Yesterday, I had a great opportunity to meet with our Sunday School teachers of Southern Calvert Baptist Church and study our up coming lesson on the importance of growing to maturity in our faith. This week, we are going to study the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth. This church was very near and dear to Paul’s heart, even though this church gave Paul many headaches and sleepless nights. All of the epistles that we have in the New Testament come as a result of conflict(s) among the new believers. I love to study and teach the epistles because they give us a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. I smart man learns from his mistakes and I wise man learns from the mistakes of others. I want us all to be wise people because God wants us all to be wise people. In the last lesson, we learned about the problems in the churches in the region of Galatia. God exposes the problems and then offers the solution. Pointing out problems without offering solutions is just complaining. People who do this are a dime a dozen. There are very few who have the desire to point out problems and then offer wise solutions. The Apostle Paul was one of those rare people who pointed out problems and then offered wise solutions.
I. The Problem in the Corinthian church
The Apostle Paul loved the church in Corinth. He had invested much in the lives of the people of the church. He had witnessed lifestyles transformed. Paul gives us a little insight into what kind of people composed the Corinthian church. They had become children of the King of kings but, before the adoption into the family of God took place, the Corinthians had a very diverse past.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; (I Corinthians 1)
Before accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, not many of them were wise (according to the world’s standards) and there were not many who were mighty (prestigious in society). There were not many Corinthians from noble families. Most came from a low background. Later on, in chapter 6, Paul gives a list of what kind of people the Corinthians were, before coming to Christ.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6)
These children of God definitely had a rough background. They were born again and adopted into the family of God. In their BC days (before Christ), they were:
- Fornicators – people who practice any kind of sexual activity outside of the bonds of marriage, either physical or mental. All sexual sin falls under this umbrella.
- Idolators – people who devote the majority their time, energy, efforts, and resources to serving anything other than God.
- Adulterers – people who practice fornication while married or with a person who is married to someone else.
- Effeminate – male prostitutes who service other males (homosexuals). It could also refer to the submissive partner in a homosexual relationship.
- Homosexual – men who have sexual relations with other men.
- Thieves – to take something that does not belong to you, to do it secretly. It can also refer to a person who uses his position and authority to take advantage of another person. (Harvey Weinstein)
- Covetous – one who is always greedy for more. A person who is never satisfied and wants everything that he sees. With this person, the grass is always greener on the other side.
- Drunkards – this is a person who is intoxicated and controlled by a substance. It mostly refers to alcohol but, it could refer to any addiction.
- Revilers – this is a person who likes to get into mischief. His actions bring misfortune and grief to himself and to others. A common words used today for this type of person is a “rabble rouser“.
- Swindlers – this refers to a person who takes advantage of another person to raise himself up while putting the other person down. The idea is to mislead someone with the purpose of gaining an advantage.
All of these people now make up the body of Christ in Corinth. They have been transformed. Their old nature is still there and, if they cease to continue to grow toward maturity in their faith, they will drift back into their old ways. Keep that in mind as we look at the problems diagnosed by Paul in the Corinthian church.
The manifestation of the deeper issue if found in I Corinthians 1:11-12.
11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.
12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”
They are not walking in unity as the one body of Jesus Christ. There are quarrels among them. The quarrels are over who is following which famous Bible teacher. The problem is not in the Bible teacher or the message of the Bible teacher. Paul, Peter, and Apollos were all faithful followers of Jesus Christ, preaching and teaching the pure Word of God. These quarrels are the manifestation of a deeper issue. Paul reveals that deeper issue in I Corinthians 3.
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.
2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,
3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?
The Corinthians were not growing to maturity spiritually and they had not been for a while. Like with any other aspect of our lives, if you do not use it, you lose it! Our spiritual walk with God is the same way. Our faith will not stay the same if we do not practice it. It will quickly begin to atrophy. When our faith begins to atrophy, we will revert back to our old, sinful ways. This is manifest itself in quarrels among us. Look what the Corinthians were in danger of reverting back to if something did not change. Paul loved them enough not to allow this to continue. He took pen and paper, the cutting edge of technology of the day, wrote to the Corinthians to reveal the problem and then offer a Biblical solution.
