Paul starts his letter to the Corinthians with a conventional greeting from him and his friend Sosthenes (Acts 18:17) and perhaps sarcastically thanks God for blessing his current audience with all kinds of speech and knowledge, whom he later compares to immature babies still drinking milk.
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.1 Corinthians 3:2
The church in Corinth was going through a tumultuous period which was a result of the arrogance and wisdom of its congregation. Wisdom not gained by knowing Christ and allowing His Spirit to work in them but wisdom in the ways of this world. He first addressed the problems of divisions among the believers in Corinth where each called themselves superior based on the apostle who baptised them.
One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”1 Corinthians 1:12
The Rise of Denominations
The people were segregating themselves as followers of Paul, Apollos and Peter (Cephas in Aramaic), while some distanced themselves from all three leaders and brought the name of Christ into the mix.
Soon after Paul had established the church in Corinth and left to preach the Gospel in other parts of Galatia, Apollos visited Corinth. He was a learned man, a great orator and knew the scriptures well but perhaps lacked a fundamental understanding of what the scriptures meant (Acts 18:26). And apparently Peter and his wife had visited the Corinthians sometime later (1 Corinthians 9:5).
All three men had different lifestyles and different approaches in preaching the word of God. Some perhaps liked the dedication of their ‘spiritual father’, Paul (1 Corinthians 4:15), while some were perhaps swayed by the way Apollos articulated his message, while some others would have liked the fact that Peter was able to have a normal life and still preach the Gospel. The church in Corinth picked their favourite one to be their new role model and had forgotten that all three men were sent by Christ.
Gospel before Ceremonies
So frustrated was Paul by the chaos within the Church that he thanked God that he did not have a hand in baptising these people.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.1 Corinthians 1:17
Paul warned the church sternly against the ritual of blindly taking baptism without the word being planted in our hearts. Even today the church has misunderstood the wordings of the great commission of Christ as written in the Gospel of Matthew but the essence that Jesus wanted from His disciples was not baptism but rather to preach the message of repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:47).
Pride accompanied by application of their own wisdom in order to fit their own culture and traditions was corrupting the Church. People started depending on their own wisdom and eloquence and in the process did not acknowledge the cross and its power. In response, Paul paraphrased the words of the Prophet Isaiah,
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”1 Corinthians 1:19
The problems that Paul and the other apostles faced in Jewish regions were the demand for signs. The pharisees even asked the Messiah for signs, not to help their unbelief but to challenge Jesus. But the Greeks being more intellectual in their ways, asked for logical explanations that made sense to them as per their understanding. For both set of unbelievers the death and resurrection of Christ became a stumbling block for their salvation.
Paul reminded them of the time when they first started in Christ and how they were not considered wise or influential by human standards but God still chose the foolish ones to bring shame to the wise ones. God chose them in spite of their iniquities, so that everyone puts their faith on Christ and not on themselves.
“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”1 Corinthians 1:31
Paul himself claimed to know nothing except the cross and reminded them how his message and preaching was accepted by them not because of his wisdom and persuasive words but because of the Spirit’s power. He insisted that rather than seeking the wisdom of this world, we musk look to God to reveal His mysteries to us by His Spirit.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.1 Corinthians 2:11
We have been given the Spirit of God to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong. The Spirit of God within us will make known the plans that God has for us. Let us not get swayed by human leaders and apostles and forget what Jesus wants in our lives.
Who has known the mind of the Lord1 Corinthians 2:16
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.