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 (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is an epistle written to straighten out a church with a host of serious problems. Yet as such it is helpful and enlightening and inspiring to see how Paul the theologian addresses his deep, rich theology to specific, messy, practical issues as Paul the pastor.
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:24-25) Together, these two verses form one of the most encouraging and comforting pictures of reality to be found anywhere in Scripture! Every minute of time between Christ’s ascension into heaven and Christ’s triumphant return to earth is summed up here. When Jesus Christ comes again, he will have destroyed every opposing power or authority.
…I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits (1 Corinthians 16:7). Even the best of desires may not be brought to fruition here on earth. Even our best kingdom visions may never be fulfilled. And even our best plans may never come to pass. Here even the apostle Paul himself admits that his plans are fallible and must therefore be flexible. “I have made my very best plans,” Paul says, “and am operating according to them to the best of my ability—but all the while in the recognition that my plans may not be God’s plans.”
…it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). Put simply, there are two wisdoms, Paul says: human wisdom, and divine wisdom. They are not the same. They are not even similar. They are not coming to the same conclusions about God, life, priorities, joy, fulfillment, or meaning.
I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Here we see one of several little windows from the New Testament into Paul’s very human struggles with his past. While he was completely resting in Christ’s work on the cross, dying for
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). In the middle of this famous chapter on spiritual gifts, Paul makes it clear that partaking of the Spirit of God is something that every Christian experiences. The physical baptism we experience in the church is a symbol of the spiritual baptism of every believer by the Spirit!
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is faithful. What a wonderful reminder! God will never give up on what he has begun, he will never renege on any promise he has made. Because God will never give up, we ought to never give up. And yet God’s faithfulness, we are reminded in this very verse of Scripture,
We know that “an idol has no real existence” (1 Corinthians 8:4). Paul, while addressing an immediate problem related to Christian liberty, simultaneously addresses a vital overarching point regarding idolatry. Idols are nothing; they are not just false gods, they are no gods at all. Of course the material, physical stuff from which the idol is made is real, but the god it represents does not exist. There is no need to fear idol gods, and there is certainly no reason to worship them.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? … And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Such were some of you. On one hand, what sweet words these are to believers! The church is not for perfect people but for sin-scarred, once-blind, still struggling people.
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:12). Even our very best plans often meet with significant snags. Many variables can conspire to derail our plans, but one in particular often proves a great help or hindrance in our efforts: people. Planning would be so easy if it weren’t for other people with other opinions! Pastoring, marriage, child-rearing, and evangelism would all be a cinch if you just didn’t have to
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it“ (1 Corinthians 3:10). Paul emphasizes over and over again that his labors were “according to the grace of God.” In other words, we can only do what God enables us to do. We are only as strong or skillful or successful as God’s grace working in and through us. Have we been blessed to persevere in Christian service for several years or decades? We are
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul, speaking here in the context of the resurrection of the dead, compares our earthly body to a seed. The seed must be planted, and die, in order for it to eventually become the full-grown plant. Similarly, Paul goes on in the very next verse to insist, our earthly body is only the bare kernel of what our glorified body will be. This is a stunning analogy, with awesome implications for the afterlife!
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (1 Corinthians 15:35-36). Paul, in discussing the truth of the general resurrection of the dead, anticipates some possible queries and objections. Someone might ask, for instance, “How are the dead raised?” This is a good question! Christian, linger here and learn from the heretic.
Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20). Before we titter nervously like preteen school boys at Paul’s exhortation to kiss, consider this: a kiss in New Testament times was used as a warm greeting between those of the same sex. Many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East still kiss on the cheek or on the forehead as a part of greeting one another affectionately. How is this exhortation still relevant to us today, in America?