Elon, North Carolina
Today, we begin a new series on the Book of I Corinthians. It is a fascinating book. It is a practical book. It is a relevant book.
It is the greatest chapter on love in the Bible. It contains the Bible’s love chapter, the one that is often read at weddings (I Corinthians 13).
Pentecostals the book of I Corinthians. It is one of their favorite books of the Bible. It was an epistle written to a charismatic church.
Paul said that they did not lack any spiritual gift (I Corinthians 1:7). The Corinthians spoke in tongues. They prophesied. They performed miracles.
Feminists hate this book, because Paul said something about women being silent. Why did he tell women to shut up in church? Was he a male-chauvinist? We will find out.
One thing is for sure. This book does not tell us what Paul thinks. It tells us what God thinks. It is a book that is inspired by God. Paul wrote it under divine inspiration.
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (I Corinthians 14:37 ESV).
Paul was not just the founder of the church or pastor of the church. He was a genuine apostle, an apostle of Jesus Christ. He tells us that in the first verse of the book.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes (I Corinthians 1:1 NIV)
Paul was an apostle, NOT by the will of man, but by the will of God. Some are apostles today but the will of man but not by the will of God.
They are NOT divinely called to that position. They are self-appointed. Paul was called to be an apostle. He was called by God. God calls everyone to do something.
What has He called you to do? We are all called to do something. Some are called to be teachers. Some are called to be doctors.
Some are called to be construction workers. Some are called to be homemakers. Paul was called to be an apostle. That was his job and mission.
A Controversial Book
This book deals with some interesting topics. It deals with spiritual growth. It deals with baby Christians who can only drink milk and mature Christians who can eat meat (I Corinthians 3).
It deals with the Christian and rewards (I Corinthians 3). It deals with career changes (I Corinthians 7). It deals with legal matters. It deals with lawsuits (I Corinthians 6).
It deals with singleness and marriage (I Corinthians 7). It deals with marriage and divorce (I Corinthians 7).
There are a lot of different views on divorce. What did the apostle Paul say about it? We find out.
One prominent evangelical believes that the Bible allows divorce in the case of abuse (so Wayne Grudem). He bases it on one statement of Paul in this book (I Corinthians 7:15).
I Corinthians deals with some adult topics. It deals with sex. It even deals with sex in marriage (I Corinthians 7).
It deals with sexual sin (I Corinthians 5-6). It deals with incest. It deals with prostitution. In fact, the Greek word for “harlot,” which we see in I Corinthians, is the word πόρνη (from which we get the word “pornography”).
It deals with homosexuality. Paul talks about same-sex attraction. He deals with the LTGB question. What does he say? We will find out.
Paul talks about spiritual gifts in this book. One of the major passages on spiritual gifts in the NT is found in I Corinthians. That is a highly controversial issue today. That is one of the topics that divides Christians today.
This book mentions a lot of charismatic gifts (I Corinthians 12-14). It mentions speaking in tongues, and prophecy.
It mentions gifts of healing, and the ability to perform miracles. It mentions the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge.
It mentions the Baptism of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12). What is that? Is it a Second Blessing?
Is it a Second Work of Grace? How do you get it? Do you have to speak in tongues to get it?
What is speaking in tongues? Should everyone in the church speak in tongues? Does the gift still exist today?
Some say that one verse in the book proves that many of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the first century (I Corinthians 13:10). Are they correct? We will see.
A Difficult Book
The Apostle Peter said that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand.
He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (II Peter 3:16 NIV)
That is interesting. Peter was a fellow apostle and yet he said that some things that Paul wrote went right over his head. Peter was a simple fisherman. Paul was a theologian.
Most of the book is easy to understand but there are some difficult verses in the book. Here are just a few of them.
I Corinthian 11:5, 10
“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (I Corinthians 11:5 NIV)
It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels (I Corinthians 11:10 NIV).
Why does it dishonor your head to pray with your head uncovered? Do women have to wear head coverings? Some we follow these instructions today, like some Brethren churches do?
Why would angels care if the heads of women are covered or not covered? There are some strange ideas about this verse.
One of the church fathers in the second century (Tertullian) believed they were to do this to keep the angels from being seduced by beautiful women.
That is a little ludicrous. Women walk down the street scantily clad and half-naked, but angels lust after women who do not have something on top of their head. That does not make much sense.
