The church at Corinth, which Paul helped to establish in around 50-52 AD, was made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers.
Paul most likely visited the church on three separate occasions and probably wrote at least four letters to the Corinthians. The first letter he wrote isn’t actually in the bible. There is evidence for this first “missing” letter out of 1 Corinthians:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote…
1 Cor 7:1
Then, Paul probably wrote the church another letter (which is not in the bible) in between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. This assumption is based off what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:
For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart…not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
2 Cor 2:4
So it looks like this:
- 1st letter – not in the bible
- 2nd letter – 1 Corinthians, written between 54-57 AD (in the bible)
- 3rd letter – not in the bible
- 4th letter – 2 Corinthians, written around 57 AD (in the bible)
One of the reasons I wanted to point that out is because the content of the letters can reveal a lot about the historical situation, which leads to more solid interpretations that we can apply to our lives. Not that the information above is critical for making good interpretations, but there are many passages in the bible that can be taken out of context and applied to our lifestyles today incorrectly. There are obviously tons of controversial passages in the bible that people have different opinions (including a few in 1 Corinthians that I won’t go into here), but I’m so thankful for learning how to inductively study the bible as it has helped me come to many of my own conclusions regarding a lot of these difficult passages.
The original reader of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was probably mostly Greeks. It might have been that their predominantly pagan background influenced the way they were still conducting their lives despite their conversion. Paul says that they were still “people of the flesh”:
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ…For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?
1 Cor 3:1,4
Paul then addresses all of their issues (that also revealed their spiritual immaturity):
They were wise in their own eyes (prideful):
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.
1 Corinthians 3:18
They had assumed God’s role of judgment :
…do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.
1 Corinthians 4:5
They had taken pride in their gifts and talents:
What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
1 Corinthians 4:7
They had adopted the sexual standards of their culture, and worse:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans…
1 Corinthians 5:1
These verses don’t cover everything that the Corinthians were doing outside of God’s will, but I just wanted to show that part of Paul’s purpose in writing was to address some of the things he had heard about them.
But Paul didn’t write to just to point out what they were doing wrong, but to encourage them to walk in unity and in love. Instead of being in competition with one another and instead of quarreling, they were to be “one-minded” since in reality, they were truly one with God having the same Spirit within them:
Has Christ been divided?
1 Corinthians 1:13
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 1:9
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13
The Corinthians were to understand the concept that they were truly one in Christ. If they came to accept the reality of oneness in one another, they would stop trying to tear each other down in competition but rather build one another up.
This leads Paul to what I think is the main point for the Corinthians:
Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14
If the Corinthians pursued after love, then they would grow spiritually and move onto to greater spiritual wisdom that Paul actually wanted to impart to them. Even though they were still to pursue the spiritual gifts, Paul showed them that growing in unconditional love was even more important, because then they would know how to use their spiritual gifts properly:
But strive for the spiritual gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way…Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these there; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8,13
The pursuit of unconditional love should be one of the highest priorities of all believers. Knowing His love not just in our heads but in our hearts leads us to walk in the way Christ walked, and brings freedom, joy, and greater authority in our God-given callings.
I also wrote about 2 Corinthians in this blog post if you care to read!