First Corinthians 12:12-31
The Church As The Body Of Christ
1. We are going to be studying The Epistles To the Corinthian Disciples from July for three months. As I read this [first] epistle over and over in order to prepare [this] sermon, I began to notice the severe reprimand in Paul's words. The apostle Paul seemed to get quite angry with the town of Corinth. So, to understand what the town of Corinth was like back then and how the people made their lives is important background material for us, I would think, in our reading of this epistle. From the end of the nineteenth century through the hands of an American ancient research institute in Athens, excavations in Corinth have been performed, and today we, too, can tread for ourselves the roads upon which Paul used to walk. When we see the foundation stones and the stone pavements that Paul had surely seen, we can get a real sense of the environment of the throngs of people who used to traverse these [paths] back then. This is the town which made Paul suffer and for that reason he gave so much of his energy there.
2. Let's open a map. We'll see that Corinth is blessed with an astonishing advantageous topographical shape of land. It is an isthmus (a narrow stretch of land between two land masses), which was truly a [real estate] gold mine. It served as a bridge between the lands to the north and to the south through which the people traveling to and fro in Greece would always pass. Not only that but also, those going by ship from east or west on the Ionian and the Aegean Seas used Corinth for a bridge between the [two] seas. The bottom line is this, this isthmus was basically six kilometers wide, but if a ship took a detour around the Peloponnesian peninsula it would have to go three hundred and twenty kilometers and the southern most tip of the peninsula was a tough spot [bad for boats] called Cape Malea. So instead, traffic took Corinth as its throughway. Small ships were transported over land one by one; large ships would send their cargo by land and pass it over like a baton to another waiting ship in the harbor on the opposite shore. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and the emperor Nero all tried to dig a canal here. It is recorded [in history] that in A.D. 66, Nero had a groundbreaking ceremony with his own golden shovel. But, in actual fact, it was at the end of the nineteenth century when the canal got done.
3. This strategic point for traffic, this Corinth which became vital to trade, as you all might imagine, had tremendous power, and so, it was once totally destroyed by Rome, but after Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. he had rebuilt it, it then became very prosperous, thriving in business [again] just like it used to. The town's inhabitants [were] citizens of Rome who had completed their military service, merchants from Greece, and Jews, Phoenicians, Phrygians - all trying to make a buck, and on top of that it was made up of all sorts of peoples from all over the east, in modern terms you might say it was New York. It exhibited a feeling of an international showcase of humanity in the Mediterranean. One Bible scholar put it like this, he called the great metropolis of Corinth a city "intellectually shrewd, physically magnificent, morally depraved," [but yet] a colony "without nobility, without tradition, and without an established citizenry."
4. There's one more thing to add. Atop the town's rocky mountain peak of Acro-Corinth, [which] was similar to the Athenian acropolis, there was a temple for the honor of the goddess Venus also known as Aphrodite, and they say [it had] one thousand priestesses. In the evenings they used to descend the mountain and would be "holy escorts," in other words, temple prostitutes. They used to use a phrase back then "to live like a Corinthian." It could be put another way to mean "to live according to your lusts." It might have had a Kabuki town feel to it or even that of Yoshihara perhaps. When we look at Romans chapter one which is said to have been sent by Paul from this town unto Rome (referencing from verses twenty-six through thirty-two), we get an authentic sense of the real lay of the land and the town replicated for us.
5. They surely had good points, too. As for Corinth's heading up athletic events, its meets were on par with those of the Olympics and were highly popular; though with the arts and the sciences it was behind Athens, and there were Greek scholars galore back then [in Corinth]. The governor over the region was Galeo, brother to the philosopher Seneca. The Roman imperial governor's office for the region of Achaia (now Greece) had a station in Corinth, and even Athens the cultural capital was administered by Rome under that office. In politics and economics its presence stood above the common herd. Here is where Paul met Aquilla and Priscilla, where he obtained aid for Silas and Timothy, and had success in his evangelism and had built up the Corinthian church.
6. With an understanding of the above [facts], I would like for us to study the word of God from the scriptures. The first thing I would like for us to study is what the Bible says in chapter twelve regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit (the charismata, that which is given by God, the spiritually endowed talents, gifts like presents from God), in other words, what the Bible says concerning the bounty given to us through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Because there had been all kinds of peoples in Corinth, it was probably abounding with personalities. When you count them, a total of nine kinds of gifts are listed, gifts having to do with wisdom, faith, and tongues. So, in this church, the various individualities and gifts turned into a kind of self pride; it looked like they strove over who was the best among them and who had the most gifts from the Holy Spirit. So, ultimately, it came to the point where they abused their gifts, they were show-offs, and were bringing chaos into their worship services. I suppose that sounds like a shameful story to hear but flipping it our way, what is our church like? In our ministries, aren't we judgmental of one another? Faith, wisdom, love, the virtues as a Christian, these are things that the Holy Spirit gives to us. When we see that Paul repeatedly emphasizes that it is the same spirit, it is but one and only one spirit, we can imagine that there had been many spirits, different spirits in Corinth. After a person so readily lays hold of the Holy Spirit, [the Holy Spirit so easily becomes a part of us], he or she can call this the work of the Holy Spirit, especially when there is power to work some sort of miracle, or the power to prophecy or the power to give praise. Chaos and confusion in the church is usually caused by someone blessed with some power. We can see this confusion all the time anywhere; the confusion caused by the pastor with his associate pastor, the pastor with the organist, the church officers amongst themselves, the choir director with the soloist, and on it goes. Therefore, we cannot read this lightly like some story about some bad church in Corinth. I would like for us to chew on these words from verse eleven. "All these things are the work of the one and the same 'spirit,' and as the 'spirit' wills, it shares them with each one individually." It says the Holy Spirit is a work as a living character and not as an impersonal influential force or personal skill. Though the ways in which the spirit is manifested are different, it says that at its most basic level it has the will of the Holy Spirit, the will of the one and the same Holy Spirit to it.
