The Message Of The Cross
1 Corinthians 1:1-31
Key Verse: 1:18
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian Christians in order to remind them of the Gospel he had preached to them some time ago, which they had believed, and by which they had been saved. When they first received the Gospel into their hearts they were changed into God’s beloved children. They had all come from different backgrounds, different ways of life, different lifestyles, and so on. But in the Gospel of Jesus, they had found whatever they had once been in the world to be of no consequence because in Christ they found love and unity and a common cause. But somehow, at some point in their Christian lives, they had again found themselves divided and contentious with one another. Soon, they found that all kinds of problems had somehow began to plague their church community and to tear them apart from the Lord and from each other. When Paul sat down to dictate a letter to them, he was troubled as to where to begin in trying to deal with the problems they were having. And although he offered them advice on the issues that divided them, his main message to them in the letter was the “cross” of Jesus. They needed to hear the message of the cross all over again because only the message of the cross of Jesus had the power to resolve all things in their hearts and in their lives and in the church God had called them to build together.
We had to pay attention to introduction of Paul’s letter to them because in it we find some truths that never change in a Christian’s faith and a Christian’s life. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” he had written them. That grace they were given is like an never ending fountain that keeps flowing in and out of their lives. “He will keep you strong to the end” Paul had written them, for “God who has called into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. These were words of confirmation and encouragement which they needed to hear regardless of what their spiritual condition had been at the time. They needed to know this in their hearts so that they might not despair in their situation, but be assured that God who began a good work in them will see it through to completion. (Php 1:6) We too ought to know this in our hearts so that our shortcomings and failures may not drive us to despair but to repentance and victory in Christ Jesus.
When Paul was done with that glorious introduction to his letter, he proceeded immediately to resolve one of the most pressing problems that had arisen in that church. It was the problem of division among them. Look at verse 10. He tells them: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” And Paul also states the nature of their division. Read verses 11-16. “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)” it seems that the problem of division among them was not a small matter at all, but a serious matter that had been ravaging the church. Some may have been boasting that they had been baptized by Paul as if being baptized by Paul was more legitimate in the sight of God than being baptized by Peter or others. Others were boasting that they had studied under Apollos, while others were saying that they had studied under Peter. Absurd as it may seem, it had been a problem in the church. Satan had found a way to divide them. The devil had found a way to disrupt the unity among them. The devil had found a way to cause them to look down on one another, to judge one another, and to despise one another. It did not matter any more what the cause of the division had been, now that the devil had found a way to break them apart and to weaken them spiritually.
When Paul considered the cause for this division, it seemed almost ludicrous. They were divided by whom they followed— by who was baptized by whom. So Paul counseled them. His first counsel we can see in verse 10. He tells them “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is one of the most heart moving counsels Paul could ever give to them. An appeal “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even though the cause of the division seemed worldly, unspiritual, ludicrous in many ways, still Paul understood that division is not something easy to remedy. Once a body is divided it is so hard to bring it back together again. Once lines have been drawn and places have been taken, it is very difficult to undo the damage which division usually brings. When husbands and wives divide over issues that are at times mundane and unreasonable, and words have been spoken, and hurts have been inflicted, it is usually very difficult to unite that which had been divided. Paul understood this well enough. So his strategy to unite them again did not focus on reason. It focused on a common bond that they all held together. “In the name of our Lord Jesus”. While unity once broken is difficult to be unite again, and at times impossible to unite again, there remains one reason for unity among Christians. “in the name of our Lord Jesus”, for his sake, for his honor and glory. What man cannot unite or mend the Lord Jesus can when we consider the reason for the unity we have been called to promote. It was Jesus’ desire from the beginning to have his children united. He appealed to us all to be united. He wanted us all to be united in heart and mind. In his love. In his sacrifice for us. Whatever may divide a body of believers can be mended when we consider “in the name of Jesus.” Jesus is worthy that every Christian should strive for unity. When nothing or no one else is worthy, he is surely worthy to maintain unity in the love which he has brought Christians together.
