1 Corinthians 1

These notes are based on the NASB text.

1:1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
Paul immediately identified himself as the writer of the letter in the typical fashion of the day. He identified himself as an “apostle” (one sent out under the authority of another). Paul was an apostle “by the will of God.” These were Paul’s credentials. One who was “sent” sent the letter. Paul also included the name Sosthenes (a co-worker and not a co-author) in the greeting. Sosthenes was a ruler of the Jewish synagogue in Corinth when Paul visited there. He was beaten by an angry mob (Jews angered by Paul’s success at Corinth) in front of Gallio the proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:17).

1:2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
The recipients of the letter are identified in this verse and referred to as:

[1] “the church of God which is at Corinth”

God had followers [“church”: those called out from] in Corinth, the most unlikely place. “This phrase removes all human tyranny from the control of the church. The church does not belong to the people; the people belong to the church; and the church belongs to God” (Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10).

[2] “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling”

The recipients were people who had been set apart by God and for God.

[3] “with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Paul wanted for the readers of his letter to understand that they were a part of something bigger than themselves or their congregation.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Peace is the result of a proper response to God’s grace. The word “from” denotes the source of grace and peace.

1:4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus,
Paul was writing to a church with many problems, but still made it a point to express thanksgiving for them. Paul usually expressed a word of thanksgiving for the recipients of his letters. No thanksgiving is found, however, in Galatians. Paul was continually giving thanks “for the grace of God which was given to [his readers] in Christ Jesus.”

1:5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and in all knowledge,

1:6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you.

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

1:8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of the grace of God, the Corinthians were enriched in Christ Jesus, especially in the area of speech and knowledge. They were a gifted people. In fact, they were not lacking in any gift. Paul’s hope was that the Corinthians would use their gifts wisely to the extent that they would be found blameless at the second coming of Christ.

1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Paul was thankful for the faithfulness of God who called believers into fellowship with His Son. God calls believers into fellowship with His Son and works to perfect believers through His Son (see also Philippians 1:6). This is one of Paul’s many references to Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgement.

1:11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.
Paul exhorted the Corinthians in the authority of Jesus Christ. The word “exhort” carries with it the idea of coming along side to help. Paul wanted for the Corinthians to work together to establish unity in the church. Notice Paul’s concerns:

[1] “that you all agree” – Paul had it on good authority (verse 11) that there was no agreement among the Corinthian believers. Instead of agreement there was disagreement and arguing. This disagreement led to the next concern…

[2] “and there be no divisions among you” – The disagreements among the Corinthian believers led to divisions among them. Divisions and factions and schisms characterized the Corinthian church, and these always threaten the life of the church. The Corinthians were divided over several issues, among them…

[A] preachers (1:12-4:21)
[B] immorality (5:1-13)
[C] legal issues (6:1-11)
[D] marriage (7:1-40)
[E] meats and idols (8-10)
[F] worship (11)
[G] spiritual gifts (12-14)
[H] resurrection (15)

1:12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”
One of the contentious issues that concerned Paul was the matter of preachers. The Corinthians were quarreling over the matter of preachers! There seemed to be a four-way split. Some claimed that they were loyal to Paul, the founder and former pastor of the church. Others were loyal to Apollos, a gifted evangelist who was an eloquent speaker. Still others were loyal to Cephas. There is no record that Cephas (Peter) was ever in Corinth. Perhaps these were people that had been led to Christ and baptized by Peter and who later moved to Corinth. And finally, there was a group that claimed loyalty to Christ. Either this group was sincerely trying to live above the squabble or represented a hyper-spiritual group within the church. This was a lose/lose situation. No matter whom an individual claimed to be loyal to, including Christ, he would find himself at odds with three-fourths of the church.

1:13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

1:14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,

1:15 that no one should say you were baptized in my name.

1:16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
Paul addressed this divisive issue by asking three rhetorical questions that invited a negative response.

[1] “Has Christ been divided?” The obvious answer is no! There is only one Lord to follow.

[2] “Paul was not crucified for you was he?” The obvious answer is no! Neither was Apollos or Cephas crucified. Their loyalty should have been to the One who made the message possible rather than to the messengers!

[3] “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The obvious answer is no! They were not baptized in the name (authority) of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. In fact, Paul emphasized that he had baptized very few of the Corinthian believers, something for which he was thankful.

1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.
Here we see that Paul’s main ministry was evangelism. Here also we see the key to unity…preach Christ and the cross! It is only when people focus on the cross that they are able to overcome the attitudes that lead to pride and argument and division.

1:18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The “word of the cross” is a reference to the preaching of the gospel message and to the content of that message. Those who are perishing or who esteem themselves wise by the world’s standards see such a message as “foolish”. But to those who have heard and responded to the gospel message by faith, “it is the power of God” (see also Romans 1:16).

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
This is a quote taken from Isaiah 29:14 (see also Psalm 33:10). Man cannot be saved through human wisdom and understanding. God’s method of providing salvation was a stumbling block to the Jews and utter foolishness to the Greeks, but through such an event God paved the way to heaven.

1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Paul called for a response from those who entertained ideas that the message of the cross was foolishness. They were however, nowhere to be found. God had indeed made their wisdom foolish.

1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
The word “wisdom” here is a reference to God’s plan of salvation. The world is unable to come to know God through its wisdom. But God used the thing that the world thinks foolish (the cross) “to save those who believe.”

1:22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom;

1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
It is difficult for some men to accept God’s terms of salvation. And so some seek for signs (something they can see) and others for wisdom (something they can think through). But God’s plan of redemption is Christ crucified. This was difficult for many Jews and Greeks to understand. The phrase “foolishness of God” is a reference to the way in which the world sees the cross. The phrase “weakness of God” is a reference to the death of Jesus on the cross.

1:26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
Here we get some insight into the ordinary people that made up the Corinthian congregation. Paul reminded his readers of what they were. There were not many “wise” (according to the world’s estimation of wisdom), not many “mighty” and not many “noble.”

1:27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,

1:28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are,

1:29 that no man should boast before God.
None of the things that the world admires can guarantee eternal life. No man can get to God on his own terms or by his own merit. If such were the case, then heaven will be filled with boasting. Instead, God offered salvation in a humble package on the lower shelf of life where it is within reach of the lowly and despised and where the proud must stoop to receive it.

1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,

1:31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
By God’s doing, according to our response of faith to God’s way of salvation, we are in Christ Jesus who is [1] our wisdom, the way to really know God, [2] our righteousness, the avenue through which we are made right with God, [3] our sanctification, the avenue through which we are set apart for God, and [4] our redemption, the avenue through which we are delivered from darkness and transferred to the light. By virtue of this, one can only boast in the Lord and not in human wisdom.

Practical Considerations

Be a good-finder.
Paul was writing to the Corinthians because of some serious problems in the church. He knew he would have to deal with some tough issues in his letter(s). Thus Paul began his letter by commending and encouraging them before exhorting them. We should always look for the good, even in the midst of bad situations.

Be a good steward.
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the spiritual gifts that God has given us. We should use them responsibly and for the building up of the body of Christ that we might be found blameless at the coming of Christ.

Be a good influence.
The Corinthian church was split into factions. People in the church were divided over which leader to follow. We have a responsibility to be a good influence in the midst of division and divisive issues. We should work to promote healing and reconciliation in such situations.

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