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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

1 Corinthians 1

Verses 1-31

1 Corinthians 1 .

(Vv. 1-3). In writing to the assembly at Corinth, Paul does so as an apostle, and is careful to state that he has received his authority as an apostle by the call of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and not as appointed by man or according to the will of man. Though writing as an apostle he is quite free to associate with himself a brother. If this brother is the Sosthenes who, in days past, had been the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth, he would be well-known to them ( Act_18:17 ). He addresses the assembly of God at Corinth as those that are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints”. He thus views the saints as set apart for Christ as they pass through this world, and at the same time called out of this present evil world to have part with Christ above, for our calling is “heavenly” and “on high” ( Heb_3:1 ; Php_3:14 ).

The apostle, while addressing the church at Corinth, links with them “all that in every place call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours”. There is only one Lord of whom each local assembly can say, in reference to all others, He is both theirs and ours. This is of the deepest importance in an epistle which deals with the practical conduct of the Christian, and the maintenance of discipline and order in the assembly. It clearly shows that the instructions apply to the whole Christian profession for all time. Again and again in the course of the Epistle we shall find passages that refute the attempt to limit the instruction to a local assembly and the apostolic age. (See 1Co_4:17 ; 1Co_7:17 ; 1Co_11:16 ; 1Co_14:36-37 ; 1Co_16:1 .) The apostle will have to speak plainly as to the disorder in this assembly, but behind all his plain words of condemnation his earnest desire is that they may enjoy the blessings of grace and peace from “God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

(Vv. 4-9). Though he will have much to correct in this assembly owing to their low state, he nevertheless thankfully acknowledges the grace of God towards them, and the faithfulness of God with them. The grace of God had come to them, as to us all, in virtue of Jesus Christ. This grace had enriched them with every spiritual blessing in Christ and given them “all word of doctrine” and “all knowledge” of the doctrine. There had been a testimony to Christ in their midst, confirmed by the knowledge of the truth that they possessed, and the fact that they came behind in no gift and were waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, the grace that had so richly blessed them would confirm them to the end, so that, however much the apostle may have to correct in their present condition, in the day of the Lord they would be blameless.

Further, however unfaithful the saints may be, the apostle can give thanks that “God is faithful”, by whom believers are “called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”. Here, let it be noted, it is not fellowship with His Son, but the fellow-ship of His Son, a fellowship of which Christ, as Lord, is the bond, and which embraces all that call upon His Name. This is true Christian fellowship, and the only one that Scripture recognises. Christians may form other fellowships of which the bond is the maintenance of some important truth, or the carrying out of some special work, but such fellowships are sectarian in character and of necessity fall far short of the fellowship into which we are called, and which has the Lord for its bond, the Lord's Supper for its deepest expression, and the Holy Spirit for its directing power ( 1Co_10:16-17 ; 2Co_13:14 ). One generation may pass and another arise, but the one Lord ( Eph_4:5 ) remains, and however great the ruin and confusion in the Christian profession, His mind for the conduct of those called into the fellowship of which He is the bond, and for the discipline and ordering of God's assemblies, remains in all its force as unfolded in this Epistle.

It is noticeable that, while thanking God for His grace, the apostle is unable to express any approval of their spiritual condition. While delighting to own the faithfulness of God, he cannot address them as “faithful brethren”, as he does when writing to the saints at Ephesus and Colosse ( Eph_1:1 ; Col_1:2 ). Alas, he has to own a little later that, in spite of having “all knowledge” and coming “behind in no gift”, they were “yet carnal”, and he cannot speak to them “as unto spiritual”. The flesh can boast in knowledge and use gifts for self-exaltation, but we do well to remember that mere knowledge, and the possession of all gifts, will not avert disorder or secure spirituality if the flesh is unjudged.

Having thus recognised what was of God in the assembly, the apostle begins to deal with the disorders prevalent in their midst which hindered their spiritual growth and testimony for Christ.

(Vv. 10, 11). The first great evil dealt with is the state of division that existed in their midst. “There are”, writes the apostle, “strifes among you”; and again in 1Co_11:18 , “I hear there exist divisions among you”. He opens this subject with an appeal to which he attaches the gravest importance by invoking “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. He has just reminded the assembly at Corinth, and ourselves, that we “have been called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”. This call, carrying with it many privileges, involves the responsibility of being true to the fellowship in our walk and ways. In order to enjoy our privileges, and carry out our responsibilities, we are exhorted to be perfectly united together in the same mind and the same opinion, so that there be no division among the people of God, or breach in the fellowship.

(V. 12). The apostle proceeds to expose the root from which divisions spring. “Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ”. On the one hand they were exalting gifted servants of the Lord into a false position as centres of gathering, which is the evil principle of clericalism; on the other hand they were forming themselves into parties round these servants and thus commencing the evil of sectarianism.

