1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 1.
Salutation and Thanksgiving. 1 Cor. 1, 1—9.
The salutation of the letter: V. 1. Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, v. 2. unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, both theirs and ours: v. 3. Grace be unto you and peace from God, our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. On account of the special conditions obtaining in Corinth at the time of his writing, Paul finds it necessary to emphasize his office and the manner of his entering upon his ministry. He is called, chosen, as an apostle of Christ Jesus; he has not presumptuously taken the office or intruded upon its holy administration, but is an apostle by virtue of a special call of the Lord Himself. And this call has come to him also through the will of God. The call of Christ and the will of God have worked together in conferring upon him this distinction. Not as a joint composer, but as a fellow-worker, as a witness and approver of the contents of the epistle, Paul mentions Sosthenes. Whether this man was the same as the one named Acts 18, 17, cannot be ascertained; at any rate, he must have been known and esteemed in the congregation at Corinth as a brother in the Lord.
The letter is addressed to the Church of God which was in Corinth. This title is a Biblical term for a divinely gathered people, of a people called, or chosen, by God to be His peculiar nation, and, as Chrysostom says, it is a designation, not of disharmony, but of unity and harmony. At Corinth there was a part of the great congregation of God, of those whom He had chosen for His own. Note: Although Paul was fully aware that the Church, in the real sense of the word, is invisible, he, in addressing the Corinthians, charitably assumes that they all are members of the true congregation of the Lord, of the communion of saints. This is shown by the explanation: To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, to the chosen saints. Paul is addressing such as have been sanctified, separated from the evil and corruptions of their age and city through the power of the Gospel, by which they had redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins. Thus they were consecrated in Christ Jesus, thus they were chosen as saints. All believers have union with Christ as well as salvation through Christ; they share in the righteousness and holiness of Christ, through the call of the Lord in the Gospel, to which they have given obedience through faith. Incidentally, the Christians at Corinth should always be conscious of the fact that they are united as members of the body of Christ, in this most intimate union, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, Christ being the Lord and Head of the Church everywhere and standing in this relation to all those that accept Him as their Redeemer. To call upon the name of the Lord is an act of divine worship which flows out of faith in Him, is an expression of the faith worked by the Holy Ghost. The true believer knows Christ to be true God, and accordingly puts his trust in Him and confidently expects help from Him as the almighty God, chap. 12, 3; Rom. 10, 12. 13; 15, 6. The universality, the true catholicity, of the Christian Church is here emphasized.
The apostle opens his letter with his customary greeting: Grace unto you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. The grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus is the greatest gift of the believers; they are assured of the favor of God through the redemption of Jesus. And therefore they have also peace with God, the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation, which includes spiritual welfare in all conditions of life, the calm assurance, the sweet consciousness of being reconciled to God, the certainty that we have God for our friend and hence may expect only goodness and blessings from Him. Nothing else can come to us since God is our Father and wants only our greatest and highest good, and since Jesus Christ, He that assumed our human nature and became our Substitute, is now exalted to be Lord over all; He is the Head of His Church, and intends finally to lead all believers to everlasting glory. Note that Jesus is here again, as elsewhere throughout the writings of Paul, coordinated with the Father.
