Corinthians. What an interesting book.
I guess from a pastoral point of view the books of Corinthians provide a bit of comfort. They show us that the church has never been a perfect entity. It is comforting that the Bible is honest with us about that fact. There has been much made over the years about the “Acts 2 church”, that picture that Luke paints for us about a group of people who shared their possession, cared for the poor, had meals together and were largely united in life and purpose. It has been the aim of more than one church to return to those puritan roots.
But against the backdrop of that picture we have a rather discordant image emerging from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.
Don’t get me wrong, all was not disaster and mayhem in the Corinthian church; they were just a church with an array of kind of specific issues that Paul determined needing addressing.
Today’s chapters, for instance, deal with a rather prevalent issue that exists in many churches still today: position and power. There were some in the Corinthian church who considered themselves something special either because of their position, their acts of service or their particular spiritual gifts. That final one was a major issue Paul was addressing with this church. There were some that had been gifted with the spectacular gifts (prophesying, speaking in tongues) who thought they were “all that and a bag of chips”. Paul had to remind them that all of the gifts given to Christians by the Holy Spirit were valuable to the whole church, with each one being designed to fit into a specific niche.
It amazes me that these issues exist in churches today, although the positional issues are not the same. I have always been kind of dumbfounded when there are people who vie for “power” in the church. The only power in the church belongs to God. People have opinions and think they can be pushy, but that’s not power. I have also known the situation where people think they can buy power in the church, that their giving/tithing level gives them the right to a bigger say than others. This also confuses me a bit. When we give to God, we should give because we believe in the mission of spreading the gospel and the belief that people to need to hear about God’s love for them shown through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We should not give because of some ulterior motive.
Allow me say one further thing. Notice where 1 Corinthians 13 is located. It is sandwiched between two chapters that talk about unity in the church and orderly church meetings. While I appreciate what 1 Corinthians 13 says about love all by itself, it is important that Paul gives us these words about love in the context of his discussion about unity and peace in the church. Love is what makes spiritual gifts, giving and the churches very existence worthwhile and meaningful. Without love, Paul writes, our gospel is nothing but background noise; without love our spiritual gifts amount to nothing; and without love all of our good works gain us nothing.
It is love that makes the church something special, something different. If a church does not have love, love for God, love for one another and love to pour into the world, then (at best) we are nothing more than another social club; and (at worst) we are hypocrites and hustlers. There are many things that are important in the life of a church, but if they are not motivated and driven by love for God, love for Christian brothers and sisters and love for the lost souls around us, then they mean nothing.
Churches have the kinds of problems any organization has that is run by people…yes I understand how silly that sounds. So very often people are the problem. I am reminded of Ghandi who said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” So many things that we deal with in the church could be avoided if people would stop and ask themselves “Is what I am about to say or do or complain about motivated out of love (for God, other Christians or the lost) or something else?”
Maybe worth thinking about.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 15-16