The local church in Corinth had lots of potential but also lots of problems. It was a long letter the Apostle Paul had written to them. Did they convene a special weekend service to read aloud the long letter? If some worker or missionary was to write such a long letter today, we’d be restless by the time Chapter Two was started. We’d be whispering back ‘n forth while the letter was being read: “His letters are too long. I wish he’d write shorter ones.”

The difference between letters to local churches back then and today is quite significant. Letters (epistles) in your New Testament, were written not only with apostolic authority; they were God-breathed letters, inspired, to become a part of the Canon of Scriptures – the Word of God, our Bible. No such letters get written today. As weighty and as authoritative as a preacher or teacher would like their letter to sound today –there’s no equivalent in 2019. The Word of God is complete and the age of apostles has ended.

So, the Apostle Paul writes a long letter to the church in Corinth. They were in trouble. Divisions and conflicts. Selfishness and self-promotion. Immoral behaviour was bad enough but even worse was the fact that it was tolerated. Abuse of their freedom in Christ. Disorder in worship and misuse of spiritual gifts. Wrong attitudes about the resurrection.

Do you have the picture? It wasn’t a healthy local assembly. Potential? Yes! But many problems. Lots of frowning going on among the members. Undercurrents. Cliques. Bitterness. Pride. Envy. Not a happy thriving robust testimony for the Lord – at least at this stage in their history.

Paul writes them to correct the multiple issues and to provide them with proper teaching on all these fronts. That’s why 1Corinthians is such a relevant letter to local churches today. It is a part of the inspired Word of God. There was no beating around the bush or sweeping issues under the carpet. Each issue needed to be addressed and corrected.

Finally, Paul gets to the very last section of his long letter and he writes something that does not come easy or happen naturally:

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. 1Corinthians 16:13-14

‘Be on guard’ means to be constantly watching for the slightest hint of a problem. Be alert. Don’t be texting while you drive. If someone entrusts you with their infant and you are shopping in a mall – you are constantly ensuring the infant in the stroller is safe and risk-free.

Be on guard for spiritual dangers. Stand firm in the faith. Don’t give a centimeter of territory when it comes to actual doctrinal truth. Be courageous – not cowardly or timid. It will take backbone to protect, preserve and promote the things of God – but be strong.

Notice what it does not say. It doesn’t say:

Be a paranoid snooper, always suspecting the worst. Be arrogantly dogmatic. Flex your muscles every time you get a chance and instill fear in the congregation. Be intimidating and glare with those eyes until it causes believers to tremble in fear. Abruptly interrupt others while they’re explaining their concerns and make sure your voice drowns out all others. Turn a deaf ear to any concerns raised and dig in your heels often. Do everything with force and power and with minimal feeling. And be sure to spread far and wide your darkest fears from the intelligence you have collected, along with your bravado stories of interventions.

As an aside – beware of those who travel from place to place carrying tales of woes and warnings based on information they have received from their sources in other places. Be wary of those who ask sensitive or prying questions about what’s going on in your situation – who have no Biblical reason to know. Be leery of those who seek to meddle and provide unsolicited and unasked for advice.

It says: “Do everything with love.” What does everything mean? Think about it. If it is not done with love – it’s contrary to the Word of God. It is wrong. If I can’t do it with love, I am not to do it until I can. Is that still a Biblical rule for us today? Is that taking it too far? What do you think?

Love-talk can sound spiritual and yet be carnal. It is easy to love other Christians who are onboard and see things the way we see things and are moving in the same direction. The spiritual test for love is – what are my inner feelings towards those who don’t see it my way?

Think of the extreme conditions in Corinth.  Probably far worse than anything most of us have experienced in our local fellowships. And yet – all the needed interactions and corrections had to be carried out lovingly. That doesn’t mean superficially assuring someone that your action or response is saturated with love – while the voice is raised, and the eyes are flashing. It probably means – real, genuine love – that can only exist in such complex circumstances by the power of the Spirit of God working within.

For most of us – doing everything with love is far from easy. Sadly, and without excuse, it probably accurately reflects our own low level of spiritual maturity.

Walk carefully and closely with the Lord today.

Warmly in Christ
Peter Ramsay

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