Victor Chininin Buele
We are cherry pickers by nature. Those cherries are always there, topping the pretty cake. And there we go, grabbing them, one and then another and then another. I do it. You do it. We all do it. We are prey for our own confirmation bias. We want to believe what we already believe. To step out of the line is uncomfortable at best.
But we don’t have that luxury with the Scriptures. That’s why we are to examine them constantly. And that’s more than daily, and that’s more than our verse of the day approach or our text from Sunday’s sermon approach. We have to be soaking in Scripture: whole books, whole chapters, reading fast, reading slow, focusing on one of the human authors, focusing on a verse, focusing on a paragraph, focusing on a genre. There are many ways we must read the text: microreading, macroreading, reading it for fun, reading it for comfort, reading it to learn, reading its history, reading it to learn its themes, reading it to summarize the history of redemption, sing it, pray it, argue with it.
I have spent months in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Why? Because Paul does this really strange thing there. He refers to a filthy people who would not pass anyone’s Christianity smell test, much like us Christians today, as brothers. The question has bothered me for all these months: why would Paul call them brothers? Over twenty times, Paul addresses them directly as brothers:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.1 CORINTHIANS 1:10 (ESV)
If you want to talk about a corrupt church, the Corinthians will provide the perfect illustration: divisions, quarrelling, boasting, sexual immorality that would have made the pagans blush, drunkenness while saying they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper “at church,” idolatry of all kinds.
Andrew Naselli says of chapter 3 the following, “Based on the way the Corinthians were acting, Paul could not address them as who they actually were. Although they were people who had the Spirit, they were acting “as” or “like” people not having the Spirit because people having the Spirit characteristically live in a certain way.” He quotes Gordon Fee, “His ultimate point is: ‘Stop it! People of the Spirit must simply stop behaving the way you are.'”
Over the course of the last several months, there is one section of 1 Corinthians that has often been quoted at me:
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!1 CORINTHIANS 6:5-8 (ESV)
And that’s where I’ve lived for the last several months.
Let’s summarize what it is that gets communicated in various degrees of implicit and explicit communication: a good Christian should much rather get abused inside of the church and keep his mouth shut than to take this great dishonor and discredit to the name of Christ and His church before an unbelieving world. And, we must handle everything in house. That’s the God-honoring thing to do!
So, now, read the text with those presuppositions, and there it is: it would be, then, easily read that to speak of that which happens within the church before unbelievers (and mind you, we are not talking about petty offenses or things we are called in the Word to overlook in grace) would not be a good thing to do. And you can take some creative license with other texts, and you have a recipe for gossip and slander allegations that you are compelled to ignore. As a matter of fact, to ignore them is the godly thing to do!
But, I’ve asked for months before the Lord, is that what the text says?
It most definitely does not.
First of all, the Corinthian church was very corrupt in her sin, and that included her leadership. Right before the reminder of the institution of the Lord’s Supper by Jesus Himself, Paul writes this to these brothers:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.1 CORINTHIANS 11:18–22 (ESV)
Somebody was watching this. Her name is Chloe. And her people, whatever that means, took it up to Paul. Paul was not the pastor of the Corinthian church. He was not gathering with the Corinthians at Corinth. This was definitely going outside of the local church.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.1 CORINTHIANS 1:11 (ESV)
Tom Schreiner says, “He discloses that he heard about the divisions and strife from those associated with Chloe, which may designate ‘ business associates, business agents, or slaves acting on her behalf.’ We wish we had more details about how Paul received the report, but nothing more is said about it. Perhaps Chloe’s people travelled from Corinth to Ephesus and communicated with Paul. It is also possible that Stephanas and friends (16:17) were the means by which the information that came from Chloe was communicated to Paul.”
Anthony Thiselton says, “Whether or not Chloe had church connections, probably her agents belonged to the church at Ephesus and had regular links with the church at Corinth. On their last return to Ephesus, as Fee vividly expresses it, they gave Paul an ‘earful’ about the state of the church at Corinth. ‘The mention of Chloe’s people gives credence to the report received by Paul. The report was not hearsay.'”
We don’t know who Chloe is. We don’t have certainty about who her people were. Schreiner and Thiselton offer some food for thought, but we don’t need them to get to the point of the text. The text is there, and that’s what we were given.
