When I look at the challenges of fellowship and community in the body of Christ, in the local church, few books in the Bible can match Paul’s letters to the people of Corinth.
Paul had visited Corinth around 50 AD. He had begun the church on his second missionary journey. It was there that he met Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish tentmakers like he was. He spent two years there preaching first to the Jews in the synagogue. When they refused to hear him, he preached to the Gentiles.
When he arrived there, Corinth was already an ancient city that had been in existence for a thousand years before the time of Christ. It was a wealthy seaport city, a center of art, athletics, business, and religion. Unfortunately, it had developed a bad reputation as an immoral city.
How like God to send His light into a dark place?
Paul sent others to minister to the church he established there after he continued his missionary journey to Jerusalem for a brief stop and then on to Ephesus for three years. He kept in contact with the churches he established by letter and letters came to him updating him on the church and how things were going as well. He desired to continue to disciple them and grow them up in all spiritual matters.
By the time he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth, it’s clear issues were blossoming and the church was not behaving as a Christ like church. The worldly wisdom of the day had been creeping into the church creating confusion and division.
Sound familiar even in 2016 in many places? We seem to have some common characteristics with the city of Corinth and the church there.
Paul’s words as a loving disciple are firm and direct calling them into account out of his love and care for them and his desire to see them mature. He let them know they were acting like babies. They could not be equipped to reach out to others, to look different than the world in Corinth. The church was to model Jesus. The church at Corinth wasn’t doing that.
We are blessed to have many strong, effective, loving churches in our country, but not unlike the church in Corinth our success and culture can slip into the church almost unnoticed until the fruit of its presence becomes evident.
In The Master’s Indwelling, Andrew Murray writes this about the believers in Corinth:
“We find in the Corinthians simply a condition of protracted infancy. It is quite right at six months of age a babe should eat nothing but milk, but years have passed by and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. We come in contact with them and there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s spirit in them.”
I think we sometimes bump into the same issue today. Protracted infancy will not let us reflect Him.
Can these things harm the image of Christ? Absolutely! Can they prevent healthy relational fellowship? Yes, of course.
Sometimes the church today (not unlike Corinth) can have a solid foundation with excellent teaching, but if we only rely on being fed on Sundays we will never grow up into Him and become mature. It is what happens on those other six days that make the big difference in whether or not we are truly growing.
Our churches bear a great responsibility before the Lord for the oversight and care of their body, but that is His to judge. We also have a responsibility. How we spend our time in pursuing the Lord beyond the teaching of the pastor will tell a great deal about the way we model Him. It will have a significant influence on whether we move beyond protracted infancy.
We come into a church looking for certain things. What do we also bring? Do we bring childish self-centered attitudes or a growing, developing Christ-life?
Perhaps what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:13 lays out the path for us:
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”