Corinth was known as being an international city. In those days it was a port, and so many different nationalities were in the city. But Corinth also had a reputation for allowing people to behave exactly as they wanted.
Paul knew the Corinthian church well. It was one of the few churches that he stayed with for a long time (18 months: Acts 18:11) probably in 50-51AD. It is likely that Paul left Corinth (modern day Greece) in the autumn of 51AD. After concluding his second missionary journey, Paul returns again to Asia on his third missionary journey (c. autumn, 52AD). This time he settled down in Ephesus for almost three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31)—i.e., probably autumn 52AD until the spring of 55AD. While in Ephesus there must have been contact between Corinth and Paul, for he speaks of the Corinthians misunderstanding his previous letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9 (a letter we don’t have). He also speaks of reports from Chloe’s household (people in the church), which may have implied a visit or a letter. The Apostle had to clear up the misunderstanding, as well as address other issues.
There are a number of reasons for the letter. In the first six chapters Paul wants to clear up a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 5:9 and respond to the report from Chloe’s people, especially that the church was centering around individual apostles who had visited the church, including Paul. Paul has to defend his own role as an apostle and argue against his opponents, who were critical of his preaching.
Chapter 7 begins ‘now concerning the matters about which you wrote . . . ,’ indicating that Paul was also responding to issues raised by the entire congregation. Apparently a delegation of believers (including Stephanas, Fortunatas, and Achaicus (16:17)) brought questions in the form of a letter. We have wording that refers to issues they had raised in 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 15:1 and 16:1. The subjects concern unmarried women, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts, the Gospel, and collecting money. But the flow of thought in other places in the Letter, notably chapters 11 and 14, suggest Paul may be quoting a letter.
In particular it would seem that the Corinthian believers, coming from a pagan background were worshipping in ways that were alarming to Paul. His famous chapter 13 on love, comes as Paul urges those who were clashing over tongues and prophecy to learn to seek the good of one another.
Why read it?
The book explains why our attitude to leaders is important. Don’t idolize them, respect their hard work and value those who live and teach the Gospel of Jesus, especially those who live for the sake of others coming to faith, and try to make people they speak with as comfortable as possible, so that they have the opportunity to hear.
God’s command is that sexual activity should be within marriage alone. Pain comes when we stray, to us and to those we are involved with.
Don’t split over things that don’t matter
Christians were disagreeing over matters that were not central to the Gospel and so Paul urges us to keep the main things about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection central, but take care not to let disagreement over how Christianity is practiced split the church.
Take care how you worship
We have a wonderful freedom as followers of Jesus, based on the fact that He lived the perfect life on our behalf. But this doesn’t mean that we can worship any way we like. God gives us wise principles that value what God is doing within the congregation by His Spirit. We make our contributions to be a blessing to others not to serve ourselves.
The Resurrection is central
Paul is clear that the resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. Our faith that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead is at the heart of the message we have for the world.
|1-4||A divided church|
|5-6||A church facing immorality|
|7-8||Concerns about marriage|
|9-10||Queries about food|
|11-14||Worship and spiritual gifts|
|15-16||A correct view on the Resurrection|