The five lessons in Unit 2, beginning with the last Sunday in June, come from 1 Corinthians. This is a long letter of sixteen chapters, but we will focus on five problems within God’s church in the city of Corinth: 1) unity vs. divisions, 2) sexual misconduct, 3) liberty and responsibility, 4) idols and temptation, and 5) speaking in tongues vs. orderly worship.
First Corinthians is sometimes erroneously referred to as “Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.” First Corinthians 5:9 speaks of a previous letter that we do not have, so 1 Corinthians would be Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Also, 2 Corinthians 2:1–5 refers to another letter written between First and Second Corinthians. So Paul wrote at least four letters to the Corinthian church.
Corinth was an important east-west seaport city of over a half million residents. Merchants, sailors, soldiers, and all sorts of travelers passed through continuously. The city was infamous for its debauchery. On a hill top outside the city stood the Temple of Aphrodite which attracted numerous visitors, not so much for the panoramic view as for the many sacred prostitutes associated with the temple.
With such a diversity of people in the city, it is not surprising that there was diversity in the church. However, in the church at Corinth diversity led to division (lesson one). Each of us is an individual, but our faith in Christ unites us. We will not all agree on everything, but the Gospel of Christ raises us above our differences. Unity is in the center of community, which is the theme running through the lessons this quarter.
The second Corinthian problem in our study is one we do not like to discuss in the church, even though it is openly exploited in movies, novels, and the language of subcultures. But that is the world’s view of sex; and in the church we should be teaching a different, wholesome view. This is nothing new. Some of the Christians in Corinth argued that since Christ has set them free “all things are lawful for me” (v. 12) there is no harm in engaging the services of temple prostitutes. But Paul reminded them that their bodies are temples of God; there is no such thing as casual sex (In other places, such as 1 Corinthians 3:16, the church is God’s temple; but here, the individual Christian is God’s temple).
This idea of Christian liberty (“all things are lawful for me”) is continued in Lesson 3 as it applies to eating meat. Meat sold in Corinthian markets often came from animals slaughtered as sacrifices to pagan gods. The rationalization went like this: I do not believe in those false gods, so there is nothing wrong for me to purchase and eat the meat. Paul was in agreement, but with one exception—1 Corinthians 8:9. Christian liberty comes with responsibility to others.
Background for Lesson 4 on temptation is the previous section in chapter 10. Twice Paul references the Israelite wilderness wandering, and he cautions the Corinthians against four temptations: idolatry (v. 7), sexual immorality (v. 8), testing Christ (v. 9), and complaining (v. 10). To resist temptation we find strength in community; we share one cup and one bread; we are one body, the body of Christ.
Lesson 5 deals with a problem we do not have since we do not teach or practice speaking in tongues. The basic principle applies in other ways: what we do as a church must be done to build up the community, the body of Christ; what we do must not cause confusion.
The Corinthian church faced the same temptations as modern day churches—to allow the views and practices of the surrounding culture to creep into the church. Christian standards cannot be legislated; they must be taught in the church so that the members can live according to the teachings and example of Christ Jesus.