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First Corinthians - Background


Part 2
Gods Plan Unfolds in Corinth
Weve seen that Gods purpose for men is that they become sons of God - His righteous, ever living sons, in
glorified bodies. These will be the sons of Gods kingdom - the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col 1:13)
- Jesus, who is bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10).
God will have one glorious kingdom, that will occupy two realms - the heavens, and the earth. Gods
invitation, to become a son of God, will go out to all men. Those who respond to the invitation, placing
their faith in Christ, will become sons of the kingdom.
This is the destiny that God has in mind for His entire creation of mankind - all are invited. But do all
accept the invitation? No; there are many who decline it. God foreknew that they would do that, but God
only created a destiny for those men who become His sons; what happens to those who decide not to
become sons?
In giving mankind freedom of choice, God gave them the freedom of an alternative destiny - one they
choose for themselves. What is that alternative destiny? Hell; the Lake of Fire. God did not create this
destiny for men; He made it for members of another creation, that had rebelled against Him - some of the
angelic spirit beings (Mt 25:41).
Those rebels were headed up by an angel named Lucifer, who in his pride aspired to be like the Most High
God - a title meaning the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Isa 14:12-15).
When this iniquity was found in the heart of Lucifer, God cast him out of Gods heavenly sanctuary as a
profane thing - one who is outside the sacred (Eze 28:12-16). Lucifer, who became known as the devil and
Satan, took one-third of the angelic host with him (Rev 12:4); those who chose to join him in his defiance
of God.
Cast out of the Highest heaven, Satan began to pursue his self-serving ambition on earth. In Cain, Satan
found a man after his own heart - one who refused to yield to the will of God, who lived to serve only
himself.
Through Cain and other men who went in the way of Cain (Jude 11), Satan began to build a system on
Gods earth - a political, economic and religious system, where men can serve themselves, fulfilling the
lusts of their flesh and of their minds (Eph 2:3) - a system which the NT speaks of as the world.
Here was Satans counterfeit of Gods kingdom of sons. But because it is based on deception and on the
love of self, it has no cohesiveness; no true unity. A kingdom must have unity; a kingdom divided against
itself cannot stand (Mt 12:25). This is just the virtual kingdom of a pretend god - the god of this age (2 Cor
4:4).
But God is the true God. Everywhere present, so nothing escapes Gods notice. All-knowing - so He
knows exactly whats going on. All-powerful, so His will is done, and no other. And so we understand that
God sees, and God knows, and God is allowing Satan to build his world system, on the face of Gods earth.

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Why? Because Satans world system shows men the alternative, to what it is that God is offering them: a
kingdom of light - the truth; a kingdom of life - eternal Life; and a kingdom which is ruled by love, and in
which the sons serve one another, in love. In this way, a mans choices are shown stark contrast. Truth, or
lie. Life, or death. Love, or what? Lack of love; self-love. Because true love is for others.
Now, men, born of the corruptible seed of Adam (1 Pet 1:23), are born as self-willed beings in bodies of
death (Rm 7:24). They are born in the dark to God (Eph 4:18), right into the system which Satan has built
upon Gods earth.
And Satan works to keep men blind to God, through his world system (2 Cor 4:4). How does he do that?
Through the thinking, which permeates every aspect of his world system. Through the thinking, men are
kept occupied minding the things of the flesh (Rm 8:5).
But God uses that same world system to reveal to men the emptiness of life apart from Him; the lack of
fulfillment in such a life; the lack of love, of joy, of peace - and of hope (Eph 2:11).
And then, God reveals to men His glorious purpose for them, in Christ. And how does God do that?
Through the gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ - or of the Coming One, for those who lived before
Christ came.
God planted that Good News in the names that He gave to the stars (Psalm 147:4, Isaiah 40:26), which He
created on the fourth day (Gen 1:14-18): The heavens declare - they record - the glory of God (Ps 19:1), as
seen in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6) - a universal revelation for all mankind, from the beginning;
Gods faithful witness in the sky (Ps 89:37).
But on the plain of Shinar, the families of the earth chose to change that truth of God, concerning His
Christ, into the lie - that they could be as gods; worshiping and serving themselves, rather than their Creator
(Gen 11:4, Rm 1:25).
But did this collective rejection by the families of the earth thwart Gods plan? No; because God designed
His plan to be extended to each man, personally. So God simply disbanded the families, and confounded
their language, so that each man could still be reached.
Then, as the families of the earth had rejected Him, God made for Himself a nation out of one man,
Abraham. Those of the nation Israel were to be Gods people, whom He had called out of the world;
consecrated to God for His purposes - as His witnesses (Ex 19:6). Israel was to serve God as His lightholder, to shine out the light of truth to the Gentile nations, which had rejected God.
And for this purpose, God gave Israel a special revelation of His will - His righteous requirements. He also
gave them another special revelation - the ceremonial Law, which pictured Christ. Through the Law, the
gospel of the Coming Christ - which showed men the way to become righteous - could be revealed from
faith to faith (Rm 1:16-17).
But Israel proved to be a blind and deaf servant to Jehovah (Is 42:18-25), failing to take in the truth for
themselves, and therefore incapable of sharing it with others. They too changed the truth of God for a lie,
at first serving the false gods of their idolatrous neighbors, and later perverting the truth of God into a
system of works - the religion of Judaism.

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And yet, the Law still served Gods purposes, with the nation. How? The Law acted like a hedge that kept
Israel separated from the other nations (Gal 3:23); it kept them intact, as a nation, so that God could bring
forth from Israel His Christ, as He had prophesied (Gen 3:15, Micah 5:2) - Christ, the faithful Servant of
Jehovah (Is 42:1-9), who would be perfectly obedient to God, and accomplish the redemption of mankind.
But for Israel, since they had perverted the truth, they did not recognize their Messiah when He came;
Israel didnt know the time of her visitation by the Lord (Lk 19:44), intended to bring forth Life from the
nation.
So God had to set the nation of Israel aside for a time - about 2000 years, in fact, until the last days, when
Israel as a nation is willing to receive Jesus as their Messiah. And meanwhile, God called out a new people
to Himself from the world, to be consecrated to Him, for His purposes - as His witnesses. And who was
that? The church - the Body of Christ.
That Body was formed of the dust of the ground - of men who had been born in the flesh, who heard the
word of Good News, Jesus Himself proclaiming it. Each one was born again, born of the water of the word
and of the Spirit, to become a son with an inheritance in Gods kingdom (Jn 3:3, 5). Each had received the
life of Jesus, individually - eternal Life for a body of glory - the life that He had brought out of death, by
His resurrection.
Turn to John chapter 20. On the night of His resurrection, Jesus came to His disciples in the upper room.
[John 20:19-29]
v. 19-20 So the disciples who were in the upper room were shown physical evidence that this was indeed
Jesus, who had been crucified before their very eyes. They knew He was dead. Now they understood He
had indeed risen, just as He said He would.
v. 21 The Father had delegated to Jesus His authority - as the Life Giver - to give life to the world (Jn
5:26). Jesus did so through His work of redemption. Now the disciples were to be sent out, dispatched
under the authority of Jesus, bearing the words of Life, that men might believe and be saved.
This would be the ministry of reconciliation, a work to be carried out in the field of the world, a planting of
Seed and harvesting of souls which would require an entire body of the disciples of Jesus, united in mind,
coordinated in effort.
Jesus had formed this collective body around Himself, during His earthly ministry. And now He had come
to give life to that collective body.
v. 22 He breathed on them, and said Receive the Holy Spirit. Didnt these disciples, these believers in
Jesus, already have the Holy Spirit, individually? Yes; the moment they believed. Thats why we dont
read, He breathed in them. Instead, He breathed on them; on all of them, at once.
Jesus was demonstrating to them that He was giving them the Holy Spirit, collectively. As the LORD God
had breathed into the body of the first man the breath of life, and man became a living being (Gen 2:7),
now Jesus breathed on His disciples, and they were joined to Jesus and to one another through the Holy
Spirit; becoming the vital, living entity known as the Body of Christ.

