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1 Corinthians 1:10-17 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 12 secs

Divisions; 1 Corinthians 1:17


In this chapter we are faced with a problem and it is instructive to us to see how Paul handles this problem. This problem, like every other problem we face in life, has to be handled from the divine viewpoint, has to be handled from the framework of Scripture and not from the framework of human viewpoint cultural procedures that we usually think need to be used to solve problems. Whatever the culture might be there is always some kind of collective wisdom as to how to solve problems and how to come to a measure of stability in life. When we study the Scriptures what we need to realize is that the Scriptures present us with clear methodology for not just what to do but how to do it. Paul is faced with a problem in the Corinthians church and that is there were divisions in the church, cliques forming in the church that were focusing on personalities. It is important to understand that Paul is not dealing with a division problem in Corinth that is related to doctrine. When there is a problem related to doctrine you handle that one way, but this is a problem that relates to personalities and therefore calls for a different solution. This solution he gives in verse 10, which was a mandate to unity, to not divide up according to personalities, is not ecumenicalism. Ecumenicalism is unity despite doctrinal differences. In all ecumenical systems what you do is basically ignore all doctrinal distinctions, it doesn't really matter what you believe, we all just believe something so lets all get together and emote over our common belief system, i.e. that we all believe something. That is what ecumenicalism usually boils down to and the more ecumenical you become the less doctrinal distinctives.

We see that today. One area of ecumenicalism that few people notice is what is happening in worship. There is what is called "contemporary worship." What it has in common is that it is all singing the same music and the same words. That is because of the ecumenical impact that has taken place in the arena of worship in the last 20 years. It boils down to a failure to appreciate the distinction of methodology, doing a right thing in a right way, doing serious biblical study, theological study, on the nature of hymnody, singing and worship and what that involves. If a person grew up in the fifties the songs that he sang, for the most part, in an Episcopal church was quite different from the songs sung in a Presbyterian church, and the Presbyterian hymnal was quite different from the Baptist hymnal, and the Baptist hymnal was different from the Lutheran hymnal, and Protestant hymnals were different from the Catholic hymnal. The reason is that people wrote songs that reflected their doctrinal distinctives. When doctrinal distinctives don't matter any more it affects even the songs that are sung in the churches. Attending any church today that is having a contemporary worship service means singing the same songs. We could take time to critique the content, the lyrical content as well as the musical content of those songs, Usually it is shallow and vapid and lacks any kind of doctrinal distinctive, and for the most part contemporary worship choruses are "I"-centered, focusing on the individual's personal experience with God, which shows the self-absorption of contemporary Christianity, as opposed to the theocentric, God-centered and Christocentric nature of most of the traditional hymns. It is not true for all traditional hymns, any more than it is true the negative is true for all contemporary hymns. And it is not always a conflict between contemporary versus traditional. The issue is a worldview, and the worldview of the modern church is ecumenical and self-absorbed; and the worldview of the older church was not that way, and that impacts the way they wrote songs. So the way you do things and how you do things is just as important as what you do, and that involves problem-solving and witnessing.

So there is a problem in the church and the solution is to deal with it in terms of changing the way they are thinking about the leadership in the church. The occasion for this division was baptism, that they were looking upon whoever baptized them as some sort of leader-celebrity that they were associated with. The question we need to address here is, what is it that caused them to think that way? What is it that caused them to think that the person who baptized them was someone they ought to ally themselves in some sort of personality cult or association? What caused that mindset, that mentality? Then Paul moves from talking about lining themselves up with different leaders to the gospel. He focuses on that in v. 17.

1 Corinthians 1:17 NASB "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void." Notice how he addresses this problem of interpersonal quarrels. He moves from the problem and its solution to focusing on the cross, that somehow this has to do with a methodology, a methodology in how evangelism is carried out. He was sent to proclaim the gospel, and there we have the verb KERUSSO [khrussw] which means to proclaim and it is related to the function in secular culture of a secular herald or announcer who was sent out from the court. The verb KERUSSO and the noun KERUX [khrux], for a preacher or proclaimer, always seems to be associated with a particular content in the Scriptures, and that content always seems to be about giving the gospel. There are about twenty different words used in the Scripture for communicating doctrinal truth, but the biblical concept of the word KERUSSO seems to be associated with giving the gospel. What makes it a proclamation is that in the ancient world a KERUX or herald was sent out from the court with an announcement. The king or local governor or whoever the local administrator was did not have public access television, or any sort of radio program that he could announce his public announcement from, and they didn't have local newspapers. So they would send out a herald whose responsibility was to walk through the streets and cry out the announcement. Unfortunately in English we have come to associate this one word "preaching" with everything that is done from a pulpit, and it has come to be associated with a particular style of oratory. That concept is somewhat unbiblical because is has not dealt honestly with the words in the text.

