THE APOSTLE PAUL'S LETTERS TO THE CHURCH OF CORINTH
(Both written from Philippi 54-56AD)
Surviving ruins at Corinth
THEME OF I & II CORINTHIANS
Both letters to the Corinthians address how the purity of the gospel and men's hearts, should be preserved by the church.
Corinth was a large and wealthy city of roughly 600 000 people, strategically positioned for trade from every direction. Because of this, it was a cosmopolitan group of people with loose morals. The church was constantly confronted with sexual immorality and asked Paul how to cope with being Christian in their world. Sadly 1 Corinthians tells how that sexual immorality found its way into the church and so Paul had to work more severely with these believers, to purify them again. In his second letter he comforted them for their sincere repentance, and encouraged them to remain pure.
Paul visited this church numerous times during his up and down wrestle with their sinfulness. On one occasion Paul spent all of two years in Corinth, but it seems that their unwillingness to leave worldly things behind, caused them to grow into spiritual maturity much slower than the other churches.
SHORT-PHRASE OF 1 CORINTHIANS
– Paul's main thoughts simplified –
We have taken each chapter of I Corinthians and summarised the core message in a short-phrase (shortened paraphrase). That creates a condensed version of Paul's main train of thought. We suggest you go through this summary, before reading the full text through in your Bible.
I plead with you brothers that you all speak the same thing. For I hear there are disagreements among you. One says "I am of Paul", another "I am of Peter" – is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Christ sent me to preach the gospel, not with words of wisdom because the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are unsaved. For God has made the wisdom of the wise to be foolishness, and chosen to save those who believe through simple preaching. For God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom. So God uses the simple things to confound the wise. But you understand because God has made Christ your wisdom, your righteousness and redemption.
I came to you with only this message, Christ and Him crucified. I came in weakness, not with persuasive words but in demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith would be in the power of God. We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a hidden wisdom which the rulers of this world don't know, or they would never have crucified the Lord. But God has revealed to us what He has prepared for those who love Him. The Spirit searches the deep things of God and reveals them to us. This is what we teach, but the world cannot receive it because it is foolish to them. But we have the mind of Christ to perceive it.
But I had to speak to you as babies, and feed you with milk instead of solid food since you were, and are still, not able to receive more. Since there is strife between you, are you any different to mere men? You argue, "I am of Paul", "I am of Apollos". Who are we but God's fellow workers? One plants, the other waters but God makes you grow. You are God's building and I laid the foundation which is Jesus Christ. Take care how you build on it for the judgement day will declare your work's worth. If it is burned up you will suffer loss but still be saved. If anyone seeks to be wise let him become a fool, so that he may become wise in God. Don't boast about individual men, all of them are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Think of us as stewards of God's mysteries. Don't think beyond that which is written and don't be puffed up. Who makes you different? What do you have which God did not give you? You are full and rich. Reign as kings. For God has made His apostles
bear weakness and foolishness and dishonour, that you might be strong and wise and honoured! We have been made the filth of the world. Though we are reviled we bless, though persecuted, we endure. Therefore imitate me and my ways. Don't be puffed up because I will come back to you and test by what power you speak, because the kingdom of God is in power not words.
It is even reported that there is sexual immorality among you, that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up when you should have mourned. I have judged this man. When you gather again in the Lord's name, hand him over to Satan to destroy his flesh so that his spirit might be saved. Purge the sin from among you that you are not all tainted by it. I wrote before that you shouldn't keep company with the immoral, yet I didn't mean the people of the world or you would have to go out of the world. I meant not to keep company with an immoral or defiled brother in Christ. We don't judge those who are outside, we judge those who are inside. God judges the rest.
Don't you know the saints will one day judge the world and angels? Dare you then go to the courts of the world to resolve your disputes? I say this to your shame. Isn't there even one wise man amongst you? It is an utter failure that you go to law against each other. Why not rather accept the wrong and let yourself be cheated? No – you do wrong and cheat others – and that to your own brethren. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom. That is how you were, but you were washed and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don't you know your bodies are members of Christ? He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Shall I take the members of Christ and join them to a prostitute? Certainly not! Flee sexual immorality. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not your own. You were bought at a price – now glorify God.
About what you wrote to me: It is good not to touch a woman, but to avoid immorality let each man have his own wife and give her due affection. Likewise the wives. Abstain only for fasting and prayer then unite again, so that Satan cannot tempt you. It is good to remain single, but if you cannot exercise self-control, rather marry. To the married the Lord commands a wife not to leave her husband. But if she does, to remain single or return to him. A man must not divorce his wife. But I say if a believer is married to an unbeliever they should stay with them. But if the unbeliever wants to leave, let them go. The time is short, this world is passing away. I want you to be without burdens, the unmarried man cares only for the things of the Lord. The married have the cares of this world. I say these things for your good. So he who marries does well. And he who does not marry does better.
Knowledge puffs, love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows something he hasn't learned anything yet. We know that idols are nothing, there is no other God. There is one God who made all things and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things. But not everyone holds this knowledge. Therefore some feel guilty when they eat things offered to idols. Don't let your clean conscience be a stumbling block to their weakness. If they see you eating they may be tempted to do the same and so be defiled by sin. Should your brother perish because of your knowledge? Therefore if it makes him stumble do not eat.
Am I not an apostle? Surely I am to you. My defence to those who examine me is this: Don't I have the right to eat, drink and live off your offerings? Does a man go to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? If we have sown spiritual things in you, is it a big thing to reap physical things in return? The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But we have not used this right. I preach because I feel compelled to. If I do it willingly I will have a reward. What is my reward? That I present the gospel for free so that I may win even more souls. I become a Jew amongst the Jews, and weak amongst the weak, that by all means I might save some. This I do for the gospel's sake. Only one athlete wins a race. Run your race in such a way that you get that prize.
All our fathers ate the same spiritual meat and drank the same spiritual drink (in that the drank from the rock which followed them, which was Christ). But God was displeased with most of them. This was an example to us that we don't also lust after evil things. Don't become adulterers or immoral as some of them did and perished. Let us not tempt Christ nor complain as they did. This was written to teach us. Therefore let he who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn't fall. No temptation comes to you that has not taken others. But God is faithful and will always make a way out for you. Therefore flee idolatry. For we also eat the same bread and drink from the same cup through communion. The things offered to idols are sacrificed to demons and I do not want you to have any fellowship with demons. All things are lawful but not all things edify. Seek each others' good. Eat what is set before you without asking questions, but if they tell you it was offered to idols, refuse it for their conscience's sake. Whatever you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God. Do all things for the profit of many, that they may be saved.
The head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. If a man prays or prophesies with a covered head, he dishonours his head. He is the image and glory of God. But if a woman does so with uncovered head, she dishonours her head. She is the glory of man and was created for him, therefore she should wear a symbol of authority. But man and woman are inter-dependant in the Lord, since woman came from man and men come through women. Now I do not approve that when you come together it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, but one eats before he comes, another comes hungry and another comes drunk. Do you despise the church of God? For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. If you eat and drink in an unworthy manner you are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Some have died because of this. Judge yourselves so that you are not condemned with the world.
No one speaking by God's Spirit calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit. There are different gifts, ministries and activities but one God works all in all. The Spirit is manifest through various gifts for the good of all. As one body has many varying members yet it is one, so also is the body of Christ. By one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Give more honour to those parts which seem to be less honourable, our honourable parts have no need for more, so that there are no divisions. For if one suffers, all suffer. But let me show you a more excellent way.
I may speak with the tongues of angels and prophecy, understand all mysteries and have faith enough to move mountains, but without love, I am nothing. I can give all my goods to the poor and offer my body to be burned and it means nothing without love. Love is patient, kind, humble, selfless, loves the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will vanish. These three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest is love.
Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. It is greater than tongues because it edifies, exhorts and comforts men. Unless tongues are interpreted they serve no good to the body. Seek therefore that you edify the body, so if you speak a tongue pray that you may interpret it. In the church I would rather speak five words that make sense, than 10 000 in a tongue. Tongues are a sign to unbelievers but prophecy is for believers. Be babies in malice but not in understanding. When you come together let each have a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation – but let all be done for edification. God is not the author of confusion but peace. Let the women keep silent.