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The Holy Spirit is the life of the collective Body of Christ - in the sense that He enables each member to
function together in response to the Head, Christ; to operate in united, coordinated effort with one another as each individual member is enlightened by the Spirit to their part, in that Body. The new creation was
now alive as one body, having received the breath of God.
v. 23 So it was this collective Body that would be dispatched under the authority of Jesus as the Head, to
reconcile men to God. They would do so by speaking the words of Life - the gospel. The authority is not
ours, but is in the words we speak - words which men either receive or reject, words by which their sins are
either forgiven, or retained. The Word is either Life to them - or judgment (Jn 12:48-50).
v. 24-25 Thomas was one of the twelve apostles whom Jesus had chosen. He wasnt there when Jesus
came to the upper room the night of His resurrection. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had
seen the risen Lord, initially, Thomas did not believe it.
The world knows him as doubting Thomas; but Thomas was simply requiring the same proof that Jesus had
given the other disciples. They had seen Jesus put to death before their very eyes; their eyes required proof,
of that death being undone.
v. 26-29 Did Jesus admonish Thomas? No; Jesus simply showed him the proof he needed, to believe, and
Thomas believed. But Jesus does pronounce a blessing on those who believe with eyes of faith, such as us.
I want you to notice something in this passage concerning Thomas. Do we observe Jesus breathing in or on
Thomas, saying, Receive the Holy Spirit? No.
Why not? Because Jesus had already given the Holy Spirit to the Body of Christ collectively; it was a onetime, historical event. Once Thomas believed that Jesus had risen, he became part of the Body of Christ;
joined as one through the Holy Spirit with the other members and with Christ.
Jesus then spent 40 days opening up the understanding of the members of His Body, that they might
comprehend the Scriptures, as to their fulfillment in the coming of Jesus. This understanding would equip
them for their ministry.
Turn to Acts chapter 2. After that time with His disciples, Jesus ascended back into heaven. Ten days later
- 50 days after His resurrection - He poured out from heaven the Promise of the Father, of which He had
told His disciples (Acts 1:4). This was the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The day was Pentecost. This was to
be the one-time, historical fulfillment of that harvest feast.
[Acts 2:1-4] It had been fifty days since Jesus, while still on earth, had breathed on the disciples, and they
had received the Holy Spirit - and the collective Body of Christ was filled with life. Now Jesus was in
heaven, where He received from His Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon His
Body on earth (Acts 2:33).
This pouring out was marked by emblems of great power - what were they? The sound as of a mighty
wind, which filled the house - a sign to the disciples who were in that house that the Holy Spirit had come
upon them with power (Acts 1:8).
And there was also the appearance of tongues as of fire, sitting upon each one of them - a sign to them that
this power of the Spirit rested upon each one in the house, distributed to each one individually as the Spirit
willed (1 Cor 12:11).

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In this way, the power of the Holy Spirit filled Gods house upon the earth - the household of Christ (1 Cor
3:16, Eph 2:22, Heb 3:6). This outpouring of the Spirit was the anointing of the Body of Christ for their
ministry as priests, to reconcile men to God.
They were now clothed with power from on High (Lk 24:49), the Body having been given the graces of the
Spirit - in the Greek, charismata - which would equip them for their ministry among men (Eph 4:7).
And the Holy Spirit employed one of those graces immediately, empowering the disciples to witness to
Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem for the feast in their various languages, unknown to the disciples - this was
the grace of tongues (Acts 2:4).
As these pilgrims took in their testimony to Jesus, three thousand souls were added to the church (Acts
2:41); the firstfruits from the Seed Grain, Christ (Ja 1:18), and the promise of a completed harvest, in
fulfillment of the feast of Pentecost (Lev 23:15-20).
And the witness continued to go out - in Jerusalem, and surrounding Judea, among the Jews. The Lord
added to the church daily those who were being saved (2:47) - thousands more. But as the good news
continued to spread, persecution arose, culminating in death of Stephen - the first martyr of the church
(Acts 7:57-60).
There was a young Pharisee, a spectator at the stoning of Stephen, who was particularly zealous for the
traditions of his fathers in the religion of Judaism (Gal 1:14). He viewed Jesus as an imposter, an opinion
he presumed was confirmed by God, when Jesus was crucified - the death of the accursed, in the Law (Deut
21:22-23). Who was this young Pharisee? Saul.
As Saul witnessed the followers of Jesus multiplying - despite His death - Saul determined to take matters
into his own hands, and to head up the opposition against this apostate movement. In his religious zeal,
Saul persecuted the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it (Gal 1:13).
