Bible in a Year, Week 7: 1-2 Corinthians

This is the seventh weekly reading in the plan for reading your Bible in one year. The assignment for this week is 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. It should only take about 12 minutes a day, or about 3-4 chapters a day to complete the assignment.

Here are some comments to help you grow in knowledge and faith as you read 1 & 2 Corinthians.

Background: Corinth was a city much like many modern metropolises in the United States. Today that is not the case. But back in Paul’s time, it had an estimated 200,000 residents. It had a booming economy. And the residents surely enjoyed “worldly” living. We might imagine that living in Corinth back then was akin to a Christian living in New York City, Miami, or San Francisco today.

Paul founded the Corinthian congregation on his second missionary journey. He went to Corinth after his stop in Athens. From there he went to Ephesus. While in Ephesus he learned of troubles in the congregation. It appears from the context that 1 Corinthians is actually the second letter that he wrote to the congregation. Much of it is very pointed, addressing certain issues specifically and directly.

Shortly after Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia, perhaps around 56 A.D. From this third letter it appears that the second letter had affect and the congregation was changing. We can only pray that God works in our hearts through the wonderful message of these two letters in such a powerful way!

1 Corinthians 1: Paul begins this letter in the typical format for his letters. There are three parts to this opening: 1) Author, 2) Audience/Recipients, 3) Greeting. Though Paul has some harsh words for the Corinthians coming in the following chapters, he begins by thanking God for them and for their faith. But then he gets right into it. Immediately he appeals to these fellow Christians to be perfectly united in mind and thought. What a travesty it is in our churches when we experience what the Corinthians did–rifts, factions, fights, and quarrels!

Chapter 1 continues with one of the truly magnificent sections of Scripture. Paul describes the cross of Christ as the foolishness of God. Most of the wise, powerful, rich, and famous people of the world think that free salvation through Jesus who died on a cross is mere foolishness. Yet through this “foolishness” Christ won forgiveness for all and saved us. Thus, the foolishness of the cross is really God’s great wisdom!

1 Corinthians 2: Continuing his thoughts on “the foolishness of God,” Paul talks about that very message. It was his determination, mission, and ultimate focus to only know and preach Christ who was crucified for our sins. Though the message did not have any human “flair” to it, it was (and still is) a powerful message. This is because the power of the Word and the power of faith comes from the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.” Without God working in our hearts, it is impossible to believe on our own. Rather, God the Holy Spirit works through the powerful message of the gospel to create faith in us. What a blessing that now, “We have the mind of Christ!”

1 Corinthians 3: Using his thoughts on the Spirit’s work, Paul returns to his original appeal regarding divisions. Neither Paul nor Apollos nor Peter do the work of converting. They simply plant or water the seeds. It is God that makes faith to grow! So why bother arguing about who follows Paul or Apollos or otherwise? They all are “of Christ.”

These words are an excellent reminder that we should not worry about what we say or do when reaching out to others. God will be the one to create faith. We simply plant or water the seeds and God will bless that work and take it from there!

Finally, we ought to note verses 16-17 of chapter 3 where Paul reminds us that God lives within us. Since our bodies are “God’s temple” we are to treat our bodies appropriately. How many sins might we avoid or refrain from doing if only we remembered that God is with us and in us when we are doing them!

1 Corinthians 4: In chapter 4 Paul commands their respect. He establishes the honor that is due them as apostles of the Lord. Yet though that be true, they have received no worldly honor. They were beaten, battered, bruised, and beyond. He writes this not to brag, but to warn the Corinthians not to become conceited or arrogant–as some of them perhaps had become already.

1 Corinthians 5: Living in a city like Corinth in Greece, there were many sins all around these Christians. Some of the greatest sins were sexual sins of immorality. In many ways ancient Corinth was like modern America. Paul reprimands the Corinthians for allowing and tolerating–event applauding–such behavior. He calls both the Corinthians and that man to repentance.

We would do well to heed Paul’s warning today: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Whether it is sexual immorality, false teachings, or any other temptation or sin, we need to be extremely careful not to let that “yeast” remain amongst us. Otherwise, before we know it that yeast will work through the entire group of Christians!

1 Corinthians 6: The divisions and disagreements among the Corinthians manifested in another way that, too. These Christians were also taking each other to court to have secular judges settle their disputes. They seemed to have the same philosophy of Americans today. Americans have such passion for getting revenge and payback. They are eager to sue and get rich. But Paul encourages us that it is better to remain united in faith and to show love instead.

At the same time, we are reminded that any kinds of sin will prevent us from entering the kingdom of heaven. Though Paul lists some here, they should not be considered “worse” sins. All sins are reprehensible and disobedient to the Lord. Our joy however is that we were, “Justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”

Therefore, we are to live our lives according to our new life created in Christ, not according to our old sinful flesh. We “were bought at a price.” Therefore we can and will “honor God with [our] body.”