The thanksgiving of the apostle: V. 4. I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ, v. 5. that in everything ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance and in all knowledge, v. 6. even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, v. 7. so that ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; v. 8. who shall also confirm you unto the end that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. v. 9. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. In spite of the conditions which Paul knew to be existing in Corinth, he must break forth in a hymn of thankfulness. "The injury of the ungrateful Corinthians was great, but their ingratitude did not consume Paul's gratitude." 4) Paul's manner of dealing in this instance is, incidentally, a fine example of love's believing all things; for he was sure that the abuses that were found in the Corinthian congregation did not represent their real spiritual selves, and that his admonition would readily be heeded. And therefore he was engaged in thanking God always, in blessing and praising His mercy, concerning the Corinthian Christians, for the grace of God which was given them in Christ Jesus. That was the reason for his continual thanksgiving. In spite of their many weaknesses they were yet believers; they had received from God, and were in possession of, His grace, as a free gift in Christ Jesus, a gift made possible through the merits of Christ in His vicarious office. "That is also an unspeakable treasure of a Christian that he has of a certainty first of all the Word of God, which is the Word of eternal grace and comfort, Baptism, the Sacrament, the understanding of the Ten Commandments and of faith, and, in addition, also the certain refuge and assurance that He will hear us in trouble, if we will call upon Him." 5)
The apostle now shows in what way the grace of God has given practical evidence of its living power in the hearts of the Corinthian Christians: That in every point you have been enriched, abundantly blessed, in Him, namely, in every word and in every knowledge, in all doctrine and in all understanding. "That is what St. Paul calls 'being rich,' first 'in all doctrine or wisdom,' which is the high spiritual understanding of the word which concerns eternal life, that is, the comfort of faith in Christ; also of calling upon Him and praying. And 'in all understanding,' that is, correct knowledge and distinction of the entire external physical life and being on earth." 6) They had learned to know the way to eternal life, they were filled with the riches of the certainty of the grace of God, and they were rich in all understanding, they had an insight into the truth of the doctrine of God in its application to every-day life, to their needs in every condition of life. And the abundance of this knowledge and understanding in them was in proportion to their acceptance of the Gospel-truth: Even as, or, inasmuch as, the witness of Christ was confirmed in you. The witness to Christ, the good news of God about His Son, "the well-established truth of the message" of salvation, had been made sure in them; they had become fixed, they had remained steadfast in the truth, their hearts were established, Heb. 13, 9, they were certain of its reality. As then, so to-day this establishment in the witness to Christ is a matter of His grace, an object of prayer, and a cause for thankfulness.
A further result of this gift of grace and of the firm establishment of the Gospel: So that you are not deficient in any gift. The Christians of Corinth did not lack, did not fall behind in, any gift of grace which was needed for edification, by which they were qualified to labor for the Lord by instruction, by exhortation, by rule, by service. No congregation of the early days exceeded that of Corinth in the variety of its endowments and the satisfaction felt in them, chap. 12,7—11. The believers in that heathen city were in possession of such rich endowments while they eagerly awaited the coming, the final revelation, of the Lord Jesus Christ. They received the rich endowment of the gifts of grace and used them for the benefit of the work for Christ, but at the same time their hearts were turned in eager anticipation to their final redemption, Phil. 3, 20; Titus 2, 13; 2 Pet. 3, 12. Thus the heart of every believer is filled with homesickness for the mansions above; but that very fact causes him to work in the interest of the Master while it is day, to use all his gifts and abilities in the interest of his Lord. In the mean time he knows that Christ the Lord will confirm, establish, us unto the end, to the end of the world, if that is thus near, or to the end of our life, if the Lord calls us home before His last great day. But no matter when the day may come, He will establish us to be blameless, that we shall no longer be guilty and under the condemnation, Rom. 8, 33. 34. This blamelessness of the Christians does not consist in any merits on their part, but in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them by faith, Phil. 3, 9. The reason for every believer's acceptance by God is thus placed on the side of God and Christ alone, and the promise is made with such reassuring certainty that it should be the basis of a joyful hope, John 10, 27. 28.
