First Corinthians 1--The Great Debate
Feb 28, 2017
Paul has been contrasting the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God, showing how each considers the other to be “foolishness.” The question is whose wisdom will prove to be wise after all? Which one will appear to be foolish? This is the great cosmic debate between heaven and earth, and history is its dialog.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says,
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God.
Here we see that God has chosen nobodies to debate the somebodies. The weak debate the strong, peasants debating noblemen, the despised debating the revered. The deck is stacked against those who advocate the wisdom of God. They appear foolish, relying on faith, rather than on worldly wisdom and logic. But such is our calling, and so we ought to ponder it well, for we must be willing to appear foolish to the world in order to be wise in the eyes of God.
It is not a debate that can be won by the rules of worldly logic. Jews as a whole could never accept a Messiah who would die in shame on a cross, apparently in utter defeat. But the logic of the cross ended in the victory of resurrection. This defied all Jewish logic.
Greeks as a whole could never accept a Savior who came from heaven as a good God incarnated on earth in evil flesh. But the wisdom of God saw the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the human flesh of the disciples and filled them as holy temples. This defied all Greek logic.
Fleshly minds could never accept the mind of the Spirit and give way to its authority, for human souls since Eden had ruled as if they were supreme. But when carnal minds were put in their proper place in submission, the power of God was manifested wherever they walked.
No Boasting Allowed
The purpose of God’s foolish wisdom was “that no man should boast before God.” Philosophers who won debates were honored, and they had the right to boast among men. But God causes His lowly debaters to lose their case in disgrace, so that they might afterwards confound the wise by the demonstration of the Spirit that defies all human logic.
God has no intention of allowing the fleshly soul to remain dominant over the spirit that is in us. The fleshly soul boasts over its victories. The spirit, infused with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, knows no reason to boast, for its power is not self-derived. Its victories come by the power of God, for the human spirit is merely a channel for the Holy Spirit to function without restriction.
1 Corinthians 1:30, 31 says,
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
By identifying with Jesus, who was and is the incarnation of the Wisdom of God, we have become the wisdom of God. We carry the same foolish message that Jesus carried, wherein He came to die for the people and be raised from the dead. But we have become not only the wisdom of God, but also His righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
How could we be all of these things without boasting? It is only because the source is not soulish, but spiritual. The soulish mind did not conceive this foolish wisdom, nor did it figure out logically the secrets of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. No, such things were far too foolish to the soulish mind for it to discover or even to understand.
What is righteousness? Our western minds normally make it synonymous with moral perfection. But the Hebrew understanding is justice—that is, to know or discern the mind of God to do what is right. A righteous person was also a man of his word, one who could be counted on to do what he said he would do. Under the Old Covenant, it was a man who kept his vow—actually, the vow of his forefathers under the Mount, saying, “all that the Lord has spoken, we will do” (Exodus 19:8).
All men have failed in the end to fulfill that vow. Men proved to be incapable of attaining righteousness by that covenant, which Jewish logic understood. But the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, became the righteousness of God in that He did all that was required, fulfilling the entire law which had prophesied of Him. The main work that He fulfilled was on the cross, all of which was prophesied in the feast of Passover. Therefore, as we identify with Him, we too are the righteousness of God in Christ, not because we may boast of doing right, but because we have faith in the ability of God to keep His vow in us.
Even though we are not yet perfected (except in a legal sense), we have faith that God is working in our hearts to bring us to that place of perfect righteousness that comes with immortality. We know that what He has started, He will finish. He works even now, and we now see evidence of change and spiritual growth in our being and in our behavior.
Our faith is in His ability, not ours; therefore, we have no cause for boasting. If we boast at all, we must boast about God’s ability to keep His New Covenant vow.
Paul says also that Christ has become our sanctification. Even as righteousness was given to us through the fulfillment of Passover, so also sanctification was given to us through Pentecost. Sanctification (qadash) was something that people did under the Old Covenant by pausing to set themselves aside for a time so that they might cleanse their hearts in preparation for some sort of work or calling. It was part of the process of consecration or dedication that distinguished such people from those who did not have the same calling.
