The Church in Corinth was an exciting fellowship, but a divided one. One of the themes of this letter (and 2 Corinthians, and probably the lost letter between them, and the letter sent to Corinth from Clement of Rome fifty years or so later) is the need to be united in love. For all that was good in the Corinthian church, they never seem to have been able to grasp this.
At a time when the rhetoric of referendum campaigning has become divisive and bitter; when 49 people are murdered because of their sexuality in Florida; when a lifelong campaigner for human rights and the relief of poverty, who as a Member of Parliament had campaigned for better support for refugees is murdered in the street apparently by a far-right extremist; at a time like this we need unity in love.
In Corinth, Paul began by addressing the problem in one apparently innocuous area. People were dividing over which preacher they followed – Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter). All doubtless had their own expressions of the gospel, and we know that Paul and Peter at least didn’t always see eye to eye. But they are all fellow servants of Christ – and Christ is not divided.
In the end, our unity is in Christ. He is the foundation of faith and of the church – and those who minister in his name can only build on that foundation. (3:10-15)
Within that image, there’s a pointer to something about judgement, and I can’t help thinking that it probably applies to all of us, not just church leaders. If we’re building (a church or a life) on the foundation of Jesus, we’ll build different things from varying materials. Judgement will show what we’ve really built, and with what we’ve been building. (You can paint cardboard gold, but a flame will soon show the difference!) The assurance is that what we build well will come through judgement, as will we. Shoddy workmanship – in a church or in a life – will burn around us, though we will be safe.
So perhaps one way of looking at the promise of the Day of Judgement is this – how much of the life we build do we want to carry with us? When we answer that question honestly, we’ll have more idea how to build and what materials to use.
So far as society goes – let’s work out urgently what our shared foundation is, and look carefully at what kind of culture we’re really building on it. At the moment, it feels like some of our attitudes towards each other need a good bonfire.