1 Corinthians #5 Church Discipline: Taking Sin Seriously — 1 Cor. 5:1-13

In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul introduces a shameful problem in the church. The Corinthians proudly attach themselves to certain leaders, whose teaching seems to disclose a “wisdom” not known or taught by other teachers, and certainly not by Paul or his fellow-apostles. These cliques and factions are undermining the unity of the church and are a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 5 is not actually about the immorality of one church member, as much as it is about the pride and passivity of the entire church in response to this sinner.

The church at Corinth was not only a divided church, but it was also a disgraced church. There was sin in the assembly and everybody knew about it.  But the church was slow to do anything about it.

No church is perfect, but human imperfection must never be an excuse for sin. Just as parents must discipline their children in love, so local churches must exercise discipline over the members of the assembly. Church discipline is not a group of “pious policemen” out to catch a criminal. Rather, it is a group of brokenhearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family.

The first things the Corinthians needed to see was the need for discipline. Because they apparently had rationalized or minimized the immorality in their midst, they saw no need for discipline. Paul presented to the church three important considerations.

Consider the church: “What will this sin do to the church?” is certainly an important consideration. Christians are “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), and this means holy living to the glory of God. If a Christian loves his church, he will not stand by and permit sin to weaken it and perhaps ruin its testimony.

How should we respond? Paul gave three specific instructions for the church to follow.

Mourn over the sin (vv. 1-2). It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2  And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

This is the word used for mourning over the dead, which is perhaps the deepest and most painful kind of personal sorrow possible. Instead of mourning, the people at Corinth were puffed up. They were boasting of the fact that their church was so “open-minded” that even fornicators could be members in good standing!

The sin in question was a form of incest: a professed Christian (and a member of the church) was living with his stepmother in a permanent alliance. While Paul is distressed by the sin of this one man, he is even more disturbed by the sinful response of the church. They have “become arrogant,” and at the same time, are virtually doing nothing to correct this matter. Paul is distressed by the arrogance of the saints at Corinth.

Pride is the result of turning from the truth. Pride keeps one from seeing the truth. The Corinthians maintain an attitude of pride when the situation should produce mourning.

Paul shamed the church by saying, “Even the unsaved Gentiles don’t practice this kind of sin!”

In this therapeutic age when the church is often looked upon more as a “support group” than a “holy temple,” church members refuse to discipline members and continue to embrace sinning saints, even when it is clear they have no intention of repenting of their sins, and even when they publicly persist in their sinful ways. If this is the case in Corinth, they would love the expression of our day, “unconditional acceptance.”

An easy-going attitude to sin is always dangerous. It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked at it. Carlyle said that men must see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin. When we cease to take a serious view of sin we are in a perilous position. It is not a question of being critical and condemnatory; it is a question of being wounded and shocked. It was sin that crucified Jesus Christ; it was to free men from sin that he died. No Christian man can take an easy-going view of it.

Christians are not to tolerate sin within the church any more than they are to tolerate it within their own lives. “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints.… And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:3, 11).

Judge the sin (vv. 3-5). Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4  When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5  hand this man over to Satan, so that the fleshly nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

While Christians are not to judge one another’s motives (Matt. 7:1-5) or ministries (1 Cor. 4:5), we are certainly expected to be honest about each other’s conduct.

Paul wants to be absolutely clear that the arrogance of the Corinthians is not good. Why not? Because it is destructive. We surely know it is harmful to the man living in sin. But now Paul seeks to show us how destructive failing to deal with sin is to the church.

Paul described here an official church meeting at which the offender was dealt with according to divine instructions. Public sin must be publicly judged and condemned. The sin was not to be “swept under the rug”; for, after all, it was known far and wide even among the unsaved who were outside the church.

The church was to gather together and expel the offender. Note the strong words that Paul used to instruct them: “taken away from among you” (1 Cor. 5:2), “deliver such an one unto Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5), “purge out” (1 Cor. 5:7), and “put away” (1 Cor. 5:13). Paul did not suggest that they handle the offender gently.

This was to be done by the authority of Jesus Christ—in His name—and not simply on the authority of the local church. Church membership is a serious thing and must not be treated carelessly or lightly.

To put the professed believer out of their fellowship, to excommunicate him, would be to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Satan is the ruler of this world, and turning a believer over to Satan, therefore, thrusts the believer back into the world on his own, apart from the care and support of Christian fellowship. That person has forfeited his right to participation in the church of Jesus Christ, which He intends to keep pure at all costs. The word deliver (paradidōmi) is a strong term indicating the judicial act of sentencing, of handing over for punishment. The sentence passed on a sinning believer is to be given to Satan.

Purge the sin (vv. 6-13). Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

8  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

 9  I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11  But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13  God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Paul turns his readers to imagery of leaven, and the way a little bit of leaven can change the whole lump of dough in which it is found. The sinner whom the Corinthians embrace and fail to put out of the church is likened to a little leaven placed in a lump of dough. If left there for long, it changes the whole batch of dough.

By removing this man from their midst, the church at Corinth not only seeks the sinner’s restoration, they also promote their own purity.

The image here is that of the Passover supper (Ex. 12). Jesus is the Lamb of God who shed His blood to deliver us from sin (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18-25). The Jews in Egypt were delivered from death by the application of the blood of the lamb. Following the application of the blood, the Jewish families ate the Passover supper. One of the requirements was that no yeast (leaven) be found anywhere in their dwellings. Even the bread at the feast was to be unleavened.

Leaven is a picture of sin. It is small but powerful; it works secretly; it “puffs up” the dough; it spreads. The sinning church member in Corinth was like a piece of yeast: he was defiling the entire loaf of bread (the congregation). It was like a cancer in the body that needed to be removed by drastic surgery.

The church must purge itself of “old leaven.” However, the church must not judge and condemn those who are outside the faith. That judgment is future, and God will take care of it. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul emphasized once again the importance of separation from the world. Christians are not to be isolated, but separated. We cannot avoid contact with sinners, but we can avoid contamination by sinners.

Paul does not mean for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world, but to keep the world out of the church. He means that those who profess to be saved must live like one who is saved. A person should not be embraced as a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction.

If a professed Christian is guilty of the sins named here, the church must deal with him. Individual members are not to “company” with him (1 Cor. 5:9—”get mixed up with, associate intimately”). They are not to eat with him, which could refer to private hospitality or more likely the public observance of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:23-34).

Church discipline is not easy or popular, but it is important. If it is done properly, God can use it to convict and restore an erring believer. Second Corinthians 2:1-11 indicates that this man did repent and was restored to fellowship.


Whatever happened to sin? Years ago, a secular psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, wrote a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin. Even this man realized that evils have become too “psychologized,” and that a simple diagnosis of “sin” is needed. I can imagine the kinds of diagnosis we would have today for the malady of this Corinthian man, living with his father’s wife.

For Paul, the diagnosis is simple, and so is the prescription. The problem is the sin of immorality, and the prescription is to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.

Whatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. This is a most serious matter, for if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do so is to become a partner with that person in the sin.

Church discipline is one of those very clear duties of the church and of the individual Christian. Why, then, is it not practiced more often? These verses suggest that arrogance or pride can be one cause.

I would also suggest that these days fear may now be a cause for not taking disciplinary action. We may be afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of appearing to be narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen. I suspect that it will happen more and more in the coming days.

Sinful men and women should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God upon sinners.

God takes sin seriously. That is why the cross of Calvary was necessary. God took our sin so seriously that He sent His Son to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins.

The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and while our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. Believe that Christ is the Savior and be willing to repent of the sin and confess that you want Christ to be both Savior and Lord. And be immersed in water so you wins can be forgiven.

When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin as well.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 24, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


1 Corinthians #4 God Gives the Increase – 1 Corinthians 3


The church is a family and the goal is maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-4).

1  Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. 2  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

Why—when we have God’s own Spirit within us, the mind of Christ, and the power of God—could it be so difficult to do what is right, to do what our Lord wants us to do?

There are two reasons: the world and the flesh. The first is outside us, the second is inside us. They are Satan’s supreme instruments in tempting believers and keeping them from faithfulness and victory

The church has often thought of worldliness only in terms of bad habits. But worldliness is much deeper than bad habits; it is an orientation, a way of thinking and believing. Basically it is buying the world’s philosophies, buying human wisdom.

It is looking to the world—to human leaders, to influential and popular people, to neighbors, associates, and fellow students—for our standards, attitudes, and meaning. Worldliness is accepting the world’s definitions, the world’s measuring sticks, the world’s goals

The world and the flesh are closely related. They are used by the same power, Satan, and they serve the same purpose, evil. They complement each other and are often hard to distinguish. But it is not necessary to precisely distinguish between them, because both of them are spiritual enemies, and both must be fought with the same weapons—God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

Paul already explained that there are two kinds of people in the world—natural (unsaved) and spiritual (saved). But now he explained that there are two kinds of saved people: mature and immature (carnal). A Christian matures by allowing the Spirit to teach him and direct him by feeding on the Word. The immature Christian lives for the things of the flesh (carnal means “flesh”) and has less interest in the things of the Spirit. Of course, some believers are immature because they have been saved only a short time, but that is not what Paul is discussing here.

Paul was the “spiritual father” who brought this family into being (1 Cor. 4:15). During the eighteen months he ministered in Corinth, Paul had tried to feed his spiritual children and, help them mature in the faith. Just as in a human family, everybody helps the new baby grow and mature, so in the family of God we must encourage spiritual maturity

A Christian is not habitually characterized by sin; it no longer represents his basic nature. But he is still able to sin, and his sin is just as sinful as the sin of an unbeliever. Sin is sin. When a Christian sins, he is being practically unspiritual, living on the same practical level as an unbeliever. Consequently Paul is compelled to speak to the Corinthian believers much as if they were unbelievers.

Perhaps somewhat to soften the rebuke, he also compares them to babes in Christ. It was far from a compliment, but it did recognize that they truly belonged to Christ.

What are the marks of maturity? For one thing, you can tell the mature person by his diet. As children grow, they learn to eat different food. They graduate (to use Paul’s words) from milk to meat.

What is the difference? The usual answer is that “milk” represents the easy things in the Word, while “meat” represents the hard doctrines.

The Word of God is our spiritual food: milk (1 Peter 2:2). bread (Matt. 4:4), meat (Heb. 5:11-14), and even honey (Ps. 119:103). Just as the physical man needs a balanced diet if his body is to be healthy, so the inner man needs a balanced diet of spiritual food. The baby begins with milk, but as he grows and his teeth develop, he needs solid food.

It is not difficult to determine a believer’s spiritual maturity, or immaturity, if you discover what kind of “diet” he enjoys.

There is another way to determine maturity: the mature Christian practices love and seeks to get along with others. Children like to disagree and fuss. And children like to identify with heroes, whether sports heroes or Hollywood heroes.

Because self-centeredness is at the heart of fleshly behavior, jealousy and strife are always found in an immature congregation. Jealousy is the attitude, and strife is the action that results from it. One is the inner emotional condition, the other the outward expression of selfishness.

Jealousy and strife are not the least of the symptoms of fleshly living. Those sins are more destructive than many Christians seem to think. They are far from being petty sins, because, among other things, they cause division in the church, Christ’s body, for whom He gave His life. They are among the surest marks of fallen humanness, just as unity is one of the surest marks of divine transformation.

Jealousy is a severe form of selfishness, begrudging someone else what we wish were ours. And selfishness is one of the most obvious characteristics of babyhood. An infant’s life is almost totally self-centered and selfish. Its whole concern is with its own comfort, hunger, attention, sleep. It is typical of a young child to be self-centered, but it should not be typical of an adult, especially a Christian adult. It is spiritually infantile to be jealous of and to cause strife among fellow believers, and it betrays a fleshly perspective.

The cure for division is turning away from self and setting our eyes on the one God whom we all glorify. When our attention is focused on our Lord, as it always should be, there will be no time and no occasion for division. When our attention is on Him it cannot be on ourselves or on human leaders or human factions.

Apollos and Paul were simply the servants through whom you believed. They were the instruments, not the source, of salvation.

The church is a field and the goal is quantify (1 Cor. 3:5-9a). What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul goes on to show the essential folly of this party spirit with its glorification of human leaders. In a garden one man may plant a seed and another may water it; but neither can claim to have made the seed grow. That belongs to God and to God alone.

“Planted” and “watered” – Single action, completed in the past.

“God gave the increase.” “Gave” – Perfect tense which denotes continuing action on the part of the Lord.

The man who plants and the man who waters are on one level; neither can claim any precedence over the other; they are but servants working together for the one Master—God. God uses human instruments to bring to men the message of his truth and love.

Paul will have more to say about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, but this should be said now: A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about. Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off’ their gifts, but they were not interested in serving one another and edifying the church.

What is the ministry all about? It involves loving, feeding, and disciplining God’s family so that His children mature in the faith and become more like Jesus Christ.

The Temple—Quality (1 Corinthians 3:9b-23 (NIV)

…God’s building. 10  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 16  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. 18  Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20  and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, 23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

The usual explanation of this passage is that it describes the building of the Christian life. We all build on Christ, but some people use good materials while others use poor materials. The kind of material you use determines the kind of reward you will get.

God is concerned that we build with quality. The church does not belong to the preacher or to the congregation. It is God’s church. “Ye are God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). If we are going to build the local church the way God wants it built, we must meet certain conditions.

First, we must build on the right foundation (vv. 10-11). That foundation is Jesus Christ. When Paul came to Corinth, he determined to preach only Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2). He laid the only foundation that would last.

The foundation is laid by the proclaiming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The foundation is the most important part of the building, because it determines the size, shape, and strength of the superstructure. A ministry may seem to be successful for a time, but if it is not founded on Christ, it will eventually collapse and disappear.

Second, we must build with the right materials (vv. 12-17). Paul described two opposite kinds of materials, as the chart reveals.

Gold, Silver, Precious Stones Wood, Hay, Stubble
Permanent Passing, temporary
Beautiful Ordinary, even ugly
Valuable Cheap
Hard to obtain Easy to obtain

What did Paul want to symbolize by his choice of materials? He is not talking about people, because Christians are the “living stones” that make up God’s temple (1 Peter 2:5). I personally believe Paul is referring to the doctrines of the Word of God. In each section of this chapter, the Word is symbolized in a way that fits the image of the church Paul used. The Word is food for the family, seed for the field, and materials for the temple.

THE LOCAL BODY – THE HOLY OF HOLIES (3:16-17). Divine Judgment Promised. Warning about destroying the church through disunity.

  1. “Sanctuary or temple” – Word used in the Old Testament when referring to the Holy of Holies.
  2. God indwells the church, because He indwells each member of the church.
  3. Destruction of the temple was taking place by the Corinthians having divisions in the church (boasting in men).
  4. The consequences of destroying the Temple of God (verse 17) – him will God destroy. They were destroying the church through their carnality and glorying in men.

NOTE: The warning is clear: Do not attempt to harm “God’s temple.” To avoid this sin, realize three truths: (1) corporately they were the Temple of God; (2) the Spirit of God lives in their congregation; (3) they were holy.

Third, we must build according to the right plan (vv. 18-20).

The world depends on promotion, prestige, and the influence of money and important people. The church depends on prayer, the power of the Spirit, humility, sacrifice, and service.

1 Corinthians 3:19 warns that man’s wisdom will only trap him (a quotation from Job 5:13); and 1 Corinthians 3:20 warns that man’s wisdom only leads to vanity and futility (a quotation from Ps. 94:11). Though the church must be identified with the needs of the world, it must not imitate the wisdom of the world.

Dangerous Practices – Pride In Men. There will be no divisions if each person places Christ at the center of their lives.

  1. Negative: Let no man deceive himself that he is wise (v. 18a). The word “deceive” means “one caught up in complete or total deception.”
  2. Positive: Let him become a fool in order to be wise (v. 18b). Reject the “wisdom” of men that you may accept the “foolishness” of God, which is the cross.
  3. No possession in human leaders (v. 21a). The Corinthian believers did not belong to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas.
  4. They, in fact belong to the Christians as God had sent them to bring instruction.
  5. Everything is possessed in Christ (v. 21b-23). All things belong to us through God. The world belongs to Christians that we might glorify God. Death belongs to Christians that we might anticipate its coming (Philippians 1:21).

Finally, we must build with the right motive (vv. 21-23). That motive is the glory of God.

Paul closed this appeal by pointing out that each believer possesses all things in Christ. Each one of God’s servants belongs to each believer. No member of the church should say, “I belong to Paul!” or “I like Peter!” because each servant belongs to each member equally.

“All are yours”—the world, life, death, things present, things to come! How rich we are in Christ! If all things belong to all believers, then why should there be competition and rivalry?

“Ye are Christ’s”—this balances things. I have all things in Jesus Christ, but I must not become careless or use my freedom unwisely.

“All things are yours”—that is Christian liberty. “And ye are Christ’s”—that is Christian responsibility. We need both if we are to build a church that will not turn to ashes when the fire falls.

In this passage Paul is surely speaking from personal experience. He was of necessity a foundation layer and was forever on the move. True, he stayed for eighteen months in Corinth (Ac 18:11) and for three years in Ephesus (Ac 20:31); but in Thessalonica he can have stayed less than a month, and that was far more typical.

Wherever he went, he laid the same foundation. That was the proclamation of the facts about and the offer of Jesus Christ. It was his tremendous function to introduce men to Jesus Christ because it is in him, and in him alone, that a man can find three things.

(a) He finds forgiveness for past sins. He finds himself in a new relationship to God and suddenly discovers that he is his friend and not his enemy. He discovers that God is like Jesus; where once he saw hatred he now sees love, and where once he saw infinite remoteness he now sees tender intimacy.

(b) He finds strength for the present. Through the presence and help of Jesus he finds courage to cope with life, for he is now no longer an isolated unit fighting a lonely battle with an adverse universe. He lives a life in which nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord. He walks life’s ways and fights its battles with Christ.

(c) He finds hope for the future. He no longer lives in a world in which he is afraid to look forward but in one where God is in control and working together all things for good. He lives in a world where death is no longer the end, but only the prelude to greater glory. Without the foundation of Christ a man can have none of these things.

But on this foundation of Christ others built. Paul is not here thinking of the building up of wrong things, but the building up of inadequate things. A man may present to his fellow men a version of Christianity which is weak and watered down; a one-sided thing which has stressed some things too much and others too little, and in which things have got out of balance; a warped thing in which even the greatest matters have emerged distorted.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 21, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


A study of 1 Corinthians: #3b Those God Has Saved Have No Status – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

What Does 1 Corinthians 2:8 Mean?

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV) Brothers, 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. 27  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. 28  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29  so that no one may boast before him. 30  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

You want success? Here’s your model. You want achievement? Here’s your prototype. You want bright lights, pageants, and media attention? Consider the front-page, center article of the nation’s largest daily newspaper.

It is a caricature of “Miss America.” The vital data of the fifty one participants has been compiled to present the perfect woman. She has brown hair. She has brown eyes. She knows how to sing and has a perfect figure: 35–24-35. She is Miss America.

The message trumpets off the page: “This is the standard for American women.” The implication is clear: Do what it takes to be like her. Get your body ‘in shape.’ Pamper your hair. Improve your walk.

No reference is made to her convictions … to her honesty … to her faith … or to her God. But you are told her hip size.

In a small photo, four inches to the left, is another woman. Her face is thin. Her skin is wrinkled, almost leathery. No makeup … no blush … no lipstick. There is a faint smile on her lips and a glint in her eyes. She looks pale. Perhaps it’s my imagination or perhaps it’s time. The caption read, “Mother Teresa: In serious condition.”

Mother Teresa. You know her story. When she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, she gave the two hundred thousand dollars to the poor of Calcutta. When a businessman bought her a new car, she sold it and gave the money to the underprivileged. She owns nothing. She owes nothing.

Two women: Miss America and Mother Teresa. One walks the boardwalk; the other walks the alley. Two voices. One promises crowns, flowers, and crowds. The other promises service, surrender, and joy.

Now I have nothing against beauty pageants (although I have my reservations about them). But I do have something against the lying voices that noise our world.

You’ve heard them. They tell you to swap your integrity for a new sale. To barter your convictions for an easy deal. To exchange your devotion for a quick thrill.

They whisper. They woo. They taunt. They tantalize. They flirt. They flatter. “Go ahead, it’s O.K.” “Just wait until tomorrow.” “Don’t worry, no one will know.” “How could anything that feels so right be so wrong?” …

For amidst the fleeting promises of pleasure is the timeless promise of [God’s] presence.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

There is no chorus so loud that the voice of God cannot be heard … if we will but listen. (From In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado)

The Corinthians had a tendency to be “puffed up” with pride (1 Cor. 4:6, 18–19; 5:2). But the Gospel of God’s grace leaves no room for personal boasting. God is not impressed with our looks, our social position, our achievements, our natural heritage, or our financial status. Note that Paul wrote many, not any. In the New Testament, we do meet some believers with “high social standing,” but there are not many of them. The description Paul gave of the converts was certainly not a flattering one (1 Cor. 6:9–11).[1]

The world is full of ‘somebodies’ and ‘nobodies’,  and it does neither  of them any good. That’s  not the way God intended it to  be. Every human   being,  man,  woman,  child,  and  even unborn child, bears the image and  likeness of God, and  has neither more nor less dignity because some other people have heard  of them, look up to them, or think  they’re  special.

But in most parts  of the world, at most  periods  of history – and, as the story shows, often enough  in the church  itself – people feel  that  it’s better  to  be ‘somebody’. The  cult  of fame  has reached  monstrous proportions in recent days, to the absurd point  where  many  people are now famous  for being famous. We know their names, we recognize their faces, but can’t remember whether  they are footballers, film stars  or fashion models.

The Corinthian saints were status seekers. Paul wanted them to see how foolish this was in the light of divine wisdom and power and how inconsistent status-seeking is with the gospel.

Paul challenges his readers to take a good look around the church to note who was not present among them. This he did in verses 18-25. Glaringly absent in the church are those people who hold positions of status in the secular world, in accordance with secular values. The church is not made up of wise men, scribes, and debaters: 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?[2]

Paul reminded them of what they were (v. 26). One would be gravely mistaken to think that 1:26 contained the doctrinal seed needed to promote Christianity as a religion of the proletariat (workers or working-class people, regarded collectively). All the evidence points to the fact that Paul’s urban churches contained wealthy members.

This Corinthian church contained people of wealth who served as host not only to Paul, but to the entire congregation (Rom 16), people who owned homes in which they could eat (1 Cor 11:22), and at least one of the influential members, namely Erastus (Rom 16:23), was an administrator in the Roman colony of Corinth.

The religious perspective of this verse is one which runs throughout the Scriptures, and Paul’s choice of ideas here was influenced and inspired by the long history of God expressing his sovereign will through his choice of foolish and weak individuals to carry out his agenda. Whether one considers God’s choice of Israel, or of Moses, or of Gideon, or of David, or of Mary the mother of Jesus, the Scripture is clear in its depiction of a God whose list of friends portrays a lot of foolishness and weakness by human standards.

The following chart of the links will help make Paul’s correlation of the ideas of 1:26 with 1:27–28 clearer.

Corinthian Status


God’s Choice


God’s Purpose


Not many wise (sophos) Foolish things


To shame the wise (sophos)


Not many influential


Weak things


To shame the strong


Not many of noble birth (eugenes)


Lowly things (agenes)


To nullify existing things[3]


Paul possibly went over the membership of the Corinthian church in his mind as he wrote verse 26. He reminded them that they had very few who were famous, wealthy, highly educated, powerful, or influential when they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is likely that, when they became Christians, they lost a great deal of the prestige, influence, and income they did have.

Consider your calling, brethren, he says. Paul always uses the term calling to refer to the saving call of God, the effectual call that results in redemption. “You know what sort of persons you were when God called you out of darkness. You know that He did not accept you as His child because you were brilliant or wealthy or intelligent or powerful. If you were any of these things,” he says, “you were saved in spite of them not because of them. If anything they were stumbling blocks that hindered you, obstacles between you and God’s grace.” He implies that they should be glad that not many were wise according to the flesh or mighty or noble. Such things often keep people from the sense of need that leads to salvation. If more of them had been wise, mighty, or noble, it is likely that fewer of them would have been saved.

God is not looking for Phi Beta Kappas to save and to do His work. Nor is He looking for millionaires or famous athletes or entertainers or statesmen. His salvation is open to them just as surely as to others, but only on the same basis of faith. The very things that put them ahead in the world may actually put them behind with God. It is the feeling of inadequacy that makes people aware that they have need, and often draws them to the gospel.

Jesus prayed on one occasion, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Matt. 11:25). As the context makes clear, this prayer was spoken publicly as a part of His preaching to the crowds. He was addressing His hearers as much as His Father when He prayed these words. He wanted them to know that God wanted only their faith and nothing else. He was also warning that “the wise and intelligent” were at a disadvantage as far as spiritual life and understanding are concerned. It is not that they could not accept and believe, but that pride in and dependence on their accomplishments and abilities could keep them from the kingdom. Weakness and insufficiency are the climate in which God’s strength is made manifest.

God’s wisdom is a kind of paradox. In human thinking, strength is strength, weakness is weakness, and intelligence is intelligence. But in God’s economy some of the seemingly strongest things are the weakest, some of the seemingly weakest things are the strongest, and some of the seemingly wisest things are the most foolish. The paradox is not by accident but by God’s design.

A simple, uneducated, untalented, and clumsy believer who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and who faithfully and humbly follows His Lord is immeasurably wiser than the brilliant Ph.D. who scoffs at the gospel. The simple believer knows forgiveness, love, grace, life, hope, God’s Word—God Himself. He can see eternity. The unbelieving Ph.D., on the other hand, knows nothing beyond his books, his own mind, and his own experience. He sees nothing beyond this life, and he cannot be considered anything but foolish.

We are often tempted to think that it would be wonderful if such-and-such a great athlete—or brilliant scientist, popular entertainer, or world leader—would become a Christian. But Jesus did not think this way when He chose His disciples. Some were probably well known in their local circles and perhaps a few of them were well off financially. But He did not choose them for their wealth or influence, and in His training of them He did not try to capitalize on any such things. None of them had anything so great that he was not ready to leave it to follow Christ.

Paul glories in the fact that, for the most part, the Church was composed of the simplest and the humblest people. We must never think that the early Church was entirely composed of slaves. Even in the New Testament we see that people from the highest ranks of society were becoming Christians. There was Dionysius at Athens (Acts 17:34); Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete (Acts 13:6–12); the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Beroea (Acts 17:4, 12); Erastus, the city treasurer, probably of Corinth (Romans 16:23). In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, was martyred for her Christianity. In the time of Domitian, in the latter half of the first century, Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the Emperor himself, was martyred as a Christian. Towards the end of the second century Pliny, the governor of Bithynia, wrote to Trajan the Emperor, saying that the Christians came from every rank in society. But it remains true that the great mass of Christians were simple and humble folk.[4]

In a.d. 178 the philosopher Celsus mockingly wrote of Christians: Let no cultured person draw near, none wise and none sensible, for all that kind of thing we count evil; but if any man is ignorant, if any man is wanting in sense and culture, if anybody is a fool, let him come boldly [to become a Christian].… We see them in their own houses, wool dresses, cobblers, the worst, the vulgarest, the most uneducated persons.… They are like a swarm of bats or ants creeping out of their nest, or frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, or worms convening in mud.