The final, the deepest ground of Paul's hope for the salvation of the Corinthian Christians is the fidelity of God: Faithful is God, through whom you are chosen to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Our hope of eternal life is based upon the promise of God, who cannot lie, Titus 1, 2. Our election to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, the fact that we have been brought to faith by Him and have thus been united with Him in that wonderful spiritual union of members in His body, is His earnest-money to us that our salvation is secure in His hands. Christ is but the Firstborn among many brethren, and we are joint-heirs with Him of the blessings of eternal life. Since He, however, is also our exalted Lord, our communion with Him invests us with His present grandeur and certifies the manifestation of His glory upon us. So the Christian's faith is not a vague and uncertain hope, but is based upon the fact that he has received a guarantee of the final consummation of his hopes. ''What Christ has begun in you, and what He has already given you, in that He will surely keep you to the end and into eternity, if only you do not willfully fall from it and cast it from you; for His Word and promise, given you, and His work, which He performs in you, is not changeable like men's word and work, but sure, certain, and divinely immovable truth. Since, then, you have such a divine call, take comfort in it and rely upon it firmly." 7) "Thus, also, Holy Scripture testifies that God, who has called us, is so faithful that, when He has begun the good work in us, He also will preserve it to the end and perfect it, if we ourselves do not turn from Him, but firmly retain to the end the work begun, for which He has promised His grace." 8)
A Reproof of Disharmony. 1 Cor. 1, 10—16.
V. 10. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among- you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. V. 11. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. V. 12. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. V. 13. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? V. 14. I thank God that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius, v. 15. lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. V. 16. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. The apostle takes up at once the question which caused him the deepest concern in the congregation at Corinth, that of the threatening disruption. He beseeches them, he exhorts them, he most earnestly begs them, as brethren, his brethren and brethren among one another. He bases his pleading upon the soundest foundation: Through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because the name, the honor, of Jesus is involved in all the actions of the Christians, they must be doubly careful in all their actions. The hallowing of the name of God and of Christ requires that we at all times keep it unstained, unblemished, by any behavior which might bring disgrace to Him. Therefore Paul asks the Corinthians that they all say the same thing; there should be such perfect accord and harmony of sentiment that in their confession of faith before men their agreement may always be voiced. He demands unity for union, not an ignoring of fundamental differences by equivocal confessions. If a creed is purposely so worded as to include or admit both true and false interpretations, it will not aid the cause of Christian harmony. But Paul wants unity and union on the basis of the truth, lest there be among them clefts, splits, schisms, and thus divisions be found among them in spite of the fact that they are united in an outward organization. Instead of that, they should be well and surely adjusted, held together in a bond of perfect unity, in the same discernment and in the same judgment. They should have the proper view of all conditions and circumstances pertaining to the belief and work of the Church, and they should rest their judgment upon this correct understanding; they should form their opinion from the right disposition, Acts 4, 32. As the Christians are one heart in the faith, so they should be one mouth in confession. But where there are breaches of opinion, due to false thinking and reasoning, there the perfect interrelation and harmony of all the members of the Church is out of the question.
The apostle now names the witnesses, upon whose testimony he bases his admonition: For it has been made known to me concerning you, my brethren, by them of Chloe that there are personal contentions among you. Paul had received definite information, it had been disclosed to him as a fact. Chloe may have been a freed-woman belonging to the congregation at Ephesus, but also well known in Corinth, the members of whose household had been in the latter city and brought their report from first-hand knowledge. So the apostle knew about the personal wranglings which were threatening to disrupt the Corinthian congregation; for, naturally, the difference of opinion would lead to contentions in the effort to establish various opinions. Note that Paul, in spite of these conditions, yet addresses the Christians at Corinth as his brethren. The apostle says wherein these strifes consisted: But I mean this, I have reference to this fact, that each of you individually says, I am of Paul; but I of Apollos; but I of Cephas; but I of Christ. As the Corinthians saw it in the schools of their heathen philosophers, so they applied it in their pride and self-conceit to the Christian congregation: they formed parties and called themselves after the name of their favorite teacher. Paul had been the first teacher of the Gospel at Corinth, and, as the apostle to the heathen, had preached the truth with all fervor. Next had come Apollos, whose brilliant gifts of oratory had naturally impressed a great many of the members. Both of these teachers undoubtedly emphasized the universality of the grace of God in Christ, as they were obliged to do in order to gain the Gentiles for Christ. But soon came the Judaizing teachers, who wanted the Jewish ceremonial law introduced in all congregations, probably arguing with a great show of plausibility for their position. And while the contention was at its height, a number of members that had not yet been involved formed their own party, sanctimoniously taking their name from Christ Himself and denying to the others true discipleship. The result of the entire quarrel was that each party claimed for itself the only true position and despised all the others. Note that a feature of the movement was the adherence to a name and that it was nourished entirely by party spirit. Not one of them arose in defense of a fundamental principle of Christian truth.
