Posts Tagged '1 Corinthians'

1 Corinthians, Part 6

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As we all know by now, the church at Corinth was a troubled church; it had all manner of problems, spiritual and otherwise. It was a big church. It was a diverse church. It was an ambitious church. It was a church that desperately needed help. To their credit, the leaders of the Corinthian congregation knew they were in “over their heads” and they reached out to the apostle Paul. They wrote him a couple of letters describing their problems, sure that he could offer solutions. One of their issues Paul picks up in chapter 12.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1. TNIV)

The Corinthians had questions about spiritual gifts, and Paul approached that topic in a general way in chapter 12. We’ll later find out that not only did the Corinthians have questions, but that they also had problems with one gift in particular, the gift of tongues. But in chapter 12, he made sure that they understood all the spiritual gifts had value; they all contributed to the health of the Body of Christ – the Church.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7 TNIV)

That verse actually says a lot more than meets they eye. That “common good” refers to what is good for the Church – what is good for the congregation at Corinth in particular. Spiritual gifts are of no value to the world outside the Church because the world without Christ has no spiritual understanding and they can’t appreciate the Holy Spirit and what He does.

But that verse also tells us something very important: “each one” or each member of the church is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” In other words, all Christians have been given the ability to exercise whatever Spiritual gift or gifts they have been given. I say this is important because, as we will see, the Corinthians were crazy about Spiritual gifts and it seemed like just about everybody was exercising them. Paul wanted to make sure they understood that it wasn’t just pastors who were endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, but that these Corinthians were right in wanting to use their gifts. They just needed to be taught how to do it properly. The church today probably has the opposite problem. Most churches know in a vague sort of way that there are gifts of the Spirit but make no effort to encourage their members to discover what gift they have been given. That’s why so many churches are, well, sort of dead. They have the knowledge of Spiritual gifts, but little or no experience.

Here are the gifts –

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 10. TNIV)

We assume that this big church had all these gifts being manifested to varying degrees by its members, but the gift of tongues was being abused. And that’s the reason for chapter 13. This isn’t the so-called “love chapter” at all. Paul is still dealing with Spiritual gifts in chapter 13, but from the perspective of how to use them: use them in love.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2. TNIV)

In those two verses, Paul uses three gifts as examples – tongues, prophecy, and faith – to say that if he exercised those gifts without love, then he’s wasting his time. He then goes on to describe love, but with the aim of teaching the Corinthians that that’s how they should be exercising the gifts of the Spirit: with patience, kindness, humility, to honor others, with joy and in truth, and so on. We do a great disservice to 1 Corinthians 13 by always reading it at weddings. It has nothing to do with marriage but everything to do with how Christians are to treat each other with regard to the Spiritual gifts they may or may not have.

Finally we get to chapter 14 and Paul chooses one particular gift, prophecy, which in modern language we might refer to as the gift of speaking or preaching the Word. It’s not necessarily foretelling future events. Paul chooses this gift of prophecy or speaking to show that another gift, the spiritual gift of tongues (regardless of what you may think it means) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems like members of this church were obsessing over and clamoring for this gift of tongues; there was an undue stress on it getting it and using it. So Paul contrasts it with what he considered a more useful gift, the gift of prophecy.

Paul’s preferred gifts?

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:1, 2. TNIV)

In chapter 13, Paul pushed the way of love, and here he writes that as we pursue love, we ought to pursue spiritual gifts with just as much vigor. In the pursuit of Spiritual gifts, Paul advised the Corinthians to give first place to the gift of prophecy, which is associated with preaching. This was his advice to the Corinthians, confronting a problem in that church: Too many were pursuing the gift of tongues or exalting those who were manifesting that gift. The weakness with the gift of tongues as it was being used in the Corinthian church, was that, as Paul wrote, “no one understands them.” Elsewhere in his writing, Paul wrote this –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27. TNIV)

These “wordless groans” are what Paul probably had in mind; a form of the gift of tongues meant to be used in private, in prayer, between the one praying and his God. These “groans,” what we refer to as “praying in the Spirit,” don’t do anybody any good except for the one praying. When one is praying in the Spirit, he’s praying to God, not talking to anybody else, and in fact, nobody else can understand him. That’s why Paul makes it clear that when it comes to edifying the Body of Christ, preaching in the common language is better than praying in tongues. Paul isn’t dissing praying in tongues, he is putting these two gifts in perspective. They are both indispensable in the life of the Christian, but within the life of the Church, prophecy or preaching is better because everybody can benefit from the use of that gift.

