1 Corinthians 3-4

Chapters 3 and 4 are in many ways a continuation of the topics that comprise chapters 1 and 2. In these two chapters Paul will (1) scold them for dividing up over preachers, which as a sign of immaturity, (2) instruct them in the proper evaluation of preachers, and (3) address their arrogance that had shown itself in their arguments and divisions over preachers.

I. Chapter 3

A. Their divisions were signs of worldliness and immaturity (3:1-4).

1. While he was with them in person, Paul considered the Corinthians spiritual infants and fed them accordingly. But they had not grown sufficiently in the meantime.

2. Their jealousy and strife were the evidence of their worldliness and immaturity.

B. How to properly assess preachers (3:5-15)

1. Preachers are merely servants; God deserves all the credit for kingdom growth (5-9).

2. Preachers will be judged on how they build on the foundation of Jesus (10-15).

C. The danger of destroying the church, God’s temple (3:16-17). By creating factions within the congregation, they were destroying God’s dwelling place.

D. Though they thought they were wise, their boasting in mere men was foolish (3:18-23).

1. In order for them to be wise in God’s sight they would have to show themselves to be foolish by worldly standards.

2. Though it was culturally relevant and acceptable to line up behind one’s teacher, it was not to be that way in the church.

II. Chapter 4

A. Preachers are servants whom God will judge (4:1-5).

1. The Corinthians had judged Paul, Apollos, Peter, and others as being worthy of too much praise.

2. Paul reminds them that God’s assessment of them will be the only one that ultimately matters.

B. The Corinthians should not go beyond what is written, for doing so only leads to arrogant boasting against each other (4:6-13).

1. Their perceived wisdom, which was mere foolishness to God, led them to develop an ugly arrogance.

2. But Paul sarcastically informs them that he – the teacher that many of them highly esteemed – did not exhibit this kind of arrogance. So why would they?

C. Paul warns them, as a father would his son, to get their affairs in order before he comes (4:14-20).

1. He wasn’t writing them just to shame them. He wanted to reform them.

2. In a way, he was their spiritual father. The church came to exist in Corinth through his preaching of the gospel. Therefore, he spoke to them as a loving father would to his erring son.

III. Practical Applications

A. Christians should grow beyond milk to solid food (3:1-4; Heb. 5:11-6:12; James 3:13-18).

B. Be careful not to elevate preachers (3:5-7; 4:1-5).

C. Teachers/preachers must take their roles seriously (3:10-15; James 3:1; 1 Tim. 4:11-16).

D. One should think long and hard before he does something that causes division in the church (3:16-17; Rom. 12:18).

E. Nothing that contradicts God should be called wisdom (3:18-20; James 3:13-18).

F. Stewards must be faithful (4:1; Matt. 25:14-30).

G. Pride is a dangerous thing, for it elevates man and brings down God (4:8-13).

H. Sometimes love requires sternness (4:14-20; Rev. 3:19).

1 Corinthians 1-2

After a brief salutation and expression of gratitude, Paul gets down to business. He had received a report from a family in Corinth about the existence of contentious divisions in the church. In the first two chapters the apostle not only addresses the sinfulness of their factions, he also addresses an underlying cause, namely, a misplaced elevation of human wisdom.

I. Chapter 1

A. Salutation (1:1-3)

B. Gratitude (1:4-9)

1. As is typically the case, Paul expresses gratitude for the recipients of his letter while offering insight into the contents of his prayers for them.

2. He is grateful for their reception of God’s grace, that they have been enriched in Christ, and that they lack no spiritual gift.

C. Division over preachers (1:10-17)

1. Here Paul begins addressing their problems, the first of which is division. Having heard from Chloe’s family of their divisions, Paul appeals to them to be united (10-11).

2. Though they were dividing based on personal loyalties to preachers involved in their conversions, Paul takes their focus to Christ, the gospel, and the cross (12-17).

D. God’s wisdom in Christ (1:18-25)

1. The cross is foolish to those who don’t understand it. But for those who do, it is God’s power to save (18).

2. God’s plan for the redemption of man – a plan with the cross at its center – may seem foolish to some, but it is actually the embodiment of God’s power and wisdom (19-25).

E. Jesus is the only ground for boasting (1:26-31)

1. Paul reminds them that they were not among the wise, powerful, or upper classes. Yet God called them in the body of Christ (26-28).

2. There is nothing in the gospel message, properly understood, that would lead one to boast in himself. Our only basis for boasting is in what Jesus has done for us (29-31).

II. Chapter 2

A. The pre-eminence of Christ in Paul’s preaching (2:1-5)

1. Paul didn’t utilize lofty speech or human wisdom when he preached to them. He just preached Christ crucified. Truth be told, he was actually scared to death (1-3).

2. But he preached “in demonstration of the Spirit and power,” so that they would not elevate him (Paul), but magnify God (4-5).

B. The wisdom of God revealed (2:6-16)

1. The message of Paul’s preaching was the revelation of the “mystery,” that is, God’s eternal purpose for the redemption of man. This message was revealed to Paul and the other apostles by the Holy Spirit (6-13).

2. The person who is governed solely by worldly standards will not accept the spiritual nature of the gospel message (14-16).

