Division Must Be Replaced With Unity; A Simple Message About The Messiah Must Be Proclaimed; That Message Is Powerful And Wise; God Uses Ordinary People To Overcome The Powerful
I’ve learned that when I need to correct someone, it helps if I first commend him for some of the good things he is doing. That communicates that I appreciate him and support him and am not his enemy. Commendation helps softens the blow of correction. The Rabbi does the same thing here. First the Rabbi commended Messiah’s Community in Corinth. Now he corrects them. The divisions among the Corinthians must end. I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Humanity is broken, fractured, disunified, divided. We are divided along many lines – language, geography, nationality, skin color, religion, ideology, politics, economic status. The one new man, Messiah’s new united community, can’t be like that. We must be different from the world. We must be united. Paul appeals to them to end their divisions and become united.
If it was only Paul appealing to them, they should respond. He founded the community. And he was one of the Lord’s representatives. He was in a place of great spiritual authority. But he does more than personally appeal to them. He also invokes the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. When you invoke someone’s name, you are claiming to be acting as they would act; you are claiming to have that person’s authority. Paul is claiming to be operating with the authority of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
Whose name is Paul invoking? The Lord Yeshua the Messiah. He is the Supreme Authority. He is the Lord and the Corinthians are His subjects. Because of their commitment to Him as Lord, and because unity among His people is something the Lord Yeshua wants (the world will know you are My disciples because of your love for one another), they must end their divisions and unite.
They are not to have a shallow kind of unity, but a deep kind of unity. They are to be perfectly united in their minds and thoughts. They are to come into agreement about all of the essential issues. And, they are to have a united voice. With once voice they are to speak to one another and with one voice they are to speak to the world.
Paul informs them that he knows what he has written about their divided condition is true. He had received reliable information from Chloe’s household. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul” (again, he was an apostle and founded the Corinthian Community); another, “I follow Apollos” (a Messianic Jew from Alexandria, and a great Bible teacher. He spent time teaching in Corinth); another, “I follow Cephas” (Peter, one of the leaders among the apostles); still another, “I follow Messiah (I don’t follow individuals. I follow Messiah Himself).”
There are legitimate reasons for division to exist in Messiah’s Community. For example, if a leader is in serious theological error, or if a leader is sinning, for example, committing adultery, and refuses to repent or step down from his ministry, it’s right to separate from him. In this case, the division was caused by people giving their loyalty to one of the leaders in the community but not to the others. That was not a legitimate reason for division.
Here’s the way it should work: Messiah is the Supreme Leader. Even though He is in Heaven, at the right hand of God, and is spiritually present with us because His Spirit lives in every one of His followers, He is not physically present with us. But we need leaders who are physically present with us, and so Messiah gifts certain men to be leaders of His Community. Messiah, the Supreme Leader, and the leaders He gives us, work together as a team.
The attitude that the Corinthians should have: We follow Messiah; and we thank Him for all the great leaders He has given to us – men like Peter, Paul and Apollos. We respect them all. But, it wasn’t happening in Corinth.
The Rabbi asks them three questions to help them understand. Is Messiah divided? No. Messiah is not divided. He is whole, complete, one. Therefore it was wrong for His people, who are part of Messiah, to be divided. Was Paul crucified for you? No. Yeshua was crucified for us, and only His death can bring us salvation. Therefore He is our Supreme Leader. Were you baptized in the name of Paul? No. Paul did not immerse people using his own name so that they were his followers. He baptized them in the name of Yeshua, because they are Messiah’s followers, not Paul’s.
The Rabbi reminds them that not only did he not baptize anyone to make them his followers, he only baptized a couple of them. Therefore it would have been impossible for him to have created a big group of his own followers by baptizing people in his own name. I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
Suddenly, as he is writing, or more likely, dictating this letter, he remembers that his statement was inaccurate; and he corrects it. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Paul’s initial statement was wrong. But, since he immediately caught it and corrected it, his initial inaccurate statement and its correction make a true statement. They give us the truth.
Then the apostle adds this interesting detail: beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else. Paul admits that his memory wasn’t perfect; and that he can’t remember if he baptized anyone else; that it’s possible that he did baptize others. So, if it turned out that there were a few others that he baptized, he should not be accused of lying. It’s obvious to me that Paul is a human being, who is imperfect, who has an imperfect memory, but is committed to telling the truth. I see someone who is trying to be very careful to accurately communicate the truth.
Why did the Rabbi only baptize a few people when there were so many who came to the Lord through his ministry? Immersing new followers of Messiah wasn’t his priority. Paul had another priority. For Messiah did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Telling people the Good News about Messiah Yeshua – that the Son of God came into this world to reconcile people to God; to redeem us from the power of Satan and the fallen angels, sin and the sin nature, death and Hell. Messiah did this by living a perfect life; dying an atoning death; rising from the dead; ascending to Heaven; and giving His Spirit to those who become loyal to Him.
