A Young Church in a Pagan Culture

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), November 18

images-2Corinth is a city filled with merchants, entertainers, philosophers, athletes, and ex-soldiers—many who are sexually immoral and idolatrous. Into this mix, armed only with the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul the church planter enters, outnumbered 600,000 to one.

The Corinthians’ only hope is the Gospel; therefore, untempered by political correctness and without eloquence and alliteration, Paul preaches the Gospel and plants a church. It is to this band of believers (former everything-that-you-can-imagine) that Paul writes two of his longest letters, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2). He calls them saints!

Saints differ from other Corinthians. Therefore, Paul spends the first four chapters of his first letter to the Corinthian believers demonstrating that the entrance of the Gospel demands an exit from division and reliance upon worldly wisdom:

Division and Unity – Saints do not measure themselves by or against other believers; they affirm and appreciate the differences between themselves and others.

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1:10). Paul rebukes the believers for forming into groups based on their favorite teachers and calls them out for their jealousy and quarreling. He challenges their personality-based allegiances:

  • “I am of Paul” – the former persecuted and murderer (These followers prefer to be called “outside of the box” or non-conformists)
  • “I am of Apollos” – the cultured and eloquent teaching-preacher (These followers consider themselves the intellectual elite)
  • “I am of Cephas” – the bold and colorful preacher (These followers enjoy those who “tell it like it is”)
  • “I am of Christ – the leader of the movement (His followers are the really spiritual and have little time for Paul, Apollos, or Peter)

Since Christ is undivided, so must His followers be united, “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (3:3).

Worldly wisdom – Saints value the preaching of the cross, trust Christ alone for salvation, and value the illumination given by the Holy Spirit.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1:21) Worldly wisdom has not “saved” the Corinthians from their sins, and worldly wisdom cannot mature them in the faith. Therefore, Paul announces that God’s wisdom is revealed by the Spirit—not “figured out” by human reasoning: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (2:12); “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritual discerned” (2:14).

Paul is confident in the gospel’s power to save; therefore He preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is confident in the Spirit’s ability to mature believers; therefore He preaches against being “puffed up on behalf of one against the another” (4:6).

Becoming “groupies” of certain teachers and relying upon worldly wisdom inhibits spiritual growth.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Acts 18:24-19:20; 1 Cor. 1:1-3:23):
Paul finds the local synagogue in every city he enters. Describe what happens with Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:8-20). What precipitates the success of his ministry there?