Context: Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey and was there for eighteen months. He began by going to the synagogue, as was customary with him, and spent some time preaching and discussing Scripture. The Jews rejected him, however; he abandoned this approach, and directed his efforts toward the conversion of Gentiles. The house of a man named Justus became his headquarters. His preaching won him numerous converts, and when he left Corinth the church was well established. After he had settled in Ephesus, Paul received the disturbing news that there was a crisis in the church he had founded at Corinth. The latter city was an important trading center and had a cosmopolitan population, with a corresponding variety of religions. Many of these encouraged various forms of excess, and Corinth was famed for the vice that flourished in it. Some of Paul's converts were men of standing, but most were from the lower classes and still adhered to pagan moral standards. An exchange of letters confirmed Paul's worst fears: the Corinthian congregation was torn by factions, indulging itself with fornication and incest, and defying his authority. It was at this time that he wrote I Corinthians, a stinging rebuke which censures the Corinthians for their moral lapses. Paul begins with an appeal for unity and an end of factions; those doing the preaching, he implies, are inflated with the false wisdom that is often born of ignorance. Such men are fools; even great human wisdom is nothing beside that of God. The minister's calling is a holy one and not a position of self-importance. After reproving the Corinthians for their unsavory sexual behavior and other misconduct, Paul discusses the nature of spiritual love. He urges his readers to strive for spiritual maturity and gives them some memorable comments on the nature of charity and the imperfection of any wisdom acquired in this life.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.