Six Reflections on 1 Corinthians: Verses That Most Deeply Developed My Theology

I recently completed a study of 1 Corinthians in my daily Bible reading. I would like to share six ways in which my theology was bolstered and corrected by the text.

My Faith Depends on God’s Call (1:22-24)

My understanding of God’s salvific call was strengthened. “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom” (1:22). “Greeks” encompasses the entire Gentile world. In contrast to what unbelievers want, we preach Christ crucified (v.23a). Christ is a stumbling block to Jews – as if the crucified carpenter from Nazareth was actually God? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Christ is also foolishness to Greeks – to suggest that a Jewish man’s crucifixion has any relevance to my life? The gospel proves to be the supreme universally unaccepted message. Who are the ones that actually respond positively? “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). God’s calling for salvation does not simply search for a difference, it makes a difference.

A Test for Apostleship (4:9-13)

Some groups who profess to be Christian actually claim to have apostles in their churches. The traditional Christian understanding has been that the apostles died in the first century and no more have since been given to the church. I believe that 1 Corinthians 4:9 could be one test of apostleship: “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” If a man claims to be an apostle yet lives a life of relative ease in this world, we can point to this passage as proof that the profession is false. Is he both hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless (v.11)? Does he toil physically, bless when reviled, endure when persecuted, conciliate when slandered (v.12-13a)? Is he scum in the eyes of the world, the dregs of all things (v.13b)? If not, he is an imposter.

Church Discipline is Vital (5:1-13)

A man in the Corinthian church was engaged in sexual immorality with his father’s wife (5:1). Paul’s bottom-line instruction was to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (v.13). His reason, however, was not for judgment (as Paul wrote in Romans 14:10-13, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God…therefore let us not judge one another anymore”) but salvation. First, releasing the unrepentant man would encourage him towards repentance and thus life: “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5). Second, releasing the unrepentant man would keep the congregation safe from unrepentant habits: “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened” (v.7). Third, drawing from John 15:1-9, a healthy, obedient local church most clearly glorifies God in its holiness.

Marriage Principles in Persecution (7:25-38)

This passage further developed my theology of marriage. I understand “in view of the present distress” (v.26) as referring to a time of hardship and persecution in the church. In such a time, “it is good for a man to remain as he is” (cf. v.32-35). Paul leaves marriage in persecution ultimately in the hands of an individual’s conscience (ex. vv.36-38) but encourages us against it. This context is important to understand. It means that Paul is not setting singleness as a universal ideal above marriage. The joining of man and woman should still be the normative goal of every individual (i.e. only to be unpursued if celibacy is clearly gifted [v.7]).

Vocational Ministers Should Be Paid (9:14)

Asking for a salary in vocational ministry can be uncomfortable. Is it appropriate for a pastor to speak frankly with a congregation about his salary? Paul clears the minister’s conscience: “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (9:14). A shepherd’s salary is mirrored by Israel’s payment to the Levites for their service (v.13). “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (v.7). Paul clearly did not preach the gospel for money (vv.17-18), but he likewise did not advocate that the church be built wholly on lay-ministers.

Communion is a Sign of Grace (10:1-5; 11:26-27)

The Israelites ate and drank from the blessings of God in the wilderness (10:1-4), but “with most of them God was not well-pleased” (v.5). Though they partook in signs of God’s grace, they craved evil things and sought idols (vv.6-7). Clearly, we cannot mistake signs of grace with grace itself (cf. Rom 9:1-5). Paul applies this broader principle to the Communion table. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). The Lord’s Supper cannot be a means of grace, because some who partake in it remain guilty (v.27). God’s grace remains the ultimate ground for salvation, and within that, faith for justification. Our time together with the bread and wine (vv.23-26) should be a reminder of the gospel promise extended to us all, yet it should not be taken as a means by which we are saved.


God Saves Through Gospel Preaching – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

There are many distractions in the professing church today. Many things fight for our attention. The worst of all are those who attempt to add or take away from the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to bring more people into the church. Only God brings people into the church, and He only does that through His gospel. This is what we will be considering in this essay: God saves through gospel preaching. Paul understood this well when he wrote to the Corinthians…

[1] And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. [2] For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. [3] I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, [4] and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The Priority (v.1)

Paul’s missiology did not allow for political rhetoric or fancy talk. He did not lure people with emotionalism or attract them with material things. Many ministries today attempt to bring more and more people into the church by making the church more attractive to the world. Ministers across our nation, for a century now, have dressed God’s gospel in worldly clothes in order to make worldly people feel more welcome. Truth is, the world doesn’t want to hear the gospel. They don’t want to hear about the holiness of God and the unholiness of man. They are offended by us calling-out their sinful lifestyles. The world doesn’t want to listen to us when we say that Christ is the only way to God. Indeed, the most arrogant thing to them is that we would dare to claim that this Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord of all: they want to hang on to pride and self-rule. So, they hate the gospel. They all do – as did we before God regenerated our hearts. It is an offensive, scandalous message. In light of this, many ministers seek to either take away the scandal or add enough worldly benefits that the scandal isn’t as bad as it could be. “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean ‘hell.'” “Well, you might sin, but certainly you aren’t wicked in your heart.” “Well, if you come to Christ, He’ll heal your cancer!”

As a faithful preacher, Paul didn’t give in to such temptations. When he came to Corinth, he refused to add or take away from the gospel. Instead, he came proclaiming the testimony of God. He knew that since he had been entrusted with the gospel, his one job was to simply proclaim it. All he had to do was faithfully communicate it. Paul chose to prioritize the content of his preaching above the delivery. Imagine a post-man arrives at your door in a suite and tie, clean smile, nice hair. But when he gives you your package, you see that it is all torn up. Some things have fallen out – water seeped inside and the cardboard is wet. Would you not rather have received a healthy package from a not-so-nicely-looking postman? The same is true with the gospel. This comes before this, or this, or this.

The Content (v.2)

Paul chose to know nothing except Jesus Christ. This is the gospel message. We need to understand this. This is important. Paul refused to give fancy speeches. He refused to try to talk someone into becoming a christian. In his mind, Paul was a delivery man – not a politician. His chief concern was to accurately and clearly communicate the gospel. His responsibility was not to convert but to communicate. A faithful evangelist is a faithful communicator. Our obedience has nothing to do with the conversion of sinners, but rather with the fact that we preach to sinners.

The gospel of Jesus Christ can be summarized thus: the holy, just, loving Creator of all things looked upon a hopelessly wicked and guilty group of people and chose to send His Son – Jesus Christ – to die the death they deserved. His resurrection from the dead proved Who He was and authenticated the gospel call – that whoever would turn from the world and to Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Paul Washer says it well…

In accordance with the Father’s good pleasure, the eternal Son, who is equal with the Father and is the exact representation of His nature, willingly left the glory of heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, and was born the God-man: Jesus of Nazareth. As a man, He walked on this earth in perfect obedience to the law of God. In the fullness of time, men rejected and crucified Him. On the cross, He bore man’s sin, suffered God’s wrath, and died in man’s place. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. This resurrection is the divine declaration that the Father has accepted His Son’s death as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus paid the penalty for man’s disobedience, satisfied the demands of justice, and appeased the wrath of God. Forty days after the resurrection, the Son of God ascended into the heavens, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and was given glory, honor, and dominion over all. There, in the presence of God, He represents His people and makes requests to God on their behalf. All who acknowledge their sinful, helpless state and throw themselves upon Christ, God will fully pardon, declare righteous, and reconcile unto Himself. This is the gospel of God and of Jesus Christ, His Son. (Paul Washer, The Gospel Call and True Conversion, viii)

The Delivery (v.3)

Verse 2 tells us what he proclaimed. Verse 3 tells us how he proclaimed it – in weakness, fear and trembling. When a Christian proclaims the gospel, he knows that he is completely inadequate to make anything good come from the conversation. He has no power to convert unbelievers through the gospel. So in this sense, we are weak, like Paul, when we share the gospel. The gospel is a mighty sword – but only God can wield it to bring about salvation.

