Have you ever been friends with a worshipper? Their head is in an entirely different space. They hum, sing, and get caught up in another realm that keeps them grounded. It seems that their praise is not limited to a service on Sunday. They encourage others to enter into the atmosphere of worship in spite of their circumstances. When life overwhelms us, we can look up (as Lauren Daigle sings) and focus on what really matters.
So how does this impact how we look at 1 Corinthians? I think it was a significant part of Pauls story and part of how he dealt with his experiences in Corinth. I also wonder if digging deeper into this story would help us in our situations today. To get a clear picture of this, read Acts 18. Paul was trying to reach his own group in Corinth. Many Jews lived there and many more had just moved into the area. Paul finds a couple there (Priscilla and Aquila) who are in the same secular occupation that he is – tentmaking. (Providential circumstances).
Because Corinth was a major port and trade city. It was a hub for shipping and manufacturing. Another significant feature was that the Isthmian Games were held here (similar to our Olympics). When thousands of people come in and out it increases the wealth of a city. Opportunity and anonymity increase which creates new power structures and increases crime. Tents were often used to house athletes and travelers and Paul picked a lucrative trade to accommodate his need for travel funds.
His new friends Priscilla and Acquila were Jewish. They had just been thrown out of Rome when Claudius sent out all the Jews , and had recently moved to Corinth. Pauls’ original plan was to reason in the synagogue. On that last day trouble was stirred up and heated arguments took place. After that encounter Paul decides to change course and reach the Gentiles. The synagogue was one of many religious instituions and there were seven other temples built to various gods there. The biggest one was dedicated to Aphrodite and was known for “corinthianizing” whoever came to visit. Lust, immorality and promiscuity was common throughout Corinth. Holiness was not popular.
After Pauls negative encounter in the Synagogue, he leaves in a dramatic , heated moment. However, he did not get very far. Right beside the synagogue lived a friend of his – Justus, who was a worshipper of God. We are not told if this was a Red back hymnal, Bethel, or Jason Crabb type guy. We are only told that he was a worshipper. Worshippers know things. Was this his house or a parsonage? Not sure. But somehow what happened in that house inspires Paul to stay a little longer and plant a church in Corinth. Justus gets no credit other than a mention that he is a worshipper. After this verse we see the head of the synagogue get saved (Crispus) and his whole household. (Paul may have been done with the Jews, but God clearly wasn’t). In an about face, we see a transition from opposed Paul to church planting Paul. This was the same guy, who had shaken his garments and yelled “your blood be upon your own heads, I am clean.” We aren’t given details but all of a sudden when Paul was supposed to be stomping down the road – Salvation comes to Crispus. He’s no common visitor – this guy is the leader of the entire synagogue!
Then the Lord speaks to Paul, “Do not be afraid, I am with you. No one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” Somehow, Paul slowed down from his anger to listen to Gods’ message. No longer do we find him arguing over doctrine. Instead, he continues to teach the word of God. We do not know the details, but I am thinking, what a difference a worshipper friend can make! Whatever took place there affected Paul to redirect. The Corinthians were the recipients of that change.
First Corinthians was written to a problematic church. When it began, there were riots and droughts. They had endured agitations and culture wars. Life wasn’t easy. The religious there were liberal and believed no one should judge anyone. To read more about this you can check out F.F. Bruce’s work, “Christianity Under Claudius.” The expulsion of the Jews was primarily a political move but of great impact spiritually. Their preserving light would have been missed. To shine in Corinth would have been quite the assignment. It was the Las Vegas of their day. It was a very immoral place. The ones Paul had come to reason with had opposed and blasphemed him. How disheartening in the midst of that city. So, what caused him to stay? Space was made for him to hear Gods voice and direction. In spite of Paul burning his bridges, God told him to stay put . That is a powerful moment in Pauls story we cannot miss.
