"What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?" wrote Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth. With their internal squabbles, disorderly worship, false apostles,and sexual immorality, the Corinthian Christians earned the dubious honor of having their shortcomings immortalized in two New Testament letters.

Evidently, the problems in Corinth did not entirely go away. One of the earliest Christian writings we have outside the New Testament is another letter written to the divisive Corinthians, this time from a leader of the church in Rome in the generation after Paul.

The letter is anonymous and claims to be from the entire Christian community in Rome, but later Christians attributed it to Clement, a respected church leader who had apparently known Peter and Paul. For this reason it is called 1 Clement. It was probably written around A.D. 96, soon after a period of persecution during the reign of the emperor Domitian.

The Roman Christians knew what it was like to deal with problems in their own community and to suffer from the hostility of others. And they knew that, since the apostles were now gone, it was extremely important to hold on tightly to the apostles' legacy if Christians were to remain unified and strong in their faith. The church in Corinth needed to be reminded once again.

1 Clement shows us that the early Christians struggled with the same temptations we do—envy, selfishness, pride—and were sometimes in need of the same tough love from fellow believers.

The evil of envy

The discord in Corinth in the 90s apparently flared up when a group of young "impetuous and headstrong" would-be leaders ousted the older, respected leaders (according to Clement, who ...

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