The apostle Paul is the writer of this epistle. In Acts 18, we read of the founding of the church at Corinth. Paul labored there personally for eighteen months. During the later part of his stay in Ephesus he wrote this first letter to the Corinthian church, see Ch. 16:5-8.
The theme of the epistle is Christian conduct. The Corinthian believers had written Paul a letter concerning marriage and the use of meats offered to idols, Chs. 7 & 8. In his reply, he not only enlightened them on those matters, but passed judgment on certain discrepancies which existed in the church.
The epistle may be divided into nine parts as follows:
1. Ch. 1:1-9. The believers position in grace.
2. Ch. 1:10 to Ch. 4. Living beneath our position.
3. Chs, 5 and 6. Wrong living rebuked.
4. Chs. 7 and 8. Concerning marriage and idolatry.
5. Chs. 9 and 10. Concerning Christian ministry, and the conduct of believers.
6. Ch. 11. Concerning the Lords Supper.
7. Chs. 12 to 14. Concerning spiritual gifts.
8. Ch. 15. A treatise on resurrection.
9. Ch. 16. Closing instructions and greetings.
THE BELIEVERS POSITION IN GRACE.
Position and state are two different things. The first is the result of the work of Christ. Through faith in Him we become heirs of God, are enriched in all utterance and knowledge, and come behind in on gifts, Ch.1:4-7. So often one meets Christians whose outward anointing is very profuse, but their inward state is quite barren. It takes time and application to live up to all God’s expectation.
LIVING BENEATH OUR POSITION.
The Corinthian believers were spiritually immature. There was a contention among them because of their spiritual fathers. Some said they were of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas, and some even said they were of Christ, Ch.1:12. Such statements are childish and spring out of lack of fellowship with God. On the other hand, the Corinthians rather gloried in the wisdom of this world, so that Paul had to tell them that it was nothing but foolishness in God’s sight, v.20. All we need for our souls spiritual welfare is found in Christ, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, v.30.
In ministry, Paul saw one great need and that was to rely on the demonstration of the Spirit rather than on mere human effort, so that people’s faith would be in God and not in man, Ch.2:4-5. The apostle did not infer that only people of ignorance would be Christians, but that God’s wisdom is of a much higher order than mans. A believer really knows more than an unbeliever, for he is in touch with two worlds and therefore possesses fuller knowledge, vs. 9-10, 12. The Corinthian believers with all their learning in worldly wisdom were not ready for the meat of the Word, Ch.3:2. To Paul, this was a source of disappointment for he knew how much they were missing. He warned them, however, that as he had laid a good foundation for their faith, they should take heed how they built thereupon. Someday every believer’s work would be made manifest. The results fall into two groups: gold, silver, precious stones, and hay, wood, and stubble, v.12. The first group might be regarded as the result of living and laboring in the Spirit, while the other is the result of mere human wisdom, or that which springs from man who is of the earth, earthy.
God’s fire will decide how we have lived. We shall either just barely make it, or else have an abundant entrance into glory, vs.14-15. Having become temples of God, v.16, a responsibility rests upon every believer to make good, for His glory.
In their human narrowness the Corinthian believers presumed to judge Paul’s ministry. He told them to judge nothing before the time, but to leave all such matters to Christ, Who will give everything His attention at His coming, Ch.4:3-5. To show his concern for them, Paul called himself their father in the gospel. He was not like an ordinary teacher of which there were many, and he entreated them to follow his example in all things, v.15-16. To silence those who were inclined to be puffed up, the apostle warned them that he would come to them and not judge according to their speech, but according to how much real poser they possessed, vs.18-19.
WRONG LIVING REBUKED.
Paul was a strong advocate of the message of Salvation by Grace for the Gentiles, and not by the works of the law of Moses. In order, however, to follow up his message, he saw the need of further teaching. For this reason he wrote his epistles. The Corinthian believers needed this stern treatment, for some one of their number was guilty of fornication, and the others had failed to deal with the matter, Ch.5:1-2. The apostle exercised his authority in Christ and turned the guilty member over to Satan, that through an experience of physical suffering he might get right with God, vs.3-5, the plan evidently worked, for in his second epistle, Paul extends a pardon to the guilty brother, 2 Cor. 2:6-11.
Another matter which called for correction was the fault of brother going to law with brother. Paul told them that they should learn to suffer wrong, and if anything of a serious nature needed attention they should settle it among themselves, and not go to law before the unbelievers, Ch.6:1-8. They were also exhorted to shun the sins of the body, and especially to have nothing to do with fornication. Their bodies had become temples of the Holy Ghost, and they should aim to glorify God not only in their spirits, but in their bodies also, vs.19-20.
CONCERNING MARRIAGE AND IDOLATRY.
In Ch.7 Paul mingles personal advice with the Word of God in such a clear and perfect manner. Marriage can be regarded as something in which God is properly concerned, and by careful study of the chapter one can live without bondage and in all purity before the Lord.
The Corinthian Christians were troubled about the eating of meat offered to idols. Paul wrote them that the idol was nothing, Ch.8:4, or in other words the meat was just ordinary meat, for the presence of the idol could have no effect upon it, v.8. For the sake of those, however, whose consciences were sensitive in the matter, one must be charitable, and if by eating others were stumbled, it would be better to refrain, vs.9-13.
CONCERNING CHRISTIAN MINISTRY, AND THE CONDUCT OF BELIEVERS.
There were those who criticized Paul for giving his entire time to the ministry, which of course hindered him from doing other work. He answered such by claiming liberty to do as he pleased in the matter, Ch.9:1-6. Then he quoted what Moses said, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn,” Deuteronomy 25:4, and applied it to the Gospel ministry for this age “that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel”, v.14. Paul then described his method of laboring for the Lord. He became all things to all men, that he might save some, v.22. The apostle kept strict watch over his body, so that not only should he succeed as a minister, but also be an example to others by his life to the very end, v.27.
To the Corinthians he quoted Israel’s experiences in the wilderness, that they might learn from their example to refrain from the things for which many of the Israelites were overthrown, Ch.10:1-12. Every one is tempted, but God is faithful and will strengthen every tried soul that they may win out through Christ, Who is the way of escape, v.13. A word of warning was given that they should treat with utmost reverence the partaking of the Lords Supper. Strict separation was enjoined upon them in order that real fellowship with Christ might be their happy experience, vs.16,20. Further instruction was given regarding meat offered to idols, how that they were free to eat it, but only if their liberty did not give occasion to a weaker brother to stumble, vs.22-33.
CONCERNING THE LORDS SUPPER.
In Ch. 11:1-16, we have a word concerning the covering for a woman’s head. Different countries have different customs. In Bible lands a married woman wore a veil as a sign of subjection to her husband, v.10. In this country the wearing of a wedding ring denotes that a woman is married. All eastern women were married, therefore, Paul felt that in the church it was better for her to be humble in her appearance, even though in Christ she was not inferior to the man. He said, however, that the church did not enforce the custom, v.16. The apostle felt there was a need of dealing with their faulty way of observing the Lords Supper. They have been eating a regular meal in the church in the observance, each one bringing his own food, vs. 20-22. Paul then told the origin of partaking of the bread and wine, and exhorted them to discern the Lords body when they ate, that they might receive the healing for their bodies as part of the blessing God intended. Also, that they should wait one for the other and all partake together, vs.23-26, 29-30,33.
CONCERNING SPIRITUAL GIFTS.
In studying the next three chapters, it would be well to bear in mind two or three vital points. The first is that as a result of the ascension of Christ, God has given gifts unto men, Ephesians 4:8. The second is that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, Romans 11:29, and the third is to decide what are gifts. In Ch.12, we read of the manifestation of the Spirit which is given to every man, v.7, and that there are three distinct forms of manifestations. There are Diversities of Gifts, and Differences of Administrations, and Diversities of Operations. All are not gifts, but those which are gifts, God gives and does not afterwards withdraw.
By a more careful study one discovers that prophecy in its various forms such as speaking with tongues, interpretation of tongues, and speaking inspirationally in the mother tongue, is quite freely distributed throughout the body, Ch.14:1,31. Also that healing is very generously divided among the members of the body, only with some it is more pronounced than with others, Luke 9:2, 10:1-9; Mark 16:17-18; James 5:16.
In Ch.12:29-30, the office rather that the gift is the subject, but from the foregoing scriptures one can readily see that prophecy and healing are God’s Gifts to the church, and every member of the body can participate more or less in such activity. ADMISTRATION may be classed as an activity of the Spirit in and through the church in His administrative capacity. He is the representative of Christ with a twofold mission to convince the world and to teach the believer. God has always revealed Himself to man in an hour of need. By “the word of wisdom....the word of knowledge...and discerning of spirits” the working of Satan can be discovered, and thwarted, or completely overthrown, as the Holy Ghost counsels the Christian worker concerning things which are ordinarily hidden from him. This is a more common experience than some imagine, and through the same we have differences of administrations. There are nine forms of the manifestation of the Spirit. Three come under prophecy one is healing, and there are three in administrations; the Word of Wisdom, the Word of Knowledge, and Discerning of Spirits. They are Faith and the Working of Miracles. From beginning to end faith is a gift of God, but there are times when a special quickening in the faith which is by Him, Acts 3:16, will bring deliverance to one who apparently is not at the time asking for it, and the one so used disclaims any personal effort in the matter. This is an operation of the Holy Spirit. Working of miracles is in the same class. Such should not be confined only to healing. Christ performed other kinds of miracles, and He said, “The works that I do shall ye do also.” The only miracle worker is the Holy Ghost. We must be open to His direction, and pliable in His hands, and then He may at times see fit to OPERATE through us in such a way.
The balance of Ch.12 teaches the need of unity, so that all the members of the body shall have coordinate action, for a perfect expression of Christ in His present ministry among men, v.25a. Ch.13 does not teach as some thin, the preeminence of love as a gift, but the need that all manifestations of the Spirit be exercised in love, for that is the more excellent way.
Ch. 14 urges balance. We should so conduct ourselves in the Spirit that the outsider will not regard our meetings as equivalent to attending the circus, but be so impressed with the presence of divine power that he will report that God is in you of a truth, v.25. Women were commanded not to chatter in a meeting, and if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.
A TREATISE ON RESURRECTION.
Some in the church at Corinth were skeptical concerning the resurrection of the dead. To enlighten them, Paul dealt with the subject at length. He declared that what he taught was authentic. His message was that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the scriptures, Ch.15:3-4.
As proof that He arose there was the testimony of certain individuals and small groups of disciples, and also of over five hundred brethren to whom the Lord appeared at one time. Paul also was fully persuaded of the fact, for he had contact with the risen Christ himself, v.5-8.
It was very important for Jesus to rise from the dead, for the matter of deliverance from our sins would otherwise be uncertain, v.17. We may be very sure that He indeed arose, v.20, and because of it we have the guarantee of our own future resurrection, v.23. The next thing after that will be the reign of Christ which will culminate in the complete subjection of the rebellious world to God, vs.24-28.
Concerning the resurrection Paul further said that it can be illustrated by the sowing and growing of grain. As a bare grain it has one kind of a body, but when it grows God gives it a different body. Between the two appearances of these bodies there transpires a death, out of which come the new life, vs. 35-38. In the same way the resurrection body will be in a class by itself, vs.42-44. At present it is a mystery. None but Christ has had the experience, but the day will come when “the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and the living shall be changed,” vs. 51-53. In the meantime every believer is exhorted to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
CLOSING INSTRUCTIONS AND GREETINGS.
In closing his epistle, Paul gave a few directions concerning an offering for the needy saints in Jerusalem. He also promised the church in Corinth a visit as soon as it was convenient, and closed by saying, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema (accursed), Maranatha (our Lord cometh),” Ch. 16:22.