Introduction to 1Corinthians   Leave a comment

Brad and I have been renewing an acquaintance with a man who used to be a good friend and in doing so, we’re confronting a lot of our beliefs and his. This man claims to be a Christian. In fact, he used to be our Sunday School teacher. But he went seriously off the rails a few years back, which contributed to the church we were attending at the time going seriously off the rails and our family deciding to attend another church. He no longer attends our old church either, which is probably a good thing … for that church and possibly for him. He still comes around to us now and again and we still care about him, so we’ve been discussing our appropriate response toward him. As always, we turn to the Bible for guidance.

First Corinthians is a tough book in modern times because Paul might as well be preaching to 21st century Christians. In other words, it is a perfect book for today when Christians have so many voices trying to tell them how they should live. Early Christians, some of whom had met Jesus in the flesh, recognized Paul’s letters as something special, worthy to be preserved, copied and distributed. Peter himself alludes to Paul’s writings as “from God”. We ought to pay attention to what those who knew Jesus personally thought was scripture because these people would have objected if it ran counter to what Jesus taught.

Before we begin our study of the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, it would be good for us to view the book as a whole. Why? Because 1Corinthians was not written as a series of disconnected verses or passages that someone stuck together into a book, but as a letter to a specific group of believers — people Paul knew — about specific circumstances. as summarized in this outline:

The letter can be outlined in this way:

1:1-9

Introduction: Salutation (verses 1-3) and thanksgiving (verses 4-9)

1:10–4:21

Dealing with divisions within the church

5:1–6:20

Dealing with sin that separates believers from God

7:1–10:33

Questions answered

11:1–14:40

Church Conduct—Diversity without divisions

15:1-58

The Doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ

16:1-24

Conclusion—Getting Personal

I wonder how most Christians would feel about being sent to a church like the one in Corinth, as described in the two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians. I suspect most of us would hesitate to be planted there because, from a purely human point of view, the church in Corinth appears to be hopeless.

Yet, Paul’s introductory statements were positive, upbeat, and optimistic. His prayers concerning this church were filled with expressions of thanksgiving. That doesn’t make sense. How could Paul be so positive and optimistic as he communicated with this church? Some would like to say that Paul actually was commending this church for its attitudes, but when you read his actual works, it’s clear that he didn’t condone the conduct of many of its members.

It’s tempting to skip over Paul’s salutation, as if it were just a boiler plate greeting that means nothing, but in our studies, Brad and I realized that Paul began to lay out a theological foundation for his ministry and the teaching he presented throughout the letter.

With the elaborations of this letter Paul begins a habit that will carry through to the end. In each case the elaborations reflect, either directly or subtly, many of the concerns about to be raised in the letter itself. Even as he formally addresses the church in the salutation, Paul’s mind is already at work on the critical behavioral and theological issues at hand. Gordon D. Fee, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Grand Rapis, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), page 28

Paul’s letter was written within a certain context. It fits into history which comes down to us in the Book of Acts. At the end of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, the Jerusalem Council met to decide just what should be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-29). When Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways, Paul took Silas with him and set out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41) while Barnabas went on a separate journey with John Mark. Paul and Silas began by revisiting some of the churches that had been founded on the first journey, primarily delivering the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 16:4-5).

After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6) and Bithynia, Paul, Silas, and Timothy ended up at Troas, where Paul received the “Macedonian vision” (16:9-10), which brought them to Philippi where a number were saved and a church was established. From Philippi, Paul and his party went to Thessalonica, then to Berea, and finally to Athens (Acts 17). From Athens, Paul went to Corinth, the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth. Like Paul, they were tentmakers. They had fled from Italy because of a command from Claudius that all Jews must leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). Every Sabbath, Paul went to the synagogue, where he sought to evangelize Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4). Eventually, Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia to join Paul at Corinth. Apparently, they brought a gift from the Macedonians which enabled Paul to fully devote himself to the Word, so that he gave all of his efforts to preaching Christ (Acts 18:5).

Paul’s preaching prompted a hostile reaction from the unbelieving Jews, so he left the synagogue and began to concentrate on evangelizing Gentiles (Acts 18:6-7). Paul moved his headquarters to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Gentile “God-fearer” who lived near the synagogue (Acts 18:5-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer and brought his household to the Lord. Many other Corinthians were also being saved and submitting to baptism (Acts 18:8). The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, assuring him that there were many more souls to be saved in that city and that he was not to fear. He was to speak out boldly and not hold back for fear of trouble (Acts 18:9-10). As a result, Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months, which was a longer period of ministry than in almost any other town.

Paul’s lengthy ministry was facilitated, in part, by a ruling of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (18:12-17). The Jews seized Paul and brought him up on charges before Gallio, accusing him of being neither a faithful Jew nor a good citizen, that he was speaking and acting against the Law of God and the law of Rome. Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Gallio simply gave his ruling, seeing this strife between Paul and the Jews as yet another instance of the in-fighting which was so typical of the Jews. Fed up with this situation, Gallio refused to be used by these Jewish zealots to prevail over their Jewish rivals. He threw them and their case out of court.

Gallio was a pagan who cared nothing for the Jews, the gospel, or Paul, but his ruling was a landmark decision, officially legitimizing and protecting those who preached the gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire. Judaism was an official religion, recognized and sanctioned by the Roman government. The Jews were seeking to convince Gallio that Paul was really no Jew and that the preaching of the gospel was not the practice of Judaism. They inferred Paul was a threat to the stability of Roman rule and that neither Paul nor any other Christian should be allowed to preach the gospel under the permission and protection of the Roman law. When Gallio refused to rule on this matter, calling it a Jewish squabble, he declared Paul’s preaching of the gospel to be a practice of Judaism. As far as Gallio could see, Christianity was a Jewish sect and thus protected by Roman law. This meant Paul’s ministry was legal, and any Jewish opposition could not claim Rome as their ally.

The Jews were furious. In retaliation, they seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the proconsul, who looked on with disdain, mostly unimpressed and thoroughly unconcerned. This Sosthenes seems to be the same person who is with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:1).

 After about 18 months of ministry in Corinth, Paul set out for Syria with Priscilla and Aquila. On reaching Ephesus, Paul ministered for a short time, promising to return if the Lord willed (Acts 18:19-21). He left Priscilla and Aquila there and journeyed on to Caesarea, Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). After visiting the churches in Asia Minor, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years. While in Ephesus, it appears he received unfavorable reports about the Corinthian church which prompted him to write his first letter to this church. This letter was not preserved as a part of the New Testament canon (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We don’t know why or what became of it. It’s one of the questions I want to ask when I see Paul in heaven. Given the overall consistency of Paul’s entire body of writing, it is unlikely that this letter would vastly change his message to the Corinthians … or to us in the 21st century.

Later, while Paul was still ministering in Ephesus, he heard from some of “Chloe’s people” that divisions were emerging in the church at Corinth and that there was a case of gross immorality in the church. Instead of feeling shame and sorrow over this sin, at least some of the Christians in Corinth were proud of their tolerance (chapter 5), which might sound somewhat familiar to us today. Paul also heard of Christians taking their fellow-believers to court, seeking to have pagans pass judgment on spiritual matters (chapter 6), of unbecoming conduct at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11) and of doctrinal error concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). A three-man delegation consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus arrived from Corinth (1Corinthians 16:17) bringing a letter which asked Paul about marriage (1Corinthians 7:1), virgins (7:25), food sacrificed to idols (8:1), spiritual gifts (12:1), the collection for the saints (16:1), and Apollos (16:12). Paul then wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports and questions he had received.

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Posted January 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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