Our story begins with Judah, the southern kingdom of the Jews, where the fabled city of David and Solomon was located, along with the temple of the true and living God, in Jerusalem. But the glory days are long gone, faith in God has been reduced to public rituals and the land is blighted with altars to pagan gods.
For all its exotic stories, strange cultures and colorful characters, the Old Testament is remarkably relevant to our modern world. No matter how odd the story may seem, we can learn valuable lessons about life because God is God and we are humans who are incomplete without God's love and grace.
I fell in love with literature when I was a boy, immersing myself in the tragedies and heroics of characters that sometimes confused, disappointed and amazed me. When I followed Jesus a new literature captured my attention, at first because it was introduced as my Christian operations manual. But very quickly I discovered the stories of real people who are like me, struggling to maintain spiritual balance, imperfect and sometimes foolish beyond belief.
There is something in human DNA that wants an answer to the ultimate question of life: “Why?” We are industrious about coming up with answers, as is evidenced by the existence of so many religions in our world, countless lectures on university campuses, never-silent talking heads on television, debates by political leaders and insistent philosophers and preachers. We want something solid, a clear pathway to the desired end, a deity that provides THE ANSWER when we connect the dots.
Paul was certainly an educated scholar and a strong personality, but he also knew about disappointment and danger. Paul knew what it meant to be thrown into jail, threatened by religious and government authorities, run out of town, shipwrecked and on trial for his life.
Corinth was a city of diversity and abundance, shaped by international trade, impressive temples, flourishing businesses and even a strong Jewish community. It also had a reputation of immorality, where anything could be bought and the Temple of Aphrodite employed a thousand priestesses who were nothing more than prostitutes! In popular slang of the day, “Corinthian” was interchangeable with slandering a person as immoral.
Paul, formerly Saul the Pharisee, had it all. He was a respected member of the inner circle of Jewish scholars and a citizen of Rome. But Saul, the theological enforcer for the Jewish power block, became Paul, the leading voice of the gospel across the Roman Empire in the first century A.D.
Whether the circumstance is a family custom, a club organization or programming, a civic tradition, or a church, any change faces the considerable barriers of tradition, interpretation and pride. Jesus' teachings and actions generated controversy among the Jews, so we should not be surprised that the early church struggled with change, particularly when there was longstanding division between Jews and Gentiles. We can learn from this crisis that became a key turning point for God's people.
The epic story of the gospel spreading across the Roman Empire can be described as powerful, against all odds, romantic, spell-binding ... but more accurately as the working of God's Spirit in the lives of his people. In spite of societal, government, religious and natural obstacles, the hope of Christ spreads, captivating human hearts.