Paul’s Encouragement to Heretical Nymphomaniacs

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.

Alessandro Turchi (L'Orbetto) - "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery"

Alessandro Turchi (L’Orbetto) – “Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery”

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?

Queries:
  • 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?

4 thoughts on “Paul’s Encouragement to Heretical Nymphomaniacs

  1. Fantastic thoughts as always : ) I think some Quakers have grown to wretch at the mention of anything approaching “accountability” or “correction” within a spiritual community, under the assumption that it is impossible to do with love. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I also don’t think it’s easy….but being faithful to true community is never going to be easy!

    I am curious about one side point, when you describe Paul as “excersising his apostleship over them”, what do you mean? I’ve heard you use the word apostle to describe some modern believers, and am genuinely curious about what that means to you?

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    • To be honest, I do not quite know how apostleship works.

      It is hard to be dogmatic about such an issue because the New Testament is kind of unclear on the qualifications and exact role of apostles, but it is clear they extend beyond the twelve, including Paul of course, but also Barnabas, James, Silas, Adronicus, and Junias. I find very little reason to believe apostles somehow ceased or that only those who encountered the Risen Christ can be counted as apostles, as some theologians today argue.

      I find the gift of apostleship as necessary and being the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20), and this gift often manifests among church planters, bishops, pastors, etc. I believe apostles are care-takers and parental-figures in the Church, raising up the Bride of Christ, fight to maintain unity within her, as well as extend the reign of God.

      From my experience, and from what it seems like in the New Testament, apostolic figures often have quite a variety of spiritual gifts, including signs and wonders, evangelism, generosity, etc., and are seasoned believers whose ministries are marked by being poured out for the sake of the Church and the gospel (Col. 1:24; 4:9-13, 2 Cor. 4:7-15; 11:23-33, 12:1-10) and lives are marked by humility and servanthood (2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28).

      There is a fuzziness, though, that I struggle with, and that is the difference between the role and the gift, and whether they always go hand in hand. I am hesitant to use the word ‘apostle’ to describe somebody (though I do use it jokingly from time to time) because it is not a part of the church cultures I am in, and it is often associated with hyper-charismatic dominionists. But I do very much recognize an apostolic gifting, that is able to see what God is doing on a more corporate/wide-scale level and work with that, and that there are those who put this gift to action and act as mediators/ambassadors/and are “sent” for the sake of the gospel and the building of the Church.

      When Paul exercises his apostleship with the Corinthians, the spiritual authority he gained through experience, prayer, and relationship with the Church is recognized and he speaks into the issues of their church by the power of the Spirit and his own wisdom.

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