THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS, CALLED
O U T L I N E
First Corinthians. This is the epistle that gives is the proper ordering and functioning of the local assembly. The Spirit of God takes an assembly that had a great deal of disorder and dysfunction, and gives us a corrective epistles that provides the solutions to the problems at Corinth which we benefit from, and also the principles related to those issues. The epistle can be broadly divided into two parts.
- Those who profess the name of Christ, the House of God………….. 1 Corinthians 1:1 – 10:14
- Those who are real believers, the Body of Christ………………….. 1 Corinthians 10:15 – 16:24
Eight failures or disorders in Corinth that the epistles addresses:
- Failure to maintain unity in the assembly (ch.1:10 – 4:21)
- Failure to judge moral evil (ch.5)
- Failure to resolve personal disputes (ch.6:1-12)
- Failure to understand Christian liberty and its responsibility (ch.6:13- ch.11:1)
- Failure to understand the principle and sign of headship (ch.11:2-16)
- Failure to understand the responsibility of taking the Lord’s supper (ch.11:17-34)
- Failure to understand the nature and use of gifts in the assembly (ch.12-14)
- Failure to maintain sound doctrine concerning the resurrection (ch.15)
The information about these disorders came to Paul from a number of directions:
- In 1 Cor. 1 – 4 he addresses things told him by the House of Chloe
- In 1 Cor. 5 – 6 he addresses things “commonly reported” to him
- In 1 Cor. 7 – 16 he addresses thing the Corinthians had written to him about
In the first six chapters Paul addresses the more urgent matters of their state, before he addresses the questions they had asked. When someone asks a question it is good to be aware that the question might not really be what is troubling them.
Canonical Context. Romans establishes us in the foundational truths of salvation, but 1 Corinthians gives us a view of the internal functioning of the assembly, our collective testimony before this world, and the practical conduct of the believer.
Historical Context. In Acts 18 we read of Paul’s visit to Corinth. He remained there eighteen months (Acts 18:11), residing initially in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. Through Paul’s labors a very large assembly was formed. The Lord had said to Paul, “I have much people in this city”. Corinth was a wealthy trade-city, and their material wealth was coupled with moral disorder. Paul gave a powerful testimony to the Jews in Corinth, but they utterly rejected the gospel; upon which Paul declared that he would go to the Gentiles. Paul then resided with a man named Justus who lived adjacent to the synagogue. Then the Jews violently attacked Paul and a believing Jew named Sosthenes, who was the ruler of the synagogue, was publicly beaten. Then Paul left for Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla, and apparently Sosthenes as well. Leaving them in Ephesus, he completed his second missionary journey and then returned to Ephesus. In Acts 19 we find that Paul reached Ephesus and stayed for two years. He was in Ephesus when the news arrived about the sad state of the assembly in Corinth. He had planned to travel to them, but the sad news caused him to postpone his trip because he wanted to spare them and give them an opportunity to get right (2 Cor. 1:23; 2:1). He specifically says that he was in Ephesus at the time of his writing the epistle (1 Cor. 16:8). During his stay a riot broke out at Ephesus over the effect that Paul’s preaching had on idol-makers. He alludes to this riot in 1 Cor. 15:32, showing that he wrote 1 Corinthians near the end of his stay in Ephesus. In Acts 19:22 we learn that Paul had dispatched Timothy and Erastus from Ephesus to the general region of Macedonia with thoughts also of visiting Corinth. Paul mentions this in ch.4, v,17 and later exhorts the Corinthians about Timothy’s visit (1 Cor. 16:10).
A corrective epistle. This epistle, as well as Galatians, is a corrective epistle – not instructive like Ephesians. In both cases evil had come in; of two different types. In 1 Corinthians we have the correction of moral evil as opposed to Galatians which gives us the correction of doctrinal evil. Paul was more severe with the Galatians because he knew the danger of doctrinal error. If a person falls into moral sin, it can be corrected by being brought into the light. However, if the truth itself is corrupted, then the instrument by which God is pleased to work is destroyed.
The House of God. First Corinthians gives us the internal functioning of the assembly as the House of God (gifts, assembly order, etc.) but First Timothy gives us the functioning of the House of God in its public testimony – the pattern for day to day walking as believers – because we are not always “in assembly”. Paul had spent a year and a half with the Corinthians but after he left things fell into disorder. If a house is messy and disorderly it is hard to enjoy the things in the home. The same is true of the local assembly as the house of God. We need to have a sense of God’s order; and that is something that comes with spiritual maturity.