1st Corinthians Part 1
Lecture 7: 1st Corinthians Part 1
This is the 7th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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I. Flow Assignment 1st Corinthians 1:26-30
Consider Your Calling
‘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. He doesn’t use ‘and’ here but I think he does have a series of not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble. I think this is a list of three that is going to match up with something. The next verse, ‘but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the strong.’ So I think we have an action purpose here. I did say that if you looked at the Greek here that the ‘henna’ would help you. Even in English two shames signifies purpose. This is why he chose the foolish to shame the wise. Then in verse 28, ‘God has chosen what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.’ So we have three different ways of saying the same thing. We have our main verb here with three direct objects. Then we have, ‘that he might nullify the things that are,’ an action purpose again with the same basic structure. So we have ‘not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, but God has chosen the foolish to shame the wise.’ God has chosen the weak to shame the things that are strong. Of course strong is another way of saying mighty. Another way of describing them, they are the nothing of the world; the things that are not that he might know by the things that are, the somethings. When he says things here, he is talking about people; it is all talking about people. It is very nicely structured. We look these categories: the wise, the mighty and the noble and then we look at the foolish, the weak and the base. So we have a nice example here of another series which gets longer and longer. This is a nice contrast; he didn’t choose those but instead he chose these. He didn’t choose the wise, the mighty and the nobler but he chose the foolish, the weak and the nothing. So generally speaking, God hasn’t chosen the intellectual of the world, has he?
Wisdom and Righteousness
Generally speaking, it is not those who are the most successful in the eyes of the world but those who are not. So he hasn’t chosen those from the upper classes but rather those from the lower classes. It doesn’t say not any but not many. We could get a bad attitude from this text toward anyone who is noble or rich. I read some time ago, Arnold Dalamore biography of George Whitfield. One of the people ministered to by Whitfield and Westley was Lady Huntington. She had a lot of money and was very successful and she said that she was saved by an ‘m’. It doesn’t say not any but not many. She was a dynamic Christian and really loved the Lord Jesus and the Lord worked powerfully in her life. So the Lord saves some from all walks of life. Now we pick up the ‘that’ at the beginning of verse 26. What does the word ‘calling’ mean here? The text defines this word that God has chosen. It has to do with God’s choice here. Consider your calling for you are God’s chosen. We see that the Corinthian church is struggling with pride. What is this all for? We see propose here of why God has chosen the whole thing. God has chosen is the main point. He has chosen the foolish, the weak, and the despised so that no man should boast before God. So what does the doctrine of election and calling teach us? It teaches us that there is no reason to boast, no reason to think we are great. No one should boast because it is God’s work. If God typically chose the intellectual, the strong and the upper classes, people would say, ‘that is what you need in order to know God.’ You need to be smart and rich and successful and so people would boast. God doesn’t want this to happen, does he? So he eliminates this. It is by God’s doing that you are in Christ Jesus. It is by his grace. The Corinthians church was really entranced with wisdom. Paul says that our wisdom is in Christ. And ultimately Wisdom is about righteousness and sanctification and redemption. We could talk about these three words forever. (Note for an in-depth study of wisdom and righteousness, refer to the Biblical Studies course by Dr. Bruce Waltke on Proverbs.)
What is wisdom from God ultimately? It is not how smart you are? It has to do with the relationship with God. Are you sanctified and sat apart and are you redeemed? Here, I think, he is thinking of positional and definitive sanctification we all receive when we are saved. In other words, I think these are three different ways talking about whether you are saved or not. Are you right with God? Are you set apart in Christ Jesus? This is what our wisdom is ultimately. The action purpose here is so that you can boast in God. So, just to repeat, consider your calling as not many wise are called. The negative from verse 29 is so that ho human might boast in the presence of God. The positive is to boast in the Lord. This paragraph is not only beautifully structured but it is a worship paragraph. So we see God’s choice in our lives so that we can worship and praise him for what he has done for us. These negative and positive features are the main points of the paragraph.
II. Root Problem: Arrogance 1st Corinthians 1:10-6:20
Now we get to the meat of the letter. The first six chapters of the Corinthian letter deal with issues within the congregation. Chapters 7-16 deal with question which the Corinthian church ask. The issues are divisions in chapters 1-4, and then you have problems in the church that relate to discipline, law suits, and sexual sin. That is the first part of the letter. The second part of the letter, we have those questions about marriage, being single, food belonging to idols, worship, women’s adornment, spiritual gifts and the resurrection and the collections.
