In January 2011, I began preaching a series of sermons based on 2 Corinthians. I titled the series, “Authentic Christianity.” That series taught me some things about how a preacher relates to a troubled congregation, such as the one at Corinth. So deeply has this impression been made upon me that I wish 2 Corinthians could be a required study in our preacher training schools. It would give our young men a “heads up” as to the kinds of antagonism they are likely to encounter in congregations as they go out preaching the gospel. It is regrettable that sometimes we must deal with contentious personalities that are driven to press an opinion, or a chosen hobby even to the point of splitting a church.
In some ways it would please me greatly to repeat that same series of sermons. I do have the desire to work through 2 Corinthians again, but this time with the heart of growth in mind. So, as we start the new year, on January 6th, I intend to begin a new series of sermons, working through each chapter of the book of 2 Corinthians. I will not go verse-by-verse through the entire book, but will draw lessons from each chapter. In order to allow the congregation to prepare for each Sunday morning sermon I will post on the PowerPoint announcements the text from which I will preach the next Lord’s Day. This will give each of us the opportunity to read the text before I deal with it in the pulpit the next Sunday morning. I want this series to foster a positive spirit as we let Paul’s experience with the Corinthian congregation challenge our thinking in the different areas in which a church needs to grow.
It was my conclusion early on in our study of 2 Corinthians, eight years ago, that most of our preachers today would have written this church off in less than six months’ time. Why did Paul labor so patiently with these people? Have you ever been a member of a once sound and active congregation that later came to be torn by strife, division and indifference? Perhaps you moved away and wondered if you should ever go back. You wish that you could visit again and find the problems scripturally resolved and peace restored. Later, you learn that one of the serious problems has yielded to the gospel. Therefore, you have hopes that more good will result. This was Paul’s situation with the church at Corinth.
Among the many troubles that Paul encountered at Corinth were “contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults” (2 Cor. 12:20). Churches of Christ today are troubled by all of these things and more. These days some of our churches are disheveled by liberalism and postmodernism. The situation is quite serious and also irreparable at times. Sometimes these churches elect to abandon their identity as a church of Christ and gravitate to what they consider the next level of a newly found freedom and a fresh identity into the world of generics.
The book of 2 Corinthians is open about the potential of a contentious element existing with a congregation. Along with the already herculean task of laboring on behalf of such a church as Corinth Paul had to counteract a contentious element there that opposed him. This vocal minority consisted of the Judaizers who preached “another Jesus” than the Christ of the gospel; had a “different spirit” than the gospel, and put forth a “different gospel” than that which Paul preached (2 Cor. 11:4). These were a persistent group of agitators who believed that the gospel was but an adjunct of Judaism. They did not believe that the gospel alone could save anyone (Acts 15). Their dogma was: “He who believes, is baptized and keeps the Law of Moses shall be saved.” This group set themselves up as critics of Paul, denying his authority as an apostle and the gospel that he preached. They should have been helping Paul! Can you imagine having to fight some of your own brethren within a congregation aside from the work that must be done to try to build up and stabilize and church in the gospel of Christ? Satan never sleeps!
by Dennis Gulledge