The Church of God at Corinth
February 20th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 1:2
THE CHURCH OF GOD AT CORINTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
2-20-55 7:30 p.m.
Now in your Bible turn to the first Corinthian letter, the first letter of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians. Last Sunday the message was from the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans. And with that sermon we finished preaching through the Book of Romans. And now in our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the letters of Paul to the church at Corinth. And the message tonight is an introductory message to the letters of Paul to Corinth. Now let us read the first nine verses. Let all of us read them together, the first nine verses of the first letter of Paul to Corinth, all right:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
That in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
[1 Corinthians 1:1-9]
That’s the introduction, and the sermon tonight is a preparation for the messages that follow on the letters of Paul to Corinth. Now you will have to stay awake tonight. If you don’t, it will mean nothing to you. But if you will stay awake, you will have an idea of the framework in which these letters were written, and you will have an idea of the occasion and the content that will bless you as long as you live, that is, if you love the Word and if you love to read God’s Book.
Now, we are going to take several things; first, the establishment of this church in the city of Corinth. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18]. After his conversion, he went into Arabia; after about three years in Arabia, came back to the city of Damascus and preached the Lord Jesus Christ [Galatians 1:15-18]. Because his life was threatened the brethren let him over the wall in a basket, and he went down to the city of Jerusalem [Acts 9:25], and there he preached the Lord Jesus [Acts 9:28-29]. But again his life was threatened and the brethren sent him away to his home city of Tarsus in Cilicia [Acts 9:29-30]. While Paul was in Tarsus in Cilicia, Barnabas was sent by the church at Jerusalem down to Antioch [Acts 11:22-24], and while Barnabas was ministering to the new Christians in the heathen city of Antioch, the work grew so large that he could not pastor the church by himself. So he went to Tarsus in Cilicia and found Paul and brought him back, and they began to labor together in the city of Antioch [Acts 11:25-26].
Now, while they were there, laboring together in Antioch, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. So Barnabas and Saul, set aside by the Holy Spirit, went out on the first missionary journey. They went through Cyprus, they went into Asia Minor in the Roman provinces of Galatia and Phrygia, and after the first missionary journey came back to Antioch [Acts 13:4-15:35].
Now Paul, being separated from Barnabas in contemplating their second missionary journey, Paul chose Silas and started out in the same place where he had gone on his first missionary journey [Acts 15:36-40]. And after visiting in order the churches he had established on his first journey [Acts 15:41-16:6], he proposed to turn east [Acts 16:6]. Had he gone east, he would have finally gone to India. Doubtless ultimately he would have gone to the Orient, in China, in Indonesia, we do not know where. But as he assayed to turn to the east to Pontus, to Bithynia and beyond, the Holy Spirit forbade him, so he turned to the left and went through Mysia [Acts 16:7]. And the Holy Spirit guiding him still, he came down to the Hellespont on the Aegean Sea [Acts 16:8]. While they were there a vision came to Paul by night, and a man of Macedonia said, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” [Acts 16:9].
So the next day Paul left Asia and landed in Europe [Acts 16:10-11]. And the gospel instead of turning east turned west. And Paul preached at Philippi [Acts 16:12-40], then at Thessalonica [Acts 17:1-9], then Berea [Acts 17:1-15], then at Athens [Acts 17:16-34], and finally came to Corinth [Acts 18:1]. In the city of Corinth he had a marvelous opportunity. God was with him. He made friendship there with a Jew and his wife who had been expelled from Rome by Claudius Caesar, and that expulsion was about 49 or 50 AD. And he wrought with them, this Jew and his wife named Aquila and Priscilla; he wrought with them all that winter [Acts 18:2-3]. They made in the wintertime, they sewed cloth together and made sails for the boats. In the summertime they sewed the cloth together and made tents, because they were tentmakers [Acts 18:3]. Every rabbi taught in every Jewish home that every boy must be taught a craft, a trade, a work by hand, and Paul was taught how to make tents.
Now, in those days, Timothy and Silas came down from Berea and Macedonia [Acts 18:5]. And when they came they brought gifts with them [2 Corinthians 8:1-3], that liberated Paul from being so constantly charged with making tents [Acts 18:3], and he began to preach with renewed energy and vigor. Crispus who was ruler, the head of the synagogue, was converted [Acts 18:8]. And so mightily did Paul preach until great jealousy came up among the Jewish people, and they expelled him [Acts 18:18]. So he went to the home of Titus Justus and began to preach the gospel in that home, and the more converts were added [Acts 18:7-8]. And when Paul sought to leave the city of Corinth, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him saying, “Nay, Paul. Stay, for I have much people in this city” [Acts 18:10]. So Paul stayed and preached in the city of Corinth [Acts 18:11].
In those days a new proconsul came from the city of Rome, the brother of Seneca. His name is Gallio [Acts 18:12]. And in the literature of the time, you can get a wonderful picture of Gallio. He was the ruler of the Roman province of Achaia, that is, all of Greece. Now, they brought up great charges against Paul, so successful was he in Corinth, and they haled him before the judgment seat of Gallio and said all manner of things about him. But Gallio was wise; he was a true Roman judge, and true to the jurisprudence of the greatest empire the world had ever known and the greatest jurisprudence the world had ever known, the laws of the Romans. And Gallio gave Paul liberty and the Christian message freedom to be proclaimed in the Roman Empire. It was a tremendous legal victory for the Christian people [Acts 18:12-17].
Now after about, beyond a year and a half and less than two years, Paul felt that his work was finished at Corinth. And he went down to Cenchrea with Aquila and Priscilla and crossed over to Ephesus; left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, went up to Jerusalem, saluted the church; went down to Antioch, saluted the church [Acts 18:18-22]; and then began his third missionary journey [Acts 18:23].
His third missionary journey, again he went back to the churches of Galatia and Phrygia where he had first gone on his first journey. He visited those churches, confirmed them in the faith; then went to Ephesus, the capital city of the Roman province of Asia. And it was while he was in the city of Ephesus on his third missionary journey that he wrote these two letters, the first letter and then later in Macedonia, the second letter to the church at Corinth [Acts 18:23-19:41].
Now that brings us to the letters themselves. Now we are going to look at the occasion that brought forth the writing of these epistles. Now, are you still awake? All right, why did Paul write these letters? Now you listen again. We are going through the occasion of the letters. While Paul was on his second missionary journey, he founded the [church] of Corinth as I told you. He founded the church in the city of Corinth [Acts 18:1-11].
After about two years labor in the city of Corinth, I said he came to Cenchrea, then Ephesus, then to [Caesarea], then to Antioch [Acts 18:18-23], then began his third missionary journey [Acts 18:23], visiting the churches that he founded on his first missionary journey [Acts 19-21].
While Paul was going from Ephesus to [Caesarea] to Antioch [Acts 18:18-22], and then while he was visiting on his third missionary journey the churches that he founded on his first journey [Acts 18:23], there came a brilliant Alexandrian preacher to the city of Ephesus. His name was Apollos. I think he wrote the Book of Hebrews. He was an Alexandrian. He was an orator. He was mighty in the Scriptures, and he was wonderfully eloquent [Acts 18:24]. Now, when he came to Ephesus, he began to preach the Lord Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John [Acts 18:25], that is, he knew only the life of the Lord. He did not know of the death and the resurrection and the promised coming again of our Savior. He was preaching a great moral gospel, the Sermon on the Mount in the life of the Lord Jesus [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. And Aquila and Priscilla, I just told you, remember that when Paul left Corinth he took Aquila and Priscilla with him and left them at Ephesus [Acts 18:19], while he went up to Jerusalem to Antioch [Acts 18:19-22] and began his third journey [Acts 18:23].
Now, when that brilliant Alexandrian, Apollos, preached in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla heard him. And they took the brilliant man from Alexandria, and, as the Bible says, they taught him the way of the Lord more perfectly, that is, they instructed him in the whole gospel message of Jesus Christ [Acts 18:26]. Then did Apollos preached as he had never preached before and as men had never heard a man preach before. He was afire; he was aflame; he was a great expositor of the word of the Scriptures. And he mightily convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, preaching from the Bible [Acts 18:28].
