The Kind of Church that Has Problems
Tim Temple

Introduction

What kind of a church is it which has problems? During the past few months it seems like we have seen an unprecedented number of problems in the Body of Christ. We are all familiar with all of the various big-name ministers who have had very public exposure of problems in their lives and ministries. We have all probably heard more than we want to about those kinds of problems, but there have been a large number of others over the last several years who have not been as well known and who have not received as much attention because they are not as well known. More importantly than that, there are many, many churches and individuals who make up the Body of Christ who have various kinds of problems that are bringing dishonor on the name of Jesus Christ.

I am not talking about this church in particular; I am not trying in some veiled way to hint at some kind of big problem in this particular church. That is not the case. What has struck me as I have thought on the Word of God and as I have thought about the various kinds of problems that are coming to light is that these are the kinds of things that go throughout the Body of Christ; they are things that have a common denominator; they are the kinds of problems that keep coming up again and again, and more importantly than that, they are the kinds of problems that God has specifically addressed in His Word.

Sometimes we think, “How in the world have we come to this place in the Body of Christ? How have we gotten to the place where we have so many failures and so many problems? What happened to the good old days?” The interesting thing is, if you have ever been in a situation where you have had to analyze the good old days, you probably realize that in most cases the good old days weren't probably all that good anyway. It seems that way as we look back on it, but we have very selective memories; and the interesting thing as we look back on Church history is that these kinds of problems have always been a part of the Body of Christ, though they may have become more pronounced at various times in the history of the Church.

Problems In the Church At Corinth

If you study Church history, you will find that there have always been failures and there have always been scandals and there have always been disappointments, so much so that God saw fit to include in the New Testament two letters that dealt with these kinds of problems in the very first centuries after Christ. These are the two letters to the church at Corinth.

If ever there was a church that had problems, it was the church at Corinth. Paul had come there early in his ministry; he had preached the Gospel, and many people had accepted Christ and had banded together and had formed a church. The scholars argue about how many local churches there may have been in Corinth. I am of the opinion that probably this letter is addressed to a whole group of churches, not just one Corinthian church; but it was the body of believers, no matter what particular local assembly of which they may have been a part of the Christians in the city of Corinth, and the kinds of things that were going on there that were wrong were creating problems and bringing dishonor upon the name of Christ. There was division in the church. There was strong disagreement, to the point of breaking fellowship with each other, over things that were really matters of choice.

Paul writes back to that church which he had founded, and he talks about those kinds of problems. There were problems of sexual immorality. Someone says, “Oh, I thought that was just in this liberated age that we have those kinds of problems.” Well, not to minimize the problems that we have in our society today because we certainly do live in a Godless society, but let me remind you that they were having those same kinds of problems two thousand years ago in the city of Corinth and a lot of other places, too. In Corinth they had Christians suing each other; and the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said, “Look, these are things that you should be able to settle among yourselves as Christians.” They had disorder and confusion in their church services; they had misuse of the Lord's table; they had extreme pride over spiritual gifts; they had people taking sides and identifying with various individual teachers and saying, “I am of this teacher,” and “I am of that teacher, and you should be of this teacher, too.” Doesn't that sound familiar? It sounds very much like what is still going on in the Body of Christ today. Naturally those things were then, and are now, making a laughing stock of Jesus Christ in the eyes of the unsaved. The same problems we are having in this day, whether in this particular church or not–certainly within the Body of Christ around the world and around the United States.

Problems of Individuals

The focus that we want to keep in mind as we look at I Corinthians over the next several lessons and the most significant thing that can be pointed out about these problems is that they were people problems; they were problems that in every case could be traced back to individuals who were not what they should have been, who were not appropriating what God had provided for them. Why is that important? It is basically important to what we want to see in this series of studies because it is very easy for us to sit back and think about and pay attention to the study of the Lordship of Christ in the local church and think, “Ah, that is what we need; that is what this church needs to hear; that is certainly what that church down the street needs to hear.”, and not take it personally. Sometimes a preacher or a public speaker might say, “Well, I wouldn't want you to take this personally, but…” I want to tell you something: I hope you will take this series of studies personally because the problems that exist in the Body of Christ today are not the problems of churches; they are problems of individuals.

