Chapter 1.
The Dawn of Dealing with a Difficult Church

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: 8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

There are times in our lives where we face problems that cannot be ignored. In fact, to ignore them only makes the situation worse. Unfortunately, this is true with people. One of the difficulties of life is knowing when to deal with problems and when to keep your mouth shut. That is where God's wisdom comes in handy in a huge way. He can show us what to do if we will seek His help. All we need to do is ask for His wisdom. That's what James told us to do.

James 1:5—If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

In the letter known as 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with the problems in the Corinth church and doesn't flinch an inch. In fact, this book of the Bible has been called The Problem Epistle or The Problem Letter of the New Testament. The issues that are addressed in 1 Corinthians make it as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.

Issues like cliques and fighting in the church, sexual immorality, worldliness, spiritual pride, genuine love, the marriage relationship, divorce, and confusion about spiritual gifts are addressed in this crucial letter. When you look at chapters 1-11, you will find that Paul deals with carnality and in chapters 12-17, he deals with spirituality.

It is interesting to note that when you compare the book of Romans with the book of 1 Corinthians, you find some relevant contrasts.

As we begin this study, I want to ask, "How did Paul meet these people in the first place?" When he was on his second missionary journey, around 52 A.D., Paul started this church. Upon arriving in Corinth he met Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who had been driven out of Rome, and who were, like himself, tent-makers. He stayed with them for a while and began to preach regularly in the synagogue every Sabbath. Silas and Timothy joined him from Macedonia, and, as Paul's preaching intensified, so did the opposition to his message. Soon, however, many Corinthians, including Jews, began to trust in Christ. Even Crispus, leader of the synagogue, along with his household, trusted in the Lord.

According to 1 Corinthians 5:9, it appears that Paul has already written a letter to the Corinthian church, warning them about Christians who persisted in sexual immorality.

1 Corinthians 5:9—I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

This first letter seems to have been lost. What we label as 1 Corinthians is technically the second letter he had written to the church. He wrote this letter from Ephesus around 55 A.D.

Why are there so many problems in this church? Just like today, the answer is many of the Christians were having difficulty dealing with the temptations that were found in Corinth. Corinth was the Sodom and Gomorrah of Greece. The city was wild.

What was this city like? From historical records, we know it was a city of commerce, it was a capital, it was corrupt, and it was competitive.

1. Corinth Was a City of Commerce

There was a lot of money floating around in Corinth. Business was booming here. The city embraced the commerce of the whole Mediterranean Sea, from the straits of Gibraltar on the west to the port of Alexandria on the east, with the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. The wealth and financial prosperity of the people led to corruption and perversion. In fact, Nero felt very comfortable here. He never visited Sparta or Athens, but he spent a lot of time in Corinth.

a. Trade Business

The city of Corinth lay on an isthmus or a narrow strip of land which controlled access to two seas, the Aegean Sea on the east and the Ionian Sea on the west. It was located about 40 miles west of Athens. Because of its location, it was called the "Bridge of the Seas" or "The Crossroad of Greece."

Corinth was destroyed by the Roman army under the leadership of General Mummius in 146 B.C after the city took a leadership role in a rebellion and revolt against Rome. Rome sold all the people into slavery and confiscated their land. The city was allowed to lie in ruins for 100 years.

Julius Caesar saw its benefits and strategic location as a big plus and rebuilt the city a century later in 46 B.C. Because of its location, it soon became again a major trade center, with a diverse population of about 700,000 people made up of Greeks, Roman officials and businessmen, military veterans, freedmen, slaves, and Near-Eastern people including many Jews. In ancient times, all north and south overland traffic, including the traffic to Athens, had to pass through Corinth.

To cut down the travel time around southern part of Greece, which was very dangerous for the ships because of the stormy weather, the captains had their ships dragged over the four-mile strip of land on wooden skids over stone roads. This helped to boom the trade business. Dragging the ships saved the captains 250 miles of travel time, money, and exposure to dangerous, unpredictable storms. This strip of land became known as dialcos which means "the place of dragging across." The city of Corinth benefitted from all this activity.

b. Banking Industry

Because of the great economy, the banking industry was strong.

c. Manufacturing Center

Corinth was also known for its bronze production and products throughout the Roman Empire, especially its brazen pillars. The bronze was used in the construction of many of the Roman amphitheaters. The Corinthian smiths jealously guarded a secret formula for mixing copper, gold, and silver. This Corinthian bronze was popular and famous all over the world.

