A General Outline of I Corinthians
Sometimes I think the divisions of the chapters separate the main thoughts into separate topics. Paul uses various arguments to prove a certain point, but sometimes when I read the Bible, I look only at the chapters, unconsciously thinking each chapter is a separate subject. I tend to forget the main topics Paul is covering. God has done this for a reason, of course. That reason is not to confuse us; rather to cause us to search more diligently, and prayerfully that he would reveal his eternal truth to us, instead of relying of our puny intelligence.
It seems pretty obvious the Corinthian church wrote to Paul asking him a few questions, which he began to answer in chapter 7. In the first six chapters, Paul deals with issues he knows the Corinthians have difficulties with, and are foundational to understanding the answers he will give in chapter 7-16. It is interesting to note in chapter 1, verse 11 that Paul mentions who told him of some of the contentions existing in the Corinthian church. Paul is not as many counselors, who are reluctant to reveal their sources. Those unwilling to be named as sources for vital information are likely dubious sources.
We are not told what questions the Corinthian church asked Paul. We are only told what he answered. Why? Because God wants us to read the answer, then determine for ourselves the question. Why? Because God wants us to learn how to think as he thinks, and not be lead about by our own carnal reasoning. God wants us to grow up spiritually, and be able to teach the generation that will follow.
I. Preliminary questions Paul answers.
A. Chapter 1-4.
1. Do not elevate any man about Christ.
2. Worship God first of all, and most of all.
3. Put the ministry of every man in its proper perspective.
4. God, who we ought to be worshipping first, will judge all with righteous judgment.
B. Chapter 5 – Dealing with sin (fornication) in the church (discipline).
C. Chapter 6 – Let the church judge matters of the church, don’t take these matters to the courts of this world.
II. Questions the Corinthian church has written to Paul.
A. Chapter 7 – Marital relations.
1. The proper subject of this chapter is proper worship in these physical bodies which have normal, physical desires and necessities.
2. There is nothing wrong with proper marital duties, obligations and pleasures.
3. God has given these things to be used in their proper place.
4. There is nothing wrong with being married, getting married, or staying married.
5. It is better to not have the obligations of a marriage partner, because marriage hinders service to God.
6. Paul desires all believers to be as he is – unmarried without marital obligations, and free to serve God in all areas of his life, but there is no command of God to be unmarried.
7. Every person is different: some have no desire and need marriage to satisfy that physical desire while others do not.
B. Chapter 8-11 – Things offered to idols: Is the bread and wine offered in the Lord’s Supper similar to an offering to an idol?
1. Chapter 8 – The idol is nothing, therefore the meat offered to an idol is nothing.
a. There is no harm in eating the meat offered to an idol.
b. The harm (sin) comes when a brother who doesn’t understand this principle or he has weak faith sees a stronger brother eating the meat offered to an idol.
c. It is best, therefore, to never offend a brother with that which you know is okay.
d. The idol is physical, God is spiritual: don’t confuse the two.
2. Chapter 9 – Paul continually uses this principle in his daily life as an apostle.
a. Paul declares he is an apostle on equal with all the other apostles.
b. Yet he does not have a wife, and works for a living, both of which are legal, just and right to do.
c. Paul is not condemning the other apostles, but proclaiming how he uses the principle stated in chapter 8 daily.
d. God has so ordained in the scriptures that his ministers should be supported by the people ministered to, yet Paul has not done that, lest any person would say he preaches for a living.
e. Paul’s reward is not in receiving financial support, rather he is looking forward to being rewarded by Christ.
f. Paul implies an unspoken scriptural principle that God will supply all material needs (which are the lesser) if the greater work (that of obedience to Christ in everything) is put first.
3. Chapter 10 – the word "moreover" proves Paul is continuing his discussion presented in chapter 8.
a. In verse 1-14, Paul compares the nation of Israel in the wilderness, eating the manna God provided and drinking the water he provided, then lusting after those things (which are physical and the lesser), and not desiring the greater work (spiritual obedience), therefore with many of them God was not well pleased, therefore they died in the wilderness.
b. Verse 14 links Paul’s discussion with chapter 8:1: the subject is the same.
c. Beginning in verse 16, Paul makes a comparison between the Lord’s Supper and eating things offered to idols.
