Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth provides a vital read for all who want to understand how to be the Church. Though written to a particular church, in a particular place, at a particular time in the history of the Church, 1 Corinthians is universal in its application, and is essential reading for all who want to understand how to be the people of God in their context.
Acts 18 gives us the historical background to the church in Corinth. It is in Corinth that Paul meets Priscilla and Aquilla, who will become such important partners in spreading the Gospel (Acts 18:1-3). Beginning as ever in the synagogue (Acts 18:4), with his central message that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 18:5), Paul experienced both opposition which forced him to leave the synagogue and instead teach at a building next door (Acts 18:6-7) and great fruit (Crispus, the synagogue leader and his entire household were converted as were many Corinthians, Acts 18:8). God appeared to Paul in a dream, urging him not to be afraid and to keep on speaking (Acts 18:9-10). In response, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11).
The closeness of Paul’s relationship with the church established in Corinth, and his sense of responsibility for them, is clear throughout 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is a wonderful reminder that there is no perfect church and takes away any notion that church was ever easy and without difficulty! Among other topics, Paul deals with division, pride, immorality, false doctrine, church services, and spiritual gifts. Paul writes in response to reports he has heard about the goings on in the church, brought by some people from Chloe’s household (1 Cor 1:11) and Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:15), as well as issues the Corinthians have raised in a letter written to Paul (1 Cor 7:1). But while the topics covered are specific to the church in Corinth, they raise wider principles that the Church has found useful throughout the centuries.