This is what the ancient ruins of Corinth look like today. Special thanks to Joe for the image, who had the chance to visit this site last year.
The Apostle Paul spent most of his ministry in places like Greece and Rome, far away from the church at Jerusalem and God’s chosen people, the Hebrews. The Grecco-Roman world was populated by a pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses, whose stories of jelousy and betrayal make our soap operas look like children’s stories. It is probably safe to say most Greek adult men were bisexual (I was actually taught they all were.) A skilled craftsmen, for instance, would have had a wife and children at home, but also have been having sex with a younger apprentice who was studying the master’s trade. This was typical in the culture. The public bath houses were “meeting places” for leaders of the city and merchants to meet daily. The original Olympic games were held nude; and only men were allowed.
Paul would have been surrounded by it. There’s no way he missed the decadent and sinful way of life going on all around him. But we don’t see Paul marching through the streets of Corinth or Ephesus wearing a sandwich board sign declaring that “God hates fags,” Fred Phelps style. What is Paul doing? He is using the Old Testament prophets to show that Jesus is the Messiah. He is planting churches and training church leaders.
Should we be fighting the culture war? Between the teachings of Jesus and Paul, we are taught to respect the leaders of this world, as long as they do not go against the laws of God. We are instructed as much as possible to live at peace with all men. Jesus advocated paying taxes, even though he knew in the days of the Roman Empire that those taxes supported the elegant lifestyles of the Roman governors, and helped raise an army or Roman soldiers to keep people like the Jews in subjection. We are taught to live differently than the culture, not to be up at arms against it. We are a part of the culture, there is no denying that. If we isolate ourselves from the culture we live in completely, we cannot live out our witness, and be a city set on a hill. We could not care for the widow and the fatherless. The people of our culture need to see us living differently, with a different standard or morality, a different set of goals and priorities, and with a different attitude toward money, possessions, etc. If Jesus and Paul did not fight the first century culture war, we have no Biblical basis for fighting one now. An evil culture isn’t something new that has come along in recent history.