Chapter 1.
The Correction of Church Division

I Corinthians 1

The church at Corinth was riddled with problems. Where should Paul start in his attempt to bring order out of chaos? The letter of inquiry sent from the church to the apostle could have provided a logical starting point, but issues raised in the letter, although important in themselves, were only symptomatic of a deeper problem. Paul knew that he had to deal with the real cause of the Corinthian dilemma, not just with its effects. This is why he devoted the first four chapters to a diagnosis and a treatment of the main spiritual disease of the church: carnality manifested in contentions.

I. Basis of Correction

1 Cor. 1:1-9

The first nine verses include the usual opening remarks of a typical first-century Greek letter or epistle: author, addressee, and greeting. However, Paul's introduction is more extensive and contains a distinctively Christian featureā€”a prayer of thanksgiving. Also, Paul's preliminary points of courtesy are not unrelated to the main body of the letter, especially to his discussion of the first problem of church schisms. They actually reveal the kinship of the apostle to the church and the relationship of the Corinthians to the Lord Jesus Christ. These two links, therefore, form a foundation for Paul's corrective discipline.

A. Author

1 Cor. 1:1

Paul immediately established his authoritative position before the church by making a threefold claim for himself. He first asserted that he was an apostle. The Greek word apostolos, translated "apostle," comes from the verb apostellō, which means "to send away with a commission to do something." The original twelve apostles were selected from among many disciples to be with Christ and to be sent forth by Him to preach, heal, and cast out demons within Israel (Matt. 10:5-8; Mark 3:13-15). Excluding Judas Iscariot, the group was later recommissioned by the resurrected Christ to preach the gospel throughout the world (Matt. 28:16-20). Apostles were believers who had seen the resurrected Christ and who had been commissioned directly by Him to preach and to lay the foundation for the church age. Their ministries were marked by miraculous authentication and by the obedience of genuine, spiritual Christians. Throughout the Corinthian correspondence, this ring of authority can be detected in Paul's words (1:17; 2:13; 3:10; 4:9, 18-21; 5:4; 7:10; 9:1-6; 11:1; 12:28; 15:8-10; II Cor. 1:1; 12:12). Second, Paul was a called apostle. The phrase "called apostle" literally translates klētos apostolos. The infinitive "to be" is in italics because it is not found in the Greek text. The word "called" is an adjective, not a verb. He did not assume the position as did subsequent false teachers in the church (II Cor. 11:13-15), nor was he appointed by human, apostolic vote, as was Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). Paul had seen Christ in a post-ascension appearance and was directly called by Him into the office of apostle (Acts 26:12-20; Gal. 1:1, 11-16). Third, Paul claimed that his apostleship came through the agency of the will of God. It was God the Father who decreed Paul's salvation and apostleship, and it was Christ who secured that purpose when He confronted the unbelieving Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-16).

Paul included the name of Sosthenes as his associate in the writing of the epistle. Some have identified him as a member of the house of Chloe (cf. 1:11), but more than likely he is the chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth who was beaten by the Greeks before Gallio's judgment seat (Acts 18:17). His mention does not mean that Sosthenes was a Spirit-directed co-author with Paul; rather, Sosthenes was in total agreement with Paul's inspired counsel. This fact takes on added significance when one realizes that Sosthenes doubtless became a Christian after his beating, belonged to the Corinthian church, and knew many of the parties who were at variance with each other. Paul described him as "the brother," a spiritual brother both to Paul and to the Corinthians. Some have seen Sosthenes as Paul's secretary or amanuensis, but this position lacks solid support.

B. Readers

1 Cor. 1:2

In his epistles, Paul exhorted believers about proper behavior only after he explained the wealth of their spiritual position in Christ (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1). Thus, Paul wanted the Corinthians to see who they were before he criticized them for their faulty deportment. He described them in six ways. First, he called them "the church of God." They were members of the one true church which Christ built and purchased through His redemptive death and resurrection (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). The church, as the mystical body of Christ, has an organic unity which cannot be divided by warring, imperfect members (12:12; cf. John 17:21; Eph. 4:4-6). The Greek word for "church" (ekklēsia) is used in four different ways: (1) It referred to a secular assembly, the freemen of Ephesus, gathered together for civil business (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). (2) Stephen equated Israel in her wilderness wanderings with a church (Acts 7:38). (3) The local church was a group of believers meeting in a specific locality (Rom. 16:5). (4) The universal church includes all believers from the descent of the Holy Spirit to the return of Christ for His own. Second, he located them at Corinth.

