All of Us – 1 Corinthians 1:10-31
The second message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
There’s something you need to realize about Corinth. It’s location was prime real estate. Corinth was halfway between Athens and Sparta. Corinth was located on the Isthmus that connects the Peloponnese peninsula to the mainland of Greece. Do you remember your geography class terms? Do you remember what an Isthmus is? It’s a narrow stretch of land that connects to larger bodies of land.
Modern Corinth is still located on the Isthmus between the Gulf of Corinth and the Sarconic Gulf. Modern Corinth is about 2 miles northeast of the site of Ancient Corinth that was mostly destroyed by an Earthquake in 1858.
This location was an excellent location for trade.
Ships would travel to Corinth to avoid the 200 mile journey around the Peninsula and a portage road had been created to actually transport smaller ships over land and the cargo of other ships to the port on the other side where it could continue it’s journey on another ship.
Because the isthmus is only 6km wide, there were many efforts to dig a canal. In fact, Nero did a groundbreaking ceremony at the site. But the project never really got going until 1881. You can see from this map the canal that now exists. It’s really a neat feature of the current Corinthian geography.
The canal never attracted major use because it was regularly shutdown due to landslides of it’s steep banks and as ships got larger and larger the canal proved to be too narrow for many cargo ships. Today the canal is mainly a tourist attraction and used very little for commercial purposes.
This prime location brought a lot of commerce to the area. It was a double port, it was halfway between Athens and Sparta, many people in Corinth became wealthy, many people were attracted to the city from the nearby region.
Because of the affluence of Corinth, it became a city with many beautiful aspects. Corinth was known for their many fountains. There’s a 400 page doctoral dissertation just on the architecture of the fountains in Corinth…I didn’t read all of it.
Because Corinth was a city of travel, trade, commerce, and opportunity, Corinth became a melting pot. It attracted people of all types and people from all backgrounds.
Now what’s interesting about melting pots- or at least melting pots made up of people, people work hard to stick with their group. You go into any major city and you will find that the neighborhoods are often pretty good dividing lines across socioeconomic classes and division of ethnicity. It’s human nature for people to gather and even settle into locations that fit their mindset, background, and ethnicity.
At the time of Paul, the culture of Corinth was filled with many people of varied backgrounds and each would have identified not only with their place and family of origin, but also their preferred leading thinker.
The Greeks are know for their advancements of Philosophy. One scholar I read said that there were probably 50 different philosophers that people in Corinth would have identified with. That there would been a strong party or faction culture in the city. These divisions of background, ethnicity, and philosophy were influencing the Corinthian church. They were following the culture’s lead and breaking into subcategories and factions.
Paul wasn’t happy to hear this. Paul didn’t react with the attitude that it was natural for people to develop cliques and subgroups within the Corinthian Church. He told them to come back together.
10Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
“Perfectly Joined Together” is one word in the original greek. It means to mend or refurbish to a sound condition. This word is used in the gospels when Jesus walks up to James and John sitting on the shore next to their fishing boat, Mending their nets. It means to weave back together, to set back in place.
Paul said, Corinthians your church is broken and you need to be mended back together.
Now, the first 9 verses of this letter are a greeting and from verse 10 of chapter 1 all the way to Chapter 16 Paul is going to cover a list of issues in their church. That list would include immorality, idolatry, adultery, abuse of Christian liberty, disrespect for communion, pride over spiritual gifts, confusion about the resurrection, and mismanagement of their money, but Paul starts with their lack of unity.
Paul established that there was a place that God wanted to take them- they were not who they used to be, but they weren’t who they were meant to be either. To get where they were going they would have to travel together, forge ahead together. The Gospel saves people with diverse backgrounds and philosophies but it does not merely redeem them to exist in the classes and factions it found them in and the gospel does not redeem them to create new factions and classes.
He redeems them to be transformed, sanctified, to serve, to make an impact, together. It was God’s will that the Corinthians would grow, worship, and serve together. Until the rift was mended they would fail to achieve the goal God had for them.
So Paul gives challenges them based upon the premise that
The Gospel is the power and wisdom of God.
23we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
- The Gospel is the power and wisdom of God that overcomes any barrier of separation.
In verse 24 Paul says the message of Christ is power and wisdom of God to both Jews and Greeks. Now, I’m afraid that the power of that statement is lost on us in our current context. We live in an age where there are multiple churches around us and there is little to no animosity between them. Occasionally there is some animosity and it’s scandalous.
Paul writes to the Corinthians with Sosthenes who was from Corinth and had been the leader of the Synagogue in Corinth.When he was converted, when he placed his faith in Christ, he was beaten. Not just beaten, beaten in front of the judge that they had brought Paul and Sosthenes in front of to make accusations.
Acts 18:17 says,
And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Gallio was like, Meh. Almost like it was new day, same old drama. The rift between the people who hadn’t come to Christ was major- the dividing lines between these people before they knew Jesus were deep and wide.
Paul does not want to see God do this great thing of bringing people from incredibly different backgrounds together in grace, only to see them then find some new issue to divide over. Now I need to point out that it seems clear that the Corinthians were not divided over doctrine. Paul doesn’t straighten out their doctrine- he was more than willing to do that and he often did in other letters. It seems that their differences of opinion were over non-essential issues- over issues of personality.
Paul’s point is, the gospel is greater than these barriers. It has overcome the great barriers of race and religion among you, don’t put up new silly barrier that will divide you!
