Monday Musings – Love and the Christians in Corinth
When the gospel reached the Greek city of Corinth in the 1st century AD, it set itself against an incredibly diverse cultural milieu. Many writers better educated than myself have written extensively about this, so pick up a socio-rhetorical commentary on Corinthians (Ben Witherington III has written one of the best ones, I think) and see how wild life was in ancient Corinth.
I wonder which gospel they were reading there, or if any written gospels had arrived there yet. A clear reading of these words of Jesus might have solved a lot of problems there.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11 ESV)
Here’s just a glance at some of the problems in Corinth:
- fighting over loyalties to popular preachers
- pride over tolerance of incredibly vile sin (incest a la Absalom in 2 Sam 16:22)
- going to church together on Sunday, suing the coats off each other’s backs on Monday
- pride about wisdom
- pride about riches
- despising one another around the Lord’s table
- boasting over spiritual gifts
- denying the resurrection
Can you imagine attending THAT church?
Can you imagine trying to preach there???
So Paul writes them a letter, where we learn about these problems, and we see Paul’s Spirit-inspired method of problem solving. He doesn’t give them a list of true doctrines. He doesn’t give them a list of approved worship activities. He doesn’t give them a list of sound preachers. He reminds them, over and over and over, that they are all in Christ, and because they are all in Christ, all these behaviors are no longer appropriate. They might have been acceptable in the communities out of which they were saved, but now that they belong to Christ, now that their sins have been washed away, they just can’t act that way anymore. At one of the great climaxes of the letter (the 15th chapter is the other one), he writes this — this brilliant passage that kicks me in the rear every time I read it. It is amazing and beautiful and shockingly counter-cultural. Try to practice it without the Spirit of God, and you will be crushed with guilt and inadequacy. Get in step with the Spirit, though — cooperate with Him — and see what happens! For now, though: read this, and think, “If this is Paul’s answer to all the terrible problems in Corinth, could it be the answer to the problems in my life too?”
I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:8a ESV)
in HIS love,