"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"
1 Peter 4:17
Which church with an epistle named after it was in the most wretched city? Without a doubt it was the letter to the church in Corinth. This city was a very corrupt seaside trade center with every imaginable sin and vice. The local brothel was also a pagan temple with over 1000 male and female prostitutes. (This is what Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthinans 6:12-20--can you imagine?) No wonder Paul took the time to write, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 The stress here is that some of the Corinthians used to live like this but Paul didn't want them to think that it was suddenly acceptable to live in outright sin.
Paul exhorted and rebuked this single church more than any other that we know of. That is not to say he did not give negative comments to the others; however, the church at Corinth had so many problems that there was little to praise in them. They were gifted, but they used their gifts to gain notoriety for themselves and not Christ. They had the best preachers preach in their pulpit, but they did not hear the message. They were too busy comparing the preachers as if they were entertainers. They did not hear what the Spirit of the Lord wanted them to understand. They were proud of their ability to accept the most sinful in their ranks, but they did not disciple and encourage them to accept the power of Christ to save and deliver from sin. Instead, they left the new converts to wallow in sin while sending the world a confusing message. This church had so many problems that it would take the rest of this post to list them all. The underlying single sin that caused all of their problems was division. This church lacked unity and fostered a divisive spirit in a sinful community that was equally divided. They let the community change them rather than live as over-comers changing the community. Sound familiar?
Jesus said, "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." Mark 3:25. (Huh! I wonder if that is why this church no longer exists?) Paul left this church a stunning example of how to overcome division. It was to set self aside and place the Gospel of Jesus Christ above any and all competitors! Paul taught them to begin with judging self through the direction of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. they had to allow God to direct this because a self exam without God's eyes might result in an, "I'm OK", when the truth is that things are far from OK. (The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Proverbs 12:15. Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts. Proverbs 21:2) This Spirit/Word examination was to assist them in conforming to the image of Christ. Then they could allow the changes that God had poured out in their lives to affect others. His easy formula reminds me of a chorus we used to sing as children, "Put Jesus first, and Others second, and put Yourself at the end of the line, and you will find true joy and happiness through J-O-Y." Jesus-Others-Yourelf!
Take a look, briefly, at Paul's example. Most of this comes from 1 Corinthians 9 if you would like to read it. Paul had the right to be married, but he set it aside for the work of Christ. He had the right to be paid by the Corinthian church, but since it was a money first society he did not want them to be suspect of his work. Therefore, he worked a job as a witness to them. He did not demand the respect of being an apostle among them even though he had started the church by God's guidance. He was willing to fore go eating meat lest it offend a weaker brother. He put them above himself.
The only cure to heal division is to put self last. It is to reverse the little song as a means of repentance. Crucify self and its lusts. Prefer my brothers and sisters while overlooking their failures. Put Jesus back at the helm of my life. After we do this personally then we move to the corporate church. We repent of anything that has caused us to be divisive and we covenant with Christ afresh and anew. We allow Jesus to lead his church and not follow fleshly opinions. We put the Word back as the chief source of faith and practice in the church. When we judge ourselves first as the body of Christ, then we will be the needed witness to a divided world. Peter understood the importance of this concept in the opening verse. If we are all messed up fighting one another while living a duplicitous Christian life, thousands we could have reached will be judged as lost because we spent to much time not sharing the only prescription for salvation.
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