Sunday, January 1, 2012
Scripture Sunday: 1st Corinthians
1st Corinthians is the first of two letters Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth. Corinth had a lot of problems, and sometimes the believers in Christ got very far away from the truth of the gospel.
To start with, the Corinthians were dividing themselves into factions based on which spiritual leader they preferred, Paul, Peter, or Apollos. Paul points out the foolishness of this distinction in chapter 1, verse 13, "Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" He's saying that Jesus Christ is the one we follow; Christians are not supposed to be divided into groups that follow after an idolized preacher or spiritual leader. Divisions in the church are not a good thing.
Chapter 5 deals with an even more serious situation in the church. Fornication (that's sex outside of marriage) is a problem for the Corinthians, and one person in their congregation is especially noteworthy because he's sleeping with his father's wife. And the Christians at Corinth are conducting business as usual instead of confronting this guy for his sins. Paul makes an important distinction between the way Christians are supposed to treat other Christians who are living in open sin and the way we're supposed to treat non-Christians. We are to love non-Christians and spend time with them, but when someone says they belong to Jesus and yet they live their lives in open sin, Paul says we are not to fellowship (keep company) with these people. 5:11--"But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat."
But after addressing these very difficult moral matters, Paul says some beautiful things about Christian love in Chapter 13, "The Love Chapter", which is one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament. Paul is in the midst of discussing spiritual gifts like prophesying and speaking in tongues when he says in 13:1--"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." The word "charity" in this case means "love" instead of the modern sense of "giving to the poor". Paul is saying that even if he has the flashiest and most impressive spiritual gifts, his words will be like the sound of a clanging instrument if he speaks without being motivated by love. God does not place a lot of value on people showing off their spiritual side--he cares about our hearts and whether we love him and love others. Here's the rest of chapter 13, for reference:
"2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
1st Corinthians addresses many painful issues in the early church, but it also shows believers the importance of truly allowing God's love to work in our hearts.