The Fourth in a Series on 1 Corinthians
Greeks (like those living in first century Corinth) love wisdom. They see Paul’s gospel of a crucified messiah as nothing but so much foolishness. Those Jews living in Corinth could not understand how God’s Messiah must suffer and die for our sins–when the Messiah was expected to be an all-conquering king who would lead Israel back to its former greatness. Therefore, for Jews, Paul’s gospel of a crucified Messiah as a stumbling block. Yet, according to Paul, the cross of Jesus Christ is the revelation of both the wisdom and power of God. And it is through the preaching of the cross that God is pleased to call elect Greeks and Jews to faith, while at the same time the cross exposes human wisdom for what it is–human wisdom. It is the cross which stumbles a Jew, confounds a Greek, but which is the message through which God saves sinners.
As we continue our series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we are in that section of the first two chapters in which Paul explains why the Corinthian church has been plagued with division–the Corinthians are still thinking like pagans. At this point in their history, apparently, the members of this church are clear about the gospel. They understand that God saves sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, apart from good works. Although false apostles will soon disrupt this church (something Paul will address in 2 Corinthians 11), at this point in their history, there was no organized group of false teachers distorting the gospel, as the Judaizers had done in the churches of Galatia.
The problem in Corinth is that this was a relatively new church–Paul had first preached Christ crucified to the Corinthians several years earlier. The members of this church were new Christians. Many in Corinth had responded to Paul’s preaching of the cross with faith, they were baptized and were now participating in the life of the church. But as new Christians in a new church with so much Christian doctrine still being new to them, the Corinthians were still thinking and acting like the Greek pagans they had been until quite recently. Although saved by the wisdom and power of God as revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ, the Corinthians still loved Greek wisdom, they still think like Greeks, and therefore they are still acting like those dependant upon human wisdom apart from the revelation of the wisdom of God.
Because the Greeks loved wisdom (or as we might call it “worldly” or “human” wisdom), they devoted themselves to various teachers within the church (including Paul, Peter, Apollos, and even Jesus) causing factions to form. “I follow Paul.” “I follow Peter.” “I follow Apollos.” There was even a faction contending that “we don’t belong to any faction, we follow Jesus.” Greeks loved the wise old sage, the clever spinner of tales, as well as the philosopher who apparently had all the answers to the questions of life. Just as the Corinthians were devoted to their favorite local philosopher or rhetorician (who was known for eloquence in public speech), they had become devoted to that Christian teacher (or leader) who had baptized them, even though that teacher would have frowned on this kind of devotion.
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