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A Few Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1

John on February 21, 2008 at 10:44 pm

My own little commentary on Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, chapter one (ESV):

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins with his qualifications (an apostle) and opens with grace and peace from God and Jesus, the same way he opens many of his letters.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you” 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Having established his own qualifications, Paul now comments on the Corinthians own qualifications as followers of Christ. Here he turns a rhetorical corner.

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos, or I follow Cephas, or I follow Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

There is a problem in Corinth. People are forming factions around personalities, including Paul, Apollos, Peter aka Cephas and Christ. Paul begins a series of rhetorical questions to which the answer can only be no. He then addresses his own questions in reverse order.

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

Paul is minimizing his own contribution to baptisms.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

Here again, Paul takes credit for preaching, but just barely. He is careful to point out that their faith is in no way based on his eloquence. This sets him on a brief tangent about worldly vs. spiritual wisdom.

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

As in verses 4-9, Paul again turns his attention to the Corinthians themselves and their place in God’s kingdom. They are the weak chosen by God to humble the strong.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

And now he adds the point to this whole line of thinking, the why. He also resolves the implicit question raised earlier (who do you follow).

29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

According to Paul, “you are in Christ Jesus” therefore the only name that should be raised in honor is his name. Not Paul. Not Apollos. Not Peter. Jesus alone deserves that central place.

Now a few additional observations about this passage. Paul was the apostle to the gentile world. As the founder of the Corinthian church, he certainly had all the authority he needed to settle this question abruptly. And of course from our perspective, he is the author of a significant portion of the New Testament. Paul, in short, is the ultimate senior pastor and church planter. There is simply no figure in the early church (besides possibly Peter) who wields more authority than Paul.

And yet, Paul doesn’t go this way at all. Rather than emphasize his authority and preeminence, he minimizes himself and his contribution. Why? This is the critical point…

Because a church can be divided by a legitimate leader.

Paul was a legitimate leader. He had the authority he needed. But he was wise enough not to make himself the focus. It wasn’t about him.

Imagine being one of those people at Corinth who were touting Paul’s name. You start a little club with a secret handshake and a motto: Paul is the man! You really love Paul and are grateful to him and you just know that he’d appreciate that about you. And these folks going on about Peter and Apollos, puh-leez! We wouldn’t have this church if not for Paul!

And then one day you learn that a new letter from Paul has arrived and you think “You Apollos-lovers are so finished!” But instead of rewarding you for your loyalty, Paul implicitly scolds you. He’s saying “You’ve missed it completely guys. It’s not about me. It never was. It’s about Christ.” And suddenly your loyalty isn’t reason for pride but for shame.

The moment a leader lifts their own name up within the church, they have necessarily diminished Christ’s name. This is why Paul practically abases himself in 1 Cor. 1 (and in chapter 2 as well). By diminishing himself, he shames not only his followers but all the followers of mere men and reminds them the church rests on Christ alone.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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