1 Corinthians: Clear Teaching for Confused Congregation :: By Donald Whitchard

1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Acts 9:15, Acts 18:1, Acts 19:1, 2 Timothy 4:20

Summary: Every church has its share of problems. The church at Corinth appeared to have problems that could not be resolved and was on the brink of failure. The apostle Paul took it upon himself to correct the errors and call out the sins in order to restore it to what Christ expected.

Over the course of forty years in the ministry, I have preached in numerous churches, pastored three, served as an interim pastor at two churches, and served in the areas of evangelism and teaching. I have fond memories of these times and also of times when I wish I had not been so eager to fill pulpits, as some of the congregations I have visited and served had become places of dissent, theological buzzsaws where petty differences over petty issues tore apart any sense of impact upon the surrounding community. And some I was just glad to leave after preaching because of the cold, dead spiritual atmosphere that was among the people.

I was also a witness of pastors and staff being unceremoniously let go for no clear reason from my point of view. I have been among churches where pastoral tenure lasted perhaps two years or less due to unrealistic expectations and impossible demands.

A lot of churches have a bad reputation due to episodes of outrageous behaviors, and as a result, have ruined their testimony and effectiveness for the kingdom of God. However, church problems are not exclusive to this day and age. Ever since the church of Jesus Christ was established, the forces of evil have attempted to ruin, wreck, or compromise the work of the church, which is to preach the Gospel, protect the flock, and be a light in a dark world for the glory of God.

In the New Testament, we have a record of the problems and confusion of one particular church located in the Greek city of Corinth. The city had a bad reputation, and much of its deviancy had crept into the church, rendering it nearly ineffective and useless as a place to receive the truth of the Scriptures and of the Gospel message.

Corinth, if left alone, would have died out and been consigned to spiritual oblivion. This church needed the guidance and counsel of a man of God who would be bold and blunt enough to call out the sins and problems, bring it back into the loving arms of Christ, and carry out its mission for Him. That man was the Apostle Paul, called by Jesus from a life of hatred and murder toward the followers of Christ into the greatest missionary and preacher of the New Testament, perhaps of all time save for the LORD Himself (Acts 9:1-6, 15-16).

Corinth was located in what is now the nation of Greece, west of the capital city, Athens, near the Ionian Sea. It was a port town, extremely wealthy, and known for varying degrees of wicked and deviant behavior. It reflected the vices and barbarism of the Roman Empire, having numerous temples to various pagan deities who harbored temple “priests” and “priestesses” engaging in sexual practices as part of their “worship” rituals. The citizens who “worshipped” at these temples engaged in the same sex practices. Rank perversion was rampant in Corinth, and anyone who ventured there for business or other reasons could get involved in these acts, gaining the reputation of having been “Corinthianized.”

If you want a modern equivalent of what was going on there, combine the cities of Las Vegas with New Orleans with their particular debaucheries and come to your own conclusions. If ever the Gospel was needed somewhere, Corinth was a prime location.

The apostle Paul arrived in Corinth after ministering in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and met two Jewish believers, Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:1-2), who had been part of the Jewish population in Rome until commanded to depart by orders of Claudius Caesar (AD 50-51). Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, working as tentmakers while preaching in the synagogues every Sabbath about Jesus being the promised Messiah (Acts 18:3-5).

Due to opposition from unbelieving Jews, Paul proclaimed that he would go to the Gentiles and present the Gospel to them from now on (v.6). In a vision, the risen Christ told Paul that there were many people in Corinth who had embraced the Gospel message (vv.9-10). He stayed in Corinth for a year and a half before moving on to Antioch (v.11).

News of Corinth’s problems had reached Paul while he was at Ephesus. He would write at least three letters to the church in order to correct their behavior and conduct and to straighten out teachings concerning spiritual gifts, order of worship, the facts of the resurrection of Christ, Christ’s return, and to defend his own authority as an apostle.

1 and 2 Corinthians are God’s guide on how to address problems of doctrine, behavior, conduct, and living lives pleasing to God and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul began his first letter to the Corinthians by defining his pastoral and apostolic authority (1:1-2), then commending them for receiving the grace, instruction, and testimony of Christ in their lives (vv.4-9). After his greetings and praises, Paul “hit the ground running,” addressing the problems that were plaguing the church. There was no “soft-peddling” of the church’s sinful actions and attitudes.

Any godly pastor who cares for his flock will confront all errors, false teachings, and deviancies that weaken the church’s effectiveness within a community and turn it away from its most important mission, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and to be a place of light within the darkness of the world and its evils.