Exegetical Notes: 1 Corinthians 1:10-25 (The Cross, The Calling, and The Unity of the Church)

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

“I appeal to you” – An informal request, but with emphasis. “I strongly urge you” or ” I earnestly asking you”

“by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” – Paul appeals on the basis of Christ’s authority over the church and His redeeming work on behalf of his gospel. Paul’s overarching point throughout chapter one is his desire for all believers to remain steadfastly pointed to Christ and give him praise because his crucifixion provides the power for men to find forgiveness. Note that Paul begins his plea with Jesus at the center here in verse 10 and concludes this section by writing, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

“that all of you agree” – Paul’s request is easily seen in that it is restated three times within the first verse of this pericope. “all of you agree”, have “no divisions among you”, and “be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Perhaps Paul’s request is stated plainly and emphasized repeatedly because it reflects Christ’s own desire for the church. Within the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, Jesus prayed 3 separate times that his followers would be unified [“that they may be one” (11), “that they bay all be one” (21), and “that they may become perfectly one” (23)]. Combining these three references, makes it clear that Christ desires his church to live in perfect unity. Jesus even provides the reason he desires his followers to be completely unified, “so that (purpose clause) the world may believe that you sent me” (21), “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (23). Paul provides both the secret to and central figure of the church’s unity – the Lord Jesus Christ.

“agree” – Although, Paul gives a clear appeal for unity, repeated 3 times, each appeal carries it’s own significance. Paul’s first appeal deals with the church’s speech. “that all of you agree” is literally translated, “that you all have the same content in what you say”

APP: Paul’s request implies many areas of application for the church. Namely that our speech should be unifying and not divisive. As believers, we shouldn’t speak negatively about our church or the people in it, especially, when it causes interference to the mission of the church. Quite simply, if we talked about Jesus more, we’d have less time to do the latter.

“divisions” – In some languages the equivalent of ‘causing division’ is literally ‘to cause two groups in place of one group,’ but more frequently the equivalent is expressed in terms of attitudes, for example, ‘to cause people to be angry at one another’ or ‘to cause people not to like one another’ or ‘to cause people to think of one another as enemies.’ 
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 493.

“united in the same mind and judgement” – here his request is stated more positively, an easier reading of these words might read, “…that you think the same way and have the same opinions.”

QUES: How does the church arrive at the point that we think the same and have the same opinions? This cannot occur without focus on the gospel and God’s Word.

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.

“Chloe’s people” – The reason for the writing of 1 Corinthians is seen here. Apparently, Paul received word of various issues within the church at Corinth. Thus we see Paul respond through the writing of 1 Corinthians.

“quarreling” – literally “rivalry which causes discord”. Paul’s logic is that the church has ONE savior and ONE gospel. Thus contentious competition should not exist within the church.

12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

“What I mean is” – Paul clarifies that the division stems from various opinions centered around church leadership.

“I follow Christ” – some scholars argue that the “I follow Christ” group should be translated, “each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” BUT “I follow Christ.” Meaning Christ is who we should be following. However, this reference is probably best understood as “…or “I follow Christ.” as a reference to a fourth group who claimed to have the most superior leader in the person of Christ.

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions with the obvious implied answer of “no”. 
 To yield spiritual authority over to someone other than Christ (i.e. the pope), under appreciates His redemptive work and the work of the Holy Spirit.

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,

Verses 14-17 provide an excursus. However, from it, we learn that Paul does not desire to be a part of this leadership controversy in any way. 

Divisions run contrary to the heart of ministry.

15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.

16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

“not with words of eloquent wisdom” – Paul’s teaching was not as eloquent as some of the other church leaders, and Paul uses this as evidence that the Spirit truly was at work in his ministry. It showed the gospel of Christ to be powerful enough in and of itself (Rom. 1:16-17).

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.

The thrust of verses 18-31, “The underlying thought is that those who are perishing fail to understand the message about the cross, whereas Paul and his readers who are being saved understand it as what it really is, namely “God’s power”
 Paul Ellingworth, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 28.

“folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” – Although there should be no division among the followers of Christ, the gospel of Christ is quite divisive. For unbelievers, the gospel seems absurd, unnecessary, and foolish. 
Many in philosophy, entertainment, and government have openly mocked faith in Christ as a crutch or some type of a psychological projection. Yet, for believers, the cross of Christ magnifies God’s saving power, love, and grace (Rom. 5:8).

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

“For it is written” – Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 as a proof text. The gospel runs contrary to human nature’s pull to self preservation and betterment. Wisdom cannot be found apart from God.

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

“the world did not know God through wisdom” – Man cannot know God solely through the pursuit of intellect (what they perceive to be best, or religious). It will always lead one astray.

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

“signs” – as in miracles. We see this to be true of Jewish thought when reading John 6. Ironically, Jesus’ ministry, and especially his resurrection demonstrate Him to be the authentic Messiah. Yet, the Jews were blind to these proofs.

“wisdom” -In a Greek culture fascinated by philosophy, how unwise would it be for God to die?

23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

“preach” – as in to proclaim, speak of, etc.

“crucified” – a one-time event with ongoing effects.

“a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” – The death of Jesus was either viewed as foolish or weak by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles.

24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“but to those who are called” – Do not rush over the importance or beauty of these words. Without the calling of God, both Jews and Greeks (the entire world) would view the gospel as weak and foolish, but God has called individuals from both Jew and Greek heritage to embrace the gospel. For those called by God, the passion of Jesus becomes something powerful and wise. (Rom. 1:16-17).

“called” – What does it mean to be called?

See: Rom. 8:30

When Paul says, “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified”, he indicates that calling is an act of God. In fact, it is specifically an act of God the Father, for he is the one who predestines people “to be conformed to the image of his Son”…he calls them “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9); he calls them into the fellowship of his son (1 Cor. 1:9)…People who have been called by God “belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6)…These verses indicate that no powerless, merely human calling is in view. This calling is rather a kind of “summons” from the King of the universe and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. It is an act of God that guarantees a response, because Paul specifies in Romans 8:30 that all who were “called” were also “justified”. This calling has the capacity to draw us out of the kingdom of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom so we can join in full fellowship with him…” Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing, p. 692-3.

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For those outside of faith, Jesus’ death seems a foolish act of God, however, God’s wisdom in the death of Christ is seen in it’s redeeming power.

The purpose of election, or at least one of many, is to knock the feet out from under the human bent to boast.