Now while Paul was still gone to Jerusalem, to Antioch, and on that third missionary journey, why, Apollos said, “I want to go to Achaia. I want to go to Corinth” [Acts 18:27]. So Apollos left Ephesus, and the brethren bid him godspeed and sent letters of introduction [Acts 18:27]. And he came to the city of Corinth and preached the gospel there in the church founded by the apostle Paul [Acts 19:1].
Now as we get into the letter [Acts 18:27]—I say this is an introduction tonight—as we get into the letter, you are going to find some people over there in Corinth saying, “I belong to the party of Apollos. I want him. I like him.” Others are going to say, “I belong to the party of Paul.” Others are going to say, “I belong to the party of the original chief apostle, Simon Peter.” And another is going to say, “I do not belong to any of them. I belong to the party of Christ” [1 Corinthians 3:1-5]. And they tore the church in division. Anyway, that is where Apollos came from. Now, Apollos came back to Ephesus; I don’t know why, and when he did, he brought a report to Paul that was not good.
So Paul wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, and that letter is lost. In that letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that has been lost, he had a report from Apollos concerning the church, that great evil had come into the congregation, and they were fraternizing and identifying themselves with the licentiousness and sin of that heathen city. So Paul wrote a letter to them saying they were not to company with evil people [1 Corinthians 5:9-13]. Then they did not know what to do, and the letter was grossly misunderstood. If you live in a great city, how do you avoid keeping company with evil people? The letter was misunderstood.
All right, another thing happened. There came members of the household of Chloe. That is a Christian family over there in Corinth. There came members of the household of Chloe, and they came to Ephesus, and they told Paul all manner of things that had happened in the congregation of the church at Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:11].
Then another thing, there came a committee from the church at Corinth of three. Their names were Fortunatus and Stephanas and Achaicus [1 Corinthians 16:17]. And that committee of three appointed by the church of Corinth wrote to Paul a letter. And in that letter they asked Paul many questions that had arisen in the life of that church. So, Paul sat down and he wrote a letter. And that second letter we have. It is called the “First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” And in that letter he answers all of these questions. And he speaks to them about the things that have been brought to him by the household of Chloe [1 Corinthians 1:11], and he sends this letter to the church at Corinth.
Now, while Paul is in Ephesus, he sends Timothy through Macedonia to visit the church [Acts 19:22]. And when Timothy gets to Corinth, he is amazed. The church has fallen upon evil and terrible days. And Timothy is insulted and expelled, and he comes back with a terrible report. And Paul writes a severe letter to the church at Corinth [2 Corinthians 7:8], and he places it in the hands of Titus [2 Corinthians 12:18]. And then Paul himself makes a brief trip to Corinth. And when he goes to Corinth, making that brief trip, when he goes, he is insulted, grossly insulted. His apostleship is denied, and the people do not accept him [2 Corinthians 12:1-3, 13:3]. He was grossly mistreated, and he comes back to Ephesus. And he comes back brokenhearted.
Now, I say he sends Titus to the church at Corinth again [2 Corinthians 7]. And he tells Titus that he is not going. He tells Titus, that he, Paul, is not going to stay in Ephesus, but that he is going to visit the church at Corinth himself. And he tells Titus after he visits Corinth, for Titus to come back and meet him in Troas because Paul is going to Corinth, by way not of the sea, straight across, but through Troas, Philippi, Macedonia, and on down [Acts 20:1-6].
Now, while Titus is on that journey with that severe letter and as he is coming back, Paul has to leave Ephesus because of the uproar of Demetrius, the silversmith [Acts 19:24-41]. So Paul leaves Ephesus and goes to Troas [2 Corinthians 2:12]. But Titus has not had time to come back, and Paul says, though he has a marvelous evangelistic opportunity in the city of Troas, his spirit is restive, he is burdened on account of the church at Corinth, and he cannot remain [2 Corinthians 2:13]. So he leaves Troas and goes through Macedonia and meets Titus. Now, Titus comes back with a wonderful report. The apostleship of Paul is accepted, and his authority is received, and the abuses in the church have been corrected [2 Corinthians 7:6, 13]. So when Paul meets Titus in Macedonia, maybe at Philippi, he sits down and writes another letter, a fourth letter. And that fourth letter we have, it is called the “Second Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” He sits down and writes this fourth letter and places it in the hands of Titus who carries it down to Corinth [2 Corinthians 8:16-24]. And in that letter, Paul is grateful to God for the vindication of his apostleship [2 Corinthians 7:7-16].
