Encouragement and the Church (2)
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you… Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me… 1 Corinthians 1.11, 7.1
Church in a mess
The Church in Corinth was in a mess. And they knew it.
Having taken off like a rocket (Acts 18.1-11, 24-28), the Corinthian churches had not been careful about maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4.3). Consequently, squabbles, divisions, and boastings arose among the various house churches, leading to what might be viewed as an early form of denominationalism (1 Cor. 1.10-13). All their competing and boasting had caused them to lose sight of the fact that not many of them were wise, noble, or mighty (1 Cor. 1.26). They were so busy vaunting themselves that they neglected Jesus and the Spirit, so that they were unable to judge matters spiritually and righteously (1 Cor. 2).
They were acting like middle-schoolers (1 Cor. 3.1-4), strutting and fussing and bullying one another in the Name of the Lord. They were making their pet doctrines into a new foundation of faith, and were in danger of slipping off the one Foundation that could keep them together (1 Cor. 3.5-16). They were so busy boasting in men that they had forgotten that they were called, not to be wise, but to be fools, and to serve one another in love (1 Cor. 4).
Worse, they had turned a blind eye to serious sin in their midst (1 Cor. 5). This was inexcusable. Other sins were reported to Paul: lawsuits between brethren, illicit sexual practices (1 Cor. 6), misguided behavior concerning marriage and divorce (1 Cor. 7), mingling with pagan practices, and causing one another to stumble (1 Cor. 8).
The Corinthians knew they were in a mess. Something was stirring within them that needed to be addressed. They had lost their peace and fellowship. Their witness was compromised, as was their worship of the Lord (1 Cor. 11, 14). They’d lost sight of the fact that they were one body in Christ (1 Cor. 12), and they needed to recover their calling to love one another (1 Cor. 13).
What to do? The leaders of the churches knew they needed help, but they had neither the wisdom nor the courage to sort things out and restore the Church.
Someone got the idea to write to Paul for help. More accurately, the Spirit of God moved them to get in touch with Paul.
Competent to encourage
It was the smartest thing they could have done. Indeed, it must have been the Spirit of God, striving within them, to get them to agree to send a delegation from Chloe’s house church (1 Cor. 1.11) to meet with Paul and seek his help. A letter was composed, outlining certain of the problems; but oral reports were also given (1 Cor. 5.1) to supplement the letter and help Paul get a complete picture of the mess in Corinth.
Why Paul? Didn’t they know what he’d say? Didn’t they know he would not spare his words? Would not coddle or console them? That he would speak the truth and demand repentance, revival, and renewal in the Lord?
I suspect they did. They didn’t have the courage or wisdom to achieve renewal on their own. But something in their souls said they needed it; so they turned to the one man who was competent to encourage them – willing to hear and understand, bold to instruct, patient to counsel and clarify, willing to help, and unlikely to mince words.
Paul loved them. They knew that. He had spent himself for eighteen months to win and nurture the souls of the Corinthian believers (2 Cor. 12.15). He had not burdened them financially (1 Cor. 9) – which they also knew, and which perhaps added to their spiritual disquiet (if it didn’t before they wrote, Paul made sure it did when he replied). And they probably also thought that, if he wrote to them about all this mess, and encouraged them in particular ways, he would also return to Corinth to make sure they had carried out his instructions.
This way to courage
The Corinthians didn’t just lack the wisdom to figure out how to fix their mess. They lacked the courage to do so. They didn’t want to yield on their cherished views, or look bad before their pagan neighbors, or admit they’d been wrong, or have to back down on some erroneous choices or teachings, or confess that they just didn’t love one another very much. They had settled into a “good enough” view of the faith, and they would have been content just to continue on that tack until their consciences became seared, and the status quo no longer troubled them. Only the Spirit of God, Whose temple they were (1 Cor. 3.16), was not content. He was stirring in them. Showing them the mess. Creating a desire for something better. Directing them to seek the help and encouragement they required to do what needed to be done.
Courage to grow in the Lord and serve Him selflessly in the Kingdom comes from the indwelling Spirit of God. He is the power of the Kingdom for us to fulfill our calling in the Lord (Acts 1.8; 1 Cor. 4.20; 1 Thess. 2.12). And when He is stirring within us, we should listen well. We should try to discern what He’s prompting us to understand, see, change, or improve – where, in other words, we need courage to break out of our own version of “good enough” Christianity and into the exceedingly abundantly more He offers.
But we may need outside help. The stirring within us – that feeling of unsettledness; of wanting to do something, but not knowing what; that sense that something’s not right, or at least, not complete – may well be the Spirit of God. But most of us are like the Corinthians, neither wise nor courageous enough to know or do what we should.
This is where the encouragement of our fellow believers can help. Are you willing to seek the encouragement of others in your time of need? Your time of unrest or uncertainty? Your time of longing for more? And are you prepared to offer encouragement to any who might come to you, their souls astir and seeking the courage to grow in the Lord and His work?
Kudos to the Corinthians for being willing to turn to Paul. And kudos to Paul for doing the hard work of encouragement that this messed-up church sorely needed.
And kudos to us if we learn the lessons of encouragement Paul will show us – both for when we need encouragement, and for when we need to give it.
1. Why were the Corinthian churches in a “mess”? What do we mean by “good enough” Christianity?
2. How might you be able to know when the Holy Spirit is stirring in you to seek some encouragement?
3. What can you begin doing today that will help you in being ready to encourage your fellow believers?
Next Step – Transformation: Begin praying today, and pray every day, that God will prepare you to encourage your fellow believers.
T. M. Moore
We can encourage people in even small and seemingly insignificant ways. Our book Small Stuff helps you be more aware of the opportunities for encouraging others that God brings to you each day. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.