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Deeper Commentary




Paul and Corinth

In the letters to Corinth we really come to learn something of the mind of Paul; and he asked us to follow him, so that we might follow our Lord the more closely. So we want to analyse the relationship between Paul and Corinth in some detail; for we are all in desperate need of learning how to relate to each other better.  

Firstly, let's firmly place in our minds the supreme spirituality of Paul. He saw visions which were unlawful to be uttered, he could look back on a string of ecclesias worldwide which were a result of his work, his writings show that he reached higher into the mysteries of God than most other man have ever gone. Naturally speaking, it must have been so difficult for him to relate to immature or unspiritual brethren and sisters! And yet his sense of identity with his spiritual children comes through all the time. Note how he purposefully mixes his pronouns: “We know in part… I know in part… we see in a mirror… I spoke as a child” (1 Cor. 13). 

Now consider Corinth. Getting drunk at the breaking of bread, some members openly committing incest and other sexual perversions; and being justified by much of the ecclesia. Some had not the knowledge of God (1 Cor. 15:34). The basic truth of Christ's resurrection and the second coming were denied, and Paul was slandered unbelievably. There is fair emphasis on Corinth's willing belief of the vicious denigration of Paul's character, made by some of their elders (1 Cor. 2:16; 3:10; 4:11-14; 9:20-27; 14:18). The depths to which that ecclesia sunk are hard to plumb. And yet Paul believed that they abounded in love for him; he asks them to abound in their generosity to others as they abounded in their love for him (2 Cor. 12:7). Truly Paul reflected his own experience of having righteousness imputed to him. 

So the relationship between Paul and Corinth is fascinating, but above all it's instructive of not only how we should relate to each other, but how Christ relates to us. There is a strange paradox throughout the letters to Corinth. Paul uses the most exalted and positive language about them, enthusing about the certainty of their salvation, and yet he also accuses them of the most incredible spiritual weaknesses. There's a clear example in the chapter we've just read. In 1 Cor. 1:8,9, we read of Paul enthusiastically saying that God would "confirm you (note that) unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus". But then in v.12 he accuses every one of them of being guilty of factionism and division: "Every one of you (the same 'you' of v.8,9) says, I am of Paul...(etc.)". Paul really believed what he says in v.4: " I thank my God always on your behalf (implying: 'You ought to be thanking Him, but I'm doing it for you'?), for the grace of God which is given you...". This was the secret of how Paul managed to relate to them so positively; He deeply believed that they were in receipt of God's grace on account of their being in Christ.  

The Love Of Paul

So let's just review the positive way in which Paul felt towards his Corinthian brethren. His love for them was "in (his) heart, known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2). He boasted to others of their "zeal" to give money to the poor, even though it seems they had just made empty promises (2 Cor. 9:2). And in 2 Cor. 9:13 he goes even further; he speaks as if they had already distributed money to other churches. He saw them as righteous, even though they hadn't performed the acts they vaguely spoke of. Paul was surely reflecting the spirit of the Father and Son here. It may even be that Paul mentioned his devotion to Corinth in his 'front-line' presentation of the Gospel to others: "We preach... Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). His great wish was their "perfection" (2 Cor. 13:9). Paul's deep-seated love for Corinth was absolutely evident to all who knew them; it was not an act of the will, which occurred just within Paul's mind. So often our 'love' for difficult members of the ecclesia is no more than a grimly made act of the will. Even in the midst of rebuking them, Paul uses the language of real endearment: "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14). The word "brethren" occurs as a refrain throughout the letters; it appears 19 times in the first letter alone, compared with 9 times in the letter to the Romans (a longer epistle). This is similar to the way in which Jeremiah repeatedly describes the Israel who rejected and betrayed him as “my people” (e.g. Jer. 8:11,19,21,22). Despite all the cruel allegations made by them against Paul, he did not deal with them in the cagey, 'political' manner so common in our circles: "O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged" (2 Cor. 6:11). It is noteworthy that Paul is here alluding to Ps. 119:32, which speaks of God's word enlarging a man's heart. It was through his application to the word that Paul came to this large-hearted attitude. A smaller man than Paul would have trod mighty carefully with Corinth, making no more than succinct, measured statements. But his deep love for them led Paul to be as open-hearted as can be. Indeed, his pouring forth of his innermost soul to them in the autobiographical sections of 2 Cor. is evidence of how his heart and mouth were truly opened and enlarged unto them. There was no shrugging if the shoulders within Paul at the spiritual plight of Corinth: "Ye are in our hearts, to die and live with you" (2 Cor. 7:3). And it was this basic love which was in Paul’s heart which led him to a wonderful spirit of hopefulness; so that even towards the end of his second letter he can speak of his “hope, that as your faith grows, we shall be magnified in you” (2 Cor. 10:15 RV).  

Corinth's Response

This love of Paul found at least some response from Corinth. Titus told Paul of their feelings for him: "He told us your earnest desire (for Paul), your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more" (2 Cor. 7:7). Here they were, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and Gentiles of the Gentiles; in a state of spiritual love with each other. The strange paradox of Paul's great love for them, yet also his repugnance at their evil ways, is perhaps explicable in terms of their spiritual 'in-loveness'. As a spiritual sister (cp. Abigail?) can marry an alcoholic (Nabal?) because she sees the good side in him, whilst not turning a blind eye to his drinking; as a father ever loves wayward children; so Paul felt towards his beloved sons, his attractive young bride (2 Cor.11:2) of Corinth. That there was at least some love for Paul by Corinth is made tragically evident from 2 Cor. 12:15: "The more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved". This is surely the language of falling out of love. And Paul was the aggrieved party. As with so many a father and young husband, Paul had to go through the pain of sensing that the object of his love was keeping him at arm's length, was being partial in their response to the great love he was showing: "You have acknowledged us (our love) in part, that we are your rejoicing" (2 Cor. 1:14). Yet Paul took great comfort from their albeit partial response: "Now I praise you  brethren, that ye remember me in all things" (1 Cor. 11:2); whilst struggling on to make them realize the intensity of his feelings towards them: "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears (picture the old boy sobbing as he moved his quill)... that ye might know the love  which I have more abundantly  unto you" (2 Cor. 2:4). Despite the spiteful way in which they demanded Paul bring letters of recommendation with him (2 Cor. 3:1), Paul jumped at their even partial spiritual response: "Great is my glorying of you! I am filled with comfort, I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation" because of their positive spiritual reaction to the visit of Titus (2 Cor. 7:4). 

