I received the following question:
I have always wondered how it was that the Corinthians who were “the ekklesia of God,” could have gotten so far out of the will of God concerning so many things. I Cor. 1:2 addresses these as “the ekklesia of God”. v.2-v.9 marks these believers out to be right with the Lord. Then Paul starts in on what is wrong, and the rest of I Cor. is mostly an indictment of what is wrong with this ekklesia. How could they have been the leaders of the believers and been that messed up? Does the direction of Paul’s dialogue change to the regular “Joe” at some point and it was they and not the “ekklesia” that was guilty of these sins?
Great question. No, I don’t think that the audience of the letter switches partway through to the average “Joe” believer in Corinth. The letter is addressed to the ekklesia, and the issues dealt with concern the ekklesia throughout. Clearly, though these men have been called to leadership positions in God’s kingdom as it existed at that time, nevertheless they were still far from perfect or sinless. They messed up in many and notable ways, and did things God’s leaders should never do. They had been set free from the law of sin and death, but they were in many ways still in the grip of their own failure until God would act to redeem them as well from their fallen bodies.
It is amazing to consider that, in spite of all the kingdom advantages they had at this time, the ekklesia of God in Corinth could get off the track like they obviously did, as the book of I Corinthians indicates. Yet I think this is another of those odd, Acts period things we find not only in Acts but also in the books written during the time the history of that book covers. The kingdom was only there in part. These men had entered that kingdom, and had even been given a rulership position in it, but they did not yet have the full advantages that kingdom would give them, like new, sinless bodies. Therefore, they were not entirely the kind of people the kingdom will produce as its leaders when it comes in full.
There are multiple examples of things that would happen in the Acts period that we would suspect one could not get away with in the kingdom when it will have fully come in. For one thing, in III John, we read of a man named Diotrephes who had taken preeminence among the ekklesia, and was using that position to reject John’s letters, and also to turn away from hospitality brothers who came to them from other places. John promises to take care of this matter when he comes. However, until he went there, it seems that Diotrephes was able to get away with his selfish and ungodly actions. There would be kingdom punishment, it seems, but only when John was present in person. When John was not there, Diotrephes got away with it.
It seems as if there are many things in the Acts period which were dependent upon God’s representatives being present, or doing what they were supposed to be doing. The Corinthian ekklesia should have mourned at the deed of the man who had his father’s wife and brought him into judgment. Instead, they didn’t do this, but became puffed up that they were so gracious as to receive him. Paul admonishes them to do what they should have done. Even the least esteemed man among them had the power to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, and they should do that. So the kingdom was there, but it would not act until those to whom God had given the authority would do their job. Even when Ananias and Sapphira died, it was not until God’s representative Peter said they should. God could sometimes act on His Own, as He did in the case of Tabitha, but generally He worked through His apostles and other ekklesia men.
When it comes right down to it, this might not be all that different from the way it will be when the full kingdom comes. God is going to set up a government on what we might call the “flow” system, and I think that most of the time He will use it. God’s plan is not to do everything in the kingdom Himself and all we will be doing is being subject to it. God plans to use us in this work, and I doubt He will often bypass the system of people He has set up. The difference there is that the people He uses will be remade in His likeness, whereas the rulers in the Acts period were still in their sinful bodies, and so failed more often and more spectacularly than rulers in the full kingdom will ever do. Yet I think the principle that God will often wait to act until He can act through His people will be the same.
For example, if someone dies in the kingdom in an accident, God could immediately reverse it and spring the person back to life. Yet far more likely He will wait for His designated healer to show up, and then will do the job through that person. It is not necessary for Him to do this, of course, and if there is some reason He should, He will be able to fix the problem Himself on the spot. It will be the privilege of those ekklesia men that that is how God will choose to work, not any necessity on His part. So probably many of the problems we see in the Acts period were because of just that: God was choosing to act through His representatives rather than directly on His Own, and His representatives at that time were not yet nearly what they should have been. Yet interestingly, He chose to act that way anyway. Much more, that is how He will act when His rulers are remade to conform to His image.