1 Corinthians 1:1-4
1. How many times does the name Jesus appear in these verses?
The name Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ appears 5 times in these verses.
2. Why might that be significant?
Paul is going to address several issues within the church at Corinth. The issues indicate that the congregation has taken its eyes off Jesus and focused them on earthly things. Paul starts this letter by making every effort to get his readers attention focused back on Jesus.
Paul also emphasizes the authority of Jesus. The name Christ means someone who has been anointed. This would be a common way of describing a king and for the Jews an even stronger connection to the Messiah. To further emphasize Jesus’ position of authority Paul adds the description “Lord.” This description means that Jesus is the owner or master. Paul wants to make certain that we know that Jesus is in charge.
3. Who is this letter addressed to?
It is addressed to the church of God in Corinth.
4. What does this tell us about Paul’s understanding of the church?
The word for church in Greek means a gathering of people. Paul understands the church to be a gathering of people who belong to God. This group happens to gather in the city of Corinth. Paul assumes that the most significant thing is not the location of the gathering, but that these people belong to God.
We would do well to remember this today. We have many labels that we put on gatherings of believers and these labels are indicators of division, both to those who believe and to those who don’t believe who look on from the outside.
5. What does it mean to be “sanctified” and a “holy people?”
The core concept is that someone or something has been set apart. As a part of being set apart it has been purified. In this context to be sanctified is to be set apart for God. To be a holy people is to be separated and dedicated to God. Another term used for holy people is saint. Every believer in Jesus is a saint or a member of a holy people.
6. What is the grace that God has given us in Christ Jesus?
The word grace can also be translated gift. The grace or gift that God has given us in Jesus is the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. His sacrifice provides us with forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life with God in heaven. In 2 Corinthians 9:15 Paul will call this gift indescribable.
1 Corinthians 1:5-9
1. What is Paul’s purpose in these verses?
Paul is about to write some difficult corrections to the Corinthian church. He is attempting to build them up and reassure them before he confronts them.
2. Where is Paul’s focus?
Paul’s focus remains on God and His Son Jesus. Without Jesus none of what Paul will write later will make any sense.
3. How does Paul accomplish his purpose?
Paul reminds the Corinthians of all the things they have received from God. They have received the knowledge of God and salvation and with it the ability to proclaim that to others. God has supplied them with the resources they need to function as Christ’s body through a variety of spiritual gifts. They do not need to be insecure as God will give them the strength they will need to persevere. Finally, Paul reminds them of who God is and what He has done for them in Jesus. In a final reminder of God’s sovereignty Paul declares that Jesus is their Lord and not Caesar.
4. How would you feel if these words were spoken to you or your church?
I would feel encouraged in the knowledge that God and His purposes are bigger than any problems or circumstances I am facing.
1 Corinthians 1:10-16
1. What seems to be a common failing in the early church, as illustrated here by Corinth?
Various forms of disunity seem to infect several of the churches that Paul establishes. As people, we value community, but when we establish groups, we want our group to be the best group. This leads to a competitive attitude that ultimately results in disunity. This will happen anytime the group becomes more important than the mission. When our identify as a part of a specific group becomes more important than our identity as members of the body of Christ the world can no longer see Christ and Satan has won.
2. What is the specific nature of this failing and how might it have happened?
The church in Corinth was blessed with several incredible teachers. Each of these teachers would have had a different personality and would have appealed to some in the church more than others. While there was no competition between the teachers, it seems to have quickly developed among their followers. In our day this situation would have resulted in four new churches in Corinth, each one thinking it was the right one.
3. Is the group that says, “I follow Christ” the right group?
Paul’s response would indicate that no group was right in this situation. It would be easy for us looking back to say that the “I follow Christ” group was the right one and the only one that should have existed. Unfortunately, if this group was filled with self-righteousness and condemnation toward the other groups, they would have missed the point as much as the others.
4. What is the warning to us based on what Paul writes?
Paul’s understanding was that there was one body of Christ with many gatherings. Paul would want us to focus on what we have in common in Jesus. He wants all followers of Jesus to work together to share the gospel with everyone. Paul doesn’t expect everyone to be the same and will explore that in depth in chapter 12. It is easy to divide. Unity requires effort and the work of the Holy Spirit.
5. What misunderstanding has developed around baptism?
Baptism does many things, including establishing the identity of the believer as a child of God and follower of Jesus. Unfortunately, the person who was performing the baptism became more important than Jesus who made being immersed in water mean something beyond getting wet. Eventually, this misunderstanding developed into limiting the ability to baptize to people with a very specific set of qualifications. It was not this way in the beginning. Anyone who had been baptized could baptize someone else.
I can only imagine what this might have looked like on the day of Pentecost. At the start, the apostles might have been the only ones who were baptizing. I think it is possible that very soon, those who had been baptized began baptizing others. In this way 3000 people could have been baptized very quickly.
6. How important is baptism to Paul?
Baptism is very important to Paul. What is not important to Paul is that he be the one who is doing the baptizing. It is not the person doing the baptizing that produces the forgiveness of sin and a new life. Instead, it is the faith in the power of God of the one who is being baptized that makes all the difference. (see Colossians 2:11-15)
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
1. What would happen if we put our emphasis on baptism and deemphasized the cross?
It is possible that very soon our faith shifts from a faith in Jesus to a faith in what we have done, our baptism. Very quickly a religion develops, and the good news of the cross disappears into the background. We may not understand exactly what happened on the cross, but Paul wants us to know that what Jesus did on the cross was essential for our salvation.
2. What was at the center of Paul’s preaching?
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were central for Paul. This was the good news or gospel and Paul spells it out very clearly in chapter 15 of this letter. The death of Jesus was no ordinary death. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die, yet Jesus by dying on a cross turned the cross from a symbol of shame to a symbol of love.
3. Why do people reject the message of the cross?
There are many reasons and the one Paul emphasized is that to many people it just doesn’t make sense. They can imagine many ways to resolve mankind’s difficulties, but a God who would sacrifice His own Son just doesn’t make sense to them. God isn’t against us using our minds. What is a problem is when we think that we know better than God. In the history of the world this has never worked out well.
4. What does Paul tell us about God in this passage?
Paul tells us that God is the wisest and most powerful being that exists. The wisest person we can imagine knows nothing compared to God. The most powerful person we can imagine is nothing when compared to God.
5. How does this benefit those who believe?
As believers we are encouraged to tap into God’s wisdom and power by following Jesus. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and God’s Word that He has shared with us we have access to unimaginable wisdom and power. We need not be afraid because God is for us and He sent Jesus to confirm that without doubt.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
1. Why does Paul want his readers to think about their personal history?
The way Paul writes most of the early converts in Corinth came from the economic lower classes. Many of them could be slaves. It is apparent that few of the converts were from the upper economic or ruling classes. He is not trying to put them down. He does want them to recognize who they have become and who should get credit for that.
2. Paul uses the phrase “God chose” three times in this section. What is he trying to communicate?
The issue of how to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s free will has been debated for centuries. In this passage Paul places emphasis on God’s sovereign choice. Being chosen by God should make us feel great. Knowing that we are chosen by God should also counter any tendency we might have to think we’re better than others who have also been chosen by God.
This was the problem in Corinth. They had divided the church into groups with each group convincing itself that it was better than the others. Their pride in who they had chosen to follow was overwhelming their appreciation for God’s choosing.
3. What concern is Paul continuing to address?
He is continuing to address division in the church. We need to listen carefully to what Paul has to say since this remains a problem in the church today.
4. What do these three words mean: righteousness, holiness, and redemption?
Righteousness is the product of a righteous person. A righteous person is someone who always desires and does what is right. We are not righteous on our own. The opposite of righteousness is sinfulness. Without Jesus we are sinful people whose lives are characterized by sinfulness. With Jesus we are people who are capable of choosing right whose lives are characterized by righteousness.
Holiness is also translated sanctification. The basic meaning is to be set apart for a specific purpose. With our modern cleaning technology, we can use a container for anything and assume we can clean it so that we can use it for holding things we’re going to eat or drink. People in Paul’s day would not have assumed this. They would have had a container for holding water they were going to drink, and that container would only be used for that purpose. The container would be sanctified for holding drinking water. Without Jesus our lives are lacking in purpose. With Jesus we are special, we are set apart to serve God.
Redemption means to buy back. My Greek dictionary defines redemption this way: “a release effected by payment of ransom.” Before Jesus redeemed us, we were slaves in bondage to sin. When Jesus died on the cross, He purchased us out of slavery and released us from bondage. Without Jesus we are slaves to sin. With Jesus we are free people able to do good.
5. What is Paul referring to when he says, “as it is written?”
Paul is referring to a passage in the Old Testament scriptures. His words are not an exact quote, but provide enough meaning for Old Testament experts to identify the passage he is referring to.
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)
Paul wants any boasting we do to be boasting about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.