First Corinthians is an especially important book for the church because today’s church struggles with so much of the issues and problems of this church. No doubt, this church was one of the most challenging churches Paul started and continued to work with. Just the fact that he wrote more letters to this church than the rest says a lot about the difficulties of working with them. First Corinthians reminds us that no matter how bad it gets in the church it could always get worse and there is always hope.
Did you know that Paul wrote at least four letters to the church in Corinth? Within the first and second Corinthian letters, Paul alludes to at least two other letters he wrote to the church. A first letter is referenced in chapter five of first Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9). Then, sometime between first and second Corinthians, there is a letter that caused them grief and moved them to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8). Thus, you have the first letter (letter A), the letter called First Corinthians (letter B), the letter that caused grief (letter C), and then Second Corinthians (letter D).
Paul started this church on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17). Following his brief stay in Athens, he traveled on to the City of Corinth. He stayed in Corinth for about 18 months and during that time, worked with Priscilla and Aquila. During this time, Paul preached, Christians were converted, and the church in Corinth was set up.
Corinth was a very wealthy and wicked city. It was a port city and as a result of the influx of people traveling and working in the city, it became a very wicked city. In fact, people have likened it to the Las Vegas of that part of the world. It was so bad that “to be a Corinthian” was equated with being the worst society had to offer. As a result of this wicked environment and culture, Corinth struggled with many problems.
They struggled with division, sexual immorality, incest, gluttony, drunkenness, meats sacrificed to idols, and false teachings. There were people within the Corinthian church advocating that the resurrection from the dead was symbolic. There were people within the church corrupting the Lord’s Supper and reducing it to nothing more than a common drunken meal. One of the worst problems in Corinth was their propensity to value some people and Spiritual gifts above the rest.
An important and interesting part of first Corinthians is the section where Paul responds to their questions, in what we would call a Q&A session. Starting in 1 Cor. 7:1, Paul begins to answer the questions they had written to him about. The questions are not explicitly stated but we can deduce from the answers given what those questions were.
Let me encourage you to read this difficult and insightful letter from Paul. Within its pages, we learn so much about what it means to struggle with sin and how to treat each other in the process. It challenges us with the need to confront sin in our midst and the responsibility of valuing the consciences of each other. Since AD 54 or 55, when Paul wrote this challenging letter, it has been a favorite of many in the church and I hope it will be for you as well.