Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth has it all! It contains some of the best loved passages in the New Testament. Chapter 13, which we usually hear at weddings, because it describes love so beautifully and profoundly, is actually about loving one another in the church!
We learn in chapter 1 that God’s wisdom, “the message of the cross”, is foolishness and weakness to the world, but to us who are being saved it is “the power of God”. Paul then applies this gospel message, to many different issues that were threatening to destroy the sanctity of church. 1 Corinthians encapsulates some of Paul’s most brilliant teaching and metaphors such as: our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (6.19) and the church is the body of Christ (12.27). He encourages us that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (10.13); that the one who prophecies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (14.3); and on the cross Jesus has the final victory: death has been swallowed up in victory . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (15.55, 56).
The letter is written in response to the Corinthians asking for Paul’s wisdom and judgment on five key areas that they were arguing about: divisions in the church, sex and marriage, how to live alongside other religions (is it OK to eat food that has been offered to idols in pagan worship?), the use of the Holy Spirit’s gifts in church gatherings, life after death and the resurrection. The Corinthians were experiencing deep rooted disagreements around these issues and needed wisdom from God. Paul’s letter provides many insights and revelations. We learn not only how to address these particular issues, but a lot about Paul himself. He is more open about his own life and struggles with this church than any other (see especially chapters 4 and 9). The letter is deeply personal also. The apostle really cares about this church – he spent 18 months there when he planted the church (the longest time he spent anywhere when establishing a new church community – see Acts 18).
Over the last few months we have been growing in the gifts of the Spirit through the “Everyday Supernatural” teaching series in our adult teaching on Sunday mornings. There have been many references to the latter chapters of 1 Corinthians, so it seems fitting to preach though the whole book from beginning to end this term! 1 Corinthians is known as the “The Epistle of the Spirit” because it contains so much teaching about the Holy Spirit. We learn that the Spirit’s power must accompany the preaching of the gospel (2.4) and that it is the Spirit who reveals the truth to us (2.10, 14.25). We see also that the Holy Spirit makes His home within us (3.16, 6.19); that He washes, sanctifies and justifies us (6.11) and gives gifts to the church for the common good (12.7). We are reminded too that we are only the body of Christ by the work of the Spirit (12.13, 14.12), and that the Spirit will remake us and give us each our resurrection body when Jesus returns in glory (15.44).
God is going to speak to us by His Holy Spirit as we study this letter together – it’s going to be great!