I declared the gospel to you, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day. He was seen by Cephas and the 12, then by over 500, then James, and all the apostles and last of all by me. If we preach Christ was raised from the dead, how do some among you say there is no resurrection? If He is not risen our preaching is empty and your faith is futile, you are still in your sins. If our hope in Christ is for this life only, then we are most pitiful. But Christ is risen. By Adam came death, by Christ resurrection. Why else do we live in peril every hour? Evil company corrupts good habits. They argue, "How can the dead rise, with what body?" Foolish one, the body dies a natural, corruptible form and is raised an incorruptible, spiritual one. Adam was made of dust, but Christ came from heaven. We were born of Adam and we shall bear the image of Christ. Be steadfast then, knowing that your labour for the Lord is not in vain.
Surviving ruins at Corinth
SHORT-PHRASE OF 2 CORINTHIANS
– Paul's main thoughts simplified –
We have taken each chapter of II Corinthians and summarised the core message in a short-phrase (shortened paraphrase). That creates a condensed version of Paul's main train of thought. We suggest you go through this summary, before reading the full text through in your Bible.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all comfort, who comforts us through all our tribulations. As our sufferings abound so do our consolations. Our hope for you is steadfast, that as you share our afflictions you will also share in our consolations. For we were deeply pressed in Asia, that we doubted we would even live, so that our trust would be in God and not ourselves. He delivered us and will again. Our rejoicing is that the gospel has gone out in simplicity and purity. So we are your rejoicing even as you are ours. Therefore I determined (not lightly), to come twice to you that you could be twice blessed. When we said yes we meant yes, for in the Lord all His promises are yes and amen, to the glory of God. But as God is my witness, I did not come to you so I could spare you.
I decided not to come again in sorrow. For if I make you sorrowful, who will make me glad again? I wrote to you in much affliction and anguish and tears, that you might know how much I love you. So that when I return I could be made glad by you, having confidence in you all. The punishment you gave that one was enough, so now forgive him in love so that Satan cannot take advantage of us. Thanks be to God who leads us in triumph and diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge every place to those who are being saved. But to the unbelievers we are the aroma of death. Who is sufficient for this?
Your are our epistle, not written with ink but by the Spirit on your hearts. We are not sufficient for this in ourselves, but our sufficiency comes from God who makes us ministers of the New Covenant of the Spirit. If the ministry of death was glorious because of how Moses' face shone, how much more glorious is the ministry of the Spirit? Therefore we speak with boldness, not like Moses who covered his face. That veil still blinds those who read his words today, but when one turns to the Lord it is taken away. And with unveiled face we are being transformed from glory to glory, by the Spirit of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart, we renounce the things of darkness and we don't handle God's word deceitfully. Our gospel is only veiled to those who are lost, who's minds have been blinded by the god of this world. It is God who shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Our treasure is in earthen vessels. We are persecuted but not forsaken, pressed down, but not destroyed. So then death is working in us, but life in you. But we keep speaking, knowing that He who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us up and present us to God, with you. All things are for your sakes, to the glory of God. We do not lose heart because our light afflictions are working out a far more exceeding weight of eternal glory.
For we know that when we die we have a home with God in the heavens, and we long for that place. God has prepared us for this very thing and given us His Spirit as a guarantee that we will receive it. We are pleased to rather leave this body and be with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim to please Him, for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ. Knowing the fear of the Lord therefore, we persuade men. The love of Christ compels us, because if One died for all, then all died. He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves but for Him. Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. And we are His ambassadors, imploring you to be reconciled to God.
Do not let His grace towards you be in vain. Now is the day of salvation. We minister in much patience and tribulation, stripes and imprisonments, kindness and love, with power and righteousness, as sorrowful and yet always rejoicing, being poor and making many rich, having nothing and yet possessing all things. Our hearts are wide open, be open in return. Do not be yoked with unbelievers. What communion has light with darkness? Come out from among them and be separate and the Lord will receive you.