That is also what much of the rest of the world of his day thought of Christians. The simplicity of the gospel and the humility of faithful believers is incomprehensible to the world; it seems to be abject foolishness. The Lord planned it that way. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and … has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are. It is interesting to note that the despised means, in the root form, “to be considered as nothing.” The Greek is in the perfect tense here, indicating that what was once despised will continue to be despised. So people who were thought to be nobodies in society would continue to be thought of as nobodies. The phrase things that are not translates the most contemptible expression in the Greek language. “Being” was everything to the Greeks, and to be called a nothing was the worst insult. The phrase may have been used of slaves.

The world measures greatness by many standards. At the top are intelligence, wealth, prestige, and position—things which God has determined to put at the bottom. God reveals the greatness of His power by demonstrating that it is the world’s nobodies that are His somebodies.

According to God, the greatest man who ever lived, apart from Jesus Himself, was John the Baptist. He had no formal education, no training in a trade or profession, no money, no military rank, no political position, no social pedigree, no prestige, no impressive appearance or oratory. Yet Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). This man fit none of the world’s standards but all of God’s. And what he became was all to the credit of God’s power.[5]

Now, in verses 26-31, Paul wants the Corinthians to give thought to who is present in the church. “Look at yourselves,” Paul challenges the Corinthians. Granting the possibility of a few exceptions, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the rule. By and large, the church is not composed of the wise, the mighty, or the noble, when judged by fleshly (unbelieving) standards: 1 Cor. 1:26: For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

Instead, God has chosen to save the foolish, the weak, the base and despised, the “nobodies.”

Following the principle set down in verse 19, Paul explains why God selected the undesirables of this world for salvation. God has purposed to nullify the wisdom of the wise and to humble the proud. He has chosen to do so by employing means and people that the world rejects as weak and foolish and worthless.

They were not wise, mighty, or noble. God called them, not because of what they were, but in spite of what they were! The Corinthian church was composed primarily of ordinary people who were terrible sinners. Before his conversion, Paul had been very self-righteous; he had to give up his religion in order to go to heaven! The Corinthians were at the other end of the spectrum, and yet they were not too sinful for God to reach and save them.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of why God called them (vv. 27–29).

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,[6]

he purpose of god’s wisdom: The first and primary purpose of the wisdom of God that produces salvation is that He be glorified.

(i) He is wisdom. It is only in following him that we walk aright and only in listening to him that we hear the truth. He is the expert in life. No man will ever have a reason to boast before God. Foolish, weak, base man can do nothing for himself; God has done everything. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship” (Eph. 2:8–10).

God also has a purpose for those who are saved. His purpose for His redeemed has many aspects, four of which are mentioned in verse 30. Because they are in Christ Jesus, they receive God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

First, believers are given God’s wisdom. They not only are saved by God’s wisdom rather than their own but are given God’s wisdom to replace their own. The truly wise of this world are those whose wisdom is not of this world but is from the Lord. Christians can say, without pride or self-boasting, that they have become wise in Jesus Christ. They stand as a testimony for all time that God in His wisdom chose the sinful, the weak, and the unwise in order to make them righteous, strong, and wise. God grants them His wisdom that He might be glorified, that it might be clearly seen that the wisdom Christians have is not their own but is by His power and grace.

Men are saved not by their intelligence, accomplishments, or human wisdom. Those who trust in these will never receive God’s salvation and life and wisdom—because these may be had only by humbly receiving what His Son has done on our behalf on the cross. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6), and, on another occasion, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (8:31–32).

The wisdom received from God through Christ is both instant and progressive. In his next letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The maker and giver of physical light is also the source and giver of spiritual light. The first thing a believer learns is knowledge of God’s glory.

The glory of God signifies His majesty and His greatness. But in its fullest sense it represents all that God is—all of His attributes, His whole nature, the fullness of His divine being. We come to know personally the creator of the universe and the source of all life and all goodness.

Godly wisdom also has a progressive aspect. The God whom we have come to know through Christ we come to know better as we live by His Spirit. Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers to be given “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him,” that is, of Christ (Eph. 1:17). They already had the initial gift of God’s wisdom, received when they first believed. But the apostle was concerned that they continue to grow in His wisdom and truth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18).

Wisdom from God also has a future aspect. In this same prayer Paul asks, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (v. 18). Both “hope” and “inheritance” suggest future fulfillment of wisdom and knowledge. God has given us wisdom, He is now giving us wisdom, and He will ultimately give us wisdom.

The person of the world cannot see or receive God’s wisdom, the wisdom that could show him God Himself, His plan for the world and for His people, and the future eternity that He gives through His Son. And so men live only for the moment, for the now, having no idea where they came from, where they are going, or what they are doing here in the first place. Yet the simplest, most uneducated person who humbly places his life in Christ’s hands is given the truth about all of these things. He knows what all the sages and philosophers of all time have never been able to discover or will ever be able to discover. He has God’s wisdom as one of His Savior’s precious gifts.

Second, believers receive God’s righteousness. In the writings of Paul righteousness always means a right relationship with God. Of our own efforts we can never achieve that. It is ours only by realizing through Jesus Christ that it comes not from what we can do for God, but from what he has done for us.

They are made right with God and they participate in His righteousness, His rightness.

Rightness means to be as something or someone should be—right as opposed to wrong, good as opposed to evil, sinless as opposed to sinful. God is totally righteous because He is totally as He should be. He cannot vary from His rightness. When we trust His Son, He shares His Son’s righteousness with us. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When God looks on a Christian He sees His Son and His Son’s righteousness. When a person trusts in Christ, his unrighteousness is exchanged for Christ’s righteousness, “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). Man has never had any righteousness of his own and can never have any righteousness of his own, that is, which originates in him. The only righteousness he can have is that which God gives him through His Son. It is the only righteousness he needs, because it is perfect righteousness.

Third, believers receive God’s sanctification. He is consecration. It is only in the presence of Christ that life can be what it ought to be. Epicurus used to tell his disciples, “Live as if Epicurus always saw you.” There is no “as if” about our relationship to Christ. The Christian walks with him and only in that company can a man keep his garments unspotted from the world.

In Christ we are set apart, made holy. We are declared righteous in Christ and are made holy in Christ. When we receive Christ’s nature we receive His incorruptible seed, the seed which is not, and cannot be, habitually corrupted by sin. With the flesh still present, we can slip into sin, but only intermittently. As we spiritually mature the frequency of sin decreases. The righteousness that is counted to us judicially also becomes ours in actuality—in holiness, in sanctification. We are given life in the Spirit and we begin to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4–11). We begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) as we are being transformed into Christ’s image (2 Cor. 3:18). Our new nature is “created in Christ Jesus for good works,” for holiness (Eph. 2:10).

Fourth, believers receive God’s redemption. He is deliverance. Diogenes used to complain that men flocked to the oculist and to the dentist but never to the man (he meant the philosopher) who could cure their souls. Jesus Christ can deliver a man from past sin, from present helplessness, and from future fear. He is the emancipator from slavery to self and to sin.[7]

To redeem means to buy back. God by Christ has purchased us from the power of sin. Christ “is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). Peter reminds us that we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold … but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).[8]

God has not done this because the weak and foolish are any better than the powerful and the proud. He has set aside the highly regarded and employed those things which are disdained so that all the glory might come to Himself and not to mere men. This is the concluding point Paul makes in verses 29-31.

29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

This verse provides the results and rationale of God’s ‘strange’ choices throughout history. The upshot of Paul’s point is that God’s intention was to remove all possibility of mankind’s boasting. The term boast is used here because it specifically represents one of the fundamental causes of the quarreling and division at Corinth. Unlike the sin of boasting that is referred to in other Scriptures and is rooted in ritual or moralistic self-righteousness, Paul here mentions a type of boasting that is rooted in party loyalty and worldly evaluation. In the presence of God and in light of the divine modus operandi highlighted in 1:27–28, every form of human boasting is precluded once for all, especially a boasting in human status (cf. 3:21).[9]

Finally, Paul reminded the Corinthians of all they had in Jesus Christ (vv. 30–31). 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

Paul has explicitly mentioned the term God thirteen times in the section 1:18–29 and has thereby maintained a visible theocentric focus. In verse 30 Paul gives attention to Christ, though still in the framework of a theocentric Godhead. This theocentricity is evident in the phrase “it is because of him (God) that you are in Christ.” This attention to the work of Christ, or rather God’s work (from God) in Christ is intended to prepare the way for the Scripture quotation in 1:31 which clearly points to Christ. Paul reaffirms a Christ-centered focus for God’s wisdom given to Christians. The Apostle then explains what God’s wisdom consists of for those in Christ Jesus. The three concepts of righteousness (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē), holiness (ἁγιασμός, hagiasmos) and redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις, apolytrōsis) are all well known doctrinal concepts in the Pauline corpus. Fee captures Paul’s sense here in these words, “[God’s] wisdom does not have to do with ‘getting smart,’ nor with status or rhetoric. God’s wisdom—the real thing—has to do with salvation through Christ Jesus.”

This world believes the “shakers and the movers” are the ones who make things happen. Even the church seeks to evangelize and train those whom the world regards as “most likely to succeed.” But God chooses the opposite, those whom we expect to fail (or, more accurately, those we already deem to be failures), so that when His wisdom and power are evident, there are no wise and powerful men to take their bows before men. Instead, men must bow before God, giving all the glory to Him. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Corinth,  as a proud  Roman  city, was exactly  the  sort  of place where people would look up to the ‘somebodies’,  and do their best to join them. Then, as now, there were the obvious routes to fame: political power, and royal or noble birth. And, as we’ve seen (though this doesn’t hold for all cultures), Corinth paid special attention to people who could speak well, public rhetoricians, lawyers and the like. The wise, the powerful, the noble: these were the ‘somebodies’ in Corinth.

And Paul reminds  his readers  that  most  of them  were, on the  same  scale, ‘nobodies’. When  he first came  to  town  and announced the gospel of King Jesus as Lord, and they believed it, most of them weren’t among the ‘wise’ whom society looked up  to. Most  of them  didn’t have any social power  (though Erastus, the city treasurer, is mentioned as a Corinthian Christian  in Romans  16.23 . Most of them didn’t come from well-known, ‘noble’ families.

‘But God . . . ‘ Those are some of Paul’s favorite words. He often describes a human  situation or problem  and then takes delight  in showing  that  God has stepped  in and  done  something  to change  it drastically. They were ‘nobodies’,  but  God has  made  them  ‘somebodies’.   Not  the  sort  of ‘somebodies’ the  world  would  recognize  as such, but  the  only sort  that mattered.

And what is important in this paragraph is the fact that  God has taken the initiative in it all. The Christian  gospel is a matter of  grace  from  start  to  finish.  God  chose  these Corinthian  ‘nobodies’  (verses  27,  28);  God  ‘called’   them through Paul’s  announcement of the  crucified  Jesus as Lord (verse 26; the word  ‘call’ is Paul’s regular  word  for  what  we sometimes  call ‘conversion’);  God gave them  the status  in his eyes that  the  Messiah himself has  (verse 30). They are who they are, as he says in a rather shorthand way, ‘from God in the Messiah’ (verse 30). This is the same sequence  (chosen, called, justified) as Paul sketches in the famous  summary in Romans 8.29-30, though there  he extends  the sequence backwards to God’s original plan and forwards to ultimate glorification  as well.

God chose the foolish, the weak, the base (“low born”), and the despised to show the proud world their need and His grace. The lost world admires birth, social status, financial success, power, and recognition. But none of these things can guarantee eternal life.

The message and miracle of God’s grace in Jesus Christ utterly confounds (“puts to shame”) the high and mighty people of this world. The wise of this world cannot understand how God changes sinners into saints, and the mighty of this world are helpless to duplicate the miracle. God’s “foolishness” confounds the wise; God’s “weakness” confounds the mighty!

The annals of church history are filled with the accounts of great sinners whose lives were transformed by the power of the Gospel. In my own ministry, as in the ministry of most pastors and preachers, I have seen amazing things take place that the lawyers and psychologists could not understand. We have seen delinquent teenagers become successful students and useful citizens. We have seen marriages restored and homes reclaimed, much to the amazement of the courts.

And why does God reveal the foolishness and the weakness of this present world system, even with its philosophy and religion? “That no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:29). Salvation must be wholly of grace; otherwise, God cannot get the glory.

It is this truth that Paul wanted to get across to the Corinthians, because they were guilty of glorying in men (1 Cor. 3:21). If we glory in men—even godly men like Peter and Paul and Apollos—we are robbing God of the glory that He alone deserves. It was this sinful attitude of pride that was helping to cause division in the church.

 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [10]

Because the Christian stands before God in Christ Jesus and because the benefits of righteousness, holiness, and redemption come through Christ, Christ is the only one in whom the believer should boast. To a church whose fragmentation arose as a result of boasting, Paul gives the exhortation that boasting is only acceptable if it is boasting in the Lord. It is only from the immediate context that one can identify the term Lord with Jesus Christ.[11]

Although in Christ we have received God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, we have no grounds for pride or boasting, because we did not deserve, earn, or produce any of them. Man’s wisdom can produce none of those things. It can only produce pride, misunderstanding, strife, and division. As Jeremiah had written hundreds of years before Paul quoted him, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” “May it never be,” he wrote the Galatians, “that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).[12]

Since every believer is “in Christ,” and he has all that he needs, why compete with each other or compare yourselves with each other? It is the Lord who has done it all! “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31, a quotation from Jer. 9:24, quoted again in 2 Cor. 10:17).