Now, Paul himself makes a trip to Corinth after that [2 Corinthians 13:1]. He goes on down, and he writes the Book of Romans to the city of Rome there in Corinth, through which we have now preached. And then he went to Jerusalem in chains, to Caesarea, to Rome in chains [Acts 21:33; Ephesians 6:20], liberated for a while, returned and martyred. Now, that is the framework of the writing of these two Corinthian letters just briefly.
Now, a word about the kind of a letter, the kind of books we are going into. You move into a different world when you move out of Romans into Corinthians. The Book of Romans is a formal doctrinal treatise. Paul is proclaiming there in the Book of Romans a formal doctrine of salvation; that it is not by works, but it is by grace [Romans 6:23]. It is not by keeping the law, but it is by trusting in the atoning mercy of Jesus Christ [Romans 4:5]. The Book of Romans is a formal doctrinal treatise.
The Book of Galatians is the same thing; only it is red hot, as the Judaizing teachers are about to subvert the churches he has founded on his first missionary journey. And he writes a burning epistle defending the gospel of the Son of God as against the Judaizers, who try to make our salvation a matter of works and obedience to the Mosaic law [Galatians 2:16].
But the Book of Corinthians, these two letters to Corinth, are in a different world. You go into an altogether different atmosphere. What Paul is doing in the Corinthian letters, he is talking about the problems in the church; he is answering questions that are raised by the people in the church. You have a vivid portrayal here of the life of the first Gentile Christian community. And as those problems arose, Paul answered them, however trivial the problem might be; however silly it might be to us today. Every time Paul answered those problems, going back to great principles, going back to the revelation of God in Christ, and after two thousand years of minutest scrutiny, the answers that Paul gave to the problems that arose in the church at Corinth are pertinent to us in our life and in our church today.
Now, if you will take your Bible for just a moment, I want to run through the two letters, just very briefly, just for a moment. The first chapter through the fourth chapter, the first four chapters concern divisions in the church. One group is over here, and another group is over there, and another group is over there. And Paul is writing to the church now concerning divisions in the church, church fusses, church fights, dividing up. “I am for the preacher.” “And I am a’gin him.” “I am for none again.” Now, that is what he is talking about in the first four chapters of the first Corinthian letter [1 Corinthians 1-4].
All right now, the chapters 5 and 6 concern evil practices; chapter 5 and chapter 6 [1 Corinthians 5-6]. Now chapter 7 concerns marriage, marriages [1 Corinthians 7]. Chapters 8 through 10 concern food offered unto idols [1 Corinthians 8-10]. Chapters 11 through 14 concern abuses in public worship, the Lord’s Supper, for example; many other things we will come to [1 Corinthians 11-14]. Chapter 15 is the one doctrinal discussion in the books. Chapter 15 is the discussion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15]. Chapter 16 are things personal and practical [1 Corinthians 16].
Now the second Corinthian letter is divided into three parts. Chapter 1 through chapter 7 concern the trials and tribulations of the apostle in his ministry [2 Corinthians 1-7]. Chapters 8 and 9 concern the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem [2 Corinthians 8-9]. And chapters 10 through 13 concern the vindication of the apostleship of Paul [2 Corinthians 10-13]. Now, that is a brief resume of the two books.
Now, I want to preach to you. Are you ready? Are you still awake? Are you still awake? All right, I am going to preach tonight just about as long as you will stay awake and listen, I am going to preach tonight. Open your Bibles to the first chapter of the Book of Corinthians. Now, let us start:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth…
[1 Corinthians 1:1-2]
Do you see those two, “The church of God which is at Corinth”? [1 Corinthians 1:2]. Two things more unlike could never have been placed in juxtaposition as you have in that word there, the church of God and the city of Corinth; the church of God, governed by God, ruled by God, given to God, obedient to God; saved by God, praying to God, living the life of God, following the will of God, the church of God, and in the same breath, “at Corinth,” the city of Corinth. Corinthian is an adjectival term used in that ancient day for the grossest and vilest immorality. The city of Corinth was beyond any other city of the world in evil and iniquity. The name Corinthian refers to evil and iniquity.
