The Book of 1 Corinthians is Paul's letter (epistle)to a troubled church in the town of Corinth; to understand this in better detail, we need to understand the story leading up to the need for Paul to write this letter. During Paul's 2nd journey, he stayed in Corinth a total of 18 months to help get them started. It wasn't easy: Corinth was the crossroad of several trade routes, and as such, was home to a lot of money, a lot of material goods, and a lot of corruption and decadence. The city was home to a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, whose priestesses spread out through Corinth in order to worship through prostitution. Then there was the matter of the Corinthian Games, which were second only to the Olympics in terms of prestige and importance.
Paul's stay in Corinth is recounted in Acts chapter 18; at one point, Paul was so discouraged from the severe persecution that the Lord had to encourage him to stay and continue his ministry there. After the year and a half he remained there, Paul moved on, but it would be while he was in Ephesus that he would hear word from brethren in Chloe's house (1:11) and new worries would arise for him. At this point, Paul probably wondered why the Lord ever started a church in Corinth...
Those concerns are outlined in this epistle, and it is an important book in scripture to read and take to heart. In writing this, I won't read into scripture what isn't there, and if I don't know, I'll admit it.
Lord, we ask in your name to reveal your word and your will in this study of a book in your scriptures. Help us to understand, and help me to write not my own thoughts, but yours. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
And with that, we're off:
"Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 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 on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, NASB, emphasis mine)
Paul starts off with recognizing that those at Corinth were indeed called by the Lord and sanctified in Jesus Christ. He felt it important that rather than accusing them of not being believers, that he instead addressed them as brethren and recognized their standing in the Lord. There was enough division in the body at Corinth as it stood, and Paul did not want to further divide them:
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloes people, that there are quarrels among you. 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. Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void." (1 Corinthians 1:10-17, NASB, emphasis mine)
Through Paul, the Lord spoke to the believers in Corinth, and had to remind them that it is through Jesus Christ and not Paul or any other fellow believer through which we are saved. An argument had broken out about whom had been baptized by who, and Paul had to put a stop to something that was poisoning the brethren against one another. Paul also had to tell them that it wasn't by his own speaking ability, but by the power of the Holy Spirit; otherwise, the Cross would have had no point. Christ did all the work, not us; to add our own works to it would suggest it wasn't enough.
"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 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. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NASB, emphasis mine)
Continuing on, the Lord (through Paul's pen hand) makes it clear that the wisdom of men is worse than "the foolishness of God". In other words: man's understanding is so limited that God uses foolish things to demonstrate that even such foolish things that come from Him are by far wiser than man's wisdom. Man's best effort at wisdom isn't even equal to silliness from the Lord!! That said, to man, the message of the cross is utter nonsense, but for those who have accepted the Lord's gift, it is His power exemplified. Man, in his arrogance, seeks wisdom, but cannot see what is true wisdom because he is blinded by his own importance and is imprisoned in a cage of his own making, gilded with his so-called "knowledge". But even with the foolish things He has used, the Lord has made a laughing-stock of man's "wisdom" and shown man to be little more than a rebellious child who has revolted against his good, loving Creator. And now that Creator seeks to reunite with man through the most costly gift ever. And in answer to a question that was probably even on Paul's mind: "why a church at Corinth?", the Lord speaks through Paul's letter and answers that question:
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 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, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD. (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, NASB, emphasis mine)
In creating the church at Corinth, the Lord knew that there would be those there who would believe on Him alone for their salvation. So the Lord sought to create a church where it would make the least sense to do so, in order to make a mockery of man's "wisdom". It would not be through any innate strength of the church there, save that of the Holy Spirit, that the church would come to be, let alone grow. If it existed, let alone thrived at all, it would be because of the Lord and no one else.
God chose Corinth to demonstrate that even in such a setting, He was God and none other was. And that all He purposed to do would be done. And that included plant a church where none should be able to be planted.
Something to think about the next time we become discouraged and about ready to give up.
In Part 2, we'll examine more of Paul's initial visit with the church at Corinth.
I bid you all peace.