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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ 1-corinthians-1.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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Their Oneness in Christ and the Resultant Blessings of the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1-9).
Paul asserts his authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and reminds the Corinthians of their blessings in Christ.
‘Paul, called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth.’
Paul speaks like this in almost all the introductions to his Epistles, with a view to emphasising the divine authority with which he writes. Firstly he states that he is ‘called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ’. Then he states that it is ‘through the will of God’.
‘Called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ Notice first the emphasis on his ‘calling’. It is quite clear that this is to be seen as God’s calling which came to him in an unusual and emphatic way. He does not use it in the loose way in which we may speak of a man’s calling, but of a specific and demonstrable call in which he was declared to be chosen by Christ as ‘a chosen vessel to Me to carry My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and before the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:3-6; Acts 9:15-16) which all who knew of it recognised as directly from God. It was a call directly confirmed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2), and was a call recognised and acknowledged by the twelve Apostles (see Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:21) to such an extent that his epistles were thought of as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). They confirmed their agreement that he was an ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’.
‘An Apostle of Jesus Christ.’ This phrase primarily, of course, referred to the Apostles appointed by Jesus (and named ‘Apostles’ by Jesus - Luke 6:13), ‘the twelve’ (John 20:24; Acts 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5), who had directly received revelation from Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:5). They had come to include James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19), who possibly replaced the martyred James (Acts 12:2 with Galatians 2:9) as Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1:10-26).
In Acts the twelve are clearly distinguished as unique. When writing about those who met in the Jerusalem church to make vital decisions, the leaders apart from the Apostles are called ‘the elders’, and the Apostles are mentioned separately. Note the phrase ‘the Apostles and the Elders’ (e.g. Acts 15:2; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:9; Acts 15:22-23), even though the Apostles could also be called Elders ( 1Pe 5:1 ; 2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1). The ‘Elders’ are those usually responsible for churches (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17). Thus Paul, by calling himself an Apostle here, sets himself alongside the twelve as having this unique position. Like them he too claimed to be a primary source of direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12), and was recognised as such by the twelve (Galatians 2:7-9). And it is clear that he looked on his calling to Apostleship (Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 9:1) as being on a par with, and as personal as, theirs (Galatians 1:16-17).
‘Apostolos’, an apostle, is derived from apostellein, (to send forth,) and originally signified literally a messenger. The term was employed by earlier classical writers to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or an ambassador (see Herodotus, 5. 38), but its use in this way was later rare as it came to have a technical meaning referring to ‘the fleet’, and possibly also the fleet’s admiral. It may be that Jesus spoke with a sense of humour when he named the fishermen ‘Apostles’ using this term, seeing them as the future ‘catchers of men’ (although it would require that He gave the title in Greek, which is not, however, impossible).
In the New Testament, apart from the Apostles, it is also employed in a more general sense to denote important messengers sent out on God’s service (see Luke 11:49; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), and in one instance is applied to Christ Himself, as the One sent forth from God (Hebrews 3:1). But in the main it is reserved for the twelve (including James, the Lord’s brother), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14). Paul certainly saw it as giving him a recognised authority direct from Jesus Christ. He saw himself, along with the twelve, as being specifically commissioned by Jesus.
‘Through the will of God.’ This solemn statement stresses the importance of his office. It is through the sovereign will of the eternal God that he has been so appointed. He is deliberately emphasising that he was called by the direct will and purpose of God, so underlining that he has been chosen out within God’s purposes. He no doubt intended them to see this as being indicated by his experience on the Road to Damascus. There God had set him apart in a unique way through the appearance to him of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to a unique ministry among the Gentiles. In other words he wanted them to know that he spoke with maximum authority.
But in the light of what comes later in the Epistle we may probably also see this ‘through the will of God’ as in direct contrast to those who ‘transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:13), those who ‘call themselves Apostles and are not’ (Revelation 2:2), appointed by themselves and not by the will of God. He wants to stress that, in contrast to theirs, his Apostleship is through the will of God.
‘And Sosthenes the brother.’ This is quite probably the Sosthenes who had been a ruler of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth, whom Luke mentions in Acts 18:17. He was probably also the leader of the group that had come from Corinth with questions for Paul (1 Corinthians 16:17-18). His name was added here in order to stress his agreement with what Paul was saying, and to honour him in the eyes of the Corinthian church. Paul wants them to know that he and Sosthenes are at one. He could have described him as ‘your elder’ but he wants to emphasise that Sosthenes is ‘brother’ both to them and to Paul.
‘To the church (’ekklesia) of God which is at Corinth.’ The word ’ekklesia was used of the ‘congregation’ of Israel in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), which was the sense in which Jesus used it where He was thinking of the gathering together of a new Israel (in Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17 - although there His words were presumably in Aramaic). It was also used of the public assembly of citizens in a town or city. The ‘church of God’ was the public assembly of the people of God and of the citizens of Heaven in Corinth (Philippians 3:20).
The term was taken over by Christians to refer to the gathering together of Christians in a particular place, and became the technical term to refer to Christians, either as a whole, or as represented in any particular city or town, e.g. Corinth. It would in this latter case include a number of such gatherings, small churches in various areas, but seen as ‘one church’ of that particular city or town, ruled over by one group of elders, for not all would easily be able to meet together. But they would be united by having the same leadership.
Thus here Paul is speaking to all Christians who worshipped in Corinth, stressing that they are to see themselves as one whole, whose representatives have come to Paul and are now returning, and as part of one larger whole. As a church they practise baptism (1 Corinthians 1:14-17) and partake of the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 10:21). They must recognise the elders duly appointed (1 Corinthians 16:15-16) and maintain unity around the cross as ‘one church’ in spite of diversity on secondary matters.
‘The church of God.’ The church was God’s. There was no room for separate churches. Each smaller group was a part of ‘the church’ (all believers) in the town or city, which in turn belonged to the whole worldwide church. That is what the creeds meant when they spoke of the ‘Catholic’, that is to say ‘the universal’ church. But there was no hierarchy. Each church was watched over by elders appointed by other elders, who were identified by their faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Any external authority was merely an authority of love. This was so even of the Apostles. They spoke with God’s authority, they showed the churches the right way, but they did not attempt to enforce their will on the churches except on that grounds.
Their basis of faith was found in the Old Testament and the Testimony of Jesus, the carefully memorised oral tradition of Jesus’ life and teaching (now found in the Gospels), later expanded by the letters of Peter, Paul and John, until finally the New Testament was established, formed of all books which the church considered to have Apostolic authority.
The later establishing of a hierarchy ruling all churches was similar to Israel desiring a king. It was not part of God’s purpose and demonstrated a lack of trust in Him. The church ceased being the church of God and became the church of each particular hierarchy. And it produced the same inevitable result, the church became political and was made to fit into the pattern laid down by the hierarchies, and when the hierarchies went astray the church went astray too. But fortunately there were always those who sought to bring the church back to Apostolic truth.
Today as a result of history we may be in many denominations, but we should still see ourselves as the one church of Christ, not ruled by men but as ruled by God, and as united in faith with all who believe the Apostolic teaching as found in the New Testament. That is the one true catholic church, the true ‘church of God’.
‘Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called sanctified ones (saints) with all those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in every place, theirs and ours.’
‘Sanctified in Christ Jesus.’ The tense of the verse is perfect passive signifying something done in the past the benefit of which continues into the present, thus literally ‘have been and therefore are sanctified’. It is noteworthy that the members of this church, with all their failings, are described by Paul as ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’. To be sanctified means to be ‘set apart for God for a holy purpose’, and that holy purpose is the perfecting of them that they may be presented before Him irreproachable, holy and without blemish because they are in Christ (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:13). Their being ‘in Christ’ both guarantees their acceptance because they are acceptable in Him, and the process of transformation that will take place because being ‘in Him’ can only result in such transformation.
Thus they are seen as set apart for a holy purpose, and that is described as not through any merit of their own, but because they are ‘in Christ Jesus’. By becoming one with Him through faith, evidenced by the Spirit’s work among them and in baptism, they share His holiness and His holy purpose. He is made to them their sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30), and this work is to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). They are sanctified because they are in Him the sanctified One. Thus God looks at them through the perfect sanctification of Christ, the One Who was totally in accordance with the Father’s will. ‘In Him’ they are totally acceptable in God’s sight. This is then to be carried out into practise in holy living because it is an original act followed by the working of His power (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).
Note the order ‘Christ Jesus’. His emphasis here is on the separateness of Jesus Christ from the world. He is ‘the Christ’ Jesus, the One set apart by God, and they have been set apart in Him.
Here then Paul is calling the attention of the Corinthian church to their holy calling, preparatory to seeking to set right much that is wrong among them. He is reminding them that they are now sanctified in Christ, and holy in Him, separated from the world in Him, and therefore now needing to become holy in practise. In that great city of Corinth, city of immorality and philosophical speculation, Jesus Christ through Paul had set a colony of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), set apart to God and in process of being made perfect.
The New Testament speaks of ‘sanctification’ in a number of ways which need to be carefully differentiated. As we have said, to sanctify means ‘to set apart for a holy purpose, to make holy as being closely connected with God’ and from the Christian point of view that finally means to make “God-like in purity, goodness and love”. This is something only God can do for us.