The city of Corinth, as you might know, is one, was one of the great, great cities of the ancient world. A thousand years before Christ, Homer referred to Corinth by the name of Corinth. Back yonder before history began, there was a great city at Corinth. And that city had a tremendous, tremendous influence upon the world. When I see these modern—we don’t have them here in our auditorium, but almost everywhere that you will find columns, you will find a Corinthian column. An Ionic column is seen once in awhile, a Doric column is seen once in awhile; but almost everywhere you see a Corinthian column, a column with leaves and scrolls, beautifully ornate. The architecture of Corinth influenced the whole world, and it does today. Bronze, the beautiful works in bronze, is from Corinth. Corinthian bronze was one of the famous, famous exports of that ancient city.
Did you ever hear the word currant, a little dried raisin that you would eat? You would go to the store and buy currants. That is a corruption of the word “Corinth.” They raised many, many small little grapes around the city of Corinth, and they dried them, and they were exported to the world. And they called them Corinthians, they called them, and you have it corrupted “currant.” In the way the people ate, in the architecture of their life, in the adornments of their temples, everything was colored by the civilization at Corinth.
Now in 146 BC, Mummius came with his Roman legionaries, and he destroyed the great city. They sold the people into slavery or massacred them. That is the ancient Greek city of Corinth in 146 BC. And they took the loot and the art of the great city to Rome. And in the triumphant procession, it passed by miles and miles and miles of it, the statuary, the beautiful paintings, the art, the pottery, all of the glorious things that made Corinth glorious, loaded up on ships, brought to Rome, placed in the wagons and through the streets in a great triumphal procession following the conquering general Mummius.
Now, exactly a hundred years to the day, 46 BC, a hundred years after Mummius destroyed it, Julius Caesar rebuilt it. And in no time at all, Corinth again was a great flourishing city, exactly as it had been before. That is one of the strangest, historical developments I’ve ever read about.
Corinth was marvelously situated in the Peloponnesus, which is the finger of Greece today. As you think of Greece, a hand goes down into the Aegean Sea. Now that hand is connected to Achaia, to the great mainland by a little tiny isthmus just four miles wide. I have flown all over that country in an airplane. Today, there is a canal cut through that four mile isthmus just like you take a knife and cut through a piece of butter, just as straight and clean. But in that day, in the day of Paul, the isthmus was not cut, and the city of Corinth grew up there as a bridge between those two seas. Down here two miles was the upper port called Lechaeum, and down here five miles was the lower port called Cenchreae.
And the city of Corinth was built as a great emporium where all of the commerce of the East came to Cenchreae, and all of the commerce of the West came to Lechaeum. And they had what the Greeks called the Diolkos, a track upon which the vessels were placed, and they were pulled on rollers across that little isthmus and so transferred from sea to sea. Now it was a marvelously located place for a thriving city. And when Julius Caesar rebuilt it in 46, immediately it began to flourish, and they picked up again all of the life, and literature, and villainy, and wickedness of the ancient city of Corinth. It was built about, I say, two miles from the sea from Lechaeum up there on a shelf just below the Acrocorinthus. And on top of that Acrocorinthus, on top of that high, two thousand foot mountain there, on top of it was the most famous temple I suppose in the world, outside of the temple of Ephesus, of Diana at Ephesus. It was a temple dedicated to Venus, to the Greek Aphrodite.
And I haven’t the liberty to describe in public the kind of worship that it was. There were a thousand females, what the Greek calls hiero douloi, “temple slaves.” They were dedicated mistresses. There were a thousand of them up there in that temple of Venus. And the way you worship Venus was through those female mistresses. And I say it is indescribably immoral. Nor can you even translate in English, nor is it translated, the language that describes those heathen orgies and that terrible pagan worship.
So there poured into Corinth Jews for trade, Phoenicians for commerce, Romans who came to buy for the market in the imperial city, all of the Orientals bringing their wares from far-off India, and Syria, and Damascus, and Egypt, and all of the Levant. And then of course the ex-soldiers were there. The philosophers were there. The sophists were there. Everybody from everywhere had representatives in the city of Corinth. And being a great city by the sea and the people pouring in there from everywhere, it became the Paris as well as the London of the ancient world. If anybody wanted to have a time of unbridled pleasure he went to Corinth. That is where you got the name Corinthian. The pleasure seekers from the Roman Empire made their way to that city.
