About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Introduction and Chapter 1 

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Intro - ch. 1:1 to 4,    ch. 1:4-10     ch. 1:10-17     ch.1:18-2:7 

My Commentary On 1 Corinthians




All Scripture that is quoted in this commentary is based on the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, 1994 edition.  Section titles in the commentary correspond to the section titles in the NIV Bible, making for easier reading and comparison.


The city of Corinth in Paul’s days was a cosmopolitan city.  There were varied types of people living in the city.  There were Greeks, Romans, Jews, along with others, each bringing their own culture with them to contribute to the flavour of the city. 


Corinth was one of the most powerful and popular cities in the Roman Empire at the time.  It was a shipping port, and a key city in east west land transportation.


The main religion of Corinth was the belief in Greek gods.  The largest temple in the city was dedicated to Asclepius, the healing god.  It is said that many were healed of sicknesses at this temple.  They would leave home made replicas of body parts that were healed while at the temple.  For example, if someone was healed of a broken arm, they would make an arm out of wood and leave it at the temple as a testimony.  Some of these items have been found in excavation of the temple site.


There was a goddess worshipped called Aphrodite.  The temple dedicated to her was extremely wealthy.  The temple owned more than a thousand slaves, most of which were women prostitutes.  It was these prostitutes that brought the riches to the temple.  Sailors from all over the Mediterranean would find their way to this temple and visit with the prostitutes.  It wasn’t only the sailors that came to visit the temple prostitutes, but men of the city and surrounding cities could be found at the temple. This was a problem for the early church as we will see later, and was a problem for new Christian men in Corinth.  There was much sexual temptation for them.     


Temple prostitution was just a normal part of pagan worship.  The goddess Aphrodite was the god of fertility, sex, and love.  Her male and female prostitutes represented her well.    


Jews lived in Corinth as well. One reason why there was a good number of Jews in Corinth was because Jews were being driven out of Rome along with Christians.  The Jews were causing problems in their fight against the Christians in Rome and as a result were expelled from the city.  Of course they brought their religion to Corinth as well. 


In Acts 16:9 Paul receives a vision of a man calling him from Macedonia to come and preach there.  As a result, Paul went to Macedonia, but on his way there he ran into all sorts of obstacles and problems.  He was pretty well driven out of those areas and proceeded on to Corinth, most likely feeling very dejected.  We might think that Paul lived his life with one success after another, but this was not the case. It certainly was not the case when Paul came to Corinth.  He stayed in Corinth for 18 months.  He stayed there and made tents for a living (see Acts 18)  The date for Paul’s first visit to Corinth, which was on his second mission trip is dated around 50 A D. 


Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians around 55 AD from Ephesus.  The letter was written to instruct the people in the way of the Lord and how they should live as Christians.  There were some definite problems in the church that came to Paul’s attention from visitors and from a letter that was written to Paul with questions for him to answer. 


We entitle this letter to the Corinthians as “first Corinthians”, yet in all actuality this was Paul’s second letter to the church.  We do not have his first letter.   


The church at Corinth was not perfect, as is with our church today, and therefore what Paul says to these people can be very relevant to us as well.  


I believe when it comes to structuring our church today, we need to follow New Testament thinking as best we can. For the most part, the modern church does not follow New Testament thinking.  I use the term "New Testament thinking" because it is the teaching we are to embrace and practice.  We should follow the New Testament teaching church but not the New Testament church because it had its problems just as we have our problems today and the Corinth church was no exception.  It had many problems as we will see.    



Introduction  (ch. 1:1-3)


Paul opens his letter as he usually does by stating his name and his calling as an apostle of our Lord.  The word "apostle" simply means "one who is sent".


Paul includes someone named Sosthenes in his greeting who appears to be a fellow worker.  We really know little and perhaps nothing about this man.  In Acts 18:17 we see a man with the same name who was a temple ruler in Corinth.  In Acts 18 the Jews, along with Sosthenes take Paul by force to the Roman court and wants him charged.  Gallio, the Roman proconsul wanted nothing to do with this and sent them all away.  The Jews were upset and beat up on Sosthenes as a result.  It is possible that this Sosthenes, the temple ruler, became a Christian after this took place and became a friend of Paul’s, although there is no Scriptural evidence of this.


We note in verse 2 that Paul is writing “to the church of God in Corinth … together with those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord…”  So we see this letter is directed first to the Corinthian Christians, yet in a secondary measure can be directed to all Christians everywhere, including us today. 


Paul tells his readers that they “are sanctified in Christ and called to be holy”.  The word sanctified means “to be set apart".  In this case, Christians are to be a people set apart from the rest of society, distinguishable by their holy lifestyle, to do God's will.     


