You might remember from reading Acts 18 that Paul came to Corinth on his second missionary journey which was probably the spring of A.D. 51. Corinth was the most important city in Achaia (present day Southern Greece). The north-south highway that linked the rest of Greece with the southern Peloponnesus ran through it making it a key trade center. It contained the temple of Aphrodite - goddess of love and fertility. Corinth was well known for its sexual immorality. I have heard it called the "Las Vegas of the New Testament" because merchants and sailors from all over the Mediterranean went there to gamble and engage in seedy activities like sexual immorality with temple prostitutes. There were 1,000 of them!
Imagine trying to live a life of godliness in the midst of this culture! The followers of Jesus in Corinth were struggling! They needed to know how to live with the idolatry and immorality. They were also divided because they were immature believers. Paul heard of their struggles and wrote 1 Corinthians to address their problems, answer their numerous questions, and to heal their division. He also confronted them on their sin and called them to live a life committed to Christ who had called them out of darkness into light.
He wrote this letter in about A.D. 54/55, near the end of his three years in Ephesus (Acts 19), during his third missionary journey. It is the second letter he wrote (1 Corinthians 5:9), but we have no record of the first. This second letter is in response to questions on issues that were causing division in their church. It was brought to Paul by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17).
1 Corinthians 1
He exhorted them to "be made complete in the same mind," but this did not mean they were to be the same. There was room for diversity of gifts, but they needed relational harmony in the midst of that diversity. Just as Christ could not be divided, neither could they be divided. They were dividing up over the leaders who baptized them rather than realizing that their baptism was in Christ alone! Christ is not divided. He is the one who is our head, not the leader of the day.
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 contains the message of the meaning of the cross. He summarized Isaiah 29:14 to point out that God's wisdom is different from the world's wisdom. Jesus suffering and dying on a cross seemed so foolish by human standards. The Corinthians were trying to live their lives by human standards that promoted self-preservation and self-centeredness instead of Jesus' way that involved giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
The key word in 1:18-2:16 is wisdom. it is used eight times. Mark them if you can. There are several contrasts between God's wisdom and man's. "Christ Jesus . . . became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (Colossians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, Mark 10:45). We do not need worldly wisdom to enter the kingdom of God, we just need faith in Christ.
Click on the hyperlinks for a review of the meaning of these words:
Righteousness - Romans 3
Redemption - Romans 3
Sanctification - Romans 8
One of Paul's major goals in writing this letter to the Corinthians was to address the issue of disunity in the church. We can learn so much from reading it in dealing with disunity in the church today!
I was part of a church culture for many years that had constant conflict with no biblical resolution. When people became disgruntled with a pastor or leader, there would be gossip, back-biting, and slander (even on the part of the elders) followed by a forced resignation and a church split. Hordes of families, who supported the pastor who was forced to resign, left our church to be a part of the church he had joined or joined the new church he started as a result of the forced resignation. It was heart-breaking and happened too many times over my 28 years of attending this church.
Sadly, I was not always part of the solution. While I usually was not directly part of anything, I made the mistake of listening to people's disgruntled thoughts (the counselor in me) instead of directing them to talk to those they were disgruntled with. There was never any mediation when conflicts were not resolved. So, things were always left to stew until everything blew up.
That all changed when I went to a training on peacemaking in Arizona in 1994 and was part of a group of people overseas that applied the biblical principles of peacemaking in this setting. It was wonderful! It reminded me of how it used to be when I was involved with a wonderful ministry starting in college and into my early 20s. This ministry practiced biblical peacemaking naturally even though they never gave us any formal training in it. We were just taught to obey Scripture and peacemaking followed!
I think returning to my old church after two years of biblical peacemaking overseas made me realize the problems. Within days of coming back, I was given a tour of the new church remodel where a woman sat me down in a remote room, far from the listening ear of the head pastor, and gave me all the "dirt" on how frustrated everyone was with him! Oh my!
