“Corinthians” means inhabitants of Corinth. Corinth is an important city in southern Greece.
In Acts 18:1-8, you can read how Paul started the first Christian church in Corinth. Paul stayed there for 18 months (Acts 18:11). Afterwards, Paul went to Ephesus where he worked for 2 years. At about the same time, another Christian leader called Apollos went from Ephesus to Corinth (Acts 18:24 to Acts 19:1).
When Apollos left Corinth, Paul was still at Ephesus. The church in Corinth now had many members. Some local men became the leaders of the church, but they had some difficulties. The members of the church did not respect them as they had respected Paul and Apollos.
Perhaps for that reason, one of those leaders called Stephanas went to Ephesus to visit Paul (16:15-18). It seems that he brought a letter from the church leaders to Paul (7:1). That letter explained their problems. But both Paul and Apollos were unwilling to go back to Corinth at that time (16:7-9; 16:12).
So Paul sent the Book of 1 Corinthians as a letter to the church in Corinth. Its purpose was to give advice on the matters that the church leaders had asked about.
Paul was extremely busy in Ephesus. He did not just teach the people about God; he also worked to earn money for himself and his companions (Acts 20:34). Paul’s job was to make tents (Acts 18:3). So one of the local Christians called Sosthenesoffered to help Paul as he wrote this letter. It seems that Sosthenes wrote down Paul’s words for him. Otherwise, Paul could not have written such a long letter.
Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth about their relationship both with God, andwith other Christians.
So, at the start of his letter, Paul called them: ‘the church of God’. That means ‘the people whom God has separated for himself’. He also called them ‘the saints’, in other words, ‘the holy people’. Paul used the word ‘saints’ to describe all Christians. ‘Holy’ means that a person belongs to God. Paul also said that God had‘sanctified’ them. That means that God had made them holy.
Because they are now holy, that should have an effect on their lives (3:16). They should not continue to act in a wicked manner (6:9-13). They should love other people (1 Corinthians chapter 13), and they should respect their leaders (12:28-31).
Paul emphasised their connection with other Christians, both in Corinth and elsewhere. Some groups in Corinth were acting as if they were the only real Christians (1:11-12, 14:36). They were even taking each other to court (6:1-8). Paul had to tell them that all Christians need each other (12:12-31). He had to warn them about proud attitudes (4:6-7).
These Christians belonged to the church of God in Corinth because they lived there. But everyone who serves Christ belongs to God’s church. They are all people whom God has separated for himself. They all have a relationship both with God, and with all other Christians.
And the nature of that relationship should be love (1 Corinthians chapter 13; John 13:34; 1 John 4:8-12; Mark 12:29-31).
We will see that the first Christians in Corinth were doing many wrong things. Many of them did not love each other, and they did not respect their leaders. But still, Paul was kind to them and he wrote to them in a gentle manner. He knew that they had not been Christians for a long time. Most of them had not chosen on purpose to have those wrong attitudes.
So in Paul’s prayer for them, he expresses his thanks to God. God had been very kind to them, and he had done wonderful things in their lives. Most Christians in Corinth were not wealthy (1:26), but they lacked nothing in their relationship with God. God had made them able to speak for him. God had given them the knowledge that they needed. God had given them his Holy Spirit, and there was evidence of that fact in their lives.
God had begun to do his work in their lives. And Paul was confident that he could trust God to complete that work. God had given them a real relationship with Christ. It was true that they were not perfect yet. But in this world, Christians are not perfect (13:9-12). They are waiting for Christ’s return (15:24-26), and when Christ returns, God will change them completely (15:51). So on that day, all God’s people will be perfect.
Of course Paul would have to warn the Christians in Corinth about their wrong behaviour. But before that, he showed them how grateful he was to God for his (God’s) work in their lives. Paul recognised that their relationship with God was real. And Paul told them that he still prayed often for them.
All the Christians in Corinth met together as one church, but there were different groups in that church (11:18). Those different groups were constantly arguing with each other.
One group said that Paul was their leader. It was true that Paul had been the first leader of the church at Corinth. But Paul did not want to be the leader of a group that argued with other Christians! Paul was not trying to make himself important; he considered himself God’s servant (3:5).
Another group were loyal to Apollos. Apollos led the church after Paul left Corinth. You can read about this extraordinary man in Acts 18:24-28. Apollos’s work at Corinth was very successful. But at that time, Apollos had not even met Paul. The two men probably had different opinions about many subjects.
A third group would only accept the authority of the first Christian church in Jerusalem. That was where Cephas, usually called Peter, served God.
The last group probably thought that churches should not have any human leaders. Paul did not agree with that idea – see Titus 1:5.
