Words of Grace: 1 Corinthians & Congregational Ministry

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saint, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

– The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 1.2-3, NRSV

Words of grace indeed!  I don’t know if you paid much attention to who these Christians in Corinth were at the time when the apostle Paul wrote this letter to them but if you have, it might surprise you to hear such a greeting being offered to them.  I know it was to me the first time someone pointed out to me that Paul still spoke of the Corinthian Christians as people who are ‘sanctified in Christ’…actual ‘saints’, including them in the fellowship of all who belong to the community of God and receive grace and peace from God and Jesus. 

Why might it be surprising?  Look at the problems in the Corinthian church.  They still valued the wisdom of the world over the wisdom of God displayed in the foolishness of the cross (Ch. 1).  It only gets worse. 

  • They value a speaker with lofty rhetoric over one who proclaims the gospel truth (Ch. 2)
  • They use the names of men as grounds for boasting that fosters division rather than boasting in the gospel of Jesus Christ which fosters unity (Ch. 3)
  • They still have many immoral behaviors about them, even tolerating a level of immorality that is found even to be repulsive by pagan standards (Ch. 5)
  • They are filing lawsuits against each other in the public courts while remaining unsure of what behaviors are befitting for the people of God (Ch. 6)
  • They are confused over what constitutes marriage (Ch. 7)
  • For some, they still struggle with polytheism (belief in many gods) which is why they struggle with food offered to idols (Ch.8)
  • They have issues with the very apostles who established the gospel among them (Ch. 9)
  • They are still dishonoring the body of Christ by serving themselves rather than considering other believers first (Ch. 10)
  • They have multiple misunderstandings and disastrous practices surrounding the worship assembly, so much that it takes four chapters in our English Bibles and some very specific corrective instructions from the apostle Paul to deal with these problems (Ch. 11-14)
  • They are doctrinally confused to the point of error when it comes to the resurrection of the dead (Ch 15)

Yet (and it is a big “yet”)… chapter 16 makes it clear that Paul has neither gave up on the Corinthian Christians nor ceased to love them but plans to come and visit with them, even hoping to send other ministers of the gospel to visit with them.  What a remarkable showing of grace.  Now we understand why Paul greeted the Christians in Corinth with words of grace. 

The more I serve in ministry the more I am aware of the problems all churches have (some of which I am or have been a member of and/or minister for).  Now admittedly, I have never been a part of a church with the degree of problems that are found in Corinth nor have I ever heard of such a church that has as many problems at one time as we find in Corinth (and I have found much love and encouragement in the churches I have been a part of).  However, we all know churches that have struggled at times with one of more of these problems.  What is our response?

I am not excusing such problems nor do I believe such problems, in the name of toleration and ecumenism, should be dismissed or taken lightly.  They need to be dealt with and only someone – missionary, preacher, elder, etc…called by God – who has an established relationship with the people (church) is in a position of knowing exactly how to move forward in dealing with such issues.  But what I do know is that any helpful response begins by showing grace and offering words of grace.

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One response to “Words of Grace: 1 Corinthians & Congregational Ministry

  1. Paul certainly doesn’t “disfellowship” them (1 Cor. 1:9); he is thankful for them (1:4); and calls them “brothers” (1:10). Paul – and Timothy – are still calling them “brothers” in the second (or third?) letter (2 Cor. 1:8) and “dear friends” (7:1) even though he sounded ticked off at them from time to time for snubbing him in favor of some “super apostles.” That, even though Paul has already made at least two visits and is afraid that he will find some still living in sin that he has warned the church about.

    I wonder how many of us would be willing to extend that kind of grace today?

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