The church at Corinth was beset with divisions among them, wrong thinking about the gospel, and even some immoral behavior. Corinth was strategically located as a center of commerce, and thus a melting pot of various views and cultures. This fact no doubt contributed to the troubles among them. Paul wrote this letter as a strong admonition to the Corinthians but also out of love for them in order to correct their ways and bring them back to faithful conformity to the gospel message.
A major concern for Paul in 1 Corinthians was that the body (a common metaphor for the life of the church) be united. Petty bickering, personality cults, and pride have no place in the church. In contrast to these vices, humility—even being a fool in the eyes of others—is part of the Christian calling. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to take care of their own affairs with each other through the power of the Spirit and exhibit humility rather than taking each other to court and give the gospel a bad name.
Apparently the Corinthians had some specific questions for Paul. One of them concerned marriage, and Paul suggests the unmarried Corinthian remain unmarried if possible so as to be freer to serve God. The Corinthians should avoid food sacrificed to idols, not because the idols have any power but because the weaker Christian may not be able to how another Christian could take part in such a cultural custom. For Paul, freedom in the gospel always stops short of causing weaker Christians to truly stumble.
The Corinthians also had some problematic views about worshipping God, especially in their prayer and prophetic practices. Women who do these things are to do so under male authority (chapter 11), although exactly what Paul is getting at here is a topic of much discussion. Paul also chides the people for turning the Lord’s Supper into a free for all feast, rather than what it is really meant to be: a spiritual, Christ-centered remembering and eating for the strengthening of faith.
Two of the better-known portions of this letter are the chapter on love (chapter 13) and Paul’s lengthy discussion of the resurrection of believers (chapter 15). Apparently there were some Christians who doubted that there is a resurrection for believers, which Paul attributes to them keeping bad company. Paul then argues at length that the resurrection of Christ is a guarantee that believers will also be raised at the appointed time.
– Peter Enns