The spiritual blessings that we need are not abstractions that elude our grasp; they are all in a Person, Jesus Christ. He is our wisdom (Col. 2:3), our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), our sanctification (John 17:19), and our redemption (Rom. 3:24).

Actually, the emphasis here is that God shows His wisdom by means of the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that we have in Christ. Each of these theological words carries a special meaning for Christians. Righteousness has to do with our standing before God. We are justified: God declares us righteous in Jesus Christ. But we are also sanctified, set apart to belong to God and to serve Him. Redemption emphasizes the fact that we are set free because Jesus Christ paid the price for us on the cross. This will lead to complete redemption when Christ returns.

So, in one sense, we have the three tenses of salvation given here: we have been saved from the penalty of sin (righteousness); we are being saved from the power of sin (sanctification); and we shall be saved from the presence of sin (redemption). And every believer has all of these blessings in Jesus Christ!

Therefore, why glory in men? What does Paul have that you do not have? Does Peter have more of Jesus Christ than you do? (It was likely that Jesus Christ had more of Peter, but that is another matter!) We should glory in the Lord and not in ourselves or our spiritual leaders.

Is Christianity a Crutch for the Weak?


    Is Christianity just another crutch for people who can’t make it on their own? In one sense, yes. “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” Jesus said, “but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31, 32). Jesus bypasses those who pretend to be invincible, those who think they have it all together. Instead He reaches out to those who know that something is wrong, that their lives are “sick” with “illnesses” such as greed, lust, cruelty, and selfishness.

Jesus knows that no one is spiritually healthy. No one is righteous enough to stand before a holy God. That’s why He came into this world, to restore people to God. The good news is that Christ gives us the power to overcome sin and the ways it pulls us down time after time.

What happens to the “weak” who avail themselves of this “crutch”? Consider Mother Teresa, who emerged from an insignificant nunnery to love the helpless and homeless of Calcutta and became a worldwide symbol of compassion. Or consider Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a forgotten political prisoner rotting away in the gulag system of Stalinist Russia. Surrendering himself to Jesus, he gained renewed strength to challenge a totalitarian regime on behalf of human dignity and freedom.

These are but two examples from the millions who have thrown away the self-styled crutches on which they used to limp along the road of life, opting instead for the seasoned wood of the cross of Christ which has transformed their weakness into strength.

In one sense, Christianity is a crutch for the weak. But those who dismiss it for that reaon usually do so to deny their own inadequacies. They use that excuse as a way to evade the claims God has on their lives. They cannot accept that He takes wounded, fractured people and makes them whole.[13]

As you review this chapter, you can see the mistakes that the Corinthians were making, mistakes that helped to create problems in their church. They were not living up to their holy calling, but were instead following the standards of the world. They ignored the fact that they were called into a wonderful spiritual fellowship with the Lord and with each other. Instead, they were identifying with human leaders and creating divisions in the church. Instead of glorifying God and His grace, they were pleasing themselves and boasting about men.

They were a defiled church, a divided church, a disgraced church!

But, before we pass judgment on them, we should examine our own churches and our own lives. We have been called to be holy, called into fellowship, and called to glorify God.

Are we living up to this calling?[14]













[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 571.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:20.

[3] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 1 Co 1:27.

[4] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 21.

[5] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 50–52.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:26–28.

[7] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 22–23.

[8] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 52–54.

[9] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 1 Co 1:29.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:29–31.

[11] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 1 Co 1:31.

[12] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 54.

[13] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1462.

[14] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 571–572.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 17, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


A study of 1 Corinthians: #2b  A Divided Church – 1 Corinthians 1:12-17

Paul is not discussing the differences that exist between denominations and brotherhoods. In his day, there were no denominational or brotherhood divisions. Paul is striking out against division in a local congregation of the church. Most division in the local congregation today is not over matters of faith, but rather the result of personalities that are in conflict.

The problem was a burden, not something to be covered up. They went to an inspired apostle with the problem. We can often do that by going to the Scriptures.[1]

Division has always been a problem among God’s people, and almost every New Testament epistle deals with this topic or mentions it in one way or another. Even the 12 Apostles did not always get along with each other.

The church at Corinth was in a sad state. The fellowship among believers had deteriorated to such a degree that it was about to crumble and collapse. There was severe division and dissension in the ranks: verbal accusations, differing opinions, competitive positions, power struggles, envy, contention, grumbling, griping, complaining, murmuring, quarreling, attacking, and gossiping. Believer stood against believer, and there was no give in any corner. Disaster was about to strike; the church was divided and a severe split was threatened.

This was the first problem dealt with by Paul. It had to be dealt with first, for a house divided against itself cannot stand. There were other problems in the church, other matters that had to be handled, but the people could not handle them unless they were brought together in one spirit and mind. The ministry and mission of the church could not effectively go on until the people stood together. Worship, exhortation, missions, and reaching and ministering to people—the very cause of Christ, the very reason He came to earth and died—were affected and would continue to suffer until the people were brought together.

The word division (schismata) means to split, to rend, to tear apart. Note the words “among you.” The division or dissension is not outside the church; it is not out in the world. It is inside the church.

  • The divisive church is not working to bring peace, love, and brotherhood to the world; the divisive church is not seen out in the world ministering to the starving, diseased, and lost masses of the world.
  • The divisive church is seen fuming and fighting. The sinful and devastating problems of dissension are within the divisive church.
  • The divisive church is splitting, rending, and tearing itself apart.[2]

Most of us who have attended church for a number of years have been in or know of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarreling is a reality in the church because selfishness and other sins are realities in the church. Because of quarreling the Father is dishonored, the Son is disgraced, His people are demoralized and discredited, and the world is turned off and confirmed in unbelief.

In His high priestly prayer, the Lord prayed repeatedly that His church would be one (John 17:11, 21–23). Immediately after Pentecost the newly empowered believers were in perfect harmony with each other—sharing, rejoicing, worshiping, and witnessing together. Their unity bore great fruit in their ministry to each other, in their witness to the world, and in their pleasing and glorifying God.

The first need of the Corinthian church was for that sort of harmony. And so Paul made a plea for doctrinal agreement, for repenting of their tendency to form factions around high-profile personalities, and for remembering the great priority of the church: preaching the gospel. Paul argued that supernatural unity can occur only when God’s wisdom is valued over earthly wisdom (1:18–2:16), and when believers walk in the power of God’s spirit rather than giving in to the sinful desires of human flesh (3:1–23).[3]

Christ is not divided, and his true followers should not allow anything to divide the church. Don’t let your appreciation for any teacher, preacher, speaker, or writer lead you into intellectual pride. Believers’ allegiance must be to Christ and to the unity that he desires.

I regard it as clear that these believers were not intentionally choosing Paul or Apollos or Cephas as replacements for their devotion to God or Christ. Carnal decisions by Christians are rarely so self-evident.[4]

Paul will point out in 1 Corinthians 3 that there can be no competition among true servants of God.

This is a graphic picture of what happens when the church (the body of Christ) is divided. With so many churches and styles of worship available today, believers can get caught up in the same game of “my preacher is better than yours!” They follow personalities and even change churches based on who is popular.

To act this way is to divide Christ again. But Christ is not divided, and his true followers should not allow anything to divide the church. Don’t let your appreciation for any teacher, preacher, speaker, or writer lead you into intellectual pride. Believers’ allegiance must be to Christ and to the unity that he desires.

We might sum up the divisions in this way:

  • I follow Paul—This group may have taken the attitude that Paul started this church and he will always be our leader. These are the traditionalists. Some of the believers followed Paul, who had founded their church. Although Paul was Jewish, he had been called as a missionary to the Gentiles, so he probably attracted many of the Gentile believers. Paul used great logical arguments but apparently did not have powerful speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:10).
  • I follow Apollos—These people may have put great emphasis on knowledge of the Scripture. Apollos was mighty in his use of the Word (Acts 18:24, 25). These may have been the Bible intellectuals. A third group chose to follow Apollos, an eloquent and popular preacher who had had a dynamic ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:24; 19:1; Titus 3:13). Apollos was from Alexandria and had become distinguished for his speaking ability. Oratory and eloquence were highly valued in the culture of the day, so Apollos probably attracted the highly educated and distinguished believers in the congregation.
  • Others chose to follow Peter (Cephas). A Jew and one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, Peter probably attracted many of the Jewish believers who had come to doubt Paul’s apostolic authority. It is unknown whether Peter had ever been to Corinth, although some of the Jews may have heard him in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Or it is likely that the believers simply knew that Peter was the leader of the apostles. I follow Peter—These may have put great emphasis on the church and were taking the attitude that Peter had been given the keys to the kingdom, instituted the church on Pentecost, and they would follow him. They may have been great “church” men without going further.
  • I follow Christ—These may have been saying, “We don’t need anyone or anything but Jesus.” Finally, a fourth group claimed to follow Christ. This group may have boasted a special relationship to Christ, or they may have been positioning themselves above the fray, saying that they had chosen to follow Christ alone, not any human leader (see 2 Corinthians 10:7).[5]

There were probably three basic problems causing the division within the church.

  1. There was the problem in preaching ability and style? There was no difference in the messages preached by Paul and Apollos. They both preached the gospel of Christ, but there was a difference in their style of preaching and ministering. Apollos was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures (Ac. 18:24). Paul was not a great orator (2 Co. 10:10; 11:6); therefore, some undervalued Paul as a preacher and surrounded Apollos. They failed to see God’s distinct call and gifts to each minister.

Paul was a small-framed missionary, gifted in the understanding of the Scriptures and gifted as an administrator in church order. Both gifts, although not so much out in the forefront of public recognition, were of immense value. Paul excelled in strengthening believers, in growing disciples, and in establishing churches. There is a good possibility that the Apollos party began to intellectualize and socialize Christianity, to turn it away from the doctrine of salvation in Christ, and to deemphasize the utter necessity to walk in Him day by day.

  1. There was the problem of turning liberty into license? Peter’s emphasis had to deal with the traditions and rituals of the church, for he was the apostle to the Jews (Ga. 2:7). Some believers preferred that the traditions and rituals be stressed more, and that Paul’s emphasis upon doctrine, salvation, and the daily walk of the believer be stressed less. The two groups began to gather around the name of the two apostles and form cliques.
  2. There was the problem of those who claimed to be “of Christ.” These were probably fed up with the other groups and set themselves up as being more spiritual than the others. They looked upon themselves as being too spiritual to lower themselves to the level of becoming identified with any clique. They probably began to think of themselves as the only true spiritual Christians in Corinth. They claimed to follow Christ alone, and they denied needing or receiving the help of any man.

From this letter we’ll see the Corinthians considered themselves to be so advanced in maturity that it gave them a privileged position. They set themselves up as the judges of others. They usurped God’s authority. They took it upon themselves to judge teachers (1 Co. 1:12f), to judge the wise and the unwise (1 Co. 1:19; 2:1f), to establish moral standards (1 Co. 5:1f), and to judge the gifted and their gifts (1 Co. 12:1f).[6]

It is wrong to identify any man’s name with your baptism other than the name of Jesus Christ. To do so is to create division.

Ephesians 4:5 states that believers are united by “one baptism.” Believers are not baptized “into” different preachers—they are baptized into the family of believers. Baptism replaced circumcision as the initiation rite of the new order, the new covenant.

Christians need only “one baptism” by which they publicly acknowledge their one faith in one Lord.

Paul wrote in 12:13, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (nrsv).

This expression of faith through baptism brings unity to believers. Far from it being divisive, baptism is a key unifying factor in the church.

Style and Substance: Some speakers use impressive words, but they are weak on content. Some preachers make the Bible marginal in their sermons in order to hold people’s attention. Even Bible studies give less focus to the Bible than they do to fellowship.

Paul stressed solid content and practical help for his listeners. He wanted them to be impressed with his message, not just his style (see 2:1-5). You don’t need to be a great speaker with a large vocabulary to share the gospel effectively.

The persuasive power should be in the story, not the storyteller. Paul was not against those who carefully prepare what they say (see 2:6), but against those who try to impress others only with their own knowledge or speaking ability. Make Christ the center of your preaching, rather than trying to be impressive.

WHAT IS SECTARIANISM? (by Charles Hodge) Sectarianism is sinful thinking. It comes from evil attitudes. Notice our text. Paul said, “There were contentions.” He did not say there were mis-understandings, different consciences, various opinions, or disagreements.  There were schisms, divisions, alienations. It amounted, simply, to “my bunch over Jesus.”

It was personal pride over Jesus. An emphasis upon being in the right bunch had blinded them to their own sins. These were good people going bad. Why? A contentious attitude. Too many have been converted to a preacher, a church, an idea, or a pet peeve instead of Jesus. This is a personality disorder, not doctrine. Someone observed, “You can get off any horse but a hobby horse.” This is so true yet so sad. It is not conviction; it is being contentious. Contentious brethren cannot even get along with themselves.

A family moved from the North to the South. They were at first glad and then sad with so many congregations. One town had seven. Most came from splits. They said, “When some get annoyed, they just go start their own church.” A Hodge observation is: “Any church that started out wrongly never gets right.”

There is another evil attitude even worse than “stinking thinking.” “We did it for God!” After all, who can argue against God? Recently, the world has been shocked with the Muslims. A man authored a book, The Satanic Verses. The Ayatollah Khomeini has offered $5 million to anyone, an Arab, who would assassinate the author. In fear, bookstores have removed the book. It was not selling until a price was placed upon the author’s head. Now it can be a bestseller. But the rationale is this: “We are killing in the name of God.”

“Oh, the crimes committed in the name of religion.” In Afghanistan we finally got the Russians out. Now the war is worse among factions. Perhaps we are more Islamic than we thought! “The church of Christ is the only army that shoots its wounded!” To purify the church we will divide, yea destroy it. All in the name of God!

Paradoxically, this temptation comes with our territory. We seek the truth; we condemn error. We then conclude we are saved by knowledge not faith. We go on witch hunts. The Crusades! The Inquisitions! All were done in the name of God!

Religious wars are always the meanest and bloodiest. There is a fear-dominated law-keeping rather than grace. Beware of the bad habits learned in controversy! Beware lest you become like the monster you fight! When brethren cannot bear the sight of each other, they cannot look the world in the eye  either!

Sectarianism! Religious paranoia! Keep the unity of the  Spirit!  Be  a  peacemaker!  Avoid  sectarians. Jimmy Allen (professor of Bible at Harding University) said 30 percent of his students came from split congregations! Reuel Lemmons once observed, “Hodge, we are too fragmented to split.”

HOW IS SECTARIANISM OVERCOME? Sectarianism can only be overcome by spiritual maturity: You cannot build a community out of anything except “disciples.” We are a crowd. Will we become a church? Let us be of Jesus, not sectarians.

God is changing me. This gives me the strength to accept all others God is changing. Unity validates truth. Jesus said, “By this [love] shall men know that you are My disciples.” Until the church is one, the world cannot be won. A lost world is the price of religious division. Unity in Jesus—not agreement over personal opinions.

Unity can only be had from diversity. Unity is not union, sameness, or conformity. By the way, conformity demands a creed! Diverse elements unite because of a higher cause. This is unity. My wife and I have much in common. However, we have major and minor differences. The unity f marriage transcends these differences. Unity is not pluralism. Pluralism is only a mixture, a syncretism.

Unity transcends diversities!

Re-read Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” This misleads. Read the NIV: “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to do so?”

Some, even in 100 percent agreement, cannot walk together. You do not walk together in agreement only; you walk together in unity. We must make a vow for unity. “I’ll stick with those I am stuck with.”

An Indian was walking up a mountain when he heard a voice.

“Carry me with you,” it requested.

The Indian turned and saw a snake. He refused. “If I carry you up the mountain you will bite me.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” the snake assured. “All I need is some help. I am slow and you are fast; please be kind and carry me to the top of the mountain.”

It was against his better judgment, but the Indian agreed. He picked up the snake, put him in his shirt, and resumed the journey. When they reached the top, he reached in his shirt to remove the snake and got bit.

He fell to the ground, and the snake slithered away.

“You lied!” the Indian cried. “You said you wouldn’t bite me.”

The snake stopped and looked back, “I didn’t lie. You knew who I was when you picked me up.”

We hear the legend and shake our heads. He should have known better, we bemoan. And we are right. He should have. And so should we. But don’t we do the same? Don’t we believe the lies of the snake? Don’t we pick up what we should leave alone?

The Corinthian Christians did. One snake after another had hissed lies in their ears, and they had believed it. How many lies did they believe?

How much time do you have?

The list is long and ugly: sectarianism, disunity, sexual immorality. And that is only the first six chapters.

But First Corinthians is more than a list of sins, it is an epistle of patience. Paul initiates the letter by calling these Christians “brothers.” He could have called them heretics or hypocrites or skirt-chasers (and in so many words he does), but not before he calls them brothers.

He patiently teaches them about worship, unity, the role of women, and the Lord’s Supper. He writes as if he can see them face to face. He is disturbed but not despondent. Angry but not desperate. His driving passion is love. And his treatise on love in chapter 13 remains the greatest essay ever penned.

The letter, however personal, is not just for Corinth. It is for all who have heard the whisper and felt the fangs. We, like the Indian, should have known better. We, like the Corinthians, sometimes need a second chance.[1]

[1] Max Lucado, Life Lessons from the Inspired Word of God: Book of 1 Corinthians, Inspirational Bible Study Series (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1997), 7–9.

[1] Ben Merold, Sermon Outlines on 1 Corinthians, ed. Sam E. Stone, Standard Sermon Starters (Cincinnati, OH: Standard, 1995), 9.

[2] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 14.

[3] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians: Godly Solutions for Church Problems, MacArthur Bible Studies (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001), 14.

[4] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 1 Co 1:12.

[5] Ben Merold, Sermon Outlines on 1 Corinthians, ed. Sam E. Stone, Standard Sermon Starters (Cincinnati, OH: Standard, 1995), 9.

[6] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 15.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


A study of 1 Corinthians #2 The Cross of Christ Has No Status to the Lost – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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.

Note how Paul approaches the severe problem of division: he does not have fire in his eyes nor a spirit of rebuke and fight in his heart. There is not even a trace of anger in him. On the contrary, his heart is tender and full of love. He graciously appeals to the Corinthians.

→ He says, “I beseech you.” The word beseech (parakalo) means to call to one’s side. Paul says, “I call you to my side; come, let’s share together, talk the matter over. I ask, plead, beg—hear what I have to say.”

→ He calls them brothers twice in just two verses (v. 10, 11).

→ He begs them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to heed what he is saying. He pleads with them to consider their love for Christ. They must do away with their divisions and be unified once again—for the sake of Christ. For Him and His cause they must obey Him and be united in one spirit and one mind.

Ministers of the gospel and leaders must not lambaste nor attack and censure those in the congregation who cause trouble, dissension, and division. Rather, they must approach the divisive person in a spirit of tenderness and love, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it may be difficult because of the severity of the problem and the arrogance and unwillingness of the troublemaker. Nevertheless, the heart of Christ is love and restoration. Therefore, we must always reach out in a spirit of love and restoration before church discipline is ever attempted.

The exhortation is strong; it is direct and straightforward. And note: it is immediately given. There is no hesitation and no equivocation in giving it. There should be no problem in understanding it, for it is plainly and simply stated.

The exhortation is to agree in speech: reach agreement, quit talking against each other, accusing, attacking, murmuring, grumbling, griping, complaining, gossiping. Quit using the tongue to stir dissension and division.

The exhortation is to allow no dissension or division. The word division (schismata) means to split, to rend, to tear apart. Note the words “among you.” The division or dissension is not outside the church; it is not out in the world. It is inside the church. The divisive church is not working to bring peace, love, and brotherhood to the world; the divisive church is not seen out in the world ministering to the starving, diseased, and lost masses of the world. The divisive church is seen fuming and fighting. The sinful and devastating problems of dissension are within the divisive church. The divisive church is splitting, rending, and tearing itself apart.

The exhortation is to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The words perfectly joined together mean just what they say: to be in perfect union with each other; to be perfectly united and joined together; to be restored to the perfect union of being together. The idea behind the Greek word is that of a torn net being repaired and mended (Mt. 4:21), or a man’s broken and dislocated limb being restored to its proper place.

The union is to be in both mind and judgment. The mind would involve thoughts, reasonings, affections, emotions, motives, and intentions. Judgment would involve conclusions, purposes, goals, and objectives. The exhortation is for the Corinthian church to restore itself, and note: they are not just to be joined together—they are to be perfectly joined together in mind and judgment.

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

The tragic report is that contention is within the church. The contention was so severe that some believer went to Paul about the matter. Just who the believer was is not known. He or she was of the household of Chloe, who was apparently a believer well known to the Corinthians. Chloe was probably a citizen of Ephesus and not of Corinth. Paul would never have identified his source of information if he or she had lived in Corinth lest some of the arguing parties turn against Chloe and her household. Paul was writing to Corinth from Ephesus, so a member of her household probably reported the matter to Paul on some return trip from Corinth.

The depth and seriousness of the division is again brought out by the word contentions (erides). The word means wranglings, strifes, quarrels, factions. Note: the nature of division is more clearly defined by the word. The church was arguing and splitting into groups, contending and quarreling over something. There was a severe strife between factions and cliques in the church. Contention is one of the terrible “works of the flesh.”[1]

Paul identifies four parties in the Church at Corinth. They have not broken away from the Church; the divisions are as yet within it. The word he uses to describe them is schismata), which is the word for rents in a garment. The Corinthian church is in danger of becoming as unsightly as a torn garment.

Like Christians in Corinth, contemporary believers often cluster around popular preachers and teachers. And the result is just as divisive as in the first century. Instead of dividing over personalities, worship styles, and theological minutiae, we need to focus on Christ. He will unify us. Give your allegiance to no one but Christ. Let him lead you.

It is to be noted that the great figures of the Church who are named, Paul and Cephas and Apollos, had nothing to do with these divisions. There were no dissensions between them. Without their knowledge and without their consent their names had been appropriated by these Corinthian factions. It not infrequently happens that a man’s so-called supporters are a bigger problem than his open enemies.

Division within the church is one of the most serious problems a church can face, if not the most serious. It can devastate the church’s fellowship, worship, mission, and witness to the world unless it is solved quickly. Paul knew this; therefore, he sought to solve the problem immediately. Every church and minister of God needs to study and keep this passage forever in their memories.[2]

The depth and seriousness of the division is again brought out by the word contentions (erides). The word means wranglings, strifes, quarrels, factions. Note: the nature of division is more clearly defined by the word. The church was arguing and splitting into groups, contending and quarreling over something. There was a severe strife between factions and cliques in the church. Contention is one of the terrible “works of the flesh.”

To be perfectly united does not mean that Paul required everyone to be exactly the same. Instead, he wanted them to set aside their arguments and focus on what truly mattered—Jesus Christ as Lord and their mission to take the light of the gospel into a dark world.

Divisions between Christians work like brick walls and barbed-wire fences to undermine the effectiveness of the message that believers are to proclaim. Focus on Jesus Christ, and the purpose he has for you. Strive for harmony. Keep arguments about allegiances off limits. The internal divisions would only cause strife and hinder the gospel, as well as make the church look ridiculous to those outside.

A thought: Shepherds of congregations and ministers of the gospel and leaders must not lambaste nor attack and censure those in the congregation who cause trouble, dissension, and division as their first action. Rather, they must approach the divisive person in a spirit of tenderness and love, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes it may be difficult because of the severity of the problem and the arrogance and unwillingness of the troublemaker. Nevertheless, the heart of Christ is love and restoration. We must always reach out in a spirit of love and restoration before church discipline is ever attempted.

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.”[3]

In three short questions Paul shows the critical nature of divisive cliques. Cliques strike …

  • at the Person of Christ or His Lordship.
  • at the crucifixion or death of Christ.
  • at the baptism or witness of the believer.

Note how clearly this is seen as each of the three problems with divisive groups is discussed.

  1. Cliques divide Christ. A clique always thinks it is right, no matter how divisive its position is, and it wants its way—too often at any cost.

→     A clique dethrones Christ. It sets itself up as the Lord, as the persons who are able to judge what is right and wrong for the church.

→     A clique attempts the impossible: it tries to divide Christ, to take Christ over to its side. A clique often claims that Christ supports its position, that Christ would hold the position and do exactly what the clique is doing.

Note the question asked by Scripture: Is Christ divided? Is part of Christ over here with this group and part of Him over there with that group? Who rules the church? Who is Lord? Who has the right to judge and say what is right and wrong, the Lord within the church, or cliques within the church?

Jesus Christ cannot be divided. There is only one Lord, only one Person who is called the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not two persons. He nor His will can be split into two divisive cliques. He is one Person and He has one will.

  1. Cliques elevate men to be saviors. Paul was not crucified for the Corinthians; therefore, he was not the savior of the Corinthians nor of any other body of believers. This is certain: if Paul was not a savior, then no other preacher nor any other leader of a clique is a savior. Believers do not owe their allegiance to preachers and leaders of cliques; they owe their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Christ who died for us, not preachers and leaders of churches. Therefore, we are to obey and follow the will of Christ as dictated in Scripture, and we are to support the servants of the Lord whom He places in our midst to minister to us. The Lord places a particular minister in our midst because he has a unique gift to offer to the church and ministry—a very special contribution that is needed during a particular time.
  2. Cliques make a person a man-follower. This is tragic, for a genuine believer is always baptized in the name of the Lord, not in the name of some minister or church leader. In his baptism the believer confessed the Lord and gave testimony that he was committing his life to follow the Lord. He did not confess loyalty to some man, no matter how great and wonderful the man might be. However, when the person forms or joins a clique, he disassociates himself from Christ and the rest of the believers; he betrays his baptism and commitment to Christ and His church, and gives his loyalty to the leader or position of a divisive clique.
  3. Now note Paul’s adamant denial that he ever attempted to secure a personal following of believers. He thanks God that he had not baptized but a few believers, for no believer can rightfully accuse him of seeking to form a following or a clique.

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 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.)

Paul used a series of rhetorical questions. First he asked whether Christ could be divided. This is a graphic picture of what happens when the church (the body of Christ) quarrels and argues. Christ is one; the church is one. No church ought to split into warring factions.

Second, Paul asked if he, himself, had been crucified for them. Again the answer is obviously no. Only One had been crucified for the believers—indeed, only One could be crucified to pay the penalty for sins.

Third: Were the believers baptized into the name of Paul (or even of Peter or Apollos)? Again, the answer was no. They were baptized into the name of the One who had been crucified for them. This whole idea of factions was wrong; Paul did not exempt those who desired to follow him, nor did he point out any flaws in the teachings of Peter and Apollos. They all taught the same thing—the gospel—but their demeanor and delivery were different.

Just as Jesus did not baptize people (John 4:1-2), so both Peter (Acts 10:48) and Paul allowed their associates to baptize the new converts. Until the church grew in Corinth, Paul did some of the baptizing; but that was not his main ministry.