Paul ends his sentence in verse 3 with the words “their Lord and our Lord”.  This is a hint of what is in Paul’s heart and mind as he writes this letter.  You will see this theme unfold as the letter progresses.  There is one Lord Jesus Christ and He is Lord over all Christians.  He is Lord over all there is, both spiritual and physical.  We have one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one church.  The list could go on.  We are to be united in Christ, and in Him alone. Factions and divisions were one of the problems that the Corinth church struggled with.  Paul had to address this issue in this letter.


Thanksgiving (ch. 1:4-9)


Paul always seemed to be thanking God for the various churches he cared for and Corinth was no exception.  Even with their problems he acknowledged that “the grace of Jesus Christ was given to them”. 


In verse 5 Paul tells these people that they are “enriched in every way”.  Then he goes to qualify what he meant by saying that they were rich in every way.  He says, “in all your speaking and in all your knowledge” they have become rich.  Paul was a great teacher and to him knowledge was important, as long as you remain humble in the Lord, and your knowledge furthered your growth as a Christian. 


Why were these people so blessed?  Because the testimony of Paul was “confirmed” in them.  “Bebaioo” is the Greek word that is translated as “confirmed”.  It simply means to establish or make secure”.  Paul is saying that he preached the gospel to these people.  They received the good news and as a result the good news became secure in their lives.  This made them very rich in their understanding. 


In verse 7 Paul says that because of this blessing these people “do not lack any spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for our Lord”.  Two points are made here.  One is that these people have access to all spiritual gifts that they need.  Point two is that they have these gifts to use as they “eagerly wait for the Lord”, that is His return.  Like Paul himself,  these Christians had their heart’s set on the return of Christ, but as they waited for Jesus to return, they used their spiritual gifts to further the Kingdom of God. 


Paul continues in verse 8 by telling these people that Jesus “will make them strong to the end”.  If they could be strong until Jesus returns, they would be blameless before the Lord.  I believe the strength Paul is speaking of here is the strong trust they have in Jesus.  Paul knows very well that Salvation and blamelessness is a result of our trust in what Jesus has done for us, and nothing else.  We need to trust in Jesus to the very end with our whole heart.  If we simply trust  Jesus to do what He says He will do concerning our salvation, God declares us as righteous, as blameless, even though we are far from righteous. 


Paul can say this of these people because “God is faithful” and can keep these people strong as they continue to trust in Him.  Paul, a man of many trials had to have experienced God’s grace in order to say that God is faithful.  Many men would have given up if they had gone through all the things Paul went through,  Paul didn’t give up because he knew His God was faithful, even when at times it may not have appeared that He was.     


Divisions In The Church (ch. 1:10-17)


Paul opens this section by appealing to the Corinthians in the name of Jesus Christ that they all “agree with one another”. (ch. 1:10)   The NIV uses the word agree.  The KJV uses the words “speak the same thing”.  In this instance the KJV seems to do a better job in their translation.  The original text uses two words for the one English word “agree” that the NIV uses.  The two Greek words translated into English mean, “to say”, and “the same thing”.  The NIV translators most likely thought that if people “say the same thing”, they must be in “agreement”. 


Whatever the case, Paul is strongly urging these people to come to a unity in their thinking.  He wanted them to be “perfectly united in mind and thought”.  Now what does this mean?  Is Paul saying that each and every person in the Corinthian church has to believe exactly the same thing and be perfectly united in teaching and in doctrine.  I don’t think he is saying this at all.


Paul qualifies in which way he wants these people to be united in their thinking.  The situation came to Paul’s attention because some people from Cloe’s household came to him with some concerns.  They told Paul that there were divisions among them.  Some claimed to follow Paul.  Others claimed to follow Apollos,  Still others followed Cephas.  Then some felt they should follow no man, and they claimed to follow the Lord Himself.


It would seem to me that the people who followed Jesus only probably were making a high and haughty claim.  They were maybe being exclusive in their attempt in following the Lord, putting themselves above the rest of the church. They might have well said something like, “sure, you follow Paul, but we follow Jesus Himself, so we are better than the rest of you”.  I say this because Paul includes these people in with the rest of the factions, and is not happy with any of them.   


