If First Corinthians were a show, it might be slotted into the daytime-talk genre alongside Maury Povich or Jerry Springer. Or, better yet, it might fit well within the Real Housewives genre. First Corinthians has it all: fighting, sex, jealousy, divorce, money, death, and even a tryst between a stepson and stepmom. Some in the Corinthian congregation seemed to be high-fiving about such things! This letter is fifty shades of crazy!
Like many of the apostle’s letters, this one reminds us how messed up the early church was. In some ways, that’s good news. Two thousand years on, the church is still messed up. The difference is that we have the opportunity to learn from their epic fails. But it’s sad news too. Things are being celebrated within the church today, sinful things, which the founders of our faith ardently opposed. Thus, we’re left to wonder: Can this epistle offer some guidance on such things? I believe so. Amid the turmoil present in this letter, there is hope!
Nearly two years after Paul had visited Corinth and launched the church there (ca. AD 50–51), the believers knew they were neck-deep in conflict and, as a result, the following ensued:
- The believers wrote Paul a letter, asking him for advice on several ethical and theological matters. Sadly, this letter is lost;
- Paul responded to their letter with one often dubbed “Proto-Corinthians” (1 Cor. 5:9). This letter, also lost, did not satisfy the recipients; thus,
- Some from the congregation wrote again, seeking clarification and further detail. Chloe, who hosted worship gatherings, along with some from her house, carried the letter to Paul and offered additional explanation;
- Paul responded from Ephesus with 1 Corinthians around AD 53–54 (16:8, 19–21) and;
- Knowing that the fledgling Christian gathering was in a state of flux, Paul tells them that he has his heart set on returning. Paul, however, with tears, was resigned to writing another letter—2 Corinthians—because he had trouble reaching them (2 Cor. 1:15–16; 2:1; 9:5; 12:14; 13:1). His failure to visit had relationally damaging effects.
Some in Corinth concluded that Paul was wishy-washy and could not be trusted; he couldn’t keep his word. This led them to question the validity of his apostleship. When he speaks of the “thorn in his flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), he is referring to repeated and painful attacks on his apostolic standing. His hope that his letters would be an effective stand-in for his absence was only partially realized. In Paul’s world, honor and shame carried great cultural currency. He did not shy away from exposing darkness. Shame was a powerful motivator, and he believed it could lead to repentance. When we read 1 Corinthians today, we would do well to remember that and, perhaps, even imitate Paul in this regard. And we can be certain of one thing: that’s not the kind of advice you’ll hear on television today.
This is an entry from Michael Halcomb’s Bible study, The First Letter to the Corinthians.
If First Corinthians was a show, it might be slotted into the daytime melodrama genre. This letter has it all: fighting, sex, jealousy, divorce, money, and death. Like many of the apostle’s works, First Corinthians reminds us how dysfunctional the early church was. Two thousand years on, the church’s warts show no sign of fading. In some ways, that’s good news. If Paul held out hope for this stunted community, God’s people today are in no less position to receive his transforming and sanctifying grace.
The difference is that we have the opportunity to learn from their moral failures, not to mention their gross misunderstanding of the gospel. But it’s also a cautionary tale—many of the behaviors celebrated within the church today are patterns the founders of our faith ardently opposed. Thus, we’re left to wonder: Can this epistle offer some guidance on such things? Amid the turmoil present in this letter and paralleled in our present world, there is hope. This study will walk us through a vision of what a life of faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, can look like.
- Sunday school classes
- Weeknight small groups
- Individual Bible study
In these pages you’ll:
- Gain an in-depth understanding of the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
- See parallels between the ancient church’s struggles and our modern context
- Appreciate how the saving grace of God in Christ transforms us into his holy people
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