Speaking the truth with love – Thursday – 21st week in ordinary time – I Cor1:1-9

Speaking the truth with love – Thursday – 21st week in ordinary time – I Cor1:1-9

We begin today our study of St Paul’s letters the Corinthians. This letter is one of the most important documents of the New Testament and contains some of Paul’s most central teaching.

Corinth, a Greek city was situated on a plateau in the southern end of the isthmus and backed by the 1,750 feet Acrocorinth. The city was one of great wealth derived from the land and sea taxes it levied. The city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC but rebuilt in 44 BC by Julius Caesar. The new settlers were freedmen; former slaves now freed who hailed from Greece, Syria, Egypt and Judea.

Corinth did not only spring back from the ashes but it rose to become a formidable city. The Isthmus games, second in popularity to the Olympics which ceased to be organized after the destruction in 146 BC was revived within 40 years of its re-foundation. It was funded entirely by the merchants of the city; a testimony to the recovery and wealth of the city.

Corinth also had a reputation for sexual immorality; although scholars claim that it was exaggerated. Even though Corinth may have not been any worse than any Mediterranean city for its sexual immorality, it’s very name became a byword in the Greco-Roman world for vice. In the theatre, a Corinthian was the stereotype for a drunkard and to “live like a Corinthian” was a slang term from debauchery.

To many men, this city might seem a most unlikely place to preach the Gospel, but Paul was challenged by the mighty metropolis. Paul stayed here for 18 months, longer than anywhere except Ephesus, and even there he kept in touch with the Corinthian community and guided its development. Acts 18 gives us details of Paul’s sojourn in the city and also details the opposition to his ministry. When the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to begin to work primarily among the Gentiles (Acts 18:5-7). However, Crispus, a leader of the synagogue became a believer, along with his family (Acts 18:8), so Paul did not turn his back on the Jews. It was the Jews who hauled him before Gallio the proconsul but to no avail. We are told the Jews having not got their pound of flesh vented their ire on Sosthenes the official of the synagogue. Paul left to go to Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Galatia (Acts 18:18-23).

While at Ephesus, around 54 AD Paul heard of the distressing moral laxity in the Corinthian Church. A delegation from the Church had come to him and a letter was sought from him concerning certain divisive matters. In answer to these disturbing reports obtained from several sources (1Cor 7:1 and 16:17), Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Among the other sources that contributed to the writing of this letter is a reference to ‘Chloe’s people ‘ (1Cor 1:11) who on their return from a business trip from Corinth to Ephesus recounted to Paul those aspects of the life of the Church that had surprised them but which apparently were not problematic for the Corinthians themselves. These observations revealed to Paul revolved around the understanding of the Christian community.

Paul then sent Timothy to follow up the letter in the hope that some of the developments and abuses in the Church might be corrected. Reports from Timothy and other sources led Paul to conclude that the situation had become critical . Apparently Paul made a hasty visit to Corinth (which acts does not record but notes in 1Cor 2:1, 12:14, 13:1-2 which cannot otherwise be explained satisfactorily, indicate that Paul paid a flying and painful visit to Corinth). Somehow that crisis was worsened by Paul’s second visit. 2 Corinthians 2:4 refers to a sternly worded letter composed by Paul, “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears”. Scholars call this ‘third letter’ as the “severe letter.”

Paul begins by identifying himself as an apostles called by God. He uses this title to affirm the authority of his message that comes from the “will of God”. While in the New Testament the word apostle is used of the twelve and even to a wider group which included James, the brother of our Lord and Barnabas, in its original meaning ‘apostle’ means ‘someone who is sent’ (Greek verb, apostello)

Paul also greets Sosthenes whom we earlier mentioned as the official of the synagogue (Acts 18) who it seems has now become a Christian. His greeting is extended to the “church of God in Corinth”; Christians who gathered together, often in one of their homes.

In the light of the background of the Corinthian community, one may find Paul’s greetings to the Corinthians as “those called to be sanctified” more a matter of polite conventions of letter writing than words that idealize the community in Corinth. Remember that Paul will not hesitate to point out their many faults. In fact, by doing this he is reminding them that they were called to be ‘set apart’( Hagios, translated as holy or saints). Paul will have many criticisms to make of the Corinthians in the course of his letter but for now he begins with words of thanks for all the genuine good that he sees among them. If the Corinthians are to rise above their quarrelling and callous independence then they must acknowledge what God has done for them, what he now offers them, and what they ought to be in Christ.

What can we learn from the opening lines of St Paul to the Corinthians? Paul was able to motivate people to the good even though he did not have much good news to give them regarding their behaviour. There are several shortcomings of individuals and groups inside and outside the Church and often we express our views liberally and even callously. But it is important for us to be able to also see the good in every person, in groups of people and even in ourselves.

Let us always begin by being thankful for our blessings, for all the good things that we see in ourselves and all those around us. It is sad when we are not able to give genuine words of praise and appreciation. So, let us reflect on the graces that God has poured into our own lives. Let us, on the one hand, thank him sincerely for them and, on the other, ask ourselves how we have used them for his love and service and the love and service of our brothers and sisters.

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