I Corinthians 14:34-35
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (NIV)
Are women not allowed to talk in church? Why are they to be quiet in church? Why does Paul say this? What does he mean? Does he hate all women? We will discuss it.
I Corinthians 15:29
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? (NIV)
That is a strange verse. It mentions baptism for the dead. What does that mean? Cultists have some strange interpretations of that passage.
Mormons believe you have to be baptized to go to heaven. If people die without being baptized, that is okay. We can still baptize them after they die.
That is utter foolishness. We are all accountable to God ourselves. No one can believe for us. No one can repent for us. No one can be baptized for us. We are all individually accountable before God.
A Relevant Book
Today, we want to look at why we should study this book today. We will see that this book is relevant to the day in which we live. Ray Stedman called I Corinthians “an epistle for the 21st century.” Here are four things that you need to know about this book.
1) The city of Corinth was similar to many cities today
Cities get reputations for many things. Some have good reputations, and some have bad reputations. Some have good schools. Some have bad schools.
Some have reputations for being safe. Some have reputations for being unsafe. Some cities have high crime rates. Some are places that tourists want to visit, and some are not.
In Acts 17, Paul went to Athens. Athens was a center of learning. It was the birthplace of philosophy. That’s what it was known for.
Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates were all from Athens. Some of the sharpest minds who ever lived came from Athens.
In Acts 18, Paul went to Corinth. It had a reputation for immorality. It was the Los Vegas of the ancient world. Corinth was known as “sin city.”
It was a wicked city. It was NT Sodom. Corinth had a bad reputation. The name had a bad connotation.
In fact, when you called someone a “Corinthian girl” (Κορίνθιος κόρη), it was an insult. It meant a prostitute. The verb for “to corinthianize” in Classical Greek (κορινθιάζομαι) meant to commit sexual sin.
There were a thousand prostitutes in the Temple of Aphrodite, and it was perfectly legal. The historian Strabo says, “it was also on account of these women that the city was crowded with people and grew rich.”
Paul wrote the Book of Romans from the city of Corinth. When he looked at the depravity in his day, he was describing what people in Corinth did.
He described people worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator, by exchanging the glory of the immortal God for birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:25, 23).
This was idolatry he witnessed at Corinth. There were all kinds of temples in Corinth to Greek and Roman gods.
He described people given over to a depraved mind, engaging in shameful lusts, men with men and women with women (Romans 1:26-28). Those were sexual sins prevalent in Corinth.
Corinth was like some American cities today. It was the most American city in the New Testament.
Ray Stedman was the pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in California for forty years. He died in 1992.
He said, “There is no church in the New Testament that is more like the churches of California than this Corinthian church.”
In fact, when he began his exposition of the book, he asked people to turn to the book of “First Californians”
Some cities are centers of sin, like Corinth was. They are cities with a lot of drinking, clubs, and prostitution. There may be a Corinth, USA near you.
Actually, there are a few cities in the US named Corinth. There is a Corinth, Mississippi and a Corinth, Texas but I don’t know if there are any brothels there. These are cities in the South. They are in the Bible belt.
2) The Church of Corinth had problems, like most churches today
Most churches today have problems. They are messy. The Corinthians were “Paul’s problem children.” The Church of Corinth had problems. They had all kinds of problems.
There is a lot that the modern church can learn from this church in ancient Greece. We have a lot of the same problems this church had.
It was written to first century Christians but deals with twenty-first century problems.
There is no other epistle in the New Testament which so directly deals with the problems of the church in our day.
Many people think that modern churches are bad. They are corrupt. They are worldly. There are fog machines in the worship service. If you want to go back to a pure church, you have to go back to the first century.
That is a complete myth. It is an idealized view of the first century church. The truth is that some NT churches were good, and some were bad.
Even some churches that were founded by apostles turned out bad. There is no perfect church. Churches today are not perfect. First century churches were not perfect. Apostolic churches were not perfect either.
We see that from the Church of Corinth. It was a church started by the Apostle Paul and it had all kinds of problems. It was an immoral church.
The Church of Corinth was not only a church with problems; it was a church with scandals. There were some sex scandals in the church.
You have heard of Girls Gone Wild. This was “The Church Gone Wild.” This was “Christians Gone Wild.”
Some members of the church were visiting prostitutes. A man was living with his father’s wife. He was sleeping with his mamma or step-mamma.
Paul said that these Christians were actually living worse than the unsaved. They had gross sin in the church, and they boasted about it.