Now, in that city, in that city, and opposite to it is the church of God. Look in your Book there. Look in your Book there. Look at that second word there, “Paul, called to be an apostle” [1 Corinthians 1:1]. That “to be” if it is in your Bible, if you have the King James Version, the to be is in italics, that is, it is not in the Greek original, “Paul, a called apostle,” a separated man of God.
All right, look at your second verse; look at your second verse, “Unto the church of God, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” [1 Corinthians 1:2]. Now you have it in italics again, “Called to be sainted.” The “to be” is not in the Greek; “called saints,” separated people of God. All right, look down there in the ninth verse. Look at the ninth verse, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Christ Jesus our Lord” [1 Corinthians 1:9]. Wonder what all of that means? He is a called apostle [1 Corinthians 1:1]. The church of God are called saints [1 Corinthians 1:2]. And in the ninth verse, “Ye are called unto the fellowship of His Son Christ Jesus” [1 Corinthians 1:9].
It means simply this. Now you listen to me, it means simply this: that the church of God in Corinth is called to separation, called to holiness, called to godliness, called to purity, called to separation. And in the Corinthian letter—would you bear with me as I read here for just a moment the spirit of the apostle Paul?—in the 2 Corinthians letter, the sixth [chapter]:
Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?
What concord hath Christ with Belial? And what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?…as God has said,… Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
[2 Corinthians 6:14-18]
Now, the church of God at Corinth, the church of God in a wicked city, in a vile and immoral population; but Paul himself a called separate apostle [1 Corinthians 1:1], the church of God called separated saints [1 Corinthians 1:2], and the church there called unto the fellowship of His Son Christ Jesus our Lord [1 Corinthians 1:9].
Now, why troubles in Corinth? If they were separated unto God, if they were faithful unto Christ, if they were called out and separated saints, then why did they have troubles in Corinth? That’s my sermon. This is the reason they had troubles in Corinth. This is the reason for the tragedy of the troubles in the church at Corinth. The city, the city got into the church! The world got into the church! The life of Satan and of evil and of wickedness got into the church! And whenever that happens, there is trouble; there is always trouble.
You look at this for just a moment. Corinthian words was a fresh use in the Roman Empire. Corinthian words; that is, they were great rhetoricians in Corinth. They were marvelous dictators in Corinth. They loved eloquent language and glorious, glorious phrases, and they would argue endlessly. That thing got into the church at Corinth, and that is where you have these divisions; some of them standing up saying this, and some of them standing up and saying that, and some of them standing up and saying this other. And the spirit of the city got into the church at Corinth, and there is trouble, there is trouble.
Turn the page. In the fifth chapter here, “It is commonly reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” [1 Corinthians 5:1]. In the city of Corinth was gross immorality. And it got in the church. This man here is living with his father’s wife, that is, his stepmother. And Paul says such a thing as that is vile, even in a moral court. And yet that thing has got into the church.
Now turn the page, “Dare any of you,” in the sixth chapter, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” [1 Corinthians 6:1]. They went to law with one another in the church in Corinth. They were accustomed to doing that. That’s trouble in the church.
At Ridgecrest, North Carolina, I preached through a Sunday school week at Ridgecrest. And all of the time I was there, I did something that I never have done before. When I speak at Ridgecrest, every day I try to eat at a different table and get to know a great many people. But that year at Ridgecrest, I sat down, happened to sit down with a glorious group from a wonderful church in our Southland. And I fell in love with them. They were wonderful people. I never saw such a group. There were three or four or five tables of them there, and I ate with them every day. We had a marvelous time. I promised them that I would hold a revival meeting in their church. It took me about five years to keep that invitation, but I was faithful to that promise. And the first opportunity I had, about five years later, I went to hold the revival meeting in that church.
