All posts by Simon Twist

Study 4 – 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

Words, Spirit and the Mind of Christ

Discussion Question

What would you say are the benefits of being a Christian?

Background

Paul opened his letter to the Corinthians with praise to God because they lack no spiritual gift from Him. They were called into His kingdom by grace and are therefore holy people. The first issue raised, however, is the issue of division in the church which Paul is addressing with them. They are not behaving like the holy people of God, united in mind and thought, but like people of this world. They judge their preachers on the basis of eloquence and persuasion but Paul explains to them that the cross of Christ is all the power that they need. We do not believe the gospel because of beautiful language, but because of the extraordinary God who has revealed the truth to us. Paul is not speaking about human wisdom that they should have confidence in but the truth about God – namely Jesus Christ and him crucified.

We reflected on how the message of the cross is the wisdom of God and also the power of God. The gospel is somehow described as the Spirit’s power.

Read 1 Corinthians 2:4-16

4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)
  • God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)
  • Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)
  • Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

In this section, Paul says one simple thing in four different ways: the gospel is brought to us and taught to us by the Spirit of God and no human can claim to have discovered it by their own intelligence. It’s as if he’s saying: no person is a mind reader and if you want to know the mind of God then you need the Spirit of God. If you know the mind of God, it’s because you have been given the Spirit of God.

The Spirit’s power at work in the gospel (4-5)

“My message and my preaching…a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…” Paul lands his previous section on the point that the message of God, (the message of the cross, the testimony about God), originates with God and not man. To further make this point, he shows how it is even delivered to us by God himself. So, when Paul preaches, he is not making up words of wisdom on his own but he is recounting the message of the cross of Christ. I do wonder what people mean when they say “that guy can really preach!” It’s likely that it points to a charismatic and persuasive word of intelligence rather than an exclamation that they heard the word of God through that guy.

“…the Spirit’s power…” Colossians 1:3-9 helps to understand what Paul means here. In that passage, Paul praises God because he can see the results of the gospel working out in the lives of the Colossian church. They received the message of the cross taught properly and they truly understood the grace of God and so understood the hope of eternity. What flowed from that was a life of faith and love. Paul attributes all of that to the work of the Spirit because that is the power of the gospel!

“…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” No single church, preacher or theological movement ought to take central stage to your faith. When we grow in maturity and when we turn to God in faith, that is the work of God. A healthy church, a faithful preacher, a godly Growth Group are all means of grace but not the authority or master of it. The flip side of this coin is that you must listen for the wisdom of God in your life. This, as Paul has argued, comes from hearing the true gospel and truly understanding the cross of Christ. Flee from gurus and run to the power of the cross.

Now, it’s good to just pause and recognise that there is plenty of wisdom and value in what humans say. It’s good to have doctors and financial advisors and counselors of all sorts but none of them will lead you to salvation and the cure of sin. Self-help books can contain plenty of useful things; psychologists and psychology books are very useful for helping us move forward in our maturity but they will only give us scaffolding for the immediate. Our faith must stand on the power of God.

God has revealed his age old mystery to us by his Spirit (6-10a)

“We do, however, speak a message…” Just because the gospel is the revelation of God from God, it is also something that we hear because people speak it! Hebrews 1:1 says that in the past, God spoke to the human race in many and various ways, but now, he has spoken to us by his Son. We preach Jesus Christ and the cross of Christ and this is the message that we speak.

“…a message of wisdom among the mature…” This word, mature, is about reaching the goal we were meant or designed for. It’s like declaring that those who are not growing in Christ have a stunted growth! Check out these references for a similar use of the word mature: Eph 4:13; Php 3:15; Col 4:12; Heb 5:14; 6:1; Jas 1:4. The mature are those who are hearing the gospel of God and responding in faith.

“…but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” To not mature, it is to not pursuing Christ. The air and flavour of this world is not to pursue Christ and they will not mature in the way that the New Testament describes it. If anyone is offended by this definition of maturity, it must be remembered that Paul is talking about hearing the wisdom of God and that maturity is describing the intention for which God designed the human race! It follows, therefore, that if we seek to mature ourselves apart from the way that God has designed us then we can call it maturity but it is not! It would be like a plant trying to convince you that it would mature far better if it were taken out of the pot and placed on the sandy beach in the sun.

“…God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” God had a plan from the beginning but it was kept secret until the proper time. The word mystery does not refer to something mysterious or mystical, but to something that is a secret. Clues have been handed from God to this earth via the prophets but when Jesus Christ was revealed, God’s great plan was also made known. Ephesians 1:9-10; Romans 16:25. God is patient with his plans. His view of history and human destiny is both authoritative and complete. Our view is so micro and self absorbed. His plans are to include us in glory. This is part of the maturity that God speaks of. Our lives are not to be in pursuit of joy but in pursuit of maturity found only in Christ which is for our own glory.

“None of the rulers of this age…” 1 Cor 1:20; and 1:6 give us the context of what this age refers to. It is humanity this side of heaven. Paul can talk of the people at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and the people in his time as the same age that you and I live in right now. It is the age where many are perishing but those who God has called, who believe in the cross of Christ as the wisdom of God who are being saved.

“None… understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” It’s ironic that we needed to be blind to the plans of God (the mystery) for us to put Jesus to death. If we had seen the plan clearly, we would treat Jesus as God and not crucify him. But then, that would indicate that we could reach holiness and wisdom without the cross.

“What no eye has seen…heard…conceived…God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul alludes to Isaiah 64:4 and reuses the message there to apply it to the post-cross age. Although he doesn’t directly quote from Isaiah, the message is the same. We are not talking about human philosophy when we talk about God and his message of the cross. We are talking about the real and living God who made everything. The revelation of God has not evolved over time through the subconsciousness of the human race. Paul couldn’t get any clearer about this. No person could have made up this stuff! But God has been plotting away since the beginning of time to bring us salvation through the death of Christ and the promise of eternal glory.

PS – I have heard verse 9 used as a kind of whisper about heaven to come. That is, no-one has seen it or can possibly imagine what heaven will be like – but God knows and it will be beautiful. What spoils this narrow interpretation is the way that Verse 10 begins…

“These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” God is not talking about a secret that is still a secret. He is talking about the mystery of how he is going to make his church holy, righteous and wise. All is done in Christ.

 

Who can know the mind of God but God himself?! (10b-12)

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” Verse 11 makes it clear that this is the Spirit of God AKA the Holy Spirit. Nobody can know the deep things of God apart from God himself. The Holy Spirit is therefore God.

“For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” Who do you really know apart from yourself. Now you might say that you don’t know yourself very well and would love someone to figure you out and let you know! True. But, look at or think about your closest and dearest friend(s). How much do you know them? You never know their thoughts until they speak them or write them! Nobody can ever know me truly like I know me. I will continue to value other people’s insights into my psyche – but my thoughts are my thoughts. My pains are my pains. My emotions are my emotions. Don’t get me started on the things that come to our minds when we are asleep! How to begin to explain what your mind conjured up as a believable story during the night. And then when we speak our mind, is it often only a fraction of what went on inside our brain?

“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Again, we cannot begin to guess what God is thinking. But what if he revealed to us his thoughts and plans by his Spirit?

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” We have been given access to the plans and thoughts of God. Notice how Paul explains that the message of the cross is a window into the mind of God. No person has conceived this. The Spirit has revealed that Jesus death on the cross was our substitutionary atonement.

