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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-31

Paul writes here as "a called apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." As such, it is the authoritative word of God he communicates, that which requires the subjection and obedience of all the Church of God. He allows no latitude for the preferences or wills of men, whoever they are. The will of God is supreme and absolute: if communicated graciously through a humble instrument called of God for this very purpose, yet such grace only magnifies the authority of the message.

And with him he links the name of "Sosthenes our brother." This may be the Sosthenes mentioned as at Corinth in Acts 18:17; but little more is known of him. Perhaps one reason for Paul's so identifying him with himself here is that none may limit the apostle's message to leaders, for one simply "a brother" is involved in this too.

Only the two epistles to the Corinthians are addressed to "the church of God," for it is corporate assembly order and responsibility that is so emphasized in these. Their character is that of being sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling; therefore at the outset reminded that theirs is a place totally set apart from the world, which was sadly having too much influence with them (Cf. ch. 6:11). But most interesting is the additional word in verse 2: "With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." This, and other verses in the Book (ch. 4:17; 11:16;

14:33,37) urge upon us the fact of the all-embracing message of the Book. It is not only for Corinth, but for ourselves, the entire Church of God everywhere; as necessary for those far off from Paul as for those in direct contact with him. The Spirit of God here anticipated the fact that there would be those (as there are today) who would challenge the applicability of the truth to their particular churches, claiming that this was written merely for this local assembly in view of then present conditions. But the Book itself declares it cannot be limited in this way.

"Grace be unto you:" Shall we not in this case say grace to overcome the evils that so gravely endangered this affluent assembly? "And peace," the peace of true unity according to God, the peace of godly consideration of one another, in precious communion with Him who is "the God of peace." For the source of all is "God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." The preciousness of relationship as children is surely involved here, and the dignity of sonship too, for God is our Father; yet with this, "the Lord Jesus Christ." While He is the risen Savior, yet in this Epistle His lordship is specially emphasized, for subjection to His authority was the urgent need in Corinth, and is imperative always for the maintenance of assembly testimony, order, and discipline.

It is most precious to observe that Paul begins his message to them, not with reproof, but in thanking God for them all, a matter too that was a habit with him "always." And it is "for the grace of God given you by Jesus Christ." Such an attitude, and such appreciation of the grace of God bestowed upon others, will greatly influence the manner in which we may seek their correction.

Their blessings by grace were outstanding: God had enriched them in everything, in the way of utterance and knowledge: in regard to public gift they were inferior to none: the testimony of Christ was confirmed in the fact of their ability to speak out: there were evidently no long drawn-out silences in their gatherings. God's provision was abundant, as they waited for the coming of Christ, the culmination of blessing by grace. For there was no question of the certainty of the continuance of this: the Lord Himself would confirm them unto the end, blameless; that is, blameless in His sight by virtue of His own workmanship in His saints. This cannot fail, for He is faithful, who has called us to the fellowship of His Son. The power of that call has established His saints in that blessed fellowship, that of the assembly of God, the entire body of Christ, He Himself being the source and center of it. Thus the Epistle begins on this wonderful positive note of God's overflowing provision of grace toward His beloved saints, the assembly of the Living God.

After so exalted and precious an introduction, it is humbling to consider in verse 10 the necessity of the urgent appeal to these dear saints "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" that there should be practical unity among them. When considering the greatness of the grace that has been showered upon the Church of God unitedly, how can we dare to act in discord and division? But such is the sad tendency in an evil world, and while having still within us a fleshly nature that responds to selfish and self-centered attractions. It was true in Corinth, and how true in the Church at large through all the years! Who is there today who does not deeply need this challenging Epistle?

First, it is urged that they "all speak the same thing." For it is wrong speaking that is the beginning of division. If we are inclined to "speak our mind," let us remember first that "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16); and be watchful that it is His mind that moves our tongues. If this is true, we shall "all speak the same thing;" our speaking will all have the same concerted objective, moving in the same stedfast direction.

Secondly, "and that there be no divisions among you." Small indeed are the occasions that will sometimes cause these things; and we must be always watchful against anything that would introduce friction between saints of God, and judge it promptly. Thirdly, "that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." This is possible only if we have our minds set on things above, and in this way are unitedly seeking the mind of Christ, in which there is certainly perfect unity. Mere personal preference must be given no place, but that which is honestly for the glory of Christ. This will give sober judgment too as regards occasions that demand some proper judicious decisions.

But in Corinth there were contentions. Paul candidly tells them who had informed him of this. And he spares no one in his reproof. He takes sides with no one, but presses the fact that the assembly was responsible for this, not merely some individuals. Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and even Christ, they were making leaders of divisions among themselves. If some felt they were honoring Paul in this way, Paul did not think so. Nor indeed were they honoring Christ who would put Him in the place of their particular leader in contrast to other saints of God.

"Is Christ divided?" No, He is the Head of the entire body of Christ, the Assembly. "Was Paul crucified for you?" In view of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, how can any child of God give a place of superiority to any mere man?

Their public baptism had designated them all as followers of Christ, not of any servant of Christ.

Nor only this: Paul had not even done the baptizing of the Corinthians, except for Crispus and Gains. For he diligently sought that their faith would stand in the power of God, not as attached to any man (Compare ch 2:4,5). He had been careful to avoid any charge by men that he baptized in his own name: the baptism therefore was left to others.

Let us observe that verse 14 is emphatic: Paul had baptized none in the assembly but Crispus and Gains. Yet he adds, "And I baptized also the household of Stephanus." This household therefore was not in the assembly, though Stephanus himself was. Is there any other explanation than that the household was composed of children too young to be in the assembly? In chapter 16:4 however we read that "the house of Stephanus . . . have addicted themselves to the ministry." This would pose an insoluble problem if the word "house" and "household" were the same, but the Greek word for "household" in chapter I refers strictly to the children of the householder; while that for "house" in chapter 16 is a term that includes servants. Is it not therefore likely that it was the household servants of Stephanus, who, being in the assembly (not therefore themselves baptized by Paul), had addicted themselves to the ministry. There seems no other answer to the problem.

Further, he says, "Besides, I know not whether I baptized any other." Why had he forgotten this? Because it was a matter of little importance. There may have been others in Corinth whom he had baptized, but they were at any rate not in the assembly, as would no doubt be the case if they were young children.

To Paul, baptism was not the important matter it is to some. He emphatically stresses that Christ had not sent him to baptize, but to preach the gospel: it was the gospel he preached that was the vital matter: it is this that brings souls to the Lord Himself, furnishes forgiveness, justification, eternal life, settled peace with God. Baptism could do none of these, nor help in doing so: it is merely a public ordinance that puts one in the place of outward discipleship.

But more, Paul avoided all intellectual or philosophical reasonings in his presentation of the gospel. These are things that lead to self-exaltation and consequent disunity, and draw attention away from the cross of Christ. For the cross is the basis of the unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:15-16). And without it there could be no gospel whatever. If the preaching of the cross appears to those who are perishing to be foolishness, yet to us who are saved, it is the power of God. "The wise and prudent" very often are those who are blinded to the truth of the gospel by the very fact of its simplicity, and that it makes of little importance the profound learning of men. But those who bow to it and are saved, recognize power in it that is not humanly explainable.

Whether verse 19 refers to Job 5:12 specifically, or whether the general message of the Old Testament involved the truth here declared, still God's revelation now, which renders null and void all men's vaunted wisdom, this was consistent with prophecy. This is a matter far higher than human intellect could conceive, a matter too that is not submitted to the reasoning's of human wisdom, but before which such wisdom collapses. God destroys it and brings it to nothing.

Where are the wise, the scribe, the disputer of this world? No doubt these are prominent men in the world's estimation; but in the light of the revelation of God they become like the magicians of Egypt when the plague of boils afflicted them: they could not stand before Moses (Exodus 9:11). Indeed, this matchless revelation actually renders foolish the wisdom of this world.

God first allowed man's wisdom to prove itself to the full. But its strivings could never attain to the knowledge of God. God's own wisdom had decreed this could not be. When Paul wrote, and in fact before the cross, the outstanding philosophers of Greece - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle - had proven complete failures in finding the knowledge of the true God, and were mired with the rest of Greece in the worship of many false gods.

Yet now it has pleased God, by the foolishness of the preaching of the cross, to save those who believe. This of course is what men count to be foolishness. It requires no great intellect to understand, but only simplicity of faith in the Son of God. And because of this great wisdom being expressed in terms so simple and clear that a child can understand it, therefore men who pride themselves on their superior wisdom are haughty enough to despise this, and call it foolishness. It is of course not the fact of preaching that is despised, but the subject matter.

Jews, because of their background and training in the public knowledge of a God who manifested Himself in visible miracles and signs, were those who considered that only striking visible signs were valid in proving a thing to be of God. The Greeks, on the other hand, priding themselves on intellectual achievement, sought after such wisdom as would of course exalt the most philosophical minds.

"But we preach Christ crucified," says Paul, "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." What kind of a sign was this? - the Jews would ask: had not many others been crucified? Yes, but not another like Him. Here is the one Man without sin, the One who is more than man, the eternal God manifest in flesh. Him crucified? Yes, and it was Jews who demanded it because Fie said He was the Son of God (J n. 19:7). But on His part it was a sacrifice of infinite value, how much more than a sign!

And the Greeks, they may say it is foolishness; but when death strikes, where is all human wisdom? Indeed, often before death, many of the wisest intellects are reduced to utter inability to reason, or to even remember. But here is death, the violent death of the curse, proclaimed as the means of eternal blessing to mankind. And it cuts down everything that is merely of man, everything that would tend to exalt man's pride, levelling Jews and Gentiles practically to the dust of the earth, but with the precious object of lifting them out of it. Actually, the wonder of it is worthy of the utmost admiration, and it is nothing but the pride of man that refuses it; whether religious pride, as with the Jew, or intellectual pride, as with Gentiles. But to those who are called, Christ is seen as the power of God, power manifested through such weakness as the Jews despised; and the wisdom of God, far above and beyond all that Greek philosophy could imagine.

If, as in verse 25, men wish to consider this the foolishness of God, yet it is infinitely wiser than man's highest wisdom; and if considered weakness on God's part, yet there is a power in it far above the greatest strength of men: it accomplishes such permanent results as to put to shame those things in which men boast as their greatest accomplishments.

Now Paul appeals to the Corinthian brethren themselves to consider the fact of their calling. Certainly it is God Himself who calls His saints: why were there not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble among them? Can it be that God arbitrarily discriminated against these? No indeed; for at least there were some of these who believed the gospel. But God had seen fit to choose the foolish things of the world in order to confound the wise, weak things to confound the mighty, and things ignoble, despised, and of no account, to render of no value those things that men highly honor. It is not that God condemns intelligence or human ability, but by the preaching of the cross He strikes the death-blow to man's pride and confidence in these things. Some refuse it simply because it injures their pride: they will not come down to admit that God is really greater than themselves.

If human wisdom and ability is kept in its true place, as subject to, and dependent upon the superior wisdom and power of God, then the wisest, most powerful men would gladly accept the precious gospel of His grace, the preaching of the cross; and they would be only the wiser for this, for they should learn well the lesson that "no flesh should glory in His presence." And the fact is that if not comparatively many, yet there are those who have done so.

Verse 30 however shows that, though all mere human wisdom and work is reduced to nothing by the gospel of God's grace, yet the believing Corinthians were by this the recipients of the greatest possible blessing. It was God's doing that they were established "in Christ Jesus": God had brought them into a place of vital identification with Him, His own Son; and their full supply of every kind was perfectly provided in Himself, not by mere human instrumentality or effort. God has made Him "unto us, wisdom," moreover, this wisdom involves what man's wisdom ignores, that is,

righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. These are matters vitally necessary because of the most grave problems of the moral contamination that infests all mankind, and which philosophy does not consider, because it has no answer. Righteousness is that character of consistency with whatever relationship in which we may be placed. But this is universally violated, in every nation, culture, community, and family. Where then is it to be found? Only in Christ, and He Himself is the believer's righteousness, One who thoroughly satisfies God in every respect, as the perfect Exemplar of consistency in every relationship.

And "sanctification" is the character of being set apart to God from all this is contrary to His nature. For association with evil is corrupting; but in Christ we see One "separate from sinners," and He Himself is our sanctification: God has put us in this position "in Christ." Redemption is the complete liberation, by virtue of a price paid, from the bondage that holds men generally in a condition from which it is impossible to extricate themselves. It is "in Christ" alone this is found: He has paid the full price of our redemption in His sacrifice of Calvary: thus He Himself is made unto us redemption. Precious, perfect provision for all who will accept Him! What full and marvellous reason for boasting in the Lord.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-corinthians-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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