Paul continued his appeal to these divided and contentious Christians at the church in Corinth. Look at verse 13. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Paul confronted them with another heart moving truth they may not have considered as they were bickering with one another, and drawing up lines of division. Paul reminded them that Christ himself is not divided. Christ had come to bring all things to unity under his majestic banner, the banner of his Gospel. He did not come to divide, he had come to unite. And he himself is never divided, and cannot be divided for any reason. Paul reminded them that while they were boasting about who they follow, and who baptized them, and who taught them, that neither had died for them except Christ. Paul reminded them of the cross of our Lord Jesus, of his cruel death in order to bring life and unity to his people. It was Christ Jesus they were baptized into, and not Paul and neither Peter nor anyone else. How precious is Paul who could never forget the sacrifice Jesus had made on the cross for the sake of sinners. The Corinthian Christians needed to put things into perspective. It was Jesus who suffered and died for them. it was Jesus who shed his blood for them. And Jesus alone is the one we must all follow. He is the only one worthy that we stand together united under his name and in his grace. it is a shame when Christians forget who had made their salvation possible, and rally behind men and systems and religions that have no credit outside of Jesus Christ. We Christians must remember who died for us on the cross, and strive to rally behind him, rather than divided into factions and denominations. And for Jesus’ sake who was crucified for us, we must also heed Paul’s appeal to unite with one heart and mind, forsaking all differences. In his name and for his name.
Paul continued his appeal for unity when he wrote them in verse 17, to remind them that the Lord had not sent him to baptize but to peach the Gospel. Clearly Paul knew his calling in the Lord. He was a preacher of Christ and no more. He was sure that the Lord did not call him to be leader who gathers people around him, through acts such as baptism or such, but that the Lord called him to be a leader who calls people to follow Christ. This was one of Paul’s greatnesses as a servant of God. He was not self centered. Nor was he a servant who cared much about publicity or special recognition in the world. He was a man of God whose main concern in life had been to bring the Gospel of Jesus to others. It was the passion of his life, the calling that set him apart from others. In the world of old and even in our day as well, there are many whose concern is for the self than for the Lord. Their methods of preaching clearly tell that their interest is more in the self image and popularity than in the Lord. Preaching the Lord alone may not be lucrative, nor will it bring any fame or fortune to those who are called to preach. So they find ways of adding the spectacular to the Gospel so as to make it inviting enough for people to listen and to join. Eventually, their name becomes more famous than that of the Lord. Paul on the other hand, did not strive for the spectacular, nor for the showiness. He strove to bring Jesus to the people taking absolutely no credit for it. He was indeed a humble man who could stand tall with John the Baptist who declared that Jesus “must become more” while he “must become less.” Such people as Paul and John are precious because their concern is Christ and not themselves. They are the people who bring true glory to Christ Jesus alone, because they have no denomination, no faction, but only have a Gospel to preach. We too must remember that we belong to the Lord, and it is the Lord we are preaching. We care nothing for fame nor fortune, nor for popularity; we care nothing for the spectacular nor for that which would put us on a map for being a famous church. We care only for the Lord and for his name to be preached.
Read verse 18. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (verse 19) What a glorious teaching Paul laid on the Corinthians. From his words we can see also another point of division in their church. They were not only divided by baptism or what developed into an issue of who they are following— a man or a denomination or a sect, but they were also divided on the issues of wisdom or more precisely issues about eloquence and philosophy and rhetoric in preaching the Gospel. Paul said it perfectly when he said that he preached the gospel, the simple Gospel, Christ crucified, which amounted all to the “message of the cross” as Paul puts it. This is a serious issue that brought division it seems among them. Others who came to visit their church, or others who had been traveling preachers, and those who had been invited to speak at their rallies, may have been the eloquent type, the preachers who loved to use words and ideas and philosophies and illustrations from everywhere in order to preach the Gospel. Their speech must have been superb. Their debates must have sounded amazingly intellectual. Their explanations included such things as were very contemporary and popular among the masses. When the people heard them speak, and occasionally relay the name of Jesus here and there, or when the people heard them speak of the cross in an intellectual watered down way, the people must have been deeply impressed with them. Even if they did not fully understand half the anecdotes and the high cultured words they used in their sermons, the people still were fascinated by them thinking them much more equipped and knowledgeable of the Gospel than those who spoke plain and simple words.
It seems that their preaching had caused such success in the churches that after hearing them people invited them to elaborate, to speak more, to explain more. And soon after, suddenly arose different schools and different ideas about the Gospel. People who favored this or that, followed this or that, even though they were all blessed by the initial preaching of Paul. Paul must have understood this well, and he needed to help them come back to the truth of God. God’s truth, the Gospel is not always accepted by people. But it does not mean that it should be changed or jazzed up to make the cross a little less offensive, nor the Gospel a little less simple or plain. Paul was himself an intellectual man, one of the highest educated Pharisees who ever lived. But the moment he met Jesus Christ, he realized the greatness of the cross of our Lord Jesus. He understood that the message of the cross is simple enough to embrace even the slowest person on earth, the unintelligent, the meek, the humble. The message of the cross is a message of love and peace. Simply Christ died on the cross in order to forgive us our sins. There is nothing intellectual nor philosophical about that. The message of cross is beautiful. It is beautiful as it stands. It speaks more eloquently and more beautifully than any sermon or message that can ever be spoken in the world. It is itself beautiful because it shows the love of God in all its glory. It may be foolishness to some. Even some who claimed to be Christian have tried to change it so that it does not offend the high minded people of Corinth. But in the process they robbed the cross of its beauty, and they robbed people of eternal life.
