1-3: This letter is from Paul and Sosthenes. Paul didn't choose to be an apostle, he was called by God. Likewise, all Christians are called by God to be saints in unity with one another.
4-7: Paul is thankful that God saved and enriched the Corinthian believers in their speech and actions.
8-9: God is faithful and Jesus' atonement will sustain our salvation until the end. Because our righteousness is based on Jesus' works rather than our own, we can't lose our perfect standing on judgement day. Jesus paid for our sins and gave us his righteousness.
10-17: Divisions began to form in the Corinthian church based on which teacher they followed and who baptized them. Although Peter, Paul, and Apollos were unified in their doctrine, their followers saw them as leaders of separate "clubs". Paul commanded them to be unified as followers of Christ rather than followers of men. He was glad he didn't add to their confusion and division by baptizing any of them.
18-31: The idea of a Jewish rabbi sacrificing himself for our sins and rising from the dead is complete foolishness to the materialist who sees himself as wise. According to worldly "wisdom" we don't see people rising from the dead, therefore it must be a myth. But to the believer, Jesus' death and resurrection fits perfectly into a larger framework that explains our existence in a way materialism cannot. The reason God uses humble, "foolish" means to save believers is so "no one may boast in God's presence" by reaching God through their "superior wisdom". The Bible isn't contrary to true wisdom; it only only opposes worldly wisdom, which is arrogant, prideful, and dishonest.
1-5: Paul's preaching to the Corinthians was in fear, weakness, and humility. This was so their trust would be in the simple message of the Gospel rather than eloquent words or superior wisdom. God works through humble means to make it clear that the power of God is stronger than the wisdom of man. That way, God gets the glory rather than the messenger. Throughout the entire Bible God uses weak, flawed, despised people to accomplish His will (Hebrews 11).
6-7: Paul and his disciples taught true wisdom to the spiritually mature Christians they discipled. Unlike worldly wisdom, which is built on the false assumption that the natural world is all that exists, the 'secret and hidden wisdom of God' takes into account all truth, both natural and spiritual.
8-9: If the spiritual blinded rulers who crucified Jesus had understood that Jesus was God, they never would have crucified him. God used evil (their spiritual blindness and murder of Jesus) to accomplish something good according to His will (atonement for sins through Jesus' death and resurrection).
10-16: Since the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, we are able to understand the things of the Spirit, such as the Gospel and theological truths about Jesus. The "natural man" (unbeliever) finds all theological and spiritual talk foolish because he doesn't have the Holy Spirit and relies on "worldly wisdom".
1-4: The Corinthians were spiritually immature and argued divisively over which teacher they followed. Paul had to address them as if they were new believers, teaching only the very basic doctrines of Christianity rather than deep theological truths.
5-9: The analogy of growing crops illustrates that in the end Paul, Apollos, and all other teachers are merely God's instruments who serve a common purpose. Paul planted the seed (shared the Gospel) and Apollos watered (teaching and building them up), but God caused the growth (true salvation and spiritual maturity).
10-15: Paul switches the evangelism/discipleship analogy to a building, for the purpose of explaining how our work done for God will be judged. The building represents God's people (verse 9), the foundation represents Jesus (verse 11), the materials for building on the foundation represent teaching and discipleship, and fire represents God's judgment (verse 13). When Paul preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, he was "laying a foundation" by making Jesus' atoning work the foundation of their faith. Apollos and others built on this foundation by teaching and discipling the new believers. The quality of our teaching and discipleship will be revealed on judgement day. If what we teach is in line with the foundation of our faith (Jesus and his mission) then it will stand through the "flames" of judgement. If our work is built on another foundation such as ulterior motives or false teaching, we will "suffer loss" because we won't receive a reward and making our work will be meaningless. However, we will still be saved if we have Jesus as our foundation. And although this section is talking about teaching and evangelism, this principle is undoubtedly true of all work done for God wether giving, good deeds, or serving in the church.
16-17: Christians are now the temple of God because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. In the old covenant a temple building, sacrifices, and priests were needed to mediate between God and man because of our sin. But now Jesus mediates and the Spirit dwells within us. To murder a Christian is to destroy God's temple and incur judgement.
18-20: We must avoid deceiving ourselves into thinking we are wise if we adopt the futile, materialistic philosophies prominent today. The only way to truly become wise is to adopt the "foolish" teachings of the Bible.
