So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Cor 13:13
Imagine…you set up a small association with particular beliefs, goals, and ethics…then you leave town for awhile…and you start hearing all sorts of stories that make your stomach turn…what do you do? A situation ripe for a letter! (Well, okay, maybe an email for starters!) St. Paul’s situation with the Corinthians was like this with extra sauce— the association was a church and, the problems…? Well, where shall we begin?!
Corinth, located in modern Greece, was the capital of the Roman province there. As a port city, Corinth saw a lot of commerce and traders enter its harbor, which made for diverse ethnicity, cultures, and religions in its neighborhoods. And, money was not a problem…at least for some of the people. The church community Paul started there (see Acts 18:1-18) actually had few if any powerful or noble members (1:26; though, it included the city treasurer, Erastus: Rom 1:23). This was Paul’s second letter to them (the first is lost), and was written from Ephesus about 54 A.D. A little later, he returned to Corinth and there wrote the letter to the Romans (58 A.D.; compare Rom 16:23 and 1 Cor 1:14).
From the outset, Paul tries to address the growing (and quarreling) factions in the Corinthian church community. Some were willing to listen to Paul, others to another guy named Apollos and still others, to no one but “Christ” (1 Cor 1:12). A crucial issue! Without Christ being physically around to decide, whose “gospel” should carry the day? Paul does not waffle on this issue: we’re all in this together (1:10-17; 3:1-15)! All believers have roles in the “body of Christ,” even if those roles are different (12:1-31). To this end, Paul stresses that the pursuit of the “spiritual” gifts should be undertaken to build up this “body” (14:1-25).
In addition to these “churchy” issues, Paul addresses topics that were adding fuel to the contentious factions: whether a man could live with his father’s wife (no— 5:1-8), the bringing of lawsuits against fellow believers (it’s embarrassing— 6:1-11), whether to marry or not to marry (7:1-16, 25-35), whether to eat food that was offered to an idol (8:1-13), what to wear when praying or prophesying (11:2-16), and the importance of the resurrection for Christian faith (15:1-58). Paul also offers the only NT account, apart from the gospels, of the Last Supper (11:23-25). To top things off, Paul’s famous meditation on love (13:1-13) encapsulates much wisdom to inspire this church community to go beyond simply “doing good” and implement change with love.