Today we begin a foray into the book 1 Corinthians. This is one of Saint Paul’s earlier letters, addressed to a church he had founded about three years previously. The situation in Corinth was rocky – the church had grown nicely, thanks especially to some good teachers and an outpouring of various spiritual gifts, but now it was beginning to fracture as different wealthy parties in the church began arguing over how “spiritual” they were, and some of them were getting so arrogant as to think they’d surpassed their Apostle, Paul, in “true spirituality.” After all, they abounded in spiritual gifts and were rich, while poor old Paul was still traveling out there, hardly a penny to his name, and not living a very “abundant” life. Perhaps God just hadn’t blessed Paul as much as He’d blessed them.
Many of the issues that existed among the Corinthians are issues that have come up among Christians in America, too – an unhealthy obsession with having “spiritual gifts” without Christian character, a love of money so great that to be wealthy is to be “blessed by God” and to be poor is a scourge. Many people today put forth a “gospel” in which God is a generous dude who wants us all to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. To be visibly successful is to be “blessed.” And if one is so blessed, what’s a little pagan idolatry on the side? What’s a little extra-marital affair when you know God already loves you? False teachers abound, back then and now, and we must be on our guard against their destructive lies.
One example who has been put into the national spotlight lately is Paula White. On the surface her doctrinal claims look good on the basics, but as you listen to her teachings you find that those good claims are only lip service. Money and wealth are inextricably wrapped up with her understanding of Christ’s atonement on the Cross, faith to her is a power that we wield (rather than a gift from God), and she does not distinguish between what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God versus us being children of God. As she, and other preachers of the false “prosperity gospel” become more mainstream on TV in the coming years, I urge to keep your ears and eyes on the Bible. False shepherds are always more obvious when you’re focused on the Good Shepherd.
Anyway, the Corinthians had similar problems then as we do now. But in the greetings and opening prayer of Paul’s letter, none of those issues are obviously brought to the fore. Rather than starting out with the hammer of justice, St. Paul decides to start with the positives. Look at all the good things he has to say, and how all those good things came about:
- v1 Paul wrote this, but is called by God…
- v2 Church is in Corinth, but is “of God”
- v2 Sanctified, but in Christ Jesus
- v2 Called saints, but with Church Catholic to worship God
- v3 Grace & peace from God
- v4 Grace in you… from God in Christ Jesus
- v5 Enriched with speech and knowledge… in Christ
- v7 Not lacking any good gift… to help you wait for the revelation of Jesus Christ
- v9 Called into fellowship… by God who is faithful
Notice zero credit goes to the Corinthians. This is a very basic but important lesson; the Church belongs to God, the Church is run by God, the Church is prospered by God, the Church is grown by God. It is not all up to me. It is not all up to you. Thanks be to God!
There are many commands from God that sit upon our shoulders; we are to be obedient to our Lord and King, after all. Going through this letter, 1 Corinthians, you will find many commands, instructions, rebukes, corrections, and reminders about basic godly behavior and decent church order. But from the outset, Paul wants to make sure that his readers understand that it is God who is in charge. When a church abounds in spiritual gifts or explodes in growth, it is due to the faithfulness of God, not to the faithfulness of the people. We are called to be faithful, but the success of the Church does not rely upon us. Thanks be to God!