I was talking with hubby this week about Priscilla and Aquila. They spent time in Rome before moving to Corinth. Imagine for a moment combing Jewish traditions with Italian customers, food or even celebrations. Jewish traditions take time and interrupt schedules. This can certainly cause aggravation with those who live differently. Their day off and day to worship would be a constant reminder they were “unlike” the Romans. Blending in Corinth would also be challenging. Small things can irritate in big ways. My boss used to say “don’t ever mess with peoples’ money or their food.” When in Rome…, they stuck to One God and all their cultural norms. It did not exactly work out there for them. That would have been a sore spot in a country that boasted of being liberal and judgement free. With bruised hearts it is possible that Priscilla and Acquila looked forward to being with the Corinthian Jews. Imagine the disappointment when things blew up in the new Synagogue.
When we were first married my husband Joe would cook when we had family gatherings and make large pots of the “sauce”. That would turn in to spaghetti and lasagna for many days following. Each of the guests would leave with extra sauce. It was a holiday thing. When he makes “the sauce” it takes a full day and the whole house smells amazing. I had to change my “Ragu and Prego” ways and resist all fake and bake store bought meatballs. (Shh, don’t even mention I said this). Families create traditions on many levels. In the blending of Corinth, a new people emerged and it affected the whole on many levels – social, cultural, political, spiritual, etc. What is the standard then? Who decides what is moral, good or right? All the combinations and temples and opinions– This was a colossal mess. I tease my family that it may have been fights over Matza and Cannoli (just joking), but we will never know for sure.
The friendship forged between Priscilla and Aquila and Paul literally impacts the world. God used many methods to prepare them to this point. This couple will go on to mentor Apollos. What gathers people? Games, Matza, fresh sauce, worship… ? Whatever the “draw” was, in addition to the Holy Spirit– we may never know, but we do know that the love Paul will later write about in 1 Corinthians 13 will be strong enough to keep Paul and them on task. The gifts he shares show up as Crispus and his household come to Christ. Paul has experienced these solutions himself. Much of that dialogue is omitted and probably for good reason. However, this misfit crew got together, it worked, because it impacted the original Corinthian church and filled it with love and fellowship. Doctrine is important — but working together, eating together, worshipping together, suffering together…. were all part of the early church. It was a Holy, but happy mess. Love had to be patient, love had to be kind.
When Paul travels on to Ephesus and hears that there are divisions in the Corinthian church, he has authority to make corrections. It is in a context of love that he appeals to them to make changes. The five messages can be summarized as follows:
- Unity 1-4
In Gods economy all leaders are servants under Christ. Whether you follow Graham, Moore, Osteen or others – it is only Christ that died on the cross. Only God is worthy of our praise. All these camps, if elevated above Christ, will eventually cause divisions. Loyalty belongs to the Lord. Comparison is such a sneaky snake. How do you know if that is happening? When you direct people to a specific leader or website rather than Jesus. It is seen when a group is a solution offered, rather than a savior. When we discuss religion more than the Bible, it is evident. Paul requested that they cease in their personality promotion and lift up Jesus. Let’s dig deeper – When was the last time you had fellowship with someone from another nation or denomination? Can you enjoy praise and worship if its in a different style? Do you only go to conferences led by those in your camp? Who do you follow most? Christ is not divided –Paul tells them and us.
2. Integrity 5-7
How we live our lives matters to a holy God. If we have died with Christ, then we are no longer our own with unlimited personal rights. What matters in our temple (body) matters to God. We are not our own –we have been bought with a price. Unlimited grace is true– but God will not always strive with man. We will one day all account for our actions within and outside the body. In an age of whatever feels good, Paul reminds us that God decides what is pure. Does God want you to give your body to a prostitute Paul asks? God does have a say in our actions. We certainly can choose our rights –but if you want a personal relationship with God, then He gets to say what is O.K. For those who don’t follow God – it is not our business to judge.
3. Expedience 8-10
While all things are lawful, not all are expedient. Putting Gods law of love FIRST is what Paul was contending for. Honoring one another is more important than being right. This applies to drinking, eating and anything where we misuse our freedom to justify behaviors. In an era of massive addictions, Christians need to be supportive rather than enablers or promoters of things that destroy the body.