Paul, therefore, takes hold of the matter in no uncertain terms: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or have you been baptized into the name of Paul ? A divided Christ means a Christ appropriated in parts, to each one his several bit, in this case in four parts, each faction claiming His truth for itself. Surely that cannot be the intention of the Corinthian Christians; this point they surely did not consider in their wrangling! And the thought foremost in the mind of Paul is that his readers had become members of the Church by faith in the Cross, in the atonement of Christ, which had been sealed to them in Baptism. The very idea as though Paul had been crucified for them is monstrous in his eyes. And the thought as though any of them had been baptized into his name and thus become consecrated to his person, is perfectly abhorrent to his humility. "The fact that Paul puts his name for all the rest proves how ingenuously he was opposed to all this party spirit, and how humbly he was anxious that Christ's name should not be prejudiced through his own." 9) He could not bear to be placed upon a pedestal by such as did not trust solely in the Gospel preached by him, but made their boast of the dubious distinction that they called themselves after the name of such an excellent preacher.
It is with a feeling of relief that Paul cries out: I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest any one should say that you were baptized into my name. However, I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; but I baptized no one else, so far as I know, vv. 14—16. Because the very suggestion of a party spirit based upon personal preferences appears horrible and hideous to him, Paul regards it as a veritable dispensation of Providence that so few people had been baptized by him personally in Corinth. Crispus and Gaius had been among his earliest converts, Acts 18,8; Rom. 16,23, and now that he thought of it, he remembered also that Stephanas with his entire household had received baptism at his hands; but he could recall no other instance. And this fact, that only so few had been baptized by him personally, is a source of much satisfaction to him, lest any one should, under the conditions now obtaining in Corinth, bring the accusation against him that his intention had been to bind them to his person and to form a party named after him. Note the deep humility of the great apostle, as well as his carefulness of expression, lest he be under suspicion.
The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Men. 1 Cor. 1, 17—31.
The foolishness of the Gospel-message: V. 17. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. V. 18. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. V. 19. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. The apostle here characterizes his office, trying to make it clear to the Corinthian Christians wherein the ministry of the Gospel really consists. He says of himself that Christ did not send him, did not entrust him with the office of an apostle, for the purpose of baptizing, but for that of preaching the Gospel. The appointment to this office did indeed include the work of administering Baptism, Matt. 28, 19. Incidentally, however, the work of preaching, of bearing testimony of Christ and His atonement, was the chief calling of the apostle. Without the Word of the Gospel the Sacraments have no efficacy. "Without the Word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism." The function of administering the sacrament of Baptism follows from the greater function, that of spreading the Gospel-message. "In the command to preach the command to baptize is included in this way, that he who is called to preach the Gospel is also empowered to baptize; but, on the other hand, not every one that is empowered and has the right to baptize thereby also is qualified and called to preach. Therefore Paul can say that Christ had not sent him to baptize, without thereby undervaluing Baptism as a means of grace. . . . The actual performance of the act of baptism, which belongs to the office of the Church, Matt. 28, 19, the apostles could have carried out through others, Acts 10, 48; cp. John 4, 1. 2, who were their hands and Christ's in this service. But the preaching of the Gospel, through which alone the practice of baptizing is made possible, they could indeed carry on in fellowship with others, but they could not personally omit this function or have it done only through a delegation of preachers, for they were trumpets in the world of nations and lights in the darkness." 10)
The apostle now shows wherein the true power of the Gospel consists, first from the negative side: Not in wisdom of speech, not in the rhetorical argumentation of Greek philosophy, lest the cross of Christ be rendered void, without effect. To clothe the preaching of the Cross in the words of man's wisdom, to seek for great oratorical effect in teaching its glorious truths, is not only not doing a service to the message of Christ, but it is fraught with the greatest danger to the Gospel, it works harm; it shuts off the power of the divine message. The true Gospel-preacher is not to stand before his congregation primarily as an orator trained in the art of rhetoric, but as a witness of Christ, bearing testimony to the great facts in and through which God has chosen to reveal Himself to men. The doctrine of the justification of a poor sinner, whose center is the cross of Calvary, is bereft of its efficiency by any deliberate display of art, which brings forward the person of the messenger rather than his message. In many modern churches in which the Gospel of Christ is occasionally, incidentally, mentioned, the very intellectual or esthetic pleasure which the hearers feel under the sway of the speaker's artful eloquence will tend to shut off the influence of the Gospel contained in the minister's message.
This assertion Paul now supports by a fact from experience: For the Word of the Cross is to them that are lost foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. The Word of the Cross includes the account of all that was done for the entire world on the cross, the message of reconciliation through the work performed on the cross by the Redeemer. And this Word, this Gospel, is to them that perish, that are on the way to perdition, folly; their con sidering it so is the cause of their being lost; their reason, their wisdom, their entire sinful nature, rises in opposition to a message which is so utterly at variance with the pride of man, and therefore they do not receive the benefit of its assurance. But on the other hand, that same Word is to them that are saved, that is, to us believers, the power of God unto salvation. The believers of all time know that the Cross of Christ, the message of the crucified Christ, is a saving power. In the statement of the facts of the redemption of the world lies the power of the Gospel, not in any man's way of presenting them. And the very fact that we have experienced the power of the Word in our own hearts is to us a testimony of our salvation.
For the fact that the wisdom of this world, in regarding the Gospel-preaching folly, paves the way for its own damnation, Paul adduces a Scripture-passage: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the prudent I will frustrate, Is. 29, 14. Just as the wisdom of the Jews, which relied upon shallow cunning, was brought to naught in the days of the prophet, just as their hypocrisy and lip-service resulted in their rejection, so the wisdom of him that believes himself to be exceptionally rich in understanding according to the standard of this world, and with supercilious haughtiness despises the message of the Cross, will be frustrated. "Gentile and Jewish wisdom, united in the rejection of the Gospel, are coming to a like breakdown; and Paul draws a powerful warning from sacred history." 11) And the warning must be sounded to-day as strongly as it ever was in the history of the world.
The foolishness of God wiser than men: V. 20. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? V. 21. For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. V. 22. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; v. 23. but we preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks foolishness, v. 24. but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. V. 25. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. In a series of rhetorical questions the apostle brings out the foolishness of this world's wisdom when compared with the wisdom of God. Where is the wise? Where are all the wise men of the world with all their wisdom? What has become of all the learned Greeks whose wisdom was praised so highly? Not one sinner has ever been converted by their sayings and writings; not one person has obtained salvation by following their rules of conduct. Where is the scribe ? What is true of the heathen philosophers is true also of the Jewish lawyer and his insistence upon the righteousness of works. All this is false wisdom and must vanish before the light of eternal truth. Where is the disputer, the rhetorician of this world ? The men that prided themselves on their ability to sway multitudes according to their will, to make them accept as right and true whatever their skill dictated, are vanished with the others that were filled with intellectual pride. Did not God render foolish the wisdom of the world? So far as God was concerned, the wisdom of this world always was folly, but through the revelation of the heavenly wisdom in the crucified Christ God has judged and condemned this world's wisdom as foolishness. All the knowledge that has been acquired by men since the dawn of history, all the wisdom that is stored in countless minds, all the prevailing ideas of the present life, is vain where the heavenly wisdom is wanting, and utterly foolish if it attempts to measure the wisdom of God or to judge spiritual matters. This thought is carried out further by the apostle: For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save those that believe. Although the entire world proclaims the wisdom of God, although His wisdom is evidenced both in the works of creation, Rom. 1, 20, and in the history of the world, Acts 17, 26, yet in all this wise plan of the world's government the world's wisdom failed to win the knowledge of Him. Because the children of the world became wise in their own imaginations, therefore their foolish hearts were darkened, Rom. 1,21. God cannot be comprehended by intellectual speculation, and all the efforts of the philosophers to penetrate into the mystery of His essence are bound to meet with abject defeat. And since thus the world, with its own wisdom, could not find the way to the wisdom of God, therefore it pleased God, according to the good pleasure of His will, to lead men to the knowledge of His essence by a way which alone can bring sinful mankind to Him. By that which is considered the foolishness of preaching, by the proclamation of a message which is ridiculed as unreasonable by the wise men of this world, God brings salvation to the believers. "God's sovereign grace rescues man's bankrupt wisdom: God saves by faith." Through the very same message of salvation which seems to man the essence of foolishness, God takes away the conceit of this human opinion and works faith in his heart.
In what way the wisdom of the world defeats its own ends is further explained by the apostle: For seeing that, while both Jews require signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, we, on the other hand, preach Christ crucified, w. 22. 23. That was characteristic of the Jews, they were not satisfied with the words of salvation, but demanded signs from heaven, John 4,48; Matt. 12, 39; 16,4; their proud self-righteousness was not so easily brought into captivity under the obedience of Christ. And of the Greeks it was characteristic that they sought wisdom; they wanted philosophic proof, logical demonstration, they wanted to be convinced by reasonable arguments, Acts 17, 19; Col. 2, 4. The preaching of the Cross was therefore in emphatic contrast to both positions. It offered no sign, but merely referred to the greatest miracle that was ever seen in the world, the death and resurrection of Christ, John 2, 18. 19; it brought no reasonable arguments, but simply preached Christ crucified, announced the salvation of mankind through the merits of Him who died for all. This Christ is indeed, as revealed in this message, an offense, a scandal, to the Jews; they will not accept Him, and therefore their perversity causes them to fall over Him as over an obstacle placed in their path. And to the Gentiles in general, not only to the Greeks, Christ the Savior is foolishness, the way of redemption as taught in the Scriptures savors to them of madness. But to them that are called by God, chosen by Him in His great mercy, that have heard and heeded the call by grace, whether they belong to the Jewish or to the Greek nation, we preach Christ as the Power of God and as the Wisdom of God. In Christ the highest, the most glorious power of God, that of His atoning and saving love, was manifested. Christ is the Power of God unto us, because He is the Deliverer from sin, death, and the devil, because He has earned everlasting righteousness and salvation for us, because through His Spirit He sends us power from on high. And Christ is the Wisdom of God unto us, because in Him we have the fulness of spiritual understanding, because He can enlighten the darkness of our natural blindness, because He can find ways and means of leading us safely through all the temptations and dangers of this world to the eternal mansions above. And this is further substantiated: For that which is foolish in God, what seems to man's reason a foolish, weak policy, the redemption of the world through the death of His Son on the cross, is wiser than men. All the attempts of men to find a way to the mercy of God and to the bliss of heaven were absolute failures; but the way chosen by God, foolish, unreasonable according to the opinion of men, proved the wise, the feasible way. And what is weak in God, what seemed to man's foolish reason altogether lacking in intrinsic strength and efficiency, that is stronger than men. That is the mystery of the Cross, that Christ, in dying, conquered death, that in His yielding up the ghost death was swallowed up in victory, 2 Cor. 13, 4. The same wonderful strength has been imparted to the Church of Christ, since she, in the midst of all temptations and tribulations, when she seems all but conquered and expiring, has the divine strength to uphold her and to lead her on to final victory.
The status of the believers: V. 26. For ye see your calling', brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; v. 27. but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; v. 28. and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are, v. 29. that no flesh should glory in His presence. V. 30. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption, v. 31. that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. The miraculous working of the power and wisdom of God is exemplified in the case of the Corinthian Christians themselves. The apostle urges them to consider, to contemplate earnestly, their calling, the act of God's calling as it affected their own ranks. There were not many wise according to the flesh in their midst, few that ranked high as the people of this world rate knowledge; there were not many powerful, such as were influential in public affairs by reason of their wealth or social or political position; there were not many noble-born, people of aristocratic rank by birth. "Few intellectual men, few politicians, few of the better class of free citizens embraced Christianity." There is a sharp contrast: But the foolish things of the world God has chosen to put to shame the wise men. The Christians are not only considered bigoted, but actually narrow-minded and lacking in the proper use of their reasoning faculty. And the weak things of the world has God chosen to put to shame the strong ones. Those whose numbers would tend to make them anything but a power in the world in many cases control the destinies of nations. And the base, the vile things of the world and the utterly despised things has God chosen, and the things which are non-existent before the pride of the world, which are made absolutely nothing of, which are not considered as by any possibility having any weight, in order to make null and void, to deprive of all validity, that which is something in the judgment of men. Since the time of Christ the believers have been despised, scorned, ignored, and yet they have displayed a power of action and endurance which cannot be accounted for by reasonable suppositions. The despotism of the Roman emperors, the tyranny of the medieval hierarchy, the inquisition of the counter-reformation, all the so-called assured result of modern science falsely so called have not been able to overcome or to render obsolete the truth and the power of the Gospel. For it is the power of God that lives in the message of salvation, and it is His grace which has chosen the lowly. And therefore no flesh, no human being, can boast before God. No matter how wise, how powerful, how rich the children of the world may be, before God they can boast of nothing. No man can say that he, out of his own endeavors, or position, or worth has contributed anything to the success of the Gospel. And therefore the vessels of mercy also will never be tempted to allege their own fitness and their own readiness to accept the wealth of God's wisdom and power. It is all the mercy of God's election, the grace of God's call.
This thought is emphasized by the apostle in conclusion: Out of Him, due to His grace and power, you are in Christ Jesus. God has brought us to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, because we are the spiritual offspring of God by His grace, and the life which we have received from God is grounded in Christ. And what this life in Christ all includes the apostle shows: Who was made Wisdom unto us from God, Righteousness as well as Sanctification and Redemption. All this has been revealed to us by faith and has become our property through faith. By the grace of God, Christ has become Wisdom to us: in and through Him the mystery of the divine plan of salvation has been unfolded to us; in and through Him we know God as our dear Father and through this knowledge have eternal life, John 17, 3. But this would not be possible were it not for the fact that Christ became unto us Righteousness as well as Sanctification, 2 Cor. 5, 21; Jer. 23, 5; Matt. 3, 15; Gal. 2, 16. 17. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us as well as His perfect fulfilment of the Law, and thus our whole life is consecrated to God, and every act is a work of divine service. "For that is Christ's rule. To that end He has been placed as the Lord, that He might do such works among men, justify them, and bring them back to the fear of God, innocence, and obedience, from which we fell in Paradise through the cunning of the serpent." 12) These great benefits are ours by faith, not because faith in itself is a work which merits the blessings, but because it accepts the promise made by God that He for the sake of Christ would be gracious to those that believe in Him.13) For Christ is our Redemption; by paying the ransom of His blood and life He has delivered us forever from the power of all our enemies; He had in Himself the power to achieve this deliverance, 1 Thess. 1, 10; Col. 1, 13. 14. And thus we have in Him the guarantee of the glory of eternal life which will be revealed to us on the last day. And all this is God's free gift of grace, excluding all boasting on our part, all alleging of merit before Him. As it is written: He that glories shall glory in the Lord, Jer. 9, 23. 24. There should be boasting and praising indeed, but only in God, as the Author of our salvation. Where the preaching of the Cross reveals God's mercy and righteousness, God's wisdom and power, only one boasting shall be heard, namely, this: All glory be to God on high!
Summary. After opening his letter with a salutation, the apostle thanks God for the revelation of His grace, reproves the Corinthian Christians for their wranglings, which had resulted in the formation of factions, and discusses at length the wisdom and power of God as revealed in the Gospel.