Paul wrote four letters to the church at Corinth. Only the second and fourth letters have survived; we now call these 1 and 2 Corinthians. The lost letters are mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9 and 2 Cor. 2:3-4.
The wealthy port city of Corinth was notorious in the Roman world; to “Corinthianize” meant to practice immorality, and prostitutes were called “Corinthian girls.” The church at Corinth failed to adequately separate from the pagan culture; Paul wrote to confront division, carnality, immorality, idolatry, theological error, and the mistreatment of the poor and weak.
Despite their issues, Paul addressed the Corinthian community as those who had experienced true transformation: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Reading & Summaries
READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 1-4
Ch. 1-4 — Division Over Christian Preachers: Paul expresses his thanks for and confidence in the Corinthians, but quickly confronts a serious issue in the church: the Corinthians had organized into factions around their favorite preachers (e.g. Paul, Peter, Apollos). Paul urged them to forsake this worldly way of thinking and look to Christ who is the wisdom and power of God. When Paul preached, he did so through the power of the Spirit (not through lofty speech) to avoid drawing men to himself instead of Christ crucified. Spiritual wisdom is foolishness to the natural man, but should be embraced by the Corinthians since they are now indwelled by the very Spirit of God. The right view of Christian ministers is that each plays a part in building God’s household on the foundation of Christ.
READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 5-7
Ch. 5 — Sexual Immorality in the Church: Paul confronts a case of gross immorality in the church; he instructs the Corinthians to disassociate with a man who is sexually involved with his stepmother. Since sexual immorality defiles the church, it must be judged.
Ch. 6 — Lawsuits Against Believers; Glorify God in Body & Spirit: Paul rebukes the Corinthians for taking one another to court; Christians should not pursue lawsuits against fellow believers. Paul warns against sexual immorality in general because it is a sin against the body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Ch. 7 — Marriage & Singleness. Paul elevates godly marriage as a solution for sexual immorality, and deals with various practical questions related to marriage, divorce, widowhood, and singleness.
READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 8-10
Ch. 8 — Food Offered to Idols. In Corinth, meat that was leftover from idol sacrifices was sold in the marketplace. Some believers felt it was wrong to buy or partake, but Paul explained that it was acceptable because idols have no real existence. Nevertheless, Christians should be more concerned with loving their brothers than proving a point in nonessential matters. To encourage weaker-minded Christians to violate their conscience would be to sin against them. Paul goes as far as to say, “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).
Ch. 9 — Rights. Paul explains that although he has certain rights as an apostle (e.g. to be paid for his ministry), he only uses them insofar as they advance the gospel.
Ch. 10 — Warnings from Israel’s History; All for God’s Glory: Paul warns against idolatry, using ancient Israel as an example. In everything that we do, we should be careful to do what is best for our neighbor and most glorifies God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Key Concept — Respecting Personal Convictions. Believers sometimes disagree about how to apply Biblical principles. Those with a very sensitive conscience may even make lifestyle choices that are ultimately unnecessary. We should never look down on our brothers and sisters because they have more or less conservative standards. We should be sensitive to other Christians when making decisions about our own standards. Just because something is not “wrong” does not mean it is edifying to our brothers in Christ; just because we have a “right” to do something does not mean that we should.
READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 11-13
Ch. 11:1-6 — Hair, Head Coverings, & Authority in the Church: Paul instructs the Corinthians to preserve the authority structure in the church by accepting appropriate symbols. In the Corinthian culture, this included the cultural symbol of a head covering. In all cultures, this includes the natural symbol of a woman’s uncut hair.
Recommended resource: Pleasing God – The Glory of a Woman by Nathan Brown.
Ch. 11:17-34 — Lord’s Supper: Paul corrects certain abuses surrounding the practice of the Lord’s Supper.
Ch. 12 — Spiritual Gifts; One Body, Many Members: Paul explains that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to every Christian; although out gifts differ, we are united in one body through one Spirit. Every believer has a part to play in Christ’s body; no Christian can say to another, “I have no need of you.”
Ch. 13 — Love, The More Excellent Way. The so-called “Love Chapter” explains “the more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). Although spiritual gifts are desirable, we should not elevate these gifts (especially the miracle gifts) as more important than true, godly love.
Key Concept — Spiritual Gifts: God has given spiritual gifts to every believer. These may be viewed as separate from a person’s natural talents and abilities, or as the divine anointing and empowerment of one’s talents and abilities. Some believe that the miraculous gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy) were used by God to spread the gospel in the early church, but have now ceased. Others believe these gifts continue to the present day. There is much division over how these gifts manifest themselves in the life of the church.
READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 14-16
Ch. 14 — Prophecy, Tongues, & Orderly Worship: Paul corrects abuses related to prophecy and tongues, and urges the Corinthians to pursue decent and orderly worship.
Ch. 15 — Resurrection of Christ & The Dead: Paul uses the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus as a basis to defend the bodily resurrection of all people at the last judgment. Paul praises Christ for giving the believer victory over death and the hope of a glorious, immortal resurrection body.
Ch. 16 — Collection for the Saints, Paul’s Travel Plans, Final Words.
When exercises require a written response, record your answers in a journal or email them to a pastor or class leader who will provide you with feedback.
- Paul rejoices that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Some have mistaken this to refer to the place God has prepared for us in heaven. Study the verse in its context. What is Paul referring to?
- According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, how does the natural person respond to the things of the Spirit of God?
- Look up 1 Corinthians 3:1 in at least four Bible translations (e.g. KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV). What words and phrases are used to describe an immature Christian?
- According to 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, who are Christians required to judge? How should we relate to Christians who are caught in sin but refuse to repent?
- In the Old Testament, God dwelled among his people in the Temple. According to 1 Corinthians 6:19, what is the New Testament temple (dwelling place) of God? What are the practical implications of this (1 Cor. 6:18-20)?
- In 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, Paul instructs married couples to be sexually active to guard against unnecessary temptation. If you are married, read and discuss these verses with your spouse.
- What does 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 teach about divorce and remarriage? According 1 Corinthians 7:39, when is remarriage legitimate? What does Luke 16:18 call all remarriage after divorce?
- According to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, how important is discipline in the Christian life?
- Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13.
- Paul makes the point in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that a woman’s long hair is a natural, God-given symbol of respect for her husband’s authority. Reflect on the history of your culture. When did women start cutting their hair. Why?
- According to 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, what are two purposes for practicing the Lord’s Supper?
- How does Paul use the members of the human body as an illustration to help us understand the importance of every Christian in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:26)?
- Draw two columns. In the left column, write all of the things that love is or does. In the right column, write all of the things that love is not or does not. Refer to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
- What matters does Paul consider to be of “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4?
- When Jesus returns in his Second Coming, we will receive a new, resurrection body. What will this body be like (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 51-53)?
- What practice did Paul establish in 1 Corinthians 16:2 for Christians when they meet on the first day of the week (Sunday)?