After opening his letter with greeting and thanksgiving, Paul begins to tackle the issues in the church in Corinth. The first of these was division in the church—a matter that will occupy Paul’s attention for the first four chapters of this book. Believers took pride in their loyalty to prominent ministers and even to Christ. In this and subsequent lessons, Paul shows that such worldly mentality is contrary to the message of the gospel.
Did You Know...?
- Sosthenes (1:1): The name is also found in Acts 18:17 in reference to the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. But we cannot be certain if the brother Paul mentions in the opening of
1 Corinthians is the same person.
- “I follow Paul”… (1:12): A more literal translation of the claims in verse 12 is “I am of Paul,” “I, of Apollos,” “I, of Cephas,” and “I, of Christ.” The words connote belonging to someone.
In this chapter Paul mentions “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” twice (1:2, 10) and his own name twice (1:13, 15). How does the idea of the name of the Lord versus the name of Paul relate to the issue of division Paul is addressing?Hide Answer
Paul wants to remind the believers in Corinth that they belong to Christ, not Paul or any other minister. A person’s name often represents his reputation and authority. Instead of following human leaders for their special qualities or gifts, we need to recognize that we all call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and should therefore be united in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 2 speaks of the common calling of all believers. How does this truth help us see the importance of unity among believers?Hide Answer
The reminder that believers everywhere have been called by the same Lord and call upon the same Lord paves the way for addressing the issue of division in the Corinthian church. Our common bond in Christ is far more important than our differences.
How is the grace of God manifest among the Corinthian believers?
What does it mean that believers have been called into the fellowship of God’s son?Hide Answer
The word for “fellowship” denotes communion or partnership. We have been called into the fellowship of God’s son in the sense that we have entered into a spiritual union with Christ. The Bible teaches us that we who have received the words of life have fellowship with one another as well as with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:1–3). We have been united with Christ from the moment of baptism (Rom 6:3–5). Henceforth we no longer obey our fleshly desires but live to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:10–11). It is no longer we who live but Christ living in us (Rom 8:10, 14:7–8;
2 Cor 5:14–15; Gal 2:20). Furthermore, we are also called to participate in the suffering of Christ, since living a Christ-centered life inevitably involves bearing His sufferings (1 Pet 4:13; Php 3:10). But we who suffer with Him will also partake of the glory that is to be revealed (Rom 8:17; 1 Pet 4:14).
How can we possibly be united in the same mind and same judgment when we all have different opinions?Hide Answer
The word for “mind” here may be translated as “attitude,” and the word for “judgment” may be translated as “purpose.” The teaching here is not to renounce any personal opinion or critical thinking, but to pursue the common attitude and goal of humility and unity. When our opinions clash with those of others, we can learn to humbly let go of our opinions for the sake of unity. The Bible’s exhortation to be humble, gentle, patient, and love is something we as members of Christ’s body all need to strive for, especially when our opinions differ (cf. Eph 4:1–3).
What is the mentality behind claiming loyalty to a particular leader?Hide Answer
The implication of the words “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas” is self-exaltation. Claiming to belong to a prominent minister is implicitly claiming to be superior to others.
Could believers today also idolize workers of God?Hide Answer
People tend to look up to those who are eloquent, capable, or charismatic. This tendency can easily turn into allegiance and loyalty to these outstanding individuals. Believers are not immune to such human weakness. Even John, the writer of Revelation, felt compelled to worship the angel who showed him God’s revelation (Rev 22:8–9). Since we are prone to idolize individuals, we must be cautious not to adore or become devoted to workers who excel in certain areas or whom God has used to do extraordinary works.
What is wrong with saying “I follow Christ”?Hide Answer
In the context of division in the church, a person who claims to follow or belong to Christ is implying that others do not. Once again, such is a claim to superiority. In our fervor, we must be cautious and not think that we are more spiritual or holy than other believers. Such mentality creates schism in the church and is detrimental to ourselves.
How is division often the result of pride and ego?Hide Answer
When we think we are superior, we tend to distance ourselves from those whom we look down on and associate with only those who meet our standards. Factions, competitions, and quarrels follow. Thus Paul urges the believers in Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Php 2:3).
What is Paul’s point in asking whether he was crucified for them or whether they were baptized in his name?Hide Answer
The believers in Corinth were mistaken in pledging their allegiance to ministers in the church. It is not worthwhile to follow human leaders because they cannot offer us salvation. Our loyalty should be placed only in the Lord Jesus, who has died for us and who alone is our Savior.
Is Paul denying the importance of baptism when he says that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel? Please explain.Hide Answer
On the contrary, Paul’s words imply that baptism is important. If baptism were unimportant to Paul, it would have been pointless for him to ask “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The fact that this question is placed side by side with “Was Paul crucified for you?” shows that baptism and crucifixion are both important because they are directly related to believers’ salvation.
The reason Paul thanks God that he baptized only a few members in Corinth is that “so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (1:14–15). Paul brings up the topic of baptism precisely because of its importance. He wants to make sure that no one claims special affiliation to Paul by claiming it was Paul who baptized them.
How would words of eloquent wisdom empty the power of the cross of Christ?Hide Answer
“Eloquent wisdom,” which is literally “wisdom of word,” may be understood as clever speech that projects the wisdom of the speaker. If converts are drawn to the evangelist’s wisdom rather than the salvation that Christ accomplished on the cross, then their faith is built upon the evangelist rather than on Christ. The evangelist would then take the place of the cross of Christ, which should be the center of our faith.
How is the word of the cross folly to those who are perishing?Hide Answer
To an unbeliever, the notion that God would save mankind by a most humiliating death is foolish. The lowliness and shame that are associated with the cross are directly opposite the glory and wisdom that people seek.
Is Paul denouncing wisdom?Hide Answer
As Paul will explain in 2:6, he is contrasting two kinds of wisdom, namely the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. He does not denounce wisdom altogether, but he is undermining the pride of those who are wise in their own eyes. God in His wisdom subverts the wisdom of this world and saves those who humbly accept the gospel.
What is the message behind the words of verse 25?Hide Answer
In 1:22–24, Paul explains that the message of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews who seek signs and folly to the Gentiles who seek wisdom. Verse 25 sums up the utter error of those who reject the ways of God because they are wise in their own eyes. No matter how wise or powerful human beings may be, they can never be wiser or more powerful than God. In fact, even the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men. It is a figure of speech that depicts the minuteness of man and the greatness of God. That is why we must humble ourselves before God in order to appreciate and experience the wisdom of God (cf. Mt 11:25).