A Review of the First Half of 1 Corinthians

Now halfway through 1 Corinthians, let’s get nostalgic and take a walk down memory lane.

(Quick editorial note: This is not exhaustive. But that’s why we read the Bible, not just summaries!)

Week 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.1-3

Here we are introduced Paul, who writes with the authority of one who is sent by God, and to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth and the saints every where who call upon Jesus Christ as Lord. It will be a letter tailored for Corinth, but in no way limited to this one group.

In this section we also find out one of the problems arising in this church, that is there is quarreling and divisions among the body as people are aligning themselves to certain teachers. Paul comes down clearly against this.

Week 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Memory Verse 1 Cor 1.22-23

The response to the issues of Corinth is the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is a message that is not always attractive, indeed it appears foolish to the world. But the “foolishness” of God is wiser than men. Therefore, we shouldn’t boast in any associations with a certain teacher, nor in ourselves. If we are to boast, we should only boast in the Lord.

Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Memory Verse 1 Cor 2.12

The cross is the wisdom of God and in chapter two Paul writes how we receive this wisdom from God by his Holy Spirit. The natural person doesn’t understand the things of the Spirit, but we can have judgment and discernment because God has gifted it to us.

Week 4 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Memory Verse 1 Cor 3.6

Having taught on the wisdom of God in the cross and from the Spirit, Paul returns to the issue of divisions in the church and seeks to correct Corinth’s view of Paul, and other teachers. Paul is just a worker, given a certain assignment, just like Apollos, but through it all it is God who truly is at work. They work together with a common goal, always building upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ.

Week 5 – 1 Corinthians 4:1-21

Memory Verse 1 Cor 4.7b

Paul continues on the topic of how the church should view its teachers, like Paul or Apollos. Their incorrect view has led to boasting and being puffed up. Instead Paul wants them to follow his example and make sure they do not go beyond what is written–which is an especially troublesome territory that lends to speculation and arrogance.

He doesn’t want them to think that they can continue in the way that they have gone without any oversight. Paul has some stern words about the manner in which he’d return with rebuke.

Week 6 – 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Memory Verse 1 Cor 5.7

Corinth has had issues with divisions and quarreling and now Paul mentions the sexual immorality that has made its way into the church, like a leaven that is affecting the whole dough. To make matters worse, some think that their tolerance of sexual sin is to their credit and they boast (see a pattern?) in their behavior. Paul points them again to the cross, arguing that Christ sacrificed himself as our Passover lamb to remove the leaven–the sin–from our lives. He says the church shouldn’t embrace the sin, the very thing Christ died to remove. In fact, Paul says to cast the man who has committed the sin out of the church.

Week 7 – 1 Corinthians 6:1-20

Memory Verse 1 Cor 6.19-20

The wisdom the church ought to have received from the Spirit is not being manifested in the body as they are neglecting their call and responsibility and instead are taking their issues and submitting them to secular courts. This is a poor witness to the world about the call of God’s church to be judges of all things, and it is shameful that the world sees the sinful practices that should not be part of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps quoting the Corinthians’ argument, Paul confronts the notion that freedom in Christ makes all things permissible now. It is true that we have freedom in Christ, but we are freed from sin, not for sin. Some practices may be allowed, but that does not mean it is good for the person or for the body. After all, our body is not our own, rather we have been bought with a price. The believer is now, miraculously, a temple of the Holy Spirit, so we should glorify God with our bodies.

Week 8 – 1 Corinthians 7:1-40

Memory Verse 1 Cor 7.22

Having discussed sins, and specifically sexual sins, that are not in line with the kingdom of God, Paul turns toward some questions the Corinthians had and teaches about what sort of sexual relationships are appropriate. He relates these questions to the broader issue of our calling in Jesus Christ. Whether married or single, and Paul then goes on to include Jew or Greek and slave or free, we all have callings. Paul may encourage singleness, but to him it comes down to our ability to serve God wholeheartedly.

Week 9 – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Memory Verse 1 Cor 8.6

The topic of freedom in Christ comes up again and this time in relation to the eating of food offered to idols. Here Paul urges people to consider sacrificing their “right” to do what is greater: to love their brothers and sisters. If they use their knowledge to disregard the needs of others, they are puffed up and sinning not only against their fellow believer, but against Christ as well, since we are all members of his body.


So there you have it. Eight chapters down, eight more to go. If I missed something that stood out to you, don’t let me get away with it!

Paul now in chapter nine continues the discussion of our freedoms and rights, and how we at times ought to sacrifice our rights for a greater purpose.

Judges of the World and of Angels

Paul is upset by what the Corinthians have been doing in bringing their grievances before the secular courts. He mentions that having lawsuits is already a failure, but to then take such cases before unbelievers makes it all the worse.

Why does he say this?

In verses 7-8 he is lifting up the love, sacrifice, and humility that should instead be the character of a Christian community. Paul writes, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” He wants the body to endure the suffering, but instead it is getting caught up with the ways of the world, wronging and defrauding fellow believers in the courts. Earlier in chapter four Paul wrote, “When reviled we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” This is not the attitude of someone always seeking to prove themselves, to seek retribution, to fight it out before the world in the courts.

These battles in the courts are a public witness and they do not witness to the unity of the church or to the pattern of life that should be based on Christ’s crucifixion. It is to their shame, as Paul says.

After spending so much time in the preceding chapters speaking about the wisdom of God in the cross of Jesus Christ and a wisdom that we have received by the Holy Spirit, Paul is confronted with a church that appeals to the wisdom of the world to determine its verdict. God’s wisdom is greater and he has granted it to his people, so isn’t there even just one person wise enough to settle dispute in the church? Paul then reminds them that the judges of the world are no real authority on these matters, instead the saints are ones who will be given great authority. In Christ we will reign with him and we will judge the world.

Paul then makes his arguments as he moves from the greater to the lesser. If you will judge the world, can’t you then judge a smaller issue? (Not to say that this is trivial in the sense that it doesn’t matter, it is just of lesser significance than judging the world.) If you are to judge angels–creatures that are otherworldly, heavenly–can’t you judge matters of this life?

This is a call for the church to remember its calling. And it is a high calling. The Corinthians need to live into it, to see themselves for what they are and what they are going to be. If they are judges of the world, what does it say if they bring matters of the church before mere human (1 Cor 3:4) courts? If the church has been entrusted with the mysteries and wisdom of God, matters that the rulers did not understand (2:8, 4:1), what is the witness to the world if such wisdom is inadequate to discern issues within the Christian body? Who then is the real authority in the life of the church? If God’s wisdom is to rule in their church, they must change course and stop acting as though the law of the unrighteous is their judge.

We Only Teach What the Spirit Has Taught

Our reading this week had a great reminder for us all, and for me in particular given what I’ve busied myself with this last several days.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
1 Cor 2:13

The whole chapter emphasizes what we receive by the Spirit. What we know is not something we can boast in, nor is what we teach and pass on something that is of ourselves. It all is of the Spirit. I mentioned it is a nice reminder for me since I’m currently preparing both a sermon for tomorrow morning and a talk on prayer for tomorrow night.

It is easy to try rely on yourself and to worry if what we have to say is enough. We focus on our education, our smarts, our delivery, etc. But that is missing the point. I can rely on the Spirit, and I ought to make sure what I speak is of God. It’d be foolish to try to do what God calls us to in our own strength. All I have the privilege of doing is to take what the Spirit has shown us and pass it on. From start to finish, we are a work of God. Which is why it’s not about us and why we should say, soli deo gloria–glory to God alone.

Relying Upon the Spirit and Not on Our Apologetics

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:3-5

There are some great books that defend the Christian faith that I’ve personally enjoyed in the past. They could be grouped broadly into the category of “apologetics.” This name isn’t based on our saying “sorry” for our faith, but the word relates to giving a defense. While I certainly believe that there are reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and that our Bible is a trustworthy book, it is important to remember that we cannot argue someone into faith. We shouldn’t present some sort of bullet point list to someone, then demand that she believe.

While Paul does use argumentation and is thoughtful with his words and his audience, he is primarily a witness pointing to Jesus. Paul can’t make someone believe. In fact, he doesn’t want to. His desire is that a person’s faith “might not rest in the wisdom of men.”

Dove

This chapter goes on about how what we now know–the wisdom of God that we see in the cross of Jesus Christ–is not based in our own intellectual achievements. It is not because I’m smart enough that I’m a Christian. Likewise it is not because someone is dumb that they may not believe. The eternal purposes of God are known to us because they have been revealed to us by the Spirit of God.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:9–10

We can’t even boast in our knowing because it is a gift of God’s grace. Our coming to believe and understand is a work of God’s through and through.

We ought to love God with our minds, seek to know him better, to discern the mind of Christ, and speak ably about Jesus to those around us, always giving a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). But we do not do this as though everything hinges on my skillful argumentation. Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith, but it is not a faith dependent on advanced understanding and academic achievement. Our faith is dependent on the working of the power of God.

Looking Back on Chapter 1 and Preparing for Chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians

As we close the first chapter and begin the second, it is important to take account of what we’ve read. A goal of reading the way we are is to really get a sense of the whole of the letter. What is Paul saying start to finish?

You could go back and review any highlights or underlines. As you read you can jot down short summaries in the margins. At least, if your Bible has them, review the section headings–I hope those will remind you of what is in them.

I thought I’d provide a few short questions to review. See if what you are reading is being retained and understood. If so, fantastic! If not, maybe slow down or read it a few more times this week.

Who is it from?
And the answer is more than Paul.

Who is it to?
And the answer is more than the Corinthians.

What was going well in the church?
And who is really responsible for that?

What was going wrong in the church?
And who really deserves the church’s loyalty?

What does Paul preach?
And how might the world react to it?

Now in chapter two, read it with an eye toward retention. Read it knowing that we’re not just checking off a "to-do" list, but we are approaching God in his word to us. By the Spirit we are blessed with understanding. Read it knowing that God has something to say and it is worth remembering.

And if you want to remember just one thing, our memory verse this week is 1 Corinthians 2:12:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world
but the Spirit who is from God,
that we might understand the things freely given by God.

Again, I know memorization is hard and if you are like me, you are out of practice, so here again is a visualization to help you remember it:

1 Corinthians 2:12

Here is a size for your iPhone, to make it your background.

And don’t forget the Bible study, which we cover on Wednesday night at 6pm at the church, or look at it with a friend or on your own. You can find it here.