Paul reminded the people in all these groups that Christians belong to Christ. It was Christ who died to save them.
God appoints many different kinds of people to be the leaders of his church (12:28). But perhaps ‘leaders’ is the wrong word, because really they work asGod’s servants (1 Corinthians 3:5; Mark 10:43-45).
Christians who constantly argue need to become more mature in their relationship with God. Then they will not still want to argue about their opinions. Instead, they will desire to love and to serve other people.
It surprises us to read that Paul did not carry out many baptisms in Corinth. Baptism is an important ceremony in the Christian church, as Paul explained in Romans 6:3-4. It shows that a person has left his former life in order to begin a new life with Christ. The first Christians usually carried out that ceremony soon after a person began to trust Christ (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:34-38).
Paul only carried out a few baptisms because he had an even more important task to carry out. He declared God’s good news in Corinth. He told people that everyone has done wrong things against God. He explained to the people that Christ had died for them. Because of Christ’s death, God can forgive their evil deeds. And so Paul urged the people to confess their evil deeds to God, and to invite Christ into their lives.
The result of Paul’s work was that many people in Corinth believed in Christ. They accepted baptism but, clearly, one of Paul’s friends carried out that ceremony (Acts 18:8). As each person believed, Paul went immediately to speak to the next person. Clearly, Paul was extremely busy.
The result was that Paul only had time to carry out a few baptisms. Crispus was a leader of the Synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:8). A Synagogue is a building where people meet to pray. Gaius was probably a wealthy and generous man; Paul mentions him in Romans 16:23. Stephanas was the first person in Corinth who became a Christian (16:15). Perhaps Paul had time for his baptism because not so many people wanted to speak to Paul then.
Really, there are only two groups of people in the world. What separates the two groups is their reaction to Christ’s death on the cross.
God’s people believe that God has saved them by means of Christ’s death. They even call it ‘the Gospel’, which means ‘the good news’. Like everyone else, they were guilty of many wrong and evil deeds, and they did not deserve God’s kindness (Romans 3:23). But on the cross, Christ suffered the punishment for their evil deeds (Hebrews 9:28). The result is that God is saving them from the power of evil deeds (Romans 6:23), from the devil (Hebrews 2:14), and from death (15:54-57).
But for other people, Christ’s death is not good news. It is clear evidence that they too must die. And it reminds them that they cannot avoid God’s punishment for their evil deeds. Of course they do not want anyone to tell them about Christ’s death. It seems foolish even to mention such a shameful matter. The Son of God died in an awful manner, as criminals die.
Such people do not see how powerfully God was acting to save his people. And they do not realise that God wants to save them, too. God does not want to punish anyone for their evil deeds (2 Peter 3:9). But he can only save people who believe his message (John 3:16). And nobody can believe a message that they have never heard (Romans 10:12-14).
So it is essential for Christians to speak about Christ’s death. Of course many people will consider that message foolish. But some people will believe, and by means of that message, God will save them.
The Bible is not against science. In fact, the Bible encourages people to study our world carefully (for example, Job chapter 39; Ecclesiastes 1:13). However, the Bible does insist that human intelligence, like everything else in the world, has a limit(Psalm 119:96; 1 Corinthians 13:9).
We see that limit whenever intelligent people cannot believe in God. All their education has failed even to show them that God exists. They may be very wise, but in this most important matter, they are no better than fools (Psalm 53:1).
God does not just want people to know that he exists. He wants to save peoplefrom their evil deeds, from the devil’s power, and from death and hell. Human wisdom and intelligence cannot save people from any of these things. So God chose a method that people consider foolish. That method is the message about Christ’s death on the cross, which Christians call the ‘Gospel’ (the ‘good news’).
God did not want only to save the most intelligent people. So he did not choose a message that only intelligent people can understand. You do not need great knowledge about the world before you can benefit from God’s message. But you do need to believe God and to trust him.
Jesus said that a person must become like a little child in order to enter heaven (Mark 10:15). Even little children realise that they have done wrong things against God. They can understand that, at his death, Christ suffered the punishment for their evil deeds. They are often ready to pray and to invite God into their lives.
It is very sad when older and wiser people do not do the same.
The Jews are the people who came from the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Paul speaks about them in particular because God had made special promises to their nation. God did that because he wanted to use them to tell people in every nation about himself (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 49:6).
The Greeks are really the people from Greece. However Paul uses the word to refer to people from all the other nations too. We can see that from 1 Corinthians 1:23, where Paul uses the word for ‘nations’ instead of ‘Greeks’. Paul uses the word‘Greeks’ only because he was writing to people in Greece.
