To the Church of God

In my carrying out Jesusí command of making disciples, one of the objections I often encounter is the poor behavior of those who are regarded as being members of the local body of Christ. "If that is Christianity," it is said, "then I donít want any part of it." While it is true that there is objectionable behavior on the part of brethren, that poor performance is not a legitimate excuse for someoneís refusal to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. What if the apostle Paul was engaged in a Bible study with the above-mentioned objector in the city of Corinth, Greece, and was charged similarly with the behavior of the brethren in the Corinthian congregation? Would he regard that as a sufficient reason for that prospectís not following Christ? He would tell the individual that his personal responsibility is to repent and be immersed, and work with the local congregation; and that he, Paul, would worry about the congregation itself. If congregations did not have problems, most of the New Testament scriptures would never have been written. And the church at Corinth had plenty!

An ethereal congregation, or "mystical body of Christ," will not be able to accomplish the will of God. Hence the Lordís church in general is parceled out as specific congregations, as in "the church of God which is at Corinth." In these local assemblies, actual work can be done, and individual Christians can grow as they by Godís design must learn to interact with each other positively!

Saints by Calling

Every Christian is a saint! This comes as a shock to those steeped in a denominational background that gives the impression that to be a saint, one must be "canonized" after careful "documentation" that at least two miracles can be attributed to use of the name of the departed individual. This is so bogus that it is absolutely astounding that anyone could possibly believe it. The term translated into English as "saint" is a term given by God, and it must be understood as God defines it. It means "holy one," someone set apart from common mankind for Godís purposes. When a person is immersed into Christ, and thus cleansed from his sins, he is now indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit is what makes the individual a "holy one," or "saint."

The brethren at Corinth, then, were being called to holiness out of the muck and mire of this sea-going city. "Therefore, come out from their midst, and be separate," Paul would quote the Lord from the Old Testament writings, "and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you" (II Corinthians 6:17). In his present, positive, affirmative opening description of the brethren in this beleaguered congregation, the apostle sets the stage for their future success in following the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Grace of God

This first epistle to the Corinthian brethren begins with the standard greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 1:3). Even though the greeting is standard, it is not perfunctory. The saints in Corinth, as well as any other brethren addressed in any epistle, need the great grace of God. The struggle of coming out of the world is intense, and the struggle of those who earnestly desire to be transformed by the renewing of their minds is intense indeed, and there are generally many slips and falls before the next step of transformation can be accomplished. Hence it is that the grace of God is lavished upon the brethren so that their mistakes are covered by His munificence. The peace prayed for is no minor matter either. The world offers no peace, no respite for the soul mired in its guilty conscience and in slavery to Satan. Only God can give His peace to the faithful followers of Christ as they learn from Jesus how to carry His yoke. That peace which passes all comprehension is worth searching for! But as the Roman epistle focused on faith, this second in the line up of letters from Paul is focused on grace.

The challenge often is to help the brethren to put the proper value on the spiritual blessings such as Godís grace. The saints are Corinth were no exception; they tended to be physically oriented and therefore were not properly appraising the value of their being "enriched in all speech and all knowledge." May we learn from their mistakes, and turn our attentions to a proper assessment of Godís blessings in Christ Jesus!

Confirming the Testimony

It is interesting to consider the difference between the spread of early Christianity and the spread of early Islam. Once Mohammed, founder of Islam, gained acceptance in Medina, Arabia, and was able to unite the Arabic tribes by sword and by persuasion under the banner of an Arabic religion, the "band-wagon effect" was very pronounced. Islam spread rapidly in a veritable spiritual and political vacuum; within ten years after Mohammedís death, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Persia were all under Moslem domination, conquered not by reason but with the sword. Christianity, however, never had such a "band-wagon" appeal. Jesus Himself was crucified by entrenched opposition, put to death by a dark combination of Roman and Jewish leadership. His followers were persecuted from the beginning; when a person made his public confession that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God," he essentially signed his death warrant. So why would people believe the testimony that Jesus was really risen from the dead if there were no earthly benefit to be gained by professing such a belief? The answer is that they examined the claims of Jesusí exponents, and found them to be verified.

The apostle arrived in Corinth, preaching first in the synagogue to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles present on the Sabbath. Later, when Silas and Timothy arrived with financing from Macedonia, Paul could teach every day in the synagogue. But when the Jews resisted his message, he then took it next door and into the streets of the city, bringing all manner of Gentiles into the church, joining them with the Jewish core of first converts. That Jew and Gentile were both welcome to God was evident in that God backed Paulís work in Achaia with the attesting miracles, giving those of both Jewish and Gentile background gifts of the Spirit. "You were enriched in Him," is the apostleís reminder, "in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift." God covers all the bases!

The Day of Our Lord

Jesus will come again! He will come to execute His judgment on the ungodly, and to reward His saints for their patience and perseverance. When this apostle Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens to the philosophers of the day, he closed his message with this appeal: "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance," he noted, in reference to the fact that God let the Gentiles drift until He could bring the message of Christ to the world, "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30,31). The confirmation that Jesus is risen from the dead also establishes the coming of the Day of Judgment.

God has indeed set before each of His children of faith precious and magnificent promises. These promises, though in the realm of faith and not in the realm of sight, are real, and properly understood, powerfully motivate the saint to be ready for the return of his Lord. "Maranatha," indeed!

The Faithfulness of God

One of the purposes of the written record called the word of God is to demonstrate His faithfulness through the ages. For example, God made a covenant with Abraham, saying, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your seed after you" (Genesis 17:7). This covenant was reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob during the years of their sojourn in the land of promise. Over the centuries Abrahamís physical descendants became enslaved in Egypt, and "God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Exodus 2:24). His faithfulness was demonstrated, and with a mighty outstretched arm, He brought them out of the land of Egypt and established them in the land of Israel. When Israel turned away from God, and would not walk with Him under the terms of the covenant, still God was faithful. "But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them out of His presence until now" (II Kings 13:23). As first Israel and then Judah turned from God to worship idols, God had to turn His back on most of them. But for the sake of His covenant, He preserved a remnant of the physical nation until such time as the "seed of Abraham" [Christ] should come. To those Jews of New Testament times, the offer was made for them to continue in the covenant with God, now made manifest through the gospel of Christ. "It is you," said Peter to a crowd of Jews assembled on the temple grounds in connection with the crippled manís healing, "who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ĎAnd in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.í " (Acts 3:25). To this small remnant of first century Jews who became true disciples of Christ, God added the stream of Gentiles to form the church of the living God. "And if you belong to Christ," the apostle Paul affirmed to the Galatian brethren, "then you are Abrahamís seed, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29). God is clearly faithful, executing His promises and accomplishing His will over thousands of years.

How magnificent is this faithful God, and how wonderful is His plan. "For you first," the apostle Peter explained to those initial Jews, "God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways" (Acts 3:26). First the Jew, then the Gentile! God indeed is faithful, calling all men from darkness into His marvelous light, offering them mercy, grace, strength, and eternal life. Who could possibly turn away from that call?

What a Fellowship!

God has called men and women from every tribe and tongue into fellowship with His Son. This is no minor call. This is an invitation to be a part of the most august group ever assembled, to be a part of the eternal elite, to participate in the council of the holy. For those who have no spiritual eyes, it is a worthless invitation ó nonsense and non-existent. "But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24). The saints, then, would do well to pay close heed to the exclusivity and value of their call, and place the proper assessment on the church of the living God.

As God joins brethren to one another in the local body of Christ, He has His opportunity to perfect the saints through their interaction with one another. Those who avoid the process of becoming of "the same mind" and of "the same judgment" are actually avoiding part of the God-designed process of putting on love, compassion, patience, and understanding. One of the themes of this epistle is that God has carefully placed the members of each local fellowship; the brethren need to work through their difficulties to be one with the Father and with His Son!

Inside Information

The world has powerful appeal. The saints are repeatedly warned about its pulls and pressures, and are exhorted to walk in the light rather than crawl in the slime of the world. "For all that is in the world," explained the apostle John, "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (I John 2:15). Any one of the three listed can get inside the individual, and thus get inside the local congregation. And when that happens, division and destruction are part of the path left by its tornado-like movement through the fellowship of the saints. "I exhort you," says Paul thus to the brethren in Corinth, "that you all agree." To do that, "all that is in the world" would first have to be exposed and then eliminated in the lives of the brethren.

Christ is all, and in all! The deeds of the flesh need to be put to death, and Christ and Christ alone needs to be exalted by all. Then there will be peace among the brethren, and the purpose of His body will be fulfilled as they work together for the spread of the gospel.

Immersion in Jesusí Name

In his discussion on unity in the body of Christ in Corinth, the apostle Paul asked an interesting question, "Were you immersed in the name of Paul?" (I Corinthians 1:13). The asking of this question, in the midst of other questions and related comments is highly significant and instructive concerning the topic of immersion. Most religious bodies claiming in some way to be connected with the New Testament have some form of "baptism," as they would call it. Some sprinkle, some pour, some immerse, and some think it is only "Spirit baptism." Some think it is for infants, some for kids, some for adults, and some think it happens spontaneously from heaven upon anyone. Some think it is for forgiveness of Adamís sin, some think it is an "outward sign of an inward grace," some think it makes you a member of that "church," and some think it doesnít matter. Obviously there is a lot of confusion concerning the Greek term baptizo and its derivatives, and confusion concerning its origin and object.

Even though some use Paulís phrase, "For Christ did not send me to immerse, but to preach the gospel," in an attempt to deny the necessity of immersion in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, their arguments are disingenuous and sophistry. The brethren in Corinth were all immersed in Jesusí name for the forgiveness of their sins, and that they might receive the gift of the indwelling Spirit. This immersion is not a work of the Law, nor is it a denial of the blood of Christ shed on the cross. It is given from heaven by the authority of King Jesus!

Paulís Humility and Purpose

All through Paulís epistles to the Corinthians brethren, his humility stands out. Not to say that Paul was not a commanding person; he was! But as Moses was humble before the Lord, and yet leading hundreds of thousands, even more so was the great apostle of Jesus Christ. Our Lord Himself was the most humble, yet the greatest leader of men ever seen. Humility, then, is oft misunderstood by the brethren; it really is a willingness to do what God needs done. "Christ," noted Paul, "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death" (Philippians 2:8). And in Paulís own case, when the brethren were informed by the prophet Agabus that Paul would be bound and imprisoned if he were to go to Jerusalem, and they begged him not to go, he stated, "I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13). Thatís humility! Paul could lead with power, but was humble and only achieved that leadership in the Lord because he did not exalt himself.

Paul submitted himself in humility to suffering, shame, and imprisonment on behalf of the gospel. Those who wanted to use Paulís name as leverage in their political climb inside the church at Corinth would thus be exposed for what they were in a comparison between their and Paulís purpose. Paulís goal was to have every man hear the word of Christ, and this pervaded his every effort. Those who had no real interest in preaching the word to the lost would be manifest, and their credibility in the church at Corinth would be eliminated.

The Importance of the Cross

The Jews had little or no conception that their Messiah was to suffer. When Jesus indicated His visible on the cross with the words, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself," the multitude was confused. "We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever," they commented, followed with the question indicating their consternation: "How can you say, ĎThe Son of Man must be lifted upí? Who is this Son of Man?" (John 12:32-34). They had an idea that the Messiah would live forever; they didnít know He would have to die first!

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey in fulfillment of Zechariahís prophecy, the multitudes were excited and the entire city was astir. But the shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David" died out when the Romans arrested Jesus. "If You are the Son of God," was the challenge issued to Christ as He hung there bearing the sins of all mankind, "come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40). Because He did not fit their preconceived ideas of what type of person the Messiah would be and what He would do, the vast majority of the Jews rejected Him and His message.

To the Jew first went the gospel, then to the Greek (or Gentile). And the Jew turned against the message first, and then the Gentile world also. Neither, for different reasons, would accept the concept of the Saviorís death on a cross.

The saints of Corinth were being warned of the subtle deadliness of Greek philosophy and pressure from Jewish elements closely connected with each Christian community. Each personís salvation was going to be fraught with challenge, and each would have to be aware of those challenges and maintain his faith through the waves of confusion that would splash on his shore. Understanding the word of the cross would be critical in the eternity of those who would go through the process of "being saved," and there could be no compromise in presenting it to the world.

The Worldís Wisdom is Foolishness

Those who claim to be the wise of this world are also clever salesmen. They position themselves visibly before the population, and make swelling claims as if those claims were absolute truths incontrovertibly accepted by all those who can think. Hence it is that although the so-called great philosophers have struggled with whether or not they exist, and have come inexorably to the conclusion that all is futility, they still have the adulation of the propagandists working in the human race. In their attempts to find God in the recesses of their minds or to find "the God within," they have failed. Whatever man can do with observation coupled with reason, he cannot find God; he can find evidence of "intelligent design," but he cannot find the Designer. That is why, in the midst of the cauldron of Greek philosophy, the apostle Paul brings the wooden cross of Christ into the foreground of the discussion. "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness," is his initial sally, "but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18).

What seems to man, on the surface at least, to be foolishness is what God uses to communicate the truthfulness of who He is. Through the word of the cross, man comes to understand his own sinfulness and his own inability to approach God. He then learns of the great sacrifice God made in sending His own Son to die on behalf of the alienated sinner, and to begin to apprehend Godís love for his soul. Godís "foolishness" is really not foolishness at all!

The Importance of Preaching

"God was well-pleased," affirmed the apostle Paul, "through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." Godís ways seem foolish to prideful man. The message that, to some extent, begins with Jesusí death on the cross is foolish; how could there be any victory in that? And then the method of distribution! By the foolishness of preaching! How ineffective does God want to be? Couldnít the message be better communicated by group discussion? How about drama presentations? Or weaving the message into musicals or theatrical presentations? Not boring preaching? Yep! Foolish though that may be, that is how God has chosen to communicate His eternal truths and His love for man lost in the wilderness of his own confusion.

That Jew and Gentile alike in general rejected the message of the Christ and of His crucifixion, did not stop Paul and the others from proclaiming the gospel. They knew that the gospel of Christ was the only means by which men could be saved and they were going to "preach the gospel to all creation!"

Power and Wisdom

One of the purposes of the word of God is to give a true depiction of the spiritual realm. Man, for example, is a spiritual being who will be in existence in either heaven or hell for all eternity. The most important part of man, then, is what the scripture calls " the inner man." In another place, the apostle Paul pointed out that "though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (II Corinthians 4:16). While God has made extensive provision for manís outer man, He has made much more for the inner man. "The word of the cross," then, "is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Those who reject the only message that will rejuvenate the inner man are perishing, and unless they turn to the Lord on His terms, they will burn forever in the lake of fire. But those who are sufficiently spiritually interested to realize the importance of the inner man will fix their attention on the message brought to them through the word of the cross, and they will be saved for all eternity.

The power and wisdom of God expressed and comprehended through Christ are awesome and magnificent, but that power and wisdom is primarily vested in the spiritual realm. Those who are interested in the flesh will not put the proper value on this spiritual power and wisdom, and consequently will move on to hear other voices. But "the called" will hear, and appreciate and glorify the Lamb that was slain who is worthy "to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Revelation 5:12).

Foolishness and Weakness of God

God, in order to reach down to man and help him, has to initiate the dialogue through what appears to be foolish and weak. Because God has to veil Himself in thick darkness to protect the material creation, the only way man can approach God is through faith ó through believing what is revealed about the unseen realm in the Bible. In order for any commitment to God truly to be faith, the "playing field" has to be leveled; the message is going to be communicated from person to person, and many of those communicators are going to be "the common man." If the message were communicated through angels, the presence and power of the messenger would overpower the information delivered. As foolish, weak, and inefficient as preaching seems to be, it is wisely chosen by God because it accomplishes His purpose. "Because," says Paul, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Corinthians 1:25).

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! Letís get on with the preaching of Christ crucified, then, and let the shame spread!

Christ Became

"The Greeks search for wisdom," was one of Paulís inspired observations. The Greeks had elevated their concept of wisdom and its presentation to an art form, and had even deified it as the goddess Sofia. In their stylized presentations, high sounding phrases and all the techniques of oratory were used to impress the audiences, and both the audience and the "wise man" were carried away into the lofty reaches of imagination, where vain ideas were folded into the blankets of impressive rhetoric. By contrast, the word of the cross was simple, but in full bloom with the most important message which could ever be communicated, and ready to scatter its seeds in the hearts of honest men. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," was one of Paulís statements (Romans 3:23), and as such are in need what God provided through the cross of Christ. "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God ó and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (I Corinthians 1:30).

"By His doing," is Paulís affirmation, "you are in Christ Jesus." The objective viewer of the scriptures understands that a person enters into Christ by virtue of his immersion into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). While the individual must cooperate with God, the Almighty is the One who has made it all possible. Christ by the will of God came in the first place, the gospel was set in motion by God, God distributed the message, and God gets the information to the individual. It is clearly "by His doing you are in Christ Jesus." Hence the exordium, "Just as it is written, ĎLet him who boasts, boast in God.í " (I Corinthians 1:31).