The early church was not what we often believe it was: It is hard to read this letter and conclude that ‘we need to get back to the early church.’ If Corinth is any indication, we might need to steer clear just a bit. Truth is, every local church has faults, even some serious faults. That is not an excuse for us to just dismiss our shortcomings (that is not the approach that Paul takes in the letter). But it should keep us humble, give us perspective, and prevent us from being too harsh on the local church today.
Sexual sin is not new: The Corinthians were struggling with what to do with their bodies. Due to cultural leanings, some wanted to act as if what we do with our bodies is inconsequential. Who cares if we sleep with prostitutes or our father’s wife? Paul confronted these errors directly and did not shy away from the truth that God commands us to use our bodies (and our sex) for His purposes and His glory. Such truth will be needed in our churches until the Lord returns.
Christians must labor to love each other: It sounds so simple: “Let all that you do be done in love” (16:14). Yet, churches continue to struggle with this command. We claim to love each other and at least act like we do at times, but when push comes to shove, we all have a tendency to act in our flesh. We look out for number one and convince ourselves that we are justified in our actions. In doing that, our love looks more like what the world has to offer than what was displayed by our crucified Savior. If we thought about Him before we made the call or sent the email or spoke in the business meeting, then perhaps we would learn how to love like He did. The sacrificial love of Christ will overcome any division in the Body of Christ. We must never stop laboring for that kind of love.
The gospel is the answer: Paul confronts numerous problems in the church at Corinth: division, worldly wisdom, sexual sin, lawsuits, divorce, idolatry, selfishness in corporate worship, and denial of bodily resurrection. And what is the answer to each of these problems?
“For this I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (15:3-4)
Living out the Christian faith with a community of believers is not easy, but neither is it complex. The problems will be numerous and varied. But the answer is always the same: live the gospel. Treat each other as Christ has treated you. Serve each other as Christ has served you. Forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you. Show mercy and grace and love to each other as Christ has shown to you. If we are all sinners deserving of death and Hell who have been gloriously redeemed by the love of our Savior and set free to walk in the power of the Spirit, then surely we can overcome any problems that might threaten to divide us. No matter what Paul is addressing in this letter, he is constantly pointing them back to the gospel. He does the same for us. May we build well upon this solid foundation!