For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul starts this book like most of his epistles, with a greeting and a prayer. The opening verse is interesting: "Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes," (1:1) If you were reading this blog when we were in Acts I discussed the fact that Sosthenes was the leader of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth when Paul was there, and Sosthenes tried to have Paul arrested or thrown out of town. But now here he is ministering with Paul wherever he was when he wrote this letter. That's a neat story.
After his opening, Paul gives the Corinthian believers a scathing condemnation of divisions in the church: 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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 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.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1:10-13)
Sadly, this malady afflicts the church today. Now clearly we are supposed to separate from those who do not preach the Gospel. But lots of people separate over much more trivial things. They separate because over personalities just like the Corinthian church did, they separate over Bible translations, music, personal problems and, worst of all, they separate from those who won't separate, so-called secondary separation. Jesus said that the world will know that we are His disciples because of our love for one another. We're all going to have to live together forever in heaven, we should be able to at least get along down here.
The last half of this chapter is so good, I couldn't figure out a way to divide it, so here comes a long quote: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' 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? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 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. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" (1:18-31, ESV)
This passage is pretty self-explanatory, but let's look at it for a second. God's priorities are not our priorities. We place priorities on wisdom, charm, charisma and other character traits we wish we had. I have heard people say, "If so and so would only get saved, think about what God could do with them." Well none of us gives God anything. He doesn't need our puny gifts that He gave us anyway. The Lord uses the small and unassuming people of the world to do His greatest work. He likes to display His power through people with whom it is obvious that He is the one doing the work.
Now I have heard some people use this passage as a justification for their uncultured and ill-mannered ways. This is not what Paul is saying here at all. There is no excuse for not trying to improve yourself all the time. The Lord didn't save us to be jerks, he saved us to perform His will and to bring glory to Himself.
The Lord can use people who are gifted, but He cannot use people who are proud of their gifts. He uses people who realize that everything they have or seem to have comes from God, and they humbly submit to His will and serve Him out of a heart of gratitude.