No Leader is Good Enough to Replace Christ

An issue that arises in this first chapter is the way in which factions have developed within the church, each seeking to ally themselves with a different teacher. Some follow Paul, others, Apollos, Cephas, or Christ.

This may have reflected ethnic divisions in Corinth, with the Roman contingent in the city preferring the Roman citizen, Paul. The Greeks identified with the Greek, Apollos. Jews with Peter, here identified with his Jewish name, Cephas. Ken Bailey writes:

Breaking into ethnic enclaves is unacceptable. Furthermore, loyalties to individuals is not an excuse for breaking the unity of the church. Their leaders are not adequate centers for primary loyalty. (Emphasis mine.)

We still fall into this trap of lifting individuals up into a role that is only properly filled by Jesus Christ. That is a clear emphasis of Paul in chapter 1: Jesus Christ is who matters more. Did Paul die for you? Were you baptized into Paul? No. Jesus Christ, and he alone, has died for you and could do so. Being indentified with Christ is what is greatest importance and he is whose name we call upon and whose name is placed upon us. After all, we’re called Christians.

Again, Bailey sums up the issue well and very succintly, “The question is not ‘Who is my leader?’ but rather, ‘Who died for us?’” These divisions are problematic, but the solution lies in turning to the cross, which dominates the next section of 1 Corinthians.[1]


Today I saw this article on the front page of Christianity Today that I thought (was going to) fit perfectly on this topic. It’s titled ‘Our Unhealthy Obsession with Pastors,’ by Luma Simms. The article does do a good job of hitting on this point that we can focus too much on a local church leader, and Simms writes, “Many of us have come to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the man standing up front every Sunday is the only one doing real ministry.”

Of course that is not true. Pastors are just one group among the whole royal priesthood of God’s people. While we need to be cautious that we are not idolizing the man or woman that stands behind the pulpit, we need to at the same time lift up the varied work of the whole church.

I said that I thought this article was going to be a perfect fit, but it went from being a critique on the celebrity culture that seems to trace itself from 1 Corinthians 1 to today and became more an article about making sure that people don’t idolize the pulpit so that women don’t covet that sort of leadership. It is as though the greatest concern here isn’t a pastor taking attention from Christ, but that a certain group of people thought to be disallowed from the pastorate are sinfully drawn to it.

There is a better reason to not idolize the pulpit, and it is so that Jesus Christ remains as our focus. And we have no reason to fear a woman leading, as this letter of 1 Corinthians itself will give us examples of both men and women who exhibit leadership as they prophesy in the church.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 71. ↩

God’s Calling in 1 Corinthians 1

Calling on Jesus

Exciting discussion occurred around my breakfast table this morning–which is a relative term since I’m not that excitable early in the day. But my wife and I were talking about the different ways to translate the opening lines, and in particular, the way in which the word “call” or “called” is used.

In this week’s reading I counted four instances of the word and three of them fall in the first two verses. From the ESV here are verses with the words bolded:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

Ken Bailey translates this differently, keeping the calling as something God does throughout, which changes the last phrase to:

…Together with all those who are called by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This use of “called” is not quite the way someone is “called” Harry in the UK (ie. the way we use “named” in the US). But according to Bailey, it’s not so far off. Being called by the name of Jesus is an action that claims us as belonging not to ourselves, but to our Lord Jesus Christ, for “God’s name is called upon the things that belong to God, be they objects like temples, or people.”1

Either way, the calling is a meaningful action. It is God’s calling to himself a people, calling them to be his own in Jesus Christ. This is God’s action, graciously taking a divided, sinful people and making them into his church. This is God finding a villain to the early disciples, Saul, and calling him to now be an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul. It is God calling us to take part in the story of Jesus Christ.

Whether one translation is better than the other does not keep us from seeing that in these verses we find that our identity is founded in Jesus Christ and thanks be to God for such a call. Paul wants our attention turned to Jesus and his opening is all about Jesus–just take note of how often his name is repeated in this chapter. And now we are to be about him and our calling on him is all it takes to bind the church in Corinth with saints in every place. This introduction reminds us that it is less about us and more about the one who has called us, sanctifies us, and blesses us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 60. ↩

The Value of Memorization

Have you ever quoted your mother in giving advice? Has a famous line of some presidential speech made its way into your conversation? How did you do it? Do you carry around a quote book, organized by topic, to pull out and read from at just the right time?

Of course not. These nuggets are stored deep down in your brain. They live alongside movie lines you could recite in your sleep, sports statistics such as a starting lineup of a decades old baseball team, and your childhood street address. We commit all sorts of things to memory. Some clearly of more value than others. But value is what gets it there.

What we value we focus on, we repeat, we talk about, and eventually we memorize–often without even knowing it.

As Year in the Bible slows down to focus on 1 Corinthians, I want memorization to take a central role. God’s Word has tremendous value, therefore we should take the time and energy to store it in our hearts. Since we are reading fewer verses each week we have more time to dig deep, we’ll have the time to meditate on these verses, reading them over and over. As we do so, God’s Spirit will strengthen the roots that Scripture has within us.

Each week we’ll have a couple of verses to memorize. Think of it almost like a parallel to last year’s focus passages. I’m working on ways to encourage and make it easier, but it will still take dedication. We’ll have verses printed on paper the size of business cards to tuck away in your pocket. I’m often thinking of visual aids, and have already worked on one for our first memory verses: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 (Paul’s Opening Lines).

My hope is that by the end of these several months, we’ll have a great storehouse of Scripture in our minds, ready to be used by God in us, for us, and through us.