Relationships are messy. Sometimes we struggle to get along, especially when there is disagreement. Often we find ourselves dividedeven as Christians. How can we work out our differences and disagreements with humility and grace, always showing the love of Christ, while still remaining true to what we believe?
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in Corinth about this very thing. The cultural backdrop of Corinth was even more overtly sinful than our culture today, yet Paul boldly encouraged the Corinthian Christians not to ridicule one another or outsiders but to work together to show the love of Christ.
In this six-week study we will explore Paul's first letter to the Corinthians to learn how we as Christians are to deal with differences and divisionswhether in the workplace, neighborhood, school, home, social media community, or church. We'll discover that the answer is living and sharing the radical love of Jesus Christ, and we'll unpack what this means and how we can live it out day by day.
The Participant Book includes five days of lessons for each week, combining study of Scripture with personal reflection, application, and prayer.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a Leader Guide, DVD with six 25-30 minute sessions, and boxed Leader Kit (an all-inclusive box containing one copy of each of the Bible study’s components).
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About the Author
Melissa Spoelstra is a popular women’s conference speaker (including the Aspire Women’s Events), Bible teacher, and author who is madly in love with Jesus and passionate about helping others to seek Christ and know Him more intimately. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is the author of five Bible studies (Elijah, Numbers, First Corinthians, Joseph, and Jeremiah) and two books (Total Family Makeover and Total Christmas Makeover). Melissa makes her home in Dublin, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
Read an Excerpt
Living Love When We Disagree
By Melissa Spoelstra
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
IN CHRIST ALONE
1 Corinthians 1–2
Corinth was located on an isthmus between two seas, which gave it importance as a commercial center as well as a strategic military position.
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
(1 Corinthians 1:10)
DAY 1: SPIRITUAL IDENTITY
My pastor husband, Sean, and I host a gathering on the second Sunday of every month. We invite new people who have visited our church so they can ask questions and we can share a little about the church's vision and values. It's an informal time when we try to keep it real by mentioning our weaknesses and past mistakes as a church as well as the exciting things God is doing in our midst.
Imagine you are a visitor checking out the church in Corinth. Here are some of the things you might discover by asking questions at a gathering in the home of a church leader:
People are identifying with certain preferred leaders and teachers to the extent that factions exist within the local body.
Members are divided over whether the man in the church who is having an affair with his stepmother is exercising newfound freedom from the law or is in need of church discipline.
Believers are bringing lawsuits against each other.
There are differing opinions about marriage, men's and women's roles in the church, and abuses of spiritual gifts.
While we might decide to visit the church down the street, the early believers had no such option. They had to learn to work out their differences.
Whether or not they are apparent to everyone, all churches struggle with divisions and difficulties. The church is not only made up of sinners but also is led by sinners. Until we reach heaven, no perfect body of believers will exist. And sometimes we fight over some of the silliest things!
The Corinthian church had its issues for sure, but our church situations aren't much different. Are there those in your church who are constantly quoting some popular preacher they are enamored with? What about people who disagree about which sins the church should address and which should be left to an individual's conviction of the Holy Spirit? Have disputes ever arisen after two believers saw a business deal fall apart or had different opinions about how a ministry should be run? Though we may not like to admit it, our churches can be just as dysfunctional as the Corinthian body of believers.
What are some disagreements you've observed in the Christian community of which you are a part?
Some members of the pilot group for this study mentioned disagreements about:
whether to have a choir
the layout of the church bulletin
whether the American flag should be on display in the sanctuary
what the Bible says about salvation, marriage, and other topics
The question isn't whether we will have disagreements in the church but how we will handle these conflicts.
When the local leaders in Corinth weren't sure how to handle some of these conflicts, they wrote a letter to the man who had founded the church. Paul had helped to plant the church while on his second missionary journey when he stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. He began preaching in the Jewish synagogue but ended up gathering more converts from a Gentile audience. Believers came from all socioeconomic classes and included a minority of Jewish converts. While they were united in Christ, their diversity caused many disagreements.
Though we do not have a copy of the original letter, the Book of First Corinthians contains the Apostle Paul's response to questions written about three to five years after the birth of the church. At this time Paul was ministering in the city of Ephesus while attempting to instruct and encourage the believers in Corinth through his writings. Understanding the context of the letter as well as the backdrop of Corinthian culture will help us make sense of those portions that can be difficult for us to understand today. Despite our cultural differences, the issues the early Corinthian believers faced have continued to cause debate and conflict in the church for two thousand years, resulting in disagreements on subjects such as men's and women's roles and the practice of spiritual gifts.
As we study Paul's letter, we'll find a call to quit majoring in the minors. This reminds me of the motto of the Moravian Church, whose roots date back to the fifteenth century: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love." God used Paul as His mouthpiece to help the early church learn to love each other and work toward unity. Sometimes love meant confronting blatant sin, and other times it meant backing down on preference issues that weren't black or white. As we go through a section of the letter each day, we'll be looking for the original meaning as well as the contemporary significance.