What has happened in churches today is that the senior pastor usually teaches only once a week. That has been the trend in the past 20 years. Sometimes he communicates twice a week—Sunday morning and a Tuesday night—but the Sunday morning message, especially under the concept of church growth, has moved more and more towards a light-weight message addressed to unbelievers or seekers who are coming into the congregation, and never more than 30 minutes. It focuses on something that is encouraging or a matter of exhortation. Rarely is it something that is doctrinal. Usually most messages today are more psychological and relational than they are doctrinal and truly getting into the depths of the Scriptures. The sad thing is that you have a man that has supposedly or ideally gone through seminary training and spent three or four years studying Greek and Hebrew and theology—in most seminaries that doesn't happen—who is supposed to be the guy who knows how to teach the Scripture, who is allegedly trained in the Scriptures, who is the Scriptural professional spending eighty per cent of his time in administrative function, and eighty per cent of the church's biblical education program is on the backs of amateurs (laymen). No wonder the church is a mess, because we have lost the principle emphasized in Scripture that we have to do a right thing in a right way. The function and the purpose of the pastor-teacher is to teach the Word, not simply to preach the gospel, though in the process of teaching the Word he will proclaim the gospel and should do it on a regular basis.

So Paul is faced with a problem here, i.e. that in the Corinthians church they are dividing up according to these different leaders and he has to address that at a fundamental level. How he addressed that shows us something about the methodology of teaching the gospel. In v. 17 he focuses on the gospel and contrasts the biblical methodology of proclaiming the gospel with what apparently was going on in Corinth, and that was the emphasis on cleverness of speech. So what we have here is a question. What exactly is the contrast going on here—the contrast between preaching the gospel on the one hand and cleverness of speech on the other hand.

In order to understand this we have to go back to the background of Greek culture, which is exactly how Paul is going to handle this because he was a student of the secular culture. That tells us and reminds us that as believers we should be students of the secular culture around us, just as missionaries to any culture should be students of the culture around them. Culture is not neutral.

First of all there is original. At the core of every culture there is some concept of where that culture came from, where the people came from, how the earth came to be, how man was created, how the universe came into being. Their view of origins indicates some kind of an ultimate deity, whether that deity is personal or impersonal. Some people have an atheistic culture where there is no ultimate deity. This affects their view of reality, the ultimate nature of reality, and affects things like whether or not the culture as a whole is going to be mystical in its orientation or whether it is going to be more rationalistic or empirical. If you have a pantheistic religious outlook where the gods are in everything and that everything is god, then everybody is god, every cow is a god, every tree is a god, nature equals god and creation equals god. So you begin to worship creation and so that god is going to speak to you and inside of everybody, so everybody is going to have a little bit of god inside of them. That will affect your view of man. If you have a Christian view of man then you are going to see man as totally depraved and basically evil. But if you operate on either a mechanical, pantheistic or material view of man, then you are going to see man as basically good. How you see man, then, is going to radically affect how you understand social structures. If man is basically evil that is going to affect the way you see the role of government and the way problems develop in a marriage. If you see man as basically good, that is going to change the way you solve the problems of man in a society, in government. So origins affect the way you view deity, deity affects the way you view ultimate reality. Whether there is a God or what kind of a God there is affects your understanding of who and what man is.

Under an evolutionary worldview like that which dominates western society man is the product of time plus chance and is simply a random collection of molecules. Therefore meaning does not come from outside somewhere, as if there is some divine purpose for man, man creates his own concepts of meaning. All of that, then, is going to affect your value system: what is right, what is wrong, what is important, what is not important. Do values come from inside, are they the creation of human beings, as they collect together do they develop their one values as to what is right or wrong? Or are there absolute values? If culture, then, is simply man within the system creating his own concepts of values, then values are relative to each social collection or culture. That means that every culture, therefore, is equal in value. That is what under girds postmodernism and what is called multiculturalism, and you don't really have the right to judge evaluate or critique anybody's culture. They are what they are, we need to accept everybody and be tolerant, and what that means in modern society is to approve of that culture whatever it is because it has the same equal value as your own culture. This in turn is going to affect ethics and all ethical systems. Ethics affect, then, social mores, what the social standards are in each individual group. Social standards in turn are going to affect social structure and the understand of the roles of males and females in that society. So in some societies that have no impact of Scripture there may develop a matriarchal society and in other societies a patriarchal society, and if there is no impact of the Scriptures at all in those societies then they are going to push to extremes so that rather than recognizing some sort of balance between the two you end up with some sort of tyranny of the male or of the female, but there is no concept of true freedom and equality at the same time. Of course it is not only going to affect the role of male and female but that in turn will affect the entire understanding of marriage and family and the role of parents to children within that society. That in turn is going to affect the whole concept of education and in turn the very concept of values of right and wrong is going to affect the concept of law, law is going to affect the concept of criminal justice and penalties for those who break the law in that society, and that in turn is going to affect politics.

So what we see here is at the core of culture are religious values. There is no such thing as a religiously neutral value system or a religiously neutral culture. Every culture is a mix, therefore, of values. Some cultures might have a two per cent influence of Bible doctrine and a ninety-eight per cent influence from pagan culture. In other societies, like western Europe historically was seventy per cent pagan concepts, human viewpoint that was picked up from the Greeks and the Romans, and maybe thirty per cent the impact of the Protestant Reformation. That is what made western Europe, especially the British-American version of western European culture, so radically different. That is what gave birth to freedom, to a concept of private ownership of property, and of the concept of success and developing wealth. All of that came out of an understanding of the Scripture, and we call that the Protestant work ethic because it had its roots in a Protestant understanding of the purpose of man and the purpose of man in society. But this happens in every culture and in every sub culture, but today we want to make all cultures equal no matter what the mix is.

But the problem is that we can't as Christians just accept our culture as if everything is okay. The role of the Christian is to be critical of his culture. Only part of every culture is consistent with the Word of God, but the vast majority of cultural values are inconsistent with the Word of God. We grow up in that culture and are impacted by that culture, and that is what the Bible calls worldliness, and that is why the function of the spiritual growth is not to be conformed to worldliness, i.e. to cultural values around us, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind which comes from learning Scripture and letting Scripture address every issue of life.

So every culture is a mix of human viewpoint thought plus divine viewpoint thought, and in some grey area in between we have something called establishment truth. Divine viewpoint is how God views reality, the nature of mankind, and divine viewpoint values. On the other side we have human viewpoint thinking. Somewhere in between we have establishment truth. In establishment truth what you have is divine viewpoint absolutes that are for unbeliever and believer alike. Usually we call this something like morality. These are absolutes that God has built into the system that man must align himself with in his thinking in order to have any measure of stability in society. In cultures that have never had an impact from Christianity they are going to have a belief in some things that are right and some things that are wrong. That is what Romans 2 is all about, the very fact that they have a belief that some things are right and something are wrong is a holdover from the fact that they were created in the image and likeness of God, and is a testimony to the existence of God. But the more human viewpoint there is in a culture the more there is going to be a breakdown in establishment truth. So even though they believe in marriage and family the way they look at marriage and family is going to be more and more diverse, depending on how far they are from divine viewpoint. It can end up with all kinds of tyranny in a marriage. For example, in Islamic society they believe that in marriage the man is to be head of the home, but look at how bizarre and tyrannical it is and how it mistreats women. That is because they have taken an element of establishment truth, and because there is very little divine viewpoint there, they have pushed it beyond all limits to where it becomes something that is ugly and horrible.

So the purpose of rhe believer is to think in terms of culture and move toward the divine viewpoint, and whenever we are doing anything we need to operate on divine viewpoint. That is exactly what Paul is doing here. He is going to teach us something about how to face problems and handle this kind of division from a divine viewpoint framework. But before we get into it we have to ask what was going on in Greek culture? What was the Greek mindset that created this kind of environment that led to this kind of divisiveness? In order to see this we have to turn back to Acts 17, the episode of Paul's visit to Athens just prior to going to Corinth.

