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.

Merely Human Or?

Paul uses this great phrase in 1 Corinthians 3, saying at the end of verse 4, “are you not being merely human?” We’ve been shown a variety of comparisons in this letter as Paul is always urging us to be more as we follow the ways of God. Do we settle for milk or move on to solid food? Do we settle for being merely human, or do we look for even more? The choice should be obvious, but it is not always easy. But we do not act alone, for we have God with us, helping us to choose the greater–to choose himself.

Here is how he frames the choices in this life:

  • Merely human with the wisdom of the world?
    or recipients of the wisdom of God in the cross, by his Spirit?

  • Merely human trying to do things in our own strength?
    or empowered by the Spirit, serving God in the work to which he has called us?

  • Merely human built upon what will burn up and be lost?
    or God’s building, the temple of his Spirit, built to late upon Christ?

  • Merely human tied to the fleeting things of this life?
    or Christ’s cherished possession, recipient of all things, for all things are his?

If we are being built by God, what’s God’s building plan?

Paul writes how God is the one who truly gives the growth and we just take a part in being used by God, whether to “plant” or “water.” But what are we growing into? What is the building plan? It’s a humbling beginning to this chapter as we recognize our place before God. We can claim no credit for God’s work. We take a part, but God is the true actor. But as humbling as that is, we are then shown an extraordinarily privileged and high calling that God has for each of us. God is growing us and building upon us because, as it says in verse 16, we are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. Paul writes, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

plant and water

This is an amazing truth for God’s people. The temple had been the dwelling place for God. It had been a place among the people, but distinct from them. Only a select few could enter and even fewer still could enter the Holy of Holies. In all of creation this was the place of his presence. Now Paul writes that we are his temple. We are that holy place of his presence. The Spirit of the Most Holy God resides in us, in we who are in the foundation of Christ.

This past Sunday I preached on this text as well as a text from Daniel 7. Along with the strange visions of that chapter, we get a parallel picture of God’s craftsmanship, compared to what will ultimately be burned up, fade away, and be destroyed. We learn in both texts that what God builds, and builds upon Jesus Christ, is the only thing that will last. I wrote for the sermon:

“In Daniel, these great beasts look so powerful, but they will come to an end.
Only the kingdom of God will last.
The Son of Man will have all dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will last forever.

Likewise, the powers in our time will fall. They will not last. A life built upon them will not last.
But a life built by God, upon Jesus Christ will last.
Therefore your life will last, your life will be eternal.

Only that which is of God is forever, and your life can be in God’s hands. Your life can be forever, if it is built upon the one foundation: Jesus Christ. We are God’s building, his temple, and his craftsmanship is flawless. We live forever when we live a life in Christ.”

Paul, Apollos, and a long line of servants of Christ have served his Church. There have surely been many who have blessed you by similar service. But we know that through it all, by the Spirit, God has been working upon you and in to give you the growth. We are being built into his temple, a place of God’s very presence, and if that were not already amazing enough, we have a sure hope that God’s building, his people, are built to last forever.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? – The role we play in ministering to others on God’s behalf

Memory Verse 1 Cor 3.6

Yesterday we focused on what was hindering the Corinthians’ understanding (their jealousy and strife) and what it led to was not only the divisions in their church, but a misunderstanding of who people like Paul and Apollos were. Paul describes their problem and then turns attention to himself, and Apollos, briefly.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What do we learn about these two in this passage? Who are they? What is their job? How should the church view them?

First, we see that they are servants. Being a servant, obviously, means that they are not masters. The Corinthians had elevated them and thought Paul and Apollos were to be played off each other as though they were rivals, but they are both servants who in fact are co-laborers, working together.

Are you a gardener? I’m sure you then know that there aren’t good ways to compete over one plant. If one plants and one waters, you can’t do so with different aims. You have the same goal. Paul is not at odds with Apollos. They both want to see growth. They are both called by God to their task. They both serve for God’s glory.

We also learn that as much as Paul or anyone labors, they do not claim credit for the work that God accomplishes. He may have planted, but just as importantly, Apollos watered, but neither compare to the growth that God achieves.

If not for God, what would happen to the seed? If not for God, would the water do any good? It is as it says in Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.

Paul is not anything but a servant of God. He is a tool God has used. All glory should pass right through him and be directed at the only one worthy. He has had the privilege of being called to this people to minister to them, as has Apollos. But Paul is telling them that God was at work then, God is at work now, and God is the one who will continuously give the growth.

Memory Verse for 1 Corinthians 3:6 for iPhone

 

What Hinders Our Understanding God’s Truth?

Earlier in chapter one Paul mentions that the church had been having issues that caused divisions. Some were claiming to be of Paul, some followed Apollos, and still other Cephas or Christ. Having dealt with it briefly in the first chapter, Paul returns to it now in chapter three of 1 Corinthians.

With two homilies on the wisdom of God (in the cross and through the Spirit) firmly in place as a foundation, Paul is ready to take a second look at how his readers should see Paul, Apollos and Cephas.[1]

Ken Bailey summarizes what we’ve been through so concisely. Paul sees their issue and it isn’t just division. These divisions reveal a spiritual immaturity. Paul has to lay a groundwork for them to understand the wisdom of God and their actions impede such understanding. Paul says that he cannot address them as spiritual people, rather they are infants needing milk. Again Bailey is insightful here. It isn’t because the Corinthians are not smart enough that they can’t understand, it is because of their petty infightings and jealousies. Bailey writes that we tend to think that all it takes to acquire truth is “a good mind and a willingness to work hard… Paul disagrees.”[2]

When there is strife the people are acting merely human. Paul wants something more. He doesn’t want more praise or more followers for himself. He wants them to see Paul, Apollos, and Cephas for what they truly are. Once again from Bailey:

The Corinthians thought that when they declared themselves to be “of Apollos” or “of Paul” that they were making complimentary statements about their champions. No, replies Paul, be creating these divisions you are saying nothing about us–you are talking about yourselves, and what you are is not flattering! Do not imagine that we are pleased![3]

Beginning in verse five he begins to try to set them straight with two short parables.


  1. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 120. ↩
  2. Bailey, 122. ↩
  3. Bailey, 123. ↩