‘Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?… Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” 1 Corinthians 6: 2,3
There is just no other word that can describe my response to Paul’s vision of and for the ‘Church’ in our epistle reading this morning. And remember, the Apostle writes to the most divisive, most infuriating, most troublesome community of all the churches he founded in the Mediterranean world! The fact that he expects more from ‘them’, demands more of ‘them’, and believes that ‘they’ can live into this vision of ‘who they are in Christ’—is nothing less than stunning.
The Apostle does not mince words. His message is direct and easily understood (though not easily embraced). He is addressing some troubling news he has received about the Church in Corinth and writes with unabashed authority. In the first paragraph, he addresses the scandal of sexual sin resident within the community (a man has married his father’s wife, with the apparent approval of the church, 1 Cor. 5:1-8). Then, in the second, weighs in on the news that members of the church are taking their ‘brothers’ to court (1 Cor. 6: 1-8)!
In essence, the Apostle’s interest in the first paragraph is to PROTECT the ‘Church’; his intent in the second is to exhort the community to BE (or BECOME) the ‘Church’!
Paul is appalled by the slackness of the Corinthians sexual ethic- a ‘whatever’ kind of attitude. He reminds them that a ‘little leaven leavens the whole lump’, and demands that they deal with the one who threatens to ‘leaven’ and ruin the church. But this does not mean that they are to cut themselves off from all sexual sin or sinners! Heaven forbid, since this would mean that they ‘would need to go out of the world’. No, Paul’s concern is with the well-being of the body and its reputation within the wider world. They are called to a higher vision for life—all of life, including their sexual lives!
He moves on then to the scandal of their economic relationships within the body. Some who believe themselves wronged by another member have taken that member before the secular courts. In his exasperation, the Apostle cries out, ‘Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?’
Again, his exhortation flows from his deep conviction as to ‘who’ the ‘church’ is—the New Humanity within God’s New Creation; the New People of God, the Renewed Stewards of God, reigning with and for the King within the Kingdom of the new and renewed cosmos.
In the same light, he asks rhetorically, ‘Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between brothers?’ (an interesting question posed to a community that prided itself in its ‘wisdom’). And finally, he argues, that even if there were no ‘wise one’, the prudent and Christian thing to do would be to accept the wrong, absorb the loss, and forgive the ‘weaker’ brother.
The Apostles’ concern is not simply with the reputation of the ‘Church’ (though he is deeply concerned about that reputation). Rather, he is concerned with the true essence and identity of the ‘Church’.
He truly believes that, through the grace of God, we have become the ‘New Humanity’, and that we have been given the power to truly ‘BE’ that humanity; and this not simply for ourselves, but FOR the WORLD!
If the ‘Church’ does not live as ‘Church’ – and in ever increasing ways—then the message of God’s redeeming work and the assurance of God’s ultimate purposes will not be believed or embraced by others.
The Apostle does write with an admonishing tone, but that tone is founded upon a stunning reality. Because of what God has done for us in and through his Son, WE can truly live as ‘sons and daughters of God’ (remember our gospel lesson today- ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ Matthew 5:48.
The ‘exhortations’ of the Scriptures always begin as ‘invitations’—BECAUSE God has acted, ‘these things’ not only ‘can’ be done, but ‘must’ be done by those who receive the ‘invitation’.
We can BE the church.
We must BECOME the church.
By the grace of God, we shall.