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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Corinthians 1

 

 

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Verses 4-8

THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST CONFIRMED

‘I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end.’

1 Corinthians 1:4-8

The testimony of Christ, the evidence, that is, that the Corinthian Christians were in deed and in truth disciples of Christ, is confirmed by the proof given in their lives and conversation, that they had received the gifts of grace, were enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge, and in everything else in which the working of grace is to be traced.

The Apostle is able to thank God on account of them, and to argue to the certainty of their greater advance in grace until the coming of the Lord Jesus, Who shall also confirm them unto the end. They come behind in no gifts; whatever signs there are of the living action of Christ in His people, are to be found among them. They have the grace that is promised to them that believe; they have the power to declare the goodness of God towards them; they have knowledge of the work and experience of the reality of the redeeming, life-giving love, and the Apostle doubts not that He Who has so far blessed them will confirm them unto the end.

Yet these words are the preface to an Epistle which, however full of instruction and sympathy, is by no means without rebukes, and those very severe ones. The very next verses show that, notwithstanding the confirmation of the testimony of Christ, there were grievous faults among them. A spirit of division had come in. There were lessons of purity of life and of peacefulness amongst themselves, and of charity also, which needed to be impressed. It does not follow from this that we are to undervalue the importance of the gifts or graces that are the matter of the Apostle’s thankfulness. We are allowed, perhaps, to infer, from the enrichment in utterance and knowledge which he especially mentions, the prominence of those gifts which are the subject of the twelfth chapter of the Epistle, and which in the closing verse of that chapter he distinctly sets below the most excellent gift of charity, so that whilst he regards them as evidence of their true relation to Jesus, he yet has it in his mind to acquaint them that they are not all the evidence required. But the language, further, is far too extensive to apply to these gifts only. ‘In everything ye are enriched by Him.’ The testimony of Christ is not merely suggested, but affirmed: ‘Ye shall come behind in no gifts’; no, not in that most excellent gift in comparison of which the others are small, and without which they are but vanity. And it is as ‘blameless,’—not merely enlightened or eloquent or full of knowledge, or having the tongue of men and angels, but as blameless that they are to be confirmed unto the end, even in the day of Christ.

I. Is the testimony of Christ confirmed in you?—What does it need to come up to the ideal the Apostle draws for you, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ? Suppose him to rise up in the midst of us to-day and look around him for a testimony in our lives and conversation that we were the sort of Christians that he wrote to. What think you would he see and say? He would see much, very much, in which he would never think of asking for the testimony of Christ. But he would see many, very many, calling on the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. He would see a great many Christian churches, and schools, and hospitals, and a vast number of organisations set at work to do good in ways in which, until he, after Christ, had taught the lesson of charity, it never entered into the heart of man to seek the good of his neighbour. He would say, ‘The testimony of Christ has been here,’ for these things tell of the working of His Spirit as certainly as any gifts of utterance or of knowledge that were given to saints and churches in the first century. He would see the faults also, the divisions, and the contentiousness, and the unsatisfactory morality which he saw among the Corinthian converts, to whom, in spite of all, he could write thus hopefully. Yet we ourselves should look deeper, should try to see what the testimony of Christ should be in us. He might come into churches and see and join in our service, hear us read out his own words, and try to explain them as it seems to us that they were written for our learning. He would recognise in all the changes of garb and attitude and language, such of the testimony of Christ as is to be found amongst those who still believe in the one body and one spirit, one hope and calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. ‘Christ is here,’ he would say; ‘Christ has been here long; Christ will perfect the work that He has begun until the day of the manifestation of the blameless.’ God forbid that we should doubt it for a moment! but we want a deeper search. What shall I do to be saved? Where, what is my testimony? Where, what is my hope? It matters but little what evidence of Christ can be seen around me. Until I know what there is in me, all that is around me but increases my responsibility, my mistrust, my dread and shame. What I want is not what St. Paul would see, but what my God, looking in my heart, ought to see—true testimony that I am Christ’s and He is mine.

II. How is it confirmed in you?—If we are justified in arguing from the analogy of St. Paul’s words, the test of the true evidence that should be sought for is this: it is growth, development, strengthening, confirmation, progress. ‘Covet earnestly the best gifts; cultivate most earnestly the more excellent way.’ ‘Ye are enriched in all knowledge and utterance, ye come behind in no gift.’ The key-note of the strain is the idea of growth from the simpler to the greater gifts, from the elementary knowledge to astonishing and exhaustive knowledge, from the utterance of stammering lips and a lisping tongue, to being able to set forth Him Who is the source of power to men and angels, and from the best growths, from the most precious experiences, to the more excellent way of love; that is to be the sign of confirmation unto the end, and of being found blameless; progress from knowledge to knowledge, from love to love, from glory to glory. Growth is the sign of life; growth in grace is the testimony of Jesus Christ.

III. How can we put the test to ourselves?—Let us take two or three points and put them to our conscience.

(a) Do I take more pleasure in increasing my knowledge of God? It is a hard question, perhaps, because unfortunately it is not easy to answer it in a way that will leave the conscience tolerably content. We are very prone to rest content with a very slight knowledge of Him. The little that we have learned in childhood or at school is all that we keep up, with occasionally reading the Bible and listening to sermons once a week. I do not suppose that there is one person among us who can look comfortably at that question so put to him; a very sure sign, that, of the way in which we begin to excuse ourselves. It is true that the learning of which I speak is not confined to books, not confined even to the Book of books. It is not confined to experience, or learned merely by sorrow or thankfulness, by temptation or victory. Those of whom we first read of it were probably men who probably had no books, and were little accustomed to dogmatic teaching, and perhaps had little self-knowledge or little self-introspection to begin their investigation; but if it were so it does not account for our careless attitude of mind or heart. We cannot say that the knowledge of God is so spread around us as the waters cover the sea, that we live in such an atmosphere of it that we are all like to have enough of it. Even if it were so, and you know it is not, darkness in the midst of our minds while light is all around us, still it is not the true account. Do we care to know more about God, to study the mind of Christ, to dwell in thought upon the story of His life and the infinite effects of His death, to work out the manifold manifestation of His works, to see Him everywhere? Do we care for it, or do we put it from us? I will not supply an answer. If your heart condemn you, go to Him Who is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things.

(b) Do I take more pleasure in communion with Him by prayer and sacrament, prayer, in which I make my requests known to Him, and communion, in which He strengthens my power of living close to Him and doing His will? Now, prayer is a very crucial test of the relation of the soul to God. If your desires are set upon things that you can openly and without self-deceit ask God to give you, you will find prayer become the very natural, spontaneous, constant utterance of your soul. On the other hand, if you feel that you cannot lay half your heart before God, that you have no desire for anything that you care to ask God for, it is no wonder that you do not care to pray. So also if you see no difficulties in the way that you are not likely to overcome by the mere effort of your will, no temptation coming to you which requires more than an act of simple self-command to drive away or escape from, no doubt you do not feel the necessity of gaining strength and refreshing from the source of your life. Prayer and communion thus become the custom rather than the living habit to you. You are uncomfortable when you do not go through the forms that you are used to, but it is very like the discomfort of wearing a dress that does not fit you; it is not the discomfort of a soul hungering and thirsting for its necessary sustenance. How many are there with whom this is the case! God’s offers, ever ready, of an ever-abundant supply of strength, are ill responded to by one who will scarce lift up his hand to take the mercies that are so freely bestowed. You must answer the question yourselves if you want the answer. I do not say it needs a very searching inquiry. I fear that with very many of us the answer is too obvious. God help to put into our hearts more and more the good desires that He loves to hear of, and prayer that He longs to grant!

(c) Do I take more and more pleasure in doing good for the love that I bear to His people? Answer yourself, What good do I do in my daily life that I find pleasure in doing for God? What effort am I making to do more and more without reference to any secondary motive, even to the quieting voice of my own conscience? Am I growing less selfish, more willing to surrender my own will, my own plan, my own comfort? Am I growing more active in the effort to help the work of God, more sympathetic with sorrow, more in accord with His spirit Who offered Himself a sacrifice for sin; more patient, more hopeful, more happy in the work that I like, or less and less prone to measure everything by its relation to myself, putting self out of the way without feeling it to be self-denial, setting love first of all by the unconscious and habitual practice of looking at self last of all?

We want to see the testimony of Christ. Will you look for it in the answer of the heart brought to these questions? We set the ideal high because we know the effort must be an incessant one if it is to be the test of true growth and of true life.

Bishop W. Stubbs.

Illustration

‘Is the Christianity which we profess to-day the same thing as the Christianity of which St. Paul was the heroic champion? The religion of Jesus Christ is in point of fact exactly the same to-day as it was then, only now it occupies a different position and advances to greater power. It has to confront and apply itself and to deal with all the circumstances of modern life and civilisation. And it is one great glory of our religion, and surely one great element of its extraordinary power, that it is able to adapt itself to all conditions of human life everywhere and in all ages. A modern English bishop would have been wholly unfitted to be an apostle of the early Church, and the humble tent-maker would be quite unfitted to-day to be a ruler of our modern Church of England. But the religion of Jesus Christ, adapting itself to the days of its infancy, had a tent-maker for an apostle, and adapting itself to our modern life, so different to-day, has men in high position for rulers of the Church. Under all circumstances, and in all ages, the thing itself remains unchanged. Our Christianity and that of the first days are really one and the same, though differing so widely in outward appearance, just as a man remains the same whether clothed in the rags of a beggar or dressed in the apparel of a king.’


Verse 6

THE WITNESS CONCERNING CHRIST

‘The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you.’

1 Corinthians 1:6

Christianity means, first of all, the testimony of Christ; that is to say, the witness concerning Christ. Now this is what the great Apostle urges over and over again. He is always urging it. He presents himself everywhere to men as a witness for the Person of Christ.

I. The message which he brings is first and foremost a testimony concerning Him.—And this was something wholly new in the history of religious teaching. There had been religious teachers; there had been philosophers by the score before St. Paul came. They had their doctrines; they had their systems; they had their theories, which they presented to men’s minds, and which they offered to men’s acceptance. St. Paul, too, had his system and his doctrines to propose to men, which he did hold up and propose to men; but they lay in the background of all that he taught. What he put prominently forward first, and what was the one thing which he gave his life in order that he might press upon the minds and souls of men, was the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, as he over and over again says, lived, died, was buried, rose, ascended, is ever at the right hand of God, and ever living with His Church and people upon earth. It was this testimony of Christ which he is everywhere delivering; it is the same testimony of Christ which is the prime element of our Christianity too. It is true there are great doctrines presented to our minds—doctrines that are most magnificent in their sweep, and most glorious in their truth, most mighty in their power, most precious in their meaning, but they all of them hang upon the Person of Christ. It is the testimony of Christ which makes them all what they are.

II. And yet Christianity in its true essence means something more than this testimony of Christ.—It means this first, but it means much more besides. And St. Paul expresses the further meaning of the religion which he taught in the brief, terse sentence of the text. He says to his converts in the city of Corinth, ‘The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you.’ And what he means to say is that that testimony of Christ, which he delivered to them, took deep root in the hearts of those who became followers of Christ, and laid hold of the springs of their being. It is quite clear that this was so. St. Paul came to the great city of Corinth, and there he delivered the testimony of Christ to such as would listen to him. Most men, of course, refused to listen. They laughed at what seemed such folly to them. They scoffed at the humbler tent-maker who ventured to teach them. They were angry, some of them, with him, and the anger of some went on until the days of persecution. Nevertheless, there were some who did listen, and when they listened, the testimony of Christ, which Paul delivered, laid strange hold upon them which they could not explain. The Person of Christ, of which he talked to them a great deal, rose up before their spirits and minds as a great reality, and then it was to them the very refuge that they wanted from their sins and the sorrows of their life. It was the very rock on which they wanted to plant their feet for safety; it was the very light that they wanted to guide them; it was the very hope which they wanted as they thought of death and whatever it might be that comes after death. The testimony of Christ was confirmed in them.

III. And here is the further meaning of the essence of true Christianity. It is not only the revelation of Christ to men; it is that first and foremost, but besides that it is the drawing of men to Christ. St. Paul’s first object was to bring Christ to men, but the reason why that was his first object was that he might eventually bring men to Christ. The testimony of Christ has been delivered to us, not simply to add to the stock of our human knowledge, or to move our wonder and admiration. Christ is held up to us, not simply as a beautiful statue, attracting our wonder and admiration and homage by its beauty and its glory, while all the time it is only like cold and lifeless marble. No! He is held up as a living Person, stretching His hands to us, moving Himself towards us, calling us by His loving voice, and Whom we find to be warm and living. Christ is held up to us in the New Testament that we may be drawn to His feet in humble penitence and faith and love, and then, what always follows, that we may be gradually renewed after His image.

Illustration

‘It would be a foolish thing to say, as men sometimes do say, in the newspapers and elsewhere, that all our modern controversies upon matters of doctrine are a mere waste of words and time, and that it matters really very little whether we accept, for instance, the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Church or the Decrees of the Council of Trent. Doctrine is of great importance, but it is of less importance than the testimony concerning Christ Himself. St. Paul wrote elaborate treatises to set forth and to enforce doctrines. There are treatises by the hundred written to-day to uphold some doctrines and to demolish others. But all these things do not touch the centre of our faith. They are all secondary to the great foundation truth that the Son of God came into the world in the Person of Christ, lived, died, rose, ascended, lives for ever, promising to us who have sinned—that means all of us—pardon and peace and life. It is the testimony of the Person of Christ which first meets the hunger of human souls.’


Verse 8

UNTO THE END

‘Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

1 Corinthians 1:8

Weak faith, weak love, weak resolves, weak prayer, a weak watch, these are the roots of almost all which we have most to regret in life. Therefore, the great question is, What are the strengtheners of this great scheme of religion?

It might be expected that there would be a resemblance between what strengthens the natural and physical life, and what strengthens the moral and spiritual life, for God generally places these things in an analogy. Let us look at it in that light.

I. Does the natural life need continually and regularly its appointed and properly supplied nourishment, without which it cannot sustain life? so the soul, it too has its bread, the Bread of Life.

II. And does the health of the body require its own proper medicine?—So does the soul, without which it cannot always be well and strong. And what is the medicine? ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? Why, then, is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?’ Go there, and you will find it.

III. And fresh air?—Without which, all that is vital fails and wanes. And what is the fresh air of the soul? What is it? Let me give you Christ’s answer. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’

IV. And what in nature can ever be well and fulfil its function without light and sunshine!—And by a law, as universal and as binding, the higher life of the soul must have brightness, it must have the radiance of an inward joy, the smile of heaven, the beams of love which flow from the heart of Jesus. It must have that light.

V. The strength, the very life of our body, depends on its union with the head, and according as the communication from the head to the body goes down, and according as the communication from the body to the head goes up direct and constant, so is every one’s life and every one’s power. Just so it is between us and Christ.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘At your confirmation you did, of your own free will, in the presence of God and His Church, make the most express dedication of yourself to God for life. It was both a promise and a vow—a promise to man and a vow to God deliberately made and sealed by the laying on of the hands of the chief pastor of the Church. You vowed that you would renounce every sin, and everything however pleasant, which might lead you to sin; and all wrong thoughts and wicked desires. You vowed that you would believe, as God calls you to believe, believe with your heart every part of His holy Word, and specially in the grace of salvation. Thirdly, that you would keep, in your memory, keep in your heart, keep in your daily walk of life, all that God hath commanded us both to be and do. And even, even if it was not commanded, whatever God can wish you to do—His commandment and His will. Have you kept that promise? Are you keeping it now? Are you keeping it in the letter? Are you keeping it in the spirit?’


Verses 11-13

THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST

‘There are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?’

1 Corinthians 1:11-13

The one hope of our nation lies in the faithful allegiance to the living Christ. This is a lesson which He Himself inculcated again and again—that all His people must live in His Divine love—as the branch lives by the sap of the trunk, and as the members of the body live by the beating of the heart. And in nineteen centuries of the Christian era all that the human mind has ever known of best and of greatest has been derived from Him. I see no dangers to Christianity except such as arise from the errors of Christians. But, though Christianity can never be finally overthrown, it may be temporarily overthrown. It may suffer a collapse, disastrous, indeed, to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.

I. If we would uphold the cause of Christ we must learn humbly to study for ourselves His own words and His own clear will.—We must take our ideas from Him, and not from the fuglemen of our party. It is quite possible to mistake and to misunderstand Him grievously, even as His own Apostles did. They faithfully record for us their failures. Christ was too large, too Divine, too loving, too universal, too eternal, for their finite souls. If even the Apostles misunderstood Him, do you think there is now no danger that we, who too often suffer so little with Him, do so little for Him, listen so little in solitude to His still small voice—do you think that there is no danger that we should misunderstand Him?

II. The Lord Christ is the universal Christ; the Christ not of one party, but of all; not of one Church, but of all; not of one race, but of all; not of one Christian, but of all. The fatal tendency of Christians is to monopolise Christ, to talk and to act as though Christ were divided, as though they alone could speak of Him with infallible knowledge. It is a deadly error, the daughter of selfishness, the mother of bigotry, strife, and persecution, the source of continual weakness, the disintegration of Christianity into wrangling and squabbling sects. It springs from the stronghold of Satan, disguised as an angel of light. When these Corinthians, the most conceited and self-asserting of all St. Paul’s converts, said, ‘I am of Christ,’ they meant to throw at every other Christian the taunt, ‘You are not of Christ.’ And how often do we hear Christians talk as though Christ were theirs and no one else’s! as though all except themselves were all quite wrong and mistaken. No man, no sect, no church, has a right itself to claim Christ, or His forgiveness, or the merits of His redeeming love as its special and peculiar, still less its exclusive, possession.

III. Why was St. Paul so indignant with those Christians who described themselves, ‘I am of Christ’?—Why did he think them sufficiently rebuked by the question, ‘Is Christ divided’? It is for this reason, that with all the selfishness of the religious mind they were trying to set up a Christian party of unchristian men. They were turning orthodoxy into the factiousness which is expressed in the New Testament by the word translated ‘heresy’; they were trying to emblazon the Name of Christ on the ignoble banner of a party instead of on the glorious Semper eadem of the universal Church. They were narrowing the Divine universality of Christ, as though they were the oracles, and orthodoxy should die with them, and the angels had never sung, ‘Peace on earth, and good will towards men.’ Two men went into the Temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, the other a publican, and which did Christ rebuke? In true Christianity there is nothing of this pettiness or ignorant individualism. Christianity is as universal as our Christ, and he who lives or talks or writes as though it were other than this, whatever may be his pretensions, however loudly he may reiterate, ‘Lord, Lord,’ has neither learnt the most elementary of Christ’s lessons, which is the lesson of Christian love, nor acquired the sweetest of the virtues which He inculcated, which is a humble and a childlike mind. Therefore, let not Christ be a Christ claimed exclusively by our sect or claimed solely by ourselves. Let Him indeed be the Lord, the Christ of us individually. He it is Who, amidst the noise and jostling of the world, is our one Friend in all our faithlessness, the One to forgive in all our sinning.

IV. As a plain practical conclusion, I would say, while with contrite hearts and scarce uplifted eyes we may say in our own solitude of trust, ‘I hope that I am of Christ, if only He will pardon the very best of what I am,’ let us be wary of saying in an arrogant and exclusive sense, ‘I am Christ’s.’ Let us be wary of that miserable spirit which degrades the grandeur of Christianity. We are not the only sound or the only orthodox persons. All from whom we differ are neither so deep in darkness nor so flooded with error as our conceit fancies. You cannot ruin Christianity more thoroughly than by stamping it with bigotry and hatred. You have no right to brand with heresy every difference between your brother’s creed and your own. There is only one heresy which verges on the pardonable, which is—hatred. Wouldst thou be a Christian? Then lay aside the rags of self-righteousness, and thy badges of party, thy envy and bitterness and strife. Ceremonial observances are not religion. Multiplied services are not religion. Long prayers are not religion. Orthodoxy of creed is not religion. These are but parts of religion—elements of religion. To this or that man they may seem as religion, but ‘to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world’—that is religion. Righteousness and peace and joy in believing—that is religion, and to do the things which Christ says—that is religion, and all the charities which bind man to man and that blend the nations of the world—these are religion; and this is religion, to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves; and this is religion, to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.

—Dean Farrar.

Illustration

‘Our condition is full of anomalies; we deprecate divisions; we hold our episcopal government as the best, and wonder why it is not so received. We try a theory which shall explain the success of the Gospel with the fact of our unhappy divisions. But as to the fruits, we are perplexed by what we see. A man goes to an island where the population are lepers; he stays with them, serves them, gives them hope in that lowest depth of trouble. He takes the disease; that was sure beforehand. He will die; that, too, is true. He asks only that others may be sent out to help them; this one is a Roman Catholic priest. In a Fijian island missionaries have extirpated cannibalism. There is fear of a relapse; victims are prepared. A woman crosses the strait, persuades, rebukes in her Master’s Name; brings back safe in her boat the lives of the victims and her own life. That was a Wesleyan. Another went to the Dark Continent, where the task of this century lies; was prostrated with fever, came home with zeal unquenched, went out again, and perished by the sword; that martyr was an Anglican Bishop. We do not feel able to discuss their relative positions in the Church of God, nor where error lies. Such grand actions stir the blood and moisten the eyes, and dispose us to praise Grid for His goodness. May He spread the infection of that holy courage!’


Verse 18

THE RELIGION OF REDEMPTION

‘The preaching of the Cross.’

1 Corinthians 1:18

Christianity is the religion of redemption; it is for that reason that the Apostle gives as the motto and the summary of the Gospel this little sentence in the text, ‘The preaching of the Cross.’ For the Cross is the symbol, as it once was the instrument, of our redemption. Whether it were to Galatia or to Corinth, to rude and barbarous rustics in their impetuosity and changefulness, or whether it were to the cultivated children of Greek wisdom, St. Paul had one message, and that message was ‘The preaching of the Cross.’ What did he mean?

I. An historical reality.—The Apostle rejoiced in an historical redemption. Not in ideas, but in facts; not in a code, but a Person; not in impulses and sentiments, but in the flesh and blood reality of the dire struggle of our Lord with human guilt, wretchedness, and wrong. He rejoiced in an historical redemption when he preached the Gospel of the Cross; and if ever there was a doleful and desperate reality in this world, it was the Cross of Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of this reality as a great thing effected here in this world and on its dusty surface. He spoke upon events that transpired in a known place, under a known government, in known circumstances, on which eyes had been riveted, over which hearts had been broken. He spoke of Christ in Jerusalem nailed to the Cross, placed in the tomb, and risen from the dead. Never forget that Christianity rests upon the great obdurate facts of human history.

II. An inward experience.—He said, ‘I am crucified with Christ.’ ‘The life I live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Very personal, very inward, even mystical is the language, and it is the preaching of the Cross that carries that message home into the living experiences of men and women.

III. A vivid and graphic description of Christ in His unseen power working among men. Do you recall those words from the letter to the Galatians? So powerful was the portraiture which Paul drew before the spiritual eyes of the Galatian hearers, that for a moment they seem to have seen the extended arms, the bleeding brow, and pierced side of the crucified Jesus.

Now this, in brief, is what he meant by ‘the preaching of the Cross’; he meant the historical redemption, he meant the inward experience, he meant the vivid portraiture and living presentation of an exalted but still potent Saviour, so as to reach the inward vision of the soul; and such should be the preaching of the Gospel to-day.

—Rev. H. J. R. Marston.

Illustration

‘I would warn you against being tired of the religion of Redemption, and going after what is called the religion of the Incarnation. The religion of the Incarnation is a glorious and a true one when it is truly taught, but it very often means nothing else but the religion of Incarnation, and that is just glorying in the flesh, glorying in man’s power, glorying in human faculties, human destinies, human efforts, human aspirations. It is that glorying in the flesh which St. Paul repudiated when he said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Humanity is wonderful, wonderful are its powers, its achievements, and its aspirations; but every poet and every philosopher that has written of its power has sunk down at last with a sigh of despondency. We know neither despondency nor despair, for we sum up all hopes in one word, and that “the Cross.”’


Verse 22-23

A MESSAGE FOR JEW AND GREEK

‘The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified.’

1 Corinthians 1:22-23

St. Paul is here contrasting the expectations which men would naturally form of the Gospel of Christ with what that Gospel really is. He divides the world into two parts. Some, like the Jews, were requiring a sign; and others, like the Greeks, were seeking after wisdom. The same message of the Cross came to both.

I. A sign refused.—‘The Jews require a sign.’ These words immediately carry our thoughts to those occasions in the Gospels when this very demand was made from our blessed Lord Himself. His answer was, ‘A wicked and an adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it.’ No sign should be given, because no sign could be given. They were asking for some portentous work of wonder, some startling phenomenon which they might see or hear, bearing testimony to the Lord. It could not be given.

II. Conditions which could not be accepted.—‘And the Greeks seek after wisdom.’ They did not require a sign, but they had their conditions which they expected to be satisfied. A message from God, they said, must be addressed to the intellect of man and be in accordance with its forms. There must be an orderly system of doctrine, supported by adequate arguments, like the schemes of philosophy to which they were accustomed. Above all things, the intellect must grasp the whole, the chain of reasoning must be complete. Now St. Paul laboured over and over again to make the Corinthians feel that the Gospel which he preached was not addressed to the intellect of man. If it were measured by the mere intellect it must be accounted ‘foolishness.’ It could not be otherwise. The forms of the intellect might stretch until they broke, but they never could embrace it. It was too high for their measuring-lines to reach, too deep for their plummets to sound. It was addressed to something in man which was far above the understanding.

III. The true sign and the true wisdom.—‘We preach Christ crucified.’ This was the sign before which St. Paul himself had bowed down to the dust. This was the wisdom before which he had felt his own understanding shrink and dwindle into nothing. He knew that no words of his could make the sign plainer or the wisdom wiser. He was determined that he would not weaken the message of God by mixing it up with that wisdom which he had felt and known to be foolishness. He had nothing to do with any explanations. And the same message comes to you. Gaze steadfastly upon ‘Christ crucified.’ Ask for no explanations. Ask not how or why this thing should be. Be sure of this, that whatever explanation you may hear, whatever opinion you may form, will be infinitely short of the truth, for His ways are not as your ways, nor His thoughts as your thoughts. Therefore draw near with reverence and awe, and see this great sight. Gaze upon it until it has found its way to your heart and you hear it speaking there. It will speak for itself more mightily than the wisest words of man can speak for it. It is the sign of God’s salvation, for it signifies His grace and truth, His perfect righteousness, His everlasting love. It is the beginning and the end of wisdom, for it fills the heart with fear, and by gazing upon it man learns to know God.

Illustration

‘In the words of a modern writer, “Christ is Christianity.” Christianity is a great historical religion, it can be traced back to a founder with whose career and history we are familiar, and there are other great historical religions, e.g. Buddhism and Mohammedanism, which can be traced back to personal founders; but unlike all other religions, Christianity claims to be more than historical, it claims for its founder an abiding presence in the world in every age, its founder is not a being of the past, but a being of the present, and hence Christian preaching in the Apostolic age and in our own is not setting forth a body of divinity, a chain of doctrines, or a code of duty, which owe their origin to Jesus Christ Who lived eighteen centuries ago, but it is preaching Jesus Christ Himself in all that He is revealed to be, Perfect God and Perfect Man, uniting the two natures in One Person, now living, in heaven, in the Church, in the hearts of His children.’


Verse 23

THE ‘FOOLISHNESS’ OF PREACHING

‘Unto the Greeks foolishness.’

1 Corinthians 1:23

It is a good many years since St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, spoke of the foolishness of preaching, and then he did not mean by that expression what the words in their modern sense would imply. All through the centuries this has been a popular theme and will always remain so. St. Paul did not mean what later critics usually mean: that the preacher’s precepts are foolish, his knowledge insufficient, his logic weak, his choice of language feeble, his exhortations insincere. What he meant was that to the cultivated Greeks the actual message which Christianity brought into the world was foolish. It was the story of the crucified Redeemer that was foolishness. Now, I think, it is rather the general teaching of the ordained ministers of Christ which is counted foolish. Is that just? Let us see.

I. Preaching is still the ordinary and recognised way by which the knowledge of the Gospel message is brought home to men.—Faith cometh by hearing, not by reading, and how can they hear without a preacher? Viewed in this aspect, then, preaching would seem to be not at all foolishness, but a matter of first-class importance. Yet so it is that nowadays sermons are for the most part accounted a bore, and though men will occasionally crowd to hear a few distinguished preachers, they are less disposed to listen to sermons habitually than their fathers were. But preaching is an indispensable factor in any living religion, and if it be true that preachers are dull and hearers bored, that humiliating state of things can be escaped if we will both shake ourselves out of the groove into which we have fallen.

II. Men may think too little or too much of preaching, and in either way they may lose all the benefit they might otherwise have derived from it.

(a) To think too little is naturally the fault of the average conventional attendant at church, who is there because he is expected to be there, who comes there patiently enough but with little or no interest. Such a hearer as that expects nothing, and as a consequence receives nothing. His languid acquiescence results in a sort of moral dullness, perhaps also in the unexpressed cynicism ‘Who shall show us any good?’ and to him preaching is, almost of necessity, foolishness.

(b) To think too much. The other fault of asking too much of the preacher seems to lie in this, that many church congregations are apt to attribute to what they hear from the pulpit a kind of authority which the preacher really has no right whatever to claim, and with this impression in their minds, they are further apt to resent what they hear as if they were being forced into agreement while the circumstances under which sermons are preached preclude them from making any reply to what is said. The distinction which St. Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7. suffices to explain this error.

—Rev. A. W. Hutton.

Illustration

‘While the preacher must speak, and ought to speak, with authority, when as a minister of Christ he proclaims the message of salvation, and it is his first duty to deliver it, this authority does not cover the thousand cognate topics, questions of morals, questions of interpretation, questions of order, questions of expediency, on which also from time to time he must speak if he is to fulfil his mission usefully. In these things he has no final message to deliver, he can only contribute, as it were, to the common stock. You are not bound to accept as gospel, as the phrase is, what he thus sets before you. You would rightly resent and dislike all preaching if you thought you were thus bound, but if you listen to a man fairly and considerately you will find yourselves able to learn something from him.’


Verse 24

POWER AND WISDOM

‘Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.’

1 Corinthians 1:24

Be careful that you understand those words rightly. Not only that Christ is Divine ‘power’ and Divine ‘wisdom,’ but much more than that. Christ embodies, Christ performs, Christ is God’s ‘Power’ and God’s ‘Wisdom’; and by Christ He uses the world; by Christ he guides the world; and in Christ we are to seek and find God’s ‘Power’; and in Christ we are to seek and find God’s ‘Wisdom’; for ‘He is made’ and constituted ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.’

I. If the ‘Power of God’ resides in Christ, then the Power of God’ is now in One Who is in such perfect sympathy with us, and Who has done such great things for us, in His true love, that we may be quite sure that all that ‘power’ is engaged, not against us, but for us. The thought is so high, and the comfort so great, that we scarcely dare to appropriate it. ‘The Power of God’ is in me, by the simple fact that I am a Christian.

II. Who am I, to hold such a tremendous force?—How can I wield it? Therefore, let us turn to ‘The Wisdom.’ ‘Christ, the Wisdom of God.’ By God’s ‘Wisdom’ He made the heavens. What was that ‘Wisdom’? We have the answer in the opening of St. John’s Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ And Whom ‘the Word’ is, we are told immediately afterwards: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.’ Therefore, ‘the Word’ is Christ.

III. But bring the thought a little more closely to yourselves.—The Bible is the Written Word—Christ is the Living Word. The Written Word would be as nothing without the Living Word. It would be as a casket without jewels. The Living Word is its life; it is dead without Christ. Therefore, what ‘Wisdom’ is in the Bible—is Christ! And it is just in proportion as you find and see Christ there, that the Bible will ‘make you wise unto salvation.’


Verse 30

CHRISTIAN SANCTITY

‘Christ … made unto us … sanctification.’

1 Corinthians 1:30

The special interest of this passage is to note the means of sanctification. How is Christ made sanctification to us?

I. Not merely by a presentation of motives.—No doubt motives are presented—motives of gratitude, motives of love, all have their appointed place, but who has not found that the motive power of these affections fails to produce the good fruit which was expected from them? We ought to be grateful, but our gratitude is sadly evanescent; we ought to love, but how dull and cold our love soon grows! No, the presentation of motives will not suffice; something more is needed.

II. Nor is He our sanctification merely by the exhibition of a pattern.—He is our accepted and perfect pattern, the absolutely faultless life was found in Him alone; but to present Christ as a pattern may rather depress than encourage me. If all that is given is a pattern I shall despair of imitating it, and despair is the death-knell of exertion. There must be something more than a pattern, or Christianity would be a failure. But Christ offers us far more than a pattern.

III. He is our sanctification first as to its source.—It is remarkable, indeed, that sanctification in Scripture should be ascribed to each person in the Holy Trinity. We read in Jude 1:1, ‘Sanctified by God the Father.’ In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 sanctification is declared to be through the Spirit, and it is certain that the Holy Ghost is the great agent in this work; yet both here and in Hebrews 2:11 we find sanctification ascribed to Christ. We may certainly, therefore, say that Christ, as head of His Church, is the source of its sanctity. What light does this fact throw upon the means of sanctification? It teaches us that, as we have already indicated, holy dispositions are received not by any efforts of our own, but by faith in our sanctifier.

IV. Christ is made our sanctification as to its sphere—i.e. He is made to us a sanctuary in which we may be safe. The word ‘sanctification’ is translated in the Septuagint (Isaiah 8:14) as ‘sanctuary.’ This gives us the thought of a spiritual atmosphere into which we may plunge, a hiding-place into which we may flee and in which we may abide, and only as we do thus abide in Christ, in fellowship with Him, shall we be in a position to receive from Him and to be sanctified by Him.

V. Christ is made to us sanctification as to its secret.—If you would be holy you must not only have Christ for you, you must have Christ in you.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘It is a frequent though ill-founded objection to the doctrine of justication by faith only, that it overlooks the necessity of holy living, that the effect of teaching it will be to lead men to suppose that no radical change of life is needed in themselves, that they may believe in Christ and yet live as they please. How great a fallacy this is every true Christian is aware, for he knows that wherever Christ is really received a new nature is received with Him, and that the tendency of the new disposition is as truly to holiness as that of the former was to sin.’

ST.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-corinthians-1.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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