Introduction: In I Corinthians Paul combines instruction with exhortation. The church at Corinth had bee started by Paul only a few years earlier, and much of the letter deals with questions that arose within the congregation as it sought to live out the demands of the gospel within an urban setting. But the letter does more than provide additional information from their founding apostle.It also encourages the church to be more unified in its internal dealings and to put its leader in proper perspective. They are asked to recognize Paul's unique authority and his right to instruct them about their faith, but also to see him and other figures, such as Apollos and Peter, as coworkers in a larger enterprise, in which God is the main player. First Corinthians may be seen as a pastoral letter addressing very practical questions of congregational life.
First Corinthians was written in the early 50s during Paul's extended period of mission and ministry in the Aegean region. Paul probably wrote the letter from Ephesus, a major city across the Aegean from Corinth. The letter in its present form may consist of shorter letters or notes sent on different occasions. Prior to the writing of the letter, Paul has received reports of friction among the members (1.11-12). He also knows of incidents that require his attention (5.1-2). He has received at least one written communication from the Corinthians asking for instructions and clarification about a number of points (7.1), and has already written them at least once (5.9). Thus when we read I Corinthians we are joint a conversation that has been going on for some time.
Reading Guide: The letter exhibits the standard features of a Pauline letter: opening greeting (1.1-3), thanksgiving (1.4-9), body of the letter (1.10-16.12) and benediction (16.13). Structurally it divides into three parts. In the first section (1.10-4.21) Paul warns against division and quarrels, and he spells out what it means to be a "church of God" (1.2). The second section (chs. 5-6) deals with a case of serious sexual impropriety and internal legal disputes. The third section (chs. 7-16) takes up the Corinthians' questions. The repetition of "Now concerning..." (7.1; 8.1; 12.1; 16.1) suggests that Paul is taking up their concerns one by one and making a serious effort to provide thoughtful responses that would suffice until his next visit (11.34).
Resource: The Access Bible (NRSV)
I Corinthians beings with a salutation from Paul to the people of the Church of Corinth. He is thanking God for them, for the grace that has been given to them through Christ's death. This opening greeting reflects the basic structure of greetings used in ancient letters. The writers of the letter (Paul and Sosthenes) address the church of God that is in Corinth and wish them grace and peace, standard forms of greeting among gentiles and Jews. Paul's letters usually being with an extended prayer (cross reference Rom 1.8-15; Phil 1.3-11). In a reassuring tone, he introduces themes developed later in the latter. All, not just a few have enough speech and knowledge to be confident of their faith (compare 8.1-3). Nor do only an elite few experience spiritual gifts (chs. 12-14). Everyone who has been strengthened by the testimony of Christ, the preaching about Christ, continues to be strengthened by God. The prayer looks forward to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when Christ would return (ch. 15; 16.22).
Now here is an interesting passage... the division of the church. Paul instructed the church that God did not want to see division among them... should we not apply this to the church today? Because there is more division today than ever, and we are rapidly separating further. Christ is not divided - and we should be unified in his name. Full divisions had not yet occurred in Corinth, but quarrels have. Chloe's people, members of her household, are mentioned nowhere else. To belong to someone means looking only to that person for spiritual guidance. Apollos ministered to the Corinthian church after Paul's founding visit (3.5-6; Acts 18.24-19.1) and is now with Paul as he writes this letter (16.12). Whether Cephas (Peter) had actually been in Corinth or was only known by reputation is not clear. Chrispus was a prominent synagogue official (Acts 18.8), and Gaius hosted Paul and the Corinthian house church (Rom 16.23). The household of Stephanas later receives high praise from Paul for devoted service to the church (16.15-18).
God's wisdom and strength is greater than any man. Man should not boast, unless he is boasting in the Lord. Seen one way, the story of Christ's death, the message about the cross, seems foolish. Crucifixion was a shameful way for anyone to die, especially someone embodying God's hopes. Jews and Greeks represent two ways of knowing or relating to God - demanding signs and desiring wisdom. The one stresses dramatic displays of power by God, the other gradual, intuitive learning about God. The cross, however locates God somewhere else, at the intersection of human foolishness and weakness. 26-31: The Corinthians themselves prove God's power and wisdom. The Corinthians' own call shows God's capacity for upsetting human expectations. To boast in the presence of God suggests arrogant behavior (compare 4.6; 5.2). To boast in the Lard is to recognize God as the source of life in Christ Jesus (v. 31; compare Jer. 9.24).
