It can sometimes be easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles. I sometimes look back to my late teen years in this way. A lot of great things happened in that season of life, however there were also lots of challenges. But looking back I conveniently seem to forget these.
This week we launch our new series, ‘A Beautiful Mess’, looking at the first letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. Paul launched the Corinthian church and stayed there for about 18 months. A few years later, while Paul was in Ephesus, people reported to him that there were serious problems in the church. He also received a letter from the church that showed there was a great deal of theological confusion on a number of issues. 1 Corinthians, above any other letter in the New Testament, doesn’t allow us to look back at the early church with rose-tinted spectacles. Paul wrote this letter to a church that was in a mess; they were struggling with division, unresolved conflicts, sexual immorality and many other questions and problems that needed resolving.
Even though all this was going on, Paul was still able to write, ‘I give thanks to my God always for you’ and ‘you are not lacking in spiritual gift’. He didn’t just see the mess; he learned to focus on the beauty amidst it all. He knew that they had received grace from God; it wasn’t because of Paul’s wise persuasive words that they had come to faith, it was because of God’s own initiative and love for them. Looking through the lens of the gospel he could see the beauty of what God was doing! Paul learned to focus on what God was doing amongst the mess, not the mess itself – a beautiful mess.
1 Corinthians was clearly written for a specific occasion, dealing with the local needs of the young Christians in Corinth at the time. It would be a great mistake though to think of it as irrelevant for us today. The world is obviously a very different place now to what it was in approximately AD 53. However, I don’t think humans have changed much and many of the areas raised in this letter are just as relevant for us today.
One of Paul’s major concerns for the church would have been a desire for them to be good ‘ambassadors for Christ’. Whilst Paul spent his whole life telling others about Jesus, he didn’t just do this himself – he sought to equip all the churches he started to do the same. He would have longed for the Corinthians to be a great living example of the gospel and live out Jesus’ words, ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Corinth was possibility the third City of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria; it was a great centre of commerce, a wealthy, diverse and influential City. There are some similarities to the City we live in and love. Whatever the similarities of Oxford to Corinth, there are certainly many lessons for us to learn as we go through this series. If God can use the Corinthian church, with all the challenges they were facing - then surely he can use us as well as we seek to demonstrate and share Jesus’ love in Oxford.
 1 Corinthians 1:4
 1 Corinthians 1:7
 2 Corinthians 5:20
 John 13:35