1 Corinthians 1:2. “Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s.”
Did you ever stop to think that the letters you write not only reveal a great deal about you, but also those to whom you are writing? A letter is a great revealer of characters and situations. By reading Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, we not only learn a lot about Paul, but also about Corinth and the Corinthians in that particular period.
However, the New Testament letters besides having referenced to specific people, places, and situations, have a far more general application. It takes spiritual discernment to determine what applied locally and to draw conclusions from this. As to the principle that would apply to all similar situations.
We must keep this in mind as we carefully analyze and interpret 1 Corinthians. That imminently practical epistle in which Paul touches on almost every light situation.
On the one hand, do not be too hasty to conclude that every place is a Corinth, and on the other recognize that a principle that applies to Christian conduct in Corinth can and should apply everywhere.
Paul declares right at the beginning of chapter one in verse two that what is about to say applies principally to the church of God which is at Corinth. He is not writing to all of the people at Corinth, just to the church.
The Greek word for church is “ekklisía”, from the preposition “ek” meaning “from”, and “kaleō” meaning “to call out”. A church is a group of people called out of the world while still living in the world for a witness to the world for the Lord. This is its general, universal meaning.
In writing this epistle it is quite evident that Paul is not addressing himself to the entire church of Christ in the world but to specific situations in the Corinthian church.
What would apply to the Corinthians not apply in every detail to the rest of the church. Should you expect a church to be perfect, and absolutely pure? That is what God wants it to be, of course. But the church is made up of individual Christians, and who of us can claim he is all he is supposed to be?
The reality of our present condition doesn’t coincide with Christ’s idealism. That’s why Paul wrote this epistle, to urge the Corinthian Christians to move from their present disappointing state to where they should be.
This church was a heartache to Paul.
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ,” he says in chapter three verse one.
And yet he had labored among them for a year and a half. Paul most probably wrote the Corinthian letters from Ephesus about A.D. 55. Three years after he had left Corinth after learning of serious troubles in the Corinthian church. They are no mere dissertations on the theory of Christian behavior. But arise from actual life situations. That is one reason for their vibrancy.
How absurd for anyone to say as one man did, “I’ll join a church when I find a perfect one.”
The pastor to whom he had addressed his remark had worked hard all his life to steer an imperfect church to the perfection that is to be found only in Christ quipped, “If you find a perfect church, young man, I advise you not to join it, for if you do, it could cease to be perfect.”
The Corinthian church was possibly more imperfect than other churches because it originated in a most sinful city, the city of Corinth. 146 B.C. Corinth was taken over by the Romans and reduced to a heap of rubble. Because of its important geographical location as a maritime center it was completely rebuilt in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar.
It was a Roman colony and the chief city of the region of Achaea. It was also the center of immorality and evil. In those days when you wanted to call a man immoral, all you needed to say was that he lived like a Corinthian. “Korinthio,” in Greek.
Atop its acropolis stood the great temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, where lived a thousand sacred prostitutes, who in the evening sought their prey in the streets of Corinth. It was a city of abounding in wealth, commerce, luxury, drunkenness, debauchery and filth. It’s hardly possible to find a modern counterpart in our society in spite of the fact that our cities are rightly evoke our moral indignation. What was actually happening in Corinth was that with the passage of time the church was having a decreasing influence over the community precisely because it was letting the community have too much influence over the church.
Yes, it is possible to have a living church, an assembly of called out ones, even in a city like Corinth. Imperfect, yes, but still the church of God in Corinth.
That’s where God wants His church. She is meant to be the salt of the earth, the light of the word. Salt is needed to preserve society from corruption, light is needed most in the darkest places. We may learn two valuable lessons from the fact that the church of God which is at Corinth.
- It is possible for God to call out His own from the most sinful environment and the most fanatical opposition.
- Once a church has been established, the grace of God can keep it in spite of the imperfections of its members, it is still the church of God.
I think that I shall never see
A Church that’s all it ought to be;
A Church whose members never stray
Beyond the Strait and Narrow way;
A Church that has no empty pews,
Whose Pastor never has the blues,
A Church whose Deacons always deak,
And none is proud, and all are meek.
Where gossips never peddle lies,
Or make complaints or criticize;
Where all are always sweet and kind
And all to other’s faults are blind.
Such perfect Churches there may be,
But none of them are known to me.
But still, we’ll work, and pray and plan
To make our own the best we can.
Paul was not concerned about the building in which the Corinthian Christians met. Sometimes when we speak of church we think of the building, but that’s not it. It is the saints of God, the called-out ones, the believers who constitute the church. The building is not really the church, but God’s people are. But today the church spends more money for buildings than for winning souls. And for anything else.
When an artist was asked to paint a picture of a decaying church, to everyone’s astonishment instead of putting on canvas an old, tattering ruin, the artist painted a stately edifice of modern grandeur. Through the open portals could be seen the richly carved pulpit, the magnificent organ, and the beautifully stained-glass windows. To one side was an elaborately designed offering plate for foreign missions covered by a cobweb.
Paul’s concern was not of the building in Corinth, but with a group of Christians who were living in and being contaminated by a sinful environment.
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth,” and observed immediately after that he says, “To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
To the individual collectively he writes, and individually. Paul worked hard to establish the church of God in Corinth. Yet throughout his Corinthian epistles he never refers to it as “my” church.
So many of us have a tendency to speak of the church or we minister in any capacity as “ours”. Oh no. That church is not yours or mine at all. When we recognize it as the church of God, we will treat it as God’s property and not ours.
Recognize also that the Bible believing church which you are not a pastor, or a member is just as much the church of God as yours is. The apostle Paul always placed great emphasis on the local church. No central church body or denomination ever concerned him. Every local church seems to be an entity in God’s possession. It is the church which is situated at Corinth.
The Greek expression “di ousia” means “which being”. It is not just a part of God’s church, but it is the church of God. A whole which possesses the whole of God. Not that God does not possess other churches in other localities. The local church, where you go to worship God, is His unit. Never think it unnecessary, it is the very unit that may cause God to preserve our entire community.