While he was in Athens he followed his standard procedure to go first to the synagogue and then to Gentiles. Acts 17:17 NASB "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing {Gentiles,} and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present." The Greek term for the market place is the AGORA [a)gora]. [18] "And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer [KERUSSO] of strange deities,"—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection." That is the core of the gospel, that Jesus died, was buried, and he rose again the third day, according to the Scripture. It includes both the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Paul came to Athens he expected to stay there and that he would have the same kind of positive response to the gospel that he had had in previous Greek towns. But he ran into something different here, and that is the academic or intellectual arrogance of the Greeks. Athens was the cultural home for Greek civilization and is the source of all that we think of in Greek thought and culture. Here was much that has been magnified, idolized and glorified in terms of human intellectual achievement. But it is here that Paul was rejected. Acts 17 gives us a clue as to why there was such a problem in Greece and in Corinth later on. Paul is going to address these Epicurean and Stoic philosophers from Mars Hill.

Note: We are talking about witnessing, our focus is on the proclamation of the gospel in 1 Cor. 1:17, and so we are going to see an example of how Paul proclaimed the gospel here in Acts 17. To do that we have to understand something about the nature of his audience. Two groups are identified, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were the followers of a Greek philosopher by the name of Epicurus who lived from 341-270 BC. He taught that the chief end of mankind was pleasure and happiness. This was attained by avoiding any kind of excess because that lead to death, and there was a fear of death because they really didn't believe that there was any after life. If there were gods they were so far out there and so impersonal that they had no relationship to man, no impact on human history whatsoever. In Roman culture they were emphasized by Lucretius and Horace who popularized the Epicurean philosophy. Paul is familiar with them. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 where he is dealing with the whole issue of resurrection he quotes the slogan that most of us have heard associated with the Epicureans, and that is, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." So this tells us that Paul is a student of the thinking of the unbelieving pagan culture to which he is taking the gospel. On the other hand, we have the Stoics. The Stoics and the Epicureans at this time pretty much represented the opposite extremes in Greek thought. The Stoics were the followers of Zeno who lived about the same time as Epicurus. When he taught he taught among the porches or porticos in the Agora, the market place. The names of the colonnades were the stoa, so they were called Stoic because they sat out on the porches and listened to him teach. They were pantheists, which means they identified God with creation, so for them God was an impersonal God, just an impersonal purpose out there that somehow guides history. Man's responsibility, according to Zeno, was to align himself with that purpose. It was a guessing game because if it is an impersonal force you can't communicate, and if you can't communicate then it is a guess as to what its purpose is. So somehow one had to guess what that purpose is and then align himself to that purpose throughout all the good times and bad times in life. Whatever adversities and successes that were met had to be faced with the same level of endurance. One result of this was to promote self-sufficiency in Greek culture. They were arrogant. They thought they had it all under control and could handle any situation on the basis of their Stoic philosophies.

Acts 17:19 NASB "And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?'" From their point of view this was to engage in a little intellectual stimulation. Little did they know they were going to hear the greatest evangelist of all time giving them the gospel. As a side point, no matter how good you are as an evangelist, how great your gift might be as an evangelist, and how clear your presentation might be, people have their own volition and often will reject the gospel presentation. This is where Paul had one of his greatest failures but it had nothing to do with who he was or what he did or how he went about doing it. But how he goes about doing this is instructive for us. [20] ""For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean. [21] (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)" Luke is letting us into the fact that they are like those Paul warns Timothy about, that in the latter days there will come those who just want to have their ears tickled, they don't really want to hear sound doctrine, they just want to be entertained, hear a nice rhetorical message following all the skills of oratory so that they are entertained. [22] Paul begins to address them. "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.'" What a statement to make as he is standing amongst all of these Greek philosophers! This would have arrested their attention because the last word that they would have used to describe themselves would have been "religious."

The point that we need to understand from this is that no matter how philosophical or sceptical someone might be, no matter how much someone might claim to be an atheist, no matter how much they may claim to disbelieve in God, they are in fact extremely religious. Every human being is extremely religious. We think of religion as a statement that one believes in God, but the statement 'I believe in God' is religious and the statement 'I don't believe in God' is just as religious. Therefore atheism, secularism and humanism are just as much religion as Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. There is no such thing as neutrality, everybody is religious. Why is that? Because when God created us, He created us in His image so that when man rejects God that rejection of God is always expressed in some sort of religion. For example, if a person goes into rationalism then he is going to end up worshipping human reason, if he goes into empiricism he is going to end up worshipping empiricism and will make science his god. He is going to take the limited data he comes up with in science and project it out to try to develop some sort of absolute criteria from that data, whether it is limited data of reason or limited data of empiricism. If he rejects God he may, of he is worshipping nature or worshipping man's innate ability and makes man a god, then when what happens is he goes the mystical route. Whatever he comes up with intuitively, that is what he is going to worship and identify with God. So what is here in Acts 17 is something that is important, and that is that every human being is inherently religious whether they claim to believe in God or not.    