In this series of studies, I hope you will think of the the Lordship of Christ in your life. That is the solution to the problems of the Church of Jesus Christ today. How in the world did we get where we are? By individual believers not appropriating what God has provided for us. So though we are going to be looking at problems that apply to a whole group of people, I hope that we are going to be looking at them from an individual standpoint because the solution to every one of these things depends in its entirety on how you apply these things in your life, how I apply them in my life, how the person sitting next to you applies them in his or her life. They are individual matters.

A Worldly Atmosphere

The first thing that we want to think about in this series is the kind of church that this was. What kind of a church is it that has problems anyway? You may be surprised at the answer to that question. We probably have all heard about the nature of the city of Corinth. It was a crossroads of the world of that day. It was a center of commerce. It was like Los Angeles or New York City in our day. All the things that come to your minds as we say the names of those cities were true of Corinth. Certainly different technology, different kinds of advancements, but emotionally and spiritually and mentally, that same kind of atmosphere–the fast lane of life.

The Greek plays that were written had a standard character who appeared in most plays who was called “the Corinthian”. He usually didn't have a specific name; he was just “the Corinthian”. He was always a drunkard or a con-man or some other kind of known sinner. A common term for a woman of the streets was “a Corinthian girl”. To go out and have a debauched time was known as “going out to Corinthianize”. So it was a city of which all of those kinds of things were true; but in the middle of that kind of society, there was a group of believers in Jesus Christ, maybe meeting in several different groups, but the Body of Christ, believers in Jesus Christ who met together in one group or in several (that is a matter for debate). In the middle of that kind of worldly, Godless atmosphere was a group of God's people.

Writers of the Letter

In the introduction of his letter, Paul points out something else that is very important about this church, more important than the kind of city in which they live, and that was the kind of church it was. By way of outline, the first nine verses of the chapter have to do with a commendation of the Corinthians, and in verses 1-3, there is the extension of greetings which we find in the beginning of all of Paul's letters. Again, because of the nature of this study, we are not going to take the time to analyze each of these verses word by word and verse by verse, but I want you to notice some words about the writers of the letter in verse 1:

I Corinthians 1

1Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

Here in verse 1, we have the writers of the letter listed. Since Paul begins all of his letters this way, we tend to race through these kinds of verses, and they might seem unimportant to us, but let me just point out that Paul lists himself as an apostle. The Corinthians would have known that; they knew who Paul was. He was the founder of that church, in fact; he had been their teacher for a while. They knew he was an apostle. Why would he remind them of that? Because he wants to remind them not so much of his office as the fact of this authority. The things that Paul is going to point out in this letter carry the authority of Jesus Christ Himself. The apostles were commissioned by Jesus Christ as His representatives during the time that the Scripture was being written, and so Paul had the authority to give God's Word to these people. God saw to it that it was written down, and it comes to us with that same authority that it came to the Corinthians, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He says some difficult things here, and he says in this letter some things that are diametrically opposed to twentieth-century American society. He says some things that cut across the way some of us live, that are opposed to attitudes that we allow ourselves to have; and I want to remind you as we come to those things that this letter comes from Jesus Christ Himself. It has the authority of the apostle whom Jesus had delegated to give this message. It has the authority of the Holy Spirit Who gave Paul the words to write.

Sosthenes was probably Paul's personal secretary, the one who took down his words. Paul dictated the letter probably to Sosthenes. Apparently Sosthenes was well known to the Corinthians. We don't know anything about him. Back in the book of Acts there is a Sosthenes listed who was a ruler of the synagogue. If this is the same Sosthenes, that former Jewish leader had now become a leader in the Christian church. He is a companion of the Apostle Paul. Whoever he was, he was well known to the Corinthians because in the Greek the title is “The Sosthenes”. The implication is “The Sosthenes that you all know”. These are the writers of the letter.

