1 Corinthians 1–2: The Gospel & God’s Power

Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 9: Sunday

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:1–3

Sunday’s Bible reading, 1 Corinthians 1–2, begins one of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. In Acts 18, Luke records Paul’s time in Corinth towards the end of his second missionary journey. (Acts 18 will also tell you who Sosthenes is). If you look back at the preceding chapters in Acts you’ll find that Paul has had a hard time of things when he arrives at Corinth, having been at the mercy of mobs, jailed and chased out of town. After he meets resistance in Corinth, the Lord appears to Paul in a vision and tells him:

“Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent;for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
Acts 18:10

And Paul stayed on in Corinth for eighteen months.

Ancient Corinth was an important center of commerce because of its location on a narrow isthmus of land between northern Greece with the Peloponnese with access to the sea in two directions. It was also a political center since Rome governed the province of Achaia from Corinth. The population of this cosmopolitan city was diverse, and sexual immorality was rampant.1 That’s the city in which Paul lived and preached. It’s important to know the backdrop of the lives of the Christians at Corinth to not only understand the problems they were having, but to understand the parallels between our times and theirs, which go beyond just their immorality. Anthony Thistelton writes (his emphasis):

“[There are] three fundamental points for our understanding of the epistle: (1) the city community and city culture of Corinth were formed after a Roman model, not a Greek one…(2) the city community and the city culture felt themselves to be prosperous and self-sufficient, even if there were many “have nots” who were socially vulnerable or dependent on others; (3) the core community and core tradition of the city culture were those of trade, business , and entrepreneurial pragmatism in the pursuit of success…

“…With today’s “postmodern” mood we may compare the self-sufficient, self-congratulatory culture of Corinth coupled with an obsession about peer-group prestige, success in competition, their devaluing of tradition and universals, and near contempt for those without standing in some chosen value system. All this provides an embarrassingly close model of a postmodern context for the gospel in our own times, even given the huge historical difference and distances in so many other respects...as an example of communicative action between the gospel and the world of given time, 1 Corinthians stands in a distinctive position of relevance to our own times.”2

As I thought about the similarities between postmodernism and Corinth, I thought of the dissimilarities between Paul and many ministers of today. Paul did not try to change his message to fit his audience (look at chapter 1 about his words of wisdom and foolishness) nor did he try to see if he could out-shock the Corinthians or dazzle them with rhetoric and attract them on their terms. Instead he writes:

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:1–5

Paul was a brilliant man and his teaching was clear, but he did not manipulate his listeners or change his message to make it palatable. Those postmoderns of Corinth didn’t need a postmodern gospel that would tickle their ears, but leave them dead in their sin. They needed to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now in 1 Corinthians, Paul will continues to set forth God’s truth without compromise as he teaches, rebukes and corrects this church.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
362BC Theban Hegemony, Megistias: Public Domain. The map is not contemporary with Paul; I’ve used it to indicate the location of Corinth.
1Norman Hillyer, “1 Corinthians,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (1049).
2Anthony C. Thistelton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (3–4, 16–17).

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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