In doing so, Saul probably imagined himself to be Gods right-hand man. Never would Saul have believed
that he was actually a pawn in the hand of Gods adversary, Satan.
The persecution that Saul spear-headed drove many of the believing Jews out of Jerusalem. But wherever
they were scattered, they sowed the good seed of the Word of God, so that the witness spread from
Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria - and beyond (Acts 8:1-4).
So Saul, breathing threats and murder, then purposed to go to Damascus, where many of the believing Jews
had gone, intending to find them, and take them captive. But before he could carry out his purpose,
Someone came to meet Saul on the way - to find him; and to take him captive. Who was that Someone?
Jesus.
Jesus met Saul in the way that he was going - which was the way of death. He appeared in a vision of
blinding light, brighter than the sun - unmistakably, this was the Lord of Glory. And as He answered Sauls
inquiry, Saul discovered the Lord of Glory was none other than Jesus - Jesus, whom Saul was persecuting,
through His disciples - the Body of Christ, on earth.
Just as suddenly as Jesus had appeared, Saul was converted - from a chief opponent of Jesus, to His most
ardent follower. Saul had been taken captive by the love of Jesus; Love that would seek him out and save
him - a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent man (1 Tim 1:13).

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He who is forgiven much, loves much (Lk 7:47). The love of Saul - his love for the Lord - would mark
every step of his walk throughout his earthly course, until he stepped into the presence of his Lord.
And the Lord had much to do for Saul, now that he had passed from death into the way of Life. The Lord
had said that Saul was His chosen vessel (Acts 9:15). In particular, the Lord appointed Saul as His apostle
to the Gentiles (2 Tim 1:11).
The preparation for that work began in Arabia, where over a three-year period, God revealed His Son Jesus
in Saul (Gal 1:1:15-18), as the Holy Spirit opened up Sauls understanding of the Scriptures he knew so
well; now Saul could see their true meaning and fulfillment, in Jesus.
Then Saul was sent up to Jerusalem, where the Lord confirmed for Peter, James and the other brethren the
reality of Sauls conversion, and showed them his prospective mission field, among the Gentiles. While
there, Saul got to experience the other end of persecution, and the apostles sent him off to Cilicia - to the
city of Tarsus, where he was born. He was returning there, having been born again!
For several years, Saul preached in Cilicia and Syria, before he was sought out for an ongoing work in
Syrian Antioch, where both Jews and Gentiles had responded to the gospel. Who was it who sought Saul
out? Barnabas, who had come to know Saul during his visit to Jerusalem.
Together, Barnabas and Saul ministered for about a year in Antioch. Then the Holy Spirit sent them out on
their first missionary journey - to Cyprus, and then Asia Minor, with its many pagan Gentiles. There Saul
began to go by his Roman name of Paul, which was more fitting for his Gentile ministry. The Galatian
assemblies were established at this time.
After Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and had ministered there about another year, the Lord sent
Paul out once again, this time with a prophet from Jerusalem who had exhorted the church in Antioch - do
you remember who that was? Silas. Paul and Silas returned by the land route to revisit the Galatian
assemblies, and a young man who was converted on the previous mission joined them - and who was that?
Timothy.
And as the Spirit urged them to pass over from Troas to Macedonia in Europe, they added another member
to their team - a Gentile convert. And who would that be? He was a doctor Luke. But Luke wasnt with
them for long. After the gospel was shared in Philippi, Luke was left with the believers there, to establish
them in the faith. And they became a very faithful assembly, indeed.
Paul, Timothy and Silas continued on to Thessalonica, where they encountered much opposition on the part
of the unbelieving Jews - so much so, that the Jews followed the missionaries to their next stop, Berea. The
Jews having stirred up the crowds, it became necessary to send Paul away, but Silas and Timothy were able
to stay in Berea for a time, and teach the new converts there.
Paul was brought to Athens, a city given over to pagan idols, which provoked the very spirit within him.
So he felt compelled to share the gospel in the synagogue in Athens, with the Jews and the God-fearing
Gentiles in attendance.
There could not have been much response, because we read that Paul then resorted to preaching in the
marketplace, a place frequented by the purveyors of various religions. He drew the attention of some of the
philosophers who hung out there, who spent their time in nothing else but to tell or to hear some new wind
of doctrine (Acts 17:21).