Hard Discipline

It is often implied that Paul was perfectly happy to put up with the mess at Corinth, and that therefore we should not be unduly concerned at the state of our latter day ecclesias. This could just not be further from the truth. Perhaps the greatest indication of Paul's love for Corinth is seen in his apparent severity towards them, his desire that they really should abide in Christ. Thus in 1 Cor. 4:21 Paul parallels coming to them in love with coming "with a rod". The sarcasm of 1 Cor. 4:8-14 (and many other places), his hard words of 1 Cor. 3:1-3, all indicate that he saw Corinth for the apostates which they were; and responded to this. "If I come again, I will not spare... know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:2,5). This was more than the externally strict schoolteacher with a soft heart, more than dad just laying the law down one evening. What Paul was threatening was radical; it may be that he would have used the power of the Holy Spirit to smite them with literal death. 1 Cor. 11:30 would imply that either Paul or another apostle had done this to them on a previous visit. "I am jealous over you with Godly jealousy" (2 Cor. 11:2) is one of a series of allusions in that chapter to the events of Num.25, where Phinehas was moved with jealousy to slay those who were "unequally yoked" with the things of Belial (cp. 2 Cor. 6:14). Paul had accused his Corinthians of just that; and he was quite willing to play the role of Phinehas.  
"I will bewail many that have sinned... if I come again, I will not spare" (2 Cor. 12:21; 13:2) is actually an allusion to Ez. 8:18: "Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here (in the natural and spiritual temple of Yahweh, cp. 2 Cor. 6:16)?... therefore will I also deal in fury: my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them". God's anger with Israel as expressed at the Babylonian invasion was going to be reflected in Paul's 'coming' to spiritual Israel in Corinth. Yet for all his high powered allusions, Paul mixed them with the most incredible expressions of true love and sympathy for Corinth. In this we see the giant spiritual stature of that man Paul. 

No Blind Eye

Paul evidently did not turn a blind eye to his brethren's failures. He spoke of them in one breath as being spiritually complete, whilst in the next he showed that he was truly aware of their failures. There's a glaring example of this in 1 Cor. 5:6,7: "A little leaven (which they had in their bad attitude, and also in the presence of the incestuous brother) leavens the whole lump. Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened". They had leaven; otherwise Paul would not have told them to purge it out. But then he tells them that they are "unleavened". In other words, he saw them as if they were unleavened, but he recognized that they had the bad leaven among and within them. There's another blatant example of this in 1 Cor. 8:1,4,7: "As touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge... (v.4) we know that an idol is nothing in the world... (v.7) howbeit there is not in every man (in the ecclesia) that knowledge". So Paul starts off by saying that they all knew about the correct attitude to meat offered to idols. But then he recognizes that in reality, not all of them did know, or at best, they did not appreciate what they knew. 1 Cor. 11:2 has more of the same: "I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you"; but then Paul goes on to show how they had blatantly disobeyed the ordinance he delivered them concerning the breaking of bread. Again, Paul sees the Corinthians as if they were perfect, but then goes on to point out their failures. This is surely a reflection of how the Lord Jesus sees each of us His people. 1 Cor. 3:1,18 shows how the Corinthians thought they were wise, when actually Paul could only address them as carnal babes in Christ; they were not "wise". Yet in 1 Cor. 10:15 Paul concludes a section with the words: "I speak as to wise men...". He treated them as if they were wise, when he knew that they weren't in reality. He begins by rejoicing that “in every thing you are enriched by him…in all knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5), even though this was only potentially true- they had been given the knowledge, but had failed to turn it into true wisdom. Likewise Paul spells it out to them that their behaviour was likely to exclude them from the Kingdom; but in the same context he speaks as if it is taken as red that they will be in the Kingdom: "The saints shall judge the world. And if the world shall be judged by you... we shall judge Angels" (1 Cor. 6:2,3,9).  

It is so significant that Paul did not turn a blind eye to his brethren's faults. In seeking to be positive, we so often do this. But we are asked to relate to each other, as Christ does to us. And he certainly doesn't turn a blind eye to our failures. Yet our problem is that if we don't turn a blind eye, we find it so hard to relate to our brethren. So what is the secret of being able to look at both the good and bad sides of our brethren? I suggest the answer is something along these lines: 

At baptism, a new man was born inside us, personified in the New Testament as "the man Christ Jesus”, "the Spirit", etc. Yet there is still the devil within us, a personification of our sinfulness. We identify our real selves as our spiritual man (note how Paul refers to that side of him as "I myself" in Rom. 7:25). God looks upon us as if we are Christ Jesus, He sees us as justified in Him, He sees us as if we are as perfect as Christ; not that we are in ourselves, of course. This is how He wants us to view our brethren; if we see them as God sees us, we will see them as the spiritual man which they have within them. Yet like God, we will not turn a blind eye to their weaknesses. Paul looked ahead to the day when God would have confirmed Corinth "unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus" (1 Cor.1:8). We too need to try to live the Kingdom life now; we must live as if we are in the day of Christ's Kingdom (Rom. 13:12,13). So in some ways we must see our brethren as they will be in the Kingdom. Thus in 2 Cor. 10:6,15 Paul speaks about the day when Corinth's "obedience is fulfilled... when your faith is increased... we shall be enlarged by you... abundantly". "We are your rejoicing, even as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus. And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you..." (2 Cor. 1:14). Paul's confidence in them was on account of the rejoicing he looked forward to having concerning them at the day of judgment. Some of his final words to them totally summarize his attitude: "This also we wish, even your perfection" (2 Cor. 13:9). He looked earnestly towards the day when they would be spiritually matured. We too must recognize that we are all only children. We must look to what both we and our brethren will be one day, in spiritual terms. This certainly takes some spiritual vision. Yet Paul had just this: “...having hope, when [not ‘if’] your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you” (2 Cor. 10:15). He here recognizes that their faith is now weak, and must increase; but he also had written that they were to remain standing in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). They were weak in faith; this he recognized. But he recognized their status as being ‘in the faith’. So concerned was he with them that he says that if they were obedient to what he had asked them, then he would be ready to “revenge all disobedience” (2 Cor. 10:6). It’s as if he was taking them one step at a time in bringing them to realize their errors; like the Lord, he spoke the word to men as they were able to hear it, not as he was able to expound it or expose their failures. We are seeking the salvation and betterment of our brethren, not simply to air our perceptions of their inadequacies. 

Corinth: Washed And Sanctified

He saw Corinth as truly saved in prospect, by reason of their being in Christ. He quotes the words of Lev. 26:13 “I will dwell in them and walk in them... and they shall be my God” about Corinth (2 Cor. 6:16)- even though those words were said to be describing a status conditional upon Israel’s obedience.  "He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us (not 'hopefully, if you get your act together!') with you" (2 Cor. 4:14) sounds as if Paul fully expected the Corinthians to be there, and to be joined at the right hand side of the judgment seat by himself and Titus. 1 Cor. 15:51 has the same certainty of their acceptance: "We shall be changed". "We (Paul and Corinth) know... we have a building of God... eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1), i.e. the spiritual man Christ Jesus within each man who is in Christ. Truly could Paul write: "Our hope of you is steadfast, knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so should you be also of the consolation" (2 Cor. 1:7). They, woolly Corinth, would judge the world in the Kingdom age (1 Cor. 6:2). "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all " (2 Cor. 13:14) must have taken some writing, even under inspiration. "Be with you all "would have included those Judaist-influenced brethren hell-bent on destroying Paul's work and image, those who had sinned grievously, and those whose doctrinal appreciation was starting to slip. Yet this was how Paul saw them; as being in Christ, and abiding in the love of God and fellowship of the Holy Spirit; thanks to their baptism into Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and abiding (at least for that present time) in that blessed relationship. 2 Cor. 11:2 even shows Paul likening Corinth ecclesia to the guileless Eve in Eden, not yet having sinned, all innocence and uncorrupted beauty. And yet he saw himself as the Eve who had been deceived and punished by death (Rom. 7:11,13 = Gen. 2:17; 3:13); but he saw them as the Even who had not yet sinned. This was no literary trick of the tail; he genuinely felt and saw them as better than himself to be- such was the depth of his appreciation of his own failures. Paul saw Corinth as abounding in knowledge and love (2 Cor. 8:7), even though they had some who lacked the basic knowledge of God (1 Cor. 15:34), and they needed exhortation to confirm their love to the disfellowshipped brother (2 Cor. 2:6-8). Likewise, unfaithful Israel is still addressed as "the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing" (Jer. 18:13); she was seen as a virgin right up until the Babylonian invasion, where she was as it were ‘raped’ (Jer. 14:17 Heb.). We reflect the same paradox in our efforts to see evidently weak brethren as still sanctified in Christ.  