The Bible tells us that once He has made us His Own through our responding in faith to His work on the cross and His offer of salvation, we are first put in the position of ‘having been sanctified’ (aorist tense, something done once for all - 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11), and therefore ‘set apart’ for God once for all. We are set aside as His for His own use. This is because ‘in Christ’ we are made holy with Christ’s holiness, and thus covered with His purity. And this is why we can approach God so confidently. It has put us in a state whereby we ‘are sanctified’ once for all and accepted as holy in His presence (Acts 20:32; Acts 26:18; Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 10:10) These verses all use the perfect tense signifying - ‘having been sanctified and therefore now are sanctified’ - referring to a past happening which continues in effect into the present. We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all (Hebrews 10:10). And that sanctification includes the work within us through which we are born from above (John 3:6) and receive the indwelling Christ (Galatians 2:20) and life through the Holy Spirit. We become separated off to Christ, ‘members of Christ’ and ‘temples of God’ (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
But the result of being put in this position is that we will then be ‘in process of being sanctified’ (set apart by being made holy) by Christ Jesus and the Spirit. The purity of Christ, which has been set to our account, and attaches us to God, must now become reproduced in our lives. We must therefore go through the process of ‘being set apart for God’ by being constantly changed by the Spirit (present tense - Hebrews 2:11; Hebrews 10:14; compare Romans 6:19; Rom 6:22 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). This is what most Christians usually think of when they think of ‘sanctification’.
And if we are His it is guaranteed that He will carry out this work in us (Philippians 2:13). This is the same process as salvation from a slightly different point of view. We are saved through God’s work of sanctification, which like salvation is ours the moment we respond in faith, and this work goes on being active in our lives until we go to be with Him, having been made holy and unblemished before Him. And so it was with the Corinthians.
‘Called sanctified ones (saints).’ The title of ‘saint’ is true of all who are ‘sanctified in Christ’. It does not therefore ever in Scripture refer to a select few Christians, for it does not so much refer to practical holiness as to holiness imputed and imparted in Christ. They are Temples of God through the ‘Holy’ Spirit Who is in them (1 Corinthians 6:19). All who are His are thus ‘saints’ (holy ones), those who are set apart in holiness to be made holy. They are be seen as set apart to God with the intention of their becoming God-like. They are ‘holy ones’, chosen out and awaiting their full potential, being changed from glory into glory by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
‘With all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place.’ Here he stresses that all who belong to Christ and call on His name are called ‘saints’. Thus Paul ensures that the Corinthians recognise that they are not superior to others in this, and yet share with all other Christians this wonderful privilege. To ‘call on the name’ means that they have cried to Him for forgiveness and mercy, have claimed the benefit of His name and what He is, and what He has done for them, and now worship Him. Thus they have been ‘made holy’, set apart for God by His Spirit, with a view to being made perfect in holiness.
This fact that Christians ‘call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’, signifying honour and worship (compare Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8 and often), demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ, for here Jesus receives through it the honour due to Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament (and the New), demonstrating His Oneness with Him. Indeed in the right context ‘Lord’ is the Greek equivalent of Yahweh (see Philippians 2:8-10 where the name above every name is the name of Yahweh).
‘In every place.’ This phrase in this kind of context is unique to this epistle. Paul is thus especially stressing his and their unity with all Christians worldwide. He is concerned lest they fail to recognise that they belong to one worldwide gathering of God’s people, and see themselves as but a group of ‘wisdom societies’ in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12). He wants them to know that he himself too has no limited vision, but acknowledges all, and is at one with all, and sees them all as one. He wants them to see that they are part of one whole worldwide body.
‘Both theirs and ours.’ This can only refer back to ‘Lord’. Paul is stressing that He is Lord of all in every place who call on Him, including being Lord of Paul and Lord of the Corinthian church. They are all to unite as one in acknowledging His Lordship for He has sanctified them to Himself.
Some have suggested applying ‘both theirs and ours’ to ‘every place’, but that is hardly likely. Apart from the fact that it would be almost an irrelevance, it is doubtful if Paul saw himself as belonging to any one place or was even bothered about it. He was a citizen of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), as were they. He had long since left Tarsus and Jerusalem behind. He was not interested in geography, what he was concerned about was people’s spiritual position.
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ were the two terms used in greetings in Paul’s world, the former by Gentiles the latter by Jews. But Paul, while taking them over, imbues them with new meaning. It is noteworthy that with him ‘grace’ always precedes ‘peace’, for peace results from God’s ‘freely shown favour’.
‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in undeserved love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is God acting towards us in continual saving power in spite of our undeserving. Thus Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the continued experience of the grace of God.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but this kind of peace is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For however things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4:7). And this is what Paul wished for, and prayed for, for the Corinthians.
‘From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ What a combined source of power and grace. This continual linking of the name of our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ with God the Father in perfect equality again demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1:2). This is especially significant as ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, Yahweh. The two were one in equality and essence.
‘From God our Father.’ God is Father as the Lord of creation (James 1:17), the Father after Whom ‘every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named’ (Ephesians 3:15), and especially as Father to those who are in Christ through the Spirit and thus called His true ‘sons’ (Galatians 3:26; Galatians 4:4-7; Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 1:5).
‘And The Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is a powerful combination. ‘The Lord’ in context with God the Father indicates sovereignty and creativity. It carries within it the idea of ‘the Lord’ (Yahweh) of the Old Testament (compare Philippians 2:9-11). There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6). The name ‘Jesus’ brings us specifically to His manhood. This ‘Lord’ was One Who had become a man on earth, Who had lived among men and whom many could testify of knowing. They had seen Him, watched Him, handled Him, and touched Him (1 John 1:1). The term ‘Christ’ emphasises His resurrection and glorification. He had been raised from the dead and established as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). The whole name sums up the totality of what He is.
‘ I thank God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in him, in all utterance and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you came behind in no gift, waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Paul now instances how greatly God’s grace has already been revealed towards them, and wishes them to know that he continually thanks God on their behalf because of it. Thus does he desire that they recognise his concern and his well-wishing towards them, and of his certainty that they are the chosen of God to receive His blessings. Although he may have many harsh things to say to them he does not want them to think that he sees the church as a whole as devoid of the grace of God active on their behalf. For indeed he knows that it is only when they experience the grace of God that his words can be effective.
‘For the grace of God which was given to you -- that in everything you were enriched in Him.’ Here the ‘grace of God’ refers to that grace (unmerited favour) revealed in the giving of gracious gifts, the gift of Christ Himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts that result from this. He wants them to recognise that he is aware of the spiritual gifts and spiritual awareness that they have enjoyed, gifts given by the grace of God so that they are spiritually enriched.
‘In Christ Jesus.’ No benefit can flow from God except ‘in Christ Jesus’, for His gracious activity can only flow once atonement and reconciliation has been made. Again the order of the words emphasises His Christhood. Having been revealed as the Christ Jesus He can pour out His gifts on men, and especially the gift of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). It is through Christ’s merit that the Corinthians, and we too, may enjoy His gifts, for they are not deserved. It is also because we are ‘in Him’, being made a part of what He is, united with Him in His body, which body is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
‘That in everything you were enriched in him, in all utterance (logos - word) and all knowledge (gnosis).’ ‘In everything -.’ The Corinthian church as a whole had experienced over-all blessings, coming short in nothing of what God would bestow. Their spiritual experience had been second to none. Elsewhere in Corinth men strove to find wisdom and knowledge of an inferior kind, but God had enriched His church with His own wisdom and knowledge, superior to any the world could have. It was wisdom and knowledge that was deep and true and covered all aspects of life, and especially of spiritual life. They did not need to be ashamed of how God had treated them and of what He had given them. Rather the lack lay in the behaviour and response of many individuals within the church in the light of those gifts. Perhaps they had begun well, but now things were not going so well. We need to be constantly on the alert so that our Christian lives do not languish.
‘In all utterance (logos - ‘word’) and all knowledge (gnosis).’ God had spoken to them through His word (1 Corinthians 1:18), and had given them spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 2:16), and teachers who could lead them rightly. They had not lacked the means of grace through His word and His Spirit. Indeed they had been blessed with many spiritual gifts, including ‘the word (logos) of knowledge (gnosis)’ (1 Corinthians 12:8), by which His word had been communicated to them. And these were given to them as one church.
All this revealed to the Corinthian church how much God had given them, and how much Paul appreciated them, bringing them a warm glow within, but it was preparatory to the criticisms that were to come which would severely test whether they would now accept such utterance and knowledge. Great gifts bring great responsibility, and he was now to bring home their responsibility.
‘Even as the testimony (witness) of Christ was confirmed in you.’ In context we must see this as including Christ’s testimony during His lifetime, testimony from Christ to them through His life and words, communicated through those who had heard and seen Him (1 John 1:1-4). Then communicated through those who in turn had received the word from them. This was part of the depth of wisdom and knowledge that they had received, wisdom and knowledge coming from the source of all wisdom and all knowledge.
As they had heard this testimony it had worked in their hearts producing a change of heart and life. It includes what He had imparted to them by His Spirit as they heard those words and meditated on them. They have received illumination and specific confirmation from the Spirit Who has given them understanding of the words and person and significance of Christ, testified to by witnesses who had themselves heard them from the lips of Christ.
