I Corinthians I: It’s Still the Cross.
The city of Corinth was one of the chief cities of Greece. Its population including slaves was estimated to be approximately 650,000. It was a very affluent city and culture. Corinth was located between two harbors and was a crossroads of travelers and traders. It also was a tourist’s Mecca and its Temple of Aphrodite was the center of sexual immorality. It was the Los Vegas of its day. As a Greek culture it was filled with philosophers and intellectuals who valued wisdom. Paul came there in 50 AD and spent 18 months there establishing a church and ministering to the people. He then went to Ephesus. It was from Ephesus Paul writes the church in Corinth as he received word of the serious problems in the church at Corinth.
In many ways the church in Corinth existed in a society and culture similar to the one in which we live today. The church was being conformed by the world around it and embraced worldly living. They often used God’s grace as excuse for their worldly living. This was a church which was defiled by the sin of its members. It was also a divided church competing for leadership. Instead of glorifying God, it was hindering the progress of the Gospel.
The church at Corinth had permitted the sins of their culture to get into the local church. When a believer or a church gets away from the Word of God, compromising the Word of God, they will become lukewarm. When you get away from the source which made your heart burn within you, the Word of God, you become lukewarm. Like a cup of hot coffee set on a counter and forgotten about assumes the temperature of the environment in which it sits and becomes lukewarm, unfit to drink. In many ways, the church, the Body of Christ, in America has been and is being conformed by the culture in which it exists.
Paul’s goal in writing this letter is to remind them of their calling. He will remind them of their position in Christ. In doing so, this timeless letter reminds us as a church and individuals how we are to live in the midst of a sinful society and a culture which has decided it will do what is right in its own eyes. We must remember who we are and whose we are. Let us look carefully and seriously at our calling in Christ.
- CALLED TO BE HOLY. It is interesting to note, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans while he was in Corinth. He could look at the immoral, affluent culture around him in Corinth and see the sexual immorality he writes about in Romans 1: 18-32. He could see how sin had captured the city of Corinth’s inhabitants. In Romans 6, Paul writes: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Paul reminds them and us of our position: we are sanctified in Christ Jesus who called us to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. We are called ‘saints’ because we have been set apart. This occurs at the moment of salvation. On September 16, 1977, I went down on my knees a sot; I came up from them a saint. Saved to new life sublime. We have been set apart for God; for His enjoyment and for His use. A Christian belongs to Jesus Christ. We are His bride. And when we sin, we are as unfaithful to Him as an adulterer. But our sin is not only against Him it is against the Body of Christ, our fellow Christians. We are called to be holy as God is holy. Our position is holy. Our practice is woefully short of the position. This is why as a believer I am to pursue holiness. Jerry Bridges has a great book entitled: “The Pursuit of Holiness.” This is something we are called to do. Paul would tell us- ‘be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. God has not called us to be like those around us in our culture, but to be like Himself.
In the study of these two letters from Paul to the church at Corinth, I want us to consider this letter to us as individuals and as the body of Christ known as West Jackson Baptist Church. We have been set free from the rule and reign of sin, the kingdom of unrighteousness. Through our union with Jesus Christ we died to this realm of sin. We are to guard our bodies so that sin does not reign in them. God has made provisions for our holiness. Through Christ we were delivered from sin’s reign so we can resist sin. “But the responsibility for resisting is ours. God does not do that for us. To confuse the potential for resisting, which God has provided, with the responsibility for resisting, which is ours, is to court disaster in the pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, page 52)
Paul understands this struggle, for he faced it also. In Romans 7, Paul said whenever he wanted to do good, evil was right there with him. It will always be a fact of our Christian life, the temptation to sin will be a lifelong struggle. We need to accept this and not dismiss it, but prepare for it and be equipped to deal with it. The flesh always lusts against the Spirit.
As we face a presidential election year, many Christians are very concerned about the future of our nation. I want to remind each of us as believers we have two citizenships. We are citizens of this country and we are citizens in the kingdom of God. God is concerned about His Nation. So this study is to remind of us who we are and what our duties are in God’s kingdom. “But you are a chosen generation (people), a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His own special people (belonging to Him) that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!”(I Peter 2: 9) God is not talking about America as His Holy Nation; He is talking about the Church of Jesus Christ. The body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the true, born-again believers in this world are His Holy nation, His kingdom. This God’s concern.
