Friday, June 18, 2010

OUR SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY--Paul's First Letter to Corinth

OUR SPIRITUAL IMMATURITY
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing


“We are fools for Christ,
but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak,
but you are strong!
You are honored,
we are dishonored!”
1 Cor. 4:10

         
As I read through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian believers, my thoughts center on the Christian churches in America in which I’ve spent my entire life.  I think of the situation we are in now, with report after report about the churches detailing the hidden sexual sins of leaders and laity alike, the divisions, the controversies, the immorality, the high divorce rate, the legal problems, the idolatry of money and greed.

Paul’s letter deals with all these things.  The Corinthian church problems and sins parallel what we’re going through today.  So this letter also gives us great light on why we are experiencing this great surge of sin and compromise with the world.

First—Paul identifies the root problem.  This churches were “worldly—mere infants in Christ…you are still worldly.” (3:1-3)  The root problem was infancy in Christ, immaturity.  They had not grown up at all.  They were acting like babies, fighting and quarreling, acting out sinful impulses, revealing pride, stubbornness, rebellion, and an unwillingness to yield to the Holy Spirit.

Yet this church had the visible signs that we hold up for pride in the churches today—“…in all your speaking and in all your knowledge--…therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift…” (1:5-7) 

In other words, this church had great speaking, great knowledge of the Scriptures and the gospel, and the manifestations of many of the spiritual gifts, especially the ones that showed publicly, like teaching, preaching, and tongues. (see Chapter 12) 

It was a church that outwardly was flourishing, and growing in numbers, riches and status, yet inwardly was in turmoil, with many problems.

As babies, we think only of ourselves.  That is natural.  We are only consumed with eating, sleeping, and trying to get our bearings in the world.  We want to be held, loved, hugged, and stimulated constantly.  When we are tired, we cry until someone lets us sleep.  When we are hungry, we cry until someone lets us eat.  When we are uncomfortable, we fuss until someone makes us comfortable.  When we are cold or hot, we fuss or cry until someone takes care of that problem.

But as we mature, we are able to discern our own problems, and take care of them in increasing measure.  At least, that is the aim of good parenting.  To enable our children to grow and mature, taking on more and more of their own needs, and meeting them.  As they get older, hopefully we teach them also to take care of the needs of those around them, and to help those less mature to grow in maturity.  When they become adults, we hope they will do the same for their children.

The Corinthians, as we are today in many of our churches, were consumed with themselves.  They were centered on outward things, and didn’t have the mind of Christ.  “But we have the mind of Christ.” (2:16)  Paul had just finished explaining to them how the spiritual man has the Spirit of God, and isn’t looking at anything, including Christ, from a worldly viewpoint.  He had explained how Christ is foolishness to the world, and Christ is foolishness to the religious man. (1:18-2:16)  He was contrasting their worldly minds with the mind of Christ they were supposed to have.

These men and women were fighting among themselves about who was the greatest teacher to follow.  They were fighting for position and prominence.  They were jealous of one another.  They were fighting to appear wise and they were exhibiting pride instead of love, head knowledge instead of heart knowledge, and they were in general judging things wrongly, instead of having the Spirit’s viewpoint, and the mind of Christ.

These Corinthians were wise and strong and achievers in their own eyes, which had made them arrogant. (4:18)  Many of them now looked down on Paul, and had been influenced by some smooth, talented leaders into the world’s ways of thinking.  They were upside down in their thinking, not right side up. 

Paul was in the trenches, an everyday guy, who came to them and fathered them in the Good News of Christ, but was not an eloquent man.  He was simple and to the point, and had brought them into Christ that way.  As he said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on the power of God.”  (2:4,5)

They had succumbed to worldly ways, believing that the eloquence, the educational, the outward shape, the special gifts, the things that made for drama and entertainment, were the important things.  Paul points out that these mean immaturity, not maturity.

So with us today.  We have all the problems we’re having, the sins that prevail in our churches and among those who call themselves believers, because we are upside down in our thinking.  We value the outward.  We want to look good, and feel good, and be entertained.  We want God to see our beautiful worship, hear our beautiful songs, and look down on us in benevolence and bless us.  We want to be healthy, wealthy and wise, to quote Benjamin Franklin.  We want to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence guarantees us.

And because of this same thinking, Paul threatens to come with a whip, to take down these arrogant leaders, and to show the power of God is what is important.  To show what right-side-up thinking is, and how eloquence and superior wisdom are not necessary, but that the fruit fo God’s Spirit in our lives is.  “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.”  (4:20)

For a number of lengthy sections of his letter, Paul describes and details the gross sins of the flesh that this elegant, educated, polished group of Christians had allowed inside their fellowship.  It is a list of our sins today.  The often hidden sins we don’t show one another or the world.  This sad list should, if we have the mind and heart of Christ Jesus, make us weep with sadness over our own sins, and the sins of our brothers. 

Even worship had become a spectacle, with one trying to outdo the other in outward manifestations of the Spirit of God.  What a sad spectacle indeed this is.  Their “love feasts” to commemorate the Lord’s Supper had become a chance to eat and drink and have a party, with some going hungry, and some getting drunk.

After all this, Paul addresses the spiritual gifts.  He emphasizes that “each one…is given for the common good.”  (12:7)  This is a purposeful statement, telling the Corinthians, and us, that truly spiritual men and women exercise the gifts of the Spirit of God, whether preaching and teaching, or giving, or service, or prophecy, or tongues, not for their own glory and edification, but for the glory of Christ and the edification of their brothers.

Then, in Chapter 13, Paul caps this teaching off, with a beautiful and powerful reminder of what the Corinthians had completely forgotten and ignored.

“And now I will show you the most excellent way…Follow the way of love…” (12:30 through 14:1)

This ignored and forgotten basis for all Christ-like living is also the basis for all spiritual maturity.  Paul makes it the foundation of all behavior that is acceptable for a Christian, reiterating what he taught in Romans and all his other epistles, and what Jesus taught in John Chapters 13-17. 

For a contrast in churches, see Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonian churches.  They weren’t perfect, but they were practicing the command of Christ to love, and therefore, had few of the problems of the Corinthian churches.

To summarize, the problems and sins that the Corinthian Christians experienced in the first century are very similar to ours in the affluent churches of America today.  We must look to Scripture to root them out, and take teachings like the Apostle Paul’s and begin exhorting ourselves with these truths.  We must take heed to the warnings in them.

“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers …all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.  Now these things occurred as examples to us…” (10:11-10)

Today we must heed the same warnings.  God is giving us warning through many today who are calling God’s people to repentance from these gross sins.  He will not tolerate our ways.  We must go His Way, which is to live in love, to live in Christ, to forsake the world, to hold to His Word.  We must obey, and not be lost as that entire generation was in the desert of Sinai.  They were lost because of their disobedience, and so will we be lost if we don’t obey, though we look good, and we seem wise; though we rejoice in our own strength, and honor ourselves.

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