Confident Christianity: “Dealing with Broken Believers” – 1 Corinthians 1

brokenWe live in a broken world with broken people; but we have good news. Can you imagine trying to present the Gospel to unbelievers in your city if you were a tiny group of less than a hundred, and the city had tens of thousands of residents and a port that trafficked thousands more daily? Imagine it was a city famous as a sin-sick, sensuality soaked slime pit of moral degradation. Imagine nightly bar fights, streets lined with immoral statues of acts too lewd to describe in a decent home, and prostitution that was not only legal – it was the basis of the tax system. If you can, welcome to Corinth! What happened in Corinth didn’t stay there – because such diseases have a way of getting around. Athens was up the road, but was stuffy and academic by comparison. Delphi was north – but that was far too mystical and religious a city. Sparta was south – but that was an austere camp for the athletic and fit. This was Corinth, the Roman sailor’s sensual playground – a city with an imagination for evil.

The Apostle Paul showed up here on his second mission journey, and labored for eighteen months to reach people for Christ. After he was gone, he wanted the church to keep growing – but the enemy saw the tiny number of believers as a threat, and pounced from within upon them. He fanned the flames to keep the body divided any way he could. Yet, God wanted to reach the people of that city, and He didn’t give up on the church, even when it was so much a mess you would be forced to blush at their casual sinfulness. Paul left, but he wrote to help them move ahead, and to engage some who were hostile to his direction over the church. In the process of healing their rift, Paul left us a pattern to deal with broken churches – and there have been many since the first century. Here is the truth of the first part of the letter…

Key Principle: When God’s people aren’t walking correctly, God provides a way to deal with sin issues with both clarity and compassion.

If I could boil the letter down to the barest of bones, the letter would sound something like this:

Dear Ones at Corinth, You have placed your affections on your church leaders over the message of God they brought you (1-4) – and that is a mistake. You have confused the preeminence of truth over love (5) – and that showed up in your immoral church members and their boasting. You have placed the world’s standard over the body instead of Messiah’s holy standards (6) – and you are being embarrassed publicly. On the other hand, thanks for sending me your questions! I would like to address the answers concerning your six areas: marriage, divorce and remarriage (7), use of doubtful things (8-10), church symbolic behaviors (11), order and the use of spiritual gifts (12-14), the Resurrection of Jesus (15) and giving – the collection of aid funds (16).

For a few minutes, let’s begin our walk though the book (in coming studies) by dropping into the first issue and see what was at the heart of this broken church to see if God offered us some ways we can avoid becoming them, and some tips to help those who are already in that trap. If you carefully read all of the first four chapters, you will easily see that they were guilty of misplaced affection – loving their leaders more than the message of God’s Word. Take a look at the opening chapter of the letter:

I Corinthians 1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”

There it is. Surrounded by unbelievers and sitting in the swamp of the sensual, they were infighting instead of pulling together to bring the light into the darkness of that city. Sadly, that is far more common than you may realize! Look at what Paul did to help them get back on track through the words and guiding of the Spirit of God. He offered in chapter one some rules of engagement in conflicts between believers that are hindering God’s work – caught up in sin.

Rule #1: Establish God’s call and a track record of following Him before you speak.

Just because you have insight into a situation, doesn’t mean you have earned the trust of the hurting people within it, so we must be careful! If we don’t, we can hurt them – and ourselves. Look at the first verse:

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother…

Paul opened with what seems like his standard greeting, so we don’t want to squeeze it too hard. He calls himself an Apostle, as was common – but especially important in sharing tough issues with the Corinthian believers. The term means “sent by God”, and would catch the attention of some of that time.

Stop and consider something for a moment. Think of the most important Christian in the world today. Picture them. We may not all have the same person in mind, but consider this… What if you got a letter from that very well-known and influential Christian in the mail. Maybe the letter is about the ministry you are involved in within the community. Wouldn’t you share it with the rest of those in that study group, that prison ministry, that women’s shelter worker group or whatever you are involved in? Wouldn’t you be excited? I imagine the beat up and divided group of believers at Corinth had some that felt that way about seeing a letter from the Apostle Paul.

