The Corinthian church was a church of activity, an assembly blessed with gifted people. However, as gifted as it was, this congregation still had its problems, as we can see in the pages of the letters Paul wrote to these Christians.
In the words about this collection of believers at Corinth, we read a warts-and-all description of what goes on in church life. This should come as no surprise. The local church, with its message of grace, mercy, and forgiveness for all, draws people out the highways and hedges; sinners crawl in from the avenues and the back alleys at the sound of the living hope that is new life in Christ.
The results are messy because people are involved. And people are not perfect. Churches are much like those who gravitated toward David before he reached the throne of Israel. Then, he ranged through the caves, hills, and valleys with a collection of “mighty men.” The words of 1 Samuel 22:2 said those who came to the future king were the distressed, the indebted, and the discontented.
Paul spent 18 months teaching the Word of God in Corinth, a city in which the Lord had “much people” (see Acts 18:8-11). Most likely, a lot of those people were distressed, in debt, and discontented. Like most churches, the Corinthian assembly suffered through growing pains of division, sensuality, and carnality.
Taking Us Above and Beyond
Paul was well informed as to what was going on in this assembly. And, he took pains to address issues specifically through the early portion of his first letter to the Corinthians. Party spirits, immorality, legal disputes, marriage and singleness questions, food, and communion practices were among the things Paul confronted through the first 11 jam-packed chapters of instruction and counsel.
Thankfully, Paul wrote more. He did not leave the Corinthians – and us – bogged down in the details, important though they were. Instead, the apostle took the high way and moves all readers to lift their hearts and minds to greater things.
In chapters 12 and 13, Paul zeroes in on the essence of spiritual life for every believer and every church. Here, he proclaims the glory that is the union and communion at work in the members of the Body of Christ and the preeminence of love in all activity.The things about us that seem feeble and not so handsome are actually most necessary. Click To Tweet
The Corinthian assembly was multidimensional, as assemblies should be. Culturally and ethnically, it was comprised of Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, according to 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. What brought them together? The Holy Spirit did this. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Paul made it clear that just as the human body functions as the sum of its parts, so must the Body of Christ. Stating the obvious, Paul writes of how the head goes nowhere without the feet taking it places and that a hand detached from the arm and shoulders is useless. He makes it clear that our “weaker” and less glamorous parts are indispensable. The things about us that seem feeble and not so handsome are actually most necessary. These may be covered for modesty’s sake, but they cannot be separated from us.
This must be the way of the Church, the Body of Christ. All members must have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (see 1 Corinthians 12:25-26).
The Energy of Love
How does this happen? Through the power of agape love, Paul declared.
Gifts are great and welcomed from the hand of God according to the power of the Spirit. But the more excellent way is the way of love.
Through love, gifts work in the context of service in the Body of Christ. Love energizes and activates all of its members. Ears hear the Word. Feet walk in the way of truth. Hands reach to the sick, the desperate, the lost. Mouths speak encouragement, faith, hope, and righteousness.Celebrated acts of faith and sacrifice are self-centered performances when love is not there. Click To Tweet
Paul summarizes the necessity of love with 13 verses in 1 Corinthians 13. Without love, Paul says, even those seemingly powerful spiritual elements are reduced to acts of vain religion. Signs, wonders, prophecies, and knowledge are mere demonstrations if love is lacking. They do nothing to change hearts. Celebrated acts of faith and sacrifice are self-centered performances when love is not there. Even an act of martyrdom is an empty display when love is absent – “though I give my body to be burned and have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV).
For love does not seek its own way. Love thinks. Love endures. Love rejoices. Love bears all things and believes the best. Prophecies, gifts, knowledge – all shall grow old and obsolete. Love, however, shall remain.
To where love is, there will stagger the distressed, the indebted, and the discontented. It is the way of grace and triumph. It is the way that brings glory to God.
Jesus takes the weak, beggarly, haggard, and disturbed and makes them members of Himself through the power of the Spirit. This Body, filled with the love of God shed abroad in the heart, manifests the One who so loved the world and gave Himself for it.
Want to learn more about the love of God in Christ? Check out “Learn Love in the House That Wisdom Built,” a message by Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.