1 Corinthians 1a
1 Corinthians 1:1-3… Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to 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 upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Writers of antiquity began their epistles by stating their identity. “Paul” is the Apostle Paul – a Jew who was converted to Christ after he spent years trying to kill Christians. He stood by giving full approval during the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1). He came to know Jesus for who he really is, however, and his testimony is that of the greatest single missionary who ever lived. His words today, at least 13 NT books, continue to change the lives of those who read.
Paul says that he was “called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” The word “called” is used in the Bible to refer to “selection of a task, to be chosen.” It is used in the NT most often to refer to living saints (Christians) who were chosen by God for salvation. In this context it refers to Paul’s selection to be an apostle, and this selection was not the will of any man, it was the will of God. Now an “apostle” is simply a messenger. In the NT it refers to the 12 disciples, but it also included others. An apostle was one who actually saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ and took the message of salvation (messenger) to the world. The office of apostle died out in the first century with the death of the apostles, but the message still goes forth. It was by God’s calling alone that Paul held the office; it was not an office given to him by man. His companion Sosthenes is mentioned in Acts 18:17. Acting as Paul’s secretary here, he was the former ruler of the synagogue who was publicly beaten by the Jews for his faith in Christ.
Verse 2 identifies the recipients of Paul’s letter. He specifically writes to the church of God in Corinth, and the church of God are “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus…” “Church” is literally “those called out,” and “sanctified” comes from the very same Greek word that “holy” is translated. Notice that these people have been made this way in the past, and they are made holy only in Christ Jesus. Paul uses “Christ” as a title for Jesus here. “Christ” means “anointed one, Messiah.” The fact that they have been made holy means that Paul is writing not to unsaved people but to people who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and placed their faith in him. They are literally “holy ones” as a result. Paul also calls them “saints by calling” which is a reference to their having been set apart (sanctified). Now even though Paul’s letter is specifically addressed to the people of Corinth, the latter part of verse 2 says that it is also addressed to “all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” In other words, this letter is for all Christian churches, both then and now. Its truths are timeless.
Verse 3, “Grace to you and peace from God…” is a testimony of God’s mercy being shed upon this once unsaved people. Corinth is a town in ancient Greece, and it was so wicked one Greek philosopher coined the verb “corinthianized” to refer to those who fell into the gross sexual sin of Corinth. Female prostitutes in Corinth were known as “Corinthian women.” What a testimony of God’s grace that He would call out and save such debauched sinners.
Food for Thought
Christians are literally saints – holy ones. They don’t have to be dead to be called such. They’re saints because God chose them as such. The fact that we can do nothing to be saved on our own testifies to God’s grace. In the same way that His grace marked the salvation of those degenerate Corinthians then, His grace and peace continue to work even today. Praise Him for it!
1 Corinthians 1:4-9… I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul wrote the Corinthian letter in response to their having written to him regarding certain questions. Though he later lashes out at this church for their immature behavior, he begins by telling them how thankful he is for them. In verse 4 the Apostle is overjoyed in having seen such vile sinners come to know Christ through God’s grace. His thankfulness is “always,” in that it has no end. The verb concerning God’s grace given to the church in Corinth is literally “was given.” This past tense verb denotes that God was the one who shed the grace on this church, and He did it in the past as a once and for all deal. It can’t be undone, and for Paul this is a source of great joy. His reflection on God’s grace brings him continual thankfulness.
In verse 5 Paul reminds the saints that “in every-thing you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge.” The word “enriched” (literally “to make wealthy”) was a gift from God. They received this enrichment at the moment of their conversion to Christ. These riches are a gift from God, and though “enriched” can signify material wealth, here it signifies the spiritual wealth that comes only from knowing Christ. Paul expounds on what he means by qualifying what these riches are: “in all speech and all knowledge.” John Calvin says that these gifts include not only the light of the gospel “but also with all those graces that may be of service to the saints for helping them forward in the way of salvation.” The Corinthian church was truly a wealthy church; all of God’s spiritual gifts were represented there (faith, wisdom, helps, encouragement, tongues, teaching, etc.). They were, unfortunately, very immature and in need of Paul’s rebuke.