We must remember that at the time there were no Gospels. Knowledge of the words and life of Christ was passed on by those who had personally heard and seen Him and then by those who had received the information from others and learned it by heart, although some had no doubt been committed to writing (Luke 1:1). This utterance and knowledge had been theirs in abundance.
Note his emphasis that this word and knowledge comes from Christ and concerns Christ. It is not from or about Paul, nor from or about Apollos, nor from or about Peter, but from and about Christ Himself.
Then having responded to that illumination confirmation was given to them, and they had been sealed as His by the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30), Who had confirmed His testimony to their hearts, resulting in spiritual worship (John 4:23) and spiritual gifts. The verb bebaioo (to confirm) is a legal term for guaranteeing security, tying in with the idea of the Spirit’s seal and guarantee. As the testimony was received by them it was made a seal and guarantee in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
The phrase ‘the testimony (marturia) of Jesus Christ’ occurs in Revelation where it parallels ‘the word of God’ (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9). There ‘the word of God’ refers to early Christian preaching (Mark 4:14), including the expounding of the Old Testament, called by Jesus ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7:13); the teaching of Jesus (Luke 5:1; Luke 8:11; Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28) and the testimony of the early church based on it (Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2; and often). The ‘testimony of Jesus Christ’ probably emphasises the particular aspects of His life and teaching as carried in the church’s tradition and as later recorded in one or more of the written Gospels. The old covenant given at Sinai was called ‘the Testimony’ (LXX marturia). How much more the new teaching and the new covenant brought by Jesus. This parallels Paul’s usage here.
‘So that you come behind in no gift.’ This includes all gifts given to them as His people by a graciously giving God. Thus it includes, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:7 where the gifts are general abilities and include the gift of celibacy; Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 2:4, where the gifts enable effective ministry; 1 Peter 4:10 where the gifts include preaching and service. They include the gift of spiritual awareness (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), the spiritual gifts outlined in chapters 12-14, and the greatest gift of all, His Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:15). All had come on them in abundance. They had reason to be satisfied.
‘Waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul now turns their thoughts to the future when Jesus Christ will be revealed in His glory ( Php 3:20 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Hebrews 9:28). Let them remember that the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom they are sanctified, and from Whom and concerning Whom they have received the word and wisdom, will imminently be revealed and is the One for Whom they are eagerly waiting. All God’s gifts are to be exercised in the light of His coming, when Christ is revealed as what He is, and all that is in part will pass away (1 Corinthians 13:10). For when He is revealed to His people they will be ‘taken up’ to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), drawn as His chosen ones from all nations (Matthew 24:31), changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52), and then they will have their works tested (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Romans 14:10-12), before they enter into their glory (Revelation 21:10-11; Revelation 21:23-24; Revelation 22:3-5), as their Forerunner has done before them (Luke 24:26).
‘Waiting eagerly’. See Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23; Galatians 5:5; Philippians 3:20). The expectation of the early church assisted greatly in enabling them to recognise that, as ‘the church’, separated from ‘the world’, they as one body awaited the final summation of all things. This is expanded in chapter 15 when the hope of the coming resurrection of all His people is stressed. It drew their attention constantly to the spiritual future, away from the pull of the world, and their oneness in the light of that spiritual future.
‘Who will also confirm you to the end, unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful through whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Note here the promise that they will experience this because they will be ‘confirmed’ to the end (bebaioo). This verb is used as a legal term to indicate guaranteeing security. It is used in Hebrews 13:9 of those whose hearts are strengthened (confirmed) by grace. And Who is the One who will confirm us to the end? It matters little whether we see this as referring back to Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:7) or God (1 Corinthians 1:4). The latter is supported by the words in 1 Corinthians 1:9, for otherwise the faithfulness of God in the matter comes in somewhat abruptly. The former is supported by the closeness of the antecedent. But either way the confirmation is by the Godhead, and is linked with God’s faithfulness in that we learn that He is faithful in carrying out this very purpose.
Just as the testimony of Jesus Christ was ‘confirmed’ in them by the Holy Spirit as He ‘sealed them unto the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30), guaranteeing their security (1 Corinthians 1:6), so now we also learn that either God Himself or the Lord Jesus Christ Himself guarantees their security, ‘confirming’ them to the end, and guaranteeing that they will be unreproveable in that day. Thus Paul can speak of, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6).
So the true people of God are seen as being safe and secure in His hands. They can rely on the faithfulness of God. But there is another side to the picture. The test that they are His people is that He will continue within them His sanctifying work, changing them from glory into glory as they behold His face (2 Corinthians 3:18) that they may be presented perfect before Him, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22). That they will be presented unreproveable is guaranteed because He is the One Who ‘confirms’ them. They may stumble but they will not ultimately fall. God will work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
‘In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the day when His people come before Him to receive His blessings, to give an account of their stewardship (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Romans 14:10-12), and to receive praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is the day of the Lord’s final triumph.
The ‘day of Christ’ differs from the day of the Lord in that the latter refers more generally to God coming in judgment and finalising His purposes for creation (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10), while the day of Christ and its parallels speak of the day when He comes for His own (1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 John 4:17). Both occur within the final activities of God at the end of time, but looked at from a differing viewpoint, the one pointing to the day when Christ deals with His own, the other with the time when God brings all things to summation.
‘God is faithful.’ The One Who has called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is totally faithful. This is the final guarantee of what has gone before. The Spirit has sealed us, and Christ and God will ‘confirm’ us, for all rests, not on our faithfulness, but on the faithfulness of God. And none is able to pluck us from His hand (John 10:29).
‘Called us.’ This is effectual calling, and guarantees the future of those called (2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 5:10). In the end the reason why men respond to Christ is because they have been given to Him by the Father (John 6:37; John 6:39) and because the Father draws them to Him (John 6:44).
‘Into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.’ The idea here is of fellowship with Him. The word for ‘fellowship’ (koinonia) signifies communion, fellowship, close relationship, full sharing. It is a favourite expression for the marital relationship thought of as the most intimate between human beings. Thus the idea is of such a close relationship with Christ that nothing can part us. It is an indissoluble union. But it is also a unity that demands being conformed to the One with Whom the union is made. We cannot speak of ‘fellowship’ without thinking in terms of conformity (Romans 8:29). ‘How shall two walk together, except they be agreed?’ (Amos 3:3).
Others would read it as meaning the fellowship of His people established by Jesus Christ, but the context demands that a close relationship with Christ be in mind. It is because we are ‘in Christ’ that we are secure (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:5). Thus we are members of His body in the closest possible sense ( 1Co 6:15 ; 1 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 5:30) and fitly framed together in Him (Ephesians 2:20-21).
It may be asked. ‘If Christians are so secure in Christ, how do we explain those who fall away?’ The answer is one of two, either that such people never genuinely committed themselves to Christ from the heart, never really trusted in the saving work of the cross, whatever the outward appearance, were never really in Him. It is that they were converted to an idea, or the friendship of the church, or because someone they loved was a Christian, or because they liked some part of the message which suited their particular viewpoint, or for some other similar reason, and not to true submission to the living Christ. Or alternatively that while being marked off as His, they are being allowed to stray for a while, but can be sure that the Shepherd will seek them until He finds them (Luke 15:4). He will not let them finally stay away. All stray at some point, for every deliberate sin is a straying, but some take longer to be returned than others. Yet, if they are His, returned they will be, for His reputation as a Saviour is at stake.
‘How then,’ it may be asked, ‘can we have assurance that we are His?’ And the answer is, by the genuineness of our response to Christ and the assurance of the Spirit within. This is revealed in our genuine awareness of sin, by our genuine recognition that only through His finished work on the cross can we find forgiveness and salvation, by our genuine response to Him on this basis, by our desire to please Him (not the church or people within the church or Paul or Apollos or Peter or any other outstanding personality, but Him) and our desire therefore to do always what is pleasing to Him. In the end it is final perseverance which is the proof of salvation, for Christ does not fail in His work, but our confidence should be, not in that final perseverance, but in the Saviour in Whose hands we are and Who will bring it about. We may fail, but if we are His He will pick us up again and set us on the right way.
‘Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment For it has been signified to me about you, my brothers, by those of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos”, and “I of Cephas”, and “I of Christ”.
Paul now brings up the first thing he has against them as a result of what he has been told by some familiar with the Corinthian church. And that is that they are in danger of splitting up into philosophical groups depending on which particular preacher’s message they favour, or on who baptised them (1 Corinthians 1:13), selecting out aspects of their message which were not central and treating them as though they were. This was clearly not just a matter of having a favourite preacher, but of falling out with others over the details and feeling themselves superior because of the name they connected themselves with, the secondary docrines they seemed to emphasise, and the way such presented the Christian message. They were in danger of forming separate groups and hiving off from the rest, and missing the main point of that message, the word of the cross and of the Crucified One. The church in Corinth could easily slip back into being a group of philosophical sects and lose the world view.
