Without question, Corinth was the most important city of Greece. It was noted for its commerce, culture, and corruption. It was the headquarters for the worship of Venus, as well as for some of the impure mystery cults from Egypt and Asia. Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey, after he had met with seeming failure in cultured Athens. He made friends with two Jewish tentmakers, Aquila and Priscilla, and stayed in Corinth for a year-and-a-half. He reasoned in the synagogue week after week. Silas and Timothy joined him after they had completed their ministry in Berea. The ruler of the synagogue was converted and baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8 with I Corinthians 1:14-16). Christ gave Paul special encouragement to stay in Corinth (Acts 18:9); then after a year-and-a-half, he departed for Ephesus. He left behind a church richly gifted in spiritual things (I Corinthians 1:4-7) but sorely tempted by the world, wisdom, and the awful wickedness of the city itself.
Paul remained at Ephesus for three years. It is likely that he made a second visit to Corinth (see II Corinthians 13:2) to correct some of the problems there. Once he was back in Ephesus, he wrote them a pointed letter about fornication, but this letter has been lost to us. The church at Corinth then wrote a letter to Paul, possibly sending it with Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who were members of the church. This letter asked several important questions about church doctrine and practice, and Paul answered them (as well as rebuked them for their sins) in I Corinthians.
Paul had two basic purposes for writing I Corinthians: (1) To reprove the people for the flagrant sins that were being permitted in the church; and (2) to answer their questions about the Christian life and doctrine. No letter in the New Testament deals so forcibly with local church problems, and perhaps no letter is more neglected today. Paul opens chapter 1 by reminding the believers of the wonderful blessings they have in Christ. He does this very tactfully, before he reproves them for their sins; for they were living beneath their privileges as Christians. They were not walking worthy of their calling in Christ.
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