The Seventh in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
Growing up in fundamentalism, I recall hearing a number of sermons stressing the fact that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. While this was the reason usually given us as to why we shouldn’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcoholic beverages, we were never told what it means to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, nor were we told how this doctrine should inform our view of the church. But for Paul, the fact that Christ’s church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (who indwells each one of us) should be fundamental to our conception of the nature of the church. This is why the divisions and factions in the Corinthian church were so destructive. To divide Christ’s body (God’s spiritual temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit) is to attempt to destroy that which God is building through the preaching of Christ crucified. Paul must warn the Corinthians of the serious consequences of tearing apart that which God is building in their midst.
We return to our series on 1 Corinthians, and we are discussing this very important letter to a church struggling with a multitude of problems, many of which are facing the church again today. Most of the members of the Corinthian church were recent converts to Christianity. They were struggling to leave behind pagan ways of thinking and doing. The Corinth of Paul’s age was a city with a Roman ethos, a Greek history, and dominated by pagan religion. Although they had come to faith in Christ, the Corinthians faced their pagan past on a daily basis. Paganism was everywhere they went. Under these conditions, no doubt, it was very difficult for the Corinthians to learn to think and act like Christians.
As we have seen in previous sermons, Paul has been using irony to make a point. The Greeks think Paul’s message of a crucified Savior is only so much foolishness. The cross makes no sense to someone steeped in Greco-Roman culture. Yet Christians know that Christ’s cross is the power of God unto salvation. In the preaching of Christ crucified–a message which the Greeks regard as foolishness–the wisdom of God is revealed. And this revelation of God’s wisdom exposes the so-called wisdom of the pagans for what it truly is–foolishness. In making this point, Paul has skillfully exposed the fact that the Greek quest for wisdom is not a quest for wisdom at all. Rather, the philosophers, prophets and sages reject the very wisdom they claim to be seeking. While they mock God, God mocks them. They claim to be seeking the truth. Yet, they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
The new Christians in Corinth must understand that God’s wisdom is revealed through the proclamation of the cross, even though that message offends Greek sensitivities. Paul sees the root of the problem in the fact that many of the Corinthians were still devoted to the worldly wisdom of their recent past. It was this typically Greek love of celebrities, entertaining public speakers, and philosophers who had all the answers, which led the Corinthian Christians to devote themselves to those individuals in the church who had taught them when they first came to faith (Paul, Apollos and Peter).
Sadly, the Corinthians quickly divided into cliques centering around these teachers–even though those who taught them would never have encouraged the mantras being heard in the Corinthian church. “I follow Paul.” “I follow Peter.” “I follow Apollos.” According to Paul, this mind-set demonstrates the sad fact that even though the Corinthians may have thought themselves to be mature and making good progress in the Christian life, the reality is that this only demonstrates their spiritual immaturity and shows how deeply pagan ways of thinking and doing still dominate this church.
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