When you step out of the darkness into a bright room, it often takes time to adjust to the light. If you go out into the darkest areas after being in the light, that also takes adjustment! The apostle Paul wrote at least three letters to the Corinthian church, two of which we have, largely because this group, coming out a very dark place, had considerable difficulty “adjusting” to the new light of life in Christ!
While not all will agree, I sincerely believe that most American churches are in a similar situation, even with our heritage as a nation. I’m referring to those in our nation largely forgetting God after living in the “blessing” of prosperity for so long, much like the history of Israel during the judges, and before their exile to Assyria and Babylon. The natural tendency in prosperity is to forget the Giver and lose our sense of dependency on Him. Perhaps we can have more specifics in a “Part Two” when we have time, but for now, let’s look at Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, and get at his main idea through a few key verses. I would first submit to you that Paul’s main idea, with all their issues, is that they fail to understand how transformative their new life in Christ actually is! They are still living “like the world”, because they have yet to grasp how the Gospel is intended to speak to every aspect of life!
If you have been taken from enmity with God and made to be at peace with Him; if you were brought into a whole new spiritual family; if you were given a new Master with a new purpose for existence on earth; if ETERNITY itself was now your reality, how could your new life in Christ NOT change everything?
Yet…it may take time to adjust and see reality in this way. So here are some key statements from Paul:
1 Cor 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? (Why go to court, arguing and fighting over temporary things, when the riches of heaven are now within grasp?? Shouldn’t we rather gladly give those things up, for the sake of winning others into an eternal kingdom with us??)
6:12 "Everything is permissible for me"— but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"— but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"— but God will destroy them both. (Just because I have “rights” as a citizen of this world, does not mean I have to use them. It is better to keep in mind my citizenship in heaven, and live for the incorruptible benefits, that I can take with me forever!)
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (This earthly body was given as part of a sacred trust; that I will treat it wisely, for the sake of honoring its true Owner, and using it for its intended purposes until I am given a permanent one!)
7:17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (If heaven and nearness with God is my destiny, I need not be consumed with seeking temporary gains of power, prestige, or possessions. God may have put me where I am at to impact others around me toward eternal matters. This world does not define success; obedience to my Lord does!)
7:29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
(God does give us many things to enjoy on this earth, but we must keep in mind the overarching principle: that those things will not last, but there are eternal things which are achieved partially through who we serve and what we do in this life!)
To borrow the phrase again from C. S. Lewis, why are we content to play in our mud puddles when our Father wants to take us to the Ocean?! My fear is that we are spending far too many resources cherishing things that ought not be cherished, while neglecting the ones that should be cherished! This makes us ineffective and unproductive in this world. But what if those very principles outlined by Paul are essential to helping us maximize our usefulness to our Master in this Century as well?
So here are Three Categorical Principles Paul is getting at through his letter to the Corinthians, for us:
We operate out of that which builds up our Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord; Strengthening the “weaker brother”. (1 Cor 8)
We operate in ways that increases the effectiveness of the Gospel and our witness towards others, for whom Christ died! (1 Cor 9:12)
We fight and strive no earthly crown, but for God’s Glory, which translates into a crown that will last forever! (1 Cor 9:25)
May we not fall into the same traps of the Corinthian church, but allow for God’s eternal truths to transform every aspect of our being!