Last week, we read about the apostle Paul’s visit to the city of Thessalonica and his later letter to the church there. This week, we follow Paul as he heads south to the city of Corinth. The passage in Acts describes his first visit to the city, and then we read the beginning of his First Letter to the Corinthians.
Corinth was a diverse place to be. It is situated on an isthmus (a fun word to say) between the main part of Greece and a big blob of land called the Peloponnese (this is where it’s handy to look at a map). The point is that travelers (merchants) going along the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including between Rome to the eastern parts of the Empire, had a choice between sailing around the Peloponnese or taking a shortcut across the Isthmus of Corinth. Most chose the shortcut. This means that people from all over the Roman Empire traveled through Corinth, making it a cosmopolitan place.
It’s here that Paul, born in Tarsus (southern Turkey), worked in Jerusalem (Israel), commissioned in Antioch (Syria) and now traveling around the area, settles down to work with Aquila, a native of Pontus (northern Turkey on the Black Sea) who was recently kicked out of Rome, and his wife Priscilla. We learn here that Paul is trained to make tents and likely leatherwork. He does that while telling people about Jesus. Not everyone is happy about this, but plenty of women and men are excited about the good news and gather to form a church. A year and a half later, Paul moves on.
Now we get to the Letter. Sometime after Paul leaves Corinth, he apparently hears from “Chloe’s people” (Chloe is potentially the hostess of the church) that the people in the church are divided. I know, you’re shocked that a group of people can become divided and argue, especially in a church. Wow, that has never happened before. In this specific case, the people are divided about which leader to follow (Beliefs? Style? Something else?). We learn later in the letter that these are not the only divisions present. We see that along economic, educational, cultural, and ethnic lines.
Paul urges them:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.1 Corinthians 1:10
This is somewhat of a similar sentiment of something he had recently written to the Galatians:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28
Divided or United?
This brings us to today. Where do you see division in your life? In your country, region, state, community, church, and even home? Paul is not saying here that we should ignore all differences. Differences are beautiful and valuable, and unity doesn’t eliminate them. But we always have more in common with “them” than what divides us. Especially in terms of faith, in that God unites us all in one Body of Christ.
Division usually comes with anger, fear, and even hatred. Unity comes most of all from love. Next week, we will talk a lot more about love as we read Paul’s most famous passage on it, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
May the love of Christ fill your hearts and minds and bring us unity out of division.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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