Friday, 5 February 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
In recent days the New Testament readings at Morning Prayer have charted a path through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This letter is probably best known for its thirteenth chapter, the chapter which features in many wedding services as a great paean to love. However, there is much more to Paul’s letter than those thirteen verses that are so often taken out of the context in which they were written.
Scholars know for certain that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth because all was not well. He had heard from various sources that the young Church in Corinth was struggling to keep to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The factional divisions, the immorality, the litigation brought between members, the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and the false teaching about the resurrection that were reported to Paul led him to write this long letter of pastoral instruction and support. The disorder that Paul was addressing so soon after the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, some two thousand years ago, has not gone away. Sadly, the Church is still riddled with those problems of immaturity, instability, jealousy and the misuse of spiritual gifts, to name but a few of the problems we face in the twenty-first century. It is in this light that I would urge everyone to prayerfully engage with Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth.
As with all of our engagement with Scripture we need somewhere to start. Scripture may tell an exciting story but it is not a novel. Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Scripture is the revealing of God’s truth to us all. Scripture confronts us with challenges that we find difficult to assimilate into our daily lives. So where to start a prayerful journey in the context of Paul’s reaction to the problems in Corinth?
I would suggest that you begin by reading chapters 12 and 13. For almost a year we have been living through strange times. We have been isolating, sheltering, working from home, deprived of social interaction and, for many, fearful. In a recent radio report I heard of the de-skilling of people that has happened during the last year. People have lost their nerve, we are told. People have become hesitant about using the talents and gifts they once celebrated. In their fearfulness, people have lost the incentive to use their abilities for fear of breaking the rules, or infecting others, or becoming infected themselves. My immediate reaction to this piece of radio journalism was sceptical, until I stopped to think about it. Whilst I am not sure that the majority of the population has become de-skilled over the last year, I can see that some are confused about where their personal skill-set fits into the society in which we now find ourselves.
Chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us some perspective on this dilemma. Paul encourages us to set aside our worldly need to be in control of the way others see us. Instead he encourages us to trust that God wants us to use our talents and gifts in a Christ-like way. As he lists some of the gifts with which humanity is blessed, Paul also reminds us that we are created to be one body, celebrating in the diversity of its many members. Then, in the oft-quoted Chapter 13, Paul puts his teaching on spiritual gifts and our sense of Christian belonging in the context of the greatest of God’s gifts … love.
The feelings we are experiencing at the moment are not new. Even the circumstances in which we are living have happened before, albeit without the benefit of modern medicine and technology. As we continue to live in these days of restriction and insecurity let us pause and contemplate Paul’s pastoral teaching for the struggling Corinthians and let us celebrate our gifts, our belonging and the joy of Christian love.
With every blessing to you all,