Readers of the Letter

Verse 2 tells us several things about the readers of this letter. This is really what we want to look at today:

I Corinthians 1

2Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's:

Notice that he refers to them in verse 2 as “the church of God which is at Corinth”. The word “church” is the first word I want us to focus on. The word “church” is a word that I think is much misunderstood, a word that is much taken for granted even in our world today. It is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia . The root meaning of that word is “a group who are called out from the larger group”. Before the time of the New Testament, it didn't have any kind of religious meaning at all. It could mean a group in a stadium watching a ball game; it could mean a group of people who had gone together and formed a business, but it did refer to a group of specific people. After the time of Christ, after the formation of the Body of Christ, the word “church” became more and more applied exclusively to a group of Christians.

Called Out From the World

Let's think about this for a moment. It refers to a group of people who have been called out from everyone else. In our day and time, and I think it has probably been true a great deal throughout history, we sort of have the feeling that we don't want to be too different. We want to be like everyone else. We want to be our own person; we want to be an individual; at the same time, we don't want to be too different or weird. Let me just remind you, and maybe you will just have to put this together in your own mind, by the very nature of being Christians, we are called out from those around us. We are a unique group of people, and this is a basic characteristic of Christians. We are ekklesia ; we are called out; we are separated from those around us; we should not be like everyone else.

I think that one of the problems in Corinth was the fact that they had forgotten about their separation. This was one of the characteristics of the Christians, their separation from the rest of the world. It should be one of our characteristics. Each of us who call ourselves Christians should recognize that we are no longer a part of that group. We have been called out by the very nature of our name. We have been called out as a church. I think this is one of the basic reasons that we are having all of the problems that we are seeing in the Church, the Body of Christ, today. We have forgotten that we have been called out from living like the rest of the world lives.

Why should an unsaved person really want to live the way we live? Our lives aren't that much different in many cases than their lives. How different is your life from those around you? It may be that you spend just about as much time worrying and fretting about things as they do. You may have some of the same bad habits and problems and be held in the grip of things as much as they are. If a non-Christian were to look at your life, what would there be about your life that would give him any reason to want to become like you? What do you have that he doesn't have?

In some cases, the only difference is that we have a bunch of baggage to carry around; we have to go to church on Sunday, and we have to do this and do that that the non-Christian doesn't have to. I think that comes back to the fact that we have forgotten that our lives are different. We have been called out from the rest of the world. That is not all there is to it. There are many wonderful things that God has provided for us, but that is the first thing that Paul reminds us–“you are the ekklesia ”. You are the called-out ones.

Called Out By God

Something else to notice here is that not only were they a special group, the called out ones, but they were the Church of God at Corinth. You see, the Church, the called-out ones, is different from a bowling league or from a bridge club or from a service club of which you might be a member. There are a lot of different groups that we could belong to, and there is nothing wrong with many of those groups, but there is something different about the ekklesia of Jesus Christ. It is just that; it is the called-out ones, called out by God. In its root meaning, a church could be any kind of a group, but this is the Church of God. There in Corinth it was the Church of God. Paul was the founder of the church; Paul was the apostle who was writing them this letter. Peter–one of the original twelve–had ministered there. Apollos, the most eloquent preacher of the day apparently, had been there and had ministered.

Notice that Paul does not say “the church of Paul which is at Corinth,” or “the church of Apollos which is at Corinth”, or “the church of Peter which is at Corinth.” In fact when we get farther down in the chapter, we are going to see that that was one of the problems. They recognized themselves as a group, but they were identifying with men–a clue to another problem that they had and a problem that we have too. The problem is identifying with a particular group or a particular individual rather than God. We thank God for Paul and for Peter and for Apollos and for other good Bible teachers and outstanding leaders. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. God arranges that some men have places of leadership, but let us always be careful to remember that we are called out by God.

Let me tell you something that you have heard many times before, but in this context it is important to repeat again. If you keep your eyes on a man, a human leader, sooner or later you are going to be disappointed. Who are you called out to? Are you called out to Abilene Bible Church? That is a terrible mistake! I can't imagine that you would feel this way, but are you called out to Tim Temple? Are you a follower of Tim Temple or a follower of Joe Temple or Jim Stanley or Josias Mendoza, the men in leadership in this church? We have some elders in this church. They are not as well known; they are not in front of you as much, but maybe you feel an identification with an elder who has paid attention to you. On the one hand, the Scripture tells us to give honor to those men who minister to us; on the other hand, we are not the church of Tim Temple or Joe Temple or Jim Stanley or Josias Mendoza. We are the church of God.

