Have you ever read some of the beginning or endings of the letters in the New testament, seen the list of names and wondered who they are and what we might learn from them? I have. That is how my brain works and also what I get quite passionate about when studying the bible. I love the obscure, overlooked and often seemingly unimportant. It is more often from these places that deep messages which seep into your bones exist.
Over the next few days I want to look at a very powerful book in the New testament which is 1 Corinthians. This is a letter of reproof. Reproof means challenging the wrong actions of the Corinthian church. There doctrine was sound, just there understanding of how it works in practice was not
So do you think you might have something in common with the Corinthian church?
Often Corinth in the ancient world is made out to be a licentious place full of debauchery and all the things offensive to Christian sensibilities. Now this is true but not more than any other place in the Greek or Roman world, both of which were know for this kind of living. In fact the Christians of these days may share much in common with what we experience living in society today. Therefore we can say this is a letter to a church that existed in a town with many of the same morality issues that we have today. A letter sent for reproof from wrong actions due to their misunderstanding and inactions with regard to what a church should be. We might say some of the thinking of the world around them had got in and thus we have some sympathy for them. However, do you know where Paul was when He wrote this letter? Paul tells us at the end in 1 Corinthians 16:8. He was in Ephesus. Why is that significant? Well in Ephesus Paul faced a riot and a revival, the church became known for its love and white hot Faith. Yet in terms of debauchery, Ephesus had the temple of Diana, a place where the practice of temple prostitution took place, as well as idol worship, magic, and demonic works. So if they had the experience they did, then there was no excuse for Corinth. Ephesus was doing church right Corinth was creating factions.
As such there is much we can learn from this book but in the very first chapter and in the very first verse of that chapter hope for restoration is revealed in who was with Paul when he wrote the letter.
We read that the Letter is from two people, Paul and Sosthenes.
Who is Sosthenes? Well we read of him in acts 18: 11-17 in this scripture we read that he is the leader of the synagogue. They had no time for Paul and brought him to the magistrate with the familiar tale of having him arrested, beaten and then imprisoned.
This is a familiar picture in Paul’s travels, but he always starts in the Synagogues first, why do you think? Now often people think it’s because the Gospel is to go to the Jew first. In fact we read in Mathew 15:24-26 Jesus say to the Syro-Phoenician woman that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. However that was Jesus ministrations and not the Gospel as shown by His act to her faith. In the feeding of the 5000, the food went from Jesus to the Apostles, from the Apostles to the Jews and then there was left overs. So the Apostles were to take the message out and beyond Israel and this was said in the Great Commission statement. So it cant be because the Jews must hear the gospel before gentiles that Paul did this familiar thing of going to the Synagogues first.
What does Paul call Himself at the beginning of this letter? An Apostle? What are Apostles?
Well we have the 12 Apostles, who have a place in the book of revelation 21:14, we often call these an apostle with a capital A. then there are the other apostles seen in Acts 14:14, romans 16:7. Are these apostles the same as the disciples? Paul tells us 1 Corinthians 12:28, it’s a ministry or work that somebody can be called to so the answer is yes they are the same.
The capital A notion is only important if you believe in the authority of the Apostles, this idea that they were the leaders of the church and that they passed this down. But are Apostles leaders of the whole church passing what is called their episcopal authority to others over the ages? the answer is no, Jesus never gave such authority to them alone. Acts 15 shows the very same Apostles listening and taking orders from James, who was not one of these.
So what are the Apostles? well the Greek word Apostolos means a delegate or ambassador In terms it’s those sent out from a kingdom to bring an important message. Yet that role sounds like Angels, so are Apostles angels? well no because the name for angel is Angelos in the Greek. What does Angelos mean? Its Angel or one with a message from God. What do you think the difference is? Did the angels of Revelation have to be good? The answer is no, even the bad ones were doing the Lords will. So do all Apostles have to be believers? The answer would be yes as shown in 2 Corinthians 11:12-13.
What we see then is that Paul goes to great length to show that he is an apostle, and that his calling is from God to this role. It is a role which is defined by carrying a message out.
Now why have we looked at all of that? Well let me ask you who was Paul commissioned to carry His message as an apostle too? In Romans 11:13 he says, 'I am the apostle of the nations'.
Why then does Paul go to the synagogue first? The answer is because of who also goes to the Synagogue. We read in Philippi of a woman named Lydia meeting with the Jews. Why did she go there? well the Jewish belief was in one God and that was very unusual in that day and age. Many of the Greeks and Romans were curious and interested in this strange idea, When Paul arrived in a town if he wanted to know which Gentiles would be interested in the gospel. He went to the Synagogue because that’s where those who are interested in the Lord are. Yet we didn’t answer who Sosthenes is, just that he was the new leader of the Jewish Synagogue which had taken a set against Paul.
Now back in acts we read that as the Jews try their usual trick of trying to get Paul arrested, the Greek judge simply isn’t interested in this Jewish religious idea. They are outsiders in the town, because they have this monotheistic (believe in one God), unlike the Greeks. The Magistrate actually uses this opportunity to take it upon themselves to punish the Jews for stirring up trouble? Why do you think they do that? In acts 19:35-41 we read of the riot in Ephesus but also the terrible fear that the authorties had of retribution from Rome for disturbing the peace. Therefore the danger to the Corinthian Magistrate is the peace of Rome being broken. Yet it was not just from fear, Corinth was very loyal to the Roman Empire. So in Sosthenes you have a man who is singled out to represent a Jewish ethnic group, which is clearly marginalised and separated in the town of Corinth. Why would the church be interested in knowing such a man was with Paul.
What does Paul call Him? A brother. So we can assume he has excepted Christ. Sosthenes has great meaning. We have a man who represents the enemies of the Corinthian church, and a miscreant of Corinth society and formally a Corinthian citizen. Now he is a brother in Christ. Proving that even the vilest offender of the Corinthian church and people can become as one of them. This was the very purpose that Paul was called by God and in the first verse the Corinthians here it.
We are all called by God to do the good works that were planned before hand. Often in our cultures we feel that bragging of what has been achieved is crass or prideful. We have to get out of this thinking when the work we are doing is the Lord's. The testimony is of His greatness and it helps us to understand that when the Lord says 'well done good and faithful servant', it is a worship of God.
Imagine the Corinthians reaction to hearing that Sosthenes had accepted Christ as Saviour. It glorifies the Lord who does the impossible
He brings the dead to life.