LESSON 1 - 1 Cor. 1:10-25
Prayers & Announcements
Handout: Overview of 1 Corinthians
Introduction: Corinth was an important and wealthy city located at the tip of the isthmus separating northern and southern Greece. The Apostle Paul established a church and spent 18 months there on his Second Missionary Journey (see map). If we compared it to a modern U.S. city, it would be cross between Las Vegas and New Orleans-a real carnal party town. After leaving Corinth, Paul afterward wrote a letter a letter to the church there warning them "to have no company with sexual sinners" (mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9), but the letter has been lost to us. Paul is writing this letter, known as 1 Cor., in response to a report from Chloe's people about problems with the people in the church (1:11). In the letter, Paul provides "apostolic guidance" (more about this term later) for dealing with those problems. The first of these problems is divisions in the church. Divisions in the Body of Christ are the opposite of unity. Divisions are probably the chief reason that so many churches in this nation are closing their doors every day. Paul understood this over 2,000 years ago, and what he said to the Corinthian church is equally relevant to every church today.
Note: The first nine verses (skipped) are Paul customary greeting and thanksgiving for churches.
Read 1 Cor. 1:10-12 - Appeal (exhortation) to Unity
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."
v. 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" - "Appeal " may appear as "beg or plead" depending on translation-a very heartfelt and urgent request. Although Paul has the superior authority of an apostle, he addresses them on common ground as "brothers" (Gr. adelphoi, which also means brothers and sisters). The statement, "by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ," in that culture, was understood to mean that the speaker possessed at some of the powers of the one he was speaking for. Next, Paul tells them three ways that their church unity should express itself: (1) Agreement - This doesn't mean everybody agrees on everything like mindless robots, but means the people of the church are of one mind on things like doctrine (what Paul defines as "sound" doctrine), the Lordship of Christ, and the fundamental mission and vision of the church to share the gospel with a lost world and disciple the saved. (2) No divisions - The GR. word schismata means a rent or tear in the structure of something that makes it weaker. In saying this, Paul is asking them to change the way they think about divisions, specifically, that instead of regarding them or acceptable or normal, they should view them as contrary to the will of God. God's will is for a church to be unified in mind., body, and spirit, and to work together in love (in all the meanings that word implies). A unified church is a fruitful and dynamic church. We'll get into some of the specifics as the lesson continues. (3) Same judgment - The GR. Gnōmē means an under- standing of minds toward a unified purpose-that as a whole, the entire church is facing in the same direction, keeping the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ directly in front of them. By contrast, if church members are going in different directions, they are, in effect, going nowhere.
v. 11: "For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers" - Chloe is thought to have been a member of the Ephesus church whose business associates traveled between Greece and Asia Minor. The Gr. eris for "quarrel" means serious conflict and opposing factions within the church. Ever seen that in a church? Have you seen it here?
v. 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" - Here Pauls identifies the factions alluded to in v. 10. (1) Some professed allegiance to Paul, who founded the church. (2) Some to Apollos, an eloquent and charismatic speaker, introduced to us last quarter in Acts 18. Greeks in particular greatly prized rhetoric, the art of persuasive oratory. (3) Some to Cephas or Peter as he's better known. It's curious that Greeks used his Aramaic name, which means the "rock." The reason for specific allegiance to Peter isn't clear, but it could have been that some of them were impressed by the fact that Peter was one of the original 12 apostles while Jesus walked the earth. (4) Some to Christ. While allegiance to Christ may sound good in the first instance, it really wasn't in the context of these factions. We might call this faction the "holier than thou club," characterized by a prideful and superior attitude rather than the love of Christ. Have you ever heard anyone say, "That bunch needs to get right with God"?
What we don't see here, underneath it all, are the individuals within the Corinthian church, the human agents, who led these factions and were probably instrumental in causing them. I mean, Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Jesus didn't cause them, did they? But the people of the Corinthian church certainly knew who they were.
Read 1 Cor. 1:13-17 - Paul Reveals the Foolishness of Divisions
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 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.) 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.
v. 13: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" - Here we see the apostle employ a great example of spiritual sarcasm. Both of these statements are rhetorical questions (i.e., the answers are self-evident) designed to expose the spiritual absurdity of the divisions in the Corinthian church. The obvious answers: (1) No, Christ isn't divided; (2) No, Christ, not Paul, was crucified for us, and (3) No, we were baptized in the name of Christ, not Paul. I mean, duh!
vv. 14-16: "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.)" - These verses might lead you to think that Paul underrated baptism, but that's far from being the case. In Rom. 6:1-7, Paul talks about being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life, and if we are united with Christ in burial (baptismal burial), we will also be united with Him in the resurrection (baptismal raising). No, the point Paul is making is that people are sometimes tempted to think too highly of the person who baptized them. Since Paul only baptized a few in Corinth, he can rightly say that he didn't earn cult status that way. Paul is also disabusing them of the idea that he or any other human has the authority to baptize someone in their name, because baptism derives its power by its association with Christ rather than the individual performing the baptism. The mention of Stephanas and his family in v.16 was apparently a side note he forgot to include in v.14. Stephanas and his people were
Jews who became the very first converts in Achaia, the province of which Corinth is the capital city.
v. 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" - Paul is not down-grading baptism here but declaring that he was called, as the main focus of his ministry, to preach the Gospel (GR. euangelion, literally "good news," from which we derive the word evangelism). Sophia, GR. for wisdom was a subject near and dear to Greek hearts, which in its outward expression appeared in the form of rhetoric and persuasive oratory. In the verses that follow, Paul will contrast human wisdom with the Godly wisdom that sent Christ to the cross (hold that thought). But in this verse, Paul is saying that he doesn't want his teachings or methods to be associated with human wisdom. If his proclamation pointed to human wisdom and eloquence, it would detract from the true focus of his message-the cross of Christ.
Read 1 Cor. 1:18 - The Word of the Cross is the Power of God.
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.
v. 18a: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing" - This verse introduces the rest of the chapter, where Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God, which finds its highest expression in the apparent foolishness of the cross of Christ. For those who pride themselves on their worldly wisdom, the cross appears to be sheer nonsense. They ask why would God send His Son to die on a cross? By standards of human wisdom, it makes no sense at all! But human wisdom, attractive as it might seem on the surface, has no saving power. People who depend on human wisdom alone are perishing because they have no savior.
v. 18b: "but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" - Those who are being saved have acknowledged God's power in recognizing their own human powerlessness. They have accepted that they cannot defeat the power of sin that threatens control of their lives, and in doing so, have learned to fully trust in the grace of God. God's grace was fully manifested at the cross of Christ, where forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation was made available to everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, the cross, which seems like foolishness to those who are filled with human wisdom, is really the instrument of God's power and grace for those who are being saved.
Comment on vv. 18-25: The cross raises issues for both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). Corinth is a Greek city but has a substantial Jewish population, and while there, Paul worked among both Jews and Greeks, and both groups subsequently made up the membership of the Corinthian church. The cross seemed like foolishness both the Jews, who expected the Messiah to be a powerful political and military figure, and to the Greeks, who placed a very high value on human philosophy and wisdom.
Read 1 Cor. 1:19-25 - The Cross is Foolishness to Those Who Are Dying
19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 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.
v. 19: "For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart'" - Quoting Isa. 29:14, Paul is telling the Corinthians that God will destroy the worldly wisdom that Greek culture valued so highly. The "discernment of the discerning" referred to the teaching of the great Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, which would be discarded and made irrelevant. Today, many (not all) of the people of this world (including us) have benefited from the great advances in science, technology, and medicine that improves both the quality and length of our lives. Yet, all of these lessons of history and science do not bring us real security, do they? In fact, we are no closer to solving the problem of evil than our ancestors were thousands of years ago and ironically, live in a much more dangerous world than they did-i.e., with a nation like North Korea threatening the world with nuclear weapons. Thus, God's proclamation in Isaiah seems to be right on point: human wisdom and ingenuity is always finite and often creates bigger problems than the ones it solves.
v. 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?" - Paul continues his argument by giving examples of types of people known for their wisdom, e.g.: (1) the "wise" (GR. sophos), philosophers, traditional authorities in Greece; arbiters; (2) the "scribe" (GR. gramateus), teachers, traditional authorities for Jews; (3) "debaters" (GR. suzettes), skilled in the art of oratory, a power in Greece. God make them "foolish" (GR. moraino), in other words, makes appear as "morons."
vv. 21-22: "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" - In His wisdom, God did not arrange things so we can know Him through our wisdom; we can know Him only by revelation, and only as God chooses to reveal Himself. God chose to reveal Himself through the apparent foolishness of preaching (Gr. kerygma), something that is uniquely God-given rather than a product of human effort. Kerygma is centered on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. So why would God send His Son to die on a cross rather than as head of a mighty army? Because God wants to save the world by winning people, not coercing them; He want us to be free to choose. "Demanding signs" insists that God prove Himself," putting Him to the test. While Jesus performed miracles to glorify God, He never performed signs demanded by Jews. Greeks wanted to be convinced by wisdom, a rational and logical explanation.
vv. 23-25: "but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." - It's no wonder that Jews saw Christ's crucifixion as a stumbling block and Gentiles as something foolish. Crucifixion was not only cruel; it was shameful practice designed to instill fear and loathing. But Christ crucified is what God gave us.
v. 24: "but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" - Paul labels Christians as "those who are called." The concept wasn't new: In the OT, God called Abraham, Moses, and others for particular reasons. The call of Christ crucified is less specific-a call to all people to be in a relationship with God. To those who are called by God, the cross suddenly makes sense-we understand that the cross isn't foolishness at all but the power and wisdom of God. It's powerful, because it has the power to save.
v. 25: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" - The cross is wise and powerful because it is God's initiative. Since God is both wise and powerful, His initiatives will proceed from wisdom and have a powerful effect. This is the reverse of human schemes, which proceed out of our limited understanding and are always flawed. Why do so many people refuse to accept God's invitation? Because they are so entrenched in their human wisdom, they can't humble themselves enough to bow to God's plan of salvation.
1. According to the apostle Paul, there are three ways in which church unity should express itself:
(a) That you TOTALLY AGREE on central matters like doctrine (SBC Bapt. Faith & Message) and the mission of the church and submit to the guiding of the Holy Spirit on ALL church issues.
(b) That you will consent to NO DIVISIONS in the church, which, in practical terms, means you will never join or support any faction because you consider any actions that set church members against each other as sinful and contrary to the Word of God, and this by definition includes any form of gossip.
(c) You have share and encourage the SAME JUDGMENT, which means that you support and willingly agree to serve the pastor and church leaders in their unified vision for the church, so that, as a whole, the entire church is facing in the same direction.
2. According to the apostle Paul, the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men because:
(a) In His wisdom, God didn't arrange things so we can know Him through our wisdom, but can know Him only by His revelation; therefore, the cross is "wise" because it is God's initiative.
(b) The cross is powerful because it has the "power" to save.
Many people today refuse God's invitation-His wisdom and power-because they are so deep-rooted in their own prideful human wisdom and works that they are unable to humble (i.e., lower) themselves to accept God's plan of salvation. The choice they make isn't intellectual or scientific as many claim, but moral; very simply, they insist on being the 'lord' of their own lives, a tragic mistake with eternal consequences.