Yet the apostle Paul obviously expected more out of them, and he told them their faults plainly.
They were factious (1:10-14); they were carnal and immature (3:1-3); they were arrogant (3:18,19; 8:10); they were selfish (6:7; 14:26-33). They had little regard for one another and put their own interests ahead of the mission God gave them as His people (6:5-8; 8:9-13). They glorified sin in their presence instead of removing its leavening influence so their worship could be pure before God (chapter 5). They even corrupted the memorial meal that should have unified them, reminding them that they all came from the same humbling circumstance of sin, dependent solely on the grace of God for their salvation, (11:17-34).
Yet despite all this, how does Paul end that first letter of rebuke? With hope. Yes, they had been “fornicators…idolaters…adulterers…effeminate…abusers of themselves with men…thieves…covetous…drunkards…revilers…extortioners,” but they had also been “washed…sanctified…justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (6:9-11). Paul scolds them over and over, but he ends with the hope that they could change their lives, overcome their problems, and be “raised incorruptible” on that final day (15:52).
Paul told even these bad boys and girls of the New Testament that they could live righteously and inherit eternal life. Doesn’t it make you stop and think a minute before you consign someone to Hell by refusing them the opportunity to even hear the gospel because of their sinful, problem-filled lives? Doesn’t it make you cringe a little at how carelessly we label congregations of God’s people “sound” and “unsound?” And most important of all, doesn’t it give you hope when you fall yet again and have to pick yourself up and repent?
Most of us would have simply bypassed Corinth if we had been making Paul’s itinerary for him. To paraphrase Nathanael, “Can any good thing come out of Corinth?” Yet Paul knew that where there is the greatest need, there will be the greatest response. It may be tough going. It may be that these folks will be “high maintenance Christians,” people who need a little more help, a little more support, and a whole lot more of our time, but who is to say that one soul is worth more than another? We all stand before God as helpless sinners.
And God holds out for us the same hope he gave those early Christians who had to fight their upbringing in a libertine culture even worse than ours.
O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your labor is not vain in the Lord, 1 Cor 15:55-58.