First Corinthians is the “problem book” in the sense that Paul addresses the problems that faced the congregation in the wicked city of Corinth. As such, it is most needed by today’s churches. The divisions……hero-worship of leaders, immorality, legal battles, marital problems, and regulation of spiritual gifts…..are all addressed. The city was going in the opposite direction from the direction that God had called the church to go.
The local culture always impacts the local church. As Moffatt put it so succinctly, “The Church was in the world, as it had to be, but the world was in the Church, as it ought not to be.”
It would be wrong, however, to think it was all problems! This is the Book that contains 1 Corinthians 13, the most beautiful essay on love, not just in the Bible, but in all literature. The remarkable teaching on the resurrection—both Christ’s and ours (Chapter 15), the introduction of the Lord’s Supper (Chapter 11), the command to take part in the collection (Chapter 16), are all here. We would be very much the poorer without 1 Corinthians. It is a treasure trove of practical Christian teaching.
This book calls the church in every age to recognize its responsibility to its “city.” The church is responsible for the intellectual, moral, and social conditions in its “city.” Unfortunately, many churches believe they exist merely to be of benefit to their members. We live in a cultural climate very similar to the one in which the Corinthian Christians lived. It is a culture characterized by political and intellectual conflict, situational ethics, and personal selfishness. We face the same challenges the Corinthian believers did. What they needed and what we need is the message of the Cross delivered in the power of the Resurrection.
A phrase in 1 Corinthians 1:2 suggests the theme of this great epistle. That phrase is “the church of God which is at Corinth.” Two entities are in view in this phrase, and these are the two entities with which the whole letter deals. They are the church of God and the city of Corinth. The church of God is a community of people who share the life of God, are under the governing will of God, and cooperate in the work of God. The city of Corinth was ignorant of the life of God, they governed by self-will, and were antagonistic to the purposes of God. These two entities stand in vivid contrast to one another and account for the conflict we find in this letter to the Corinthians.