a reminder of the sacrifice that God made to redeem you from your sin.
We’re going to go into a time of personal prayer and reflection now to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s supper. I encourage you to search your heart – better still, ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart – and to gently but firmly convict you of any as-yet unrepented sins in your life. The call to unity, purity and maturity is upon each of us, and it is a call that we must respond to with sincerity, with faith and with thanksgiving.