READ | SERMON NOTES
Summary l The first letter to the Corinthians reveals real issues that affect families, churches and communities. The letter aims to show the church how to love and serve God. Written by Paul, it is addressed to the church based in Corinth, a cosmopolitan and morally corrupt city. Paul had founded the church and lived there from 50-51AD but subsequently heard about many troubling issues in that church. Hence, the letter aimed at addressing these issues. More details and a summary of 1 Cor can be found in wesley.sg/1cor-MWTS01.
The letter has a surprising start as Paul launches straight into the core of the issues and prescribes a fundamental solution.
ONE sincere appeal – Paul heard of quarrels, strife and fighting among the church members (vs.11) and made a sincere appeal for unity (vs.10).
TWO fundamental issues
1. Disunity because of the wisdom of man. Human wisdom defers to individual preferences and peer pressure. Our choices tend to be based on the world’s wisdom as we look at qualifications, charisma, outward appearances, etc. In the Corinthian church, there were four factions:
a) “Paul’s party” – loyalty to founders and traditions. Even today, we have such a group within the church, insisting that change cannot be made because “it has always been done this way”.
b) “Apollos’ party” – the intellectual, charismatic, eloquent and elite.
c) “Cephas’ party” – understood to be Jewish Christians, this group represents those who prefer systems, structures and detailed, clear processes.
d) “Christ’s party” – this may sound like the group we should all be in but this group consists of super-spiritual people who are anti-establishment and averse to any authority’s structures.
The issue is not the factions or groups but that the rivalry and differences between them cause dissent. We may not share the same preferences or views but these differences should not escalate into disunity.
2. Unity because of the foolishness of God. In contrast to the disunity arising from the wisdom of man, we see that unity arises from the foolishness of God as seen by the method, message and members used by Him:
a) Method – during Paul’s time, preachers used philosophy, reasoning and other worldly methods to engage with the audience. Today, we have TED-talks, TikTok, and other social media to sell our ideas. However, the Gospel needs no tricks, stunts or special effects. Vs.17 reminds us that the Gospel has power to convict. It is not through human eloquence.
b) Message – Christ crucified (vs.22-23) is a message the Jews would find scandalous or a stumbling block, for to them the cross was a curse (Deu.21:23). Similarly, the Greeks, who prized wisdom, would have found the idea of God dying on the cross for His creation a foolish and ridiculous message. And yet, it is exactly this foolish message that gives salvation to those who believe.
c) Members – the Corinthian church members were not considered wise or powerful by the world’s standard. There was nothing about them that deserved saving. Yet God chose them (vs. 27-29).
As Andrew Wilson succinctly summarizes: “You were foolish people who hear a foolish message preached in a foolish way – and God has demonstrated His wisdom so powerfully that the smartest people on earth are left scratching their heads and wondering how he did it.” May this truth humble us to true unity, even as we face strife in our family or small groups or ministries.
THREE discipleship applications
1. Pursue unity in Christ – focus on Christ and let the Gospel transform our minds to true unity. Unity is not unanimity or uniformity but it is the willingness to move together for the glory of Christ, out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 4:3; Rom.15:6; Eph.5:21). By showing unity in spite of differences, we show the world how we love each other in Christ. Practical ways of pursuing unity:
a) Pray for each other; don’t pray that the other person changes but surrender the differences to the Lord.
b) Be kind to one another. When we disagree, do so honourably.
c) Do not judge but seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint.
d) Appreciate how our differences can complement and strengthen each other.
e) Focus on what unites rather than what divides.
2. Posture in humility before Christ – as we come to the foot of the Cross, the amazing mystery of God’s plan of salvation reminds us that He has upset the wise by using the weak who recognise their need of God. Are we too wise? Will we humble ourselves at the cross and acknowledge our need for God’s saving grace?
3. Persevere in trusting Christ – the church in Corinth was in a mess and yet, Paul saw it as God’s faithfulness (vs. 8-9). Paul can be positive because of who God is. As a church, we are not perfect. But by God’s grace, there is hope that He will perfect us. We need to persevere in His great faithfulness and not focus on our frailty.
The many chapters of problems described in 1 Corinthians are sandwiched by the message of the Gospel (chapter 1 and chapter 15). This Good News is the fundamental solution declared in the letter. May we be encouraged for “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.
PONDER | REFLECTION QUESTIONS
- What is the main appeal of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1?
- What was the cause of division in the church in Corinth? Can you identify with such factions in the church today?
- What else divides the church today?
- What is the foolishness of the method, message and the members that Paul refers to? Why is Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and Greeks?
- What are the three discipleship lessons? Which speaks to most to you and why?
- Why is unity so important? What are some practical ways we can bring about unity?
- Why is it so important to persevere in trusting Christ?
Take time to pray for each other that we will help bring about God’s unity.