II. The Solution
The first thing that has to take place is Biblical confrontation. Immediately, when Paul was made aware of the problems in Corinth, he took the initiative to reach out to the Corinthians with help. Before the help/correction could be received, the Corinthians needed to see the error of their ways. This is the Biblical method.
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (II Timothy 3)
In order for change to take place, the Corinthians needed to see where they were wrong. They were off track and needed to have their eyes opened to this truth. Once they are rebuked (shown where they are wrong) then they can be corrected and trained to stay on the right path. This is exactly what Paul does in I Corinthians 1.
10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
The verb “exhort” means both to rebuke and encourage. Like all of us, the Corinthians liked and needed to be encouraged. Encouragement is a very good thing. It is like a good coach who encourages his players who are doing well. If the coach sees a mistake that could lead to a bigger mistake, the coach would not encourage the player in his wrong ways. The coach would first point out the mistake, offer a solution, and then encourage the player to continue on the right way. This same thing needs to happen to us in the spiritual realm. We need mentors who will come along side of us and show us where we are wrong, correct us, and then encourage us in walking the right way. This is what Paul does for the Corinthians. The Corinthians needed to grow toward maturity in their faith.
- They need to come to an agreement (that they have strayed off track and need this correction in their spiritual lives).
- The divisions and quarrels need to be dealt with and no longer ignored.
- They need to mature in their faith.
- They need the same understanding of reality (from the Word of God)
- They need the same judgment/discernment (application) from the Word of God.
The question that immediately arises is, “how are they going to mature, have the same understanding, and application of the Word of God”?
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12)
They need to be diligent students of the Word of God so that they could have their minds renewed leading to agreement, understanding, and application. This would eliminate the divisions and quarrels among them. The Word of God causes the mind to be renewed and when applied to daily life, maturity in the faith follows. Paul understood this and for that reason, he presents sound teaching (doctrine) from verse 18 until the end of chapter 1 in First Corinthians.
III. Sound Doctrine
The needed message was the message of the cross. This message of the cross was not a new message for the churches. This message was written down by God in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul takes the Corinthians back to Isaiah 29:14.
Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”
The message of the cross was viewed as foolishness among the Greeks. Paul argued that the cross was also viewed as foolishness during the days of the the prophet Isaiah. The wisdom of God is always frowned upon by the wisdom of sinful man. The message of the cross is necessary for salvation. The word salvation means “rescue”. The Corinthians were rescued from their old way of life, a lifestyle of slavery to sinful desires. They were in danger of jumping back into their old way of life and part of the motive for that was that the Greeks around them were laughing at their new way of life (a new way of life that all wanted to have because no one likes being a slave to sinful desires). The message of the cross was “too simple” for the Greeks who wanted “deep wisdom”. The funny thing is, these deep thinkers and seekers of wisdom spent their days wasting time listening to and telling new stories to each other. In their “wisdom” they were useless to God, useless to themselves, and useless to others. The message of the cross was not enough for the Jews living among the Greeks. They wanted some kind of sign to accompany this message. God gave a powerful sign, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but, they chose not to accept reality. The sign was not needed. Signs were just an excuse to keep from bowing to the message of the cross. There was immense pressure on the Corinthians from both sides. The pressure coming from these two points of view began to impact the Corinthians, and it was magnified by the fact that they were not growing spiritually. They began to quarrel with each other and major divisions arose among them. They needed to get back to the basics and remember what they had believed. There was no need for divisions among them because, according to verse 30:
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
Jesus is our:
- Wisdom – we no longer need the wisdom of the world or the approval of people who are controlled by the wisdom of the world.
- Righteousness – we are made right with God and His approval is all that really matters.
- Sanctification – we are made different from what we used to be by Christ and He keeps us walking the correct path as we surrender to Him moment by moment, day by day.
- Redemption – this means to buy back, at a very high price, from the slave market. Christ paid the price so that we could be set free from our sin nature and be adopted into the family of God.
We no longer need to boast in our wisdom or in the quality of our spiritual leaders. We now boast in the Lord because He has done it all for us. Our job is simply to surrender to Him. Are you living a surrendered life?