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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Introduction to 1 Corinthians
If you know anything about the value of real estate, you recognize the first three considerations are, “location, location, and then location.” Corinth’s location helped make it a very important city for travelers and traders. You see, it was extremely dangerous traveling around the southernmost part of Greece due to frequent storms. The inclement weather threatened lives and shipping. Corinth, Greece is situated up on a plateau on a narrow strip of land called an isthmus which connects the southernmost part of Greece with the mainland. Travelers and traders could avoid the dangers of sea travel by taking a shortcut across the Grecian isthmus.
Corinth had two main ports; to the west on the Corinthian Gulf was Lechaion, which connected the city to its western colonies. To the east lay the Saronic Gulf and the port of Kenchreai serving ships coming from Athens, Ionia, Cyprus, and the eastern Mediterranean. Traders and travelers would disembark from their ships at one of these ports and have their personal baggage or their ship’s cargo carried across the isthmus (a distance of about 4 miles). Once across, they would board ships on the opposite side and then continue their journey. It was worth the effort and the expense to trek overland because not only was the other way more hazardous, it was also a much longer trip (about 250 miles). To go the way of Corinth not only saved lives and valuable property it saved time… and people got a chance to “hang out” in the city of Corinth for a while.
As you might imagine, Corinth was a “hub” of commerce and trade and a regular “beehive” of activity with the constant flow of traders, travelers, and visitors from all over the Mediterranean. On the high-side the city was famous for athletic events. The well-known Isthmian Games were held there every two years. These were the most famous athletic events in the Roman Empire apart from the Olympic Games. On the low-side Corinth was well known for her sinful living. The city had a great marketplace and in that locale there were many bars, inns, and taverns where people would spend their time and their money getting drunk and behaving badly.
Corinth was similar to Athens, Greece, in the respect that you could find the cults of the gods of Egypt, Rome, and Greece there. The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, stood atop the Acrocorinth and the citizens of the city honored her. But her worship is better described by the word “lust.” Her temple was filled with 1,000 wicked, lustful, women prostitutes. Prominent and wealthy men visited her temple regularly and “paid” large sums of money to worship the goddess of “lust,” receiving sexual favors in return.
The temple prostitutes’ duties weren’t restricted to the temple though. In the evening they descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth to male citizens, sailors, and foreign travelers. A familiar Greek proverb arose from this sexual activity, ‘It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.’ The Bible’s response to this immoral activity is called fornication (1 Corinthians 5:1, 5:9-10, 6:9, 6:15-20, 7:2, 10:8).
Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. The phrase “to corinthianize” was coined and came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery. A good description of the pagan people of Corinth can be found at Romans 1:21-32. Bear in mind, when Paul wrote the book of Romans, he was staying and preaching God’s Truths in Corinth…
Our Apostle Paul planted the church in Corinth, Greece on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1). As usual he began his ministry in the Jewish synagogue, where he was assisted by two Jewish Believers, Aquila and Priscilla, with whom he lived for a while and who were fellow tradesmen (tentmakers).
After Silas and Timothy joined him, Paul preached even more intensely than before in the synagogue. When most of the Jews resisted his message of the gospel, he left the synagogue, declaring, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” But not before Crispus, a Jew, and the leader of the synagogue, his household, and many other Corinthians were converted (Acts 18:5-8).
Paul remained in Corinth for eighteen months teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:11), but as is usually the case no matter what city or town Paul preached his Gospel in, the majority of the Jews opposed him. In this instance some Jewish religious leaders brought him before a Roman tribunal claiming: “this man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law (of Moses)” (Acts 18:13). The proconsul Gallio dismissed the case judging the charges against Paul were strictly religious in nature and not “civil” (Acts 18:12-16).
Unable to completely break away from the culture from whence it came, the Corinthian Church (or the Body of Christ) was exceptionally factional, i.e. a group that is a minority within a larger group and has interests or beliefs that are not always in harmony with the larger group. For example, after Apollos had ministered amongst the Believers in Corinth for some time, a group of his admirers established a clique and had little to do with the rest of the church. Another group developed a loyalty to Paul, while yet another claimed a special allegiance to Peter and still another to Jesus Christ alone.
A “fractured church” is a disorganized and disruptive unit which is not a good thing and certainly goes against the will of God who has called for self-sacrifice and unity within His church (Romans 12:1-5). But this wasn’t the Corinthians biggest problem. Their most serious problem was “worldliness” or the unwillingness on their part to divorce themselves from their selfish, immoral, and pagan ways or the sinful culture that surrounded them. To say their spiritual life was anemic because of their “carnality” would be understating their predicament.
Our Apostle Paul affirms their position in Christ Jesus with his opening remarks (1 Corinthians 1:2-9). Therefore there’s no question in Paul’s mind that these are his brothers and sisters, redeemed by Christ, destined to spend eternity with Paul in heaven. I want to make sure everyone understands this Truth. According to Paul, these folks were Believers and not “fakers,” or “fence-sitters.” They weren’t “almost” in Christ Jesus, or pretending to be, they were Believers in Christ Jesus!
Although these folks were saved and their eternal souls were bound for glory, it’s also true their eyes were not “fixed” on Jesus Christ; they weren’t “walking with the Lord daily.” We know this is true because both of their feet remained firmly planted in the muck and mire of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 2:15). In other words, they wouldn’t let go of the “toilet bowl.” Paul described them in this way: …are you not fleshly (worldly – relating to physical pleasure), and are you not walking like mere men (those without knowledge of God’s free gift of Grace)?
Why We Study The Book Of 1 Corinthians
*An earlier epistle was written by Paul to this young group of Believers in Corinth (date unknown) but it has never been located; it’s been lost to time (1 Corinthians 5:9).
One Sunday morning, in the middle of his sermon, a pastor said, it’s difficult to preach without teaching Scripture, and it was equally as difficult to teach Scripture without preaching it! I wonder if our Apostle Paul had the same problem… I wonder if that was his goal.
Anyway, that arrow of Truth pierced my heart because we stood on common ground - I understood what he was saying, in other words. I’ve said something similar for years. There’s a very fine line that separates a Bible teacher from a preacher, and I’ll occasionally blur that line when I cross over it either intentionally or unintentionally.
Occasionally my teaching comes across as preaching and that’s unavoidable because I’m sold-out for God. This means I believe in the accuracy of Scripture, down to the last dot and tittle, and I am 100% committed to the ministry of teaching the Bible.
I teach for many reasons: indisputable Truth has become subjective, we’re living in an age where more and more people are turning their backs on God, many people have declared His Word “null and void,” and the persecution of Believers around the world, including the U.S.A., is increasing; Believers are being put to death in foreign countries for simply bearing Christ’s name. Yet a faithful “few” dare to stand up and speak the Truth to an angry world, proclaiming God’s love and mercy to any and all who would accept His invitation to believe and be saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Speaking from experience I know some find fault with some of things I say in my lessons, even though they’re based on God’s Word and not my opinion. People simply disagree with some of my comments or my entire lesson for that matter because they heard someone preach it differently or they read something different in an article or a magazine. But one thing’s for certain; these folks didn’t bother to look in the book (Acts 17:10-12)!
Then there are those who simply read a few lines of my lesson and turn me off because they don’t “see” it that way. Isn’t this the age of relativistic ideas? These folks imagine themselves to be wiser than God. But where do they get their wisdom? Is it coming from the music and entertainment industry, CNN, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, MSNBC, NPR, The View, or SNL? These programs and others like them are the vehicles that are shaping the values and views of this generation? To be blunt they’ve chosen the wisdom of men over the wisdom of God, just like the Corinthians.
With that said, the vast majority of people would rather surrender multiple hours per week staring at their television sets, playing video games, listening to modern music that degrades women, promotes premarital sex, a permissive lifestyle, and violence. Yet the Creator God isn’t worthy of one minute of their time.
Just let me say this, where you spend your time and your money not only shows what’s important in your life but what’s shaping your life.
People need to hear God’s Truths whether they think they do or not. I liken this to a patient who sees his doctor for a check-up and upon the return visit hears from his physician that he has lung cancer. No one wants to hear “bad” news, especially if it contains the “C” word, but this individual needed to hear it and acknowledge it before the healing process could begin. There’s absolutely no difference with an individual’s sin problem! For this reason and so much more we study the Scriptures and not just this letter to the Believers in Corinth, which was written more than 1900 years ago.
Some say the letter to the Corinthians was written mainly to the Jews (the “Acts 28 theory”). However Pastor J.C. O’Hair proved this teaching to be misleading when he thoroughly put it to the test of the Scriptures, rightly divided, so it is no longer as widely embraced. If you’ll turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:2 we’ll read Paul’s comment that provides proof that this church was overwhelmingly made up of Gentiles: You know that when you were pagans (Gentiles), you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led (There’s no mention of Jews here).
We understand that this letter was written primarily to Gentiles in the flesh and because of this it is vitally important to us Gentiles in the Dispensation of God’s Grace. But there’s one more reason to believe this letter is especially applicable to our age and the faith-based issues we currently find ourselves dealing with as Believers.
Permit me illustrate with this: there’s no doubt in my mind that our Apostle Paul established more church groups during his three missionary journeys than the seven we can account for by his writings in the New Testament. But since this is all we have to work with, that’s what we’ll do. Picking from this list of 7 churches, which one is most like the church of today: Colosse, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Rome, or Thessalonica?
We just studied the book of Romans so let’s begin with it. Is your answer the church in Rome? Hardly, because Paul had this to say about them: First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole (Roman) world (Romans 1:8). Paul was speaking about their faith in his gospel (Romans 1:15-16, 2:16).
