Jesus' Two Great Commissions
Part Two


God's Community in Distress

Just as the early Jerusalem church exemplified a congregation successfully functioning as God's community, the church at Corinth exemplified a congregation who had failed to become that community. The church in Corinth is a study of congregational failure. First Corinthians details their failures in godliness, relationships, and concepts. Their specific failures can so capture one's attention that he overlooks their principal failure--their failure to exist as God's community.

This chapter will be an overview of 1 Corinthians. The overview will underscore the reason their problems made existence as community impossible and reveal the essential role of Christian edification.

Internal Division Must Cease!

After the salutation, chapters 1-4 examined the internal division of the congregation. Paul urged them to end division and create unity of mind and thought (that there be no divisions; be perfected together in the same mind and judgment).1 Two sources of division were identified. First, existing contentions were expressed through competitive, rivaling groups (I am of Paul; of Apollos; of Cephas; of Christ).2 With misguided loyalty, each group fashioned its identity around an evangelist.

Second, some were ashamed of an evangelistic message based on the crucifixion. They wished to replace the gospel of the cross with a message based on Greek wisdom.3  Both Jews and Greeks found the concept of a crucified Savior quite offensive. Paul declared the lost would regard the idea of a crucified Savior foolishness, but the saved would see God's wisdom in the cross. By divine plan, God chose that which was by human reckoning foolish (resurrection), weak (death), and despised (crucifixion) to shame the wise and the powerful.4  By that means God nullified the arrogance of human knowledge and wisdom. The crucified Jesus perfectly expressed divine wisdom by creating a common, necessary means for any person to become righteous, sanctified, and redeemed. Through the cross God reduced all--philosopher or barbarian, king or slave--to the same level of need and dependence (no one may boast before him).5

They were reminded that it was their understanding of the crucified Jesus which produced their obedience.6 That was the only message Paul preached to them, and it was the message the Spirit helped them comprehend.

Their divisive attitudes existed because they had begun to think and reason again like the worldly persons they had been rather than the spiritual persons they had become (I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly).7 Spiritual thinking would have resulted in understanding that evangelists were merely God's servants which He used to build His temple, not foundations for rivaling groups (I planted, Apollos watered, God made it grow).8  In fact, evangelists built only on Jesus Christ--the only foundation for God's temple.

The task of evangelists was to build God's temple on the crucified Jesus. As God's congregation in Corinth, they were that temple (Don't you know that you yourselves are God' s temple?)9  Members who promoted and sustained division were destroying God's temple, and they would be destroyed by God. All God's working was for the congregation's benefit as His temple. As that temple, they belonged to Christ; and Christ belonged to God.10

They should view evangelists as Christ's slaves. Evangelists were stewards entrusted with the responsibility of revealing God's accomplishments through the death of Jesus.11  Their failure to understand the work of evangelists had contributed significantly to the formation of these rivaling groups.

This section addressed the whole congregation. Internal division made their existence as a community impossible. God's highest objective in Christians would be achieved when a congregation functioned as a community of believers. To Him, that community was His temple. God would not tolerate any Christian who destroyed that temple! To promote division was to attack the existence and work of God's community!

 Additional Community Problems

In chapters 5 and 6 three additional problems which attacked the congregation's existence as God's community were addressed. First, the congregation blatantly ignored a case of open, continuing fornication so objectionable that even pagans would not have tolerated it.12 The sinful one was to be confronted immediately in an effort to recover this brother.13 They had to realize that ignoring open wickedness threatened the well-being of the entire congregation. Such evil influence would permeate God's community in the manner that yeast spreads throughout dough. While it was necessary to maintain association with ungodly people in society, they were commanded to confront Christians who practiced ungodliness.14

Second, Christians having problems with one another were asking pagan courts to resolve those matters.15 This was a basic failure to function as God's community! Such matters should be resolved by using wise brothers within the community (Is no one among you wise enough to judge a dispute?).16  The existence of such lawsuits meant the community had suffered a defeat (You have been completely defeated.).17  It would have suffered less harm if the cheated brother simply had endured his brother's injustice. Injustice within the community was failure, but soliciting the help of pagans to resolve community problems was collapse! Any brother who was possessed by greed or practiced other forms of wickedness would not receive his inheritance.18 Such wickedness characterized their past lives as sinners, but it was not characteristic of lives that had been washed, sanctified, and justified.19

Third, fornication could not be made acceptable Christian conduct by arguing that it fulfilled a natural appetite of the physical body.20 Fornication was the essence of ungodliness. In a unique manner, it united a part of Christ's own body to a prostitute; it was a sin against the Christian's body; and it defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit.

These three problems were used to emphasize this fact: the problems created by a Christian's wickedness involved much more than mere personal spiritual failure. All individual sin was an assault on the stability and the influence of the community of believers. It attacked the community by influencing Christians to increase their tolerance for evil, by destroying the community's credibility and influence, and by placing the community in opposition to the Savior who created it.

Answering Questions

Chapters 7-16 primarily contained Paul's answers to questions the Corinthian church had asked in a previous letter.21 The words, "now concerning ..." preceded Paul's answer. Some passages in this section are difficult to study because one is reading the answer without the benefit of knowing the question. However, in his answers Paul gave helpful insights into a congregation's existence as a community.

Corinthian Christians and Marriage

In chapter seven Paul responded to a question concerning his previous instructions to the Corinthian Christians about marriage. In this response, one section, verses 17-24, provides an insight concerning the church as a community of believers.

In this community of believers, one was not to be an "if I could only be that/do that" member. This attitude encouraged one to declare that he could be a productive member of the community if only he could be someone else or had a different ability. For example, a Jewish convert could have declared, "I could be a fine Christian if I were a Gentile convert--then I would not have all my conscience problems created by Jewish ordinances and traditions. How I wish I were a Gentile convert!" The Gentile convert could have declared, "I could be a fine Christian if I knew the Scriptures as do Jewish converts! I wish I were a Jewish convert!" A Christian slave could say, "I wish I were free so I could serve Christ as fully as I want to!"

The community's needs could not be met if everyone had the same background, opportunities, and abilities. Diversity was essential to the success of the community. Thus, each person was to be content to remain in that station of life he was in when he entered Christ. Regardless of station or abilities, all Christians were free in Christ, and all were slaves to Christ. Each person was to work responsibly for God in his situation. When every Christian did that, the community would thrive and succeed.

Christians who understood that a congregation existed as a community could accept this instruction.

Food Sacrificed to Idols

Chapter 8 gave the Corinthian Christians some instructions regarding eating foods which had been offered to idols. These instructions powerfully verified the community nature of a congregation.

Some converts correctly understood there was only one God, and idols did not represent other existing deities. Most Jewish converts would have held such views. However, converts from paganism believed idols represented living deities, but they understood God and Christ were supreme deity.

The convert who correctly understood that there was only one living God had the following responsibilities. (l) "Do not allow the correct knowledge that idols are nothing to transform you into stumbling block for your less informed, weaker Christian brother. If you with your knowledge eat sacrificial food, your example encourages him to eat that food. If he eats, his conscience will regard it to be an act of idolatrous worship, and he thereby sins." (2) "Do not use the freedom created by your correct knowledge to destroy a brother for whom Christ died." (3) "If your proper act based on correct knowledge spiritually injures a less informed, weaker brother, you sin against Christ."

In chapter 9 Paul declared he himself lived by that same principle. He practiced what he preached about voluntarily forfeiting personal rights.

Chapter 10 addressed both the strong and the weak. The strong were reminded that God made an enormous investment in Israel when he delivered them from Egypt. However, when they reverted to wicked practices, He allowed them to perish. It was true that God had made an enormous investment in their salvation, but if they repeated Israel's mistakes, they, too, would perish. If their spiritual confidence was based upon their own strength, they were ready to fall. If that confidence was founded in God, He would not let them fall even in the most difficult circumstances.

The weak were reminded that it was impossible to be a part of the idolatrous community and a part of the Christian community at the same time. Worship of idols and the worship of Christ were mutually exclusive acts--worship of one excluded worship of the other. They could not be in communion with the body and blood of Jesus and also in communion with demons. Their communion with one another as they partook of the bread verified that all partaking were one body.

