(Man! The Corinthians did some bad stuff. How would you approach them? What follows is an excerpt from chapter eleven--The Eyes Have It--of my book, Better Off Than You Think. Reading it just now, it was helpful to me. To you?)
When Paul thought of the Corinthians he thought of them as they had become, not as they behaved. He lived by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), and that framed every view for Paul.
He knew that if they were acting in ways contrary to who they had become it was because they had forgotten who they had become! Paul’s first duty was not to the correction of their behavior (“Stop that, you cruddy Corinthians!”), but to the awakening of their faith in God, who had made them sons!
Paul approached the Corinthians not with a behavior curtailing whack but with an attempt to draw them back to worship. They needed revival more than they needed restraint! The Corinthian Christians looked and did ugly not because they were in fact ugly but because they had become ugly in their thinking. They had forgotten the majesty of God’s mercy to them in Christ – forgiven! – and the incredible change He had made for them - new creation! – and their behavior made it obvious. When faith is dormant or sickly, who looks particularly good? What’s needed is the truth that revives.
We find it also in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2 NIV, italics mine.)
Without the proper “view of God’s mercy,” nobody rightly offers their body and nobody has any particular reason to worship, no matter how we might scold or prod them.
The Corinthians’ behavior was awful, but it had not changed who they had become, so, in faith, Paul appealed to that. Instead of first giving them restrictions, he gave them revival. Instead of conforming them to a proper look, he built them up in Christ. His purpose was far higher than behavioral correction – how is that any different from what the world does? Because Paul believed the Corinthians had been made spiritual sons of God, his first target was transformation through the renewal of their minds, not by the correction of their behavior.
His focus was riveted upon the unseen because that’s where true life is understood, and from that focus Paul approached whatever he encountered. Because their behavior was so awful it was obvious to Paul that while his focus was secure, theirs wasn’t! So he directed their thoughts back to what God had done for them and what He thought of them, all in the unseen. With that in focus, with God’s opinion restored in their thinking, they could begin again to live by faith! And the ten could see what only the two once did.
I am not saying behavior is unimportant: I am saying that our way to behavior is vital. If, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1), then perhaps the worst thing we can do for the behaviorally ugly Christian is to curtail their freedom by introducing restrictions before reintroducing them to awe inspired worship and renewed faith. See to their heart first.