My #BibleReadingPlan has me starting 2 Corinthians today. A little background on 2 Corinthians can be found here. To get a better understanding of Paul’s audience I wanted to do some research on Corinth and the church.
Corinth was a town in Greece, located 48 miles west of Athens, on an isthmus between the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea. It was a wealthy trade city and home to a temple for Aphrodite. If you studied Greek gods in 7th grade, you’ll remember Aphrodite as the goddess of sexual love and beauty. The temple was full of slaves – some estimates as many as 1,000 men and women – who worked as temple prostitutes. The trade ports and prostitution made Corinth a very wealthy city.
By the time Paul arrived, the city had been devastated by an earthquake and invasion – and rebuilt – and the prostitution had left the crumbling temple and moved into the streets. It was known as a city where sailors would stop to party. Think if Amsterdam and Las Vegas met up and had a baby . . . you’d have Corinth. The Greek word korinthiazethai had two meanings: 1) to live in Corinth and 2) to get drunk and indulge in sexual pleasures.
This was a city that not only had a culture of living for sensual pleasure – but it also made it’s living off of it and got very rich in the process. The goddess many of the people worshipped demanded it.
So Paul arrives in this city and starts telling people about Jesus. He goes to Aphrodite worshipers and tells them about Jesus. He shares the gospel with people who are sleeping around, cheating on their spouses, practicing homosexuality. He tells the drunk on the street. He tells the greedy hustler who is making money of the sex tourist industry. He tells the people who are known for yelling and cussing at everyone.
This was the church of Corinth. People who met Jesus right where they were – whether in the middle of hustle or coming off a hangover from a night of partying. And Jesus washed them clean from their sin. Sanctified them. Gave them a new life. Justified them, regardless of their past.
‘Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ‘ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This was like a church in the middle of the Vegas strip made up of Christians who had formerly worked on the strip, got rich off the strip, slept around and got drunk on the strip. Corinth was full of people who lived for sensual pleasure and whose religion even called for it. But now these Christians were washing clean and were learning a new way to live through Jesus, which makes Paul’s teaching even more impactful:
‘”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.
“All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?
For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ‘ 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The people of Corinth understood temples – the ruins of a temple stood on a hill overlooking their city. They also understood slavery and what it meant to be bought with a price. They understood prostitution as it was a major industry in their city.
But Jesus was calling them to a different lifestyle. And He was also giving them the power – through the Holy Spirit – to be changed. He had died for them. And He was asking them to live for Him.