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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 15: Paul to the Corinthians.

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Part:  A  B  C  D  E  F

The First Epistle to the Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul during the latter part of his stay in Ephesus. For no church had he felt a deeper interest or put forth more earnest effort than for the believers at Corinth. The good seed sown by him had seemed to promise an abundant harvest; but tares were planted by the enemy among the wheat, and ere long these sprung up, and brought forth their evil fruit. The period of Paul's absence was a time of severe temptation to the Corinthian church. They were surrounded by idolatry and sensualism under the gayest and most alluring aspect. While the apostle was with them, these influences had little power. With his firm faith, his fervent prayers, and [p. 150] words of instruction, and, above all, his own example to inspire and encourage, they could gladly choose to suffer affliction for Christ's sake, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin. But when Paul departed, natural tastes and inclinations would assert control. It is not in a day that the education and habits of a life are to be overcome. Little by little, many departed from the faith.

For three years the voice which had urged them Heavenward had been silent. Like the children of Israel when Moses was hid from view by the clouds of Sinai, they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Not a few returned to the debasing sins of heathenism, as though they had never heard the heavenly message; some practiced iniquity in secret, others openly, and with a spirit of bravado, perverting the Scriptures to justify their course.

Paul had written briefly to the church, announcing a plan which he for a time cherished, of visiting them immediately upon leaving Ephesus, and again upon his return from Macedonia. In the same letter he had admonished them to cease all communication with members who should persist in their profligacy. But the Corinthians perverted the apostle's meaning, quibbled over his words, and excused themselves for disregarding his instructions.

A letter was sent to Paul by the church, revealing nothing of the enormous sins that existed among them, but in a self-complacent manner asking counsel from him concerning various matters. He was, however, forcibly impressed by the Holy Spirit, that the true state of the church had been concealed, and that this [p. 151] letter was an attempt to draw from him statements which the writers could construe to serve their own purposes. There had come to Ephesus about this time several members of the household of Chloe, a Christian family of high repute in Corinth. In answer to the questions of the apostle, these brethren reluctantly gave him a statement of facts as they existed. The church was rent in factions; the dissensions that arose at the time of Apollos' visit had greatly increased. False teachers were leading the brethren to despise the instructions of Paul. The doctrines and the ordinances of the gospel had been perverted. Pride, idolatry, and sensualism were steadily increasing among those who had once been disciples of Christ.

The apostle's worst fears were more than realized. He was filled with horror at the picture thus presented before him. But he did not even now yield to despair. He did not conclude that his work had been a failure. With a heart throbbing with anguish, and eyes blinded with tears, he sought counsel from God, and made his plans. His immediate visit to Corinth must be given up. In the present state of the church they were not prepared to profit by his labors. He sent Titus to Corinth to inform them of his change of plans, and to do what he could to correct the existing evils. Then, summoning all the courage of his nature, and keeping his soul stayed upon God, stifling all feelings of indignation at the ingratitude which he had received, and throwing his whole soul into the work, he dictated to the faithful Sosthenes one of the richest, most instructive, and most powerful of all his letters,—the first extant Epistle to the Corinthians. [p. 152]

With marvelous clearness and energy, he proceeded to answer the various questions proposed by the church, and to lay down general principles, which, if heeded, would produce a better spiritual condition. His letter is no long-studied production of the intellect. He did not seek by polished sentences to please the ear of his brethren. Their souls were in peril. He warned them of their dangers, and faithfully reproved their sins. He pointed them again to Christ, and sought to kindle anew the fervor of their early devotion.

After a tender greeting to the church, he refers to their experience under his ministry, by which they have been led to turn from idolatry to the service and worship of the true God. He reminds them of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which they have received, and presents before them their duty to make continual advancement in the Christian life, that they may attain to the purity and holiness of Christ. Having thus prepared the way, he speaks plainly of the dissensions among them, and exhorts his brethren, in the name and by the authority of Christ, to cease from their strife, and to seek earnestly for Christian unity and love.

Paul was free to mention how and by whom he had been informed of the divisions in the church: "It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you." Though Paul was an inspired apostle, the Lord did not reveal to him at all times just the condition of his people. Those who were interested in the prosperity of the church, and saw evils creeping in, presented the matter before [p. 153] him, and from the light which he had previously received, he was prepared to judge of the character of these developments. Because the Lord had not given him a new revelation for that special time, those who were really seeking light did not cast aside his message as only a common letter. The Lord had shown him the difficulties and dangers which would arise in the churches, that when they should develop, he might know how to treat them. He was set for the defense of the church; he was to watch for souls as one who must render account to God; and should he not take notice of the reports concerning their state of anarchy and division? Most assuredly; and the reproof he sent them was written as much under the inspiration of the Spirit of God as were any of his epistles.

Part:  A  B  C  D  E  F

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