1 Corinthians is a Pauline letter that was sent to the church in Corinth, after Paul had received word from people associated with Chloe (1:11) that the church he had established there had developed divisions within its body. Just four years prior to writing this letter, Paul had spent eighteen months in Corinth spreading the gospel and establishing the church there. Paul wrote the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, to address issues within the Corinthian Church in AD 55, just as he was planning to leave Ephesus for Macedonia during his third missionary journey.
If you’re unfamiliar with this book, maybe you’re wondering why we would be studying a letter written specifically to a church in Corinth. 1 Corinthians contains a discussion of the church and the issues that impacted the people of that day. Corinth was a large city filled with people from many different backgrounds. Idol worship to gods such as Aphrodite, along with many other temptations flooded the city. Along these same lines, Corinth was similar to a modern urban area, filled with numerous opportunities to engage in sinful behavior.
The Corinthian church, unfortunately, was negatively impacted by its culture and was corrupted by sin on many fronts. Paul wasn’t afraid to address these problems, and because of that, addressed numerous “hot topic” problems churches today are afraid to address head on. Many of these problems related to both life and doctrine and have implications for the modern-day believer as well: divisions within the church, sexual immorality, marriage and singleness, freedom in Christ, order in worship, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, the right use of spiritual gifts, and a teaching on the resurrection.
Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul provides a model for how the church should handle its problem with sin. You’ll notice that Paul’s instruction to the believers was not to retreat from their city and “hide” from sin. Instead, he directed readers to live out their commitment to the Christ even more faithfully in the midst of nonbelievers. Paul expected that Christians would shine the light of Christ into the dark places of the world by worshiping in a unified community that was accountable to one another. He expected that believers would encourage one another in the pursuit of purity, and that we would hold tightly to the hope of the resurrection.
With this in mind, Paul begins 1 Corinthians 1 with thanking God for all that He has done for the Christians in Corinth. Paul makes it clear that he is convinced the faith of the Corinthians is genuine. He believes this because of the gifts they had received from God, including gifts of speech and knowledge. This makes it clear to the Corinthians that no matter what problems they’re experiencing, it’s not because God has not given them all they need.
So often we are guilty of this very thing ourselves. When problems arise or we struggle with sin, we begin to blame God or point the finger at everyone besides ourselves. In these moments, we have to be sure to confront the reality of our own sin and ask God for forgiveness. Paul puts it this way in verse 7, “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ”. God didn’t leave us empty-handed to try and follow Him in this life. We can be confident that He has given us every spiritual gift that we need in order to trust and follow Him. The issue is that it’s easier for us to blame the situation or someone else rather than facing the music ourselves.
Paul then transitions to a concern that riddles churches everywhere even today: division. He had received word that people in the Corinthian Church were divided into factions based on what teacher they were loyal to. Some had said they followed Paul, others a teacher named Apollos or the apostle Peter. And finally a group had said they followed Christ, as if it were a separate category itself. Paul urges the believers to be unified, to find a way to agree with each other, and to stop defining their faith by the teacher they prefer.
This leads Paul to declare that Christ did not send him to preach the gospel with wise-sounding words. He hadn’t been sent to try and persuade people into faith with clever verbiage. The cross didn’t need to be wrapped in fancy theological terms. It must be understood and believed for what it is. Paul even goes on to explain that many people had rejected faith in Christ because of the cross. The idea of a crucified Messiah was foolish to many. But for those who believe and are saved, the cross is understood to be the very power of God.
The good news is that this is still true today. So often we don’t share the gospel with others because of our fear of not knowing everything, or not saying it “perfectly”. But Steve – what if somebody asks me a question?! When we share the good news of Christ with others, we don’t have to have all of the theological terms ready to define. We can share our own experience of salvation and point people to the power of the cross. I love that as a church we say that, “everyone has a story and that story begins with your name”. Every one of us have a story to share about the power of the gospel at work in our lives. So today, how can you share the power of the cross with the people in your life?