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Commendation Before Correction

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 1:1–17

Quarrels and divisions within the church are simply the outward expression of pride. The Corinthian church was blessed with faithful leaders and teachers, but they dishonored those servants and the Lord Himself with their self-centered attitudes.


Today we set sail into the letter of 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul had visited the Greek city of Corinth during his second missionary journey. He had faced tremendous opposition from the Jewish leaders, but he saw many of them—even prominent Jewish leaders—place their faith in Jesus. Many Gentiles trusted in Christ as well.

Paul remained in Corinth for a year and a half teaching the Word of God to a growing congregation. After his departure, Apollos arrived in Corinth. He was an eloquent and powerful preacher, who had a very fruitful ministry in Corinth.

Now with Paul as the church planter and Apollos as the pastor/teacher for a number of years, you would think the Corinthian church would be one of the strongest churches Paul planted during his ministry. I wish I could tell you it was, but it was not.

By the time Paul writes this letter of 1 Corinthians around AD 55—three years after he had left the city––the spiritual condition of this church has deteriorated rather than developed. They are riddled with practical problems, moral issues, and even doctrinal confusion.

So, what happened? Well, we do not know all the details, but we do know the city of Corinth would have been a difficult place to build a healthy church. It was a financially wealthy city, but also world renowned for its immorality.

The worship of their goddess, Aphrodite, dominated everything. Aphrodite was extolled as the goddess of love, but sexual lust would be more accurate. Her temple included a thousand prostitutes who supposedly enabled the people to worship Aphrodite through sexual liaisons. The city was so connected to immorality that during the first century, if a woman was considered morally promiscuous, she was called “a Corinthian girl.”

The Christians in Corinth had been saved out of that kind of culture. But they had also become desensitized to it. In fact, as we will learn later on, they had even accepted immorality within their assembly.

But beloved, every generation in every culture faces temptation. We happen to live today in a pornographic world. The wisdom we need today as we walk with Christ in a corrupt culture is the same wisdom Paul is going to deliver to the church in Corinth.

Paul begins his letter by identifying himself as one “called by the will of God to be an apostle.” Rather quickly, Paul states his authority as an apostle, but he ties it to the work of God. Paul is not an apostle because he thinks he deserves to be one; he well remembers that before his conversion he was the chief persecutor of the church. But by the will of God and the grace of God, Paul now serves as an apostle of God in the New Testament church.

Paul sends greetings here in verse 1 from “our brother Sosthenes.” We do not know who Sosthenes is. There is a man by this name mentioned in Acts 18:17 who was the ruler of the synagogue. If this is the same man, then this would have been an incredible testimony of the synagogue leader in Corinth coming to faith in Christ.

Paul writes in verse 2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” He is writing to the church as a local body, reminding them that they are God’s church. They are not Paul’s church; they do not belong to Paul but to God. That is a good reminder to church leaders today. People do not belong to you; they belong to God.

Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” Jesus did not say, “I am going to build Paul’s church in Corinth, or your church in your hometown.” It is His church. So, hold people loosely, my fellow pastors. They might be entrusted to your care, but you had better take care because they belong to God.

Now after Paul’s typical greeting, he begins thanking God for His grace in their lives. He writes in verse 4, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” That is another way of saying, “I am thankful that you folks are truly converted by the grace of God.”

Paul writes that he is also grateful for the way God has gifted them: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (verse 7). Paul specifically mentions here the gifts of speech and knowledge. In other words, they were gifted in comprehending the truth and communicating the truth to others. In this same verse, Paul expresses his thanks that they are looking forward to seeing their Savior return. 

After reading this list of things Paul was thankful for about this church, you might think this was the perfect church. Maybe you have been looking for the perfect church. Well, there is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. A church is a collection of redeemed, growing, still-sinful, needy people.

But listen, even though this Corinthian church had a lot of problems, Paul begins by thanking God for them. And I believe there is a lesson here for us today. Paul commends this church before he ever corrects them. That is a good lesson for pastors and teachers and even parents. Do we criticize more than we compliment? Do we commend, or do we mostly correct?

With that gracious example, Paul now begins in verse 10 to address some things that need correcting:

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.

Paul is aware that this church is disunified. There is quarreling in this little church. You do not have to be a big church to have big problems. And Paul has heard about it. He writes in verse 11, “It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.”

We do not know who Chloe’s household members are, but they have tattled on the church to Paul. It is not any fun being tattled on.

My missionary parents had a rule that if one of us four boys got a spanking at school, we would get a spanking at home. One day in third grade, I got a spanking from the school principal. I decided on the bus ride home that I was not going to tell my parents—one spanking a day was enough, and that was my average in those days. At the dinner table that night, my older brother suddenly spoke up and said, “There’s something that happened to Stephen today, and he wants to tell you about it.” That was the last thing I wanted to do.

I can imagine that these divisive people in this church probably did not appreciate Chloe’s family telling on them, but it was critical that Paul deal with the problem.

And here’s the problem—verse 12: “Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’”

That little church had turned into a bunch of little cliques, each following their favorite preacher. And of course, the most spiritual among them said they liked Jesus the best. This was nothing more than a proud, divisive spirit among the people.

Paul writes, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (verses 14-15).

Paul is saying, “No man is the head of the church; Christ alone is.” Do not put anybody on equal terms with Jesus. We might have our favorite preachers and authors today, but do not exalt them to some kind of status above any other servant of the Lord. There is room on the pedestal for only one Person, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

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