It may be asked, what of the individuals who disclaimed all men as leaders, and said, “I of Christ”? These really were worse than others, for they were attempting to make Christ the leader of a party and ignore the gifts that Christ had given. It was the assumption of superior spirituality that professed to be able to dispense with the ministry of others, and the pretension to appropriate Christ exclusively to themselves.

The evil here is the converse of that of which the apostle speaks in Act_20:30 . There he warned the Ephesian elders that trouble would arise from leaders; here he states that it arises from disciples. There he speaks of what would occur after his decease, here of what was taking place in his lifetime. One evil leads to the other. The evil that commences with Christians forming parties round leaders ends with the leaders teaching perverse things. This solemn principle, which showed itself at Corinth, has been at work throughout the history of the church with like disastrous results. People have ranged themselves round favourite teachers, and the leaders, allowing themselves to be placed in this false position, have eventually taught perverse things and brought division amongst the people of God by drawing away disciples after themselves.

(Vv. 13-16). The apostle condemns their sectarianism by asking, “Is Christ divided?”. We are called into a fellowship of which Christ is the bond. We may, alas, form other fellowships with some other bond, but we cannot divide Christ. Then he condemns their clericalism by asking, “Was Paul crucified for you?”. Paul refused to be exalted into a false position as a centre of gathering for God's people. The only true centre of gathering for the people of God is the One Who has proved His claim over them by being crucified for them. Paul, however much he loved the people of God, had not been crucified for them. He will not usurp the place in the affections of God's people that alone belongs to the crucified One. His one object, as with every true servant, was, as he says, to espouse them to one husband that he might present them as a chaste virgin to Christ ( 2Co_11:2 ). Nor had Paul made himself a centre of gathering by baptizing unto the name of Paul. In fact he had only baptized Crispus and Gaius, and also the household of Stephanas; as for the rest of these Corinthian saints, he had refrained from baptizing them lest any should say that he was baptizing unto his own name and so seeking to form a party round himself. In thus exalting their favourite teachers, and seeking to gain distinction for themselves by following them, they were glorying in men rather than in the Lord, in the gifts rather than the Giver.

In order to meet this evil the apostle insists on two great truths: first, the Cross of Christ, the great theme of the remainder of this chapter; secondly, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the great theme of the second chapter. He will have much to correct in detail as to their conduct, but before doing so he seeks to establish them in the great truths that entirely exclude the flesh, the allowance of which lies at the root of all disorder in the church of God. The Cross deals with the flesh in judgment before God. The presence of the Holy Spirit is intolerant of the flesh in the assembly of God on earth. It is a solemn consideration for us all that, whenever we allow the flesh to manifest itself in the assembly of God, we practically deny the work of the Cross, and ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit.

First, the apostle speaks of the Cross of Christ in verse 17. In connection with this we have the preaching of the Cross in verses 18-25, the calling of God in verses 26-29, and, finally, the position into which the call of God brings us in verses 30 and 31. Every one of these truths entirely excludes the flesh and leads to the conclusion that, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”.

1. The Cross of Christ.

(V. 17). The apostle first of all upholds before these believers the Cross of Christ. He had been sent, not to baptize, but to preach the glad tidings. The preaching was not to be with wisdom of words lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. The gospel cannot be set forth by mere words; it is set forth by the Cross. It is a deeply important principle to apprehend that God acquaints us with Himself by His actions, and not simply by descriptions or statements of Himself. Philosophy and theology seek to describe God; but description requires the wisdom of words, and the wisdom of words demands human learning to frame and understand the words. God is too great to be described by words, and we are too small to take in mere descriptions. God has thus taken another way, indeed the only way possible, to make Himself and His glad tidings known. He has made Himself known personally and in actions. God has become manifest in flesh in the Person of Christ, and made Himself known in all His activities amongst men. And these activities of grace and love and holiness culminate in the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the greatest possible setting forth of the love of God to the sinner, of the hatred of God against sin, and of the setting aside of man in the flesh.

This being so, the apostle refuses to announce the glad tidings by mere descriptions, which entail the wisdom of words, but upholds before them the Cross of Christ, which sets aside the man that the Corinthians were exalting.

2. The preaching of the Cross.

(Vv. 18-25). Philosophers prefer their learned dissertations; therefore the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness. The wise of this world do not see the glory of the Person Who was nailed to the Cross, and hence they do not see the love of God that gave Him to suffer, nor the holiness of God that demanded such a sacrifice, nor the utter ruin of man set forth in the Cross. All they see is a Man nailed to a Cross between two thieves; so the preaching of salvation through the Cross appears to them utter folly. Those who think thus are those who perish. To those who are saved the Cross is the power of God to save, for thereby God can righteously save the vilest sinner.

The wisdom of the world is thus exposed and brought to nothing. The world had ample time to develop its wisdom, the result being that all the wisdom of the philosophers was shown to be folly, inasmuch as it left man in complete ignorance of God. The end of all man's wisdom is that “the world by wisdom knew not God”. It was not that the world by its ignorance or stupidity knew not God, but by wisdom it knew not God. The net result of all the wisdom of the ages - the combined efforts of the keenest intellects of the world - is to leave man in utter ignorance of God, and in utter ignorance of himself. When the complete failure of man's wisdom had been demonstrated, then it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

But God's way of revealing Himself and blessing man is equally offensive to Jews and Gentiles. The Jews looked for a “sign”, some miraculous intervention of God that appealed to the senses; the Gentiles looked for philosophic reasoning that appealed to the mind. God appeals to the conscience and heart through Christ crucified. This, however, was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

The Jews looked for a Messiah reigning in power from a throne, One Who would revive the kingdom, put down their enemies, and set Israel at the head of the nations. Christ reigning on a throne they could understand; Christ crucified on a Cross was an offence to them. Having no sense of their need as sinners, they could see no meaning in the Cross. To them in their unbelief it became a stumbling-block.

As for the Gentiles, who looked for something that appealed to reason - some new thing, some scheme of philosophy - to tell them there was salvation through a crucified Man, life through a dying Man, power through One Who was crucified through weakness, was to speak of that which in their sight was utter foolishness. Nevertheless, unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom. In Him such discover God's power to save, and God's wisdom in carrying out all His purposes.

To the mind of man the preaching is “the foolishness of God” and the Cross “the weakness of God”. Be it so, it will but prove that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men”.

3. The calling of God.

(Vv. 26-29). The apostle has set aside the religious flesh of the Jew, and the intellectual flesh of the Gentile, by presenting the Cross and the preaching of the Cross. Now he sets aside the pride of the flesh by presenting the calling of God. “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” The foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, and things that are not hath God chosen to confound the wise and “bring to nought things that are”. Thus it came to pass that a blind beggar confounded the wise Pharisees, and simple fishermen so utterly confounded the wise rulers of Israel that they were compelled to say, “What shall we do?”.

God thus uses “things which are not, to bring to nought things that are”. In the apostles' day the things by which men sought to exalt themselves were Judaism and philosophy; and God used simple men to bring these things to nought, in order that no flesh should glory in His presence.

The flesh must glory in something, either birth or riches or intellect; but in the presence of God neither believer nor unbeliever can glory in these things. Alas, in the presence of one another we may seek to exalt ourselves by birth, or riches, or wisdom, or accomplishments; but in the presence of Christ we are ashamed of the very things in which we glory before one another. We dare not mention them in His presence, save to condemn ourselves for glorying in them. To glory in them only shows how little we are in His presence.

4. The believer's position in Christ.

(Vv. 30, 31). Finally, the apostle sets aside the flesh by setting forth the believer's origin and position. The believer is “of God”. How far greater to be “of God” than to be of the high-born, of the mighty, of the wise, or of the rich. Yet more, we are of God “in Christ Jesus”. Not only have we an origin of God, but we are set in an entirely new position before God - we are “in Christ Jesus”. We do not stand before God in the condition and position of Adam, away from God and under judgment, but we are in Christ in all His meetness for God and for heaven.

Nor is this all. We may have but little wisdom of our own; nevertheless, Christ is made unto us wisdom. We need not turn for wisdom to philosophy, to wise men, or to our own fancied wisdom, for we have Christ. Having Christ we see at once what all the wisdom of the world can never teach us. Christ, on the Cross, has fully shown us our ruin and made God known in His love. Christ in the glory sets forth all the purposes of God. In Christ we see the wisdom of God in meeting our ruin and in fulfilling His purpose.

Further, Christ is made unto us righteousness. We have no righteousness for God. God's righteousness is seen in justifying us consistently with Himself through the death of Christ. If we want to know what this righteousness is, and how perfectly it suits us for the glory, then we need not look to man or at ourselves, but at Christ. It is set forth in Christ in the glory.

Christ is also made unto us sanctification. Christ is the measure of, the pattern of, and the power for, sanctification. Finally, Christ is made unto us redemption, “the complete deliverance from the effects of sin in our bodies”, for which we wait. We see this redemption already set forth in Christ; we have it now in Christ our Head; we wait for it to be manifested in ourselves.

Having, then, everything in Christ, and nothing in man as such, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”. Thus the Cross, the preaching of the Cross, the call of God, and our position in Christ before God, entirely shut out the flesh.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-corinthians-1.html. 1832.