14 February 2008

Corinthians and Galatians

I started reading 1 Corinthians today. Chapter 1 is, for me, one of the most powerful portions of Scripture.

A thought struck me as I read it: In spite of the Corinthians' extreme worldliness, utter pettiness, they receive a glowing commendation in the opening paragraph of the letter. (That's a point worthy of reflection in itself--Pastor Paul, knowing full well from reports from those in Chloe's household of the silliness and divisiveness in Corinth, nevertheless looked for the good among the people there! There is a mound of practical pastoral and relational wisdom there. The most difficult people we know need us to point out to them the islands of beauty in them. C.J. Mahaney has helped me see this.)

But what struck me today is the contrast between 1 Cor and Galatians, which opens up with Paul lambasting the "foolish" (3:1) Galatians. The remarkable thing here is that if you and I were to spend a few weeks visiting the Galatian church(es), and then headed west for a few weeks in Corinth among the church there, outward appearances would suggest precisely the opposite letter introduction was called for.

The Galatians had it together. They were moral people. They were intelligent. They were all on the same page. They were scrupulously pressing on for more faithfulness, more obedience. They had their ethical ducks lined up. And they had even managed to hang on to the best parts of Judaism, like circumcision (please note sarcasm).

The Corinthians, on the other hand, were a mess. I spent a year of my life trying to understand 2 Corinthians, and it is just remarkable how dysfunctional these people are. From 1 Cor 5 we know a man was sleeping with his dad's wife, and the Corinthians had no problem with it. They're also claiming various apostles as their own--"I am of Paul, I am of Apollos," etc. In 2 Cor 10-13 Paul comes at them with both barrels blazing and just lets them have it.

But how does he open Galatians? With unequalled rebuke. How does he open Corinthians? With warm commendation.

I note: the Corinthians got lots of things wrong. Sexuality, finances (2 Cor 8-9), the relative importance of dreams and visions, strife and division. In Paul's words, not many of them were of noble birth. But despite all the problems, they got one thing right: the gospel. The Galatians, on the other hand, got lots of things right: obedience, meticulous morality, powerful sacrifice (they would have given Paul their eyes if need be, 4:15). But they got one thing, the most important thing, wrong: the gospel.

You and I are getting a lot of things wrong today, only a fraction of which we are aware. But let's make sure we get one thing right: the counterintuitive gospel, which declares that any attempt to help out our standing with God only infects that standing rather than helping it.


As We Sail... said...

I am happy to find your blog. Lots of good stuff here. Keep it up, please.

Eric said...

Thanks for the great post, Dane!

ErinOrtlund said...

Hi Linda! (waves from Canada).

Gavin Ortlund said...

Wow, great comments Dane. That reminds of how much more destructive a sin legalism can be than other sins. Not many churches today measure spirituality the way Paul did.

Jani Ortlund said...

Thanks for this post. It helps me want to seek more and more gospel healing from this silent "infection."

krista said...

Dane, what an amazing insight! Thank you for shedding light on this and for sharing it.