When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians for a couple of years in a group study at my local church. During that study and teaching through 1 Corinthians, I was able to see a biblical church body at its worst. Here was a church that thought very highly of themselves and even had the audacity of questioning the truthfulness of the Apostle Paul.
Not too far from where I grew up in North Carolina there is a church named Corinth Baptist Church. Now, I can understand the thought process behind naming a local congregation after a biblical body. I mean, Philippians Baptist Church or Romans Baptist Church sounds pretty good. My question, especially once I started studying the book of 1 Corinthians, was “why Corinth?” I mean, why would I want to visit a church that was famous in the New Testament for its problems and, most importantly, its lack of love for each other.
As everyone knows, this is the month that we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. What I want to do is look at love from the standpoint of how you love the people of God. Jesus says in John 15:13 that there is no greater love than one who lays down his life for His friends. Jesus showed His great love in that He sacrificed Himself. Jesus says in John 15:12 that His followers are to love each other as He loved them. Do you love your fellow believers as you should? Or has your love grown cold? Do you love like a Corinthian?
I propose to give you:
SIX WAYS TO EVALUATE YOUR LOVE FOR THE BODY OF CHRIST.
1. The Corinthians Valued Their Groups More than the Church as a Whole.
Look with me at 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. Paul hears of divisions in the Corinthian church that revolved around the cult of personality (to use a modern term). They had divided themselves into groups based off of the teaching ministry of different men who had served at the church. You had the Peter group, the Paul group, the Apollos group. They all thought that “their” guy was, hands down, the best. In their support for one man they tore down each other and cared only for those in their own group.
Before you say, “I wouldn’t have done that,” there was also the “Jesus” group who thought they were the most superior group and looked down on everyone else because they didn’t follow any man at all. All of these believers were focused only on themselves and their friends and were severely lacking in their love for every member of the body of Christ.
If you are a member of a group in your local body of believers that separates itself from the rest of the body for preference reasons, then you are lacking in love, plain and simple. Maybe your group revolves around the music minister versus the senior pastor. Maybe your group likes the youth pastor’s teaching better than the associate pastor. Maybe your group likes red curtains more than the current blue ones.
So on and so forth… We all have preferences, and there is nothing wrong with having these. Romans 12:10 deals with these preferences by telling you to sacrifice your own preferences for your brother or sister in Christ. That is true biblical love, love that puts another above oneself.
2. The Corinthians Valued Speaking Ability More than the Content of What was Being Said.
Another way to say this is that they valued “the show” over substance. Corinth at that time prided itself on the quality of the orators who came through town and preached publically to the crowds. These orators would come to town, set up in a spot somewhere, and start proclaiming their particular message or philosophy. They, in turn, would gain a following who would support them financially and listen to their teachings.
That is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 that he “did not come” with superiority of speech. He “determined” not to proclaim anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul didn’t want others to be focused on himself and his speaking ability, but rather on the power of God in saving men through the message of the gospel. Part of the Church at Corinth’s problem was they still valued this individual oratory above the content of the speech itself.
Does your local body care more about the music and singing, and dramas, and everything else above the preaching of the Scriptures? A love for God comes from hearing about His nature and works. These are revealed in the Scriptures…”faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Without a love for Christ there will be no love for each other. Do you go to church on Sundays to be entertained, maybe sing some songs, have some good fellowship? Or is your focus where it should be, on the worship of Christ with a church body that values the centrality of the preaching of the Scriptures.
Without a proper understanding of who God is and how He expects you to live (which comes only through the Scriptures), there can be little appreciation for Christ and little love for His people.
Look at 1 Corinthians 4:8-14. Paul uses himself and the other apostles as example of those who sacrifice themselves for the preaching of the word of God and the Church of God. This is proper biblical focus–a proper appreciation for the word of God and a sacrifice of one’s self for the Body of Christ to the glory of God.
3. The Corinthians Valued Tolerance Over Obedience.
Paul’s tone in 1 Corinthians 5:1 is important here. “It is actually reported…” You can hear the incredulity in his voice. “Really, there is immorality among you that the pagans don’t even do…someone is cohabiting with his step-mom.” How did the Corinthian church respond to this egregious and unnatural act? They took pride in their tolerance and acceptance of this “different” behavior. Look at 5:2 and 5:6. They were arrogant and boasting in the situation.
One of the greatest misconceptions of our day is that when a church deals with sin in its midst, it is unloving. Rather, a church’s focus on the purity of the body and the reputation of Christ is of the utmost importance to God. How does Paul handle the situation? He rebukes them and says that he has delivered the man over to Satan in order to help him to see the error of his ways. His goal is not punishment, but rather the man’s restoration to a proper relationship to Christ and His church.
This is love…that we care enough about fellow believers to hold them accountable to God’s standard as revealed in the Scriptures.
4. The Corinthians Valued Self-Gratification Over the Unity and Purity of the Body.
In 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 Paul tells that if they were demonstrating Biblical love, they would not have been suing each other in pagan law courts. They should have been willing to be wronged themselves rather than cause disunity among the body of Christ. True love for each other in the body of Christ means you are willing to suffer loss of wealth and time for the sake of your brother or sister in Christ.
A point which often gets overlooked can be found in what Paul is trying to teach these believers in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. After dealing with these believers suing each other in public pagan law courts, he turns his attention to another way in which they have divided themselves and shown their immaturity. The issue here is the disunity that has been cultivated by believers in their pursuit of their fleshly lusts. They show a lack of love in two ways.
In 1 Corinthians 6:15, Paul is incredulous that members of the body of Christ are engaging in immorality and leading other members astray to engage in this with them. Here, the actions of the few affect the Body of Christ as a whole. Instead of thinking about the purity of the Body of Christ and Christ’s reputation among the Gentiles, they are acting only in their own interests without any love for God and for His people.
Second, they forget that their individual actions have ramifications for the Body of Christ as a whole. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,”Don’t y’all (you plural) understand that y’all’s (you plural) bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in y’all (you plural)…therefore glorify God in y’all’s (you plural) bodies.” Everyone one of these uses of “you” is in the plural form. The issue here is the purity of the body as a whole and how individual members defile that purity with their individual actions. What this means for you is if you truly love your fellow believers, then when you are tempted to gratify the lusts of the flesh, you will stop and think about whether it will cause a brother to stumble and think about how your sin defiles the Body of Christ as a whole.
5. The Corinthians Valued Their Rights and Pleasures Above their Fellow Believers.
In dealing with these believers, Paul addresses the issue of the grey areas in the Christian life in chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians. An important statement here in this section of scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge make arrogant, but love edifies.” Many of these believers had the knowledge that an idol was nothing but a mere creation of man’s imagination (1 Corinthians 8:4), while many of the new believers who came out of the idol worship around them did not fully grasp that fact and its significance (1 Corinthians 8:7).
The issue here in the Corinthian church was that those more mature believers were more focused on their liberty and right to eat meat sacrificed to those idols without caring or thinking about their fellow brothers and sisters who may have just come out of that idol worship lifestyle. Knowledge without love for one’s fellow brethren leads to arrogance and pride and a focus on what you know and what you can do at the expense of your younger brother or sister.
Do you love your fellow brethren more than your liberty to eat and drink what you want (1 Corinthians 8:13)? Do you seek only your own good, or that of your brother, too (1 Corinthians 10:23)? This is true biblical love–putting concern for another’s spiritual well-being above one’s rights and liberty in Christ.
6. The Corinthians Focused On Individual Gifts at the Expense of the Greater Good.
Paul writes chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians to deal with the issue of the misuse of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given by Him and according to His will for the common good of all the Body of Christ. The Corinthians were using their gifts to elevate themselves and focus the attention on themselves instead of the Body of Christ as a whole (1 Corinthians 12:12). God gives gifts to the Body of Christ so that all may be built up in Christ and grow in His likeness (1 Corinthians 14:12).
Are you focused on the gifts that God has given you so that others may see you and praise you? Are you elevating one gift above the others, diminishing those with gifts you see as less important? What is your focus when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it on the gifts themselves, or how those gifts are to be used to help the Body of Christ mature? Our love is demonstrated to the Church as we use the gifts God has given us for their benefit and not our own.
One of the passages that always seems to be read in weddings is 1 Corinthians 13. The Apostle Paul gives this definition of love, which is the greatest spiritual gift of all. No one can live out this apart from the Holy Spirit’s controlling power in his life. Think about it this way: Paul is writing this letter to rebuke and correct and instruct the Corinthians in the things that they are getting wrong.
Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 for a moment. The Corinthians were not patient, they were not kind to one another, they were jealous of each other, they were braggarts and arrogant toward one another (verse 4), they acted unbecomingly to each other, they sought only after what made them happy, they were easily provoked and kept an account of wrongs, even suing each other (verse 5). They rejoiced in unrighteousness and immorality and pushed aside the truth (verse 6). They didn’t bear each other’s burdens, they didn’t believe the best about each other, they didn’t endure this world with each other (verse 7). These believers clearly demonstrated their immaturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) in their lack of love for each other.
If Christ were to evaluate your relationships within the Body of Christ, what would He say? These are (and should be) the most important relationships in your life apart from your immediate family. The best question for me to ask is: “Do you love like a Corinthian?”