When we read through Corinthians in the New Testament we see that the Apostle Paul had some pretty serious issues to deal with. Gross sexual immorality, division, bad doctrine, and bad behavior seemed to define the young Church in Corinth. As Paul wrote to correct these things he crafted 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. It stands as one of the most beautiful things ever written and I think that Paul intended it to be the heart of his answer to the problems the Corinthians were facing. It was written almost 2000 years ago and yet we are so far from experiencing a 10th of what he described.
I was up in the north of Gondor last week teaching a class on Missiology for a local Bible College. A friend of mine whom I had worked with five years ago found out I was in town and took me out to eat one evening. It was great to see him. I asked him how he was and how his relationship with his church was. He had often been at odds with his church in the past and he was often in the wrong, so I wondered how he would answer me. He left his church about a month ago. I was not too sorry to hear about this as he described the church he was going to now. There are only five churches in all of the north of Gondor, so not too many to choose from! But why did he leave his first church?
About six weeks ago a broken, homeless, middle aged man came to the service. He had been there before. The church had tolerated his on-again off-again attendance for a few years. He was homeless for a reason, he had lots of issues. That Sunday he came forward to repent and asked to be baptized. The church voted on the baptism as was their custom. Every hand went up for 'no'. Every hand except that of my friend. He stood up and said, 'All of you who have taken so little effort to raise your hands for 'no', all of you who have such a strong opinion, how many of you visited this man over the last year as he was struggling?' No one had. 'I visited him several times. Ok, I should have done more, I didn't help enough but I tried to do something. I tried to encourage him some. Can you just send this man away now? Can we really throw out a man who has asked us for help?' The Pastor stood and asked that my friend leave. So my friend said, 'I am sorry for bothering you. Please forgive me if I have offended you but if you can, please help this man.' And then he walked out. I asked my friend what the objection to this man being baptized was. He said that every one knew he still dipped tobacco. Such an offense! Two days later the Pastor came to my friend and apologized. He said he should not have spoken to him rudely and thrown him out of the church. My friend said that he forgave him but now he was going to a different church.
I asked my friend if he thought this man was really ready to be baptized and he said, 'I don't know. I can't see into his heart but I know that he came for help. I know that he wanted to change.' He went on to explain something that touched me deeply. 'I can't say if this man was a truly repentant man who was ready to fully follow Christ. I do know that when I stand in Heaven before Jesus he will never say to me, 'You were too forgiving, too loving, too accepting.' He will never condemn us for welcoming and loving others but what will he say to us about any of His children that we might turn away?'
Paul had to contend with a lot in Corinth but I wonder if he would write such a grace filled letter to this church? I wonder if he would be so patient with us?
Maybe, Paul had it easy in Corinth after all.