Monday, January 12, 2015

Call For Holiness

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (NIV)

At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthian church, Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author of this pastoral letter of instruction. Apostle Paul knew the Corinthian church well because he had founded this church. Then, he spent eighteen months in Corinth during his second missionary journey to help pastor this church (Acts 18:1-18). After leaving the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters to correct various problems facing the church at Corinth, including jealousy, divisiveness, lawsuits, marital difficulties, sexual immorality, pride, idolatry, corruption, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

Apostle Paul took a positive approach to the church’s defilement and spiritual immaturity by reminding the believers of their high and holy position in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Apostle Paul described the church how God sees the church – holy, sanctified, and set apart for His special use (1 Corinthians 1:2). Through faith in Jesus Christ, every believer is declared holy, righteous, and redeemed by God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 5:17, 19; see also Leviticus 20:7-8). Apostle Paul instructed the church TO BE AND ACT LIKE what they already are through faith in Jesus Christ – holy, righteous, and redeemed (Romans 12:1-2; see also 1 John 3:7-10).

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes. 1 Corinthians 1:1 (NLT)

Apostle Paul says he was “a called apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:1). He was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God. Then, Apostle Paul mentions his traveling partner, Sosthenes. Sosthenes was first mentioned at Acts 18 with the creation of the Corinthian church. As the Jews were being ejected by Gallio, a Roman governor, the Jews beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who lost the Jews’ case with Gallio (Acts 18:17). Many biblical scholars believe this same Sosthenes mentioned at Acts 18 was the same man who was converted to a Christian and became Apostle Paul’s traveling companion.

Apostle Paul clearly indicated he was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1, NIV). With this statement, Apostle Paul wanted to stress that his apostleship. An apostle means “one who is sent on a mission,” “a messenger,” or “missionary.” The word apostle is a secular term with no religious meaning. But in the New Testament, the word “apostle” has a variety of meanings and includes preachers of the Gospel (e.g., see Acts 14:4, 14; Galatians 1:19; Romans 16:7). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ repeatedly spoke of Himself as having been “sent” into the world by God the Father (e.g., see Matthew 10:40; Matthew 15:24; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 4:34; John 5:24, 30, 36-38; John 6:38; John 17:8). Jesus Christ’s mission was one of the dominant themes of the Gospel and is given as a pattern for His followers (see John 17:3; John 20:21). Jesus Christ is the supreme Apostle, the One from whom all other apostleship flows. “And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger (Apostle) and High Priest. For He was faithful to God, who appointed Him. . . .” (Hebrews 3:1-2, NLT).

Another definition of apostle includes “one specially commissioned by Jesus Christ” as His special agent or representative (1 Corinthians 1:1; Hebrews 3:1). Alternatively, an apostle is defined at Acts 1:21-22. According to Acts 1:21-22, an apostle personally witnessed the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, an apostle was a person who had been with Jesus Christ during His public ministry beginning from John's baptism, to the resurrection, and the time when He was taken up into heaven by the glory cloud (Acts 1:9, 21-22). In the technical sense, an apostle was defined as the “Twelve” men that followed Jesus Christ during His public ministry on earth. These Twelve men had a continuous association and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ Himself (see Mark 3:14). While Jesus Christ was alive on earth, many men and women followed Him. So there were more than the Twelve eyewitnesses of Jesus’ public ministry. An apostle was an important and authoritative person in the early churches because an apostle was an eyewitness to Jesus Christ’s public ministry and authenticated Jesus Christ’s life, actions, and resurrection.

Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle not for personal respect or acclaim. Instead, Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle to give authority to his preaching of the Gospel (Good News) to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11; see also Galatians 1:15-16). Apostle Paul makes it very clear in the opening statement of 1 Corinthians that he was called to be an apostle by “the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1; see also Acts 13:2; Acts 18:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:9-11). Although he did not witness the public ministry of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul indicated that he was called to be Jesus Christ’s messenger or apostle based solely on Jesus Christ’s appearance to him on the Damascus Road (see also Acts 9:1-16; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). The Damascus Road experience was not a personal conversation (regeneration/salvation) of Apostle Paul but Apostle Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. “Being called” is being a follower of Jesus Christ. So, Apostle Paul was an apostle because God made him an apostle. Despite this statement, many people did not accept Apostle Paul’s statement and credentials as an apostle.

