The Corinthian Correspondence

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church-disciplinePaul’s letters to the church in the city of Corinth still stand today as shining examples of both pastoral love and the necessity of Christian discipline. As we read through the two letters to the Corinthians we cannot help but notice the tension in Paul’s words, along with the heartfelt love he obviously has for this baby church. Like a doting Daddy, Paul writes these letters in response to some disturbing reports that have come to him regarding the unhealthy situation in Corinth. Since first planting the church some 18 months prior, Paul had heard that there were serious unconfessed sins being overlooked within the body, as well as arrogance and numerous other flaws, all threatening to tear the tiny church apart (1 Cor 5). It was vital that Paul offer some course correction before the fledgling work was destroyed from within. Adultery, incest, infighting, gossip, false teachings were just a few of the serious issues faced by the Christians in Corinth. It was in these letters that Paul sought to correct the leadership of the church in Corinth, as a precursor to him coming to visit them.

Although there is considerable debate on actually how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians on this matter, we do know that the two that we have are not the entire conversation. Paul references his first correspondence in 1 Cor 5:9 AMPI wrote you in my [previous] letter not to associate [closely and habitually] with unchaste (impure) people…” So we know that Paul had been writing to these Christians before what we now know as 1 Corinthians. In that previous letter he had addressed many of the issues that were plaguing this church, namely that they were unwilling to deal with the sin in some of their members. This is a letter that could be written to many of our modern churches who feel the need to love the member without confronting their sin. Paul makes it clear that sin is deadly and that overlooking it will only spread the disease.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul continues to attempt to correct this misguided church, yet we see a bit different tone. He again mentions another letter that he had sent to the Corinthians. “For I wrote you out of great sorrow and deep distress [with mental torture and anxiety] of heart, [yes, and] with many tears, not to cause you pain but in order to make you realize the overflowing love that I continue increasingly to have for you.” – 2 Cor 2:4 AMP. This tearful correspondence is not the 1 Corinthians which we have, but points to another letter which Paul had written. In that letter he had obviously written some gut-wrenching rebukes that had stirred up the church. In 2 Corinthians we are offered a glimpse into Paul’s pastoral heart as he pleads with the Christians to take his rebukes to heart.

Church discipline can be a messy and difficult subject. In our modern view of individuality and independence, we have come to assume that any form of correction is an affront against our personal freedoms. Yet, according to Paul, that is exactly how Satan wants us to view it. Paul reminds us that we are not ignorant of the devils methods (2 Cor 2:11). Satan will use any gap or weakness he can to tear apart what God is doing in the world. Paul knew that if the church in Corinth did not openly and succinctly deal with the openly practiced sin in their community that Satan would use it to destroy them. But, Paul also teaches them to be quick to forgive once the sin has been confessed and repented of. Obviously the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians as being in an inappropriate relationship with his step-mother had repented and was seeking restoration. Paul encouraged the Christian in Corinth to be quick to forgive and surround that man with love in order to build him back up.

As Christians, we must reject the modern fallacy of our society which labels any sort of rebuke of correction as “judgment”. In Matthew 7 when Jesus reminds His followers to “Judge not”, He is speaking about Christians not judging unbelievers. He is not telling all Christians to just turn and ignore obvious sin in the body. Instead, we are told to be discerning, and to watch out for each other. When Cain asked God, “Am I my brothers keeper?” when referring to his brother Able in Gen 4:9, do you notice that God does not answer him? In fact, since God was the one who asked Cain where Able was, we can surmise that, according to God, we ARE our brother’s keeper. Cain was wrong because he was trying to cover his sin.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes – because my brothers/sisters need me to help them resist the devil (James 4:7). As well, I need them to help me say no to sin and yes to godliness. We are on the same team!

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

1 Corinthians 4 – Gladiators

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arenaAs I was reading my chapter today (1 Cor 4), I was struck by Paul’s description of what he (and his fellow Apostles) was enduring as the initial leaders of the Christian Church. First – lets take a look at what Paul says in 1 Cor 4:9-13.

“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.  We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” – 1 Cor 4:9-13

A couple of things to note:

  •  Vs 9 – Paul says God has put them on display at the end
    • Paul is intentionally using language representing a gladiator match in the arenas throughout the Roman world of his day. In the morning of a show the gladiators/prisoners who were to fight the wild beasts were given armor to protect themselves a bit. But in the afternoon portion of the show the gladiators fought naked – with nothing to defend themselves. (If any escaped these matches they were put back in the next day). These gladiators who fought last were referred to as “men appointed to die” because of the unlikelihood they would survive the confrontation without defense.
    • Paul also uses the word “spectacle” to describe this. It is the Greek word for “theater” and also echoes the gladiator fights in the arena (theater).
  •  Vs 10 – Paul then uses the word “fools” to describe their position. The word used is “moros” and it is referring to the audience hissing, booing, and insulting the gladiator/prisoners in the arena.
  • Then Paul uses several adjectives to describe their present state:
    • Weak, dishonored, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless

So what is Paul saying here?

Many people take statements like this from Paul and attribute it to all Christians. (All Christians will be weak, dishonored, hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless…). They say that we must “suffer for Christ” as the Apostles did – and that suffering is in the form of being sick, losing your job, your children dying, etc.

The problem is that this completely stands against much of the many promises in God’s Word for us as His children.

Instead – we need to actually hear what Paul is saying. Paul isn’t saying that all Christians will endure this. He says they (the Apostles) are enduring it. They are paraded through the streets and abused like the gladiator/prisoners are –those men “appointed to die” at the end of the day’s fighting.

Paul said God chose them for this task – to be persecuted. That meant being attacked – even killed – for the sake of the gospel message that Jesus saves from sin.

For Paul (and other martyrs) to “suffer for Christ meant actual bodily harm, torture, imprisonment, even death ALL because they stood for the name of Jesus and refused to bow under outside pressure.

Sickness, poverty, and the like are NOT included in this “suffering” because those are part of the curse – removed on the cross in the atonement (Isaiah 53, etc).

We are so very fortunate to live in a nation that was founded on Christianity – were we can worship Jesus and live our faith without fear of torture, imprisonment, and death.

But not everyone has been afforded that luxury. Many have been martyred over the past 2000 years for standing up for Jesus.

When you lump colds, flu, cancer, disease, poverty, calamity, and other modern day satanic attacks in with the real sufferings others have gone through – you discredit and cheapen the prices they all paid.

To suffer persecution, in Biblical terms, is to face harm as retribution for your stand on the Word of God and His Son, Jesus. Today that can come in the form of physical, financial, emotional – but it must be in response to you making a stand for Christ:

  • Such as getting fired because you are a Christian.
  • Being imprisoned for preaching the Gospel.
  • Being physically attacked because you are a Christian.

That is what it means to “share in the sufferings of Christ” (read 1 Pet 4:12-19). It is never in the form of those things we were redeemed from by Jesus on the cross.

 

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK