First Corinthians is the second of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament. It was written to the church that Paul started in Corinth, which is described in Acts 18.
Corinth was a metropolitan port city in Greece with a rich history of art, science, philosophy, politics and trade with other countries. It also was the center of a lot of pagan worship. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, preaching the Gospel and helping lead the church there, but after he left, he received reports that the Corinthian believers had begun falling back into idolatry, sexual immorality and other moral corruption.
So, Paul wrote to this church to call out their sin, remind them of their new life in Christ and encourage them to set aside their old ways and follow Christ as a faithful, unified group of believers.
First Corinthians can be broken into five main parts that address the major issues within the Corinthian church.
Chapters 1-4 call out divisions in the Corinthian church and challenge church members to remember that they follow Christ, not any pastor or spiritual leader.
Chapters 5-7 focus on the dangers of sexual immorality and urge Christians to devote their lives and their bodies to the Lord who saved them from their sins.
Chapters 8-12 reinforce God’s views of food and worship, especially how believers should treat food sacrificed to idols. Paul’s words remind Christians that our words and actions impact the people around us, and that we should be mindful of how our lives are being perceived by others, especially those who do not follow Jesus.
Chapters 11-14 explain proper worship practices, such as the Lord’s Supper, or communion, and the appropriate uses of spiritual gifts. Paul reminds the church that worship services should be orderly and for the purpose of displaying the love of Christ and bringing glory to God.
Chapter 15 pulls all of these points together with the life-transforming truth that unifies all believers: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and believers will rise to eternal life with Him. Paul explains that because of Jesus’ resurrection, believers have a reason for unity, motivation for sexual integrity, the power to love others more than self and assurance of eternal life.
Paul ends his letter in chapter 16 with commendations to specific leaders in the Corinthian church, greetings from other church leaders and his plans to return to Corinth soon.
The Gospel informs every part of life: In each of the main sections of First Corinthians, Paul addresses an issue within the church and responds to it with the truth of the Gospel message. Unity in the church is possible because Christians all worship Jesus; sexual purity is possible because Jesus’ blood has paid the price for our sins and is Lord of our whole lives, including our bodies; we have the power to live uprightly, worship as a unified body and serve others above ourselves because the Holy Spirit guides and shows us how to live in a way that glorifies God; our physical resurrection at the end of days is possible because Jesus Christ swallowed up death in the victory of the empty grave. And in His resurrection, we find hope that this life, this world and even this body is not all there is.
1 Corinthians 3 • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19-20
1 Corinthians 12 and 13
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a beautiful reminder that the message of the Gospel is much more than helpful life advice, and the church is much more than a place to hang out.
Our belief that Jesus was raised from the dead makes the Gospel a whole new reality for every area of our lives, and makes the church a unified body of believers, committed to loving service to God and others, so that God’s church may flourish and grow.