THE LIST ON A SCROLL
Because of the raw material that Paul had to work with in Corinth, it must have been plain to see that, like the children of Israel coming out of slavery with Moses, it took a single day to get Israel out of Egypt, but a generation to get Egypt out of Israel. The Corinthian church, like Israel, was in a bit of a self-inflicted mess. They were paradoxically free in Christ, yet utterly sold into bondage with the old heathen life clinging tightly to them. After 18 months of ministry in the huge city, where one cannot but believe that Paul poured out his heart, his world-view, his attitude to God, life and people; in what was, at that point of time, the longest stay Paul had made in any single place on mission, a trio of believers came with a metre long scroll of parchment with questions and problems for their father in the faith to look into. What were these problems?
- There were cliques and factions in the church, using different minister’s names as rallying points. This was majorly divisive and no small issue. How were they to deal with it? (1 Corinthians 1:10 – 31)
- There were accusations concerning Paul’s authority, integrity and character. (1 Corinthians 9). This festering malignant growth was to increase in its virulence and was absolutely why Titus had to go to Corinth, after Timothy and Apollos had been, as a diplomat to speak for Paul. This would have been painful for the trio from Chloe’s house to explain to Paul, just as it would have been painful for Paul to receive. What should the apostle do in order to respond properly?
- Sexual immorality, to the point of a male sleeping with his step mother had taken place within the church. This seems to have been committed with people who were high profile within the fellowships at Corinth, and was therefore influencing many. What were Paul’s instructions on this? (1 Corinthians 5:1-12)
- Lawsuits were being taken out by Christians against Christians, believers taking believers to court. Imagine the ill feeling and relationship problems spawned by such a thing within the whole fellowship. What were Paul’s instructions on how to handle such a divisive series of events? (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)
- Marriage issues for singles were being asked about. Sexuality and the conduct of pre-marital relationships needed to be explained from a Christ-like perspective (1 Corinthians 6:12 – 7:40).
- Food that was cheap at the market, even though it had been sacrificed to idols, was being bought and eaten by Christians. Should a Christian eat such fare? The answer would impact the financial budgets of the poor, as well as the spiritual life of all. What would the apostle advise? (1 Corinthians 8)
- Conduct at the Lord ’s Supper seems to be described as chaotic. One gets the impression that the gatherings and church services at Corinth were anything but religious, but in a way that was not God directed. Surely Paul knew how to correct these deficiencies! (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
- Issues concerning the conduct of women in the church meeting were being asked about. I cannot but think that somehow there were Jewish influences in the church at work with this matter. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
- The use of supernatural charismata effected by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the members, which seemed to be commonly used, were being abused and discredited, it seems, within the church fellowship and in the presence of unbelievers. What was Paul’s mind on this? (1 Corinthians 12,13 and 14)
- The doctrine of the resurrection and some false extrapolations from the understanding of Paul’s teaching were being spread around. Not only was there abuse of the teaching, but some were suggesting that the teaching was irrelevant, others that the resurrection had passed. (1 Corinthians 15)
- Collecting money to help poor Christians in other parts of the world where Paul travelled seems to have been queried. Was his integrity being maligned also? (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
It is such an incredible list that one has to wonder about the mental, never mind the spiritual capability of the Christians in Corinth. Was it because there was a huge number of converts added to the church since Paul left Corinth, and that the newcomers had not had these things explained to them properly? I find it difficult to believe that Paul could hear of any of these queries and think, “Oh yes! I never mentioned this, or that!” The list was enormous, and horrific. Every aspect of the issues that were seemingly rampant in the Corinthian church are, I would suggest, considered basic fundamental Christian teachings in today’s society, and I feel certain they were elementary in the context of Paul’s preaching also. Not that the twenty first century church is free of all these problems and their modern equivalents cum parallels, but they are issues that many basic courses in Christianity would cover.
And these issues exploded upon him in the midst of a remarkably intense mission in Ephesus. What a barrel full of rubbish it was, tipped into Paul’s thought processes, consuming his waking hours. The three visitors must have broken Paul’s heart when it was all finally explained, or read out.