Paul closed this discussion with some practical instructions about (1) buying meat at the public market, and (2) being the dinner guests of a pagan. Again, they were charged with the responsibility to function as a community. No issue was resolved by merely determining something was lawful. One also had to ask, "Is it expedient? Will it edify?"22 One could not simply seek to do what was best for him; he must seek the best for all.23 He must never cause anyone to stumble--neither Jews, nor Greeks, nor the church of God.24 These instructions were the charge to be responsible members of the community of believers.

The responsibility of the Christian to protect, care for, and preserve the community was woven into the fabric of this passage. (1) The strong had to be sensitive and patient as they cared for the spiritual well-being of the weak. (2) Idolatrous acts of a Christian must be recognized as devotion to demons which attacked the community's existence as the body of Christ. (3) "Will it edify?" was a question which had to be answered when determining approved practices. No one could selfishly seek his own interests because the good of all had to be his concern--he was a part of the community of believers. These are the responsibilities of community.

Problem Worship Practices

Chapter 11 verified that even their behavior in worship attacked their bond as community. They could not be praised for their worship because their assemblies did more harm than good.25 Nothing was to exemplify their community relationship more than their assembly to worship and to commune with Christ. Yet, those assemblies emphasized the reality of their division.26 What occurred in no way resembled the proper partaking of the Lord's Supper.27  It was not an act of "community communion, community fellowship, community bonding." It could not even be considered a community meal. They did not wait for everyone to be present.28 Some were in a hurry and eagerly ate what they brought. There was no sharing--some sat hungry while others drank to excess. Their actions despised the church of God (disgraced God's community) and humiliated those brothers and sisters inneed.29 The abuse of the community through this perversion of the Lord's Supper resulted in many being sick and weak, and some having already died.30

Compare the Corinthian Christians' interaction in this passage with that of the early Jerusalem Christians, and the contrast is shocking. The difference between a body of Christians who function in the understanding that they are a community of believers and a body of Christians who do not is striking!

The Use of Spiritual Gifts

In chapters 12, 13, and 14 Paul explained the proper purpose and use of spiritual gifts. As he addressed their abuse of the gifts, he again stressed that the church was to exist and function as a community.

In the church at Corinth, spiritual gifts became a focal point of Christian rivalry. Most coveted the gift of tongues. Some used their gift in an attempt to gain personal prestige. By using gifts competitively in worship, members transformed worship into chaotic confusion. Paul's explanation of the purpose of the gifts provides some excellent insights into the true nature of a congregation.

All forms of spiritual gifts originated from the same Spirit.31 A gift was not given to be used for selfish purposes. It was not given to be used to achieve personal ambitions or to increase one's prestige. One was to use the gift to benefit the congregation, for the common good of the community.32 The Spirit determined the gift a person would receive.33

The congregation was to be viewed as a body composed of many differing parts performing different functions.34 Though composed of differing parts, the body functioned as a single, harmonious unit.35  Each part was necessary for the body to function properly. All parts worked in harmony for the good of the whole; they were not in competition. The body understood it was dependent on all the parts, and all the parts understood they existed for the overall good of the body. Thus, when one part suffered, the entire body suffered; when one part was honored, every part rejoiced with it. Paul beautifully stressed the interdependence and interrelationship of all members within a congregation. Could there be a better description of a community?

Chapter 13 emphasized the existence of something more important than every spiritual gift. While one may not be able to possess his desired spiritual gift, everyone could possess this eternal attribute. Every member could acquire, possess, and use love. Love's existence in every member was essential to the well-being of the community. It was love which formed the tie and created the cohesiveness which bound the body together. Such love would continue to exist in eternity.

Chapter 14 urged them to desire spiritual gifts for the proper reason. If one desired a spiritual gift, the gift of choice should be prophecy. The primary role of prophecy was teaching or instruction. Since the writings of the New Testament were in the process. of being penned, congregations were primarily dependent on oral teaching to reveal the life of a Christian, the nature and work of the church, and future happenings such as the judgment, heaven, and hell. It was through such oral instruction that Christians learned, understood, and matured. As they were edified individually, the church was edified collectively. As members grew spiritually, the community grew spiritually.

