Just as trees can suffer from many different types of diseases and stresses, so too the reasons are varied why churches might struggle. In spite of this diversity, the path toward health might require the same technique. Thus, although the Corinthian situation might differ from our own, how Paul handed their dysfunctional ways might provide insight into beneficial approaches for helping churches today.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider how Paul’s message functioned, not merely what he wrote. For example, notice how the content of his greeting and thanksgiving built rapport as he reminded them of God’s faithfulness toward them. Paul affirmed who God wanted them to be (1 Corinthians 1:2) as well as recalled to their minds what God had done for them and could do for them (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). In this way, Paul better prepared the church to accept the medicine he was about to offer.
An arborist might identify a problem by looking at a tree’s leaves and then treat the source of that problem by nutritionally fortifying the soil. In the same way, Paul confronted the church about its worldly symptoms while addressing the source of their problem.
The symptomatic behavior and attitudes of divisiveness and pride that plagued them (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-4, 18, 21; 4:6) flowered from their misguided confidence in human wisdom. Accordingly, Paul’s technique involved confronting them regarding their problematic behavior as well as going to its source by replacing false beliefs and values with godly ones.
Having challenged their behavior (1 Corinthians 1:10-13), Paul denounced the sufficiency of human insight while simultaneously nourishing a perspective that would value God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). He proceeded to fortify with additional information the healthy mindset that focuses upon God, not man. Paul reminded them of his own example as well as the relationship that exists between the Spirit and God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).
After addressing the source of the problem, Paul returned to their faulty behavior exposing why it was flawed. By rallying around and exalting various personalities, they had lost sight of the serving nature of teachers as those who are accountable to God’s judgement (1 Corinthians 3:3-16, 4:1-6). Embedded within this explanation, more spiritual medicine exalted God and God’s roles, thus encouraging the church to focus upon God, not teachers.
As Paul moved toward the end of his handling of these initial problems, he outlined some practical guidelines that would keep them on the right track. These included: Have a proper view of God’s servants, don’t sit in God’s judgment seat to determine what is good and bad, as well as stick to what scripture actually teaches (1 Corinthians 4:1,5,6).
In spite of the different types of struggles churches might be encountering, how many congregations in need of help would benefit from someone who would work with them like Paul?
- Begin by building rapport
- Remind them about God’s faithfulness toward them
- Identify worldly attitudes and behavior
- Undermine false ideas and values empowering those symptomatic behaviors
- Provide a healthy understanding to serve as a foundation for godly behaviors
- Explain why the worldly behavior is misguided
- List several specific practical guidelines that would reinforce the desired result