But those who prophesy speak to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3. TNIV)

So this gift of prophecy, then, is an “inspired utterance” which the whole congregation can understand; the message (sermon or Bible study, perhaps) will build up Christian character in people, or encourage them and strengthen them.

But, don’t dismiss the gift of tongues out of hand, though –

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:5. TNIV)

Paul isn’t forbidding tongues but he wanted his Corinthian friends to use common sense in the pursuit of Spiritual gifts. And the common sense approach to pursuing spiritual gifts is that they must – MUST – benefit the church. It may well be that in another church, more praying in the Spirit was needed and less prophesying. Remember, he’s simply addressing a problem in this particular church.

But then notice what he wrote about speaking in tongues. If somebody bursts forth in an ecstatic spiritual utterance, and a bunch of people overhear him, then he is obligated to interpret what he said in tongues. Why? Again, it makes common sense. People who overhear his speaking in tongues may be confused; they may not know what he said or what’s going on. Therefore, the onus is on the one who gets carried away speaking in tongues too loudly to explain what he said or why he did what he did. And when he does that, he will be edifying the whole church.

For this reason those who speak in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:13, 14 TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not Mr Practical! In all things in the church, the mind should always be engaged. Emotions are good but people often get carried away by their emotions. When that happens, we’re no longer following the way of love, we’re doing what makes US feel good. Speaking in tongues may make US feel good, but not anybody else. Love is not all emotion-based, the mind is involved. We must always be careful in all our interactions within the church, and especially in our use of any Spiritual gift, to make sure that we are benefitting others, not just ourselves.

…when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can the others, who are now put in the same situation as an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but the others are not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16, 17. TNIV)

Those are actually very telling verses. Even in services where there is a lot of “praise and worship” going on, the people in the pews should be built up and edified. Even as we worship and extol the Lord we need to be mindful of the people around us. That’s part of pursuing love.

Verse 20 is about as blunt as Paul ever gets in his letters –

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20. TNIV)

Godet, in his opinion, writes this about what Paul meant:

It is indeed the characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians did by their marked taste for glossolalia (tongues).

He’s right. The Corinthians were behaving like children in regards to their foolish pursuit of a Spiritual gift like tongues.

Paul’s point: Orderly worship always

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33, 40. TNIV)

The overarching principle of Paul’s approach to Spiritual gifts and the Corinthians’ childish obsession with tongues is that church services must always be orderly. Spiritual gifts are to be desired, they come from God, they benefit the whole church, but they need to be manifested in an orderly fashion.

Chapter 14 if a fascinating if fuzzy glimpse into what things were like in the big Corinthian church. Without regard to precisely what Paul meant by “tongues” and his thoughts about women keeping quiet in church (that’s a topic for another day), we understand that in this chapter Paul is advocating orderly church services and his advice was designed to correct abuses the Corinthians were allowing. In all, his “theology of worship” boils down to three points:

• Everything that happens in a church service must be done for the purpose of strengthening the church;
• The God we worship is a God of order, not of disorder, and He desires peace not confusion;
• Everything, even the working of His spiritual gifts, must be done in a loving, orderly way, with the goal of encouraging and strengthening others.

