Church, warts and all
1 Corinthians 1.1-17 (New Revised Standard Version)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’
Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
We can sometimes look back at the past with rose tinted spectacles. We can even do that with the Church.
Today we begin to read and reflect on Pauls letter to Corinthians and if you ever want a letter to show that the Church has never been perfect, read this.
Corinth was one the great cities of the Roman Empire. All the main east-west trade passed through Corinth, so it was always full of people on the move. And I have read it was also a natural stopping –off point for tired businessmen seeking a little relaxation. Corinth was therefore infamous for its low moral standards.
It was into this context that Paul took time to plant a Church there, maybe not so different from today, so that it would be well-protected against the pressures and temptations of the city. But he also did it because he knew that a great trading place like Corinth could be good strategically for getting out the Christian message.
Unfortunately, even with all of Pauls efforts the young Church developed all sorts of issues, some of which we see in this chapter.
But first I want to note that when Paul begins this letter with one person’s name at its heart, the name of Jesus. Paul’s central concern here and throughout his life and work, was Jesus. The name occurs 8 times in 9 verses. Paul couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, because without Jesus nothing else he did or said made sense. And what he wants these Corinthians to get hold of most of all is what it means to have Jesus at the middle of your story, your life, your thoughts. If they can do that this will help with everything else.
So, after reminding them about who they are in Jesus, he comes to the first problem which seems that it has got back to Paul that there are divisions in the Church. People following different leaders. Some saying, “I follow Paul,” another “I follow Apollos”, another, “I follow Cephas”, another, “I follow Christ”
Perhaps some preferred Apollos teaching style, maybe some thought Cephas represented a more Jewish form of Christianity, so perhaps more orthodox and then others did, what people can still do today, and claim they are the only true followers.
What we need to realise is that this city prided itself on its intellectual life. They would have different people come and speak and share their wisdom. These people were known as sophists and these sophists were often keen on making disciples for themselves. Their followers often quarrelled amongst themselves as who was the greatest teacher. The Church in Corinth had fallen into this pattern of behaviour and treated Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Jesus as teachers to be played off against one another. It is so easily done. Paul reminded them that the only wisdom they needed was the wisdom of the Gospel and to be remember they had been baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.
We need to do all we can to be united as a Church, remembering that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. The World can be hard enough without falling out amongst ourselves.
Dear Lord Jesus, You are our Prince of Peace and You prayed for unity in the body of Christ, that we may be united in love just as You are united with the Father in love.
Give Your children the desire to love one another as You have loved us, and let the world know that we are Your disciples by our love for one another.
Give us a hunger to live in union with each another, and may we be united as one, in the bond of peace and fellowship, in the Spirit. This we ask in Jesus’ name,
Area Dean & Associate Hub Leader
(Town Centre Hub)