About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Introduction and Chapter 1
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.
The main religion of
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
Jews lived in Corinth
as well. One reason why there was a good number of Jews in
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
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
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
The church at
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.
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
We note in verse 2 that Paul is writing “to the
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
One person might like Peter over Apollos, but that might not be the
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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.