I Corinthians 1–3:4. Of God and Other Minds.

Key Notes: Paul's work in Corinth. Gifts vs. performance. Philosophy good and bad. The failure of Roman religion. The Holy Spirit works with our minds.

Paul came to Corinth on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1–17), about 55AD. Corinth was a Greek city that had been destroyed by the Romans in 146BC and rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44BC with ex-slaves. With a good harbor and an ambitious population, it became wealthy and corrupt.

Paul found the Corinth house of Aquilla and Priscilla, Jewish believers,  and worked with them as a tent-maker. (Acts‘:1–18). He argued in the synagogue every Sabbath, testifying that Jesus was the Christ. Crispus, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue and his house became believers as well as many of the Greeks. When the Jews resisted Paul, he abandoned preaching to the Jews and went next door to the synagogue to the house of Titius Justus. The Lord told Paul in a dream to speak boldly. Evidently Paul needed this encouragement because he said that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness and in much fear and trembling.” (ICor. 2:3). Eventually the Jews tried to have him arrested under the new proconsul, Gallio. Gallio refused to be concerned with Jewish affairs. The Jews then beat up Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue. (Was this the same person with whom Paul co-wrote this letter? If so, two synagogue leaders were converted—quite a blow to the Jewish community. )

He spent 18 months there and established a vigorous church. However, the Corinthians were an obstreperous, sophomoric {wise / foolish} lot of newborn believers coming out of Greek society. They gave Paul headaches. Thanks to this letter, we have an opportunity to learn from their experience. I Corinthians starts with application. Most of Paul’s letters give the first half to theology, and the second half to practical teaching. But, for the Corinthians, Paul works his theology in as he goes along in the text.

Paul takes up eleven problems in I Corinthians:

*religious divisions
*marriage and celibacy
*meat offered to idols
*public worship irregularities
            women and head-coverings
            the Lord’s Supper
            spiritual gifts
*the Resurrection
*and a fund-drive.

ICor.1:1—3 Paul calls the Corinthians “sanctified”, and “ called to be saints”. Holiness is both an endowment and a calling. They were set apart to God by their conversion, but they also are to be engaged in an lifelong process of sanctifcation--conformity to the image of Christ. They were not what we would call saints by their behaviors.

1:4–10 He lists the grace given to them:
enriched in speech ("logos") and knowledge ("gnosis")
the witness to Christ confirmed in them
endowed with all spiritual gifts
sustained to the end—blameless
called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ.

Paul will elaborate on his objectives in this letter. The grace is given but has not been fully realized. The immediate reality is far below their potential.

Their speech is heady but their knowledge is weak.
Their testimony is marred by their behavior.
They major in minor spiritual gifts like tongues but neglect love and service.
They are hardly blameless, but progress is expected.
The fellowship is fractured by devotion to four different spiritual leaders.

1:10–17 They have their favorite church leaders.
            Some favor Paul, who was their spiritual father. 4:15
            Apollos had the gift of oratory. Acts‘:24–28
            Peter would appeal to the Jewish community.
            Some favored Christ and might claim superior spirituality.
But Christ is the head of all and He cannot be divided. Paul was not crucified for them. He did not even baptize but a few. The Gospel is the emphasis.

1:18–25 The word of the Cross is foolishness to the perishing.
Where is the wise man, the scribe, the debater of this age? The wise man was held in highest esteem in Greek society.

Wisdom was originally applied to a master craftsman in any discipline. Later, wisdom was applied to the person who had mastered all of the disciplines. The Greek philosopher (lover of wisdom)  gained wisdom by observation, questioning and meditation   He came to know all things, and knew the first causes. He was close to God. Lucretius (in “The Nature of Things”) understood that matter is made of atoms and could change its form (trees decaying back into soil) without anything being lost.

We maintain the tradition of the wise in today’s world. We give the PhD {doctor of philosophy}, to one who has mastered one discipline and has the methods and tools to research and understand the others. But Christians are wary of philosophy. We are inclined to follow Paul’s advice “See that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition….” (Col.2:8). Philosophy is a bad word. But it is “vain philosophy”, the philosophy of this world,  that is really defective.

The names of many philosophers are known to us:
 Socrates, Plato,and Aristotle of the classical Greek tradition.
 Spinoza, Descartes, and Kant, some of the Enlightenment thinkers.
Nietsche, Sartre, and Camus, the existentialist thinkers of the modern period.

Is there any good in philosophy? Philosophy is an orderly way of thinking about all the important topics in life—politics, religion, economics, society, ethics, nature, etc. We must develop orderly ways of thinking in every part of our life. It is well if we know what philosophers think, and to understand their methods if only to disagree with their conclusions. The wise Christian will try to integrate all aspects of life into a coherent picture with Christ at the center. That is philosophy at its best.

Much of our modern reasoning is scientific, from the bottom up. Do animals think? Which animal society is the best? Do monkeys talk? Do birds use tools? Our task is to learn from the top down as well, to think God's thoughts after Him.

The Jews demand a sign. Jesus gave them The Sign, the Resurrection.Matt.12:38–40
The Greeks seek wisdom. God gave them Christ, “our Wisdom”. ICor.1:30
The world could not find God by wisdom. Paul said that natural thinking led to gods that look like things in nature.Rom.1:23.

God used the stumbling block of Christ’s crucifixion (Gal.5:11) to confound the Jews and scandalize the Greeks. To the Greek, a god who became flesh and suffered and died was impossible, and unthinkable. Flesh is material, the source of corruption and sin. The gods are completely detached from human beings, preoccupied with their own society. In fact, because of their notorious behavior, the gods were largely rejected and Greco-Roman society had turned to the philosophers.

Will Durant describes the Silver Age of Roman culture (14–96AD).

 “In this loose and complex age, when freedom was so limited and life was so free, philosophy flourished alongside of sensuality, and the two were not above joining hands. The decay of the native religion had left a moral vacuum which philosophy sought to fill. Parents sent their sons, and themselves often went, to hear the lectures of men who offered to provide a rational code of civilized conduct {Stoic}, or a formal dress for naked desire { Epicurean}.” (The Story of Civilization. Caesar and Christ. Will Durant; Simon and Schuster;’44; p.199)

1:26–2:5 What looks like God’s foolishness is beyond human understanding. God’s “foolishness” is Christ-- crucified in weakness, lowly and despised. That frustrated the strong and shamed the wise. Ironically, the Corinthian believers were mostly from the lowly and despised classes of society so they had nothing to boast of. We boast in Christ, whom God made our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Paul’s own ministry was in physical weakness coupled with spiritual power.

2:6–13  But there is a real and hidden wisdom decreed by God before all ages. It has to do with the crucifixion (2:8). It is revealed by the Holy Spirit who “searches” and “comprehends” the thoughts of God. Through the Holy Spirit, this wisdom is imparted to those who possess the Holy Spirit. Paul uses three words of reception of the Spirit and His gift: received (2:12), understand (2:12), bestowed (2:12). He has three words of transmission of truth to those who possess the Spirit of God: impart (2:6), taught (2:13), interpreting (2:13).

Note the promise: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him." ( 2:9). The best is yet to come. God has not told us about Heaven because we would not understand it in any case.

Comment: If the word of the Cross is foolish to the perishing, but we possess the mind of Christ, can we make sense of the Cross to ourselves, or another person? Who can explain it?