Prescription for a Healthy Church
Philippe R. Sterling
The prescription for spiritual health in a sinful environment is having an accurate understanding of the message and messengers of Christ, making wise moral decisions, and heeding biblical teaching.
An important issue is the problem of health care. We all get ill or injured whether or not we have adequate health insurance coverage. Politicians know they have to come up with a workable solution for our health care crisis if they are to be elected to office.
We need good health care not only for our physical bodies but also for our spiritual lives. We all succumb to spiritual illnesses. The Bible diagnoses our spiritual illnesses and provides the proper prescription for health.
Paul writes the letter of First Corinthians to a sick church in the middle of a sinful city. Corinth was a prosperous city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a strategic seaport and ships and people came from all over the world. It had a beautiful stadium where the Isthmian games were held. On top of a 2,000 foot granite mount stood an acropolis, a temple of pagan worship. The goddess of the city was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Night after night up to 1000 religious prostitutes filled the streets. Prices were high. They had a proverb, “Not every man can afford to go to Corinth.” The Greeks invented a word, “to Corinthianize,” which meant “to live an immoral life.” Corinth could hold its own with Las Vegas or New Orleans today.
In the middle of this sinful city was a sick church. They prided themselves in their spiritual gifts and knowledge. Yet something was radically wrong with their personal lives and with their local assembly. The church at Corinth was spiritually sick. It was a divided church. They formed fan clubs for various spiritual leaders. It was a disorderly church. One man was living in adultery with his stepmother, flaunting his immorality while the church stood by doing nothing about it. The members of the church were taking each other to court before unbelievers. It was a church with doctrinal difficulties. It had wandered from sound teaching and its proper application to personal and corporate life.
The church needed a touch from the Great Physician who has the power to heal physical and spiritual sickness. Paul writes this letter as a prescription for healthy spirituality.
Literary Structure and Content
The literary structure of the letter is found in Paul’s statements concerning the sources of information from which he learned about the situation in Corinth. There is the problem of divisions communicated by personal report of Chloe’s people (1:11). There is the problem of disorders communicated by an unspecified report (5:1). There is the problem of doctrinal difficulties communicated by a letter from the Corinthians (7:1; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1).
I. Invocation: Paul describes himself and the church at Corinth and invokes God’s grace and peace to them (1:1-3).
II. Thanksgiving: Paul gives thanks for God’s grace in granting the Corinthians abundant spiritual gifts and the
promise of His sustaining power until the day of Christ (1:4-9).
III. Prescription for Divisions: The remedy for the divisions in the church is having a better understanding of
the message and messengers of Christ (1:10–4:21).
A. Malady: Paul exhorts the Corinthians to harmony in light of the reports he has received of divisions
among them centered on fan clubs of servants of God (1:10-17).
B. Remedy: The remedy for the divisions among the Corinthians is a better understanding of the message
and messengers of Christ (1:18–4:5).
1. The Message: The message of Christ crucified that Paul brought to the Corinthians is foolishness to
natural people, but the wisdom of God to spiritual people (1:18–3:4).
a. The message of Christ crucified opposes the human wisdom that fostered the divisions among
the Corinthians (1:18–2:5).
1) The message of Christ crucified is foolishness to the unbeliever but the power and wisdom of
God to the believer (1:18-25).
2) The message of Christ crucified proved to be the power and wisdom of God in the experience
of the Corinthians who believed (1:26-31).
3) The message of Christ crucified in Paul’s preaching proved to be the power of God in contrast
to human wisdom (2:1-5).
b. The message of Christ crucified reveals the true wisdom of God (2:6–3:4).
1) The wisdom which Paul preaches to the mature originates from God and is not understood by
the world (2:6-9).
2) The Spirit of God reveals the wisdom of God to those who have received Him (2:10-13).
3) Only the spiritually mature believer fully grasps the wisdom of God in contrast to the natural
person who is incapable, the baby believer who has a limited capacity, and the immature
fleshly believer who has willfully obstructed his capacity for grasping what the mature are able
to grasp (2:14–3:4).
2. The Messengers: Messengers such as Paul and Apollos are servants of God accountable to God
a. The messengers of God are simply servants that He uses to do His work (3:5-9).
b. The messengers of God are accountable to Him regarding how they serve and may receive or forfeit
a reward (3:10-17).
c. The messengers of God must not be caught up in the wisdom of this age and become objects of
human boasting (3:18-23).
d. The messengers of God are to be regarded simply as servants of Christ who will be evaluated by
the standards of God and not of men (4:1-5).
C. Entreaty: Paul admonishes the Corinthians for their arrogant attitudes and urges them to imitate his example
of service for the sake of Christ (4:6-21).
IV. Prescription for Disorders: The remedy for the disorders in the church is making wise godly decisions (5:1–6:20).
A. Activating the Discipline of the Church: Paul notes a serious sexual sin in the church and instructs the church
to remedy the matter by removing the person from their fellowship — such disassociation only pertains
to immoral believers and not to the immoral people of the world (5:1-13).