We have many people who minister to us on radio and television, and some of those men have been tremendous disappointments to their followers. The ones who were disappointed the most are the ones who were followers of this man or that man or this ministry or that ministry. It is the church of God , so one of the real problems that Paul is going to address very carefully in this church at Corinth and that God would have us as Christians in this city in this century think about is that matter of identification with men and dependence upon men.

Set Apart for Holiness

One of the characteristics of this church was that they were separated from the world around them, but there is something else to notice. Notice the reference to their sanctification. The word “sanctification” is very similiar. It carries the idea of being called out, set apart, like the word “church” does; but it also carries the idea of holiness. It is a word that has to do particularly with our spiritual life. We won't take the time to turn there, but in Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 10, we read that this is our position in Christ. God looks at those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as sanctified, as set apart for holiness. So they were separated, and they were sanctified.

Called to Be Saints

There is a third thing to notice in verse 2, and that is their sainthood. They were called to be saints. The noun “saints” is from the very same root word as the verb “sanctified”. It is the noun form of the verb “sanctified”, so saints are simply those who are set apart by God, not those who have gone through the process of canonization and have been recognized as a saint and therefore can be called “Saint Peter” and “Saint Paul”, etc. I personally dislike those references to Saint Paul and Saint Peter because I am a saint, too. You are a saint, too. No one has named any churches for us, have they? We are all saints. It is not a matter of someone being a great Christian and therefore he somehow qualifies as a saint. Every one of us is a saint in the eyes of God.

On the other hand, let's think about that for a minute. We all know what comes to our mind when we use the word “saint”. We know what we think of; we think of an extremely godly person; we think of a person who has been greatly used of God. I don't question that the people who have that title down through history were great men of God, and they deserve some honor and some respect, but listen: Those things that characterize those men that the church through the years has recognized as saints ought to characterize your lives and mine as well because in God's sight, that is what we are. We are called to be saints in Jesus Christ in the last part of verse 2.

Let me ask you something: How does your life measure up to the life of Saint Paul? You are just as much a saint as Paul ever was. How does your life measure up to the life of Saint John or Saint Peter? You see, the same Lord Jesus Christ Who has bought us with His blood is the same Lord Jesus Christ Who has made possible the forgiveness of our sins, and our lives ought to be characterized by that same kind of relationship.

The writer is Paul, verse 1. The readers are the Corinthians, verse 2. We have talked about those things, but in verse 3 we find a reminder that ties in with all of this. Notice in verse 3:

I Corinthians 1

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is, I think, just another little subtle reminder from Paul to live up to what you have been given. What have we been given? Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of their position. Their position was called out from those around them. Their position was sainthood. Their position was holy sanctification, and yet think of the kinds of problems they were having in their church. Think about our position in the eyes of God. The same things were true of the Corinthians. Think about the problems which we allow to take root in our lives. Isn't that true of us? This again is the reason for the problems that sometimes take root and then blossom surprisingly outwardly later.

What are we talking about? We are talking about the kind of church which has problems. In his greeting, Paul tells us the kind of church that has problems.

Let me quickly just mention verses 4-9. In verses 1-3, we have the extension of greetings, but we also see the kind of church that has problems in the expression of gratitude which he gives in verses 4-9. Notice in verse 9:

I Corinthians 1

3Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is Paul giving thanks for a group of people whom he is getting ready to “chew out”. This whole letter is a letter of correction, and yet he says in the beginning of it, “I am thankful for you.” But notice carefully that he was thankful to God for them.

Possessions In Christ

Look at their possessions in Christ that he mentions in verses 4-7. We will just quickly skip through these. The things that he specifies are the spiritual gifts that they had in the church. In verse 5:

I Corinthians 1

5That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;

In verse 7:

I Corinthians 1

7So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

They had all kinds of potential there. They apparently had a representation of all the spiritual gifts in that church. They didn't lack for anything spiritually speaking. How grateful the Corinthians should have been; but as we are going to see later on in this letter, these were the very gifts that were causing strife and division and dissension among them, actually ruining their testimony. Why was that? Because they got their eyes on their gifts. They became proud of what God had given them, and it caused problems.