That sounds familiar. It sounds like today. We have pride days celebrating sin and glorifying it, instead of repenting of it. They glory in their shame, except this was happening in the church, not the world.
Paul said, “Your church services do more harm than good” (I Corinthians 11:17). You go to church and find half the people drunk.
They didn’t get drunk before they came to church. They got drunk at church while they were taking communion. That seems a little strange to us. You can’t get drunk on grape juice.
Apparently, the early church drank wine at communion. Paul did not condemn them for using wine at communion. He condemned them for getting drunk.
Why in the world would the early church have used real wine at communion? We have taken communion out of its Jewish roots.
Jesus was a Jew. He wasn’t a Baptist. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during a Jewish Passover Seder meal. Jews drink wine at Passover and still do today.
This church had all kinds of problems and it was a church that Paul started. He planted the church in Acts 18. This was an apostolic church. Wrap your mind around that.
Paul was their spiritual father. He led them to Christ. He said, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (I Corinthians 4:15 NIV).
He was the one who laid the foundation of the church. He said, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it” (I Corinthians 3:10 NIV).
Some churches have problems, and the pastor does not deal with them. This church had problems. Paul did not ignore the problems or pretend that they didn’t exist.
He dealt with them head on. He did not beat around the bush. He was blunt. He was direct. In the first six chapters of the book, Paul deals with the concerns that he had.
In other epistles, like Galatians, Paul corrects DOCTRINAL errors. Christians had some false ideas, and he corrected their false thinking with truth. That needs to be done today.
There are all kinds of false ideas that Christians have. There are some crazy things on the internet and some Christians believe it.
In this book, he corrects MORAL errors. The problem was not so much false thinking as false living. That is also important today.
We have Christians today not living like they are supposed to. Their lives do not line up with Scripture. They may line up with society but not with Scripture. The Bible says that we are not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).
There is some doctrinal teaching in I Corinthians. It was written by the Apostle Paul. Paul was the greatest theologian of all time. He can’t avoid doctrine.
There is some teaching in I Corinthians. There is even some teaching on prophecy in this book.
The book mentions the resurrection. There are fifty-eight verses on the resurrection of the body. It is the greatest chapter on the resurrection in the Bible.
The book mentions the Kingdom. It mentions the Rapture. The Second Coming is mentioned in the very first chapter.
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 1:7-8 NIV)
Most of the book is NOT doctrinal. It is extremely practical. It is about ethics. It is about how to live in the world as a Christian in a way that honors God.
3) The Church of Corinth teaches us to ask important questions.
The first part of the book deals with CONCERNS. Paul shares the concerns he had about this church.
The second part of the book deals with QUESTIONS. They did not have the NT. It wasn’t written yet, so the Corinthians asked Paul some questions.
If there was a genuine apostle on earth, who followed Jesus for three years, heard his teaching and saw his miracles and you could ask him any question, what would it be?
We do not have their questions, but we have Paul’s response to them.
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (I Corinthians 7:1-2 NIV)
Now about food sacrificed to idols… We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that There is no God but one…7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge…Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak…. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (I Corinthians 8:1, 7, 8, 13 NIV)
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (I Corinthians 12:1 NIV)
This was a young church. It was a church of baby Christians. It was a church of brand-new believers. This church was only five years old when Paul wrote the book.
This church came out of a background of raw paganism. They were former pagans.
You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. (I Corinthians 12:2 NIV)
It was a predominantly Gentile church. Most were Greek. Corinth was a city in Greece.
When you get new Christians, they have a lot of questions. They want to know what the Bible says about this topic and that topic. The questions are endless.
Unfortunately, the older you get, the less questions you often ask. When we get older, we think we know all of the answers or, if we don’t know, we pretend like we know everything, so we don’t ask questions.
We need to follow the example of the Corinthians and to seek out answers to the questions we have from Scripture. We also need to follow Paul’s answers to come up with Christians answers.
We need to come up with biblical answers to questions that people raise in our own day. The questions today will be a lot different than they were two thousand years ago.
In the last ten chapters of the book, Paul answers six questions that the Corinthians had. He answered questions about marriage.
He answered questions about food. It was not a question about what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy. It was what foods make you sin when you eat them (devil’s food cake).
He answered questions about spiritual gifts. He spent more time answering this question than any other. We still have questions about spiritual gifts today. He answered a doctrinal question about the resurrection.
They are not the burning questions of our day. We do not deal with eating offered to idols in a pagan temple but there are principles that we can apply from all these questions. We don’t have the letter that they wrote but we have Paul’s answer to their letter.
How did they get this letter? It was probably hand delivered from three men (Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus)
I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. (I Corinthians 16:17 NIV).
4) The Church at Corinth teaches us the importance of discovering our identity in Christ.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice how the book begins. It is NOT the way I would begin the letter. It does NOT begin with a rebuke. It does NOT begin with criticism. It does not begin with an ultimatum.
It does NOT begin with a sin list. Paul does not begin railing on the church because of all of the homosexuals. The book begins on a positive note.
It begins with thanksgiving. I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus (I Corinthians 1:4 NIV).
Paul beings with thanking them for the blessings they received at salvation in the past and for the blessing they would receive at glorification.
Paul did not begin every letter with thanksgiving. He did not begin the letter to the Galatians with thanksgiving. He did not have a single word of praise for them. They were following a false gospel, but the Corinthians were genuinely saved, even though they were messed up.
Paul reminds them who they are. The first few verses show us believers as God sees us. He shows them their identity in Christ. Even though they sinned, their position in Christ had not changed and God has not changed.
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (I Corinthians 1:2 NKJV)
Good News for Bad Christians
There are four things that were true of the Corinthians and are true of us as well.
1) We are part of God’s Church
Now, there are many churches. There are many denominations. Churches have many labels but if the church is made up of true Christians, they are part of the one Church of God. This was not Paul’s church. It was God’s church.
The Church of God was not just made up of the Corinthian Church. It was made up of wall who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. There are members of this church all over the world in every country. Every believer is a member of this church.
The church in Corinth had many problems but they were still members of the Church of God. It had many sins, but it was still the Church of God (I Corinthians 1:2).
Apparently, you don’t have to be a perfect church to be a true church. Even weak churches are true churches. Even churches with some sin issues can be real churches.
2) We are sanctified
This is a topic that has confused many people. What is sanctification? It means to set something apart or consecrate it. It also means to wash or make holy.
There are different stages of sanctification, but sanctification begins at salvation. The Corinthians were sanctified in Christ Jesus (I Corinthians 1:2 NIV)
Paul said that the Corinthians were sanctified (sanctified in Christ Jesus). What does this mean? When they got saved, they were sanctified. Paul says to them, “you were (past tense) sanctified” (I Corinthians 6:11 NIV)
‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16-18 NIV)
We are set apart at salvation. It is called positional sanctification but sanctification is also a process that continues the rest of our life (called progressive or practical sanctification (cf. John 17:17).
We never become sinless in this life. In heaven, we have the final state of sanctification (perfected or final sanctification).
3) We are saints
What do you think about when you think of a saint? When we think of a saint, we may think of someone who died.
That is how saints are in the Catholic Church. They are all dead believers who were elevated into sainthood after they died by some pope but Paul calls living believers “saints.”
When we think of a saint, we may think of Super-Christians. We think of someone who can walk on water.
We think of someone who can perform miracles and raise the dead. We think of someone who can glow in the dark. That is not what the word means.
Paul is writing to the Church of Corinth. There were spiritual and unspiritual people there. Paul did not call some of the Corinthians saints. He called them ALL saints.
Every believer is a saint. Every Christian is a saint. I am St. Louis. Not all saints act like saints. The Corinthians did not act very saintly. They acted more like sinners than saints.
They were worldly. They were carnal. They were getting drunk. There was sexual sin going on in the church. They were fighting with each other in church and taking one another to court. They were saints and were to live like saints.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, AS IS FITTING FOR SAINTS; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:3-4 NKJV)
4) We are gifted by God
For in him you have been enriched in every way—with ALL kinds of speech and with ALL knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack ANY spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
The Corinthians prided themselves on their gifts. They prided themselves on their knowledge. They had problems in these areas, but Paul still praised them for what they had
They did not lack any spiritual gift. There are twenty-one gifts of the Spirit listed in the NT. The Corinthians had them all. You can have all of the gifts and not be too spiritual. You can have all of the gifts and not be loving. Paul deals with that in this book.
 Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, new edition (1968), p. 981.
 Strabo, Geography, 8.6.20 (https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/8F*.html)
 Tommy Nelson, “When a Church Loses Its Sense of Grace” (https://dentonbible.org/sermon/when-a-church-loses-its-sense-of-grace/).
 The Word in Life Study Bible (New King James Version), 1996, p. 2056.