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Lowell Brueckner

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Coming Up: First Corinthians

Some of you know that after I follow my regular daily reading plan, which leads me through the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once, I tend to give the remaining months of the year to a particular book of the Bible. I have been considering,  to which book I should give special attention over the last quarter of 2019. I trust that I have picked the right one, as I decide to take on 1 Corinthians. I have already written out an introduction, so I would like to put it before you at this time, to help you with a little background, before we face the actual text. Please consider joining me in this expositional study and, if you do, please pray that God will give, to you and to me, light from heaven so that we can really profit from it in our inner beings.
Introduction to 1 Corinthian

At the Corinthian isthmus with two Greeks and a Spaniard
As the Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Philippians, he refers to “these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Php.4:3). Clement of Rome was a church father, meaning a direct disciple of the apostles. He traveled with Paul and was an appointed elder of the church in Rome along with Linus and Cletus (plural eldership is always ordered and practiced by Paul). His writings from the first century are probably the earliest, after the apostles’ inspired Scripture. He most likely knew the church in Corinth first-hand, because he wrote a lengthy letter to it somewhere near the end of the First Century.

He quotes profusely from Scripture, Old Testament and New, and I quote this reference to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which he recognized as Scripture: “For the Scripture says, ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which He has prepared for them that wait for Him’” (1 Co.2:9). And then, “Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you.” Clement’s letter gives counsel and correction concerning strife in Corinth, apparently between the younger and older people. It was kept in Corinth and read from time to time in the church. In 1628, a copy of the letter was discovered in an ancient Greek Bible.

Polycarp, another of the church fathers and the ‘angel’ of the church of Smyrna, was a friend of the apostle John. He wrote a letter to the Philippians in the first half of the Second Century. He also quotes directly from both the first and second of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. A friend of Polycarp, Iranaeus, in his work, Against Heresies, written close to the end of the Second Century, quotes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I just mention these to show how outstandingly the New Testament Scriptures have been documented throughout the generations. It begins with the four accounts of the life and teachings of Christ Himself, followed by the letters of the apostles, then by the church fathers. The evidence, concerning the authenticity of the Gospel, is irrefutable. Particularly, I wanted to point out the church fathers’ reference to the existence and divine inspiration of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

With same friends in ancient Corinth, in view of
the high mountain fortress in the background.
Many years ago, I got off a ferry and drove through Greece towards our son’s home in Strumica, Macedonia.  Traveling to or from the Pelopennese Peninsula, at that time one must pass through the Isthmus of Corinth, which was the only connection between the two parts of Greece. I stopped for a short time to see the ruins of ancient Corinth, which lie above and separate from the modern city. Only a few years ago, a Spanish friend living in Athens, Roberto, took me to Corinth for a more thorough look at the ruins, where the apostle Paul founded a church.  Some pillars and stones of the Tribunal of Gallio are easily located. Corinth was an important city at the time, when Greece dominated the known world, was demolished by the Romans in 146 B.C. and was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. With a population of about 200,000, it became the capital of the Roman province of Achaia, where the Roman proconsul resided. It was the second most important city, in which Paul founded a church.

In the book of Acts, chapter 18, Paul’s visit to Corinth follows his call to Macedonia through a night vision and his actual ministry in Philippi, then Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. He worked at his trade of tent-making, along with Jews, Aquila and Priscilla, whom he discovered in that city. They had come from Rome, from which they had been expelled along with all Jews. As was Paul’s custom, he began preaching in the synagogue, and in the meantime, Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia. When Jewish opposition reached a high point, Paul announced to them that he would now turn to the Gentiles, or non-Jews. However, the ruler of the synagogue, Crispus, and his household became believers. Many native Corinthians also believed the gospel and, in fact, the Lord spoke to him one night, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Ac.18:9-10).

He stayed there for a year and six months and only in Ephesus did he stay for a longer period of time. The Jews tried to influence the Roman proconsul, Gallio, against Paul, but he was not interested in trying a matter outside of Roman law. He drove them away from the judgment hall and the Greek citizens beat the synagogue leader on the spot, while Gallio ignored it. Then Paul, after completing his evangelism and establishing the church, went on towards Syria with Priscilla and Aquila, stopping at Ephesus. He wrote his letter to the Corinthians in 57 A.D., during the three years later spent in Ephesus.

Having covered a little geography and history, we turn to Paul’s reason for writing this epistle. The Corinthian quest for Greek wisdom collided with the wisdom of God and this controversy had a great deal to do with Paul’s presentation of the cross. He depicts it as the foolishness of God, which is wiser than men. He shows the crucified Christ as the weakness of God. Then he shows the weakness and foolishness of those who are called of God, including himself. I constantly refer to the first two chapters of the letter, as the clearest Christian declaration in all the epistles, of the thoughts and ways of God being contrary and superior to the ways of men.  

Paul, very early in his written discourse, deals with the paradox of possessing spiritual gifts and grace, a longing for Christ’s return, and yet being carnally divisive. He challenges them to continue to build upon the foundation of Christ, which he has laid, through the rich guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. He tells of the complexity of his apostolic ministry and makes a key statement concerning the Kingdom of God: It is not about skilled speech, he maintains, but about spiritual power.  

Paul begins to delve into matters of correction and of church discipline in chapter 5, uncovering a defect concerning tolerance for immorality in Corinth. Paul has zero tolerance for sin. In the same vein, he counters evidence of selfish grievances between brothers in chapter 6. He then proceeds into the area of marriage, divorce and remarriage among Christians. From there he goes on to the complications of eating food offered to idols. Because so much of these problems arise from selfishness, Paul discusses surrendering his own rights, as an example to the church. He returns to the subject of idolatry, with which he began to deal in an earlier chapter, as I mentioned. He teaches about the custom of head coverings and then the misuse of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table.

Chapters 12 through 14 point to spiritual gifts in the church. They first teach about their place and afterwards correct misuse, especially of the gift of tongues and he gives a preference to prophecy. Between chapter 12 and 14 is a wonderful soliloquy on godly love. In chapter 15, he brings up a doctrinal error concerning the resurrection and in 16, he speaks of monetary help for the church in Jerusalem, along with his plans for the future. He gives some final advice and closes with greetings.

Site of Gallio's tribunal
These are the areas, in which we will try to follow and understand the teachings of the apostle. As must always be the case, we must approach the Scripture prayerfully and humbly, not clinging stubbornly to the doctrinal positions we hold and have been holding to, perhaps, for years. This reminds me of listening on one occasion to a professor of hermeneutics, Dr. Bob Utley, preaching in a Baptist Church. He said, “We must allow the Scriptures to have priority over our personal preferences and denominational tradition. You must allow the Bible to be really authoritative.” 

As an additional preparation to this study, I would ask you to listen to this very sane and rational half-hour message by Dr. Utley. I ask this, not so much for his teaching on speaking in tongues, but for his counsel concerning the authority of Scripture and openness towards biblical truth, as he explains it in the beginning of his message. I think it is much more valuable than an opinion on tongues. Here is the link:


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