1 Corinthians 1 – 3

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A. INTRODUCTION

Main theme: Christian conduct
Date written: A.D. 55
Author: Paul
Place: Ephesus
Circumstances:

1. Paul is on his third missionary journey, ministering at Ephesus (a city in the country we now know as Turkey).
2. He receives disturbing news from the congregation at Corinth, where he had planted a church some three years before.
3. The messengers report that:

a. There are factions, lawsuits and immorality within the body.
b. The congregation also has many questions regarding marriage and divorce, eating of food offered to idols, matters of public worship and the resurrection of the body.

4. Corinth was a large harbour city in Greece where people of all kinds and nationalities converged to do trade. The people were mostly pagan and most of the church members were from that background. They were therefore battling with their old ways of thinking and doing, and also with the pressure of this idolatrous and immoral society. Both in understanding of the Gospel and in living it, it is clear that they are very superficial and do not understand that the root of it all is humility, love and service towards God and man.
5. Like Moses of old who wrote down God’s directions to his people that had fled from the heathen country of Egypt, Paul as God’s special spokesman, admonishes and gives direction to this group of believers that have been delivered from the spiritual Egypt of Corinth.

B. PAUL GREETS THE CONGREGATION

1:1-9

1:1 From Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ.
Called by Jesus to be his special messenger.
1:2 To the called saints at Corinth.

1. People set apart for fellowship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Although there are ugly sins in their lives, as people they are beautiful and special to God.

1:3 Grace and peace unto you from …..

1. Not just a wish.
2. Words inspired by the Holy Spirit cause God’s power to flow from the Throne to people and to accomplish that which is contained in the words.
3. By reading them, the hearts of the Corinthians will come to rest and be ready to accept the teaching which is to follow.

1:4 I thank my God ……….

1. Thanking God for all the spiritual blessings that He has made available to them in Christ, although they have not yet become visible in their lives.
2. Before turning to the congregation to address their sin, Paul looks up unto God that has the answers.

C. STRIFE IN RELATING TO LEADERS

1:10-16 (See also 3:1-8)
“I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Céfas ..”

1. Follow Him that was crucified for you and not the messenger that tells you about the crucifixion.
2. Follow the message not the messenger.
3. Worship the Name of Him that saved you, not the name of him that baptized you.

D. THE GOSPEL OF SALVATION WAS FORMULATED BY GOD’S WISDOM

1:17- 2:16
1:18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those that are going lost, but wisdom to those that are being saved.
1:21 God’s wisdom saw to it that man would not be able to get to know God by using his own wisdom but by listening to the preaching of God’s wisdom and believing it.
1:22
The Jews insist on seeing a supernatural sign and miracle in order to believe.
The Greeks are looking for an entirely new human plan (initiative).
1:23 The message of a crucified Christ becoming the Saviour of men, is a stumbling block (scandal) to the Jews and foolishness (nonsense) to the Greeks.
1:24 To all that are saved (including Jews and Greeks) it is clear that all of God’s power and wisdom is embodied in the crucified Christ.

1. The plan to reconcile man with God, came from God’s mind, not from man’s mind.
2. Man did not discover it by thinking deeply, it was revealed to him by God.
3. Christ’s death and resurrection demonstrates God’s power – He could hand over his Son to be killed and then bring Him back to life by his supernatural power.
4. The ingenuity (heavenly cleverness) of the plan of salvation demonstrates his supernatural wisdom.
5. Therefore God must receive the praise for the plan and not man.
6. Also, in carrying this message of salvation, God mostly uses ordinary and often weak and insignificant people so that the listeners may be amazed and impressed by the message and not by the messenger.

2:1-13

  1. The content of Paul’s message to the Corinthians was only this Gospel that centred on the crucifixion of Christ.
  2. When presenting the message, his listeners could detect his human weakness, fear and trembling, but were also conscious of the supernatural flow of Spirit and power.

2:14 The natural (non-spiritual) man does not receive (accept) these truths that are revealed by the Spirit of God – to him it is foolishness which he is unable to understand.

  1. A person that is not born-again, does not have the Spirit of God inside of him to reveal these truths to him and can therefore not grasp them. The natural man solves his problems by his own physical power, his weapons, his clever plans, the strength of his money and his position in society. By these resources he influences other human beings, even nations. These are the things on which he depends his whole life long, by which he paves a way for himself. It is therefore natural for him to want to use these tools to obtain eternal life and favour with God.
  2. To him the Cross and the dying Christ is the exact opposite; he therefore sees it as a total failure and scandal. When he is called upon to lay aside his power, position, money and intellect, to become week like a little baby and from the cradle cry out to God to save him, it seems like absolute madness. To him, that is the way to perish and not to live.
  3. For him to understand this spiritual truth, God needs to speak light into the darkness of his spirit as God spoke light into the pitch dark world on the first day of creation. God must say to his spirit “Let there be light.” Only then will he understand the Cross of Christ as the way into heaven and will it become to him as clear as day light. The Holy Spirit shines his torch through the window of man’s spirit, bringing sufficient light in his mind that he may begin to understand this message. However, when man realizes that accepting this message will change his whole life, causing him to become weak like a little child, he often strongly rejects it and quickly closes the curtains of his spirit to any further light of the Spirit.

E. UNDERSTANDING HOW A CONGREGATION OPERATES
3:1-4:5

1. For a congregation to operate effectively, it must have a deep understanding and applying of God’s way of building his Kingdom.
This congregation however, has remained in a state of being spiritual babies. A new born baby is unable to chew, swallow and digest solid foods and can only be fed milk. By the food a child eats, you can determine whether it has grown. Likewise, judging by their lack of understanding and applying of spiritual truths, these believers have not been eating and digesting solid spiritual food at all in three years time. The way they think and act is carnal, which means that it very similar to what they did before they were born again. Paul therefore sets out to explain the following two concepts to them.
2. The saint must look unto God for his blessing and not to his spiritual leader.

3:1-5 (read with 1:12)
“I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Peter and I follow Christ”
A party spirit combined with quarreling and jealousy, shows spiritual immaturity.
They are therefore still in the flesh.

1. When Paul left them, he was still feeding them milk with a bottle and now, three years later, they were still on the milk bottle. This was proved by the divisions; this one wanting to drink from Paul’s bottle, the other from Apollos’s and the third from Cefas’s.
2. They still had not developed spiritual teeth and were unable to eat the meat of understanding that God is the source of spiritual blessing and man is only the dispenser; the jug from which the milk is poured. Is it really so important from which cup you drink your tea; the white, green or yellow one? Learn to judge and enjoy the quality of the tea and not the looks or age of the lady that is pouring it. Close your eyes, chew the meat and let your tongue savour it. It is true that some cooks are better than others, but the spiritual man has learned to go beyond the cook and the messenger and to lay hold of the message and of the Christ from whom the message flows. (Think of Jacob at the Jabbok.)

3:6-8
Responsibility of God’s servants:
“I planted, Apollos watered but God caused to grow.”

1. The farmer’s servant has no power to make the maize grow and the servant of God has no power to cause a saint to grow spiritually; that power flows from God. It is therefore foolish to expect of him that what is not in his power to give.
2. God does not consider the one that plants more important than the one that waters.
3. The servant’s job is to plant and water and he will be rewarded for the amount of care and diligence he exercised.

3:9-17

1. Status and responsibility of both saints and servants:

a. Both saint and congregation can also be compared to a building; even a temple.
b. The foundation is Christ. (3:11)
c. A builder must take care what building materials he uses: gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw.
d. On judgment day the quality of his work will be tested by fire.
e. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
f. If it burns up, he will loose his reward.
g. He himself will nevertheless be saved but only as one stripped by fire of all adornment.
h. He who mars (or destroys) God’s temple, will be marred (or destroyed) by God.

2. The builder can be seen as either the saint himself building up his own life or the spiritual leader building the lives of the members of the congregation.
3. Both saint and servant must take great care in building God’s temple.
4. By causing factions they were marring and could even destroy the congregation which would be severely punished by God.

3:18-23
Summarizingthe preceding teaching.

  1. Let everyone heed what has been taught and reject all human teaching for this is the wisdom of God.
  2. You do not belong to your leaders; they belong to you! (They are God given for your benefit.)
    You, however, belong to Christ and He belongs to God.
  3. The Word is first of all not about your restoration, but about the restoration of God’s glory. Hallelujah.

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