B. Arbitrating Disputes in the Church: The Corinthian believers were taking each other to court before
the unrighteous and not before the saints in the church which is inconsistent with their future destiny to
judge the world, their present competency, the spiritual preference to relinquish personal rights, and
their righteous standing in Christ (6:1-11).
C. Avoiding the Defilement of the World: Paul instructs the members of the Corinthian church to flee
immorality since it is incompatible with their relationship to the Triune God (6:12-20).
V. Prescription for Difficulties: The remedy for the difficulties in the church is hearing and heeding biblical
Paul discusses a number of topics raised by the Corinthians. Each of these sections begin with “Now.”
A. Apply teaching about marriage (7:1-40).
1. Paul teaches that the single state is good and preferred by him, and marriage and the fulfillment of
mutual conjugal obligations is acceptable and natural depending on the gift God has given to each
2. Paul applies the principle of celibacy and marriage to the concerns of specific groups in the
B. Apply teaching about spiritual liberty (8:1–11:1).
1. In morally indifferent matters such as food a knowledgeable believer must regulate his liberty by love for
his weaker brother (8:1-13).
2. Paul in the relinquishing of his privileges as an apostle in order to preach the good news illustrates
the attitude towards spiritual liberty which gains God’s approval (9:1-27).
3. Israel in the misuse of its privileges in the wilderness warns against the attitude toward spiritual
liberty which brings God’s disapproval (10:1-13).
4. The eating of meat offered to idols is inconsistent with spiritual liberty if it involves participation in
idolatrous worship but is permitted if eaten apart from idolatrous worship without giving offense to a
fellow believer (10:14-30).
5. Seeking the glory of God in all that is done sums up the principle of spiritual liberty (10:31-33).
C. Apply teaching about headship 11:2-16).
1. Paul commends the Corinthian church for holding firmly to his teaching (11:2).
2. Paul criticizes the practice of women in the church concerning the matter of head coverings while
praying or prophesying — the head covering in their culture reflected the headship of man in the
creation order (11:3-16).
D. Apply teaching about the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34).
1. The Corinthian church was observing the Lord’s Supper in an irreverent manner (11:17-22).
2. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration of the Lord’s death (11:23-26).
3. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner results in divine judgment of sickness and
death which was already occurring among the Corinthians – the divine judgment can be avoided by
proper self-judgment (11:17-34).
E. Apply teaching about spiritual gifts (12:1–14:40).
1. The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to each one for the common good (12:1-11).
2. The human body illustrates the principle of the unity and diversity of spiritual gifts in the church (12:12-31a).
3. The church should pursue the exercise of love more than the exercise of spiritual gifts because of
the superiority of love (12:31b–13:13).
4. The church should prefer the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues because prophecy edifies the
church and convicts unbelievers while tongues do not (14:1-25).
5. The church is to conduct an orderly meeting so as to edify (14:26-36).
6. God’s command is that everything be done in a proper and orderly way (14:37-40).
F. Apply teaching about the resurrection (15:1-58).
1. The bodily resurrection of believers is inseparably linked to the resurrection of Christ historically,
logically, theologically, and experientially (15:1-34).
a. The primary content of the good news Paul preached to the Corinthians is the death and
resurrection of Christ which is historically authenticated by many witnesses including Paul ((15:1-11).
b. The denial of bodily resurrection logically renders the good news groundless and worthless (15:12-19).
c. The bodily resurrection of Christ theologically guarantees the bodily resurrection of dead believers
as well as Christ’s eventual abolishment of death and the subjection of all things to God (15:20-28).
d. The assurance of bodily resurrection experientially affects the service and conduct of believers
2. Paul answers objections to the bodily resurrection of believers (15:35-57).
a. The resurrection body has a similarity and a diversity from the earthly body confirmed by nature
and Scripture (15:35-49).
b. Believers who are alive at the rapture will instantaneously receive a resurrection body like the
one provided to those who have died resulting in victory over death for both groups (15:50-57).
3. The assurance of bodily resurrection should lead believers to steadfast and abounding service for the
G. Apply teaching about giving 16:1-12).
1. The church is to collect the offering for poor saints in Jerusalem in an orderly manner in advance of
Paul’s arrival in Corinth so he could send it on to Jerusalem under proper care (16:1-4).
2. Paul’s travel plans and that of his associates include visits to Corinth as the Lord wills (16:5-12).
H. Summary: Paul finally exhorts the Corinthian believers to watchfulness, steadfastness, moral strength,
love, and respectful submission to their spiritual leaders (16:13-18).
I. Benediction: Paul expresses final greetings, an anathema on anyone who does not love the Lord, and a
benediction of love in Christ (16:19-24).
Theological Reflection and Application
What’s the prescription for a healthy spirituality? Have an accurate understanding of the message and messengers of Christ. Make wise moral decisions. Hear and heed biblical teaching in all areas of doctrine and life.