In Corinthians 4, Apostle Paul stated that an apostle is nothing more than a servant or laborer for God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). In the Greek, the word “servant” means subordinate or an under-rower of a ship. An under-rower’s job is to be faithful and obedient to follow the leader of the boat who makes all the call (1 Corinthians 4:2). If the servant is not obedient and faithful, the entire boat fails. Also, Apostle Paul notes the work of an apostle is extremely exhausting and requires effort as they work together with other fellow servants of God within the church (1 Corinthians 4:6, 8-13). Also, the Apostle Paul saw apostles as a steward or house manager.  In the first century, stewards took care of the master property. In essences, true apostles of God see themselves as stewards or servants of God that are entrusted with the ministry of God. Thus, Apostle Paul says apostles are not kings, but servants, laborers, or stewards of God (1 Corinthians 4:6-13).

Sadly, some of the Corinthians elevated the apostles and other church leaders as kings and were lining up behind various church leaders (see 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Some followed Peter, who had walked and talked with Jesus Christ on earth. Others followed Apollos with his sophistication and eloquence and cultivated style. Some followed Apostle Paul, the famous church missionary. Apostle Paul had no tolerance for that “hero worship” and stressed vigorously that the Corinthians and the church belonged only to God. Whatever gifts or other position God graciously given to the church was to bring about redemptive living and not self-importance and pride (1 Corinthians 4:14-21).

In 1 Corinthians 3, Apostle Paul presents a realistic picture of the church as a “vineyard”. Throughout the New Testament, the church has various images or titles. The church is called or described as the “temple”, the “body of Christ”, “a priesthood,” “holy nation,” the “flock”, and “family of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 1:22-23). In the Old Testament and Judaism, Israel was called a “vineyard” (e.g., see Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21). A vineyard has one purpose – to produce good fruit! The church has the same purpose – to produce good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit is the natural result of the tree and the natural expression of the tree’s life. One can identify a tree’s condition and health by the tree’s fruit (see Matthew 7:16-20; John 15:6). Even more, the vineyard has an owner and is dependent upon many workers to produce good fruit (see also Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 3:12-15). The church is about fruit and about God. As Christians, we are just servants of the vineyard. It is NOT ABOUT US but about GOD!  We are one and fellow workers and there is no room for division and pride.

The workers of the vineyard has varies tasks and many functions. Yet, the workers are just servants because none of the workers own the vineyard. The life of the vineyard (church) is much bigger than the workers. The Good News of Jesus Christ brings life and God has graciously given His church a place to live out this holy life (see Romans 1:16-17). Apostle Paul stresses that he, Apollos and other workers of the vineyard are just laborers, workers or fellow servants of the vineyard (1 Corinthians 3:5, 7-9). The vineyard will continue to exist upon the servants’ death. Servants or labors of the vineyard are not to be elevated. Instead, the fruit, the owner, and the vineyard are what are important.

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be His own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as He did for all people everywhere who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NLT)

As Apostle Paul emphasized his call to be an apostle, the church was called to be “saints” or “holy ones” by God (1 Corinthians 1:2). The church is called to be holy, set apart, and called-out people for a particular service. This does not mean that the Corinthians had some special vocation that sets them apart from other Christians. Rather, the Corinthians along with other faithful believers in Jesus Christ is set apart from a wicked and defiled world and is marked by God as God’s people through their faith in Jesus Christ – who is the Head of the church (see John 17:17, 19; Colossians 1:18). The Apostle Paul regards all believers of Jesus Christ “saints” of God, who are holy and blameless before God (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11; Colossians 1:22-23).

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people — none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT)

All believers in Jesus Christ are holy or saints in that they stand in a special relationship with God as His people and are becoming increasingly holy by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5-8). In the Old Testament, the basic idea of “holy” meant that certain priests and vessels were set apart as holy, sanctified or sacred for God’s special purpose or use. Being “holy” is not moral perfection. Although the church at Corinth was not acting holy, Apostle Paul reminded the church they were called to be holy and saints for God’s special purpose and use (see Exodus 19:5-6; Romans 6:22). Through faith in Jesus Christ, all believers are holy, righteous and redeemed (1 Corinthians 1:30). Believers in Jesus Christ are set apart for God’s special use, enjoyment, and purposes and God calls all believers in Jesus Christ to be “morally” holy (1 Corinthians 1:2; see also Leviticus 11:44-45; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). God is holy (Leviticus 11:44; Habakkuk 1:13) and faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9) and God calls His church to intimate His holiness and faithfulness in their daily living (1 Peter 1:15-16; see also Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7-8). Even more, God graciously gives believers in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit for their sanctification (holiness) (Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).

Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)

Apostle Paul connected the Corinthians church with everyone who calls upon the Name of Jesus Christ as the body of Christ and the church is called to be “holy” (1 Corinthians 12-14). A sinful and unfaithful believer not only sins against God, but this unfaithful believer also sins against fellow Christians - everyone that “call upon the Name of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Throughout the Old and New Testament, everyone who calls upon the Name of God is called to be holy and sacred for God’s use (see Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 11:44; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Hebrews 12:14). Just as Apostle Paul was “called” to be apostle, the Corinthian church was called to be “holy” and “saints.” Apostle Paul reminded the church to become what they are in Jesus Christ – holy, righteous and redeemed people of God. The fact that God has called believers of Jesus Christ, set us apart, and enriched us ought to encourage us to live holy lives for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; see also Romans 6:1-22; 1 John 2:28-3:3).

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! . . . Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. . . . Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:1-2, 19-23 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary (Victor Books, 1989).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

First Dysfunctional Church

Apostle Paul:  When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I was not talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Do not even eat with such people. It is not my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NLT)

The Corinthians letters give a glimpse into an early New Testament mission church. Apostle Paul established this fledging church at Corinth during his second missionary journey around A.D. 50–52 (see Acts 15:36–18:22). However, Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters around A.D. 55 – 56 from Ephesus during his third missionary journey (see Acts 18:23–19:41; 1 Corinthians 16:8). Ephesus is located in the province of Asia (western Turkey) and Apostle Paul spent two to three years in this area on his third missionary journey. The Corinthian letters are Apostle Paul’s direct pastoral instructions to a young first century church.

As revealed in the Corinthian letters, not all the early churches of Jesus Christ were perfect. In fact, Corinthians gives today’s Christians a glimpse at the first dysfunctional church of the New Testament. The Corinthian letters address many problems facing the church at Corinth. In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul gives instructions on how Christian churches are to be “salt” and “light” in the world as called by Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:13-16; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31). In essences, the Corinthian letters discuss how to be a good and righteous church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ:  “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. . . . In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13-14, 16 (NLT)

Apostle Paul dealt with a wide range of problems and questions facing the young fledging church in this Corinthian letters — some of which reflect the problems of the city itself. Deviant practices of a bewildering variety characterized the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church was filled of divisions and cliques, incest, lawsuits, sexual immorality, greed, marital unfaithfulness, selfishness, lying, competitiveness, jealous, quarreling, and backbiting. Yet, the new believers at Corinth were struggling because they were surrounded by a grossly immoral and wicked environment. The church felt the pressure to adapt and confirm to the world’s standards and beliefs instead God’s ways. The ways of God are love, compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, faithfulness, truth, forgiveness, holiness and humility (1 Corinthians 13; see Exodus 33:15-18; Exodus 34:6-7; Galatians 5:22-23). The church is about expressing love to God, love for others, and doing good (righteous acts) in the world and not arrogance, self-importance and self-seeking (1 Corinthians 10:31-33see Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9-21; Revelation 19:8).