Then, I went on a trip to Boise with one of the elders wives who told me all the things wrong with the women's ministry director! I listened and asked questions (like a good counselor would), but two weeks later I was pulled into the women's ministry director's office where she had pen and paper out to take notes on all the things I thought were wrong with the women's ministry! Apparently, this elder's wife whom I listened to on that very LONG trip to Boise had gone to the women's ministry director to tell her that I agreed with all the problems that she had also seen.
I was getting sucked into the "vortex," and I had just gotten off the plane. HELP! Thankfully, I did know that there was a better way to live from my experience overseas!
My journey continued when I had a minor conflict with that same women's ministry director. I wanted to handle it well, and an online friend recommended Peacemaker Ministries. I went on their website, and ordered everything I could find including the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. I applied the principles, and there was peace with her and her Bible study director! (Providentially, that same women's ministry director just called me on the phone while I was writing this post. She is now the women's ministry director in a peaceful church in another city, and we are friends.)
After I had found resolution in that conflict, there was a major blow up because of all the back-biting and gossip about that head pastor. I bought The Peacemaker for all the elders and staff, but only one administrative staff member (who had no part in decision-making in the church) read it and thanked me for what he learned. The head pastor that they forced to resign also read it and thanked me, but none of the elders who were part of the decision-making and had listened (and participated in) gossip and slander of this pastor even acknowledged that I had given them the book.
The character assassination of this pastor and the deep rejection he felt led to him being crushed in spirit. He ended up making poor choices that led to alcoholism and major family turmoil. He had choices to make, but I believe that the way the church handled his dismissal was a devastating trigger. I still grieve over the poor way it was handled.
Three more staff members were treated in the same way after this staff member. Then, it happened to ME! I was in ministry with a woman who repeatedly lied to me. After so many times in an 18 month period, I thought it was important to talk to her. I read my book, I prepared in love. I thought the interaction went well, but she began a smear campaign with our staff and elders that went on for six weeks. The relationship deteriorated more, and the pastor in charge of us was not willing to sit down with us and help. I found an outside church trained in mediating church conflicts, but this pastor would not even answer my inquiries about that possibility. I think the whole conflict was being blamed on me. Actually, I will never know what was said about me, but I do know that this pastor interrogated women in my ministry to see if they had ever had any conflict with me.
The final straw was when a pastor blatantly lied to me with my husband present. We walked out the door, and my husband said, "We are leaving." After we left, I heard what elders were saying about me (slander). Not one person in authority approached me to tell me what I had done wrong. I still do not know other than one thing that I apparently did that I did not do.
When we left that church, we made a list of all the things we were looking for in a church. Guess what was at the top of the list? BIBLICAL PEACEMAKING.
On our second visit to the church we now attend, the pastor's sermon was on that exact subject. At the end, he recommended (you guessed it): The Peacemaker by Ken Sande! We knew we had found our church home.
When it comes to church conflict, I use the analogy of a kitchen that generates a lot of heat from all the cooking. My old church generated so much heat in conflict, and you know what they say:
"If you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen!"
But you may say,
"You are never going to find a perfect church!"
(Something constantly said to me when
I questioned the practices of my old church.)
So true! Conflict generates heat, and there is conflict every place people exist. My present church generates just as much heat as my old one because it is made up of imperfect people. Conflict in families and between church members is rampant, but the conflicts are resolved biblically! Keeping with the kitchen analogy, I like to say it has a "well-ventilated kitchen"! There are vents for letting the heat escape and those vents are BIBLICAL PEACEMAKING!
People even get disgruntled with staff, but there are avenues for sharing this without backbiting and annihilating the person's character. There is no need for firing or forced resignations. In fact, the one staff member that was let go in the seven years I have been in our new church, was let go in the loving context of trying to find a better fit for his unique gifts, talents, and abilities that did not seem to fit in our church. He was released with blessing and not cursing. What a way to go!
There is a way to have unity in a church in the midst of diversity and even conflict. Conflict is normal. It is what you do with that conflict that counts.
Read The Peacemaker!
Lord, help us to obey You when you tell us to live in peace with all people. Amen.