Today: [1 Corinthians 1:] Paul Writes to the Corinthians: In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes to address several troublesome issues. The Corinthians are lax in their internal disciplines; they have notoriously careless sexual mores. They are divided amidst one another to the point that many members of the church are suing one another before the courts. We couldn’t find a more apt and fitting book of the Bible to apply to church culture today as we know it.
[1Co 1:1-17 KJV] 1 Paul, called [to be] an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes [our] brother, 2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 3 Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and [in] all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: 8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, [that ye may be] blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God [is] faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
We now come to the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter from the city of Ephesus on the coasts of Asia Minor. The pretext of his writing to this church was the fact that he had founded this same Christian community just a few years earlier. He had maintained contact with this church through personal connections among them sending letters through emissaries and couriers back and forth across the Aegean sea. The reason for Paul’s addressing the church as a whole is to deal with several areas of widening conflict between the pagan traditions these relatively new believers grew up and the constraints of the kingdom on their practice and behavior. He deals with a whole range of issues from the Christian’s response to legal proceedings to very personal areas of their lives such as their sexual customs. What we can immediately extract from this includes the fact that God expects us to open our lives and our lifestyles to the disciplining influence of his leaders, specifically the apostles. What about you? Would you allow a Christian leader to back you down from an intended lawsuit?
What about a leader approaching you to discuss your sex life and making very insistent demands that you alter your behavior? Would you cooperate with this and if not why not?
The salutation of Paul includes greetings from Sosthenes, a brother who pens the letter as Paul dictates, as was his custom in most all of his writings. He begins by greeting the church as those who are “sanctified” or separated in Christ. He uses this language because in the body of his letter he will be calling upon the Corinthians to relinquish many of their cosmopolitan ways and to embrace a stricter posture toward areas of life and expression where they were quite lax even by ancient pagan standards. He salutes them as those who are enriched by God in all utterance and knowledge because Paul is aware that this is a community very active in the exercise of spiritual gifts, at times to the point of excess even in this.
In verse 6 Paul declares that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them (v. 7) and they come behind in no spiritual gift. What is this referring to? Rev. 19:10 tells us that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. This is interesting because later on in his letter Paul will attempt to foster in them cultivation of this gift of prophecy to take priority over the overt practice of public utterance in unknown tongues among them. This, however, is not to be seen as a prohibition against glossalalia because Paul’s counterbalance is the assertion that he speaks in tongues more than any of the Corinthians who at times do nothing other in their public gatherings than speaking in tongues.
In verse 10 Paul gets right down to matters at hand when he urges the church to speak the same thing and abandon the many divisions that have developed in their midst over the intervening years since Paul established them in the first place. There could not be a more relevant message for you and I today. Among the Corinthians, they were saying “I am of Paul,” or “Apollos” or “Cephas” to which Paul directly challenges them asking “is Christ divided?” This tells us that denominational, local or populist sentiments and divisions in Christian culture are directly contrary to the character of the kingdom and scriptural mandate. For a church or a people to divide themselves along partisan or sectarian boundaries for any reason whatsoever is an offense against Christ and constitutes a posture of defiance against the clear teaching of scripture. Does it matter that such divisiveness is widespread, indeed universal among us? No, it does not. You cannot change what someone else does or practices, but you can make a decision that you will not conduct yourself in agreement with such an egregious transgression no matter what the personal cost.
[1 Cor 1:18-31 KJV]
18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
After clearing up the issue of exactly who he did and did not baptize Paul dismisses the whole matter saying he didn’t come to baptize but to preach the gospel. What do good Baptists do with that statement? Their entire existence is predicated on what they see as the primacy of the mandate to baptize but Paul, the veritable architect of Christianity as we know it comes very near marginalizing the practice in favor of a deeper emphasis on the preaching of the gospel and the declaration of the power of the cross and its commensurate provisions in our lives?
In v. 18 Paul addresses the decidedly negative reputation of the message of the gospel among the heathen as being nothing more than irrelevant and foolish. Seminaries for centuries have strongly demanded that young seminarians learn to minister in a relevant and impactful way to their congregations and the communities they serve. Why aren’t we teaching the foolishness of preaching? Who are we trying to impress? The gospel might be foolish when properly preached, but even in folly it is the power of God that (v. 19) destroys the wisdom of the wise and brings the understanding of the prudent to nothing.
The wisdom issue was very contentious for Paul as he preached throughout Asia. The influence of the greeks and Greek philosophy brought much scorn on Paul as we will remember in Acts 27:24 when Festus sneered at Paul standing before him in chains, saying “Paul, Paul much learning has made you mad!” Paul was a man standing astride two cultures seeking to fulfill his mandate – the greeks and their arrogant ideologies on the one hand and the Jews and their superstitions and penchant for the supernatural on the other. The Jews (v. 22) required a sign and the Greeks sought after wisdom. Paul dismisses both without apology declaring that his message is Christ and Him crucified – to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. What is the answer? It isn’t your job to make the message of Jesus relevant for in so doing you actually make it void of power. Spreading the gospel isn’t about talking anybody into anything. What you talk someone into someone else will come along and talk them out of. The gospel is foolish, yes but it is the foolishness of God (v. 25) which is wiser than man’s highest wisdom, the weakness of God yes, but stronger than the strongest ideologies of men.
In speaking of the foolishness of the message Paul makes the point in v. 26 as to who better to preach an allegedly foolish message than foolish men? God doesn’t call those who are full of themselves or confident in their intellect or learning. He calls (v.27) the foolish to confound the wise and the weak to confound the mighty. God hasn’t called you to be wise or to be mighty – why try? He calls the weak, the foolish, the base, and the incapable – guess what? That includes you! In the purposes of God, no one gets any credit but God; that no flesh should glory in His presence (v. 29).
If we are called as weak and as foolish, whence comes our strength and our wisdom? Read v. 30. If you are wise, it is because Jesus in His person is your wisdom. If you are righteous, it isn’t about who you are or what you have done it is about who He is in you and what He did for you 2000 years ago on the cross. If you are sanctified (separated) it isn’t because you have separated yourself but because God himself has sequestered you to Himself and separated you from the beggarly elements of the world. Why? That our glory, if we glory is not in ourselves or our accomplishments but the Lord and the Lord alone.
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