The city of Corinth was a fascinating and prosperous place. The old Corinth was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Roman army. But prior to the city’s destruction, Corinth was a prominent and elevated city. After the city’s destruction, Corinth laid dormant. Then in approximately 46 or 44 B.C., Corinth was rebuilt and became an important city in the Roman Empire because of Corinth’s location. There was no other city in the Roman Empire like Corinth. Corinth was a large, strategic, political, commercial and religious center. The city was cosmopolitan, with Romans, Greeks, Jews, and other ethnic groups from all over the Mediterranean, as well as international visitors passing through the city’s seaport. As a result, the members of the young Corinthian church were multi-ethnic. This surely contributed to the young church’s tensions and problems (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4). It was important that a strong Christian church be established in Corinth. If the Gospel could take root in Corinth, it could transplant anywhere considering Corinth’s crossroad location.

Corinth was located on a narrow isthmus (strip of land) between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. This area became Roman’s most vital trade route. The city of Corinth was a port town that hosted many foreign visitors and traveling sailors. Ships wanting to avoid the dangerous trip around the southern tip of Greece were dragged across that isthmus. Therefore, many ships dock at Corinth. The city hosted a constant flow of people coming in and out of Corinth from around the world. Visitors and sailors went into the city of Corinth for rest, relaxation, and pleasure.

Corinth was a pleasure town like Las Vegas and full of vices. There were partying, drinking, gambling, prostitution, and carousing. These immoral activities were open and public and not private. In the city of Corinth, gross immorality and wickedness was even encouraged because the city’s mischief drove the city’s economy. Corinth has been called a “drunkard’s paradise and a virtuous woman’s hell.” The city of Corinth equaled sin. In fact, conditions of Corinth were vividly seen in the fact that the Greek term “korinthiazomai” came to mean to “to live shamelessly and immorally” or “to fornicate” due Corinth’s gross sexual immorality. The city was filled with prostitution, gambling, partying, drunkenness, and wickedness. The great temple of Aphrodite with its 1,000 temple prostitutes (male and female) was also located in Corinth. It is not surprising that some of these same problems made their way into the young Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Yet, Corinth was an important city for Apostle Paul’s missionary purpose. Apostle Paul took seriously the command of Jesus Christ to go throughout the whole world to preach the Good News (see Matthew 28:16-20; see also Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). The city of Corinth was a valuable city at the commercial crossroads that went to the utter most parts of the world. Many of these foreign sailors and visitors that came through Corinth responded to the Good News of Jesus Christ and returned to their original homes with the message of Jesus Christ. Thus through this city port town, the Good News was being indirectly spread throughout the world as Jesus Christ commanded. These sailors and visitors would take the Good News to their homes from the Corinthian church.

Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Moreover, Corinth had a Greek world view (also called “Hellenism”). This view glorified the body and did not believe in moral absolutes. Hellenists believed one could live by one’s own code of ethics as long as one does not hurt another person. Essentially, the city of Corinth centered on the beauty of the human body with no moral absolute. Yet, most Greeks were religious and there was a lot of mixing of religion (syncretism). Thus, many forms of religion were located in Corinth with many temples to various gods and goddesses. Despite the various religions, there was no concept of one Lord and one body of Scriptures. Instead, people just picked and chose from various religions. Even more, the Corinthian environment saw no connection between worship of God and morality. The Corinthians did not connect God and morality or theology and ethics. The city of Corinth was filled with superficial intellectualism or surface knowledge. The Corinthians prided themselves on knowledge, various religions, and philosophy.  

Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. . . . One night the Lord (Jesus) spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Do not be afraid! Speak out! Do not be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to Me.” So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God. Acts 18:1, 9-11 (NLT)

The Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ was first taught in Corinth by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey around A.D. 50 (see Acts 18:1-18). Consequently, Apostle Paul describes himself as having planted the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 3:6), or having laid the church’s foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10), or having “fathered” the church (1 Corinthians 4:15). While living and working with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:1-2), Apostle Paul preached in the local Jewish synagogue each Sabbath day (Acts 18:4). As his custom, Apostle Paul went first to the Jews to announce that Jesus was their long awaited Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (Acts 18:4-5; see also Acts 13:14; Acts 14:1; Acts 17:1, 10, 17; Acts 18:19; Acts 19:8). The Apostle Paul preached in the local Jewish synagogue as long as the Jews would allow him to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). Apostle Paul’s reasoning for doing so was grounded in his understanding of God’s redemptive plan of going to the Jew’s first and then the Gentiles with God’s salvation through Jesus Christ (see Acts 13:46; Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10; Romans chapters 9 through 11). However, opposition in the synagogue forced Apostle Paul to leave the Jewish synagogue and move next door to the house of Titius Justus, where the people accepted his teaching about Jesus (Acts 18:6-7). Eventually, Crispus, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue and an Orthodox Jew, left the synagogue and followed Apostle Paul next door to Titius Justus’s house (Acts 18:8; see also 1 Corinthians 1:14). Crispus and his family were converted and joined the Christians (Acts 18:8). Moreover, many other Corinthians heard Apostle Paul’s preaching about God and the Good News of Jesus Christ. These Corinthians believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

Later, some Jews brought charges against Apostle Paul (Acts 18:12). The Jews accused Apostle Paul of violating Jewish laws with Gallio, the Roman governor (Acts 18:13). But Gallio dismissed these charge (Acts 18:14-15). The Roman policy tolerated various religious groups and Romans officials were ordered not to get involved with religious disputes. Moreover, Judaism was a recognized religion under Roman law and Christianity was seen as part of Judaism. Thus, Gallio refused to hear the Jews’ case brought against Apostle Paul. Gallio said the Jews’ charges were a religious matter and Gallilo placed the Jews out of his house (Acts 18:15-16). However, as the Jews were being ejected by Gallio the Jews beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who lost the Jews’ case with Gallio (Acts 18:17). Eventually, Apostle Paul leaves Corinth and sailed to Syria (Acts 18:18). A person named Sosthenes is mentioned at 1 Corinthians 1:1 by Apostle Paul. Many biblical scholars believe this same Sosthenes mentioned at Acts 18 was the same man who was converted and became Apostle Paul’s companion.

Thus, the Corinthian church was established in a situation of conflict out of the Jewish synagogue. Moreover, the Corinthian church came out of a thoroughly pagan and grossly immoral environment in the city of Corinth. So, the Corinthian church faced a hostile environment with the pagan world and a hostile environment with the Jewish church

The Corinthian church was filled with diversity – multiethnic church. The first Corinthian congregation consisted of Jews that accepted Jesus as their Jewish Messiah and they became Jewish Christians. These Jewish Christians were probably “fringed” Jews or liberal Jews. These Jews did not abandon their Judaism. Instead, these Jews saw their Judaism as complete through faith in Jesus. Also, the Corinthian church consisted of god-fearers. God-fearers were Gentiles like Cornelius and they were Orthodox Jews except they were not circumcised. These people prayed, fasted, and gave alms (money to the poor) but they were not circumcised. Moreover, the church consisted of Hellenists – Greek speaking Jews. Hellenists were circumcised but they spoke Greek language and were open to the Greek views and culture. In essence, the Hellenists were liberal minded Jews. Finally, the Corinthian church had women. Luke’s Gospel states that women were in the band that followed Jesus. Essentially from the very beginning, the Corinthian church had lines of division or conflicts – liberals and conservatives, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. So, there were contrasting worldviews in the Corinthian church and the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians deals with this church conflict. 

However, Corinth had a minimal Jewish presence because the city was a thoroughly pagan Greco-Roman that worshipped Aphrodite. More and more non-Jews became attractive to the Corinthian church. Although the church started with a Jewish core, more and more Gentiles came into the church from the city of Corinth. Eventually, the congregation was dominant by Gentiles that came from a pagan environment with gross idolatry, gross immorality, and superficial intellectualism. Although Apostle Paul had stayed in Corinth eighteen months (Acts 18:11), he did not have enough time to invest in the church so the church could flourish in that hostile and immoral environment. In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul was in essence visiting the Corinthian church through his letters with pastoral instruction.

Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian church a series of personal letters dealing in part with various problems of immorality and spiritual immaturity. In the first letter between Apostle Paul and the church, Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian church about staying away from immorality and wickedness that filled the city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:9). This letter was lost. Then, the Corinthian church wrote Apostle Paul a letter about some ethical questions and other concerns (1 Corinthians 7:1). This letter posed questions about sex within marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-40); eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-11); and spiritual gifts within the church community (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). This suggests that the Corinthians were serious and genuine about their Christian faith. By this time, the Christian church was mostly Gentiles without an elaborate knowledge of the Old Testament Law.

Then, Apostle Paul received a report from a group of people he calls “Chloe’s people” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Chloe’s people reported to Apostle Paul all the problems occurring in the Corinthian church with division, cliques and factions (1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 11:18). The Corinthian church was rallying around various church leaders and teachers -- Peter, Paul, and Apollos. These loyalties led to intellectual pride and created a spirit of division in the church. Their report presumably included alarming information about other problems within the church:  sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), legal disputes (1 Corinthians 6:1-11), abuses of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and controversies about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

The Apostle Paul responded to the Corinthian church in a letter. This letter is First Corinthians. Whether 1 Corinthians was prompted solely by Chloe’s letter or Apostle Paul’s previous letters were unknown. But probably the First Corinthians’ letter is a response to both situations. In addition to Chloe informing Apostle Paul of the various ethical and moral problems within the church, Chloe’s people also informed Apostle Paul that his authority as an apostle was in question. Apostle Paul was criticized for his rather unpolished, non-intellectual approach to evangelism (1 Corinthians chapters 1 through 4). So the first issue of 1 Corinthians is about the division within the church as seen by 1 Corinthians chapters 1 through 4 and also the rebellion against Apostle Paul’s apostleship.

In response to these problems, Apostle Paul emphasized that only God can change a person’s heart. From beginning to end, Apostle Paul interprets every problem of the church in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-6). Fundamentally, Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians is the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5), and he insisted that the church’s behavior must be shaped and patterned with reference to Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

God has defined true wisdom through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 1:30) and the true meaning of love as exemplified in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1). In reacting to the Corinthians’ overemphasis on knowledge, philosophy and wisdom, Apostle Paul affirms that love must rule over all other values, virtues, philosophies and religious options (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; 1 Corinthians 16:14). Real power does not lie in one’s persuasive intellect, rhetoric or philosophy, but in the Good News of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthian 1:18). Renewal or regeneration is not a matter of one person changing another person’s mind, but of God changing a person’s heart from within through the power of the Good News (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; see also Romans 1:16-17).

The Apostle Paul sends the First Corinthian letter from Ephesus by Timothy, one of his companions. The Apostle Paul did not go back to Corinth because of possibly hostility. Also, Apostle Paul felt his pastoral associate, Timothy, would be better suited to handle the conflicts in the Corinthian church.  Timothy’s personality was much different than Apostle Paul. Besides, Apostle Paul believed this letter with Timothy’s interpretation would answer the church’s questions and stop the growing rebellion against Apostle Paul’s authority. However, both the first letter and Timothy were rejected by the Corinthian church. The rebellion against Apostle Paul’s authority becomes worse. In the Roman Empire, the letter carried the authority of the person who wrote the letter. A letter was the same as the person being there – the person’s presence. So when the Corinthians rejected the letter, the church rejected Apostle Paul and his authority. However, this rejection or rebellion was not really about Apostle Paul but the rejection was about the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ that Apostle Paul was preaching. In essence, the integrity of the Good News (Gospel) was at stake in Corinth!

In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul calls all Christians to be careful not to blend in with the world and accept its values and lifestyles. Instead, Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live Christ-centered, blameless, loving lives that make a difference for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
New Student Bible (New York, NY: Zondervan, 1992).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Hayes, Richard. First Corinthians (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2011).