1. Corinthians 1. - In the midst of conflicts
In ancient times the letters began and ended in accordance to a specific formula. In plain terms, the formula is "x says greetings to y" or just "x to y". At the end of the letter there was usually a short congratulation like “be well". In ancient times, for example, the letter began as follows: "The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are from among the nations..." (Apostle 15:23-29).
In his letters, Paul partly followed this formula, and in part, added something new to it. Even now, the greeting is unusually long. Paul boldly calls himself as an apostle of Christ, by God's will. The second sender in the letter is Sostenes. He may be a former ruler of the synagogue of Corinth, of whom Jews assaulted whilst proconsul Gallion was looking on calmly beside (Apostles 18). In that case, Paul's former opponent has turned to Christianity and is now working together with Paul.
A few small initial greeting words remains unnoticed from many bible studies. Paul writes his Epistle to the “Church of God”, for people who are “called to be saints” and which are "sanctified in Christ Jesus”.
We are very easily afraid to call ourselves as holy. It is, in our view, too much to been said. We do not feel ourselves quite godless, but not also very holy.
Paul's language teaches us what holiness means. Yes, he knew very well what kind of group the Corinthian Church was. They quarreled with each other, lived in various sins and bragged with their gifts of grace. Nevertheless, he says the Church is holy and sanctified.
The reason is this: There is no level to being holy. A person either is, or is not, holy. If he is not holy, he is under the God's curse. If he is holy, he is not under the God's curse. The holiness of the Church is not its member’s own holiness, but the holiness given by the Christ as a gift.
After the initial greeting, Paul's letters feature an important part thanking the God (see Romans 1:8-10; 2. Corinthians 1:3-4; Fil. 1:3-6). Paul customarily thanks God for the sake of Corinthians. At this point, Paul is not talking about any of the problems with the Church. He clearly does not want to lock the ears of the Corinthian Christians by shouting at them at the beginning of the letter. He strives to ensure that people receive what he has to say. That is why he writes very respectfully and gives positive feedback to the Church. In particular, he highlights the richness of the Church of Corinth: it has more special gifts than any other churches.
1:10-17 Disputes in the Church
After the Praise of God, Paul goes straight to the point. Corinth was a quarrelsome Church. Paul does not say that his source of information was parishioners of Corinth (1. Corinthians 16:15-18) - It would have only added to the controversy and not reduce them. The source of information is the "Khloe family". Khloe is a common name for a slave, and there is reason to believe that this is a Christian woman, and she was relatively wealthy, freed slave. Although there is no certainty, we can guess that she did not live in Corinth. Paul apparently tried to find himself a source outside the Church. "Khloe family" - meaning slaves visit to the Corinth, explains where Paul got his information about the disputes, so the Corinthians did not need to suspect each other from telling these things. At the same time, we can expect the problems to have been at the level that, even someone visiting the Church could notice them.
Someone said he was on Paul's side, someone on Apollos's side, one with Keefa (= Peter), one with Christ. Researchers have been working hard to investigate these Corinthian parish parties and their teachings. Decades of work has not really helped. In particular, the existence of the Christ's Party is very questionable. It may be that Paul, annoyed, is just adding a fourth party to the existing three in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the situation. Peter and Apollos (Apostle 18) had their supporters in the Church, just as Paul had his supporters.
Now Paul indicates that the disputes in the Church were totally unnecessary and the result of sin. fellowship of the Christians is based on the ground that all are baptized into Christ. No one is baptized in the name of Paul and Peter. That is why no one could divide the Church into parties according to people. Paul thanks God for the fact that he only baptized a few Corinthians and left the others to be baptized by his helpers. Otherwise, even the baptism, the sign of unity in Christ, would be used to disperse the Church.
In verse 17, Paul goes on to deal with the issue, which puts the fighting Corinth people to shame, namely the Gospel of Christ.
Insane sermon about the cross? 1:18-25
Paul does not say right away which of the Corinthian troublemakers is right and who is wrong. He starts with talking about the Gospel of God. This Gospel is so high above the people's thoughts that for those who admire it, it is impossible to fight over it.
The Gospel of Christ is not in accordance with human reason, and it is not invented by the people. When preaching the Gospel, God fulfills prophecies that he will make the people's wisdom void (Isaiah 29:14).
Before the birth of Christ, God let his servants preach about His enormous wisdom and righteousness. People turned their backs to it and lived as if God did not exist. God's answer was to give people insane doctrine, the Gospel of Christ. It does not in any way fit into the limits of human reason. The Jews required to see great wonders, the The Greeks expected strong logic and profound wisdom. Human wisdom always ignores God. And still God lets us to hear the Gospel, and it is believed by people who are called by God to believe it. This tells us how great God’s wisdom is. Even His foolishness and weakness vastly exceeds even the best of human wisdom.
Even an experienced reader may be startled when Paul dares to use such words. If the Apostle of the Lord would not write like this, hardly no one would dare to say things like "foolishness of God”. And yet, when Paul writes like this, he has profoundly caught the core of the Gospel in incredible depth.
A treasure of the Church 1:26-31
As we look at the Corinthian Church, we find Paul's words true: Human wisdom does not receive and accept the wisdom of God. The mighty men, the philosophers and rich people had not gathered in large numbers to the church of Christ. Parishioners were mainly poor and uneducated people. This is exactly how “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (verse 27). The people, which were rejected by the world, had found a treasure and wisdom in Christ. This also fulfilled the Jeremiah's prophecy:
“let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth."
(Jeremiah 9:23, ESV)
Pay attention to Paul's words:
“And because of him (God), you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption"
(1. Corinthians 1:30, ESV)
These few words express the pure and wonderful Gospel.
Christ is the wisdom for those who do not reject the gift from God.
He has also become as righteousness for the people. Luther explains we have "righteousness of another". It means that we, sinful people, can be safe in front of God - not because of our own good deeds, but only because of Christ's holiness and perfection.
When Paul says that Christ has come to us for sanctification, these words are like a slap in the face for all sorts of "Holiness movements" that emphasize man’s own holiness - that is becoming better person. Our only hope is that Christ is also our holiness.
Speaking of redemption, Paul probably thinks of buying the slaves free. Just like someone could free a slave by buying them, Christ bought us to himself with his own blood. Most likely, this image also refers to the future: The final redemption will happen on the last judgment, in which we sinners will be saved from the wrath of God.
This is how Paul began the letter to his beloved, problematic Church. He did not ignore the problems, but writes about them at the beginning of the letter. In this letter, Paul strongly criticized the people of Corinthian church. But yet he calls them Holy and God's beloved. We certainly have a lot to think about here.