First Corinthians Introduction and Background

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Parkdale Grace Fellowship

Sunday AM, December 9, 2007

First Corinthians

Introduction and Background


Today we are beginning a study of the epistle known as First Corinthians.  “Epistle” is a word that was used in Bible days for a letter. If you wrote a letter to a friend that letter was called an epistle. God inspired His servant, the Apostle Paul, to write this epistle to the church in the city of Corinth, which was located in the country of Greece. The remains of this ancient city of Corinth can still be found today. Corinth is located on a narrow neck of land only nine kilometers across with a harbor on each side of it. The eastern harbor faces across the sea toward Ephesus in modern day Turkey and the western harbor faces Italy, the heart of the Roman Empire.

Athens had been the intellectual center of the world but Corinth was the commercial center of the world. It was one of the busiest commercial trading centers in the Roman Empire. In Paul’s day Corinth was a “boom town” that buzzed with economic wealth, business, and expansion.  It was known in the empire as “wealthy Corinth.” Corinth was a very prosperous city but it was also one of the most immoral cities in the empire. Corinth was built at the base of a very prominent mountain. On the top of this mountain was the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love which was staffed by 1,000 female slaves (prostitutes) dedicated to the sensual worship of Aphrodite. (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, p.235) At one point in its history this city had such a bad reputation that the Greeks coined a new word, “to Corinthianize” meant to flaunt sexual immorality without shame or reservation. A Corinthian girl was an expression that referred to a Corinthian prostitute. (Ibid) This gives insight into why so much of Paul’s letter addresses sexual and marriage related issues.

Before we begin our study of First Corinthians we will first look at the book of Acts to get some background information about Paul’s relationship with the city of Corinth. On Paul’s second missionary journey with his companion Silas picked up Timothy along the way. They had planned to minister in the Roman province of Asia, (modern day Turkey) but they were prohibited by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16) but were called in a vision to go to Macedonia instead. There they ministered in Philippi, where Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned and the prison broken open by an earthquake and the Philippian jailer and his family was saved. They then preached in Thessalonica where there was such a violent reaction to the gospel that they had to escape the city by night and travel south to Berea where the noble Bereans examined the Scriptures to see if what they were saying was true. However the violent Jews of Thessalonica soon learned that Paul was in Berea and followed him there stirring up trouble. So Paul moved on to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea.

Look at Acts 17:14-16; 18:1


Silas and Timothy have not yet joined up with Paul, but he leaves Athens and goes on to Corinth without them.  Why? The Bible doesn’t tell us why but the implication is that Paul was out of money and couldn’t find work in Athens. Athens was a city in depression and dying out at this stage of its history. Therefore Paul seems to have moved on to Corinth for practical reasons, to find employment. Corinth was a booming, rapidly growing commercial center with lots of opportunity for employment. Corinth became his primary base of ministry for the next year and a half, the bulk of his second missionary trip, and yet he was led there, not by a vision, but by a practical need to get a job and support himself.


Vs. 2-3


Look at 2 Thes.3:7-12 (which was written from Corinth) in which Paul describes his convictions regarding work for your food. There are many people involved in ministry who claim to be living by faith, trusting the Lord to provide. But they are not willing to work to earn a living when the finances get low. Instead they begin pressuring their supporters and using all kinds of appeals and gimmicks to raise support. That is not living by faith, it is fleecing the sheep. True ministry serves the people, it sacrifices self and lays down its own life willingly for the sake of the sheep and the gospel. But when pressure and demands are placed on the people to serve the ministry it has ceased being ministry. At least it ceased being God’s ministry. Yes it is right to give financially to support the work of the Lord, but it must always be voluntarily and without compulsion – no guilt trip, no pressure appeals. Present your needs and requests to the Lord and trust Him to move upon the hearts of people to give. It’s not always wrong to make a need known to the people, but never look to the people to meet the need.  Look to the Lord and be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work for the money.

At Corinth Paul got work with a husband and wife who were to become some of his most faithful friends and fellow laborers in the gospel. Aquila and Priscilla had been living in Rome until Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. They likely lost their home and their business and had to relocate and start over again from scratch. It likely seemed to them a senseless tragedy, but God was using this to prepare them for the gospel and to cause their paths to cross with Paul’s. Is there any loss or tragedy that is too great a price to pay in order to be brought into relationship with Jesus?

The Bible doesn’t tell us of their conversion but they were likely some of Paul’s first converts in Corinth. I don’t think it was coincidence that both they and Paul were tentmakers. When God is working in a life there are no mistakes and there are no coincidences.

Vs. 4


So Paul was working during the week as a tent-maker, supporting himself so that he could use his free time and weekends for ministry. This is what is meant by the term “tent-making ministry.”

Vs. 5


Finally Paul’s ministry team catches up with him. They come from Macedonia, the province where Philippi, Thessolanica and Berea were located. Silas and Timothy brought Paul a gift from the church in Philippi (Phil.4:15-16)


As a result of this gift Paul was able to give up his tentmaking and resume full-time ministry. Paul was “compelled by the Spirit”, the Spirit of God was moving him to speak – he could not hold it in. As we will see there was a tremendous move of God in Corinth.

Vs. 6-8


So they moved their services into the house next door and one of their first converts is the “pastor” of the synagogue they just left. But this was only the beginning of a great move of God. See 1 Cor.1:26 and 6:9-11 for a description of the type of people being saved in Corinth.

However, just as this great move of God begins to take off it seems that the enemy began to work overtime on Paul’s mind filling him with fear.

Vs. 9


The attack of the enemy almost always comes on the heels of great spiritual victory. Or immediately following a spiritual high people will often experience great depression. We aren’t told what Paul was afraid of. Perhaps he had received threats and was beginning to hold back, or maybe he was even planning to make an escape. But the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision to encourage him, so the situation must have been very serious.

I am convinced that when your life is surrendered to the Lord and you sincerely desire His will for your life, it is very difficult for you to step out of His will without knowing it. Many are fearful of making decisions, afraid that they might mistakenly make the wrong choice and be out of God’s will. But, if necessary, the Lord will use supernatural means to keep you on track if your heart is truly set on doing God’s will.

Vs. 9-11


The Lord wasn’t done with Paul yet in Corinth and there was nothing anybody could do about it until the Lord’s work for him there was over. The same is true for each of us.  God is in control, not the media, not the politicians or law makers, not the devil nor your enemy. Heb. 13:5-6 (Amplified) “For God Himself has said, ‘I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor let you down. Assuredly not!’ So we take comfort and confidently say – “The Lord is my Helper, I will not be seized with alarm – what can man do to me?”


So for a year and a half Paul remained to nurture and to teach the church in Corinth.

Now we are given one example of how God fulfilled his promise to protect Paul.

Vs. 12-13


These Jews took Paul to court. They were charging him of promoting an illegal religion. They hoped to have Paul punished and Christianity banned. But that which they intended for evil God meant for good. They intended to outlaw Christianity but God brought them to court in order to legalize Christianity in Corinth.

Vs. 14-16


This action by Gallio effectively made Christianity a legally accepted and protected religion in Corinth and left the Christians free to preach and practice their faith with Roman protection from assault and imprisonment.

Vs. 17


Remember back in verse 8, Crispus the Jewish synagogue ruler got saved and joined the church. He has been replaced by a new synagogue ruler, Sosthenes. It was likely Sosthenes who organized and led this failed attack against Paul. The very ones he had hoped would turn against Paul and his Christian faith instead turn against Sosthenes, the leader of the Jews and they beat him.

Now the Bible leaves out the details but there was a reason for a mentioning this incident with Sosthenes. I believe this was the turning point in Sosthenes’ life. Look at 1 Cor. 1:1 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.” Sosthenes, who was well known to the Corinthian believers, got saved in that great move of God in the early days of the Corinthian church and eventually joined Paul’s ministry team. I wouldn’t be surprised if after being rejected by the proconsul and beaten by the crowd his Jewish followers were likely also humiliated and also rejected Sosthenes. However it would be like Christ, who was working through Paul and the Christians, to gather around Sosthenes who was rejected by all and minister the love of God to the enemy, nursing him back to health and leading him to new life in Christ. How many can look back at a painful experience in your past and say, “Thank God for that experience, it was the turning point in my life?

Vs. 18


His former employers, Priscilla and Aquilla now join Paul’s ministry team and travel with him. We aren’t told any details about this vow of Paul’s. Paul arrived in Corinth sometime around March, AD 50, stayed for a year and a half and left about September, AD 51. (C.K. Barrett, p. 5)


Vs. 19-21


Paul left Priscilla and Aquilla in Ephesus to establish a church there. Paul in fact did return to Ephesus about a year later on his 3rd missionary journey. Ephesus was Paul’s base of ministry from AD 52 until late AD 53 or early AD 54.

While Paul was ministering in Ephesus another apostle by the name of Apollos visited Corinth and returned to Paul in Ephesus with bad news about problems in the young church at Corinth. (Anthony Thiselton, p. 26) This prompted Paul to write a letter to the Corinthians. We have no copy of that first letter today; all we know about it is what Paul said about it in 1 Corinthians 5:9. Therefore, though this Epistle is called “first” Corinthians it is actually at least the second letter we know about that Paul wrote to them. Shortly after that Paul got another bad report about the church in Corinth from Chloe’s household (1 Cor. 1:11). Also, around the same time, Paul received a letter from the church of Corinth, possibly in response to his “previous” letter. This epistle of first Corinthians that we will be studying is Paul’s response to both the bad report he received from Chloe’s household (the focus of chapters 1-6), and his response to issues raised in the letter he received from the believers in Corinth. (This is the focus of chapters 7-16). (Thiselton, p. 26) See 1 Cor. 7:1.

Everything Paul has to say in this epistle is sandwiched between the cross and Christ crucified in the first two chapters and the resurrection in chapter 15. First Corinthians is a coherent exposition of God’s grace and the centrality of the cross and the resurrection. Throughout the epistle love is the unifying theme. (Thiselton, p. 26)

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