Date: 07 Aug 2016
Text: 1 Corinthians 6 especially 6:11
I have long believed that the Bible is not a dusty old book full of fairy tales but rather a great collection of history, poetry, wonderful instruction, the gospels and a whole series of letters written to churches such as this one.
We can learn a lot from everything in the Bible although today I’m particularly interested in one of the letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Paul founded this church himself whilst visiting as part of what we know as his second missionary journey somewhere between 51 & 52 AD. He knew the people and he knew their problems and he kept in touch with them throughout his remaining years in ministry. He actually wrote this letter whilst visiting Ephesus during his third missionary journey in 55 AD.
Corinth & 1 Corinthians
The church in Corinth had a great many problems just as churches today also face a great many problems. Just because we live in the 21st century and Paul wrote this fascinating letter in the 1st century doesn’t mean that it is not relevant to our situation today. Paul had heard of the difficulties that the Corinthians faced and wrote to them to try and help them overcome those difficulties. As we move in this country into an ever more secular society the problems that we face become ever more similar to those faced by this church in Corinth. And so just as Paul wrote this letter to help the Corinthians and encourage them to deal with the many problems that they faced, his comments can also help us.
The book as a whole, this first Epistle to the Corinthians, contains many wonderful passages. In 1 Corinthians 11 we read the verses which have been used as the basis for the Communion service since the days of the Book of Common Prayer and probably long before that. The true meaning of love is explained in 1 Corinthians 13. There is a great discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Now, here in this chapter that I want us to look at this morning, 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is trying to help the local church deal with the problems it is facing over conduct within the church as a whole and the conduct of individual believers. The pivotal verse comes almost in the middle, that is as in the middle as it can be in a chapter of 20 verses; and it is this verse that I will focus on shortly.
Before I do that let’s just consider a few snippets of information about Corinth and its people. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, a seaport and a major trading hub. It was the most important city in the province of Achaia. It lay to the west of Athens and provided a vital link between the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea which meant that it was a city frequented by many, many visitors including a lot of sailors, and as the old song goes, “You know what sailors are!” The city was renowned for its idolatry and especially for its sexual immorality and had been so since the time of Aristophanes who lived approximately 400 years before Paul wrote this letter. [450 BC to 388 BC]. There was also a major temple in the city that was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
All of this added up to the city being filled with idolatry and immorality even during the time that Paul was visiting. However, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul was able to win converts to Christ and plant a new church where the vast majority of new believers were Gentiles who were in need of a great deal of pastoral support.
The church and its members were surrounded by immorality, corruption and every conceivable sin added to which they were held back by their own spiritual immaturity. Consequently they were under great pressure to adapt to the modern lifestyle, something to which many succumbed. Does that sound familiar? The 21st century version of the UK is moving away from Christianity and towards secularism; there is a void which Islam is trying to fill; Christians are mocked and looked down upon because of their stance on same sex marriage, morals and behaviour. The current attitude seems to be that anything goes, I will do what I want and you can’t stop me! None of this is new; it was all happening in Corinth in and around 55 AD.
Paul, being a good Pastor, was desperate to help them and so he wrote this letter; a letter that covered a whole range of subjects and which was intended to fill the gap that he felt existed because of his physical absence.
Disputes & Problems
Paul was particularly concerned about a number of issues, one of which concerned the matter of taking disputes between church members to court rather than settling them within the church. Disputes, large or small, can happen in the best of organisations, even churches! The question is, how do you deal with them? Paul’s concern in 6:1-9 was that the disputes within the Corinthian church weren’t being dealt with correctly. In the main they appear to have been trivial and yet church members were taking other church members to court, a civil court. Paul was very much against this simply because it was a case of airing one’s dirty linen in public thereby bringing Christianity into disrepute. In Greek culture court proceedings were a form of entertainment, and what better entertainment could there be than Christians from this new-fangled church taking each other to court and arguing the toss in front of a civil judge! Paul felt that since generally speaking the matters were of a trivial nature they should have been dealt with within the church. He was certain that even the lowliest of members would have been capable of judging the merits of such cases. Civil court judges may have been good but they were pagans, they had no faith in Jesus Christ and they had no understanding of Christianity. On that basis Paul was worried about how they could preside over proceedings involving Christians. He was confident that the church was fully capable of keeping such disputes in-house and out of the public gaze.
Paul also implies that there may be a hint of hypocrisy in what they were doing since having already told them that wrongdoers would not inherit the kingdom, he points out that “you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and this to your brothers and sisters” (6:8).
