Ghandi famously once said of the church: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
While Ghandi is not an authority on Christ and the Church he did observe something that is true but hard for us to take. He heard one thing ‘The teaching of Christ’ but yet he saw something very different ‘The behaviour of the Church’. They simply did not match up!
That was true of the Church in Corinth and sadly it can be said of the Church today.
The church in Corinth was planted in 50AD (Acts 18v1-18a) during Paul’s second ‘missionary journey’. Having arrived in the city on his own he met Aquila and his wife Priscilla who teamed up with Paul as ‘Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 18v4). Paul was later joined by his gospel team mates, Silas and Timothy, which meant he could ‘devote himself exclusively to the preaching …that Jesus was the Christ’ (v5). While there was much opposition ‘many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.’ (v8) Paul stayed in Corinth for at least eighteen months ‘teaching them the word of God’ (v11). After Paul left Corinth Apollos arrived where he continued on the good work ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ v28.
Despite these encouraging beginnings the church in Corinth did not mature and grow: ‘Brothers and sisters I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3v3). Sadly these ‘worldly’ issues were not new. Paul had already written to them before: ‘I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people…but now I am writing to you…5v9,11. These matters had not been dealt with and it was causing the church to fall and fail in it’s witness. Paul was concerned for them and was firm in his challenge: ‘Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; (15v34).
While we don’t have any record of Paul’s ‘First’ letter to Corinth, we do have his ‘Second’ letter which we now call First Corinthians. Addressing each issue in turn Paul leads us back to a church that not only teaches about Christ but begins to behave as the people of Christ.
Called to be Holy
Paul starts by bringing us back to our true identity.
Encouragingly we are reminded that we are: ‘The Church of God…sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be Holy.’ 1v2.
Holy, as some people might think, is not hiding away from the world with your bible and singing old hymns, although reading your bible and singing hymns are great things to do. No! ‘Holy’ means to be made clean and pure so as to be made acceptable to God. It also means to be set apart, to be pure and different from that which is around you. Amazingly we have been made Holy (sanctified) through Jesus and are now called to be Holy in the world in which we live. Thankfully we do not do this alone: ‘He (God) will keep you strong to the end… He who called you… is faithful’ 1v8.9. The church is messy and the way back to being a true church is to remember our true identity – we are God’s holy people, made pure and blameless through the redeeming work of Jesus and called to live pure and blameless lives in the world.
But how do we live out our calling to be Holy? Well I Corinthians 16v13-14 are a good summary of the letter and what it means to be God’s holy people: ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’
So lets go through these two short verse in four steps which will help us move from Messy church to Holy church.
First ‘Be on your guard’ – Sin is deadly 16v13a
The church was very messy because of the sin that was undealt with in their lives. There were: Quarrels among them leading to division and fall out 1v11; Superior attitudes over people 1v26; Arrogance towards leaders 4v18; Sexual immorality 5v1, 6v18; Disputes 6v1; Marriage break up 7v2; Causing others to sin and Misusing their freedom 8v12; Drunkenness at the Lords Supper 11v21; Disorder in church gatherings 14v40
Their sin was like ‘Yeast’ 5v7 which was impacting and effecting the whole church family. As a result God’s judgement was among them, some were getting sick and some even died 11v30! Paul’s encouragement to the church is clear: ‘Come back to your senses…and stop sinning’ 15v34
Second ‘Stand firm in the faith’ – Remember the gospel 16v13b
The way to deal with these sin problems in the life of the church was to get back to the gospel. The gospel is primarily about God and what he has done for us: ‘God who called us into fellowship with himself is faithful’ 1v9; God has chosen us by his grace 1v27; God has saved us through the power of his Holy Spirit 2v4; We are the temple of the Holy Spirit 3v16/6v19; We have been washed, sanctified and justified by God 6v11; We are now the body of Christ 12v27; We have been made alive in Christ 15v22; We have the victory in Jesus Christ 15v26
This is the ‘gospel by which we are saved’ 15v2. This is the gospel that saves us and it is the gospel on which we must stand. We need to make sure we are standing firm in the gospel: ‘If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ 10v12. To make sure we don’t fall and stand firm Paul takes us back to the gospel: I want to remind you of the gospel…on which you have taken your stand.’ 15v1. Keeping to the gospel will deal with the problem of sin in the church.
Third ‘Be men/women of courage; be strong’ – Live for God 16v13c
Living as a Christian in the world is tough, it’s hard to be church as God calls us to be. But we must resist following the ways of the world around us and live for God as his new holy people. To do this we must turn from living for self and live for God. There must be: No more boasting of yourself – it’s all of grace 1v29-31; Follow the Christ-like example of Paul 4v16, 11v1; Honour God with your body 6v20; Give undivided devotion to the Lord 7v35; Do everything for the glory of God 10v31
Paul knows it’s tough and the temptation is to give in so he reminds us: ‘He (God) will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…he will also provide a way out so that you can stand’ 10v13. Paul is crystal clear in what he says: No compromise. No more split loyalties. Live as God’s people in the world but not of the world. We need Paul’s encouragement: ‘Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.’ 15v58. Be confident that God will use our efforts for his glory.
Fourth ‘Do everything in love’ – Love the church 16v14
Rather than be divided and fall out with each other as the church was doing we are encouraged to live out our new lives as God’s people by loving the church. The Christian life is never lived out in isolation but in community. This love means we: Are united together in Christ 1v10/13; Discipline those who are unrepentant to win them back 5v13; Care for the weaker brother 8v4; Surrender our rights for the sake of the gospel 9v19; Share with each other in the Lords Supper 11v33; Use our gifts to build up the Church 12v7; Love each other 13v4; Make every effort to build up the church family 14v4, 26
The good news is we have not been left alone to do this. We are not lacking anything: ‘For in him we have been enriched in every way…therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus to be revealed.’ 1v5, 7.
I Corinthians reminds us that the church is messy. It is made up of sinful broken people like us who are more worldly that spiritual. If our sin if not dealt with it will destroy the church family and fail in it’s witness. The way back to being a true church is to remember our true identity ‘Called to be Holy’. We remember the gospel, all that Christ has done for us on our behalf and in response live for God and love the church. This way, the church becomes all that we are meant to be. So ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’ 16v13-14.