Having spoken of fornicators, idolaters, thieves etc., all of whom were found within the Corinth ecclesia, Paul says: "But such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). The reference to washing, and the Father, Son and Spirit all points back to baptism for the remission of sins (Mt. 28:19). The fact those people had been baptized meant so much to Paul. The significance of our brethren's baptisms should also make a deep impact on ourselves. By this act they became "in Christ". The Corinthians were committing idolatry, fornication etc. Paul was aware of that. But he was prepared to see them as being sanctified in Christ; he counted them as if this was not happening: for the time being. There was coming a time when he would no longer accept that they were in Christ, and when he would not spare them in any way (2 Cor. 13:2). The repented of failures of our brethren, however severe they may seem to us, must be overlooked if there is real evidence that they are making effort to abide in Christ. Unrepentant fornication or idolatry is hardly proof of this. "We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor.5:20) indicates that Paul did not see them as reconciled to God; yet he looked at the man Christ Jesus within them in order to be able to have all the positive feelings towards them which he did. So clear was Paul's vision of their spiritual man that he could actually boast about their 'good side' to other ecclesias (2 Cor. 7:4,14; 9:2). So enthusiastic was Paul about the great grace of God which Corinth basked in, that he actually made other ecclesias truly affectionate of Corinth: "which long after you for the exceeding grace (Paul knew just how exceeding it was to Corinth!) in you" (2 Cor.9:14).   

And Paul showed this same spirit in all his dealings with his brethren. He could say in all honesty that “I am convinced, my brothers, that you are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14 NIV)- even though there must have been major problems in Rome, not least the Jew: Gentile division. He was so positive about them that he could write that he was sure that Corinth’s labour was “not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58)- and yet he knew that labour was in vain if converts fell away (1 Thess. 3:5). Yet he acted towards them, and genuinely felt as if, they would not and had not fallen away. This was quite some psychological and spiritual achievement, given the depths of their apostasy. Corinth hated Paul, slandered him, despised him. And yet he can write that their love for him "abounded" (2 Cor. 8:7). I take this not as sarcasm, but as a deep attempt by him to view them positively. We are challenged by Paul’s example to look at our brethren the same way.  

"As God... has forgiven"

We are told to forgive one another, "as God for Christ's sake has forgiven  you" (Eph. 4:32). All our sins were forgiven, in prospect, at baptism. All our irritating habits and attitudes, our secret sins, all these were forgiven then. And we must respond to this by counting our brethren to have received the same grace. Seeing we have received this grace, why do we find it so hard to see our brethren like this? Surely the answer rests in the fact that we don't fully believe or appreciate the degree to which God really does see us personally as being perfect in Christ. Paul was so super-assured of his own salvation, of the fact that God really did see him as a man in Christ, and therefore he found it easier to see his brethren in such a positive way. He was so conscious of how his many sins were just not counted against him. He knew that he was "chief of sinners", he didn't turn a blind eye to himself; because he could realistically face up to his own position before God, he found it easier to do the same for his weak brethren. 

The fact that Paul saw the spiritual man in all his brethren means that to some degree he saw them all as equal. He seems to bring this point out in 1 Cor. 4:14,17: "As my beloved sons I warn you (Corinth ecclesia)... for this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son...". Paul calls both Corinth and Timothy his beloved sons. The implication is that to some degree, he felt the same towards dodgy Corinth as he did towards the spiritually strong Timothy. Likewise Christ showed his love for the whole church when he died on the cross. This does not mean, of course, that Paul did not have deeper bonds with some than with others. But the fact is that in spiritual terms, he saw all his brethren as equal, in that they shared the same status of being justified in Christ. Whether one had 2% righteousness and another 5% was irrelevant; they both needed the massive imputation of God's righteousness through Christ. As Paul could call both Timothy and Corinth his "beloved sons", so God calls both Christ and ourselves by the same title (Mt. 3:17 cp. Col. 3:12; 1 Jn. 3:2; 2 Thess. 2:13) . The reason? Because "he has made us accepted (by being) in the beloved (son)" (Eph. 1:6).  

1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother- Paul often begins his letters by saying this. But "the will of God" should not be understood by us as it is by Islam, where the will of God is understood as fulfilling anyway in a deterministic sense. The word carries the idea of the intention, the wish or pleasure of God. Paul could have turned down the call to be an apostle. He was not forced into obedience by an omnipotent Divine manipulator. All things were created for God's "pleasure" or will [s.w. Rev. 4:11], but clearly enough "all things" do not all perform God's wish. We pray for the Kingdom age when God's will shall be done on earth- for it is now generally not done. We are best therefore to understood the idea of God's wish, His desire, which of course He labours to see fulfilled. But He does not force or impose; He too deeply respects the freewill of His creatures. The art of Christian life is to willingly align ourselves with His will.


1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, those that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints- There is a play on words here. By baptism into Christ we are in Him, and are therefore made holy, sanctified; and therefore we are saints, holy or sanctified ones. Paul approaches the various behavioural issues in Corinth by encouraging them to live out in practice what they are by status in Christ, and to make use of the Spirit power potentially available to enable this transformation.

With all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place- The Jerusalem pattern of gathering collectively in the temple and yet also having home groups was repeated in Corinth. 1 Corinthians is addressed to the singular church in Corinth, which he parallels with “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2). Those ‘places’, I submit, referred to the various house churches in the city. He specifically mentions the house churches of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15). The exhortation that “you all speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10) would then refer to the need for the various house churches to all “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”. As we know, there was an issue of fellowship in Corinth, concerning a deeply immoral brother. If he avoided church discipline by simply joining another house church, they were not going to be joined together in “the same judgment”, and inevitably division would arise amongst those Corinthian house churches. There was to be peace rather than confusion “in all churches” (1 Cor. 14:33)- i.e. all the house churches in Corinth. Paul’s complaint that “every one of you saith, I am of Paul… I of Apollos” (1 Cor. 1:12) surely makes more sense if read with reference to each of the house churches, rather than every individual member. Paul speaks there as if the believers ‘came together’ ‘in ekklesia’ (1 Cor. 5:4), i.e. the various home groups occasionally met together. Hence he speaks of when “the whole church be come together into one place” (1 Cor. 14:23), i.e. all the house churches gathered together for a special fellowship meeting. He says that when they ‘came together’, then they should make a collective decision about disfellowshipping the immoral brother. Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth, and he describes Gaius as the host of the whole church (Rom. 16:23)- implying that he had premises large enough for all the various house churches to gather together in. The abuses which occurred when the whole church ‘came together’ presumably therefore occurred on his premises.