Third, they were sanctified positionally in Christ. The phrase, "to them that are sanctified," is the translation of one Greek word hēgiasmenois. Grammatically, it means that they had been sanctified or set apart by God from the world for Himself in a decisive event in the past and that they were remaining and would continue to remain in a sanctified position or standing.Such a position was only possible because they were judicially accepted in the beloved Christ (Eph. 1:6).

Fourth, he designated them as "called saints." Just as Paul was an apostle by divine calling, they were saints by that same calling. Sainthood was not part of their future destiny, a goal that might not be realized because of their sin; rather, it expressed their present standing. The verb "to be" is not in the original text. The word order and usage for Paul, klētos apostolos, is the same for them, klētois hagiois. The big problem was that they were not saintly in their practice, although they had experienced the effectual call of God who was working out His sovereign purpose in their lives (Rom. 8:28-30).

Fifth, they shared the same position as believers in every place. How does one become a saint? By calling upon the name of Christ. The Corinthians had done this, and so had believers in other localities. In fact, this is the simplest definition of the procedure to secure personal salvation (Acts 2:21; 9:14, 21; Rom. 10:13). Some take this phrase to mean that the epistle was addressed not only to the Corinthian church, but also to all Christians throughout the Roman world. However, the specific problems resolved in the book refer to a definite church.

Sixth, they had the same Lord as other believers.

In these opening verses, Paul definitely emphasized the authoritative lordship of Jesus Christ over believers' lives. All nine verses refer to Him. The Corinthians needed to recognize that their divisive spirit was a sign of spiritual disobedience.

C. Blessing

1 Cor. 1:3

The typical Greek salutation employed the third person, but Paul conveyed a greater degree of intimacy by using the second person, "to you." The content of the blessing was twofold: grace and peace. These two words reflect Greek ("grace," charis) and Hebrew ("peace," shalom) concepts. The doctrine of grace reveals that God bestows blessings upon believers apart from any merit within them. Paul used several words built upon charis in this context: "thank," eucharisto (1:4); "grace," chariti (1:4); and "gift," charismati (1:7). Leon Morris stated that peace is "not simply the absence of strife, but the presence of positive blessings. It is the prosperity of the whole man, especially his spiritual prosperity." In spite of their carnality, the Corinthians continued to be showered with these blessings.

The source of the double blessing is from two persons within the divine Being: the Father and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. One preposition, "from" (apo), links the Father and the Son together as the common source. Doubtless, these blessings are mediated to the child of God through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

D. Prayer of Thanksgiving

1 Cor. 1:4-9

How could Paul be thankful for the Corinthians, especially since he knew about their petty differences and selfishness? And yet he was always thankful! Paul was sincere, not sarcastic, when he wrote those words. The church was probably surprised to read that Paul was thankful. They expected him to be angry or ashamed or disgusted.

Paul was thankful for five reasons.

1. For Grace (1:4)

He first thanked God for the grace of God which was given to them. The verbal form (dotheisēi) refers back to the time of their conversion when they had received the free gift of righteousness through faith. He was thankful for their salvation. This formed the basis for his prayer. The word "for" is epi, which literally means "upon." The grace provided formed the foundation upon which the thanksgiving rested. Although there were problems, still they were saved people and, though carnal, their living was better than their previous pagan behavior.

2. For Enrichment (1:5)

He was then thankful that "in every thing" they "are enriched by him." The use of the verb eploutisthēte (literally, "you were made rich") points out that their spiritual, plutocratic position began at their conversion. Whatever their abilities were, they were bestowed by God; the Corinthians did not possess them by heredity or education. The enrichment included both quantity ("in everything") and quality ("in all utterance and all knowledge"). In their communication of the truth ("utterance") and in their grasp of the truth ("knowledge"), they had been especially blessed.

