On my post “What to do with Tradition?”, I briefly mentioned the Church in Corinth and how kindly Paul treated them, in comparison to the Church of Galatia, who he rebuked and called “fools”. I proposed that this was because the mixing of grace with the law that he noticed among Galatian Christians was deeply offensive to him and was completely contrary to the message of the Cross he preached.
I have been thinking about the grace and love he showed the Corinthians a lot recently and what that means for leaders of Christian communities.
Corinth was pretty excessive when it came to sinning, and they were a diverse bunch with their sins of choice. Paul makes it clear that the Church in Corinth was:
- sectarian, divided, and sporting early ‘denominationalism’ (1 Cor. 1:10-17, 3:1-23, 6:1-11),
- prone to heresy and may have flirted with some form of gnosticism or at least was mildly syncretistic (13:1, 15:29),
- packed with sin, most infamously sexual sin (5:1-13, 7:1-2, 10:14, 20),
- and lacked much spiritual discernment and misused the gifts of the Spirit (14:20-32, 40),
Yet Paul was somehow incredibly graceful, loving, and was still confident that these misguided Corinthians were children of God.
He was still willing to recognize how God was moving among the Corinthians and grateful for the gifts of the Spirit that were manifesting in their meetings (1:4-9).
He was still willing to call them his brothers and sisters and even friends, despite their obvious sins and errors (1:10, 10:14).
He was still willing to bless them with ‘grace and peace’ (1:3).
He was still willing to encourage them, even admitting that they lacked no spiritual gifts and going as far as pushing them to continue to pursue these gifts, despite their obvious mishandling of them (1:7, 13:31, 14:1).
He was still willing to exercise his apostleship over them and thoroughly teach and correct them, even if much of the Church would have seen them as a hopeless case of nymphomaniacal heretics.
Paul’s approach to rebuking the sins of the Corinthians was not simply pointing out their wrongs. His correction was rooted in and led by love, and his words were not used to condemn the Corinthians, but to encourage them to move forward. I wonder how often Paul’s methods that reflect the restorative nature of the gospel are implemented in today’s churches and faith communities?
- Do we truly strive to value that of God in everyone, even those whose beliefs are unorthodox or whose actions are unhealthy and sinful?
- Do we as Christians invest into others because they’re doing a “good job” or because we see God in and among them?
- Are we able to see what God is doing in our lives despite and even through our own messes?