There might be something we miss here because of our western cultural thinking concerning verse 12.  We may think that certain people follow certain men based on these men's personality.  One person might like Peter over Apollos, but that might not be the case.  Note that Paul uses' Peter's Aramaic name, which is Cephas.  Peter, or Cepahs, was an Israeli.  Apollos was an Egyptian, and Paul, well, he was both Jew and Roman.  This might not have been a matter of personal preference based on likes and dislikes of individual men but a preference based on race or ethnicity.  If this is so, this would have clearly bothered Paul because when it comes to salvation, we know Paul strongly preached the ethnicity plays no part in one's salvation.  I'd therefore conclude that ethnicity should play no part in how we view or follow men of God.           


This must have weighed on some of these people’s hearts for them to contact Paul about this.  Paul’s point concerning unity then is not that they should think alike in every aspect of Christian doctrine.  They should think alike, and be united in the one they should follow and not let allegiances  to men separate them into factions that bring quarrels, as was the case in Corinth.  Therefore, one should not use this Scripture to suggest or prove that unity comes through everyone believing the same thing in relation to Christian doctrine. 


Starting in  verse 14 Paul asks certain questions in the defense of his thinking.  He asks, “is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?   Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  Obviously the answer to these questions is “no”.   Christ cannot be divided.  Neither should His people be divided.  No man has ever died for our salvation other than Jesus Himself, and we are not baptized into any ones name other than the name of Jesus.  


Each one of these men, Paul, Apollas and Peter would have brought their personal flavour of the gospel to people.  Some may have been more attracted to one man over the other.  That is only natural, but that is no reason to get into arguments and divide over such things. In the long run, we are all humble followers of Jesus.  This does not mean there is no church order, and that we are free to do as we wish.  This also does not mean there is no leadership in the church.  We are all under Christ, in one body, working together for the sake of His name.  Yet this was not the case in Corinth , and it isn’t the case in our day today.


Paul tells these people that he was glad that he did not baptize any of them except for a few because “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. (ch. 1:17)  These are interesting words.  You might say that Paul is de-emphasizing water baptism, and maybe he is to a degree.  But more than that, I think he is emphasizing the gospel.  Yet for those who believe that water baptism is part of the salvation process, and you need it in order to be saved, this should say something to you.  It makes it clear to me that while baptism in water is important, it does not constitute salvation.


Although Paul used all of his intellectual capacities in spreading the good news, and he certainly did that, he did not depend on his own human reasoning.  He depended on the power of God “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. (ch. 1:17)  


Christ, The Wisdom And Power Of God  (ch. 1:18-2:7)


In verse 18 Paul continues in his thinking concerning an intellectual pursuit of salvation.  He says that the preaching of the cross is “foolishness” to those who are perishing.  And indeed this is the case.  The cross makes little to no sense to a person who is merely trying to figure it out by human reasoning.  Human reasoning would say, “if Jesus was who He claimed to be, that is God, then He could have brought salvation to the world in a much easier way than He  did.  Maybe He should have accepted the offer of King of the Jews when He had the chance. 


Yet the way of the cross was a way of humility, something not seen much in the world, or even the church.  This is hard for the sinner to understand, yet to us who are being saved, “it is the power of God”.  In death, God brought great power, as can be seen in the resurrection of Jesus. 


Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 where God says that He will “destroy the wisdom of the wise”.  You must remember that the city of Corinth was a cosmopolitan with wealthy and intellectual people.  Philosophy and education was important to these people.  You can see this from the Acts account when Paul first visited these people.  When Paul writes or speaks to people he speaks in the language they can understand.  When speaking to Jews, Paul uses Jewish thought.  When speaking to intellectual Gentiles, he does not fall behind in his intellectual capacity.  He can keep up with the best of them in any debate, although he does not depend on his intellectual capability, but the power of God.


So in verse 20 he asks, “where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?”  Many of the people of Corinth would claim to be wise and scholarly.  Yet Paul continues and asks, “has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 


How does God make foolish the wisdom of this world?  Simply put, Paul says that man cannot attain to the true knowledge of God in his own understanding. God, who is ultimately the Wise One cannot be reached or communicated to using man’s wisdom. 


In verse 21 Paul says that we can reach God through what he has preached, which seems foolish in wordly thinking.  Why is it foolish?  Because it is just the opposite to what we as man would think should be done.


In verse 22 Paul states that when he speaks, the “Jews demand a sign”.  The Jews demanded signs from Jesus as well.  They wanted miraculous proof of what both Jesus and Paul was saying was from God.  The Gentiles reacted a little differently.  They did not demand signs, but they demanded “wisdom”.  What Paul said to them had to make intellectual sense or else they could not accept it. 


Yet Paul’s response to all of this was that he “preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.  Why was the gospel a stumbling block to the Jews?  They were looking for a king to come and rescue them from the hands of the Romans.  They were looking for a Saviour that would appear as their earthly King and conquer all of their enemies. 