This would seem to be because they had favourite pet secondary slants on doctrines which they overstressed and associated with either Paul, Apollos or Peter (Cephas), which made them feel that the others were not really Christians, or were very inferior Christians, because they did not agree. Some even said ‘I of Christ’. These also seem to be considered to be at fault, possibly suggesting that they expressed their superiority haughtily in unchristian fashion and division, seeing themselves as superior, and causing further dissension, but probably also because they had their own strong ideas which depended on stressing only the earthly life and teaching of Jesus over against the teaching of the Apostles and of Paul and the further revelation given to the Apostles, boasting that they stuck firmly to the simple words of Christ, and needed nothing more, ignoring the essentials of the cross and the resurrection. Paradoxically 1 Corinthians 15:12 may actually have in mind this group.
Paul foresaw the great danger that, in becoming separated off they would all cease to trust in the resurrected Christ (chapter 15) and Him the crucified One, and would begin to trust rather only in the secondary teachings presented by one or another, seen as ‘wisdom’ teaching and accepted as such to the exclusion of the grand picture. Their faith would become second hand and thus unreal. They would become simply members of another wisdom sect (1 Corinthians 1:17) rather than proclaimers of the Gospel.
‘Brothers.’ The word is significant here. He is reminding them that they are all members of Christ’s family and in that family are brothers. They should therefore appreciate and love one another. Note that Paul here does not say ‘my’ brothers (contrast 1 Corinthians 1:11) showing that he is here stressing that the Corinthians are brothers to each other.
‘Through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In other words through what Christ essentially is. It is in Him and what He is that they are one. He is turning their thoughts to the One they should be concentrating on as the Lord of all, and reminding them of what Jesus Christ Himself had said on the issue of unity (John 17:20-21). Unless their faith is centred in Him it is nothing. This citing of Jesus Christ in this way was a favourite approach of Paul’s. Compare ‘by our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 15:30); ‘by the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:1); ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:12). It was because of their relationship and privileged position in Him that they should respond.
‘That you all speak the same thing.’ In other words that they speak with one voice and present a united front to the world and to young Christians, demonstrating that they are united in Christ and at one with Him and with each other, as Jesus Himself had taught them (John 17:21-23), thus focusing all attention on Christ. Private discussion on secondary is fine, but public dissension is inimical, for it divides Christ and should be kept out of church meetings.
‘And that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ Internally too they are to be at peace with one another, agreeing on the major central truths and being careful to differ in love on secondary interpretations. They are to concentrate on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, Who He is revealed to be and what He came to do. Thus they will have the same mind and the same judgment both on the central truths of the Gospel and on how they should react on secondary matters. This will result in their being ‘perfected together’, having a full unity. Then the world will see one message, one Christ, one people.
‘That you be perfected together.’ The verb katartizo means to make complete, put in order, restore, put into proper condition, make fully trained. Thus Paul wants them to be put right and ‘fully trained’ and taught in the Gospel, made perfectly at one. He wants them to be seen as a fully united body, all acting in unison.
‘It has been signified (revealed, shown) to me.’ Paul is not speaking in the abstract. He has had specific information about their divisions, their disputes and their arguments.
‘By those of Chloe.’ Chloe was a Greek female name meaning ‘verdant’. It was associated with the cult of Demeter, thus it has been suggested that Paul had learned his information from members of that cult. However the name is not intrinsically pagan and there is no reason why it should not have been borne by a very important lady or by a prominent Christian lady (although it was not she who reported it, but her household). It may thus indicate that Chloe was a well known and influential person whose family members, or more probably her servants, possibly as a result of business trips to Corinth, had communicated with Paul about the situation in Corinth, his naming of them being to demonstrate the accuracy and reliability of his knowledge. It is possible that she did not actually live in Corinth as in that case such a revelation of her name by Paul would only cause even more division. Possibly she or her household had visited the church and been disturbed at what they had observed. But Paul assumes that all will recognise their impartiality.
‘I am of Paul -- Apollos -- Cephas (Peter) -- Christ.’ Paul may have used these names simply as examples (1 Corinthians 4:2). It is clear that he honoured them all. Note the ascending order of importance (in Paul’s eyes), with himself lowest. He demonstrates great respect for them. But it is possible that the teaching of Apollos, as an Alexandrian, who was thus used to allegorising the Scriptures, had in this respect differed from Paul’s, although both had taught the same central message. Thus could have grown up the literal school and the allegorical school. Or some may have been carried away by Apollos’ eloquence (Acts 18:24). Those who claimed the name of Peter may have done so as a result of their response to preachers from Jerusalem who claimed Peter’s authority and preached with a Jewish-Christian emphasis, without necessarily preaching Peter’s full message or observing Peter’s emphases. They may have laid greater emphasis on Jewish aspects and have appealed especially to Jewish Christians. But if so there is no suggestion that it had become a specific problem, only that it was causing ‘division’ by diverting loyalties by exalting secondary matters. Those ‘of Christ’ may have insisted on limiting their understanding only to His actual words, and have scorned the ‘expanded’ teaching of Peter and Paul, rejecting their interpretations, and even the interpretations of the Apostles as a whole.
So Paul here expresses his longing and desire that they put such thoughts aside and concentrate on the full Christian message of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. The preachers are to be nothing. He as Christ crucified is to be everything.
The remainder of the letter does not suggest that this had reached the stage where any were specifically in conflict with essential teaching. Thus it would seem that Paul was seeking to nip a dangerous tendency in the bud rather than having to combat heresy. He was fighting neglect and not specific heresy. He did not want them to deteriorate into a number of wisdom schools, with Christ becoming secondary, or simply another wisdom teacher.
The Folly Of The Disunity Being Revealed in the Church Because of a Craving for One Man’s Wisdom Over Another’s (1:10-17).
In their world around them they see men taken up with the glory of wisdom of differing kinds, glorying in one preacher or another, divided, arguing, even abusive, but all united in one thing, the despising of the cross. For they saw that wisdom as their means of contact with the divine and the way to obtain the release of their souls. And it seems that the Corinthian church has been caught up in the same spirit.
Christ Crucified For Us And The New Birth Through the Spirit Are the Two Central Foundations of Christianity (1:10-4:21).
Paul begins this section by revealing his concern that the Corinthians are in danger of splitting up into different parties around the teaching of certain leading teachers (1 Corinthians 1:10-17), and concentrating on secondary aspects of that teaching, rather than being united around the one central truth of Christ crucified, the one fact which is central to the Christian message, and around which all should be united, and which points to the One Who alone, by means of what He accomplished there, is effective in bringing about their salvation through the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1Co 1:30 ; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 2:4), and is the very foundation of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
The crucifixion of Christ, points out Paul, has brought about the raising up of a wholly new situation. The world is now divided into two. On the one hand is ‘the natural man’, devoid of the Spirit, taken up with human wisdom, divided, rejecting God’s way, despising the cross (1 Corinthians 1:19 onwards leading up to 1 Corinthians 2:14), and on the other ‘the spiritual one’, receiving true wisdom from God, trusting fully in the word of the cross, enlightened, the temple of God indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-15; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24).
The ‘natural man’ is the world in Adam, the first man, and as such earthy and without the Spirit and unable to discern the things of God, with no hope of the resurrection to life (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47). The Spiritual One is the last Adam, the second man, the heavenly One, in Whom are found those who are heavenly, Who has given His Spirit to His own so that they might understand the things of God as manifested through the power of the word of the cross, and know the things that are freely given to them of God, and come finally to the resurrection of life (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
But sadly the Corinthian church, while having become a part of the second, are revealing themselves as still very much taken up with the first. They are divided, looking to earthly wisdom, arguing about different teachers as though they brought different messages, rich and yet poor, reigning and yet not reigning (1 Corinthians 1:12; 1Co 2:5 ; 1 Corinthians 3:3-4; 1 Corinthians 4:8), neglecting the word of the cross, and the Crucified One, still behaving as fleshly rather than as spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). They are not allowing the word of the cross to do its work in them.
They need to recognise that the teachers are in themselves nothing, ‘weak and foolish’ tools of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) who must themselves account to God (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), whose task is to build on the One foundation which is Christ, for they are building the Temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is indeed the one Holy Spirit Who reveals through these teachers the crucified Christ and what He has done and is doing for them (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). For it is one Christ Who has been crucified and through Whom we are being saved.
What should therefore be all important to them is Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), foreordained before the creation (1 Corinthians 2:7), the central message they proclaim (1 Corinthians 3:11), and around which they must unite, for it is He who has been made to them the wisdom from God, even righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is the one foundation on which they are built (1 Corinthians 3:11). The church is one and it is this message that separates them from the outside world which in its folly and blindness despises Him ( 1Co 1:20-23 ; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8) and what He came to accomplish. Thus must they maintain unity in Him, partaking in His one body (1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), presenting a united witness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:10-12), recognising that they are the one Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), rather than splitting up into a group of different argumentative philosophical groups having lost the recognition that what they have come to believe in Christ is central to the whole future of all things. They need the grand vision.
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised into the name of Paul?”
