1 Corinthians 1
1Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul identifies himself as he typically did as an apostle, a chosen messenger called by God to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He says that he is laboring alongside of Sosthenes who supports him in his work and communication. Sosthenes was likely a convert of Paul at Corinth, and it is recorded in Acts 18:17 that he was beaten by the Jews even though he had been the head of the synagogue. Clearly, something had caused him to change his stance on things, and likely it was a conversion to Christ. Paul writes to the church at Corinth which is sanctified, cleansed, and made holy in and through Christ such that they can be called saints, holy children of God. Saints are not those who are declared holy by men, but saints are any who have been washed of their sin in the forgiving and cleansing blood of Christ. All believers are saints because all have been made holy through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. The true church is made up of those who have received Christ as Savior, and it exists throughout the world wherever a person is found who has repented of sin and turned to Jesus. He becomes their Lord, and there is unity because He is their Lord and the Lord of every other believer. Paul wishes them grace and peace from God and Jesus, Who alone can give it. There is nothing special in Paul which can impart grace, but grace is of God through Jesus. Grace saves and grace keeps, and Paul wishes for further sanctifying grace and peace of mind for these believers whom he loves dearly.
4I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,
5that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge,
6even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,
7so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
8who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul thanks God regularly for the believers at Corinth because God was gracious to call some of them to himself as they responded in faith to receive the gospel of Christ. Their eyes were opened such that they were able to be made rich and full with spiritual understanding and wisdom, both of which can alone be found in Christ (Colossians 2:3). The word for speech (v. 5) is logos, implying that their mind and reason was able to grasp the truth. Knowledge (v. 5) signifies general intellectual understanding, meaning that the propositional truths about Christ made sense to them. They not only understood them, but they believed them and submitted to them in obedience. There is evidence of their conversion as well because of the work of the Spirit among them as a testimony of their faith. The gifts of the Spirit were being manifested and used to advance the kingdom of God and to edify the believers in Corinth. Furthermore, they were eagerly looking forward to the return of Christ, something an unbelieving, unlearned pagan would not care to do. If he did, it wouldn’t be with great anticipation and delight. As Christians, we can look forward to the coming of Christ and not have to be in fear of wrath because Jesus will complete the good work of sanctification which He began in our hearts (Hebrews 12:1-2, Philippians 1:6). We can rest assured of our salvation because God is faithful, and He will keep His promises. In Christ, we will be kept blameless in the sight of God for eternity. Everyone who has trusted Christ as Savior will enter heaven, though some with very few, if any, rewards (1 Corinthians 3:15). Salvation fundamentally is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it is God Who is behind the occurrence of this event, calling us into this relationship. No man seeks God unless God first draws Him to do so (John 6:44), which God does for all (Matthew 22:14, John 3:16), but not all receive Him.
10Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you.
12Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ."
13Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.
16Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
Paul now begins shepherding the Christians at Corinth by exhorting them to unity. There are divisions and disagreements occurring which Paul is aware of because Chloe reported them to Paul. Each is following a human leader rather than having allegiance to Christ alone. Paul’s desire and God’s is that the believers be of the same mind and judgment, having come to a similar, right understanding of Scripture and life as a church body. Some swear allegiance to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Peter, and some to Christ, as if these mere men are on par with Christ Himself. The church will deteriorate into divisions and denominations when people start following a man rather than the authority of Christ through His Word. Rather than be associated with one mere man, we should declare allegiance to Christ alone as His church. His association should be our primary association, not some man or historical event or movement. Christ demands our full allegiance and exclusively so such that in all things He might have preeminence (Colossians 1:18). Paul makes this so apparently obvious in his argument. The Corinthian Christians were not baptized in the name of Paul. Neither did they call upon the name of Paul or Apollos to be saved. Christ has not been divided, so His church should not be divided. Division and quarrels are occurring, however, because some devote themselves to mere men rather than to God above all. Paul shudders at the fact of thinking of baptizing in his own name because of how arrogant and blasphemous such a thought is. But to swear allegiance to a man at the expense of God is just as hideous, and that is what was getting the Corinthians in trouble. Paul was thankful that he only baptized two Christians, Crispus and Gaius, lest the Corinthians start actually claiming that they were baptized in the name of Paul. Paul remembers that he also baptized the household of Stephanas, but he doesn’t remember any others. But such is not the main point, for he did not come to baptize but to preach the gospel. The gospel is a call to allegiance to Christ, and Christ is to be the main event. This is where the church needs to return its focus. Christ is the centerpiece, not a mere mortal man. Paul emphasizes that he preached in simple terms, not to showcase his advanced brainpower and intellect. He simply declared the simple gospel so that Christ would get the glory and so that his preaching wouldn’t be in vain. Preaching that draws attention to self or that causes others to glory in the preacher rather than the message itself is futile and offensive to God. Paul made sure that from the beginning, even from the first time he preached the gospel at Corinth, that he made Christ the center of attention rather than he himself or any other man.
