Reading Time: 6 Minutes
I have adjusted the format of my blog articles, alternating one day with the prophets and the next with Paul’s letters. I felt that I was just skimming the great texts of the Bible by trying to highlight both at the same time.
To get a better picture of Paul’s message to the church in Corinth, we need some insight to what Corinth was like in A.D. 50.
Corinth: Five Fast Facts
(1) Corinth was the most prosperous city in Greece. The city was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Roman army, but rebuilt by the Romans to be a Roman colony. It was largely populated by Roman slaves who had received freedom and former members of the army.
(2) Honor and shame was a driving force among the people of Corinth. Public recognition was highly regarded and a person’s worth was determined how popular they were in the city.
(3) Corinth was a center of trade, a tourist attraction (especially for Olympic-like games), and a center for religious activity.
(4) Religion in Corinth focused on what the gods could “do for me” in the here-and-now. Sacrifices and religious activities were designed to persuade the gods to grant healing, financial wealth, fertility, good luck and prosperity to individuals.
(5) In A.D. 50 there were 70-80 thousand people in Corinth. The church that Paul founded probably had less than 100 members.
Competition with Culture
Every Christian faces the issue of whether their life will be more conformed to the worldview of society or shaped by their relationship with Jesus.
If your brand of religion in Corinth offered physical health, financial prosperity and good luck, you certainly would have a following. Among the ancient ruins of Corinth are elaborate temples to the religions that offered those kind of services.
The church in Corinth didn’t meet in grand temples. They met in the homes of their members. Their message centered around a cross, not health and wealth.
— 1 Corinthians 1.18 – For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The founder of the church, Paul, didn’t claim to have the eloquence of the popular speakers of the day. In fact, he claimed just the opposite.
— 1 Corinthians 1.17 – For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
— 1 Corinthians 2.1 – When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.
In a city that made popularity, respect, and status the measure of a successful life, Paul determined to lead the fledgling church to glorify God and not human achievement.
— 1 Corinthians 1.26 – Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
The church in Corinth did have some relatively powerful members, but for the most part it was comprised of the “nobodies” of the city.
Paul pointed out that God would use the “nobodies” to bring him glory.
— 1 Corinthians 1.27-29 – But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
Paul’s message ran counter to the personal striving of ambitious citizens in Corinth.
Instead of a “health, wealth, and prosperity” message, there was the message of the cross.
Instead of a way to gain prestige and popularity, attention was turned from the glorification of self to the glorification of God.
How are we like the Corinthians?
As we apply the opening words of this letter to our own lives, we must ask ourselves how we may fall into the trap that captured the church in Corinth and necessitated Paul’s letter of correction.
— We live in a time when the saying, “I want what I want when I want it – and I want it now,” seems to be the dominant view of American people.
As a result, “health and wealth” preachers are able to build magnificent temples and fly across the country in their private jets.
I know my words are harsh and I think that every ministry should stand on its own merit without my critical opinions.
What I ask of myself and you is that we prayerfully examine current pop-culture ministries in the light of Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
— Apparently Paul was not a good public speaker. His letters were intended to be read to the congregation by someone who could communicate well.
Because Apollos was an excellent orator (1 Corinthians 1.12), the congregation was split over following the orator Apollos or Paul who founded the church.
A very discerning pastor from another country was asked what he thought about American Christianity. He said that it was dominated by a spirit of entertainment.
I don’t like to be bored in church anymore than the next person, and I really don’t like to bore people with my preaching. However, whether we are entertained or not can not be the criteria for ministry.
There must be more than whether we enjoy music or preaching.
Discernment is important. Please check the theology of your favorite worship music or YouTube minister by a daily and thorough reading of the Bible.
I hesitate to write these words. Please accept them from someone who has 50 years of experience.
Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your reading and listening to make sure you are being led by someone who is accurate as well as entertaining.
— The “nobodies” of Corinth found a place where they could be a “somebody.”
Most of the people in the church of Corinth would never be accepted into the social clubs of Corinth, but they could become important in the smaller setting of a house church.
I praise God that people can find significance and relationships in church. Yet, if that is our only desire, then we need to hear Paul’s message loud and clear.
The message of the cross is one of self-denial and not self-fulfillment. In fact, Paul modeled a humble approach to ministry that hid his abilities behind the cross of Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 2.2-3 – For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
He wanted people everywhere to know God’s work through their own personal experience, not the emotion of hearing a good message.
— 1 Corinthians 2.4-5 – My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Please pray through my opinions. They are written to protect and encourage. I care for the church in America and I worry about our future ability to expand the ministry of Christ.
I don’t expect anyone to “swallow whole” my thoughts, but I ask you to prayerfully consider Paul’s message and my application of it to your life.
About this Blog
Tomorrow’s blog article will return to the message of the Prophet Amos. The following day we will study Paul’s message about wisdom in 1 Corinthians.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood Baptist prayer team will be happy to pray for you.