Paul now attacks their divisions at their root. There is only one Jesus Christ, and to Him, and to Him alone, should all look. It is not a question of either/or. The messenger is nothing. Christ is pre-eminent. He was the One Who was crucified for them. He was the One into Whose name they had been baptised. Let them then unite in Him and look only to Him, for from Him alone comes the grace and power to deliver. No man can give this power. Without His working men of God have no effectiveness whatsoever in things pertaining to God, and their words, while stirring men’s emotions, will have no real spiritual power. Let all then proclaim and look to Christ.
‘Is Christ divided?’ The Oneness of Christ should stress the need for them to be one in Him (see 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). All is centred on Him. He cannot be divided up.
‘Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised into the name of Paul?’ That they should look to Paul or anyone else is the second absurdity. It was Christ Who was crucified for them. It was Christ into Whose name they were baptised. It was from Him that came all spiritual benefits. It was from Him that they had received life, and had received the Holy Spirit. How foolish then to look to Paul, or anyone else.
This is not to doubt that due respect should be paid to those who minister the word of God in their place, but the moment they seek to draw attention to themselves, or begin to think themselves as something, or to draw men away from the whole church of Christ because of the exclusivity of their message, or the moment Christians begin to fall out through loyalty to one man of God or another, or to their message, or esteem them in such a way that disunity is caused in the body of Christ, then too much respect is being paid to them, and their relatively inferior place in the scheme of salvation is being overlooked. If they are godly men it is to Christ that they direct men’s thoughts. It is to Christ and Christ alone that men must look, both for salvation and in respect to their whole manner of living. It is with Him that they must be taken up. It is He that they must venerate. Christ must be all. And then they will also be at one with their fellow Christians. They must beware of hiding Christ behind themselves. In the words of John the Baptiser, every godly minister says, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). He points away from himself to Christ.
‘I thank God that (or with some good MSS ‘I give thanks that’) I baptised none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, lest any man should say that you were baptised into my name. And I baptised also the household of Stephanas. Apart from these I do not know whether I baptised any other. For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Gospel, not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ should be rendered void.’
For Crispus see Acts 18:8. For Stephanas 1 Corinthians 16:15; 1 Corinthians 16:17. The latter’s household is called ‘the firstfruits of Achaia’, thus he may have been Paul’s first convert in that area, which was why he baptised him and his household. The influence of a man on his household is here stressed. It is doubtful if they were baptised unwillingly (compare Acts 16:32-34 where it is stressed that they all believed).
He is now grateful that he had himself baptised so few for it avoided the danger that any would consider that he baptised men in his own name. With these words Paul for ever puts baptism into its rightful place, important but secondary. Baptism does not save, nor is it the Gospel. It was not his first consideration. We learn here that the effective power of Christ to save does not directly work through baptism, although it results in baptism. It is the word of the cross which saves, through proclamation that does not need to contain human methods of persuasion. Then once that word has done its work and brought men to salvation, working effectively in their hearts, they reveal their response by being baptised and by living in accordance with Christ’s teaching.
‘I thank God that I baptised none of you, except --.’ It is clear from this that Paul in his ministry mainly left the work of baptising to others. He was the instrument of God to bring men to salvation through His preaching of Christ. Baptism followed as a separating off from the world, as an open declaration of faith by those who were converted, and as a response to God and means of declaring that they were now dead to the world and alive to God (Romans 6:4). It depicted that those baptised were now drenched with the Spirit and members of the body of Christ, and in many it was the final seal on their burgeoning faith, resulting in their final reception of the Spirit. It depicted that they were one together in Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 10:2 in context). But it was not the saving instrument. It was a picture of what had happened, or what was happening within them, of what God had done in delivering them, portrayed by a physical act and a further spiritual response in front of the world. But it was the word of the cross which saved. Otherwise Paul would have delighted in baptising as many as he could. If it was as central as some see it he would have made it central in his ministry.
It may well be, of course, that he had a policy of allowing converts to be baptised by local elders as a symbol of unity in the local situation, but not solely so as witness the ones he had baptised. So it was not a matter on which he had strong principles. But his words make clear that it was not to him of prime importance in the bringing about of salvation. It is noteworthy that who baptised people is regularly not stressed (compare Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:47-48). They are seen thereby as partaking with all Christians in the widespread baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:0). They are baptised because the word of God has been seen to be effective within them. This is not to suggest that baptism is not important. It simply indicates that it is not all important, that its function is as the earthly seal of the heavenly work, but that it does not itself bring about the initial salvation.
‘For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the Gospel.’ This puts Matthew 28:18-20 in perspective. When Christ sent His disciples ‘to make disciples of all the nations’, the resulting baptism was important but secondary. Like Paul they preached the power of the cross and the crucified One, and it was this that brought men to Him. Then they were baptised and were taught all that Christ had commanded. Both the latter were important, and their importance must not be diminished, but they were not the saving instrument. They were acts carried out on those who had become disciples, as open acts of response, commitment and obedience, demonstrating that they had entered into the sphere of the Spirit because they had been saved and had chosen to become disciples, not as the effective means by which they first became disciples, although in those days closely linked with it.
‘To preach the Gospel.’ He recognised that it is the preaching and message of the cross that saves, through the inworking of the Spirit, and that alone. It is interesting that Paul does not consider baptising people as ‘preaching the Gospel’, rather he makes a contrast between the two. The Gospel, the saving message of Christ, is not found in baptism (even though its results are proclaimed in baptism). It is found in the message of One Who died for the sins of the world Who calls men to respond in faith and trust and receive forgiveness through the blood that He shed and life through receiving the Spirit of God. And it is that response which results in ‘salvation’, a salvation wrought by God. This is wonderfully illustrated in Acts 10:36-44.
‘Not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ be rendered void (or made of no effect).’ But note that it is the proclaiming of the Good News that saves, not the wisdom of the words used. He did not try to woo men with words like the philosophers in the schools did. He did not try to persuade them to accept his theories. It is always man’s idea that people can be persuaded to become Christians just as they can be persuaded to become, say, fishermen. But this is not so, says Paul. Those so ‘persuaded’ are not saved. They have been won by eloquence. The essential power of the cross has been negated. Those who are converted merely through clever words, or emotional manipulation, may put on an outward show, but they may not have become His or experienced the power of His cross. Men won through clever words may never have really entered into ‘the word of the cross’. What was of prime importance was that men saw clearly the significance of the cross, and of Christ the crucified One, for their salvation. For entry into salvation was through that and that alone.
That is not to say that clear explanation and emotion in the light of the message are to be derided, for the former is helpful and the latter understandable. Only that in the end it is the message of what Christ has done for men on the cross, coming home to the heart and resulting in effective response, that alone will save. And without this the preaching is spiritually ineffective. Thus Paul sought to make sure that his message was an effective one that would accomplish this, and carefully avoided anything that might detract from it.
‘Not in wisdom of word.’ The emphasis here is on wisdom revealed through words. Some great philosophers were famed for their wisdom, and many followed their teachings and eloquently used them to convince men to hold certain positions and attitudes. People of many nations were swayed by them. But this was not to be so with the Gospel. Paul wanted not swayed men but saved men. The Gospel was the message of the effectiveness of the power of the cross and of the One Who died there and rose again. If this was hidden by eloquence, or men were ‘converted’ without reference to it, then its effect could not be achieved and it was thus rendered void. And whatever resulted would not be true salvation. The cross, which alone can save, would be negated. If men hear our words, and are impressed with what we say, and yet do not come to appreciate the significance of the cross, we have given them ‘wisdom of word’ and not the ‘word of the cross’, the word of the Gospel. And they will be lost, and we will be to blame.
‘Lest the cross of Christ be made void (or of none effect).’ In other words excluded by men’s eloquence and therefore ineffective. The verb keno-o means ‘to empty’ (here ‘of effect’), ‘to render void’, ‘to make of no effect’. If it is not its message that comes home to the heart all else is useless from a Christian point of view. It is the Christian message to which all else is secondary.
This was part of the danger of looking to individual preachers. Men would begin to turn their eyes from Christ crucified to something less.
The Centrality and Supreme Importance of The Word of the Cross, of the Word of Christ and Him Crucified, in Which God’s True Wisdom Is Revealed to Men In Power (1:18-2:8)
‘For 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.’
‘The word of the cross.’ This contrasts with the ‘wisdom of word’. The latter signifies an emphasis on wisdom, revealed in many ways, in many forms, and made effective through the speaking of words, mere words. But the former has in mind only one word, a unique word, a powerful word, God’s word, in one sense spoken before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23), but finally spoken through God’s unique act in the crucifixion of His Christ. The emphasis is on God’s own word, made effective through the cross. Through it God Who had already spoken in eternity, had acted and was bringing about His final purpose. Wisdom has its usefulness and its value, but before wisdom was the word. ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1:1), when God spoke through His Word and it was done. It is only His word that has effective power. His word was spoken at the beginning of creation, and now God has spoken again to bring about His new creation through the most amazing word from God that the world has ever seen (2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
By the word of the cross Paul means the word that God spoke in eternity and sent forth to bring about His saving purpose through the cross (see Isaiah 55:10-11 with Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12), the divine word which went forth to fulfil the divine purpose. It means the fulfilment of this in the due process and significance of His crucifixion, carried through as that word of God inexorably went forth in Him, making possible the salvation of a world. And it means the resulting proclamation of Jesus Christ as the One Who was crucified and rose again, bringing about for men through the shedding of His blood on the cross a means of reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:20) and forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), and of new life through His Spirit.
