The conversion of the Apostle Paul (which we read about in Week 25) shows how even a fierce opponent of the Gospel can have his or her life turned around and renewed by its saving, healing message. From the outset Paul was told, through a special message from God, what his new job was to be – telling others about ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). He now understood that the events of the cross strangely but wonderfully reveal the extraordinary saving power of God’s love. After his baptism (Acts 9:18) he channelled his great energy, previously directed towards persecuting Christ’s followers, into years of travelling through what is modern day Turkey and Greece, often putting himself at great danger, to plant new communities of believers. His preaching visits are described in Acts and the letters he wrote form part of the New Testament. On his third major preaching journey he wrote a letter to the young ecclesia (church) in Corinth which he had established on his second preaching tour.
The Christian believers in Corinth are disunited. There are personality factions that are causing divisions and Paul has to tackle behaviours which fall far short of how believers in the gospel should live. He shows them where their wrong thinking has led to wrong living, urging them to correct these un-Christ like ways of behaving by tackling head-on their misunderstandings. The letter takes its shape from the way he works through the list of issues that he knows have to be dealt with: phrases like “Now concerning…” tell us that he is responding to questions which the Corinthian believers have raised (7:1, 25; 8:1,4; 12:1; 16:1). But it is not just a stern letter – Paul was thankful to God for the Corinthians (1:8), was open about expressing his love for them (16:24), and his hope for them was that they would be “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).
Sunday – 1 Corinthians 1
It is possible to read the whole letter as if Paul is scolding the whole time, telling the Corinthians all the things they are doing wrong, as though his only concern was to put them right. But in verses 1-9 he mentions Jesus eight times. This is his main focus. Who Jesus was and what he did for the Corinthians (and for us if we will receive it) dominates these opening verses and the letter. His aim is to get the Corinthians to realise what it means to have Jesus and his teaching at the centre of their thoughts. If they can do that then the other issues, the problems that he will have to address in the letter, will sort themselves out.
Verses 8-9 are a good summary of the hope that those who show allegiance to Christ now have. As they wait for the ‘revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (verse 7) they can rely on God who is ‘faithful’ (verse 9) and his Son who will sustain them to the end ‘guiltless’. That was the Corinthians hope and it can be ours. The challenge for the Corinthians was to change their behaviour so that it was more closely in line with their status before God.
From verse 10 through to the end of Chapter 4, Paul addresses one of the dominant problems in Corinth: people were breaking up into factions probably on the basis of who had baptised them (verses 14-17). This shows they had not conquered the pride and human reasoning that it is at odds with God’s ways. The antidote is to throw out man’s way of thinking and follow God’s wisdom (v20-25). But God’s wisdom is not complicated or for the clever – it is simple and profound. It is displayed in the message of the cross which calls men, who may be simple and unimpressive in human terms, to a knowledge of salvation.
Monday – 1 Corinthians 2
Paul does not want his readers at Corinth to become distracted by his skill as a teacher and preacher. He reminds them that when he spoke to them about Jesus’ death he did not use ‘lofty words’ (verse 1) but presented the gospel simply so that their faith would rest in the power of God. God had planned from the beginning (‘before the foundation of the world’, Eph. 1:4) to reveal his purpose and wisdom, but it is now revealed by God’s power – his spirit – and Paul’s preaching is part of that process of communicating God’s secret wisdom to those who will receive it.
Tuesday – 1 Corinthians 3
Paul continues to address the Corinthians who have an immature focus on personalities (verse 4) rather than the truth in Christ. He calls them ‘people of the flesh’ (verse 1). He is disappointed that, although they are baptised believers in Christ and should therefore be acting in line with God’s ways and teaching (i.e. as spiritual people – verse 1), they are still acting like the people in the world around them. The work of the church teachers and leaders in building up the church is undoubtedly important but, they need to understand, it is God who gives the growth (verses 3-10).
Just how great the salvation is that the Corinthians are part of is made clear in verse 21: ‘All things are yours…’. Their desire to move into small competing groups misses the big point; in Jesus they have a strong assurance that all of them in Corinth belong to Christ and his unfolding purpose (verse 23 ‘you are Christ’s).’
Wednesday – 1 Corinthians 10
Don’t make the same mistake! That is the message of Chapter 10 (verses 1-12) where Paul warns the Corinthians to look back and learn from the failings of the people of God in the past. Israel’s spiritual privileges were great (verses 1-4) but they failed to achieve their goal (v5) because of their immorality and idolatry. Twice, in verse 6 and 11, Paul refers to what seems at first sight a history lesson as ‘examples’. The message is clear: learn the humbling truth (v12) that God can withdraw his blessing from those who disobey him. He did in the past and can do again. Although God will not shield us from temptation (verses 11-12), the good news is that He will see us through temptation (v13). He will help us overcome if we ask for his help in prayer.
Thursday – 1 Corinthians 11
In chapters 10 and 11, Paul talks about the Lord’s supper or Breaking of Bread. Christ commanded that his disciples, then and now, remember him by eating bread and drinking wine (Matthew 26 – see notes for Week 9). In this part of his letter, Paul recounts the events of the Last Supper to draw out the significance of what Jesus was doing. We must be careful not to be too literal and press Jesus’ words beyond their meaning. Jesus said ‘This (the bread – verse 23) is my body which is for you’ (verse 24). We can see he means that the bread represents the sacrifice he has made for the sins of the world when he goes on to explain what the wine represents: ‘This cup is (i.e. represents) the new covenant in my blood’ (verse 25). The word Paul uses to describe what has happened is ‘covenant’. Through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, who is like the Passover lamb killed when Israel left Egypt (1 Cor. 5:7), it is now possible for Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, men and women, to know the freedom of forgiveness from sins and to have a personal knowledge of God. Paul also reminds them that every time they eat bread and drink wine in this way it is a public proclamation of the Lord’s death, until he comes (26). We are commanded to break bread and drink wine: to look back to his death; and to look forward to his return.
Friday – 1 Corinthians 13
If you read the chapters in Week 1, you will have already come across this lovely chapter. Here Paul shows how life without love is nothing (verses 1–3). He then describes what love is, what it is not, and what love does (verses 4–7). Finally, he paints vividly the lasting and eternal quality of love (verses 8–13), outliving both knowledge and spiritual gifts – the two great priorities for the Christians at Corinth. But this summary does little to convey the power of this short chapter’s message. Love is the fountainhead of God’s saving work in Jesus (John 3:16, Rom 5:8). And we see the surpassing love of Jesus when he died for sinners (Eph. 5:2). What God asks is that what He and His Son have blessed us with, their great love, we should pass on to others. ‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (1 John 4:11).
Saturday – 1 Corinthians 15
In this important chapter, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the core Christian teaching about resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus, he insists, is a certain fact. The Old Testament scriptures predicted it (verse 3 – see for example Psalm 16:10) and there were many appearances to eyewitnesses – even up to 500 at one time (verse 6). The future resurrection of all the dead stems from Jesus’ own resurrection, and it is the future resurrection – the promise of eternal life – that makes Christian discipleship meaningful: “If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:33).
Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, a bit like a prototype, of a bigger harvest – the resurrection of all believers at his second coming (verse 20, 23). This is the hope for all disciples – Christ will raise them from the dead and then he will establish God’s reign on the earth (see verse 24).