Having dealt with what was more of a problem than a sin in the 6:1-9, Paul moves on to deal with some of the sins that the Corinthians were committing. The people of Corinth were guilty of committing many sins including sexual sins, something that was bound to be the case given the background of the city and the prevalence of such sins. The Corinthian attitude expounded in 6:12, “I have the right to do anything” sounds very similar to the prevailing attitude of the 21st century; I can do what I like and you can’t stop me! Nothing changes and people are still the same; living for the moment, doing whatever they want, showing no regard for others. That is not what God wants and is certainly not what Paul wanted the Corinthians to do.
The Corinthians in the 1st century, as well as Christians today, seemed to think that they could treat their bodies in any way they liked by eating what they liked and committing whatever sins they liked. Many religions at the time taught that it was the soul and the spirit that mattered most and not the body. On the other hand Christianity taught that the body was also important since it was created by God. Paul makes it clear in 6:13b that our body, “is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”. We are meant to see our bodies as temples, temples to the Lord Himself. We belong to Christ and we should give Him our all; mind, spirit and body.
Towards the end of the chapter Paul gives a couple of timely reminders. Firstly, in 6:18, he urges us to flee from sexual immorality by not indulging in it; and finally he reminds us in 6:19-20 that we are to treat our bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit”. We have the Holy Spirit within us and have been bought at a price and so should treat our bodies with respect and not abuse them in any way.
Washed, Sanctified, Justified
I said earlier that Paul was most anxious to provide the Christians in Corinth with some pastoral support. Having dealt at some length with some of the problems they faced and sins they committed before they came to faith, he moves on to provide a great pastoral reminder of what we are now we are “in Christ”. This comes in 6:11 where Paul reminds us all that despite what has gone on in the past we have been washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
As sinners we needed to be cleansed of our sins; we needed to be washed clean in a very special way. The Bible is full of examples as to how this can happen although many of us probably think only of the cleansing waters of baptism. In Acts 22 Paul relates the story of his own conversion experience when he records the words of Ananias who tells Paul, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). In that verse Ananias seems to suggest that there is a two-fold step involved; firstly, being washed by the waters of baptism and secondly, being washed by calling on the name of Christ. Our sins are also washed away by the blood of Christ. We know from the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus, that the shedding of blood played an important part in the forgiveness of sins. That is why sacrifices were made and the blood of animals sprinkled on those seeking forgiveness. In the New Testament Jesus became that sacrifice as the Lamb of God. He shed His blood by dying on the cross of Calvary and it is by His blood that our sins are washed away. The Apostle John reminds us of this in his first Epistle when he writes, “the blood of Jesus, his [that is God’s] Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 - NLT). Perhaps one of the most important passages on this subject comes in Revelation where John writes, “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’“ (Revelation 7:13-14).
The washing away of our sins takes place as we come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. We do that by calling on His Name, acknowledging and confessing our sins and asking Him into our hearts and lives.
After being washed, the next step in our walk with Christ is sanctification which is what Paul is referring to when he tells the Corinthians that they “were sanctified”. This is an ongoing process that means that we are set apart from the world and made holy and it starts as soon as we come to faith and continues throughout our Christian lives. After we come to faith, we need to live righteous lives difficult though that may be, and it is this ongoing process of sanctification that helps us to face the day-to-day issues of living out our salvation. We need to understand that despite the fact that we have been freed and cleansed from sin, we still struggle with sin, which is why, as part of sanctification, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and works in us to lead us towards holiness. However, despite that, the memories of our old sinful nature still try to pull us back. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them, “God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). As Paul implies in that verse, knowing the truth also has a part to play. In John 17:17 Jesus prays for His followers and asks His Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” It is vital that we read God’s Word regularly for that is the way that we can learn the truth about Jesus and grow in Him every day.
Justification is the process whereby God acquits us of our sin and makes us just in a legal sense. I would have thought that it normally happens before sanctification although in this passage Paul, no doubt for his own good reasons, places it afterwards. As sinners we are guilty in God’s eyes and cannot come into His presence. But, by coming to faith in Christ we are made just and are no longer regarded as sinners by God. Paul tells us in Romans 3:24 that we have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. This all happens through our placing our faith in Jesus and as Paul reminds us a few verses later, this all comes about through faith and not by our own deeds or works. In support of that thought, Paul adds in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law”.
The lives of the Corinthians more or less mirror our lives today in the 21st century. They were sinners whose lives were turned upside down by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Despite their background as sinners coming to faith led them to be washed, sanctified and justified; things that will happen to us if we also come to faith in Jesus Christ.
That was a very quick sprint through a single chapter of 1 Corinthians. It does however illustrate how the lives of sinners can be totally transformed by coming to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Paul has reminded them of all their sins, and they were many, but points out that despite all that God has still forgiven them and washed, sanctified and justified them through the work of His Son on the cross of Calvary and through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
If we recognise ourselves as sinners then by handing our lives over to Jesus we too can be washed, sanctified and justified.