21-23: Paul brings it back to his point that we shouldn't boast in the men we associate with because all things are ours in Christ, including Paul and Apollos. Since we are Christ's, these teachers are ours by serving to build us up, the world is ours because we will rule with Jesus upon his return (2 Timothy 2:12), eternal life is ours because Jesus will raise us, death is ours because it's merely a transition to paradise, the present is ours because we have the opportunity to serve God, and the future is ours because we will spend eternity with Jesus. As a child of God, we inherit all things.
1-2: Paul wanted his followers to see him and Apollos as faithful stewards of "the mysteries of God". This is referring to theological truths about Jesus and the Gospel. They were previously mysteries to the Jews and prophets who only received glimpses of the coming messiah.
3-5: We shouldn't pronounce judgement about others or ourselves because we lack God's omniscient visibility in making accurate judgements. Even if we aren't aware of a sin we've committed, it doesn't acquit us. Only God can see the hidden motives of the heart, all of which will be revealed on judgement day.
6-7: Paul's example of humility was for their benefit. We have no reason to boast about our spiritual gifts or anything else because it was all given to us by God.
8-13: The Corinthian church was rich with material possessions and spiritual pride, acting as if they were already ruling with Christ in His kingdom. By contrast, Paul and the apostles lacked material possessions and were reviled by many.
14-20: Paul saw his relationship to the Corinthians as that of a father and child, because they came to faith under his teaching and were discipled by him. His strong words weren't to be interpreted as shaming them, but as a father lovingly disciplining his children.
1-5: A man in the church was in an open, sinful relationship with his Stepmother, yet the Corinthians were still prideful of their "spiritual superiority". Paul commanded them to excommunicate the guilty man, "handing him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh". This means they were to treat him as an unbeliever, letting him live out his sin and face the consequences. Like the prodigal son, he needed to hit rock bottom before he would repent and turn to God (Luke 15:11-32).
6-8: Just as leaven permeates and modifies bread, the leaven of pride and sexual immorality can permeate our hearts and the church; compromise leads to sin growth.
9-13: There is nothing wrong with Christians associating with unbelievers who live in deliberate sin, but we shouldn't associate with Christians who live in sin. We should only judge fellow Christians; God will judge those outside the Church.
1-8: The Corinthian Christians were getting into trivial disputes and settling them in courts run by unbelievers with different moral standards. This is shameful because as Christians, we're held to a higher moral standard and will even take part in judging angels (Jude 6) when Christ judges the world. He concludes that it's better for their Christian testimony if they suffer wrong in these trivial disputes rather than take their brothers in Christ to court.
9-11: Unrighteous people will not "inherit the kingdom of God", meaning they won't go to heaven. The only exception are those who were washed of their sins and justified through Jesus. This passage makes it clear that Christians have no right to think they're better than sinful people because they too lived sinful lifestyles but were saved solely by the grace of God.
Homosexuality is listed among these sins and worth mentioning due to cultural confusion on the topic. It's not a "special" or unforgivable sin, nor is it a behavior condoned by God under monogamous circumstances. We should love and minister to them, but we should never disobey God's word by denying that homosexual sex is a sin .
12-15: We know from the previous passage that "all things" doesn't include sinful behaviors. He's referring to all things that don't contradict God's laws, such as food, entertainment, and work. But even though these things are lawful they are temporary and shouldn't be the focus of our lives. Also, our bodies are meant to serve and glorify God rather than engage in sexual immorality. Our bodies are not our own because Jesus redeemed us and we now serve Him and are united with Him. To have sexual relations with a prostitute is to use God's temple (our bodies) to sin.
1-5: The reason Paul says it's good "not to have sexual relations" is because single people can devote more time and energy to serving God. But with the lack of sexual self control in the Corinthian church, Paul recommended that those tempted should get married and not deprive each other of sex. It was a way for them to have a sexual partner without sinning. He summarized this point well in verse 9 by saying, "It is better to marry than burn with passion". Marriage should be a selfless, trusting act in which the couple has` complete control over one another's bodies. This changes the attitude from a quid pro quo relationship to one of 100% commitment and selflessness.
6-9: The suggestion to marry was not a command from God but advice from Paul. He personally saw how fruitful a single life was in ministry but realized each person has different spiritual gifts from God. Not everyone had his level self-control in this area.
10-11: Although a celibate life of service to God is honorable, it should never be the cause of divorce. Marriage is a lifelong commitment.
12-16: Christians "unequally yolked" with an unbeliever shouldn't divorce if at all possible. They not only made a lifelong commitment, but they could be used to lead their unbelieving spouse and children to Christ. The unbelieving spouse is "made holy" in the sight of God when they respond to the Gospel because their husband/wife shared it with them.
