Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Corinthian Church - Your Body As God's Temple


Paul talked quite a bit to the Corinthians about what they ate. in our spiritual understanding of God we wonder if God really cares about what we eat or how we take care of ourselves. We wonder if we live as God has called us; if we love and care for God’s people and God’s creation, why does it mater how we eat or drink or exercise or rest? Paul takes this up with the Corinthians as he speaks to us today.
When we look at God’s relationship with his people in the stories of the Old Testament one of the first acts of God is to take them to Mt. Sinai where the people receive what we know as the “levitical laws”. We generally don’t like ‘laws’ and this institution of all these rules God’s people had to live under - 613 to be exact- seems to be very oppressive. How can anyone possible follow that many rules! But when we think about what these laws were, I bet that you follow that many rules and don’t even think about it.
Think through your day and consider how many things you do routinely because you know they are good for you - taking your vitamins in the morning, brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, taking a shower or a bath, washing your hands, eating our proper amount of ‘correct’ foods, drinking water and we could go on. And think about how many additional rules there would be if we actually did all thing things they tell us to do to keep us healthy - exercising 30 minutes each day, getting 8 hours of sleep and the list goes on. So when we begin to examine these Levitical Laws what we find is that these laws are basically things that we do routinely that were unheard of in ancient times.
During the time in history of the Hebrews, little was know about science or hygiene. People did not understand the correlation between personal habits or eating habits and sickness. Sickness was simply believed to be a result of angering the gods and not because you sneeze on your hand and then touch another person. Spoiled food or tainted food just tasted bad and they didn’t understand that bad food could make you ill. This is a little bit of trivia - but one of the reasons for the use of the ‘hot’ type of spices was to mask the taste of bad meat….
So God takes his people to Mt. Sinai, gives them the 10 Commandments and the 613 Levitical Laws and the people begin to live as God has instructed them. Not because they necessarily understood theses rules were good for them, but because they wanted to please God - and out of fear that God would punish them if they didn’t follow this Law.
The result of the Hebrew people living this new way was the development of a people who were more robust and healthier than any other group of people in this time period. In fact it was noted by other cultures about the heath of this particular group of people. Even though they hadn’t figured out that it was because they followed the dietary and living laws - they just assumed they were healthier because God was taking care of them! And, I guess, he was.
Here are some great examples of these laws as they applied to food and to hygiene. If a person found mold or mildew in their living space, they had a special way to clean it and they had to leave their home for 3 days. We know mildew is bad but they didn’t even know what it was or that it was a cause of disease. The Hebrews had to wash their hands after certain acts and ritually during the day and - imagine this - before and after they ate! As far as food was concerned, they had what are called in the Levitical Laws clean and unclean meats. They could eat clean meat and could not eat unclean meat. And if we go through this list it is obvious that with their ways of food preparation, there were some meats that could be properly cooked and some that could not. Pork is the one, of course, that we always hear about. We know now that pork, more than many other meat, has to be properly cooked or we get sick. They could never have achieved this proper cooking so the meat was banned. They couldn’t
eat shellfish which again was a result of impurities and bacteria that were in the shellfish that they couldn’t deal with. They were encouraged to make their main meat chicken, quail and other types of foul and the red meat from cows was only to be used for special occasions or feasts and festivals. They were told not to eat fat…. and encouraged to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Sound familiar?
But God also undertook the value of rest. The 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy was not only to help the people keep focused on God, but was also designed so that the people would have one day a week to rest. When we talk about being healthy and taking care of our bodies ‘plenty of rest’ is right there among the most important things we can do for our health. But in our hectic, over scheduled, over committed, ‘puritan worth ethic’ life, rest isn’t a priority. And then here is God saying to his people - and to us - this idea of sabbath is not meant to be oppressive - the law itself says that ‘it is a gift from God’. Here is God saying to you - “Hey! I give you permission to rest; to take some time off!” because God knows it is good for us. We often read in the gospels about Jesus and the disciples going off to rest - Jesus knew the value of taking some time to rest and relax. None of us can use the business card to explain why we don’t rest - none of us can say we are busier than Jesus who had only 3 years to save the world.
But it was diet that was always at the forefront of the Hebrew life and something that distinguished them from others around them. We read the story of Daniel earlier. Daniel has been brought into the court of the king of Babylon and is being trained to be one of the heads of the cabinet positions in the kingdom. One of the perks of the job was to be required to eat at the table of the King - which would have been the best food in the kingdom. But Daniel is a good Jew and lives his life by the Levitical Laws that have been handed down to him which means there are only certain foods he can eat. But in the Persian culture, not eating the food you are served is considered rude and even a punishable act. So by not eating what he is served and following his Hebrew law, he is breaking the law of the Babylonians! What a conundrum. So in order to make his point, Daniel convinces the King to have a contest. Daniel will eat his diet and the others can eat the food they are served, and if Daniel remains healthy and at a healthy weight eating only what he is allowed by Jewish, then the King will allow the kitchen to continue to serve Daniel his special food. And of course Daniel, eating a diet mainly of fruits and vegetables, gains weight and is very healthy after the prescribed time period…. and as a result is allowed to continue following God’s diet.
In the Old Testament, God lived in the Temple. God’s spirit actually lived, not in heaven, but in the temple. When we get to the teachings in the New Testament, we are taught, first by Jesus and then later by the Apostle Paul, that God’s spirit no longer lives in buildings, or even just in heaven, but inside of each one of us. Therefore we, as followers of God, begin to be called, “The Temple of God” because like God once lived in the Temple in Jerusalem, God now lives inside of us. We are the new Temple - so just like the Hebrews took great pride in caring for and maintaining the Temple - just like we take great pride in caring for and maintain our church building - we are called to care for and maintain this body, this dwelling place for God’s spirit. We cannot do God’s work if we do not take care of ourselves - unless we do what we can to maintain our health.
In today’s culture, health is an obsession. Magazines and gyms and programs and shakes and medications and diets and special equipment. It is not that God wants us to be obsessed with our health, but we are reminded we are God’s temple, God lives within us and he just asks us to take care of his house!

