Useful Bible Studies > 1 Corinthians Commentary > Study Guide

1 Corinthians: a study guide

About the Book of 1 Corinthians - its author, date and purpose

The author of 1 Corinthians

The Book of 1 Corinthians is one of 13 or 14 letters that Paul wrote. Together, these letters form a major part of the New Testament (the books that the first Christians wrote). They all show the same style of careful explanations, wise advice, and knowledge of the Old Testament (the older books in the Bible). Their author constantly shows genuine love towards the Christians, but he often warns them about wrong behaviour.

Paul gives his own name as the author in 1 Corinthians 1:1. The book contains many personal details about Paul which agree with the other books of the New Testament. Because Paul established the church in Corinth, he felt a sense of personal responsibility for the members of that church (4:15). So, Paul had a good reason to write this letter.

The date of 1 Corinthians

In 1 Corinthians 16:8, Paul says that he wrote the letter in Ephesus. We have an account of the early histories of the churches in Corinth and Ephesus in Acts chapters 18 and 19. Paul worked in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18:11). Then Paul went to some other places before he went to Ephesus. He stayed in Ephesus for 2 years and 3 months (Acts 19:8; Acts 19:10).

Students of history think that Gallio began to rule Achaia in the year 51 A.D. Acts 18:12 shows that Paul was working in Corinth during Gallioís rule. That fact can help us to calculate a possible date for Paulís letter. Such details may be interesting, but they usually have very little value for the sincere student of the Bible. We study the Bible to learn Godís message to us, not to learn about dates in history. Even when we cannot understand the history of a Bible book, we should still trust that book. Christians believe that God provided these books, by his Holy Spirit, for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16). That includes both the Old Testament and the New Testament. 2 Peter 3:15-16 explains that it includes Paulís letters.

The plan of the Book of 1 Corinthians

Some people have tried to argue that 1 Corinthians is not a single letter. In their opinion, it is actually a collection of three letters that Paul wrote at different times. As we have worked through the book, we have seen no evidence to support that idea.

The Book of 1 Corinthians has a careful plan. In chapters 1 to 6, Paul encourages the Christians to be more mature in their relationship with God. In chapters 7 to 11, he deals with the questions in their letter to him. In chapters 12 to 15, he explains some other points that they need to know. Chapter 16 contains the greetings and personal instructions that we usually find at the end of Paul's letters.

The problems at the church in Corinth

Through the whole book, Paul is dealing with the same kind of problems. The Christians in Corinth thought that the Holy Spirit was guiding them constantly. For that reason, they did not want to accept anyone elseís authority over them. God had made them free; so they imagined that they ruled, like kings (4:8). Now they could do whatever they wanted to do. That is what they were saying.

Anyone who visited their church would have seen some very strange behaviour. That behaviour was the direct result of their wrong beliefs:

(1) They argued constantly (3:3). That fact does not surprise us. Each person believed that he or she had great authority; but nobody could accept anyone elseís authority.

(2) The Holy Spirit was active in their meetings. However, it was very difficult for anyone to recognise that fact because of the confusion at those meetings. Several people would speak at the same time. People would shout out messages from God, often in an unknown language. They all believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding them. So nobody would allow the leaders of the church to control the meeting.

(3) Many Christians were weak and ill (11:30). They were living in an unhealthy manner. They ate too much meat, and they drank too much wine (11:21). They even went into the houses of false gods to eat meat (8:10). They believed that God had given them the right to do these things. They insisted that God had made them free; but really, their actions were selfish. Poor Christians were suffering because of the greedy attitudes of richer Christians (11:22).

(4) Some Christians had even begun to believe that dead Christians will not live again (15:12). They imagined that they were already ruling as kings (4:8). So, they thought that all Godís promises were for this life. That idea only encouraged them to be even more selfish. If there was no future life, they wanted to enjoy themselves now.

Christians should never have selfish attitudes. They should be careful always to arrange their church meetings in a manner that respects God. They should respect other people, especially when God has given authority to those people. They should always act in love.

How Paul dealt with the problems in the church at Corinth

We might expect that Paul would be very angry with the Christians in Corinth. Many Christians there were acting in a foolish, selfish and greedy manner. However, Paul wrote to them in a gentle, patient and kind manner. That may surprise us.

The reason was that nobody in Corinth had been a Christian for more than a few years. They were not yet mature in their relationship with God. Even their leaders did not have much experience of the Christian life. They were not wicked people who had refused to do the right things. They had been foolish; they needed to learn. So Paul taught them patiently.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians

Paul explained that Godís Holy Spirit really was working in their lives. They were right to want the Holy Spirit to guide them. They were right to use the gifts that the Holy Spirit had given to them.

However, they needed to understand the work of the Holy Spirit better. God does not give his Holy Spirit to Christians so that they can please themselves. He gives them the Holy Spirit so that they can please him. By the Holy Spirit, he shows them how they can act in love towards other people. When they act in love, they will do Godís work, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The person whom the Holy Spirit guides, acts in love.

That was how Paul himself had behaved in Corinth. He too could have acted in a selfish way. He could have demanded his rights. He could have chosen to please himself. But instead, Paul chose to please God. Paul did not even demand wages from the new Christians in Corinth, although he deserved a proper payment. He was not trying to please himself - in fact, he expected to suffer because of his work for God (4:10-13). Instead of selfish attitudes, he chose to show love to all people. He acted as a slave to everyone, so that he could declare Godís good news (9:19-23).

Christians need to develop in their relationship with God

The Christians in Corinth thought that they had nothing more to receive from God. Certainly God had done wonderful things in their lives. He had saved them and he had given them a right relationship with him. He was working in their lives and in their church by his Holy Spirit. They were grateful to God, and this was good. However, they did not understand that their Christian lives had only just begun. There were many more wonderful things that God wanted to do in and through their lives.

Paul compared them to little children in their relationship with Christ (3:1-3). God wanted to work in their lives through his servants (3:10-15). Those servants are other Christians to whom God has given special gifts. So, Christians need each other (1 Corinthians chapter 12).

By this means, God makes his people mature in their relationship with him. A mature Christian is not selfish; he or she always desires to act in love. The aim, in this life, is for Christians to do what God wants.

However, Godís work in the lives of Christians does not end with their deaths. Of course, their lives in this world will end then. Their bodies will die but their spirits can never die. So, their spirits will go to be with God in heaven. However, even that is not the end of Godís work in his peopleís lives.

God will, in the future, change Christians completely

When Christ became alive again after his death, his body (not just his spirit) was alive. In the same way, when Christ returns, the bodies of Christians will become alive again. That must happen because Christ, by his own death, defeated all his enemies - even the power of death.

Of course, then Godís people will not have the same weak bodies that they have now. And then they will not want to follow the same weak desires and foolish emotions that may affect them now.

When Christ returns, God will change their bodies completely. Instead of weakness, they will know Godís strength. Their new bodies will never die. God will unite their spirits with their bodies (15:44). People with such bodies will not care about feelings that cannot last. They will not have desires that are foolish or wrong. Their only desire will be to please God. And in that perfect state, they will always live with God.

That is what true greatness and wisdom really mean. Important people in this world very much desire greatness and wisdom; but they try to get these things in the wrong way (2:8). The Christians in Corinth were foolishly trying to copy their behaviour; they too wanted to be great and wise in this world. But true greatness and wisdom can only come to people by means of Christís death (1:23-25). And people can only know these things because of the Holy Spiritís work in their lives (2:11-16).

Next part: A summary of each chapter in the Book of 1 Corinthians


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© 2014, Keith Simons.