17-24: When becoming a Christian, you shouldn't break all ties with your past life. Yes, we should repent of the sinful elements, but it doesn't mean we need to remove our tattoos, change our social status, or abandon our career and friends. As verse 24 says, we should remain in our situation; the difference is we now remain there with God. On a practical level, God uses us in our diverse situations to reach others and glorify Himself.
The text gives two specific scenarios relevant to his original readers: circumcision and slavery. Jewish converts to Christianity wanted to break with their past by somehow "undoing" their circumcision, but this was unnecessary because circumcision counts for nothing in the New Covenant. Even if someone was called (came to Christ) as a slave, their new faith didn't require them to run away and risk their life or their source of food and shelter. They could have joy in knowing God even if they had to remain in their situation. But Paul points out that we should be slaves to God rather than men, so if possible slaves should obtain their freedom.
25-28: In this section Paul offers council regarding the situation in the Corinthian church. The call to stay single should be taken as advice and not a direct command from God. If they did marry it wouldn't be a sin, but they would have the worldly troubles that come with marriage.
29-31: There's an urgency to our devotion and service to God because life is short and Jesus could return at any moment. All earthly things and relationships should be subservient to our relationship with God. Husbands and wives aren't relieved from their marital duties, and they should never let their marriage get in the way of their relationship with Christ. Just the same, mourning, rejoicing, and material goods should never be and end in themselves. The present form of the world is passing away and will be replaced with a perfect world that God will create in place of this one.
32-40: Paul reiterates that marriage divides our focus between our spouse and the Lord so singleness is better, but concludes that marriage is still a good thing.
1-3: Knowledge can make us prideful, but our knowledge is incredibly limited in God's site so we have nothing to be prideful of. Love, on the other hand, builds others up rather than our own egos.
4-13: Because of the many pagan religions in Corinth, there was a lot of meat from pagan sacrifices sold in the marketplace. It wasn't a sin for Christians to eat it because other gods don't exist, making the sacrifice invalid. But they were to avoid eating food offered to idols around Christians who didn't know this. It could've embolden the less informed Christians to do things they believed were wrong, weakening their God-given conscience. We don't have pagan sacrifices in our society, but the principle still applies. There may be similar situations with things such as drinking alcohol.
1-3: Paul begins stating his defense against those who questioned his apostleship and accused him of preaching the Gospel simply for material gain. He begins by pointing out that he met the Lord Jesus firsthand and built up the Corinthian church. Their existence as Christ-followers was a testimony to his apostleship.
4-14: When someone devotes their life as a minister of the Gospel, their material needs should be met by those who benefit from their ministry. Paul makes his point from the Old Testament: Just as Jewish priests got their food from sacrifices and oxen eat from the grain they tread, ministers of the Gospel should be supported by those they serve. But despite this benefit, Paul and those serving with him refused to reap the support they deserved in order to make it clear they weren't opportunists seeking material gain.
15-18: Preaching the Gospel isn't grounds for boasting because it's a requirement for all Christians and failing to do so is disobedience. Paul's grounds for boasting weren't that he preached the Gospel, but that he did so selflessly, free of charge.
19-23: Paul set aside his freedoms in Christ to to reach more people with the Gospel, meeting people where they were at. In this way he became a servant to all. When preaching to Jews he followed their customs and traditions. When preaching to gentiles he practiced his freedoms in Christ. When preaching to the weak, he related to them by sharing his own weaknesses. Paul related to people without compromising in his obedience to Christ. In the end, he will share in the blessings of the Gospel by receiving a reward for his work done for Jesus.
24-27: Paul saw the Christian life as a race that we should run (live) in a way that we receive a reward on judgment day for our efforts. Just as a physical athlete has to discipline their body through training and self control, we too need to discipline ourselves by giving up our comforts and desires to live obedient, productive lives for Christ. Anything that gets in the way of this should be abandoned as not to let sin disqualify us from ministry. Olympians run for a perishable prize, but ours is eternal so we should run our race much more seriously.
1-5: During the Exodus, the Jews were unified by following the pillar of cloud that guided them. They were also unified by walking through the parted Red Sea together. Being "baptized into Moses" means they were unified with him, acknowledging him as their leader. The spiritual food was mana and the spiritual drink was probably from the rock that Moses struck twice. Despite the Israelites' unity through "communion" and "baptism", we know God was not pleased with them because most died in the wilderness and were kept out of the promised land.
6-12: These stories were passed down to as warnings not to engage in idolatry (valuing something above God), sexual immorality (sexual thoughts and actions outside of marriage), putting Christ to the test (a passive aggressive attempt to control God), and grumbling (complaining). If we dabble in these sins we may face the discipline of God as they did. We need to constantly be on guard against them.
