Corinth – Reaching the Hard-Core Lost

We have been looking at biblical regional centers or apostolic centers as found in the New Testament…

We have looked at Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus… The forth one of five is found in the city of Corinth

Today – the Lord is stirring something in the harvest fields. He is placing a hunger in people’s hearts for a reality – a spiritual reality leading to a new physical reality – beyond anything they have previously seen or experienced.

  • He is preparing His Church for a great end-times harvest that will soon be upon us.
  • He is preparing us to receive that harvest as well as be labourers in the harvest field bringing the harvest into the Kingdom and the Church
  • He is planting “new wineskin” churches in nations around the world
  • He is renewing existing churches that are willing to move into a new future

And, I believe, He is walking away from churches who determined to continue to hold to their lifeless traditions and religious rules that hold people in bondage and control them.

We have been looking at the early Church as seen in the Book of Acts and have noticed that the first disciples of Jesus reached the known world in one generation.

One key to their success was the establishment of regional apostolic centers that enabled new churches to be planted quickly, grow rapidly, and be built following the biblical model.

Each of the apostolic centers – Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome – had its own focus.

The distinction of the apostolic center at Corinth was that it broke through to reach what we could call the “hard-core unsaved.”

What are the hard-core unsaved?

In many nations today most people who get saved are individuals who grew up in the church – often second and third generation church attenders. They already share a somewhat Christian world view and understand the basics of the Christian faith. They have read some of the Bible. They have been taught the Christian standard of morality. The are familiar with their local ‘church culture’

They just never experienced a personal encounter with God and thus do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. People in the Church or who are familiar with the life of the Church need to get saved as much as the people who are living in the world. But, if we only reach those who have heard the message and even experienced the lifestyle, we will not impact the nations.

There is a large segment of society that the Church today is not reaching at all. These are the ones we are calling the “hard-core unsaved.”

  • These are people who have never been inside a church building.
  • They are ignorant of the Bible.
  • They have no moral standards
  • They often ridicule anything connected with the Church or the true Christian faith.
  • They are usually enthusiastic sinners, revealing in immorality, and viewing drunkenness and drug use as great forms or relaxation and entertainment.
  • They make up a large, rapidly increasing segment of our world  no matter what nation you live or work in.

To see what it means to reach this segment of society – there is no better place to look than the Church at Corinth.

Corinth was one of the most important cities in the ancient world of New Testament times

Founded in the 10th Century BC, it was the riches port and the largest city in ancient Greece

Corinth was partially destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, but was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 BC as a place to settle freed slaves from Italy, Syria, Egypt, and Judea

The city thrived

When Paul arrived in AD 51, the Corinth he saw was only about 100 years old, yet it was already five times as large as Athens, and was the capital of the province

It is apparent that there are several reasons why God chose to establish an apostolic regional center (church) in Corinth

If you look at a map of Greece, the country was divided into two parts, northern Greece and southern Greece

The two parts were connected by a narrow isthmus of land less than four miles wide

This is where Corinth is located

So, all north-south trade in Greece had to go through Corinth

Some interesting history:

Early sailors, plying the east-west trade routes across the northern Mediterranean, had a problem

This problem was Greece

Greece is a 300 mile long peninsula extending halfway across the Mediterranean

East-west shipping had to take a long and dangerous (treacherous) detour around the southern tip of Greece

But in 600 BC, a man named Periander built a marble tramway across the Corinthian isthmus so ships and cargo could be wheeled over land by oxcart.

This shortcut cut two hundred miles off the east-west route

This shortcut was so significant that in modern times a canal was cut across the isthmus, following the same route

Periander’s tramway was so profitable that the city of Corinth was able to eliminate all taxes

As a result people wanted to move to Corinth

Corinth ended up with two major sea ports: One on the eastern side of the Isthmus, and one on the west

So Corinth was truly a crossroads city. All north-south traffic in Greece went through Corinth; all east-west traffic in the northern Mediterranean went through Corinth

As a result, Corinth became one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world

Like major cities in our nations today – it became a very expensive place to live

The Greek writer Horace said, “Not everyone can afford to go to Corinth”