 

Who can understand the mind of God but those who have been given the Spirit (13-16)

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” You could take this sentence out of context in order to show that God gives Spirit words that no person could have invented or understood and therefore show that speaking in tongues of angels is promoted here. But let’s not take it out of context hey? Paul has been talking about audible and understandable words which make up the message of the gospel but that reveal the secret plans of God from eternity. In other words, Paul is saying that this gospel message is not made up but has been give to us by God. The message of 2:4-2:16 is quite repetitive. What’s being challenged by Paul is human wisdom, not human language.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept…cannot understand…because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Recall that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the church was described as called. And in 1:26-31 we were reminded that God chose who he would reveal his will to and include in his church. Understanding the gospel with acceptance is a work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus described to Nichodemus (John 3) that the Spirit can’t be seen but His work is plain to see. And in Colossians 1:3-9, Paul can tell that the Spirit of God has been at work because they have responded to the gospel. That is why the gospel is described as the power of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:5).

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments…” This is a verse to keep in your pocket for good theological discussion! When we come to understand the gospel, we can say that it is we who considered the words, weighed up the evidence and the options and made a judgment call on what to do next BUT only a person with the Spirit can make such a judgment call because only they can consider it as wisdom from God.

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” The rhetorical answer is no one, correct? Paul has already concluded that nobody can know the mind of God except God himself. Well…

“But we have the mind of Christ.” Boom! The gift of the Holy Spirit is such an important one that gives us the knowledge of God. Without the gift of the Spirit, we would be blind and stupid fools. Unable to discern the mind of God. But with the Spirit in us, we have the mind of Christ. That is, we are able to be wise and grow in wisdom. The fruit of this is character. The Spirit brings us the gospel of grace, allows us to understand it and conclude that this is right. The Spirit of God then transforms our minds to know the mind of God more and more. And the Spirit of God enables us to discern between right and wrong. This is called maturing in Christ.

What did we learn?

The Spirit of God is like a conduit to the mind of God. He opens our eyes to behold the beauty in the cross and the wisdom in the gospel. No human can possibly conceive the things that God has known and thought for all time. But the Spirit of God is God’s gift to those who love him – indeed the means to loving him. A preacher’s words are no mere words since they uncover, discuss, persuade and exhort the people of God to know the mind of God.

Now what?

Topic A: Turn sermons and daily bible readings into an act of worship. This passage is reminding us about the great privilege we are given when we receive the Spirit of God. We ought to regard the bible and times spent listening to Spirit-filled preachers as moments of the wisdom of God being revealed to us. How often have you skipped reading the bible this week? Are you conscious that you are skipping time spent listening to God?

Topic B: Being thankful for the Holy Spirit. Proof of the Spirit dwelling in you is that you truly understand the grace of God and are growing in maturity. Those who have the Spirit of God living in them have the mind of Christ, are holy and chosen by God to be his people. You are a child of God with God’s commitment to grow you. The Spirit of God is teaching you.

Topic C: Conscious of the foreign nature of this world/age. If it is only those who have the Spirit who can know the mind of God, then everybody else does not and cannot know the mind of God. Yet the majority of people, especially the rulers of this age, do not know God’s mind and will regard the gospel, the church and the cross as foolish. It is important to be aware of this chasm we are living amongst. When interacting with the people of this world, be aware that many do not have the mind of Christ. Knowing this does not make us superior. Knowing this gives us an alert mind to the dangers of thought we live with.

Study 3 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:3

The Power of the Cross

Discussion Question

If you were given ten minutes to speak on any topic, what would you feel confident to speak about?

Background

Paul is able to write to the church in Corinth because they are all servants of the gospel together. Without the grace of God, there would be no church and there would be no authority of Paul to preach and teach. “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

After reminding the church of their foundation and unity in Christ, he appeals to them as a brother in Christ to stop creating clubs within the church. The importance in church is not the preacher or the denomination but the message of the cross of Christ – that is the power of God!

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:3

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”l

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”l

2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.

What did you see?

Structure

  • We look to God for wisdom, not ourselves (18-25)
  • We boast in the Lord, not ourselves (26-31)
  • We preach God, not ourselves (2:1-3)

We look to God for wisdom, not ourselves (18-25)

“…the message of the cross…” Surprisingly, the phrase ‘the cross’ is used rarely by Paul and only twice in 1 Corinthians (1:17-18). It refers obviously to the crucifiction of Jesus but Paul always treats it as a clear division between those for Christ and those against him. This is a watershed moment in history where the sins of mankind are taken care of justly and lovingly and is a watershed moment in the minds of humanity – you are either proclaim the cross of Christ or you reject it. See Galatians 5:11; 6:12-14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18 and Colossians 1:20; 2:14-15 for how carefully Paul uses this statement.

…is foolishness to those who are perishing…” The message of the cross is central to the faith of Christianity. Anyone who claims to be Christian and yet rejects the clear teaching in scripture (see references above) that this is how God makes right with unrighteous people (those who are perishing) are not Christians at all. A mark of the perishing is to misunderstand the message of the cross or to disdain it.

…but to us who are being saved…” The tense of the word SAVING or BEING SAVED does not infer that we are not yet in Christ since we are, as 1 Corinthians 1:2 states, both holy and being made holy. But Paul describes us as those who have found the life-boat and are being taken back to our home.

…it is the power of God.” God’s power is summed up in the message of the cross. Romans 1:16-17 describe the message of the gospel as nothing to be ashamed of as this is God’s power on display! He is able to conquer sin, death and rebellion – turn death to life, dark to light and flesh to spirit! Paul puts the cross of Christ on a pedestal and says: look at it! Do you see the power of God and worship him? Or do you perceive stupidity and yawn? Answer that and you’ll know if you are saved or not.

For it is written…” Isaiah 29:14. See the verse in context (11-16). God shake his head at those who think they know a thing or two but don’t need to listen to God! They treat him like they are the boss and like they are the ones who decide who he is like! What nonsense. This is a perfect quote for Paul to use to say to the church: remember who made you and who saved you!

…wise person…teacher of the law…philosopher of this age…” Paul challenges the world to come up with a solution that beats God’s. The wise man is the one who instructs kings. The teacher of the law is the theologian. The philosophers are those who look at the world and deduce truth from it. Paul moves on to say that all have failed because all have concluded untruths about God.

…in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him…” God can sit back and watch the world write essays on how the world works and move further and further in their own minds away from the truth about God.

…through the foolishness…to save those who believe.” I think of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 who was cured of leprosy by the prophet Elisha. But he was angry at first because the prophet did not declare him cured with a mighty and powerful conjuring of the power of God. Rather, he was instructed to simply wash in the dirty Jordan River several times. God’s power is to save us through the death of his Son. The world wants powerful miracles and clear visions from heaven and signs that the Spirit is working. We are saved because we believe that God is right and the cross is precious.

…Jews…Greeks…but we…” Greece was the influential culture in Paul’s day – that is, the culture inherited from Alexander the Great, now under Roman power, is a world of philiosophy and clever thinking. Greeks want logic and clear explanation. The Jews want signs like those received by Moses. Our present culture is a bit of both. We are like the Greek, wanting scientific proof. Yet we are like the Jew, wanting experience. And in Christ, both are satisfied at the cross! Although Paul’s point is that the foolishness of the cross is what we thrive on.

…but we preach Christ crucified.” A crucified man is guilty, shameful, disowned and dead. And this is what we preach. We don’t mix up this gospel with cleverness to win people over. To the Jew who demands signs and wonders, a dead Messiah is a stumbling block. This is not what God seemed to be promising. To the Greek who demands logic, a crucified Messiah who is claimed to have risen to life again is just fairytale nonsense and superstition. They want strength and 7 tips to a better life! But we preach Christ crucified.

