Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

First Corinthians

One Church

1st Corinthians 1:4-31

The unity of the church is a constant them of Paul.  Perhaps it is because it was so often threatened by those who heard him.   In our day, the fracturing of the church continues;   every day, it seems, brings a new denomination.   We need to hear the ancient appeal for the “One Church”.

A teacher’s thanks

Paul begins on a positive theme – perhaps to remind his hearers of just how great their blessings in Christ truly are:

(1 Cor 1:4-10 NIV)  I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. {5} For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-- {6} because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. {7} Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. {8} He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. {9} God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. {10} I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.


Paul’s example

Paul begins by setting an example of humility:   he gives thanks.

  • He often instructs others to give thanks;   it is therefore appropriate that he himself does so here.
  • His example is worth noting.   He is thankful on his own behalf – but also on behalf of others.   If you love someone, and they receive a favor, are you not thankful to the giver?   If someone helps your child, you should feel grateful – right?  How often we forget to give thanks on behalf of those we love!
  • He points out one of the key attributes of thankfulness – that it implies the action was a gift.   So often with us the words, “Thank you,” are a polite nothing.   But they imply that we received a gift, not a payment.

Thankful to

God, of course.   But notice the phrase in other translations:   “my God.”[1]   Thanks are due not to the impersonal God somewhere in the cosmos, but to the God known to me personally.

These thanks are rendered “always” – meaning that this is a consistent attitude of thankfulness.


What a teacher is thankful for

Surprise!   A teacher is thankful for those students who learn from him.   A teacher’s greatest joy is to discover his students doing what he taught.

Let me give you an example.   Some years ago, on a Sunday morning, I overheard some of the ladies in my class discussing an injury to one of the children.   The child was riding his tricycle down the sidewalk when a branch poked him in the eye.   They rushed the child to the hospital; you can imagine how frantic mother was.  Several others in the class had descended on the hospital to be with the mother in this crisis.

I was a little upset at this, because no one called and told me about it.   I do hospital calls, you know.   The reaction to this?   “It was Thursday night – that’s Betty’s night out with you.   So we took care of it ourselves!”   At first I was offended, feeling left out.   But then I realized:   they had taken my lessons to heart.   That is indeed a great joy.

When a student does what the teacher teaches, it is a great joy.   It is the real sign of success.

Let’s see what Paul is talking about here:

  • In Christ they were enriched.   They spoke with the heart of Christ;   their knowledge came from Christ.
  • This is a confirmation of Paul’s personal testimony to them.   He said it would be great;   they proved it.   They had all the spiritual gifts;   they had the right attitude in waiting for Christ’s return.   Indeed, they had the supreme grace:   fellowship with Christ, the Holy One, the Awesome God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Root cause

Paul then reminds them of the root cause of all this blessing:   the faithfulness of God Himself.

  • Because of his faithfulness, they will be kept strong until his return.
  • Because of his faithfulness, they will be able to face the day of Wrath calmly, knowing that they are blameless in Christ.

But they’ve slipped lately.   Paul must deliver a correction to them.   That correction is based on two things:

  • The grace of God
  • The nature of Christ.


Appeal for Unity

Just what seems to be the problem?

(1 Cor 1:11-17 NIV)  My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. {12} What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas "; still another, "I follow Christ." {13} Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? {14} I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, {15} so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. {16} (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) {17} For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul’s appeal is one which befits the servant-leader.

  • He uses the word “appeal” (“beseech” or “exhort” in other translations).  The word in the Greek is parakaleo, which carries with it the meaning of one who comes along side to encourage you with comfort and good advice.   This is the act of one who truly cares.
  • He does so in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.   Lord, so that we might remember that we owe him our allegiance as lord.   Jesus, that we might remember that he is human like us, and understands us.   Christ, so that we might remember that he is the atonement for our sins – and we owe him our eternal life itself.
  • He asks for unity.   First, in that they will “agree.”   The word in the original carries the meaning of speaking with the same words and thoughts.   Next, that there be no schisms – no sects, no divisions.   The church is one body;   a schism is like tearing an arm off.   Finally, that they agree in mind (in the original, the meaning is intellect) and thought (meaning in judgment and purpose).

His solution:   “In Christ”

We are “in Christ,” therefore we cannot be divided successfully.

  • First, because Christ is not divided.   Unity is part of his very nature;   just like the laws of nature cannot be separated from each other.   He is one with the Father and the Spirit;   different persons but one essence – just as we should be.   The church is his new creation;   therefore, we should be one.   The work should reflect the workman.
  • Next, because Christ was crucified for us.   It is the basic fact of the faith.   It is simply proclaimed, so that the power of that fact will be completely clear to us.   We all owe our existence in God to that fact.
  • Finally, because we are baptized “into Christ.”   Therefore we are utterly reliant upon him for our cleansing from sin, both at baptism and ever afterward.   Think about it:   don’t our divisions spring from our sin – especially the sin of pride?

Side note:   Paul’s example

Paul makes it clear in his own example.   His own accomplishments mean nothing;   what counts is Christ.

  • He doesn’t even remember who he baptized!   And he’s glad he doesn’t – for that would diminish the importance of Christ in his life.
  • It’s Christ who is important, not Paul.   Nor, for that matter, any other teacher or leader.

So many of us come to church to have our ears tickled – the fine music, the strength of the sermon, the quality of the lesson.  We need to remember what’s important.


The Foolishness of God

Have you ever been so sick that the doctors have had to feed you intravenously?   You needed to eat, but because of your illness you rejected food.   Being a sinner is sometimes like that: you’re so sick in sin that you reject the nourishment that would heal you.  

(1 Cor 1:18-31 NIV)   For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. {19} For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." {20} Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? {21} For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. {22} Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, {23} but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, {24} but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. {25} For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. {26} Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. {27} But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. {28} He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, {29} so that no one may boast before him. {30} It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. {31} Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

How do we see this?   The world is full of persuasion and eloquence.   Advertisers make this their art.   Sometimes we assume that if something is really important, it would come with a great advertising campaign.   Have you ever noticed how little advertising there is in Christianity?   You just can’t advertise a church service the way you would a used car sale.   God’s methods prevent it.

Confounding the “miracle seekers”

There are some of us who are not interested in a consistent theory of life.   We want a spectacular show of evidence.   It’s interesting how many televangelists are “successful” because of the healings they purport to do.   But consider God’s methods in this:

  • You want a “sign?”   Look at the changed lives around you.   Not spectacular, not flashy – but solid evidence.   If you’re looking for flash and dash, God will not gratify your whim.   You will see solid evidence instead.
  • Recall that these people had seen plenty of miracles.   But not at their own demand;   God is not a circus magician who performs on call.   God’s miracles are for his purposes, not our amusement and amazement.
  • For such people, God lays out the “clear” side of Christ:   the simple story of the death, burial and resurrection.   We are to learn from him, for his yoke is light.

Confounding the “scientific”

Others, however, reject all such things.   After all, there has to be a logical, intellectual explanation for these things.   The events must fit the theory, or we deny the events.

  • But the resurrection fits no theory.   No philosophy says “there must be a resurrection.”   To such a mind, Christianity is opaque – because such a mind holds itself above all things.
  • The problem is with the theory of theories:   the idea that my mind can rise above all things and understand all things.   We see this even in the church today, where “all things” are understood by “psychology.”   How does this theory explain the resurrection?   It is the power of God.
  • The truth is simple:   God doesn’t fit in any box we can make.   We must accept that there are some things we simply are not going to understand;   it’s the “thick” side of Christ.

Why does God do it that way?

Why doesn’t God do things the way we would?

  • First, so that the merits of the church may be plainly seen by all.  We don’t come to church because it’s popular – remember the village leader in Keys of the Kingdom? – but because it’s where the truth is to be found.
  • Second, so that we will learn to do things God’s way.   If God did things our way, then that “way” would be superior to us both.   God didn’t start with celebrities;   rather he started with the unknown – so that we would not have to look past the stars to see Him.
  • Finally, that we would be prevented from pride.   If we know that all things are due to his grace, not our merit, then we have no reason to puff ourselves up.



Read the passage backwards with me:

  • Before you were in Christ, you had your theories and your evidence backward.   Then you found him – and now you understand.
  • Therefore, I appeal to you to be united in the only true source of unity – Him.
  • If you do, you will once again enjoy the blessings you found at first – all those spiritual gifts and his constant strength.

Two thousand years have passed since this was penned.  It seems to have lost none of its punch today.

[1] There is some manuscript debate about this.   Two of the earliest manuscripts do not use this phrasing.








Previous     Home     Next