Overview of 1 Corinthians
and Study of 1 Corinthians 1-4
November 29th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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1 Corinthians

This letter and most of the remaining letters from Paul address specific issues at churches that he had helped to establish. He is straight-forward in his criticism but provides practical guidance and expressions of fatherly love.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes in response to situations in Corinth that he has learned of by letters and perhaps by other means as well. Paul writes to them during his third missionary trip that is described in Acts 19.

As we read this letter from Paul we can consider how many of his points apply to our own lives and churches. Some seem so relevant that itís as if he was writing to us directly, while others seem so remote that we canít even find a shred of application. In either case, we have much to gain by reading the entire letter and reflecting upon the points that Paul raises. We have divided the letter into four parts of daily study as shown below:

    1 Corinthians 1-4 (Unity in Church) - November 29th
    1 Corinthians 5-7 (Sex in the City of Corinth) - November 30th
    1 Corinthians 8-11 (Keep Your Eyes on the Prize) - December 1st
    1 Corinthians 12-16 (Many Spiritual Gifts - One Body) - December 2nd

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Foreman, Kenneth J., The Laymanís Bible Commentary, V21, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, John Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1961
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • Morris, Leon, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1983
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene H, Praying with Paul, A Year of Daily Prayers and Reflections on the Words of Paul, Harper, San Francisco, 1995
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005<
  • ďSermon Library,Ē Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT www.norotonchurch.org/sermons/min_sermons.html

All of the resources listed above are useful for the student of the Bible who wants to gain a deeper understanding of 1 Corinthians. For example, the series of Laymanís Bible Commentaries are worthy of their name as they provide descriptions and explanations that laypeople can easily follow and provide additional context to help laypeople attain a better understanding of the scriptures. This particular volume is no exception, as Foreman gives insight to the culture in Corinth, describing it as a bustling first century center of commerce and sport, similar to Chicago in the 20th century. Foreman also provides explanations to help us understand how to interpret and apply this letter to situations in our time and place.

As always, we recommend that you use one or more versions of the Bible as your first and primary source of study, and then take time to reflect and consider your own thoughts and conclusions. Then, after doing all of that consider reading commentaries such as the one we provide and the ones listed above in order to compare your notes and perhaps gain additional insights.

1 Corinthians 1-4 (Unity in Church)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

- 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

In the first four chapters, Paul begins with a formal greeting and addresses problems of dissension in the church. Apparently the Corinthians had allowed themselves to become divided. They were following different leaders, and were confused over various issues related to Christianity and the Church.

Paul emphasizes that we have one leader Ė Jesus Christ Ė in whose name we are baptized. The rest of us, Paul included, are all servants of the Lord. Paulís ability to preach does not come from his own power and wisdom, he notes, but from God Ė through the Spirit:

    We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but itís not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. Godís wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You donít find it lying around on the surface. Itís not the latest message, but more like the oldestówhat God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day havenít a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldnít have killed the Master of the God-designed life on a cross.

    - 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 (MSG)

Paul explains that we are all fellow workers on Godís farm. God is the owner. Some of us are sowers, some irrigation specialists, and others have their own roles, but none are more important than any other.

ďThis, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed (1 Cor 4:1 - NIV),Ē says Paul at the beginning of chapter 4. He says he does not care how people judge him and he does not judge himself. He then instructs his audience that they "should not pass judgement on anyone before the right time comes. Final judgement must wait until the Lord comes (1 Cor 4:5 - GNB). Paul adds that Christ will return for the final judgement and will determine who has been serving him and who has not. In the meantime, he encourages the people of Corinth to imitate his humility and listen to the advice of Timothy who he is sending to serve them.

Reflection and Application

Does this first group of chapters apply to our present era or not?

Itís hard to say that it does not. If we take a macro view and consider the many denominations around the world and the official sub-divisions within those denominations, each with their official lengthy name to distinguish them from the other branches that donít follow the same principles. We could also take a micro view of our own churches and consider if we have allowed ourselves to focus on following particular leaders rather than our main Boss. This may not be a problem in each of our churches (particularly if we are in a small church with only one Pastor or Priest), but it is a perpetual challenge for humans.

The other main topics also seem relevant for all times. Paul reminds us that none of our roles are more important than others. Who is more important for the farm owner, the workers who plant seeds or the ones who water them? Who is more important for the church, the people who administrate the activity of the church or the ones who preach and teach or the ones who make music or the ones who make sure the electricity bill is paid and the heat is working? We can make arguments for one role or the other, but Paul instructs us to understand that all are equally important in Godís eyes. He advises us not to judge based on the value of each role and also not to judge at all, as that is a role for God and his Son, Jesus.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What situations have you been in where there was division over two different leaders?
    2. How many different roles are there at your church?
    3. How can we show our church leaders and workers that we value them all equally?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we thank you for giving different gifts to each of us. Help us to understand the nature of our own gifts and appreciate the gifts given to to others.

    Prayer Concern
    Business and Finance Managers at Churches

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading 1 Corinthians 5-7 (Sex in the City of Corinth)

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