Imagine living as a Christian in a wealthy, cosmopolitan city, with a beautiful climate and stunning coastline. A city that hosts Olympic games. A place where citizens from across the world mingle. A place known partly as an intellectual and trade center, but even more for its night-life, parties, and celebrations of hedonism and promiscuity. A place of broken marriages and commonplace adultery. A place where the church is small and counter-cultural, and when known is either misunderstood, despised, or persecuted. Like many global cities today, this was Corinth in the days of the early church.
Somewhere in the last two decades of the first century, likely twenty years after the death of the apostle Paul, a pastoral letter arrived at the church here. The author, traditionally identified as Clement of Rome, was a minister of the gospel in Rome. He was familiar with the struggles and challenges in the life of the Corinthian church, as in his own church and city. He recognized the authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as God’s sufficient Word for life and salvation. He lived aware that he was in the presence of the holy, good, and gracious Triune God. What did he write to them?
“The church of God that sojourns in Rome to the church of God that sojourns in Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ: May grace and peace from almighty God through Jesus Christ be yours in abundance…”
“Seeing then that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do the things that pertain to holiness, forsaking slander, disgusting and impure embraces, drunkenness and rioting and detestable lusts, abominable adultery, detestable pride. ‘For God,’ it says, ‘resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Let us clothe ourselves with concord, being humble and self-controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words…Let our praise be with God, and not from ourselves, for God hates those who praise themselves.”
“Let us therefore cling to his blessing, and let us investigate what are the pathways of blessing. Let us study the records of the things that have happened from the beginning. Why was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he attained righteousness and truth through faith? With confidence, Isaac, knowing the future, went willingly to be sacrificed…”
“Anyone who sincerely considers these matters one by one will understand the magnificence of the gifts that are given by God…All therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions that they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have done in holiness of heart; but through faith [in Christ Jesus] by which the Almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Clement of Rome, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, chapters 31-32. [c.96 AD]