Corinth was a busy metropolitan city in the days that Paul helped start the church there. But Corinth also had a much-deserved reputation for moral bankruptcy. Folks who were in the practice of using prostitutes were said to have “Corinthianized.” This term later came to be used to describe moral decay in general. The sins out of which the Corinthian Christians came attest to the type of society it was (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
At the time Paul wrote his first letter to the church there, they were a troubled group, struggling to jettison the influences of their past. Factions had formed in the church over preachers. There was an immoral relationship among them that they not only refused to deal with, they were proud of their tolerance of it. They were taking each other to small claims court. They were trying to navigate sticky marriage situations. There was dissension over what to do about eating food that had been offered to idols. Their worship assemblies had become chaotic and divisive. And if that were not enough, a sizable number of Christians there were denying a fundamental tenet of the Christian religion – the resurrection of the dead. What could we possibly learn from a church that was so messed up?
Churches will have problems as long as they are made up of people. Christians are not perfect people. We are saved people. We are holy people. We are sanctified people (1 Cor. 6:11). But we retain weaknesses and we do sin. This will be our lot until the Lord returns.
Congregational leadership cannot ignore problems. Shepherds are not shepherding if they refuse to care for sick sheep and ward off dangerous wolves. Though the ideal is to avoid problems, we can benefit from them if we respond properly to them (1 Cor. 11:17-19).
God’s longsuffering is immeasurable. It is amazing that even with all of their problems, they were still God’s church (1 Cor. 1:2). They were still set apart in Christ. They were still saints just like every other saint. This did not mean that they could ignore their problems and maintain that good standing indefinitely (cf. Rev. 2:5; 3:20). But it does shine a bright light on the longsuffering of God, reminding us that he has the final say on the status of his churches.
We should have confidence in each other. Though they had their share of problems, Paul was confident that they would fix them and not forfeit their eternal salvation (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Because we live in a skeptical and cynical world, it is easy to look at each other – brothers and sisters in the same family – with the same kind of carnal skepticism and cynicism. Instead, let’s follow Paul’s example and show more confidence in each other. “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way” (Heb. 6:9).
As Paul reminded our brothers and sisters in Corinth, the church is God’s temple (3:16-17). As such, we are to embody all that it means to belong to God (cf. 6:19-20), showing our contemporaries that there is a difference between the life of a sinner and the life of a saint. In addition, the church is to function as the body of Jesus Christ (10:17; 11:29; 12:12-20), putting aside our own personal agendas and working together in harmony. May God bless us to that end.