In this section, Paul was not minimizing baptism, but rather was putting it into its proper perspective, because the Corinthians were making too much of it. “I was baptized by Apollos!” one would boast, while another would say, “Oh, but I was baptized by Paul!”

[1] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 15.

[2] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 13.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:11–12.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 10, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


A study of 1 Corinthians: #1 Addressing the ‘main’ issues (an introduction)

Solomon observed in his day that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He tried to prepare his generation for a thought we need to hear today: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, forever.”

When some of us were much younger, because of the disillusionment with organized religion, people were saying “Jesus, yes! The church, no!” They were hearing about church problems and deciding they wanted little or nothing to do “with that group,” though, if truth be known, they were not in the midst of God’s people so they weren’t getting the full picture. Those same words could also be said today.

  1. It reminds me of a phrase heard early in my ministry: “To live above with those we love, O, that will be glory. But to dwell below with those we know, well, that’s another story.”
  2. Charles Hodge has this response: “Stick with those you’re stuck with!” when discussing sectarianism, which we will discuss more completely next Sunday.

These sentiments could have been used it with sincerity in Corinth back in AD 56, because the local church there was in serious trouble. Sad to say, the problems did not stay within the church family; they were known by the unbelievers outside the church.

But what does ‘that’ have to do with ‘us?’ You are fair to ask that question, but I am of the belief (and I know many of you think the same way) that this “eternal book” has much to say to our generation.

It’s From God to us: Perhaps you are of the minority today who may wonder: How do these ancient words apply today? We are distanced from the original readers by time, space, culture, and language. But we do share five striking similarities with the Corinthian Christians:

  1. We are people equally needing God’s truthful instruction.
  2. We live in a similar aggressively pluralistic society that denies absolutes and makes “personal rights” absolute.
  3. This claim to personal rights challenges the lordship of Jesus Christ within the church today, even as it did then.
  4. The ancient philosophy that “might and money make right” continues to divide churches and destroy people’s lives.
  5. The resurrection of Jesus Christ remains the solid fact upon which our faith rests. To some, it will always be a stumbling block.

My conclusion: so, in spite of the obvious differences between ourselves and the Corinthians, the points of similarity make it crucial that we read this letter as God’s Word for our day. He is going to be talking to me and you!

Somehow, an expression of thanksgiving is not what I would have expected from Paul at this point in time. Here is a church that has begun to listen to false teachers and who is challenging Paul’s authority. Here is a church which condones immorality and “unconditionally accepts” a man whose sin shocks the unbelieving pagans of that city. Here is a church whose personal conflicts are being aired out before unbelieving eyes in secular courts. How can Paul possibly give thanks?

Paul believed that the real cause of the Corinthians’ problem was not errant philosophies but a lack of love for each other. Instead of unifying around the gospel message, the Corinthians had created divisions by asserting themselves in public worship and at the Lord’s Supper. They had sided with one teacher over another.

Paul does not give thanks for the sins and failures of these saints. Paul gives thanks to God for what He has done and for what He will ultimately do for His children.

To deal with this deeper issue, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to focus on Christ. As members of Christ’s body, they should be united to do Christ’s work. If they could learn to love each other, they would grow in their faith. Thus, the unifying theme of this corrective letter is the unity of Christians in Christ’s body, the church (12:13). [1]


If we had any doubts  about what Paul was excited  about, what was at the center of his thoughts and intentions, this first paragraph of one of his most varied and lengthy letters would soon put  us straight.

One name keeps coming  up, over and over again. It’s good to remind  ourselves where Paul’s heart  lay, because we can easily read the whole  letter merely as an  argumentative tract,  almost  bossy sometimes, setting the Corinthians right about  this and that, as though  his only concern was to lick them  into shape.

In the first 10 verses of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the name of Jesus Christ occurs no fewer than ten times. This was going to be a difficult letter for it was going to deal with a difficult situation, and in such a situation Paul’s first and repeated thought was of Jesus Christ.

Paul couldn’t stop  talking  about Jesus, because without Jesus nothing  else he said or did made any sense. And what he wants the Corinthians (and us) to get hold of most of all is what it means to have Jesus at the middle of your story, your life, your thoughts,  your  imagination. N. T. Wright said: “If they could do that,  all the other  issues that  rush  to and fro  through the letter will  sort themselves out.”

I’ve said over the years that we need to “fall in love with Jesus Christ,” and IF we do, some of the things we’re asked to do will be less difficult!

In particular, he wants  them  to have Jesus at the center of their understanding of the world and of history.  Most of the Christians  in Corinth  had   not   been   Jews,  but   ordinary ‘pagans’.  They had  been Gentiles, believing in various  gods and goddesses….But without any idea that  history,  the story of the world, was going anywhere,  or that their own lives might be  part  of  that  forward movement.

Again  and  again  Paul wants them to learn this lesson: that they (and all Christians) have/should be caught up into  a great movement  of the love and power of the one true God, the God of Israel, whose work for the whole world had now  been  unveiled  through the  events concerning his  son. That’s why Jesus is at the center of the picture.

Sometimes in the Church we try to deal with a difficult situation by means of a book of laws and in the spirit of human justice; sometimes in our own affairs we try to deal with a difficult situation in our own mental and spiritual power. Paul did none of these things; to his difficult situation he took Jesus Christ, and it was in the light of the Cross of Christ and the love of Christ that he sought to deal with it.

How do these issues arise in the church?

  1. Church of “faith” compared to the “church of fact.”
  2. Importance of holding a “private view” after “we don’t/won’t do that here.”

The members of the church permitted the sins of the city to get into the local assembly.

Corinth was a polluted city, filled with every kind of vice and worldly pleasure. About the lowest accusation you could make against a man in that day would be to call him “a Corinthian.” People would know what you were talking about.

Corinth was also a proud, philosophical city, with many itinerant teachers promoting their speculations. Unfortunately, this philosophical approach was applied to the Gospel by some members of the church, and this fostered division. The congregation was made up of different “schools of thought” instead of being united behind the Gospel message.

Of course, when you have proud people, depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems. In order to help them solve their problems, Paul opened his letter by reminding them of their calling in Christ. He pointed out three important aspects of this calling.

Paul first attacked the serious problem of defilement in the church, yet he said nothing about the problem itself. Instead, he took the positive approach and reminded the believers of their high and holy position in Jesus Christ.

“Set apart” by God – 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 (ESV) Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2  To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul wanted the minds of the Corinthian believers to be immediately centered upon Jesus Christ. He knew this: the answer to the Corinthian problems did not lay in his ability to discuss and reason, nor in his laying down rules and regulations for them, but in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he immediately discussed some of the resources which the believer receives when he accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

  1. Resource 1: the grace of God, given by Jesus Christ (v. 4).
  2. Resource 2: the gifts of God’s grace and Spirit (vv. 5–7).
  3. Resource 3: Jesus Christ Himself—His security and assurance (v. 8).
  4. Resource 4: God Himself—His call (v. 9).[2]

Look how, with a few deft strokes of the pen, he sketches a picture of the Christians in Corinth so that at every point their story is intertwined with Jesus’ story.

To begin with, God has set them  aside  for  his  own  special  purposes  in  Christ; that’s  what ‘made  holy’ means  (verse 2).

From God’s point  of view; it means that   he  has  set  people  aside for  special  purposes;  and  the people in question  are expected to co-operate  with this. That, indeed, is what quite a lot of the letter will be about.

The word church in the Greek language means “a called-out people.” Each church has two addresses: a geographic address (“at Vallejo”) and a spiritual address (“in Christ Jesus”). The church is made up of saints, that is, people who have been “sanctified” or “set apart” by God. A saint is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use.

When a man and woman pledge their love to each other, they are set apart for each other; and any other relationship outside of marriage is sinful. Just so, the Christian belongs completely to Jesus Christ; he is set apart for Him and Him alone.

But once they’ve been set aside as special, they discover that they are part of a large and growing worldwide  family, brothers and  sisters of everyone  who ‘calls on the  name  of our  Lord King Jesus’. In fact, ‘calling on’ this name  is the  one and  only sign of membership in this family, though people in Paul’s day and ever since have tried to introduce other  signs of member­ ship as well.

Enriched by God’s grace (vv. 4-6).  I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5  that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6  even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—

Paul thanked God for the Corinthian believers. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we focus on our blessings and express our gratitude to God for them. But thanks should be expressed every day. We can never say thank you enough to parents, friends, leaders, and especially to God. When thanksgiving becomes an integral part of your life, you will find that your attitude toward life will change. You will become more positive, gracious, loving, and humble. Whom do you need to thank today?

As in most of his letters, Paul follows the opening greeting by  telling  them  what  he thanks  God for  when  he thinks  of them – using the opportunity, in the process, to hint at some of the  things  he’s going to be talking  about  later  on.

Notice how  he  moves  from  what  happened to  them   in  the  past, through the sort of people they are in the present, to the hope they have for the future, with Jesus at the center at every stage. God gave them his ‘grace’ in Jesus (verse 4).

‘Grace’ is one of those little words that contains a whole universe of meaning, summing  up the fact that God loved them and acted decisively on their behalf even though  they had done nothing  whatever to deserve it, but rather the opposite.

Expecting Jesus to return (v. 7).so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Christians who are looking for their Savior will want to keep their lives above reproach.

Depending on God’s faithfulness (vv. 8-9).who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As Christians, one of the strongest rebukes we can have when we sin is to be reminded of who our Father is. And reminding ourselves of whose we are should be one of our strongest deterrents to sin. Remembering our position can compel us to improve our practice.”[3]

Paul isn’t talking about  problems  at the moment.  God called them in the past, God equips them in the present, and God will complete the whole process in the future.  World history, and the story of the Christian life, has a shape, and Jesus is its shaper  at every point.

Christian  must always be leaning forwards towards  God’s finishing line, ‘eagerly waiting for our Lord, King Jesus to be revealed’. One of you called this “our exit plan” recently.

There is corning a day – like ‘the   day of  the  God   in  the   Old  Testament,   only  more so – when the hidden  truth about the world will be unveiled; this truth will turn out to be a person, and the person will turn out to be Jesus.

Writing this letter, in other words, is part of the process by which  God intends  to take these Christians  from  the one to  the  other,  from  God’s past  achievement  to  God’s  future finishing of the job. May God grant that it will have that effect on us, too.

[1] Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). 1 & 2 Corinthians (pp. 9–10). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

[2] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The First & Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 9.

[3] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians: Godly Solutions for Church Problems, MacArthur Bible Studies (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2001), 12.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 7, 2022 in 1 Corinthians, Church


Forgiveness ‘Explained’ Luke 7:36-50

But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

Luke 7:36-50 (ESV) One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37  And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38  and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39  Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

40  And Jesus answering said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41  “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43  Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

44  Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

 47  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. 48  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49  Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50  And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Those who know the Greek language tell us that Jesus had been with her previously to her coming into this house, and what took place then brought out this response in the house. Your sins “go on” being forgiven, he told her. We’re not surprised by her response, are we? When our sins are forgiven, again and again, don’t we celebrate at the highest level?

Jesus was making the point that, if we are not each aware of how great our own sin debt to God is in His eyes, we will not have a proper degree of love and gratitude to God for the mercy that He has shown us in making forgiveness of that debt possible for Jesus’ sake.

We will also not show the proper love and forgiveness toward our neighbors, because we will think of ourselves as being better than they are, rather than as being just as much in need of God’s grace and mercy ourselves as they are.

 News announcement on a few years back: COOKEVILLE, Tenn.  – Funeral arrangements for Mrs. Nancy Stout have been finalized, following her tragic death on Sunday, May 2, at the Jefferson Avenue congregation in Cookeville, Tenn. Sister Stout, 65, was killed in the church parking lot after being hit by the car of fellow member, Paul Wright, 82. How difficult do you think this made attending that congregation between the Stout family and the Wright family?

When missionaries first came to Labrador, they found no word for forgiveness in the Eskimo language.  So they had to make one which meant, “not being able to think about it anymore.”

What exactly is forgiveness? According to Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., ” … Forgiveness consists primarily of taking less personal offense, reducing anger and the blaming of the offender, and developing increased understanding of situations that often lead to feeling hurt and angry.”

Thomas Merton: We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven. Therefore, we should be glad that we can be forgiven by others. It is our forgiveness of one another that makes the love of Jesus manifest in our lives, for in forgiving one another we act towards one another as He has acted towards us.

 Some Pictures of Forgiveness

Removing offense far, far away from us (Ps 103:12)

(Psalm 103:12 NIV)  “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

  Putting offenses behind our backs (Isa. 38:17)

(Isa 38:17 NIV)  “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”

 Blotting out what was done  (Isa. 43:25; Psalm 51:1, 9)

(Isa 43:25 NIV)  “”I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

 (Psa 51:1 NIV)  ” Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”

  Casting the offense in the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19)

(Micah 7:19 NIV)  “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

As Luskin points out, holding on to anger over past hurts is counterproductive. “All the huffing and puffing and groaning and moaning you might do isn’t going to make somebody love you more or be fairer or kinder to you,” Luskin said. “It’s a poor strategy that people don’t give up easily, but it is something that can be learned.”

 (Mat 18:32 NIV)  “”Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,‘ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.”

(Mat 18:34-35 NIV)  “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

There might be marriages in our congregations that are going to disintegrate unless someone finds a way to forgive. There are families that will collapse, unless someone finds a way to forgive.  There are friendships that will unravel, unless someone decides to forgive. There are groups that will split, unless someone forgives.

The bitterness & resentment we feel will also alienate us & cut us off from others. It will make us suspicious & fearful of relationships. It will isolate us. Unforgiveness destroys community. Churches ought to be a no-debt zone, but it’s not always so.

(Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV)  “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. {15} See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Marianne Williamson: Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle:  the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts.

Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.

Benefit of Forgiveness #1: It heals a wound in your heart.

Things in our lives can certainly leave scars. When you experience a deep hurt, forgiveness is what heals that wound.

Benefit of Forgiveness #2: It Brings You Peace

When we forgive someone, it may feel like we are doing it for them. By holding on to that hurt that you just can’t let go of, it may feel like you are getting revenge and hurting them back. But the person that you are forgiving may never know that you are still thinking of how they wronged you. The person that is hurting the most is you.

Benefit of Forgiveness #3: It Helps Your Other Relationships

It’s hard to have other good healthy relationships with you are holding a grudge or walking around with bitterness in your heart. Those things poison our other relationships. Not forgiving plants a seed of doubt in our loved ones’ minds of “What if I ever mess up so badly that they never forgive me?”

When you forgive others it helps you love people better, especially those close to you. That’s a huge benefit of forgiveness!

Benefit of Forgiveness #4: It Stops Victimhood Mentality

When someone has wronged you, it’s easy to think that they destroyed your life. You might even think that they ruined your entire future and you’ll never be happy with your life. That’s a lot of pain to live with.

When you forgive someone you take back control of your life. You acknowledge the hurt and the results of what happened, but you also give yourself permission and the freedom to move on. You move from the position of being bounce around in the back of a covered wagon to sitting in the driver’s seat and holding the reins. It puts you back in charge of your own life.

Benefit of Forgiveness #5: Improved Mental Health

As you can imagine, improved mental health is a huge benefit of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we also let go of guilt towards ourselves. We no longer let bitterness and anger poison our other relationships and that space can be filled with love instead.

Benefit of Forgiveness #6: Stress Reduction

Stress causes physical symptoms in our bodies, none of which are good long-term.

Benefit of Forgiveness #7: Sets a Good Example for Others

 His Mercy is More by Matt Papa

Verse 1: What love could remember, no wrongs we have done Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum

Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 Verse 2: What patience would wait as we constantly roam What Father so tender is calling us home

He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 Verse 3: What riches of kindness He lavished on us His blood was the payment His life was the cost

We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Chorus: Praise the Lord His mercy is more Stronger than darkness New every morn’ Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Two items on my desk for decades:





God is gracious & willing to forgive, but we do need to know that forgiveness is not automatic. Forgiveness is in Christ. If you’re not in Christ or if you’re not sure you’re in Christ…pursue the answer to that dilemma. Let those in this congregation help you in that pursuit.



Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2022 in Forgiveness


What is our Greatest Need? A study of Forgiveness

A Fresh Start: Putting Our Past Behind Us 

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV)  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

What did the crowd see?   What did the four men see?   What would you see? What did Jesus see?

5  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.6  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

A truly remarkable story came out of Western Kentucky a few years ago. A young man, Ted Morris, was killed by a drunk driver, Tommy Pigage. Ted’s parents were understandably crushed by their loss and outraged at the injustice of it all. But as time passed, the Morrises overcame their bitterness. They actually befriended Pigage and taught him the good news of Jesus. Pigage was eventually baptized into Christ and was able to start his life over again.

After Couple Forgave Son’s Killer, All Three Were Able to Start New Life



For more than two years, Frank and Elizabeth Morris dedicated their lives to punishing the drunk driver who had killed their only child. Driven by hatred, they monitored his every court appearance, followed him to the county jail to make sure he was serving his weekend sentence and watched his apartment to try to catch him violating his probation.

“We wanted him in prison,” Elizabeth Morris said. “We wanted him dead.”

Tommy Pigage, the young man who caused the fatal crash, still gets a lot of attention from the Morrises.

They drive him to church twice a week and often set a place for him at their dinner table.

Couple Forgives Pigage

Unable to find satisfaction through revenge, the couple recently decided to forgive Pigage and try to rebuild his life along with their own.

“The hate and the bitterness I was feeling was destroying me,” Elizabeth Morris said. “I needed to forgive Tommy to save myself.”

Since the Morrises made their decision to befriend him, Pigage, 26, has joined their church, quit drinking and become an active lecturer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“They’ve given me a better life,” he said. “They’ve made it much easier for me to live with myself and forgive myself.”

The Morrises were able to start over also because they had overcome the hurt and anger that had consumed their lives. What a happy ending to such a tragic story! And this happy ending was no fairy tale. It did not come by wishing the bad news away. It was not resolved by the people involved giving themselves over to despair and defeat. The power that enabled them to rise up from tragedy and go on with their lives was forgiveness. They were able to forgive each other, and they received and trusted the Lord’s forgiveness.

They could never change the wrongs that had been done, but they could forgive and be forgiven. Three of the most beautiful words in the English language are the words “I forgive you.” These words, spoken honestly, can end a spat between spouses, conclusively deal with a mistake someone has made, or restore a relationship that has been broken by someone’s misdeeds. Forgiveness is indeed a precious gift that one can give to another.

What makes forgiveness so priceless? Why do we long to hear these words? It is valuable to us because we know we need it. Tommy Pigage needed forgiveness. As remarkable as it may seem, Mr. and Mrs. Morris needed forgiveness for their bitterness and hatred. So do you and me. We have hurt others and not lived up to what we know to be right. Forgiveness meets a need that we know we have.

I want us to spend our time in God’s Word, looking at well-known scriptures that point us toward the proper appreciation and understanding of forgiveness. Those who were in class today have the benefit of understanding this subject even better.

If any one topic is at the very heart of Christianity, it is forgiveness. It is vital that we learn to forgive. The Gospel itself is a message about God’s forgiveness, and Christ’s teaching was full of exhortations to His people to be forgiving to one another. He set an incredibly high standard, teaching us to forgive even the most stubborn offenders.

In fact, let’s be honest: the standard at times seems impossibly high! How can we overcome our natural human inclinations and learn to forgive the way God demands of us? And, yet, we ought to be glad the standard is so high—because it’s based on the forgiveness God Himself extends to us, after all! God is the consummate forgiver. And we depend every day on His ongoing forgiveness for our sins. The least we can do is emulate His forgiveness in our dealings with one another.

One of the real keys is for us to see clearly how important it is to do so. Let me share four reasons why we need to forgive.

  1. God said to.

(Luke 23:34 NIV)  “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

(Eph 4:32 NIV)  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

(Col 3:13 NIV)  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

  1. Our own forgiveness depends on it.

(Mat 18:21-22 NIV)  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

(Mat 18:35 NIV)  “”This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.””

(Mark 11:25 NIV)  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.””

If you receive grace, you’ll pass it on. If you harden your heart, you either forfeit his grace or never had it to begin with. You cannot take a grudge to heaven.

  1. To restore relationships.

We need relationships; we were made for relationships. And we need to try to make all our relationships good. The trouble is none of the humans who are available to have a relationship with is perfect. The only way to get along is to forgive. Since we are not perfect, we couldn’t have a relationship with God—but he forgave us so we could have a relationship with him. That’s exactly why we need to forgive—so we can have relationships. It will be possible without them.

Some years ago, after a vigorous brotherly and sisterly disagreement, three children retired only to be aroused at two o’clock in the morning by a terrific thunderstorm. Hearing an unusual noise upstairs I called in to find out what was going on. A little voice answered, “We are all in the closet forgiving each other.”

  1. For our own spiritual, emotional, & physical health.

This is huge. Researchers have discovered direct links between forgiveness and physical & emotional health. Not forgiving almost inevitably leads to chronic anger & stress, both of which are toxic. It leads to higher rates of stress-related disorders, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, clinical depression, lower immune system function, & higher divorce rates. Some evidence it also decreases neurological function & decreases memory.

We might think we have a lot of physical and emotional items in our life that are our highest priority if we had the opportunity to have them removed! Forgiveness of sins is of first importance! He has authority to forgive sins, to say “my son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven” to say “you’re ok” & you really are…

Forgiveness ought to be like a canceled note–torn in two and burned up so that it never can be shown against one.

If God were not willing to forgive sin, heaven would be empty. — German Proverb

Forgiveness is not that stripe which says, “I will forgive, but not forget.” It is not to bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out of the ground, so you can grasp it the minute you want it. — Dwight Lyman Moody (1837–1899)

Nelson Mandela statement (see picture)

Botham Jean, a 2016 Harding alumnus from St. Lucia who was tragically killed Sept. 6, 2018, in his home in Dallas.

During the ceremony, the first Botham Jean Inspiration Award was given to his brother, Brandt Jean, who made a worldwide impact when he modeled true forgiveness in a Texas courtroom and inspired forgiveness in others.

….asked the judge who had just found his brother’s killer guilty if it was ok if he approached her…hugged her and said he forgave her.

‘I forgive you’: Botham Jean’s brother hugs Amber Guyger after she gets 10 years in prison

Amber Guyger’s Judge Gave Her a Bible and a Hug.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 31, 2022 in Forgiveness


Examples from our past – 1 Corinthians 10:1-11

Examples of the Past, Warning for the Present (1 Corinthians 10:1-13) - Praise Center Church - Denver, CONow these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

In chapter 9 Paul used himself as an example of a mature Christian who disciplined himself to better serve God. Chapter 10 presents Israel as an example of spiritual immaturity, shown in their overconfidence and lack of self-discipline.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

This chapter continues Paul’s argument concerning the lifestyle of the believers and the need for self-discipline, as recorded in chapters 8 and 9. At the end of chapter 9, Paul had described his own self-discipline and had warned about the danger of being “disqualified.”

The Christian life is a struggle, precisely because it is “Christian.” It is a struggle to obey God, face persecution, exercise self-control and self-discipline, and deal with sin in one’s life. When people are “saved,” they grow in their relationship with Christ and want to become more like him.

They will not become perfect in this life, but they desire to work toward holiness. Some of the Corinthian believers thought that because they had professed faith, went to church, and joined in the Lord’s Supper, they could then live as they pleased. But this was a false belief, as Paul would show through the example he used from Israel’s history.

A perfect Old Testament example of believing the false notion that one can be saved and then live a faithless, God-less life can be seen in what happened to the Jews’ ancestors in the wilderness long ago. The book of Exodus contains the record of their miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt by the intervention of God (see Exodus 1–12). God gave them a leader (Moses), set them free (through great miracles), and then guided all of them as they moved out of Egypt and headed toward the land God wanted to give them (the Promised Land). “A cloud” refers to God’s presence in the form of a cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:21–22). Their guide was God himself in a physical form, directly in front of them! When they came to the Red Sea, God brought them all safely through the waters of the sea on dry ground. This event is recorded in Exodus 14.

The emphasis in 10:1–4 is on the word “all,” which Paul used four or five times. Paul was making the point that all of the Israelites experienced the miracles of God’s protection and guidance. Yet, later, so many turned away. Many thought that their place among God’s people assured them the Promised Land. Assuming themselves secure, they refused the life of self-discipline, self-denial, and obedience to God. Because of that, many were “disqualified” from entering the Promised Land.


From the example of his own life (chapter 9) Paul turned to the subject of the Exodus. God’s power in freeing his people from bondage in Egypt provides countless insights into God’s grace and integrity. The people were liberated en masse. Many walked out of slavery physically, but their hearts, minds, and wills remained captive. Freedom from oppression did not lead them to grateful living. Though all benefitted, many nullified those benefits by persistent unbelief.

Christians today have a marvelous heritage of God’s faithfulness. We also have a lengthy history of human sinfulness. How tragic it is when, through ignorance of the past, we repeat many of the same mistakes that spiritually crippled and limited the spread of the gospel. When we read in God’s Word about the failures of others, do we respond, “That couldn’t happen to me”? If so, we may be falling into the same danger.

and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea

This verse at first seems very difficult to understand. But it must be understood that “baptism” here is used for comparison, not as an exact equivalent. And “into Moses” is used as being analagous to the Christian experience of being baptized “into Christ” (see Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). The Israelites were baptized in that they shared the blessing and gracious deliverance of God with and through Moses’ intervention and leadership. By their experience of passing through the Red Sea, they were united and initiated together under Moses’ leadership. “When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had displayed against the Egyptians, they feared the Lord and put their faith in him and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31 nlt). The cloud represented God’s presence and glory among them (Exodus 14:19–22), indicating his leadership and protection. The sea represented God’s salvation of his people through the Red Sea as they crossed safely to escape the Egyptians. All of the Israelites experienced this “baptism.” However, the common experience of this baptism did not keep most of them faithful to God in the days that followed.

and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

  Further miracles sustained the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert. God provided spiritual food in the form of “manna” that came from heaven (Exodus 16:4, 14–31). Paul called it “spiritual” because God had provided it for them. The spiritual drink referred to the water Moses obtained from a rock, again a provision directly from God. Moses got water from a rock both at the beginning and at the end of Israel’s journey (Exodus 17:1–7; Numbers 20:2–13).

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

  God had performed great miracles for his people—setting them free from slavery, guiding them through a sea, and giving them food and drink in a barren wilderness. Yet after all this, most of the people rebelled against God.

The word “most” is actually an understatement; of the thousands who stood at the very edge of the Promised Land, only two men had faith enough in God to enter (Numbers 14:5–12). Because of their lack of faith, God caused the people to turn back from the land and wander for forty years in the wilderness.

God destroyed them in the wilderness by causing them to wander until they died. Only Joshua and Caleb lived long enough to enter the land (Numbers 14:30). The rest died without ever having entered the Promised Land—this was God’s punishment on them for their disobedience and rebellion against him. See Hebrews 3–4, where the wilderness example is also used as a warning.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Far from being irrelevant to New Testament Christians, the stories of people in the Old Testament provide examples from which the believers can learn. In particular, the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt teaches believers to not desire evil as they did. Clearly, the Israelites’ status as God’s people and recipients of his love and provision did not mean that all of them loved and served God in return. Instead, many actually desired evil and turned away from God, as the following verses describe.