A. Exhortation for Church Unity 1st Corinthians 1:10-4:21
Divisions in the Church
So first, there are divisions in the church. Paul says that there should not be dissentions among you. You should be united. They apparently didn’t mention this in their letters to Paul. It was reported to him by Chloe’s people, Chloe was the member of the church that reported this fighting to Paul. So what are they fighting over? They are taking sides with their different ministers. Some are saying, ‘I belong to Paul.’ I am on Paul’s side, he’s my guy. Others are saying, ‘I belong to Apollos.’ The eloquent speaker from Acts! A tremendous orator from Alexander (Acts 18 & 19), while others say that they belong to Cephas, that is Peter. So maybe Peter had been in Corinth which seems to make the most sense that Peter had been there at some point. But the last group says, ‘I belong to Christ.’ But apparently, they are no better than the others because it seems to be said with the same spirit as the others. And it is true that Christ is all but apparently they have the same party spirit and argument. The Peter party and the Christ party just drop out from the rest of the letter. Paul just relates to him and Apollos in the next section. Perhaps he just wants to illustrate what is going on or maybe that is the main problem. So these factions arise and they take sides and get mad at each other. That is the sort of things that are going on. Remember Paul and Apollos are not supporting this. This is all happening within the church and this could easily happen today. You can see this sort of thing when certain names are mentioned. In verse 13, Paul asks, ‘is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?’
So Paul is trying to reason with them and find out what is actually happening. ‘Were you baptized in the name of Paul? Am I counting who I baptized?’ You were not baptized in my name. Maybe they were even saying, ‘hey, I was baptized by the Apostle Paul. I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.’ This is a dogmatic statement. People did not become his disciples. ‘Also, I did baptize from the household of Stephanas.’ This obviously entered into his mind. Verse 1:14 is qualified by verse 16. ‘I do not know whether I baptized anyone else,’ as I have forgotten. The point here, Paul doesn’t remember how many people he had baptized. Even though baptism is part of the Gospel, it must be considered in light of the Gospel. However it is not estimated in light of the Gospel.
In chapter 1:18-2:16, we have this long discussion on wisdom. Wisdom comes to the forefront. What is he talking about in regards to this eloquent wisdom? There have been a number of studies done on this subject. I actually think Paul is referring to Greek rhetoric which is a certain way of speaking, a certain kind of oratory. It is a certain way to verbally present conversation. So they were arguing on how good a speaker they were; that is the apostles. When Apollos comes they think he is a very eloquent speaker comparing him to Paul. Paul says that he doesn’t think about things like this. In verse 18 he says that 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. Unless God is working in the non-believer, the message of the cross is foolishness. As Christians we are so use to the Cross but imagine you are in the 1st century and you use the term ‘electric chair’ instead. It would be strange. But to us who are saved, it becomes the power of God. He doesn’t say that it is the wisdom of God first; it is the power of God. Paul is more interested in power of God rather than in wisdom. We have an Old Testament quotation where God is destroying the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. Verse 20 asks, ‘where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?’ Those are rhetorical questions but he answers it with another question, ‘has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’
Paul is not denying that they are intellectual; he is saying that they are not saved. Where are these people in relationship to God? They don’t know Jesus! They may be brilliant in one sense, but what does it matter if they don’t know God. In God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom. ‘It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.’ It is God’s wisdom that he didn’t save people through wisdom because if he did, the intellectual would be very proud. What do you need to be saved; you need to be really smart, but that is not what the Scriptures say. He is not saying that the message of the Cross is ultimately foolish; it is only foolish in the eyes of the world. Paul studied the Scriptures and he understands worldly wisdom but it simply isn’t the path which we come to know God.
We Preach Christ Crucified
In verse 22, ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. We preach to all but only some will be called, but we don’t know who will accept Christ and who will not. God is a very surprising. Paul says to the Corinthians that they are thinking like secular people. He is not criticizing the world here but the Corinthian church because their thinking is all wrong. Paul is telling them that they can’t rely on the rhetoric of a person, nor their artistry and ability. If there is so much focus on style such as the elaborate display of 19th century preaching.
