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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 1


Chapter 1

Greeting and opening statements

1.      Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

2.      To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3.      Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4.      I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,

5.      that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-

6.      even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you –

7.      so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

8.      who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9.      God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

If Paul is called of God to be an apostle, meaning a “sent one”, and of course he is, in this immensely vital mission, which concerns the dispensation of the eternal gospel, then this letter is of utmost importance to us. The writing is inspired of the Holy Spirit and infallible; it is true instruction, which is alive and ageless. Paul joins with Sosthenes in his greeting, a combined effort to counsel the church, because this Jew is well-known to the Corinthians. After Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was converted to Christianity, he was replaced by Sosthenes as the Jewish leader. When the Jews accused Paul before the Roman proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, he ignored their complaint and the Corinthian citizens took Sosthenes and beat him before the tribunal. Later, Sosthenes also became a Christian, the second important Jewish convert.

The letter is written to the church, meaning the “called-out ones” in Corinth. They are saints, because they have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. Saints are not an elite order of extraordinary Christians, who have done outstanding deeds, but are only called so, because of the work of Christ on their behalf. They join with this growing band of believers throughout the Middle East in the time of the apostles, and hundreds of thousands more have called on the name of the Lord, down through the centuries and throughout the world, up to modern times. He is our same Lord in the 21st Century (2).

Paul and Sosthenes give Paul’s standard greeting, which is meant to be more than a formality, but an actual impartation of trinitarian blessing, “grace and peace”. It is from the Father, the Son, and also the Holy Spirit, who is working through the agency of the human writers (3). Grace is the favor of God upon unworthy men, women and children, and peace is their standing with God, due to the work of reconciliation through Christ.

Paul is grateful, whenever and wherever he observes God carrying out His work on the earth. His heart is totally wrapped up in eternal purposes, motivated by the indwelling Spirit of God. It is grace that is bestowed on the Corinthians and nothing besides; God in mercy and abundant forgiveness, apart from efforts and righteousness exercised by the believers, has obtained these people for Himself, through Jesus Christ (4).   

They are enjoying spiritual prosperity, beyond any well-being offered by the world and that which is attained through natural means. It is no wonder that Paul uses the Greek word ploutizo, meaning to make very wealthy. It is manifested through the powerful gifts of communication and experiential knowledge in the realm of the heavenly and eternal things (5).  

The testimony of Christ is proclaimed by the anointed, spoken word, by the supernatural deeds of the person, who carries the testimony, and by what he is, as a born-again believer, indwelt by the Spirit of God. The Corinthians became living proof of that testimony (6). Spiritual gifts were bestowed upon them and exercised by them, of which Paul will detail and instruct in chapters 12-14. Their eyes, as well as the eyes of all Christianity, are upon the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He returns for His church (7): “We shall see him as he is” (1 Jn.3:2)

A Christian is one who is sustained to the end by the keeping power of the Lord Jesus Christ and now is and will be on that day, guiltless before a holy God: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn.10:28) The perfect work of the cross has removed all guilt (8): “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co.5:21).

The position depends on the faithfulness of God: “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess.3:3). He has called us into an eternal relationship with Himself and His Son (9): “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn.1:3).  

Divisions and baptism

10.  I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

11.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

12.  What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

13.  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14.  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,

15.  so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.

16.  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17.  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Centuries-old signs of Christianity in Corinth
The problem of division in the church is due to disagreement. Christians must agree on the essentials of Christianity, in order to have true fellowship: “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (Am.3:3). The first duty is to be in agreement with God and to be walking in harmony with Him. Brothers in Christ must agree to meet on the absolute authority of the Bible, the doctrine of the triune God, the total depravity of man, and salvation by grace through faith alone. There can be no unity outside of a general knowledge and agreement on essential truth. Every born-again Christian has the mind of Christ and by it, every issue is decided (10).

A true appreciation for the vital work of Christ in His incarnation, His supreme sacrifice and resurrection, and for the reality of His intervention in the life of the individual, will eliminate any credit that can be given to men and undue admiration for their ministries. When I hear testimonies that give emphasis to the part played by human instruments and their institutions, I have to doubt the reality of the encounter with Christ in that witness.

