Lesson 103: 1 Corinthians 1–2

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Introduction

After learning about problems Church members in Corinth were experiencing, Paul wrote to these members and exhorted them to eliminate contention and become united. He also explained that God calls the weak and humble to preach His gospel and that the things of God can only be known and understood through the Spirit.

Suggestions for Teaching

1 Corinthians 1:1–16

Paul writes to the Saints in Corinth and exhorts them to eliminate contention and be united

Show the class a picture of a family, a sports team, and a group of friends (or write family, sports team, group of friends on the board).

  • What might cause divisions and contention in each of these groups?

  • How can such divisions and contention affect a family, team, or group of friends?

  • How can such divisions and contention among Church members affect the Church?

Invite students to look as they study 1 Corinthians 1 for a truth about divisions and contention that Paul taught the Saints in Corinth.

Invite students to turn to Bible Maps, no. 13, “The Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Paul,” located in the Bible appendix, and find Corinth on the map.

Ask a student to read the following paragraph aloud:

During his second missionary journey, Paul traveled to a city called Corinth, where he preached the gospel. Many people were baptized at that time (see Acts 18:1–18). Later, while Paul was preaching in Ephesus, he learned that problems had arisen among Church members in Corinth because some of the converts were reverting to their past beliefs and practices of idol worship. Paul wrote to the Church members in Corinth to strengthen them and remind them of their commitment to serve the Lord.

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 1:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Paul addressed the Church members in Corinth.

  • How did Paul address the Church members in Corinth?

  • According to verse 1, what position did Paul hold in the Church?

Summarize 1 Corinthians 1:3–9 by explaining that Paul told the Saints in Corinth that he thanked God on their behalf for the grace they had received through Jesus Christ, which had blessed them in every way. Point out that as Paul addressed the Saints he used language indicating that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings (see verse 3).

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 1:10–11 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul exhorted the Corinthian Saints to do.

  • According to 1 Corinthians 1:10, what does the Lord expect us to do as Church members? (Using their own words, students should identify a principle similar to the following: The Lord expects us as Saints to be united and to eliminate divisions and contention.)

  • What can we do as Church members to eliminate divisions and contention in our families? In our wards? (Write students’ responses on the board.)

  • What blessings can we receive from being united and eliminating contention?

  • When have you been blessed as a result of being united in a class, quorum, or ward or branch?

Refer students to the responses written on the board, and encourage them to select one way they can eliminate divisions and contention and to set a goal to implement it.

Summarize 1 Corinthians 1:12–16 by explaining that the Saints in Corinth were dividing into groups based on who baptized them. Contention developed because they believed their status in the Church was determined by the importance of the person who baptized them.

1 Corinthians 1:17–31

Paul teaches that God calls on the weak to preach His gospel

Explain that during the time of Paul, many Greeks lived in Corinth. These Greeks placed a high value on philosophical ideas and worldly wisdom.

  • Why might someone who values worldly philosophies find it difficult to accept the gospel? (You may want to read 2 Nephi 9:28.)

Invite students to look for a truth as they study 1 Corinthians 1:17–31 that can help them understand the fallibility of the world’s wisdom.

Divide the class into four groups. Assign one of the following scripture references to each group: 1 Corinthians 1:17–18; 1 Corinthians 1:19–20; 1 Corinthians 1:21–22; and 1 Corinthians 1:23–24. Invite students to read these verses in their groups, looking for what Paul said about the world’s wisdom versus God’s wisdom. Explain that the phrase “for Christ sent me not to baptize” in verse 17 suggests that Paul was not sent to build a reputation based on the number of converts he could get. You may also want to explain that the phrases “wisdom of the wise” in verse 19 and “wisdom of this world” in verse 20 refer to the flawed philosophical traditions of the day.

After sufficient time, invite a student from each group to summarize for the class what Paul taught the Corinthian Saints about wisdom. After all of the groups have reported, ask:

  • Why do you think nonbelievers considered the message of Jesus Christ’s Atonement to be foolish?

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 1:25 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul taught about human wisdom compared to God’s wisdom. Explain that Paul used the phrases “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” and “the weakness of God is stronger than men” to convey God’s ultimate wisdom and power. God is not foolish, nor does He have any weaknesses.

  • What truth did Paul teach about human wisdom compared to God’s wisdom? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: God’s wisdom is greater than human wisdom.)

  • In what ways might understanding this truth affect how someone looks for solutions to his or her problems?

Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 1:26–27 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for whom God chooses to preach His gospel.

  • Whom does God choose to preach His gospel?

  • Why do you think God chooses those whom the world considers foolish and weak to preach His gospel?

1 Corinthians 2

Paul explains how we learn the things of God

Invite a student to read aloud the following account by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

President Boyd K. Packer

“I sat on a plane next to a professed atheist who pressed his disbelief in God so urgently that I bore my testimony to him. ‘You are wrong,’ I said, ‘there is a God. I know He lives!’

“He protested, ‘You don’t know. Nobody knows that! You can’t know it!’ When I would not yield, the atheist, who was an attorney, asked perhaps the ultimate question on the subject of testimony. ‘All right,’ he said in a sneering, condescending way, ‘you say you know. Tell me how you know.’