1 Corinthians 7: This chapter is focused on marriage, but it relates to what Paul previously said. First he speaks of some of the blessings of marriage, such as enjoyment and pleasure, unity, and an “outlet” for desires and passions that might otherwise be followed sinfully. Then Paul considerable time discussing marriage and divorce circumstances. It would appear that the Corinthians were surrounded by many of the same problems that our country faces today!

Regarding divorce, there are several things the Bible tells us. First, God clearly states in Malachi, “I hate divorce.” He couldn’t be more clear. When God first designed marriage starting in the Garden of Eden, it was his intention that the two come together as one flesh and not separate ever.

At the same time, this world is filled with sinfulness, and many sinful things can happen. Thus, there are some instances in which a divorce would not be considered sinful in the Lord’s sight. The first would be unfaithfulness or adultery. Such actions break the marriage vows. The second, which Paul also mentions here, is sometimes called malicious desertion. This would be when a spouse simply leaves the other. While love and forgiveness are our ultimate goals in life and marriage, if the union cannot be preserved (or restored), those scenarios would be considered permissible for divorce.

1 Corinthians 8: There were a lot of interesting issues that came up in the early days of Christianity. Some were cultural issues. Many of the Greeks had no problems eating any kind of food, including food or meat that had been sacrificed to idols before. Yet other Greeks, and many Jews, had troubles with this. It bothered their consciences to eat meat that had been used in the worship of false gods. Paul instructs them here that while they may be free to eat that food if they like, it may be a wise decision of love not to eat it (at least not in from of those others) for the sake of those who have troubled consciences.

1 Corinthians 9: In chapter 9 we see the focus and love of the apostle Paul. Despite having certain rights or authority as an apostle, he would never want to do anything to hinder the preaching of the gospel. At the same time, he made sure that he became all things to all people so that he was able to share the gospel with others. This didn’t mean that Paul was a faker and just a good salesman. Rather, in love he reached across cultures and built bridges and relationships so that he was able to share the good news about the Savior with any and all people.

So then, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to focus on the race and the end goal of receive the prize of eternal life in heaven. With proper training–proper focus on the Lord and on his Word–God would maintain their faith so that they would in fact receive the prize.

1 Corinthians 10: As the Corinthians focused on the prize of eternal life, they were to remember the Israelites who had gone before them. Learning from them and from their mistakes would help them to watch out for sin and temptation. Of added encouragement to them (and to us) is that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear!

Learning from Israel, the Corinthians were to be reminded to avoid idolatry of every kind. Idol feasts were to be avoided to. A sharp distinction should be made and should be clear between idol feasts and the Meal which Jesus himself instituted–the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. For in the Lord’s Supper Jesus’ true body and blood are received for the forgiveness of sins. A huge difference from the idol feasts! Thus, the Corinthians were again encouraged to avoid idol feasts for their sake and for the sake of others whose consciences would be bothered.

1 Corinthians 11: Chapter 11 focuses on the church itself and worship in the church. It is important to understand the difference between prescriptive and descriptive Bible verses here. Descriptive verses describe something that was happening at that time and point. Prescriptive verses prescribe a doctrine or a teaching to us. This is especially important to remember in the opening verses of chapter 11.

The descriptive part of these verses is that women in Corinth had the custom of wearing long hair and covering their heads in worship. In their culture at that time this was the way to show humility and to show that they did not have places of authority within the church.

The prescriptive part of these verses is the principle Paul sets in place in verse 3. This principle–also found in other parts of Scripture–is that men are to hold a place of headship and authority in the church. The most specific example of such would be the position of pastor.

So those who say that these verses no longer apply are not really correct or accurate. What no longer applies is that in our culture women do not keep long hair or cover their heads in worship to show femininity or humility. However, the principle (prescriptive part) which does still apply is that men are to be in the position of headship within the church. This is in keeping with God’s will and the rest of Scripture.

In the rest of chapter 11 Paul covers another worship topic–the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Paul is very clear that Jesus’ true body and blood are present in, with, and under the bread and wine in Communion. Also, a person ought to examine himself to make sure he understands what is going on, that he is a sinner, that forgiveness is offered, and that Jesus’ body and blood are present.

Because unity in Communion is desired, and out of care for the uniformed communicant’s soul, it is necessary that participation in the Lord’s Supper be reserved for those who are one in faith and belief. This often means those who are of the same denomination. This close and closed Communion practice is out of love for the Word of God and, again, out of love for the communicant’s soul.

1 Corinthians 12: Paul conveys a beautiful message in chapter 12. Every single Christian has been given spiritual gifts by the Lord. They may be in varying kinds or amounts, but ever Christian has at least some spiritual gift. A comparison is made to the human body. Every part is necessary to make up the human body and every part has a different function. So also every Christian is part of the body of Christ and serves in a different way.

1 Corinthians 13: This chapter is often called the great “love chapter” of the Bible. Many a wedding features this section of Scripture as either a reading or the basis for a wedding message. Surely it applies well to the relationship of husband and wife. However, this love is actually about the love that all Christians can and should have for one another. It is Christ’s love which gives us the motivation and the model to show this same kind of love to one another.