3. For Confirmation (1:6-7)

Third, Paul was thankful that "the testimony of Christ was confirmed" in their midst. This could be a testimony about Christ or a testimony by Christ. The former is more acceptable since Paul declared that he preached "Christ and him crucified" (2:1-2) when he originally evangelized the city. The verb "was confirmed" (ebebaiōthē) is used in the early Greek papyri for the legal sense of guarantee. Thus, God guaranteed or authenticated Paul's ministry to be true and authoritative by giving sign gifts through the apostle. Paul claimed that his message was "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (2:4). Christ "confirmed the word of the apostles by the signs that followed" (Mark 16:20). The Book of Hebrews added that what was spoken by the Lord "was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will" (2:3-4). As Paul worked miracles and as supernatural endowments operated within them, the Corinthians knew that what Paul proclaimed was absolute truth. That recognition should cause them to respond to Paul's subsequent exposition and commands.

There was a double result (indicated by "so that") to the confirmation. First, they came "behind in no gift." The charismati, translated as "gift," can refer to the gift of salvation (Rom. 5:15), the gift of general blessings (Rom. 11:29), or to special abilities given by the Holy Spirit (12:4). In the context of this book, it must refer to the supernatural sign gifts which attended the infant church during the period of new revelation. The second result is that they were waiting for the return of Christ. Morris correctly observed: "The reference to the second coming of the Lord is unexpected. The connection of thought may be that the present foretaste of the Spirit turns our thoughts to the fuller experience of the last great day." What saddened Paul was that the Corinthians had everything in which to do a work for Christ while they waited for Him, but they had failed to do so.

4. For Preservation (1:8)

Paul was also thankful that God would confirm or guarantee the unblamable position of the Corinthians until Christ's return. The word "blameless" does not mean that the believers were without sin or blame in their practice. The epistle clearly shows their faults. Rather, it is a legal term. No charge of condemnation nor sentencing to eternal death would ever be brought against them in the court of divine justice. Literally, the word here translated "blameless" means "not called in" (anegklētous). It is the answer to Paul's rhetorical questions: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died..." (Rom. 8:33-34).

The words "that ye may be" are in italics, which means that they are not in the original manuscript. Positionally, the Corinthians were already without judicial charge. Paul knew that God would preserve that blameless standing throughout their future behavior. The end refers to the completion of God's redemptive program for their lives which will be consummated in the day of Christ, the time of His return for His own. There is a slight problem with the antecedent of "who," the relative pronoun which begins the verse. It could refer to Christ, who had just been mentioned in the previous verse, or it could go back to God the Father (1:4). The latter seems more probable since the faithfulness of the Father is introduced in the next verse.

5. For Faithfulness (1:9)

In the face of Corinthian unfaithfulness, Paul was thankful for God's faithfulness. God is not just true; He is also trustworthy. His word is sure and His promises are certain. His faithfulness can be seen in His sovereign call of the Corinthians to unique fellowship with other believers and with the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of God's obvious, prior knowledge of their carnal behavior subsequent to their regeneration experience. Their local fellowship was disjointed. Paul wanted them to manifest their spiritual communion with Christ in visible expressions of love within the church.

Now that the basis of correction had been established, Paul was ready to move on to their need for repentance.

II. Appeal for Correction

1 Cor. 1:10-12

In his appeal for change, Paul did not forget what he had previously written about the Corinthians. They were the church of God, sanctified, saints, and had been called into fellowship, a communion that involved even the apostle. Therefore, Paul approached them as brethren. This was a loving gesture and approach. Paul was not stern with them as he was with the Galatians: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you...?" (Gal. 3:1). The mild connective, "now" (de, 1:10), was designed for them to see their schisms in the light of the fellowship into which they had been brought. Even his choice of verb, "beseech" (parakalō), manifested his soft approach. Paul did not command them; rather, he exhorted or urged them. The authority for the appeal came through Christ. Paul's directives did not contain mere human counsel; rather, what he wrote was the voice of Christ telling His church what they ought to do. Disobedience to the epistle would result in divine chastisement; obedience would bring heavenly blessing.

