Audience: Christians in Corinth
Subjects: Be united, Avoid divisions, Avoid 'believers' who insist on remaining in sin, Fornication is sinful, Be considerate of weak believers, Worship should be orderly and structured, Love is essential to unity, etc.
To begin his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul introduces himself and encourages them, followed by telling them to not have divisions among themselves.
According to Paul, the believers in Corinth had been arguing among themselves and creating divisions based on who baptized them. Paul tells them this is wrong, and that neither he nor anyone else was crucified for them, but only Jesus Christ.
Paul continues this overall argument of divisions throughout most of his letter, but he gets into a small explanation about how "Christ crucified" is the wisdom of God, which is considered foolishness by the world.
"For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25)
Paul continues to explain that he did not convince them of God's salvation with fancy words or wisdom; rather, he convinced them with God's power (likely through miracles, as seen by the Apostles in Acts).
For this reason, there faith is based on witnessing God's power, rather than "human wisdom." Paul gives a small explanation of the role of God's Spirit, saying God reveals his wisdom to us through his Spirit.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3 that he speaks to them the way he does because they are still infants in Christ (due to their jealousy, fighting, and worldly behavior). Paul brings his argument back to his point in 1 Corinthians 1, saying they are fighting among themselves and creating divisions based on who baptized them or with whom they affiliate (as if the Apostles were sports teams).
Paul explains that he and Apollos are
just God's servants. It is God who they belong to. The foundation is
He compares the believers to an actual building, saying that fire (persecution, trials, etc.) will test and reveal whether or not the work of the builder (Paul, Apollos, etc.) survives. Paul says that when he teaches them, he is building on the foundation of Jesus Christ and that whether or not the teaching causes change in the person will be seen when they experience hardship.
However, then Paul points out the responsibility of each believer to avoid destroying what God has built in themselves, for they are God's building (God's temple since his Spirit resides in them).
Paul tells the believers in Corinth to think of himself and others "as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries." (1 Corinthians 4:1)
He explains that he tells them all this information so that they may understand "the meaning of the saying, 'Nothing beyond what is written.'" (1 Corinthians 4:6)
Paul instructs them to not boast and think of themselves more highly than they ought (as he said in Romans and other letters), because everything they have received is a gift from God. He also depicts himself as being in a humbled position, being hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten, etc. for the sake of the gospel message regarding Jesus Christ.
Paul explains that he teaches the same thing to all believers, and that those who reject his teaching are arrogant. He says he plans to eventually come to them and prove with power (of the Holy Spirit) that what he teaches is true.
Paul then speaks in 1 Corinthians 5 of a specific situation that he is concerned about.
Paul says that he has heard of sexual immorality in the church, specifically of a man who is having sexual relations with his father's wife (likely the man's step-mother).
Paul says that he has pronounced judgment on this man and that this person should be removed from their midst. Paul explains why this is so serious by using the idea of a little yeast affecting a whole batch of dough. Paul says that we should not associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian and continues to sin, giving a whole list of sins.
Paul later explains in 1 Corinthians 15:33 why avoiding this kind of person is so important, "Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals."
When Jesus speaks of this subject, he calls it, "You will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16) And Paul also says, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions." (Titus 1:16)
However, it is important to mention that in 2 Corinthians 2, it appears that the situation Paul speaks of may be this situation in 1 Corinthians 5.
Paul essentially tells the believers in Corinth that because this person has repented of their sins (meaning, this person stopped doing what was wrong), that this person should be forgiven and consoled.
Paul then moves on to another concern. He says that they have been taking each other to court with lawsuits. Paul claims that they shouldn't be doing such things and that it would be better to just be wronged.
Paul tells them that such behavior is sinful and he says, "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Again, Paul gives a whole list of sinful behavior that results in a person not being saved. He says that they are supposed to have repented of these evils, explaining that they chose to believe and be sanctified, yet their behavior is proving otherwise. Paul then moves on to speak briefly of food, saying, "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial." (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Paul later continues this discussion on the issue of food in 1 Corinthians 8-10.
Paul then immediately returns to speak of a specific sin he has listed, fornication, saying that our bodies are God's temple and that fornication (sex outside of marriage) is sinful.
Paul uses this idea of our bodies being God's temple as his reasoning for not fornicating.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul answers a question that was apparently asked in a letter from the Corinthian church, regarding marriage.
