A study of 1 Corinthians: #1 Addressing the ‘main’ issues (an introduction)

07 Nov

Solomon observed in his day that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He tried to prepare his generation for a thought we need to hear today: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, forever.”

When some of us were much younger, because of the disillusionment with organized religion, people were saying “Jesus, yes! The church, no!” They were hearing about church problems and deciding they wanted little or nothing to do “with that group,” though, if truth be known, they were not in the midst of God’s people so they weren’t getting the full picture. Those same words could also be said today.

  1. It reminds me of a phrase heard early in my ministry: “To live above with those we love, O, that will be glory. But to dwell below with those we know, well, that’s another story.”
  2. Charles Hodge has this response: “Stick with those you’re stuck with!” when discussing sectarianism, which we will discuss more completely next Sunday.

These sentiments could have been used it with sincerity in Corinth back in AD 56, because the local church there was in serious trouble. Sad to say, the problems did not stay within the church family; they were known by the unbelievers outside the church.

But what does ‘that’ have to do with ‘us?’ You are fair to ask that question, but I am of the belief (and I know many of you think the same way) that this “eternal book” has much to say to our generation.

It’s From God to us: Perhaps you are of the minority today who may wonder: How do these ancient words apply today? We are distanced from the original readers by time, space, culture, and language. But we do share five striking similarities with the Corinthian Christians:

  1. We are people equally needing God’s truthful instruction.
  2. We live in a similar aggressively pluralistic society that denies absolutes and makes “personal rights” absolute.
  3. This claim to personal rights challenges the lordship of Jesus Christ within the church today, even as it did then.
  4. The ancient philosophy that “might and money make right” continues to divide churches and destroy people’s lives.
  5. The resurrection of Jesus Christ remains the solid fact upon which our faith rests. To some, it will always be a stumbling block.

My conclusion: so, in spite of the obvious differences between ourselves and the Corinthians, the points of similarity make it crucial that we read this letter as God’s Word for our day. He is going to be talking to me and you!

Somehow, an expression of thanksgiving is not what I would have expected from Paul at this point in time. Here is a church that has begun to listen to false teachers and who is challenging Paul’s authority. Here is a church which condones immorality and “unconditionally accepts” a man whose sin shocks the unbelieving pagans of that city. Here is a church whose personal conflicts are being aired out before unbelieving eyes in secular courts. How can Paul possibly give thanks?

Paul believed that the real cause of the Corinthians’ problem was not errant philosophies but a lack of love for each other. Instead of unifying around the gospel message, the Corinthians had created divisions by asserting themselves in public worship and at the Lord’s Supper. They had sided with one teacher over another.

Paul does not give thanks for the sins and failures of these saints. Paul gives thanks to God for what He has done and for what He will ultimately do for His children.

To deal with this deeper issue, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to focus on Christ. As members of Christ’s body, they should be united to do Christ’s work. If they could learn to love each other, they would grow in their faith. Thus, the unifying theme of this corrective letter is the unity of Christians in Christ’s body, the church (12:13). [1]


If we had any doubts  about what Paul was excited  about, what was at the center of his thoughts and intentions, this first paragraph of one of his most varied and lengthy letters would soon put  us straight.

One name keeps coming  up, over and over again. It’s good to remind  ourselves where Paul’s heart  lay, because we can easily read the whole  letter merely as an  argumentative tract,  almost  bossy sometimes, setting the Corinthians right about  this and that, as though  his only concern was to lick them  into shape.

In the first 10 verses of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the name of Jesus Christ occurs no fewer than ten times. This was going to be a difficult letter for it was going to deal with a difficult situation, and in such a situation Paul’s first and repeated thought was of Jesus Christ.

Paul couldn’t stop  talking  about Jesus, because without Jesus nothing  else he said or did made any sense. And what he wants the Corinthians (and us) to get hold of most of all is what it means to have Jesus at the middle of your story, your life, your thoughts,  your  imagination. N. T. Wright said: “If they could do that,  all the other  issues that  rush  to and fro  through the letter will  sort themselves out.”

I’ve said over the years that we need to “fall in love with Jesus Christ,” and IF we do, some of the things we’re asked to do will be less difficult!

In particular, he wants  them  to have Jesus at the center of their understanding of the world and of history.  Most of the Christians  in Corinth  had   not   been   Jews,  but   ordinary ‘pagans’.  They had  been Gentiles, believing in various  gods and goddesses….But without any idea that  history,  the story of the world, was going anywhere,  or that their own lives might be  part  of  that  forward movement.

Again  and  again  Paul wants them to learn this lesson: that they (and all Christians) have/should be caught up into  a great movement  of the love and power of the one true God, the God of Israel, whose work for the whole world had now  been  unveiled  through the  events concerning his  son. That’s why Jesus is at the center of the picture.

Sometimes in the Church we try to deal with a difficult situation by means of a book of laws and in the spirit of human justice; sometimes in our own affairs we try to deal with a difficult situation in our own mental and spiritual power. Paul did none of these things; to his difficult situation he took Jesus Christ, and it was in the light of the Cross of Christ and the love of Christ that he sought to deal with it.

How do these issues arise in the church?

  1. Church of “faith” compared to the “church of fact.”
  2. Importance of holding a “private view” after “we don’t/won’t do that here.”