Prospects for the Future

There is something else that Paul expresses gratitude for–not only their possessions that God had given them, but also their prospects for the future with Christ. Look at verse 8, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ:

I Corinthians 1

8Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the future, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, that day when we stand in His presence, you are going to be presented blameless. That is God's ultimate gift to us, the fact that He is going to continue to work in our lives; He is going to continue to forgive our sins. Because of His payment for our sins, we are going to stand in the presence of God blameless in God's sight, sins forgiven. That is something to be thankful for; that is something that Paul was thankful for for this group. But we don't know when that day is going to be. I hope it will be this afternoon, but it might not be in our lifetime.

Notice verse 9:

I Corinthians 1

9God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Look at that phrase, “the fellowship of His Son”. As I say, I hope, and I am sure you do too, that the Lord comes back really soon. The only people who I know of who hope the Lord will wait a while to come back are the ones who are expecting babies or the ones who are about to graduate from college. Most of the rest of us would like for the Lord to come back today or tomorrow at the latest. But what if He doesn't come back until our baby that we are expecting is grown? What if He doesn't come back in the next few days? We have, until He does come back, the fellowship of His Son, the fellowship of Jesus Christ. What

a wonderful gift! What a wonderful possession!

Failure to Appropriate

Now, let's wrap this all up. What kind of churches have problems? Well, with human wisdom we would say, “The churches that are full of immature Christians and untaught Christians, the churches where they don't study the Word of God enough, or churches who don't have Christians exercising their spiritual gifts–those are the kind of churches that have problems.” Think about the church at Corinth. They had the teaching of the Apostle Paul himself. They had every one of the spiritual gifts; they were exercising the spiritual gifts to the point that it became a problem. They were set apart by God; they were called out by God. In fact, they were saints in the mind of God. So how could they have had all of those problems? Because they didn't appropriate what they had. The Corinthian believers in Jesus Christ had all kinds of provisions from God. In fact, in verse 5, it says that they were enriched by God. The word “enriched” in verse 5 is a word that means “to be a plutocrat”. That is a word that we don't use very much any more. It used to be in use a lot in the English language. It had to do with being what we would call today a “yuppie”, life in the fast lane, upward mobility. That carries a lot of bad connotations in our day, but in God's sight, we are spiritual plutocrats. We have all kinds of blessings. The Corinthians had those; we have those. But they might as well have been paupers.

I read just last week about a man who had spent thirty years as the janitor of a small college, lived in a garage apartment above one of the service buildings on the campus. When he died, he left a legacy to that college that is worth more than a million dollars. He had been talking to the business professors through the years about what they thought about railroads and metals and various kinds of stocks. One of those professors said, “I always thought he was thinking in terms of buying a share or two.” But he had bought thousands of shares. Yet to look at that man's life, you would have never known that he was a wealthy man. He could have been living an extremely different kind of life than he was living. It is admirable that he was careful and frugal and that he didn't waste his money and that he left a legacy to that school.

All of that is fine, but let's think about that spiritually. Every one of us is wealthy. God has gifted us with so many wonderful things. He has called us out from the world, and He has given us the ability to live differently from the world, and yet many of us are living like paupers spiritually with all kinds of problems. Why is that? Why was it in Corinth? Why is it here? It is because we are not living up to that which is ours. We are wealthy, and we are living like paupers. Those are the kinds of churches that have problems. Abilene Bible Church, the Body of Christ in Abilene in general, believers in this church and in the other churches have all the potential that the church at Corinth had. We have been called out; we have been separated; we have been sanctified; we are saints. But make no mistake about it, we are just as ripe for the problems that that church in Corinth had as they were. The same kind of things can happen to us that happened to them.

Conclusion

What can we do about that? Two things. First, never forget our position in Christ. We are enriched in every good thing. Second, remember that churches are made up of individuals. That means that you are the key to the effectiveness of this church, to the effectiveness of Christians in general. Even a church like this can have problems. I am talking about the potential, the potential to be a beacon for Jesus Christ in this community or the potential to be an embarrassment to Jesus Christ. It has to do with the way you and I individually appropriate all that God had made available to us spiritually to live for Him.


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