Summary: As we look at Paul’s first and second letters to the Corinthians, we can gain much from his answers to the Corinthians’ questions and how he talks about his life as a minister of the Lord and apostle.
In my last post, we began tracking with Paul on how we, as Jesus’s disciples, grow into His perfect plan for our spiritual formation in Romans. In this post, we continue through Paul’s letters with 1 & 2 Corinthians.
When I get emails with lots of questions for me, I like working in Gmail because I can open the email and still read it while I respond. If you’re like me, you reread the email, searching for all the questions you need answered. I go through each one and produce a response with each paragraph.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was much like that. Each chapter or subheading of the letter starts out with, “About this issue…” or something close to it. Paul had received a letter from the Corinthian elders asking him questions from divisions in the church to worship. Paul systematically addressed each one and gave his answer.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, he dealt with some things that happened in the first letter, but most of the letter was some of the most personal testimony and defense of his apostleship that we get a glimpse into Paul’s life as an apostle. From both letters, we glean much about the character and spiritual formation of Jesus’s disciples. Let’s get started and see what Paul has to teach us about being spiritually formed in life and trials.
Character Development in 1 Corinthians
Unlike many of his letters, Paul sprinkles Christian character development throughout the letter. Christian character statements come through each answer to a question. But there’s much to learn in each section about how to grow in Christ.
We will take a selective approach to these questions and their application to the development of Jesus’s disciples. Paul’s organization into subjects actually helps us grasp core Christian concepts. It’s almost like looking at an encyclopedia or dictionary to know the subject of formation, and then see how Paul gives us commands or just talks about the Christian life.
Paul begins the letter by thanking God for the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). We must let Jesus know of our gratitude with our lips. He moves into one top concern about divisions in the Corinthian church between believers on who they follow (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
We follow Jesus, not a human leader. We can respect and be thankful for our leaders, but we must not think we are following them. Let’s avoid divisive arguments and doctrines. We should support and build one another up in love and encouragement. He revisits divisions among Christians in Chapter 3. Divisions keep us from growing in God’s Word, requiring milk like spiritual infants instead of solid food as we mature in Christ.
When we have disagreements, and we will disagree, we must do it in love. Each disciple of Jesus must understand God’s leadership of his or her life by the Holy Spirit. We all struggle with different issues, so we must obediently follow our path with Jesus. We are all growing in holiness. Every disciple has a different background, temptations, and level of spiritual growth.
Next, Paul talks about God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). The Corinthians were obsessed with Greek wisdom. But he wanted them to realize that God’s wisdom is what we seek bold. God’s wisdom is better and more helpful than worldly wisdom. We must contend with the voices of this world, seeking to hear from God. Discipline yourself to hear from God first in your day and ignore other voices that contend with His.
Paul follows this discussion by talking about wisdom from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-15). The “natural man” does not have God’s Spirit living inside of him. He does not understand scriptural guidance and spiritual wisdom. His spirit has not yet been awakened to God’s truth. Listen to the Holy Spirit and follow His wisdom instead of the world’s wisdom.
Paul shares about his ministry as an apostle. The Corinthians judged Paul harshly and challenged his authority as an apostle. But Paul humbly told them that they have become prideful about the Christianity. They need to respect their church leaders and the apostles. We must respect and pray for our church leaders. They guide us and stand before God for what they have taught us and done for us. We must learn to cherish them.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul deals with a man who is sleeping with his stepmother. Paul says we cannot use our freedom in Christ to grossly sin against Him with sins worse than the world. Paul tells the church to put this man out of their fellowship and let Satan deal with him! This is strong judgment and discipline. Let us examine our behavior so that we live worthy of God’s call and grace.
Paul chastises the Corinthians who are going to the world to settle their Christian disputes with one another (1 Corinthians 6). Paul called them to seek God’s wisdom to solve their arguments. We should not go to the world to decide our disagreements. They do not have the same worldview or values. We must live at peace with one another.
First Corinthians 7 addressees marriage, how Christians deal with unbelieving spouses, and Paul’s recommendations about marriage and singleness. He gives principles for these lifestyles. He recommends we live at peace with unbelieving spouses. If they reject us, we may accept a divorce. This leaves every disciple with the principle of how to deal with unbelievers. We must not seek separation from unbelievers unless they refuse to live with us because of Christ.
