Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

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!