Why was the gospel foolishness to the Gentiles?  Because it made no sense to them.  Jesus was unlike any of their multitude of gods.  Gentiles were bent on conquering other nations to gain supremacy.  They only knew of war and conquering through war.  How could someone be a King without conquering his enemies in war?  The preaching of the cross and total humiliation of Jesus did not make a lot of sense to them, and still doesn’t today.


“But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  Both power and wisdom are found in Jesus alone.  The gospel that Paul preached, and we see it time and time again, is an exclusive gospel.  There is no room for inclusive thinking.  There is no place in the gospel that says we can come to God in other ways, other than through Jesus Christ, the Lord.    


Paul gets to the bottom line in verse 25 where he says, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  This only makes sense, doesn’t it.  Yet for the people in Corinth with a pagan background, with gods they have personally invented, this may be a new thought.  The whole idea of one, and only one Supreme Being was somewhat foreign to them.  Then this God becoming a man was one step beyond foreign. But this was the God that Paul was promoting wherever he went. 


Paul asks these people to recollect what kind of people they were when they were called by God.  He reminds them that not many of them were wise according to worldly standards, nor were they influential or noble.  This tells you something about the Christians in Corinth.  There were many people in Corinth who would have been wise according to worldly standards, but it appears that most of these people didn’t become Christians.  The ones who gave their lives to Jesus were ordinary people. 


We should look at the word “called” because Paul has now used it twice in the last few sentences. In Romans 8:30 Paul say, “those He predestine (or predetermined) he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”.  I know that this may be a debatable point but I believe that God has “predestine”, or “predetermined” that all mankind should be saved.  This is His wish.  With this in mind He calls everyone He has predetermined to be saved,  that’s everyone.  Those who accept this call, he justifies.  So these Corinthians were predetermined in the mind of God to be saved.  As a result God called them and they responded in a positive way.  For those who did not have responded so positively, the chain of events as described in Rom. 8:30 would have been broken, meaning they would not have been justified.


In verse 27 Paul gives one reason why God did what He did in the gospel.  God used worldly foolish things to confound the wise of this world.  He used what was perceived as weak to frustrate the so-called strong of this world.  He did this “to shame the strong”.  Paul continues by saying that God uses the lowly and despised.  It seems that God chose what was opposite in human thinking to bring salvation to mankind.  Another reason Paul gives for God’s action is that “no one could boast” in the sight of God.  No one could claim that salvation  came by any type of human strength or wisdom.  No human activity could do what God Himself has done for us.


In verse 30 Paul clearly states that God Himself has placed us “in Christ”.  We have done nothing in this new position God has placed us in.  Paul says that Jesus has become for us wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption.  We cannot attain to these great virtues, so in God’s sight, He looks on Jesus instead of us.  He sees Jesus’ wisdom, righteousness and holiness and credits that to our account.  Thus redemption comes to us because of the perfect life of Jesus. 


In chapter 2 verse 1 Paul reminds his readers that he did not come to them using “eloquent superior wisdom”.  Paul could have been very haughty and intellectual in his argument for the good news of Jesus.  Many of the Corinthians may have understood this approach, but Paul came to them in simplicity. 


Paul “resolved to know nothing” about them “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”.  There were many side issues that Paul could have discussed and addressed, but he majored on the core of the gospel, and that was Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  As Christians we often preach other things instead of  the real gospel.  We may preach, as I once have, our form of church structure as being the thing we all need.  For example, we think that the way we “do church”, to use a modern term, can bring people to the Lord.  We must understand that the way we structure our  church is at best only a tool.  The gospel itself is the power of God that brings people to Salvation, and nothing else can take its place.


In verse 3 Paul tells his readers that he ”came to them in weakness and fear and trembling”.  This was understandable.  For the previous months he had little success and much persecution in preaching the good news in other cities.  He probably was not feeling all that confident when he arrived in Corinth.  He was probably expecting more of the same, that is, lots of opposition and little fruit of his labour. Yet in this weakness Paul depended solely of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit.


Paul closes this section by saying that he did not preach using “persuasive words”, but he came in the power of the Spirit, so that their faith “might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on the power of God”. (ch. 2:5)  For one reason or another, this is what our modern church lacks.  We can be very eloquent in our words.  We can be very professional in our presentations.  We can do what we do with all excellent, but we lack the “power of the Holy Spirit” in many cases.   We try to bring people to Christ by our own human effort, our own human reasoning, without any measure of enabling by the Holy Spirit.  We thus reap what we sow.


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