Cage MatchThis past weekend, I had lunch with a good friend of many years, John, and afterward we spent some time discussing Paul and his letters to the different churches (among other things). John’s in a house with three daughters (the youngest of whom is in college) and my youngest son is a senior in HS this year, so our need for male companionship (outside of the family dog) lends itself to all sorts of interesting conversation. But I digress…

I was remembering my NT professor’s instructions that when we read any of Paul’s epistles, we need to remember that he isn’t just sending a random shout-out or bantering with the churches he’s writing to, but that he’s actually answering some questions they’ve got and giving advice on specific situations within the church. So – since we only have the answers, but not the questions, it is important that – if we want to do a deep study of any epistle – the first thing we ought to do is to try and discern the questions posed to Paul.

Somehow, John and I got onto the topic of I Corinthians, and he told me something he’d picked up in seminary regarding the questions posed to Paul that led to this particular epistle. If you read the context of this letter, and the second epistle to the church in Corinth, it becomes evident that the church in Corinth had a problem that was not all that uncommon today:

1) There was at least one – if not multiple – vocal busybodies within the church who disagreed on issues of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

2) The busybodies were calling out those they disagreed with in the church, and playing out their personal grievances in public. While some might have been legitimate, a number of them were quite petty.

3) They also were instituting somewhat of a hierarchy within the church – possibly based on social status, but more likely based on their “seniority” within the church.

4) One of the busybodies took it upon himself to write to Paul, and most likely (as possibly the first FDDM – “foot-driven discernment ministry”) hand delivered it to Paul.

John suggested I read I Corinthians as if the questions Paul was answering questions from this context, and that it would likely make the entire letter seem coherent in its entirety, rather than a collection of disconnected thoughts.

And he was right.

And what was funny (at least to a nerd like me) was this: When I got to I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”), it took on a whole new light. It also made me wonder if reciting this chapter at weddings, framing it and putting it on the wall, etc. as a “beautiful expression of what love is” might not be missing the point a bit. Maybe it’s a little bit more like taking a letter you received from Mom and Dad while away at college, scolding you for problems you’ve gotten yourself into and framing it for public consumption.

If you have time today – or even if you don’t – I think perhaps sitting down and reading I Corinthians with the possibility that the above context was what Paul was replying to might be a good thing for each of us today.

Grace and Peace,

Chris




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