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!
- Paul and Sosthenes - The apostle Paul arrived at Corinth in Achaia soon after being hurriedly escorted out of Berea in Macedonia during what is called his second missionary journey, after having stopped at Athens on the way. Opposition to his preaching in Corinth arose quickly, and Paul was soon in court. But the judge refused to listen to the charges brought against Paul by the Jews, and the Jews started beating up the leader of their synagogue, a man named Sosthenes, in front of the bench. And the judge let the beating continue before the courtroom eventually cleared out. Possibly, then, this man became a Christian after being so treated by the members of his own synagogue. Whether this is the same Sosthenes that is co-authoring this letter with Paul or not is not known, but it will be interesting to find out in the courts of glory. "Paul," the epistle begins, "called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth" (I Corinthians 1:1,2). Paulís own credentials are clearly laid out in the beginning words: he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. There were only thirteen of those, and each had the ability to perform miracles and pass on gifts of the Spirit in order to establish the authority of his apostleship. Paul needs to present his authority "by the will of God" to this congregation because his authority and his doctrine were being attacked by elements within the church in Achaia.
- The church of God - In a discussion recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus stated, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). Jesus has His church, and it is being built on the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of God. This church, world-wide in scope and continuing for all eternity, does not have one specific name. Here the apostle addresses the congregation as "the church of God." Sometimes the congregations are called "the churches of Christ," sometimes "the churches of God in Christ Jesus," and the church at one point is even called by the name of the brethren, "the general assembly and church of the first born ones who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23). The church in general is the spiritual collection of those who have been "called out" of this world into fellowship with Christ.
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 church of God - The Lord designed the church as a whole to accomplish His purposes of distributing the word of God, saving the lost, and conserving the saved. To accomplish these purposes with any sort of effectiveness, the body of Christ has to be distributed as individual congregations, as Paul in this case writes "to the church of God which is at Corinth." Here the Christians would be joined together as a team, and through their interactions with one another in a setting which the Lord orchestrated, they would be able to achieve the goals of Jesus and to grow into the character of Christ. Without the actual, tangible members of the body, everything Christ-like would remain ethereal and imaginary. But with real, up-close-and-personal brethren working in the same congregation, individual character development is accomplished as saints meet the challenges that come ó individually and collectively.
- Sanctified in Christ - Paul, with Sosthenes, addresses the congregation in his opening, stating, "to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling" (I Corinthians 1:2). The gospel of God is clear and specific: in order for any person to come to God, he must come through Jesus Christ. God sent His Son into the world, put Him through suffering and death, and then exerted the power necessary to raise Him from the dead; having done all this, He is not going to allow some spiritual anarchist to "make and end run around" Jesus and cut his own deal with the Father. The sanctification, the setting-apart without which no one will see the Lord, is only accomplished "in Christ." And the only way to be "in Christ" is to be "immersed into Christ" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).
- The call of God - Through the body of Christ, God is still walking through the garden and calling man out from his hiding place. The gospel is His call. Hence, the ekklesia ó those "called out", the church ó consists of those who have heard the call of God and willingly answered. "Saints by calling," is how Paul addressed the assembly at Corinth, "with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours." God calls; those destined to become saints answer, calling upon the name of the Lord. This call is a non-verbal call, accomplished in immersion, as Ananias directed one Saul of Tarsus, later this same apostle Paul: "Arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16).
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.
- Grace in Christ - It is worth repeating again and again: all the spiritual blessings of God are found in Christ Jesus. Outside of Christ there is condemnation. Those who have not been immersed into Christ are strangers and aliens to the Father, without hope and without God in this world. But in Christ are found all the great spiritual treasures, the great riches which God has stored up for those who know and believe the truth. "I thank my God always," says Paul, "for the grace that was given you in Christ Jesus" (I Corinthians 1:4). Paul ó preacher, teacher, and apostle of Christ ó was supremely conscious of the necessity of each of the brethren to be covered by Godís grace. Knowing the congregation of the Corinthian brethren intimately, he was aware of the moral and internal challenges the church faced, and knew of their need for the surpassing wonders of Godís overshadowing grace and His willingness patiently to withhold His judgment.
- Enriched in Him - The old covenant was a physical covenant for a physical people. God, then, to show His power and presence on behalf of Israel, blessed them physically. He gave them rain in the land of milk and honey when they walked in His ways, giving them fruitful harvests and blessing their herds and flocks. Collecting the material riches of Egypt and surrounding nations into the hands of David and Solomon, God showed the world in a way they could understand that He was the God of Israel and the only true God. But under the terms of the new covenant, God blesses a spiritual people with spiritual blessings ó blessings that cannot really be detected except by those spiritually attuned. "In everything," affirmed the apostle, "you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge" (I Corinthians 1:5). Speech is riches? And "all knowledge?" All the collected blathering of the great orators will not save one soul. All manís scientific knowledge and his accumulated history will not rescue a single individual from the clutches of the prince of darkness. The church at Corinth and Cenchrea, planted by the apostle Paul, from the beginning was the recipient of the great spiritual treasures, and was blessed beyond measure.
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 testimony concerning Christ - The central claim of disciples of Christ is that Jesus was indeed resurrected from the dead. Islam, for example, discounts this claim, having the tradition that the empty tomb next to Mohammedís grave will be filled when Jesus comes back, dies, and is to be buried there; a central belief of Moslems is that Jesus was taken alive like Elijah, and never went to the cross and was therefore never resurrected. But God uses three things to confirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (the most difficult of all miracles to believe): 1) eyewitness testimony of the apostles and others; 2) the ability of the apostles and others to perform attesting miracles; and 3) Old Testament prophecies. These three are conclusive to anyone who will objectively examine the record, and compel him to believe that Jesus is Lord.
- The testimony confirmed in Corinth - The apostle Paul personally came to Corinth, having been ushered out of Macedonia and having spent only a short time in Athens. He himself, by revelation, was an eyewitness of Jesusí resurrection and was able to confirm his testimony by the miracles he performed in Jesusí name. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you," he would later write to these brethren, "with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles" (II Corinthians 12:12). "My message," he would say shortly in this first epistle, was "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (I Corinthians 2:4). They therefore believed the gospel and were immersed into Christ (Acts 18:8).
- Confirmed in you - The apostles, and only the apostles of Christ, could pass on what the scripture calls gifts or manifestations of the Spirit. Paul came into Corinth, and as is evident, passed on these gifts of the Spirit to many of the brethren, so that the congregation had all the gifts and the confirmation of the testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth. "The testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you," asseverated Paul, "so that you are not lacking any gift" (I Corinthians 1:6,7).
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.
- Eagerly awaiting - The heart Jesus is exposed to the world in the record of the days of His earthly sojourn. "I have come to cast fire upon the earth," He commented, "and how I wish it were already kindled" (Luke 12:49). But He has to wait until the last soul who will repent is gathered in, and then He will come. Children of the King are therefore encouraged to be in anticipation of this great advent, and the exhortation to the Corinthian brethren was no exception. The saints were positively described by the apostle as "awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 1:7). Eagerly is the word which keeps showing up. The picture is that each disciple of Christ is constantly scanning the sky, expecting that this is the hour in which our Lord makes His return, the sky splits open, and He is revealed to a surprised group of unbelievers. But the brethren are prepared, having constantly lived in expectation of this moment!
- Godís assistance - God did not send His only begotten Son into the world to see how many people He could condemn; He sent Him to save every possible person who would believe in the Christ. The great spiritual Dad, then, is willing to work with each of His children in the Spirit, helping them to succeed as long as they continue in faith and sanctity with self-restraint. Jesus, Paul informs us, "shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 1;8,9). Peter joins in this same chorus, noting that God "will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (I Peter 5:10). The Father, if He can get a little cooperation with His saints, can take them from being spiritual weaklings and transform them into mighty warriors in His spiritual army. What a blessing, and what a hope for each brother or sister in Christ!
- Blameless in Christ - The work of God on behalf of each Christian might be summarized as, "If weíll do a little, Heíll do a lot." The saintís primary responsibility is to keep his faith intact and growing, and God promises that He will provide the strength and backing to give the saint victories in his personal life, and victories for the gospel as it impacts others through him. And at the end, when Jesus is revealed, the resurrection of the saints has taken place, and each gives his account before the Judgment Throne, then he has the great promise that he is presented blameless. As Jude also noted, God "is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy" (Jude 24). How huge is that!
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.
- Assurance - The congregation in Corinth was struggling, and many of the brethren were fighting their own personal battles with sin. How quickly would God give up on this congregation, and when would His patience run out with the brethren? The answer, built upon the thousand years of Godís patience demonstrated in Israel according to the flesh, is: "God is faithful Ö" (I Corinthians 1:9). His earnest desire for their spiritual success was greatly manifested in His bringing them into the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for His nameís sake.
- Called into fellowship - What is important is fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ. On the negative side, for example, Jesus noted what He would say to those who pretended to be His disciples on Judgment Day, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matthew 7:23). "God is faithful," Paul thus reassured the brethren in Corinth, "through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
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.
- By the name of Jesus - In Godís graphic way, He speaks through the prophet Isaiah, beginning His point with a question. "Who is this who comes from Edom, with garments of glowing colors from Bozrah?" is the picture of the angel of the Lord making His way from Edom up to Jerusalem. Who is "this One who is majestic in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength?" The answer comes, "It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save" (Isaiah 63:1). "I looked," He said, "and there was no one to help, and I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; so My own arm brought salvation to Me" (Isaiah 63:5). Jesus, then, in the words of the apostle Paul, "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross." But the death would have been worthless without the subsequent resurrection to the power position of glory. "Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:8,9). To this name apostle appeals to the brethren in Corinth: "Now I exhort you, brethren," is the exhibition of his earnestness, "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree Ö" (I Corinthians 1:10). If Christ is properly exalted in the minds of the brethren, everything else takes its appropriate place.
- Moving past petty division - When the focus falls away from Christ, then all sorts of issues come to the forefront. People become petty, pressing for the prominence of their pet projects. Invoking the name of the Lord Jesus, the apostle calls for the brethren to move past pettiness, exhorting them "that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). Jesus earnestly prayed on the west side of the Kidron, during the night in which He was betrayed, for all His future disciples, "that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us; that they world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21). Would those first century disciples of Christ in Corinth let those words of Jesus fall unheeded to the ground, or would they work assiduously to eliminate division among them, and walk in the steps of the Savior.
- In the same mind and same judgment - It is a major challenge for the saints to be "made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." But this is the goal of God. To accomplish this, the brethren must, on an individual basis, lay aside the carnal nature and put on the new spiritual man in the image of Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is do-able!
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!
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.
- Information on problems - The apostle Paul started the congregation in Corinth. He had poured out his heart, his labor, and his tears on their behalf. Because he loved the brethren and their eternity, he had an information network that kept him abreast of the spiritual progress of the church in Achaia. And in this case, the news passed on to the apostle was not all good. "For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren," was his intonation, "by Chloeís people, that there are quarrels among you" (I Corinthians 1:11). Uh oh! Some brethrenís lust of the flesh got in the way of the gospel. Some brothrenís lust of the eye blinded them to the purpose of the church. And some brethrenís boastful pride of life positioned them as political climbers and visible reputation builders instead of workers for the Lord. The result was that quarrels severe enough to be reported to Paul were developing within the congregation.
- Playing politics - Pride is sometimes hard to detect or to define, but it is tremendously destructive to the prideful individual and to all around him. The possessor of pride, unless he can humble himself under the mighty hand of the Lord, will end up in the lake of fire for all eternity. "God is opposed to the proud," says the scripture, "but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). One of the characteristics of the proud can be to be "the biggest fish" no matter how small the pond. Hence they work to develop parties and influence groups they can use to position themselves for the power play at the strategic moment. It was happening in Corinth. "Now I mean this," explained the apostle, "that each one of you is saying, ĎI am of Paul,í and ĎI am of Apollos,í and ĎI am of Cephas,í and ĎI am of Christ.í " (I Corinthians 1:12). The deadwood leaders that were rising to the top in the congregation were splitting the local church and positioning themselves for some sort of "market share" when the fighting was over. How destructive, and how counter to the purpose of the Christ who died on their behalf!
- Appeal to perspective - The apostle has to stop this splintering, and the only real legitimate and also ultimate way to put a halt to the schisms was to refocus the brethren on Christ. "Has Christ been divided?" is the poignant question (I Corinthians 1:13). If Christ has not been divided, it is obvious that his body cannot be caused to be divided either. Halt! then, to the divisiveness in the congregation. And since some were claimants to being followers of Paul and throwing his name around for their own political gain, the apostle uses himself as an example in order to beat back the developing party spirit. "Paul was not crucified for you, was he?" he queried. "Or were you immersed in the name of Paul?"
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.
- Immersion - Baptizo is immersion, and the word and its use in context clearly bear that out. Immersion was not something that was practiced as part of the Law of Moses, but was initiated by John the son of Zacharias in preparation for the new covenant. John indicated that his immersion was given to him from heaven, and this divine origin was verified by Jesus (John 1:33; Matthew 21:25). His immersion clearly occurred in water, as people were coming to the Jordan to be immersed by him. And his immersion followed repentance, and was for the forgiveness of sins.
- Immersion in Jesusí name - Immersion upon the authority of Jesus Christ is first mentioned in Acts 2:38. This immersion was introduced to the Jewish public after the foundation of understanding had been laid by Johnís immersion. This one in Jesusí name would also follow repentance, would be in water, would be for the forgiveness of sins, but would add the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here the old self would be buried with Christ in the likeness of His death, and the new self would come forth in the likeness of His resurrection, arising from the watery grave to walk in newness of life, a newly born-again individual. By thus being immersed into Christ, the saint now participates in all the blessings found in Christ.
- Teaching moment in Corinth - Paul then uses the understanding the brethren in Corinth had concerning the teaching of immersion in Jesusí name. In his series of questions: 1) "Has Christ been divided?"; 2) "Paul was not crucified for you, was he?"; and 3) "Or were you immersed in the name of Paul?"; the reasoning process used makes it clear that the Corinthian brethren were immersed in the name of Jesus. Christ is clearly the exalted One, and not Paul, Peter, or Apollos. The thought process used also establishes that to be one of the brethren in Corinth, the individual had to be immersed in the name of Jesus. And the immersion also took place in water in a manner consistent with other scriptures, inasmuch as Paul did immerse at least Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas (if it were the so-called "Spirit immersion," Paul would have not been the one to perform the immersion ó the Spirit would have done it without any man serving as a go-between). The fact that these brethren had participated in what Paul would call elsewhere the "one immersion," would be a major factor in bringing them together in unity.
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.
- Destroying developing schisms - Some in Corinth were using Paulís name to their advantage; others were using Peterís; others Apollosí; and others, apparently "holier than thou" types, were using Christís name. Paul attacks this positioning by putting himself in the proper perspective. "Paul was not crucified for you, was he?" he asked. "Or were you immersed in the name of Paul?" The answer to these rhetorical questions is a resounding, "NO!" So those who were trying to use Paulís, Peterís, Apollosí, or even Christís name as a basis for their maneuvering had nothing solid for such action.
- A little history - The apostle is going to remind them of the congregationís beginnings, showing his anticipation for the current clique-building operations now functioning within the church. "I thank God," he states, "that I immersed none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were immersed in my name" (I Corinthians 1:14,15). He only immersed a few at the beginning, to get the first few Christians in motion; all the immersing that would be done from that point on would be done by others in the congregation, so that no one would try to claim that their immersion was superior to others simply because Paul had performed it. And, just to clear the record, he also recalls, "Now I did immerse also the household of Stephanus; beyond that, I do not know whether I immersed any other" (I Corinthians 1:6).
- Paulís purpose - It was not important to Paul who did the immersing. "For Christ did not send me to immerse," he states, "but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void" (I Corinthians 1:17). Paul came to Corinth to preach the gospel. Apollos came to Corinth to preach the gospel. Peter [Cephas], if he ever arrived in Corinth, would be there to preach the gospel. Christ Himself, averred Paul before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa, "was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:23). The preaching ó the proclamation ó of the gospel was the purpose of Paul, and who did the immersing was secondary.
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.
- Straight-forward preaching - The apostle Paul makes it clear that his purpose was to preach the gospel. "Christ did not send me to immerse," he states, by way of emphasis and not in any way denigrating the importance of immersion in the name of Jesus, "but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ might not be made void" (I Corinthians 1:17). He is introducing the idea that the message from heaven is not to be presented with the orations characteristic of the Greeks or with the complicated meanderings of their philosphers.
- No voiding out the cross of Christ - The philosophies of men and their vain imaginings of how to contact God or reach to heaven are indeed empty. Whether it is posited that a sufficient amount of good deeds might accomplish enough reparation for the not-so-good deeds, or whether some outlandish forms of chants or fastings are presented as the means to holiness, they are all worthless attempts on the part of man to come to God on the basis of their own terms. The apostle notes the worldís response in general to the only means by which a man might approach God: "For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness," he observes, "but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18). To the Greek mind, the idea that some Jewís death on a Roman cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem would somehow be necessary for their salvation was foolishness. They are perishing! But to those who would examine the claims of God, set in motion from Genesis chapter one and successively brought forward, the death of Jesus on the cross is understood as necessary for the salvation of the world. The word of the cross, then, is the power of God for those who are willing to step into the realm described by the words "being saved."
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).
- Collapsing human wisdom - God is not able to be understood through mere human wisdom; He who more than fills the heavens is not going to be comprehended by grey matter impounded in a homo sapiens skull. Hence it is that He has to reveal Himself, in His own time, and in His own way. Using a quotation from Isaiah, the apostle to the Gentiles notes, "For it is written, ĎI will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.í " (I Corinthians 1:19). By sweeping aside human wisdom as the mechanism for knowing God and by eliminating the "cleverness of the clever," the Almighty has made it possible for the slave girl who sleeps behind the millstone to have equal access to God as might have the mightiest Pharaoh. She doesnít have to pay for it, and she is not denied the privilege simply because she does not have the proper social standing.
- Clearing the stage - By eliminating the possibility of manís finding God through his own reasoning, the All Wise cleared all the pretenders off the stage where they were clamoring for the human raceís attention. "Where is the wise man?" the apostle rightly asks of the Greeks. "Where is the scribe?" he asks of the Jews. "Where is the debater of this age?" (I Corinthians 1:20). Properly understood, they dare not show their faces; they are shown to be utterly empty by the simple truths of the gospel of Christ.
- Elevating the wisdom of God - 50,000 pages of Vedantic writings cannot elucidate anything about the love of God for a lost and wandering people. The minarets of a million mosques cannot call their hearers to any knowledge of the redemption of a fallen race. But a simple Roman cross, pictured as raised on the Jerusalem skyline with the Savior of the world nailed to its wood, communicates how much the great God cares for the least among men. "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" Paul asks. "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:20,21). If anyone wants to know God, he will have to listen to the message preached!
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.
- Preaching pleases God - God sent forth His word into the world to accomplish His purpose. The word of God sifts the hearts of men, separates the wheat from the chaff, and presents to God as holy those who will believe and obey it. The rest go into the garbage dump of all eternity, into the hellish vacuole. The heavenly Father thus designed preaching as the best means of accomplishing that separation. Preaching has never been particularly popular with mankind as a whole. In Israel, for instance, God is pictured as "daily rising early" and sending His prophets to preach His message. But they rejected the preaching. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," lamented Jesus Himself, "who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her" (Matthew 23:37). But it doesnít matter if mankind doesnít like preaching; God does! The message of the cross, carried on the words, conviction, and care of Godís preachers, will accomplish Godís purpose. And nothing else will.
- Looking in the wrong place - If someone is looking for something in a place where that something is not, he is never going to find it. The Jews, then, of New Testament times, as well as the Gentiles, looked for God in places where they could not find Him. "For indeed Jews ask for signs," averred the apostle, "and Greeks search for wisdom" (I Corinthians 1:22). God had to use all kinds of preparatory signs in the development of Israel. To prepare Israel so that they would sprinkle the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and thus deliver their firstborn, God had Moses bring nine plagues upon the land of Ham. The result of the plagues and the deliverance from Egypt was that "the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses" (Exodus 14:31). He continued to use signs in Israel eventually to prepare them for the greatest sign of all ó Jesusí resurrection from the dead. But the Jews overall behaved like spoiled children, and they wanted signs for entertainment or signs that would allow them to continue in their misguided beliefs. When Jesus gave sight to a man who was born blind, the Pharisees absolutely refused to draw the conclusion as to whom Jesus might be. "Give glory to God," said they to the formerly blind man, "we know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner" (John 9:24). "The Jews seek for signs," but not the right ones.
- Preaching Christ crucified - Paul then adds, "but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:23). The crucifixion was a stumbling block to the Jew because their concept of the Messiah did not included His suffering and death. And the Greeks sought for wisdom, but it had to fit inside their own preset boundaries. Since the message of the cross was outside those boundaries, it was obviously foolishness.
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.
- To the called - The Jews asked for signs; was that what Paul was really going to give them? The Greeks were searching for wisdom; was that how Paul was going to argue and philosophize? No! He preached to them! Most rejected the message; to the Jew, the cross was a stumbling block, and to the Greek it was foolishness. But there was a percentage who would believe, whom Paul termed "the called." "To those who are the called," he noted of those who received the word of the cross, "both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24). It was always Godís plan to reach the entire world with the message of redemption and establishment of true spiritual fellowship with Him. He had to work thousands of years and even prepare the Jewish people as the means by which the Christ could come, and with Him, the message of salvation. The gospel thus is preached ó it is announced and broadcast ó and any who heed it, regardless of background, are "the called."
- Christ the power of God - Those Jews who could get past "the stumbling block" of the cross would find that on the other side of that was the resurrection and glorious ascension of Christ. Here they would find an intercessory High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, whose might and power greatly exceeded any of those of the weak priesthood of Aaron. The Gentiles who could get past "the foolishness" of the crucifixion would find great power in Him who ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high, who with strength could redeem them and cause them to be born again to a living hope. But the power is spiritual, and it really only strengthens the inner man!
- Christ the wisdom of God - Those of Jewish and Gentile background who would bury the old man in immersion and arise to walk in newness of life would begin to comprehend and appreciate the wisdom of God expressed through Christ. Through the cross, Christ was able to be exalted as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to all and forgiveness of sins. In this exalted Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). Those whose eyes of the heart would thus be progressively enlightened would increasingly understand that wisdom and knowledge, and marvel at Him who was able to make it known to them.
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).
- "The called" - The appeal of the gospel goes forth into all the world, calling men to repentance and obedience to God. Those who respond are thus designated "the called," and they are very much a cross-section of humanity as a whole. "For consider your calling, brethren," exhorted the apostle Paul, "that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble Ö" (I Corinthians 1:26). There were a few that the world ("according to the flesh," is the way Paul put it) would count as wise, mighty, or noble, but for the most part the brethren would be taken from the ranks of the common man. This is Godís design also, for if only the wealthy, wise, or noble could come in, then faith would be made void.
- What God chooses - All the sales pitches and sneaky techniques that the world uses to influence people are discarded. The rich are not paraded before potential prospects in hopes that the presentation of these will somehow increase the viability of the message of the cross. The erudite are not trotted out before the intelligencia in the expectation that the presence of these somehow makes the gospel more palatable. Men of influence are not prominently displayed before the community in an effort to create a "band wagon" effect from the top down. No, it is the simple preaching of Christ and His cross which are initially tendered toward the hearers. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise," noted Paul, "and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, that He might nullify the things that are" (I Corinthians 1:27,28).
- The great leveling - Man in the midst of his contrived pomp is actually petty. Hence it is that the All Wise and the Almighty has used the "base" instrument of the cross to bring all mankind down to the same level. Hence it is that He has used blood poured out on the ground as the vehicle of redemption, and there is no offer of money that can be used as a substitute. Hence it is that the lifeless body of Godís Son would be the tool for the expiation of guilt, and not one person of "influence" can alter the means by which a man might secure his eternal salvation. What God has chosen, through the death of Christ on the cross, nullifies any plan or scam of man, and reduces all to the same level of need, "that no man should boast before God" (I Corinthians 1:29).
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!
"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).
- Wisdom from God - There is no need for fancy rhetoric here; the information from God on this point is linear and cuts right to the heart. Each person has sinned; each personís sin separated him from God, and that sin consigns that person to an eternity in hell; Jesus came into the world to die on behalf of that individual and pay the price for his sins by His death on the cross; and the Lord was resurrected to the power position in glory where His sacrifices can be implemented. "For God has shut up all in disobedience," Paul explained to his readership in Rome, "that He might show mercy to all." As he contemplated the sweeping impact of that statement, the apostle could only exclaim, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:32,33).
- Righteousness - Christ also became our righteousness! In a marvelous exchange which began on the cross, the apostle noted, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). Christ took our sins, and gave us His righteousness! When the gap between hell and heaven is contemplated, then the value of the exchange of our sins for his righteousness can be better appreciated.
- Sanctification - Prior to our immersions into Christ, we were unholy and unclean. Our sins had separated us from fellowship with God, and we had plunged into darkness. But through the blood of the cross and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have been made holy, or sanctified. We have been set apart for Godís purposes, and our holiness and purity is on display for any of the world to see if they are interested.
- Redemption - Mankind was lost, strangers to God and without hope in this world. Having been carried into the captivity of Satan by falling prey to the deceptiveness of sin, each has to be "bought back" in a very high-priced exchange. This "redemption" was accomplished as God sent His Son as the substitute, and every person on the planet who is willing to submit to His governance will be able to sing the song which can never grace the tongues of angels, "I have been redeemed!"
"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).