Summary: The introduction to a series through 1 Corinthians.
We begin this morning a new book. We have completed two NT books – 1 Peter and the Gospel of Mark – and have dipped into another – Proverbs. We will return to Proverbs from time to time to glean the wisdom of those ancient sayings.
Why 1 Corinthians
Why 1 Corinthians? I have had a fear-attraction regard for the book, having for years the desire to preach the book and also a reticence, both for the same reasons. 1 Corinthians, more than any other epistle (term for NT letter) addresses how a church is to function and behave. It is the most practical of the epistles, tackling not only matters of belief, but of practice. How should a church worship? What may women do in worship? How should we approach the Lord’s Supper? What are the spiritual gifts in the church and how should they be used? There are other issues: church discipline, divorce and remarriage, sexual practices, handling disputes, and still others. For those of you who desire more application in sermons, this is an ideal book to study. Application is what this book is about.
That is why I want to preach 1 Corinthians. It will take us through church life. But that is also why I hesitate to preach it. Application is what divided the Corinthian church. The Corinthian Christians approached church from different perspectives. I know that as we approach the various topics, we also will address them from different and conflicting viewpoints. To preach 1 Corinthians in our church is to invite debate. But more daunting than debate is the command of Scripture to be obedient to Scripture. I am unnerved by the thought that I must bend my presuppositions about church to what a careful study of Scripture will reveal. I have my ideas what 1 Corinthians teaches about the church, but I in the same position as you of having to place those ideas under the careful study of what Scripture actually teaches.
You know by now that I do not count speed as a virtue in preaching Scripture, nor skipping verses. I will let you speculate how long it will take us to get to the end. Unlike the previous two books where we methodically moved along passage by passage, we will as needed pause in a passage to consider the topic at hand. Whereas before, my concern was restricted to what the passage alone was teaching, we will consider other passages as well. It will mean a longer stay in 1 Corinthians, but also excursions into other books while we focus on a topic. Let’s get started.
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.
This, of course, is the apostle Paul, dramatically converted from being the greatest persecutor of the Christian church to its greatest ambassador. He is the former Pharisee, exemplary in living a life devoted to the law of Moses, who became the foremost theologian propounding the grace of the gospel. He is the man with the perfect pedigree as a Jew, who became known as the “apostle to the Gentiles.” And it is because he became all these things – ambassador for the church, proponent of grace, and apostle to the Gentiles – that he came to the city of Corinth.
Paul was an itinerant missionary. Over the course of years, he made three missionary journeys along the northern portion of the Mediterranean. He would visit in a city ranging from a few days to two years in Ephesus. In Corinth he stayed a year and a half. His primary activity was preaching. Usually he would find the local Jewish synagogue and begin preaching there. This made sense. He, of course, was himself a Jew, and, furthermore, a teacher who studied under the highly regarded rabbi, Gamaliel. It was common practice in a synagogue service to allow visiting teachers to read the Scripture and then speak. Of course, what would eventually happen is that his preaching of Jesus as the Christ would offend many of his Jewish audience, and he would be forced to leave. Paul would then find another venue in which to preach.
Paul’s preaching ministry created problems for him wherever he went. In Philippi he was beaten with rods and jailed. Then incident that led to his beating was his casting out a spirit from a fortune-teller slave. The owners, angry at losing a source of income, brought charges, not against casting out a spirit, but against his teachings. He then traveled to Thessalonica. His preaching created such an uproar there that a mob arose and attacked a house looking for Paul and arresting whatever Christians they could find. Paul was sent away to Berea where the same type of outbreak occurred. He then traveled to Athens for rest, but still could not refrain from preaching. He is not attacked there, though his preaching is mostly met with skepticism. From Athens he came to Corinth.