Either a church member or a group of church members were unable to effect change at Corinth. We don’t know what they did or did not do, what they tried to do or what they failed to do. We don’t know anything in detail. We don’t know if they filed charges, to use modern polity language, and they were dismissed, ignored, or blatantly rejected. But what we do know is that the message had to get from Corinth to Ephesus, from the heat of the struggle at Corinth to Paul. It was a cry for help. And the message arrived to Paul.
First Corinthians is the response of Paul to what he heard.
Chloe is not berated by Paul for taking her business before unbelievers. Thiselton thinks that perhaps Chloe did not have church connections (does that mean that perhaps she was not a Christian but some of her people were?) Regardless, the thing is that the Corinthian sin had public implications that could not have just been contained within the fences of the local church. Their bad witness was having public impact. The Christian lives in a glass display case, I like to often say. People from all kinds of backgrounds walk to our store, to put it that way, every day and notice whether we live what we proclaim. Do we love? Do we represent Christ? Are we the salt of the earth, the city on a hill?
A whole book of the Bible is written because the matter was reported, not gossiped to Paul, nor were they false allegations, that is, slander. The matter required the apostle’s correction. And you have 16 chapters of how Paul handled a dispute of that kind. The gospel is preached. Appeals are made; entreating is the way. Parakaleo is expected of those who have the Paraclete–those who can entreat do so because they have the Spirit in them. Truth is presented. Bad doctrine and practice is discussed in the light.
To this day, the reputation of the Corinthian church is marred by these actions. And we don’t know to what degree they repented or not. But we do know what was Paul’s response to this heinous sin. And as he was imitating Christ, we are to imitate him in this.
In the Old Covenant, that is before Christ came, lived a perfect life, died a brutal death on the cross for all my sins–past, present, and future, and rose again to be raised at the right hand of the Father, the people were given the following instruction:
“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.DEUTERONOMY 17:2–7 (ESV)
Before you freak out about the stoning, remember that’s what Christ took on the cross for you if you repent. His death is because of that. He took the stoning. Freak out now, but unto repentance. You can receive peace and reconciliation through His blood, shed for you at the cross.
In the Old Covenant, this was the means by which they kept the holiness, the sanctity, of the people of God. Evil sin was to be purged radically from their midst. In no uncertain terms. But because of that, they needed to be incredibly careful to not be swayed by appearances. They were called to inquire very diligently. And the witnesses needed to be very diligent. There is no, “You told Paul, Chloe, so we are not going to talk about this matter of the dude sleeping with his father’s wife. Until you repent of being naughty and telling on us, to Paul, there is no possible door to repentance. Don’t ever come back here.”
How much more should the church of Christ, redeemed and being redeemed now, be all the more diligent to purge the evil from her midst. No sacred cows. No preference. No hiding anything in us either. Sin must be constantly killed as any good reader of John Owen would say–“Cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
The Christian’s repentance, not afraid of shame or consequences, not afraid of appearances or implications, is a key witness unto salvation to a world that has found a way to minimize sin to such an extent that everyone can pretend with a straight face that sin is laughable, praiseworthy, admirable, and worthy of pursuit. May it not be so in the church of Christ.
When we minimize sin (https://chininin.com/2020/10/25/it-is-not-character-flaws/), let us not be surprised that we end up protecting the wrong honor and reputation, and not the honor and the reputation of the King of Kings. Don’t be swayed to think that you can protect the church. The church is Christ’s to protect, and His promise is sure: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
So, whoever Chloe may have been, if her people would not have carried this awful report to Paul, what would have happened?
Will you be like Chloe’s people or will you sit there, quote that one verse to placate your fear (I would know it–I’ve done it), and sit under abuse, sit under corruption, thinking you are doing the right thing by protecting the honor and reputation of an institution or a human? Or your own?
Yes, by all means, honor your elders, follow the polity, challenge things, ask questions, raise challenges, be gracious, be humble, listen, respond, correct. But if the thing is a swamp, not to quote the President, you may have to follow Christ and be like Chloe’s people. Do not be afraid. God put a whole book in the Bible to remind you He is with you, and nothing will ultimately defeat the advance of His precious gospel for His glory and our good.