1 Corinthians, Part 5

Every healthy man should have trouble with 1 Corinthians 7:1. I know I do. What in the world was Paul thinking when he wrote this –

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”. (1 Corinthians 7:1. TNIV)

When you read a verse like this, you just know Paul must have had something else on his mind; he couldn’t have meant for any man to take it literally. Or could he? The TNIV did the right thing by placing this severe admonition in quotation marks. That means that Paul is actually quoting something he has read – specifically a sentence from a letter that prompted this letter we call 1 Corinthians. That letter from the Corinthians to Paul no longer exists. That’s too bad because it would be nice to know the details about what “matters” they wrote to the apostle about. One of the great difficulties in understanding the context of almost any letter in the New Testament is that we are reading only one side of a conversation. Reading most of the New Testament letters is like listening to one side of telephone conversation; you have to almost guess at what the other person is saying. Let’s make a few observations about the conversation between Paul and the Corinthians.

General context

The church in Corinth had a lot of problems, but to their credit they seemed to know they were in trouble and sought help from Paul. Today, we’d send an email or make a phone call to get help or advice, but back in Paul’s day, letter writing was the only mode of long distance communication available. In their letter to him, they wrote about problems they were having with some of their members. Paul replied to their letter with 1 Corinthians, answering their questions and concerns and he also dealt with additional issues he heard about concerning this church from other sources.

So, the first 6 chapters of this letter could be considered a “bonus” from Paul, in which he dealt with issues they hadn’t asked about. In the first four chapters, Paul dealt with divisions in the Corinthian church. In chapter 5 he wrote about a new morality that must replace their old morality because of their new faith in Christ. In chapter 6, the nature of Christian liberty was discussed in relation to what Christians should and shouldn’t do or eat and why.

But it isn’t until chapter 7 that Paul gets into the nitty gritty of answering their questions to him. As to what the issue was, Charles Erdman notes:

It seems certain that some in the Corinthian church regarded marriage as an absolute duty, Others considered the marriage state as an inferior moral condition, a weak concession to the flesh. Still others held that by accepting Christ, all existing social relationships, including marriage, were dissolved.

As Paul approached these three disparate views of marriage within the Corinthian church, he approached them from the practical standpoint, not the moral point of view. In our culture today, we view almost everything from an emotional point of view – feelings are exalted and emotions are given far more weight than objective truths. That’s why so many Christians misunderstand Paul’s teachings here in chapter 7. He’s being practical. He is not being emotional or romantic. That’s why you don’t read the word “love” anywhere in chapter 7, even though the chapter is all about marriage!

The truth is, however, Paul had a very lofty view of marriage. In Ephesians 5:22 – 28, he used marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

But here with the Corinthians, Paul cuts right to the chase, being as blunt as he could, as he sought to straighten these people out.

Abstinence: Not necessarily good

There were some in the Corinthian church, probably Greeks, who had come to view marriage, and in particular sex within marriage, as a concession to the flesh. In other words, if a Christian were strong enough, he wouldn’t need to get married because he would be able to control his sexual desires. That’s the idea behind the sentence in quotes in 7:1. In fact, while Paul was in all likelihood quoting from their letter, they themselves were probably quoting from a popular Corinthian philosophy. Paul put the kibosh on this philosophy –

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2. TNIV)

That’s an interesting response to their question. Basically, Paul told spouses to have sex with their own spouses (and by implication, not with somebody else’s spouse!). What was the “sexual immorality” taking place in Corinth? The whole culture was sexual in nature. Even the pagan religions were all about sex, and in particular sex with the temple prostitutes. No doubt there were some (hopefully not many) married men in the Corinthian church that took trips to the local pagan temple to indulge their sexual desires. You can see how both of these odd religious and philosophical ideas could cause trouble in the church. So in a single verse, Paul made it clear that Christian couples should only have ONE spouse, not several, and they should be having sex only with that one spouse.

