1 Corinthians 1:1-17: Focus on the Gospel
April 1, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Joshua 1-2, Psalm 72, Mark 1:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:1-17
As we begin this letter of Paul’s to the Corinthians, we dive in at what is frequently one of the most difficult – and tiresome – matters for churches to effectively resolve. It seems as if the church at Corinth was struggling with divisions related to different powerful personalities or Christian leaders, and that sects or parties or divisions had been set up relationally between different groups in the church. How do you go about resolving this? In these first seventeen verses, we have Paul’s introductory approach, though there will be much more to come in the rest of the letter.
First of all, Paul begins not with flattery but with genuine thanksgiving. We can become immune to the so-called “Oreo” technique (where you begin with something nice, then get to the criticism, then end with something nice). It can seem fake. We can also become suspicious when people say things praising us that we know are not quite in line with reality. We think to ourselves, what do they want? What are they trying to gain? Is this some sort of complicated marketing technique that I am becoming a victim of? But Paul here does not flatter; he genuinely thanks God for them and, in particular, for the ways in which they are excelling. They are a gifted congregation. There is much to thank God for in this way. It is helpful when we are about to approach a difficult situation to think to ourselves what there is that we can genuinely give thanks for, and to thank God for that person in that way. It brings the whole issue into the broader context of God’s grace, salvation, and familial relationships that we have with one another in the family of the church.
Second, Paul then directly comes to the issue. He doesn’t prevaricate, and he isn’t vague. He just goes right to the matter at hand. But look how he is direct: not rude, not raw, but “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” How can a Christian resist an appeal made in the name of Jesus! When we must appeal to someone to act in a certain way, let us appeal in the name of Jesus – and if we cannot make that appeal in his name, then let us not seek to pressurize the person to act according to what is just what we want (not necessarily what Jesus wants). How wise this is of Paul; in the name of Jesus, I ask you to do this.
Third, his goal – note his goal. It is that they be perfectly united in mind and thought. It all starts there. It starts with the mind. If we begin to think of ourselves as in different parties, then of course we will start to act in different party spirit and in a divisive way. Instead, think one: think of ourselves as one in Christ. Truth, doctrine, the person of Christ. In all this, in the gospel, we are one. Let us then act as if we are one. He appeals then with this goal: that in our minds we would start to think of ourselves as one.
Fourth, he then goes for what is said. Claims made to be belonging to a particular Christian leader, as opposed to another competing Christian leader, are all too common today as well. And when we start to not only think of ourselves as different, but also speak of ourselves as different, it can have serious deleterious effects. What should you say? If you want to build unity, be careful that you not only think united, you also speak in a way that underlines (not undermines) your unity in Christ. It is interesting in this list of different parties, that one of them is “I follow Christ.” How can anyone make “following Christ” a party that divides from other Christians? And yet it can be done. You can put yourself above others by saying that you alone follow Jesus, and others who are interested in other Christian leaders are not really following Jesus at all. How complicated we are as humans, how prideful, how easily we take that which is beautiful and make it ugly. We must watch what we think, and also what we say – that all is united, genuinely, in Christ.
Fifth, he clarifies that baptism (itself then and still now a great and frequent point of division) is not his ultimate ambition. He hardly baptized anyone. By this means, he is drawing their attention to the great theme of Paul’s life.
Which is, sixth, the gospel.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
It is the gospel, the cross of Christ, which is the fulcrum, the central point, the focus of unity, and the very power of God at work to save and to unite Christ’s church. Let us also then focus on the gospel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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