The members of the church permitted the sins of the city to get into the local assembly.

Corinth was a polluted city, filled with every kind of vice and worldly pleasure. About the lowest accusation you could make against a man in that day would be to call him “a Corinthian.” People would know what you were talking about.

Corinth was also a proud, philosophical city, with many itinerant teachers promoting their speculations. Unfortunately, this philosophical approach was applied to the Gospel by some members of the church, and this fostered division. The congregation was made up of different “schools of thought” instead of being united behind the Gospel message.

Of course, when you have proud people, depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems. In order to help them solve their problems, Paul opened his letter by reminding them of their calling in Christ. He pointed out three important aspects of this calling.

Paul first attacked the serious problem of defilement in the church, yet he said nothing about the problem itself. Instead, he took the positive approach and reminded the believers of their high and holy position in Jesus Christ.

“Set apart” by God – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 (ESV) Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2  To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul wanted the minds of the Corinthian believers to be immediately centered upon Jesus Christ. He knew this: the answer to the Corinthian problems did not lay in his ability to discuss and reason, nor in his laying down rules and regulations for them, but in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he immediately discussed some of the resources which the believer receives when he accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

  1. Resource 1: the grace of God, given by Jesus Christ (v. 4).
  2. Resource 2: the gifts of God’s grace and Spirit (vv. 5–7).
  3. Resource 3: Jesus Christ Himself—His security and assurance (v. 8).
  4. Resource 4: God Himself—His call (v. 9).[2]

Look how, with a few deft strokes of the pen, he sketches a picture of the Christians in Corinth so that at every point their story is intertwined with Jesus’ story.

To begin with, God has set them  aside  for  his  own  special  purposes  in  Christ; that’s  what ‘made  holy’ means  (verse 2).

From God’s point  of view; it means that   he  has  set  people  aside for  special  purposes;  and  the people in question  are expected to co-operate  with this. That, indeed, is what quite a lot of the letter will be about.

The word church in the Greek language means “a called-out people.” Each church has two addresses: a geographic address (“at Vallejo”) and a spiritual address (“in Christ Jesus”). The church is made up of saints, that is, people who have been “sanctified” or “set apart” by God. A saint is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use.

When a man and woman pledge their love to each other, they are set apart for each other; and any other relationship outside of marriage is sinful. Just so, the Christian belongs completely to Jesus Christ; he is set apart for Him and Him alone.

But once they’ve been set aside as special, they discover that they are part of a large and growing worldwide  family, brothers and  sisters of everyone  who ‘calls on the  name  of our  Lord King Jesus’. In fact, ‘calling on’ this name  is the  one and  only sign of membership in this family, though people in Paul’s day and ever since have tried to introduce other  signs of member­ ship as well.

Enriched by God’s grace (vv. 4-6).  I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5  that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6  even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—

Paul thanked God for the Corinthian believers. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we focus on our blessings and express our gratitude to God for them. But thanks should be expressed every day. We can never say thank you enough to parents, friends, leaders, and especially to God. When thanksgiving becomes an integral part of your life, you will find that your attitude toward life will change. You will become more positive, gracious, loving, and humble. Whom do you need to thank today?

As in most of his letters, Paul follows the opening greeting by  telling  them  what  he thanks  God for  when  he thinks  of them – using the opportunity, in the process, to hint at some of the  things  he’s going to be talking  about  later  on.

Notice how  he  moves  from  what  happened to  them   in  the  past, through the sort of people they are in the present, to the hope they have for the future, with Jesus at the center at every stage. God gave them his ‘grace’ in Jesus (verse 4).

‘Grace’ is one of those little words that contains a whole universe of meaning, summing  up the fact that God loved them and acted decisively on their behalf even though  they had done nothing  whatever to deserve it, but rather the opposite.

Expecting Jesus to return (v. 7).so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Christians who are looking for their Savior will want to keep their lives above reproach.

Depending on God’s faithfulness (vv. 8-9).who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As Christians, one of the strongest rebukes we can have when we sin is to be reminded of who our Father is. And reminding ourselves of whose we are should be one of our strongest deterrents to sin. Remembering our position can compel us to improve our practice.”[3]

Paul isn’t talking about  problems  at the moment.  God called them in the past, God equips them in the present, and God will complete the whole process in the future.  World history, and the story of the Christian life, has a shape, and Jesus is its shaper  at every point.

Christian  must always be leaning forwards towards  God’s finishing line, ‘eagerly waiting for our Lord, King Jesus to be revealed’. One of you called this “our exit plan” recently.

There is corning a day – like ‘the   day of  the  God   in  the   Old  Testament,   only  more so – when the hidden  truth about the world will be unveiled; this truth will turn out to be a person, and the person will turn out to be Jesus.

Writing this letter, in other words, is part of the process by which  God intends  to take these Christians  from  the one to  the  other,  from  God’s past  achievement  to  God’s  future finishing of the job. May God grant that it will have that effect on us, too.

[1] Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). 1 & 2 Corinthians (pp. 9–10). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

[2] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 9.

[3] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians: Godly Solutions for Church Problems, MacArthur Bible Studies (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001), 12.

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Posted by on November 7, 2022 in 1 Corinthians, Church


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