Written around A.D. 56, Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians is particularly interesting because it was a Church made up of equal parts Gentile and Jew. Thus, we have a real window into the “working out” of Christian theology. In Corinth, the various members of the Church debated and argued every point of doctrine. This was two alien worlds trying to learn to integrate with each other. These issues became contentious and factions formed within the Church. It is believed that many emissaries and letters were sent to Paul. First Corinthians is Paul’s attempt to address the many issues that have arisen.
The first issue that has arisen is one of baptism. The people were dividing into “camps” of loyalties based on who had baptized them. Some are saying “I was baptized by Apollos” and others, “I was baptized by Cephas”. By inference they seem to be saying that because the person who baptized them has this stature or is a good preacher that their opinion on the debated issues should carry more weight.
One can hear the echoes of this argument 2,000 years later in our modern world. Is “I’m a Calvinist” or “I’m a Methodist” or “I’m an evangelical” substantively really any different then what happened in Corinth in A.D. 56? Of course not and Paul rejects this construct, noting:
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul is saying that there is only one baptism, the baptism of Christ. To that end, look at what Paul says next!
17* For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Three (3) very important points from this passage:
1. How could Paul say that Christ did not send him to Baptize when he is an Apostle and in Matthew, Christ clearly sends the Apostles out to Baptize?
Paul is simply making a distinction of emphasis. The first call of all Christians is to evangelize, to spread the Gospel and save souls. Baptism comes as a result of that work infused with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is vitally important, and we see that Paul names the people he did in fact Baptize in Corinth, but it is not a scorecard. Paul does not care if he gets credit for the baptism of one or of a thousand. He humbles himself and moves forward, satisfied to let others take the credit but counseling them to follow his example.
2. Paul is not impressed with eloquent preachers!
Paul says that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Paul is again addressing the debate going on in Church of Corinth where the congregation is taking sides based on who baptized them. In part, this debate centers around who is the better preacher and thereby winning more converts. But Paul shows that this debate is folly b/c it, “empties the cross … of its power” and in fact it has in Corinth. The people are divided and should not be arguing about who is the better preacher, they should be concerning themselves with the Gospel and the doing the work of the Lord.
Again, we can see this very thing still happening today. A new eloquent preacher comes along and soon he has a mega church. Whether it is yesterday’s Robert Schuler or Jimmy Swaggart or today’s Rick Warren or Joel Osteen, they put on a good show. They are entertaining and really leave the crowd with an emotional experience. There is no doubt that they do some good work. However, as Paul says this “empties the cross … of its power” because it breeds division within the body of Christ. Sometime Catholic Churches are criticized for having “boring” homilies. Oh how I love my boring homilies! For the power is not in the preacher, the power is Jesus Christ, who is present on the altar at every Mass.
3. No “once saved, always saved”.
Paul says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
“Being saved” signifies that salvation is a process. A person is saved at their conversion, is being saved during the journey in life and will be saved after their death. If you want to say Justified, Sanctified and Glorified that is fine too, the language is less important than understanding that salvation is both a moment and process.
One final thought: Paul makes another important point. Again it reaches across the centuries and speaks to us today.
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Think about what Paul is saying. The Jews, who enjoyed a privileged place in God’s family seeks signs – miracles – to confirm the truth of the new covenant. They are used to this, from the parting of the Red Sea to the miracles that confirmed the acceptance of Passover offering to the presence of God over the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple they always were given glaring obvious confirmation of their faith. In contrast the Greeks are similar to today secularist – prove it, explain it, show me logically. Paul is saying there is a middle road. That road is Christ, who has become these things for all men. He’s as real as you and me. He performed all the sign, gave all the evidence and is resurrected. He is also the way, the truth and the life. He is wisdom incarnate. The word made flesh. He is logic and reason and all logic and reason lead to him.