An outline of 1Corinthians
If there is any person in the New Testament with the exception of Jesus of course that I would love to meet it would be the apostle Paul. His way of writing letters touches my soul because of the clarity and simplicity on one hand, and the forcefulness and integrity on the other. He truly was a man anointed by God to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
The letters to the Corinthians is a fine example of Paul’s writing and expresses exactly what I am trying to say. Within those letters Paul shows the Corinthians what the will of the Lord is, but also what they themselves are really all about. If we examine his letters carefully we too may be able to comprehend the depth, height, width, and length of the gospel as it applies to our own life.
A brief outline to help us navigate this wonderful letter is appropriate now;
Chapter 1:1-3; Greetings
Chapter 1:4-9; Thanksgiving
Chapters 1:10-6:20; Paul’s concerns
Chapters 7:1-16:4; The Corinthians concerns
Chapter 16:5-12; Paul’s future plans
Chapter 16:13-24; Salutation
From the onset we see what the concern the apostle has with the church at Corinth, it’s all about things that are dividing the church, he expresses it in verse 10 and in verse 11 tells us how he came to those conclusions. He evidently received a letter from members of the house of Chloe, who informed him of the trouble within and without the church there.
This is very important for us to know as Paul will repeatedly return his thoughts to the contents of the letter throughout his writing.
The church at Corinth was made up of four factions being represented by four different preachers. We have those who followed the teaching of Paul, probably made up of newly converted Gentiles. We know there were Jews in the mix because he mentions some but the majority of the new believers were Gentile. Then there were those following Apollos, these were the super intellectual Greeks who prided themselves in gaining wisdom. Of course there were those following the teaching of Cephas (who is Peter) these would be Jews who wanted to bind the Old Testament on those who embraced Christianity. And finally there were those who followed Christ who were the super spiritual ones. These were most likely responsible for bringing in Gnosticism (esoteric or intuitive knowledge) to the church.
Paul points out the vanity of those teachers who have side stepped the real issues for which Christ came to reveal, and have rather taken up their own agendas. He asks the church not to judge him based on what they see about his accomplishments in this world but rather what he has done through the preaching of the gospel. Those within the church who were relying on mans wisdom were puffed up in their minds believing that somehow they were superior to Paul because of their own accomplishments. They took it upon them to teach what they believed was right rather than trust what Paul said. The proof that the church was being influenced by false teachers is evident in 4:15-17. Paul uses a hyperbole when saying they had 10,000 instructors, the point being they really only had one and that been he, and it was to his example he begged them to follow.
Paul rebukes the church for allowing the sexual misconduct of members to go unchecked. Rather than feeling remorse they are puffed up again. Because they are not able to judge right from wrong on matters like this Paul is concerned that there is not even one wise man among them 6:5.
Having discussed the things on his heart that he felt were dividing the church, he turns his thoughts to what they wrote to him about beginning in chapter 7:1, the first thing the church was being divided over was marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
Those who felt they were being violated in their marriage relationships were taking the guilty party to court. Paul cannot believe that they would rather stand before non-believers than before Christians to judge such matters. The super spiritual and super intellectuals were rising to the surface and commanding to be heard in this part of Paul’s letter.
The division in chapters 8-10 should really be taken as one subject, the subject of idolatry. Paul uses Old Testament examples to prove New Testament principles.
Chapters 11-14 are dealing with disturbances in the worship assembly. He covers a variety of subjects beginning with women who are out of place, then the Lords supper, and he ends with the abuse and use of spiritual gifts.
He concludes chapter 14 by saying “let all things be done decently and in order”.
Chapter 15 confirms the resurrection of Jesus, for if the resurrection is not true then all of what he has been saying is not true. The claim of some that the dead did not rise had to be settled, v.11-17. He settles the argument by using what happens in nature as an example of what God will do with us. He ends it by giving praise to God for the victory we have through Christ Jesus.
Going back to chapter 12, I would like to examine one of the problems that were disturbing the worship assembly, and that was causing division in the church, that problem being the use and abuse of spiritual gifts. There were those in the church that felt they should receive special attention because of the gift they received through the laying on of the apostle’s hands.
Paul recognizes and points out the reason why they needed instruction in this matter in V. 2, it was because of their former religion and way of worship. They were heathens before becoming Christians; people who were governed by their instincts. The source of their motivation was whatever satisfied the flesh. The former gods they served could not speak, but because of being deluded by false priests into believing a certain idol gave them special ability, they convinced themselves that the gods were still active and were working even though they were now Christians.
Paul does not want them to be ignorant of how the Spirit of God operates in the church, so he first lets them know that what they may have been told by the priests concerning Jesus cannot be true because they were not speaking as the Spirit guides but rather by their own imagination.
He then begins a very basic but thorough lesson on how Spiritual gifts are dispensed in the church. There was three broad areas covered when he talked about Spiritual gifts, 1, the gifts themselves (or the freeness of them), 2, the administration or purpose of the gifts, and 3, the effect or result of the gift (how it worked in the church). Each one of these areas has a member of the Godhead that more or less is associated with it. The Spirit is the gift; Jesus, being next in the God gave us the purpose for which the gifts were needed. He said these signs would follow them that believe, and that the purpose was to confirm the word. The point Paul is trying to emphasis is that it is the one true God working in all of this and not a multiple of false gods as was in pagan worship.
In verses 7-11, Paul clarifies his point by showing that although there are many different manifestations of the spirit seen in people there is only one Spirit making it all happen, and He does it according to His will and not the will of the person receiving the gift.
In verses 12-31 he shows that the human body is a lot like the church body, both have many members, yet there is only one body. He shows how the oneness of the church can be easily understood by reminding them that they were all immersed into the one church by believing what the one Spirit revealed. It didn’t matter if they were Jew or Gentile, bond or free, they all responded to that one message given by that one Spirit.
The point Paul is making by all this is to show how one God, through one Spirit, administered many different gifts to many different people, expecting all those people to function together in harmony in the church just like our human body which also is made up of many different members works together. The division over gifts would be uncalled for if only they could see within themselves how God created their own body to work in harmony.
We would never expect our human body to say it has no need of the eye or ear, or that there are parts of the body more important than other parts. When one part of the body hurts the whole body feels it.
Those within the church body likewise should not feel that because they have a certain gift that somehow they are more important than another member with a lesser gift. He ends chapter 12 by saying that gifts are important, but that there is a better way to eliminate this division and bring the harmony that is needed in the church, and that way is love.