Paul was a traveling apostle, not the local pastor of Corinth. Nevertheless, he had to deal with the members of this flock in a pastoral way, teaching, encouraging and rebuking them.
I’ve spend some years studying 1 Corinthians, and I must admit honestly, that if I had been Paul, I would have been heavily tempted to abandon the Corinthian church, and that long before he wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 56. The fact that Paul did not do so is a testimony to what God was doing at Corinth. It is estimated that there were perhaps 60-100 Christians in Corinth, distributed among 3-4 congregations, which met in private homes. It took two years to plant that church; it had then received five years of further apostolic care from Paul, then Apollos, probably Cephas/Peter, not to mention Timothy, Titus and other team members. It carried on regular written correspondence with Paul. It was a church for which Paul anxiously prayed every day (2 Cor 11:28).
Yet compared with the other churches, Corinth gave back poor returns for Paul’s investment. He does not commend them as he does Philippi or Thessalonica for their evangelistic work, and 2 Cor 10:16 may imply that Corinth had not gotten far into evangelizing their own region, Achaia; yet in the meantime, both Achaia and Macedonia had heard about the gospel work in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:7-8). The Corinthians consumed more resources and energy than they produced; they ate up the apostle’s time and energy when he should have been focusing on the “open doors” in other places (1 Cor 16:8-9).
Some deprecated Paul’s work, even though they owed him their souls. They laughed behind his back that he was crude and simplistic, a loser. Some devalued his gospel by ranking it second to popular philosophy. They rejected whole apostolic doctrines, such as the resurrection of the dead. They were arrogant and boastful, and cruel to their own poor. They justified themselves for rejecting marriage on one hand or for visiting prostitutes on the other. They took each other to court and hurled insults at each other.
If Paul were like us, wouldn’t he have left the church, walked across the city and planted a new work of Christ from scratch? Wouldn’t common sense tell him that if he stopped wasting his time with these few dozen people, he could start another work and surpass that number in a very short time? Why not pour his time into a Second Corinthian Church? He could not do so because Christ would not allow it. For these bothersome individuals were not simply marks in a ledger that should be written off as a bad investment. Rather they were God’s chosen people. And despite the inexcusable things they did and said, Paul perceived that the Spirit was working in them and would continue to do so (1 Cor 1:4-9). As one of the early church fathers wrote around AD 117, a pastor should not spend all his time with the pleasant disciples of the congregation: “If you love only good disciples, it is no credit to you.” (Ignatius Epistle to Polycarp 2.1).
What modern pastor can endure months of this treatment, let alone years? We are in a rush to reap results that we can measure and boast of before other shepherds. We forget that God is not in a hurry. What foolishness it would be to storm off from God’s flock when he may be preparing to do a fresh work among them in a few short years.
When a pastor becomes furious at his sheep for their slowness or stubbornness; when he berates them for their stupidity; when he threatens to leave them; when he beats them in anger rather than chastise them in love; then this pastor has left behind the ministry of Christ and wandered into a ministry of the flesh. Anger cannot accomplish a work for God; impatience, boasting, rudeness and sarcasm are never tools of God’s Spirit.
Download my full commentary on 1 Corinthians at
“Why you’ve never heard of the Second Corinthian Church,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica