1 Corinthians 1

1 Corinthians 1  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
HAVING TO WRITE in this corrective strain Paul very naturally emphasizes at the outset the apostolic place of authority which he held from God; and further, he associates with himself one of themselves. Sosthenes came from Corinth (see, Acts 18:1717Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. (Acts 18:17)), and apparently was converted after the beating he got from the Greeks as chief ruler of the synagogue, having supplanted Crispus, who was converted somewhat earlier.
Two important facts confront us in the second verse. First, that only those who were sanctified in Christ, who were saints by the call of God, and who called upon Jesus as Lord, composed the church of God at Corinth. Second, that though the epistle was written primarily to the assembly at Corinth, yet secondarily ALL who called upon Christ as Lord were in view, no matter where they might be located. The same Lord was “both theirs and ours,” (ch. 1:2) and hence all saints were under a common Authority.
We do well to note with care the first fact, for the word, church, is used with a variety of meanings today. We may get an idea of its true meaning according to Scripture from this verse. None but true believers are saints, sanctified in Christ. It is on the other hand a fact that some may professedly call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord without being true believers, and this accounts for passages in this epistle where Paul takes them up on the ground of their profession and says things which implies that some among them might NOT be real. Still, speaking generally, if a man professes faith he must be accepted as real, until proved to be otherwise.
We do well also to observe and digest the second fact, with its significance, and the consequences that flow from it. It quite definitely shows that though each assembly has its own local conditions, and state, and responsibilities, yet it cannot be dissociated from the whole—from the church of God in its universal aspect. The order which this epistle enjoins upon the Corinthians is equally enjoined upon all saints everywhere. The discipline which was to be effected at Corinth, while affecting Corinth immediately, had its bearing ultimately upon the whole church. The recognition of this fact will preserve us from the mistake of treating each assembly as though it were an independent and autonomous unit—from laying such stress upon the local assemblies as to overshadow the fact of the unity of the whole church of God.
Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was that grace and peace might be ministered to them. There was evidently a good deal of discord in their midst, which would have been eliminated had a larger measure of grace been amongst them. Yet the grace of God had been ministered to them in Christ, as verse 4 states, and that moved him to thanksgiving. Moreover, from the grace of God had sprung all the gifts that they possessed, while waiting for the coming of the Lord. The God who had called them to the fellowship of His Son is faithful as well as gracious, and consequently he was confident that they would be confirmed without blame to the end.
Notice how repeatedly the Lord Jesus Christ is named in the first nine verses, and how everything is attributed to, and referred to, Him. It is His Name, His grace, His testimony, His coming, His day, His fellowship. All this reinforces, and is intended to reinforce, the strong remonstrance of the Apostle which opens in verse 10. There were divisions, or parties, among them, leading to contention and strife. These parties struck a blow at the fact that they had been called to the fellowship of the One who is God’s Son and our Lord.
When David was at Adullam, in the time of his rejection, men flocked to his standard and he became captain over them. They entered his fellowship, for he was the central figure. Had he been smitten the fellowship would have ceased to be. We are called into the fellowship of One who also is in rejection, yet is infinitely greater than David. The One who is Captain over us is God’s Son. The fellowship to which we belong is dominated by Him, without a rival.
In the light of this, how great is the evil of party-making or party spirit, even though honored names be attached to the parties, or even the very name of Christ be adopted as a party label. From verse 6 of chapter 4., we gather that the Corinthians were actually forming their parties round gifted and able men in their own assembly, and that the Apostle avoided the mention of their names by inserting his own with Apollos and Peter. Thus he maintained the delicate courtesy which is characteristic of Christianity, and at the same time heightened the effect of his argument. Paul was their spiritual father, but even to say, “I am of Paul” is not admissible, Divisions—i.e., schisms or parties—always lead to contentions. God’s desire is that we should be united in one mind and judgment. Though at a distance, tidings of the sad state of the Corinthians had reached Paul’s ears, and he dealt faithfully with them. At the same time he plainly stated whence his information came. The house of Chloe could not lay information against them and yet remain anonymous, saying, “Don’t let anyone know that we told you!” So also Paul himself avoided all vague and indefinite charges. He was quite explicit and definite in his statement, as indicated by the words, “Now this I say...” If such safeguards were always observed when charges must be brought, it would be well.
The questions of verse 13 are very much to the point. Christ is one. He only has been crucified for us. To His name alone have we been baptized. Paul was thankful that though so long at Corinth he had not baptized any of them, save two or three. In the commission given to the twelve (Matt. 28 and Mark 16) baptism had a prominent place. In his commission from Christ all the stress had been laid upon the preaching of the Gospel, and not upon baptism. It is possible of course that baptism was playing a part in these divisions and contentions at Corinth. Be that as it may, verse 17 makes it very clear that not baptism but the Gospel of the cross of Christ is the thing of all importance. And moreover, the cross must be preached in a way that does not nullify its meaning and power.
This brings us to verses 18 to 24, a great passage wherein the real force and bearing of the cross of Christ is revealed to us: the cross, that is, as passing the sentence of condemnation upon man, and of destruction upon his wisdom; while at the same time it brings in the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of those who believe. The cross of Christ is the point at which in supreme measure the world took upon itself to join issue with God. It put the Son of God to death, a death of extremist contempt and shame. God accepted the challenge, and in result the cross also became the supreme proof of the folly of human wisdom, of the disqualification and repudiation by God of even the greatest and wisest of men. Because of this, Paul was sent to preach the Gospel in a way that gave no quarter to human wisdom.
Because of this, also, the cross stands as “the great divide” (Rev. 16:1919And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. (Revelation 16:19)) amongst men whenever it is faithfully preached. On the one side of it stand “them that perish,” (ch. 1:18) on the other “us which are saved” (ch. 1:18). To which class any individual belongs may be discerned by observing that individual’s attitude toward the preaching of the cross. To the one it is but foolishness, for they adhere to the world and its wisdom. To the other it is the power of God, and that unto salvation. God saves by the foolishness of the preaching. The point of this remark in verse 21 is not that preaching appears a foolish method—as compared with working, for instance—but that the actual message preached—the word of the cross—is foolishness according to human notions, but is wisdom and power according to God.
The world has its wisdom. When the Son of God arrived within its reach and scrutiny the world tested Him according to the accepted standards of its wisdom, denounced Him as acting by the power of the prince of the demons, and crucified Him. The wisdom of the world did not enable men to recognize God when they saw Him; the rather, they mistook Him for the devil. If that is the ripest fruit of the wisdom of the world then it is utterly worthless in the things of God, and condemned of God. And this is the case whether we look at Jew or Gentile.
Both Jew and Greek had their idiosyncracies. The one required signs, as the fruit of God’s frequent miraculous interventions in their past history: only the sign had to be of a certain order to satisfy them. The other almost worshipped the human intellect, and wanted nothing that did not agree with current philosophic notions. To both Christ crucified was an offense. The Jew awaited the Christ, only He must be a splendid Being, and sensational according to their anticipations. The Greek would have welcomed a new philosopher to carry their speculations to a triumphant climax. Both were outraged by Christ crucified. Such a Christ was a hopeless stumbling-block to the Jew, and He appeared ridiculous beyond words to the Greek. But there is no other Christ than the Christ who was crucified.
And, through grace, no other Christ is desired by us. But then, we are amongst the “us which are saved” (ch. 1:18). We are called of God, whether once we were Jews or Gentiles, and we can see that Christ really is both the power and the wisdom of God. He will bring to nothing all the mighty schemes of men in consummate wisdom and most decisive power and also establish all that God has purposed. At the same time His wisdom and power have wrought for our salvation. From the human standpoint the cross may be the foolishness and the weakness of God, but it is at the same time both wiser and stronger than men.
Now let us review these twenty-five verses that we may not miss the drift of the Apostle’s argument in all this. The Corinthians were magnifying men—Christian men doubtless, and possibly very good ones at that—into leaders of parties in the assembly of God. This in effect struck a blow at the supreme and pre-eminent position of Christ; and it indicated that man, his powers, his wisdom, his gifts, had far too large a place in their thoughts. This in its turn indicated that they had but feebly realized the significance of the cross of Christ, which puts God’s sentence of condemnation on man and his wisdom. Hence the Apostle’s preaching of the cross, and hence his repudiation of mere human wisdom in the way he preached it.
The need for the preaching of the cross, in Pauline fashion, is not less in this twentieth century than it was in the first. Probably it is greater, inasmuch as never more than today was stress being laid upon the greatness and glory and wisdom of man. Never have men, even professing Christians sometimes, felt so pleased with their powers. Yet never has their lack of true wisdom been more manifest. The cross puts all into its real place. It makes everything of the Christ who suffered there. It makes nothing of man who put Him thereon. And that is right.
Have we learned and inwardly digested the meaning of the cross? Many millions in Christendom have turned it into an elegant symbol to be placed upon buildings devoted to religion, or even to be worn on the bosom, made in gold and studded with precious stones. Be it ours to have it engraved in “fleshly tables of the heart,” in such fashion that we see through and eschew the tinsel glory of man, and seek ever and only the glory of Christ: that we are delivered from making much of any man, even the best of men, and above all from making much of ourselves. For us let it be Christ first, Christ last, Christ all the way through— Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Having unfolded the significance of the cross of Christ, the Apostle proceeds to show that its meaning had been corroborated by the effects it had produced. He appealed to the Corinthians to consider their own calling, for by the preaching of the cross they had been called. But few among them had been reckoned amongst the wise or mighty or noble of this world. The very opposite, for these were all too prone to stumble at such a message. The rather God had chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, and even things which are not.
In each case the Apostle speaks of them doubtless according to that which they were according to human reckoning, and it was astounding that God should choose and use such as these for the confounding and bringing to naught of much that looked to them so wise and honorable. At the same time these words could no doubt be applied to that which the Corinthians really were in their unconverted days, and then the wonder is that they should have become what they now were, as the fruit of the Divine choice and workmanship. But whichever way we look at it the significance is the same. The practical effects of God’s choice, and of His call by the preaching of the cross, were such as put no honor upon man. No flesh could glory in His presence. All glorying must be in the Lord.
The abundant reasons why we as believers may glory in the Lord are given us in verse 30. We are “in Christ Jesus,” (ch. 1:2) partakers of His life and sharing in His place and acceptance. And we are that “of God,” and not in any way of man. God Himself is the source of all this grace which has reached us. It is true of course that we are “of God,” as is clearly stated in 1 John 4:44Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4), and it is as “in Christ Jesus” (ch. 1:2) that we are of God. But that is, we believe, hardly the point in the verse before us, but rather that all is of God and not of man whether we consider what we are in Christ, or what we have in Christ.
The second “of” in the verse is more literally “from.” The Christ who was crucified is made unto us these things from God. Wisdom naturally comes first, inasmuch as it is the point under discussion. We need it, for sin has plunged us into ignorance and folly. But then sin has equally plunged us into guilt and condemnation; hence we need righteousness.
And into contamination and corruption; whence our need of sanctification. And into bondage and slavery; so that we need redemption. Redemption comes last, inasmuch as it is a term which includes the final thing, the redemption of our bodies at the coming of the Lord.
Thus the cross excludes in principle all glorying in man. God’s work in connection with the preaching of the cross also excludes it in practice. We have only the Lord in whom to glory, if we glory at all.