In Greece especially, people considered wisdom and special knowledge to be very important (Acts 17:18-21). They believed that these things came from the gods. And they had many gods (Acts 17:22-23). They thought that they would know the thoughts of their gods by their study of wisdom.
The Jews knew about the real God. They knew about the powerful things that he had done to rescue their nation in the past. Their nation was in a weak state. They wanted God to do powerful things like that to rescue them again.
But God alone has the right to choose how he will save people. He did not choose to save people by the sort of powerful act that many Jews wanted. He did not choose to impress people by his great wisdom, as people from other nations wanted. Instead, he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. That is how he saves people. Jesus suffered the punishment for their evil deeds.
That fact disappoints many people. But it does not disappoint the people whom God has saved. In the death of Christ, they can see both God’s wisdom and his power. And by the death of Christ, God can save both Jews and people from all the other nations.
It is not difficult to prove that God is powerful. His act to create the heavens and the earth was more powerful than anything that people can even imagine.
In the same manner, we can easily prove that God is wise. When he created the heavens and the earth, he did it in a very skilful manner. It takes wisdom to get the details of any design right. A bomb is powerful, but it can only destroy things. The kind of power that can create new and wonderful things is evidence of God’s great wisdom (Proverbs 8:1; Proverbs 8:22-31).
When God wanted to save people, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for them. But in the opinion of many people, Christ’s death was a weak and foolish thing (1:23). They had wanted to see evidence of God’s power or his wisdom. They refused to believe that God could save them by means of Christ’s death. And because they refused to believe, God did not save them.
In 1 Corinthians 1:25, Paul did not mean that God’s actions were ever foolish or weak. Instead, Paul was saying that people considered God’s actions to be foolish and weak. But really, it is evidence of people’s weakness when they cannot even recognise God’s power. Even the wisest person becomes like a fool if he cannot recognise God’s wisdom.
Christ’s death showed both God’s great power and his great wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24; Romans 1:16). God acted in a way that most people did not expect. When people trust God, he saves them because of Christ’s death.
Paul describes the people who had become Christians in Corinth. These were the people whom God had saved. God had chosen them to join the family of God. There is no greater honour than to be one of God’s people.
But other people did not consider most of the Christians at Corinth to be great or important people. They were not people who were famous for their wisdom or importance. Paul mentions some slaves who were members of that church (7:20-22). He mentions some people who did not have enough food (11:21). He says that some of the members had nothing (11:22).
Just a few of the important or wealthy citizens of Corinth became Christians. Among them were Crispus (Acts 18:8), Gaius and Erastus (Romans 16:23).
God’s good news is for everyone, but God cares especially about poor and weak people (Luke 4:18; Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Micah 2:1-3). That fact reminds us that people must not be proud (Isaiah 57:15; Proverbs 16:18). It is essential for people to be humble in front of God (Luke 18:9-14).
That was why, in Corinth, God saved so many poor and weak people. He was giving honour to those people who really were humble in front of him. And so God showed clever people that their wisdom was not complete. He showed strong people that they were too weak to save themselves. He was giving wise and powerful people the opportunity to become humble. And if they did that, he could save them too, because of Christ’s death.
A proud person is not ready to ask God to save him. But when he sees God’s work in other people’s lives, perhaps he will be humble enough to ask for God’s help, too.
If you want to speak about true greatness, you certainly must not speak about yourself. It is only proud people who talk constantly about their own skills, strength and successes. They praise themselves when they should give honour to God. They depend on themselves when they need to trust in God. And those proud attitudes make God angry.
Instead, you should talk about the good things that God has done for you. And if you have invited Christ into your life, God has done many wonderful things for you. Paul mentions righteousness, sanctification and redemption; we will explain each of these words below. These things show the wisdom of God from which we can benefit because of Christ’s death.
Righteousness means complete goodness. Of course, Christians cannot pretend that they are completely good (1 John 1:8). Their goodness can only come from God, by means of the death of Christ (Romans 4:22-25).
Sanctification means that God has declared someone to be holy. Holy means that a person (or a thing) belongs to God. God has separated them for himself. Paul has already used similar words to describe Christians in 1 Corinthians 1:2. Christians are the people whom God has made holy, by means of the death of Christ.
Redemption means that God has paid the price to free his people. He saves them from the power of evil deeds, death, and the devil. The price that he paid was the death of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Paul declared that he would be proud about nothing except Christ’s death for him (Galatians 6:14). In other words, Paul refused to be proud about anything that he himself had done. Instead, he gave thanks to Christ. Only what Christ has done shows true greatness.