1, 2 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 1: The Word of the Cross
The message of the cross of Christ has been seen as both powerful and disputed from the beginning. Paul wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The cross puts all of us at a “crossroads,” wherein we must choose between trying to do things our own way or submitting to the will of God. The message of the cross will not let us be neutral about what Jesus did. While it will be a stumbling block for many and foolishness to others, those who are being saved will always take comfort in the power of that message. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor 1:30-31).
1 Corinthians 2: Where Faith Rests
Paul wrote that his speech and message were not about human wisdom, but about God’s wisdom. He was concerned that the faith of the Corinthians “might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5). This is why he was determined “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (vs. 2). We can rest assured that when we put our trust in God and the message of the Christ crucified, we are standing solidly on divine wisdom. The message of the cross is not a story that would have been invented in the wisdom of men. When we step back and see how God’s revelation of that great mystery unfolded, we can see His wisdom and power on display for us (see vv. 6-16). Praise God that we have the mind of Christ revealed to us!
1 Corinthians 3: You are God’s Temple
The Corinthians were dividing against the will of God. In doing so, they were showing that they had a fleshly, carnal mindset. By following human leaders, they were missing the greater point of what it meant to united in following Christ. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith, and great care needs to be taken by those who would build on that foundation. The warnings are based on the fact that God’s people are His temple under Christ: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). Let’s remember who we are and why it is so important that build carefully and always seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 4: Faithful Stewards
Paul wrote, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor 4:1-2). In following human teachers, there was a danger of actually discounting the truth because of who said it. Some did not like Paul, perhaps even wanting to do him harm. Yet Paul was simply striving to be a messenger of Christ. The Lord had entrusted him with the message, and it was required that he be faithful to it regardless of how others would treat him. Human judges really do not matter, after all. Paul’s attitude in what could have been very discouraging is exemplary. Do we see ourselves as servants and stewards of what the Lord has given to us? If so, will we be faithful to Him regardless of how others may view or treat us?
1 Corinthians 5: A Little Leaven
Sin is never pretty, and sadly, we are all guilty and affected by it. In Corinth, there were some who were proudly accepting a man who was living in a way that even the world saw as wrong. They needed to deal with that situation so that the man’s influence would not take others away. Yet this did not mean that they could never have contact with other sinners, for then they would have to go out of the world altogether. Yet they did need to make sure that the influences that were impacting them negatively. Christ our Passover was sacrificed to keep us pure. Since “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” we need to purge out the evil influences and take in the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Let us remain faithful to Christ to make sure that He is our primary influence.
1 Corinthians 6: Such were some of you
Some of the Corinthian Christians were not acting properly toward each other. They needed to get back to the foundation of Christ so that they could understand why they needed to treat each other in a godly manner and seek to maintain unity. Sin, of course, will keep us from entering the kingdom of heaven, but the power of the Gospel is also seen in these verses. After listing a number of sins, Paul then writes, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The Gospel changes us, renews us, and sanctifies us. Thank God that we do not have to remain in such sinful conditions!
1 Corinthians 7: Bought with a Price
Paul gives a number of instruction that impact how spouses ought to act toward one another, as well as how servants, the unmarried, and the widowed ought to behave. There is one statement in this chapter that captures the underlying reason we are to act properly: “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor 7:23). Christ died for us and purchased us with His blood, and this fact should guide every decision we make and every action we undertake. Knowing who we are in Christ will change every relationship with have. Our main concern will always be, no matter what condition in which we have been called in Christ, to remain with God (v. 24).
1 Corinthians 8: Love Builds Up
Treating each other in ungodly ways is a manifestation of selfishness and pride. Even having knowledge in and of itself is useless if there is no love, for “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). Paul again deals with the way that some were acting toward fellows believers in Christ. It is easy to assert a right that we may think we have, and in doing so we might be running over others who do not have the same knowledge. Never do we want to destroy a fellow child of God for the sake of a right. This chapter forces us to ask ourselves how much we are willing to do for the sake of a brother or sister for whom Christ died? How does love respond?
