By Jenny Fulton
A Prominent City: Study from 1 Corinthians Commentaries and 1 Corinthians Overview
It’s important to view Paul’s letter as a whole – to see it not as a random collection of thoughts, but as a very detailed, well-thought out, very intentional letter to a specific group of people at a very specific time addressing some very specific issues. I also thing we should treat it like any other book we would pick up. There is a setting, characters, conflict, and structure we need to identify to better understand what is being communicated.
Because “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NASB), we can be sure going into this study that many of the conflicts then are still present now. Therefore, the heart of Paul’s advice and God’s Words – His encouragement and admonitions – to the people then are also beneficial and applicable to God’s people now.
In order to obtain the background information not provided in the letter itself, I sought out commentaries. I wanted to know more about the city of Corinth. Where was it? What was it known for? What was its culture?
Some of the materials I used were the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible, and various resources available on LOGOS Bible Software.
This is a summary of my findings.
Where: The city of Corinth was located in the southwest corner of Greece on the isthmus between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese. This location, with its two harbors, made it a vastly important center of trade.
Who: People of all nations would pass through the city.
What: For this reason, Corinth become known for its cultural diversity, commerce, and wealth. It also carried status as an administrative center for the Romans. Although Corinth was apparently deemed one of the most beautiful cities of its day, it was also known for its immorality, abundance of pagan temples, and hundreds of pagan temple prostitutes.
Into this city came Paul, called by God to preach the Gospel. When you think about the culture of this place, it makes God’s word in Acts 18:9-10 that much more astounding. “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
The Point: God was present, and His people were present in the midst of a culture that was saturated with sexual immorality. God’s people were there before Paul arrived, but lacked leadership and guidance.
Take-Away: God’s people are still found in the midst of ungodly cultures. Society and culture don’t dictate the state of a person’s heart. Instead, every person has the same choice: respond to God and follow Him, or deny and reject Him.
The Letter as a Whole
Before diving into the specifics of each chapter, I wanted to have a good overall perspective of the book as a whole. So, I read through the entire book a couple of times in different translations and listened to an audio version. This is what stood out to me.
Observation: In reading 1 Corinthians, I heard God’s heart crying out for a church that was being painfully torn apart. They had been given everything but weren’t united in their love for each other. While Paul affirms their spirituality in Chapter 1, he later refers to them as spiritual infants.
Take-Away: Abundance does not equate to spiritual maturity.
Take-Away: God desires for His people to be united in their love for Him and for each other.Tweet
Observation: Paul begins his letter by addressing the conflicts he has heard about and provides some general principles and lessons he longs for the church to grasp. He makes a big point of distinguishing between the wisdom of the world and God’s wisdom.
Take-Away: There are two types of wisdom: God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom. Following one doesn’t necessarily mean we are following the other.
Observation: Part way into his letter, Paul seems to transition from sharing the message on his heart to addressing various issues which have been brought to his attention. He uses the phrase, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote…” This seems to indicate that he is speaking to and answering some very specific questions regarding the practices and concerns of the day. Do these sections have any relevance to us? Yes! But we’ll get more into that later. One thing that seems clear in my reading overview is that, not unlike many of us today, the people in the church at Corinth wanted to be right. They wanted to know, “Is this the right way to live as a Christian and worship God or is this the right way?”
In this city of wealth and prominence, it also seems that a worldly rivalry for higher status and prominence had made its way into the church. This is another area of weakness I can see in some churches today.
Although this was only an overview and not an in-depth look, it’s evident this book has much to teach us about living and being united as Christians in the midst of a wealthy, immoral, and culturally/economically/religiously diverse environment.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever read the entire book of 1 Corinthians in one sitting?
If so, what stands out to you the most about Paul’s letter?
In this Series
Overview: A Prominent City
1 Corinthians Bible Study
For the last few months, the book of 1 Corinthians has weighed heavy upon my heart. In May, I joined a women’s online fellowship site, Bloom.com, and decided to lead a Bible study on this book. These musings are a summary of my findings and the relevance/application I see surrounding us today. If you’re a woman and would like to participate in the study, head on over to www.Bloom.com and join the 1 Corinthians Bible Study group where you’ll find study guides to follow and discussion threads to participate in.