February 22, 2014.
Daily Reading: I Corinthians 1-3.
Background: The church in Corinth was founded on Paul’s second missionary journey, as he traveled to the city of Corinth and stayed with them for a year and six months (see Acts 18:1-16). Paul had a deep connection and love for the church in Corinth, as we will see throughout the words of both epistles we have, and he was concerned for their well being. His epistles were in response to troubling things that he had heard about the church, probably both from individual people and letters from the church as a whole, and most of I Corinthians deals with answering some of the problems the brethren were having. Though we title this letter “I Corinthians,” it is at least the second letter that Paul has written to the church as he refers to a previous letter in I Corinthians 5:9. Paul would go on to write two more letters to the church at Corinth, the final of which we call II Corinthians, through there is some good evidence that the book of II Corinthians contains large sections of both Paul’s third and fourth letter to the Corinthians, as the tone changes quite drastically in the middle of II Corinthians. As with many of his letters, Paul starts I Corinthians with praise and an expression of his love for the brethren in Corinth, which makes his appeal to them that we will find throughout the rest of the letter that much more telling of how much Paul truly loves the people there. Overall, Paul stayed in Corinth at least three times during his ministry.
1. Divisions and factions: One of the main problems that the church in Corinth was experiencing that Paul addresses in this letter was that of their growing division. He had heard from Chole’s people (which was perhaps another congregation of believers, or even a faction in the church at Corinth) that there was all kinds of division amongst the disciples there, as they seemed to be creating factions in terms of who they were baptized by or which “rockstar” preacher they liked best. Some were close followers of Paul, whereas other’s though Apollos was the best and still others claimed Christ (probably in an arrogant manner). This grieved the heart of Paul as it showed their spiritual immaturity, as we will see later. The people in Corinth that were creating these divisions had missed the whole point, and that point is Jesus. The church is to be unified under the head of Christ, not divided under the leadership of influential men. This is why Paul is thankful that he didn’t personally baptize but a few people in Corinth. It was not to say that baptism isn’t important (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 6:1-11), but rather it shows how truly important it was to the first Christians, as this is what they were arguing about (who baptized them, that is to say). This (among other reasons) is likely the reason that Jesus also didn’t personally baptize people (see John 4:1-3). Can you imagine being baptized by Jesus Himself? This could have easily lead to an issue of pride and exclusivism, as was the case for “superstars” in the early church, such as Paul and Apollos. The important thing was not who baptized you (there are no specific “qualifications” of the baptizer given in scripture), but what baptism meant (see Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:8-15). Paul would continue to call for unity throughout the early part of this epistle, which is certainly the will of God indicated clearly in Jesus’ prayer (see John 17). Paul tells the church here to be of the same mind and judgement and to stop quarreling amongst themselves. Such quarreling is not characteristic of Christ. We can clearly see how their division was not good; the harder question to ask is, do we not do the very same thing?
2. Wisdom and folly: After acknowledging their division and appealing for unity, Paul then turns to talk about the wisdom of God and how this relates to their actions. The church at Corinth was acting in the wisdom of the world, for they were clinging to ideas that the world holds to be important but are contrary to the wisdom of God. He even states that the message preached, the good news, is folly to the world, for they do not understand it as it does not fit their wisdom. Indeed, many of the things that Christ taught goes against the natural man and what we would instinctually do. Love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)? Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42)? Lend without expecting anything in return (Luke 6:35)? This does not fit the wisdom of the world. But the wisdom of God is higher than the wisdom of man; even the ‘foolish’ of God is higher than any wisdom man could muster. The heart of this wisdom is Christ, and Christ crucified, which does not make sense to the world. But to the one who will accept the message, it is the power of God to salvation. It was time for the church at Corinth to stop holding to the wisdom of the world and to start thinking with the mind of Christ, in whom is righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Let us, too, put on the mind of Christ.
1. Christ crucified: When Paul came to Corinth, he did not come with the wisdom and flattery of men, so as to convince people to believe in Christ through clever speech, but rather he came in the power of Christ, with one message. Paul preached Christ, and Christ crucified. The name of Christ is constantly on the lips of Paul throughout his letters and his teaching, for Jesus is the only point. The Corinthian church was fighting over things that were quite insignificant in the big picture of things, yet they were allowing it to cause division. Paul wanted to remind them that when he first came,it was not in the world’s wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit. They would, therefore, be wise to return to the original message preached and so proclaim it to those who were around them. Sometimes we all get caught up in the little things that spawn from our own pride and stubbornness, and we miss the whole point of Christianity. We forget to be disciples of Christ. Let us return to the original message and proclaim His name to the ends of the earth.
2. Maturing it the wisdom of God: When Paul first established the church in Corinth, he did not hit them with extensive theology and wisdom, but rather preached to them the foundation of Christ crucified. However, this did not mean that they were to stay in this infantile state (see 3:1-4 and Hebrews 5:12). Paul says here that to the mature he would impart wisdom; not wisdom of the world, but spiritual wisdom that is discerned by spiritual people. Now the full gospel of Christ was being revealed to the sons of men, a mystery from the days of old when only bits and pieces of the gospel was proclaimed by the prophets. But now, in the fullness of time, the revelation was being made know and the wisdom of God was being given to those who were maturing in Christ. It should be noted that it is through the Spirit of God, who knows the mind of God, that we gain wisdom and insight. If it were truly through our own wisdom and thought process, we would not be able to comprehend the will of God and what He wants in our lives. However, we have been given the Spirit of God, so as to have the mind of Christ, to mature in spiritual wisdom. This is what we should be striving to do, spending time in prayer and meditation, every studying the word of God that is a blessing in and of itself. May we ever grow and mature in the faith, never being stagnant and complacent in our spirituality.
Signs of spiritual immaturity: Paul saw the division in the church as immaturity in the faith, for they were operating by human standards as opposed to following the will of Christ. It would be hard to overstate the point that division, jealously and strife are equated with being infants in Christ here. Division was never the will of God, nor is a positive for the church in any way. Christ Himself made the point that a house or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (see Matthew 12:25). Paul hits at the root of their problem, and that was the fact that they were elevating certain men who were major players in the kingdom of God at the time. But these were only men, and Paul says that both he and Apollos were noting, but only Christ who caused the growth. Paul and Apollos were merely servants in the kingdom, as was everyone else in the kingdom, and were not the head. Christ was the head, and only though Him did anything happen or come to be. The church belongs to Christ, not any man. This was another problem with the wisdom of men, that it boasted in mere men. But if one was to boast, he or she should only boast in the Lord, as he states in the opening chapter, echoing the prophet Jeremiah (see 1:30 and Jeremiah 9:23-24). The work of each person who builds in the kingdom will be rewarded accordingly, but that is solely God’s job. What we can learn from this passage is that we are not to put our ultimate faith and trust in men, even men who are mighty workers in the kingdom, but rather in the Lord, for it is only through Him that we understand the wisdom of God. It is only through Him that we are saved. Let us all work towards the unity of the body of Christ, for this is the will of God.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 28-31.
May we all come into unity under Christ.