Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Corinthian Letters

The ancient world saw it as just plain stupid when the Christian evangelists came preaching the Cross. Crucifixion was a shameful way of dying, and it was reserved for those guilty of specially heinous offenses and for slaves. It seemed foolish for people to come with such a silly message.

Paul made no attempt to water down the Gospel in order to meet such antagonism. He agrees that “the message of the Cross is foolishness” but adds “to those who are perishing.” For those who are being saved it is quite another matter; for them it is “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul puts some emphasis on the difference between human wisdom and divine wisdom. “God,” he says, has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.… For in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him.” But in that situation “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20–21). Christ crucified proved to be “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).

In every age Christians have been faced by the equivalent of first-century Jews and Greeks, people who “know” what religion is. They find the Cross a stumbling block: Would a good God act that way? Or folly: Isn’t it silly to think a death on a cross in first-century Palestine can save me now? But in every age there have also been those who have put their trust in the crucified Savior and have come to know accordingly the power and the wisdom of God.

Christ Our Passover

The Passover was one of the great occasions in the Jewish year. It commemorated the deliverance of a slave rabble from bondage in Egypt and the emergence of a nation, a nation moreover that looked to the one God and knew it had a special relationship with Him. The death of Christ fulfilled all that the Passover meant (1 Corinthians 5:7). It was deliverance from bondage, the slavery to sin that is the lot of the human race. And those who believe in Christ are a new race, the people of God.


All this means a new beginning. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This comes about because God has effected reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18–20). Sinners are estranged from God. Paul does not here use the term enemies as he does in Romans 5:10, but it is implied. Reconciliation means making friends out of people who have been enemies. We should not underestimate the seriousness of our sin. It does not mean a minor difference from God’s will for us. It means that we are in the opposite camp. Sinners are enemies of God.

But enemies may be brought together. This happens when the root cause of the enmity is dealt with and taken out of the way. The Cross effected a many-sided salvation, and one way of looking at it is to see it as the taking away of our sins and therefore the removal of hostility between God and those who had rebelled against Him. The way is now open wide for sinners to come back to God. Paul and his fellows are “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” He can therefore say, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Made Sin

“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The NIV is correct in inserting the word God (the Greek means “He made him sin”), for this makes it clear that none less than God was active in the Cross. The passage is often misquoted using the passive “was made sin,” as though it indicates some impersonal process. But Paul is saying that God was active in making Jesus sin for us.

This is an unusual expression, but there can be no doubt that it means that Christ bore our sin. It is not unlike another statement, that Christ became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Both are ways of saying that Christ took the place of sinners and thereby took away our sin.

New Life in Christ

Paul speaks of believers as “God’s temple,” indwelt by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Now a temple is a holy building, and because we are the temple of God, we are not to live like unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:16–18). Because “He died for all,” believers are to live not for themselves, but “for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). We were “bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20); we belong to God.