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A Story Behind Paul's Letters
1 & 2 Corinthians

Paul's Letter

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know that waiters and waitresses live in a bi-polar world. The dining room and kitchen require two different personalities. The dining room values calm demeanor and propriety. It calls for Please and Thank You; Ma’am and Sir; and apologies are abundant. The kitchen is another story. When a waitress hits that kitchen door, she turns on the speed. It’s total focus on the order—getting it right, getting it in, and getting the set-up. Waitresses don’t talk to each other in the kitchen; there’s too much to do. From the dining room, all seems fine at the restaurant. But the kitchen is a different story.

Paul and the letters to the Corinthians illustrate this well. From a distance, from the account in Acts 18:1-17, there is harmony. Acts tells us that Paul arrived in this ancient Las Vegas and made what would be a life-long friendship with Aquila and Priscilla. Silas and Timothy soon join him and Paul gives himself entirely to preaching the gospel. Eighteen months he’ll live and work in Corinth, and he’ll form a significant congregation there. In the dining room, there is harmony.

But the letters tell the story of the kitchen.

After the usual opening remarks in 1 Corinthians—Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ—Paul will get down to business in 1:10: I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. This is the first word on a lengthy list of divisions in the church.

What follows in the two letters is a laundry list of grievances: people argue over their favorite preachers; there are lawsuits among them; the poor are excluded from the Lord’s Supper meals; and they value some spiritual gifts over others. They’re not only reduced to judging one another, either; Paul spends the better part of these letters defending s himself.

What’s wrong at Corinth? What’s wrong in a congregation when people who are loved and uniquely gifted by God cannot see others as loved and uniquely gifted by God? What’s missing when faithful people have to defend themselves?

Corinth is NOT missing people who will testify to God’s graciousness, patience, and encouragement. But Corinth is missing people who are gracious, patient, and encouraging. Or we can put it this way. Corinth is not missing people who sing Amazing Grace. But Corinth is missing people who understand the song.

What is God’s response through Paul?

First, read with me 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. There are trigger words in this passage that meant something to the Greek Corinthians: wise man, scribe, debater of this age, wisdom. These are respectable words among the Greeks who loved high ideas and proficient handling of these ideas. If anything, you can be certain the congregation at Corinth at least wanted some semblance of respect in the world of ideas for their faith in Christ. But Paul’s point is that the wise, the scribe, and the debater—all valued by first century culture—are not in the room. Their wisdom did not lead people to Christ. God in His wisdom saved people through the foolishness of the message of the cross, not Greek philosophy. Paul’s point: the crucifixion of Jesus is not a respectable message. It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. As long as Jesus is portrayed as denied, arrested, prosecuted, and crucified, Jesus will never look respectable. He will look foolish in the Greek eyes, as will those who follow him.

For those in the Respectable Party, Paul had a message: the cross does not confirm your respectability. Golgotha was not a place of books but of beatings; not a place of speaking but of suffering; not a place of respect by argument but of redeeming by Jesus’ death. This should leave no one proud. In fact, a few verses later Paul will remind these wise-guy wannabe’s that God delights in shaming the world’s wisdom with foolish ideas like the cross and foolish believers like us. None of us can boast before God. And neither can we boast before each other. *Gaining respectability by joining FBC?

Second, would you jump forward to 1 Corinthians 13? The setting in the letter is important. The previous chapter spoke at length about the spiritual gifts manifesting among them, creating great interest and hierarchies in spiritual gifts. Paul interrupts the conversation to introduce the most excellent way. Read with me verses 1-8. Paul highlights the MVP’s of the early church: the preachers, the prophets, the prayer warriors, the sacrificial givers, and the martyrs. His point? If these people go even to the point of death for Jesus but do not love Jesus’ people, there is no profit. The love Paul then describes is agape love, that self-giving, gracious, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son kind of love. He is describing God’s love for us, but he offers it as the model of love we should have for one another. As I John 4:20 says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

If God is willing to be patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not seeking His own, not easily provoked, not taking wrongs into account, rejoicing with the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things, and never failing, then it is presumed that we’ll do the same toward one another. It is a simple idea, isn’t it? That is, I find here in church, as church and with the church, a breath of God’s air. I find people who have time for me and patience with me. *Mighty-mite football: chasing a runner.

Last, we’ll turn to 2 Corinthians 8:-15. As we read, remember that the context is the collection taken for the poorer, Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. (Read) We may abound in everything, Paul says, but the evidence of the “everything” in us is revealed in our generosity toward others. Here specifically he means sharing of resources. He won’t make sharing a command. Instead he points them to our Lord, who though rich became poor for our sakes. Through his poverty we became rich. We are not to give what we cannot give, nor to daydream about what we would give if we could. It is acceptable to give from what we have, not from what we don’t have. This is a familiar passage, but it would have been a little sticky when you remember that the wealthier in Corinth were not waiting for the poorer to get off work before beginning fellowship meals. The poor arrived to an empty table.

God’s will for the church is generosity one to another. Indeed, we cannot give what we do not have. But we have more than enough to share with one another. What do we need from each other? Friendships. Time. Encouragement. Prayer. And sometimes money in the difficult days. I will say this. We are approached every week by 3-5 different households who believe that the church gives. They at least know that about us. And they are not wrong. Let’s hope that we know that as well.




    Bulletin Insert

    A Story Behind the Letters 1 & 2 Corinthians

    The dining room and the kitchen…

    Paul and Corinth

    • The dining room: Acts 18:1-7
    • The kitchen: 1 Corinthians 1:10

    I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

    What’s wrong at Corinth? What’s wrong in a congregation when people who are loved and uniquely gifted by God cannot see others as loved and uniquely gifted by God?

    Corinth is not missing people who sing Amazing Grace. But Corinth is missing people who understand the song.

    What is God’s response through Paul?

    #1 The cross and respectability

    1 Corinthians 1:18-25

    Golgotha was not a place of books but of beatings; not a place of speaking but of suffering; not a place of respect by argument but of redeeming by Jesus’ death.

    *Can one join a church for respectability’s sake?

    #2 Riding a cart without a horse

    1 Corinthians 13:1-8

    The MVP’s of the early church: the preachers, the prophets, the prayer warriors, the sacrificial givers, and the martyrs. If these people go even to the point of death for Jesus but do not love Jesus’ people, there is no profit.

    I John 4:20: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

    *Mighty-mite football: chasing a runner.

    #3 An appeal to generosity

    2 Corinthians 8:8-15

    God’s will for the church is generosity one to another. Indeed, we cannot give what we do not have. But we have more than enough to share with one another.

    What do we give each other? Depends on what we need.




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