Corinth was an expensive place to live, yet Corinth was a gathering place for the world and it was home of the Isthmian games, second only to the olympics

These games were held every two years and people from all over the world came to see the games

Corinth was a place with worldwide influence in many areas

One of the city’s contributions to architecture was the Corinthian column

You see these columns in the White House and the American capital buildings

Corinth was a thoroughly pagan city

The Temple of Apollo was there, along with the temple to Octavia and a sanctuary to the god of healing

At the outsets of the city stood a huge temple to the god Poseidon

The most significant temple in Corinth, however, was the massive temple of Aphrodite perched on the hill above the city

A thousand sacred prostitutes operated out of Aphrodite’s temple

This played a large part in the city’s reputation – it was the “sin city” of the ancient world like Las Vegas is to North America today

The reputation of the city for licentiousness even made it into the Greek language

The Greek word for “fornication” is Corinthiazomai which means “to act like a Corinthian”

Throughout the Roman Empire calling a girl a “Corinthians girl” meant she was a prostitute

If someone was diagnosed with “Corinthian sickness,” it meant the patient had venereal disease

Immorality was an accepted and celebrated part of their culture

In the temples of Corinth, drunken orgies and visits to prostitutes were considered to be acts of worship

So Corinth was not just a pagan city – It was a place of depravity and debauchery

It was a center for the hard-core lost

In that wealthy, immoral, pagan worship center, the gathering place of the world, God chose to build an apostolic regional center that would influence and impact the entire country

And through the tourist trade and commerce – influence and impact other parts of the empire

Let’s see how God established this fourth apostolic center…

The apostolic center in Corinth was established by Paul, the apostle, during his second apostolic journey

Paul set out from Antioch and was ministering across Asia Minor, but when he arrived at the port of Troas, God spoke to him in a dream

The Spirit of God told him to leave Asia and cross over to Macedonia. So, Paul boarded a ship heading west

It was a momentous journey. On this short sail from Troas to Macedonia, Paul crossed the dividing line between Asia and Europe

The Gospel came to Europe at the Macedonian city of Philippi

In Macedonia, Paul planted churches in three cities: Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea

It is interesting to see how Paul planted churches

A lot of people think it is a hard and complicated thing to plant a church. Paul had a different philosophy to this important ministry

Paul would come to a town, win a few concerts, and start a church

The whole process could take as little as a month. Then he would go on to the next town. He would, of course, stay in touch with each church either by letter or in person.

And, team members in Paul’s ministry would also go to these churches and help them to be healthy and growing

How do you plant a church so quickly?

He would start, most times, in the synagogue

The “core group” in the churches Paul planted was usually Jewish. These were people who already knew the Scriptures – the Old Testament. They knew about the one true God. They just needed to meet Jesus and they were ready to go.

Adult Jews already knew how to conduct worship services in their homes. They did it every Friday night at Sabbat. Paul’s new converts took that format, repeated it on Saturday night and called it “church.”

Most homes in the ancient world were built around an open courtyard of at least 20 square feet which would easily hold 20 or 30 people, so they didn’t have a problem finding facilities.

When one house filled, the church multiplied to two houses. As believers were equipped to minister in the power of the Spirit they experienced rapid growth.

So, it was not a complicated thing to start a church

Paul planted churches this way in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Then he moved south through Greece until he got to Corinth.

In Corinth Paul did something different

In Corinth Paul did more than just plant a church

He began in the synagogue as was his practice

Even the leader of the synagogue was saved

And, a new church was formed

But in Corinth Paul did not just set up the church and move on

In Corinth, he established a training center, and for a year and a half he taught and trained the new believers

What was Paul doing?

He was establishing an apostolic center in Corinth

This was to be a very significant center as it was established in a city known for wealth and immorality

In Jerusalem, the new converts were all Jews who had studied holy Scriptures since they were children

They already believed in the God of Israel and wanted to please Him

In Antioch, where Gentiles were first added to the church, they were primarily Gentiles who were hungry for God and already attending the synagogue

In Ephesus, although most of the converts were from the occult the initial 12 were originally Jewish disciples of John the Baptist and thus believers in God.

When Paul brought the Gospel of the Kingdom to Corinth, he was confronted by the “hard core unsaved.”

In Corinth, he found a city of committed, enthusiast sinners, much like most cities we now take the Gospel to

Corinth was a place the true power of the gospel could be revealed

In Corinth God would rescue a totally pagan people out of the world

They had been cut off from God and in bondage to the devil

They were entrapped in every kind of sin, perversion, and false philosophy

But, out of that group God would raise up a holy people for His own possession

Interesting to note for today and our work in spreading the Gospel…

This church plant was not an easy process

A lot of people are shocked when they first read about the church in Corinth

When you read the book of 1 Corinthians, you think, “Oh my! What was going on there?”

The book of 1 Corinthians reads like a grocery list of the church’s sins

Some people in the Corinthians church were guilty of drunkenness. But, they didn’t get drunk down at the local pub. They were getting drunk in church at the Lord’s Supper.

Some of them were engaged in gross immorality

Many were divisive – out of order

Some were into false teachings and doctrine

You might think, “What a horrible church!”

The Corinthian Christians were not backslidden believers – they were simply baby Christians

They loved Jesus but had not grown yet. God was changing them but change is a process and a journey

The Corinthians Christians had come out of the world, but the world had not yet come out of them

They didn’t know it was a sin to get drunk at church because in the pagan temples this was normal practice and an act of worship

They didn’t know that God doesn’t like immorality – in the temples this was part of the standard, daily practice of religion

These new believers simply needed to learn and grow…

But as Paul taught them, they grew.

Corinth eventually became a very healthy church

Just a year after writing 1 Corinthians, Paul writes 2 Corinthians rejoicing in the news that the Corinthians had repented of their sins (2 Corinthians 2:6-15)

He speaks of his confidence in them (2 Corinthians 2:16) and how others would praise God when they heard of God’s surpassing grace among them (2 Corinthians 9:13-14)

So Corinth became a testimony to the power of God’s grace

It was a place where those who were messed up by the world could come and let God put their lives back together

It was a place where people could be saved out of hard core sin, built to maturity, and equipped to minister in the power of the Spirit

APPLICATION:

God used the church at Corinth to teach us many things

Because the Corinthians had so much to learn, the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians are filled with some of the most important teachings in the New Testament

1> God teaches what it means to live as a Christian

Paul begins 1 Corinthians by reminding them, “You are saints. You are holy ones.” They needed to know they had been made holy the moment they got saved.

Their problem was that they didn’t know who they were yet. They needed to grow to maturity in Jesus so they could begin to live like saints

Paul later tells them…

  • You are new creatures in Christ
  • You are ambassadors of the Kingdom
  • You are ministers of reconciliation

2> He shows us how to set the spiritual gifts in order (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

He gave them instructions on tongues and prophecy

3> He defined the foundational roles of apostles and prophets and teachers

4> He gave us the signs of a true apostle

5> He showed us the pattern for discipline and restoration

6> He taught about giving and about unity, warfare, and demolishing strongholds

7> He showed us how to relate to the world and still be holy

8> He taught on the centrality of love

9> We learn more about God’s plan for the Early Church in 1 Corinthians than any other book of the Bible (see body ministry in 1 Corinthians 12:12-end)

1 Corinthians, chapters 10 to 14, is almost like walking down the street in ancient Corinth and visiting a first century house church

We join with the Corinthians as they eat together and as they cerebrate the Lord’s Supper

We see their problems, but we see good things too

Paul writes that when the church assembled, the power of the Lord came and was present with them

We watch the Holy Spirit moving among them as they assemble as a family of believers

The Spirit releases His gifts and ministry takes place

It is a joyful celebration – someone leads in a song, someone reads a psalm, another brings a teaching, there are prophetic words and tongues

As they pray for each other, miracles and healings take place

Fivefold ministry has equipped every believer to minister

It is the clearest picture we have of how the early church functioned

God chose the church at Corinth to be our window into New Testament Christianity and the daily life of the early Church