Corinth was an important city in Greece during the time of the Roman Empire. While Athens was significant in the area because of its culture and the educational opportunities it offered, Corinth was the capital of the Roman province named Achaia as well as its most important city. Corinth was prominent in the New Testament world, and it became prominent in New Testament as well. During Paul’s second missionary journey the apostle spent 18 months ministering there (see Acts 18:11). His three longest letters to churches are associated with Corinth. Obviously the apostle wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians to the church at Corinth, but he also wrote his letter to the Roman Christians from that city.
The location of Corinth is key to understanding its significance and its social and moral atmosphere. An isthmus—a narrow strip of land with bodies of water on both sides—joined the Greek peninsula to the mainland. Corinth was located just southwest of this isthmus. It therefore was a town sailors came through constantly as they maneuvered their ships across the isthmus to avoid having to sail around the peninsula. It is not surprising that the moral climate of Corinth was debased and wicked. Seamen, as they came through, would spend their money on the various enticements that the city offered.
Once every two years the Isthmian games were held, giving Corinth a special opportunity to enjoy the limelight. Corinth had become a Roman colony in 44 BC, so it was an important place many years before Paul ministered there. The people of Corinth came from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Even though it was a Roman city, worship of Greek gods was common among the Corinthians.
In the midst of this strategic and influential yet morally decadent city, Paul and his companions became human instruments God used to plant a Christian church that would continue to uphold God’s truth, but not without struggles. Many of the church members were saved out of what most of us would consider very sinful lifestyles (even though the most “morally upright” individual is just as much under condemnation without Christ as is the “notorious sinner” without Him). Here the point is that spiritual growth among the Corinthian believers was sometimes slow, and often it also was marred by spiritual failure. Paul addressed numerous problems in the Corinthian church in his letters. Paul’s insights for them help us today as we read the God-given insights and instructions the apostle wrote to the Corinthian believers. Knowing about their spiritual growth helps us in our own, whether we are new or seasoned believers, whether we grew up in the church or became Christians after we became adults.