What does it say?
This letter is probably written by Paul from Ephesus around 54 AD, and reflects the state of the church Paul began there during his 18-month stay recorded in Acts 18. Paul is receiving reports from Corinth that indicate conflict in the church (1:11). Later (7:1; 16:16) it seems that a delegation from Corinth arrives with a letter asking for his counsel.
The majority of these first four chapters address the issue of divisions in the church. Corinth is a melting pot of various cultures and peoples and this also spills over into the church. Gentile disciples outnumber the numbers of Jews that believe. There are upper class, influential individuals, but many come from the working classes as well. Many came from pagan, idolatrous background and have little sensitivity toward those who are Jewish. Likewise, the Jewish disciples seem to be equally insensitive to the Gentile believers that are just now coming to explore the scriptures.
What does it mean?
Divisions are a potential problem any time human beings gather and the church is no exception. These chapters are filled with insight and instruction about dealing with problems in interpersonal relationships. Ethnocentrism is our natural human tendency to see life (and the Bible) exclusively through the lenses of our own culture. Since our mission is to take the Gospel to all the peoples of the world, it is natural to assume that part of our growth process as disciples of Jesus Christ is learning to relate to people that are different than us.
Paul navigates these conflicts and misunderstandings by pointing them back to God’s missional purposes. We exist to glorify God and our wisdom is rooted in God’s truth alone. Paul uses the image of the temple to remind the Corinthians that we are one body of believers representing God on earth and each of us has a unique place in this body.
How will I respond?
Do Paul’s words speak into conflicts in my life? From Paul’s instructions, what is the most significant lesson that I can learn from this passage? How will I apply this lesson to my daily life?