We can see why Paul was hesitant about how he proclaimed that word. It was a word of inconceivable power. For man to try to improve on it would be ridiculous, while for man to conceal it by his own rhetoric would be blasphemy. And yet God had planned that the issuing forth of his divine dictate, of His own eternal redemptive word, with all that it signified for the redemption and deliverance of mankind, would, as far as the world was aware, come through words spoken from the mouths of a seemingly pitiful group of men.
But while the men were weak and frail that word was God’s activity in offering hope to the world. And through their words all the divine power would be unleashed. As he says elsewhere, ‘All things are of God Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning their trespasses unto them, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The word of the cross is the word of reconciliation with God, sent out by God and spoken by God, and brought about through what Christ has done in bearing our sin, and offered through the mouths of His people. That is why Paul will later say, ‘I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2).
In the remainder of the letter this is expressed in terms of Christ as the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), foreshadowed so long before, and now covering us with His shed blood that we may partake of Him; in terms of ‘the Lord Jesus’ as the One Who has replaced the old covenant and has sealed the new covenant with His shed blood (1 Corinthians 11:25); in terms of Christ as the One Who died for our sins, was buried and was raised again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3), and we are reminded that we are ‘bought with a price’ and are thus His (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23), and that we are ‘washed, made holy and declared to be in the right’ in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11). It is the word of salvation.
‘Foolishness to those who are perishing.’ The ‘word’ of the cross, in contrast to the ‘wisdom’ of words, is ‘foolishness’ to those who are perishing and are taken up with man’s philosophy. To them it is inexplicable. They hear the word outwardly, they visualise the dying man on a cross in writhing agony, clearly a commoner, a rebel or a slave, clearly not one approved of by the establishment, and they turn away in contempt. They are appalled. They could possibly accept it as a final revelation of man’s durability and ability to suffer, as an indication of the rejection of the flesh, but how could it possibly be of positive value? How could it bring man to his highest good? And to them this was what all preaching was meant to do. Thus they turned from it in contempt. They had failed to recognise the holiness of God which requires something totally superhuman, some unique propitiation offered wholly from the divine side of things (Romans 3:24-25; 1 John 2:2), if man is to be able to approach the eternal God. Both idolatry and philosophy indicated that in one way or another the world and nature itself provided a way to God. The cross once and for all denies that claim and says that it is through God’s self-offering of Himself alone that salvation can be obtained, and thus it was rejected.
‘Those who are perishing.’ These are those who have not put their trust in the Son Whom God gave (John 3:16). They have not responded to the light of Christ. They are in process of perishing. They see the message of the cross and they ignore it, or laugh at it, or despise it. They see its message as foolish or unnecessary because they are not aware of their own utter sinfulness and inadequacy. Why do they need to be saved in such a way, they ask? They feel that it is not a necessity, indeed that it is unseemly, indeed impossible. They feel that all that is needed is a touch to human nature here and there, some resurgence of spirit, or a release of the spirit from the flesh, not a radical solution like that. A cross that saves? They look for deliverance anywhere else but that. They make all kinds of effort to achieve goodness, and they produce seemingly effective religious instruments to help them on the way, they seek to find solutions in nature and the occult, and in religious ceremonies, to make good the heart of man. But they fail. For all this cannot bring them to the true and living God, and for this reason, because reconciliation is achievable only through the word of the cross, God’s action through the cross and His consequent offering of salvation. Thus they ‘are perishing’. They are without hope. They have rejected the remedy.
‘But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ But those who are ‘being saved’ see things differently. How can God’s power and forgiveness be effectively channelled into the world towards sinful men, they ask? Only through the means that He has devised. And that means is the word of the cross, spoken initially by Him in its very outworking from the beginning (Acts 2:23), and then carried through bringing about the means of eternal redemption, and then proclaimed under the power of the Spirit, and then responded to, whether preached, taught or read. That is the channel, and it is God Himself Who is the Channeler. Once it, and the powerful word of Him Whom it represents, is responded to, God’s power in salvation is released to the ones who respond and they enter into a process whereby they are ‘being saved (present tense indicating a process) by His power.’ For the word of the cross does not cease to exercise its power once a man has first trusted in Christ. It goes on exercising that power throughout his life. It is his only hope. It is his pacemaker. It is his daily glory and delight. For only through the crucified and risen Christ is God’s power and forgiveness available to him. He receives it because he is ‘in Christ’, and it works effectively throughout his life (see Galatians 2:20). He glories in nothing else (Galatians 6:14). In it is centred the whole of salvation. And that word will go on being effective throughout the whole of history until the end when its final purpose has been achieved.
As with sanctification (see on 1 Corinthians 1:2), salvation, man’s deliverance from the dire penalty and awful power of sin, is spoken of in three ways. Firstly as something that happens to a man the moment he puts his trust in Christ and is ‘saved’ once for all (aorist tense). Then as something that has happened to a Christian in the past whose effects carry on into the present (perfect tense). And finally as something that is a continual present process with future results (present and future tense).
Thus the New Testament speaks of different aspects of 'salvation'. It speaks of ‘having been saved’ ( Titus 3:5; 2 Timothy 1:9 - aorist tense, something that has happened once for all, when through His Spirit the Saviour seized hold of us in order to carry out His saving work, reconciled us to God and cleansed us from our sins). And of ‘having been saved and therefore now are saved’ - Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:8 (perfect tense, something that has happened in the past the benefit of which continues to the present time). These verses are what are in mind when we say a person has been ‘saved’.
But it also speaks of us as it does here, as those who “are being saved” - 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; (present tense - a process going on), - and as those who “will be saved” - 1 Corinthians 3:15; 1Co 5:5 ; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (future tense - something yet to happen - and equivalents). In other words, when God ‘saves’ someone they are saved once and for all, and it is fully effective. But if it is genuine it means that it will then result in a process by which they are being ‘changed from glory into glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), with the final guarantee of a completed process when we are presented holy, blameless and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22-23). If the salvation is not progressing, even though slowly, then its genuineness must be questioned. The Saviour does not fail in His work.
Consider the situation of a man drowning at sea, in a fierce storm, clinging to a life raft with one hand, his other arm broken and trailing behind, and both his legs paralysed, having been many hours in the freezing water and suffering from hypothermia, more dead than alive, there because a rescuer has dragged him there, dying in the course of saving him. ‘I have been saved’, he cries. Then along comes the life boat and drags him out and he gasps, hardly able to speak because of the seriousness of his condition, “I am saved”.
Well, it is true. But he has a long way to go. He would not have much confidence in his salvation if they put him to one side in the bow of the boat, with the waves lashing over him, and said to him, “Well, you’re saved now”, and then went off and went to sleep and later practised turning the lifeboat over. His confidence and dependence lie in a fully trained and capable crew who are dedicated to warming him up, treating him and getting him to hospital so that he can be fully restored.
So as they get to work on him, wrapping him in a blanket and gently warming his frozen limbs, trying to set his broken arm and doing everything else necessary to restore him to some kind of normality, and make for the shore, he can begin to have hope and think gratefully to himself, “I am being saved”. But he may well still be aware of the winds howling round, and the boat heaving in the heavy seas, and water flowing in, and the pain and agony of his limbs as a result, and he may then look forward and think, “I will soon be saved”. If his rescuer, and those crewmen, and the ambulance waiting for him on shore on that terrible night, can be so dedicated, can we think that the One Who died on a cross for us on an even more terrible night, can be less dedicated? He does not just want us in the lifeboat. He wants us fully restored. And that is what He is determined to have. And if we want to be saved that is what we must want! We cannot say, ‘Lord, save me, but leave me as I am’.
This salvation is entered into by an act of faith and commitment. As we genuinely recognise our need to be saved (in every way) from sin we commit ourselves completely to the One Who Saves (the Saviour), and trust Him to carry out the work, knowing that once He has begun the good work He will carry it out to the end (Philippians 1:6). We are then, if our response is genuine, both ‘saved’, and have entered the process of ‘being saved’.
‘For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the prudence of the prudent I will reject”.’
Paul now turns to Scripture to prove his point. The verse is cited from Isaiah 29:14 (LXX). There the professed people of God had turned away from God and His word and rejected the words of His true prophets, depending on their ‘wise’ leaders. Thus He warns them that what they look to as wisdom and prudence, the wisdom and prudence of their betters, the wisdom and prudence that has caused them to reject the message of God, will be of no avail, and will perish in the end.
The same, says Paul, is true here Those who profess to wisdom and prudence and in the light of it reject the message of the cross will find that their wisdom and prudence only lead to destruction. God will reject them and finally destroy them.
‘For it is written.’ A phrase that demonstrates that what is being cited is the indestructible word of God.
So it is not words that will save men, whether they be the words of philosophers and wise men, or the flowing words of ‘wise’ Christian preachers over a range of subjects, it is the central ‘word of the cross’ that God has ‘spoken’. It is Christ and Him crucified working effectively in men’s lives.
Paul Warns Against Putting Faith in Man’s Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).
‘Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, it was God’s pleasure, through the foolishness of what was preached, to save those who believe.’
