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How To Live Faithfully Among Division
World Civ was known as the most challenging gen-ed class at Cornerstone University. It also was one of the biggest. It met in the largest lecture hall on campus. I remember walking into class with my friend, and we sat close enough to pay attention but far enough back to hopefully blend in.
Five or so minutes after class was supposed to begin, a man, who was literally dressed as if he had just gotten off an archeological dig, walked in. His name was Dr. Carroll, Doc for short. Doc went through the typical first day of class routine but in an eccentric, almost Miss Frizzle-type way — minus the magic school bus.
At the end of class, he casually threw out an opportunity for any students to spend their summer abroad in Greece. Immediately, my friend and I looked at each other and knew we had to go. I mean a summer in Greece — who wouldn’t want to do that?
Well, I liked the experience so much that I went back to study for a second summer.
On both trips, we visited all the ancient cities and sites throughout the country, Athens, Sparta, Olympia, Delphi, Santorini, Crete, and the list goes on. However, one spot we stayed at had to be one of my favorites. It was a tiny Mediterranean-style hotel surrounded by an orange grove, walking distance from one of the most central port cities of the ancient world, Korinthos. Or as we know it today, the ancient city of Corinth.
Corinth had such a diverse culture. You could see the remnants of it as you walked up from the port through the ancient streets. You passed by a giant temple dedicated to Apollo as you maneuvered to the center of town, where you found the bema seat, a place of judgment in ancient times. From there, you could look up to Acrocorinth, also known as “Upper Corinth,” which held a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. It was a city full of people from different cultures who worshipped different gods. And here you found the early church, trying to live out their faith.
If you think about it, it’s no wonder this church was a bit of a mess.
You have all these different people from many different walks of life, socio-economic classes, countries, and more coming together to make up the church. And because of this, you see a church that is brutal with one another, condoning sin, and practicing their faith in a wild and edgy way. Do you think this church was divided? You bet.
But amid that messiness and division, Paul greets the church at Corinth.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”– 1 Corinthians 1:4
Why is this greeting so essential to take note of?
Suppose you were to take a deep dive into the “thanksgiving” portion of Paul’s letters to other churches. He usually references specific Christ-like characteristics of the believers in that given city or region for which he is thankful. Take a peek ⬇️
➡️To the Romans, he shares that their faith is “being proclaimed in all the world.” (Romans 1:8)
➡️ To the Ephesians, Paul writes of their “faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints…” (Ephesians 1:15)
➡️To the Thessalonians, he highlights their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Here, to the Corinthians, we don’t see Paul following the usual structure for his greeting. Instead, we see him giving thanks for them because of the grace of God. We know the church at Corinth is a mess and in need of correction, yet the first thing Paul greets them with is the beautiful reminder of God’s grace.
The salvation of the church at Corinth wasn’t something they earned or did on their own. Paul reminds us that salvation is always about what God has done. And because of what God has done, extending His grace to us, we are able to live like we are forgiven. We are able to be united in Christ, no matter our background. Christ’s work on our behalf has produced a church that can find common ground in our common forgiveness, despite our differences.
Pastor Rob Bentz explains it this way,
“There is the foundational aspect of being united to Christ. All who are united to Christ in faith are free of judgment and are made alive to the blessing of sharing in His inheritance. Through their faith in Jesus, the Corinthians now had the power to live in Christ.”
The grace given to us by God through Jesus is what unites us. It’s what united the church at Corinth and unites us as believers today. The ancient streets of Corinth aren’t so different than the ones we walk every day. The church is made up of a bunch of flawed people from all different walks of life. And at times, we can be a bit of a mess. But we can give thanks to God for the grace He has given to us through Jesus. As Paul closes out the “thanksgiving” portion of his greeting, he says this,
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” –1 Corinthians 1:9
In moments of division or messiness in our day and age, let us be reminded that through the grace of God, we have been called into fellowship with one another — because God is faithful.