Their Lord and ours- Paul could be saying that Jesus Christ is Lord both of ‘us’ and also of all the congregations of believers. But he could also mean (and the Greek rather suggests this) that the same Jesus understood and interpreted somewhat differently amongst the various believers “in every place” was in fact Lord of them all. For your interpretation of the Lord Jesus and mine will inevitably differ in some points. Now this must of course be balanced against John’s clear teaching that those who deny Jesus came in the flesh are in fact antiChrist. However the idea is more likely that Paul is preparing the way for his repeated appeals for unity- Jesus is Lord of 'they' over there and also of 'us' here. "Theirs and ours" suggests Paul saw himself very much as standing with the Corinthians- which is significant, given his later criticisms and exposure of their behaviour.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ- This was no mere formality; the "grace", charis, the gift Paul wished them was that of the Spirit in their hearts, and he goes on to develop this idea of the charis in :4.

1:4 I thank my God always concerning you- The Corinthians slandered Paul, refused his teachings etc. But he can continually be grateful for them. We see here a lovely spirit. h thanks God because of what has been given them by status, and for how be believes God sees them, because of the righteousness imputed to them. Serious adoption of Paul's perspective would solve absolutely every church division and argument.

For the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus- There is a clear connection between baptism and the receipt of the gift of the Spirit. By baptism "in Christ", the converts were given a charis, a gift or grace, from God.

1:5 That in everything you were enriched in him- In detailing the work of the Spirit gift in the hearts of those who believe, Eph. 3:16-20 uses this same word for 'riches', and the same kind of ideas Paul uses in this section of 1 Corinthians 1: "He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, that you may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, to the end that you would be rooted and grounded in love, that you might be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, and to truly know and understand the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him that is able to do immeasurably above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us...". The complete spiritual enrichment of the Corinthians ["in everything"] is hard to square with their rather woeful spiritual state- getting drunk at the breaking of bread, denying the Lord's resurrection etc. But the point is that the gift of the Spirit had potentially enabled them not to be like this- and the appeal was for them to make use of the potential they had. They "were enriched" at baptism; but needed to make use of the gift.

In all utterance and all knowledge- In all logos and gnosis. These were the very things the Corinthians were tempted to seek from secular sources, and to leave Christ for. But they were blessed with everything- every word of wisdom was in Him, provided by His Spirit. They need not look to other sources of these things because all had been made available to them potentially by the Spirit they had received.

1:6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you- The preaching of Christ was confirmed in the believers by the gift of the Spirit within their hearts. And this was itself the testimony of Christ to the validity of their conversion to Him. The external miraculous gifts of the Spirit were given to confirm the preaching of the Gospel (s.w. Mk. 16:20), but their withdrawal doesn't mean that the Lord Jesus doesn't still confirm the preaching of His word by the Spirit in an internal sense. This is the significance of the word in you. Paul says that this confirmation will work in them "until the end", i.e. the final glorification at the Lord's return (:8 s.w.). It was not temporary nor was it going to be withdrawn. A process is ongoing which is intended to bring us to final salvation at the Lord's return. This confirmation or 'establishment' is achieved by our being 'anointed'- a clear reference to the gift of the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21 s.w.). The same word is used in Rom. 4:16, speaking of how the promise of salvation to Abraham is confirmed or [AV] "made sure to all the seed". In this sense the gift of the Holy Spirit is the deposit which guarantees that really, our salvation is sure (2 Cor. 1:22 "who also sealed us and gave us the down payment of the Spirit in our hearts"; 2 Cor. 5:5 "God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee"; Eph. 1:14 "having heard the word of the truth... and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise which is a guarantee of our inheritance"). John puts it like this: "hereby we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He gave us" (1 Jn. 3:24). It is the seal or guarantee: "the Holy Spirit of God, by which you were sealed until the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30).

1:7 So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ- The allusion is to how the disciples, sent forth in the power of the Spirit to do the Lord's work, lacked nothing: "When I sent you... did you lack anything?" (Lk. 22:35 s.w.). The gift of the Spirit is therefore in order to do the Lord's work. But the Corinthians didn't want to do that, and so they felt they still didn't have what they wanted. They had been enriched spiritually in every way (:5). But this was only true potentially. And this explains why a baptized believer may not sense the power of the Spirit in their hearts- because they are not allowing the potential to work. Paul is going to be appealing for radical changes in thinking and behaviour- but he begins by saying that all the power for that is already potentially with them. Paul later urges the Corinthians to covet the most useful Spiritual gifts (14:1). But he says here that they already have them all. So clearly enough he means that they must use their potential.

1:8- see on Gal. 6:4.

Who shall also confirm you to the end- The gift of the Spirit given as a confirmation at baptism (see on :6) would continue to work with them, if they allowed it, to present them acceptable at the day of final judgment. "Confirm" is the word elsewhere translated "establish": "He that establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the down payment of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Cor. 1:21,22). In this way we are established by Jesus- if we allow Him to do His psychological work upon us: "rooted and up built in him and established in your faith" (s.w. Col. 2:7).

Unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ- We can only be without accusation (Gk.) before the day of judgment by having righteousness imputed to us; this is the great theme of Romans. This is made possible by our part in the Lord's representative death for us (s.w. Col. 1:22). But as Romans 8 explains, this is made true for us in practice by the Spirit working within us to lead us to that end in practice, and seeking to make us in reality what we are counted as by status.

1:9 God is faithful- The claims made here for the work of the Spirit may seem incredible, given our weakness, and the evident weakness of the Corinthian believers. But God is faithful- He will really do what He has promised. The faithfulness of God is associated in the Old Testament with His faithfulness to the covenant; and the Abrahamic covenant included within it the implication of the Spirit's work; this is very much part of the "blessing" promised. And God will surely fulfill His part; it is for us to be open to this and believe it.

Through whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord- We through the Spirit are in active fellowship with the Lord Jesus. It's not a case of mere theological agreement with a set of Biblical principles. Paul assumes that the Corinthians, with all their immorality and misunderstandings of basic doctrine, were in fellowship with Jesus; and he therefore treated them accordingly. This is a huge challenge to those who feel they can only accept in fellowship those who can jump certain bars of their own creation regarding doctrine and practice. Repeatedly in this opening chapter, Paul speaks of "our Lord Jesus" (:2,7,8,10). Despite their major doctrinal and moral inadequacies, and their personal tension with him, Paul still saw them as connected with him in the Lord Jesus.

1:10- see on 1 Cor. 1:2.

Now I urge you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment- This appeal was made for the sake of the fact they were all "in the name" of the Lord Jesus by baptism into that name. They had therefore been given "the spirit of Christ", the mind of Christ. The "one mind" or "same mind" which Paul appeals for us to have is the mind of Christ (see on Phil. 2:5). He's not confusing unity with uniformity, but rather reasoning that if we each allow the mind of Christ to be dominant within us, then we shall have the same mind / judgment because we will each have His mind. This is not therefore an appeal to each study the Bible in the same way and reach the same conclusions, or have the same level of discipline for those who fail in certain moral areas. Rather is it quite simply an appeal for us to have the mind of Christ. And thereby we shall be united, regardless of other issues over which we may differ.

“Be perfected together" (1 Cor. 1:10) uses the same Greek word as in Heb. 10:5, where we read of the Lord's one body "prepared", joined together. Being joined together in unity is therefore something which comes from allowing the Lord Jesus to do this. Human devices such as common statements of faith and unity agreements will not bring about the unity of the Spirit. That is just human wordsmithing. It only comes from allowing the Lord Jesus through the Spirit to join us together. Those open to this will be joined together in the unity of the Spirit, or as it is termed here, the fellowship of Jesus (:9), the fellowship "of" Him in that it is a fellowship created by Him.

