“Since you are so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church?” (1 Corinthians 14:12, The Message)
It could be said that, almost in its entirety, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians moves toward this verse. From what Biblical scholars have been able to piece together, it appears that members of the church community in Corinth had attempted to use their “freedom in Christ” as license to practice their faith without regard for others. As a result, there is significant dissension in the congregation and, therefore, the integrity of their witness to the Christian faith has been compromised. Paul is deeply hurt by this news, having helped establish the congregation on his second missionary journey. He writes to them, much like a parent might communicate with an erring child, in an effort to remind them of the kind of life they have adopted in Christ.
Central to his message is the reminder that they are now part of something bigger than themselves–they have become members of Christ’s own body, the church. As such, they are connected to one another in such a way that they must always consider the impact of their actions on other members of the body. The freedom they have received in Christ does not give them permission to abandon concern for their brothers and sisters. In fact, time and time again Paul reiterates that they should be putting the interests of others above their own.
Reading Paul’s letter, it seems that the attempt to privatize religion is nothing new. Even in the early church, there was the temptation to turn the life of faith into a self-indulgent exercise. Paul offers us a wonderful antidote in chapter 13, a passage meant to apply not only to young couples at the altar, but to all who join themselves to the body of Christ. When we love one another the way he describes it, we’ll be on the right track, for Christ’s sake.