MOMENTS OF TRUTH
Disorders in the Church at Corinth
6 October 2019
The word “disorder” as defined by Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language means, “To break order; to derange; to disturb any regular disposition or arrangement of things; to put out of method; to throw into confusion; t confuse.” So, why is it important for us to understand a topic like “Disorders in the church at Corinth”? How does that aid us in our efforts to “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? For those who are striving to serve God, and to serve God faithfully, it is wise for us to learn from the experience of others. Especially if it is a negative experience that we want to avoid. A quick look at 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 we can see Paul’s explanation for why we need to learn from the disorders or mistakes of others, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” As Paul begins this section of Scripture, he points out that he does not want the Corinthians to be ignorant or unlearned about the Israelite History. From verse 6 we learn, as Paul says, these things were our examples, and in verse 11 Paul says these things were written for our admonition; meaning, these things were written to warn us not to behave and live as the Israelites did and we are to be aware of their disorders not repeat them. The Bible provides for us countless opportunities to learn better how to live for Christ in this life. So, learning from the “Disorders in the church at Corinth” will help us learn what not to do when it comes to working with a local congregation.
Let’s remember that a local congregation should be pure in life, strong in convictions, scriptural in worship, sound in doctrine, and united. The disorders in the church at Corinth limited them from meeting these requirements. In turn, it was preventing them from serving God as they should and, in turn, keeping them from bringing glory to God in their endeavors.
We know from Scripture; the apostle Paul established the congregation in Corinth. We also learn the need for his letters to them after he left. For immediately after he left Corinth, problems began to occur. The problems became so bad we know from 1 Corinthians 7:1 the brethren wrote to Paul, “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me…” From the letter of 1 Corinthians itself, we learn considerably about the problems at Corinth. Now, the purpose of this letter from Paul is obvious; Paul wrote the church attempting to help them overcome their pressing problems. What we must always remember, is that what Paul wrote was not only good advice, it was the Word of the Lord as we read in 1 Corinthians 14:37, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.”
Now, because of the severity of the problems or disorders with the church at Corinth the tone of the letter is one of urgency and anxiety. So, as we examine the disorders of the church in Corinth, we must recognize the sense of urgency and anxiety, and apply it in our own efforts to ensure that we, in today’s local congregations, avoid behaving as they did. Don’t forget our reference to 1 Corinthians 10:6, “Now these things became our examples…”
One of the first disorders we want to recognize is the fact that the church in Corinth contained impure living. The congregation tolerated Incest. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife!” The apostle Paul identified and expressed to the Corinthians that this toleration of incest was so bad; the Gentiles would not even practice it. To a Jewish person, to be compared to a Gentile would be a tremendous “smack in the face” if you will. Paul accuses the Corinthians of being puffed up about it and says in 1 Corinthians 5:2, “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” For many today, when we tolerate sinful practices, we are simply “puffed up” as the Corinthians were. We too must recognize our prideful state and turn our concern to the sin and strive to help those overcome it. Listen to what Paul tells them to do in 1 Corinthians 5:3-8, “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Again, Paul admonishes them that their “glorying” is not good. They needed to purge out the old leaven, the sin. We today, must do so as well, for it will ruin the whole. You’ve heard the phrase, “one bad apple, spoils the whole bunch.” Such is the case if we believe that we can handle a situation such as this “incestuous” relationship as the Corinthians thought they could.
A second disorder the Corinthians church had was going to law one with another. In 1 Corinthians 6:1 Paul says, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” Obviously, the Corinthians were not dealing with each other as Christians should. They were allowing personal matters to get out of control and taking one another to a “pagan court.” So, not only were the brethren sinfully negligent of the spiritual needs of the congregation when it came to the incestuous relationship, they were also negligent when it came to disputes between members which lead to heathen courts. Paul encourages the brethren to work things out among themselves. They were to treat each other with brotherly kindness. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:5-7, “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! 7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” Here Paul is writing to them when he says “I speak to your shame” meaning he wanted them to realize their lack of spirituality. So, what they ended up doing, because they were going to court before unbelievers, an implication was made that there was not so much as one wise man among them who had the ability to arbitrate between brethren. This is the opposite of what the Lord’s church is to be made up of, remember, the church is to be the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Therefore, Christians should be able to work out their differences without involving the world.
