1 Cor 1:1-4:21

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I. Contention (Chapters 1-4)
• Topic 1: "It hath been declared unto me ... that there are contentions among you" (1:11)

• salutation (1:1-9)
• questions: (1) Is Christ divided? (2) Was Paul crucified? (3) Were you baptized in Paul? (1:10-13)
• answer: (3) you were baptized in name of Christ, not Paul (1:14-17a)
• answer: (2) preach Christ crucified, preach by the Spirit, and preach milk not meat (1:17b-3:4)
• answer: (1) laborers should all work together in Christ (3:5-4:13)
• conclusion (4:14-21)


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Verses 1:17b-3:4: Preach Christ crucified[edit]

  • 1 Cor 1:22. Here we have the twin pillars of secularism: science: the study of "signs" or physical proof, and philosophy: the study of "wisdom." Although the Jews are not nescessarilly fathers of modern science, their interest in physical proof is very much in the spirit of science, and what Paul says about them here can apply. According to Paul, Christianity is simply unsatisfying to those of a scientific or philosophical mindset. Only to those "which are called," will Christianity have wisdom and power. Verse 24.
  • 1 Cor 1:27-30. Why does God call upon the weak and foolish? Why doesn't he chose people who are more intelligent and gifted? Paul's answer is found in verse 29: "That no flesh should glory in his presence." If people were chosen based on their intelligence and strength, then being chosen would be a sign of our superior intellect, and we would "glory in our strength in God's presence." Instead, because "of him are ye in Christ Jesus." The only reason we are chosen is because of God's mercy towards us, and not because of any spiritual superiority or strength of intelligence. Understanding this, we can only glory in the Lord, and not in ourselves. This "grace-based" election is one of the main themes of the Pauline Epistles.
  • 1 Cor 2:7. "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery." As carefully as we try to analyze Paul, something about it will continually elude us. Only through the Spirit can Paul's words be truly understood. It is easy enough to understand the meaning of verse 9, "no one knows, or has any idea what God has prepared for those who love him." Yes, the meaning is clear, and so what? We don't know what God's plans for us are. But how often we hear this verse and something about it stirs our souls, and we feel caught up in the expectation of something truly glorious and feel a portion of that overwhelming love that God has for us. These feelings come from beyond the text itself. They come from the Spirit, working with our spirit, to reveal something that is beyond words to describe.
The French 1901 edition, (translated from the Greek by Louis Segond) reads, "But we speak the wisdom of God, mysterious and hidden...". Verse 8 then fits in by sharing that the 'important' people of this world had never understood it, and if they had, they would not have crucified "the Lord of glory". Verse 9 then continues, "But as it is written, these are the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard....". Then, verse 10: "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit [explores] all things, yea, the deep things of God." (Emphasis added). This translation, then (I've added the French in italics - the rest is the KJV), changes the object of the 'not understanding' the things of God from Church members/everyone to those who've never understood them, because they haven't received the Spirit of God, who opens them to us. The eyes which haven't seen, the ears which haven't heard, and the hearts into which the mysteries and deep joys of God haven't entered are those of the "princes of this world". In all of Romans (and a lot of his letters), Paul contrasts the 'natural' and spiritual aspects of man, encouraging Church members to seek the latter. These few verses (7-11) fit within that.
  • 1 Cor 2:12. What Paul is explaining is easy to understand on the cerebral level. But he is also expressing something beyond the words themselves, a kind of door through which the listener may enter. Here he may be taught by the Holy Ghost things that are inexpressible through mere mortal communication of letters and words.
  • 1 Cor 2:14. "Natural" is translated from the Greek word ψυχικός (psychikos), the adjective form of the noun ψυχή (psychē). The noun form means "the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing," or more simply "breath." Note that in James 3:15 and Jude 1:19 psychikos is instead translated as "sensual." "Natural" here, then, isn't the opposite of "artificial," but rather is a reference to one's human or bodily nature.
In our day it is harder than ever to let go of the "natural man" and the reasoning of the world. We live in a day saturated with information, facts, science, quick, easy answers, and strong opinions. Letting go of this mindset as we read the words of Paul, and trying to enter in the subtle world of "mysteries of Godliness" is sometimes not easily done. It's easy to give up on Paul, and go for something more palpable to the modern mindset. It's easy to try to force his words into preconceived doctrinal structures that we have already learned. But we miss so much when we do this. The rewards of studying Paul, and the Godly wisdom just beyond his words, is worth the sacrifice.
Paul uses the "natural man" (verse 14) as a foil to "he that is spiritual" (verse 15). By "natural man" Paul is talking about someone who knows things according to the spirit of man (verse 11) or, what seems to be the same thing, the spirit of the world (verse 12), but not according to the Spirit of God (verse 11). Paul's point seems to be that the things of God must be spiritually discerned (verse 14). In verse 16 Paul tells us we cannot instruct the Lord. We might interpret the earlier verses as an argument for the same thing. It makes sense that we cannot instruct God if the only way to judge spiritual things is by the Spirit of God.