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They certainly heard something new from Paul; but it wasnt some wind of doctrine; it was the truth of
Jesus Christ. And though the Spirit had Paul begin by making an inspired connection with these
philosophers and even with their city, when Paul got to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that connection was
broken - these philosophers shut down.
We have the sense from this passage in Acts that very few converts were made, in Athens (Acts 17:34); a
city of supposed truth-seekers, that were in fact blind to the truth of God, even when it was laid out before
their very eyes.
Why couldnt they see it? Because they wouldnt see it. Greek philosophers had bought the thinking that
the body was evil, and the spirit good - a convenient but lacking explanation for mans propensity to sin, for
it doesnt get to the heart of the matter - mans lawless heart.
To believe that the body is evil would make the idea of a bodily resurrection preposterous. A bodily
resurrection suggests that the body is not intrinsically evil; that there is a God, a Creator, who has a good
purpose for the body; and His purpose will be realized for the body in its resurrection from the dead. So
then, if the body isnt evil in itself, where does the evil in man come from?
The philosophers were unwilling to consider that thought, for they had already hardened their hearts to
God. They had sifted through the various doctrines that had been planted by the emissaries of the evil one
in their city, and found some worldly wisdom that fit what they wanted to believe; its not me; its my
flesh - actually, we still hear people saying that today, even in the church!
So the Word of God, that had been sown in the hearts of the Athenians, was snatched away by the
emissaries of the evil one before it could ever germinate to bring forth life (Mt 13:19). In what sense was it
snatched away? The evil one introduced the philosophical deception, through his world system; but then
the Athenians chose to be deceived; they took his lie, which is what allowed the Word of God to be
snatched away.
Both Satan and man are accountable to God, for their part. Mans responsibility is to choose to believe
God, who will reveal Himself to every man, so that he may be saved.
It was following this meager experience in Athens that Paul was led by the Spirit to his next destination,
which is our destination - Corinth.
Paul would have proceeded on foot, traveling 50 miles southwest along the Saronic Gulf, following a road
known as the Sacred Way. Perhaps Paul took that name as a token of encouragement, as he would be
introducing the Corinthians to the Way to Eternal Life - through Christ.
Paul would certainly have known Corinth by reputation; everyone did. Whereas Athens was considered to
be the very center of intellect, culture and religion in the ancient world, Corinth was a leading political and
commercial city.
Corinth was located at a strategic point, a very narrow passage of land that lay between the Aegean Sea to
the east, and the Mediterranean to the west (see map).
Captains of shipping vessels routinely portaged their ships on rollers across this five-mile land route, rather
than making the longer and more treacherous voyage around the south of Greece. Because of this, Corinth
prospered as a major trading center - it was the mart of the world.

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Corinth was originally a Greek city-state, flourishing for three centuries until it came into conflict with
Rome and was completely leveled. One hundred years later, it was refounded by Julius Caesar as a Roman
colony.
Corinth was then repopulated by freedmen from Rome - those were former slaves. These freedmen seized
on this opportunity to advance socially. They brought with them a fiercely independent spirit.
In addition to Romans and Greeks, there was also an influx of peoples from east and west, and with them
came their thinking; laws, culture, the arts. Corinth contained a mixture of religious influences, from pagan
idolatry to Greek philosophy; from the mystery cults of the East, to the monotheism of the Jews. And
philosophers and itinerant preachers of all kinds were attracted to Corinth in search of patronage - the
business of religion.
Prosperity quickly returned to the refounded city. Drawn by the prosperity, artisans flocked to Corinth, and
slaves were brought in, to serve the needs and desires of the wealthy. In this way, wealth generated luxury which generated dissipation.
There was one particular form of dissipation, for which Corinth was renowned; its lasciviousness. In old
Corinth, to act like a Corinthian became a proverbial expression referring to sexual excess. With the
regaining of commercial prosperity, Roman Corinth revisited this seaport citys old reputation. Corinth was
a city of excess, in every sense of the word.
Yet here was Paul, following the Spirits leading along the Sacred Way to this most worldly of all worldly
cities. Corinth, the center of commerce, and religion, and vice was now right in the center of Gods plan
for His church. For as Jesus would tell Paul in a vision, I have many people in this city (Acts 18:10).
Reading: Acts 18:1-18, 1 Cor 1.