Paul’s personal witness led to the first followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city in southern Greece. After some time there, Paul left to witness to Jesus elsewhere. But the church in Corinth developed problems. In thought, spirit, and behavior, some were grievously deviating from the teaching of Jesus. Paul responded by writing to the Corinthians, including this letter around 55 A.D.
Paul’s basic point threading through the passage is captured by a contrast early in it. This sets up the rest of his remarks. Paul refers to “some people [in Corinth] who think we live by the standards of this world.” In contrast, Paul writes, “…though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” Thus he draws a sharp distinction between the standards of the world, or human standards, and the standards of the kingdom of God. Paul applies the distinction to how he and the Corinthians should conduct themselves in these problems. Yet he does so because the distinction is fundamental to life for followers of Jesus. We – followers of Jesus – are not to live by worldly standards. Even while our lives are embedded in a particular human society, we are to live by kingdom standards.
With this contrast, Paul characterizes how followers of Jesus are to live. All ideas, attitudes, and behaviors are to be made captive or obedient to Jesus. They are to be shaped by the life and teaching of Jesus, not the spirit and teaching of the world, of human society. When problems arise, we are to resist and overcome wrong ideas, attitudes, and behaviors by kingdom means, by prayer, exhortation, and discipline exercised in love – not by worldly means, not by arrogance, contempt, or hate exercised in anger and violence.
In all we think, feel, and do, with respect to self and others, we are to measure ourselves by Jesus, not by any other measure, whether from our self, our little group, or our society. In the end, we are to live in such a way that Jesus commends us, because his standards, his measure and approval, are infinitely superior to any other standards.