Paul says that it is good to be married, as opposed to being single and abstinent, in order to prevent sexual immorality. However, Paul clarifies that this teaching is not a commandment of God, but instead just a recommendation. (1 Corinthians 7:6)
Paul says that if remaining unmarried is difficult for a person, then they should marry. To the married, he says they should remain married, as is God's will. Paul then gives instructions on what the married should do if their spouse is an unbeliever, saying they should remain with that spouse unless the spouse chooses to end the marriage.
Paul's point that he is making is that everyone should remain in the situation that they were in when they became a believer in Jesus Christ.
Paul then abruptly moves to the subject of circumcision (another subject included in 'staying in your current situation'), saying that, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything." (1 Corinthians 7:19)
As Paul has explained in Romans, obeying God's commandments is what makes a person a Jew (Romans 2:25-29) "but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision...Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal."
Speaking of both circumcision and marriage, Paul says, "Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called." (1 Corinthians 7:20)
Paul then speaks briefly of those who were slaves when they became believers, and then he speaks of those who are unmarried. Paul again tells them he is only giving a suggestion, saying that no one sins if they marry but that he thinks it is good for them to remain unmarried.
He explains that these suggestions are due to the "impending crisis" (1 Corinthians 7:26), and he explains that he does not want anyone to be anxious. Paul gives these suggestions because of specific events, such as the persecutions by nonbelievers.
Paul again returns to the subject of food in order to discuss this topic more in depth.
He explains that food sacrificed to idols is okay to eat, because there is only one God and these idols are just wood and stone. However, he says that they should be careful about eating food sacrificed to idols, because there are believers who have always believed that idols are gods, and it causes them to stumble when they partake in these sacrifices.
It is just food to the strong believers, but it is food sacrificed to an idol to the believers who are weak in their belief. Paul says that he would never eat meat again if it was causing a weak believer to stumble in the faith.
Paul continues this subject of eating food sacrificed to idols, having just said that he would choose to not eat meat ever again if it was causing a weak believer to stumble.
He explains that he is free to eat what he wants, he is free to have a wife, and he is free to not work for a living (instead taking donations), but that he chooses not to do any of these things so as to not make anyone stumble.
Paul explains, "If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? ...Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:11-12)
Paul continues by saying, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights..." (1 Corinthians 9:14-15)
Paul continues to explain that he lives this way so that no one who is weak will stumble by his actions, so that he can be a witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ without hindrance.
Having just explained why he chooses to restrict himself on non-sinful issues, Paul returns to speaking of sinful issues telling them, "I do not want you to be unaware..." (1 Corinthians 10:1) explaining that God was not pleased with most of their ancestors even though they all participated in the same heritage.
Paul clarifies that the reason why God was not pleased was because of their sin. Their ancestors became idolaters (worshiping false gods) and sexually immoral. Paul is returning to speaking of sexual immorality, saying that we should not be sexually immoral like they were (and they suffered the consequence).
Paul tells his audience that God would never let them be tested beyond what they can handle, telling them that they must abstain from sin (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
Paul then again speaks of food sacrificed to idols saying, "All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
In the context of this verse, Paul is speaking of the non-sinful issue of eating and drinking. Paul also discusses this subject in Romans 14, saying, "Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables." (Romans 14:2) Paul tells his Roman audience to not judge those who have a weak conscious and who feel it's wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
When Paul says "All things are lawful," he is definitely not talking about sin, which he has already made clear, "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul begins to speak of specific cultural issues that have risen in the church at Corinth, saying that woman should have their head veiled when they pray. Paul gives various reasons for why this rule should be followed, but his overall goal is revealed in the rest of the letter: so that there is order and structure in worship.
Paul continues to give various reasons for why men and women should listen to his instructions on orderly worship. He also instructs them to not have divisions or arguments.
In addition, Paul addresses an issue with people abusing their gathering to celebrate communion. Paul explains that they can eat and drink at home, and that they should keep communion as worship only.
It appears that Paul tells the Corinthian believers that the reason why they have been sick is because of there abuse of communion. Paul concludes by telling them to eat at home if they are hungry, so that they can keep communion as worship and as remembrance of Jesus Christ's sacrifice for us.
Having spoken of issues on behavior and orderly worship, Paul speaks of spiritual gifts explaining that everything should be done orderly.
This issue of spiritual gifts was another cause of discord in the church, creating divisions (as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 14), which is why Paul says that there are many gifts but one Holy Spirit and one Lord.
Paul gives a list of various gifts, saying that they are meant for the good of everyone. Paul's list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather just a list of examples of the various graces that the Holy Spirit might manifest in believers (the Holy Spirit is certainly not limited by this list).
