Next week we begin a series in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, where we will learn how to live as Christ’s church in our cities. We’ll learn from the great city of Corinth, a major port city of the Roman Empire, located just south of the isthmus that connects mainland Greece with Peloponnese. Famous for its unique architecture, Corinth was most widely celebrated as the control port between north-south traffic, and was also an indispensible land link between east-west trade. The old city of Corinth, which was destroyed by Rome in 146 B.C. was world renowned for its immoral practices; in fact, to ‘Corinthianize’ was synonymous with to fornicate. The new city of Corinth, which was founded afresh as a Roman colony in 29 B.C. was populated by Jews and Greeks, but dominated by Romans of varying social status. As a large commercial center and port city, the new city of Corinth did not have a reputation for moral decency. Greed and lust which often correlate with big city life abounded.
Some time in early 55 A.D., while he was in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul received word from “Chloe’s household” (1 Cor 1:11) of severe divisions that existed in the Corinthian church that he planted during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11). This or other letters and reports which landed in the hands of the apostle, communicated the gross immorality, lawsuits, marriage difficulties, idolatry, abuses in the formal worship setting, and heresies which infected the church; all this while the church believed themselves to be spiritual and mature, because of certain religious practices that were taking place in their midst. Paul wrote his epistle to them in order to provide practical instruction on the matters which plagued them. His ultimate goal was to challenge their mindset so that they might leave the way of life which they copied from the city life which surrounded them. Though carnal, they had spiritualized their lifestyle via a “theology of glory” – creating a church full of people hungry to impress one another by climbing the ladder of ministerial success, looking religious, but lacking any genuine spirituality. Their view of church life followed after the pattern of Corinthian society, as they pursued worldly wisdom which implicitly contradicts the Christian duties of service and love; so Paul’s goal was to see their minds renewed so that they might repent of their sinful divisions and adopt a “theology of the cross” characterized by love, humility and service. It is only such theology that creates a mature church where people are genuinely concerned for the welfare of others, as the cross shapes Christian ethics and attitudes, the height of which is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 13 – love.
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