Verses 3:5-4:7: Laborers should all work together in Christ[edit]

  • 1 Cor 3:18-19. We know that the wisdom of the world often changes dramatically in a short period of time. Reading a book on science or medicine from the 1950s will demonstrate how completely the wisdom of the experts changes over a span of a few short decades: doctors recommending cigarettes, for example. And today, the current wisdom touted by experts across the world will soon shift dramatically as well, and our children will laugh at our naivete. Given what history has taught us about the variability of worldly wisdom, why would we choose to put our trust in the "experts?"
Although Paul was attacking the Greek worship of worldly wisdom, Socrates allegedly said something, which resonates with Paul's admonition. "All I know is that I know nothing." He would agree with Paul's phrase, "let him become a fool, that he may be wise."
  • 1 Cor 4:3. We know that we should avoid judging others. However, Paul takes this one step further and says that he doesn't even judge himself. This is a difficult example to follow, particularly in our culture of self-perfectionism. In our culture it is proper that we put ourselves down frequently in order to feign humility, while puffing up the accomplishments of others. It is also culturally proper that we are never satisfied with our current state, but that we should always see the lack in ourselves and strive for something better. Paul behaves differently. In the next verse he says "I know nothing against myself." JST Although in this particular case, the Corinthians esteemed themselves too highly, Paul's council also applies for those who esteem themselves too lowly.
How true Paul's perspective is. We frequently notice that people's self-perceptions are often completely wrong. Even when they seem to be fair to outsiders, they are not fair to themselves. Perhaps judging ourselves is the most difficult of all because we live in such close proximity to ourselves and can't see the forest through the trees.
Paul takes little stock in the judgements of others, nor in his own judgements. Although he thinks he is OK, "I know nothing against myself," yet he doesn't even know if this is true. "Yet I am not hereby justified." But he doesn't care. He knows that he might be off-base, but he doesn't care. "Who am I to judge?" He is doing his best, and he has assurances from God. To Paul, God is the only judge that matters.
The JST for verse 4 is interesting. I think it may be one of the few cases where the JST corrects the KJV in the same way modern translations do.
  • 1 Cor 4:7. Paul returns to his frequent reminder that we are not to take credit for our gifts and status in this life. Everything that we have was given to us by God. This might have been easy enough to grasp in Paul's day, a day before capitalism and the American Dream. In our day, understanding Paul's rebuke doesn't come naturally. Much of what we are taught at school, home, and even within church culture, reinforces the idea that what we gain in this life is ours. We earned it, and thus we are entitled to glory in it. Our place in this world is something that "we" create for ourselves. Our accomplishments come from our own ambitions, self-discipline, and faith in ourselves.
Yet Paul reminds us that this is a great illusion. Who gave us our ambitions? Who gave us the values of education, self-discipline, hard work and faith? We are only building upon a foundation given to us by others, who in turn were only building upon something God alone gave them. That we have "earned" anything at all is a great myth. God is the giver of all things. All that we have is on loan from him.
  • 1 Cor 4:8-10. The Corinthians, puffed up with pride, felt that they had arrived. They were righteous, and thus enjoying the blessings of their works and their spiritual gifts. Paul describes them in a mock ironic tone: "wise in Christ, strong, honorable, reigning as kings, full and rich, while at the same time, the apostles are fools for Christ, weak, poor, and despised. In Chapter 2, Paul had told the Corinthians that if they would be wise, they must become fools. If they were to truly reign as kings in heaven, they must become servants of all, as Christ said.

Points to ponder[edit]

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  • 1 Cor 2:4. "Demonstration of the Spirit and power. What were the demonstrations of Spirit and power Paul is talking about? Is he talking about the sermons themselves, and the exact meaning of the words he used, or is he talking about something more supernatural, perhaps the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon his listeners?
  • 1 Cor 2:6-10: Hidden wisdom. The text states "hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory" could this be implying that knowledge was kept from us in the pre-existence?
  • 1 Cor 3:16. Ye are the temple of God. When Paul says "ye are the temple of God" is he referring to a person's individual mortal body as is often cited, or of the collective body of the church? Corinthians 6:19 says "your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost." Romans 7:18 "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing" Scriptures such as these helped fuel negative attitudes towards the human body for centuries. How are Paul's pejorative views of the "flesh" reconciled with our current doctrinal views on the sanctity of the human body?


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