Jesus' Two Great Commissions
God's Community in Distress
Just as the early Jerusalem church exemplified a congregation successfully functioning as God's community, the church at Corinth exemplified a congregation who had failed to become that community. The church in Corinth is a study of congregational failure. First Corinthians details their failures in godliness, relationships, and concepts. Their specific failures can so capture one's attention that he overlooks their principal failure--their failure to exist as God's community.
This chapter will be an overview of 1 Corinthians. The overview will underscore the reason their problems made existence as community impossible and reveal the essential role of Christian edification.
Internal Division Must Cease!
After the salutation, chapters 1-4 examined the internal division of the
congregation. Paul urged them to end division and create unity of mind and
thought (that there be no divisions; be perfected together in the same mind and
judgment).1 Two sources of division were identified. First, existing
contentions were expressed through competitive, rivaling groups (I am of Paul;
of Apollos; of Cephas; of Christ).2 With misguided loyalty, each group fashioned
its identity around an evangelist.
Second, some were ashamed of an evangelistic message based on the crucifixion. They wished to replace the gospel of the cross with a message based on Greek wisdom.3 Both Jews and Greeks found the concept of a crucified Savior quite offensive. Paul declared the lost would regard the idea of a crucified Savior foolishness, but the saved would see God's wisdom in the cross. By divine plan, God chose that which was by human reckoning foolish (resurrection), weak (death), and despised (crucifixion) to shame the wise and the powerful.4 By that means God nullified the arrogance of human knowledge and wisdom. The crucified Jesus perfectly expressed divine wisdom by creating a common, necessary means for any person to become righteous, sanctified, and redeemed. Through the cross God reduced all--philosopher or barbarian, king or slave--to the same level of need and dependence (no one may boast before him).5
They were reminded that it was their understanding of the crucified Jesus which produced their obedience.6 That was the only message Paul preached to them, and it was the message the Spirit helped them comprehend.
Their divisive attitudes existed because they had begun to think and reason again like the worldly persons they had been rather than the spiritual persons they had become (I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly).7 Spiritual thinking would have resulted in understanding that evangelists were merely God's servants which He used to build His temple, not foundations for rivaling groups (I planted, Apollos watered, God made it grow).8 In fact, evangelists built only on Jesus Christ--the only foundation for God's temple.
The task of evangelists was to build God's temple on the crucified Jesus. As God's congregation in Corinth, they were that temple (Don't you know that you yourselves are God' s temple?)9 Members who promoted and sustained division were destroying God's temple, and they would be destroyed by God. All God's working was for the congregation's benefit as His temple. As that temple, they belonged to Christ; and Christ belonged to God.10
They should view evangelists as Christ's slaves. Evangelists were stewards entrusted with the responsibility of revealing God's accomplishments through the death of Jesus.11 Their failure to understand the work of evangelists had contributed significantly to the formation of these rivaling groups.
This section addressed the whole congregation. Internal division made their existence as a community impossible. God's highest objective in Christians would be achieved when a congregation functioned as a community of believers. To Him, that community was His temple. God would not tolerate any Christian who destroyed that temple! To promote division was to attack the existence and work of God's community!
Additional Community Problems
In chapters 5 and 6 three additional problems which attacked the congregation's
existence as God's community were addressed. First, the congregation blatantly
ignored a case of open, continuing fornication so objectionable that even pagans
would not have tolerated it.12 The sinful one was to be confronted immediately
in an effort to recover this brother.13 They had to realize that ignoring open
wickedness threatened the well-being of the entire congregation. Such evil
influence would permeate God's community in the manner that yeast spreads
throughout dough. While it was necessary to maintain association with ungodly
people in society, they were commanded to confront Christians who practiced
Second, Christians having problems with one another were asking pagan courts to resolve those matters.15 This was a basic failure to function as God's community! Such matters should be resolved by using wise brothers within the community (Is no one among you wise enough to judge a dispute?).16 The existence of such lawsuits meant the community had suffered a defeat (You have been completely defeated.).17 It would have suffered less harm if the cheated brother simply had endured his brother's injustice. Injustice within the community was failure, but soliciting the help of pagans to resolve community problems was collapse! Any brother who was possessed by greed or practiced other forms of wickedness would not receive his inheritance.18 Such wickedness characterized their past lives as sinners, but it was not characteristic of lives that had been washed, sanctified, and justified.19
Third, fornication could not be made acceptable Christian conduct by arguing that it fulfilled a natural appetite of the physical body.20 Fornication was the essence of ungodliness. In a unique manner, it united a part of Christ's own body to a prostitute; it was a sin against the Christian's body; and it defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit.
These three problems were used to emphasize this fact: the problems created by a
Christian's wickedness involved much more than mere personal spiritual failure.
All individual sin was an assault on the stability and the influence of the
community of believers. It attacked the community by influencing Christians to
increase their tolerance for evil, by destroying the community's credibility and
influence, and by placing the community in opposition to the Savior who created
Answering QuestionsChapters 7-16 primarily contained Paul's answers to questions the Corinthian church had asked in a previous letter.21 The words, "now concerning ..." preceded Paul's answer. Some passages in this section are difficult to study because one is reading the answer without the benefit of knowing the question. However, in his answers Paul gave helpful insights into a congregation's existence as a community.