Filled With Purpose

Filled With Purpose

Last week we started talking about the Corinthian church and we got a general picture of how that church came together.
            When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he was absolutely convinced that the second coming of Christ would happen in his lifetime. That one belief is huge. Whatever else the second coming of Christ may mean to anybody else in all the world in any age, it meant something special to Paul. He had met spiritual the risen Christ on the road to Damascus—in a blinding flash of light and Jesus wanted to know why Paul was persecuting Christians. It turned his life around. Paul honestly believed that in his lifetime he would have the chance to meet the living Lord in the flesh here on earth, face-to-face - and Paul believed he would be accountable for the way he had lived his life. That one conviction, that he would meet the Lord and would want to be accountable, gave his life extraordinary passion and purpose. It explains the zeal he had in spreading the gospel. 
            As time went on, Paul’s spirit began to get weary. Doors kept closing in his face, but he realized the purpose of Christ was pressing on; sticking with his mission, and then he began to change his fundamental assumption. He changed his belief to be, “Christ is going to come again. It may not happen in my lifetime but I know it will happen because of all the things that Christ is accomplishing in us and through us. That sacred purpose is moving toward an end, toward a completion, and Paul says to us: “I know that the good work that began in you will therefore one day be completed and will find its fullness when Christ comes.” 
      It was an incredible shift in his thinking but very profound. He knew the purpose of God was not confined to the purpose of his life; that his life was part of a purpose that was greater than his life. He was only playing a small part in it, but he knew that purpose was moving in the direction God desired.
            So, today,I am sure that the God who began a good work in you and in us will bring it to where God wants it. We also hear from Paul that purpose we are involved in is bigger than us, but we are playing an important part of that greater purpose.
           One of the wonderful parts of ministering to you is to see the maturity of your faith. I don’t have to try to convert anybody to the faith. You have lived it and are living it. You bring your faith here, not to be talked out of it or talked into anything else, but just to celebrate the faith that you have lived.
        Like Paul writes to the congregation at Corinth, I know that the future God has prepared for you.
As we begin a new year, another congregational meeting, we are on the threshold of an extraordinary adventure, but we have no idea what that adventure will be. 
  But Paul reminds us we can be confident that the purpose God is accomplishing through us will not fail; as long as we stay true to the Word of God.  
         Our passage from Corinthians reminded us that we are each one of a kind. There is no one else out there like me; or anyone else exactly like you. Each one of us is different. What gift we can give each other is the permission to be ourselves and to each do what God leads us to do in respect to the work of this church and the purpose God is guiding us toward. And it is is in that work, each doing what we can, working together, we can celebrate our life as the Sweetwater congregation.
             So I say one more time, in the words of Paul, “I am sure that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ,”’