…but…to those God has called…the wisdom of God.” When the cross makes sense, it just makes sense. It can be very frustrating to speak to someone and just know that they do not understand the power of the cross. They may have followed all of the steps and nodded as you described sin, penalty, substitution, grace and forgiveness. But they do not see the power of God in those words. It’s like the difference between someone who describes a sunset in terms of what caused it, when it happened and that it indicates the end of a day – compared with someone who sees the sunset! The cross of Christ is not simply a sign from God nor a logical lesson in forgiveness, it is the personal sacrifice God has made for my sins and for yours.

“...wiser than human wisdom…stronger than human strength.” No generation can step forward and declare that they have found God, found the cause of life, found the meaning of existance, found eternal life, found contentment in all circumstances, found the answer to pain and suffering, found peace in truth. Every human effort only ends in frustration and defeat sooner or later. Find a culture anywhere on earth ever that has worked out how to live in unity without violence, deception or corruption. Only God brings peace and can guarantee it for eternity. And it took the so-called son of a carpenter to be nailed to a cross to achieve it! Verse 25 must also be believed in order to be a Christian because it involves submission to God as God. Any attempt to match Him in wisdom or strength is an outright challenge to his deity.

We boast in the Lord, not ourselves (26-31)

“…when you were called.” The scriptures teach that those who believe the message of the cross have also been called by God. This is part of the doctrine of grace as well as the doctrine of assurance. Grace, because if we first moved toward God, then we would credit ourselves with the first righteous act. Assurance, because since it is by grace you have been saved, then it is a sure deal that you are saved. While it is the god of this age that blinds mankind from seeing the wisdom and power of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), it is God who calls us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 2:9).

“…wise…influential…noble.” This may be a triplet paralelling the wise man, the teacher of the law and the philosopher. But it is another layer of Paul teaching that we are not to be praised for our friendship with God. When we look at the church, how many governors and PHD doctors and kings and CEOs etc do you see? Paul doesn’t mean that you can never see a CEO in church – of course not! But look around and tally all the influential people in the church and what do you get? God is not building his church through important people. And we should not pretend that this is what God is looking to build in his church. But the Corinthians had caught the vision that they needed great preachers and world-standard geniuses in their midst (1 Corinthians 1:12).

“…so that no one may boast before him…” Humility has always been part of the message of the gospel. The last will be first and the first last. God brings down the proud.

“…our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Another trilogy by Paul to match the wise, the influential, the noble and the wise, the teacher, the philosopher. We, in Christ are made righteous, holy and redeemed. Christ is the wisdom of God. All three of this statements can only be applied to us because of Christ – his death and resurrection. We must always stop ourselves if we credit any part of these to ourselves.

“…therefore…boast in the Lord.” Bible reading TIP: Paul’s writing style (as is common to his age) is to place an important sentence at the end of his arguments. This is not always the truth, but while we train our modern students to begin a paragraph with the point of the paragraph, Paul will often conclude his section with a statement of what he has been arguing for. Look out for it and see if you notice this as we read through this letter.

We preach God, not ourselves (2:1-3)

“… I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom…” It’s quite probable that Paul was not an excellent speaker. Of course, he had some great moments and he is described as persuading people as he talked (Acts 18:4) since this is the job of a teacher and preacher. But he also almost preached a boy to death (Acts 20:9)! Paul is saying that his tool of the trade is not so much being an excellent salesman but that the product he is promoting is just excellent. His product is the testimony about God. He is simply letting people know what God has revealed to the world already. God’s church is not built upon the excellence of great speakers – but on the power of the gospel.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It’s not that Paul doesn’t have other things to tell people – perhaps he could go on and on about how to make tents! But he has decided in his mind that his mission is to preach the gospel and so that is what he will do. Perhaps Paul has a particular view on politics or on who will be the next winner of Survivor Australia! But he forgets all of this and preaches Christ crucified. All Scripture is about Christ and the cross of Christ. Paul’s mission is clear.

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” Does this match your impression of Paul? Don’t you imagine him as a confident, bold preacher who walks into town and says, “where’s the synagogue. Let me tell you what’s real about God! Repent and know Christ!” Boom! Then he stays a while before being driven out or convinced that the Spirit wants him elsewhere and off he goes – only heard of again when he sends a letter from prison saying, “I’m all chained up but that’s cool! No worries, God’s got this and I fully trust him!” Well, here is his confession in 1 Corinthians 2:3. When he arrives in town and finds some people to talk to, he opens his mouth because he has resolved to speak the truth about God but he is feeling weak, perhaps unworthy, perhaps ill-equipped, but nervous about how people will respond and what will happen next. Heaven forbid that we should presume that our preachers and heroes of the faith are any bolder than Paul? The gospel did not spread because Paul was a great man. It spread because God called Paul and he put one foot in front of the other. Because, against his natural instinct to flee, Paul stood and spoke. Many Christians say they are too shy or something else to go around talking about Jesus – they are no St Paul! Well, perhaps St Paul is not as St Paul as we imagine him to have been!

What did we learn?

People will not swarm to the church and to the gospel because it shines like the most powerful message in the world. This world will continue to respond with a face of pitty. But to those who hear the gospel and repent because they believe they are unworthy of God and yet through Christ they are made righteous, holy and redeemed – they will know that they are called by God and that the cross of Christ is amazing. Before we look for amazing charismatic, energetic, inspiring preachers, check that they are ministers resolved to preach Christ crucified.

Now what?

Topic A: If God is God, why do we put science or the human heart above Him? It seems that we only believe things that have either been proven by science or that our hearts long to be true. The gospel of God rejects both of these and simultaneously satisfies them. To those who do not wish to know God will use science and human experience to dispel the logic of salvation by grace. But to those whom God has called and saved, we find that the gospel satisfies science and completes our human heart! Scientifically, the resurrection is the only sound solution to the havoc caused after Jesus was crucified. Emotionally, the gospel reveals that we are broken apart from God. Why, though, does humanity insist on putting faith in God on hold until a) we see him or b) we feel him?

Topic B: How long does it take before you are found boasting in God? Discuss ways you have found to speak about God in your life? Listen to one another with encouragement to praise God more.

Topic C: Is fear and weakness reason to say nothing? Courageous people are not those who do amazing things but those who overcome their fears and weaknesses. It’s a sign of faith to testify of God’s goodness through Christ when we are personally convinced that this is the greatest news of all – especially in times when it is not easy to speak up.

Study 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The Divided Church

Discussion Question

What is it that sets your church apart from other churches?

Background

In the introduction to his letter, Paul praised God for calling the church in Corinth into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ their Lord. It is God who has given them every spiritual blessing in Christ. They are blameless in God’s sight and God is faithful to keep them firmly established in Christ until the day that Jesus is revealed.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this church then had it all together! If God is faithful and will bring them to eternity blameless, then what an amazing group of people they must have been! Well, the heart of the gospel and the message of the entire bible is that human beings are in a battle against selfish sin and this church was not quarantined from the effects of it. We see in this week’s reading that Paul has a matter to raise with them. Let’s allow the text to teach us what the issue was as well as the solution.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,t in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The appeal (10)
  • The accusation (11-12)
  • Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)
    • Am I Jesus? (13)
    • Was my mission to baptise? (14-16)
    • It’s not about me but about Christ crucified (17)

The appeal (10)

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters…” The great apostle Paul uses reason to speak to this church and calls them his brothers and sisters. (The Greek word adelphoi is for brothers only but the implication is both genders. One major change with the NIV2011 version is the inclusion of both gender language.) Rather than ordering the church or demanding them to listen to him, he addresses them as equals and wants them to understand rather than simply obey. The Christian church must always have this type of approach to people. There is no room for leaders to appear superior or somehow more important than others. Christ died for the church and there is no hierarchy other than Christ as head and everyone else as the body. Pastors and teachers have gifts for this area but not in order to boss or demand obedience. Rather, we appeal to and exhort people to listen to the gospel and see how this gospel impacts all of life. Going deeper into the Christian faith is not about grand lessons but about seeing how all-impacting the gospel is.

“…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul provides Jesus as the authority and the basis of his logic. To us, living in the 21st century and having 2000 years behind us developing the religions named after Jesus, this line from Paul may seem ordinary. But in the 1st century, this was paramount to preaching the gospel and declaring that there is no authority greater than the name of Jesus Christ. This is not old news but new news! There is only one name through whom we can be saved and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the reason we know we are blameless before God.

“…that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Let’s be careful not to put the cart before the horse on this one. Seamless unity is not the goal. Rather, it is the result from the church all loving the gospel, the cross of Christ, the headship of Jesus, the authority of the Holy Spirit through the word of God and so on. The flavour of our society at the moment is to strive for unity achieved by promoting individuality that does not impose on others. For example, as long as what you believe is your choice and not to be imposed on others, then you are accepted and welcome. Everyone will love and celebrate your decisions to be who you want to be as long as you are equally happy for others to express themselves in their own way. This is striving for unity for the sake of unity – not for the sake of truth and life. The gospel provides access to eternal truth that is open and available free of charge for everybody and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved AND in unity with all the brothers and sisters who have also been called by God. This is not dictatorship, rather, enjoying unity among all who have found the truth. The outworking of submission to Christ is the absence of divisions and unity in thought and mind. The church is not a political battle for strength and unity – it is established by Christ to be equal and all on board with growing in Christian maturity.

The church in Corinth had taken their eyes off the way they had been formed and were divided over method, quality of preaching, and who their allegiance was to…

The accusation (11-12)

“…some from Chloe’s household…” This name does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament and so we can only fill the missing information with assumptions. Obviously, Chloe is a person known by both the Corinthian church and Paul and who has been in contact with Paul.

“…informed me that there are quarrels among you.” I don’t think that it is gossip if Paul is confronting them directly about what he has heard. Rather than writing off the church or grumbling about how pathetic they are or whinging that Paul wished God had raised up a better bunch of people for him to lead, Paul has given thanks to God for what has been happening and addresses the accusations head on. He is ready to rebuke or correct what they are doing, which is what the bible is designed to do for us (2 Timothy 3:16).

“…quarrels among you.” Paul will later declare that this is the very nature and habit of unsaved people (1 Corinthians 3:3). He wrote in Romans to embrace relationships at all levels and not to quarrel over disputable things (Romans 14:1). He addressed quarrelling a number of times, always concluding that it was of no value and unprofitable since it does not produce growth in others, rather it ruins people (1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9). James, the brother of Jesus, blames selfish desires as the cause of quarrelling (James 4:1-2). Compare the negative view of quarrelling with the up front of Paul’s to appeal to his equals on the basis of the gospel.

“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow…” another. “I follow…” Pauls’ discussion is not based on a feeling but on quotable facts that he has heard reported to him. This is the first place where the Corinthians can stop Paul and tell him that he has misheard. If Paul’s report is wrong, then they can dismiss what comes next. If they agree that he has heard correctly, then they must continue to listen to his appeal. The division hinges on the church taking team leaders and declaring themselves to be disciples of different groups.

“…Apollos…” Acts 18:24-19:1 give a great summary of the type of person Apollos was. From that we know, a) he was a genuine Christian, b) smart and well taught c) he spoke passionately d) had much to do with the Corinthians.

“…Cephas…” This is Aramaic for Peter and is clearly the Apostle Peter, formally known as Simon. John 1:42.

“…Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ…” Four extraordinary men to choose from as your object of admiration and inspiration! Each has some reason for loyalty – even Apollos is the local legend. It is not hard to name people in our day who are worth “following”. I love listening to John Piper, Tim Keller, as well as John Calvin and JC Ryle. Some of those are still living and some are dead. The issue is not that the church had found bad people to follow and the issue in this passage is not against any of those four. But Paul will go on to say that the amazing speakers of this world are all pointing us to Jesus – not themselves.

Paul may have been flattered to be listed in the report but he is deliberate to correct this misdirected loyalty.

Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)

“Is Christ divided?” This is a peculiar thing to say. But the required answer is “no”. So why create subdivisions of the Christian faith. We are one in Christ and it is his work and substitution that we celebrate. He did not do a partial work on the cross and then hand it over to the next legend to continue.

“…Was Paul crucified for you…” No leader of the faith can claim that! Church leaders need to watch that they never imagine themselves to be the reason that their church exists. Also, answer Paul’s question here and see what you get – No! But Jesus was crucified for…YOU! Our saviour died for you. Your minister never died for you! Jesus died for the minister of your church! Christ died for Paul!

“…were you baptised in the name of Paul?” No! Because Paul is not the reason for the community! See, baptism is about committing to the identity of a community – Paul ain’t it!

“I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except…” I love this little natural phrasing of Paul. Thank God! But he uses it in the true sense with no room for blaspheme. He knows that it has been a blessing for him that his “career” is not on baptising but on preaching the gospel. The least that can be said right here about baptism is that Paul is giving every reason to say you don’t need to be baptised to be saved! This was not his priority – but he didn’t avoid it either since he lists several names he remembers.

“For Christ did not send me to baptise…” So, the Great Commission commanded the disciples to go and baptise disciples. But the command was not to baptise but that when baptising, it is to be in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus was directing all future baptisms to be in his name and no other! Paul knew that his calling was to preach the gospel.

“…but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The power of the cross is the simple message and reason of the cross. Greeks look for wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22) meaning that they look for some kind of powerful representation of truth. A beauty in the words expressed. They look for a strong narrative to get behind and celebrate. But Paul’s message is a crucified leader! His goal was to present the truth of the gospel so that God would call his people to the cross to be saved. The power of the cross is the redemption that it brings to all who believe. There are some people that you just don’t get into an argument with because they are so good with words. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong, because they present their argument so forcefully and persuasively. But the cross of Christ is where God’s justice, wrath, love and mercy all meet.

What did we learn?

Paul hopes to remind the church in Corinth that their identity and legend is the gospel itself. The Lord Jesus Christ was the one who was crucified and commanded that all who want redemption are to be baptised into His name and no other name. No church is built upon the legend of a sinner who needs saving. The one true, united church is the one that loves the Lord with all their heart. They are one in mind and thought because they are united under one sacrifice for sins, once for all.

Now what?

Topic A: The centrality of the gospel in Christian community. Every church that loses its way will show that at some point they lost sight of the cross of Christ. They added to it, subtracted from it, ignored it, got bored of it, undervalued it or misunderstood it. The point of church is to encourage and mature the saved in Christ and the way that you do that is to remind one another of the source of our salvation. We do that through song, preaching, teaching, and bringing every activity that we do in the church under the banner of our mission which is to be Christian community devoted to maturing in Christ for the glory of God.

Topic B: Disagreeing in order to agree. This passage illustrates the difference between quarrelling and disagreeing. Paul expressed his disagreement with the way that the church had begun to quarrel over who is right. Paul saw this as nonsense because the very issue they quarrelled over should have been the reason for unity. Paul’s method of disagreeing was to appeal as an equal and to present his case to them with examples and logic. Quarrelling, rather, results in factions and side-taking. As Paul and James point out, quarrelling does not come from a gospel heart but from an unconverted selfish mind (Romans 14:1; 1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9; James 4:1-2).

Topic C: Name some differences that could create division. There are different international preachers that we can declare allegiance to. The different styles of worship, ie, music and liturgy. Fine-lines of theology such as baptism, church eldership and the last days. Overemphasis on certain truths like “I am a Calvinist”, “I am an evangelist”, “I am about feeling faith”, or “I am a pragmatist.” Can you think of any other divisive things that exist only because the followers make them too important?