Many individuals moved to the New World with the incentive of religious freedom. Over the years, regardless of the denomination, religious tolerance has been a fairly well-fulfilled objective. Most people in the American colonies could practice the religion they wanted to pursue. Toleration even extended to those who were enslaved. Slaves brought non-Christian beliefs with them and those beliefs were generally tolerated by the colonists. Despite this limited freedom, large numbers of slaves chose to convert from African beliefs to western beliefs. Their conversion was not immediate and it was not advertised; the process was slow and somewhat quiet. As a result, there is little conversation today about the conversion of slaves to Christianity, the purposes of the conversion, and their impact on the nation are a quiet thread in the fabric of our country’s complex history.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to to the people of Corinth includes one of his most resilient messages. It was written to followers at a new church who faced many conflicts as they tried to survive in a new, spiritual world. Followers in Corinth were, in some notable ways, similar to those who were living in the American colonies. They faced physical threats from outsiders, dissention and in-fighting internally, and a sense of loneliness. They wanted something better, they wanted a land of promise, but the path was not as easy as they had hoped. Similarly, slaves in the colonies also faced physical threats, a fractured environment, and a sense of loneliness. Paul wrote his words of encouragement to deliver spiritual resilience and motivation. His letter to the Corinthians delivers instructions, much like the military leader to scared and unsettled troops, to stay strong and hold the lines. Each section of the quote above gives a specific, heartening instruction.
Be on Your Guard. Paul asked these early Christians to stay alert and watch their surroundings carefully. A possibility of division within the church could arise. Threats and sin often arise from within an environment rather than outside of it, so cautiousness must be taken. Stand Firm in the Faith. Paul encouraged followers to stay firm in their beliefs. Spiritual faith is not easy; it is beset by challenges, doubts, and misgivings. He advised the Corinthians that Christianity requires a commitment to certain beliefs and an unbending trust in God. Paul made it clear that faith is firmly held, it is not simply observed on a part-time basis. Be Courageous. Paul understood the frailty of men and women; he knew they would have doubts. He knew they would face obstacles and he knew that they would have to sacrifice in order to commit to the Lord. Paul knew the young Christians had no physical weapons to battle doubt, obstacles, and sacrifices, but he knew they had a great spiritual tool: courage. He knew true courage was everlasting and that it could not be conquered. Finally, Paul wanted the followers to, Be Strong. Strength allowed the Corinthians to believe and to trust. It allowed them to maintain their determination and faith. It allowed them to see in spiritual darkness, to love in times of anger, and to believe in times of doubt. Strength allowed them to defeat weakness. Strength allowed even the weakest to maintain determination. These were assets that would aid the Corinthians; they were also assets that could aid American colonists, slaves, and abolitionists as well.
Paul reminded the young followers at the church in Corinth that their commitment to God and to love would not be easy, but the challenges they faced were surmountable. The Christians–both in Corinth and the American colonies–could defeat any hardship because God, in his grace, had already given them tools to do it. Paul’s message was a reminder to use the gifts God gave them.
The quote reveals that with continuous faith and love, both survival and salvation can occur. It is a message that served the Corinthians well, and it is a message that offered hope for future generations. The message, like the teachings of Jesus, said that God’s love and eternal salvation are offered to anyone and everyone; in fact, God even gives followers the tools he or she can use to survive and flourish. Paul’s message is one of promised hope, but not everyone accepted it. Some in the American colonies embraced it with enthusiasm and vigor, while others twisted its meaning and converted the words for their own selfish reasons. The two spiritual approaches towards Paul’s message are highlighted when examining the institution of slavery in America.
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