1 Corinthians 1




Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-9)

1 Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (see Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1 and comments).

Sosthenes was one of Paul’s fellow workers. Sosthenes didn’t actually write any part of this letter, but he had undoubtedly discussed the contents of the letter with Paul and had probably of fered Paul advice concerning what to write.

When Paul had first arrived in Corinth, Sosthenes was the ruler of the Jewish synagogue there. Afterwards he had become a Christian (see Acts 18:17).

2 Paul writes to the CHURCH of God in Corinth. What is the church? The “church” is people—us—who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. This is why in the New Testament Christians are called “saints.”

Who are the “sanctified in Christ”? They are all those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:12-13). They are those who call not only with their lips but also from their hearts, who call out not only in words but also in faith—faith in Christ. Many people say, “Lord, Lord,” with their lips, but in their hearts there is no change, no holiness (see Matthew 7:21 and comment). When we call on the name of Christ in true faith, Christ comes into our lives in the form of the Holy Spirit. Then through the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives become holy, or sanctified. We become “saints.” The saints are those who have been “sanctified” in Christ—that is, those who have been declared righteous by God, who have been cleansed of their sins and have received forgiveness.

3 See Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2 and comments.

4 Paul always thanked God for all of his fellow Christians (Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-4). Paul here gives thanks for the Corinthian Christians because of the GRACE which God has given to them. Let us, also, not cease to of fer thanks to God for each other, and for the gifts He has given to each of us.

5 The Corinthians were enriched in every way, but here Paul mentions two ways in which they were especially “enriched”—that is, in their speaking and in their knowledge. How rare is the person who has the gifts of both speaking and knowledge! Most people either speak well but have no knowledge, or they have knowledge but can’t express it. The person who is rich in both gifts is able to give much blessing to others.

6 Here Paul gives the reason the Corinthian Christians had been so “enriched.” It was because Paul’s testimony about Christ had been confirmed in them. It is when we testify about Christ that others are enriched. Paul didn’t testif y about himself, but about his Lord.

7 Because of the grace God had given the Corinthian believers (verse 4), they didn’t lack any spiritual gift. Here Paul is referring mainly to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit, about which Paul has written elsewhere (see Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11,27-28; Ephesians 4:11). But the greatest “spiritual gifts” are Jesus Christ Himself, the Holy Spirit Himself, and our eternal salvation. All of God’s blessings to us—His grace, His love, His mercy, His power, His Spirit, His Son—can be called “spiritual gifts.”

Even though the Corinthians didn’t lack any spiritual gift, they still were beset by many sins and weaknesses. They had no lack of spiritual gifts; but they had no lack of sins either! They were still far from mature, far from perfect (Matthew 5:48). Therefore, says Paul, let them wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed—that is, let them look for the second coming of Christ into the world, at which time their bodies will be redeemed (Romans 8:23), and their sins and weaknesses will be erased forever.

8 Christ will keep you strong to the end. Through His death on the cross, Christ has taken away our guilt, our “blame,” so that we will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ—that is, on the day when Christ returns to earth to judge all men.

We are totally dependent on Christ’s strength, which He gives us through the Holy Spirit. We cannot live a life pleasing to God by our own strength. Christ will keep us strong (see Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

9 God … is faithful. God called us; He justified us; and He will glorify us (see Romans 8:30 and comment).

Some people, quoting verses 8-9, believe that Christians cannot fall away, that they cannot lose their salvation for any reason. But other verses in the New Testament suggest that Christians can indeed turn away from their faith (see Luke 8:13; Romans 11:22; 1 Timothy 4:1; General Article: Can We Lose Our Salvation?).

For what purpose does God call us? God calls us to have fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. And as we have fellowship with Jesus, we become more and more like Him. This is God’s ultimate purpose for us: that we might be conformed to the likeness of his Son (see Romans 8:29 and comment).

So, in view of such a great destiny, let us ask ourselves: Have we had fellowship with Jesus today? Without fellowship with Him, we shall become like a branch that is cut of f from the tree and dies (see John 15:5-6 and comment).

Divisions in the Church (1:10-17)

10 Paul’s prayer is that the Corinthian believers might be perfectly united in mind and thought. Does this mean that the Corinthians have to agree on every little matter? No, it doesn’t mean that. But it does mean that they must agree on all major and essential matters—for example, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is God’s word which we must obey, that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone (see Introduction to the General Articles). We must be united in faith, in love, and in obedience to Christ. But in small matters, it is all right to have different opinions. Let one man eat meat, and another not (Romans 14:2,5). We needn’t concentrate on these small matters. Even though we have different ideas and customs in small things, as long as we accept and respect each other, we will still be perfectly united in Christ. That is what is essential (see Romans 12:16; 15:5-6; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2 and comments).

Oneness among Christians is like the “oneness” among leaves of a tree. From a distance, the leaves of a tree all look the same. But when you look closely, the leaves are all different. Just as leaves are united in a tree, so must we be united in Christ—united, but not identical!

Paul wasn’t the only one who prayed for unity among believers. Christ Himself prayed that those who believed in Him might all be one (see John 17:20-23 and comment).

11 Chloe was a woman who lived in Corinth. Some members of her household had apparently traveled to Ephesus, where they had met Paul and informed him about the quarrels and divisions in the Corinthian church.

12 What had happened in the Corinthian church? The believers had become divided. Some believers had begun to follow Paul—probably those who had heard the Gospel from him in the beginning.

But then Paul had left Corinth, and some time afterward a leader named Apollos had come and taken Paul’s place. So then, some of the Corinthians had begun to follow Apollos! Apollos was a learned Jew, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately (Acts 18:24-25). While Apollos was at Corinth, he was a great help to the believers there (Acts 18:27-28).

Again, other believers had begun following Cephas (Peter), who was the chief among Jesus’ original twelve disciples (see John 1:42). Perhaps the reason some believers were following Peter was that he was one of the original twelve disciples, while Paul and Apollos were not. Some people thought that only the original disciples should be considered true apostles.

And, finally, still another group said, “We follow Christ.” It was fine to say, “We follow Christ”; but what wasn’t fine was that this group was looking down on all the other believers at Corinth. They considered themselves to be the only true Christians. But in thinking that, they were being proud; they were setting themselves above the others. What’s more, their opinion was wrong: they weren’t the only true Christians. The others were Christians too! Thus, because of their pride, those who called themselves “followers of Christ” ended up quarreling and causing division just like the other groups. They brought dishonor on Christ, because in claiming Christ was the Lord of their own little group, they were denying that He was the Lord of the whole church—which, in fact, He was.

Notice how much harm pride can do. It can even cause a division between Christ and His own apostles! The major cause of division in any church is pride. There is only one cure for division in the church: all members must humble themselves and begin to look to Christ instead of to themselves. Church leaders and their followers must concentrate on raising up, not themselves, but Christ alone.

13 How can the Corinthian Christians think about splitting into opposing parties like this? Paul asks. How can they give their loyalty to these different leaders? How mistaken they are! Christ alone died on the cross for them. These leaders may have baptized them, but they didn’t baptize them in their own names; they baptized them in Christ’s name.

14-15 Paul does not want the Corinthians to follow men; he wants them to follow Christ. Paul is happy that he only baptized two of the Corinthian believers, because that way no one can accuse him of trying to start his own party!

Crispus was the ruler of the Jewish synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:8). Gaius is mentioned in Romans 16:23; perhaps the Corinthian church met in his house.

16 Paul suddenly remembers one more family he baptized, which he forgot to mention. Paul didn’t want to forget anyone; every believer was important to him. But especially this family—the household of Stephanas—he didn’t want to forget; they were the first people in the province of Achaia (southern Greece) to believe in Christ (1 Corinthians 16:15-18).

17 Paul now explains why he baptized so few people at Corinth. He says that his main calling was not to baptize but to preach. Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the GOSPEL. Most pastors and preachers do both kinds of work—baptizing and preaching—together, and in other cities Paul also did both. But in Corinth Paul concentrated mainly on preaching and left the baptizing to others. Paul is not opposed to leaders baptizing new believers; he is only opposed to creating parties and divisions in the church.

Paul does not preach with words of human wisdom—that is, words that come only from man’s wisdom, not God’s wisdom. In this, Paul is an example for all preachers to follow. For when a preacher speaks only with human wisdom—human eloquence—then the listeners are drawn to the preacher and not to Christ. They praise the preacher instead of praising Christ.

Paul wants people to believe the Gospel because it is God’s truth, not because he preached it with eloquent words.

Some preachers appear to be very wise, and many people come to hear them. But these “wise” preachers don’t say anything about how Jesus Christ died on the cross2 for men. They don’t say anything about how Christ, through His death on the cross, now has the power to forgive men’s sins and give them eternal life. This is the “power of the cross” that Paul refers to here. And so, if these “wise” preachers don’t say anything about Christ’s cross, then the cross is emptied of its power—that is, it cannot benefit those who are listening. The listeners never have the chance to learn what Christ did for them on the cross, and so they cannot benefit from it. A preacher, no matter how wise, can’t save anyone. Only the crucified and risen Christ can save us and give us eternal life. Through Christ’s death on the cross we are made alive! That is God’s wisdom. And that is what Paul preaches (see 1 Corinthians 2:1,4-5,13).

Christ the Wisdom and Power of God (1:18-31)

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Who are the perishing? They are unbelievers. For them, the message of the cross—that is, the Gospel—is foolishness. Why? Because they think it’s absurd that the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, would die on a cross like a criminal. They can’t believe it. To them, any talk of Jesus’ death on the cross is foolishness.

But all who know Christ and truly believe in Him have experienced in their own lives the same power of God which raised Christ from the dead. This is the power we receive when we accept the message of the cross, the glorious Gospel of Christ. Thanks be to God! (see Romans 1:16).

19 Paul quotes here from Isaiah 29:14. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, says that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise, which opposes the message of the cross (verse 18). How can man’s wisdom be compared to God’s wisdom? It can’t be! (Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-34).

20 Where is the wise man? Nowhere. No one is wise except God. God gives His own wisdom to those who believe in the “message of the cross.”

Where is the scholar … the philosopher? Men suppose that scholars and philosophers are very wise. Scholars and philosophers also read the Bible, though they don’t believe what is written in it. But in sending His own Son to die on the cross, God made foolish the wisdom of the world—the wisdom of scholars and philosophers. The man with worldly wisdom will perish together with his wisdom; but the man who believes in Christ will live forever.

21 The wisdom of the world cannot know God’s wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). The world3 calls God’s wisdom (the Gospel) foolishness. But God, by that so-called “foolishness,” gives salvation to all who believe in Christ.

22 The JEWS were always demanding miraculous signs in order to believe (see Matthew 12:38; Mark 8:11; John 2:18 and comments). They needed proof ; they had no faith.

Jesus gave them a sign. He rose from the dead—that was the sign (see John 2:1922). But this, the greatest of all Jesus’ signs—His own resurrection—the Jews refused to believe.

The Greeks4 were always searching for wisdom, the wisdom of the world.

23 For the Jews, the crucified Christ was a stumbling block. That is, the cross was an obstacle that prevented them from believing. That their Savior would die on a cross was incredible, even contemptible, to the Jews. Even while Christ was hanging on the cross, they mocked Him (see Matthew 27:41-42; Mark 15:31-32).

For the GENTLES—that is, all the non-Jewish people of the world—the idea of a crucified Savior was foolishness. That the Son of God would come to earth and end up being executed as a criminal was ridiculous to them.

24 But for those who believe in Christ, the crucified Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Believers are those whom God has called. For those who accept God’s call, the crucified Christ is not a sign of weakness, contempt, or foolishness. Rather, He is the power and wisdom of God. All power and all wisdom are in Christ (see Romans 1:16). And that power and wisdom is available to us also—the power to overcome sin and lead a new life, and the wisdom to know God and find the way of salvation.

25 When Paul uses the expression foolishness of God, he is using the term an unbeliever would use. He means God’s “foolishness” in sending His Son to be killed on a cross. By the expression weakness of God, Paul means Christ’s “weakness”—that is, His death on the cross. Death is the ultimate sign of human weakness.

Yet compared to God’s “foolishness” and “weakness,” what can man’s wisdom and strength do? The greatest wisdom and power of man cannot save a single soul. But God’s foolishness and weakness can! And God’s foolishness and weakness—that is, Jesus’ death on the cross—saves not just one soul, it saves the soul of everyone who believes in Jesus.

26 Most people who are wise, influential, or of noble birth don’t look to God. They think they don’t need Him (see Mark 10:23 and comment). Such people don’t want to be God’s servants; they want to serve themselves rather than God (see Mark 10:42-44 and comment).

27-28 God’s wisdom is the opposite of man’s wisdom. What man considers to be wise, God considers to be foolish; and what man considers foolish, God considers wise.

Therefore, God has chosen those people whom men consider foolish, weak, and lowly to be His followers. The foolish things, the weak things, the lowly and despised things are us—believers! God has chosen people like us to shame the wise and the strong men of the world (see James 2:5).

The things that are not (verse 28) are also Christians like us. In the eyes of the non-believers in Corinth, the Christians were like “things that are not.” The non-believers in Paul’s time took no account of the church; they treated the church as if it didn’t exist. And yet that church gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire, and later the world. And when the world passes away, the church of Christ will be remaining still.

29 Why did God choose us—the foolish, weak, and lowly? He chose the foolish, weak, and lowly so that no man would boast that he had been chosen because of his own wisdom and strength! (Ephesians 2:8-9). God doesn’t want boasters. He chooses us because of His grace, not because of our worth. Besides, any wisdom and strength we might have has come from God in the first place! Man has absolutely nothing of his own to boast about.

30 Let us never forget that it was God who chose us in the very beginning, not we who chose God (see John 15:16; Ephesians 1:45 and comments). It is because of him that we are in Christ.

The greatest gift God has given us is Jesus Christ Himself. All the other blessings of God are included in Christ—such as, RIGHTEOUSNESS, holiness and REDEMPTION, or salvation (see Romans 3:24; Ephe-sians 1:6-8; Colossians 1:14 and comments). If we have received Christ, we have received every other spiritual blessing as well (see Romans 8:32; Ephesians 1:3 and comments).

Paul frequently uses the expression IN CHRIST. To be in Christ Jesus means to be joined with Christ like branches are joined to a tree (see John 15:4-7). When we are in Christ, Christ is also in us. And if Christ is in us, that means His power and wisdom and love—indeed, all the fullness of God—is in us also! (Ephesians 3:19). Christ is King and Lord of our life. We belong to Him.

31 Here Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah says that if we have something to boast about, then we must boast not in ourselves but in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24). And indeed we do have something to boast about! Because Christ is in us, we are rich, wise, and strong. Surely we can boast—but not in ourselves. Every good thing we have has come from Christ; let us boast in Him (see Galatians 6:14).