Verse 6, in speaking of these spiritual gifts (literally charismata), says that they were given specifically as evidence of their conversion to Christ. These gifts confirmed (“established, secured”) their standing in Christ. We know that the church in Corinth was replete with the gift of tongues (speaking in unlearned languages), knowledge, and wisdom. And verse 7 attests to the fact that this church lacked none of the spiritual gifts. They were truly a group of saints, and there was no doubt about their conversion to Christ in Paul’s mind. This truth is important in light of the remainder of the letter when Paul corrects their behavior. It shows that even Christians can fall into sin and error even in light of their many spiritual gifts. This is a church who “eagerly” awaits the second coming of Jesus Christ (7b). In verse 8 Paul reassures them also that Christ will again confirm their conversion when he does indeed come back, and they will be “blameless” on that day – a day foretold in Revelation 19-20. Paul sums up his accolades in verse 9 by reminding them of God’s faithfulness – the One who selected (called) the Corinthians to come to the knowledge of Christ and have “fellowship” with him.
Food for Thought
We are truly wealthy people who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We have knowledge and speech that can change the lives of others too as a result. Our spiritual gifts sometimes take years to figure out, but that’s not because God is hiding them; it’s usually because we are running from them. Those who truly love the Lord “eagerly await” his return. Our waiting isn’t idle or passive, but it involves working and waiting for the ultimate future joy.
1 Corinthians 1:10… Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
The word “exhort” literally means “to encourage.” It comes from the same Greek root as “Helper, Comforter, Advocate” in reference to the Holy Spirit who literally “comes alongside” to “help” us, to “comfort” us, and to be an “advocate” for us. Paul exhorts Christians to agree with one another. He encourages this seeming impossibility “by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, Paul is not asking for peaceful relations within the church because it’s his opinion of how things should be; he’s speaking by the will of Jesus that there be no factions.
Though saved by the blood of Christ and given every spiritual gift by which to function properly as Christ’s church, the Corinthians were divided. The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word schismata from which we get “schism.” Literally it means “to tear.” Metaphorically it means “to have a difference of opinion.” The people of the church in Corinth had many differences of opinion, but this simply cannot be, for God is not a God of confusion. His Word (the Bible) never disagrees with itself and neither should His people who follow that Word.
Paul’s remedy to the division that existed in Corinth was that they “be made complete…” The Greek word signifies being made perfect. It is also used in the Gospels to refer to the mending of nets. Paul encourages these Christians to solve their problems like a torn fishing net being put back together. The verb tense signifies a once and for all mending. In other words, Paul says, “Solve your differences today, and get over them!” When he tells them to be of the “same mind and in the same judgment” he is ruling out any hypocritical unity to agree to disagree. To have the same mind is to agree on the same things, and since God is undivided so must His people be. How can they not when they read the same Word that God composed through the pen of man, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, totally infallible and completely without error (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16)? Paul says no to divisions within the local church. They must not exist.
Food for Thought
Romans 16:17 says, “Now I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissentions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” Those who teach anything contrary to scripture oppose God. Instead of finding things to quibble over, Christians are to follow the elders who are of one mind as to God’s Word & will.
How confusing it is to unbelievers who are open to the good news of Jesus Christ through the written word of God when church members cannot agree on what God’s Word clearly teaches. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good it is and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” The converse is also true, and we must address this issue in churches today. Confusion exists when God’s Word is not clearly taught. It also exists when taught by unlearned, unqualified, and unspiritual people. This is why church elders must be spiritually qualified to serve, to lead, and to teach the chosen children of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Paul says in 1 Thes. 5:12-13 that these elders must be appreciated for their diligent work in instructing God’s people with His word and watching over His flock. When the leadership within the church is exact, orthodoxy follows, and divisions are thwarted. Godly men are the instruments of Christ that lead and pastor His people, and when divisions rear their ugly heads in the local church let us all beware. Various divisions and differences of opinion are the tools of Satan, sowing the seeds of hypocrisy and reducing a strong church to a weak congregation of hypocrites.
1 Corinthians 1:11-13… For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now 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.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
In the previous passage Paul was exhorting the Corinthian church to reunite as one and put aside their differences. The differences this particular church had back in AD 55 when Paul wrote do not seem to be of a doctrinal nature. On the contrary, they seem to be differences in personality. Paul apparently got word of these ridiculous factions from a woman named Chloe, or those in her home. Nothing is known of Chloe other than what is mentioned here.
Paul had been the pastor in the church at Corinth for about a year and a half. When he left he installed a Greek man named Apollos who served as the second pastor in that church. Apparently some folks had come to know Jesus Christ as Lord/Savior under Paul’s preaching while others came to know him under Apollos according to v.12. Other people in that church had come to know Christ under the Apostle Peter (a.k.a., Cephas) at some previous time. All of this was producing a cult following. Each group had their favorite preacher which produced various identities with implied superiority: “I am of Paul… I am of Apollos… I am of Peter… I am of Christ.” The latter group, who apparently thought themselves superior in that they only associated themselves with Christ, had the right name but had the wrong spirit. They may have felt little to no need for human instructors, but even this flies in the face of Christ’s specific teaching to appoint human preachers and teachers in His church (1 Cor. 1:1; 12:28; Eph. 4:11). Whatever the case may have been, all four groups were in error in that they had divided their loyalties and caused a split by holding their preachers and their ideas above Christ’s teachings and His leading. The inevitable result of such attitudes is quarreling and a divided church.
