Having laid the historical foreground in which Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church was written, we will continue in part 2 of this introduction, to consider a Scriptural introduction, where we will reflect on the main themes addressed in the letter.
Some time this week, in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, read the book of 1 Corinthian straight through. It should take under an hour to do so. If you need to break it up, consider the following general outline:
A. Introduction (1:1-9)
B. Divisions in the church (1:10-4:21)
C. Moral laxity in the church (5:1-6:20)
D. Questions about marriage (7:1-40)
E. The limits of liberty (8:1-11:1)
F. Order in public worship (11:2-14:40)
G. The resurrection (15:1-58)
H. Conclusion (16:1-24)
As you read, you’ll be impressed how the epistle is filled with famous passages. Chapter 5, for example, communicates the process of church discipline which was to be carried out on a sinning member of the church. Chapter 7 is often brought up in discussions
about marriage and remarriage. Parts of chapter 11 are read during Lord’s Supper celebrations. Chapters 12 and 14 are famous for being ignored by hard cessationists as these chapters deal with the functioning of the spiritual gifts in the church. Of course
there is Chapter 13, the famous love chapter, read at more weddings than any other part of the Bible. And then there is the magnificent chapter 15, often read at funerals, which more than any other chapter in Scripture beautifully presents the Christian hope of a final resurrection of the body.
There are also, truth be told, confusing parts in the letter. Paul writes in chapter 7 of “I, not the Lord;” is he suggesting that what he is about to say is not inspired? There is the baptism for the dead in chapter 15; is this a Biblically prescribed practice? And then of course there’s the whole head covering issue in chapter 11. But 1 Corinthians is much more than a sum of disconnected sublime and famous, obscure and confusing parts. In order to appreciate 1 Corinthians as a whole, w must understand that the main reason the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write 1 Corinthians, was to give instruction, so that the church might live and look like the church is supposed to live and look like, as a display of God’s glory in the world.
This week, as you read 1 Corinthians, try to find the recurring themes of holiness vs. carnality, unity vs. discord, and love vs. selfishness. Find examples where the Paul is teaching a theology of the cross, to correct a theology of triumphalism where the church acts like they are already kings, boasting in their knowledge, even while destroying weaker Christians. Try to find how factions and divisions, prevalent in Corinthian society, had invaded church practice and worship. Consider, as you read, Paul’s ultimate goal to transform the Corinthian Christian’s mind from the form of this carnal world, into the humble mind of Christ.
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