Strong Church/Weak Church 6
Note: From time to time I share my blog with other like-minded men. It is my little way of encouraging good writing in the independent Baptist orbit. In that spirit, I have asked Stephen King to pen the Corinth portion of this blog series. Pastor King ministers at the Northstar Baptist Church in Duluth, Minnesota. He is a younger man, a thoughtful man, and a good, clear writer.
The Macedonian Call brought Paul across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece. Almost from the beginning, however, he was beset with persecution, mostly from hostile Jewish nonbelievers. He journeyed from city to city, preaching and experiencing great persecution. But when he arrived in Corinth, God commanded him to stay, and assured him in Acts 18:10 that he would be free from hurt. A church was started. Today we know that church mostly for its weaknesses. However, it also had a number of strengths.
1. They were a large church.
Acts 18:9-10 Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.
Size is not everything, but it is nice.
The Corinthian church was going to be a big church from the beginning. God commanded Paul to spend considerable time in Corinth and promised him physical safety due to the much people that God had in the city. The clear implication is that the church would grow quickly and have considerable size.
Size has its problems, and the church at Corinth certainly had its share. But size has its blessings, too. Proverbs 14:4 says, Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. There are tremendous opportunities for churches to leverage their size into outreach and discipleship. Cities can truly be saturated with the Gospel both by going door-to-door and by using other forms of engagement. Special days in which many visitors are invited to hear the Gospel can be executed with great quality. Large churches have the resources to excel in presentation and design, a relevant factor in today’s high-tech age. And the large church can be a visible and positive influence on its community. One example: A police officer in the Antelope Valley of California was killed in the line of duty. Lancaster Baptist Church had the biggest indoor gathering space in the community and was asked to host the funeral. It agreed, on condition that its pastor would preach the message. Thousands of people from all over the state, including law enforcement, media members, politicians, and the governor of California, were present. All heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. All because the local church in the community was large.
2. They were a giving church.
1 Corinthians 16:1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
In corresponding with Paul, the Corinthian believers inquired about the process of giving. And, in Paul’s follow-up, we see that they did.
2 Corinthians 1:11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
Paul expresses gratitude to the Corinthians for their giving. Troubled though they were, they gave generously to help a servant of Christ.
A church of size and resources ought to be a giving church, and for all of its failings the church at Corinth desired to be a giving church and followed through on that desire. They were not, as a whole, mature. However, giving is not something that needs to wait for maturity, any more than it needs to wait for a believer to be wealthy. Anyone can give.
The final two characteristics are related, and we will address them together.
3. They were teachable
The Corinthian church sat under Paul’s learning. And, later, they asked him questions.
1 Corinthians is a scalding correction of serious problems in the church, but it is also a response to an inquiry sent by the Corinthian believers. They asked questions, and Paul answered them. In chapter seven the question was about marriage; in chapter eight the question was about food offered to idols; in chapter twelve the question was about spiritual gifts; and in chapter sixteen the question was about giving. In each case, the Corinthians asked sincerely for help from Paul to answer their questions. They wanted to learn. They were teachable.
We also know that they were teachable because of the next point, which goes with it:
4. They were repentant
2 Corinthians 7:6-11 Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
They received a stern letter of correction in 1 Corinthians. Strong and harsh. And their response was not just anguish, but repentance. Change.
The Corinthian church was both teachable and repentant. That is a crucial combination. They were not prideful, insisting that they never did anything wrong. And they were not ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7) either.
Teachability, in a Christian, is the disposition to be willingly confronted with truths in the Bible that conflict with one’s own life or beliefs, understand those truths, and agree with them. Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of life. These characteristics cooperate with each other to produce genuine, transformative life change in a Christian.
The Corinthian church had many problems, examination of which is forthcoming in detail. But they were teachable and genuinely repentant, and as a result, they were an excellent testimony of God’s Grace.
Several years ago, a man we will call Reggie walked into our church with his wife and two children, just days after concluding a prison term. He professed that he had been saved early in this incarceration and desired to grow. I met with him over lunch, and it was clear that his direction was genuine. However, he had a long way to go. His family background was extremely troubled, and he knew more about gang life than being a father. He had never held a consistent job. He did not know what it meant to be a good husband and he had residual issues with anger and trust that were challenges in his marriage. And, due to the large number of ministries in the prison system, he had been exposed to a number of false doctrines that left him very confused. But he had two things going for him: He was a new creature in Christ, and he was teachable.
Over months and years we spent time together in the Word of God. He had questions about resolving conflict in marriage, about false doctrines, about job and money issues. In each case the principles of the Bible were absorbed and adopted as his own. When he learned that the Bible disagreed with him, he changed.
Reggie was not a finished product when he walked in our door. But he was teachable, and he was repentant. And now he is a man of God who is a soul-winner, a gainfully employed husband and father of a growing family, a man of God, and a pillar of our church.
There are a couple of challenges that we must take from this: First, we must be teachable. Those who read blogs such as this are likely, for the most part, reasonably mature as Christians. There is a danger in this, that we may believe we either know everything we need to know, or never sin in a way that requires repentance. Just because the Corinthian church was rough around the edges does not mean that a well-sanded plank does not need to be touched up from time to time.
Second, God led Paul to cultivate the teachability of the Corinthian church by investing a lot of time in them. He spent eighteen months of his life with the church as it was planted and grew, and wrote voluminously to guide them further. And when they received correction, they responded. The Corinthian church did not just receive extensive correction because they were problematic; they received extensive correction because they were willing to learn and repent of those problems.
When those of us who are more mature as Christians encounter someone who shows a teachable and repentant spirit, we should go to great lengths to engage and teach them. A rough Christian who is teachable and repentant has greater potential for God to use them than a refined Christians who knows everything and is never wrong. When we disciple such a rough-edged Christian, it will take time and effort and sacrifice, but we are tilling fertile ground. The fruit of that effort will be bountiful.