1 CORINTHIANS 1
1:1-3 Paul’s Greeting
Paul identified himself as the author in the first word of this letter. I like the fact that he identified himself in relationship to God. He identified himself as an apostle. He was the guy Christ jerked up off the road and put into service for him. He was Christ’s servant and representative. He had a great stability in knowing he was called to do what he was doing. You can have that, too, I think. You can be Bob, called to do whatever it is you are doing. Then you live and work with confidence. You are God’s Bob living as God wants Bob to live.
What is an apostle? One who is sent. He is a representative or an envoy for Christ. He goes out with the message of salvation from Christ. There seem to be 5 traits of the apostles in the New Testament: (1) they were foundational to the church; (2) eyewitnesses of Christ; (3) directly called by Christ (Matthias?) (4) authenticated by signs (5) having unique authority.
Paul also identified the method by which he came to be an apostle. He was called by God. In the movie “The Apostle” the main character decides he will be an apostle and baptizes himself in recognition of that. Paul, however, constantly claimed that he was called by God and equal in stature to the apostles who knew Jesus during his time on earth.
Paul’s call is recorded in Acts 9. Let’s read verses 1 through 6 first. The Lord revealed himself to Saul. Saul was not looking for the Lord. The Lord called him to do something, he told him “you will be told what you are to do”.
Then read the Lord’s words to Ananias in verse 15. Paul was the Lord’s chosen instrument to carry his name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. The Lord chose Paul for the work, not the other way around, and defined the work: to carry his name. He was also chosen to suffer for the name of Christ. That is quite a calling.
The Holy Spirit reaffirmed the call of Christ according to Acts 13:2 in the church in Antioch.
In Romans 1:1, he said he was called to be a apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.
Paul also described his call in Galatians 1:15 when he said God set him apart before he was born and called him by his grace.
We know the other apostles were chosen and called by Christ. In John 15:16, Jesus even told them “You did not choose me, but I chose you…”
We still work on this model today, as we expect our ministers not to simply choose to be ministers, but to be called. Calvin said “For as no man can lawfully assume the designation and rank of a minister, unless he be called…”
Paul is joined by Sosthenes, who is a fellow believer, which is why he is called his brother, and probably his secretary for writing this letter. There is a Sosthenes mentioned in Acts 18:17 that is probably him. He was a former ruler of the synagogue in Corinth who believed in the Lord. He was beaten by the Jews for his association with Paul and with Christ. He would be well thought of by the church, being a charter member who suffered for his faith.
In verse 2, Paul addresses the letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was one of the biggest cities in the Roman Empire at this time. It was prosperous, but it was pagan. On a hill in the city, called the Acrocorinth, there was a big temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. There were many other pagan religions practiced in the city, as it was a metropolis made of people from all over the empire.
Acts 18 tells us the story of the founding of the church. Paul went to Corinth from Athens and hooked up with Aquila and Priscilla, converted Jews who fled Rome for Corinth when the emperor Claudius banished Jews from Rome. They were also tentmakers, so they stayed and worked together. God is a God of details, is he not? He provided companions for Paul that had much in common with him. They were Jews, they were believers and they were tentmakers. Silas and Timothy then joined him from Macedonia.
Paul preached every Saturday in the synagogue. He told the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah. He was run out of the synagogue, but preached in a house next door. Many believed and were baptized. Eventually, Paul left for Syria with Priscilla and Aquila.
About 3 years after Paul left Corinth, he received a report from the household of Chloe about improper conduct in the church and wrote this letter from Ephesus.
Paul says 3 things about those who are part of the church:
1. they are sanctified in Christ Jesus;
2. called to be holy (or saints, ESV & NASB), as are all believers; and
3. are part of those who call on the name of the Lord.
When Paul speaks of their being sanctified in the past tense here, I think he is speaking of being called out and set apart from the rest of the world. Christ calls us into fellowship with him and into holiness, breaking our allegiance to the world for allegiance to him. He calls us to be his saints in fellowship with Christ and we call on him for help and guidance in life and abandon our allegiance to worldly systems and standards.
