1 Corinthians: a New Testament church in need of unity – Leader & Times

Here’s another in a series of summaries for New Testament books, which we plan to continue until Christmas. More information and content of the book will be provided each week on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/barbaran.gary  We pray that the messages and articles will provide a helpful foundation for your Bible readings. 
 After looking at 1 and 2 Thessalonians, two of the earliest surviving Christian writings, we turn to Paul’s second set of letters. One author titled the commentary on 1 Corinthians, “Gentiles who ignore the law” one of Paul’s letters which dealt with soteriology, the doctrines of salvation. 
After visiting Athens in Greece, Paul stayed about a year and a half at Corinth where he established another church. Inscriptions found in the city indicate he was there about 50 and 51 CE; his letters back to them were during his third missionary journey, around 55-56 CE. There were at least two previous writings (1 Corinthians 5:9 and 7:1), one from Paul and a reply back from someone in the congregation, but those so far have not been found. 
The book of 1 Corinthians is his easiest letter to outline, with two main subject and chapters in parentheses: 
1) problems addressed – divisions (1-4); immorality (5) and lawsuits (6); 
2) things the believers at Corinth had written and asked about – marriage (7); things offered to idols (8-10); church customs and conduct (11); spiritual gifts (12-14); resurrection (15); collection for people in Jerusalem (16). 
A nutshell of problems at Corinth is that there were quarrels caused by divisiveness. Paul wrote, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you …” (1:10). They seemed to claim they were following Paul, Apollos, Peter, or Christ – but the solution Paul presented in 3:16 was to be a temple of God, with the Spirit of God dwelling in them. Further into the letter, he spent an entire chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, discussing love. Often used in weddings, its words are appropriate for each of us. 
Each problem is connected to the health of the Body of Christ, and Paul spoke of the individual’s responsibility to his own body, as well as reproach brought to the Body of believers by bad behaviors. In chapter 5, he focused on a particular a serious moral problem, and Paul directed that the guilty party be expelled from the fellowship. In the next chapter, he addressed the shame of church members taking legal action against each other. 
In the second main section of the letter, Paul presented his views on marriage. He clearly stated which were his own opinions, and differentiated those from the word of the Lord. He wrote of one subject, “this I say by way of concession [permission], not of command” (7:6). But in 7:10 he wrote, “to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord.” Verse 12 and 25 are a return to his own opinion, but in verse 40 he wraps up the section by drawing the two together while speaking of an unmarried woman. “In my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”  Overall, Paul was very conscious of God’s guidance. Some of his personal thoughts on celibacy were in the context of one who anticipated Christ’s return during his lifetime. 
Chapter 8 addressed the Corinthians’ concern about eating meats offered to idols. He used the subject as an occasion to encourage Christian tolerance, while urging them to avoid things that would be offensive to others, calling for deference to one another. The discussion continues through chapter 10 and concludes, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” and “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (verses 24 and 31). 
Paul’s judgements in chapter 11 should be observed in their cultural context. Appearing without head coverings was a practice of pagan female temple prostitutes. The rest of this chapter dealt with conduct at the Lord’s table, which many were approaching for something other than spiritual reasons. 
In chapters 12 through 14, Paul alerted the church to an inordinate emphasis on possessions, which included even spiritual gifts. Elevating certain gifts and the people who possessed them was especially disturbing. In the midst of the gifts section, Paul opened his beautifully written chapter 13 with the statement that even gifts and giving – without love – are nothing. He emphasized again “there should be no division in the body” and pointed toward “a still more excellent way” (12:25 and 31). Without going into detail, Paul concluded chapter 14 by addressing discord around worship practices: “let all things be done property and in an orderly manner” (verse 40). 
Chapter 15 is the longest, with Paul addressing the resurrection. The basis of our faith is Jesus’ resurrection (14) and our assurance that in Christ all shall be raised from the dead (22). His illustration of a seed buried and springing to new life is a high point. In the final chapter, Paul addressed simply and directly the need to help fellow saints in Jerusalem. 
The concern for this New Testament church was not to create a new set of rules, but to help improve the health of the Body. His conclusion was, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). 
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