Paul's entire point in 1 Corinthians 12 is for the Corinthian believers to stop having divisions among themselves. He explains that people are diverse and that diversity is important.
Everyone has different skills, talents, responsibilities, and purposes, but we are all still a part of one people with one God.
Paul's main purpose in 1 Corinthians 12 is not to explain what all the various positions or gifts of the Spirit are. He simply wants to explain to them that they need to be united and rid themselves of divisions and discord that has been created by disagreements on spiritual gifts.
Still explaining to his audience to not be divided or have discord, Paul speaks about the most important factor to consider: love.
Loving others is essential because it is what binds us together as a people. Paul's entire argument in 1 Corinthians 13 is an explanation for the believers in Corinth to be united and stop being divided on meaningless issues.
Loving others is foundation to God's commandments, as is loving God above all, as Jesus states in Matthew 22:37-40.
Paul tells his audience to make love their focus. Speaking of the manifestation of God's power, Paul tells them to pursue prophecy. He explains that prophecy is beneficial to others, whereas speaking in various tongues only benefits ourselves. Paul's intention is to have structure in the Church, as he explains 1 Corinthians 14:33.
As stated, Paul wants the church in Corinth to be united and orderly; he is opposing the divisions and chaos that has been created by the believers. He explains that these manifestations of God's power are for the building up of the church, not for creating a chaotic environment.
Paul says that speaking in tongues is for building up ourselves and is a sign for unbelievers (who speak that language as seen in Acts 2), whereas prophecy is for building up others and is mainly a sign for believers.
When Paul speaks of prophecy is 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, he gives the example of knowing information about someone that is only revealed by God. He says that an unbeliever may come to believe in God, saying, "After the secrets of the unbeliever's heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, 'God is really among you.'" (1 Corinthians 14:25) Many people think of prophesy as telling the future, but prophesy is much more than that, and it can include knowing information about something that is hidden from the world. This is why the Samaritan woman calls Jesus a prophet in John 4:16-19.
Paul gives specific instructions for the believers in Corinth, telling them that if there is no one to interpret someone speaking in tongues, then those who speak in tongues should remain silent in church. Paul also says to let only two or three people speak prophecy and that others should judge what is said. He instructs them to control themselves in church, saying God desires order.
Having said all that Paul has said in the last few chapters about being orderly in church and not being chaotic, Paul then tells his audience that "Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 14:37)
Paul is basically challenging his potential opposition, saying if anyone claims to have manifestations of God's Spirit, then they will agree with what Paul is writing about regarding worship. If someone disagrees with Paul, he is setting them up to be viewed as a counterfeit Christian (or at least to be viewed as faking the manifestations of God's Spirit).
In reality, anyone who really was
receiving revelations from God would agree with Paul's instructions
on structured worship, so Paul making this comment really would reveal who is faking the manifestations of God's Spirit.
If we read 1 Corinthians only chapter by chapter, then Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 14:37 would seem like it only applies to what Paul has said in chapter 14, but in reality Paul has been speaking about this one subject from chapter 11 until chapter 14: ordered and structured worship.
Paul gives final instructions on this lengthy subject, saying to "not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order." (1 Corinthians 14:39-40)
Paul reminds the believers in Corinth of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, also reminding them that more than five hundred people saw Jesus alive after he had died on the cross and had been dead for three days.
Paul then speaks of the importance of the resurrection, giving a small teaching on how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ saves us. He then tells them to "sin no more" continuing to explain the future resurrection of true believers (1 Corinthians 15:34).
When we are resurrected, we will have an imperishable spiritual body given to us by God. As John says in 1 John 3:2-3, "What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."
Paul explains that not everyone will have died when everyone who is saved is changed and instantly given an imperishable body.
Paul then speaks of an offering being collected for the saints in Jerusalem, telling them to follow the instructions that he gave to the churches in Galatia. Paul also tells them to be hospitable to Timothy if he visits them.
Paul gives a summarizing statement of all he's told them in this letter saying, "Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:14) and Paul concludes by adding his personal signature.
Paul's letter to the believers in Corinth is one of his longer letters. The main issues that he discusses are the issue of sexual immorality in the church, as well as the subject that Paul teaches from chapter 8 to 10 on food sacrificed to idols. From chapter 11 to 14, Paul gives instructions for structured worship and to address the issue of division among the believers.
Paul desires that they be united and orderly. The main teachings that Paul covers are: Be united, Avoid divisions, Avoid 'believers' who insist on remaining in sin, Fornication is sinful, Be considerate of weak believers, Worship should be orderly and structured, Love is essential to unity, etc.