62. I Corinthians 1: “Humility Answers a Million Questions”
Golden Nursing Center in Mannington, NJ –Evening Service on 4/21/2016
(edited December 2020)
Just a few months ago, we spent some time in the Book of Second Corinthians, but tonight we are going back into the first letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. That might seem a little strange. It’s not that I’m trying to go through the New Testament backwards! What happened is, I select my Bible study chapters by lottery and II Corinthians happened to come up before I Corinthians, this time around. So here we go, with the Lord’s help:
As you may remember, Corinth was a large commercial center near Athens in Ancient Greece. Some of the things I’ve read about ancient Corinth indicate that they were kind of “modern” for their day. That is to say, very active in business and commercial trade and all the communications that went along with that in their day.
My impression is that they might be very at home today on our internet. . .asking a million questions, gossiping, and, on a bad day, prone to real self-centeredness (just like I am sometimes!).
Scholars indicate that I Corinthians was actually Paul’s second letter to them. The first was a Q & A session about their new Faith and everything else. In this first Scriptural letter, however, Paul really settles in to PREACHING to the believers at Corinth:
Verses 1-3: “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul encourages them to see themselves as part of the Church at large. We need to remember that today, regardless of where we live, where we publicly worship, or where we travel, we are a PART of Christ’s larger work on the Earth. We are connected through Jesus to all our fellow believers around the world.
Paul acknowledges Sosthenes who was serving with him at Ephesus. (Paul was in Ephesus while writing this letter at that time.) Paul liked to name names and empathize teamwork in the Body of Christ. I think he was trying to set a good example for the Corinthians, right from the start and, as we saw in our recent studies of the Book of II Corinthians, they needed it!
Verses 4-7: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:”
Riches, good-looks or good health, social advantages, hey, even spiritual blessings and gifts among believers can be misunderstood and misused. If we aren’t careful, we’ll see these types of things as an excuse to praise ourselves, rather God Who provides them for us. This was apparently a problem in the Corinthian church, right from the start. And Paul is encouraging them to give themselves over first, and fully, to Christ.
Verses 8-11: “Who (Jesus) shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.”
No wonder they had so MANY questions for Paul. They were striving with one another and with the Lord. And competing for higher positions in the church was destroying their fellowship, as it always does.
Verse 12: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.”
They wanted their leaders, including Paul, to compete too. The Corinthians were looking for a man to worship. I think that is related to wanting to worship themselves, by the way. Listen, no matter how GOOD a leader in the church may seem to be, following THEM will always mean rejecting God. From long experience, Paul knows they are wrong to want this. Look what he says next. He isn’t about to help them demote the Lord:
Verses 13-17: “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
Paul says, you CAN follow me, yes, but never because of me. You follow me because of He Who sent me! I’m HIS servant, just like Peter is, and Apollos is, and ALL of us are.
Paul WAS a great leader. But He knew that he was what he was ONLY because Christ had met him on that Damascus Road and given him a new life and a new heart. On that day, the Lord had re-created a bitter and dangerous young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus into the man who was now preaching to the church at Corinth. Hallelujah! And through the Holy Scriptures, Paul is STILL preaching to us. Listen to him:
Verses 18-25: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are 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.”
Church was not meant to be a talent show. Nor is it some kind of exclusive club. The Scriptures, the Cross of Jesus, Eternal Life and Truth – that’s what church is for! And it’s for ANYBODY who will believe it! ANYBODY!
Next, Paul reminds them that before the Church can see God as He REALLY is, we need to see ourselves as we REALLY are. And that can really sting. Listen carefully to what he says:
Verses 26-29: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
When we come to God, we don’t offer Him our life, wealth, or talents. Not really. He God, He doesn’t need any of that. A person who comes to Christ comes as a BROKEN VESSEL. Only through Jesus can that person be regenerated, filled with the Holy Spirit, and made ready to TRULY live! That’s where the gifts and talents in the Church actually come from. They don’t belong to anyone other than Christ.
Verses 30-31: “ But of him (God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
O Corinthians, Paul is saying, don’t brag about your worship services, or your private worship, etc. The amazing part of worship is what God is doing in it and through it! Everything else is just a distraction. And I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve been a distraction and I’ve been distracted from the Lord’s work, sad to say, many times. What I know I need more of, and I think what we all need, is just what Paul knew they needed: true humility.
Look how he begins the next chapter by setting a good example for them:
I Corinthians 2:1-2
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.”
Speaking of such good examples, let’s close tonight with an episode from the life of Christ, as He was nearing the end of His life and ministry on the Earth:
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”