III. Application Lessons

A. God’s grace is amazing (1:4-5). We should be grateful for it (4). It is God’s gift (4). It is in Christ (4). It makes us rich (5). It is responsible for what we accomplish in the kingdom (5).

B. We should have confidence in each other (1:8-9). Though they had many problems, Paul was confident that they would fix them and not forfeit their eternal salvation.

C. Unity in Christ is possible (1:10), but only if everyone is willing to agree to follow the standard of God’s word.

D. We don’t often think like God does (1:26-28; 1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15; Psalm 50:21).

E. Be careful whom you glorify (1:29-31). No human being, especially preachers, should be given credit for what God is responsible for.

F. The message is more important and powerful than the messenger (2:1-4). God used a weak, frightened man to reach the Corinthians. The power was in the message.

G. The word of God is verbally inspired (2:9-13). The words that inspired men spoke were words that came from the Holy Spirit who revealed the mind of God.

Eddie Parrish

Introduction to 1 Corinthians

There may not have been a more troubled church in the first century than the church in Corinth. In his first letter to them, Paul corrects their errors, answers their questions, and encourages them with statements of confidence. Before studying the letter, let us highlight some matters of background and introduction: the recipients, writer, date, and purpose of the letter.

I. Recipients

A. “The church of God which is at Corinth” (1:2)

B. The congregation began through the work of Paul, Silas, and Timothy on Paul’s second evangelistic journey (Acts 18).

1. Paul arrived in Corinth after leaving Athens (18:1).

2. He stayed with and worked alongside Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers (18:2-3).

3. He spoke each Sabbath Day in the local synagogue, but was largely rejected (18:4-6).

4. After this, he localized his teaching in a house right next to the synagogue and converted many, including the ruler of the synagogue (18:7-8).

5. Though uneasy about staying, he remained a year and a half (18:9-11; 1 Cor. 2:3-5).

6. Typically for Paul, Jewish opposition caused trouble for him and he eventually moved on (18:12-18).

C. Corinth was a wicked city. Out of that wickedness and depravity would come those who made up the church there (1 Cor. 6:9-11; note: “such were some of you”).

II. Writer

A. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1)

B. Virtually no one, not even the most vehement critics of the Bible, question the authorship of the book.

III. Date

A. The letter was written from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8).

B. But since Paul’s first visit to Ephesus was short (Acts 18:19-21), it is unlikely that he wrote this letter then. However, he spent 3 years there on his third journey (Acts 19:1-41; 20:31). The letter was probably written during that time.

IV. Purpose

A. The church at Corinth was a troubled group. Some concerned members had written Paul a letter informing him of existing problems (1:11; 15:12). In addition, there had been additional correspondence from the church to Paul that included a number of questions that needed answers (7:1).

B. The book outlines itself rather easily as Paul moves from one problem to the next:

1. Division (1-4)

2. Immorality (5)

3. Lawsuits (6)

4. Marriage Questions (7)

5. Matters of Christian Liberty (8-10)

6. Disorder in Worship (11)

7. Spiritual Gifts (12-14)

8. The Resurrection (15)

9. Personal Matters (16)

V. Practical Lessons

A. Congregations will have problems as long as they consist of people.

B. The world sometimes influences the church more than the church influences the world.

C. Congregational leadership cannot ignore problems.

D. Though the ideal is to avoid problems, they can be beneficial (11:19).

Self-Examination and the Lord’s Supper

In the troubled Corinthian church, the Lord’s Supper had not been protected from abuse. This mistreatment of the Supper was so serious that Paul bluntly told them that the way they were handling this memorial was actually a despising of the church (1 Cor. 11:22) that invited God’s judgment on them (11:29). As he corrected their practice, he called their attention back to the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper on the night of the Lord’s betrayal (11:23-25). The apostle affirmed that Christians were to use that solemn observance as an opportunity to remember Jesus (11:24-25) and examine themselves (11:28).

I’d like to share with you one way that I focus my mind during this time of remembrance and reflection. It involves considering the wounds that Jesus endured in the process of his death and using them as a guide for assessing my own life.

  • Think about the nailed-scarred hands of Jesus and ask yourself, “What have my hands done this week?” Have your hands been used to sin? Have they been used to serve?
  • Think about the pierced feet of Jesus. Where have your feet taken you this week? Have they taken you to places that you should not have gone? Have they walked in the counsel of the wicked (Psa. 1:1)? Or have they been guided by the light of God’s word (Psa. 119:105)?
  • Think of how the head of Jesus was pierced with thorns, then think about your own head – or more specifically, your mind. What thoughts have occupied your mind this week? Have you brought your thoughts captive to obey Jesus (2 Cor. 10:5)? Or have your thoughts been corrupted by unholiness and lust?
  • Consider how the side of our Lord was pierced, then think about the things that you have kept close to your own side over the past week. What has been important to you? Have you kept the Lord himself as your closest companion? Or did you allow something or someone else to be closer (Matt. 10:37)?
  • Consider how the back of Jesus was beaten without mercy. What about your back? Have you turned your back on Jesus (John 6:66)?

With these questions thoughtfully considered, I will sometimes offer a prayer of confession that ends with praise and worship for the forgiveness that is mine because of what Jesus endured for me. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)!