Context: During Paul's second missionary journey he visited Corinth and spent eighteen months there. He began in his customary manner, preaching and arguing Scripture in the synagogue, but was rejected by the Jews; so he went among the Gentiles, to the house of a man named Justus, and preached there. He won many converts and by the time he left Corinth had established a growing church. After he had taken up residence in Ephesus, Paul was confronted by a severe crisis. Corinth was an important trading center with a cosmopolitan population; and among the religions already flourishing there, a number encouraged forms of license at odds with Christian ethics. The city was famous for the vice which permeated it. Though a few of the Christian converts were men of standing in the community, most came from the lower classes and brought pagan moral standards with them. Paul's first letter to the Corinthian congregation, now lost, warned them against loose sexual conduct. The Corinthians replied with a letter asking a number of questions; Paul now learned that their sexual ethics were worse than he had thought, that factions had sprung up in the church, and that his congregation was flouting his authority. At this point Paul wrote I Corinthians–a blistering rebuke censuring the congregation for its lapses from high standards. He begins by deploring their factiousness and calling for unity, implying that those doing the preaching are too superficially wise. Human wisdom, beside that of God, is nothing; and those who are swollen with their own wisdom are mere fools. Paul speaks of the holiness of the minister's calling: it is not for self-aggrandizement. He reproves them for fornication and incest, and for many other kinds of questionable behavior. He then describes spiritual gifts and love, and in Chapter 13 urges them to achieve spiritual maturity:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
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.