To the church of God in Corinth . . . sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy (1 Cor. 1:2).
Today we begin a series of reflections from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.
Day one of 1 Corinthians causes me to imagine what’s it’s like to be in base camp the night before your begin to climb Everest. After a restless night, I’m waking up this morning, pulling my pack on while I look at this imposing mountain of a book, wishing I could just curl up in my own familiar bed and climb nothing more demanding than the stairs in my house.
As with any climb or any journey there’s a first step to be taken. Once taken, the next step is right there. Steps accumulate and after a while you’re amazed at the ground you’ve covered. That’s what I’m praying for as we ascend the heights of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Today is step one.
Oddly enough we begin with a principle from physics. That’s a little surprising to me since I never actually took physics. Somehow 1 Corinthians keeps bringing this word to mind. The word is “entropy.” My Webster’s dictionary tells me that “entropy” is the “measure of the degree of disorder in a substance or system: entropy always increases and the amount of available energy diminishes in a closed system.”
I have no idea how that works in the world of physics, but I know how it works in my house. Occasionally, usually on a Saturday, we will literally get our house in order. Hosting a party is always a great motivator for this kind of work. When we’re done the house smells fresh and the floors shine, the countertops are cleared and the sink is empty and fresh sheets are on the bed. On a good week that fresh just-been-cleaned look lasts for about twenty-four hours.
What happens? Entropy. Disorder inevitably creeps back into the system called “house.” A dish or two is left in the sink, a bath towel doesn’t get placed back on the towel rack, clothes are thrown toward the hamper but not in it. The system gravitates toward disorder. Apart from intervention it soon becomes a full blown wreck.
Entropy is also at work in the life of faith. If you want to get a picture of how that works, read 1 Corinthians. Paul had spent about eighteen months in Corinth sharing the story of Jesus, bringing people to faith. Living the Christian faith in Corinth was a form of urban warfare. But Paul managed to pull together a church, helped them get on their feet and then he moved on, as missionary church planters are prone to do.
Some time after he had left, he received a letter and a visit from some friends from Corinth. The house was in disarray. They were bickering with each other, they were confused about moral issues, they were buying into some whacky doctrine, they were suing each other and going to court instead of working out their own problems. The Christian community there was falling apart like a wet tortilla. Entropy.
It was time for Paul to intervene and he did so with a written masterpiece of encouragement and correction we know as 1 Corinthians.
In the weeks ahead we’re going to think about the life of faith and how our spiritual well being is not perpetually self-sustaining. Entropy is at work. It is often slow, so slow that we barely notice it. But apart form careful attention and a measure of discipline our walk with Jesus will go off the rails. We’ll be watching how it happened in Corinth – and hopefully we start noticing how it happens to us.
When and how have you experienced spiritual entropy?
Gracious God, I don’t want my life to be a closed system. Disorder gradually seeps into my soul, even as I’m trying to follow you faithfully. Use these coming weeks to help me detect those places where my spiritual energy has diminished. Let Paul’s words to the people of Corinth be your word to me. Amen.