This weekend our 5x5x5 reading plan is finishing Luke… I hope you’re still reading with us! (If not, you can always start with us today – just one chapter of the New Testament a day!)
Welcome to 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth, in ancient Greece. Ah, crazy Corinth! Every large city has one area where prostitutes, gamblers, hustlers, and drug dealers hang out. In New York, it’s Times Square; in New Orleans it’s Bourbon Street; in Las Vegas it could be anywhere. In the ancient world the entire city of Corinth was known for shameless immorality and drunken brawling. For their religious ideal, the wild-living Corinthians adopted Venus, the goddess of love, and a temple built in her honor employed more than a thousand prostitutes.
Yet Corinth was not just a blue-collar town. It was at one point the second largest city in the ancient world (after Rome) and with a population of 700,000 it hosted a large group of dignitaries and cosmopolitan leaders. Geographically Corinth sat on small peninsula that a crucial trade route passed through. I visited ancient Corinth this spring and it was immediately obvious to me why it was such a wealthy city. Shipping traffic passing from the Aegean Sea (from Greece or Turkey) to the Adriatic Sea (headed to Italy) would unload at the port on one side, transit goods over a two mile-long land bridge, and reload ships on the far side. (There is a canal there today.) The city grew rich on trade and taxes, and was a sprawling open-air market filled with slaves, sailors, athletes, gamblers, charioteers and people from all over the world! What craziness!
Paul worked in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18), in part because he understood the strategic importance of the city. To everyone’s surprise, the church he founded became one of the largest in the first century. Yet, several years later, the church at Corinth was wrestling with a multitude of challenges. 1 & 2 Corinthians are Paul’s longest letters, and cover a wide variety of topics, in part because Corinth added bizarre new twists to ethical issues and church problems in the first century.
As you read, ask “What is the actual issue Paul addresses here? What are the underlying issues that transcend that era? Are there similar issues in our Christian communities today? What are the core values that Paul upholds?”