Wedneday Night Lesson: ‘God’s Cure for a Selfish Church’

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We come tonight to our second lesson in love and I direct your attention to the book of 1 Corinthians –

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

I. Culture of Corinth

Perhaps it will help us to better understand the reason behind Paul’s words if we first take a moment to consider the culture of the Corinthians.

Corinth was a seaport located on the Mediterranean Sea. Some called it the ‘Gateway between Asia and Europe.’ Therefore we may say that Corinth was a commercial city. In addition, it was the capital of a region known as Achaia. Corinth was a also a corrupt city. Corinth’s exposure to the world had made it a very worldly environment.

II. Church at Corinth

Paul went to Corinth during his second missionary journey. He had just left Athens with all of its Greek philosophers and he was a bit put out. He arrived there all alone, but soon met a couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla who were also Christians. Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers, which was the occupation of Paul, and so he stayed with them while he was there.

Paul first tried to take the gospel to the Jews living in Corinth but soon ran into opposition. Scripture says that Paul ‘shook his garments’ at the Jews, which is another way of saying that he shook the dust off of his feet, and turned to the Gentiles. Actually he wound up going next door to the synagogue to the house of a man name Justus and there founded the Corinthian church. Paul remained in Corinth for 18 months and according to Albert Barnes, it was Corinth that he wrote his epistle to the Romans.

III. Conflict at Corinth

If you have done any studying in 1 and 2 Corinthians, you know that the Corinthians church had a lot of trouble. Paul used the word ‘carnal’ to describe many of the Corinthian believers.

1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The word ‘carnal’ means flesh and when used in conjunction with our spiritual walk, it is means to live according to the desires of our old sinful nature, rather than the new nature produced by the Spirit. According to Paul, there are three types of men in this world:

1)    The natural man, which is someone who has never been born-again

2)    The spiritual man, which is someone who has been saved and is walking in the Spirit

3)    The carnal man, which is a believer, yet who is not walking in the Spirit, but instead in the flesh.

According to Paul, many in the church at Corinth were carnal Christians. There are two primary ways that the Corinthians were demonstrating their carnality –

A. A Sensual Church –

Corinth was a very sinful society. A term sometimes used during that day was ‘to corinthianize’, which mean to commit sexual immorality. The primary example of their sinfulness was the fact that a man, who was a member of the Corinthian church, was openly committing sexual immorality with his step-mother. To make matters worse, the church was doing nothing about it. Instead, the church was bragging about it! How could that be? Warren Wiersbe writes in his commentary – “They were boasting of the fact that their church was so “open-minded” that even fornicators could be members in good standing!”

No doubt part of the problem was that Corinth itself was such a corrupt society that many of its members had a difficult time escaping it. They were trying to live in two worlds. With that in mind Paul said –

1 Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

In other words, don’t tolerate such sin. Deal with it; not only for the sake of the one sinning, but for the sake of the rest of the church. Help other believers to see that sexual immorality is sin.

B. A Selfish church

The second great problem for the Corinthian church was their selfishness. Note how Paul addresses this in the opening of his letter –

1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

The Corinthians showed selfishness and self-centeredness in picking and choosing certain teachers. “I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas; I am of Christ.” They showed selfishness in suing each openly in court. They showed selfishness in how they approached what we might call ‘gray areas.’ The big question was – ‘Can a Christian eat meat that has been previously offered to idols?” Consider Paul’s words and example –

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

NLT   … You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him. 4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.

12  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

They showed their selfishness and self-centeredness in the way they approached the Lord’s Supper.

1 Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

NLT – there must be divisions among you so that those of you who are right will be recognized!

In other words, your actions reveal what’s really in your heart.

20  When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?  What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

Associated with their observance of the Lord’s Supper was a meal called the ‘Agape Feast’ or the ‘Love Feast.’ Apparently the rich and well-to-do were bringing in lots of food and having a party while the poor went hungry.

They also showed their selfishness and self-centeredness in the way they approached spiritual gifts and ministry.

1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. (NLT – our unpresentable parts have greater modesty) 24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 25 That there should be no schism (division) in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured , all the members rejoice with it.

IV. Cure For Corinth

What was the primary problem in the Corinthian church? They were selfish and self-centered. They even used the things of God to promote self. What was the solution to their problem?

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

It was to love others with a Christ-like love. It was to love others more than they loved self.

Last week I shared with you that there are three primary words in the Greek language for love: eros, phileo, and agape. Eros is a passionate, sensual kind of love. It is a reaction of our senses. Phileo is a friendship, companionship kind of love which is a response of our emotions. Agape is a self-sacrificing kind of love which is a choice of our will.

Note author and Bible teacher JI Packer wrote concerning agape love:

The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention—a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike—Matt. 5:44-48). J.I. Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, page for March 10

1 John 4:7 tells us that agape love is ‘of God’ and therefore is evidenced in the lives of all those who are born of Him. Paul tells us that it is a part of the fruit of the Spirit. (see Gal 5:22-23) It’s not necessarily loving someone because we like them, but loving someone because they have been created in the image of God and God loves them. According to Christ, it’s even loving our enemies. (see Mt 5:43-48)

The King James translators used the word ‘charity’ to translate this word into English. Many have criticized the KJV translators, but let’s take a moment to consider why they might have done so. What is charity? Charity is something we give or do to help someone in need. What is agape love? It’s loving someone, not for what we can get, but for what we can give.

Consider once again Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 –

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

If I could speak with a heavenly language, and yet I didn’t use my words to benefit others, I would only be making a lot of useless noise. If I knew and understood the deep things of God and yet I didn’t use my knowledge to help those in need, in reality I would be revealing that I knew nothing. If I had faith that could move mountains and yet I don’t use my faith to move a mountain in someone else’s life; what good would my faith be? If I gave all I had away to feed the poor and yet my motive wasn’t love, it would be of no benefit to me. If I gave my body to be burned and yet the reason wasn’t because I truly loved God, my death would mean nothing to Him.

It’s so easy to be selfish and self-centered, yet such an attitude is the exact opposite of what true Christianity is all about. Even as I have studied this I have had to stop along the way and ask myself – ‘What’s really the most important thing at this moment? Is it that I follow my agenda, or is it that I am being used by God to help others?’

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