18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19For it is written,
"I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE."
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
In the world, charisma, personality, and individual strength matter in terms of winning friends and influencing people. The end result is that people glory in the one doing the influencing. This is not God’s design or way. His design is to save people through the foolishness of the message of the gospel preached. Preaching to someone about needing to change and turning to Christ to be saved flies in the face of conventional practice and human wisdom. People in their natural state can’t see the truth, and they think the messenger is crazy. But it pleases God to do it this way such that man cannot steal the glory for the work that God does to save a person when He opens his eyes to respond to a true but foolish (according to the world) message. The message of the cross is considered foolish by those who are eternally perishing, but to those who receive it unto salvation, it is understood to have the power which God says it has (Romans 1:16, 10:17, Hebrews 4:12). God’s plan is that those who think they are wise will be proven fools and that those who think they are clever will be proven stupid. Man must be humbled in order to see his true condition, the lies he believes, the deceptions he lives, and the destiny of his soul. Only the grace of God through the message of the gospel has the power to enlighten and save. Some people many consider to be full of wisdom and of high intellects are scribes (writers, teachers, scholars) and debaters (those skilled in communication and in retaining and explaining knowledge). But even the smartest among us are prone to get it all wrong, and a trip to the local university’s philosophy or religion department will make it clear that simple belief in the Word of God is only for the “ignorant.” Yet God has made the wisdom of the world to be foolishness, for true wisdom can only be found in Christ (Colossians 2:3). The world cannot and does not come to the truth by its fleshly, self-centered wisdom. The same selfish journeys have been taken by humans for centuries. The names change and the titles change, but the same self-centered message continues to be propagated. God says that life is about Him, not self. The evidence for Christ is replete, yet men reject the wisdom of God. They need the grace of God to see the truth, for their own brains, because of their sinful nature, will lead them astray.
22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;
23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Jews refuse to believe, preferring to get some kind of a sign. Yet even Jesus only gave them the sign of Jonah because He knew that their hearts were unbelieving and wicked (Matthew 12:38-40). No sign would encourage them to believe because the greatest evidence was right in front of them, God Himself, and they missed it. The Greeks, that is, non-Jews, aren’t as interested in signs and wonders as they are in the mind and in science, knowledge, and learning. Those who have advanced degrees are those who we consider to have “wisdom.” Yet when Christ is preached, the Jews can’t accept Him as Messiah, and the Greeks can’t see the true wisdom. So whether one is Jew or Gentile isn’t the issue in terms of seeing the truth. What matters is God opening the hearts and minds of a person so that they choose in faith to repent and believe. God first must wake those who are spiritually dead such that they can believe (Ephesians 2:1-10). Those who believe recognize Christ as having all power and all wisdom, and they can then see the foolishness of the world and the lack of faith it possesses. The “foolishness” of God, which is true wisdom, is so far greater and truer than any “knowledge” man possesses. Men must come to see their weakness and God’s strength, for even His “weakness” is stronger than their “strength.”
26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,
28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
29so that no man may boast before God.
Paul points out that among the Corinthian Christians there are not many who are wise and mighty according to the flesh. There are not many of high status or whom the world would regard as powerful and having great influence. Those who have it all are like the rich man who is about as likely to enter heaven as a camel is to get through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:25). God has chosen to shame the strong by allowing the more of the weak to see the truth such that God gets the glory and not the “strength” of man. The weak will shame the strong when it comes to true wisdom, and those who are regarded by the world as base and insignificant are those whom Christ delights in saving (though He prefers all to come to salvation, and some who are of high standing on the earth do get saved). The purpose of the weak shaming the strong by being more ready to receive the truth is so that no man can boast before God. God wants the glory, and those who are the most boastful are prone to be the most wrong when it comes to true spiritual wisdom.
30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
31so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
God is the author of salvation, the One Who makes the first move in initiating the relationship. He poured out grace so that those in Corinth who believed were saved, thereby demonstrating the wisdom of God at work in their hearts. They were made righteous and holy, having been bought back from slavery to Satan. The ransom that God required for His justice to be satisfied was satisfied by His own Son. Those who have been saved will recognize that God was behind their salvation and that His grace was sure. No man seeks God (Romans 3:11), but God seeks every man (Matthew 22:14, Luke 19:10). When we respond in weakness and humility, acknowledging the strength of God, we will make our boast in Him and not in ourselves.