Part III Introduction – The Meaning of the Corinthian Scriptures

The Meaning of the Corinthian Scriptures

We are now ready to determine what the Corinthian letters mean to us – the modern day Bible students.  These scriptures are relevant for the lives of all people in every generation.  They are the truth about life for every society in all different cultures of the world.  This is true because there is one God who created all people for the same purpose.  All peoples’ spirit came from God.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these scriptures; therefore, they describe the phenomenon of life of each human being.  They are the laws of life for mankind Jesus taught and revealed for God’s new covenant.

These scriptures were presented to us in the context of the “real life” situation in Achaia about two thousand years ago.  Achaia is modern day Greece.  In Parts I and II we learned about the situation in the church to which these letters were addressed.  In our studies of the previous lessons we prepared ourselves to determine what these scriptures originally meant to the church in Corinth.  What the principles meant to the original recipients is what they mean for Christians today when applied to similar situations.  We apply divine truths to situations similar to the “real life” settings in which we learned these principles.

Paul wrote to people who were members of God’s church.  It functioned as the body of Christ.  They were continually being washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.  They were the temple of God throughout Achaia.  God, the Father, maintained fellowship with His sons and daughters through the presence of the Holy Spirit with each member of the church.  At the same time they were citizens of the kingdom of God.  They were the people who were “called out” of the kingdom of Satan and transferred to the kingdom of the Son of God (Acts 26:18).

The Corinthian Christians identified as sons and daughters of God; however, they lived in a body that had the nature of Adam.  This meant they had the capacity to know and be responsible for choosing good over evil.  Mankind, in our developing processes, cannot choose good each and every time.  This is why Jesus provided Himself as an atoning sacrifice for Christians by each one’s faith.  This grace provides Christians peace with God.  We enjoy the love of God and fellowship with the Holy Spirit (II Cor. 13:14).

The foregoing teachings are the wisdom of God as we have understood from our studies of Part I and II in this series.  The wisdom of God is the law and power of the kingdom of God.  It is also the way God will have some humans as His children in His kingdom, eternally.  His wisdom is being worked out in Jesus Christ.  It is far above the wisdom of man on his or her highest level of scholarship.

The main reason Paul wrote the Corinthian letters was because some members of the church were beginning to set aside the wisdom of God and experiment with the wisdom of man.  They had started to divide around certain powerful figures.  This is the first recorded division of this nature in the church; however, it has not been the last time it has happened.  It was a case of members rallying around one of their own species.  This is one condition that is always at the root of division in the church.  A talented speaker may “go beyond what is written.”  He or she will draw a following of people who do not know what is written.  This was the problem in the Corinthian church.  It has spawned many groups during the last two millennia.  Paul pointed out the cause and the result.

Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’  Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.  For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?  I Cor. 4:6, 7  

The remainder of our studies will be dedicated to understanding the meaning of the scriptures in the Corinthian letters.  They are for Christians who do not want to go beyond what is written.  These scriptures are of interest to those who want to live by the wisdom God.  We did our exegetical work in Parts I and II; this is to say, we did historical and literary analysis.  Now we will do work under the heading of hermeneutics.  This means we will attempt to learn what the scriptures mean for Christians today.

The lessons in Part III will be dedicated to a study of I Corinthians chapters one through six.  We will need to do some detailed historical and literary analysis work as we study this portion.  At the same time we will fit the result of our new analysis into the broader historical view of all the Corinthian letters, a work we have already completed.  We will need to review Parts I and II often as we study the different segments of each letter for the meaning for us.  Of course, we will follow the structure Paul developed for the content he received from the Holy Spirit for the church then, as well as now.

Paul used the standard six part letter form for both I and II Corinthians.

  1. The author.  I & II Corinthians 1:1.
    “Paul called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”
    Please review Part I, Lesson Two.  Paul named “our brother Sosthenes” as a co-author of I Corinthians.  This, perhaps, was Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, the Jews beat before Gallio’s court (Acts 18:17).  Since he made no contribution to the letter, nor was he directly involved in the issues listed in this letter, we may be made to wonder if adding his name was a part of Paul’s strategy to promote the goals of his letters.
    On one hand, it would show that some knowledgeable Jews did accept the gospel and functioned as leaders in the body of Christ.  This might encourage other Jews as well as some Gentiles.  At the same time, by attaching his name, it might remind the church of the mean spirit of some Jewish leaders who were claiming to be apostles.  Thus it might encourage some members to “therefore come out from among them and be separate.”  II Cor. 6:17.  No doubt Paul had a reason, just as he did for naming Timothy as co-author of II Corinthians.
  2. “To the church of God in Corinth.”  I Cor. 1:2.
    “To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia.”  II Cor. 1:1
    When Paul wrote to the saints in Rome from Corinth he said, “all the churches of Christ send greetings.”  Rom. 16:16.  Obviously, the word church was not used in either context as a proper name.  The English word “church” has been translated from the Greek word, ekklesia.  It is made up from ek, “out of” and klesis, “a calling.”  This sets up the framework for the practical usage of “church” in the New Testament.  We ask from where were these people called?  Who called them?  What were they offered in order to get them to accept the call?  What was the “good news?”  Now that they have accepted this call, where do they reside?
    When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica from Corinth he spoke of “God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ.”  I Thess. 2:14.  This identifies God as the One who has sent out a call and it tells us they are “in Christ.”  They have been called to be holy (V. 2).  Jesus is their Lord.  Where were they before they were called?  They were in the dominion of the kingdom of darkness.  They were brought “into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Col. 1:13, 14.  Please review Part I, Lesson One, item 4 and also the Introduction of Part I, Lesson Two.
    The church of God in Corinth was an assembly of people who had been called out of Satan’s kingdom and into the kingdom of God (Acts 26:18).  The common secular use of the word church in the first century is found in Acts 19:39 where it has been translated “assembly.”
    God made Jesus Christ, His Son, their Lord; consequently, it is Jesus’ kingdom until He will turn it back to God (I Cor. 4:20; 15:24-28; Eph. 5:5).  Paul preached the kingdom of God everywhere he evangelized for Christ.  The result was the church of God in Corinth.  He did not come to Corinth and preach the church of Christ and establish the kingdom of God.
  3. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I Cor. 1:3; II Cor. 1:2.
    Please note that Paul used this “grace and peace” line in all his New Testament letters except in the two he wrote to Timothy.  In those letters he added “mercy.”  He also deviated from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica.  In item two of the form of this letter, he wrote, “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I Thess. 1:1.  Perhaps, he had the same thought he expressed to the church at Colosse when he said, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”  Col. 3:3, 4.
    Because, as the Apostle John said, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all,” Christians have peace with God, our Father, only because of His grace.  Paul reminded the Corinthians of the basis for their peace with God in both letters.  For an elaboration on this point read II Corinthians 5:16-21.  Still Paul reminded the Corinthians that grace and peace will not be the subject at our final judgment.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  II Cor. 5: 10.
  4. Prayer:  I Cor. 1:4-9;  II Cor. 1:3-7.
    “I always thank God for you because of His grace given to you in Christ Jesus.”  I Cor. 1:4.
    “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  II Cor. 1:3, 4.
    Paul began his prayer for the recipients in I Corinthians; however, he introduced issues he “worked out” in the body of the letter.  For instance, he reminded them of the blessings of “your speaking and all your knowledge.” In the body of the letter he recalled for them their world status before they were Christians (I Cor. 1:26).  Because they were boasting about their new abilities Paul asked them “What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”  I Cor. 4:7.
    He also reminded them of the spiritual gifts they had received for leading and building the church.  Their boasting about these spiritual gifts was given special attention in the body of this letter.  See I Corinthians chapters 12-14.
    Paul’s prayer in II Corinthians followed the same pattern.  Please review the beginning of the lesson portion of Part II, Lesson Five.
  5. The body of I Corinthians.  I Cor. 1:10-15:57.  An overview of this letter was presented in Part II, Lesson Four.
    The body of II Corinthians.  II Cor.1:8-12:21.  An overview of this letter was presented in Part II, Lesson Five.
  6. Close.
    I Cor. 15:57, 58.   These verses close the great eschatological discourse in the fifteenth chapter.  Someone was apparently claiming there is no resurrection, while at the same time, it was being preached that Christ had been raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:12).  Some were even performing a proxy baptism for people who had died without being baptized.  This was the impetus for one of the greatest lessons about the condition of “mankind in Adam” in the Bible.  Therefore, a fitting close.  “Stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
    I Cor. 16:1-18.  Paul laid out his plans for a trip back to Corinth for the collection.  He included another “punchy” exhortation for being found blameless when Jesus returns (I Cor. 1:8; 16:13).
    I Cor. 16:19-24.  Greetings were sent from the church in Ephesus, especially from the church that met in Aquila and Priscilla’s house.   Included in this final close was a curse pronounced on anyone who does not love the Lord.
    Closing.  II Corinthians 13:1-12.  Paul details his plan to discipline the church by his authority as an apostle.  This was something he had commanded the church to do so he would not be forced to do it for them (I Cor. 5:6, 7).  The church must be disciplined to remain God’s temple on earth.
    Final close.  “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  II Cor. 13:11-14.

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