Because the use of tongues was mysterious, had high visibility, and captured attention, these Christians regarded speaking in tongues as the gift of preference. Because tongues edified the church only if someone could interpret,36 Paul regarded them as being the least significant gift. The gift of greatest value to the community was prophesying because (1) it edified, encouraged, and comforted all who heard,37 and (2) it resulted in the edification, the building up of the whole congregation.38 The priority of one desiring a spiritual gift was to desire a gift which would edify the church.39

Thus, when the church assembled, the basic purpose of all that happened was to increase understanding. This would increase the spiritual growth and development of the church.40 Everything occurring in the assembly must in some manner edify the congregation. Therefore, people were to cease their competitive shouting and speak in an orderly fashion, taking turns. No one was to speak in a tongue unless an interpreter was present. Those who instructed through prophecy would do so orderly, taking turns. All instruction was to be given by only one speaking at a time so all could learn and be encouraged.

Chapter 15 addressed the confusion which existed in regard to the resurrection, and chapter 16 instructed them in the way they were to collect the gift to be sent to Jerusalem.


The congregation at Corinth had failed to grasp the true nature of the church. Many of their problems made existence as God's community of believers impossible. Their internal division created by party loyalties and by being ashamed of the crucifixion; their tolerance of continuing, open fornication; their appeal to pagan courts to settle differences arising in the Christian community; the failure of the strong to be sensitive and patient with the weak; the love of idolatry still existing in some; their selfish, humiliating approach to the Lord's supper; their jealous rivalries in using spiritual gifts; and the confusion and disorderly conduct in their worship attacked the congregation's sense of community on every level of relationship. If they were to become the community of believers God intended every congregation to be, they had to eliminate internal division; to confront those living in continuing wickedness; to settle Christian differences within the Christian community; to reject fornication; to find personal joy and contentment in the service one could render; to be sensitive and patient with the weak; to refuse to trust in themselves for spiritual strength; to reject idolatry; to restore proper observance of the Lord's supper; to use spiritual gifts for the Spirit-intended purpose of edifying the church; to learn to love; and to make worship an occasion of edification for all.

If the process of edification was not allowed to transform this congregation, the evangelistic efforts which produced the congregation would become meaningless. In that event, it would have been better if the gospel had not been preached in Corinth. A congregation who fails to be God's community grossly misrepresents Christ.


Read the following Scriptures in 1 Corinthians and discuss the failures of the church in Corinth to function as a community of believers.

1)     1:10-15: Failure--division.
2)     1:18-25: Failure--ashamed of the crucifixion. 3.5:1-13: Failure--open fornication.
4)     6:1-11: Failure--Christians suing Christians in pagan courts.
5)     7:17-24: Failure--"I wish I could be ... "
6)     8:1-13: Failure--disregarding the consciences of the weak.
7)     11:17-34: Failure--abuse of the Lord's Supper.
8)     14:20-26: Failure--misuse of the worship assembly.

Thought Question

The church in Corinth's failure to understand the church is a community of believers is obvious. Discuss our failure today to understand that the church is a community of believers.


1 1 Corinthians 1:10.
21 Corinthians 1:11-15.
31 Corinthians 1:18-25.
41 Corinthians 1:26-28.
51 Corinthians 1:29, 30.
61 Corinthians 2.
71 Corinthians 3:1-4.
81 Corinthians 3:5-15.
91 Corinthians 3:16.
101 Corinthians 3:21-23.
11 1 Corinthians 4.
121 Corinthians 5:1, 2.
131 Corinthians 5:6, 7.
141 Corinthians 5:9-13.
151 Corinthians 6:1, 6.
161 Corinthians 6:2-5.
171 Corinthians 6:7, see NIV, RSV, TEV, NEB.
181 Corinthians 6:8-10.
191 Corinthians 6: 11.
201 Corinthians 6:12-19.
211 Corinthians 7:1.
221 Corinthians 10:23.
231 Corinthians 10:24.
241 Corinthians 10:32.
251 Corinthians 11:17.
261 Corinthians 11:18, 19.
271 Corinthians 11:20.
281 Corinthians 11:21.
291 Corinthians 11:22.
301 Corinthians 11:30.
311 Corinthians 12:4.
321 Corinthians 12:7.
331 Corinthians 12:11.
341 Corinthians 12:14-21.
351 Corinthians 12:2-26.
361 Corinthians 14:5.
371 Corinthians 14:3.
381 Corinthians 14:4.
391 Corinthians 14:12.
401 Corinthians 14:26-33.

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