Part seven of the 1 Corinthians 13 series.
“It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
1 Corinthians 13:5
Word had got back to Paul, from Chloe’s household, that things in the Corinthian church were getting a little toxic. The chaotic atmosphere in worship gatherings distracted people from the message of Jesus Christ and Paul’s letter was an attempt to get things back on track. People were jealous of each other’s gifts and these feelings of resentment spilled out into the church. It had become a regular occurrence for church members to heckle each other if they didn’t agree or thought they had something better to say! Some were speaking in tongues, with no one to translate what they were saying, which caused confusion for those listening. At the Lord’s supper, small cliques had developed and due to their greed, others went hungry as these select parties stuffed their faces. Paul wasn’t impressed!
Although we have focused on 1 Corinthians 13, I’d like you to jump back a chapter. Paul pointed out that everyone in the church had been given a gift by God ‘for the common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7). He talked about the church as a body, each part essential in sharing the message of Jesus Christ. This description of the church was followed by the words of love, patience, and kindness found in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul was calling out those who were dominating church gatherings, pushing themselves forward and were prone to outbursts of anger. He was doing this because he loved the church at Corinth deeply and he knew this kind of behaviour would damage the health of the church body.
In his book ‘When to walk away,’ Gary Thomas describes the damage a toxic person can do in our lives. I would just add that he spends a long time explaining that those who are struggling, difficult or disruptive do not necessarily fall into the category of toxic.
“Toxic people exist inside and outside the church and are those trying to take you down. A thirty-minute interaction with them (in person, on the phone, or even a Facebook exchange) can require a week of recovery. You keep thinking about what they said, and you’re so disturbed you can’t get them out of your mind. You find yourself fighting them when they aren’t even present, and they keep showing up in your thoughts even when you’re not trying to go there.”
I am sad to say that there were many examples I could have shared, going back to my childhood, where I witnessed this kind of behaviour in church. I saw leaders broken when “feedback” was shared in anger rather than in love and decisions were pushed through for the benefit of a small group rather than the whole body of the church. I am more saddened by the fact that there were many occasions where I should have spoken up when I witnessed this behaviour. Ironically, it was the final part of our verse today that often lead me to stay silent. It felt “unchristian” to challenge their behaviour. Due to my faulty belief that "keeping no record of wrongs" meant that I should say nothing, forgive them and try to “love them out of it,” I kept quiet. We do the church a disservice when we ignore areas of toxicity, hoping that they will improve on their own. Paul's letter to the Corinthians reminds us that it is possible to address these issues from a place of love and grace, in fact, the health of the church depends on it!