These words echo Isaiah 19:12 and Isaiah 33:18, but Paul does not say ‘it is written’ and he is not citing those passages as evidence of God’s ways’ (unlike in 1 Corinthians 1:19). He is merely echoing language well known to him. ‘The wise’ probably has in mind wisdom writings, and Greek and Hebrew schools of wisdom, and the like, ‘the scribes’ has in mind the Jewish teachers, (it is not a word used of Greek teachers), and ‘the disputers’ the Greek schools of philosophy and those who admired such teaching and sought to expand on it. (This rare word ‘disputers’ was probably used by Paul deliberately as an indirect rebuff to the ‘disputing’ of the Corinthian church). There much time was spent in disputing, both by them and those affected by them. Men loved to talk about and consider what they saw as wisdom. It made them think how wise they were. And they got very hot-headed about it. And some may have contained much that was good. But it did not achieve what it set out to accomplish, the salvation of those who treasured it. All was thrust to one side by the word of the cross. None of these have brought men to a knowledge of God, have brought into effective working His glorious power, for they have failed to identify Jesus Christ or provide reconciliation with God. They are ‘of this age’, rather than of the coming age. They produce no way back to God. Spiritually therefore they are superfluous. God has set aside their efforts because they point in the wrong direction. And Paul was fearful lest this also happen with the message of Christian preachers, so that those who listened to them somehow missed the essential message of Christ and looked in the wrong direction.
(We should note here that this is not rejecting wisdom which is sought for its own sake, but wisdom which professed to offer salvation to its recipients. The Bible itself contains wisdom literature, e.g. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and wisdom teaching is found within the writings of the prophets, but while helpful it does not itself save).
Indeed by working through the preaching of the cross of Christ, and demonstrating that it is essential for salvation, God has shown up the folly of all efforts of men to achieve heavenly knowledge. Only God can reveal to man the full truth.
The descriptions bring out that both Greek (that which arises from Greek culture) and Jewish wisdom are set aside. This might be seen as tying in with the references to ‘Apollos’ and ‘Cephas’ (Peter) in 1 Corinthians 1:12, with the thought being that certain in the church were even seeing them as representatives of such Greek or Jewish wisdom teaching. The implication is that they were not to do so, for as such they would be nothing. Their only importance must lay in that they preached Christ. It also ties in with the distinctions in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. Paul’s point is that all such teaching has been set aside, whoever it comes from. Wisdom teaching is not salvation teaching.
‘In the wisdom of God.’ The result may seem baffling but it is in the wisdom of God. For God knew that the other forms of wisdom could not achieve their aim. He knew that His was the only way. This was true wisdom. So Paul contrasts the true wisdom with the false wisdom, and he does it with irony. When it comes to heavenly things, true wisdom comes from God. Man does not understand the ways of God, and man’s ‘wisdom’ therefore leads him astray in the wrong direction.
The verse indicates God’s sovereignty in that it portrays this failure as being revealed through God’s wisdom. It was the all-wise God Who knew what would happen, and indeed Who in the last analysis determined what would happen. He knew that men would be surrounded by darkness and would not see light. He knew that they would fail to be truly enlightened and to recognise the Reconciler. And He determined, in giving that enlightenment, that men would not find that enlightenment through their own wisdom, but through faith, thus making it available to all. His determination of this came out in the result.
But man’s state also, of course, resulted from the fact that man was blinded by his own sin, and thus would not, and in a sense could not, respond to God’s revelation of Himself through nature (Romans 1:18-32; Acts 14:17; Acts 17:27), and now through the cross, because of his own sinfulness. Man could not blame God. He was at fault for his own failure. What God determined was the way in which His gift of enlightenment would come to man.
‘The world through its wisdom did not know God.’ All man’s efforts and all his brilliance could not enable him to know God, nor ever will. There his wisdom was defeated. The reason why this was so is given in the next chapter. He could speculate, he could surmise, he could talk about God, but he could not know God. He could not go beyond the world. Thus when he pictured God he often did it in terms of ‘corruptible man, birds, four-footed beasts and creeping things’ (Romans 1:23), the utmost in folly. Nor were the Jews, who had no images, in any better state. They had their own mental images. But they too were wrong. For Jesus Himself said they neither knew the Father nor Him (John 8:19; John 16:3). Whatever God they imagined was not the true God. They did not understand His ways.
‘It was God’s good pleasure.’ Again the sovereignty of God is stressed. All that happens is of His good pleasure, and especially this. But it is also the inevitable consequence of the way of things in the moral universe which He created.
‘Through the foolishness of what was preached.’ It was not really foolish, of course. It only appeared so to foolish man. The message of the cross followed the divine logic and the divine understanding. It was the product of God’s extreme wisdom. It was the issuing forth of God’s divine power in the way He had determined. It appeared foolish because man did not have a full understanding of himself and his own inadequacy, and was not therefore aware that his need of reconciliation and atonement, which he actually showed himself to be aware of by his religious activities, could only be met by God taking on Himself all man’s iniquity (Isaiah 53:6). Man still clung to the belief that with a great effort and a little religion he could save himself, with, of course, a little help from God and from his own religious ordinances, and he acted accordingly.
‘To save those who believe.’ The basis of salvation is clearly emphasised. It is through faith in and response to God and what He has done in Jesus Christ, faith in the cross and in what it achieved, and faith in the crucified One through Whom it was achieved. Man can only be saved as he believes in and responds to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, the sinless One made sin for us, thereby receiving forgiveness, being declared righteous and being reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). That is why there is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
They Are Thus Rather To Look To God’s Wisdom (1:22-25).
‘Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumblingblock, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’
The problem lay in the nature of man. ‘Jews ask for signs.’ The Jews were a practical people. They wanted to see the divine activity. They wanted ‘signs’ (John 2:18; John 6:30). They were always looking round for proof that God was about to do something for them. They wanted external verification. The idea arose from their history. Their history was a history of signs, and they looked for more. This was understandable, and yet ironically Paul knew that they had seen such signs. They had seen them in the life of Christ. They had seen His teaching and His continuous flow of miracles. They had even seen evil spirits defeated and the dead raised. But they had closed their eyes to them. The truth was they would only accept signs that came from someone who fell in with their particular viewpoints, someone who acted like the Devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12) and performed spectacularly, someone who favoured them and acknowledged their support, recognising how right they were. They thought that they already had wisdom in the Law. They did not need wisdom.
‘Greeks seek after wisdom.’ ‘Greeks’ means Gentiles influenced by Greek ideas, the main constituents of that part of the Roman Empire. The Greeks were admired for their rationalism, their breadth of thought, their metaphysical ideas. And they were interested in all forms of wisdom teaching, including that which sought the release of the soul from the degraded body of flesh through attaining esoteric knowledge. And they had influenced the world around them. Men thought that such ideas would pierce the curtain that hid them from divine things, and they sought to speculate more and more, thinking that eventually they would hit on the truth. Indeed many thought that they had hit on the truth. But in the end their ideas faded, to be replaced by others. They did not achieve their object. Such knowledge could not bring reconciliation with God, and could not bring life.
‘But we preach Christ crucified (or ‘a crucified Messiah’).’ But although in Christ the Jews were given signs and the Greeks were shown true wisdom, they both rejected what they were given, dismissing it as foolish. To the Jews the preaching of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. For crucifixion was the sign of a cursed man, and they could not and would not accept a cursed Messiah. They could not see that they were in fact under a curse and therefore that the One Who would redeem them must be ready to take their curse upon Himself (Galatians 3:10-13). They wanted to be saved, but by something that fitted in with their ideas, something respectable, by obedience to the Law, by submission to the ordinances of the covenant, not by something so radical. (They failed to see that it was what their whole system was pointing to).
And to be saved by a crucified Jew was to Greeks a thought beyond acceptance. To them salvation must come through the Greeks, and through Greek ideas, and through ‘wisdom’, not through something so vulgar as a self-proclaimed Jewish prophet, or even worse a self-proclaimed god, dying like a common slave, a rebel, on a cross. Such a thought was preposterous. Thus the message of the crucified Christ was in general dismissed by both.
‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks --’. Once again we have the idea of effectual calling. It does not just mean called by men. It means effectually called by God. They have been called by God through the word and proclamation of the cross and have responded. And it includes both Jews and Greeks, whose eyes have been opened so that they responded to God’s saving action, who have been drawn by the Father (John 6:44).
‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This parallels ‘Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek after wisdom.’ Christ answered both requirements, for to those who had eyes to see He had the power to perform signs, indeed was Himself the sign, and He had the wisdom to reveal truth, for He was Himself the Truth (John 14:6). But it means far more than that. It means He has power and wisdom in abundance. Indeed that He is the One through Whom is revealed the fullness of God’s own power and wisdom. That His power is revealed through His saving work, through His death and resurrection, and its results in the lives of men, and His wisdom through the effectiveness of that work in saving all who believe. He is thus the source of all true power and the source of all true wisdom, especially of saving power and saving wisdom. For that Almighty power is revealed through the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), which also reveals His great saving wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21).