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:4. TNIV)

Paul actually did women a great service here. In this time, women, and wives in particular, were viewed as possessions, not people and certainly not life partners. Paul elevated the status of women. The Corinthians were not to live or love like the pagans around them and a Christian husband needed to be aware of the needs – all the needs – of his wife! You could probably hear a pin drop as this part of the letter was read aloud in the Corinthian church. At a time when women were considered as slightly more than nothing, what Paul wrote was a stunning, revolutionary departure from the norm. To these men in the Corinthian church, the idea that they had an obligation to meet any needs, but especially the sexual needs of their wives must have been hard to swallow, having been steeped in cultures (Jewish and Greek) that exalted men and disregarded women.

And the wacky idea that “men shouldn’t have sex with women,” is all but destroyed. Paul does make one “concession,” though. If you’re going to abstain, do it for only a single reason: a spiritual one.

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5. TNIV)

The idea of abstaining from sexual relations with one’s spouse for any reason other than carrying out God’s will is done away with.

A gift nobody wants

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:7. TNIV)

Here is “practical Paul” writing. There are two ways of interpreting this verse. The first one says that Paul was unmarried, and his wish was that all Christians would remain unmarried. The “gift” Paul referred to here was the gift of remaining single for a lifetime. This interpretation says that being married is the natural state and that being single in the gift. That may be the case. The other interpretation says that Paul is referring to his ability to completely control his sexual desires. He saw this ability as a gift from God that, unfortunately, not all believers have been given. So his wish, then, was not that all Christians should be single but rather all Christians be able to control themselves. Yet he recognizes that this ability is very difficult for some. I prefer this second interpretation; it seems more natural to his argument.

Unmarried and widows

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9. TNIV)

Here is more practical advice: for unmarried (or single) people and widows, it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. That’s actually a good way to translate verse 9. If certain Christians – in this case, single people and widows – are really, really, really wanting to get married, then they should. If people lack the gift Paul had (the gift to control his sexual desires) then they should go ahead and get married.

Now, we understand that Paul is addressing one church and at a particular point in time. He’s not writing to your church or to you personally. He’s addressing a strange situation that arose in the Corinthian church, a church riddled with problems, including problems of a sexual nature. To encourage people to marry just so they can have sex would be irresponsible, although that itself is one factor to consider. Is it a major factor? I guess that depends on how passionate a couple may or may not be. But this goes back to what Paul wrote a few verses back: each spouse should make sure the other’s sexual needs are being met.

Married people: Christians

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11. TNIV)

Paul next set his sights on the married folks in the Corinthian church. The wives are addressed first, but that may be because in that church (not in your church, necessarily), wives were the ones ready to pack their bags and leave their husbands. This is not Paul’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, but rather his advice flowed from Christ’s views on divorce and remarriage; Paul simply applied it to the situation in Corinth at that time. Christian Corinthian wives shouldn’t leave their husbands, but if they do they need to (1) come back and be reconciled to their poor husbands, or (2) stay unmarried.

The Christian Corinthian husband also had an equal obligation to his marriage. The big problem in Corinth was that divorce was free and easy, as it was in all cities under Roman rule. Roman law made divorces easy to get and Jewish law made divorces easy to get as well. So, you think marriage is in danger in 21st century America! In first century Corinth marriages were viewed as temporary arrangements, even in the church.

Mixed marriages

In spite of the now-well known saw, “do not be unequally yoked,” apparently there was large contingent of the Corinthian church that was. Probably these mixed marriages were the result of one spouse converting to Christ while the other spouse remained unsaved. In such cases, there was a teaching that said the believing spouse is not bound to remain married to the unbeliever. What a minute, declared Paul! That’s not right! His advice is based on this –

God has called us to live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15b. TNIV)

His advice concerning these mixed marriages was simple: Stay together as long as you can live at peace with your unbelieving spouse. The reason?

How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:16. TNIV)

Paul is nothing if not pratical, even in matters of the heart.

1 Corinthians, Part 4

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The resurrection of Jesus is the whole reason for the existence of Christianity. Many people were martyred for their beliefs, but only one rose from the grave. That’s what sets Christianity apart from all the other religions and belief systems across the world, and that’s why the apostle Paul spends so much time discussing it in 1 Corinthians.

There were plenty of Greeks in the Corinthian church, and they were no doubt being influenced by the wacky philosophies that were popular at that time. One such philosophy involved the immortality of the soul. While the Greeks believed in it, they had no use for the human body – they viewed as a temporary “prison” that held the soul until death set it free. This philosophy was overflowing into their opinion of the resurrection of Christ and denied the resurrection of the future, which is part and parcel of the whole doctrine of Christ’s resurrection.

But there was another view in this church. Others believed in the resurrection of body and soul, so much so that thought the resurrection had already taken place and that the Kingdom had already arrived in its fullness!

You seem to think you already have all the spiritual food you need. You are full and spiritually contented, rich kings on your thrones, leaving us far behind! I wish you really were already on your thrones, for when that time comes you can be sure that we will be there, too, reigning with you. (1 Corinthians 4:8 TLB)

They also denied any future resurrection, just like the first group, but for different reasons.

The key doctrine of the Christian faith – resurrection of believers – was either doubted or rejected by some in the church. Paul needed to set them straight, and he did that by showing that the certainty of the resurrection of the believer rests on the fact of the resurrection of Christ. His argument is a simple one: The Church is a living organism with Christ as its Head. If Christ as the Head of the organism arose, then the Body, the Church, will rise too. The Corinthians needed to see that Resurrection was, in fact, a seamless whole; to do away with the believer’s resurrection would do away with Christ’s.

Christ’s victory over death, 1 Corinthians 15:12 – 26

In terms of Christ’s resurrection, Paul has shown that both Scripture and the personal witness of reliable believers supported the fact of the resurrection of Christ.

He was seen by Peter and later by the rest of “the Twelve.” After that he was seen by more than five hundred Christian brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then James saw him, and later all the apostles. Last of all I saw him too, long after the others, as though I had been born almost too late for this. (1 Corinthians 15:5 – 8 TLB)

Now he turns to a technique of reasoning we call reduction ad absurdum. That’s a fancy way of saying that without the doctrine of the Resurrection in its entirety, that is, the resurrection of Christ and the eventual resurrection of believers, the Christian faith would simply fold up. Here’s how that argument went –

We have preached that Christ has been raised from the dead. So how can some of you say that no one rises from the dead? If no one rises from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12, 13 NIrV)

You can almost sense Paul’s sense of surprise as he asks the question, “So how can some of you say that no one rises from the dead?” It’s hard to know how many members of the church had become doubters. They were believers, certainly, and probably educated Greeks who had revived the wacky resurrection views of their former belief systems.

But when his audience heard Paul talk about the resurrection from the dead some of them laughed outright, but others said, “We should like to hear you speak again on this subject.” (Acts 17:32 JBP)

Those were Greek philosophers laughing at Paul. He had encountered their philosophy before outside of the church, and here it was inside the church. It’s probably also hard for you to believe that honest-to-goodness Christians should actually doubt any part of the doctrine of Resurrection. But human reason always finds a way to object to this wonderful and essential doctrine. Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition; you have to believe what the Bible says. If you doubt some of it, eventually you’ll doubt all of it. Paul’s big concern was that if these well-meaning believers wondered about their eventual resurrection, it wouldn’t take long before they started to question Christ’s resurrection.

To push the point even further, Paul suggests that if Christ’s resurrection didn’t happen, then he had wasted his time preaching anything –

And if Christ has not been raised, what we preach doesn’t mean anything. Your faith doesn’t mean anything either. More than that, we would be lying about God. We are witnesses that God raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 15 NIrV)

Without the reality of Christ’s resurrection, as the Greek puts it: empty then our proclamation, empty also your faith. Without the Resurrection, preachers become like two bit hustlers.

Furthermore, “more than that,” without the Resurrection, all the apostles would be liars! To take that argument to its logical conclusion is to say that all these eye witnesses that talked about the risen Lord had lied and all those believers who had been killed for that very testimony died for a lie. That doesn’t seem reasonable at all. What kind of nincompoop would die for something that isn’t true?

Do we have hope in Christ only for this life? Then people should pity us more than anyone else. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIrV)

That’s really a stunning verse. If the Christian has hope only in this present life, then he is the most miserable person alive. Godet observed:

To the sufferings accumulated during this life there would come to be added the most cruel deception after this life.

But, praise God, this isn’t the case!

But Christ really has been raised from the dead. He is the first of all those who will rise from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:20 NIrV)

The future resurrection of believers is as certain as the past resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Paul makes sure the Corinthians understand this. Christ was the first, but by no means will He be the last, to rise from the dead. Before Him, none had returned from the grave as He had. Certainly Lazarus “came forth” when he was told to, but in his case and in all other cases similar to his, the spirit returned to the same body that was in the grave and eventually they would all die.

Christ is the “first” or “firstfruits.” That concept isn’t really big to us, but the ancients well understood what Paul was getting at. What happened to Christ is what will happen to those who are connected to Him. The reasoning is sound and simple –

Death came because of what a man did. Rising from the dead also comes because of what a man did. Because of Adam, all people die. So because of Christ, all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22 NIrV)

That’s so simple, it’s genius reasoning. Both Adam and Christ are pictured as heads of the human race (Adam) and the redeemed (Christ). What happened to Adam – he sinned and died – happen to all people. The evidence is all around. So what happened to Christ – He rose from the dead – will happen to all connected to Him by faith.

But, as with all Christian doctrines, there’s more to it than meets the eye. There will be an order to the resurrection, but not an order like that of a military troop.

Christ is the first of those who rise from the dead. When he comes back, those who belong to him will be raised. (1 Corinthians 15:23 NIrV)

The first to rise was Christ, verse 23. He was the One who blazed the trail, making it possible for what happened to Him to happen to us. Because He was the first, all believers will experience what He experienced when He returns. At this point, Paul isn’t engaging in a big discourse on eschatology, he is simply stating that Christ was the first, and believers will be second when He returns. By explaining it this way, Paul made sure the Corinthians understood that nobody, save Christ, has been resurrected; that nobody missed out.

That brings us to this group of verses that at first glance seems almost out of place –

Then the end will come after Christ destroys all rule, authority and power. Then he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until he has put all his enemies under his control. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. Scripture says that God “has put everything under his control.” (Psalm 8:6) It says that “everything” has been put under him. But it is clear that this does not include God himself. That’s because God put everything under Christ. When he has done that, the Son also will be under God’s rule. God put everything under the Son. In that way, God will be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24 – 28 NIrV)

This seeming digression isn’t a digression at all; it relates back to the absolute necessity of the Resurrection. Paul needed to show that Christ was raised for a purpose: the destruction of man’s last enemy, death. But that destruction is actually an ongoing process that began with His resurrection and will end with ours when He returns. Some Corinthians might have wondered what His resurrection accomplished, after all it did Jesus a lot of good but what about us? We’re still dying, aren’t we! In fact, His resurrection began the downfall of death, and when Christ returns in glory He will finally deal a death-blow that will forever end death’s reign on this planet.

That phrase at the beginning of verse 24, “then the end will come,” does not necessarily mean, “the end of the world,” but rather the ultimate aim or final goal of Christ who had all authority over all the events, things, and activities of this world. That ultimate goal is the end of death forever. Paul’s reasoning is powerful: when Christ rose from the dead, death began its slow exit from this world. He was the first, all believers will follow His lead when He returns. When that happens, death will never rear its ugly head again. That’s why both resurrections form the foundation of the Christian faith. The Bible witnesses to the Resurrection (vs. 3 – 7). Paul’s personal experience gives evidence to the Resurrection (vs. 8 – 11). All preaching is based on and motivated by Jesus’ resurrection (vs. 12 – 16). Our personal redemption depends on the Resurrection (vs. 17). And finally, our hope for the future rests squarely on the Resurrection (vs. 19 – 28).

1 Corinthians, Part 3

This is what man's wisdom looks like to God:  Foolishness.

This is what man’s wisdom looks like to God: Foolishness.

That the Corinthians were in trouble is clear near the very beginning of Paul’s first letter to them –

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV)

It’s not that Paul expected the congregation at Corinth to be in 100% agreement all the time about everything, but on the essentials of the faith they needed to be for the sake of their testimony in an unbelieving world.

The apostle was upset with the various cliques and schisms that had developed in the Corinthian church. There were groups that were fans and followers of Peter, others of Paul, and still others of Apollos. But that kind of thing was out of place in the church. Their loyalty shouldn’t have been to people but to Jesus Christ. No man died for them save the Son of God and Man, Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ was what should have been uniting them, and that Cross is what unites all believers, from all time, from all over the world. In fact, the most effective way of dealing with just about any problem in the church is to do what Paul did: Deal with them in light of the Cross and Christ’s great love.

The power of the Cross

Human beings tend to be attracted to educated and eloquent humans. We exalt the latest popular preacher or teacher because we are impressed with their words and ideas. That’s what was happening in Corinth. There were these divisions in the church caused by loyalty to men, rather than loyalty to God. As far as Paul was concerned, he was sent by the Lord to preach, not his own ideas or philosophy but the word of the Cross.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV)

In truth, Paul baptized only a few people, not because he thought baptism was unimportant but because he had foreseen this very situation at Corinth. The last thing he wanted was having his converts identify themselves with him. His mission – his whole reason for existence – was simply to preach the Gospel of Christ. His ministry was free from any kind of outer ritual or ceremony.

The power to save a soul doesn’t lie in man’s wisdom but in the preaching of the Cross. God designed it like that so that no man (like Paul or Peter or Apollos) could boast about “the souls he’s saved” in his preaching. It’s never “his preaching” that saves a soul, it’s the Cross – which is the wisdom and power of God.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19 NIV)

It’s strange, this power of the Cross. Its message saves some and causes others to reject its message. That’s what happens when people hear the salvation message of the Gospel – either the listener accepts it or rejects it. In verse 19, Paul introduces a quotation from Isaiah 29:14 to show how much God deplores and dismisses the wisdom of man as a means of salvation. The whole context of the Isaiah quote is interesting –

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Isaiah 29:13, 14 NIV)

This is what Paul saw happening at Corinth. The lines were being drawn; there were supporters of this preacher or that yet their salvation was the result no preacher but rather the word of the Cross.

That message of the Cross, by the way, sounds like nonsense to “those who are perishing.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Robert Hughes asks a pertinent question:

How could something that seemed so foolish to most people be salvation to a few?

The answer is very simple and goes back to the Isaiah quote. In terms of what was happening in Corinth, it’s not exactly what was going on in Isaiah’s day, but their worldview was essentially the same as that of the ancient Israelites. They exalted man’s wisdom. In the Isaiah passage, the prophet showed how temporary man’s wisdom is – it vanishes with time, and sometimes it’s God Himself who causes it to vanish. It doesn’t matter how clever or well-spoken a man may be, that man and his teachings will eventually come to an end.

In a rather triumphant tone, Paul asks a question designed to answer itself –

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

While no longer quoting Isaiah directly, he is alluding to things the prophet wrote. Things like this…

In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: “Where is that chief officer? Where is the one who took the revenue? Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” (Isaiah 33:18 NIV)

In this verse, the prophet is describing the peace that would follow when the terrors of the Assyrian danger had passed. People would be astonished; what they thought would never end or change, did. Here’s another quote –

Where are your wise men now? Let them show you and make known
what the Lord Almighty has planned against Egypt. (Isaiah 19:12 NIV)

We all remember what became of Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians – they were made fools of by the power of God.

The pattern of history proves Paul’s case: God disposes of man’s so-called wisdom one way or another. The Corinthians were obsessing over something temporary and of no consequence. The only wisdom that stands the test of time is God’s wisdom.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NIV)

And here’s why man’s wisdom is useless in knowing God: It’s God’s purpose that man’s philosophies will always come up short. There is just no way to know spiritual truths in a non-spiritual way. Now, it is true that some aspects of God’s character may be discerned through natural creation, but salvation can only happen as a result of the preaching of that which some think is foolish: the Cross of Christ.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 NIV)

Two groups of people

Paul has been contrasting human and divine wisdom (or power). He introduces another contrast with verses 22 and 23 –

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:22, 23
TNIV)

These were the members of the Corinthian church, converted Jews and Greeks who should have been glorying in the Cross, yet both groups clung to their cultural notions of what wisdom looked like. For the Jews, they were a superstitious lot always looking for signs and the Greeks insisted upon rational explanations for all things. Both groups were trying to squeeze God into their particular world view. Paul would have none of that though; all he would do is preach Christ crucified. In other words, he stuck only to the simple truth of the simple Gospel.

To the nationalistic Jews, whose idea of a Messiah was a political leader, the very idea of a crucified Messiah was, well, a stumbling block many could not get over. The Greeks were looking for a world of peace and harmony and beauty, so the Cross with its violence and ugliness just didn’t fit in with their ideas either.

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:24, 25 TNIV)

And here’s the rub. Those who had responded to the call of God also discovered what Paul knew: Christ is the “power” of God and the “wisdom” of God. The order of that is not insignificant. We discover the redeeming “power” in salvation from sin before we discover the “wisdom” from God. That’s precisely why the unsaved (the Jew or the Gentile) make no sense of the Cross of Christ. They need to experience it first before they can hope to understand it.

Preaching: God’s means of deliverance

To help drive home his point, Paul asked his readers to remember where they came from. They weren’t the smartest or most educated when God called them. Intelligence had nothing to do with their salvation. Of course, this doesn’t mean God only calls ignorant people; He calls all people to repentance. In fact, Barclay makes some interesting points on this:

There was Dionysius at Athens (Acts 17:34); Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete (Acts 13:6 – 12); the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:4, 12); Erastus, the chamberlain, probably from Corinth (Romans 16:23). In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britian, was martyred for her Christianity. Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Toward the end of the second century, Pliny, the governor or Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Roman Emperor, saying that the Christians came from ever rank in society.

And, of course, let’s add Constantine who, in 312 AD, formally accepted Christianity as his religion.

But the great mass of Christians was made up the rank and file of society – slaves and freedmen, simple and humble people. And in Corinth, Paul pointed this out. And he pointed out, brilliantly so, that God often chooses to use the simple things (people) to get the job done.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27 – 29 TNIV)

So we’ve come full circle. God uses the very people we’d least expect Him to use for His glory so that nobody can boast about their great talents or station in life. Wise and educated, wealthy and influential may be able to steal God’s glory (though certainly not all of them do). In contrast, though, Christians – especially of the type Paul is writing to here – may glory in Christ because in Him they have experienced true wisdom and true power. By the world’s standards, they may be nonentities, but through their choice of the Cross they have demonstrated the highest wisdom and experienced the greatest wisdom and power the universe has ever known.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 TNIV)

This is a powerful verse that shows how truly blessed believers are. Christ is wisdom to us because He reveals and imparts wisdom, counsel, and the purposes of God to us through prayer and the Word. Through our ongoing relationship with Christ, God manifests more and more of His expansive character, allowing us glimpses of His splendor and mind, giving us a deeper and more profound appreciation for what He did for us. W. Grosheide, in his commentary of 1 Corinthians, put it like this:

What we are and have, we are and have received from God through Christ. United to Christ we are righteous and holy, since all those blessings are founded in His work. Redemption, often used of the liberation of slaves through the payment of a ransom, indicates the way Christ delivers us…by His sacrifice, His death on the cross. In surrendering Himself, He brings us knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.


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