At the same time, though Paul is the author, Sosthenes (Gk: “safe in strength”) was probably the man who carried this letter back to Corinth to see that it arrived safely in the hands of the church’s leadership. One by that name was the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth, seized and beaten by the mob in the presence of Gallio, the Roman governor, when he refused to proceed against Paul at the instigation of the Jews (Acts 18:12-17). Could it be that he was later saved? My mind imagines some outreach to him by Paul after he was wounded. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how he lost power in the religious community when he proved ineffective in persuading the governor. Did Paul step in and help him to lead him to Jesus – it would make a great novel! Some have thought that Sosthenes began to use another name (not an uncommon practice) after his beating and change – that of Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14) – but that is speculation as well.

Here is something that isn’t speculation…Mature believers are willing to get dirty to help others get clean.

It is worth remembering here that men and women who KNOW GOD and WALK WITH GOD are the ones God wants to use to deal with sin – but we must always do it cautiously. Treat one overtaken in sin as one caught in the trap – but ALWAYS have respect for the strength of the trap! We are not to get holy so that we can get INSULTED by the deeds of men. Their DEEDS of lost men signal their spiritual NEEDS. We are to roll up our sleeves and get dirty outside while not drawing the dirt inside. Mother Theresa did with a leper what all of us were called to do with sinners – LOVE THEM without trying to join them.

If that is true, then I must be diligent to learn God’s Word, and become accustomed to God’s moves – so that when He draws me into the path of a hurting person – encaged in sin and enraged against God – I can release what I have stored up in treasure and truth. The great monastic movements offered some very wonderful and positive results – like copies of important ancient documents. One of the terrible products of that movement was it left us with a self-centered Christianity – as though I should spend years of life trying to purify my mind and heart APART FROM THE WORLD. I am NOT called to leave the world, just not JOIN the world.

We are called to use time, talent and treasure to reach lost men and pull back slipping believers from falling into an unusable and ineligible state. We are given much to DO much for the Father. We will want be tempted to hoard what God has given for us to sow.

Watchman Nee quoted the verse: “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). When he did, he followed it with this comment: “Ultimately, when we touch the things of the world, the question we must ask ourselves always is: “How is this thing affecting my relationship with the Father?

Dr. Paul Brand, a well known doctor and author, in his book, titled In His Image,” wrote about his mother. … He wrote that when his mother was 75 years old, she was still walking miles every day, visiting the villages in the southern part of India, teaching the people about Jesus. One day, at age 75, she was traveling alone and fell and broke her hip. After two days of just lying there in pain, some workers found her and put her on a makeshift cot and loaded her into their jeep and drove 150 miles over deep rutted roads to find a doctor who could set the broken bones. But the very bumpy ride damaged her bones so badly that her hip never completely healed. He said, “I visited my mother in her mud covered hut several weeks after all of this happened. I watched as she took two bamboo crutches that she had made herself, and moved from one place to another with her feet just dragging behind because she had lost all feeling in them.” He wrote, “At age 75, with a broken hip, unable to stand on her own two legs, I thought that I made a pretty intelligent suggestion. I suggested that she retire. She turned around and looked at me and said, “Of what value is that? If we try to preserve this body just a few more years and it is not being used for God, of what value is that?” So she kept on working. She kept on riding her donkey to villages until she was 93 years old. At age 93 she couldn’t stay on her donkey anymore. She kept falling off. But she didn’t stop teaching. Indian men would carry her in hammocks from one village to another. And she continued to tell people about Jesus until she died at age 95. Paul writes, “My most vivid memory of my mother is of her propped up against a stone wall as people are coming to her from their homes, schools, and places of work. I can still see the wrinkles in her face, and her skin so tanned by the weather and the heat. “I saw her speaking to those people. I looked at them and saw the sparkle in their eyes, and the smiles on their faces. And I saw them deeply moved by the message of God’s love, spoken by this old woman. I knew what they saw was not an old woman who had passed her prime, but a beautiful person bringing tidings of love straight from heaven.

Let me say it plainly – we are mature in Christ to become more useful to Christ. Babies can’t solve problems of other babies. We don’t need to run from the world – we need to have more of the WORD in our lives to challenge the WORLD in our lives. When we are maturing, we will be drawn into correction of those behind us – that is the way it has always worked in the body.

