by Wayne Barber
Corinth again is our example. Almost all the negative things Paul mentions that define the church have to do with their relationships with one another. In First Corinthians, chapter five, they would not deal with known sin.
Now, no church has a Gestapo that goes around pointing fingers at others. But, in Corinth, this heinous sin was known by all, but no one would deal with it. This church, no matter it's numbers, no matter it's budget, was a sick and anemic people, certainly not a growing church. If insensitivity to known open sin is a mark of a church that is not growing, then brokenness over sin must be the mark of one that is growing. The individual believer and the corporate group of believers all become sensitive to both individual and corporate sin and to dealing with it, when God is doing a work in their midst.
In chapter six, instead of considering the value of their relationships as being the "fruit of God's Spirit working in them," they became bitter at one another and would drag one another into court over petty differences. Imagine Christians in a "growing church" suing one another in the open pagan courts. If God is causing the church to grow, then this can't happen on a corporate scale. We always have one or two that don't get it, but when the whole church is into this kind of behavior, no matter how many show up on Sunday, the church is going backward, not forward.
In chapter seven, their families were so backward that they even thought that sexual intimacy in marriage was sinful. "Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husbandů." (1 Cor. 7:1-3 NAS). This crazy attitude can easily be understood if you remember that "some were of Paul and some were of Apollos and some were of Cephas." As far as we know, Paul was not married. Some evidently were so attached to preachers, and some particularly attached to Paul thought if Paul wasn't married, then all should be celibate. Therefore, in their thinking, sex in all contexts was wrong. So Paul takes a whole chapter to address this very messed-up church, which was also confused about divorce.
Isn't it interesting that in our world today a church can overflow the parking lots and take in millions of dollars and say that God is doing it all. But, within the walls of that church are ruined relationships soaked with bitterness that smothers the effect of God's Word. Families continue to fall apart and yet they come to church on Sundays and shout with the best of them.
In chapters 8-10, Paul deals with insensitivity to the weaker brother. The issue is that of "eating meat sacrificed to idols." Most of the meat sold in the stores was meat sacrificed to idols, so if you went to a wedding or special banquet you would most likely be eating meat sacrificed to idols. That was fine with those who understood that when they are related to God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, nothing can ever separate them from that relationship. That is the message of grace. But, that message must be revealed to one's heart in such a manner that he doesn't take license with it over his weaker brother who does not understand as he does.
If you were one of those weaker brothers-new converts-and you hadn't yet learned the truth of what grace means to you and your eternal relationship with God, you would naturally be very sensitive to going back and participating in what you once took part in.
Well, the believers in Corinth not only were insensitive to those younger and weaker brothers around them, they flaunted it in their face. Paul rebuked them in 8:9: "But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." We have the tendency to read quickly through this because the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols doesn't relate to us in our day. What if it was taking a social drink? What if it was smoking a cigarette? What if it was something that you yourself see nothing wrong with but have forgotten the issue of the weaker brother around you? This insensitivity among believers is always rampant when we pay more attention to the crowds we are having and the money we are taking in instead of the Word that is being preached.