[23] "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you." Paul is passing through Athens and he is examining the objects of their worship. He is making himself the student of a false belief system of the culture around him. Applying doctrine means to confront the culture around you, at least in your own soul. That means we have to learn to think and not to simply regurgitate. If we don't learn to think we can never develop EPIGNOSIS doctrine in the soul, all we do is follow in some sort of rigid manner what somebody else tells us to do. What we see from the apostle Paul and the illustration of Scripture is that we are to think. Paul is thinking about the culture and he is thinking about the ultimate realities that are present in this Greek culture, what they believe the ultimate realities are, and then he is going to challenge the underlying presupposition of that culture. A presupposition is an assumption. If you grant somebody their assumptions, e.g. if you grant a Moslem that Mohammed had a legitimate revelation, that Gabriel interpreted that for him and the Koran is legitimate, you have already lost your argument. If everything built on the foundation is logical and you don't challenge the foundation you have lost your argument. What Paul does here is challenge their foundation. Their foundational thought was that they weren't religious. He goes to this altar and says, You have an altar to an unknown god, you are basically religious.

[24] "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands." He doesn't start by saying, "God wants you to have eternal life." He goes to more basic issues because if you start at that point in the gospel then what is going to happen frequently is you're going to be undercut because you haven't dealt with the other person's presuppositions. This is why studying creation and evolution is important and why as a believer you need to become familiar with the basic issues in the debate between a creationist and an evolution because origins are foundational to evangelism many times. Paul doesn't start with the cross here, he doesn't start with the incarnation of Christ, he doesn't start with the fall of Adam. Where does he start with his gospel presentation? He starts with the God who made the world, he starts with creation. He is basically calling to what they know deep in their souls, and that there is a God and that God exists. He begins with God as creator, draws the conclusion that as creator He is sovereign of the universe, and as sovereign of the universe He is omnipresent, He doesn't dwell in temples made with hands.

This is a reminder of the principle in Romans 1:18ff that every unbeliever knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether they will admit it or not, that God exists: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, [19] because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. [20] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

Acts 17:25 NASB "nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all {people} life and breath and all things." Here he throws something out to the Epicureans, the fact that he is saying that God transcends the creation and is self-sufficient is something that would appeal to them. So he is talking about the small speck of common ground here, because it is a holdover from the fact that you have this internal knowledge that God exists. [26] "and He made from one {man} every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined {their} appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation." Here he is pointing out that there is purpose in the creation, and that would appeal to the Stoics. So he is showing that there is an element of truth in their system but the whole system is false. Then he is going to move from there and continue to build his argument. [27] "that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." In other words, there is sufficient information in general revelation for everybody to find God. To emphasize his point he is going to quote from pagan philosophy. Note: He is not going to them for validation of his point, but he points out that even pagan philosophers recognize elements of truth every now and then. Just because he quotes from them doesn't mean he validates everything else that they say. But he does indicate his own familiarity with the common philosophers and writers of his day, he is not culturally ignorant. [28] He quotes from Epiminides: "for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'" So Paul is very deftly reaching into various cultural assumptions, pulling out the things that are consistent with divine viewpoint and then he is going to structure his gospel presentation on top of that. He is familiar with what is going on in the thought of the day. (Unfortunately today all we have is a bunch of ignorant Christians who don't know a thing about their culture because they want to isolate themselves in evangelical enclaves) [30] "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all {people} everywhere should repent, [31] because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Notice: He has furnished proof to all men. What is that proof? The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith in Christianity is not some mindless acceptance of something as true, but it is based on evidence, on fact, on data. As a Christian you don't put your mind in neutral to believe the Bible, in fact you put your mind into high gear to believe the Bible.

Paul stopes here, he never really gets to the gospel, because what happens in vv. 32, 33 is they start reacting to him. [32] "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some {began} to sneer, but others said, 'We shall hear you again concerning this.' [33] So Paul went out of their midst." There comes a time when you are witnessing to somebody that you realize they are negative so you just stop and move on. There are other times when people are positive and you give the gospel to them. That is what happens in v. 34. [34] "But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them."

The problem in Greek culture was that they tended to want identify themselves with these two particular leaders, and they were taking that same mentality of trying to identify themselves with the teacher into the church. That is why Paul had to address this as a personality problem that is related to Greek culture in 1 Corinthians chapter one.