If you walked the streets of Corinth in the first century…you’d notice some things.
You’d notice the hustle and bustle of commercial activity that was characteristic of a city such as Corinth; you’d notice all the street corner philosophers, lamp-post prophets, and back-alley professors. There were hucksters, hipsters, and harlots – artists, acrobats, and accountants – expensive producers and cheap politicians – Irish tenors and Italian barbers - happy tax collectors and sad circus clowns. In one city block you could invest in a wine business, eat some decent Chinese food, buy a bust of Caesar, a shrine to Aphrodite, a gold ring, a pack of smokes, and a velvet Elvis to hang on your wall when you got home. Yes, it was that kind of place…A place most Amarillo people would have only visited for the weekend.
“Lord have mercy, we went to Corinth last weekend for our anniversary – good food and we got to see The Music Man – but they can have everything else.” A place some of their children disappeared to once they got a certain age…
“Where’d you say Ned and Francine’s son went off to.”
“He went to college in Corinth. Never did come back though.”
“Figures. He always was a weird kid.”
Yes…it was that kind of place. A cultural, economic, and religious kaleidoscope.
BUT….you’d start to see something else. Something else as you walked the streets and through the neighborhoods. You’d see these campaign signs in people’s yards. Some of them said
“We stand with Apollos” and others said “Paul. Change we can Trust” and there were even others…. “Cephas is our man” or “Jesus is on our side” It was all very strange, even for a place like Corinth. It was especially strange because it was all coming from a particular group of people…the Christians. At least that’s what some people had taken to call them.
About five years earlier the apostle Paul arrived in Corinth with a few others to plant a church. Of course, he did! If you’re trying to spread a message, if you’re trying to gain momentum, a place like Corinth is a must – the crossroads that it had become. It was a wise move – planting a church there.
Well…I say church and there are preconceived notions about what that word means. But the church Paul planted had no official building in Corinth – it was a collection of smaller communities of faith that met in homes all throughout the city – anywhere from around 30-50 people within each gathering. They met, heard the good news of Jesus, prayed together, shared communion together and a meal. Corinth being the diverse city it was the Christian community in Corinth was just as diverse – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, merchants and laborers, rich and poor, and everyone in between. It was beautiful. It was wonderful. All the richness of diversity and singularity of purpose. Until…factions and divisions began to creep-in and spread.
Who knows where these things start…really. But there they were. And it had gotten out of hand. Not just yard signs, but bumper stickers and t-shirts, people arguing, editorials in the paper. Finally, as you can imagine, someone covered the conflict in the Corinthian Globe – recently acquired by the Gannett Company. Turns out, as the article revealed, all these little factions - all these little groups represented certain theological tastes and affinities for particular leaders. Oddly enough, these leaders had nothing to do with these divisions – their names just got thrown in with all the drama.
One group, predominantly Gentile, embraced what they thought was Paul’s message and a gospel of Christian freedom. More than likely, a misunderstanding – which often happens with the language of freedom. Interpreting freedom not as a liberty to do good, but as a license to do whatever they wanted.
The next group…they loved Apollos. Who could blame them? Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria…the birthplace of philosophical Christianity. He was eloquent, a gifted speaker…sharp dresser, smiled like the moon and they just loved that he was….what many consider a blessing or a curse these days…an “intellectual.”
Now Cephas is Aramaic for Peter…so this devoted faction was all about Peter. The Jewish membership of the church hanging on to their roots, still emphasizing the importance of Jewish law…perhaps exalting the law and belittling grace.
And this last group, well it was a bit difficult to know because their only response to any question was something like… “We have Jesus and the rest of you don’t! So there!”
It’s kinda hard to have a conversation when we claim exclusive rights to something…
People on the outside watching, reading, scratching their heads, saying, “Aren’t these the same people not even two years ago who were all about love, love, love and Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and welcome, welcome, welcome…and grace, grace, grace….Now look at ‘em….figures.”
Well, people finally reached out to Paul…we don’t know what was communicated exactly. Probably something in between…”HELP” and “AND WE NEED ANSWERS.” Paul’s response is the first letter to the Corinthians.
I appeal to you brothers and sisters…that’s how he dives in to all the controversy…an appeal and reminding them…that they are indeed brothers and sisters one to another….He goes on to write, by the name of our Lord…be in agreement, let there be no divisions among you…be united (and get this) …be of the same mind and same purpose.
Same mind?? Is that even possible? Same mind? Does he mean everybody think the same thing? Does he mean everyone have the same opinions? Same mind? I mean look around here this morning, do you think it’s possible for all of us to have the same opinions about everything? Do you think it was any less complicated in the Greco-Roman world of Paul? Highly doubtful? What’s he talking about??
We hear the word “mind” and we think opinions. And being 21st century Americans that’s understandable because you and I got weaned, cut our teeth, and grew up in a culture that convinced us our opinions were the most important things about us – but for Paul it’s deeper than that - it’s about a way of being in the world, a way of being with one another. When Paul writes to his friends in Corinth and appeals to them to be of the same mind – he’s using language he’s used before and he’ll use again. He knows it, they know it…but you and I might not.
He’s telling them to have the mind of Christ. A little later, in another letter, while he’s sitting in prison, Paul will come back round to this same mind and he’ll write….
Fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (And here it is) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves. Let each of you look out not only for your interests, but also for the interests of others.
And again…Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…who made himself of no reputation, and taking the form of a servant…humbled himself, and became obedient to death…even death on a cross.
It’s not about our ability to articulate our opinions, it’s not about our being right – it’s about our commitment to humility and service. Our identity is not in our opinions, or in our schools of thought, or in our socio-economic classes, or our political parties, or even our denominations…Our identity is in Christ. That’s the very first thing Paul reminds this argumentative and divisive group. Their identity is in the One whose humility killed him. And anticipating their replies of “But Paul…but…but…it’s more complicated than that right? I mean don’t you know how hard that is…don’t you know how little sense that makes to everyone else…? You want us to look like fools?” Paul writes,
The message of the cross is foolishness to the rest of the world….but to those of us who are being saved (to those of us who see our journey in this world with God and one another is still going-on) well…that’s the power of God.
You might be sitting there this morning thinking “Hogwash” or “Sounds like good pious talk for a Sunday sermon…but out in the real world, you need something more than humility and service to get by these days… You know winning arguments does matter, that’s how things really get done. And might I point out, preacher, you’re the only one with a microphone this morning.”
Ok. I hear you. It’s complicated. And I promise you there are many Sundays I wish I didn’t have a microphone. So, I guess all I can really say to that is…
Well, that’s just your opinion.