We just finished a sermon series on relationship issues at our church in Angeles this month. I had the opportunity to preach the past couple of weeks, and my messages were based on passages in First Corinthians (the sixth chapter).
I’m fairly familiar with the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, but I studied it again to refresh my memory. Here are a few historical facts about ancient Corinth:
|Ruins of Aphrodite’s Temple|
*It was home to Aphrodite’s temple, which some historians believed housed temple prostitutes.
*The term “Corinthianize” was associated with drunkenness and debauchery.
*When Plato referred to a prostitute, he used the expression “Corinthian girl.”
*It was common for travelers to squander all their money on the pleasures this city had to offer. An ancient proverb warned, “Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth.”
This information is based more on the Greek era of Corinth, which was before Paul’s time (the Roman era). But the city’s sinful baggage apparently lingered for some time (based on the specific issues Paul addressed in the epistle).
I was struck by the similarities between ancient Corinth and Angeles City. It actually reminded me of the research I did before I decided to move here. My former residence in Manila was only a few minutes away from Malate, another well known “red light district” and party zone. It was never a big temptation for me: I only went bar hopping once to watch football, and I didn’t go alone.
But a great deal of prayer went into the decision to move here. I was still single at the time, and was also recovering from a rough year. I had no idea I would meet my wife (online at least) the day after moving here. In other words, I seriously considered the potential dangers and temptations of living here.
I think there are some powerful lessons in the Corinthian context, regardless of where you live. Here are two that come to mind:
1. The power of the Gospel can changes lives—even in the darkest places.
It seems like Corinth was the last place one would go to start a church! But lives are changed wherever the gospel is preached—even in an X-rated city. We see hints of the way some of the church members used to live before they met the Lord:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
-1st Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis mine)
You don’t have to look far to see evidence of the sins mentioned in verses 9-10. Just watching the news can be distressing—if not depressing.
But God is still changing lives, just as he was in the first century! He still cleanses, sets apart, and declares innocent those who put their trust in Him (vs. 11).
Paul was grieved by the sins of Corinth, but it didn’t seem to weaken his resolve to preach the gospel. He knew God was mighty to save!
2. God expects His people to live holy lives, regardless of their environment.
The Corinthians needed instructions on sexual purity because the pervasive immorality had influenced members of the church. Paul turned their attention away from the whims of culture and towards the eternal truths of Scripture:
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
-1st Corinthians 6:16-18
The church members were warned against misusing the “one flesh” union of sex. The common practices of the day did not change God’s original intentions for sexual intimacy. Pagans will act like pagans, but God’s people should be living holy lives.
I’ve been thinking about ancient Corinth and the modern world for the past couple of weeks. I’m concerned about some of the cultural shifts I see, especially among the young people (both the Philippines and America). But I doubt any of us will face the extreme difficulties the church at Corinth experienced.
The power of the gospel is the same, regardless of the era or the cultural environment. Those us who have experienced it can live holy, radical lives and encourage other believers to do the same. We will see God transforming those who put their trust in Him!
Lord, I praise you for always being at work, even in the darkest places.
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