It is our plan to write an exposition of the first four chapters of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. In this issue we place our first installment. The reason for beginning this series of articles in this issue of theStandard Bearer is that we are now beginning with a new volume of our paper, Volume 32.
We will only write on the first four chapters of this great letter of Paul, written evidently from the city of Ephesus, to the brethren and sisters in the city of Corinth. These four chapters are really one section in which Paul deals with the very great evil of schism and party-strifethat had taken a foot-hold in this church of the living God. Each one chose his own party. Some said that they were followers of Paul, others of Apollos, others again of Cephas (Peter) and finally there were also those who said they were of the party of Christ. The church of God in Corinth was a sorry spectacle torn and rent into various pieces by the influence of the “flesh” as it wars against the Spirit.
Now there is exceeding much and great instruction by Paul in these first chapters whereby he does not only show in words, but in very deed how to seek and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Such instruction there was here for the brethren and sisters in the city of Corinth. But, thanks be to God, such instruction these chapters also contain for us. Every Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction in righteousness, that the man of God be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. I Tim. 3:16, 17. The Scriptures are more than dogmatics which draws the lines of the truth. They always speak these lines of the truth of God in Jesus as this pertains to the actual and concrete situation at the timer in the congregation. And thus they serve as the royal law of liberty before which we can stand, and should stand, so that we may behold our natural face in the mirror of the law.
Let us, in the study of these four chapters from the pen of Paul to the church of God in Corinth, be swift to hear and heed, slow to speak and slow to wrath. Let none of us ever think that we are already perfect, but let us forget that which lies behind, look and press forward toward the mark of the upward calling in Christ Jesus, our Lord. For Paul is here not at all becoming involved in this brawl over personalities, of likes and dislikes for preachers, nor in the pretense of the Judaizers, who falsely claim Peter as their leader; he is not engaged in a battle of words (woorden-strijd) but he is placing the spiritual man in Christ under the nurture and admonitions of the Lord! By willingly placing our neck under this Word of Christ will we see the more excellent way in the light of the Word which shines more and more unto the perfect day.
All that Paul writes about the Word of the Cross, being a power and wisdom of God unto salvation, is written against the background of this party-strife in the church. Let us not overlook this fact, lest we lose sight of the practical, the reproving thrust of Paul’s letter. Paul thus leads the “spiritual man” to higher ground, to the lofty heights of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of the peace of Christ.
Bearing the foregoing observations in mind we will follow the argument and reasoning of the apostle step by step.
Let us then first of all take notice of the verses 1-3 of chapter 1. We read the following in these verses:“Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called (to be) saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: grace unto you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Thus far the text.
Concerning these words from the apostle’s pen we would notice the following particulars:
1. That Paul here evidently places a healthy and truthful emphasis upon the fact that he is an apostle, one who is sent forth by Jesus Christ himself, separated unto the gospel. And this separation unto the gospel was not at all the doing of Paul. He did not separate himself unto this work. He did not choose this task. Rather the necessity was placed upon him by Jesus Christ. In the original Greek we read: Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ. In that consciousness of his calling Paul writes and in this calling lies his strength.
2. Often Paul reminds his hearers of this great calling whereby he was separated unto the gospel ministry. .How clearly and unforgettably his calling stands forth before his mind’s eye. Repeatedly he related to his hearers, especially to those who opposed him in Jewry, of the calling that befell him at Damascus. In Acts 9:3-6 we read the following from Luke’s pen concerning this calling of Paul: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to, the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who are thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do . . . .” Here we see minutely how Paul was powerfully, efficaciously called into the service of Christ and into the ministry of the gospel, to preach the Word of the cross, which had been foolishness and an offence to him.
Yes, it had been none other, than “Jesus” who had appeared unto him. The one whom God had exalted exceedingly high at His own right hand. It was Jesus, Jehovah saves. For He it is that had principally saved all His people from their sins, both from the Jews and the Gentiles. He had also saved Paul from His sins and here comes to prepare him, a “chosen vessel” to proclaim the Gospel of salvation; And this Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Son of God in Zion, upon the hill of God’s holiness. And unto this hill would all the nations flow. He is the one of whom Psalm 2 speaks, and upon the coming of this Christ, Messiah, the eyes of all Israel waited. He it is that would comfort his people. And He it is that separated Paul unto the gospel. That glorious and important reality of Paul’s calling is here placed by him on the foreground and it is the cornerstone of this letter, giving it authenticity.