A. Goals of the Appeal

1 Cor. 1:10b

1. Unity of Speech

Paul hoped to achieve three goals by his appeal. The first was their unity of speech. He wanted all to "speak the same thing." This does not mean that they should be sure to repeat the same words, but rather, that they were to mean the same thing when they spoke. Also, their attitude in speaking had to be improved. Since they had been enriched by God in gifts or oral communication (cf. 1:5), they should speak for God's glory and proclaim His truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

2. Elimination of Schisms

The second goal was the elimination of schisms. The Greek word for "divisions" is schismata, transliterated into the English as "schisms." Biblical authors used it to refer to a rent garment, torn but not yet separated into two pieces (Matt. 9:16), and to the division of opinion within Israel over the person of Christ (John 7:43). The church was marked by internal strife, but it was not yet organizationally split. This can be seen in the fact that Paul wrote to all of the factions who were still within the single church. The schisms already existed (cf. 11:18). Paul wanted the schisms to be eliminated and the church to remain in a schism-free state after the problems had been resolved.

3. Unity of Attitude

The final goal was the unity of mind and judgment. To accomplish this, their opposing attitudes and opinions would have to "be perfectly joined together." The verb translated "joined" (katartizo) was used by the pagan Greeks for the setting of broken bones and for reconciling political factions. In the New Testament, it referred to the mending of fishing nets (Matt. 4:21). The same word is translated "restore" in Paul's directive: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). It is written as "perfect" when Paul wanted to "perfect that which is lacking in your faith" (I Thess. 3:10), namely the moral and doctrinal deficiencies of the young Thessalonian converts. The Greek construction of "be perfectly joined together" Ēte katērtismenoi. The first word is the present subjunctive of eimi, and the second is the perfect passive participle of katartizō. The emphasis is on the resultant state achieved by a past action of joining together. means that Paul wanted their differences to be mended or repaired in such a way as to remain joined together permanently. The force of his appeal was "Let's get this problem solved once and for all!"

B. Reason for the Appeal

1 Cor. 1:11-12

The reason for the appeal is introduced by the connective word "for." Paul had received a report which he regarded as fact and not rumor. Even though his information was secondhand, Paul did not question it. This can be seen in two ways. First, he used the verb "it hath been declared" (edēlōthē). In the Greek papyri, that word is used of official, legal evidence. Thus, Paul has been given solid proof of the Corinthian divisive spirit which doubtless was confirmed by the church messengers (16:17). Second, Paul accepted the integrity of Chloe's household. The Greek phrase literally reads, "by the ones who belong to or are related to Chloe." This could refer to her slaves, to her children, or to both. Paul would never have mentioned Chloe or her house if the evidence had not been clear and substantial. Although her Biblical identity is unknown, Chloe must have been well known to both the apostle and the church.

The report declared that there were "contentions" (erides) within the church. This word means more than just a difference of opinion; it connotes quarrels or wranglings. It is one of the works of sinful flesh, translated as "variance" (Gal. 5:20). Written as "debate" (Rom. 1:29), it was one of the marks of the unsaved rejectors of the truth of God's creation. False teachers are characterized by it ("strife"; cf. I Tim. 6:4). The contentions, therefore, were not quiet and subtle; they had progressed to a shouting, hot-temper stage. The believers were acting and talking like unsaved men (cf. 3:3), not like saints within the church of God.

Paul then moved from the general to the specific. The phrase, "Now this I say," has the contemporary meaning, "This is what I mean." The contentions were over personalities, not over principles. It appears as if all of the Corinthians were involved in this sin (cf. "every one of you"). The church members had taken sides, following one human leader to the neglect of others. Who were these leaders? Paul cited four: Paul, Apollos, Cephas (or Peter), and Christ. Certainly these four would not have condoned this party spirit which was contrary to the spiritual oneness within Christ.