Baptism is important. But others could immerse new believers in water. Paul was uniquely equipped to bring the Good News to the Jewish people first, and also to the people of the nations. Like a laser, Paul was focused – on evangelism. I like that. I appreciate that. I want to be more like that. How about you?
Paul tells the Corinthians how he proclaimed the Gospel. For Messiah did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Messiah be emptied of its power. Paul was committed to a simple proclamation of the Good News, with a focus on Messiah’s death.
His proclamation of the Good News went something like this: Messiah is the Son of God. He entered this world through the incarnation. He lived a perfect life. He died. He was resurrected. Messiah’s death and reconciliation enable us to be reconciled to God. Seek and you will find. Ask God to reveal the truth to you.
No fancy words or complicated arguments are needed to enhance the message. In fact, fancy words and complicated arguments distract from the message.
This is encouraging. This means that we don’t have to be Bible scholars or eloquent speakers to fulfill the calling that God has given to us each follower of Messiah – to proclaim the Good News to those around us. All of us can do this. Even a new follower of Messiah can do this.
The message about the cross is simple but it is powerful. The message about the cross, when believed, unleashes the power of God to redeem human beings. The message about the cross will be considered to be nonsense by the majority of people. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The Gospel is a simple message. It’s a true message. It’s a powerful message to those who are being saved. And it’s a message that those who are perishing will consider foolish, crazy, nonsensical. That response is to be expected.
One way the world can be divided is into those who are perishing and those who are being saved. Those who are perishing believe the message about the cross is foolishness. Those who are being saved know that the message about the cross is true and powerful and responding to it with faith is God’s way of saving us. As he did so often, the Rabbi reinforced his teaching with a quote from the Word of God, in this case, from Isaiah 29. The Lord had told the prophet Isaiah that because many of the Jewish people were far from Him, judgment was coming; and those who were considered wise and intelligent were far from Him and would not be able to prevent judgment from coming. All their wisdom and intelligence would not save them. All their wisdom and intelligence would come to nothing. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
The Rabbi’s point? Human wisdom, human intelligence has never been enough to save human beings. Some people are very smart; and they know it, and they pride themselves on how smart they are. But no matter how smart they are, if they don’t
have faith and accept divine revelation, they will not be able to save themselves from the things they need to be saved from.
Because humanity is fallen; because we live in a fallen world that is satanically controlled and in rebellion against God, and under a curse, human beings, even the smartest ones can’t think clearly on the most important subjects, like the truth about who God is and what He is like. They can’t arrive at the truth about God’s way of salvation. They can’t think their way out of the maze they are trapped in. Most of today’s intellectual elites, in spite of overwhelming evidence of God’s reality, can’t figure out that God exists. They are agnostics and atheists.
It was obvious to the Rabbi that the intellectuals of his day, the Jewish intellectuals and the Gentile intellectuals, had failed to discover the truth that would save them. Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? The intelligence of the Jewish sages and the Roman and Greek philosophers had led them astray. All their education had missed the mark. Their wisdom wasn’t wisdom at all. It was foolishness. It was nonsense. What they needed was to believe the Gospel. What they needed was to respond with faith to the simple message about Messiah.
This is liberating. We don’t need to be intimidated by those whom the world considers to be wise or intelligent. It doesn’t matter if they are Jewish and are considered to be great Torah or Talmud scholars. It doesn’t matter if they know science or the philosophies and ideologies of the world. All their intelligence, all their knowledge, all their wisdom won’t help them or anyone else get the help that people need the most – the knowledge of God; the knowledge of the way of redemption.
One of our greatest problems is pride – the desire of the creature to act independently from the Creator; the desire of the creature to think too highly of himself and too lowly of God, and others. And pride is very destructive. So, to counteract our pride, especially our intellectual pride, God purposely chose a simple and counter-intuitive way to save us. For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
God knew our pride and intellectual arrogance, and it pleased Him to design a way of salvation that was not based on human intellect. It pleased Him to design a way of salvation based on believing a simple message about a dead yet risen Jewish carpenter.
We need to humble ourselves, especially our intellectual arrogance, and accept the simple message about Yeshua, even if it seems foolish.
The Jewish people of Paul’s day believed in God; in revelation; in miracles. How could they know if someone brought a true message? Signs would accompany him. If a miracle happened, they believed that was a message worth pursuing. The Greeks, on the other hand, weren’t interested in miracles. They wanted wisdom – the logic of Aristotle; the wisdom that came from Socrates and Plato; the wisdom of the Stoics and Epicureans. That was what they thought was worth pursuing. The message that Paul brought was repulsive to both groups.
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Messiah crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. A stumbling block is an obstacle that is in your way. It causes you to hesitate or stumble. It’s like a rock in front of a blind person which causes him to fall. The idea that the Messiah would be crucified was absurd to the Jewish people. It made no sense. It couldn’t possibly be true. They couldn’t get their minds past it. The idea that the highest wisdom and the way of salvation was found in a crucified Jewish carpenter was nonsense to the Greeks. It was crazy. They couldn’t get their minds past it. But it was true.
But to those whom God has invited to be saved and who have accepted His invitation – Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles, the message about the crucified Messiah is true and it is powerful. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Messiah crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of God and the wisdom of God.
We know that the message about the Messiah is powerful. It is able to save us from the powerful forces arrayed against us. And we know that the message about the Messiah is wise. It comes from God, who is supremely wise. It is a message of sacrifice and blood and covenant and redemption that is wise, true, deep, profound. God is so wise, so intelligent, so smart, that even it if seems to us like something He is doing is foolish, like telling us to believe in a crucified carpenter, His apparent foolishness will turn out to be far wiser than anything the wisest human can come up with. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Even if it seems like God is being weak or doing something weak – by sending His Son to become a weak human being; sending His Son to suffer and die at the hands of sinful human beings – God’s apparent weakness will turn out to be stronger help for us than anything that the strongest human being could ever do.
The same principle – that God has a plan that seems weak and foolish to accomplish His purposes and overcome the pride of proud, rebellious human beings, was operating in the Corinthians themselves. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. Paul was familiar with the Corinthian community. He knew that most of them were not from the nobility. They were not intellectual elites. They were not rich and powerful and influential. They were common, ordinary folk.
And Paul also understood that that was by divine intent; that was God’s design. To combat human pride, which is so destructive to us, God chose those who didn’t have access to the best education; those who weren’t rich or powerful. God chose the lower classes, not the higher class. God chose those whom the rich and powerful considered to be despicable, deplorable, inconsequential, of no value, worth nothing – to overturn a corrupt world with its corrupt values – to nullify it, to bring it to nothing. By using the weak to overcome the powerful, God gets the praise – as He rightfully deserves – not human beings.
God is sovereign. God is sovereign over salvation. God is the initiator of salvation – not us. It is because of him that you are in Messiah Yeshua. God chooses some for salvation, and not others. God calls and we answer. God draws us to Himself and we respond. It is because of God that we are in Messiah, joined to Yeshua, united to the Savior.
It is because of him that you are in Messiah Yeshua, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. The elites of the world look at Yeshua and see a Jewish carpenter who died in his early 30s. They see failure. They see insignificance. We look at Yeshua and see the wisdom of God: how wise Yeshua is and how the wisdom of God culminates in Him and His life and death and resurrection.
We look at Yeshua and see ultimate righteousness: how righteous Yeshua is, and how God uses Yeshua to enable unrighteous human beings to become righteous – to become right with God, to come into a right relationship with God; to be able to live the right way and believe the right things.
We look at Yeshua and see holiness – how holy He was, and is. How He is the most holy human being who ever lived; how He was set apart to accomplish God’s most special purposes; how He helps unholy people become holy.
We look at Yeshua and see redemption. We seed the Seed of the Woman who is undoing the catastrophe of Eden; buying us back from the satanic slave market of sin and death.
It is because of him (God the Father) that you are in Messiah Yeshua, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. God the Father is the One who enables people to be united to Messiah Yeshua. God the Father is the One who enables people to be saved. God the Father is the One who enables us to appreciate Yeshua for who He is – the source of wisdom, righteous, holiness and redemption.
God the Father does all this for us. Where then is human pride? How can we boast about how great we are, and how much we can do to help ourselves? As he does so often, the Rabbi reinforces his teaching with a quote from the Word of God, in this case, from Jeremiah 9. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
We must not boast about how great we are; how wise we are; how easy it is for us to make ourselves righteous and holy. How we, through our wisdom and efforts, can save ourselves and redeem ourselves. No. God the Father, working through Yeshua the Messiah, is the one who, by His grace, gives us whatever redemption, wisdom, holiness, righteousness we have. Therefore He gets the praise, not us. We praise the great God, not ourselves.
Lord, if Messiah’s Community in Corinth had divisions, Messiah’s Community today has a hundred times more divisions. Please so work that our divisions are replaced with an amazing unity.
Thank You that the Gospel, the Good News, the message about Messiah, is wise and powerful and doesn’t need to be adorned with fancy words or complicated arguments. Help each one of us proclaim this simple, powerful, wise message – with courage, conviction, with passion.
Help us know that we don’t need to be intimidated by those whom the world considers to be wise or intelligent or well-educated.
Thank You that You are so wise, so intelligent, so smart, that even it if seems to us like something You are doing is foolish, like telling us to believe in a crucified carpenter, Your apparent foolishness will turn out to be far wiser than anything the wisest human can come up with. Help us know that. Help us believe that.
Lord, in many ways, we are like the Corinthians. We are not the elites. We are not the rich and powerful. But it has pleased You to choose and use common, ordinary people to overcome a corrupt world. And that’s who we are. Thank You for choosing us and using us.
Heavenly Father, You are sovereign over salvation. It is because of You that we are in Messiah Yeshua, and are able to see Your wisdom culminating in Messiah; righteousness, holiness, redemption culminating in Messiah.
We praise You that it is You, working through Your Son, who by Your grace, give us whatever redemption, wisdom, holiness, righteousness we have.
Therefore we praise You. We thank You. We bless You – now and forever. Amen.