Three Reflections on 1 Corinthians

Among the fastest growing bodies of digital data related to Corinthian studies are the texts, audio files, and videos of homilies, sermons, and commentary on the New Testament letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians.   The former, especially, provides numerous inlets for Christian preaching and teaching and connection to ‘real-world’ issues, for it discusses such varied concerns as authority and power, humility and pride, wealth and poverty, sex and abstinence, pastoral ministry, charismatic gifts, women in leadership, the nature of the church, and so on.

Here are a sample of three reflections on 1 Corinthians over the last couple of months that reflect not only ruminations on different parts of the letter but also offer ecclesial perspectives with an edge.

The first (“At the Cross, at the Cross…),” by Dr. Michael Milton, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, addresses the necessity of the cross for preaching today and takes issue with a watered Gospel message:

“The message of the cross is powerful. This is the message preached by St. Paul to a congregation very much embroiled in the practical meaning and effects of power. Power and its irresistible influence were thick in the air at Corinth. Power-plays, if you will, were being instigated in Corinth by divisive parties following, at once, Paul, Peter, Apollos, and even one, we are told, that sought to trump them all, the “Christ party.””

…Paul entered the emergency room of Corinth’s crisis with not only a description of the problem, a rife party spirit that was splitting the church, but also diagnoses and treats the congregational wounds as the heaven-sent physician of the soul. In verse 17, Paul makes the necessary move for the healing of the wound when he declares, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

For the rest, read more here.

The second homily, “Fourth Sunday of Advent: Chaos in Corinth,” by a Catholic priest, Father Shelton, draws conclusions from 1 Corinthians 4 about apostolic succession, authority, and the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church:

“Saint Paul discovered that after a community is converted to the Gospel, there is a danger of corruption in faith and morals without the firm but gentle hand of Our Lord’s shepherds.  After their conversion, the Corinth Catholics soon drifted into rival groups, rather than following their pastors.  But the Corinthians must learn to listen to their pastors and to follow them, rather than dividing into different groups and deciding for themselves what they will believe and do…..

As we prepare to celebrate our annual feast of Our Lord’s first advent at his Nativity, let us also prepare ourselves for his second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

The third reflection  (“Tough Text Thursday: 1 Corinthians 13)” by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, addresses the issue of charismatic gifts debated especially by Protestants:

“The issue of modern-day miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing is a controversial one. On one hand you have extreme Charismatics who believe these types of gifts are alive and well, and who incorporate them into the church service, often without any order or constraint and are manifested in strange ways.

On the other hand, you have Cessationists who believe that miraculous gifts ceased in the early church and have “passed away.” Their idea that these gifts are used in modern day worship and practice is viewed as counterproductive at best and counterfeit at worst.

Many in the Charismatic tribe criticize Cessationists for following a “cerebral” Christianity, “which has generally implied that we can get along quite well without the Spirit in the present age, now that the church has achieved its maturity in its orthodoxy.”1

Conversely, many in the Cessationist tribes of Christianity accuse Charismatics of following an emotional Christianity that holds little value for strong Biblical scholarship and theology.

We must always evaluate such issues through the lens of Scripture. And while not capturing the breadth of this issue, today’s tough text, 1 Corinthians 13, is an important passage in understanding whether these gifts are valid for today…”

These are the tip of an expanding iceberg for sermons and commentary on the Corinthians – we hope in the future to provide some  paths for navigating these materials.

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