From 1 Corinthians 1-4
Paul draws the divided believers in the Corinthian church together by standing on the higher ground of Jesus Christ and him crucified. If only the again realised the immense gift it is that they understand the things of God they will be united, not by the people they follow or by baptism, but by the central truths and power of the gospel. Perhaps we can learn a few things from Paul as he bangs their heads together in the name of Christ.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
There are divisions in the Corinthian church. Paul is writing this letter in part to plead with the church to resolve their differences. It seems they are following different leaders and have divided over baptism. He refers to their common ground of his preaching of the gospel and the cross to draw them together.
2 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1–5)
Paul refers to the gospel as the ‘testimony of God’. A testimony to the events of the gospel. Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.
In the first century the Greeks revered rhetoric and public speaking. The Jews looked for wisdom. This is what the world values and Paul plays down his own abilities and knowledge. He instead focuses on the uncomfortable truths of his gospel message. Paul says he made a conscious choice – ‘I decided’ he says. Paul decided to proclaim a crucified messiah.
Jesus died the death of a political criminal.
Paul remembers how afraid he was to preach Christ. He says his speech lacked the rhetorical skill or wisdom that may be used to persuade many. Instead Paul saw the Holy Spirit working in power when he shared the gospel. He wants the Corinthians to see how God was working through him as he preached.
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2.6-9)
Paul acknowledges the message he proclaims runs against the grain of the wisdom of this age. He proclaims secret and hidden wisdom. They crucified the ‘Lord of glory’. Planned way in advance by God and recognised that not many would understand it (Isa 64.4; cf. Rom 8.28 ‘those who love him’). If the Jews knew this they never would have done it.
But people need grace to understand the message of the cross.
So where do the Corinthians stand in all this? Do they understand the word of the cross? Or do they stand with the world? Paul exerts pressure on them to make the choice to stand with him, gathering around the truth of the cross as the power of God.
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor 2.10-13)
Not everyone can understand the ‘thoughts of God’ and the ‘things freely given to us by God’. The gift and illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary.
He sets us apart and reveals to believers the truth of the gospel.
This is a description of what is happening in Paul’s ministry. He preaches the word, interprets the application and God illuminates his listeners with the Spirit. Word and Spirit work together (1 Thes 1.5).
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (cf. Isa 40.13) But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:14–16)
Again, where do the Corinthians stand in all this? Paul compares believers (‘the spiritual person’) with unbelievers (‘the natural person’). The Corinthians are implicitly encouraged to identify themselves as ‘spiritual people’. Again he draws them together under the banner of Jesus Christ and the cross over against the wisdom of the world and their own petty factions.
Several key differences divide believers from unbelievers. Believers accept the ‘things of God’, judge all things (spiritual and natural), but are not judged by others themselves. They are judged and held to account by Christ (e.g. Rom 2.16; 14.12; 2 Cor 5.10).
Words for Believers
The Corinthians were being divided by various leaders and by those who baptised them. Paul calls upon the things of God of highest importance. The wisdom of God revealed in our crucified messiah.
As I write this Christians still seem to be divided. In my readings it seems we have raised the stakes beyond personalities and baptism. What is the gospel? What is the key atonement theology? Double imputation? Justification by grace through faith alone? Is Christ divided?
Perhaps one things remains we need help with. The Holy Spirit to guide us and unite all believer together in word and Spirit. We need more humility and God’s help to understand the ‘thoughts of God’ and the ‘things freely given to us by God’.
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