13-14: Paul encourages us with the truth that temptations are common among all people and with them God provides a way out, even if that means physically fleeing.
15-22: Just as consuming communion as a church unifies us in Christ, Pagan sacrifices unify their followers in sacrificing to demonic influences behind false deities. The two are at odds with one another so we can't partake in pagan practices while worshiping the one true God. God will not share the worship of his followers with a false deity.
23-33: Paul returns to the theme of meat sacrificed to idols. We should imitate him in sacrificing freedoms and privileges in order to lead others to Christ. Yes, all physical things are God's so even meat sacrificed to an idol is still part of God's creation and can be consumed without sinning. But doing so could destroy someone's conscience so Christians in that situation were to refrain.
2-16: Paul lays out the divine order of authority: God the Father, Jesus Christ, man, woman. Jesus willingly submits to God the father even though he is one with him and equal in every way. Just the same, woman submits to man even though she is one with him and equal in every way (Galatians 3:28). So what does it look like for a man to have authority over his wife? The Bible doesn't give many specifics, but it will vary for different relationships and cultures. We do know that it's not a controlling or oppressive relationship and the husband must put his wife's needs above his own (Colossians 3:19, Ephesians 5:25). For a more detailed explanation of these verses, click here.
17-26: Many Corinthians abused the Lord's supper by feasting, getting drunk, and causing class divisions in the church. They distorted what it meant to take communion by feasting and not sharing with those who couldn't afford to eat. Communion was meant to unify the church in Christ, not to create divisions and excess. Verses 23-26 are proper instructions for the Lord's supper.
27-34: We should judge and examine ourselves before taking the Lord's supper so we don't do it carelessly or in a sinful matter as the Corinthians did. Because of their disobedience, God disciplined some in their church with illness and even death.
1-3: We can know if someone is speaking truth "in the Holy Spirit" based on their theology of Jesus. Those who claim that Jesus is the Lord speak the truth, while those who reject him are deceived by pagan ideas.
4-11: All spiritual gifts are given to us by God for the purpose of building up the church and bringing God glory.
12-31: The body analogy is meant to represent "Christ's body", the church. The roles are as diverse as the differences between a hand, ear, and eye, yet we are a unified "body" that serves God. Each of the different roles are important and cannot stand alone. Because of this, we should rejoice in the success of the other members.
1-3: It doesn't matter how wonderfully we perform our spiritual gifts; If we don't have love then knowledge, faith, and selflessness, count for nothing and bring us no gain. It would merely be empty routine without heavenly reward if we didn't love the people or God we were serving. The commandments can be summarized into loving God and loving neighbor.
4-7: This is a description of true love in practice. It's not a temporary feeling of infatuation that comes and goes based on others' performance; it's deep and enduring—the way a mother loves her rebellious child or a selfless husband cares for his paralyzed wife. True love is patient, despite the flaws and shortcomings of our loved ones. We don't get envious of who they are, what they have, or what they accomplish. Instead, we celebrate with them and seek their interests above our own. We also don't praise the sin in their lives because we care about their spiritual well being. Love requires we tell hard truths rather than convenient lies.
8-13: Spiritual gifts serve a temporary purpose in this world but love is greater because it will endure throughout all of eternity. Prophecy, teaching, healing, and evangelism are all meant to reach the lost and build up believers, which is unnecessary in the new world. We won't need evangelism because no one will be lost. We won't need teaching, or knowledge because we will know all things. And we won't need healing because there won't be sickness or death. Spiritual gifts are merely tools to be used while we live in our current fallen world.
1-19: Prophecy (preaching God's word) is a greater gift than being able to speak a foreign language because unless you can interpret the language, it doesn't build up the church.
20: We shouldn't listen to languages without understanding them the way infants do, only hearing abstract sounds. Our minds should be engaged during church services. We should become infants evil, lacking experience with it; but in our thinking we should be mature. Jesus used children as examples to follow in their humility and purity, but never in their ignorance.
21-25: In Isaiah 28:11 God promised to bring his message of salvation to many in their own language even though they would ultimately reject it. In this way, tongues are a sign of warning for those who reject the message (unbelievers). But prophecy is for those who repent when they hear the message (believers) because they accept it and are built up by it.
