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Apostasy in Corinth
As the Corinthian church was pointed to the examples of fallen children of God (1 Cor. 10:1-12) — from which they were to learn valuable lessons lest they also be lost — valuable lessons can be learned today from reflection about the Corinthian church, which can contribute to penitence by and perseverance of Christians. The Epistle of First Corinthians identifies numerous sins for which those Christians would be lost unless they repented. Therefore, First Corinthians was an epistle of condemnation and impending doom. In that condition, the Corinthian church was not suitable for emulation. Fortunately, the hearts of the Corinthians were honest and their minds were open to apostolic correction. Second Corinthians affirms that they repented — and in their penitent state and for that reason, then they were and are suitable role models.
The first sin addressed by the apostle Paul was the sin of separating into groups which are not authorized by the Gospel (1:12-13); the Corinthians had a bad case of preacheritus (1:12), though doubtless the preachers named did not encourage this sinful condition (Paul sternly rebuked them for this sin). The result was as lack of Christian unity (1:10) and contention among brethren (1:11) which is an abomination to God (Prov. 6:16-19). The church is obligated to withdraw fellowship from such erring brethren if they refuse to repent (Titus 3:10 ASV).
Chapter One also denotes that the Corinthians despised a Christ-centered Gospel (1:18-27) in favor of "signs" and worldly "wisdom" (1:22). The Christ-centered Gospel is no less offensive today to an ungodly world and many contemporary brethren, but we must not be ashamed of this Gospel, for it is the only means by which anyone can be saved (Rom. 1:16; Acts 4:12). Our lives, sermons, and radio and television messages must be filled with Christ to be effective and pleasing to God.
The Corinthians further demonstrated their spiritual immaturity (3:1-4). Unfortunately, perpetual, spiritual babies were not only found at Corinth in the first century (Heb. 5:12-14) and nor is the church in our day without its members who linger in immaturity. Spiritual growth or maturity is essential to discern between truth and error (Heb. 5:14) and is accomplished through a steady diet of God's Word (1 Pet. 2:2).
In Chapter Five (vss 1-13), the apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for allowing sin to continue unchecked in the church. That congregation sinned by not disciplining a brother who was openly committing adultery. Though perhaps the Corinthians commended themselves for their open-mindedness, the adverse consequences were great: (1) Those guilty of adultery were sinning and therein lost, (2) The local church was guilty of sin for at least indirectly condoning adultery, (3) These sins reproached Christ before an unbelieving community, and (4) The tolerance of sin at Corinth encouraged other Christians to commit sin (vs 6). Much of what ails the church today could have been "nipped in the bud" were biblical church discipline routinely applied when needed (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11).
In Chapter Six (vss 1-8), the apostle rebuffed the Corinthians for appealing to civil law to arbitrate personal disagreements between brethren. This sin can be avoided by enlisting the aid of other brethren (Matt. 18:15-17). In lieu of this course or a decision in one's favor, it is better to suffer personal loss than to reproach the church before the world.
Chapter Seven recommends marriage as a suitable alternative to lust and fornication. Forcefully, by inspiration Paul commanded that the married not divorce and that the divorced remain single or be reconciled to their respective spouses (vss 10-11); this concurs with our Lord's instruction about marriage (Matt. 5:32; 19:9).
The responsibilities of mature Christians regarding weaker members are noted in Chapter Eight. Weak Christians, of course, as earlier observed should strive to grow spiritually. The following chapter addressed a congregation's responsibility to financially support a Gospel preacher and his family. Chapter Ten resorts to Jewish histories to warn against apostasy and to exhort the Corinthians to be faithful.
No more and no less a critical departure from the faith is detailed in Chapter Eleven. The Lord's Supper was grossly perverted, which memorial the apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to restore to its pattern. The purpose of Paul's corrective charge was to cause the Corinthians to separate the profane from the divine in the practice of communion. In a sense, the Lord's Supper is a spiritual feast — not a potluck dinner.
The Corinthian church was as apostate nearly as any Pentecostal church today regarding the use of miraculous gifts — except the Corinthians were alert enough to recognize real miracles whereas Pentecostals miserably fail to discern the absence of genuine, biblical, miraculous gifts in our time — and still abuse them! Three chapters in this epistle are dedicated to the correction of these abuses (12-14). For us, the summary is found in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 — miracles have long since ceased!
Whether there will be a resurrection from the dead troubled several first century brethren besides the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:14-17). Chapter Fifteen is a masterful proposition whereby the General Resurrection (John 5:28, 29) is ardently affirmed based on the eyewitnessed resurrection of Christ. In essence, if there is no resurrection possible, then Christ was not resurrected and there is no basis for Christianity. If Christ resurrected (which He did), then resurrection from the grave is not only possible but is guaranteed. Only a resurrected Savior is capable of taking away sins.
First Corinthians concludes by teaching about the church contribution and benevolent cooperation between congregations. The frequency (weekly) and the basis (prosperity) of giving is determined in the opening two verses of Chapter Sixteen. The recipients of funds gathered at Corinth on this occasion were beneficiaries of a cooperative financial effort between several congregations for famine afflicted people in Judaea. Paul was bearing this money to Jerusalem. Whereas Christians were to receive preference in the disbursement of such benevolence, non-Christians were clearly potential recipients of this Christian generosity as long as resources and opportunity permitted (Gal. 6:10).
Much of the New Testament consists of corrective instruction in response to budding apostasy (e.g., Galatians, Jude, five of the seven churches of Asia cited, etc.). First Corinthians is a major component of those exhortations the writing of which was motivated by efforts to stem departures from the doctrine of Christ. We must not pride ourselves in emulating the apostate church of First Corinthians instead of imitating the penitent church of Second Corinthians. It will be an eternally empty consolation to be as good as the apostate Corinthians as we all cross the threshold of eternity toward final judgment. That's like taking joy in being as good as any hell-bound hypocrite — not the least bit satisfactory to me or any right thinking person.