1) The Lord’s Supper is to God.
2) Things offered to idols is to Satan.
3) A clear distinction: there can be no mixture of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils.
d. Verse 23-31 – Back to the principle explained in chapter 8.
1) The meat offered to an idol is not harmed.
2) If you purchase meat from a meat market, don’t ask.
3) If you ask, and know the meat was offered to an idol, don’t use it, because you will offend the weak brother.
4) If you entertain, or are entertained, don’t ask.
5) If you ask, and know the meat was offered to an idol, don’t use it, because you will offend the weak brother.
e. Chapter 11 – Paul begins this chapter by urging the Corinthians to follow him and the principles he expounds in chapter 8 because he is following Christ.
1) The first thing Paul does is encourage the Corinthians to kept he ordinances, one of which he considers to be the Lord’s Supper.
2) In verse 1-16, Paul uses a common example, well known and well observed by believer and unbeliever alike.
a) There is no other scripture in the New Testament that explains the head covering, because the head covering is not the main topic, but an example, comparing pagans to believers.
b) Paul declares believing women will cover their long hair during worship services as a symbol of submission to their own husbands.
c) Paul declares believing men uncover their short hair during worship services as a symbol of their submission to Christ.
d) Pagan women either wear short hair or refuse to cover their hair, which is their glory, during their pagan festivals.
e) Pagan men glory in their long hair, instead of being ashamed, as even nature teaches.
3) In verse 17-24, Paul give correct spiritual instructions for observing the Lord’s Supper.
a) It is only at the conclusion of the lengthy arguments beginning in chapter 8 that Paul give proper instructions for observing the Lord’s Supper.
b) Paul desires the Corinthians to understand the principles behind obedience and proper observance of the Lord’s Supper, not just how to observe the Supper.
c) Paul explains that every meal is not the Lord’s Supper, but the Supper is observed only as a collective worship service, where each person remembers what Christ has done for them.
d) Each person should examine themselves and observe the Supper in complete obedience to Godly principles, not pagan principles.
e) There are apparently other errors the Corinthians were observing, which Paul will set in order when he come to them.
C. Chapter 12-15 – Spiritual gifts.
1. Chapter 12 – God has given special observable gifts to each member of each congregation for the edification of the entire body.
2. Chapter 13 – The most excellent gift (12:31) is love.
a. Any person who has many outward, physical gifts, yet does not possess inward love for God has no gift at all.
b. All outward physical gifts shall eventually pass away, but the true spiritual gift of exercising the love of God will continue for all eternity.
3. Chapter 14 – An appeal to stop the nonsense of personal edification for the greater good of allowing God to so move that all things are done decently and in order.
a. The use of external physical gifts for the personal edification of individuals leave unbelievers in confusion and doubt.
b. The greater good of glorifying and honoring God in public worship forces each individual to submit themselves to God’s explicit instructions for orderly worship.
4. Chapter 15 – This chapter concludes Paul’s instructions on spiritual gifts by explaining the resurrection.
a. The word "moreover" links chapter 15 with chapters 12-14.
b. The word "moreover" has been translated: "but, and, now, then, also, yet, yea, so, nevertheless, for, and even" all of which links two thoughts together.
c. At the conclusion of Paul’s writing on the subject of spiritual gifts, he declares the greatest exercise of spiritual gifts and the consequences of it all.
d. The gospel of Jesus Christ, his coming to the earth, dying on the cross, and being buried and raised again is declared.
e. This great gift of God grants us all believers a resurrection from the dead, eternal hope and joy.
f. This should be the conclusion of the matter for all believers: not the shallow speaking in other languages or some other extraordinary physical or mental gift which edifies only the person exercising the gift, but the eternal spiritual well-being of others.
D. Chapter 16 – Collections for the saints.
1. A final instruction for the Corinthian church to gather their offering together before Paul’s arrival.
2. Many might give more in order to impress Paul as to their generosity, but true generosity involves a giving when not seen.
3. Paul briefly informs of his upcoming itinerary, and other news of interest to them.