Problems Plaguing a Local Church – Part 1

In our message, CALLED TO BE GOD’s HOLY PEOPLE (1 Cor. 1:1-9), we started a new series in the book of First Corinthians.

The church at Corinth, like the church in Thessalonica, was founded by Paul and his missionary team on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9; 18:1-17, etc.). And both Thessalonica and Corinth were capitals of large Roman provinces, making them ideal locations for sharing the gospel. Not surprisingly, the foundation of both churches was met with spiritual opposition and warfare (e.g. 2 Thes. 3:1-2, etc.), but while Paul was forced out of Thessalonica after only a few weeks, God allowed the apostle to stay and teach in Corinth for a year and a half! (Acts 18:11).

The church at Corinth, however, was a seriously troubled church with multiple problems that plagued it to include sexual immorality, factions vying for leadership, and the abuse of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1:10-4:21; 12:1-14:40, etc.). Corinth was a very wealthy but immoral city, and sadly much of the culture pushed into the church of that day- as it can in our day… In fact, the Greek playwright Aristophanes made up a Greek verb korinthiazomai- meaning, ‘to act like a Corinthian’ as a synonym for sexual immorality, and Plato also referred to a prostitute as ‘a Corinthian girl’ in his writings. While the Corinthians, like the Thessalonians, worshipped multiple false gods, history shows us the inhabitants of Corinth drew special attention to their cultural lewdness through the worship of Aphrodite, their false goddess of ‘love and beauty’-whom they also devoted a thousand prostitutes to…

Apostle Paul heard that the sexual immorality of the culture was infiltrating the church there while on his third missionary journey, and he wrote them a sharp letter from Ephesus to correct that (i.e. 1 Cor. 5:9). Problems, however, persisted, and “the household of Chloe” wrote Paul back from Corinth to ask for additional guidance with this and other issues in their struggling fellowship (1 Cor. 1:11; 16:17, etc.). The apostle then wrote the book of 1 Corinthians in 54/55 AD which God has sovereignly made part of His holy Word, the Bible, for us today (1 Cor. 1:1, etc.).

The Holy Spirit reminded the Christian brothers who were opposing Paul there in an effort to promote, justify, and continue in the sin of their culture, that they were actually opposing God who saved them (1 Cor. 5:1-2, etc.). That is, it was God who “called [Paul] to be an apostle…through [His]… will,” and it was their same Lord who used this apostle as an instrument to write parts of the Bible through (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, etc.). In terms of application, are there times when churches in America make a similar error by redefining or ignoring the Bible today in an effort to promote, justify, and/or continue in the sin of our changing culture? Christians who do this and continue in such sins unrepentantly the Bible states will “suffer loss” at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, etc.).

Even though there were multiple problems in Corinth, the Holy Spirit starts here with who the Corinthian Christians are “in Christ,” and reminds them of their destiny because of grace (Eph. 1:1-14, etc.). They are “saints” (this is positional justification here) by virtue of the blood of Christ that was applied to their lives the moment they believed and became God’s children (1 Cor. 1:2-3; John 1:12-13; Rom. 3:23-25; Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). Indeed, the Lord is writing to “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). That is, HE IS WRITING TO THOSE SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH and NOT non-Christians. This distinction will become very important as we progress through the book of 1 Corinthians because if you ever would be tempted to say someone is not a Christian, it would probably be here where the Lord deals with some of His “carnal” fleshly children (1 Cor. 3:1-15, etc.). As Dr. Thomas Constable correctly notes, “…when Paul addresses his commands and challenges to the church, he’s speaking to believers… CHRISTAINS CAN DO, AND HAVE DONE, EVERYTHING UNGODLY AND SINFUL THAT UNBELIEVERS HAVE DONE [though we should be growing in Christ]… Paul is addressing believers in his challenges [here], unless he identifies them specifically as unbelievers.” (1 Cor. 10:12, etc.). It is important also to note, the church in Corinth like all local churches has two addresses: a physical address (Corinth) and a spiritual address (heaven- God’s kingdom by grace). Likewise, the Corinthian church, like our church here at SpringHill, is God’s church (i.e. it is “the church of God”). We do not own it; Jesus does, having purchased us with His precious blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). All that is done in our lives should be for God’s glory (Eph. 1:1-14, etc.).

Paul then offers thanksgiving to God for the Corinthians, which might seem odd, considering the many problems in the church. But Paul focuses his praise on the eternally faithful God, and is thankful for the fact that the church there is saved by “the grace of God which was given to [them] by Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). This grace also made them rich by gifts from the Spirit which are to be used for God’s glory, and the Word says here they help ‘confirm’ experientially the gospel of their salvation (1 Cor. 1:5-6). Paul will later discuss abuses of their gifts in chapters 12 through 14, but here he thanks God for these unmerited and unearned blessings of grace bestowed upon them from heaven. These gifts (which they did not deserve, work for, or earn) are to be used by God right up to the day Christ returns for them in the rapture of the church (1 Cor. 1:7). We see here, again, the early church waited “eagerly” for Christ’s return which can happen at any moment (1 Cor. 1:7). We should also be doing the same, letting Christ do the good works He wants to through us until He comes (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thes. 3:6-15; Luke 19:13; Eph. 2:10, etc.).

Because of grace, God will “confirm [all Christians] to the end,” and He will also make us “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” as God has imputed the guilt of all our sin on Jesus at Calvary (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:21, etc.). Paul had this confidence and could face the difficult problems in Corinth optimistically because he knew where the church was going in the end… because of God’s faithfulness (1 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 1:6; 2 Thes. 3:3; Col. 1:27, etc.). But he also prayed they would walk in “fellowship” today with Christ living the life now (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:9, etc.) as one cannot enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ while being at odds with other members in His body or harboring sin in one’s life (Matt. 5:23-24; 1 John 1:9, etc.). God invites us into daily “partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9 NLT). It is important to understand while the Corinthian Christians were positionally “saints” with all their sin forgiven, the blamelessness spoken of here does not refer to their works, but to their standing in Christ, i.e. their justification (1 Cor. 1:2, 8; 3:14-15, etc.). The Bible also shows us we as Christians should “make it our aim [on this side of heaven] … to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:9-10; 1 Cor. 11:31-32; 1 Thes. 4:1, 2 Tim. 2:1-4; Heb. 12:28-29; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.).