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What is a church? (9): The Corinthian church (1)

The first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian church is divisible into two distinct parts. In the first, the apostle addresses some divisive issues which were having an effect on unity there. He also addressed particular questions that were put forth in some way to him for his judgment. In the second part of the letter (beginning in chapter 11 and verse 2) he addresses the purpose of worship, the demeanor Christians should maintain during the assemblies on the Lords Day, and the uses of spiritual gifts during the same.

This letter is a sort of rule book for behavior both public and private as concerns Christians, first in their general dealings and dealings one with another, and then in their demeanor in relation to the assemblies and the requisite behaviors when they are gathered together for worship before God. Though it begins as most of the apostles letters with a greeting to the general assembly itself and then to the saints as individuals (v. 2), after the cordialities and introductions he immediately indicates that some difficulties have been related to him concerning contentions among the members (1:11). The first of these concerns a sort of pride in entry contest as to who baptized who, or who taught who. This entreaty continues through chapter 4 and verse 21 where he begins to deal with a second contention. The importance of the Christians having the proper attitude in this is perhaps lost on us. The point is that there is no pedigree before God, only obedience matters, and pride and boasting for position have no part in that. The destructiveness that results from these attitudes can (and has unfortunately) destroyed the body of Christ in many places.

Apparently some Christians there were seeking to gain recognition or status based upon who they had been taught or baptized by. The indication is that these were breaking the church up into factions based upon who had a hand in whose conversion, making a hierarchy of saints based upon the name of the apostle or preacher (in this case). Can you imagine what would have been the status some would have sought if the Lord himself had ever baptized? Why there surely would have been some that would have claimed premium position or greater knowledge, that they should be revered because they had been baptized at the very hand of the Lord himself. I believe that is exactly why the Lord never baptized and why Paul, at least in the case of these Corinthians, stated that he in the greater part did likewise.

Paul decries this attitude of their seeking preeminence or status over one another by noting “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:5). And in the next instance the apostle condemns this jealousy which is destructive to the cause of Christ by observing: “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Ministers through whom you believed: and each as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted anything, neither he that watered; but God gives the increase (3:5-6).” The glory should always be to God. “…each mans work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each mans work of what sort it is (3:13).”

Many know and can quote verse 16 of chapter 3: “Dont you know you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This verse has been used in all sorts of arguments respecting personal purity, and primarily when addressing personal physical purity through diet or other considerations as a course for spiritual purity (that notion is also addressed, but elsewhere). However, that is not at all what is being addressed. You see few take this in its context with that of the next verse (17): “If any man destroys the Temple of God , God shall destroy him; for the Temple of God is holy and such are you.” This is not addressed on an individual level, for the danger mentioned through the workings of strife within the body is in its full sense to the assembly as a whole. The church there was in danger if they allowed the jealousies and strivings to continue. Therefore, I take this to mean that the collective body of Christ, that the church in any location – that those Christians, are to view themselves as they are the Holy Temple of God. Then anyone who in any way seeks or attempts to overthrow that, to make position for themselves by cabal or through deceit, those who would assume that which they have no right to assume, those who would by their deeds seek to destroy or trouble, or those who may end up disassembling, of causing a schism or a split in the Temple of God: that God will destroy them. It is not addressing what we eat or intake, although having some merit in some way, but to stretch it to that end is to rather blatantly miss the point. It is a warning against those who would overthrow or split the church of God to serve their own purpose.