In verse 13 Paul’s tone is clearly sarcastic: “Has Christ been divided?” The obvious answer is “no,” but the petty divisions had made it look like that. Since Christ is not divided, how can his children who call on his name be so? Believers in Jesus Christ should do nothing that disrupts or taints the spirit of unity and even hints at division within the local church. Paul asks, “Paul was not crucified for you… Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Paul didn’t die for anyone, and he knows he is nothing more than a servant of God. The same is true for Apollos, Peter, and any other faithful saint who preaches Christ crucified.
Food for Thought
A church divided is a church in serious trouble. It’s a self-defeating statement to say “the church is divided.” God has preserved His Word in the Bible, and what it teaches is what we are to believe and follow. We need scholars and teachers many times to explain it to us, and they must do so accurately. Of course even scholars disagree on a handful of issues, but this is due to the many mysteries of God not fully revealed to us in scripture. Often it’s due to their own personal biases that lead others into confusion and division. When God’s people in the local church argue and bicker over clearly spelled out doctrines in the Bible they put God in an unfavorable light to the lost world outside. They weaken the power of the church, and they grieve the Holy Spirit of God – something we are commanded to avoid (Eph. 4:30). If God’s people would just take the time to learn about God through His Word, to pray to God in the Spirit, and to seek Him in the midst of suffering and trials we could truly unite. When we decide to let God rule our lives and put ourselves aside we can truly live together in unity. Pray for that.
1 Corinthians 1:14-17… I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 that no man should say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.
The church in Corinth had divided along the lines of cult followings. Some followed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and some followed Christ – or so they thought. The amazing thing is that the ministry of these three men and our Lord were not contradictory. Christ preached one thing, and the ministry of these three men followed that. None of them were divided, so it made no sense that their followers created divisions between the four of them. All of those converted under the ministries of these four men were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Paul actually thanks God that he had baptized only a handful of people in Corinth. It’s also interesting to note that Jesus Christ himself never once baptized anyone during his ministry. All who were baptized by Jesus, or by Paul for that matter, would likely have been tempted to take much pride in that. They would also have been set apart by others whether they liked it or not.
Paul names only a handful of people he baptized. “Crispus” is mentioned in Acts 18:8 as the Corinthian synagogue leader who converted to Christ under Paul’s preaching, and “Gaius” was an inhabitant of Corinth – a man whom Paul had lived with while he was there from AD 51-53. The “household of Stephanas” obviously includes more than one man, but it is clear that those Paul baptized are minimal in relation to those who came to trust in Christ under his preaching. These men were baptized by Paul, but it’s interesting to note, in light of the fact that so many people today believe that actual baptism saves a person, that Paul doesn’t view it this way. If baptism was so important for salvation one wonders why Paul would take it so lightly.
The latter part of verse 16 sheds some light on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. When Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as here in 1 Corinthians, he made no mistakes. He was not all-knowing however. He didn’t know all there was to know about God nor did he know all there was to know about himself, and he was careful never to make such claims. He knew what God revealed to him, but what he wasn’t sure of he was careful not to record.
Verse 17 is an explanatory statement about baptism following conversion to Christ. Paul says that he was sent by Christ (cf. 1:1) to preach the gospel, not to baptize. In other words, Paul’s job was to teach the good news about Jesus Christ dying on the cross for everyone. This message of the cross was for the salvation of their souls if they would believe. That was his task, and he adds that he didn’t do it with “cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.” Simply put, Paul wasn’t sent to use powerful and persuasively eloquent words to win others to Christ. He simply used the seemingly foolish words of God, made effective only by God.
Food for Thought
Following preachers and their many publications is not uncommon even today. Many are caught up in this problem, and it must at least drive preachers of the Bible to remain pure in doctrine. As for baptism, it is merely an outward sign of the change that has come from within. Baptizing babies does not save their souls nor does it save an adult’s soul simply by the act itself. If one places his/her trust in Christ then baptism should follow, but in no way does the act itself bring salvation or identify one with Christ. Paul’s attitude towards it, though not lax, should teach us that water baptism is not necessary for salvation; trusting in Jesus Christ is however.