At the time Paul wrote this first letter to the early Corinthian church (about AD 50s), the city of Corinth, like many others in that area, were immersed in a heavily Roman and thus pagan culture. These new Christians were primarily gentiles (non-Jews) and had not been brought up being taught much of the Jewish God.
They were living in a city that prided itself for its intellect and culture. It was a prosperous time. Corinth was an important center of trade, art and philosophy. There was a large temple dedicated to the Greek “god” Apollo who was seen as a god of music, the sun, poetry, and many other things.
Everything in their society seemed to shout the exact opposite of the teachings of Christianity. And because of this, these early Christians let these earthly influences guide their thinking. Based on Paul’s letter, it seems there was not much that separated them from non-Christians. They weren’t that different.
Paul’s letter addressed a host of topics including division, arguments among believers, immorality, forsaking worldly wisdom, (and I encourage you to read through the entire letter sometime because it’s still very applicable to us today) but the overarching theme of the book seems to say:
Christian, you should be different.
In our world today, while we don’t have stone temples dedicated to gods or goddesses, we have many, many things that can become idols that interfere in our walk with God. We lead busy lives. We are surrounded by so many loud voices telling us what we should do with our time.
This letter should remind us that until we let Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice re-shape our priorities, and until we begin to deny our selfish desires, we will not be distinguishable from the world. I’ll say that again because I think it’s very important:
Christian, you should be different from the world.
Paul did not write this letter to condemn these brothers and sisters, but instead to encourage and remind. He cared about them and wanted to help point their focus back to where it needed to be: on Christ. He wanted to gently lead them back on track and instructed them to “flee from idolatry,” and to basically keep their priorities in check.
So today as you are reading this, how are your priorities? Are you fleeing from idolatry? Do the people you come into contact with see you as different? Do people think you’re weird? Because they should. We should be kind, loving, patient, peaceful, gentle, self-controlled, and possess a joy that cannot be found in the world. Gal. 5:22
Near the end of the letter, is one of my favorite Bible verses, 1 Cor. 16:14, because it speaks to priorities and I think that’s so helpful to our daily lives. I can ask myself, “Is my intention to be loving?” because if not, then I probably shouldn’t do it. I can also ask myself, “Does this action point others to the love of Christ?” because if not, then I probably shouldn’t do it. Keeping this verse in mind, can help steer us in the direction we should go. This is how we show the world that we are different.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14