Comparing the church in Rome to the churches of today, Paul’s clear and complete gospel of the Grace of God is pushed into the background (Romans 2:16), while the term “the gospel of the kingdom” and half a dozen other terms which are irrelevant, undispensational, and worldly are added to a message that is completely devoid of God’s Gospel and misleading. Permit me to illustrate: as a Sunday school teacher and a counselor at summer camp I was handed teaching material from the church leadership to use in my class setting that contained salvation messages such as, “Ask Jesus to come into your heart,” or “Ask Jesus to come into your life.” I had many children respond to these so-called salvation messages over the years but it was in vain. The Truth is these cutesy phrases aren’t in the Bible, they don’t contain a hint of Paul’s gospel, and they will not save anyone!
I deeply regret having served in these churches and the harm I’ve done to these children to this day, but God used it for good and it served to change my life for the better. I learned the Truth when I stopped putting my confidence in men and turned to the author of God’s Word. I started studying the Bible on my own learning what it means to “rightly divide” the Scriptures… If it were possible I would go door-to-door and beg each one of these children for forgiveness, and then sit with each one and review the only gospel that saves today and that is Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Then there was the time a preacher one morning taught on how to get rich, save money, invest, and pay off your credit cards, etc… but not for very long. You see, worldly knowledge is not the gospel. I wasn’t in church to receive worldly wisdom. I can find that information on the internet. Anything being taught in the churches that does not point to Jesus Christ, lead to Jesus Christ or reveal that belief in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is all you need to be saved is neither biblical nor the gospel. Gone are the days when a preacher can take “hold” of the Word of God and then take “hold” of a group of people! We don’t need financial advisors on Sunday mornings; we need men like our Apostle Paul!
Not only has Paul’s gospel been pushed into the background by the churches today, the churches of today have all but ignored Paul and his apostleship. As the present church of Rome chooses to follow Peter rather than Paul, the vast majority of Bible-believing Protestants spend most of their time discussing the history and prophecy of the Old Testament, the four gospels, and the first few books of Acts, then proclaiming the powerful message of grace committed to Paul and to us through his ministry. The spoken words of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry are given definite priority over the words of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ revealed to and through the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:11; Ephesians 3:1-3; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Corinthians 5:16).
Are the churches of today like the church in Thessalonica? Not so much.The persecutions the Thessalonians and Paul endured together produced an affectionate bond which only fellow sufferers can understand fully. If you’ll take the time to read his letter to this church carefully, you’ll see that their relationship was so close, and so deeply did they respect his apostleship, that in his letters to them he does not address them as “an apostle of Jesus Christ,” but simply in the familiar as “Paul.” I’ve witnessed a similar type bond between those who serve in the military. It’s a special life-long bond between brothers and sisters in arms that won’t be broken because it’s been “battle-tested.” However, I see no comparison between the Thessalonian church and the churches of today. The church today is afraid to speak the name of Jesus Christ in fear of being rebuked or laughed at.
How about the church at Philippi then? This too misses the target. This church was also born of persecution. They had witnessed the clothes torn off of Paul and Silas, had witnessed their scourging and imprisonment. They became “partakers” of his afflictions. Of all the churches (that we know of) the church at Philippi showed the most concern for Paul, seeking him out again and again to make sure he was “cared for” (Philippians 4:10-19). These Believers can be compared to the Believers at Thessalonica; however, the churches of today have given Paul no respect, let alone shown signs of affection, for all he has done in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the Body of Christ, especially through his writings which can enrich us spiritually, if people would choose to spend some time looking at them.
We’re running out of churches, so it has to be either the church at Ephesus or Colosse. Wrong again! To these two churches Paul could write about “the mystery,” which is the very capstone of Divine revelation, while the churches of today can digest no more than the milk of the word. In fact, few even know what the “mystery” is. To be blatantly honest, based on my experience as a Bible teacher, few people even know what the gospel is. Most professing Christians are shallow and superficial in their knowledge of God’s Word and their general ignorance of God’s Truths is appalling.
Maybe you’re thinking it has to be the church at Galatia then? Wrong again. For these Believers, although misled by the Judaizers, sought to please God by “adding” or doing things more than He asked of them; they were adding the law (circumcision) to His free gift of grace.
Only one church out of seven remains my friends and that’s the church at Corinth.
Here we find the similarities striking! Like the church of today, the Corinthian Believers were superficial in their perception of the truth, and unbelievably permissive in their moral conduct. Paul had spent 18 months explaining God’s Truths to them, but in all that time they never advanced beyond being “babes in Christ.” He refers to them as “brethren,” but he also refers to them as “fleshly” in nature – that is to say they are still motivated by the thinking of their flesh or carnal in nature. Adding to that, they despised Paul’s authority as an apostle.
We’ll learn more about these three things as we study this letter but it is basically in these three respects that they resemble the churches of our day.
[Published weekly on Friday]
(To be continued)
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