The Corinthian Church


Today we are going to talk about the church in Corinth. This was a church established by the Apostle Paul - a church made up of regular people; and a church that began to have some problems. In the two Letters to the Corinthians we find in the New Testament, Paul is addressing the problems in that particular church - and in doing so gives us some great insight that help us better live and work as the church of Jesus Christ. Not that we are having any problems but it still helps us to hear these wise words of Paul as we continue to grow as the church God intends us to be.
Next week we are going to look at the specific issues regarding the Corinthian church, but this morning we will learn some background and learn some information regarding the church in Corinth and how it came to be - and how it began to have its problems.
We start with the Apostle Paul because reminding ourselves of what he was doing will help us get a perspective. Paul was called by God to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He was not a disciple of Jesus, but he was a Jew - a very well educated Jew and had a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures - or what we refer to as the Old Testament. After his death and resurrection, Jesus came to his disciples and told them their job was to take his message to the whole world. And they had been pretty slow in doing that. Paul was actually the first person who actually began to go outside of Jerusalem and evangelize on any scale. He was later followed by some of the other disciples, but it was actually Paul who began to spread the message. He takes off on several trips to share the word of Jesus - referred to as missionary journeys in the book of Acts.
On these missionary journeys, Paul would go into different cities and even though God had specifically charged Paul with preaching to non-Jews, Paul would always go to the synagogues first and preach the message to his own people. Paul loved the Jews and he really wanted them to come to know Jesus just as he did, but almost always, Paul was rejected by his own people so Paul would leave the synagogues and go preach to the Gentiles in that city - like he was suppose to!
Those who heard and believed the message of Jesus would come together and form a ‘church’. Remember that ‘church’ is not a place, but a group of people. We are a church not because we are in this place, but because we are a group of individuals called together to worship and serve Christ. The ‘churches’ in Paul’s day would meet in homes. So Paul would help these groups of people, these ‘churches’, get established. He would make sure that they knew what to believe and how to work and serve and worship as God directed. And when he felt like they ‘got it’, he would move on to another city and begin again. So dotted all over the regions we would recognize today as Greece and Turkey were churches founded by the Apostle Paul and all of the books of the New Testament from Romans through Hebrews are actually letters Paul writes to these churches he founded addressing different issues that occurred in these churches. Because these churches may have been filled with God’s people, they were still people and we all know that people, as good as they may be, don’t always get along.
On Paul’s second missionary journey, he had been divinely directed to Philippi - one of the things we learn about Paul is that is was very astute at hearing the direction of God. We read more than once that he had it in his mind to go one direction, and God would stop him and send him somewhere else - and Paul would go. That happened with Philippi where Paul founded a church which actually became the church he called his favorite! From Philippi Paul goes to Thessalonica - the letters to the Thessalonians were later written to them - then on to Berea. Next Paul traveled to Athens where trying to start a church there was an utter failure, so he heads off to Corinth.
Corinth is about 50 miles to the east of Athens. It is a relatively new city - the old city had been totally destroyed. But because of its prime location with 2 ports the city grew back quickly and became one of the major trade centers of this area. There was a population of 400,000 which was a huge city in this time period. Because of this major crossroads, there were a myriad of different people from all over the world, who brought with them their own cultures and customs and religions. The largest temple in Corinth was the temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Beyond our comprehension, if you were part of the cult of Aphrodite,

worship consisted of cohabitation with the temple women. Corinth also was full of other forms of just as immoral temple cults. It was full of bars. It was the ‘sin’ city of the Mediterranean area. The phrase “to live like a Corinthian’ was to live an immoral, hedonistic lifestyle. Something I want you think about - the new converts to the Corinthian church are people who were living this Corinthian lifestyle all their life; it was all they knew. So how difficult would it be to give this life up when it is all you have ever done - and especially when you still lived in the midst of it?
When Paul arrives in Corinth he was out of money so he set up his tent making business. Many of Paul’s journeys were funded by donations from churches, but often as he traveled he was out of touch with his previous churches for quite a while and the money would run out so Paul would support himself by making tents. While he was tent making in Corinth he ran into a couple - Jewish refugees from Rome - Aquila and Priscilla. They were tentmakers just like Paul and would become great helpers in Paul’s ministry. But because Paul was working at his tent trade, his preaching time was limited. Every Sabbath he would go to the synagogue and seek to persuade those attending to trust Jesus as their Messiah. After a while, Silas and Timothy show up in Corinth with a donation from the Philippian church - so Paul put away his tents for a while and began to devote all his time to preaching the Gospel.
Opposition to Paul’s preaching seems to have increased the more Paul preached. The Jewish leaders were becoming quite concerned at the number of Jews who were coming to the faith in Jeus. The synagogue leaders finally succeed at removing Paul from the synagogue but he is able to move next door to the house of Titus Justus - a Gentile who believed in God and who has come to the faith of Jesus. A the home of Titus there was now a substantial congregation of Jews, Gentiles who had previously believed in God and brand new Gentile converts.
The persecution of this new congregation in Corinth became so intense that Paul considered leaving Corinth to save his life. However God came to Paul and gave him direct ‘orders’ to stay in Corinth and continue helping that growing congregation. Tension got so bad that the congregation was taken to court as the judge was asked to determine this new ‘faith’ as being a cult and being illegal. Paul was specifically named in the lawsuit since he was the leader of this new group. The judge determined this to be a frivolous law suit and since the suit was unsuccessful, Paul and this new Corinthian congregation were now ‘legal’ and able to continue to grow as he church of Jesus Christ. The other side affect of this ruling was that now Paul, as a Roman citizen, was cleared to preach Jesus’ word all through the Roman Empire.
Paul remained with the Corinthian church for 18 months. He left Corinth and went to Ephesus where he stayed a short time. He began to travel again spreading the gospel throughout this area of Turkey and eventually ended up back again in Ephesus where he stayed for 3 years. It was during this second stay in Ephesus that Paul writes the letters to the Corinthians.
While in Ephesus, Paul receives word of the problems going on in the Corinthian church which are quite extensive and quite serious. He fires off a letter to them that we do not have. It was called Paul’s angry letter and was so harsh that later on Paul apologizes to the Corinthians for the content of this letter - so it must have been pretty bad! After Paul calms down, he then writes the 1st letter to the Corinthians which we do have in our New Testament which addresses the issues in the church in a much more pastoral way.
However Paul is still very angry about the issues in the church. He tells the Corinthians that he is going to send Timothy to help them - Paul was a little afraid to go himself - in fact he says the
equivalent of “You don’t want me coming down there….” and promises that he will come later on once the Corinthians have had an opportunity to correct their issues and Paul is a little calmer.
We look at this church to understand that church problems are nothing new - church problems have existed since the beginning of the church. But we also are to remember that God does have certain expectations of his church and what he wants his church to be in our communities. By looking at this church of Corinth, we get a better picture of the desire God has for us as we work and worship together as the church of Jesus Christ in Hickory. Amen!