26-40: Verse 26, along with Paul's anecdote, tell us that the Corinthian church was chaotic because multiple people were preaching and speaking foreign languages at the same time. He called for order and suggested a system of taking turns speaking. Verses 34 and 35 seem to reinforce Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that women are not to have teaching authority over their husbands during the worship service. It has nothing to do with their competence and doesn't mean they're inferior to men in any way. Many women have the gift of teaching and are allowed to teach men in any other context. The reason they shouldn't preach is symbolic; God established a divine order that illustrates Jesus' relationship with the church through the covenant of marriage. Wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives sacrificially, as Jesus loved the Church and died for it. Having women teach their husbands in church skewed this symbolic representation of divine authority.
1-11: Paul reminded them of the Gospel, that Jesus died for their sins and was raised from the dead, and gave his own story as an example of repentance. He acknowledged his sin of persecuting the church and was saved by grace, leading him to respond with good works and service to God. Paul, the other apostles, and 500 others saw Jesus in his resurrected body. Most of the witnesses were alive and could confirm to the Corinthian believers what they saw.
12-19: There was a false teaching in the Corinthian church that the resurrection of the dead wouldn't happen. Paul responded by pointing out that if the dead aren't raised then neither was Jesus, or those who have already died. If Jesus wasn't raised then we have no hope and should be pitied.
20-23: Many witnesses saw Jesus in his resurrected body (verses 15:4-8), confirming Jesus' teaching that all will be resurrected. Just as Adam brought eternal death to the human race, Jesus brought eternal life to the human race. In isolation this verse seems like it could teach that everyone is saved, but we know from the next verse that it's only for "those who belong to him".
24-28: God the Father put all things in subjection to Jesus, meaning he has authority over everything. In the end, when everything is accomplished and death has been defeated, Jesus will "return the kingdom" of believers to God the Father. Jesus will continue to rule with the Father for all eternity.
29: Though this is a confusing passage, we know from the rest of the New Testament that "being baptized on behalf of the dead" does not mean we can somehow baptize dead people. We are only saved through repentance and faith in Jesus and are baptized after submitting to Him. One possible meaning is that some believers came to saving faith through the preaching of those who have died, so the baptism is "on behalf of the deceased believer's legacy", without whom they would have never came to faith and been baptized.
30-32: Paul points out how ridiculous it would be for him to toil for the Gospel and give up his own desires if there is no resurrection. Without life after death we're better off living a hedonist lifestyle of excessive drinking and gluttony. The "beasts in Ephesus" could either be referring to actual wild beasts or the crowd of Ephesians stirred up against him.
33-34: This false doctrine naturally lead many Corinthians to live immoral lives, corrupting the devoted believers in their midst. They fell into a "drunken stupor" of sin and Paul commanded them to "wake up" and stop sinning. This command is relevant to all of us because sin is deceptive and impairs our judgment.
35-44: Doubters of the final resurrection questioned the physical nature of the resurrected body. Paul answered by using the analogy of a seed growing. Just as a seed is planted in the ground and grows into something completely different, our bodies die and are raised into something completely different. We now have weak 'natural' bodies, but when we are raised we'll have imperishable 'spiritual' bodies.
45-49: He shifts the analogy again to Adam and Christ. Adam was an earthly man created from the ground, but Jesus was the heavenly man conceived supernaturally. First came the physical man who brought death (Adam), then came the spiritual man who brought life (Jesus). After those who are in Christ die, they will be resurrected in their new bodies.
50-55: Unless we go through this transition from physical death to resurrected body, we cannot experience eternal life. Verse 51 seems to teach that when we die we won't be in a state of "sleep" but will instantly change into our spiritual bodies at the end of the age (the last trumpet).
56-57: the reason sin is the "sting" of death is that it leads to judgment. The law condemns us, giving sin it's power to destroy. However, we can have victory through Christ , who died to take away the "sting of death," giving us eternal life.
1-4: Paul collected money from the Corinthians and Galatians to provide for believers in Jerusalem who were struggling financially. This is a great example for prospering Christians to help struggling believers facing financial difficulties.
5-9: Paul acknowledged God's sovereignty and practiced wisdom when making ministry decisions. He knew that his desire to spend time with them was at the mercy of God's will. Then in verse 8 he made the decision to stay in Ephesus simply because a ministry opportunity arose. We can be confident that all things are sovereignly orchestrated by God and we should make ministry plans humbly, with this in mind.
10-11: Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to respect Timothy as a teacher because he was doing the work of the Lord just as Paul was.
12-21: The letter concludes with straightforward personal messages and instructions to the Corinthian Christians. Among the instructions is Paul's admonition to stand strong in the faith and do everything in love. Though most of this section is specific to their situation, verse 13-14 are very relevant to Christians today.