A People that Please God – “Engaging the Problem of a Divided Body” – 1 Corinthians 1 (short post)

In chapter one, Paul exemplified seven rules of engagement in conflicts with believers that are walking in sin:

Rule #1: Before you can address believers with issues of sin, you must establish that you have a call of God and a track record of following Him. Just because you have an insight, doesn’t mean you have earned the trust of people, so be careful .

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother

Paul opened with what seems like his standard greeting, so we don’t want to squeeze it too hard. He calls himself an Apostle, as was common – but especially important in sharing tough issues with the Corinthian believers. Though Paul is the author, Sosthenes (Gk: “safe in strength”) was probably the man who carried this letter back to Corinth. One by that name was the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth, seized and beaten by the mob in the presence of Gallio, the Roman governor, when he refused to proceed against Paul at the instigation of the Jews (Acts 18:12-17). Could it be that he was later saved? My mind imagines some outreach to him by Paul after he was wounded. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how he lost power in the religious community when he proved ineffective in persuading the governor. Did Paul step in and help him to lead him to Jesus – it would make a great novel! Some have thought that Sosthenes began to use another name (not an uncommon practice) after his beating and change – that of Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14) – but that is speculation as well.

Rule #2: Before you can address believers with issues of sin, you must assure them that you do know they are truly brothers, and make them understand they are a part of the whole body of Christ. Paul addressed the church as those sanctified in Christ by God’s calling and responding to God by calling back to Him as all believers around the growing Christian world were doing.

1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours

Rule #3: Before you can address believers with issues of sin, you must show that you truly love and respect them. They are not a project, they are brothers and sisters (1:4). After the “grace and peace” greeting (1:3), Paul got personal with them and thanked God for their part in his life. He let them know that he was happy they were a part of the family of God.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,

Rule #4: Before you can address believers with issues of sin, you must be sure to tell them what they DO have going for them – places you believe in them. People need to hear the good to be encouraged before they need to hear the correction – it sets the relationship in the right tone. (1:5-7). In the thanking God process, Paul articulated what he saw in the believers at Corinth. He told them they were changed (enriched) by God in their speech and thinking, and that change generated a testimony! He saw them as a local church filled with people of differing gifts – well rounded in Spiritual gifting. He saw them as people eagerly anticipating the Lord’s return and even their own time in Jesus’ presence.

1:5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ

Rule #5: Before you can address believers with issues of sin, you must remember that Jesus is still at work in them, and He has the power to get them to the finish line well. We can never fall back into a “victim mode” as if the Spirit is responsible for our surrender – He is not. At the same time, remember that people cannot become what pleases God on their own – but God is able to keep transforming them. The same God that brought them from darkness to light and death to life is able to transform them from carnal to spiritual. He is FAITHFUL even when I am not faithful.

1:8 who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rule #6: When you address believers with issues of sin, make sure you are crystal clear about the problem, and can tie it to specific examples. It in not appropriate to judge motives, or say “You really think…” It is totally appropriate to raise specific examples of the infractions.

1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”

Rule #7: When you address believers with issues of sin, help them connect their actions to specific violations of Scripture. You are not the judge of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong.

First, Paul knew some were following leaders like him because they had STANDING in the work. He personalized the argument as though they followed him and Apollos, but in fact they were following others that Paul did not name. The leaders of the various factions probably demonstrated a similar style of teaching to Paul’s Jewish line of plain argumentation and Apollos’ more eloquent philosophical approach. Paul stated that he is personalizing the reference and not offering a literal argument in 1 Corinthians 4:6.

He wrote: 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

Second, Paul knew some were following leaders because of their SKILL in the work. These were attracted to the wisdom and eloquence of leaders like Apollos because his argumentation drew new people to Messiah.

He wrote: 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

Most church divisions in history have divided along the same two lines.

Some follow people because of their STANDING in the church. Maybe they are charter members, or maybe they have been historically the most active family or most financially supportive family. The challenge to that group is one who comes in with great SKILL, and through eloquence of talent pulls the hearts of many with them. Paul knew the two parties and the problem: You have misplaced your loyalty. The issue of the Gospel is not the preacher, but the One preached! The believer should glory in the Lord, not the messenger of the Lord (1:10-4:21). We don’t follow talent, eloquence, tradition or treasures – we follow God’s message found in His Word.