Paul opens this letter to the Corinthians in standard fashion, introducing himself and giving his bona fides (he does what he does because God desired it so and was sent out (apostle=”sent one”) on the Lord’s behalf. Sosthenes is added here as part of the authorship of the letter. I suspect he was the guy who delivered the letter and just tacked his name on it for good measure, but that has no grounding in Biblical or historical fact.
As Paul often does, he gives away some of what the letter is going to be about in his description of the folks he is writing to. Here, the people in Corinth are described as those, “…sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “…called to be saints together…” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, to see the notion of sanctification (making holy, righteousness, etc.) and unity show up as things he wants to focus on.
Paul gives thanks for the Corinthian church in a way that mirrors his other letters and is almost always actually a thanks to God for what He has done in the community of believers that are in focus. In Corinth, Paul is grateful that they have heard the good news and received the “knowledge” (mind that, it’ll be important in a minute) which is sufficient to provide all the necessary gifts that come from the Spirit. Similarly, it is sufficient to sustain them until Jesus returns, guiltless in the site of God who orchestrated this whole thing and allowed them to be saved through Jesus.
Then Paul hits his first appeal – unity. He wants, “…all of you [to] agree, and that there be no divisions among you.” There, the hint we got in 1:2 pays off just 8 verses later. It seems as though people are segmenting themselves by which great steward brought them to the faith (likely in a vain attempt to make themselves look good. It’s a story to tell people you met Jesus through Billy Graham. If you tell them you met Jesus through Ben Fust no one cares. There’s some pride and a wrong measure of greatness in here that is deeper than just an argument as to whether you follow Paul or Apollos, who was reported to be a big deal in the New Testament even though he really wasn’t.)
In general, the church at Corinth is starting to allow some of the value systems outside of the Kingdom to influence measures of value, status and worth within the Kingdom. Obviously, this can’t stand and Paul reminds them that there is indeed only one Jesus. He is who we follow, it was he who was crucified, it is he who we are baptized into, he who provides the example of righteousness. Paul even seems to be happy that he didn’t baptize most of these folks so that he can’t be pegged for being part of this weird mess.
His reaction does raise some questions (“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…”) I’d say that it’s a stretch to try and use this verse as an attempt to somehow diminish the importance of baptism, that’s not the point. I think it’s more of Paul saying that others do the baptizing, his job was delivery of good news in this situation. Note that he assumes all of them are baptized when he asks if they were baptized in the name of Paul. It wasn’t a question of if they were baptized, it was a reminder of by whom and for whom.
Before we get too far from it, don’t miss our gal Chloe. First of all, it’s a lady who we get by name who not only is familiar and interacting with Paul about the Corinthian church but she also has “people”. It infers too much to assign her some sort of wealth or social status for having people, they could be friends, family, or folks from her household. They could also be disciples of hers (although her followers would seem to not have the same issues as the other groups because they are informing Paul of the wrong focus and behavior.)
Now, to the meat of the rest of this chapter. When Paul talks about preaching the gospel, he continues the reorientation of what the world values vs. what the Kingdom values. The Good News Paul brings wasn’t what the world would consider elegant wisdom; the power of the message is its truth, simplicity and outlandishness. He spends the next few verses re-emphasizing that fact. Basically, line up those who supposedly have knowledge (the wise, the scribe, the debater) and see how the Good News makes fools of them. And it is through what they believe is foolish that people are being saved, both the Jews and the Gentiles. What’s the message? Christ crucified. For all the blowharding, arguing, temple sex, imperial worship, philosophy and whatever else goes on around them, the message of Christ crucified is what saves.
To continue the point, Paul calls attention to the specific circumstances of the folks in Corinth. He says, “Look at you fellas, you all weren’t wise or powerful or noble when you got into the Kingdom. And yet here you are.” God chose what is foolish (ahem, these folks; plus, you know, kings dying on crosses to save everyone, being great by being a servant, not storing up money,) all kinds of things the world would consider foolish.
Basic application for us is the same for them: remember where you belong. You will be different than the rest of the world, it’s kind of the nature of living in a different Kingdom. Also, the values of a fallen earth don’t play here. Jesus measures greatness differently and these notions of status or worth that you are deriving from the wrong sources do nothing but separate you unnecessarily. (I might note that excessive focus or deriving status on your particular church community runs the same risk. If you are deriving more pride around what church you go to than the identity you get from Jesus, that’s a problem.)
So what is wisdom? Jesus. “And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” Our pride, then, isn’t in who first shared with us the Good News (Cephas, Apollos, whoever). It isn’t in the church we go to or our own knowledge or wisdom or righteousness. Where we boast, we boast in the Lord.
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