The first epistle of Corinthians was written after Paul had visited Corinth in Acts 18. Many people there converted from their idolatry and became Christians, and a local church was formed, an expression of the one body of Christ. This epistle is full of teaching and setting things in order in the local church where believers gather to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not attempting to commentate on each chapter, but give a brief outline. When we pick up a book of the Bible, we need to look for a key to open up the rest of the book. This key is usually found in the first chapter.
In chapter 1:30, we have four characteristics/features of what is written about Christ. These are wisdom, righteousness, holiness and sanctification. So how do we divide these in the epistle?
Wisdom – chapters 1 and 2
Righteousness – chapters 3-5
Holiness – chapters 6-14
Redemption – chapters 15-16
Summary of the epistle and chapters
Chapters 1-6 form one section where Paul corrects the believers in matters.
Chapter 1 – divisions. There are 9 verses that Paul writes in commending the Corinthian Christians, that they indeed are believers and have accepted Christ as their Saviour. The rest of the epistle is about correction, and Paul uses his apostleship from God to correct the behaviour of his fellow Christians.
Chapter 2 – God’s wisdom. Paul describes to them the manner of his ministry among them.
Chapter 3 – practical conduct in and outside of the local gathering.
Chapter 4 – apostles and service.
Chapter 5 – holiness and discipline in putting out of fellowship the believer living in moral evil. In other words, the very naughty person who does naughty things affects the whole gathering and needs to be put out, but with the objective of restoration.
Chapter 6 – self-judgement: temporal affairs, law-suits, and fornication.
Chapters 7-16 form a second section in the epistle in which Paul answers them questions that they have asked him.
Chapter 7 – marriage. Some very good, practical and solid instructions on marriage amongst believers. Here Paul speaks about a spouse who is not yet converted, because at one stage all of the Corinthians were idolaters. When many of them converted, perhaps some of their spouses were not, and Paul deals with that in a very special way.
Chapter 8 – Christian Liberty. A good guide in feeling free to eat what is before us and give thanks to God for making it available.
Chapter 9 – Paul’s apostleship and liberty of ministers/servants, and running the race. The end of the chapter is about disciplining ourselves in running a race (doing the work for Christ while we are on earth), and not speaking at all about salvation or losing our souls. Once saved, we cannot lose salvation, but we can certainly lose the enjoyment of fellowship with Christ and our fellow Christians.
Chapter 10 – the Lord’s Table. Here Paul tells us that all believers, no matter what background we are from, are part of the Lord’s table. We cannot partake of the Lord’s table and the table of demons (in our day, to be constantly mingled with the policies of the world system).
Chapter 11 – the Lord’s Supper. This is a special revelation that Paul received from the risen Christ. The Corinthians were abusing this, in making it a feast that they eat large quantities and drink to excess, and not waiting for everyone to be present. Paul corrects this in the chapter and we learn a lot of lessons from this.
Chapter 12 – Spiritual gifts. Very insightful instructions about the source of spiritual gifts and what they are.
Chapter 13 – love in the local church. This chapter is very often read at weddings, but the idea here is that for spiritual gifts to be effective, it must be used in love, in an atmosphere of love amongst the believers in their local gatherings.
Chapter 14 – the use of Spiritual gifts. Here the Corinthians were extremely well gifted and were abusing this, like speaking in tongues while not many people would understand them. Paul instructs them on how to use these gifts, and prescribes that there are occasions when two or at most three people can speak as guided by the Holy Spirit, and the others pay attention and search out the scriptures.
Chapter 15 – the resurrection. A very detailed chapter outlining the Christian hope of the resurrection of those who have died in Christ, and having glorified bodies.
Chapter 16 – the collections in the local church gathering, and some greetings and salutations.
This is an attempted outline with the view to encourage further study.