The apostle Peter exhorted the pilgrims of the Dispersion to “love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17). This is sandwiched in a passage that also instructs Christians to honor all, fear God and honor the king. The brotherhood mentioned by Peter is a reference to all Christians or saints as “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2). An appeal is made for unity in the body of Christ for a love to permeate the brotherhood of royal priests in a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). It is sad to hear brethren more often quote Jesus in Matthew 5:44 when He said “Love your enemies.” Because of divisional partying among the people of God the love of the brotherhood can only be presumed from a narrowed view of whatever “soundness” is. Most often this is defined in terms of modern theology or self-evident interpretation of scripture that instills a sense of moral courage to stand against the tides of apostasy. Sermons elevate the moral code of purity denouncing any deviation of “truth” to be evident only by the fervor of a single group. And then there is the church in Corinth.
It is a good thing the church Paul wrote two (or more) epistles too is no longer in existence. Imagine the furor raised by the zealots of self-defined moral excellence upon a church that was filled with carnal minded people dividing against one another. Yes, they had some serious problems at the church in northeastern Peloponnesus. A member of the congregation had his father’s wife and nothing was being done about it. No one should fellowship that apostate church. It has been told the members are suing one another and taking one another to court before those of the world. How could anyone endure having fellowship with a congregation of rabble raisers? Mark them. Were there problems with the marriage question and what was to be done with the unmarried and widows? The church at Corinth was an insensitive group against those concerned over the eating of meats. And the role of women was being turned upside down with women rebelling against the culture of the day. We should not announce gospel meetings for such a congregation as this.
Someone reported as they visited the services at Corinth the Lord’s Supper was being abused, at times the services in chaos concerning the spiritual gifts with too many people trying to get their way and visitors thinking the whole lot of them out of their mind. We should not fellowship a congregation that has such disorder and disarray in the services. It has also been reported there are members of the church at Corinth that may not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Immediate marking and disfellowship of such a place should be undertaken. They have taken the off-ramp to apostasy and stand condemned to perdition. It would seem clear that for many today the church at Corinth would never be allowed within the arms of fellowship because of these egregious errors.
There is no doubt the purpose of Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth was not to praise them. He was very concerned for the problems they allowed to continue in this congregation. His writing was forceful, direct and with clear ramifications of consequences if action was not taken. The joy of his second letter is to see the growth of the brethren in dealing with their calamities outlined in the first letter. But it should never be lost on the student of scripture that before Paul laid ‘pen to paper’ in his first letter he said, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:2-9).
The Holy Spirit said the Christians at Corinth were a “church of God.” Paul understood by this designation the brethren were in fellowship with God and He with them. The apostle also referred to the brethren as “sanctified” and “saints” indicating a communion. It seems incredulous that an apostle of Jesus Christ would extend a greeting of grace to a church like Corinth (unlike what may happen today). Further, he is thankful for these brethren as they were enriched in knowledge and the “testimony of Christ was confirmed” by them … the church at Corinth. His closing introduction includes a salutation of their being called into the “fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v9). I wonder how well that would go over in some circles of the brotherhood today? How should we label Corinth: liberal, apostate, conservative, immoral, reckless or some other self-serving label? In his second letter to Corinth Paul refers to these brethren as “the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:1-2). It seems he is still in fellowship with the brethren at Corinth.
Examining the churches in Acts a person could develop a cold shoulder of fellowship to churches who have liars and greedy people in them (Jerusalem – Acts 5). This church also had folk who were prejudice, murmuring and neglecting their own people (Acts 6). The churches in Rome, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica and Create had people who would raise the hair on the head of a lot of brethren today because of their practices. Even the seven churches that were in Asia would have been prime rib for target practice today because of their lack of love, lack of works, and lack of faithfulness; and yet the candlesticks had not been removed as yet. One of the important lessons of scripture is to know that only God removes candlesticks – not man (3 John 9-11).
Do churches have problems? The church at Corinth was a train wreck but Paul did not write them off and treat them as enemies because of their own ignorance to uphold the perceived truth held by the majority few. Loving the brotherhood deals with the challenges that can destroy the church from within with the true word of God. Ironically the problem at Corinth was division and we share the same problems today. Churches are divided over major and minor issues that separate us from camp to camp. A spirit of distrust hangs over the feelings of many who may hear that so and so is from a particular group that practices such and such. The poison of division will do more harm that the “outside forces” we so often pray about. I suspect the devil often does not spend so much time bringing harm from the outside to destroy the church. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).