Paul spends 1 Corinthians 8-10 to deal with food sacrificed to idols, and touches on principles from Romans 14 about the weaker brother. Corinthian disciples struggled with meat sacrificed to idols when they visited others’ houses for fellowship. How should they address meat placed before them? If it was sacrificed to idols, should they eat it? He teaches them that they are free from idols. There are other principles here for us to learn as well.
Next, he addresses Christian worship by talking about head coverings, which may be a cultural issue. Also included in worship is Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians were abusing it. We must examine our lives before we partake of the elements. Let us practice the attitude of Christ as we remember His sacrifice every day.
First Corinthians 12-14 continues the subject of worship. Paul addresses the gifts of the Spirit. He goes into detail about the gifts, how to unite as members of Christ’s body, and how to use the gifts to encourage one another. The Corinthians thought speaking in tongues the most spiritual gift. But Paul teaches them, and us, how to use our gifts in worship services, and that God is a God of order.
Paul next talks about the resurrection of Jesus and our coming resurrection when He returns (1 Corinthians 15). We must trust Jesus rose again for our eternal reward when we receive our new and mortal bodies at His second coming. We should encourage one another about Jesus’s resurrection and its benefits. Paul finishes his first letter by talking about his ministry companions. We should honor those who serve Christ with us in ministry.
Character Development in 2 Corinthians
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is his most personal letter to. He describes how he feels about their attacks on his apostolic authority. They don’t realize what Paul goes through in his ministry. He goes into detail about his suffering for the gospel. He shows us how to deal with trials and suffering as we follow Christ.
He begins by reminding us that God comforts us in our suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). Jesus walks with you through suffering. Before we knew Him, we suffered alone. But He knows how we suffer because Jesus has suffered more than anyone. In chapter 2, Paul teaches the Corinthians to lovingly accept their wayward brother from 1 Corinthians 5. He was repentant, and they must be forgiving. We must forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us.
Jesus leads you in triumph as one of His disciples (2 Corinthians 2:12-16). You smell like Jesus to everyone around you. Bring His life-giving power to those who need Him. Don’t be afraid to be Jesus to everyone.
Moses had God’s visible glory shining on his face, and he put a veil over it. We carry the message of Jesus with us. We are His jars of clay, and He shines through us (2 Corinthians 4:7). Everywhere you go, you are either a good or bad representative for Jesus the. People watch everything you do. In the beginning of chapter 5, Paul stresses we are eternal creatures living in earthly tents (our bodies). This is not your home. You’re just passing through.
As Jesus’s disciples, we have a ministry of reconciliation to share with new believers. Just as Jesus reconciled us to Himself through the Cross, so we show others reconciliation and explain to them how God wants to reconcile them (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:13). He moves on to explain that we as Jesus’s disciples must not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). Jesus has bought us with His blood, so we must live to honor Him and the Spirit by living holy lives. We are becoming wholly in our thoughts, speech, and what we do with our bodies.
Paul teaches us to be generous and cheerful givers because Jesus has lavished His goodness on us (2 Corinthians 8-9). We must give cheerfully, not begrudgingly. God supplies all our needs, and we must be generous to others. If God has blessed you, be a blessing to those around you.
Paul shares about his struggles and suffering for the gospel (beyond being a prisoner for Christ) in 2 Corinthians 10-11. He defends his apostolic ministry and authority because the Corinthians were enamored by false apostles. These false apostles gave them the wrong impression of apostolic authority and the ministry. In a well-known passage, we learn about Paul’s suffering as an apostle (2 Corinthians 11:16-32). Paul calls it “boasting in his weakness” as he shows them what real apostolic ministry is.
Jesus’s disciples experience suffering and trial. God’s grace is more than sufficient for us. Paul describes a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited about his incredible spiritual experiences with God. He opens the chapter with one experience, seeing the third heaven where God dwells.
We will have suffering in our lives. But we must rely on Jesus’s lavish grace. He finishes the book by challenging the Corinthians to examine their lives. We must examine ourselves to ensure we are living for our Lord, and being obedient to the Holy Spirit.
What part of Paul’s teaching and life encouraged you? Challenged you? To walk as a disciple of Jesus, you need to be a good representative, examine your life, and work for Jesus. Whatever sticks out to you, take it to the Lord in prayer and ask Him what He wants you to do.
Paul had a lot to teach us about spiritual formation and what God expects of us as we grow in Jesus. Next, we continue walking with Paul through his letters of Galatians and Philippians.
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