1 Corinthians 1:1-9

  • 25 January 2023
  • Bruce Kaye

Bruce Kaye on ‘The Patient Ferment of Open Christian Living’


Social scientists tell us that we have been living in a time of momentous change and on many fronts. We can see that ourselves in simple material things. 

The material world of change 

  • From horse and cart delivered full cream milk to supermarket and many types of milk
  • From booked phone calls at Christmas to mobile phones
  • Travel and different cultures encountered beyond wildest dreams
  • From an Anglo Saxon white civilisation with accepted open racism to a committed multicultural society with latent racism driven into dark corners of our society only coming out into view occasionally especially with Indigenous Australians
  • The immanent destruction of the environment by the indulgent exploitation of carbon based power from coal and oil

There has been a lot of change

The wave of cultural change that has been seen in many things that affect churches and christian faith

  • The assertion of the priority of the individual over against social frameworks
  • The moral reputation of churches shredded by their failures to deal with sexual abuse in their institutions.
  • The relegation of christianity from being the influential ally of government and a powerful source of social influence, to churches catering for a minority personal option for those interested in such things.

The situation for christians in Corinth to whom Paul wrote runs in the opposite direction

  • An established, wealthy, socially divided city with  a corrupt and immoral port culture  – ‘not for every young man the trip to Corinth’
  • A new religion trying to make sense of how to live in this well-established context while at the same time trying to make out the lines of their new faith in Christ.

Corinthian christians were socially enmeshed and learning about their new christian faith from scratch.

On the other hand, christians in Australia have long been socially enmeshed with a long history of collaboration of our church institutions with the state are now being rapidly relegated to the side lines of the culture.


Paul opens his letter by characterising the christian Corinthians 

  • Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints
  • The grace of God that has been given to you
  • You have been enriched in every way
  • He will strengthen you to the end so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ

BUT immediately he is involved in responding to a series of moral issues and problems in this christian community in Corinth.

Some of the problems 

Bitter rivalries about leadership – parties – news from Chloe’s people 

Incest, unresolved personal grievances between christians being taken to court, fornication of various sorts, marriage, eating food that has been used in a pagan sacrifice, wearing head covering in the community meetings, chaos and disorder in the fellowship meals in the community, spiritual pride .

Clearly some are essentially local and some are more widely to be found in communities.

Some of these, but not all, might be relevant to our situation here in Watsons Bay.

So, for our part here, we need to figure out as a community how we should live as christians in the light of our circumstances and our heritage of christian faith.


Five years ago an important book was published by an American theologian on how this challenge was met by the earliest christians. His book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Christians, focuses on the period after the first apostles of Jesus. He highlights the community character of their endeavour and focuses on some unexpected points. 

He identifies a ferment in the christian communities in their commitment to living truly christian lives in a generally hostile social environment and at the same time a remarkable patience in this commitment.


They were figuring out how to live out a new faith in a context in which that faith is increasingly creating questions for them

Even in the first generation we can see this being worked out in Paul’s relations with the christian community in Corinth. Indeed, the NT letters generally are all dealing with this issue. 1 Peter is a very good example of this challenge. The apostles in each case are providing advice on how to be a christian and how to be a christian community.

The ferment in this is created by the formation of christian character after the image of Christ on the one hand and on the other hand the presence of God in the life of the christian and the christian community. 

This twofold dynamic is embedded in Paul’s description of the christian Corinthians 

1 Cor 1. 4-9  

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inspired by the presence of God through his Spirit and shaped by the character of Christ

This dynamic is central to our christian existence. Guidelines we may have, but not comprehensive laws to lean upon.

Led by the spirit and making judgements about how to live.

Doing so within a framework of a community of christians who, individually and together, are trying to discern a way to be christian in the particularities of their lives.

That is the ferment that Kreider describes and it contains the marks of the apostolic faith the we profess today.


Alan Kreider points out that patience was not a virtue in the wider culture in which the early christians lived, but it was centrally important to these early christians. ‘It was the first virtue about which they wrote a treatise and they wrote no fewer than three treatises on it’. 

Not just in the second generation but from the beginning patience was a key character of christian experience .In 1 Cor 13 Paul first explains how essential is love in the christian understanding. When he goes on to describe the moral character of love the first thing he says is that ‘love is patient’.  

James tells his readers, Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. 

What drives this christian virtue is the conviction that our lives are in the hands of God and in his good time his will will be done. James was right in writing ‘Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord’


We can learn from Paul and also Alan Kreider

In our changing situation, even here at Watsons Bay, we can learn from each other, not just casually, but with earnest intent about the actual events of our attempts to live christianly today in our changing society. Such an intent might give us a taste of the energy and ferment that Alan Kreider describes of the early christians – our christian predecessors.

Such an intentional engagement will require a great deal of mutual trust and patience.

In that respect we will be walking in the footsteps of our christian predecessors in Corinth.

So, in this Epiphany  we might strive to be

Inspired by the Spirit 

Shaped by the character of Christ

Engaged with each other with patience and love

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