3. And since this calling came to Paul from Christ himself, as the Lord of glory, it was also most emphatically a calling that came by “the will of God.” The term will here evidently refers to the will of God’s decree of which God speaks in Psalm 2, where he says, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession . . . . Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are they that put their trust in him.” It is this will of the decree of God that is the means by which Paul’s calling of Christ is realized. In this will of the decree Paul is a chosen vessel. Acts 9:15. According to this word of Psalm 2, Paul kisses the Son upon the way, saying: What wouldst thou have me do Lord. And in this kissing of the Son, lest He be angry by a little against Paul and the entire congregation of Corinth, Paul writes. Such is the deep and solid background in the soul of the great apostle when he takes up the pen in the city, where he had fought against the beasts in the name of God’s anointed. Through Paul, Christ was claiming the heathen for His inheritance. Behold, then, the apostle by the decree of God in His Son.
Such was the strength of Paul, who is empowered with great strength from God. He is an apostle indeed having seen Christ upon the way! This apostle writing in this consciousness of his calling, which befell to him, who was less than the least of all the saints, rightly called the church at Corinth: the church of God! She is in no sense the church of man. No man in Corinth can call her: my church! She has been bought and cleansed with the precious blood of the Son of God. And thus she is, indeed, the church of the living God. It is important to notice that Paul thus addresses the church in spite of the fact that there were factions in the church. A factitious spirit is not deeply conscious that the church, is God’s. It seeks the human interest of proud and contentious man. But this is cut off in one stroke by Paul in this “church of God at Corinth!”
Paul writes against the schismatic background in the church of God in Corinth from the very beginning of his letter.
4. And it is, therefore, of importance to notice how this church is here addressed not in its present imperfect and schismatic manifestation revealing itself in party-strife, but rather as this church of God really is constituted of those who are “sanctified in Christ” and are “called saints” and are put in one class with all the saints in the world, called those “who call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in every place.” Paul thus lifts this church out of its selfish seclusiveness and addresses her as a part of the great holy catholic church in the world as she is being gathered out of every tongue, people and nation. And in this Church none is master, except our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. He is one Lord, and has one faith in the church, one love, one hope and one baptism. All in the church can and do claim him as their precious Savior. In this consciousness of believing a holy catholic church the sanctified in Christ must live. As such a communion of saints they are addressed. Such is the concrete addressableness of the gospel. Not a gospel addressed to all upon condition of faith, but a gospel message which is addressed to the “church of God” in Corinth, full of instruction, reproof, correction in righteousness, that the sanctified man of God may be made wholly ready unto every good work.
Such is Paul’s method of addressing the gospel to the church.
Such is Paul’s “pedagogical approach!” He that readeth this epistle let him take note. A gospel which is proclaimed to all, yet is so addressed to all that it is directed to the “sanctified in Christ,” the “called saints.”
To such is also addressed the “grace and peace” which is from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Not grace is to all, if they believe, but grace is to “you” the “called saints” here in the mouth of Paul. Let men, who find fault with this presentation, know that they are not contending with a Protestant Reformed position, which is then “played up” to be more than being “Reformed,” but that they are contending with the Holy Spirit, who thus caused Paul to write.
The Spirit has His own pedagogical approach.
When we should be foolish enough to concoct “another” pedagogical approach, which is not another, then we do not do honor and justice to the church of God. And under the banner of seeking the “gathering of the holy catholic church” we deny the very “church” we purport to gather. Then we seek to gather where Christ does not gather, and we seek to do this by “means” which are not the means of grace of Christ!
Only where this “approach” of Paul is maintained and emulated shall truly the schism be banished from God’s church, and shall brethren dwell together in unity with all the saints in every place. Let us kiss the Son, lest He be angry with us for not honoring His means of grace.
(to be continued)