Read verses 19-25. How tragic that the wisdom of man can so dilute the Gospel of our Lord that it is emptied of its power. Paul did not need to go into detail about the wisdom of God and the wisdom of man, because he had preached the Gospel to them and they had understood and accepted and received and had gained eternal life by the grace of God. But Paul here seems to have been compelled to explain the difference between the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God. Simply if man’s wisdom, his learning his intellect, his education, and achievements in the wisdom of the world were so wise indeed, why has not man been able to conquer himself and his inner man. But man in all his intelligence and wisdom has not been able to tame his inner person. In spite of all his achievements over the millennia man has not been able to solve the most fundamental of his problems— the sin problem. Man has been a sinner from the beginning of time. From time immemorial man has been under the power of sin unable to resolve this sin problem that causes him to fall in this world, and then to fall in the next. With all his achievements he has not been able to conquer even one bad habit. Paul spoke of the wisdom of man as being nothing compared to the wisdom of God. Man has tried in his wisdom to solve his problem, but he could not. Then God in his wisdom sent Jesus with the simple solution and message that would send Jesus to the cross. In his death, Jesus has solved the problem of man once for all.
Paul could preach sermons that can put all these preachers who have rallied people around them to shame in wisdom. He chose the wisdom of God and he remained faithful to it. When he arrived at Corinth, he knew he was surrounded by generations of philosophy and intellectual achievements of several glorious cultures. But when he opened his mouth, he spoke about Jesus. he told how Jesus lived a simple life. How Jesus taught a simple message. How Jesus loved more than any one could ever love. How Jesus spoke of a kingdom far more precious than anything this world could ever give. And how Jesus spoke of a sin problem that cannot be solved except by his death on a cross. This was Jesus’ message, Repent and believe the good news. And so Jesus gave his life in order to save ours. And he called us to believe his message. And he called us to accept it. And he called us to embrace it for life because in it we can find all the wisdom and all the love and all the grace that we need for a lifetime. And after we have heard it once, he called us to hear it again and again because it is the most beautiful story ever told. This was Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians at this time. They had lost the basic beauty of the Gospel, and the simplicity of the story of God’s great love for us. They had become enamored with the high-minded preachings of the day which sounded so eloquent and inviting. But the message had already taken the cross and made it more appealing to the contemporary mind. By doing that, they had taken the life out of the message. More than that, they had also caused the united body of the Lord to be divided. They were in trouble. They were in trouble because in their division based on styles of preaching, and styles of teaching, and methods of evangeslism, and fun programs versus boring programs, they had lost the most essential element of Christianity— the cross of Jesus, the blessed, precious, lovely and heart moving sacrifice of the Lord on the cross.
We are Christians who follow Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus’ death, the message of the cross was the message that has brought us all together when we simply believed that Jesus died for our sins and has given us eternal life and the kingdom of God. We need no other message, for we glory in this message. Foolish as it may seem to our generation, we must not compromise it. We must not water it down. We must not try to change it to accommodate the generational wisdom. We must keep it pure and preach it as is, and let it works its power in the hearts of God’s flock.
Read verses 26-31. How gracious and wise is Paul! He finally reminds them of how they were saved. They had been sinners who were steeped in a life of sin and far from any hope especially the hope of salvation. If God had been operating on the wisdom of the world, they would have been hopeless, for nothing in the world could have ever been able to save them from their sinful lifestyles, and the debauchery of a life lived in perpetual sin. But God had loved them greatly. He had found them when they were sinful and hopeless and had called them home to himself. He did not do so with a message of worldly wisdom, but with the message of the cross, a message of Christ crucified for their sins. Paul told them that it because of God’s love that they were now in Christ Jesus. They had been saved by God’s grace. They had been changed by the power of the cross which Jesus was crucified on on their behalf. How precious is this message of the cross to us. What else could have changed them from derelicts to Children of God— from useless to useful! Nothing! The cross has also touched us, healed us, and blessed us and called us to be united in him that we may in turn bring the message to others. Shall we be ashamed of that which cost the Lord of glory his life to save us? Shall we be ashamed of the only power and only message that can touch sinners’ hearts and make them holy? As Paul said elsewhere: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” May God impress on your hearts the simplicity and the beauty of the cross of Jesus. May God unite us in the Gospel to fulfill our purpose in this life. Amen.