To many modern readers the New Testament seems to portray an extreme view of the Christian life. Believers are called to forfeit their rights, suffer, and even die for the sake of Christ. They are called to turn away from the things of the world that everybody else lives for, and even to despise their life in this world. Add to that, Paul encourages Christians to give up the normal desires for marriage and family and remain single for Christ if they have that spiritual gift. What lies behind such an apparently extreme view of life? For Paul, it is the awareness that believers are claimed by Christ and so belong to Him, body and soul. When Christ died, He bought them for Himself. They must no longer live simply for themselves and their own desires. Having died to their own personal interests, they are called to live entirely for their Lord. For true Christians, obedience to Christ is not an onerous burden, but a way to express their love and loyalty to the one who died for them. For the people of Christ, the whole of life is to be a joyful expression of thanks for the grace God has shown them in Jesus Christ. They gladly yield their lives to serve the one who gave up everything for them. By dying to themselves, they make it possible for Him to live in and through them.
And, nowhere does Paul tell believers that they should defend their rights . On the contrary, he emphasizes that believers must always be willing to give up their rights for the sake of others. Believers are free from the many rules that others feel bound by, but they must always be ready to give up their freedoms if their actions would cause someone else to sin. Defending one’s own personal right is of little value to Paul. Paul, like Jesus sees loving others as one of the most important principles in life. Real Christian love is always sacrificial, like Christ’s own love. Believers ought never to focus on what is best for themselves, but in what is best for others. The sacrificial death of Christ for sinners is the model that reveals the nature of true love. The whole of a believers life is to be an expression of Christ’s sacrificial love. This will never be easy, for it means people must consider themselves dead to their own desires.
Different New Testament writers emphasized different aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work. John highlighted the Spirit’s role as teacher and revealer of God’s thoughts and ways. Luke focused on the Spirit’s guidance and power for evangelism, and the importance of being filled with the Holy Spirit. But Paul provides a comprehensive view of the Spirit’s work. According to Paul, God gives the Spirit to all who come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The Spirit brings new life in Christ. He affirms believers salvation and their identity as children of God. The Holy Spirit gives Christians power over sin, power to live a fruitful life, and power for ministry. Believers are to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. And though they experience the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, they can please God by yielding to the Spirit’s guidance and power. The Holy Spirit enabled Christians to understand God’s thoughts and ways. He gives spiritual gifts to believers to help the church grow. The Spirit leads and empowers their worship as they use the gifts that the Spirit has given them. TheSpirit guarantees that believers will receive all the blessings that God had promised. The Spirit helps believers and prays for them in their human weakness. The goal of the Spirit’s work is to make them like Christ.
Paul viewed the church as the living body of Christ, comprised of believers. Paul made no formal distinction between professional clergy and laity, with the ministry being done by the clergy. The community had leaders, but EVERY believer had a ministry in building up the body. When the early believers gathered together, usually in someone’s home, everyone brought something from God to share with the others. Paul understood God’s Spirit as gifting people for their specific ministries and leading them when they came together for worship. Guided by the Spirit, every believer was to use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church. Paul wanted believers to be sensitive to the empowering of the Spirit in all that they did. When believers meet together, every individual is important and each one has an active role to play. Believers must listen for God speaking His Word, and be prepared to speak it, in all of their relationships. Paul also calls for the others to evaluate what is said. Every believer is a crucial part of the body, called to be actively involved in its growth.
Jesus spoke of loving one’s neighbor as the second most important of the Old Testament commandments. Love summarizes the entire Old Testament law. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their failure to show love. Love is the mark of a true follower of Jesus and of an authentic experience of God. For Paul, love is more important than any of the spiritual gifts and, the most important virtue. Love binds all things together in perfect harmony. Without love, ministry has a limited value. Paul summed up the whole of the Christian ethics as faith expressing itself in love. Love is the central ethical expression of the Christian faith, the primary fruit of the Spirit, and one of the most important motif patients for ministry. The most important thing for believers to value and seek is to become a faithfully loving person.
And one last thing for today. Paul spent a lot of ministry time in Corinth. He first arrived there in the course of his second missionary journey. The city was ancient even in Paul’s day. It had developed into a strong, well populated economic and urban center from the 500’s BC. Under Roman occupation and influence since Julius Caesar reestablished it in 44 BC, it became a city of fine buildings, shops, theaters , and houses. It’s trade brought much wealth, and the city prospered. Artisans crafted bronze artifacts, pottery, and especially the terra cotta lamps that were well known throughout the ancient world. Agriculture was also key to Corinth’s prosperity. The religious life of Corinth is well attested to in contemporary writings. TheGreek goddess Aphrodite, whom the Romans called Venus, the goddess of beauty, life , and passion, was a popular deity. She had a vast temple up on a hill above the city as a center of prostitution. The moral climate of Corinth was infamously degraded and 2 Corinthians undeniably reflects Paul’s awareness of serious moral problems there. It was into this city that Paul brought the message of Jesus Christ. By God’s Grace and the ministry of his servant, a company of believers was establishedand the new church grew. Paul’s converts, whom he regarded as his children, were a mixed lot, a cross section of cosmopolitan society in this city that was made famous for its pretensions to wisdom and rhetoric, its popular culture, its trade, its two harbors, and its love of life. At the climax of his list of trials Paul wrote, “Then, besides also this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches”. No congregation brought Paulmore concern than the church in Corinth.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W