As Paul wrote about the history of his people, he highlighted God’s directions, warnings, and examples. It turns out that events transpired and were recorded for future purposes. Twice in this chapter, he pointed out that “these things occurred as examples” for us (10:6, 11). The examples were specific behaviors: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, and complaining. In each case, the consequences were death. Each also represents a real temptation toward “setting our hearts on evil things” (niv).

Instead of obeying the One who gave them freedom, God’s people rebelled. We rebel against God when we give in to our cravings to put pleasures ahead of service to God. Don’t let anything come between you and God.

Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

This incident, when “the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry,” occurred when the Israelites made a golden calf and worshiped it in the wilderness (Exodus 32). Paul was quoting Exodus 32:6.

The people became idolaters, worshiping an image rather than God, who had brought them out of Egypt. The Israelites claimed to be worshiping God (Exodus 32:5); however, God was dishonored by what they were doing—both by their idol (a golden calf) and then by their “pagan revelry.”

“Revelry” refers to singing, shouting, and dancing that promote sexual immorality. This also shows that the problem addressed in 8:1–13 was idolatry, not merely eating marketplace meat. If those people who had witnessed the miracles of the escape from Egypt could so easily be tempted to turn to idolatry, then the Christians in Corinth, who were surrounded by idols, should also be on their guard.

The Corinthian believers needed to remember that God is completely separate from idolatry. They could not participate in idol festivals or celebrations and claim that they were really worshiping God through them. This dishonored God. He does not overlook sin, nor does he take it lightly. Neither should his followers.


Why did people continually turn to idols instead of to God?

Idols were: God is:




Intangible—no physical form


Morally similar—
had human characteristics
Morally dissimilar—
has divine characteristics




Able to be manipulated


Not able to be manipulated


Worshiping idols involved:


Worshiping God involves:


Sexual immorality


Purity and commitment


Doing whatever a person
Doing what God wants


Focusing on self


Focusing on others



We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

This incident, when 23,000 of the Israelites died in one day is recorded in Numbers 25:1–9. The Israelites worshiped a god of Canaan, Baal of Peor, and engaged in sexual immorality with Moabite women.

Part of the worship of this god, Baal, involved sexual immorality; the Israelites had engaged in actions clearly against their own laws in order to “worship” an idol. This occurred during the wanderings in the wilderness, so it involved the same group of people who had left Egypt and had already been punished for worshiping the golden calf (10:7).

Many continued in sin, without regard for the God to whom they claimed to belong. Because of their sin, God punished them harshly. For the believers in Corinth, the comparison would have been inescapable. Much of the idol worship there focused on ritual prostitution and sexual immorality of all kinds. God would not go lightly on those who claimed to be his but still engaged in idol worship or sexual immorality.


Today we can allow many things to become gods to us. Money, fame, work, or pleasure can become gods when we concentrate too much on them for personal identity, meaning, and security. No one sets out with the intention of worshiping these things. But by the amount of time we devote to them, they can grow into gods that ultimately control our thoughts and energies. Letting God hold the central place in our lives keeps these things from turning into gods.

Sexual sin is powerful and destructive. That is why God has so many laws about sexual sins. Instructions about sexual behavior would have been vital for 3 million people on a forty-year camping trip. But they would be equally important when they entered the Promised Land and settled down as a nation. Paul recognized the importance of strong rules about sex for believers, because sexual sins have the power to disrupt and destroy the church (see also Colossians 3:5–8). Sins involving sex are not innocent dabblings in forbidden pleasures, as is so often portrayed, but powerful destroyers of relationships. They bring confusion and tear down the respect and trust so essential for solid marriages and secure children.

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents

Other versions (such as the niv), following some manuscripts, read “the Lord” instead of “Christ.” But “Christ” has the better manuscript support and is the reading that scribes would be tempted to change because it is difficult to imagine the Israelites tempting Christ in the wilderness. But Paul had already affirmed that Christ, as the spiritual Rock, accompanied them in their wilderness journeys (see 10:4 and discussion). This verse affirms Christ’s deity and preexistence.

This verse also recalls Israel’s complaining about having been brought out into the wilderness. The people complained, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness? … There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this wretched manna” (Numbers 21:5 nlt). The people even complained about the manna—the miracle food that God had provided (see Exodus 16:31–32). They were testing the Lord’s patience to see what he would do, and he punished them for their complaining attitudes by sending poisonous snakes among them. Many were killed by the snakes. Those who claim to be God’s people will not test the Lord to see how much they can get away with. True believers will seek to stay near to God in order to constantly live in obedience to him (see also Hebrews 3–4).

10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

  This incident of grumbling occurred when the people complained against the leadership of Moses and Aaron—an event that actually happened several times. The phrase “God sent his angel of death to destroy them” could refer to when the Israelites grumbled at Kadesh, refusing to enter the Promised Land. God punished them with a plague (Numbers 14:2, 36–37). This could also refer to the incident recorded in Numbers 16 when a group rebelled against Moses, and God sent a plague that killed the rebels. In both cases, the assumption is that the plague that resulted came through God’s angel of death. This angel is first mentioned in Exodus 12:23, with the last plague that came upon Egypt. Grumbling against God or against his leaders results in divine punishment. God does not take this sin lightly either. This was another problem that the Corinthian church was facing (3:1–9).


Paul warned the Corinthian believers not to grumble. We start to grumble when our attention shifts from what we have to what we don’t have. The people of Israel didn’t seem to notice what God was doing for them—setting them free, making them a nation, giving them a new land—because they were so wrapped up in what God wasn’t doing for them. They could think of nothing but the delicious Egyptian food they had left behind (Numbers 11:5).

Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, it’s helpful to think about what occupies our attention most of the time. Are we grateful for what God has given us, or are we always thinking about what we would like to have? Don’t allow your unfulfilled desires to cause you to forget God’s gifts of life: food, health, work, and friends.

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

The Old Testament stories were written down as warnings for believers of the first century, and for today. When the Israelites disobeyed, they received punishment. Likewise, when people who claim to be Christians sin with no repentance, no desire to change, and no concern for God’s laws, they too will receive punishment. When Christ came, everything changed. The ages past reached their fulfillment, and now their lessons, recorded in the pages of Scripture, can be understood in the light of God’s mercy and salvation in Jesus Christ.

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

  The Israelites had received numerous pictures of God’s grace and witnessed many miracles performed before their very eyes. Yet they gave in to temptation and fell away from God. Paul warned the Corinthian Christians to be careful. If they began to take pride in their faith, if they began to take it for granted, if they thought they were standing firm, that was the time to be most careful not to fall. The Corinthians were very sure of themselves, almost prideful. Paul said that if the Israelites fell into idolatry, so could some in the Corinthian church. No human being is ever beyond temptation while he or she is on this earth. Paul warned the believers not to let down their guard. Those most liable to fall are those who think they won’t.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 27, 2022 in 1 Corinthians


“The Better of Two Bad Sons” Matthew 21:28-32

Gospel Trivia: Matthew 21:28-32 - A Man and His Two Sons (26th Sunday in  Ordinary Time, September 28, 2014)

The parable comes in response to the question the chief priests and elders asked Jesus as He taught in the temple, Matthew 21:23 (NIV)  Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus refused to answer their question directly since they declined to answer His own question concerning the source of John the Baptist’s baptism.

Yet this parable provides an indirect answer, as is shown by the connective “but” which begins it.

This parable is presented as a vivid pictorial challenge to the Jewish leaders.

In Matthew 3:4-6 we find a first group responding to the message of repentance by John. But they came to John after their change of mind and regret for their sinful way of life. They feared that the Messiah would have nothing to do with them.

These religious leaders saw only too well that Jesus was referring to them: Matthew 21:45-46: 45When the high priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was talking about them.  46Although they wanted to arrest him, they were afraid of the crowds, for they considered him a prophet.

Matthew 21:28-32: “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ {29} “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. {31} “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said^, “The first.” Jesus said^ to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. {32} “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

This parable was spoken directly to them, and it showed them their true position in the kingdom of heaven.

The family laws made the father the absolute head over his children. The man in this parable represents God, while the two sons represent, respectively, the “sinners” (or outcasts among the Jews) and conservative Jews.

The first son said he would not go to the vineyard, but later he changed his mind and went. This son represents the “sinner” and outcast who rejected the call but “repented” and then obeyed.

The father invited both sons to go and work in his vineyard. The duty of every father is to instill in his children the necessity and blessing of work.

The children must recognize the field is still their father’s although they are called to work in it. “Son, go work today in my vineyard” (Matt. 21:28).

These two children were of the same father and yet they were so different.

The command “go work” is an emphatic imperative. The father meant what he said: “You go! You work!” There is no other choice in the father’s mind; no other alternative. The sons were to work and serve their father.

Note the word “today.” Today is the day to go. Today is the day to work, not tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. The harvest will rot in the field. They had to go today, while they had a chance to help their father.

The first child said, “I don’t want to go” (Matt. 21:29).

He voiced the instant inclination of his flesh. Tell a child to do something or go somewhere and the likely answer will be “I don’t want to.”

“Afterward he repented and went.”

How much afterward? In Greek the adverb implies not immediately afterwards, but toward the end of the thought process. It has more the meaning of “finally.”

The other child is differently disposed but the challenge of the father was the same. Work is for all. This child said “I’ll go,” but he did not.

The meaning of this parable is crystal clear. The Jewish leaders are the people who said they would obey God and then did not.

The tax-gatherers and the harlots are those who said that they would go their own way and then took God’s way.

The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. It is setting before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were none the less better than the other.

Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.

The ideal son would be the son who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and with respect and who unquestioningly and fully carried them out.

But there are truths in this parable which go far beyond the situation in which it was first spoken.

It tells us that there are two very common classes of people in this world.

First, there are the people whose profession is much better than their practice. They will promise anything; they make great protestations of piety and fidelity; but their practice lags far behind.

Second, there are those whose practice is far better than their profession. They claim to be tough, hardheaded materialists, but somehow they are found out doing kindly and generous things, almost in secret, as if they were ashamed of it.

They profess to have no interest in the Church and in religion, and yet, when it comes to the bit, they live more Christian lives than many professing Christians.

We have all of us met these people, those whose practice is far away from the almost sanctimonious piety of their profession, and those whose practice is far ahead of the sometimes cynical, and sometimes almost irreligious, profession which they make.

The real point of the parable is that, while the second class are infinitely to be preferred to the first, neither is anything like perfect. The really good man is the man in whom profession and practice meet and match.

Further, this parable teaches us that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds.

The son who said he would go, and did not, had all the outward marks of courtesy. In his answer he called his father “Sir” with all respect. But a courtesy which never gets beyond words is a totally illusory thing.

True courtesy is obedience, willingly and graciously given. On the other hand the parable teaches us that a man can easily spoil a good thing by the way he does it.

He can do a fine thing with a lack of graciousness and a lack of winsomeness which spoil the whole deed.

Here we learn that the Christian way is in performance and not promise, and that the mark of a Christian is obedience graciously and courteously given.

The Change of Mind Which Means Repentance

The word most commonly translated “repentance” in the New Testament is derived from “after,” and “to think, perceive.”

It means to change one’s mind, which involves an instantaneous change of heart, a regret for unbelief and sin, and a determination to change direction.

This is what both John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2) and the Lord Jesus preached: “Repent: for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

Real repentance results in the forgiveness or removal of sin.

This is not the word used in Matthew 21:29: “ … but afterward he repented and went.”

The Greek verb here is the passive participle, derived from “after,” and “to care or show concern for oneself.”

It means to regret, not because one feels he has done anything wrong but because something did not turn out to his own advantage.

A thief when caught regrets stealing not because he
has concluded that stealing is a sin, but because he was caught. Such a person, however, has not become moral if he does not steal anymore.

One represents moral change in an individual while the other is a convenient, selfish change of behavior and regret.

This verb is the verb used of Judas in Matthew 27:3, “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he [Jesus] was condemned, repented himself and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.”

A prophetic application

The first son or child represents the Gentiles who were expected to say “no” at the beginning but in the end said “yes,” and are now ahead of the unbelieving Jews (Rom. 10:18b-21).

The second son is representative of the Jewish nation. Jesus was of their own nationality. “Yes” was the immediate response expected, but then they changed their mind about Jesus and this
change became disastrous (Rom. 9:1-10, 18).

God is not yet through with the second son who will change his mind again and say “yes” (Rom. 11).

CHANGED MIND. True beliefs are responses tested by time. Each of the sons in Jesus’ story responded immediately to their father’s request. As it turned out, their first answers were meaningless. Each changed his mind. What they finally did and said mattered most. Jesus faced his detractors with a blunt application. Those considered farthest from God (prostitutes and tax collectors) were boldly embracing his grace. Meanwhile, those most familiar with God were rejecting the promised Messiah. Jesus didn’t close the door of the kingdom to the religious leaders, but he challenged their assumed citizenship. Four lessons flow immediately from this story: 1. Those who accept or reject the gospel too easily will be tested.  2. Regardless of how we came to Christ, our present state of obedience indicates our spiritual health.

  1. People who resist the gospel may be closer to conversion than those who are familiar with it.
  2. Where God is at work, we dare not jump to conclusions.

A personal application

Your initial response to Christ may be a “no.” Change your mind and be blessed.

Was your initial response a hurried “yes” without sufficient thought?

Have you found that no fruit has come from your flippant “yes”?

Change your mind by allowing the gospel to take root and bring forth fruit.




Leave a comment

Posted by on October 24, 2022 in Encouragement

%d bloggers like this: