By Neal Windham
Corinth is a beautiful city. Set on an isthmus dividing the Adriatic and Aegean seas, it was frequented by mariners avoiding the more treacherous waters of the Mediterranean in Paul’s day. As a result, it was a popular destination, well populated, and with a thriving economy. Remains of its stunning temple to Apollo stand in ruins to this very day, silently testifying to a distinctively pagan past.
Little wonder that Paul had such a tough time with this church. It seems they were attempting to make the break with pagan society as slight as they possibly could. Factious cliques, believers taking each other into pagan law courts, a man living with his stepmother, sexual promiscuity, difficulties with marriage and divorce, continuing affiliations with the pagan temple, gorging and drunkenness, the selfish exercise of spiritual gifts, and even serious doubts about the resurrection—all of these problems plagued a people called by God but lured by a full menu of lusty compromise.
Even when the Corinthians gathered to remember Christ’s death, they struggled for sanctity. The poor went hungry, while the wealthy met in what was known as the triclinium, a dining room in the host’s home, with tables on three sides and a fourth for serving. Here, the elite ate all they wanted and drank themselves into a stupor. “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep,” concluded the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:30). A very serious offense, this abuse of the Lord’s table.
Making the break with pagan society has always been difficult for God’s people. Israel forsook him for the Baals and Asherahs. The churches of Asia Minor struggled with magic and apathy. Monks were driven into the deserts by the varied sins of their corrupted cities. And Satan continues to seduce the people of God today with hypocrisy, distraction, and lies.
As we gather to break bread and drink this cup today, we gather for cleansing, through and through. We gather because many of us are still struggling to make the break with the alluring passions of pagan society, because many of us have repeatedly been seduced. And so it is we need some spiritual reference point, some story, that is so compelling and truthful and pure that all of our worst thoughts, words, and deeds are driven into oblivion by its stunning victory over evil.
This table tells that story. This table is that reference point. Please respect it. Gaze deeply into its life-giving mysteries. And by all means, examine yourselves, Paul says. This world is a very corrupt place. It is high time for a clean break with sin!
Neal Windham is professor of spiritual formation with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.