Author: The Apostle Paul
Date written: AD55
The letter was written whilst Paul was in Ephesus; see 1 Corinthians 16:8
The founding of the church by Paul is recorded in Acts 18. Corinth was the place where Paul first met Priscilla and Aquila and joined them in making tents in order to support him while preaching the gospel there. Paul stayed there for a year and a half preaching and teaching the word of God.He saw the church as his responsibility hence he wrote to them the two letters that we have in our New Testament.
Corinth: was a most important city; it was considered 2nd in importance to Rome. It was a focal point as far as trading was concerned due to its strategic position in Greece. It had two large seaports which serviced the many trading ships from all over the Roman Empire. The surrounding area was extremely fertile and was famous for its olives, grapes, dates and other fruit. The people were wealthy and self possessed.
The city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, all of its famous arts and treasures being plundered and taken to Rome. Julius Caesar re-built it magnificently in 46 BC. It was then that it became Rome’s second city. Acrocorinth was a 500 feet high hill overlooking the city and the home of the temple and statue of the goddess Aphrodite. With the goddess of love and fertility looking over the city we can imagine the kind of practices that were common place in Corinth. They were the inspiration of the verb corinthian which describes a lifestyle of free love and all sorts of sexual practices. You are corinthian if you are free with your morals. The hippy movement was not new and radical they were merely corinthian!
The city continued to trade until 1852 when it was destroyed by a massive earthquake.
Paul came to the city in AD52 and the church was founded there through his ministry. The church had to live amongst a cosmopolitan, rich and licentious people. In fact when Paul addressed the church and spoke of immorality he reminded them that many of them were just like that before they were converted. (Ch.6:11)
It is this background information that helps us to understand the pressures that the Corinthian Christians lived under and also the temptations that some of the had fallen for. The ways of the world was infiltrating the church and Paul had to address the issues. As we read through both 1&2 Corinthians we see exactly the same issues in the world around us and so therefore the need for this letter to be expounded and taught is great today. Those who would have us believe that the bible is out of date and irrelevant must never have read any of Paul’s letters! Britain has become corinthian in it’s philosophy and practice. We have to live as the church amongst such people. Therefore we really need to study in depth this letter of Paul. It’s amazing isn’t it that we keep saying that about passage after passage of scripture. So much to learn and so little time given over to study!
Content of the letter:
Paul wrote a number of letters to the church at Corinth. There was certainly one before this one because he mentions it in chapter 5:9. Therefore this one is 2 Corinthians other than the Holy Spirit of God has not preserved the former as inspired scripture. There is some debate as to whether the letter that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3 is this letter or another that Paul wrote or whether there is one in between 1&2 Corinthians. At the end of the day it does not really matter as the Holy Spirit of God has determined that these two letters are useful for the teaching and edification of the church as per 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.
Paul clearly felt that he had a responsibility to keep in touch with the church by letter and also through the members of the church. It was some of Chloe’s household that had informed him of the quarrels amongst the believers. Paul writes in order to address the problems. As an Apostle he had both authority and concern for them. His concern being for the purity of the church he has to write severe words of criticism and correction.
The letter begins with greetings as Paul always does. He soon moves into a discourse on the glory of the cross. He follows this with the main body of the letter and ends with a defense of the resurrection.
The reason for writing is revealed in chapter 1 verse 11: Quarrels! There is division in the church and the division as Paul tells us in the following verses is all about the leaders. It seems that the leaders weren’t necessarily party to the division but had become the object of hero worship. Some were following the teaching of Apollos, others Paul and others Cephas (Peter)! Paul immediately brings them back to the right focus; to the Lord Jesus Christ and the centrality of the cross! He was showing them the importance of the gospel and the futility of arguments over their favourite preacher!
Lesson 1: For us it is not Lloyd Jones; Wesley; Whitefield; Luther or Calvin that is of vital importance but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is the “ foolish” message that our people need to hear.
The Corinthian church had lost its focus and a true perspective because they were arguing over the best preacher in their opinion; the result of this was that they did not see that all sorts of errors were abounding within the church. The result was then and always is that when we look away from Christ then we easily slip into sin! It is the same argument as the preacher in Ecclesiastes had. As he looked away from the Lord he saw problems and futility but when he looks into God’s face he sees things in a different light! The results of the Corinthian church’s arguments were as we shall see disastrous.
Lesson 2: Whenever we lose our spiritual focus then all sorts of things pass through the spiritual net!
Satan loves a church to be arguing amongst themselves because as we argue then the gospel is being nullified.
Paul’s answer to the divisions is found in chapter 3 where he tells them that they are:
- Still immature.