Rule #2: Let them know they are loved brothers and sisters; a vital part of the whole body of Christ.

Paul addressed the church as those sanctified in Christ by God’s calling and responding to God by calling back to Him as all believers around the growing Christian world were doing.

1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…

People are desperate to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They hunger to belong – to a family, gang, tribe or club. The body of Christ is knitted together by the Spirit and meets a need in the life of the believer. Alone, the world is a cold place…

In an April 1988 Edition of Sports Illustrated, there appeared a story titled “Ali and His Entourage”. Sports writer Gary Smith went to Ali’s farmhouse to interview the three-time world champion. On the floor leaning against the walls, were mementos of Ali in his prime. Photos and portraits of the champ punching and dancing. Sculpted body. Fist punching the air. Championship belt held high in triumph. “The thrilla in Manila.” But on the pictures were white streaks – bird droppings. Ali looked into the rafters at the pigeons who had made his gym their home. And then he did something significant. Perhaps it was a gesture of closure. Maybe it was a statement of despair. Whatever the reason, he walked over to the row of pictures and turned them, one by one, toward the wall. He then walked to the door, stared at the countryside, and mumbled something so low that Smith had to ask him to repeat it. Ali did. “I had the world,” he said, “and it wasn’t nothin’. Look now.”

New believers think they know what they have LOST – the world cannot wait to remind them of that. How often do we carefully take the time to remind them of what they have gained? Brothers and sisters in Christ have to be MORE than finger wagers and judges – they have to be COMFORTERS. They need to offer HOPE to the slipping believer.

The end of verse two placed the believers in the struggling city side by side with Paul. He reminded the believers that needed correction that they can have HOPE because they have Jesus before them, the Spirit within and the Body around them – then he SHOWED THEM he would be there! If we follow suit – wanderers may listen to correction. If we don’t –they probably won’t.

Rule #3: Treat them with love and respect.

Notice as you read that the people at Corinth were not a project, they were brothers and sisters in Christ, worth every effort (1:4). After the “grace and peace” greeting (1:3), Paul got personal with them and thanked God for their part in his life. He let them know that he was happy they were a part of the family of God.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.

When we feel the need to pull someone aside and confront them because of sin, does the person under correction really see evidence that we LOVE them? If that is the first time we have taken time to talk with them – this is going to go badly. If we are dreading each opportunity to spend time with them or find ourselves THANKFUL when they leave – we cannot say they are IN our lives, nor can we claim we are properly in theirs. I suspect that most people can tell if they are a problem or a blessing to us.

One of my colleagues in ministry wrote this about the most amazing thing that happened at their church:

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is intelligent. Kind of esoteric and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, this had never happened in this church before!) By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the deacon to reach the young man, and then he turned to Bill and sat beside him, and smiled. The deacon turned to Bill and said, “Nice to have you here with us today!

Welcoming isn’t a moment in the service, it is the impression people have after the meeting is over. Did they feel warmth or did they feel outcast? Many people don’t face God and deal with sin because they are snugly hidden behind some offense they had from another of God’s children.

Rule #4: Tell them the positive first.

Paul is going to get tough in this letter. By the time we are finished, Paul will have battled them. Yet he began on a welcome note in a loving tone. Was he unaware at how BAD this church had become? Not at all…People need to hear the good to be encouraged before they need to hear the correction – it sets the relationship in the right tone. (1:5-7). Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 1:5 “…that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Watch the letter as Paul is in the “thanking God” process. He articulated what he saw in the believers at Corinth. He told them they were changed (enriched) by God in their speech and thinking, and that change generated a testimony! He saw them as a local church filled with people of differing gifts – well rounded in Spiritual gifting. He saw them as people eagerly anticipating the Lord’s return and even their own time in Jesus’ presence. People are getting kicked DOWN all the time. Often, encouraging a believer is like offering oxygen to a drowning man! We HAVE to remember how much every person counts to our mission to reach a lost world!