Before we get into the text, let's consider a few facts about the city of Corinth:
Corinth had been a prominent port city that the Romans destroyed in 146 B.C., and it rose again to prominence when Julius Caesar rebuilt the city in 44 B.C.
At the time of Paul's writing (A.D. 55), the city was about one hundred years old and had a population of around 80,000 with another 20,000 in outlying areas.
Corinth was a wealthy and multicultural city.
A major attraction in Corinth was a temple to Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) that boasted 1,000 temple prostitutes.
The Corinthians held strongly the Greek ideals of individualism, equality, freedom, and distrust of authority.
In a nutshell, the rebuilt city of Corinth was a melting pot of cultures with new wealth and an emphasis on intelligence and individualism.
What modern cities come to mind when you read about Corinth?
What parallels do you find between Corinthian culture and our culture?
Did you think of cities known for their wealth, sin, or proximity to bodies of water? I believe we will find many ways to relate to the believers in Corinth though we are separated by almost two thousand years.
Before Paul addressed any of the Corinthians' questions, he settled the issue of identity. Over and over he repeated the name of Christ.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, holding your place here for today's study. How many times did Paul mention Christ's name?
Paul began his letter with an emphasis on his personal relationship to Christ and reminded the Corinthians that their source of grace and peace was found in Christ. Two times Paul mentioned the return of Christ to give them an eternal perspective in the midst of their disagreements. Anyone reading just these first nine verses can't help knowing Paul's favorite topic of conversation.
Paul would go on to offer admonishments, instructions, and truths that might be tough to swallow, but he began with encouragement about Christ — knowing that Christ should be the starting point for every discussion and disagreement. Apart from Him we are just blowing smoke with shared ignorance.
Next Paul reminded the Corinthians that God made them holy. The word used here means set apart or different. Then he said that not only the Corinthian believers were holy through Christ, but others were as well.
Who, specifically, did Paul say are holy in verse 2?
If all who call on the name of Christ are made holy, what does that mean you are?
If you have called on the name of Christ for salvation, then you have been made holy. So many times that is not how I see myself. I feel lazy when I don't get everything done on my to-do list. Discouragement can overtake me for no good reason at all. Sometimes I look to people or possessions for validation. On any given day I can be tempted to find my identity in anything from my pants size to my children's behavior. These last few days I've been in a funk, and I'm not really sure why. Rather than celebrate the wonderful things going on in life, I want to crawl under the covers and stay there. I don't feel holy. Yet Christ says that I am.
So the question for me and you is which posture will we claim today? Will we find our identity in
how we feel,
what we've accomplished,
how others view us,
or what Christ says about us?
Paul wanted so intensely for the Corinthians to remember their holy identity that he mentioned Christ's name repeatedly. He made it clear that they were set apart and special not because of their wealth, talents, or feelings but because of Christ's death on the cross.
No grades of holiness exist. Some people aren't "kind of holy" and others are "super holy." If you are a believer, then you are holy through the blood of Christ — period. Holiness isn't something we attain. Christ imputed it to us through His sacrifice on the cross. Before we embark any further into a controversial letter with topics that threaten to divide us as believers, let's settle the issue of our shared identity.
While we may disagree on many things within the Christian community, the lens we should view one another through is holiness. We and our brothers and sisters in Christ are holy because Jesus Christ set us apart through His shed blood. He paid the highest price so that we could be called holy. Consider what impact that embracing this identity could have on our words, actions, and prayers toward those with whom we are struggling to get along.
Consider the disagreements you have observed within the body of Christ. How could seeing ourselves and one another as holy help with conflict resolution? (Answers will vary; there is no one right answer.)
Paul began his letter to the church at Corinth with a greeting and an emphasis on our shared identity in Christ to set the tone for the sixteen chapters of admonition and encouragement that followed. He also stressed his authority as an apostle because, as we will see, many in the church were rejecting his leadership. How could Paul be so positive about a church full of divisions? He could have let their struggles become a reason to write them off and focus on other churches he had planted that didn't seem as problematic. Instead, he turned his attention to the character of God. He recognized what one commentator has so beautifully expressed: "To delight in God for his working in the lives of others, even in the lives of those with whom one feels compelled to disagree, is sure evidence of one's own awareness of being the recipient of God's mercies."
A common tendency among many Christians today is to find a new faith community when the human flaws of their church are exposed. As we study 1 Corinthians, I pray we will see other believers for who they really are — struggling sinners like us whom Christ has declared holy. Then we will be able to celebrate one another's strengths before beginning to work out our disagreements.
Talk with God
In the blank below, write the name or first initial of a believer you have disagreed with recently — even if only in your thoughts.
_________________________ is holy and loved by God through Christ.
Take a moment to pray for this person, asking God to help you see him or her as God does.
The very last verse in the Bible reminds us that we can view one another as holy. As the final words of God's revelation to us, John wrote, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's holy people" (Revelation 22:21).
As a follower of Christ, write your name in the blank below:
__________________________________ is accepted by God and declared holy because she has called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).
Write a prayer in the margin thanking God that your identity is not based on your accomplishments, feelings, clothing size, or number of likes on social media. Also thank Him for the cross and your holiness found in Christ alone.
DAY 2: DEALING WITH DIVISIONS
Of course, there are going to be times when we disagree with one another as Christians. However, the manner in which we disagree gives the watching world a glimpse of how followers of Jesus are interacting, and often it's not a good picture — especially when our viewpoints don't align on anything from the exposed sins of a prominent Christian leader to our interpretations of a particular passage of Scripture.
Online I read hateful words, witness name calling, and watch Scripture bullies use God's Word as a weapon against fellow believers. The Bible is a sword, but we are called to wield it against our common enemy, Satan, not each other. Through this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul models the need to address conflicts with the recipe for healing divisions among us. Whether we are sparring online, via text, over the phone, or face to face, Paul teaches us that God asks us to strive for unity, especially in the midst of our disagreements.
We don't have to conform and be cookie cutter Christians who agree on every minute point of doctrine. Of course, theology matters. Paul wasn't propagating an "anything goes" attitude toward the Scriptures. On the contrary, his letter sought to help realign the Corinthians in areas where they strayed from sound teaching, resulting in divisions. The key to finding resolution is in separating preferences from absolutes. Many times we squabble over minutia and miss the big picture.
Today we're going to look at two specific dangers Paul addressed that can lead to divisions.
1. Relational Idolatry
The first danger Paul addressed is relational idolatry. Anything that captures our attention more than God can become an idol, including people. And often the result is divisive allegiances.
Most of Paul's letters begin with doctrinal truth followed by a section of practical application, but in 1 Corinthians Paul "plunges immediately into the problems of the church."
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and rewrite verse 10 in your own words, inserting the name of your church:
What did Paul say was the source of the quarrels between the people in the church at Corinth? (v. 12)
How did Paul hear about the quarrels? (v. 11)
In this instance, divisions is translated from the Greek word schism, which was a political term for "rival parties or factions." Like members of a political party fiercely supporting their candidate, the Corinthians rallied around a particular Christian leader. As we bridge the gap between the church at Corinth and our local bodies of believers today, we recognize that we too struggle with making celebrities out of Christian leaders.
When I was in high school I witnessed a group of people in our church who were mesmerized with a particular leader, resulting in what almost seemed like a cult following. They quoted him often, went to his conferences, purchased his workbooks, and embraced his particular ideas about following Jesus, which emphasized things such as clothing and appearance. I remember wondering why things that had no biblical support had become so important.
In what ways have you seen people seem overly enamored with Christian personalities and their teachings?
Because Paul had to be told about the quarrels, he probably had not contributed to the rivaling groups. Many times the people we venerate after hearing them teach, reading their books, or following their blogs desire only to point us to Christ. Yet we like to attach ourselves to human leaders much as the people in the church of Corinth did. Instead, God calls us through Paul's letter to seek unity.
Paul called the Corinthians to be of the same mind or thought (v. 10). The Greek word he used is nous, which is defined as "the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining." Paul used an additional word to emphasize that God wants us to be perfectly united not only in our minds but also in our purpose or judgment. This Greek word is gnome, meaning "the faculty of knowledge, mind, reason."
Judgment has become a negative word today, but let's remember that God wants us to exercise good judgment. He longs for us to evaluate conversations, statements, actions, and relationships with unity at the forefront. This certainly doesn't mean checking our brains at the door, but it does mean using our God-given sense to see the harm in getting too attached to a particular human leader.
In verse 12, Paul identifies some of the leaders the Corinthians were elevating. List them below:
Paul listed himself first. People were drawn to him as the founder of the Corinthian church. He was like a spiritual father to many, having been the one who first preached the gospel to many of the members.
The second leader was Apollos.
Read Acts 18:24-26. Why do you believe some Corinthian believers would have been drawn to Apollos?
Excerpted from First Corinthians by Melissa Spoelstra. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout the Author,
Week 1: In Christ Alone 1 Corinthians 1–2,
Week 2: Growing Up 1 Corinthians 3–5,
Week 3: Everybody's Doing It 1 Corinthians 6–8,
Week 4: Beyond Ourselves 1 Corinthians 9–11,
Week 5: Living Love 1 Corinthians 12–14,
Week 6: Real Life 1 Corinthians 15–16,