Monday, September 17, 2007

1 Corinthians 1:1-19

Today we begin reading in 1 Corinthians. This epistle constitutes one of two surviving letters from Paul to the Christian community in Corinth. Paul’s letters to Corinth convey considerable information about the life of a first century Christian community, and they contain some of his richest reflections on Christian faith and life.

Corinth was a major city and commercial center in Achaia (roughly the southern half of modern Greece). It had a large and diverse population ethnically, religiously, and morally. The Christian community in Corinth arose in response to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel there around 52 A.D., on his second missionary journey. Paul spent about a year and a half living, preaching, and teaching in Corinth. A few years later, around 55 A.D., in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, Paul heard reports about the Corinthian church that led him to write this letter.

Paul opened the letter in standard style for the time. First, he introduced himself. Second, he identified the recipients of the letter. Third, he greeted them with wishes for their well being. Then Paul expressed his affection for his Corinthian brothers and sisters in Christ, and he commended them for their experience of grace, their knowledge of spiritual truth, and their spiritual gifts. However, as the letter will show, along with their strengths, serious problems afflicted their faith and life.

Factionalism was one such ill bedeviling the church. Members were separating into contentious groups favoring this church leader or teacher against that one. In the face of this, Paul underscored that Christ is undivided. Hence, the Body of Christ is in essence undivided, and this organic unity in Christ should be lived out among the members of the Body. But contention and division had slithered in and poisoned the church in Corinth.

The Church today continues to suffer such ills. We fall short of and contradict the unity of Christ. Our witness to the world correspondingly degrades. If Christ is one, and if Christ desires and creates unity, how can we move from contention and division to unity? Much could be said, for these matters involve considerable theological, spiritual, historical, and relational complexity. Yet two things we can say with certainty. (1) Unity roots in and stems from Christ. Hence, we are one in Christ, or we are not truly one. (2) Unity roots in and stems from the cross of Christ. Hence, we are one in Christ because of his cross, or we are not truly one. We have no hope in any person, value, or process other than Christ himself, his unity, and his cross. How then we can submit ourselves to Christ and to his cross, to live in the great goodness of his unity?

Gregory Strong

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