I’m sure you’ve heard the classic story about the faithful pastor who was told by his superior that something was wrong with his work. The supervisor told him, “Only one person has been added to your church this year, and he is only a boy.” Later that day, heavy of heart, the pastor was praying when someone walked up behind him. Turning around, he saw the same boy—his only convert that year. The boy said, “Pastor, do you think I could become a preacher or missionary some day?” The Pastor encouraged him to pray and seek God about it. The lad was Robert Moffit who was destined to open Africa to the Gospel of Christ. Years later when Moffit spoke in London, a young doctor heard him say, “I have seen in the morning sun the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.” The young doctor, deeply moved by Moffit’s message, was none other than David Livingstone. In 1840, he sailed for Africa where he labored for Jesus for more than three decades—all of this happened because a faithful pastor encouraged his “one convert.”

Be careful not to think you can see everything clearly. Watch your criticisms, because you may not know what God is doing, and you may hinder Him where He is working strongest!

Rule #5: Remember that Jesus is still very much at work in them.

We can never fall back into a “victim mode” as if the Spirit is responsible for our surrender – He is not. At the same time, remember that people cannot become what pleases God on their own – but God is able to keep transforming them. The same God that brought them from darkness to light and death to life is able to transform them from carnal to spiritual. He is FAITHFUL even when I am not faithful. Read on:

1 Corinthians 1:8 “…who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The principle was nowhere better exhibited that in Philippians 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Rule #6: Use specific examples.

It is never appropriate to judge motives, or say “You really think…” It is totally appropriate to raise specific examples of the infractions. Paul did it in the verses about divisions we read a few minutes ago…

I Corinthians 1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”

The Apostle was both direct and clear – you are wrongfully divided. I know because one among you made it clear. The divisions are sin, and you must drop this now. It didn’t matter WHY you started it, only that you promptly and completely end it. One teacher noted: “No matter how much a local church has going for it, division can negate it’s vision.”

The story is told of two congregations that were located only a few blocks from each other in a small community. They thought it might be better if they would merge and become one united, larger, and more effective body rather than two struggling churches. Good idea … but they were not able to pull it off. The problem? They could not agree on how they would recite “The Lord’s Prayer.” One group preferred “forgive us our trespasses,” while the other group demanded “forgive us our debts.” So, as the local newspaper reported, “One church went back to its trespasses while the other returned to its debts.” (From a sermon by Bob Joyce, It’s About the Kingdom, 8/4/2011)

Rule #7: Connect their actions to specific violations of Scripture.

You are not the judge of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong.

First, Paul knew some were following leaders like him because they had STANDING in the work. He personalized the argument as though they followed him and Apollos, but in fact they were following others that Paul did not name. The leaders of the various factions probably demonstrated a similar style of teaching to Paul’s Jewish line of plain argumentation and Apollos’ more eloquent philosophical approach. Paul stated that he is personalizing the reference and not offering a literal argument in 1 Corinthians 4:6.

He wrote: 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

Second, Paul knew some were following leaders because of their SKILL in the work. These were attracted to the wisdom and eloquence of leaders like Apollos because his argumentation drew new people to Messiah.

He wrote: 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness…

Most church divisions in history have divided along the same two lines. Some follow people because of their STANDING in the church. Maybe they are charter members, or maybe they have been historically the most active family or most financially supportive family. The challenge to that group is one who comes in with great SKILL, and through eloquence of talent pulls the hearts of many with them. Paul knew the two parties and the problem:

You have misplaced your loyalty. The issue of the Gospel is not the preacher, but the One preached! The believer should glory in the Lord, not the messenger of the Lord. We don’t follow talent, eloquence, tradition or treasures – we follow God’s message found in His Word. Believers need to follow God for real – and follow His Word for real.

Ivan IV was the first Czar of all Russia. He was such a cruel man that they called him “Ivan The Terrible.” He married seven wives and abused them all. He was immoral and routinely violent. He used to throw animals off the surrounding city walls just to watch them die. But when he died in 1584, historians record that they shaved his head & dressed him for burial in the robes of a monk, hoping that God would think that Ivan the Terrible was a monk, and thus allow him into Heaven.

Is that how you get into heaven – by disguising yourself & hoping God will think you are someone else? When God’s people aren’t walking correctly, God provides a way to deal with sin issues with both clarity and compassion – but it isn’t sneaky.