Without looking it up, what would you say are the most common themes or topics in Paul’s letters? Based on several conversations I’ve had with folks about this, the usual reply is something to do with soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) – things like justification, sanctification, glorification, etc. And certainly, Paul does address these subjects deeply and profoundly.
But appearing even more frequently than these topics are the subjects of unity and holiness. In letter after letter and passage after passage we see these appeals. This unity is not like worldly unity. It’s not based on a person we like, an idea we support, or even a cause we believe in. It’s much bigger. It’s centered on the resurrection of Jesus and what supernatural rebirth because of that resurrection does to/in us. And holiness then is not superficial legalism and rule-keeping. It’s the natural effect of a transformed mind/heart that is bent on glorifying God. Who we are together in Christ and how we are to live because of the Spirit of Christ in us are the most prevalent themes you will find in Paul’s writings. 1st Corinthians is no exception.
Noted theologian N.T. Wright writes,
I spent some years working for unity and holiness in the church, and I know how extraordinarily difficult they are. They are difficult in themselves; in combination they often appear completely inaccessible. That is, it is comparatively easy to work for unity if you don’t care about holiness; you just adopt a laissez-faire anything-goes strategy. And it is comparatively easy to work for holiness if you don’t care about unity; you just go on splitting the church over each moral disagreement. The trick is to work for both at the same time. How can that be done? My Pauline answer is that you do it by teaching people to think Christianly …
In 1st Corinthians, Paul deals with a variety of issues that directly impact the church’s unity, holiness, and thus their effectiveness at glorifying God and making Him known. And while our surface issues aren’t necessarily all the same, the underlying causes behind our issues probably are. Like the Corinthians, some of us struggle with biblical and church authority. Some have little trust in church leaders and easily divide up into fractious factions. Some try to solve conflicts like the world does. Some struggle with the same sexual sins. And the list goes on and on …
And while Paul doesn’t address every possible issue or problem, he does give the solution that could fix every single one. N.T. Wright is right: We have to learn to think Christianly. As long as our thinking is worldly, our behaviors will be worldly, but when we begin to think like Jesus (1 Cor. 2:16), we will find that the formerly elusive goals of unity and holiness are much closer to our reach.
I pray that over the next several months as we study 1st Corinthians together in adult and student Life Groups and as we hear messages from the same in worship, that God will bring our thinking into closer alignment with His, heal what’s broken and fractured in our church body, increase our holiness, and stir us to more God-glorifying, church-reviving, community-impacting authentic Christian worship and living.
Will you pray for and expect the same?