1:4-7 Paul’s Thanksgiving
As he often did in his letters, Paul expressed thanksgiving for the Corinthians and the work that God had done in them. By his grace, God had enriched them in their speaking and their knowledge. These 2 areas will come up repeatedly in the letter. In addition, he had given them every spiritual gift, they did not lack any of them. The area of spiritual gifts will come up later in the letter also, which is interesting given our church’s new program. God gives the gifts, not for our personal glory, but to serve the church.
He also described them as eagerly waiting for Jesus to be revealed. Chapter 15 will deal with this. Why do you think he said “revealed”?
So, while they eagerly await the return of Christ, they serve the church with every spiritual gift.
1:8-9 God Is Faithful To The End
God will keep believers strong to the end. The ESV uses the word “sustain”. The NKJV uses “confirm”. He does not save us to let us go, he keeps us. So, not only does he preserve our salvation, he continues to work out our sanctification. He promised the disciples he would be with them to the end of the age in Matthew 28:20. In Philippians 1:6, Paul said he was confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 1 Peter 1:5 says we are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
He will do that for a purpose, that they, and we, will be blameless on the Day of the Lord. Ephesians 1:4 tells us God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Colossians 1:22 says “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”
You see, Christ did not just die to give you as an individual a ticket to heaven. Rather, God was continuing about his business of creating a people devoted to himself that would be holy. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…”
This people of God is also known as the church. Christ wants to present this entire body of people to himself, pure and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 1 Thessalonians 3:13 says “may he strengthen your hearts that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
This principle is also illustrated for us in Revelation 21:2 when it says “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” God in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament are always portrayed as the husband and the church as the bride.
Paul understood that Christ wanted this for the church: to be blameless and holy at his return. Because he understood this, Paul wanted the Corinthian church to be blameless and holy. As their founder and as an apostle, he feels a duty to help them be what Christ wanted them to be. He has told them now that God wants this and will work to accomplish it in their lives. He will continue through the letter to tell them what the holy and blameless church should look like and what it should not look like. He will condemn divisions, immorality, legal disputes, causing the weak to stumble, idolatry, and disorder. He will encourage unity, spiritual wisdom, purity, spiritual growth, responsibility, devotion, service, humility and love.
Verse 9 tells us God called us into this fellowship with Christ, both individually and as the church, and he will be faithful to keep us there. Romans 11:29 says his call is irrevocable.
1:10-16 The Call For Unity
The first problem Paul addressed with the Corinthians was their lack of unity. In verse 11, he referred to the report from Chloe’s household that probably occasioned this letter. The church at Corinth has lost its unity and divided into groups. Verse 11 and 12 tell us some claimed to follow different teachers, Paul, Apollos and Cephas. Some claimed to follow only Christ. These groups quarreled with each other.
So, Paul appealed to them in the name of Christ to agree with each other and not divide. The holy and blameless church does not have divisions. Rather, the members have the same mind and same judgment. The divided church turns inward and loses its mission. It also robs Christ of his role as head of the church. Paul pointed this out when he said “was Paul crucified for you?” and “were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Of course, neither is true. Christ died for the church. Ephesians 5:25 says that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Likewise, we were baptized into Christ and he is the head of the church, the only head.
How do we obtain unity in the church? It requires living for the glory of God to be the first priority and it takes humility. Later in the letter, Paul will say there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. Calvin said “The first step towards serving Christ is to lose sight of ourselves, and think only of the Lord's glory and the salvation of men.”
Divisions are often a result of pride and status seeking. We want to be better than others, even by our associations. We want to say, I belong to Paul and that is better than belonging to Apollos, like you. Paul urges them to let go of these divisions and unite. The Greek word for “unite” is the same word for “mend” or “prepare” in Matthew 4:21, used of repairing torn nets after fishing. Paul wants them to mend their divisions. Ephesians 4:3 says “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Keeping the unity means being humble towards others, forgiving wrongs, apologizing for wrongs, intervening in torn relationships and working for unity.
