The culture of Corinth was well known for its pursuit of pleasure. To be a Corinthian was proverbial for the hedonistic life. It is not surprising, then, that the church at Corinth faced many problems, many of them brought on by embracing that culture of worldliness (I Cor. 3:3). Some of what Paul wrote to the church there was a response to questions which they apparently asked him concerning these things (I Cor. 7:1). Other things he wrote were things which he and the Holy Spirit thought they needed to know. Studying the problems in that congregation can be instructive to us as members of modern congregations.
One of the biggest problems about which Paul had heard was the problem of division within the congregation (I Cor. 11:8). The division had escalated to such heights that the members of the congregation were identifying themselves after certain pillars of the church (I Cor. 1:12). Paul had heard from the house of Chloe that there were contentions and divisions among the church at Corinth (I Cor. 1:13). Paul’s remedy was that they all be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement (I Cor. 1:10). He wanted no divisions amongst the people of God. Man was to follow man only so far as they followed the Lord (I Cor. 11:1). This is a lesson that can be learned today so that no Christian ever follows any man but after the Christ.
That problem of division boiled over into their worship. When the church at Corinth partook of the Lord’s supper, they were not contemplating the great sacrifice of Christ nor were they examining their own lives but they were focused on their own pleasure. Blurring the distinction between their own common meal and the holy act of worship in partaking of the Lord’s supper, they not only polluted their worship but greedily ate their own food and left others without (I Cor. 11:21). There was no concern for one another but rather bitter strife.
One of the clearest and most notable examples of their worldliness and division was the order, or lack thereof, in the worship service. The worship service seems to have devolved into a state of utter disarray, with people speaking in foreign languages when there was no interpreter, speaking out of order and women speaking out of turn (I Cor. 14:26-32). Paul called it confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Much of this stemmed from their pride in their ability to perform miracles for they seemed to believe that their particular gift was the most important than another’s (I Cor. 12:12-26). Paul taught them that they needed each other as the body needs each part (I Cor. 12:27ff).
Their worldliness also left them callous to moral sin. It was reported commonly that one Christian in the congregation was in a sinful relationship with his father’s wife (I Cor. 5:1). That was bad enough but the sin was compounded by the congregation’s handling of the situation. Incredibly, they were puffed up (I Cor. 5:2). Either they were puffed up because they believed they had superior wisdom (I Cor. 4:19) or, worse, because of the sin. At the very least they were indifferent to the well publicized immorality in their midst. This was not unlike the congregation at Thyatira which allowed false teaching and perhaps immorality amongst them (Rev. 2:19). In both instances the sin required action not apathy (I Cor. 5:4,5; Rev. 2:22-24).
Another indication of their spiritual corruption and worldly contamination was their taking of personal congregational problems before secular courts for ajudication (I Cor. 6:1). Paul called this a shame and a fault (I Cor. 6:5,7). It did not and does not evince a Christ-like attitude. They should have taken the wrong or go to their own brethren for a resolution to these problems (I Cor. 6:5,7).
Yet another problem, alluded to earlier, was the congregation’s pride in the wisdom of men (I Cor. 2:5; 4:19). Paul made a point of saying he came not to them with the wisdom of men, that is, sophistical speech, but with the power of God, the gospel of Christ (I Cor. 2:1-4). There were those in the congregation who also boasted of their own authority and questioned that of Paul’s apostolic authority (I Cor. 9:3; II Cor. 10:7-10; 11:4,5; 12:11,12). Some were even preaching that there was no resurrection of the dead, among other things (I Cor. 15:12).
The congregation in Corinth had many problems. Paul warned them that they needed to correct those problems or he would come to them with a rod of correction (I Cor. 4:21; II Cor. 13:2,10). Just as the Lord warned the churches in Asia that they needed to repent, we need to correct those problems that arise in our congregations lest we also face judgement.
Eric L. Padgett