Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Reading Through 1 Corinthians #1 (1-4)

schenk 1 CorinthiansThis post will begin a read through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians accompanied by 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students, by Kenneth Schenck. This commentary approaches the text from a Wesleyan perspective. The read through will be pretty quick (2-3 chapters in each sitting) and will focus on the main points in the letter. If there are questions we can go into more detail on the Facebook discussion. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Paul writes to the Corinthians to deal with some problems in the church there that have come to his attention. It is important for us to always read this letter, and all of Paul's letters, with their original audience in mind, and to not read them as abstract theological treatises. The big problem that the church had was that it was not unified and was divided into factions. Paul first deals with the big issue: the church must be unified because of its loyalty to Christ alone. Paul then deals with several issues that were causing the disunity. The bottom line is that the church becomes unified when we, together, imitate the self-giving of Jesus' cross and give up our "rights" for those of one another and the gospel. We can do this because God is faithful and will use our service to accomplish his plan for the resurrection (as Jesus rose) and renewal of all creation. 

God’s church is much bigger than any lone individual or even a particular denomination. Paul will drive us again and again to read the truths of 1 Corinthians together as a body of Christians rather than as individuals. 1 Corinthians 1.1-3, 33

The thanksgiving section thus both begins and ends with God’s graciousness. It is the gracious God who has enriched the Corinthians in speaking and knowledge (1:5). It is the gracious God who has dispensed gifts on the community, confirming their calling (1:7). This same gracious God would be faithful to see them through to the end so that by His power they would be blameless when Christ returned to the earth. God has accomplished all these things by bringing the Corinthians into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). 1 Corinthians 1.4-9, 37

Paul lays out the basic issue in 1.10-17. The church's unity must be based on its absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ. Ultimate loyalty is not to anyone but Jesus. Any leader that is followed must be followed only as he/she follows Christ. There is no room for pride or human power because everyone comes into the Christian family on the basis of Jesus' death on the cross. This is totally contrary to world's way of accomplishing things. The world works on the basis of power and status. God works through self-sacrifice, admission of weakness and humility. This does not seem wise in a human sense, but this is how God changes the world. Thus, Paul calls the Corinthians to a cross-shaped life that submits its power, status, abilities, positions to God and to serving God's people and the gospel. We can trust that God will be faithful to accomplish his plan and use our service to glorify him and renew his creation.

1 Corinthians 1:10 is arguably the “proposition” of the letter, the basic point Paul was trying to make. If the church would only learn to be united in their attitudes, their problems would be solved. 1 Corinthians 1.10-17, 39

Did Paul really mean to suggest that God’s messiah showed His victory by dying on the Roman tool of shame and humiliation?...We may not always understand what God is doing in our lives and in the world. At times it may seem like we are in a position of weakness and that we are defeated. It is at this point we must remind ourselves of God’s priorities. 1 Corinthians 1.18-31, 49

Paul ends this section where he began it: with a reminder that the Christian gospel is about God’s power (2:3–5) and wisdom, not ours...Paul reminds the Corinthians that it is not eloquence or philosophical wisdom that counts, but the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2.1-5, 50–51

In chapters 2-4 Paul continues to apply the principle that the church must be unified around Jesus and his mission for the church. It seems that one group in the Corinthian church, possibly led by Apollos, was claiming superiority as Christians to the rest of the church based on their standing in the community and, perhaps, on an over-realized eschatology that saw themselves as already ruling with Christ and free from the moral restraints of Torah. Paul counters this with the idea that true wisdom comes only from the Spirit who teaches us that, in this age, the self-sacrifice of the cross provides our standard for living. The divisions in the church demonstrate this group's lack of spiritual wisdom and maturity. Those who strive for status and rely on worldly power show that they are not connected to the Spirit. Thus, to emphasize human leaders, placing oneself above others, and other arrogant actions betray the spirit of the world in action rather than the spirit of Christ. While we are called to judge words and actions (for the purpose of redemption and in concert with the whole church), judging motivations, condemning others, and dividing over non-essential issues betrays a lack of spirituality and immaturity. The church belongs to Jesus, not to any person, human theology or denomination.

Suffice it to say we often find Christians today who think themselves more spiritual than others, “holier than thou.” It is exactly this attitude that Paul was combating at Corinth. As soon as you have this attitude, you are beginning to think according to the wisdom of the world, for it is worldly thinking that thinks in terms of superiority and higher status. 1 Corinthians 2.6-3.4, 56

God’s wisdom is a hidden wisdom discerned by the Spirit. The truly spiritual grasp the wisdom of the cross and the power of weakness. Our weakness underlines God’s strength. The factionalism at Corinth indicated that the problem Corinthians were not spiritual at all, but carnal, mere infants in Christ. 1 Corinthians 3.5-23, 61

Paul clearly believed that there was a time to pass judgment on the immoral actions of others, particularly other believers. But God is the one who ultimately passes judgment on hidden human motives...In general, it is best to err on the side of compassion than on the side of judgment, for this is the attitude God and Christ have modeled for us. 1 Corinthians 4, 71–72

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