‘Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’
This verse connects with what is to come (1 Corinthians 1:27), while also connecting with what has gone before. What men call foolish proved to be the revealed power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18), because God’s ‘foolishness’ far surpasses the greatest wisdom known to man. And although Christ was on the cross in weakness, it was in a weakness that overcame all the power of the Enemy. Thus apparent foolishness and apparent weakness triumphed. The cross seemed to reveal weakness but it proved in fact to be the most powerful instrument the world had ever seen. For God’s ways always surpass men’s ways, and although seemingly weak and foolish, prove to be the means by which His great wisdom and power are revealed, and His saving work accomplished.
Thus let them set aside the sign-seeking of the Jews, and the wise folly of the Greeks, and even the flowery teaching of Christian preachers, and let them concentrate on what is God’s wisdom, the message of the cross and the crucified One.
Let Them Consider Whom God Has Chosen And What He has Done For Them (1:26-31).
‘For look at your calling, brothers, how that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame those who are wise, and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are powerful. And the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are. That no flesh should glory before God.’
The themes of folly and weakness continue. He asks them to consider themselves. Not only did God reveal His power and wisdom through the cross, which was in man’s eyes but weakness and folly, He also chose as His instruments those who were weak and foolish, that He might reveal through them His power and wisdom, making them powerful and wise in God’s power and wisdom. Men found Him not by wisdom but by being called.
‘Look at (behold) your calling.’ They have been called and chosen by God. Note the threefold stress on His choosing. But whom has the Great God called and chosen? He has chosen the weak and the foolish, the base and the despised, the things that count for nothing. The Galilean fishermen and the despised local tax-collector are the kind who make up His followers. And the same applies among the Corinthians. They too can look at their numbers and see that they are mainly made up, not of those recognised as ‘wise’, not of those who are influential, and aristocratic, not of the rulers of this world, but of slaves and of poor men, of artisans and labourers, with ‘the great’ a comparative rarity among them (although there were quite a number of influential men). Thus God selects His army for the future and it reveals similarity with the cross, a picture of apparent weakness and folly. But it will overcome the world through God’s power revealed through the cross.
The world sees His followers as foolish, but they will put the wise to shame. The world sees His followers as weak, but they will put the strong to shame. The mighty Roman Empire will wither and be no more, Greek culture will be displaced, but the people of God will go from strength to strength. They will in a sense replace both.
‘Has God chosen.’ Again the theme of His sovereignty is apparent. He points out that the fact that the church is made up of the foolish and the weak, the base and the despised, is no accident. It is God’s deliberate choice, God’s working, so that men may recognise their rightful place in God’s eyes, weak and foolish, base and despised, but loved and chosen.
Indeed it has always been so. In the Old Testament and especially in the Psalms those who sought God were seen as the ‘poor’ and ‘humble’. Those terms were used to depict those who responded to God truly. For they were the ones most likely to listen to God and to look to God, and only those who took up their attitude of heart found life.
‘And the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are.’ In context this is comparing nonentities with the great and the wise. The Corinthian Christians are nothings, Paul is a nothing (note the almost contemptuous ‘things’), but it is through such as them that God will do His mighty work, revealing the great as not great, the wise as not wise, indeed as the true nonentities in relation to God’s kingdom. For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18)
‘That no flesh should glory (or ‘boast’) before God.’ The purpose in all this is that man might realise what he is, and not boast in the sight of God. That he might recognise that any glory or wisdom he has apart from God is as nothing. This is true of Jewish Rabbis, of Greek philosophers and of Christian preachers. It is true of men of power and men of wealth. It is true of the rulers of this world. It is true of all. Men may seem to achieve much but unless God applies the word, the effective power that brings about His purposes, what they do is in the long run in vain. Their work is only temporal. And the only ‘word’ He sends forth to do His work is the word of the cross. Thus none can have cause to glory for to succeed they are totally dependent on God for their efforts and their preaching and their teaching to be effective, and if it is effective it will not be through their wisdom but through the power at work through the cross. And in the end there is nothing else to glory in.
‘But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who has become to us wisdom from God, even righteousness, sanctification and redemption. That according as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord”.’
Having stressed their lowliness Paul now points out their glorious state ‘in Christ’. In Him they have all the riches of God. In Him they belong to God and are born of God. They are ‘of Him’, that is, of God. (Note that in the phrase ‘Of Him are you’ - ‘are you’ is stressed). And because they are ‘of Him’, His own reborn children, His treasured possession, they are ‘in Christ Jesus’ Who has become to them the wisdom of God and wisdom from God. That is, He through His action and power has brought about what God’s wisdom knew to be best, and what God in His wisdom purposed, and indeed knew was the only way. That is, that through His death and resurrection, and the power of His Spirit, Christ Jesus Himself would become their righteousness, their sanctification and their redemption.
‘Who has become to us -- righteousness, sanctification and redemption.’ This primarily refers to the first work wrought on the believer to make him acceptable in God’s sight, the work that takes place when he believes. He becomes as one who is accounted righteous with the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), as one who is set apart for God in Christ (John 17:19; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:26) and as one freed from sin by the payment of a price, the price of His death (Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 1:18-19). But with God it can never stop there. The final result must be that they will become truly righteous, that they will become holy as God is holy, and that they will reveal that redemption by demonstrating that they are God’s true and fully delivered sons, delivered from the power of sin, for that will be the result of the effectual working of His power. So what Christ imputes to them He will certainly also impart to them.
‘Righteousness.’ Through what He has done for them on the cross they are counted as righteous and acceptable in the sight of a just God (Romans 3:26), being freely declared righteous through His grace (Romans 3:24), as a result of the response of faith (Romans 3:28). God’s gracious favour is the means, faith the channel. ‘For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we may be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). And what greater righteousness can there be than the righteousness of God in Christ?
‘Sanctification.’ This is why they are sanctified, and sanctified ones (see on 1 Corinthians 1:2), because Christ is made unto them sanctification. In His holiness they are accepted as holy. In His being set apart as God’s alone, they are set apart as God’s alone. In His being sacred to God, they are sacred to God. In His being God’s treasured possession, they are God’s treasured possession (compare 1 Peter 2:9). For they are ‘in Him’, united with Him in His body so that what is His is theirs. Yet being so united can only finally result in their being made truly holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; Hebrews 2:10-11; Hebrews 10:14) and zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).
‘Redemption.’ Redemption means being released by the payment of a price, here with the emphasis of freedom from the slavery of sin. In the Old Testament redemption signified the delivering of His people by God through the exercise of His power, and it would finally result in another Eden. In the New Testament ‘redemption through His blood’ brings the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). That is the price paid, for He is the One Who gave His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 1:18-19). So being redeemed from transgressions through His death provides the promise of an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15). This redemption is a present redemption achieved through the cross. They have been bought out from under sin. In Him they are a delivered people, for He is their redemption, both in the price paid and the power exercised. But this also looks forward to the final redemption when they will finally be delivered from all sin, and from every ill (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:23).
No better picture of this can be found than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the journey through the wilderness, extended because of weakness, and the final (if idealistic) triumphant entry into Canaan.
Some see ‘wisdom from God’ as meaning that He is the personification of Old Testament wisdom (e.g. Proverbs 8:0), but if this be so it is surely secondary, for the Greek construction separates wisdom from righteousness, sanctification and redemption, suggesting that the latter arise from the former, and the context thus suggests that saving wisdom is in mind, the wisdom revealed through the effectiveness of the preaching of the cross which results in righteousness, sanctification and redemption in Christ. ‘Wisdom’ may guide men’s lives, but it does not save them. Only God’s wisdom does that through God’s means.
Others see righteousness, sanctification and redemption as indicating a process. First believers are accounted righteous, then they experience sanctification, and finally they are redeemed at the final redemption. But the usage in 1 Corinthians favours the seeing in the nouns a description of the once-for-all work of Christ on those who believe. All Christians have been declared righteous (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 3:24-28), all are now ‘sanctified ones’ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11), all have been ‘bought with a price’ from under the slavery of sin (1 Corinthians 6:20). But the idea is right in that this initial work then begins a continuing work which results in a process of being made righteous, of experiencing salvation, of experiencing the power of redemption, and then comes to completion in being finally made righteous, in being finally made holy, and in final redemption being fulfilled (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24).
‘As it is written.’ Again indicating a quotation from Scripture as the abiding word of God.
‘That according as it is written, “He who glories (or ‘boasts’), let him glory (or ‘boast’) in the Lord.” ’ This is a summarised rendering of Jeremiah 9:23-24. Christians are sometimes called conceited because they claim to have eternal life, to be going to ‘Heaven’, to be righteous in God’s eyes. But they do this, if they are behaving as true Christians, (and, alas, sometimes we do not), because they are humbly glorying in the Lord and what He has done for them. They know they have no merit of their own, that all that is theirs is through Christ. And they glory in Him, yes, boast in Him, and want others to glory in Him too.
But while one purpose of Paul in citing this here is to demonstrate that Christians glory in the Lord because of what Christ has been made to them, he also intends his readers to recognise that therefore neither they, nor those who minister to them, have anything to glory in except this. They do not glory in ministers of the Gospel, they do not glory in any privileged position they may have, they glory in Christ alone. For He alone can save, and all attention must therefore be on Him, that men may see Jesus only. This will be the theme of what follows.