7. Then, the second thing I would like for us to study is the passage that was read today, which says we are the body of Christ and that each person is a part of [that body], (verse twenty-seven). When we read this passage from the Bible, it is written so that anybody would understand it. That's true. Since every [believer] is a part of his body and [each] work is different, we accept those differences and we are diligent in our unity all as one body, as branches of the church. Because we can understand that in our modern mindsets. But, to say that we are the body of Christ and each one is a part of it is not some simple analogy or simile. We will unconsciously read it that way. For students of medicine and biology, we'll end up quite naturally reading that "we are some part of the body" to mean the biological body, a life form. But, it would not be an exaggeration no matter how much it is emphasized, but Paul says it is "the body of Christ." I think on this point many of you may remember Pastor Kiyohiro's sermon from the twentieth of July. The crucified, risen, and ascended into heaven Christ has a body for the purpose of fulfilling the will of God on this earth. Paul says, the church is that body of Christ. To be a Christian means that one is a part of the body of Christ and the sections of the body are organically joined to Christ, and that relationship is eternal as life. - Because the risen Christ is not being controlled by death. That's what Pastor Kiyohiro had said.
8. It looks like in Corinth there were disciples who had a selfish understanding all for themselves of Paul's teaching and who had an entirely different background from Judaism and who strongly rejected the Old Testament. The thinking that predominated the Mediterranean world back in those days was called Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, "to know" or "knowledge." Therefore, they respected the mystical experience of knowing God, becoming one with God. They sought to know [some supposedly] secretive teachings that Christ had only given to his disciples, they considered the physical world evil, and considered the spiritual world holy. It was their goal to become "near, intimate, at one with" [God]. If we used a word with which we're all familiar for the liberation from the evil of this passing world, it might be akin to "enlightenment" or "pure consciousness." Because they reject the God of the Old Testament who had built the physical world and the God of Israel, as a matter of course they paid no mind to the lessons from the Old Testament. Sometimes there are people today who won't read the Old Testament and claim that they have a hidden knowledge in their church and claim that a God of love would not get angry or be for war. In Corinth there were crowds of them who had been coming to church wishing to obtain salvation, wishing for their souls to return to God out of this passing world the prison that it is. You might ask what kind of day to day attitude that this lead to, it lead to either "being ascetic and tormenting the body or falling into licentiousness and being immoral" or "escaping the world or being aggressive and anarchical." To tell the truth, this is not confined to Corinth but is something with which we all are deeply familiar, and any modern psychoanalysis will most generally take this form. You're not so bad, the environment's not all that good, you know, so change your place of employment. You've got bad leaders to work with. Go ahead and finish what you're doing and be done with it.
9. In verse thirteen, (we read a different translation from the New Interconfessional Version), Paul says, "In sum, we all, both Jew or Greek, both slave or free, receive baptism and all of us are made to drink the one spirit through just the one spirit that we might become one body."
10. This is a surprising statement because if spoken the way we do now, it would mean that both Jews and Palestinians, or both Buddhist monks and slaves under the Indian caste system would be one. We could call that a miracle. I say that this is being fulfilled. By receiving baptism through the Holy Spirit, by being connected to the cup of the Lord's Supper service, we can overcome the walls of separation, which hitherto have been insurmountable. The Lord's Supper service may not be a drinking of the one spirit, but as we consider that the latter part of chapter eleven has been a teaching related to the Lord's Supper, it might not be unnatural [to say so].
11. I reiterate.
12. The people whom Paul evangelized had great differences. Jews and Greeks, slaves and free persons, were made as one as brothers and sisters in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus disposed of this conflict which no power on earth could have been expected to defeat. That's because the crucified Christ gave his trust to God and gave his love to God for the slave and the free. It doesn't even speak here on baptism and the Lord's Supper as the water and the bread and the wine, but it speaks of that which pertains to the Holy Spirit. The important thing is that we are given by [God's] same spirit all these things whether our skills or personalities or other peoples' [gifts], and that under the leadership of the same Holy Spirit we receive baptism and we have a part in the same Lord's Supper. The gap disappears from between our differences and is no longer there.
13. I pray.
14. O Father God, today we thank you that we have come together in worship. Lead our church to your bounty in the unity of the Lord. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.