Paul, in weakness and fear, proclaimed Christ's crucifixion. He did not boast with wisdom, but spoke a demonstration of the Spirit and power.
The next passage is interesting. It talks about speaking God's wisdom secret and hidden - because none of the rulers of the age understood it (or they would not have crucified Christ.) He goes on to tell the church that those who are nonspiritual do not receive God's gifts. He explains that those who are spiritual perceive all things and do not allow themselves to be subject to scrutiny of others.Our faith should not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God.Paul's preaching illustrates God's power. Here Paul recalls his founding visit (Acts 18.1-18). Mystery of God is not a puzzle but something hiding that God can reveal (compare Rom 16.25-26). The alternate reading, testimony of God, suggests that God bears witness through Paul's preaching. Jesus Christ, and him crucified includes both Paul's preaching and manner of life (compare Gal 2:19-20.) Demonstration of the spirit and of power: Paul saw himself as a channel for the Holy Spirit exerting power (I Thess 1.5; 2.13). 6-16: Wisdom for the mature. Now Paul speaks of wisdom positively. This age and the rulers of this age refer to Paul's world and those who control it, probably heavenly forces rather than earthly rulers. 9: As it is written: Paul mixes several OT passages (Isa. 64.4; 52.15; 65.16). 14: The unspiritual, or natural, person is a two-dimensional figure living in a three-dimensional world. 15: The spiritual person is guided by God's spirit. 16: Isa 40.13. The mind of Christ, guided by God's Spirit, seeks what is truly God's. (v. 11; Phil 2.5-11).
Paul or Apollos are simply servants of God, there to deliver a message. They are the layers of the foundation, the teachers. But Christ is the foundation. And the people of the church are the building. These metaphors remind us that Christ is our foundation. His servants (delivers of the word) are the builders. It is our job then to build our lives, with Christ as our focus. If we do not focus on Christ, we may get burned. We may then suffer loss, but we can still be saved (some of us have to learn the hard way.) Rightly viewing God's servants: Like infants, people of the flesh think only of their own needs and self-interests. Jealousy and quarreling are among the desires of the flesh (Gal 5.20). The emphasis throughout is on God's initiative. Paul experienced the grace of God when God called him. Starting churches was like laying the foundation of a building. The Day of judgment is often envisioned as destruction of the world by fire. The building metaphor now becomes specific: God's temple. You refers to the congregation. In 6.19-20 the individual's body is a temple. Rather than following human leaders who claim to be wise, belonging to Christ gives them all they need.
To God, wisdom of the world is foolishness. Paul continues teaching that our bodies are God's temple, and should anyone try to destroy God's temple, he will destroy them -- he will protect us!
Judgment from other people should be considered a very small thing. Judgment day will come, and all that will matter is God's verdict. Paul states that as God's apostles, they are steward's of God's mysteries. He stated that he thought God displayed them as last of all, as though already sentenced to death. He does not want the church to feel ashamed, but wanted to reprimand them as a loving father figure through Christ. More important than their personal characteristics is how ministers relate to Christ and God. Servants and stewards are roles defined by superiors. Some where sitting in judgment on Paul. The Lord establishes the true perspective for judging behavior. Paul expects the Lord's coming soon. Judgment is a time of unveiling secrets. The meaning of the saying is uncertain; it may refer to 1.31. Puffed up suggested an inflated self-image that leads to boating. The alternate rendering makes more sense. This ironic language applies to the "spiritual people" who claim superior wisdom. Apostles are like prisoners of war, last in the victory parade, a spectacle to everyone. The missionary lives a vagabond's existence. Starting churches was like having children. As their father, Paul expected the church to imitate his behavior. The alternate rendering "am sending" is preferred, since Timothy is apparently still with Paul. "My ways in Jesus Christ "are what Paul taught and how he behaved. My ways in Jesus Christ are what Paul taught and how he behaved. Arrogant behavior is a root problem in the church.
To be continued...
The Access Bible (NRSV)