The people of Israel were told to sanctify themselves (KJV) or consecrate themselves (NASB) for three days in Exodus 19:10, where the Hebrew word used is qadash. It was to prepare them for the Holy Spirit which was supposed to come upon them on that first Pentecost at Sinai. Although fear kept them from receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit at that time (Exodus 20:18-20), the divine intent and purpose for Pentecost was revealed at that time.
Essentially their time of sanctification was to prepare them to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Priests too were sanctified, or set apart from the rest of the people for a specific purpose and calling (Leviticus 8:30). Israel as a nation was to be a priestly nation ministering to the rest of the nations in order to fulfill the Abrahamic calling (Genesis 12:3).
Because Israel as a nation was too fearful to accept the Pentecostal call at that time, they never truly received the anointing to be a priestly nation. Only when Pentecost was fulfilled 1480 years later in the second chapter of Acts did a new anointed nation arise to fulfill that call. Those believers were anointed to succeed where Israel had failed. Hence, when Paul addresses the Corinthian church, he reminds them that Christ Jesus (“the Anointed Jesus”) had become their sanctification, making them part of the new priestly nation.
Unfortunately, as subsequent history has proven, the majority of the church has followed the pattern of Israel’s fear, for most have failed to attain this priesthood. Discounting the religionists who are Christians by earthly church membership alone, or by lip service to Christ, but not being begotten by the Father, we also see that many true believers, who have experienced Passover, have failed to move on into the anointing of Pentecost. Pentecost is the anointing of priesthood, even as Passover establishes one’s citizenship in the Kingdom.
In fact, Pentecost carries with it the anointing of both king and priest, for Jesus is our High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek, the King-Priest (Hebrews 7:17). Hence, not only were priests consecrated, or sanctified, but also kings. The fact that King Saul was anointed and crowned on the day of wheat harvest (1 Samuel 12:17), i.e., Pentecost, shows that the church was crowned king in Acts 2:1-3. Saul was a prophetic type of the church in its call as king.
The problem was that many in the church—including the Corinthian church—failed to live up to the calling of the Melchizedek Order. They failed as priests and as kings, and for this reason Paul wrote to admonish them and correct their teachings and behavior.
The final item on Paul’s list is that Christ Jesus is our redemption. While there are many aspects of redemption, the fact that this is the third on the list identifies it with the feast of Tabernacles. This feast, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, is not about dwelling in booths made of branches from goodly trees. It is about being clothed upon with that tabernacle from above that is reserved for us in the heavens.
That heavenly garment brings immortality, Paul says. He writes of this again in Romans 8:23,
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Here Paul uses the same terminology as he used in 2 Corinthians 5:4,
4 For indeed, while we are in this [earthly, mortal] tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
We “groan” in this present body, or tent, for we are clothed with mortality. Yet our hope is “the redemption of our body.” We are to receive these new bodies at the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles. Meanwhile, Paul says, we have been given the “pledge” (arrabon) of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:5). A pledge is what a debtor gives to his creditor as collateral on a loan. Paul uses the word arrabon, which is actually a Hebrew word carried over into Greek. It is used in Genesis 38:17, 18.
Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is a pledge on a debt. In this case, God is holding our tabernacle, or tent, or immortal garment, in the heavens. That heavenly garment was secured for us on the cross and by Jesus’ resurrection. Yet God has chosen not to give it to us immediately. Thus, he has borrowed it, giving us the pledge of the Holy Spirit as collateral. The fact is that He owes us this garment and is, in that sense, the debtor, and we are the creditors.
The repayment will be made at the feast of Tabernacles. This is the redemption of our body.
Paul insists that we have no more reason to boast about Tabernacle’s redemption than with Passover’s righteousness or with Pentecost’s sanctification. Why? Because all were secured by Jesus Himself, who came to fulfill God’s New Covenant vow. Hence, if we boast at all, we should boast about what Christ has done, not what we have done to fulfill our own vows.
The redemption of our body will end the great debate, for then God will prove His wisdom, and every mouth will be stopped.
This is part 9 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones