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To recap Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth in around the year 54AD while he was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea. You will remember that the letter was written to this church because Paul had received reports that the church in Corinth was suffering under factionalism and placing great emphasis on the gifts certain members had over others. Others claimed superior knowledge and wisdom. While others were living immoral lives while still claiming membership of the church.
You will recall we read in our first week about Paul setting out who the Corinthians were in the eyes of God, and emphasising that though their knowledge and gifts are wonderful things they are all from God. They enable us to see that we are called into a whole body of believers, that we are set apart – sanctified by God, that the spiritual gifts we have are from God, that our knowledge and abilities in the faith are from God. Paul wanted them to understand the great truth that it is God at work in us that redeems us – that it is God’s grace – his unmerited, or unearned favour towards us that is what saves us.
Having set the scene for his letter to the Corinthian Church by letting them know that it is God who is at work in them, and their salvation, their knowledge and their gifts are all from God, that they are all one body – Paul moved into discussing factionalism and division in the church.
Paul called the church to unity, to be of one mind. Now remember Paul when he says that we as the church should all be of one mind wasn’t calling us to blind faith or conformity – rather he was calling the church to focus on the core thing – the Gospel. He was also emphasising that what we do and how we behave matters and effects how we are able to promote that Gospel.
Remember he also gave us that model of evangelism – that being straight forward and honest about the Gospel without embellishment and without compromise.
Then we focussed heavily on how the cross of Christ is foolishness to the world. We focussed on how it is through that cross we are reconciled to God. That it is at the cross where the consequences for our sins are dealt with. It is at the cross where God incarnate says – even though you may think it is foolish, here I show you my love, here I do what I must to bring us back together. It is at the cross that the bill we owe is paid.
Last week in chapter 2 Paul continued talking to the church in Corinth about how the Gospel does not conform to the wisdom of the world. In the opening five verses of our reading today Paul continued to explain to the them how he didn’t come to them trying to appear wise and distinguished – he didn’t come to them trying to look and sound like someone who would be deemed respectable by the standards of the world – rather he came to them from a place of weakness – with a story that would seem implausible to them.
Then he explained to us that it is through the spirit that we begin to fully understand what God has done for us. It is through God’s Spirit working through us and guiding us that we begin to comprehend the magnificence of what God has achieved.
Through opening ourselves up – being willing to hear God’s call, we begin to understand that what seems like foolishness to the powers of this world – is actually the very thing that will overthrow them. When we are willing focus on what God’s spirit leads us to – we find ourselves drawn into an understanding of God that is astonishing.
Then we also learnt that God never stops calling us. He never gives up– it is not to late, for anyone – He is there waiting for us – all we need do is turn back to him.
That’s what Paul is really asking the Church to do in our reading from today – to turn back to God. We begin by Paul continuing where he left off at the end of chapter 2. He had just finished talking about how those who are spiritual are able to comprehend the true wisdom of God – and receive the gifts of God (including salvation). Those who are not spiritual can’t. We focussed on this last week and how Paul was trying to help them understand that the Spirit is there ready to guide them – but they must be open to the Spirit’s guiding.
So it is pretty powerful that he started the reading today by saying: And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
Wow. So after having explained to them that Christians are ones who are spiritual, and open to the wisdom of God. Paul moves to saying – so that’s why I had to speak to you guys not as spiritual people – (here he is referring to when he evangelised them and introduced them to the Gospel) but then he hits them where it hurts and says- guess what – nothing has changed – you are still mere infants in the faith – you don’t appear to have grown at all. Look at you fighting amongst yourselves – you are getting caught up in the trivialities – you are getting caught up in what the wider world tells you is important rather than actually allowing yourselves to be lead by the spirit to growth, and understanding.
Paul is giving them a good wake up call here – and it is a strong contrast to how he opened the letter – where he was saying how good it was that the church had gifts, and knowledge and wisdom – all of which are from God. Here though he gfives them a reality check and says – well guys actually, whilst you have been bragging and arguing amongst each other about who is the superior one with the most oif these gifts and wisdom – the truth is you are merely infants, you haven’t even progressed past milk to getting into the solid food of God’s knowledge and wisdom.
Then he explains what the greatest example of this is: For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
You see the greatest example that the Corinthian Church is still in its infancy in terms of its understanding of God is that its members are elevating Paul and Apollos and arguing over who is greater through association with each of them. Paul responds by saying what are doing?
You see the Corinthians have made Paul and Apollos idols – they have forgotten that they are merely servants in God’s Kingdom, who preach and teach – but it is not preachers and priests and bishops who save you, it is not the preachers greatness which redeems you! The preacher is just a servant in the kingdom – merely a messenger – it is God who saves us!
It is God who came to earth as a human being and showed us how to live a life of love, care and compassion.
It is God who came and died on the cross and took the consequence of our sin.
It is God who rose from death and destroyed its hold on us.
Brothers and sisters, just like the church in Corinth 2000 years ago – we need to identify the idols in our lives that get in the way of our relationship with God. For us it may not be arguing about who we are associated with – it may well be thst we are instead putting money as our idol above God, or perhaps it is our sports team, or our reputation or popularity. There are many many things that we are tempted to put at the forefront of our lives – that we are willing to push God to the side for.
What we are called to do is to examine our relationship with God, to examine our priorities in life and ask ourselves the question – If St Paul was writing to us would he be telling us that like the church in Corinth we are still mere infants – still so focussed on human desires that we have pushed God to the side?
Or would he write to us and commend us for how we model our lives after Jesus? Would he commend our love and compassion for each other and those around us? Would he speak of our willingness to share with others the Gospel of salvation?
These are the things we are called to brothers and sisters – and like the Corinthian church was 2000 years ago, we are being called to renew our faith and renew our commitment, so that we truly are ambassadors of the incredible love and hope that comes through Jesus. Lets walk bravely forward not as infants, but as men and women in the faith, boldly living out the Gospel message through our actions and our words.
The Lord be with you.