Therefore what is it that they need? Paul’s answer is a solid dose of truth; God’s truth! What is Apollos? What is Paul? They are merely servants of Jesus Christ (3:5). It is God who is the one who does the work! Therefore Paul’s argument is “follow Jesus” You belong to God through Christ and not Paul or anybody else! (3:23)
In chapters 4 and 9 Paul has to lay down his apostolic authority. His reputation among some of them is that he is weak and insignificant but he declares that his authority comes in the form as a servant to them! He is their spiritual father (4:15) and as such he has authority and responsibility to teach them the truth. His care goes further in that he is sending Timothy to help to teach them a better way than they are currently following. (4:17) He urges them to respond and to put right the wrongs among them or he will have to come with a “big stick” to deal with the issues.(4:21)
Lesson 3: We need good authority in the church to teach us to put right any wrongs that are in the church! We have the scripture which is our authority but God has also ordained that we have Elders that keep the rule of scripture in the church.
The more obvious results of the divisions in the Corinthian church are then listed in the next 4 chapters:
- Sexual Immorality in chapter5. A man was living with his step mother. A direct contradiction of God’s law; see Deuteronomy 27:20 “Cursed is the man who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonours his father’s bed.” They were proud of what was going on (5:2) even though it was under God’s covenant curse!
Lesson 4: Do we embrace sin in the church because of a lack of focus and clarity of the law of God?
- Disputes and lawsuits among believers in chapter 6. Paul tells them to deal with these sort of problems within the church. Obviously he is addressing arguments and not illegal practices, if a Christian is involved in illegal practices then we are not bound to secrecy or a cover up from the law to protect him. We are under the authority of the law of the land when we break the law we should be judged by the process of the law of the land! Paul here is addressing the problems within the church and with this he instructs the church to deal with it themselves in the way that the Lord Jesus taught. That is to go and speak with a brother who has offended you and if he refuses to listen to go with another and if then he does not listen to take it to the church. If this does not work then expel him from fellowship as an unbeliever, the underlying principle is always restoration!
- Rules for marriage in chapter 7. Paul teaches husbands and wives to care for each other properly; do not demand and do not deprive each other sexually unless mutually agreed. The result of doing so can be immorality on behalf of your spouse. Recognize each others needs!
Lesson 5: Wise advise for married couples and a protection for the church.
- Food sacrificed to idols: Corinth was full of idolatry and the subsequent love feasts associated with Aphrodite. The meat sacrificed to honour Aphrodite was freely available on the open market! Should a Christian eat such meat? Paul’s personal standpoint was that he could eat it without compromise but he recognized that weaker brothers had a problem with it. His advice is to abstain if it causes a brother to be offended or to fall away!
Lesson 6: Apply to drink, shopping on Sundays etc.
- Propriety in worship: in chapter 11
- The headship of Christ: in verses 2-16. Paul teaches how we are to approach God. We find here the “old chestnut” of head covering for women in the church. This is only an overview so we cannot (gladly) address it tonight. But just for your consideration look at verse 15 which speaks of a woman’s hair being her God given covering..
- The Lord’s Supper: in verse 17-34. Paul addresses gluttony amongst the worshippers. A memorial service soon became a place of greed therefore a token meal is recommended. It is the significance that is important and not a full stomach.
- The gifts and worship: in chapters 12-14. Paul reminds the church that we are one body with many parts. My hand is gifted to be a hand; if the gift is taken away then I am crippled etc. Love is the great theme of chapter 13, it is written in order that the church displays its love for each other. It is not written primarily for weddings but it is a useful reminder of our responsibility to each other on our wedding day! Verses 4-10 are rather cutting to a church that is so divided on many things. Read!
- Tongues and prophesy: in chapter 14. This is another reason as to why I am glad that this is just an overview. The overall purpose of chapter 14 is to teach the church that worship must be descent and orderly. Structured and not chaos.
Lesson 7: When we gather together we need to remember that it is Christ who is the head of the church that it is Him we worship and it is Him we remember at the Lord’s Table. When we fight we need to be reminded of the Christ like love that we are expected to show to each other.
Chapter 15 rounds the letter off with the great theme of resurrection with chapter 16 covering the issue of giving to the church and with final greetings to the church.
This letter addresses issues close to the heart of the church today. It is needed to be taught and studied in our churches as we live within our own corinthian society. The church is easily infiltrated by the world around us. Our own experience could so easily be similar to Corinth and so we are grateful to the Apostle Paul who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not shy away from his apostolic responsibility but he wrote this letter for our benefit today.