In first Corinthians 8 we find our next disorder, Weak Convictions. Their weak convictions are shown in their eating of things sacrificed to idols. Now for us today, this may not seem a subject of great importance, but it greatly affected the life of early Christians. But the principles set forth greatly affect modern Christians because from this we learn how to deal with all matters of moral indifference in any period of time. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 we read, “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. 7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” We must take on Paul’s attitude and be sure to pay attention to what we do, being sure to not put a stumbling block before another as the Corinthians were doing. Let’s recognize what Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10:20-21, “Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons.” Let’s note this understanding; it is absolutely necessary to choose either one or the other. If one partakes of the “Lord’s table” and then goes to a pagan temple and eats at the table of demons he has represented himself as being in “communion” with both. But righteousness cannot have fellowship with unrighteousness, nor light with darkness. We must be convicted in our efforts to serve God first and foremost!
Our next disorder with the Corinthian church is found in their unscriptural worship. This is something we must all pay close attention to. The Corinthians had desecrated the Lord’s Supper. We must ensure we do not do the same. Consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:21-22, “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” In these verses we learn that Paul described how the Corinthians had violated the purpose and manner of the Lord’s Supper. In eating, some brought their own food and ate before others arrived. The Lord’s Supper is not to be eaten as a common meal, but they were perverting its purpose by eating as if it were. The question that follows is a clear admonition that the congregational gathering is not designed to be for the purpose for the common meal. “Have you not houses to eat and drink in?” Paul says By eating with the attitude and in the manner they did, they manifested disrespect for the church by causing division. Paul had not praise for those who would elevate themselves with their abundance and put to shame others who were poor. The church of the Lord should be united in faith and love. Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 11:34 and see how Paul summarized what they were to do, “But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.” The term “breaking of bread” is used in two senses (1) a common meal and (2) the Lords Supper. Only the context can determine which is the usage intended. That brethren had close association including the eating of food is clearly indicated, and sharing the common meal should be customary today as mutual love and understanding if fostered thereby. But this can be done at places other than where the congregation has assembled for worship. From these instructions it is absolutely clear that the Lord’s Supper was to be taken in the assembly on the first day of the week and that a common meal was not to be held in connection with it in the assembly. “And if any man hunger, let him eat at home that ye come not together unto condemnation.”
In another aspect the Corinthians church had a disorder was in their unsound doctrine. Some said, “There is no resurrection of the dead.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:12, “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” From this text we see a doctrine that goes against the gospel for if Christ was not raised, then the message of the gospel would be emptied of its very substance and basis for hope. When this was being taught, they were allowing false doctrine to be taught and the denial that Christ was raised. In fact, the whole system of faith falls and would be of no value whatever because it is based on the belief that God raised Christ from the dead.
Lastly, when it comes to the disorders in the church at Corinth, we find division. There were four groups identified and three of them were wrong. Listen to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” As a brother in the Lord and by the authority of Christ, Paul begins his address to the church at Corinth with an exhortation to be united. To “speak the same thing” meant that the doctrine of Christ could be understood alike and therefore “no divisions” should be among them. To be perfectly joined together in the “same mind and the same judgment” meant that they would have the same intellectual convictions and would render united decisions. From this text we can see that the contentions at Corinth were illustrated by four different boasts. Some said they were of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas, and some of Christ. Form the question that Paul raises it is quite evident that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas or Peter were not the source of this party spirit, for their preaching only promoted unity, not division. Paul, Apollos, and Peter were all followers of Christ. Paul desired that none should say they were baptized in his name. Today, the type of division found in Corinth can be plainly seen. Paul’s main purpose was to preach the gospel of “the cross of Christ.” Gospel preachers today must always remember their supreme task is to preach the word. Their primary work is not organizing churches or winning for themselves followers who are not followers of Christ. They must guard against becoming lifted up with pride by their ability to speak eloquently or to be involved in deep discussions on biblical themes. Most of all, gospel preachers must guard against becoming leaders of factions based upon human philosophy.
All of the disorders we have addressed today are examples we find in the church at Corinth. Preserved for all time for those who seek to follow Christ. We must remember that a church must strive for purity in life. It must strive for strong convictions. It must be scriptural in worship sound in doctrine and united. We must all take heed to their example and learn not to do as they did.
Each one of us needs to take the Word of God seriously and allow it to permeate our hearts in a way that we will make His Will our very own. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”
Let everyone believe Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Let everyone hear the Word of God and have the faith described by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 11:1 and 6, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. … 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Let everyone do as Peter told those to do on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Let all confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God as Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Let all follow the wonderful example of obedience found in Acts 8:36-39 where Philip has been teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” The apostle Paul helps us see the importance of baptism in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” When one has been baptized, their sins are washed away and they rise a new child of God, a Christian. This is where the “walk in newness of life” begins. This new beginning requires a lifetime of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus says in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you a crown of life.”