A chief city in Greece, Corinth was inhabited by approximately 400,000 made up of a mix of Greeks, Jews, and Italians, along with other nationalities. Upon his arrival there during his second missionary journey, Paul found Corinth to be a crowded center of world commerce, where sailors, merchants, adventurers, and refugees came to trade their goods as well as to partake in a vast array of questionable cultural practices and beliefs. Out of this mixed population grew many forms of rituals and human degradation with religion and philosophy being prostituted to new lows; intellectual life being placed above moral life; and future life being denied in favor of enjoying present day life to its fullest without restraint. It was in this setting known for its wickedness that Paul founded the church in Corinth.
During his subsequent stay in Ephesus somewhere between 55 – 57 AD, Apostle Paul received word that increasing tension and divisiveness had arisen due to the continuance of immoral behavior amidst his Christian community at Corinth. It is in the first of two letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians) that Paul addressed the increasing divisiveness along with ways on how to fix it. With Sosthenes as his scribe, Paul began this letter as he always did first by thanking God for His continued grace and providence. From there, he explained the reason for his letter, “admonishing” his beloved children as a loving parent would do. Urging uniformity of belief (“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”), this letter focused on the key issues plaguing the community — divisiveness, immorality, marriage, liberty, and worship — with the goal of bringing the community back to Christian doctrine. As a community, Paul shared that he expected them to become imitators of and to follow the ways of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians. 4:14–16). Further, that as a “wise builder”, God gave him (Paul) the grace to lay a foundation upon which others could build upon (1 Corinthians 3:10). The remainder of the letter delivers some of the greatest passages in the New Testament, including the very familiar “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13) and is remarkable in that it offers some very practical advice that remains relevant today in resolving problems associated with everyday life.
1 Corinthians is divided into seven parts:
- Salutation (1:1–3). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the challenges in his apostleship with stated resolutions being given to him through a revelation from Christ.
- Thanksgiving (1:4–9). In this section of the letter, Paul thanks God for health, a safe journey, deliverance from danger, and good fortune. In addition, it introduces unity, which is the focus of this letter.
- Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the nature of divisiveness in the Corinth community, including facts, causes, and cures. The focus here was relying upon the Holy Spirit, Christ as the foundation for unity, and the Apostles as servants of Christ.
- Correction of Immoral Behavior (5:1–6:20). In this section of the letter, Paul admonishes the community of Corinth as beloved children, sharing ways in which to discipline an immoral Brother; resolve personal disputes; and address issues surrounding sexual purity.
- Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40). In this section of the letter addresses marriage and celibacy, freedoms, the rights of the Apostles, warns against idolatry, encourages reverence in worship, and spiritual gifts, including prophecy, but the greatest of all gifts is love.
- Doctrine of Resurrection (15:1–58). In this section of the letter, Paul addresses the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection, the dead, and the body.
- Closing (16:1–24). In this section, Paul closes the letter with remarks about his intentions and efforts in improving the community of Corinth. The letter wraps up with his exhortations and wishes for peace with a prayer request and final grace.
What is some practical advice you learned after reading this letter?