Portrait of a Dysfunctional Church

I Corinthians is one of two existing letters addressed to the people of Corinth. Paul had ministered in Corinth during his second missionary journey. It was here that he met Aquila and Priscilla who were tent makers by trade as was Paul (Acts 18:3). Having been beaten and jailed in Philippi and escaping the incited mobs at Thessalonica and at Berea, Paul comes from Athens to Corinth in weakness, fear and much trembling (I Cor. 2:3). However, the Lord told Paul in a vision one night “Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” Acts 18:9-10. Paul ministered in Corinth for at least 18 months (Acts 18:11). The converts were many including Aquila and Priscilla (however they may have already been followers of Christ), Justus who’s house was next to the synagogue, Crispus the chief ruler of the synagogue and all his house, and many Corinthians (Acts 18). Even though there were uprisings over Paul’s message of the Gospel as found in Acts 18:12-17, there was much fruit.
This fruit was the church at Corinth. Paul may have last ministered in Corinth in the Spring of 52 A.D. which is the probable time that he sailed to Syria on his way back to Jerusalem and Antioch. From Antioch, Paul set out on his 3rd missionary journey (Acts 18:23). His travels brought him back to Ephesus where he stayed for at least two years (Act 19:10). During this time, Paul received disturbing news about the church in Corinth from some of Chloe’s household. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had also come to see Paul possibly bearing a letter from the church at Corinth (I Cor. 16:17). It was probably in early in 55 A.D. some time before Pentecost that Paul wrote I Corinthians while in Ephesus (I Cor. 16:8).

The letter to the Corinthians can be divided into four parts. As we take a birds-eye view over these four parts, the following assessment becomes clear.

I. The church at Corinth was in a position for potential spiritual greatness (1:1-9).

Notice the names/titles given in the address (v.1-2). Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes (v.1)
Paul’s apostleship was of God’s making not his own. Sosthenes has become a brother.

The church of God to them sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints (v.2).
The recipients are the believers at Corinth who make up the church which may have been somewhere around 120 people meeting in house churches of not more than 50 people since they could not meet publically.

Called to be saints: Called is the same word Paul uses for his own calling to be an apostle. To be saints carries the idea of being God’s holy people almost like how God spoke to Israel in Exodus 19:5-6. Church does not replace Israel, but we do belong to God.

“5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel (Ex. 19:5-6).

Application: Such an awesome title certainly carries a responsibility toward God.

Notice the position given in the very greeting (v.3) The salutation is more than the standard “greetings to you” or “peace to you” salutations of the day (3).

Interestingly, Paul uses the form of grace and peace every NT letter he writes for only adding mercy to the pastoral epistles i.e grace, mercy, and peace. We are no longer under God’s wrath.

Note: Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Notice the potential given in the thanksgiving (4-9).

“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: 8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:4-9 KJV).

II. Paul’s response to reports from the house of Chloe’ and others: The church at Corinth was choosing to live in a position of spiritual infancy riddled with sin (1:10-6:20).

  • There were divisions among the brethren (1:10-4:21).
    • The problem is spelled out in 1:10-17 The solution is given (1:18-4:21).
    • They needed to stop there wrong approach to God’s wisdom (3:1-2)
  • Improper handling of fornication among brethren (lack of church discipline) (5:1-13).
  • Improper handling of personal disputes among brethren (went to the wrong place for a decision) (6:1-11).
  • The problem of sexual impurity (6:12-20).

III. Paul’s response questions/issues from the Corinthian letter: Answers to difficulties can be found for those who seek God (7:1-16:12).

Notice the difficulties:

  • Questions on marriage (7:1-40).
  • Questions on food sacrificed to idols (8:1-11)
  • Questions on men and women in worshipping in the church (11:2-34).
  • Questions on the exercise of Spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40).
  • Questions regarding a bodily resurrection for the believers (15:1-58)

IV. Concluding exhortations and salutation (16:13-24): Don’t quit beloved brethren (16:13-24).

  • There are four commands in verse 13 which challenge us to press forward maturity as believers.
    • Watch = Be alert!
    • Stand fast in the faith!
    • Quit you like men = (Quit has a less common meaning of “conduct oneself”) Moreoever, the Greek word (andrizomai) carries the idea of being couragious (i.e. Act like a man).
    • Be strong! It is essential to understand that becoming strong is not something you do on your own without the Lord.
  • The command to do all things in love begins to sum it up, for many of the issues would not even be present if they were loving others in a right way. No wonder Paul says “My love be with you all in Christ, Amen” in verse 24.


1. Like the church at Corinth, we are in a position for Spiritual greatness.

2. Like the church at Corinth, we can be choosing to live in a place of spiritual infancy/riddled with sin.

3. Like the church at Corinth, we can find answers when we seek God.

4. Like the church at Corinth, we must not quit.


Pastor Richard Woodruff

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