All right, what did I find? One of the great churches of our Southland, in one of the most beautiful cities that you could ever live in, I would love to think that I would have the privilege of living in a city like that, a beautiful city and a wonderful church. But about two months before I got there to hold the revival in that church, the chairman of the deacons and one of his friends on the board of deacons sued the pastor and the rest of the deacons. And they were having the awfulest lawsuit in that city between those two deacons and the pastor and the rest of the deacons, and I suffered through that revival meeting. Why, a thing like that is a shame!
Now you can go down there and be in an oil company, and two of the directors can sue the rest of the directors and nobody thinks anything about it. That is the world. They are accustomed to lawsuits. They are accustomed to going to court. They are accustomed to cheating one another, and beating one another, and annihilating one another, and starving one another out. And if you can get your competitor, get him; cut his throat; undermine him; undersell him, anything to beat your competitor. That is the world! But when you bring the spirit of the world into the church, when the spirit of Corinth gets into the church, you have got trouble; you always have. And so the whole thing goes all the way through this book; troubles, when the church is no longer a separated, and a holy, and unblemished, and an undefiled body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, I’ve got to quit sometime. Let me make this observation. People so often say, “What we must do in the church, what we must do in the church is to get in the spirit of the age. What we must do in the church is to make our church up-to-date. Let’s make our church appealing to the world. Let’s make our young people and their program appealing to the world.” And the churches do it. And the church of God gets to be like Corinth, just like Corinth.
I visited, in another city; I visited the largest church of a large denomination in America. Since then that church has lost its leadership, but when I went to see it, it was the greatest church of that great denomination. You know my impression of it? My impression of it was this: that what that church was, was a little auditorium. I was amazed at the auditorium. It was a little auditorium, surrounded by about a dozen dance halls and card playing centers and areas. I was amazed at it. And so I talked to one of the assistant ministers of the church. And his reply to me was, “We couldn’t have a church if we didn’t appeal to our young people with these dancing programs. And we couldn’t have our church if along with our women’s societies we didn’t have these bridge players and these card tables and these things. We couldn’t carry it on.”
Now, whenever the church takes into its heart and into its experience the ways and the manners and the maxims of the world, thereby and therein it loses its power to witness to the city. You haven’t got it anymore. You’re just like they are. You’re identified with them. You have taken the world into your heart, and into your life, and into your soul, and into your church. The church is to be separated. The church is to stand apart from the city, and the church is to preach the gospel of the Son of God to the city.
I can tell you about your young people’s program. Whenever you make your young people’s program conform to the world, you’ve lost it, and you’ve lost them! When you make your young people’s program just another country club program, why join the church? Can’t they go out there to the country club? Can’t they have a better orchestra? Can’t they have a finer time? Can’t they carry on more to their liking out there than you could ever provide for them inside of the fellowship of the church?
The church of God has a ministry; it has a message; it has an appeal, and until a young fellow is converted he won’t like you. But if he is saved, if he is converted, it is you that he is looking for; the church of God, separated and apart from the world. These are two different things, the church of God and the city of Corinth. And when they are identified, when the city and the church become the same, when the nation and the church become the same, when the world and the church become the same, the church has no message any longer for the world. You’re like they are. Why should they listen? Why they should they come?
But the church of Jesus Christ is to be separate and apart. It ought to mean something for a young man to say, “I am a Christian.” It ought to mean something for a young woman to say, “I belong to the church.” It ought to mean something for a man and his family to say, “I belong to the house of God”; the church of God one thing, the city of Corinth another thing.
We ought to have the same apostolic witness of the apostle Paul when he said, writing to the church at Rome, “I am debtor, I am debtor, I am ready, I am ready, I am not ashamed; I am not ashamed; I am debtor to you; to preach to you the gospel of the Son of God. I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in the city of Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” [Romans 1:14-16].
It means something to come down that aisle. It means something to give your heart to God. It means something to join the church. It means something to follow the will of God. It means a dedicated, a separated, and a consecrated life. The church of God is one thing, and the city of Corinth is another thing. The First Baptist church of Jesus Christ is one thing; the city of Dallas is another thing.
Many things out there in the world, many ways out there in the world, many manners out there in the world, many calls out there in the world; but the call, and the manner, and the way, and the will of the church of God is something else. When we belong to Him, we are walking in a different road, following a different call, giving our lives to a dedicated will.