We have already looked at 1:26-31. You are in the kingdom because God chose you. 2:1-5 is basically what we just talked about. Paul said that he did not use lofty words or wisdom. I didn’t come using this fancy Greek rhetoric. I came preaching the cross; I was with you in weakness and much fear and trembling. I don’t think Paul is just saying that he was nervous. Instead, I think he is saying that came in weakness, fear and trembling less I rely on myself and my own ability because I know that nothing good will come of it. In verse 4, ‘and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rely on God’s power and not human wisdom.’ So Paul is saying to the Corinthians, ‘you are as secular as you can be.’ Your approach is utterly secular. We can apply this to today. Now, it is not wrong to look at church growth strategy as we can learn things from it. But we can’t rely on such things and especially if such thing leave us to diminish the preaching of the Gospel, so that we begin to think that our own wisdom, that we know better how to grow a church than God’s way and will. What is the result of this? Our church could get really big but have lots of unbelievers who have actually made professions of faith. You can have lots of people but are they really Christians. It is a danger when human wisdom instead of God’s is the means by which we build churches. I’m not saying that we can’t learn from such things, because I think we can. We just have to careful.
Our Faith is a Revealed Wisdom
Paul says in 2:6-16, ‘we do have a wisdom that the mature understand.’ Paul’s argument says that it is revealed wisdom. Our faith is revealed to us by God; it is shown to us by God. As it is written, ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…’ And then verse 10 says, ‘God has revealed this to us through the Spirit.’ The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. The Spirit knows what God is like. Verse 11, ‘for what person knows a person’s thoughts except the Spirit of God which is in him?’ We can guess what a person is thinking but only that person knows and unless they tell us we don’t know. This is why we think a quiet person is somewhat mysterious because they don’t tell us what they are thinking. So how do we know about God? We know only if he reveals himself to us. ‘So no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God.’ The Spirit is given to us so that we might understand the things revealed to us by God and these things are interpreted and shown to us by the Spirit. The unbeliever does not welcome these things even if he hears the same revelation as we do. Ultimately, he can’t understand them; you need the Spirit to understand the things of the spirit. This is Paul’s argument. So there is wisdom, but it is a revealed wisdom. Our faith is revealed to us and given to us by God. For verse 13, spiritual truths are showed to those who are spiritual or those who have the spirit.
Set Your Mind on Jesus Christ
In 3:1 Paul says that he wanted to address them as spiritual people but he couldn’t as they were people of the flesh, infants in Christ. You are carnal Christians because you have jealousy and strife; you argue whether you belong to me and Apollos. In regards to carnal Christians, sometimes in some people’s theology, they have this idea that there are spiritual Christians and non-Christians and then in the middle you have these carnal Christians. They erect it as a kind of category that can exist for ever. I think that is a miss reading of what Paul is saying. For Paul all Christians are spiritual; he says you are acting as if you are freshly which I think Paul is wondering whether they are Christian at all. I think Paul’s point in the letter as a whole, if you keep acting like this; it calls into question whether you know Christ at all. There is a truth in the carnal Christian where Christians can go through periods of time where they call into question whether they are believers or not. Paul thinks they are Christians but there is a doubt. Apollos and Paul are servants of Christ. We are nothing in ourselves. It is the Lord who is in charge. I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth. He is using this illustration of a field. It is God who gives the growth. Why are you Corinthians so focused on me and Apollos? You are forgetting about God; we are God’s fellow workers and you are God’s field. He changes it to architecture, you are God’s building. Just don’t get focused on human ministers’ Verse 10, ‘according to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation that someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. This is the same point. This is what I do and another person is building upon it. He doesn’t criticize Apollos here but he doesn’t mention him. He says not to build on it in a way to threaten the foundation which is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ and him crucified and the Gospel. So I think that this paragraph is actually addressed to people in ministry. So be careful how you build on the foundation in ministry of lives. You can build on that foundation in different ways such as gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay straw, but he goes on to use an illustration about fire. Gold, silver and precious stones will stand the fire and they are the good things but wood, hay and straw are not so good. But I don’t think he is talking about good and evil works here. I think he is talking about the quality of ministry. What quality will it be? What will you do to build upon it? We must be faithful to God’s revelation. We will be judged accordingly. In verse 16, ‘do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’ Paul is not talking individually here; he says that God’s Spirit dwells in you. I still think Paul is thinking about ministry and ministers here; there are ministers that come in and destroy a local body. The true Christians just go somewhere else. There are heretics who destroy churches by their false teachings. Think of all the liberal churches and liberalism out there. They destroy authentic faith in Christ.