Divisions, Factions, and Other Immoral Behavior are Solved by the Gospel and Proper Doctrine
We’ve completed the passage-by-passage study of 1 Corinthians, so let’s take a moment to review the overall book and the themes that are prominent throughout it.
As I mentioned in the introduction way back in August 2016, Paul wrote this letter to address several problems in the church in Corinth, most of which centered around the Corinthians’ arrogance and divisiveness. He heard about these issues from oral reports and from correspondence with the church leaders. In this letter he answers some questions that the Corinthian church had, he addresses some specific issues they were dealing with (mostly moral), and he corrects bad behavior. He does this by teaching sound doctrine. Paul uses the Gospel of Jesus Christ over and over again to answer their questions, address their issues, and correct their behavior.
In one way or another, wrong living always stems from wrong belief.
— John MacArthur
The book can be broken down and divided into these major sections:
||Opening Greetings & Divisions in the Church
||Issues Dealing with Our Freedom and its Misuse
||The Desire for Social Standing
||Idolatry & Christian Liberty
||Divisions and Bad Attitudes Over Corporate Worship Practices
||The Resurrection of Christ and of Believers
||Final Instructions, Travel Plans, and Closing Greetings
In the first major section, 1:10-4:21, Paul deals most directly with the divisions in the church.
1Co 1:10. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
As we saw in this section and throughout the book, the Corinthians seemed to find no shortage of things to divide over.
The second major section, chapters 5 and 6, concerns issues of our Christian freedom and how a lack of holiness causes our Christian freedom to become slavery to sin all over again.
- They were boasting in their freedom to allow a man to have his father’s wife.
- They were arrogantly demanding their personal rights by taking each other to secular courts.
- They felt that, since their sins were forgiven, they could sin freely in the realm of sexual immorality.
Chapter 7 deals with the arrogance of seeking to achieve and maintain social standing, especially as it relates to one’s marital status. Paul corrects the Corinthians’ faulty thinking on the issue of marriage and singleness. He encourages those who are single to stay that way if they can, but he stresses that getting married is not wrong or inferior at all. He also instructs those who are married to stay married.
Paul also broadens his instructions to encourage his readers, in a very general sense, to remain in whatever social situation they find themselves: married or single, slave or free, etc.
In 8:1-11:1, Paul spends quite a bit of time on the issue of idolatry and Christian liberty. He discusses how, though we may be free to engage in some benign activities, the exercise of our freedom can turn into sin if it leads another brother to violate his conscience. Our mission must triumph over our freedom!
The next major section, 11:2 through chapter 14, concerns divisions and arrogant attitudes over corporate worship practices. This includes a large section on the role of spiritual gifts in the church, especially that prophesy is more important to the church than tongues.
One of the ways the Corinthians were seeking to divide and elevate themselves over one another was in the area of spiritual gifts, claiming to be more important or more spiritual on the basis of which gifts they had or which gifts they claimed to have had. Paul makes it very clear in this section that the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts for the sake of the church body. All of the gifts exist, first and foremost, for the wellbeing of the church. Using the area of spiritual gifts to seek superiority was a violation and sinful.
At the heart of his discussion, Paul could not stress more strongly that love is the solution to the Corinthians’ issues of these divisions and bad attitudes.
Chapter 15 is a wonderful presentation of the Gospel and the resurrection of Christ. There were some in the church at Corinth who were trapped in the philosophical line of thought that bodily resurrection is foolishness. Paul refuted that by presenting the Gospel, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the future bodily resurrection of all believers. He also brought to light the consequences for all of us if there is no resurrection of the dead: we are all still lost in our sins and doomed to suffer the wrath of God forever.
Paul finishes the letter in chapter 16 in the same way he usually does, with some final instructions, travel plans, and closing greetings.
Several themes run throughout this book and many overlap the others. In the notes for the various passages, these are mentioned mostly in the negative, e.g. “Divisions in the Church,” so I’ll mention them here in the positive.
- Unity in the Church – The church in Corinth suffered from a lack of unity in several areas.
- Preacher Loyalty
- Demanding of Personal Rights
- Using Perceived Social Position to Claim Status Over Others
- Careless Neglect of Others in the Church
- Using Spiritual Gifts as a Means of Claiming Status
- Spiritual Freedom – Many in the church were using their newfound freedom in Christ to indulge their own sinful desires and ambitions.
- We are free in Christ in many ways, but that freedom must be tempered with holiness and a strong consideration for others.
- Though we certainly have many freedoms in Christ, the welfare of other believers and the Gospel mission must come before those freedoms.
- “Mission Before Freedom!” should be our theme.
- Worship is to be Orderly – Our corporate worship is to be an orderly affair.
- Even in our worship, the mission must be kept at the forefront of our thoughts.
- It is to be assumed that we have non-believers in our churches and, like all non-believers, they need to hear the clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ.
- Chaos in the worship service will jeopardize the mission.
- Love Governs Our Actions – Love is the solution to divisions, bad attitudes, and feelings of superiority.
- Love for God
- Love for the body of Christ
- Love for the Gospel of Christ
- Love for the Mission!
- Future Hope! – There is resurrection of the dead!
- Christ has been raised from the dead, and our entire hope rests in that.
- We, as believers, will also be raised to a new imperishable body.
As the Church, we are Christ’s ambassadors to the world around us. If we are too caught up in internal quarrels and divisions, we will not only be poor ambassadors, we will be working against the Kingdom, having a negative impact. We must strive to keep the essentials the essentials and we must strive to be better ambassadors every day. There is no other task or work that is more important than that.
I have thoroughly enjoyed studying this letter and I’ve learned a lot from it. I think my main takeaway from this is that seeking holiness with my entire being is the answer to every issue and problem I have in this life. Wrapped within that, and integral to it, is love. Everything I do should be governed by love for God, love for the Church, and love for others, in that order.
What are your primary takeaways?
When we take a look at Paul’s entire relationship with the church in Corinth, we see that, at the writing of this letter, there was a growing contention among many of the people of the church toward Paul. We see a little of that in this letter and that will become clearer when we get into 2 Corinthians…
…which we’ll begin next.