Humility and the Message of First Corinthians

While we are on the topic of love and humility, let’s take a quick look at the book of I Corinthians.  This letter gives us a fascinating look at healthy body life in the church by examining the negative.  That is, the church in Corinth was marked by division, selfishness, and worldliness.  “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (I Cor 3:1-4).

The phrase “mere men” suggests that the Corinthians were indistinguishable in their selfish behavior from their pagan neighbors.  Their jealousy, quarreling, and lack of unity left the church spiritually ill.  Paul introduces a prescription for what ails them in his four-chapter introduction to the book.  In short, Paul explains that the theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross.

We saw in chapter 3 that the church was split into various factions following different teachers, a list of groups that Paul expands upon in I Corinthians 1:11-16.  Then in verse 17, Paul clears the air with, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void” (I Cor 1:17).  Paul addresses the division in the church with the idea that he did not come to gain a following for himself but to preach the cross of Christ.

The message of the cross is foolishness to the world.  “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18).  Paul goes on in the remainder of I Corinthians chapter 1 to explain that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the natural man.  It is foolishness to the wise of this world.  It is foolishness to the Jew who never expected their Messiah to die on a cross, and foolishness to the Gentile – or Greek – who believed no deity would die a death so shameful as to hang on a cross.  Remember the historical setting of the time.  We see the cross as a steeple on a church, a piece of jewelry, or a religious icon.  The people of 1st century AD saw the cross as a naked man dying a painful and shameful death.

But Jesus “despised the shame of the cross” (Heb 12:2) and turned it into saving glory on our behalf.  Because of the cross, Paul closes I Corinthians chapter 1 with, “No man should boast before God.  “But by His doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.  That, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (I Cor 1:29-31).

We are offended by the cross being “His doing” because it makes our own merit of no account for salvation.  Understanding “His doing” completely destroys our pride and it should.  The theological answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church is the cross.  At the foot of the cross, we are all on level ground.