The gospel is greater than labels, not because it refuses to use them, after all the gospel labels us all as sinners. The gospel is greater than labels because it has the power the remove all the labels we’ve earned and give us new ones we don’t deserve like saved, redeemed, forgiven, Child of God…
Remember Easter? Paul said because of the grace of God I’m saved, I’m forgiven, I’m redeemed. By the grace of God I’m saved is what they should have been saying, not that by the grace of God they were of Paul’s group or Peter’s group…
That’s why Paul says in verse 13,
was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
The label we should carry is the one that Christ has given us because he did a great work in removing the labels we had earned.
David Garland tells Martin Luther’s response on hearing that protestants were being called Lutherans, He said:
What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone…How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the Children of Christ by my evil name?
Paul, Apollos, and Peter would be mortified that people were using their names to create factions within the church. However, to the Corinthians this probably seemed natural because the philosophers and great thinkers and orators of their culture and time all had their own following or tribe. Paul not only calls them to mend their relationships but want them to see that the gospel is not just another philosophy.
- The Gospel is the power and wisdom of God that transcends the philosophy of men.
17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
18For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
Paul says, this is not another philosophy to take into the theater and debate with the other thoughts of the day. This isn’t a new way of thinking that will compete with the other new ideas of our age- it transcends that because it is from God.
When you become fans of Paul, Apollos, or Peter you are putting the gospel in the arena of the philosophies of your great thinkers, but that’s not where the gospel belongs- it doesn’t fit within those confines- not because it isn’t up to the challenge, but because the gospel is not the idea of men. It’s the wisdom and power of God…
We love a good idea. How many of you have ever watched a Ted Talk? I love a good Ted Talk. If you remember I told you about the man who is blind but rides his bike using echo location, I watched that guy’s TED talk. We love new ideas that help us overcome challenges and difficulties. TED Talks are popular because they help people overcome challenges or find solutions. If we aren’t careful, we can idolize ideas. We can fall in love with progressive thinking and cutting edge developments…I mean they are great, they bring new solutions to the world, however, the gospel doesn’t run in that vein. The gospel is not a new impressive idea that will bring solutions to the world, the gospel is the wisdom and power of God that changes lives.
Paul says, God has chosen to work the gospel through foolish means, as foolish as preaching, to demonstrate that it’s not because of the impressive intellect of men, it isn’t the powerful oratory of speakers, it’s the power of God that changes lives.
The smartest scholars and the most gifted speakers can not improve on the gospel.
Paul had a sharp intellect and great training. Peter had walked with Jesus and heard him teach. Apollos was a gifted orator.None of them could improve on the gospel.
Paul said, we know that it is a stumbling block and foolishness, but it’s powerful so we don’t need to improve upon it. All I did when I was with you was preach the message of Christ crucified! Now it wasn’t
just the message of Jesus, it was the message of Jesus
crucified! Now to the greeks, this was laughable.
When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens the people listened intently until he spoke of the crucifixion and resurrection, then they laughed. In Greek culture your leader developed a following and left a powerful legacy and had statues erected.
The idea that your leader was killed like a criminal on a cross would have been laughable. A good demonstration of the though that would have been present in that culture is some graffiti that was found in an archaeological excavation
in Rome in 1857.
It shows a man lifting his hand to worship the image of cross. On the cross is a man with a donkey’s head. The writing says,
Alexamanos worships his God.
The idea of worshipping a God that had died via crucifixion was foolishness to the greeks. yet, it was the power and wisdom of God.
The Gospel is greater than philosophy, not because it sounds so impressive- not because it appeals to the mind- but because it’s powerful.
Guys that compromise the gospel think that it’s suddenly going to become popular like the nerd who takes off her glasses and lets her hair down and is suddenly prom queen….It doesn’t work that way.
An inoffensive gospel isn’t any more attractive but it’s far less powerful.
Russel Moore has said people who don’t like the gospel don’t like the almost gospel either and the almost gospel doesn’t have the power to save them. John MacArthur tells the story of a small English village that had a small chapel. The chapel was made of stone and had a rather traditional ivy covered walls. Over the arch when the chapel was originally built they inscribed the words “We Preach Christ Crucified” so that everybody whoever entered would know what they were there for. There was a generation of Godly men that did precisely that. They preached Christ crucified. But times changed and the ivy grew and pretty soon it covered the last word and the sign said “We Preach Christ.” There were other men who came and they preached Christ, Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher. The years passed and the ivy grew and finally it said “We Preach.” And they did, economics, social gospel, book reviews, whatever else. And maybe that stands as kind of an illustration of how man’s philosophy effects the gospel. Christ and Christ crucified is the power of God.
The Gospel is the power and wisdom of God that saves the weak and foolish like all of us.
In the last verses of this passage, Paul gets pretty personal.He turns to the Corinthians and says, God has chosen to use the foolishness of this world to confound the wise, just look at you. Your lives were a mess even though you had access to all of this knowledge and wisdom, but now you have experienced the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
29That no flesh should glory in his presence.
We have nothing to boast of- we have no reason to be arrogant. We are not who are because of how powerful or how wise we are… We are who we are because of the Grace of God. Though Paul has just gotten pretty personal and said, look at yourselves, you are foolish and weak, but then he follows that with verse 30:
30But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
Do you see it? By the grace of God through Jesus you are made wise, and righteous, and forgiven, and redeemed. All of us, we are are all only who we are because of Jesus. So let’s not take sides and divide into factions because Christ is not divided and Christ is the one who had redeemed ALL OF US.
We should not be divided because all of us only have Christ to boast in