1:17-19 Spiritual Wisdom v. Human Wisdom
Paul said the he was sent to preach the gospel. He was not sent to develop his own following. He was sent to preach the gospel, the message of the cross.
He was not to preach human wisdom, or in wisdom of speech. The ESV says “with words of eloquent wisdom”. The Greeks, including the Corinthians, were used to eloquent speakers and judged those they heard by how well they spoke. If you grew up in church, you may have a little of this tendency to judge the preachers by their speaking ability.
Paul said he did not come to do that. To preach with human wisdom is to empty the cross of its power. Preaching is the means God ordained as the vehicle to spread the gospel. That preaching is to be about Christ and the cross. It is not to be about human wisdom. It is not to be done in such a manner that the message of the cross is lost in the eloquence of the speaker.
The irony is that the cross is offensive to humanity. The cross says you cannot save yourself and your sin is so bad that your Heavenly Father had to sacrifice his Son, who was perfectly sinless, to pay the penalty of your sin so you could be reconciled to the Father. The cross says you are not good enough on your own, you are not powerful enough, and you are not God.
Human wisdom says that cannot be true or finds a way to mitigate its impact. Human wisdom says “doesn’t God want you to be happy?” Human wisdom says a loving God would not create hell (he would make people be with him for eternity that do not want to be with him at all). Human wisdom says “look at me” rather than “look at Christ”. Human wisdom says let’s do what sells, let’s do what works, rather than let’s talk about the gospel.
God knew in advance that preachers would be tempted to preach human wisdom. It is less offensive and more popular to the world. Paul already experienced this. The prophets had experienced this. Today there are plenty of popular preachers who preach in human wisdom and eloquence. They are fun to listen to, good looking and But they are not talking about the cross.
But that is not what God wanted to do. He wanted to confound human wisdom so we would confront Him. Paul quoted Isaiah 29:14 here to show God planned this all along. He does not want us to appear wise in human terms or well spoken at the expense of the method. He does not want us to sell with what is culturally popular. He wants us to embrace spiritual wisdom, to embrace the cross.
Paul said, for the people of the world, the preaching of the cross is foolishness. I read an interview last week with Richard Dawkins, who has become the attack dog for evolution. He said the fact that people believe in God is a failure of education. He wants us all to get over it. He sees faith as foolishness.
But Paul said the preaching of the cross has power. It creates a division. Those who are perishing reject it and ridicule it. Those who are being saved accept it. In fact, for us who are being saved, the believers, it is the power of God.
1:19-21 God Confounds Human Wisdom
God confounded and defeated human wisdom with his own. The world could not find God through human wisdom. It is corrupted by sin. It is blinded by pride and rebelliousness. We have a sin nature, inherited through Adam. Romans 5:12 says sin entered into the world through one man. That has lead to the corruption of the human mind and rebellion against God. Romans 1:21-22 described this for us when Paul said “…but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 3:11 says no one understands and no one seeks God.
When he said where is the wise man, scholar and philosopher, Paul means they are not found as those who are leading men and women to God. God has chosen others to bring his message of spiritual truth and has bypassed human wisdom and eloquence. (This may be an allusion to Isaiah 19:12, “where are your wise men now? Let them show you and make known what the Lord Almighty has planned…”
So God acted contrary to human wisdom. He would not honor it or be bound by it. Instead, he demonstrated his wisdom and made the wisdom of the world look foolish. God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what was preached. What was preached was the gospel, or the word of the cross. In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus said “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”
The temptation of the church will be to preach human wisdom. The temptation is to look wise or smart or cool in the eyes of the world. God, however, intends to confront the world and its wisdom with the message of the cross. We must do the same.
1:22-25 Christ Crucified
Paul described the approach of the Jews and of the Greeks to salvation. First, he said the Jews looked for miraculous signs. They wanted to decided how God must show them his power. We see this in Matthew 12:38. The Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” At this point, Jesus had healed many and many followed him. Jesus refused to give them a sign, although he told them in an allusion to Jonah that his resurrection would be the only sign they would get.
In John 6:30, Jesus had just feed the 5,000 when people said “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?”
