Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written around AD 55 to a spiritually troubled church. The church was actually comprised of various house churches, but Paul refers to them collectively as the church. Corinth was a major port city, with many temples devoted to Greek and Roman gods, and an affluent economic centre.
It is no wonder that Paul picked that city as the focus of his evangelistic efforts during his second missionary journey. Paul knew this church quite well, as he not only planted the church but he stayed on for 1.5 years to pastor the church (cf. Acts 18). After he moved on to Ephesus for a period of time, he started getting reports that the church was wracked by divisions over a variety of issues.
The letter covers a number of topics. The key theme of division emerges from those discussions. Paul wants this church, divided because of the arrogance of its more powerful members, to work together for the advancement of the gospel. The letter is highly relevant today, as it deals with such issues as the relationship between Christians and their surrounding secular culture, divisions within the church, the ordering of church practices such as the Lord’s Supper, and the use of spiritual gifts. The letter also deals with matters of personal morality, such as sex, marriage and celibacy, and the bodily resurrection of Christ.
The letter reads like a collection of short stories, but there is a distinct unifying theme. In each major section, Paul starts by identifying the problem, and then he responds with some aspect of the gospel as a solution to address that problem. He shows the Corinthians that they are not living out what they say they believe. The letter is about examining every area of one’s life through the lens of the gospel, including relationships, family, community, and work.
It is because of Christ’s resurrection that Christians have a reason to be unified around him, maintain sexual integrity, and have a source of power to love others more than ourselves. The resurrection is our hope for victory over death. The gospel is not just moral advice, but an announcement about Jesus that opens up a new reality. This letter is about seeing every part of life through the lens of the gospel.