What does spiritual freedom mean to a new Christian? When everyone around is caught up in immorality, and you're bombarded with constant temptation, how do you stand for righteousness? The fledgling church in Corinth was floundering with these questions, as the believers struggled to sort out their new found faith while living in a city overtaken with corruption and idolatry.
The Apostle Paul had planted the church in Corinth, and now, just a few years later, he was receiving questioning letters and reports of problems. The church was troubled with division, lawsuits between believers, sexual sins, disorderly worship, and overall spiritual immaturity. Paul wrote this uncompromising letter to confront and correct these Christians, answer their questions, and instruct them in several areas. He warned them not to be conformed to the world around them, but rather, to live as godly examples, reflecting Christlikeness in the midst of an immoral society.
Author of 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians is one of 13 Epistles written by Paul.
Between 53-55 A.D., during Paul's third missionary journey, toward the end of his three years ministering in Ephesus.
Paul wrote this pastoral letter to the church he had established in Corinth. While addressing the Corinthian believers specifically, the letter is relevant to all followers of Christ.
Landscape of 1 Corinthians:
The young Corinthian church was located in the midst of a large, decadent seaport--a city deeply immersed in pagan idolatry and immorality. The believers were primarily Gentiles converted by Paul on his second missionary journey. In Paul's absence the church had fallen into serious problems of disunity, sexual immorality, confusion over church discipline and other matters involving worship and holy living.
Themes in 1 Corinthians:
The book of 1 Corinthians is highly applicable for Christians today. Several important themes emerge as Paul reaches out to this spiritually troubled body of believers:
Unity Among Believers - The Corinthian church was divided over leadership. Some followed the teachings of Paul, others favored the words of Cephas, and some preferred what Apollos had to say. Intellectual pride, Paul pointed out, was firmly at the center of this spirit of division. In his letter, Paul urged the Corinthians to focus on Christ and not his messengers. The church is Christ's body where God's spirit dwells. If the church family is separated by disunity, then it ceases to work together and grow in love with Jesus Christ as the head.
Spiritual Freedom - The Corinthian believers were divided on certain practices not expressly forbidden in Scripture, such as eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Self-centeredness was the root of this division. In such matters, Paul stressed spiritual freedom, although not at the expense of other believers whose faith might be fragile. If we have freedom in an area that another Christian might consider sinful behavior, we are to be sensitive and considerate, sacrificing our freedom out of love for our weaker brothers and sisters.
Holy Living - The Corinthian church had lost its appreciation for the holiness of God which is our standard for holy living. In doing so, the church could no longer effectively minister to one another or be a witness to unbelievers outside the church.
Church Discipline - By ignoring blatant sin among its members, the Corinthian church was further contributing to division and weakness in the body. Paul gave practical instructions for how to deal with immorality in the church.
Proper Worship - An overarching theme in the book of 1 Corinthians is the need for true Christian love--love that will settle lawsuits and conflicts between brothers. A lack of genuine love was clearly an undercurrent in the Corinthian church, creating disorder in worship and the misuse of spiritual gifts. Paul spent a great deal of time describing the proper role of spiritual gifts and dedicated an entire chapter--1 Corinthians 13--to the definition of love.
The Hope of Resurrection - The believers in Corinth were divided because of misunderstandings over the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future resurrection of his followers. Paul wrote to clear confusion on this crucial matter which is so important to living out our faith in light of eternity.
Key Characters in 1 Corinthians:
Paul and Timothy.
1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 5:11
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing....
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (NIV)
Outline of 1 Corinthians:
• Introduction and greeting - 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.
• Divisions over leadership - 1 Corinthians 1:10 - 4:21.
• Divisions and disorder in the body of Christ - 1 Corinthians 5:1 - 6:20.
• Instructions on marriage and divorce - 1 Corinthians 7:1-24.
• Instructions on the betrothed and widowed - 1 Corinthians 7:25-40.
• Instructions on Christian freedoms - 1 Corinthians 8:1 - 11:1.
• Divisions over corporate worship - 1 Corinthians 11:2-14:40.
• Instructions on the resurrection - 1 Corinthians 15:1-58.
• The collection, requests, closing and final greetings - 1 Corinthians 16:1-24.