1 Corinthians 14: This chapter contains more instruction and guidance regarding worship. Worship was to be done in a “fitting and orderly way.” This meant every part of the worship service, including prophecy and speaking in tongues. God gave these special gifts to the church early on as powerful signs to back up the message of Jesus which was being proclaimed. They functioned in much the same way as Jesus’ own miracles. Now that we have the Word of God in written form though, there is no need for such miracles. God’s Word has power in and of itself.

Further, the so called gift of speaking in tongues today is not the same as it was in Scripture. Biblical tongue speaking involved speaking a real and known language of the world that the speaker did not otherwise know. It’s ultimate purpose was so that the gospel could be spread to other people and nations. “Tongue-speaking” today is not at all the same. Often it is regarded as some sort of “Spirit talk” that usually sounds like gibberish. It usually is not a known language. It is often regarded as a sign of a higher measure of faith and a closer relationship with the Lord (or the Spirit specifically). This is not at all what Biblical tongue-speaking was like. Thus we can assume that this behavior is not from God himself. And if not from the Lord, we can only guess who it is from?!

1 Corinthians 15: Whereas chapter 13 is known as the “love chapter” of the Bible, chapter 15 is often known as the “resurrection chapter” of the Bible. Beautifully Paul explains the importance and significance of Christ’s resurrection. Poetically Paul reminds us that death has no victory or sting any longer. Christ rose victorious and triumphant from the grave. His resurrection is proof positive that sin and death have been destroyed. His resurrection is proof positive that we have been forgiven. His resurrection is proof positive that we will rise to life too! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!

1 Corinthians 16: Paul closes with several encouragements. He reminds us to give back to the Lord on a regular basis. He encourages us to watch out and stand firm and be strong in faith. As we do all of that, we are to do so in love. God grant us the ability to do so!

2 Corinthians 1: Paul begins this letter in the same way as most–identifying author and audience and then giving a greeting. The opening verses are words of praise to God who is able to comfort us in all of our problems and troubles. Surely God did that for those Christians, and surely he does for us as well. In the second part of this chapter he explains why it is that he suddenly changed his travel plans on the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 2-3: These chapters are largely about forgiveness. It would seem as though the sexually immoral man mentioned in the first letter has come to repentance. Now the congregation is urged to forgive this man. What a blessing from the Lord that he has given us the ability to stand in his stead and announce forgiveness to one another!

Indeed, we all are ministers–servants–of a new covenant. This new covenant is not like the old covenant given through Moses. That covenant was a two-sided contract. God told the people that if they followed and obeyed him he would be with them and bless them. If not, they would be punished. But this new covenant is a one-sided promise. God simply offers and gives the forgiveness of sins and salvation through his Son Jesus. What a blessing to be a part of and to share the message of this new covenant!

2 Corinthians 4-5: As we share this wonderful message of reconciliation, Paul reminds us that we are but jars of clay. We are humble servants that have been given the privilege of being able to share the good news that through Christ our sins have been forgiven and we have been reconciled (brought together in peace and harmony) to God. This love of Christ compels us to live and work for him!

2 Corinthians 6-7: Paul endured many hardships for the sake of the gospel. He also endured many for the sake of the people that he preached to. He did not want any obstacles or stumbling blocks in their way. This is why he also cautioned the Corinthians not to join together with the unbelievers of this world. What do God-fearing Christians have in common with those who follow the ways of their sinful flesh, of the world, and of Satan? Yet Paul also had great joy as he saw the fruits of his labor. The Lord was able to work miracles through his Word, creating and strengthening faith in these people.

2 Corinthians 8-9: Next Paul encouraged the Corinthians, as he encourages us, to be generous. We today have been blessed with so many gifts and various blessings just like the Corinthians. But Paul’s greatest encouragement here is that we also excel in the grace of giving. Our ultimate motivation for giving back to the Lord is not the church budget or the broken air conditioning system. Rather, we give because Christ has given us so much! He gave up all the riches in heaven to become poor for us–to suffer and die in our place. And through this poverty we now have become rich with the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This giving of Christ certainly inspires us to give back generously in thanks and praise!

2 Corinthians 10-13: In the closing chapters Paul defends himself, his ministry, and his apostleship. The Lord called Paul to carry the gospel to all people. Paul faithfully carried out this work. In everything he did he made the mission of carrying out the gospel of utmost importance. Surely he could have bragged about all he endured for the sake of the gospel. But that was not his point in writing about it. Paul wrote about his sufferings and the “thorn in his flesh” to share with the Corinthians that God’s love and mercy and grace are complete in our weaknesses. When we are weak we remember that he is our true source of power and strength. It is with this power of God that Paul carried out his ministry, and it is with this power that Paul encouraged the people to continue in their Christian faith and lives. God grant us the same faith to recognize our weakness but also to seek shelter in God’s power alone!

(Note this posting is one week late)

Next Week’s Readings (starting 2/20/11):  Galatians, Ephesians

To view or download a copy of the 1-Year Bible Reading Plan (New Testament first), click here.

Posted on February 22, 2011, in Bible in a Year, Church and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: