Study Notes for I Corinthians 1: 10-17 (click here for Study Sheet)
The Corinthians were new Christ-followers. They had recently left paganism, and they lived in a city where they were surrounded by the symbols of their sinful past. Paganism is a form of legalism; people who believed in the Greek pantheon of gods had to perform rituals and present offerings continually to keep their deities appeased.
Further, the Greeks believed that visible, physical objects, including their own bodies, were not "real". They were merely representations of the "real" things which existed only as intangible ideas. Because they believed that true reality existed only as conceptual ideas, they had no problem believing that physical indulgence was of no consequence. The "soul", they believed, was the intangible reality of mankind. They believed that the soul was eternal and essentially unconnected to the body. It merely resided in a body until it was released to its eternal destiny where it would exist with all the other intangible realities which lay behind every physical object.
When the Corinthians accepted Christ, they were born into a new, true reality. They had to learn that their bodies and their souls were connected. While their souls were safe with Jesus and would never be apart from him, their bodies, they learned, would be resurrected in the future. Christianity taught them that their behaviors and choices affected not only their bodies but also their souls. They were not dualities-unrelated physical and spiritual components. Rather, their bodies and their spirits were one composite whole. What affected one also affected the other.
Learning to believe that their souls and their bodies were connected and considered to be one entity was a paradigm shift for the Corinthians. Further, they came to realize that their Savior was actually God in human flesh. They began to understand that Jesus redeemed not only their souls, but his sacrifice also redeemed their bodies.
We will ultimately have resurrection bodies, they learned, and our souls
will be united with those bodies for eternity.
Factions among the Faithful
As new believers with completely new world views, the Corinthians were spiritually immature and fragile. They began to have disagreements and quarrels among themselves. They began to divide themselves into groups, each claiming a different leader, and apparently quarreling over their differences and loyalties.
Paul exhorted them to be "united in mind and thought." As newly converted as they were, they would not all have mature and identical theological understanding. The unity to which he called them was unity in the Spirit. When people are loyal to Jesus and living by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, they can disagree with each other doctrinally and still be supportive and unified. With Christ at the center of their loyalties and with the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they can trust God to help each other grow.
When we believe that our fellow Christ-followers are led by the Spirit,
we can let go of our temptation to insist that our spiritual brothers and
sisters embrace similar doctrinal understandings. We can know that Jesus
will lead each person at his or her own speed and in ways that are meaningful
to each individual. We can relax and let God change others' hearts and minds.
Our job is to support each other in love and prayer. Arguing or insisting
that others share our understanding is divisive.
Identity in Christ
In this passage Paul is calling the Corinthians to rally around Jesus, not around powerful leaders regardless of how spiritual they are.
"Was Paul crucified for you?" he asks. Were those spiritual leaders crucified for you?
"Is Christ divided?" he emphasizes. Christ-followers are called
to identify completely with Jesus, not with any teacher, church, or denomination.
When the unique beliefs and practices of a denomination or church become
part of our identity, or when we feel defensive of those peculiarities,
we are in spiritual danger. Identity in Christ is the only thing that matters,
and it's the only thing that can keep us from being competitive with or
critical of each other. Only Christ can save us, and exclusive loyalty to
him is our only protection against deception.
Brothers in Him
In spite of their factions, however, Paul refers to the Corinthians as
brothers. Belonging to Christ is what makes people brothers and sisters.
Church membership, healthy living, doctrinal agreement-none of these make
people brothers. In Matthew 12:48-50 Jesus said, "Whoever does the
will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Following
Jesus unifies us. Religious practices do not. Even though a whole movement
may worship and behave similarly, the members may share nothing truly spiritual.
Speaking in the Spirit
Paul summarizes his call to unity by stating that Christ sent him "to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Paul is saying that his preaching is not based on his own wisdom or cleverness. His preaching is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
If Paul had begun to construct his talks to emphasize his knowledge or vocabulary or passion, his audience would have only remembered him; they would not have experienced Jesus and the cross and the truth of salvation. If Paul had used human wisdom that the Greeks understood, the cross would have been meaningless. Because the Greeks believed that the body was not "real" or significant, a crucified Savior would have seemed pointless.
Paul preached under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The power of Pentecost which gave the Word back to humanity informed his speaking, and the mystery of the cross compelled the pagan Greeks. Against all logic they knew that the crucified Christ had saved them and offered them freedom, peace, and meaning.
Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Human words and intellectual knowledge can never explain the power of the cross. Only the Holy Spirit can cause one person to make Christ real to another.
We are called to be united in the Spirit and in spirit. We are called to leave behind any loyalty that compromises our identity in Christ. We are called to be open to the Holy Spirit and to speak for God. We are called to love each other for Him.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.