Of course, I cannot really compare myself with the apostle Paul, but there are some similarities between us. One of these is that we both like to write. Paul was in the habit of writing letters. We do not know how many he actually wrote, but some of them we can still read today, as they have been included in our Bible. Ever since, millions of people have been able to read them. Yet, we must keep in mind that Paul’s original readers were not very numerous. He sent his letters to churches that may have consisted of a few hundred members at most, divided over a number of house churches. The letters were probably also read by neighboring churches, but the total audience was rather restricted.
Among the things I write is my weekly blog. As soon as I have written a new blog I dispatch it to the world in digital format. To my astonishment I have readers in far-away corners of the earth, even in China, South-America, Japan and Iceland. Without any exaggeration I can state that I have more readers than Paul had in his days. (Admittedly, what I write will not be read for as long a period as what Paul wrote)
Paul addressed his letters to local churches that he knew well. My blogs are primarily intended for the people in the faith community that I know well, i.e. the Adventist Church. Paul was often critical with regard to what he had heard about the way of life and the faith of the members of those churches. The readers of my blogs will have noticed that I also tend to be rather critical with respect to lots of things I see in my church. But there the parallel must end. It was only intended to introduce the ‘message’ of this week.
In recent days I re-read the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Once again it struck me how good it is to read a book of the Bible in its entirety, preferably in one session. That may not be feasible for such Bible books as the Psalms or Ezekiel, but reading 1 Corinthians takes at most only two hours.
Paul had quite a few unpleasant things to say to the church members in Corinth. There were lots of issues that needed to be addressed. The church suffered from major divisions, with several groups claiming their own favorite leader (1:11, 12). But there were also other problems. Paul had heard of immorality in the church, on a scale that did not even occur in ‘the world’, but had become quite common among the members (5:1). The members of the church also took each other to court (6:1). In addition, there were serious disturbances during the worship services (11) and serious deviations with regard to a few key facets of the Christian faith. Some Corinthians Christians even denied that there would be a resurrection of the dead (15:12).
I would suggest: Read or re-read this letter for yourself. After I had read the sixteen (mostly short) chapters, I concluded: Fortunately, things are not as bad in most of the local churches that I know, as they were in Corinth!
Having read the entire epistle it is important to return for a few moments to the first chapter, where we read: ‘I am writing to God’s church in Corinth to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1:4-9, NLT).
Yes, Paul criticized the Corinthians. But, in spite of all the things that were wrong, they were the church of Christ and all would end well! Reading this, it seems that I have every reason to also remain positive and optimistic, and to trust that eventually things will also be well for my church—even though I often see and experienee things that I find very difficult to accept!