Jesus Christ, who is our Head and our Bridegroom has told us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He has told us to spread the Gospel. He has called us out to be Holy as God is Holy. This letter is so applicable to us at this time. It is about progressive sanctification, spiritual maturity, the development of holiness of character. This letter is to inspire, instruct, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness. Our practice needs to become more like our position- which is holy in the eyes of God. We will see ourselves in these problems: immature, unstable, divided, arguing, sexual immorality, and misuse of spiritual gifts.
- Paul then writes to the church at Corinth as well as us at West Jackson, to tell us we have been “enriched” by God’s grace in all our speaking and in all our knowledge. We will see not only have we been enriched in knowledge, but also spiritual gifts. So God has set us apart and enriched us with knowledge and spiritual gifts to encourage us and our fellow believers to live holy lives. It is Peter who tells us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him, who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” ( 2Peter 1)
- Expecting Jesus to return. The most productive day of the year for an employee is the day before he/she is leaving on vacation. Knowing they are leaving for a vacation, they make sure they have done everything they are to do. If you lived in expectation of Jesus coming and you were leaving tomorrow for heaven, what would you be doing today? Shopping, eating out, going to a movie, getting a latte at Starbucks? I believe you would be telling those you love and those who God has placed in your life- get ready He is coming! John writes and encourages us to ‘abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him as His coming.’ ( I John 2) We are told not to love the world and the things of this world. Now when we sin, and we will sin, the enemy wants us to sit on the sidelines because we believe we are not worthy and have lost our opportunity to do anything for the Lord. But I John 1:9, says when we confess our sins, God forgives us and restores us. Do not let your feelings overshadow the truth of God’s Word. The Lord is able to use you. It is not a case of your abilities and your adequacy, He is our adequacy, and He is our strength which is made perfect in our weakness. The original disciples, I believe, lived each day as Jesus might be coming back. He had made those surprise appearances in those 40 days after His resurrection, they lived in anticipation that today might be the day He came back. Look at what they did; they turned the world upside down!
- Depend on God’s faithfulness. ( I Cor. 1: 8-9) “ He will keep you strong to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
- God has called us into fellowship. Paul addresses the issues at the church in Corinth. There are to be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united. ( verse 10) There were divisions in leadership creating quarrels. One followed Paul, another Apollo, and Cephas, another Christ. Paul asked: “Is Christ divided?”
Paul then takes those believers and us back to the cross. He reminds us we are baptized into Christ’s body. Our sins were nailed to the cross. Man’s baptism is only a symbol of what God did at Calvary. Paul said, “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.” (Verse 17)
I want you to notice how much the word, wisdom, appears in the following verses. Paul is expressing how we do not mix man’s wisdom with God’s wisdom revealed in the Gospel, as displayed at the Cross. Today, man’s wisdom wants to usurp the wisdom of God revealed at Calvary. Corinth was a culture influenced by higher education, and human wisdom, learning and knowledge which their teachers and philosophers valued highly.
This is nothing new. It was a problem in the church at Corinth two thousand years ago, and it was a problem from the beginning of time going back to the Garden of Eden. And it is the problem in the church today. The first question is the Bible comes from the enemy of God, the enemy of your soul, the father of all lies who asked this question of Eve: “Did God really say, you must not eat of every tree in the garden?”
Do you understand how he engaged Eve in an intellectual discussion? He questioned three things which are still being discussed by the intellectuals: Authorship. Did God really say this? Accuracy. Was it every tree? Do we have accurate translations? Acceptability. God’s Word often conflicts with our fleshly desires. The temptation of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are still the stepping stones of sin. Natural man rationalizes and intellectualizes the Bible cannot be accurate and God its author, for men wrote these in times long ago and times have changed. We know more, we humans have knowledge based on science. Do you see how human wisdom, the wisdom of men wants to deny the wisdom of God? We, as Christians must be able to discern the difference between the knowledge of man and the wisdom of God.
Watch the process: temptation starts with doubt. Once we entertain the doubt of its consequences we begin down a slippery slope. Doubt will be followed with denial which the enemy combines with delusion, that we will have greater enjoyment and pleasure in doing what is right in your own eyes based on human wisdom and knowledge.
God’s wisdom is revealed primarily in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It’s still the cross, even today. Paul points out three attitudes toward the cross. Paul tells us 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. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. ‘
“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? 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. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. “
Now the Jews stumbled at the cross. The Jews’ emphasis was on miraculous signs and wonders. The cross appeared to be weakness. How could a criminal who was executed be our Messiah? Their history was filled with miracles God had done in their exodus out of Egypt. But they, in their human wisdom could not reconcile and understand their own scriptures which told them in Psalm 22 and in Isaiah 53 the Messiah would suffer and die before entering into His Glory and Kingdom. Because they looked for a powerful military king like David, they stumbled at the cross. How could this uneducated, carpenter from Nazareth who was executed as a common criminal be their King?
The cross was foolishness to others. They laughed at such an idea. The Greeks emphasized wisdom. Because of their colleges in Athens and their background since those days of philosophers of old, they had valued human wisdom and learning. They had through human wisdom made many advances. They saw no wisdom in this execution of a man who had never been to college and made his living as a carpenter as having no value. They placed value on accomplishment, intellectual abilities, education, wealth and the beauty of the human body in the Greek culture.
Just this past week, I read in the paper of a debate which would take place at Freed Hardeman between a Christian scholar and an avowed atheists, a professor from Duke. Paul debated in his day with those who possessed human wisdom, the experts; he debated with philosophers and religious leaders who disputed the claims of the Cross.
Paul asked them one question: Have you through your studies and man’s wisdom come to know God in a personal way? For there is only one way- the Cross. It’s still the Cross.
Paul then writes to the believers at Corinth and to us at West Jackson and believers throughout the world through the ages.
“Brothers think of what you were when you were called.” I was a 31 year old alcoholic who had failed at everything I had ever done. A foolish young man, like the Prodigal son who had wasted so much of my life and opportunities. That is who I was when I was called.
“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many of noble birth.” That was me- I was a nobody accomplishing nothing.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;” Look at the 12 disciples Jesus chose. Not a scholar among them. Not a single impressive resume among the whole group. Not one of them showed an aptitude for preaching, teaching, debating, or having the abilities to take on the most important task in history. In fact in interviews, Judas probably would have been the most impressive of the 12. Do you see what Jesus was revealing to us from his calling of the original 12 disciples? Jesus did not depend on the conventional wisdom of man; He relied on the wisdom from the Word of God.
Remember when John and Peter appeared before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4? The Sanhedrin, these powerful, educated men of noble birth were impressed. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Do you get the point here? God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. 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. Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
God is not impressed with our resumes; our looks, our heritage, or our advanced degrees of learning or financial status. God chooses the weak, the foolish, and the base. This does not mean God will not save the smart, intellectual, educated, well-known and talented. Saul of Tarsus was all of that- but he had to be brought to the point where he realized all of that was rubbish. He had to be physically blinded in order to receive spiritual sight, to have the eyes of his heart opened to see the truth. He says all those things- those degrees, my ancestors, my status, my position of power which I thought were all gain to me, these things I have counted as loss for Christ.
He says I count them as rubbish. Sometimes our greatest earthly strengths and riches are what keep us from trusting or depending on God. Paul had these astounding credentials; he was on a fast track of success by the world’s standards, probably destined to become the Chief High Priest.
Our flesh wants these things. It seeks after pleasure, wealth, beauty, power and important accomplishments. Yet our model, the Lord Jesus Christ who was God- Creator of all things, humbled himself and became obedient taking on the flesh of a human being, born as a babe in Bethlehem. A carpenter in Nazareth. Uneducated. Not high born according to man. A nobody.
He is our role model. He is the one who we want to be like. To do this I must deny the flesh and its desires. I must humble myself. I must take up the Cross daily.
It’s still the Cross.