Summary: A journey to ancient Corinth, a place of materialism, sexuality and conflicting religious traditions, much like us today.
Today we begin our new series. Come on a journey with me to ancient Corinth, a place of materialism, sexuality and conflicting religious traditions, much like us today. Come discover God’s spiritual wisdom for how to live for Christ in a foolish world. The Corinthian Christians wanted to follow Christ, but they were caught up in their culture and struggled with hearing different voices selling their own opinions. As a result the church was divided among different factions. What they thought was wise instead was foolish. They thought they were mature, but in fact they were spiritual babies so Paul wrote this letter to grow them. In this amazing book, we will find spiritual wisdom that overturns commonly accepted “wisdom” in our culture. We will see that our lives can be all about Jesus and that will be a great life, no matter how others see us.
Brace yourself because Paul gets direct in dealing with the Corinthians’ issues. More than in any other letter, Paul uses sarcasm and deliberate exaggeration to shake them out of their foolish thinking. We need the same today. This study will help us to live mature, Christ-like lives in a corrupt culture. The problems they faced, we too face in our lives today.
To understand the book, it will help you if know some history about Corinth. If you have not done so yet, read the Introduction to the Study Guide for an outstanding short background on Corinth. Let me give you a few highlights. The city of Corinth was ideally situated on the narrow land bridge between Peloponnesus and mainland Greece with two harbors: Cenchreae, about six miles to the east on the Saronic Gulf, led straight to Asia, and Lechaeum, about two miles to the north on the Corinthian Gulf, led straight to Italy. A four-mile road connected the two ports, enabling cargo and even small ships to be hauled across the isthmus. Corinth controlled both the commercial land and sea travel between Italy and Asia.
Although the city has an ancient history, it was totally destroyed in 146 BC by Lucium Mumius, then it was refounded in 44 B. C. by Julius Caesar as a Roman colony. So the Corinth of Paul’s time was a new city. A building boom occurred between the reigns of Augustus and Nero, making Corinth “arguably the most dazzling and modern of Greek cities” (Savage 1996: 36). It was the hot place economically. To use current terms: schmoozing, rubbing shoulders with the powerful, pulling strings, scratching each other’s back, and dragging rivals’ names through the mud—were required to attain success.
In terms of religions, Corinth was a melting pot. It had everything. You could pick your religion; most worshipped multiple gods hoping that one would bring wealth and happiness. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says, “All of this evidence together suggests that Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” Another author summarizes, “The city had developed an unapologetic love of things and a love of pleasure. It was full of people who wanted to make money and have fun.” That sounds a lot like . . . We share much in common with the Corinthians and so need to pay special attention to what Paul says. Could we say this is Paul’s letter to America or to Collin County?
Paul founded the church in Corinth about five years earlier on his second missionary journey. Paul addresses the issue of the church’s spiritual identity against its cultural surroundings. The problem was not that the church was in Corinth, but that too much of Corinth was in the church.
Paul takes them back to deep roots of our faith to show us how to live for Christ in a hostile, corrupt culture. He urges us to live mature, Christ-like lives by the power of the Spirit as a unified church. And yet Paul’s imperative is always anchored in the prior action of God in Christ. Fundamentally we are to become who we already are. We are to live out our identity in Christ.
Today we are digging into the opening seventeen verses of the book. Open your Bible to the book of First Corinthians, chapter one. Here’s the issue. Although the Corinthians were called into fellowship in Christ, instead they have divided up the body of Christ into competing cliques. To address the issue, Paul takes them to deep roots of our faith. He opens our eyes to see our spiritual identity in Christ. Paul’s point is that you can embrace your spiritual identity by seeing six traits of your identity in Christ, so you should avoid human divisions and instead pursue unity in Christ.
After his opening greeting and thanksgiving, Paul attacks their infighting with biting arguments, reducing their position to absurdity. In most of his letters Paul includes a thanksgiving section that gives appreciation for a church’s love or works of faith and then gives a prayer for the church. What is most shocking is what’s missing from the Thanksgiving in First Corinthians. As we read it, notice what is missing in that for which he gives thanks. Notice how he describes the Corinthians in terms of their spiritual identity in Christ. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word, First Corinthians, chapter one, verse one. I will be reading from the NIV.