As we read through 1 Corinthians, it is vitally important for us to get an overall impression of the Corinthian church in our minds. We need to read the book from beginning to end and ask ourselves what life was like in the Corinthian church. Some of the problems the Corinthian church was dealing with are obvious, but other problems are more subtle. We have to pay close attention to context clues throughout the book if we want to understand this letter. Here are some of the problems in the Corinthian church and how Paul dealt with them.
Problems in Corinth
Some of the problems with the Corinthian church are obvious:
- division and quarreling
- a man who was involved sexually with his step-mother
- Christians suing each other in court
- chaos during the worship assembly
- misuse of spiritual gifts
These are just a few of the problems that were going on in this Corinthian church community, and you’re probably aware that these problems existed in Corinth.
However, there are a few underlying problems in Corinth that may only surface to us when we read the whole book from the beginning to the end. One of the major underlying problems is arrogance. There were people in Corinth who thought they were “spiritual” people. (That word “spiritual” is a keyword to this book.) These people believed they did not need to listen to the apostle Paul because of their superior spirituality. Paul spent the first several chapters explaining to them just how wrong they were.
These unspiritual people, who believed they were quite spiritual, were teaching things that weren’t true and were tearing the church apart.
The Solution to the Problems
Paul’s solution to these problems was nearly always the same. He brought everything back to the core tenants of the Good News: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Paul reminded them of when he had been in Corinth, every bit of his teaching revolved around, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
In the letter, Paul demonstrated how their sinful behavior was inconsistent with following a Messiah who selflessly gave himself up for others. He showed them how their behavior and their warped thinking were inconsistent with the belief that, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” He brought everything back around to the cross and the resurrection.
This should be a lesson for us. The way we should encourage Christians to act like Christians is by preaching “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” We have to bring everything back to the cross and the resurrection. If our thinking or behavior is inconsistent or incompatible with the cross and the resurrection, then we should abandon them immediately.
How to Form a Community of Jesus Followers
The book of 1 Corinthians is so incredibly valuable to us because Paul is reminding this church what a community of Jesus followers should look like. Consider some of the things he teaches them in this letter and how these principles would apply to us today:
- If we are spiritual, we will humbly listen to the teachings of Jesus’ apostles.
- We should be unified in our common baptism.
- It is imperative we follow the sexual ethic that was taught by the Law, upheld by Jesus, and commended to Gentile Christians by the Jerusalem council.
- It is appropriate and necessary to remove people from our fellowship if they refuse to live a life consistent with the Gospel.
- Disputes amongst believers should be handled internally, rather than taking each other before secular courts.
- We must be careful we are not sending the wrong messages when we adopt the customs and practices of unbelievers.
- We should be willing to give up our rights for the sake of one another’s conscience.
- The weekly assembly, when we share the Lord’s Supper, should be well-organized, edifying, and Christ-centered.
- The greatest spiritual gift is love, without which everything else is meaningless.
Paul was concerned with the Corinthians’ behavior inside and outside of the weekly assembly. In many ways, it seems he wanted the church community to function similarly to the way the Jews’ synagogue was supposed to function. He wanted the Christian community to be a beacon of truth and love within the city of Corinth and he wanted his brothers and sisters to have the structure, encouragement, and support of a loving spiritual community.
We should strive to create similar types of Christian communities today.
The Resurrection of the Dead
It is interesting that Paul spends a great deal of time at the end of this letter dealing with a particularly troubling false teaching. There were apparently people in Corinth teaching that there would not be a bodily resurrection. It isn’t that these people did not believe in an afterlife, but they did not believe in a resurrection. We seem to have many modern Christians who have accepted this lie as well.
Paul emphatically taught that if there is no bodily resurrection, then Christianity is a lie and no one should be a Christian. The bodily resurrection of Jesus and the coming resurrection of all people is at the very heart of Christian teaching. It is why we believe and do everything that we do.
He explains, of course, that our resurrection body will be “spiritual,” but that doesn’t mean it will not be physical. Notice that Paul does not contrast “spiritual” and “physical,” he contrasts “spiritual” and “natural.” He says these current bodies of ours will be raised from the dead and transformed by spiritual power from heaven. These bodies will become immortal and imperishable.
Again, to the apostle Paul, this coming resurrection was key for much of his teaching. As we noted earlier, even his teaching about sexual immorality was anchored in the fact that our body is meant for the Lord, because “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.”
Jesus has been raised and we will also be raised when that final enemy, death, is destroyed and we live with God and his people forever and ever.
I love you and God loves you,