Dr. Phillips pointed out that the smelting ovens were deep in caverns that were dug out of the rocks. The slaves who stoked the ovens never saw the light of day. They existed as subterranean, human moles from childhood. The heat they had to endure was unbearable and the fumes they breathed were poisonous. Their exposed flesh was pitted and scarred from the constant shower of metallic sparks to which they were exposed. Life was short and cheap and those who died were simply thrown into the furnace.

d. Lamp Production

Corinthian lamps were exported throughout the entire empire.

2. Corinth Was a Roman Capital

In 27 B.C., Corinth had become the capital of Achaia or present-day Greece. This was about 20 years after it had been rebuilt. Rome profited from its trade, but it also offered military protection for its ports. There was a second Roman province for Greece. It was called Macedonia and its capital was Thessalonica. Does that sound familiar?

3. Corinth Was a City of Competition

The two great athletic festivals of the Greeks were the Olympic games and the Isthmian games which were held about every five years at Corinth. The name Isthmian came after the isthmus upon which Corinth was located. The outdoor theater in Corinth accommodated 20,000 people as they watched athletes compete in running, throwing, boxing, wrestling, archery, etc. Paul alluded to these games as he used them as illustrations in his preaching.

4. Corinth Was a City of Corruption

The beliefs of a person will determine the behavior of a person. Because of this truth, we find why Corinth was so corrupt and why the Christians were struggling. It was a city infested with idolatry, intoxication, and immorality. The influence of idolatrous practices was affecting some of the believers.

Corinth was home to the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex, beauty, and fertility. Worshipers of this goddess would indulge in the services of 1000 priestesses and temple prostitutes at the temple. Public prostitution formed a considerable part of their religion. They were accustomed in their public prayers to request their pagan gods to multiply their prostitutes! They did not think there was anything wrong with having sexual encounters with these temple prostitutes because they considered it as an act of worship to their gods. The city became so vile that the name Corinth became associated with perversion. In fact, a Corinthian girl was another name for a prostitute.

Other temples were located in Corinth. There was a temple for Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. There were sites for the worship of Issi, the Egyptian god of sailors and Poseidon, the Greek counterpart for Issi.

The city was always full of drunken sailors that indulged in the many taverns that lined the streets and houses of prostitution. Gambling dens and pawn shops were also very busy. The wild party life characterized the city as a whole. It was this lifestyle that Paul condemned and admonished the Corinthians to separate themselves.

With all this background, we now look at the dawn of dealing with a difficult church. Notice verse one.

I. Paul the Apostle

1 Corinthians 1:1

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

Paul begins his epistle by directing his attention to his calling and the will of God. He was called to be an apostle. The word "called" speaks of the opportunity to do the will of God. It is from the word kletos {klay-tos'} which means "called, invited, or appointed." God gave Paul the opportunity to be His apostle and Paul accepted the calling.

Beloved, the Lord invites and calls all of us to serve Him in some way. We are all ambassadors of Christ. The question that arises is, "Will you answer His call to live for Him?"

2 Corinthians 5:20—Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Paul was called to be an apostle. What's that? The Greek word for "apostle" is apostolos, which is used 80 times in the Bible. An apostolos was a person sent by an authority with a mission or commission, such as an ambassador. Cargo ships were called apostolic ships because they were dispatched with a specific shipment with a specific destination. The idea of the word "missionary" comes from the word "apostle." We are to be like apostles in the sense that we are ambassadors for Christ, missionaries sent to this world for a specific mission.

An apostle of Jesus Christ, such as Paul, met several requirements.

  1. He was chosen by God (Acts 9:15).
  2. He was personally commissioned by Jesus Christ (Acts 9:6).
  3. He had seen the risen Savior (1 Corinthians 9:1,2).
  4. He was a recipient of divine revelation (Galatians 1:10-12).

In New Testament times there were only about a dozen of them and they were a dying breed even when Paul wrote this letter. No apostles exist today even though there are many that claim to be apostles because the nursery for apostles went out of business about 2000 years ago. The voice of the last apostle was silenced when John died of old age. There are no apostles today because no one meets the above requirements. The apostles did their job. We have God's complete revelation of truth in the Scriptures today.

Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. He did not appoint himself as one. He was chosen by God to represent and be an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not apostles, but we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We are to be telling others about Him and doing the will of God. One reason the church at Corinth had so many problems is because they were not doing the will of God and fulfilling God's calling upon their lives to be ambassadors for Christ. When Christians in any church lose sight of this responsibility, then problems begin to creep into their lives and into the church.

Paul mentioned Sosthenes in his greeting. This man was wellknown by many. He had been the chief-ruler in the Jewish synagogue and had come to know Christ as his Savior. His conversion would have a great impact upon others. Does your conversion have an impact on others? Are you sharing the Gospel with your family or friends? Do they see any changes in your life? They should!

Oswald J. Smith grew up in Embro, Ontario. In the winter of 1906 when Oswald was sixteen, the Toronto newspapers told of a great evangelistic crusade being conducted by Dr. R. A. Torrey. Oswald and his younger brother Ernie asked their mother if they could travel the ninety-four miles to Toronto to attend the meetings. Smith tells what happened:

The second to the last meeting came. We had made up our minds to accept Christ that afternoon. We did not know that our mother had written to Dr. Torrey asking him to pray that her sons might be converted.

At the close of his message he gave the invitation. To my amazement I was turned into a chunk of lead. Presently my brother quietly nudged me, and that broke the spell. I sprang out of my seat and took the momentous step. Christ had entered and I was a new creature. That was January 28, 1906.

Oswald went on to found and pastor Canada's largest church, the People's Church of Toronto. Throughout his ministry, he wrote twelve hundred hymns, published thirty-five books in 128 languages, raised twenty-three million dollars for missions, and helped send out hundreds of missionaries. From that first step in Toronto, Oswald J. Smith walked with the Lord for three days short of eighty more years. What a change that took place in Oswald's life.

II. The People of the Corinthian Church

1 Corinthians 1:2

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

This letter was not only to the church or assembly of believers at Corinth who had been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints. It was to all believers everywhere. This letter is for us today. The fact that there was a church at Corinth at all, was a miracle considering the wickedness of the city.

I like what Dr. Phillips said about this thought:

Every church has two addresses. They have their physical address where they are located and they have their spiritual address... "in Christ Jesus." Those who have trusted Christ as their Savior have been sanctified by Him. What does this mean?

The word "sanctified" is derived from the Greek word hagiazo {hag-ee-ad'-zo} which means "to separate from profane things and to be dedicated to God; to be purified and free from the guilt of sin; to be holy." The process of becoming more like Christ and growing in godliness and grace is called "Sanctification." This doctrine shows up about 1060 times in the Bible.

The root meaning of the word hagiazo means "to be different." Christians are to live differently than people who do not know Christ as their Savior. We are to be "set apart" unto the Lord. There should be a difference in our actions, appetites, attitudes, attire, and acclamations (words). We are to be separated from evil and set apart for God's use.

Leviticus 11:44—For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

It is God's will that we be sanctified to the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:3—For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

Three Stages of Sanctification A. Positional Sanctification

When you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you were immediately set apart for God, permanently, once-and-for-all.

1 Corinthians 6:11—And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Hebrews 10:10—By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

B. Progressive Sanctification

As the Christian yields to the Lord and attempts to be set apart for Him, the Holy Spirit empowers and helps him to grow in grace and make him more like Christ. Peter spoke of this.

2 Peter 3:18—But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

C. Perpetual, Eternal Sanctification

Someday we will be perfectly set apart unto the Lord and His service. We will be without sin and failure. Our day of total redemption will have arrived when Christ returns at the Rapture. The Bible urges us to "keep the faith" because someday we will be like Him in whom we have believed.

1 John 3:2—Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Sanctification is not to be confused with justification. Justification is the act where God declares us righteous before Him. It takes place when we put our faith in Christ.

Romans 5:1—Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Even though we are sinners, we are declared "clean" by the Lord. It is "Just as if I never sinned" because of the work of Christ. Justification is not the same as sanctification.

How Do We Grow in Grace?

How does God sanctify us? How do we change and become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

1. We Change by the Help of God the Father

1 Thessalonians 5:23—And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2. We Change by the Work of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ

Hebrews 10:10—By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

3. We Change by the Help of the Holy Spirit

1 Peter 1:2—Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

4. We Are Changed Through the Cleansing Power of Christ's Blood

Hebrews 13:12—Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.

5. We Are Changed by the Chastening of the Lord

Hebrews 12:10-11 —... For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. [11] Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

6. We Are Changed by the Character of Christians Refraining From Sin

Those inventive people, the Italians, have a custom. As midnight on New Year's Eve approaches, the streets are clear. There is no traffic; there are no pedestrians; even the policemen take cover. Then, at the stroke of 12 midnight, the windows of the houses fly open. To the sound of laughter, music and fireworks, each member of the family pitches out old crockery, detested ornaments, hated furniture and a whole catalogue of personal possessions which remind them of something in the past year they are determined to wipe out of their minds. We too, need to get rid of any junk in our own hearts and minds.

2 Timothy 2:19-21... Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. [20] But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. [21] If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.

7. We Are Changed by the Grace of God

Titus 2:11-12... For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, [12] Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Grace is the desire and power to do God's will.

8. We Are Changed by the Word of God

John 17:17—Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

Ephesians 5:26—That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

John 15:3—Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Psalm 119:9—Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book. What you do with the Word of God will determine what God does with you. It is not enough to know the Bible in your head, however. That will not change your life. You must receive the Lord and His truths into your heart.

At the village church in Kalonovka, Russia, attendance at Sunday school picked up after the priest started handing out candy to the peasant children. One of the most faithful was a pug-nosed, pugnacious lad who recited his Scriptures with proper piety, pocketed his reward, then fled into the fields to munch on it. The priest took a liking to the boy, persuaded him to attend church school. This was preferable to doing household chores from which his devout parents excused him.

By offering other inducements, the priest managed to teach the boy the four Gospels. In fact, he won a special prize for learning all four by heart and reciting them nonstop in church. Over 60 years later, he still liked to recite Scriptures, but in a context that horrified the old priest. Why? The prize pupil, who memorized so much of the Bible, was Nikita Khrushchev, the former Communist czar.

As this story illustrates, the "why" behind memorization is fully as important as the "what." The same Nikita Khrushchev who nimbly mouthed God's Word as a child, later declared God to be nonexistent—because his Russian cosmonauts had not seen Him in outer space. Khrushchev memorized the Scriptures for the candy, the rewards, the bribes, rather than for the meaning it had for his life. He had head knowledge, but not heart knowledge of the Lord.

Paul closed verse two by stating that we have been called to be saints. What does this mean? It refers to the invitation of Christ to believe upon Him for our salvation. All men are invited to trust in Christ for salvation, not just a select few. It is God's desire that all men be saved.

2 Peter 3:9—The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

1 Timothy 2:4—Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Titus 2:11—For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

The invitation is extended to men, but it must be accepted. Multitudes have rejected His offer of salvation. The problem, however, is not with the invitation, but with the ones who have been invited. We have been invited to be saints. Those who put their faith in Christ become one.

We have examined two areas so far in this message:

  1. Paul the Apostle
  2. The People of the Corinthian Church
  3. Next... Peace

III. Peace

1 Corinthians 1:3

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul greets them by wishing them grace and peace, "Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." This was the common greeting that Paul and other New Testament writers extended to the early Christians who received their letters. The word "grace" conveys the idea of "Good day to you," or "I am so glad to see you." The New Testament writers, however, give the term charis, the Greek word for "grace," a spiritual connotation that relates to God's indispensable blessing extended to the recipient.

Grace is God's great kindness toward those who are undeserving of His favor but who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace flows from God. As oil makes a machine function smoothly, so the grace that comes from God facilitates the relationship between Himself and the believer.

Grace is the manifestation of God's great love for us. Grace looks at those who are guilty and speaks words of forgiveness when it is sought. Grace justifies the believer, treating him as if he had never sinned. It is the source of strength for us in times of tribulation, trouble, or temptation.

Paul also wished them peace. Grace is the fountain of which peace is the stream. Because we have grace from God we have peace with God and the peace of God.

Philippians 4:7—And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:1—Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

The word "peace" is a translation of the Hebrew greeting "Shalom." Shalom has a deeper meaning than just "peace." In context, the word intimates absence of tension between two parties and the presence of goodwill. Furthermore, the Hebrew expression connotes completeness, prosperity, ease, and health. The one who sends greetings, therefore, wishes that the recipient may enjoy both spiritual and material prosperity.

Where do these blessings come from? The answer is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace that Jesus gives is not the absence of trouble, but is rather the confidence that He is there with you always.

In 1555, Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. On the night before Ridley's execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Nicholas declined the offer and replied that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as he always did in his life. Because he knew the peace of God, he could rest in the strength of the everlasting arms of his Lord to meet his need. So can we! If you want to know God's peace, then you must know Him and receive His saving grace. Put your faith in Christ today. {See additional notes on the Grace of God in 1 Corinthians at the end of this chapter.}

IV. Persistence in Thanks

1 Corinthians 1:4-7

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: