Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
Corinth – An Introduction to the City and Culture
he Corinthian church was in a critically important location. At the time of Paul's missionary journeys, Corinth was the leading city of Achaia. Achaia was the Roman province which covered the southern part of the modern nation of Greece. Athens was still the educational centre of Achaia, but Corinth was the capital of the Roman Province and the major commercial centre. A healthy church there could have an impact on the region and far beyond.
Corinth lay on a narrow isthmus, only six kilometers across, which connected the southern part of the Greek peninsula to the mainland, with sea to the southeast and northwest. This strategic position made Corinth one of the richest cities and greatest trading centers of the ancient world. All traffic from Athens and the North of Greece to Sparta and the Peloponnese had to pass through Corinth because of its position on this narrow neck of land. The parade of foreign travel moving through the city made missionary work possible without leaving town.
The rapid growth in its population soon made it the third largest city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. It was populated with freedmen from Rome, who became the most numerous inhabitants of the city. There were also many Greeks, Jews and other peoples, making it a cosmopolitan port city. The population is difficult to estimate, but was probably around 200,000, plus 500,000 slaves, all squashed into a small area. It was a rough, tough city with a bad reputation. To “Corinthianize” was a term common throughout the Roman Empire. It meant to corrupt. Whenever a stage play called for an inebriated soul who gave a bit of character to the production – he was commonly cast as a Corinthian.
Sadly, the church, rather than challenge the immoral character of Corinth, had itself assimilated the deadly values of the deviate city. As Paul closes his second letter to the Corinthian church, he must sigh to himself. He has invested so much time, so much energy. But they are wrought with more challenges than any other church he has founded. He urges:
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? II Corinthians 13:5
“Examine yourself!” Paul pleads. The question is one that must be asked again today – to the modern American church that now resembles the church at Corinth.
Let me ask, “Do you perform regular internal audits on your personal relationship with God?” Many Christians don’t. They don’t consider such a matter even remotely important. In fact, the American church has repressed discernment – even self-discrimination. The Word discriminates! (II Tim. 2:15-16; Heb. 4:12) That is, it divides between even the joints and the marrow of our soul. Between the thoughts and the intents of our heart.
Most people in America assume that they are Christians. According to the most reliable data, 76.5% of the population identifies themselves as Christian. If indeed, three-of-four people in the nation were genuine Christians, whose behavior resembled that of Christ, and whose values were rooted in the Holy Scripture – this nation would not be experiencing a moral implosion. The population is either lying about their faith commitment, or more likely, completely confused about what being a Christian really means.
At the close of the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls twice, in one verse, using two distinct terms, for the readers in Corinth to take an inventory to see if they are genuinely Christian. He does not call for an inquisition. He does not urge the examination of one another. He is not fostering a judgmental attitude between believers. He knows the futility of the Pharisee life (Phil. 3:4-6; Gal. 1:13-15) – that is not his goal. He had spent 18 months in Corinth, preaching and leading them to Christ, establishing them in the faith. Now, he raises doubts about whether or not all of them are genuine disciples of Christ. And he is calling for quiet, personal, probing moments between each individual and God to verify the legitimacy of their relationship with Christ. “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” The church at Corinth is already under the judgment of God – some are prematurely dying! And no one has discerned the reason. “When we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world!” (I Cor. 11:31). We are to examine ourselves – to avoid judgment, to avoid being condemned in the end with the world. Sobering, isn’t it?