Corinthian Christians and MarriageIn chapter seven Paul responded to a question concerning his previous instructions to the Corinthian Christians about marriage. In this response, one section, verses 17-24, provides an insight concerning the church as a community of believers.
Christians who understood that a congregation existed as a community could
accept this instruction.
Food Sacrificed to IdolsChapter 8 gave the Corinthian Christians some instructions regarding eating foods which had been offered to idols. These instructions powerfully verified the community nature of a congregation.
Problem Worship PracticesChapter 11 verified that even their behavior in worship attacked their bond as community. They could not be praised for their worship because their assemblies did more harm than good.25 Nothing was to exemplify their community relationship more than their assembly to worship and to commune with Christ. Yet, those assemblies emphasized the reality of their division.26 What occurred in no way resembled the proper partaking of the Lord's Supper.27 It was not an act of "community communion, community fellowship, community bonding." It could not even be considered a community meal. They did not wait for everyone to be present.28 Some were in a hurry and eagerly ate what they brought. There was no sharing--some sat hungry while others drank to excess. Their actions despised the church of God (disgraced God's community) and humiliated those brothers and sisters inneed.29 The abuse of the community through this perversion of the Lord's Supper resulted in many being sick and weak, and some having already died.30
The Use of Spiritual GiftsIn chapters 12, 13, and 14 Paul explained the proper purpose and use of spiritual gifts. As he addressed their abuse of the gifts, he again stressed that the church was to exist and function as a community.
ConclusionThe congregation at Corinth had failed to grasp the true nature of the church. Many of their problems made existence as God's community of believers impossible. Their internal division created by party loyalties and by being ashamed of the crucifixion; their tolerance of continuing, open fornication; their appeal to pagan courts to settle differences arising in the Christian community; the failure of the strong to be sensitive and patient with the weak; the love of idolatry still existing in some; their selfish, humiliating approach to the Lord's supper; their jealous rivalries in using spiritual gifts; and the confusion and disorderly conduct in their worship attacked the congregation's sense of community on every level of relationship. If they were to become the community of believers God intended every congregation to be, they had to eliminate internal division; to confront those living in continuing wickedness; to settle Christian differences within the Christian community; to reject fornication; to find personal joy and contentment in the service one could render; to be sensitive and patient with the weak; to refuse to trust in themselves for spiritual strength; to reject idolatry; to restore proper observance of the Lord's supper; to use spiritual gifts for the Spirit-intended purpose of edifying the church; to learn to love; and to make worship an occasion of edification for all.
QUESTIONSRead the following Scriptures in 1 Corinthians and discuss the failures of the church in Corinth to function as a community of believers.
1) 1:10-15: Failure--division.
2) 1:18-25: Failure--ashamed of the crucifixion. 3.5:1-13: Failure--open fornication.
4) 6:1-11: Failure--Christians suing Christians in pagan courts.
5) 7:17-24: Failure--"I wish I could be ... "
6) 8:1-13: Failure--disregarding the consciences of the weak.
7) 11:17-34: Failure--abuse of the Lord's Supper.
8) 14:20-26: Failure--misuse of the worship assembly.
Thought QuestionThe church in Corinth's failure to understand the church is a community of believers is obvious. Discuss our failure today to understand that the church is a community of believers.
1 1 Corinthians 1:10.
21 Corinthians 1:11-15.
31 Corinthians 1:18-25.
41 Corinthians 1:26-28.
51 Corinthians 1:29, 30.
61 Corinthians 2.
71 Corinthians 3:1-4.
81 Corinthians 3:5-15.
91 Corinthians 3:16.
101 Corinthians 3:21-23.
11 1 Corinthians 4.
121 Corinthians 5:1, 2.
131 Corinthians 5:6, 7.
141 Corinthians 5:9-13.
151 Corinthians 6:1, 6.
161 Corinthians 6:2-5.
171 Corinthians 6:7, see NIV, RSV, TEV, NEB.
181 Corinthians 6:8-10.
191 Corinthians 6: 11.
201 Corinthians 6:12-19.
211 Corinthians 7:1.
221 Corinthians 10:23.
231 Corinthians 10:24.
241 Corinthians 10:32.
251 Corinthians 11:17.
261 Corinthians 11:18, 19.
271 Corinthians 11:20.
281 Corinthians 11:21.
291 Corinthians 11:22.
301 Corinthians 11:30.
311 Corinthians 12:4.
321 Corinthians 12:7.
331 Corinthians 12:11.
341 Corinthians 12:14-21.
351 Corinthians 12:2-26.
361 Corinthians 14:5.
371 Corinthians 14:3.
381 Corinthians 14:4.
391 Corinthians 14:12.
401 Corinthians 14:26-33.
Chapter 8 Chapter 10
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