I am planning to do something unusual for this sermon. Instead of preaching a sermon in which I explain and apply a passage in the Bible, I plan to recite a book of the Bible. The book is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
1. Five Introductory Comments
- I’m in the process of writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians for a publisher called Crossway, but before I wrote anything, I wanted to memorize the letter first.
- The translation I memorized is the ESV, but I’ve tweaked it in a few places. For example, sometimes I’ve chosen to go with an alternative translation in an ESV footnote.
- When I recite 1 Corinthians, I will not mention any chapter or verse numbers along the way. Many audio Bibles begin each chapter by announcing “1 Corinthians 4” or “chapter 4,” but I plan to keep going seamlessly—like a letter should. Did you know that chapter numbers and verse numbers are not God-breathed? Bible “verses” didn’t even exist until about 1550, and “chapters” go back only to the 1200s. They can obscure the text and create artificial and sometimes inaccurate divisions. Yes, chapter and verse references help us locate specific sentences and phrases quickly. But sometimes they do more harm than good. They lead many people to think of the Bible as a reference book that collects bullet-pointed verse-nuggets or pearls on a string—not as the literature that it really is
- First Corinthians is a letter with a relatively simple structure:
1. Introduction (1:1–9)
2. Response to news from Chloe: four problems (1:10–6:20)
a. Division re Christian leaders (1:10–4:21)
b. Incest (5:1–13)
c. Lawsuits (6:1–11)
d. Sexual immorality (6:12–20)
3. Response to the Corinthians’ letter: seven topics (7:1–16:4)
a. Singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (7:1–40)
b. Food sacrificed to idols (8:1–11:1)
c. Head coverings (11:2–16)
d. Lord’s supper abuses (11:17–34)
e. Spiritual gifts (12:1–14:40)
f. Resurrection (15:1–58)
g. The Collection for Jerusalem (16:1–4)
4. Conclusion (16:5–24)
5. The human authors of the Bible originally intended for people to read aloud what they wrote. Paul intended for people to read his letters aloud when the church gathered to worship. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads [that’s singular] aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear [that’s plural].” When the church gathered to worship, one person customarily read Scripture, and the rest of the congregation listened. Most Christians in the first century didn’t have personal copies of the Bible. They heard the words in church services.
And that’s what we are going to do now. I’d encourage you to intently listen and not follow along in the text. I think this letter will land on you differently if you take it in that way. Some of you will want to follow along in the ESV (and try to catch all my mistakes—but don’t forget that they might not be mistakes because I tweaked the translation! ☺). Speaking of mistakes, please don’t try to help me if I get stuck; I have a friend on the front row serving as my safety net. As you listen, I don’t want you to be thinking, “Will he remember all the words?” Instead I pray that you will be thinking, “What did Paul mean? And what significance does this God-breathed letter have for me now?” I want this letter’s message to grip you.
So I’m going to pray, and when I open my eyes, I’ll turn into Paul and you’ll turn into the church at Corinth. Use your imagination and pretend that you’re a member of the church at Corinth hearing Paul’s letter for the first time. And let the power of God’s word through his Spirit wound and heal, convict and encourage, instruct and exhort. I’m simply going to unleash the word of God without any commentary.
Let’s pray ...
Father, this is the one to whom you will look: the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at your word [Isaiah 66:2]. Give us grace to be humble and contrite in spirit and to tremble at your word. We pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
2. Recite 1 Corinthians
3. Concluding Prayer
Father, thank you for choosing what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. Would you help us, your holy people, to increasingly become what we are: holy. Help us mature in Christ. Give us grace not to tolerate sin such as division over Christian leaders, sexual immorality, wrong husband-wife relations, and disunity in the body of Christ. Give us grace to build each other up instead of being self-seeking.
Thank you for the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Thank you that through Jesus Christ you washed us, sanctified us, and justified us. And thank you that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and that consequently you will also raise our mortal bodies from the dead. Amen.