This type of person exists today. We see them on television every day, manufacturing signs to look as if God’s power is at work. They are not content to hear the gospel, they demand strange happenings and miracles.
Paul also described the Greek. He said the Greeks look for wisdom. They were sophisticated and intellectual. They did not want to wallow in the emotion of religion, but wanted new and challenging ideas. This type of person exists today. Many even call themselves theologians. They constantly change the gospel message in favor of intellectual arguments.
Paul did not cater to either group. He just preached Christ crucified. I looked back at the sermon Peter gave at Pentecost, the first Christian sermon. In Acts 2:23, Peter said “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him on the cross.” There was not sophisticated presentation or smooth talking, just the message of the cross.
Stephen preached while being stoned and said “They [the Jews] even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him…” See Acts 7:52.
Phillip preached to the Ethiopian about a passage in Isaiah foretelling the death of Christ.
Paul constantly went to the synagogue and preached the message. How dare we do anything different today.
Verse 23 shows us that Paul knew the message would not be universally received. The Jews would find it a stumbling block. “Stumbling block” keeps you from reaching the place you need to. Isaiah prophesied this about Christ in Isaiah 8:14, saying “but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Paul referred to it in Romans 9:32-33, when he said Israel did not attain righteousness because “they pursued it not by faith buy as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone’ and went on to quote the verse in Isaiah.
The Jews wanted a Messiah who was the conquering king, someone who would drive out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic kingdom. You see this in Acts 1 when Jesus appeared to the disciples post resurrection and they asked in verse 6, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
But the Messiah they got was the one who those very Romans killed by crucifying him. He was a stumbling block because he did not fit their concept of the Messiah and they rejected Him.
For the Greeks, the message of the crucifixion was foolishness. It was a message about a guy who came and got himself killed, not of a powerful or wise teacher. That kind of person also exists today. Some claim Jesus was not the person portrayed in scripture, some call it foolish to believe in this deity and in his resurrection. My witnessing mentor used to tell me you could not argue anyone into heaven. Apologetics has its place, but it cannot replace the preaching of the gospel as the vehicle by which men are saved.
But there is a class of people, both Jew and Greek, that believe. Verse 24 tells us it is those whom God has called. To them, the message is Christ as the power and wisdom of God. We now look to the cross in awe. We know through Romans 3 that God could only satisfy his justice by the death of his perfect son and Jesus submitted to that death for our sake. So, we do not look on it with disdain, as did the Jews and the Greeks, but in worship. And we understand the power of God at work for our salvation. So we see a stark contrast between the lost who see Christ’s death as foolishness and the saved who see God’s power and wisdom in it.
1:26-31 Living Proof
In an ironic twist, Paul said that the Corinthians were living proof of the truth of his words. It is ironic, because they had become proud. But Paul said, look what you were when God called you into salvation. Then, he told them what they were not. They were not: wise, influential, or of noble birth. Most of them were just plain people. Verse 27 indicates that some would have thought of them as foolish and weak.
But God chose the foolish, the weak, the despised, to shame the world and to demonstrate his own glory. He chose fishermen and tax collectors to be his disciples. He preached to the poor. In fact, he sent a message to John the Baptist, in Matthew 11:4-5 that the signs of his being the Messiah were that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor. He befriended women. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He never sought out the wealthy or the influential. It is similar to his choosing of Israel in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 7:7, he told them he did not choose them because they were a large nation, for they were the smallest.
Why did God do this? Verse 29 tells us it is so that no one may boast before him. This is in contrast to their situation as set out in verse 11, where they were boasting of belonging to one preacher or another. Paul said they had nothing to boast about. Similarly, we are nothing but sinners whom God saved and we did nothing to earn our salvation. Verse 30 says if it is because of him, your Heavenly Father, that you are in Christ Jesus. There is nothing about which you have the right to boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is y grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.”
We do not boast in ourselves. We give glory to God for our salvation and our life. Verse 31 is a reference to Jeremiah 9:24. Our glory is in knowing the Lord and understanding him.
The church that is blameless is one that is not prideful, but gives glory to God and recognizes what God has done to bring it into salvation.