This month’s study is on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul wrote letters to the church in Corinth, a major cosmopolitan city, seaport and trade center of Achaia. The purpose of the first letter is to identify the problems in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society. The second letter’s purpose is to affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle and refute the false teachers in Corinth. I will discuss four points in these letters. Spiritual gifts, what are they and what purpose to they serve in the Body of Christ? What love is and isn’t. I will discuss what it means to generously give and what to look out for when dealing with false teachers.
First, spiritual gifts are often a controversial topic in churches even today because so many denominations define them differently. First, let’s look at what Paul says about the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. He tells us that each gift is given by the same Spirit (verse 4), the Spirit of God. It is also something he repeats several times. Each gift is given for the common good. There is the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge, the gift of faith, gift of healing, the gift of miraculous powers, the gift of prophesy, the gift of distinguishing between spirits, gift of tongues, the gift of interpreting tongues (verses 8-10). Each believer is given a gift which he is to use for the good of the Body of Christ (i.e. the church). The problem in the Corinthian church is they were treating some of the gifts as superior to others and thus elevating that person as better or higher than someone else simply because they have a certain gift. Paul says this is not right. Since all the gifts are given by the same Spirit, the gifts are equal. They may serve different purposes but each one is special and needed. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that each gift is given to certain believers to serve a function in the Body of Christ. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (verse 27). Some are teachers, some are musicians to lead worship, some are missionaries, some are fundraisers, some are prayer warriors, the list can go on and on. No one is more important than the other just because they serve a different purpose. The individual who helps clean the church building is just as important as the pastor who teaches from the pulpit.
Second, Paul discusses what love is and isn’t and it is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Just 13 verses long, it speaks volumes about what true love looks like. People today are confused about what love truly is just as they were in the Corinthian church. In verses 1-3, Paul talks about how he could have all these wonderful gifts but without love, it is nothing. With all the spiritual gifts that people are given, if they do not use them with love, then the gifts are useless. Love is: patient and kind (verse 4), always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (verse 7). Love is not envious, is not boastful, or proud (verse 4). It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs (verse 5). “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (verse 6). Love is one of the greatest human qualities and it is one of God’s attributes (1 John 4:8). Love involves unselfish service to others. To show love gives evidence to others that you care. Unfortunately, many people today use love as a bargaining chip. “To do this for me and I will love you” but love should be given without conditions, without a price and without thought of what one gets in return. Yes, sometimes we all act without love. We are still human and sometimes other emotions get the best of us. When we are hurt and angry, we lash out without love. One of the most quoted verses is verse 13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith is the foundation and content of God’s message. Hope is the attitude and focus and love is the action. Without love, you cannot have faith or hope. If you need an example of love, look to Christ.
Third, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul speaks about giving generously. However, this isn’t about the amount one gives but the attitude in which one gives. God doesn’t look at the person who gives $1,000 dollars and says “wow” and looks down at the person who only gave $100. He looks at the attitude and the spirit in which in was given. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Generously giving isn’t just about money but our time as well. When one serves with their time in the church, he or she should do so cheerfully as God will increase that gift with rewards but when the spirit of service isn’t there, the rewards will be small. If you feel like you do not have the spirit of service, do not be afraid to say “no, I can’t right now.” Sometimes when the spirit of service is small, it could mean that you need to reenergize yourself. It’s okay to have “me time.” No one can give 100% of themselves, 100% of the time. And if you ask someone to service and they say no, do not think badly of them or think that they are backsliding in their faith, it may be because God is telling them to rest and when they are ready to serve again, they will. Give where and how you can give. If you can give money, then help provide the funds that the church can use to serve the people. If you can’t give money, but can give of your time, then serve in a ministry whether it be in the teaching a Sunday school class or rocking the babies to sleep in the nursery, so the parents can fellowship. This is just a few examples of how someone can generously give to the church.
Lastly, false apostles or false teachers was a big problem in the church of Corinth just as it is now. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, Paul speaks about false teachers. He warns the church to be mindful of what teachers are teaching. If they are teaching something other than what Christ taught be careful be to be led astray (verse 3-4). Paul says not to judge a teacher by how much money he demands to teach (verses 7-8). A great teacher isn’t determined by their fee. Paul says “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (verses 13-15). False teachers deceive others by appearing to be good and moral. Many unsuspecting believers have fallen into the trap of a smooth-talking, Bible quoting teacher, but we are warned to look beyond their outward appearances. To ask ourselves questions. For example, do the teachings confirm Scriptures as stated in Acts 17:11? Acts 17:11 states that the Berean church examined the Scriptures every day and very careful to see if what Paul said was true. If a pastor or teacher says something about God or Scripture, go into the Scriptures. Do not take the pastor’s word for it, simply because he is a pastor. Another question could be: Does the teacher affirm and proclaim that Jesus Christ is God who came into the world as a man to save people from their sins (1 John 4:1-3)? Is the teacher’s lifestyle consistent with Biblical morality (Matthew 12:33-37)? If the answer to these questions, or any questions you may have, gives you pause, then it is time to consider if this individual is a false teacher.
In conclusion, there are many lessons in the letters to the Corinthian church. First, we are all special and unique to God and we are all called to a special purpose within the church. Look to God and ask Him how you can use your gifts for his glory. Second, love is often misunderstood. Do not look to the world’s definition of love with all its conditions. Remember that love is the action in which faith and hope is built on. Third, attitude is more important when it comes to the giving of our time and money, much more important than the amount we give. Lastly, be very discerning with pastors and church leaders. Look to the Bible and use it to verify what is being taught.