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Crises at Corinth: Speaking the Truth in Love Amid Adversity Crises at Corinth: Speaking the Truth in Love Amid Adversity

“After this [Paul] left Athens and went to Corinth … And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:1-11).

Towards the end of St. Paul’s second missionary journey, he comes to the city of Corinth, the capital of the Roman province of southern Greece. Circa 51 A.D., Corinth is a leading commercial and tourist center of the ancient Mediterranean world and home to many religious cults, pagan shrines and the infamous gladiatorial games. Like many urban centers, it is notorious for sinful and utilitarian behavior such as sexual immorality, impurity, dishonesty, greed and manipulation. Idolatry and corruption control the culture.

Through the proclamation of the Gospel, the power of God confronts the spirit of the age and converts the hearts of many Corinthians — rich, poor, Jew and Gentile — to Christ. As the Church increases, however, so do internal crises! These new believers, like many today, have fallen prey to bondages that disrupt the unity of this growing community in its infancy. Dissension, elevating rational human wisdom over God’s revealed wisdom, practicing and tolerating sexual immorality, arrogance, lawsuits among believers, idolatry, scandal, liturgical and Eucharistic sacrilege, gluttony, drunkenness, discrimination, abusing spiritual gifts, rebellion to authority and denying the resurrection of the body spreads throughout the Church at Corinth like leaven.

This adversity within the Church is compounded by persecution and opposition outside the Church. St. Paul models how to respond to similar crises by fearlessly speaking the truth in love. He first calls God’s people to surrender supreme allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus and know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. His message is not in “plausible words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” because he practices what he preaches and is driven by “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 Cor 1-2, 1 Jn 4:18).

Compelled by this fatherly love — rather than judgment — the apostle then rebukes the boastful and preaches with clarity about sin and its consequences, especially regarding the reception of the Holy Eucharist and the ramifications of receiving the real presence of Jesus unworthily. He expounds on the theology of the body giving spiritual direction concerning sexuality to the married, unmarried and celibate; he even excommunicates an unrepentant incestuous man for the sake of his eternal salvation. He issues the stark challenge for all to keep their liberties in check lest they become a “stumbling block to the weak.” Using stories from the Old Testament he warns his flock to “take heed lest [they] fall” (1 Cor 5-11, CCC 2388).

St. Paul emphasizes the importance of pursuing the gifts of the Holy Spirit for building up the body of Christ as the Spirit wills while cautioning the Corinthians that charisms void of love are merely empty noise. He explains that charismatic gifts are a sign that will one day give way to the perfect, face-to-face union with God where each of us will “understand fully” (1 Cor 12-14).

Finally, St. Paul reveals the litmus test for the efficacy of his preaching and the faith of the Church: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.” The resurrection is precisely why his epistles are vital, not only for Corinthian believers 2,000 years ago but for us today! This concluding message points us toward the resurrection of the body and the heavenly reward which is “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” It is because of Christ’s bodily resurrection we can declare with this mighty apostle, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (CCC 1024, 1 Cor 15).

St. Paul clearly shows us how to live in a confused culture tainted by sin and corruption, whether within or outside the Church. Rather than giving diplomatic and bureaucratic dialogues, the Apostle Paul preaches Christ in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit because his goal is to save souls and make disciples of Jesus, not make everyone feel comfortable in their sin. He has “seen Jesus our Lord” and is driven by his apostolic responsibility to “become all things to all men” without compromising truth for the sake of the Gospel and every soul’s eternal salvation. This is the kind of love to which we are also called. (1 Cor 9:1, 19-23)

The Holy Spirit is inviting each of us to recognize the cries for help in our spheres of influence and respond by authentically loving, living and preaching the Gospel. The world and the Church desperately need Jesus! It needs disciples conformed to Christ who are speaking the truth and walking in love in our present-day crises. Therefore, “Be strong. Be courageous. Be watchful. Do not be afraid. Let all you do be done in love. Stand firm in your faith. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor 16:13, 23).