Having these promises let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness. I am bold towards you and boast on your behalf, filled with comfort and exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. In Macedonia we were pressed on every side, but consoled when Titus told us how you comforted him, how you mourned and your zeal for me. Even if I made you sorry I don't regret it (though I did), because it lead to your repentance. Godly sorrow produces repentance which leads to salvation. What diligence it produced in you, what fear, what zeal, what vindication! Therefore we have been comforted and rejoiced exceedingly and our boasting in you was found true.
By God's grace, through the great trial, poverty and afflictions of the church in Macedonia, they abounded in joy and generosity. For they were willing to give beyond their ability, imploring us to receive their gift to the saints. As you abound in everything – in faith, speech, knowledge, diligence and love – abound in this grace also. I am testing the sincerity of your love. For you know that though our Lord was rich, He became poor for your sakes. What you were willing to do a year ago, complete now. But I do not mean that you should be burdened so that others have ease, but an equality. That now your abundance supplies their lack and later their abundance may supply yours.
I have sent the brethren ahead so that my boasting of you to the Macedonians should not be in vain. If some come with me and find you unprepared, we would be ashamed of this confident boast. Therefore I sent word to prepare your generous gift beforehand which you previously promised. He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, so leat each one give as he has determined for himself, not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you that you always have all sufficiency in all things. May God multiply the seed you have sown. For your gift not only supplies their need but causes many to give God thanks and glorify Him. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
Now I plead with you that when I come I do not need to be bold against some who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. We do not war according to the flesh, our weapons are mighty in God, for pulling down strongholds and casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself agains the knowledge of God. Being ready to punish all disobedience. Do you look at things according the outward appearance? Even if I must boast about our authority in the Lord, for edification and not destruction, I will not be ashamed. We will not boast beyond measure, for God has given us authority over you because we came to you with the gospel of Christ. Not he who commends himself, but he whom the Lord commends is approved.
Bear with me because I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, that I may present you to Christ. I fear that you may have been corrupted from the simplicity of the gospel. If someone comes preaching another Jesus and another spirit, you may well put up with it. When I was with you, I burdened no one. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one will stop me from this boast. God knows I love you! I act this way to cut off the opportunity of imposters who want to make the same claims as us. They are false apostles, deceivers, just as Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. I will foolishly boast now, since you tolerate fools and consider yourselves wise. If one comes to devour you, to exalt himself and to bind you, you put up with it. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I have more abundant labours in stripes, imprisonments, and deaths. Five times I received 39 lashes, 3 times beaten with rods, once stoned, 3 times shipwrecked, in perils every place I go. In sleeplessness, hunger, cold and nakedness besides all my deep concerns for the churches.
It is not profitable for me to boast like this. So that I should not be exalted beyond measure, because of the abundance of the revelations given to me, I was given a thorn in my flesh. Three times I asked the Lord to remove it, but He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I rather boast in my infirmity so that the power of Christ may rest on me. You have compelled me to become a fool in all this boasting. You should have commended me because though I am nothing, I am not less than the greatest apostles. Great signs were done amongst you, what do you have less than the other churches, except that I was no burden on you? I will come a third time now, and I will gladly be spent for your souls.
I write to all those who have sinned before, if I come again I will not spare you, since you want proof that Christ is speaking through me. He was crucified in weakness but now lives in the power of God. Examine yourselves, test yourselves. Now I pray to God that you do no evil. We are glad when we are weak and you are strong. We pray that you may be complete. I write these things so that I do not have to use sharpness when I come. Be of good comfort, of one mind, live in peace and God will be with you.
The Cities Paul's letters were written to.
(These original letters were still in their respective churches in 190AD and probably survived until Roman Emperor Diocletian made it his mission to destroy them around 300AD).
We have many known references, quotes and endorsements of the letters of both first and second Corinthians from the earliest days of the church. These include: Clement of Rome (95-97AD), Ignatius (35-140AD), Polycarp (110-150AD), the Didache (120-150AD), Justin Martyr (150-155AD), Tertullian (150-220AD), and Origen (185-254AD), Irenaeus (130-202AD), Eusebius (325-340AD), Athanasius (296-373AD) and many more.