1Corinthians 1-6 introduces us to a contentious congregation, founded by Paul, but now out of control. It's a fascinating letter, full of personal issues, raw power-struggles, gossipy sins, tender love.
These first six chapters deal with two basic issues: authority and sex. Funny how these are such modern themes for our churches. Which is what makes these letters so enduring and helpful.
With the issue of authority, Paul addresses a major quarrell that has developed amongst the house-churches in this major Greek port city: some follow the teachings of Paul - the founding pastor; some follow the teachings of Apollos, a brilliant itinerant lawyer and preacher; some follow the teachings of Peter, the brawny and folksy follower of Jesus. The Jews that have converted to Christianity assert their man as superior based on the signs produced alongside the teachings (think Paul and Peter); the Greeks that have converted to Christianity assert their mas as superior based on the wisdom and philosophy imbedded in the teachings (think Paul and Apollos). Paul, in a humble yet aggressive manner, takes on this ridiculous situation. "Is Christ divided?" he asks?
Look, he says, "What, after all, Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to beleive - as the Lord has assinged each task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." Isn't that beautiful? Paul puts everybody on a level playing field - with God we are his co-workers, so don't look around you and smirk at the people who aren't as good as you.
When there is arrogance - whether it be moral, intellectual, or authority - there tends to be some kind of sexual immorality that also infects the community. The two seem to go hand in hand. Paul opens up chapter four with this salvo: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind tha teven pagans do not tolerate: a man has his father's wife. And you are proud!"
Paul recognizes that the authority issues, the power struggles have daze the conscience of these Corinthian Christians, they are doing crazy things to each other: suing each other, applauding egregious abuses of "freedom", and judging those outside of the church. So the sex-stuff is just one more crazy sin of which they are guilty. A famous Corinthian saying: "I have the right to do anything" (sounds like a Burger King commercial...), but Paul says, "...but not everything is beneficial." Paul wraps up his admonition to these sex-crazed Corinthians: flee sexual immorality. Corinth was a sex-crazed city employing thousands of prostitutes for its temples. The sex-sins had infected the imperfect church, in this case in a brazen and gross manner.
Paul's plea to them, and to us: be One with Jesus; go His Way. To be one with another out of sexual immorality, or to associate with another in an attempt to increase your power, or to spout the teachings of another to make yourself look smarter...that is not what it looks like to be One with Jesus, that is not how we go His Way. That is what we used to do, but we are leaving that Way behind. Leave it behind.