4. Inclusion 11-14
Paul uses a body metaphor to say that each person is a unique gift to be used in the body of Christ. Each are critical to the overall good. My understanding of the function of leadership is that they serve every congregant to know their gift and use it fully for Gods’ glory. Blending takes time, like simmering the sauce — fresh ingredients simmered down so each flavor is distinct but makes the whole taste better. The world is hungry… Churches can become centers of training and worship to equip individuals to reach their corner of the world. In this post-Covid era the FULL church body needs to be equipped and functioning. Not because someone in the Church, White house or media says it, but because the WORD of God demands it.
5. Resurrection – 15-16
The reason this all matters is because our future is in Heaven. Behaviors can be seen by a holy God. What we see today is not all there is to experience. A loving savior is coming back and there is work to do. Paul starts and ends his message with that in mind.
Oh, the joy to have a worshipping friend, an accepting and supportive Christian couple, a teaching buddy while planting a church. Paul knew the value of team ministry. They all were working toward the same goal – Kingdom ministry that glorified Christ. Each hearing from God for the collective good. Paul urges in chapter 16 for his mentee Timothy to be received without fear. “Do not let anyone despise him.” He uplifted and supported the younger ministers (male and female) . He surrounded himself with ministry people and sent them out to be effective in the Harvest. This is rare in a individualized society.
In verse 9 Paul states that a great and effective (Thura), vestibule was opened to him. This is a unique word for door. It refers to a waiting area. Paul was planning on tarrying in Ephesus until Pentecost. He stayed with people for a while. He hung out with worshippers, he waited to hear Gods’ voice. Perhaps his success was not a door of preaching or ministry but an effective door of being able to listen to God for direction? Right there, that is the sauce! The effects of hitting the bulls eye for Jesus would certainly prove to be very successful. An audience is a mark of success to some, but in Pauls day success was audience with the King who could really make a difference.
My husband has been studying in I Kings where Elijah hides himself away. Elijah had faced many oppressors and also decided, “I’m done with this!”. In the crushing, in the waiting… God starts sharing His purpose, His heart, His mind. Paul may have been done with the Corinthian Synagogue –but clearly God was not and after he went to Justus the worshippers house, God begins to move in a way that will permanently affect the Temple. The leader gets saved – and his household. What a way to start a new work in the city. It took ONE worshipping person who had their focus on God. It took ONE person to pause to listen to God. It took ONE person to get saved to reach their synagogue and family.
When Paul paused and waited in Corinth – the word and vision came. The church in Corinth was born. Paul went on to Ephesus and wrote the letters to Corinth when they started struggling that still strengthen the church today. Paul tells us in 16:13 to watch (be vigilant, cautious, active, and awake), to stand fast in the faith, persisting and persevering and to be brave (man up, have courage). In vs. 14 he states, “Let ALL that you do, –be done with love.” His encounter with Priscilla, Aquila and Justus changed Corinth. His encounter with God, hearing His voice and direction, changed Paul.
Paul exhorts the saints to submit and labor with those who have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints. He then points out good examples stating that they supplied what was lacking and “refreshed the saints.” These, Paul states we are to “acknowledge” which means to become thoroughly acquainted with them, perceiving them, knowing them well and understanding their character, will and deeds.” This is not your standard business as usual church. They were passionate followers. It was forged in fighting, worshipping, working together, suffering together and co-laboring. They were so close they kissed one another! In a Covid generation– maybe we can skip the last part, but the rest is really important.
The instructions in 1 Corinthians are wonderful helps for our Christian life. I just want to ask you some questions:
- Where is your Justus and are you first and foremost a worshipper of God?
In the atmosphere of worship, much can be accomplished.
- Who are your house and work mates during this hidden time?
Will they build you up in the Spirit or Corinthianize you?
- Who are you sending on to carry out these instructions like Timothy?
Investing in others is part of the process to glorify God and bear fruit.
Thank you for reading the blog and considering how 1 Corinthians, can impact your life and ministry. May you accomplish all God has planned for you to as you co-labor with HIM.
Renae Roche 2021