“How to Build a Successful Church”
Lesson 1: “The Kind of Church that has Problems
I Corinthians 1:1-9
Every so often we hear about a large, apparently “successful” church that just basically falls apart. Sometimes it is because of disagreements within the congregation, or between the congregation and the pastor or some other staff member, sometimes it is a moral failure of one (or more) of the primary leaders. Let’s face it: lots of things can go wrong in churches. And even though many people are surprised when it happens, nobody need be surprised, because the scripture makes it clear that every church member and every member of every church staff has a bitter enemy who is doing everything he can to bring that church to utter ruin. And that enemy, of course is Satan himself. Sometimes we just wish we could go back to “the good days.” Although we know that the good old days were not really all that good either. These are problems that have always plagued the church of Jesus Christ – though they do become more pronounced from time to time. So much so that God saw fit to include in the New Testament two books that dealt with these kinds of problems in the very first century after Christ was on earth!
If ever there was a church that had problems, it was the church in the city of First Century Corinth. There was division in the church – strong disagreements to the breaking of fellowship over matters that really were matters of choice. There were problems of sexual immorality, and Christians suing each other in court, and disorders and confusion in their church services and misuse of the Lord’s Supper and pride over spiritual gifts. Naturally, all of these things making a laughingstock of Jesus Christ in he eyes of the unsaved. But interestingly enough, these are the same kinds of problems we are seeing in the church today!
But the most significant thing that can be pointed out about these problems is that they were people problems – every one of them could be traced back to individuals who were not what they should have been. And why is that important? Because it is easy for us to sit back and think about what’s the matter with our church, but what we are really dealing with is “what’s the matter with me?
So in this series we are going to be looking at the problems in the church in Corinth with an eye to the problems in our own lives. And the first thing we want to think about is the kind of church this was – what kind of church has all of these problems anyway? And you may be surprised at the answer to that question! We have probably all heard about nature of the city of Corinth – a debauched, wicked city. Greek plays had a stock character – “the Corinthian” – who was always a drunk. A common term for a girl of low morals was “a Corinthian girl.”
But in the introduction of his letter Paul points out something else about this church that is much more important. By way of outline, the first verses of the chapter have to do with a commendation of the Corinthians. First, in verses 1 through 3 there is the extension of greetings that we find in all of Paul’s letters. And there we find some words about the writers of the letter in verse 1
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother
Paul lists himself as an apostle – this means that the things in this letter carry the authority of Jesus Christ! And Sosthenes was probably his scribe, or “secretary.” Then in verse 2 we see several things about the readers of the letter. And this is what we really want to look at. He refers to them as “the church of God which is at Corinth.” The word “church” is a very familiar, but much misunderstood word. It is a translation of the Greek word “ekklesia.” And the root meaning is “called out ones.” And in the New Testament it always refers to a group of people whom God has “called out” from the world – out of various backgrounds and settings – to be His people. And Acts chapter 2 specifically says that people were added to the church “as they were saved.” So this is one characteristic of the Corinthians – their separation from the rest of world. And this should be a characteristic of each of us who call ourselves Christians. And here is one of the basic reasons we are having all of these problems in the church today: we have forgotten that we have been called out from living like the world lives. Something else to notice here is that this is the church of God. Now Paul was the founder of the church, And Peter had ministered there – one of the original 12 disciples. And Apollos, the most eloquent man of his day, had ministered there too.
But Paul doesn’t say “the church of ______________ any of those men. And this gives us a clue to another problem they had (and the church still has it today) and that is the problem of identifying ourselves with men or “movements” or organizations. In fact, this is such a real problem that Paul is going to devote a whole section to it later.
So one of the characteristics of this church was that they were “separated” from the world around them. But there is something else here: Notice the reference to their sanctification in the phrase “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This word carries the idea of being “set apart” like the word church. But it also carries the idea of “holiness.” And Hebrews 10:10 says that this is our position in God’s sight! So they were “separated,” and they were “sanctified; but there is a third thing to notice in verse 2: their sainthood. Note the phrase “called to be saints.” So saints are simply those who have been set apart by God (not just those who have gone through some process of canonization, etc. think about everything you have heard about the “saints” of history: now how does your life measure up to that? And yet that is our position in the Word of God.
The writer of the letter is Paul, the readers are the Corinthians, but in verse 3 we find a reminder that ties in with all of this.
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is just a subtle reminder: “live up to what you have been given.” Think of what you have been given.” Think of their position – and think of their lives! But isn’t that true of us as well? This is one of the key reasons for the key reasons for the problems in the church today.
So in Paul’s “extension of greetings” we see what kind of a church has problems; but we also see it in the expression of gratitude which he gives in verses 4 through 9
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His son Jesus Christ our Lord.
It might seem strange that Paul would express thanksgiving for people he was having to chew out. But the thanks is for to God for their possessions in Christ in verses 4 through 9. And the things that he specifies are the spiritual gifts that they have: Utterance,” and “knowledge” in verse 5 and, in fact “coming behind in not good thing” in verse 7.
How grateful the Corinthians should have been! But, as we will see later these very gifts had become the source of pride, divisions, and strife among them – actually ruining their testimony.
Not only their possessions in Christ in this life, but also their prospects for the future with Christ – verses 8 and 9
Who will also confirm to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (9) God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord