March 19, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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Back about 15-20 years ago, there were these uniquely titled, popular books that became all the rage, claiming to be able to teach anyone how to succeed at a certain task, job, hobby, or life skill. These books are still popular today, and have added a myriad of topics to their collection. They’re called the For Dummies books. For instance…
Auto Repair for Dummies
Real Estate for Dummies
Wine for Dummies
The Internet for Dummies
Curly Hair for Dummies
Today, though, most people will do a quick Google search or find a YouTube instructional video when they need some step-by-step guidance on how to do something. It can be anything from changing your tire to making pizza dough to beating a video game to becoming an entrepreneur.
The Book of 1 Corinthians is a lot like that. It’s basically the New Testament equivalent of The Christian Life for Dummies. One commentary describes it as “a treasure trove of practical theology for Christians facing everyday challenges . . . No other letter in the New Testament gives us a more practical picture of applying the Christian faith to the day-to-day issues of life and work than 1 Corinthians.”
In this article, you’ll find a quick run-down of this powerful and practical letter, learning things like . . .
Who wrote 1 Corinthians?
When was it written?
Why was it written?
Who was it written to?
What are some of the key themes in the letter?
So, let’s dive right in!
The letter we now call 1 Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul most likely somewhere around 55 A.D. This would make it one of Paul’s earlier letters. Considering the timeline, the apostle probably wrote this letter during his time in the city of Ephesus, which is recorded in Acts 19:1-41.
Corinth was originally one of the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, and oldest cities of the Greek Empire until the Romans destroyed it in 146 B.C. About 100 years later, Julius Caesar had the city restored, and it became the seat of government and commercial center for Southern Greece. It was four times larger and about fifty miles west of Athens. It had a population of 400,000 people making it the fourth largest and richest cities in the Roman Empire.
A metropolis, Corinth was well known for being luxurious, excessive, immoral, and vicious. It was equally one of the greatest and most wicked cities in all of Rome. One commentary called it “the most American city in the New Testament . . . a resort city, the capital of pleasure in the Roman Empire.” Think of New York, Los Angeles, or Miami.
It was considered a beautiful city, devoted to two things: pleasure and wisdom. As a Greek city, many of its inhabitants considered themselves to highly educated, philosophers, thought leaders, and influencers who clung to what Paul calls ” enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:4 KJV). It was also a city that had a temple dedicated to the Greek Aphrodite (the goddess of love, beauty, lust, pleasure, and procreation), housing more then 10,000 temple priestesses who were also prostitutes—who would perform sexual rituals and ceremonies as part of worship.
It was here in 48–51 A.D., during his second missionary journey, that the apostle Paul preached the gospel and planted a church right in the shadow of worldly philosophy and rampant immorality.
While in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul had heard some disturbing reports about the Corinthian church. It was reported to him that believers there were full of pride, infighting, division, and excusing sexual immorality. Spiritual gifts were being used improperly, and there was also a great deal of misunderstanding and misinterpretation of essential Christian teachings and beliefs. So, in an effort to help bring his spiritual children back to the truth of the gospel and teach them how it applies to every area of their life, the apostle Paul wrote this letter.
As you read through this letter, here are a few terms you’ll see repeated a lot by the apostle Paul. Whenever you see terms or ideas repeated frequently, we should take notice. It means it’s an area of importance in the life and faith of the believer.
All references are in the NIV translation.
1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:14: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 3:3: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
1 Corinthians 10:”22-24: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 12:12: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “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.”
1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
1 Corinthians 15:17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
1 Corinthians 15:56-57: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Christian Living: 1 Corinthians contains the most detailed breakdown of how the gospel impacts the everyday life and worldview of the believer, what we say, think, and do. Godly, righteous living is rooted in sound, correct doctrine (teachings and beliefs). Covering a wide array of topics (self-image, identity, pride, insecurity, wisdom, integrity, self-control, sex, marriage, singleness, leadership, church gatherings, and men and women relating to one another in community), this letter is especially concerned with teaching the Christian how to conduct their lives privately and publicly, at home, in the world, and in the church.
Division: Corinthian society was plagued by competitive individualism, an attitude that even spilled over into the church. Feuding groups developed around issues, politics, which church leader to follow, and much more. There were contention, cliques, and major rifts that were fracturing large segments of the church. Sound familiar? So, Paul went hard after this problem, admonishing the people who considered themselves “spiritual,” “mature,” and “wise,” reminding them that God uses the lowly, despised, and weak in the world to bring about change in the wise and strong.
Worship: In this letter, Paul provides a comprehensive guide to proper practices for worship services, addressing the Lord’s Supper (communion), the nature and use of spiritual gifts, the speaking of tongues, and more, showing us that worship is meant to be orderly, God-honoring, uplifting, and unifying.
Resurrection: One of the issues causing division within this church was the issue of resurrection. Now, it is doubtful that the Corinthians were denying the idea of life after death because belief in the afterlife was held by virtually everyone in the ancient world (the denial of life after death is a modern invention). The issue here, however, was related to people disputing the Jewish and Christian teaching of a physical, bodily resurrection and instead adopting an ideal closer to the Greeks who limited the afterlife to disembodied, spiritual immortality.
As you journey through this book with us, be sure to see just how much the Corinthian church resembles the church in the Western world and how many of their issues we still struggle with today. These issues included worldliness, spiritual disunity, sexual sin, and questions about marriage and divorce, the roles of men and women, and spiritual gifts.
The wisdom and how-to instruction you’ll find in this 2,000-year-old letter are just as relevant and life-changing today as they were then!