An ancient city dating back to 600 B.C. Corinth rested on a narrow geographical isthmus between two key ports Cenchrea and Lechaeum. The city provided a narrow strip of land, only 4 miles wide in some areas, on which sailors could transport small ships via a primitive railway system. This was highly preferred to the second option of sailing a hundred extra miles around the tip of Greece peninsula and still is today (ships now enjoy the passage via the Corinthian canal dug in 1893). In addition to a reputation for clever innovation Corinth also hosted the Isthmian Games, second only in importance to the Olympics in the ancient world. A buzzing metropolis, yet it wasn’t the technology nor its athletic competitions that deemed it a cultural hotspot. As tourists passed through they were confronted by the Acrocorinth, a large stone mountain that towered over the city. At its top was a temple to the Greek goddess of fertility, love, and beauty: Aphrodite. Pre-Christian history reveals that in keeping with Greek mythology the temple serviced 1,000 men and women to be part-time priest… and also part-time prostitute. Prostitution being religiously acceptable no doubt spread its influence to the city of Corinth below. History also attests to this. The sexual immorality in Corinth was astronomical. Sailors dragging their boats over the railway were notorious for squandering away every last penny they owned in exchange for sex. Little wonder that in the ancient world the term Corinthian woman became synonymous with the degrading term whore or harlot. Reeking with the odor of idolatry, pride, and immorality it was an ancient version of the modern sin city. Welcome to Corinth.
Into this metropolis stepped the Apostle Paul in 50 A.D. with no agenda except what the Lord had commissioned him to and armed with nothing but The Gospel. As you might expect, Paul was not welcomed with warm hearts initially; Acts 18 records the narrative for us. Beginning his ministry strategically at the local Jewish synagogue, alongside fellow tent-makers Priscilla and Aquila, Paul preaches the Gospel to both Jews and Greeks. Though some believe, many oppress him and to such an extreme that in a momentous scene Paul declares, “Your blood be on your own head! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!” (18:6) Well… he didn’t have to go far. Actually, he just moved his ministry next door to the house of Titius Justus (18:7). Can you imagine that tension? And you thought your neighbors were tough to deal with. It must have been a mixture of frustrating, terrifying, and discouraging for Paul, because The Lord Jesus spoke to him in a night vision reassuring Paul of his work to do in this metropolis city of Corinth, “Do not be afraid but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Through this vision from The Lord Paul realized the massive opportunity for the maximizing and spread of the Gospel that existed among the 100,000 + populace of Corinth. Thus, Paul stayed 18 months teaching the Word of God to them. Fast-forward to a little scuffle with the Jews, a hearing in the tribunal, and the proconsul Galileo’s ruling that ended with Sosthenes (the ruler of the Jewish synagogue who is also mentioned in the greeting of 1 Corinthians) being beaten nearly to death, Paul takes his leave. He returns to Antioch and shortly after embarks on his third missionary journey beginning in Ephesus. Near the end of his three-year stay in Ephesus Paul pens a letter to the Corinthian church and not just for the heck of it. The church at Corinth has been plagued with some serious issues beginning with a report from Chloe’s house. You can read Paul’s description of the report in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and I encourage you to do so.
Most likely a string of house congregations (since Christianity was yet to be a legalized religion in Rome) it appears that various party divisions have been erected the various groups. Many brilliant speculations have been deduced as to the nature of these divisions. Some suggest socioeconomic tensions between the rich and poor, some suggest theological differences, but my speculation is that the house churches experienced a craving for something that is common still today: superiority. I believe this is Paul’s reason for denouncing “words of eloquent wisdom” at the end of his report. Near the end of the chapter Paul writes, “For consider your own calling, brothers, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” Is it possible that various groups within the Corinthian church were using the names of church leaders to express superiority in wisdom, influence, or heritage? Speculate as you wish but the truth is that a prideful root was dividing the church at Corinth and Paul’s resolution is announced with clarity: The Gospel leaves no room for boasting. Christian, you were an enemy of God transformed into sons and daughters by the free grace of God. You are being made from nothing into something by the mercy of the King of glory. The cross brings all humanity to a level ground where there is no hill to stand on or valley to hide in “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Tell me where is your input in salvation? There is no human contribution to the Gospel. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Christian, you are saved not because of who you are or what you’ve done. You are saved because of who Jesus is and because of what He has done. Paul’s remedy to prideful division is to remember the cross which leads us to humility. When we learn to walk in humility, we also learn to walk in unity. You have no room to boast, but if you feel that you must then “boast in the Lord.”
One final word, not that I have anything different to say but I feel inclined to direct my attention to the unbeliever who may be reading. Who knows, perhaps the Holy Spirit has unstopped your ears and removed the blinders from your eyes. What is a lesson of humility to the believer is still good news to you: there is no human contribution to the Gospel. There is nothing you add, there is nothing you must do; just believe. The only qualification for salvation is that you to be a sinner, no matter how great or how small Jesus can save them all. You come as you are to that level ground of the cross where your sins were laid on the Savior Christ Jesus once and for all. To the cross where you become clothed in His righteousness. Come to the cross in repentance and faith “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. –2 Corinthians 5:20-21