Paul is hearing reports of “personality cults” from a Corinthian family, headed by Cloe, who is to be commended for recognizing the damage of these arguments and reporting them to Paul. He gives the household public recognition, showing that proper behavior needs to be given as a public example. As a result, Paul addresses the believers, concerning this issue, and refers to them as members of the same family of God; they are brothers (11).  

Even when the name of Christ is used to promote division it is due to a lack of understanding of His person and purpose. Paul’s assessment of disunity in the first century, extends to the present condition of the church, torn to shreds by denominational differences. A feeling of exclusiveness and superiority is due to carnal arrogance and nullifies whatever scriptural or practical advantage its members might claim. Whoever subtitles himself by any leader, be it Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Luther, Wesley, Calvin, Arminius or Menno, he comes under the condemnation of the apostle. Adopting the name of a movement rather than a man, Brethren, Baptist, Pentecostal or any number of smaller groups, does not exonerate him (12). The same questions that Paul asked, must be asked the one, who carries a sectarian spirit: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (13. It would be just as proper to insert Apollos and Cephas into these questions, so feel free to substitute any name from church history.)

Many divisions among believers are due to the interpretation and manner of baptism. Interestingly, Paul did not commonly baptize. I am thankful to God, as Paul was, that this was so, due to present-day doctrines that raise baptism to a level that is beyond something symbolic. His statement here particularly debunks baptismal regeneration – the teaching that baptism in water is an essential part of the new birth. No physical element, such as water, can fulfill any spiritual purpose. It is totally symbolic and is done as in obedience to Christ, a public, physical testimony to the world of an already accomplished internal, spiritual work of God: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn.1:12,13).

I do not intend to take anything away from the importance of water baptism, as the public act intended to separate the convert from his family and former friends. I am simply trying to put it in its proper perspective, due to the doctrines concerning it, which give it excessive importance. Paul baptized Crispus (Ac.18:8), already mentioned as a converted Jewish leader, and Gaius (Ro.16:23; 3 Jn.1:1-4), important, original members of the church in Corinth. It can easily be assumed that they took over the duty of baptizing new converts (14). Christian baptism is performed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and no other name can be added. The baptized believer belongs to God and to no one else (15).  It is wrong for him to insist on being baptized by a certain prominent leader. Paul also remembers that he baptized Stephanas’ family (see 1 Co.16:15-18), but doesn’t remember baptizing anyone else in Corinth (16). Although members of a family often followed their head in believing, there is no New Testament account of infants or non-believing members being baptized. Such a position is based on pure speculation.

Verse 17 confirms that, as important as baptism is, it is not an essential part of the preaching of the gospel. Paul’s ministry as an apostle was to preach the gospel, but that calling did not include baptizing. He baptized when necessary, but then, as Jesus (Jn.4:2), he left the baptizing to others. What follows in this verse is an essential part of the gospel, the preaching of the cross of Christ and this will now become Paul’s subject. Eloquent wisdom is also not essential to preaching the gospel, in fact, it can detract from its power.

I refer to the following portion of this chapter countless times, because of the central theme of the cross of Christ in the gospel, as well as the divine principle, which is portrayed, as to the difference between the world view and the ways of God, regarding wisdom and power. It also depicts, in large part, the kind of people, whom He is calling. Let us pay strict and careful attention, because it seems, although the apostle has made his point with clarity and strength, much of the church seems to ignore or give less than deserving attention to these inerrant teachings.

God’s ways bring glory to Him

18.  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20.  Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

21.  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

22.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

23.  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block, to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

24.  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26.  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

27.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

28.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

29.  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

30.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

31.  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Ruins of the temple of Apollos
The preaching of the cross is not attractive, in fact it is repulsive, to an unbelieving, lost world, yet it is the heart of the gospel message. This is the argument that Paul raises. The Christian view and the world view are diametrically opposed; one sees the message as foolishness, the other sees it as the power of God (18). We must capture this point, if we are to have any eternal success in advancing the cause of Christ. If we do not, all our efforts will fall short of heavenly purposes.

In verse 19, Paul cites Isaiah 29:14: “I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” In the Old Testament or in the New, God does not cater to worldly wisdom, in fact, He opposes it. He compels the Corinthian to look around him and observe: “Where is the wise, the scribe and the debater?” he asks, concerning those that the Lord has called out of the world. The actual fact proves the principle that the world does not respond to true heavenly wisdom. Therefore, in God’s eyes, the wisdom, which leads the populace of the world, is irrational and even insane. It does not play a part in the unfolding of the gospel message (20).

Because the supreme omniscience of God was rejected by the world, God offered salvation through a declaration, which they consider foolish. I maintain that, not only is the content of the report considered foolish, but also the means, by which it is projected, that is by public preaching. It is not decorated or refined; it is not cleverly presented in technicolor, by stage lights or backdrop. It is not orchestrated in a sophisticated production or promoted by publicity agents. It is portrayed in simple words through the mouth of a preacher, and its crude message is delivered, concerning an unvarnished, rugged cross (21). By believing in it alone, people are saved. Paul has already said that the power of an eloquent oration will empty the gospel of its power. The power of the world’s means and wisdom will nullify the power of the Holy Spirit (see verse 17 again).  

He presents the demands of two dominating forces in his day, the Jews and the Greeks. In order to attract the Jews, the use of spectacular signs are needed and the Greeks, the culture of the philosophers, must be reached through wisdom (22). Add, if you like, the attractions of the 21st Century, to form a list of requirements, which might bring the world to the doorsteps of the church. Paul outlaws them!

He does not bring the matter up to members of his team, in order to form a committee to explore ways to attract the public. He is already committed to present a message, which is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks (23)! Why? Because that message requires the agency of the Holy Spirit, rather than the clever abilities of men, to make the humanly repulsive message of the cross an irresistible magnet to draw the human heart to Christ. He refuses to substitute with anything less, in order to observe the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s work. Paul knows that what is induced by men, will fail to come up to the quality that heaven demands at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  

I place before you the words of the Lord through His prophet Isaiah, which Paul knew to be unalterable truth. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is.55:8,9). Regardless of all the electronic, digital means available today, only God’s Spirit can do His work effectively in the human heart and beautify a people, which can be part of a bride, worthy of the Lamb. Have you been deceived by the prince of this world, so that you will settle for less?

Once you become a part of those who are genuinely called of God, your heart will be opened to the supreme power and infinite wisdom in Christ (24). You will find that the things deemed foolish and weak in the eyes of the citizens of this earth are far wiser and stronger than the best that man offers (25). Those called of God, both then and now, are not those, who are the finest that men’s institutions have produced. They were not and are not among the nobility, nor do they participate in the Olympics. There are exceptions, but this is the common rule of heaven (26).

It is the history found in the Bible, that God has always called the inadequate and empowered them with heaven’s qualifications. Start with Abraham, who has no offspring, called of God to bring forth a nation. Observe stammering Moses and Gideon’s 300 soldiers, the infertility of Samson and Samuel’s mothers. See how the eighth son of Jesse inherits the kingdom and how a prostitute and a Moabite enter the eternal purposes of God. John the Baptist is another product of an infertile womb and Jesus, the Carpenter from lowly Nazareth is proven to be the Lord’s Christ. The Jews from the little nation of Israel are chosen to be the people of God. The Corinthians are called to join these ranks and nothing that has ever happened over the centuries has changed God’s ways (26-28). After all this, tell me why the church has not learned the lesson. Why are they continually looking for a better way to relate to the spiritually impotent mind of mankind?  

All that is sought out from the abilities, strengths and knowledge of men are to bring glory to men. And it is legitimate that, what they have done with the power of human wisdom and capabilities, should give them glory! That is the prominent sin evident among God’s people today. Only the Almighty, wonderful in wisdom and strength, is worthy of glory and the gospel and the church are designed for that purpose. Above all else that exists on this planet, let the gospel and the church be separated and devoted to His glory! (29).

No one can glean any credit for his position before God. We have nothing to offer Him and nothing, with which we can buy a place in His presence. It is through the merits of Christ and His perfect work, by which we stand. We come in Christ and the Father accepts us, for He alone is our righteousness, sanctification and redemption. By faith, that is, by trusting Him, we are righteous in His perfect righteousness. By our practical attainment of holiness, we can never enter the Holy of Holies. It is only in His perfect sanctification, by which we approach the throne of God. No price can purchase our redemption. Christ bought us from our slavery to sin through His precious blood (30). All glory belongs to the Lamb. Please do not insult God by a doctrine that demands man’s faithfulness (go back to verse 8). If salvation is due to our ability to keep ourselves saved, then we have something in which to boast. However, here is the gospel maxim: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (31. Jer.9:23-24)       


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