“When I attempted to answer, even though I held advanced academic degrees, I was helpless to communicate. …

“When I used the words Spirit and witness, the atheist responded, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ The words prayer, discernment, and faith, were equally meaningless to him. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘you don’t really know. If you did, you would be able to tell me how you know.

“I … was at a loss as to what to do” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 51).

  • What would you have said to the atheist?

Invite students to look for a truth as they study 1 Corinthians 2 that will help them know why this man could not understand President Packer and why they can be confident in their knowledge of spiritual matters.

Summarize 1 Corinthians 2:1–8 by explaining that Paul told the Saints in Corinth that he did not use the world’s wisdom to convince them of the gospel. He taught them by the Spirit so they would have faith in God. Paul also told them that unbelievers cannot understand the mysteries of God.

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from 1 Corinthians 2:9–16. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why Paul said some people can know and understand the “deep things of God” (verse 10), while others cannot.

  • According to verses 9–10, why could Paul and other faithful people understand the things of God?

  • According to verse 14, why are some people unable to understand the things of God?

  • What truth can we learn from these verses about how we can know and understand the things of God? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: We can only know and understand the things of God through His Spirit.)

Refer to President Packer’s account, and explain that President Packer felt inspired to ask the man sitting next to him on the plane what salt tastes like. Invite a student to read aloud the rest of President Packer’s account:

President Boyd K. Packer

“After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, ‘I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!’

“As we parted, I heard him mutter, ‘I don’t need your religion for a crutch! I don’t need it.’

“From that experience forward, I have never been embarrassed or ashamed that I could not explain in words alone everything I know spiritually” (“The Candle of the Lord,” 52).

Write the words Things of God on the board and ask students what they would consider to be things of God that can only be known and understood through His Spirit. Write their responses on the board.

  • Why is it important for us to believe that we can only know and understand the things of God through His Spirit?

Refer students to the list on the board, and invite them to share an experience in which they came to know and understand through the Spirit one of these things of God. Consider sharing an experience of your own.

Encourage students to consider what they can do to seek the Spirit’s help as they strive to know and understand the things of God.

Conclude by testifying of the truths taught in this lesson.

Commentary and Background Information

1 Corinthians 1:17–2:13. The wisdom of the world

“When Paul spoke against ‘the wisdom of this world’ (1 Corinthians 1:20), he was referring to the flawed philosophical traditions of his day and not to the worthwhile pursuit of learning and education that the Lord encourages (see Matthew 22:37; 2 Nephi 9:29; D&C 88:78–80). Paul used the words wise and wisdom repeatedly in 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:13 to refer to worldly philosophies and those who supported them. Philosophical ideas were regularly the subject of public debates. Paul contrasted limited human wisdom with the powerful message of God’s crucified Son (see 1 Corinthians 1:17–25). Regardless of those who scoffed at the gospel, the Saints’ faith should not depend on ‘the wisdom of men, but … the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:5).

“The message of a crucified Messiah was difficult for both Jews and Gentiles to accept. In the Roman world, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals or slaves and symbolized shame and defeat. The idea of someone vicariously suffering and dying for others, then subsequently coming back to life, was ‘foolishness’ to the philosophically minded Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). For the Jews, whose concept of the Messiah brought the expectation of royalty, power, and victory, the message that the Messiah had died on a cross was a ‘stumblingblock’ and an unacceptable idea (1 Corinthians 1:23)” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 364).

1 Corinthians 1:18–29. “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”

“While many Jews and Gentiles rejected the gospel message as ‘foolishness’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), Paul taught that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men’ (1 Corinthians 1:19–25). God often performs His work through individuals whom the world might consider to be ‘foolish’ or ‘weak’ (see D&C 35:13–14; 124:1). In 1 Corinthians 1:28, the ‘base things of the world’—those who are lowly and humble—are those whom God chooses to accomplish His work” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 364).

1 Corinthians 2:6–16. The “things of God” are “spiritually discerned”

Because “the things of the Spirit of God” can only be “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), those who are worldly minded cannot understand spiritual truths. God has provided a way for us to obtain spiritual knowledge. Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy taught:

“In the scientific world the scientific method is used to learn truth and advance knowledge. It has been extremely helpful over the years and has yielded tremendous amounts of scientific knowledge and continues to push back the curtain of ignorance about our physical world. Learning spiritual things, however, requires a different approach than learning scientific things. The scientific method and intellect are very helpful, but they alone will never bring spiritual knowledge.

“Learning spiritual things involves the intellect, but that is not enough. We only learn spiritual things by the Spirit. …

“… Answers to spiritual questions are given to individuals who don’t harden their hearts; who ask in faith, believing they will receive; and who diligently keep the commandments. Even when we follow this pattern, we don’t control the timing of getting answers. Sometimes our answers come quickly, and sometimes we must place questions on the shelf for a time and rely on our faith that has developed from the answers we do know” (“A Pattern for Learning Spiritual Things” [Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 7, 2012], si.lds.org).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“The Lord’s prescribed methods of acquiring sacred knowledge are very different from the methods used by those who acquire learning exclusively by study. For example, a frequent technique of scholarship is debate or adversarial discussion, a method with which I have had considerable personal experience. But the Lord has instructed us in ancient and modern scriptures that we should not contend over the points of his doctrine. (See 3 Ne. 11:28–30; D&C 10:63.) … Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation” (“Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 29).