Reflections on 1 Corinthians 1-11

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 Samuel , 2 Samuel, 2 Corinthians and Galatians.

We read of the founding of the church at Corinth in Acts 18. The apostle Paul was there for one and a half years. 1 Corinthians is one of at least 4 letters he wrote to this church, and in it he seeks to correct a number of notions that the Corinthians had taken to. This post covers chapters 1-11.

1:1-17

Verses 4-9 are most curious considering what the Corinthian church was really like. Paul wasn’t being insincere; these things are true of all Christians. Paul writes of Christ’s past provision, His present provision and His future provision for all who are in fellowship with Him.

But the Corinthians are divided (1:10-17). Paul bases his appeal for unity on the name of Jesus Christ (1:10).

1:18-2:5

The Corinthian church thought they had wisdom. I like the way one paraphrase of 1:26-29 put it: Who in the name of wisdom chose you, Corinthians? Paul instructs them that Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God (1:24). Paul puts his confidence in the Lord alone (1:31, 2:5).

2:6-16

God reveals His wisdom by His Spirit. Only those with the Holy Spirit can accept and understand the thoughts of God.

3:1-23

Paul returns to the issue of divisions to exhort his readers to look beyond the human leaders. He uses an agricultural and an architectural metaphor to drive his point home. The apostles are just the planters and waterers of the seed; they are just the builders. God is the one who makes the seed grow and Christ is the foundation of the building. It makes no sense to boast about men.

4:1-21

The Corinthians think they’ve arrived. They are judgmental toward Paul, and possibly other teachers.  They are arrogant. Paul’s response? He calls them “dear children” and urges them to imitate him.

5:1-6:20

The church in Corinth had lower standards than that of the pagan society in which they lived (5:1). Paul rebukes them for their tolerance of such unrepentant sin. He counsels them to remove the man from amongst them, in the hope that he would be brought to repentance.

It would seem that the prevailing attitude in Corinth was, “What I do with my body doesn’t affect my spirit.” Paul reminds them that a sinful life is incompatible with inheriting the kingdom of God (6:9-11). A sinful life is also incompatible with the nature of the body, which is occupied by God the Holy Spirit, and which shall be raised by the Lord (i.e. we’re going to have bodies even in eternity, so it’s not like what you do with yours doesn’t matter).

7:1-40

In 7:1, Paul begins to address matters that had been raised by the Corinthians. He writes on the mutuality of marriage, that each partner belongs to the other (7:1-7) ; and the potential of the present, that we should make the most of where God has placed  us (7:8-24). The rest of the chapter is a little difficult to summarise.

8:1-10:33

In each of these chapters, Paul touches on the topic of Christian freedom. In chapter 8, he emphasises love over knowledge. In chapter 9, his thrust is that the gospel is more important than his rights as an apostle. In chapter 10 he stresses that spiritual health is more important than freedom.

Regarding those areas of Christian freedom, we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Does the Bible allow it?
  • Does my conscience allow it?
  • What is the effect on other Christians? (The love principle)
  • What is the effect on non-Christians? (The witness principle)
  • What is the effect on my spiritual life? (The eternity principle)

[a helpful mnemonic: By Christian Love Win Everyone]

The undergirding principle in all this should be 1 Corinthians 10:31: Everything for the glory of God.

11:2-33

I’ll skip the part on hair and head coverings. Listen to this sermon if you remain unsatisfied.

Some points on the Lord’s supper:

  • The Lord’s supper symbolises our unity in the Body of Christ, a point which the Corinthians had missed.
  • It reminds us of Jesus’ death. Isn’t it sad that we’d otherwise forget the best thing that ever happened to us?
  • It provides us an opportunity for self-examination. It isn’t so much a matter of whether we’re unworthy or not (we are), but a matter of our manner: are we cherishing sin?

Go to chapters 12-16.

Sources: CICCU Media, Dick Lucas/ProcTrust, D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, Vaughan Roberts.

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