This week, I have been reading about the ancient city of Corinth, Ancient Corinth, Old Corinth, the Corinth that had within it a first century Christian community to which Paul the Apostle wrote a at least three letters…two of which appear in our Bible. I am preparing the longest and weightiest sermon series of my ministry thus far…a 16-week study through the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians, the second known letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 5:9 mentions a letter that he had written before the letter that we call 1 Corinthians. So there are actually three letters that we know about.
Understanding the letter written to the church in first century Corinth, requires understanding the church in Corinth, which requires understanding the city of Corinth, because as Gordon Fee says, “the church was in many ways a mirror of the city.”
Corinth was known for its sexual promiscuity. The fifth century dramatist Aristophanes added a word to the Greek language — korinthiazo. It means “to act like a Corinthian” that, is to engage in indiscriminate sexuality activity (Gordon Fee). It is well known that Corinth was the home to one of the largest temples of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility. While the tradition is debated, history notes that 1,000 court maids where present to have ritualistic sex with those who wanted to worship Aphrodite. It became a popular religion as you can imagine. People also came to the port-city of Corinth to worship other gods. There were 26 holy places in the city. There were also Greek philosophers who made their home in Corinth. Sailors were known to stop there and spend all there money. Corinth was a prosperous, sensual, good-time city.
It could be said that what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth. And so many people draw stark comparisons between ancient Corinth and modern-day Las Vegas. The sins occurring in the city of Corinth were similar in spirit and type to the sins occurring in modern-day Las Vegas, although prostitution is NOT legal in Las Vegas. It is legal in other counties in Nevada, but not in the city of Las Vegas itself.
The sins of the city are numerous, but the so are the sins of the towns.
I have served one church for nearly eight years in a rural area. I have found a common “rural life pride” in those who live in small town America. Some people feel like the rural countryside is free from the sins of the city. However, the sins of the city are alive in rural towns and counties.
I do not want to fall into the trap of saying that sin is more rampant in rural communities than in the past and we have to return to some kind of idyllic kind of so-called small town moral purity. I think sin has always been about of the towns. It does seem however that sin has become more public, more mainstream, more visible thanks in part to the sexual revolution of the 60s and to the advances in technology in the 80s, 90s and the 00s. The advent of cable/satellite TV and the internet has brought the visibility of sin and a hedonistic worldview from the cities into the rural communities so that there is not much difference between the large city and the small town in terms of how they process sin and ethical behavior – particularly sexual behavior. Sexual promiscuity before marriage, adultery within marriage, consensual extra-material relationships and pornography all occur within small towns as in the cities, thanks in part to technological advances.
Does this mean we should unhook or TVs and PCs and become technological hermits? I don’t think so. The Church’s answer should never be to run and hide from culture. Instead we should be aware, wise as serpents in regards to the way our society processing sexual ethics. We should also engage culture by challenging sexual hedonism with biblical truth. (The Bible is certainly not prudish or embarrassed to discuss the beauty and sexual freedom found in marriage. Have you discovered the rated R sections of the Bible? Here is one.)
The truth of that the sins of the city live in rural areas like Americus, Georgia make the book of 1 Corinthians applicable. The issues we find in this holy letter are active in our community. Here are some of the issues found in the book:
Speaking in Tongues
And it all begins with “People & Jesus” the title of my message this Sunday. The first message in my chapter by chapter study of 1 Corinthians. All of this historical review of Corinth has fueled my passion to teach through this book. It should be a fun ride. It won’t solve all of our problems, but it will certainly lead us to Jesus, back into a relationship with the triune God, within the gates of Eden where there is no sin.
The motorcycle black madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause
The gray flannel dwarf to scream
As he weeps to wicked birds of prey
Who pick up on his bread crumb sins
And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden
“Gates of Eden”
Bringing It All Back Home