That’s our appeal tonight. While we sing this song, while our people sing this song, somebody you give your heart to the Lord, give your life to Christ. Somebody you put your life with us in the church. “Preacher, I made a decision tonight; it is for God, and here I come; here I am; here I come; I give you my hand, I give my heart to God. Here I am; here I come.” Some of you into the fellowship of the church, “Preacher I’ve been baptized, I’ve been baptized; I belong to the church. I want to put my life here with you in this glorious company and fellowship.” While we sing this song, however God would say the word and make the appeal, while we sing this song, you come, you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE CHURCH OF GOD AT CORINTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
A. After his conversion, Paul spent three years in Arabia, then went about preaching(Acts 9:1-18, Galatians 1:15-18, 2 Corinthians 11:32-33)
B. Ministry with Barnabas – the first missionary journey (Acts 11:25-26, 13:2)
C. Second missionary journey – into Europe (Acts 15:40, 16:6-9)
D. In Corinth, met Aquila and Priscilla(Acts 18:1-3)
1. After visit from Timothy, Paul devoted himself with fresh energy to the work (Acts 18:5, 7-8)
2. Vision of the Lord to Paul – much people in this city(Acts 18:10)
3. Gallio comes to be proconsul – gives Paul freedom to proclaim his message (Acts 18:12-17)
E. After two years ministry, Paul leaves, begins third missionary journey(Acts 18:18-22)
1. Wrote two letters to CorinthII. The occasion for the Corinthian letters
A. Conversion of Apollos; his visit to Corinth (Acts 18:24-27)
1. Returns to Ephesus, brings report to Paul of division in the church(1 Corinthians 3:1-5)
B. Letter of Paul (that is lost) to Corinth saying they were not to company with evil people – letter grossly misunderstood(1 Corinthians 5:9)
C. Bad news is brought by members of household of Chloe (1 Corinthians 11:11)
D. Letter sent to Paul by committee at Corinth(1 Corinthians 16:17)
1. Paul answers their questions, addresses issues from Chloe (our 1 Corinthians)
E. Church falls upon evil days – both Timothy and Paul insulted, denied(Acts 19:22, 2 Corinthians 7:8, 12:1-3, 18, 13:3)
1. Titus sent to Corinth, bearing severe letter(2 Corinthians 2:7, 7:8-12, Acts 20:1-6)
F. Paul meets Titus in Macedonia – receives encouraging report, the abuses in the church have been corrected (Acts 19:24-41, 2 Corinthians 7:6, 13)
1. Paul writes another letter to Corinth (our 2 Corinthians); makes another trip to Corinth(2 Corinthians 13:1)III. The kinds of letters they are
A. Different world from Romans
1. Romans a doctrinal treatise
2. Galatians a document of crisis regarding Judaizers
3. Corinthians, practical questions arising out of the life of a church
B. Life ofa Gentile-Christian community
C. Parts of 1 Corinthians: chapters 1-4 concern divisions in the church; 5-6 concern evil practices; 7 concerns marriage; 8-10 concerns food offered to idols; 11-14 concerns abuses in worship; 15 discussion of the resurrection; 16 things personal and practical
D. Parts of 2 Corinthians: chapters 1-7 concern Paul’s trials and tribulations; 8-9 concern collection for the poor; 10-13 concern vindication of his apostleshipIV. The church of God at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-2)
A. The church of God – a community sharing the life of God, governed by the will of God, cooperating in the work of God
B. Corinth – the opposite of God, the antithesis of God
1. “Corinthian” an adjective for the profligate life
C. The city of Corinth
1. Destroyed in 146 BC by Mummius
2. Rebuilt in 46 BC by Julius Caesar
3. Lechaeum, Cenchreae, Diolkos
4. Temple of Venus/Aphrodite – worship through mistresses
D. The church of God
1. “Paul, a called apostle”, “called saints”, called unto fellowship of Christ Jesus(1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 9)
a. Called out, separated, apart(2 Corinthians 6:14-16)
2. The many troubles – the city got into the church
a. Corinthian words
b. Incest (1 Corinthians 5:1)
c. In court against each other (1 Corinthians 6:1)
3. We are told the church needs to catch “the spirit of the age”
a. This weakens the church and its power to witness
4. The call of the church to witness to the city(Romans 1:14-16)