The Solution to The Problems Facing The Church Today
There are multitudes of problems in the world today. They can be categorized as social, physical, economic, national, international, personal -the list goes on almost ad infinitum. It seems as though new problems develop every few days. This old world just doesn’t know which way to tum.
The Church also has its share of problems. At our international headquarters we regularly receive letters telling of financial difficulties or a pastoral change. Due to the secular humanism pervading our society, we hear of carnality and division. The Hollywood atmosphere and life-style has captivated many of God’s people. To some, doctrine has become unimportant. There is talk of “love” but often without a firm foundation on the truth of God’s Word. Decorum in some churches has slipped to a new low. We hear a cry of despair from some, while others just drop out of fellowship with the Church and God’s people. Is this the solution? How can we discern the right course of action in this chaotic world?
While these are grave problems, they are not new. They have plagued every generation of God’s people. In fact, the Apostle Paul was so moved by the problems in the churches of his day that he penned several of his epistles to meet the needs those problems created. The Spirit of God led him to write the Book of Romans to clarify the doctrine of justification by faith and to give guidelines for proper Christian conduct and service. The Book of Galatians was written to correct a great doctrinal error. Colossians met the need in another church where doctrinal error was at work. The Word of God, which met the problems and heartaches of the first-century Church, is still relevant for any problem the Church faces today.
To find solutions to some of the problems in the Church today, this article will be the first in a series focusing on the Epistle of First Corinthians and Paul’s solutions to the problems of that early assembly of believers.
THE CITY OF CORINTH
Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaia in what we know today as Greece. As a very important commercial center, its population reached between six and seven hundred thousand. It was a port city known for its wealth, works of art, and athletic games. At the end of the agora (marketplace), the base of the Berna, where rewards were given to the winners of the games, still stands. Corinth was also the home of several major schools of philosophy.
Although the city was known for its wealth and luxurious living, it was decadent. Immorality was rampant. The very name Corinth had the connotation of luxurious ease. Multitudes of the populace were involved in worship at the temple of Aphrodite at the summit of the city. She was the goddess of beauty, and the temple dedicated to her was staffed with over one thousand priests and priestesses who were actually prostitutes. It was truly a wicked city.
Corinth was considered to be one of the great cities of the Roman Empire. It exuded wealth and opulent living. The clever arguments of the philosophers echoed through its streets. The people spoke the highest form of the Greek language. It was a center of everything intellectual, but it was decadent. The life-style was lascivious and vile.
THE CORINTHIAN MINISTRY
Paul was on his second missionary journey. He had already answered the Macedonian call (Acts 16:9-10). Having ministered at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, Paul moved on to the province of Achaia and specifically to Athens, where his ministry did not appear to be successful. He then proceeded to Corinth, a major city approximately 50 to 60 miles away.
Priscilla and Aquila
Paul apparently arrived in Corinth alone, but he soon found Aquila and Priscilla, who had just come to Corinth from Italy. They had been forced to leave Rome due to a decree of Emperor Claudius expelling all Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). The Scriptures are not clear whether this couple came to Christ before Paul met them. We might assume that if they had received Christ, the writer of Acts would have mentioned it.
Paul sought them out as fellow-tradesmen and possibly took the opportunity to present Christ to them as they toiled side by side. They not only came to the Lord but soon became dedicated friends (Rom. 16:3- 4). Paul no doubt discipled them as they labored together.
Silas, who accompanied Paul on this second missionary journey, joined the apostle in Corinth. Timothy, whom Paul found at Derbe, also came with him (Acts 16:1). They encouraged and assisted Paul as he began the ministry in Corinth.
The Founding of the Church
Paul went into the synagogue at Corinth each Sabbath to reason concerning faith in Christ, and he “persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4). When the Jews heard his message, they reacted so blasphemously that Paul shook his garment and left this bastion of Judaism. He would now take the message of Christ to the Gentiles.
But, Paul did not go far. He established the church next door to the synagogue in the house of Justus, following the pattern he had set at Thessalonica. Although Paul declared that he would take his message to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6), the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, and his family came to Christ almost immediately (Acts 18:8). The thing the Jews feared most, and perhaps the main reason they wanted Paul out of the synagogue, occurred. Their own leader became a follower of Christ.
THE CONTINUING RESULTS
The Book of Acts also relates that many Corinthians who heard the gospel “believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). This was the beginning of the local church at Corinth. Both Jewish and Gentile believers were formed into one local body of believers. But there were several major problems within that body.
The apostle must have felt great pressure. It was not easy to lead people to Christ and get them firmly established in the Lord. The lifestyle of the believers had to undergo a complete change. They belonged to the Lord but still lived in one of the world’s most wicked cities. When the name of the city itself denoted self indulgence and wantonness, God had to accomplish a work in the hearts of the people. Perhaps we could liken the Corinthian church established by Paul to a church started today next to a casino in Las Vegas. It would be a difficult ministry, to say the least. Paul must have felt great pressure and been more than a little discouraged. He may even have been fearful.
“Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
It appears that Paul may have wanted to move on to another ministry. God gave him this vision to keep him in Corinth to complete the ministry He wanted accomplished there. He would not allow discouragement and fear to deter His work. As the result of this message from the Lord, Paul stayed in Corinth 18 months ministering the Word of God.
Opposition By The Jews
Not only was Paul forced out of the synagogue, but after Crispus and his family trusted Christ, the Jews tried to bring charges against Paul. They brought him to the judgment seat to stand before Gallio, the deputy of Achaia. They charged Paul with persuading “men to worship God contrary to the (Roman] law” (Acts 18:13). They hoped to use the Roman law to rid themselves of this nuisance.
Gallio came from a Spanish family which had won the highest distinction with Rome. He was well-known for his amiable character. Statius calls him “Sweet Gallio.” Seneca speaks of him “as one who could not be loved enough.”
Paul stood before this leader accused of a serious violation of Roman law. However, Gallio was too keen for the Jews. He recognized their deception. They were actually disturbed about their own Jewish law. Gallio didn’t even require Paul to defend himself. With a few well-chosen words, he drove the Jews out of his courtroom. “Case dismissed,” he said (Acts 18:14-16). Then the Greeks, having witnessed this scenario, turned against the Jews and beat Sosthenes, the Jewish leader who apparently replaced Crispus following his salvation (Acts 18:17). The Lord had provided a Roman leader to protect Paul and the fledgling church at Corinth.
After staying a while longer, Paul left Corinth, and the new church was on its own. But the presence of the apostle was soon missed.
THE CHURCH AT CORINTH
It is difficult to maintain a strong testimony in a wicked city, and Corinth was no exception. Surrounded by a polluted and idolatrous environment, and with the strong leadership of the apostle gone, the church soon began to experience problems. It was no different from churches today. Without strong leadership, a downward spiritual trend develops. And so it was with Corinth.
Time marched on. Paul quickly concluded his second missionary journey and shortly thereafter began the third. He went to Ephesus, where he spent nearly three years in a successful ministry. At the close of his long stay there, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. About five years had passed since he had established the church in Corinth, and he had heard of some of the problems which had developed there. There is even evidence that Paul may have made a brief second visit to this church (see 2 Cor. 12:14; 13:2).
The Source of Paul’s Information
Paul could not have addressed the difficult issues facing the church without reliable information. Perhaps he had witnessed the problems firsthand during his possible second visit and now had received indications that the situation had worsened.
THE CORINTHIAN LETTER
The Corinthians themselves had written to Paul, and apparently one of the. subjects they questioned was marriage. Due to the lifestyle in Corinth, this matter was a problem to new believers just saved out of an idolatrous system full of lust and immorality. They also had a problem concerning the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Should they eat it or not? Some other problems they questioned were spiritual gifts ( 1 Cor. 12:1) and a collection for the saints ( 1 Cor. 16:1).
In all of these matters, Paul was their source of authority. No one knew the ministry as well as he did. After all, he had started it.
The Chloe Letter
After Timothy left Corinth, Paul received a communication from the household of Chloe. They informed the apostle of many divisions in the church. . .
The root of all divisions, like those in the Corinthian church, is carnality, and Paul devoted the first four chapters of this epistle to a discussion of this subject. Carnality was also the root of many of the situations discussed in the latter chapters of the epistle.
The Cognizance of Paul
The Corinthians requested Paul to resolve certain problems, and he did. What they didn’t realize was that Paul would also deal with situations they had chosen not to mention to him. It was as if Paul said, “You asked questions regarding certain matters, and you will receive answers. You didn’t choose to mention other problems, but you will receive instruction in those areas as well.”
The following is a breakdown of the subjects Paul covered in First Corinthians. These areas will be discussed in future articles.
- Division in the Church . . . . . . . .Chapters 1-4
- Discipline in the Church . . . . . .Chapters 5-6
- Domestics in the Church . . . . . . . .Chapter 7
- Duty in the Church . . . . . . . . .Chapters 8-10
- Decorum in the Church . . . . .Chapters 11-14
- Doctrine in the Church . . . . .Chapters 15-16
Paul dealt with major problems which were relevant to the church of Corinth in the first century. In the twentieth century, however, teachers of the Word of God are often told that the Scriptures are no longer relevant for the Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible is alive and speaks to every need of mankind, whether it be in the first century or the twentieth. Man never changes.
All churches have problems with division. If they did not there would not be so many churches! Discipline in the church is almost a lost art. Rather than accepting discipline when they cause a problem, the people who need it most tend to run to another church where they are welcomed with open arms. Marriage is certainly a problem in churches today. Every pastor worth his salt is crying out to God about the disregard for marriage vows among those in the church. And then there is the problem of duty. Often people want the church to serve them rather than serve the Lord through the church. Decorum was a problem in Corinth, and it is still a problem today. Proper behavior in church is a subject rarely mentioned among God’s people. Finally, there is the problem of doctrine. We often hear, “Doctrine isn’t important. It only divides.” In this series, it will be shown that doctrine is important.
Every child of God has problems of one kind or another, but the Lord has provided solutions to all our problems before we ever experience them. Those solutions are to be found in the Word of God.