1:11 For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers- Paul doesn't mean 'They dobbed you in to me, so I'm taking it with you'. That would be responding to gossip. The 'report' would appear to refer to a formal, written statement- that may well have been inspired by the Spirit. Otherwise Paul surely could not have written such confidence that the report was true.

By those of the household of Chloe- The 'church' at Corinth was comprised of various house groups; this one was apparently led by a woman, or at least were comprised of her household servants and family. Perhaps like Lydia she had converted her 'household' or extended family, including servants.

That there are contentions among you- If they each had the mind of Christ, then there would not be contentions amongst them. Therefore 'contentions' are a sign of not having the Spirit (3:3)- i.e. the spirit / mind of Christ.

The first problem in the Corinth ecclesia, Paul said, was that they were divided. He begins his letter by addressing this problem, not the incest, the drunkenness at the breaking of bread, the false doctrine... See on Gal. 2:2.

1:12- see on 1 Cor. 1:2.

By this I mean, that each one of you is saying: I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I am of Christ- 1 Cor. 3:22 speaks of three groups in the Corinth ecclesia, following Paul, Peter and Apollos. Yet in 1 Cor. 1:12 someone says “I am of Christ" . This seems to be Paul himself- so Christ-centred was he, that he wanted no part in ecclesial politics nor in the possibility of leading a faction. His Christ-centredness was a phenomenal achievement. 

A case can be made that the letters of Peter and Jude were also written to Corinth. Peter visited Corinth, presumably focusing his preaching on the Jewish community, and perhaps he was writing his letters specifically to the Jewish house churches there (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5). The same concerns are apparent as in Paul's letters to Corinth: The need to distinguish between spiritual and unspiritual persons who despised others (Jude 19 = 1 Cor. 2:6 - 3:4; 8:1-3); those who perverted liberty into licence (Jude 4 = 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23), becoming slaves of sensuality (Jude 8,10,16,23 = 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 12:21); some eating and drinking abusively at the love feast (Jude 12 = 1 Cor. 11:17-33); refusing the authority of their elders (Jude 8,11 = 1 Cor. 4:8-13; 9:1-12); both Peter and Paul warn Corinth of the danger of worldly wisdom. Peter's reminder to them about the authority of Paul is very understandable in this case. However, the point of all this is to observe the tenderness of Peter and Jude in writing to the Corinthians ["my beloved..."], whilst at the same time warning them of the awesome judgment which there behaviour was preparing for them. It was the same passionate love for Christ's weak brethren which Paul showed them.

1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?- There are times when Paul uses the word "Christ" when we'd have expected him to use the word "church"- e.g. "Is Christ divided?... as the body is one... so also is Christ" (1 Cor. 1:13; 12:12). This synecdoche serves to demonstrate the intense unity between Christ and His people- we really are Him to this world. Think through the reasoning of 1 Cor. 1:13: “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?". The fact Jesus was crucified for us means that we should be baptized into that Name, and also be undivided.

Christ being undivided is placed parallel with the fact Paul was not crucified for us, but Christ was (1 Cor. 1:13). The implication is surely that because Christ was crucified for us, therefore those He died to redeem are undivided. We have one Saviour, through one salvation act, and therefore we must be one. The atonement and fellowship are so linked. Christ is not divided, and therefore, Paul reasons, divisions amongst brethren are a nonsense. Christ is not divided, and therefore neither should we be (1 Cor. 1:13; 3:3). Let's remember this powerful logic, in all our thinking about this issue. Paul even goes so far as to suggest that if we do not discern the body at the breaking of bread, if we wilfully exclude certain members of the body, then we eat and drink condemnation to ourselves. This is how serious division is. The devil’s house is divided (Mt. 12:25,26); Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13 s.w.). We were called to the Gospel so that we might share in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ- i.e. fellowship with Him and His Father, and with all the others within His body (1 Cor. 1:9,10). If we accept that brethren and sisters are validly baptized into and remain within His body, then we simply must fellowship with them. Should we refuse to do this, we are working against the essential purpose of God- to build up the body of His Son now, so that we might exist in that state eternally.

1:14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius- Paul goes on to list others he had baptized, and admits the possibility he had baptized even more than he named. So we have an example here of a grammatical construction whereby 'None' or 'Not' is not global and absolute; and we need to bear this in mind in the interpretation of :17.

Gaius had a home big enough for the Corinth ecclesia to meet in (Rom. 16:23). Crispus was the leader of the Corinth synagogue and yet he and Gaius were the first people Paul converted there (1 Cor. 1:14). Thus in this case the initial response was from the socially well to do, although the later converts were generally poor. By all means compare with how wealthy Lydia was the first convert in Philippi. Anyone who was a household leader or with a home large enough to accommodate the ecclesia was clearly of a higher social level. Thus the Philippian jailer, Stephanas and Chloe had a “household” (1 Cor. 1:11; 16:15), as did Philemon; and even Aquilla and Priscilla although artisans were wealthy enough to have room to host an ecclesia (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3-5). Titus Justus [whose name implies he was a Roman citizen] lad a house adjacent to the synagogue in Corinth. Mark’s mother had a home in Jerusalem that could accommodate a meeting (Acts 12:12); Baranbas owned a farm (Acts 4:36); Jason was wealthy enough to stand bail for Paul and entertain his visitors (Acts 17:5-9). An Areopagite was converted in Athens (Acts 17:34). Apollos and Phoebe were able to travel independently. Remember that most people at the time lived in cramped tiny rooms, so unbearable that most of their lives were lived outdoors as far as possible.

1:15 Lest any of you should say you were baptized into my name- Paul did baptize some in Corinth. But he means that he avoided baptizing people because of the way it would likely be used as the basis for factions in the future. He could have taken the position that 'I do not baptize into my name; and if at some later point some are to say I did, well, they are wrong, I did not'. But Paul is more sensitive to human weakness, just as we should be. He often sees ahead to the likely interpretations of his words and actions. Later he will parry possible misunderstandings of his words about resurrection by saying "But some man will say...". We too must move away from a bald truth- error scenario, leaving the misinterpretations of others upon their own heads, but rather anticipate their likely weaknesses; and by all means, seek to not make others stumble.

1:16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas. Besides these, I do not know whether I baptized any other- He doesn't mean 'I don't remember whether I did'; for he would have used a different word. He means that he is not aware of it in that he kept no record of who he baptized, neither formally nor mentally. This is a far cry from those who insist on getting all the details of the candidates they baptize, filling out forms and so forth. Such behaviour is appropriate to admission to membership of a club; but baptism into Christ is into Christ and is not a sign of having joined any human club or institution.

1:17 - see on Mt. 3:8; Gal. 6:14.

For Christ sent me not so much as to baptize, but to preach the gospel- See on :14. The construction involving 'not' doesn't have to mean 'Not at all', but rather 'not' with conditions. Sometimes we need to read into the text the idea of "not so much this, as that". Thus "Christ sent me not [so much as] to baptize, but to preach the Gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17 AV). Paul of course did baptize people, as he goes on to say in that very context (1 Cor. 1:14). Or take Jer. 7:22,23: "I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them... concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God". God did command sacrifices; but He not so much commanded them as required Israel's spirit of obedience and acceptance of Him.

Paul's mission was to spread the word; human response to it was not something he unduly focused upon. Inappropriate focus on results in terms of baptisms can lead missionary endeavour into all manner of wrong paths. This is probably hyperbole (i.e. grossly exaggerated language to make a point). The command to preach and baptize as given in the great preaching commission was just one command; preaching-and-baptizing went together. It seems to me that Paul did baptize; but using the figure of hyperbole, he's saying: 'My emphasis is on getting on with the work of preaching the Gospel, the fact I've held the shoulders of many men and women as I pushed them under the water is irrelevant; Christ didn't send me to just do this, but more importantly to preach the Gospel'. And may this be our attitude too.

Not in the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no power- Paul did not seek to pressure people into baptism because he believed that the simple presentation of the cross of Christ would of itself elicit faith in people. This for all time demonstrates that apologetics and "the wisdom of words" will not persuade men to faith. That persuasion is in the message itself, which is of Christ crucified. No amount of smart arguments from science, archaeology, Bible prophecy being fulfilled etc. will of themselves persuade to faith. The bald presentation of the Gospel of the crucified Christ will of itself be 'powerful' to convert. And I speak from wide personal experience- as well as the clear implication of Paul's argument here. The paradox is that on the cross, the Lord 'made Himself of no power' (s.w. Phil. 2:7), and it was that moment of human powerlessness which is of power to convert. This is the mystery of faith. It is a paradox which is developed in the following verses; what appears foolishness in the eyes of men is in fact the deep wisdom and saving power of God.

Paul had been reconciled, as have all men, by the cross. But he still needed to be converted, and this depended upon the freewill obedience of the likes of Ananias. It really is so, for Paul warned that preaching the Gospel with wisdom of words would make “the cross of Christ... of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). The effect of the cross, the power of it to save, is limited in its extent by our manner of preaching of it. And we can make “Christ”, i.e. His cross, of “none effect” by trusting to our works rather than accepting the gracious salvation which He achieved (Gal. 5:4).

Paul declared unto Corinth “the testimony of God", i.e. “Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1,2). This message was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", “the wisdom of God", “Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:17,23,24; 2:4,5). Indeed, “the cross of Christ" is put for ‘the preaching of His cross’ (1:17). All these things are parallel. The cross is in itself the testimony and witness of God. This is why, Paul reasons, the power of the cross itself means that it doesn’t matter how poorly that message is presented in human words; indeed, such is its excellence and power that we even shouldn’t seek to present it with a layer of human ‘culture’ and verbiage shrouding it.

1:18- see on Rom. 1:18.

For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness- See on :17 Not in the wisdom of words. What seems foolish is the wisdom and saving power of God. There is a temptation to make our witness to the world in terms and colours which appear intellectually or even academically respectable. But we must ever remember the dichotomy here presented- that the wisdom of God will be seen as foolish to those who will not believe it. We can't have it both ways- an argument with secular respectability which is also the power and wisdom of God.

Because we are in Christ, therefore we witness Him; and we witness as He witnessed. His witness is in fact ours. But there is a sober theme in Scripture: that the essential witness of Christ was in His time of dying. “The preaching [‘the word’] of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18) refers to the way in which the cross itself was and is a witness, rather than speaking of preaching about the cross.

Do we feel ashamed that we just don’t witness as we ought to? There is no doubt that the cross and baptism into that death was central to the preaching message of the early brethren. Knowing it, believing it, meant that it just had to be preached. The completeness and reality of the redemption achieved is expressed in Hebrews with a sense of finality, and we ought not to let that slip from our presentation of the Gospel either. There in the cross, the justice and mercy of God are brought together in the ultimate way. There in the cross is the appeal. Paul spoke of “the preaching of the cross", the word / message which is the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). Some of the early missionaries reported how they could never get any response to their message until they explained the cross; and so, with our true doctrinal understanding of it, it is my belief that the cross is what has the power of conversion. A man cannot face it and not have a deep impression of the absoluteness of the issues involved in faith and unbelief, in choosing to accept or reject the work of the struggling, sweating, gasping Man who hung on the stake. It truly is a question of believe or perish. Baptism into that death and resurrection is essential for salvation. Of course we must not bully or intimidate people into faith, but on the other hand, a preaching of the cross cannot help but have something compulsive and urgent and passionate about it. For we appeal to men on God’s behalf to accept the work of the cross as efficacious for them. I submit that much of our preaching somehow fails in urgency and entreaty. We seem to be in places too expository, or too attractive with the peripherals, seeking to please men... or be offering good advice, very good advice indeed, background Bible knowledge, how to read the Bible effectively... all of which may be all well and good, but we should be preaching good news, not good advice. The message of the cross is of a grace and real salvation which is almost too good to believe. It isn’t Bible background or archaeology or Russia invading Israel. It is the Man who had our nature hanging there perfect, full of love, a light in this dark world... and as far as we perceive the wonder of it all, as far as this breaks in upon us, so far we will hold it forth to this world. The Lord wasn’t preaching good ideas; He was preaching good news. The cross means that we have a faith to live by all our days; not just a faith to die by, a comfort in our time of dying, as we face the endgame.

But to us who are saved it is the power of God- The cross is the power of salvation to us who are 'being saved', in the saving process. The cross is not only the means of our forgiveness, in a transactional sense, as if at that moment in time, God enabled our forgiveness and salvation. For He can and could have saved in any way He chose. The cross is the ongoing salvation of God in that the Lord there is our endless inspiration and His death released and releases the living waters of the Spirit into human hearts- if they continue to believe in Him there, in an ongoing sense.

1:19- see on Job 5:12,13.

For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise- The quotation from Is. 29:14 refers to the false 'wisdom' of the unfaithful Jews in Jerusalem at Hezekiah's time. It was perhaps the attraction of the Jewish false teachers which Paul is alluding to. Judaism had a strange attraction for even hedonistic Gentiles; as pointed out throughout our commentary on Titus. See on :20.

And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nothing- There is an allusion here to the Lord's words: "You did hide these things from the wise and prudent, and did reveal them to babes" (Mt. 11:25). Paul alludes to some parts of the Gospels more than to others. The record of John the Baptist, the sermon on the mount, the parables and the record of Christ in Gethsemane are all referred to far more than average. This surely would not be the case if the connections between Paul's writings and the Gospels were only the result of the Spirit irresistibly carrying Paul along. We have suggested that Paul's enthusiasm for the record of John the Baptist was because he had probably first heard the Gospel from John; i.e. there was a reason personal to Paul as to why he alludes to much to that particular part of the Gospels. And so with his sustained allusions to Gethsemane, far more than we would expect statistically. Presumably the picture of the Lord Jesus struggling against His own nature, driven to the brink of eternal failure, was an image which echoed in Paul's mind. Likewise the parables were intended to be memorized and meditated upon; Paul did just this, and that's why he alludes to them more than average. This sort of pattern is just what we too experience; there are parts of Scripture which stick in our minds, often for personal reasons. And so it was with Paul. Mt. 11:25 was a verse which was perhaps very much in his mind as he wrote to Corinth; it is alluded to in 1 Cor. 1:19; 2:8; 14:20- and nowhere else.

1:20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?- As noted on :19, this quotation is from a passage talking about the vanity of Jewish wisdom (Is. 33:18). And it was Jewish false teaching which was the source of the problems at Corinth. Truly Paul despised all worldly advantage and insisted upon the radical principles of the Lord- that true greatness is in humility, wealth is in poverty, worldly learning is the very opposite of Divine wisdom, etc. He mocks, even, such things when he writes to the Corinthians: "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?" (1 Cor. 1:20). Every one of these terms would have been true of Saul the Pharisee, Paul the powerful user of rhetoric, Paul of the razor sharp mind. And he knew his worldly advantage, and despised it.

1:21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God- This is the paradox; that worldly wisdom does not lead to relationship with God. 'Knowing God' refers to relationship and salvation, not simply claiming some form of belief in the existence of a Divine being or force. Life eternal, living the Kingdom life we shall eternally live, is to 'know God' (Jn. 17:3). The Gospel message begins with the statement that to know God is a gift (Mk. 4:11; Lk. 8:10); for those to whom it is not given, everything about God remains in parables. And so faith is not reached by reading learned books about science, creationism, archaeology or the historical fulfilments of Bible prophecy. For that is the wisdom of the world, which is foolishness with God. If that indeed were the path to faith, then the illiterate and simple would be unable to come to faith. Yet the poor of this world are those "rich in faith". But the gift of faith is available for all- who will look to the cross of Christ as Israel looked to the lifted up serpent, and allow the power of it to transform them. Yet faith therefore is not arrived at by intellectual process; it is a gift. From God. And it is the cross of Christ (:18), the foolishness of the thing preached (:21), which leads to knowing God. There can be no real belief in God nor knowing of Him without Christ- for He is the only way to the Father. Any attempt to reach faith in God by intellectual process is therefore ultimately doomed; it can only be reached through encounter with Christ.

It was God's good pleasure through the apparent foolishness of the message preached to save them that believe- 1 Cor. 1:21,25 speak of the Gospel as “the foolishness of the thing preached” (RV) – not that it is foolish, but it is perceived that way. The thing preached is clearly the cross- "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (:18).

1:22 Seeing that Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek after wisdom- The Jews, like modern Pentecostals, demanded miraculous signs in order to believe; and the Gentiles thought that secular wisdom could be the only way to a respectable faith. But faith in the true God is predicated upon encounter with the crucified Christ. Nothing visible nor intellectual will of itself bring a man to faith; both the Bible and observed experience support that. Whilst there is a tendency to chalk up conversions to various forms of outreach, and it is hard to define why belief is reached, Paul is here crystal clear that the ultimate force in conversion is encounter with Christ crucified.

1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness- The cross was foolishness to the Gentiles and an offence to the Jews. In Roman thought, the cross was something shocking; the very word ‘cross’ was repugnant to them. It was something only for slaves. Consider the following writings from the period.
- Cicero wrote: “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but… the very mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man… your honours [i.e. Roman citizenship] protect a man from… the terror of the cross”.
- Seneca the Elder in the Controversiae records where a master’s daughter marries a slave, and she is described as having become related to cruciarii, ‘the crucified’. Thus ‘the crucified’ was used by metonymy for slaves. The father of the girl is taunted: “If you want to find your son-in-law’s relatives, go to the cross”. It is hard for us to appreciate how slaves were seen as less than human in that society. There was a stigma and revulsion attached to the cross. This was the offence of the cross.
- Juvenal in his 6th Satire records how a wife ordered her husband: “Crucify this slave”. “But what crime worthy of death has he committed?” asks the husband, “no delay can be too long when a man’s life is at stake”. She replies: “What a fool you are! Do you call a slave a man?”.  
The sense of shame and offence attached to the cross was also there in Jewish perception of it. Whoever was hung on a tree was seen as having been cursed by God (Dt. 21:23). Justin Martyr, in Dialogue with Trypho,  records Trypho (who was a Jew) objecting to Christianity: “We are aware that the Christ must suffer…but that he had to be crucified, that he had to die a death of such shame and dishonour- a death cursed by the Law- prove this to us, for we are totally unable to receive it”. Justin Martyr in his Apology further records: “They say that our madness consists in the fact that we place a crucified man in second place after the eternal God”. The Romans also mocked the idea of following a crucified man. There is a caricature which shows a crucified person with an ass’s head. The ass was a symbol of servitude [note how the Lord rode into Jerusalem on an ass]. The caption sarcastically says: “Alexamenos worships God”. This was typical of the offence of the cross.

1:24 But to them that are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God- It has been pointed out that if some NT passages are translated into Aramaic, the common language of the day in first century Israel, there would have been ample encouragement for memorization. Thus: We preach Christ crucified (mishkal), unto the Jews a stumblingblock (mikshol), and unto the Greeks foolishness (sekel), but unto them that are called... the power (hishkeel) of God and the wisdom (sekel) of God" (1 Cor. 1:23,24). "To them that are called" raises concerns as to whether faith, therefore, is just a gift given to some. But the call is in the Gospel, and specifically in the outstretched arms of the crucified Christ. All who encounter it are called; but many refuse to respond. Likewise we noted on :21 that to know God is a gift; but it is available to all who encounter His Son.

1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men- That Almighty all-wise God could inspire 1 Cor. 1:25 is another example of God’s humility: “The foolishness of God… the weakness of God”. In Jer. 14:21 we find something likewise wonderful: “Do not abhor us… do not disgrace the throne of thy glory”. We, weak humans, are paralleled with the throne of God’s glory.

And the weakness of God is stronger than men- The same word is used in :27 about the believers being "the weak things". Many times, this word is used about spiritual weakness, especially in 1 Corinthians (4:10; 8:7,10; 9:22; 11:30; 12:22). The foolishness of God has been defined as the cross of Christ; but that is now made parallel to the way God calls spiritually weak persons to be His vehicle of operation. Such an observation was relevant to the Corinthian situation. Those weak believers were used by God on account of their association with the cross of Christ, "the foolishness of God".

1:26 Consider your calling, brothers; not many of you had worldly wisdom, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth- The references to 'wise' and 'powerful / mighty' men use the words just used about the Lord Jesus as the wisdom and power of God (:24). He can only be those things to those who are not wise or powerful- or, rather, who recognize that they are not those things. So the attraction of His wisdom and power is to those who recognize they lack those things- the unwise and the powerless. And that is why it is the chain smokers and the asylum seekers and the get rich quick scheme enthusiasts... who have what it takes to believe in Christ as the power and the wisdom of God.

The Lord Himself had implied that it was to the poor that the Gospel was more successfully preached. And Paul observed that in Corinth, not many mighty had been called, but most of them were poor (1 Cor. 1:26-28). “Christianity in its beginnings was without doubt a movement of impoverished classes… the Christian congregation originally embraced proletariat elements almost exclusively and was a proletarian organization”. It has also been observed that the New Testament generally is written in very rough Greek, of a low cultural level when compared with other Greek literature of the period. The way he exhorts the Thessalonians to work with their own hands so that the world couldn’t criticize them implies the readership of Thessalonians were mainly manual workers (1 Thess. 4:11). Likewise Eph. 4:28. Paul wrote as if the “abysmal poverty” of the Macedonian ecclesias was well known (2 Cor. 8:1,2); and yet he goes on to reason that they had “abundance” in comparison with the “lack” of the Jerusalem Christians (8:14). The Jewish Christians called themselves “Ebionites”, based on the Hebrew word for ‘the poor’- “it was probably a conscious reminiscence of a very early term which attested by Paul’s letters as an almost technical name for the Christians in Jerusalem and Judaea”. Even if not all these poor converts were slaves, they were all subservient to their employers / sources of income. Craftsmen would have had to belong to a pagan trade guild, normally  involving idol worship which a Christian had to refuse, and slaves of course had no ‘right’ to their own religion if it differed from that of their household.

1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world- The word moros is predominantly used about the spiritually foolish. This was so relevant to the spiritually weak Corinthians. They had been chosen so that in God's strength they could come to glory. Maybe this is why the Lord forbids us to call each other moros, "fool" (Mt. 5:22). That is indeed how we are, spiritual blockheads. But we are not to see ourselves nor each other from that perspective- for we are called to be so much more, and it is through that weakness that God is to be glorified in His Son. Paul is not saying that God only works with men who are fools or simple / uneducated. His point is that if any man thinks himself wise, he must become a fool (1 Cor. 3:18), and he puts himself in that category when he says that "we are fools for Christ's sake" (1 Cor. 4:10).

That He might put to shame those that are wise- The 'wise' here are those who appear to be wise. The fools confounding the wise is an inverse allusion to the Lord's parables, where the wise are saved and the foolish are condemned [e.g. in the parable of the two builders]. But here, the foolish shame the wise. "Shame" is the language of condemnation at the last day- this 'shaming' will happen only then, when those who appeared to be so 'wise', so sorted out, so spiritually and worldly wise, shall be condemned and shamed by the salvation of the transformed 'fools'. This whole approach was very necessary in approaching a church as weak as Corinth. And it has enormous implications for us today. The idea of 'putting to shame' looks ahead to the day of judgment, when the rejected shall be shamed before the accepted (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 16:15). And so :29 likewise: "That no flesh should glory in His presence", at the day of judgment. That is the day when the fools of this world shall be glorified, and the wise shamed.

And God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong- The word for "weak" is elsewhere used about the spiritually weak (Mt. 26:41; Rom. 5:6; 1 Cor. 8:7,10; 9:22; 11:30; 1 Thess. 5:14). The 'shame' is in the condemning of the apparently 'strong' at the last day by the apparently 'weak'. These terms effectively mean 'those who consider themselves weak / strong'. Rather like the Lord's statement that it is the sick and not the healthy who need a doctor- we must read in the ellipsis: 'those who consider themselves to be...'. All this is an outworking of the principle that "the weakness of God [in the crucified Christ] is stronger than men" (:25).

1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world- "Low" is agenes, without descent. This may be a reference to the Gentiles, but "the world" of the first century despised people who could not prove where they came from. For people were identified by their ancestors and place of origin. Those who were on the very edge of society were those weak ones through whom His strength could work. Accepting this reasoning would make us conclude that the Christian church generally, and not just Corinth, should be comprised of the low, the stateless and those at the edges of society. For this is a general principle being explained here; it is not just relevant to Corinth. And yet in the West, the church is for the middle class. Historians claim that the early church was full of slaves, women and others on the edges. And this is what a mission church comprised of first generation converts will look like. The same Greek word for "despised" is used of the Pharisee despising the sinful publican in Lk. 18:9, and those who understood more of the Gospel despising those who were still stuck in their old ways (Rom. 14:3,10). We note with interest the usage of the same word in Paul's appeal to ask those despised within the church to judge matters (6:4). Perhaps that too has a spiritual reference? But it was of course the Lord Himself who on the cross was the despised one; the same word is used about Him there in Lk. 23:11 and Acts 4:11. He there was identified with the spiritually low and despised; for He died for sinners and not for the self-righteous.

"Despised" is a word nearly always used about someone being spiritually despised. The publican was  despised by the spiritually superior Pharisee (Lk. 18:9),  the Lord was despised [s.w. "set at nought"] by the Jewish religious leadership (Acts 4:11), some spiritually despised others for their position on Jewish food laws, despising ['setting at nought'] their brethren (Rom. 14:3,10), some were despised ["least esteemed"] by others in the church (1 Cor. 6:4), the word of prophecy was despised by some in the church  (1 Thess. 5:20). God has this special interest not only in the economically and socially marginalized, but in the spiritually marginalized within the church. The alcoholics, depressed, mentally unwell, those who have been in many failed relationships... they are the ones who so often are the great ones in His eyes. 

Even things that are not- The language here recalls Rom. 4:17: "God, who gives life to the dead, and called things that are not, as though they were". The context there is of imputed righteousness. Those who had no righteousness are counted as if they do- by grace. This fits in with the context here in 1 Corinthians- the Corinthians were woefully immature but in God's strength would be justified by grace through faith- and bring to nothing those people / things which [appeared to] be spiritually strong.

To bring to nothing things that are- 'Bringing to nothing' is the language of condemnation at the last day (6:13; 2 Thess. 2:8 etc.). The apparently strong, the things that apparently 'were' spiritually, therefore refer to those who shall appear at the day of judgment and be rejected. The idea of some at the judgment condemning others is to be found in various places- e.g. the men of Nineveh shall condemn the Jews of the Lord's say. So perhaps the picture is of those who appear so sorted out, so spiritually stable, so acceptable in secular terms... being condemned at the last day because they didn't really believe in the good news of Christ crucified, whereas those who were socially, spiritually and intellectually disadvantaged compared to them actually did believe in that saving good news. This is a powerful challenge to today's church.

1:29 So that no flesh should boast before God- In Gal. 6:14, Paul says that he will boast [s.w.] in nothing but the cross of Christ. We are not to boast of works, but only of what was achieved for us by grace through our faith in the Lord's cross (Eph. 2:9; Phil. 3:3). Any trust in human strength or wisdom is so abhorrent to God. He chooses the powerless and unwise, or at least those who recognize their lack of power and wisdom, to be the ones through whom He shall work. No wonder the Lord taught that the wealthy will scarcely be saved. AV "in His presence" looks ahead to the day of judgment as the time when the foolish shall eternally triumph over the wise (see on :27). It is then that we shall boast in the Lord (:31)- an allusion to the picture of judgment day in Is. 45:23-25: "To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. They will say of Me, ‘There is righteousness and strength only in Yahweh’. Even to Him shall men come; and all those who were incensed against Him shall be disappointed.
In Yahweh shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory". These words are quoted by Paul about judgment day in Romans. We will not boast in ourselves in that day, for we shall be flat on our faces before the Lord Jesus. But we shall arise to boast in the Lord Jesus (:31).

1:30 But of Him are you in Christ Jesus- We are "of God" in that we are born of Him by being in His Son by baptism into Him.

Who was made to us by God to be our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption- It is those who lack these things, and recognize their lack of them, who are likely to earnestly believe in the Lord's offer of those things through the cross of Christ.

1:31 That, according to what is written: He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord- The whole purpose of calling the unwise, unrighteous and unholy is so that when they are saved at the last day, they will be glorying totally in the Lord's grace and in Him, in His characteristics which are counted to them. It is all a question of giving total glory to the crucified Christ and the plan of salvation by grace which is in Him. This is why self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, self congratulation, human wisdom and acceptance within human society... are all the very characteristics of the person who will not truly respond to the Gospel. The boasting in the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment is the scene of Is. 45:23-25; see on :29.