1 Corinthians 9: All Things to All People
Paul speaks of various rights that he had. For example, he had a right to take along a believing wife in his work if he so chose. He had a right to work with his hands as he preached the gospel, as well as a right to be supported. Yet his greater concern was not about his personal rights. He wanted to preach the gospel in order to win souls to Christ, and this meant that he might forego some of his rights. While he did not want to violate God’s will, where he could become “as a Jew,” “as one outside the law,” or as one who was weak, he would do so. Why? “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (vv. 22-23). How much are we willing to do in order to share in the blessings of Christ with others?
1 Corinthians 10: Flee from Idolatry
The children of Israel serve as a warning to the people of God not to fall into evil desire and idolatry as they did. Since idolatry includes worshipping or serving something other than God, we are all susceptible to it and need pay close attention to our loyalties. We also need to be careful not to think that we would never falter. Rather, we must learn to rely on God. After all, it is the Lord with whom we are to enjoy our fellowship, as is manifested in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If we share in the bread (the body of Christ) and the cup of blessing (the blood of Christ), then must not also try to have fellowship with the evils of this world or the “table of demons.” Instead, all that we do need to be to the glory of God. Once again, a focus upon God and others can lead to many being saved.
1 Corinthians 11: Examine and Submit
Two ideas permeate what Paul is saying: examine and submit. God has a particular order for people that is grounded in creation. God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of woman. This is not about superiority or inferiority, but rather function and role. Christ was not inferior to the Father, but submitted Himself in function to carry our God’s purposes. The woman is not inferior to the man, but still functions in a particular role. All are under God’s authority, and all need to be willing to submit to His will. Paul then addresses an assembly in which the Christians are partaking of the Lord’s Supper. They are to examine themselves and make sure that they partake in a way that properly reflects the honor of the occasion. In both scenarios, Christians are submitting to one another and caring for one another so that God’s greater purposes will be fulfilled. Will we examine and submit?
1 Corinthians 12: One Body and Many Members
The body of Christ does indeed function like a body with many members supplying their particular functions. This is why it is vital for the members to work together for unity. There were a variety of spiritual gifts and not everyone had the same abilities. Yet God empowered them all as He willed. One part of the body, then, must not despise or look down upon another part of the body. Nor should one part of the body feel useless because it is not something else. God composed His body in such a way that there would be no division, “but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (vv. 25-26). If we are members of the body of Christ, do we see the need to function according to our abilities and in such a way as to encourage unity?
1 Corinthians 13: The More Excellent Way
It matters not what kind of gift or ability one has if it is not exercised in love. Nothing can be gained by acting out of selfishness without showing love for one another. This is why love is the more excellent way and is greater than any particular gift. Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does insist on its own way, nor is it irritable or resentful. Love rejoices in truth, not wrongdoing. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” While various gifts would cease, and even while faith and hope remained, love would be greater than them all. Are we demonstrating a desire to show this more excellent way in all that we do?
1 Corinthians 14: All Things for Edification
When the church met together as one, those who could exercise miraculous gifts needed to be especially careful not to abuse what God gave them. Paul points out that the purpose of any of these gifts was to build one another up in Christ. They were not to let their assemblies devolve in chaos. They were to maintain respect and decorum, doing all things decently and orderly, so that the church would be edified. Whatever they did needed to be in compliance with God’s will and each needed to “strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12). Even today, the same principles apply. All that we do as a church should be for edification, and all should be done decently and orderly. The assembly is not the place for selfishness, showing off, or doing anything that distracts from the greater purpose of glorifying God.
1 Corinthians 15: Not in Vain
Paul preached the gospel of Jesus. This was about the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is paramount to the preaching of the gospel because if it did not happen, then our faith is vain and we are still in our sins. Paul, however, affirms the resurrection of Jesus Christ and shows that His resurrection is the basis for believing that we, too, will be raised. We will all be changed from what is corruptible to that which is incorruptible. At that point, we will fully know the victory that Christ displayed over death. Based upon knowing this, we can also know that everything we do for the Lord will not be in vain (v. 58). Therefore, we need to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in His work. Is the work that we do showing our anticipation of the final resurrection?
1 Corinthians 16: Be Strong
Paul encourages the church to collect funds for needy saints so that when he comes through for a visit he can carry the funds to the brethren in need. He speaks of his travel plans and encourages them to help Timothy and Apollos when they come to them. He then issues this encouragement: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (vv. 13-14). This sums up what Paul is doing in the epistle. In a church that had been torn up by division and selfishness, they needed to regroup and seek to understand what they are really supposed to be doing. Loving one another and loving the Lord were paramount. Will we examine ourselves to make sure we are following these instructions, too?
2 Corinthians 1: The God of all comfort
Comfort is an important idea in 2 Corinthians, and Paul begins the epistle by pointing to the comfort that God provides. God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1:4). God’s people who are comforted in their afflictions can then also provide comfort for other who experience afflictions. The depth of affliction to which Paul and his companions had suffered even meant that they despaired of life (v. 8), but this helped them understand their need to trust God (v. 9). This lays the groundwork for the Corinthians to comfort their brother who had repented of sin. Indeed, we need to appreciate the comfort that comes from God so that we can, in turn, provide comfort for others.
2 Corinthians 2: Love and Forgive
Paul had written to the Corinthians through many tears, and this is not hard to understand when we read 1 Corinthians. Paul only had their best interests at heart and he had to rebuke them. Now Paul writes about a man who had been in sin but repented (likely the man of 1 Corinthians 5). Perhaps they had now gone to the other extreme and were not being very forgiving. Paul tells them they need to forgive, comfort, and demonstrate love for the one who has repented: “so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (v. 7). This is an important lesson. While, on the one hand we need to rebuke one in sin, on the other hand we must be forgiving and loving so that one who repents will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Our goal, as always, is to bring people to the Lord, so we do not want to do anything that would get in the way of that. Being unforgiving and unloving is itself a stumbling block.
2 Corinthians 3: Letter on the Hearts
Paul was confident that the Corinthians could do what is right. Their influence was important, and they needed to remember that they themselves were as “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v. 3). This reflected the New Covenant. Rather than being under the “letter that kills,” we are under the Spirit who gives life. Though the Old Covenant had glory, the New far exceeds that glory. This is where the hope of the Christian lies. Moses had to cover his face when he descended from the mountain, but in Christ that veil is lifted, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Praise God for the freedom and glory in Christ!
2 Corinthians 4: The Light of the Gospel
Because of God’s mercy, Paul says, we do not lose heart. While the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” still shines. This is why Christ, not self, is to be proclaimed. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). Paul points out that even though they suffered in the flesh, it resulted in life for those who heard. There is good reason, then, not to lose heart. One can look to the eternal and know that there is something far greater coming.
2 Corinthians 5: Reconciled with God
Continuing the thought that we look at the unseen rather than the seen, for the unseen is eternal, Paul points out that the tents in which we live (our bodies) are temporary and will be replaced by a “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Our desire is life. Our desire is to be with the Lord eternally, and one day this will be realized. In the meantime, we walk by faith not by sight, and we know that one day we will stand before our Lord. Therefore, we need to be about the business of persuading others. Christ died for all so that we might be reconciled to Him and that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” This changes our perspective in everything, including how we see other people. The gospel plea, then, is clear: be reconciled to God!
2 Corinthians 6: God’s Temple
The day of salvation has come. This is the era of Christ, and Paul did not want to put a stumbling block in anyone’s path. He and those with him had endured many struggles and hardships. Yet through all the suffering and sorrow, they could still rejoice. God was with them. The Corinthians needed some appreciation for what it took to get the gospel to them (as do we all). Their response would be manifested in how they lived. Coming out of paganism, they needed to be careful not to allow such influences back into their lives, for “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (v. 14). Instead, they needed to see that they were God’s temple, that the Spirit of God was in them, and that they needed to stay separate from the evil that the world offered. This remains true for God’s people today.
2 Corinthians 7: Holiness
Because of who we are as God’s temple, Paul says, “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (v. 1). Paul had those brethren in his heart. He was afflicted for the sake of the gospel and had only their best interests in mind. His first letter caused some grief because he had to deal with very difficult matters. Yet this grief, a godly grief, causes repentance, “so that you suffered no loss through us” (v. 9). The nature of godly grief, which leads to repentance, is contrasted with worldly grief, which produces death. Godly sorrow brings comfort in the end. Titus was able to report to Paul that these brethren were obedient. Consequently, Paul says, “I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” Sometimes it takes great difficulty to reach the joyous results.
2 Corinthians 8: First Giving Selves
Paul tells the Corinthians about the tremendous response of Macedonian churches to the needs of saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-3). The brethren in Macedonia were so generous because they first gave themselves to the Lord. This should serve as encouragement to the brethren in Corinth to “excel in this act of grace also” (v. 7). By their responding generously, they show that the love they have is genuine. Paul knew these brethren had an abundance that could help in the needs of their Jewish brethren so far away. The lessons here are important for Christians of all times. We are first to give ourselves to the Lord, and when we do, we can learn to be generous toward others who have needs.
2 Corinthians 9: Generosity
Paul continues to encourage the Corinthians in their generosity in helping needy saints in Jerusalem. Other messengers like Titus would be coming through and they needed to have things ready to be picked up so the funds could be delivered in good time. All of this needed to be put into perspective. This was not some kind of tax to be paid. Rather it was a willing gift on their part. Such is the case with all of our giving under Christ. We are “paying” to be part of God’s people. Rather, we willingly supply the needs of God’s people, understanding the principle that we are to be generous in what we do. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:7-8).
2 Corinthians 10: Whom the Lord Commends
Unfortunately, Paul had his detractors. There were some who were influencing the Corinthians not to listen to Paul, challenging his authority as an apostle. They tried to lessen Paul’s influence by arguing that Paul was weighty in his letters but in appearance was weak. Paul counters by showing that the real weapons of the Christian’s warfare are not carnal (driven by fleshly appeals or worldly wisdom as these detractors were using), but rather are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds and lofty opinions that stand against Christ. Every thought needs to be in obedience to the Lord. What Paul said in his letters he would say in person. However, Paul’s concern was not to be measured by human judgments, but rather by what God wants. His concern was to teach the truth of the gospel. “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (vv. 17-18). This gives us an important lesson on making sure that God is the standard and not man.
2 Corinthians 11: Pure Devotion
Continuing to defend his apostleship in the Lord, which he hated having to do, he shows how his true desire to keep the brethren firm in the truth. He feared that they were being deceived and led astray “from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3). They were becoming double-minded and listening to proclamations about Jesus that were false (v. 4). There were enough enemies from the world, but now he was having to deal with “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (v. 13). These were following the path of Satan, who would disguise himself as an angel of light to lead others astray. Yet they also knew Paul’s character and how much he gave up for them and suffered in order to preach the gospel. Paul enumerates some of the issues he had to deal with. Even so, he thought it all worthwhile for the sake of spreading the truth. This makes us ask ourselves: how much would we be willing to endure in order to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2 Corinthians 12: Sufficient Grace
Paul could boast about his credentials if he so wished. He could go on about visions and suffering. He even suffered what he called a “thorn given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v. 7). He had pleaded with the Lord to have it removed, but was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). Paul was willing to endure whatever the Lord, in His wisdom, desired in order to bring about the greatest results. His example is a great one: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Sometimes we think things have to be just right if we are going to accomplish anything worthwhile. Paul reminds us that even when the thorns are present, we can glorify God. Paul showed by example that his concern for others was greater than for himself. This, indeed, is the Lord’s example, too.
2 Corinthians 13: Examine Selves
Paul gives his final greetings and tells the Corinthian brethren that he was planning to come to them a third time. If there were those who still wanted to challenge him, he was ready to meet them with confidence in the Lord. As for the brethren, Paul exhorts them, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (v. 5). Paul wanted them to do what is right. “Your restoration is what we pray for” (v. 9). He had to be a bit hard on them at times because he needed them to listen. If they listened, he would not have to be hard on them in person; instead he could focus on building them up. The church at Corinth teaches us many lessons about a group that is struggling to keep themselves together in the Lord. Paul never gave up hope and was willing to suffer personally to see to it that they were doing what was right. These are lessons of encouragement, sacrifice, and love.