Do you understand, brothers and sisters, how weak we are? Do you understand how helpless a preacher is when proclaiming the gospel? Ever single person is born hating the gospel. The world hates it – no exceptions. Paul says clearly in 1:18 that the gospel is “foolishness” to the world. Yet this is what Paul was doing. He chose to preach to the Corinthians a message that they had no interest in. Why? Well, simply because God has chosen to save people this way. Though all people hate the gospel, God has the power to make them love it. Through regeneration, God re-creates the hearts of sinners. He takes out the stony, cold heart and replaces it with one that hates sin and loves Christ. After this happens, the sinner loves the gospel – it is a wonderful thing! God chooses to do this in this way so that He gets all the glory for it. If people were simply persuaded to be saved, then God would not be credited with all the work. But God chooses to save people through a message that is hated by the world and considered foolishness.

So what does this all mean when we deliver the gospel today? What principles can we draw from this passage that influence how we deliver the gospel? First, nothing is helpful that obscures the message of the gospel. This can apply to both illustrations, rhetorical tools, or even things in my environment that I am thinking about using during my time in front of my audience. Second, if the gospel is not foremost in our delivery, then something else needs to be taken out. Priority must be given to the revelation of God, not the opinions of man. What I have to say is worthless – what God has to say is life-giving. Third, we should first establish the message that will be delivered, then move on to how we will deliver it. Often I am guilty of working on what rhetoric or illustrations I will use in a sermon before I actually establish in my mind how the gospel of Christ shines-forth from a certain passage. Do your studying first, and then work on your delivery! Fourth, do not use heavy rhetoric. This point is especially tempting for me. Excessive yelling, movement, etc. can actually distract from the work of the Word. Do I trust the Word enough that I’m willing to simply proclaim it, without excessive speaking tactics? Do I have enough faith in the power of God unto salvation that I can confidently give more time to the Word than to a nice introduction or conclusion?

The Power (v.4-5)

The Corinthians were not saved through a persuasive speech from Paul – they were saved by the power of God. This explains Paul’s fear and trembling in verse 3. Paul trembles with fear when preaching the gospel because he knows that through his preaching Almighty God will save people. God is un-tamable. He is wild and the only truly free being. he cannot be influenced or changed. This give a weightiness to preaching the gospel that is not present in other things. Paul wrote to the Romans that the gospel ‘is the power of God to salvation.” You know what? It’s good news that God alone saves. It is good news that God powerfully saves. I need more than principles and habits – I need a powerful God Who can wrestle me down and lead me in paths of righteousness. A God Who owns salvation. Only a God like this can bring us security in salvation. When Paul preached the gospel, people were saved in Corinth. Because of this, Paul’s preaching was a demonstration of god’s power. The fact that anyone has ever accepted the gospel is a miracle in itself that testifies to God’s power.

So God chooses to work this way, first of all to bring Himself glory. Secondly, so that we would have faith only in Him – “so that our faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, bot on the power of God,” (v.5). Everyone has faith. Everyone trusts in something. We all depend on something. What do we depend on? What give you confidence? Paul says that the power of God should give us confidence. The arm of the flesh is weak! It cannot save! The fruit of your hands is dung before God. Your best works are filthy rags. You cannot make yourself right with God and you cannot make yourself holy. Do not depend on yourself! My friends, we do not need self-esteem: we need Christ esteem. Let go of the world and cling to God!

Paul knew these things, and so he chose to preach the powerful, scandalous gospel. When he did this, being obedient to God’s will, his preaching demonstrated the power of the Spirit (v.4). God’s power is manifested through gospel preaching in the simple fact that there are people who actually accept the message! Next time you are in a church bible study or prayer meeting, look around you. The Christians that you are gazing upon are walking examples of the power of God. We all hated God – we all heard the gospel message – we all were regenerated by God’s Spirit. This is the glorious testimony of God’s church, as it was of the Corinthians!

In all evangelistic endeavors, the gospel message takes principle priority. We are not to dress-up its content with fancy rhetoric, mood-setting lights, grand displays, or loud music. The power of God is manifested through the message of Christ crucified when His Spirit brings the dead to life. Regeneration is the work of God through faithful gospel proclamation. Trust the Word to do its work, friends. God saves through gospel preaching.