1 Corinthians - Problems in the Church

Background

While in Ephesus, Paul learned about the problems that arose in the newly formed church in Corinthians and wrote this letter to instruct them on how to deal with these problems. Today, the church continue to face many of these same problems even centuries after Paul wrote this letter. The book of First Corinthians therefore becomes an instructional guide for us on how to deal with them.


Jealousy and pride in the area of spiritual gifts

1 Cor 12:16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?

Some people in the church feel that they do not belong to the church because their gifts are not prominent. There are those with prominent gifts - who are teaching, preaching, leading worship, prophesying etc. - while others have less prominent gifts. They could be helping out in the arrangement of chairs, directing cars at the car park, etc. It is natural to feel less needed since we do not serve in a high-profile area. But the Bible tells us that no one is dispensable.  Every part of the body serves a useful function and the church cannot survive if it only has people with prominent gifts.

1 Cor 12:18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
Every part of the body is important because God has placed us there. Whichever area God has called us to serve in, do it wholeheartedly because even though we may not be prominent to others in the church, we are prominent to God, who sees every single thing we do for Him.

1 Cor 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…


Disunity in the church

1 Cor 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “still another, “I follow Christ.”

The members of the Corinthian church we disunited because they were pledging their allegiance to human leaders rather than God. Sometimes a church leader can have so much clout that he begins to have cult status. Members follow him blindly and whatever they do seems right to them.

We are reminded that our allegiance is to Christ and not human leaders. If we look only to Christ, we can be united because there is only one Christ. This is better than following human leaders who may contradict each other.


Influence of sin

1 Cor 5:5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?...5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The area of church discipline is something that is not well understood by the Christian and rarely practised in the church. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs the church what to do when they encounter an unrepentant sinner in church. They are to discontinue fellowship with him. Why is there a need to deal with sin in such a harsh manner?
Firstly, sin brings ill repute to the church. The people outside the church are judging Christianity by how they see Christians behave. And they are especially looking at the church. If they see that Christians are compromising with sin within the church, there will be no incentive for them to want to become Christians as we would be no different from the world.

Secondly, if we don’t discontinue fellowship with the unrepentant sinner, we risk sin spreading to other members of the church. That is why yeast is used to symbolize sin in the Bible. A little yeast and the effect is felt throughout.
Gal 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Rom 16:17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

2 John 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.

1 Cor 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
Thirdly, the excluding of the sinner from fellowship is meant to provoke the sinner to repentance.

2 Thess 3:14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.

Jesus taught us to treat unrepentant sinners as unbelievers.

Matt 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

That means we do not have close fellowship with them but we are not to shun them totally or treat them as enemies. We should maintain enough contact to be in a position to persuade them to come back to God.

2 Thess 3:14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

2 Tim 2:25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…

Doctrinal problems

Just as the church today disagrees within itself on several doctrinal issues, the early church struggled with that issue too.

1 Corinthians 8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.
In this study, the focus is not to resolve a particular doctrinal issue but rather to learn the principle behind how we should react when we face doctrinal issues. Here we are warned that we should not have the proud, I-know-it-all attitude. No one really knows for sure if he is right until he gets to heaven. While on earth, let’s just humbly discuss our views and not insist that everyone agrees with us.