As we study 1 Corinthians one of the things that we have to see is that there are those of higher status that is causing trouble within the church. I believe that we can see this scattered throughout the first four chapters, starting with Chapter one in verse 20, “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”. Then in verse 25, he goes to tell them that the “foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. Paul then goes on in the next verse to share that not everyone in the church was “wise by human standards; not many influential; not many were of noble birth”. All of this shows that there were some that were of a higher standard that more than likely thought themselves elite in the church. They may have been drawn to Apollos because he was a more polished speaker than Paul. Paul lets them know that the wisdom of men is foolishness to God so they can understand, their position, nor their education compares to the things of God. He shared with them that God chooses the foolish things and used the weak things to fulfill his purpose. I think Paul brought this to their attention to get them to realize that God’s kingdom does not operate as the world does, and the worldly status of a man does not appeal to God in any way.
I believe we can see this again in chapter 2, where Paul tells them that he did not come with human wisdom or eloquence, but he came to do what God has called him to do and that was to preach the gospel of Jesus and Him crucified. Paul spends a great deal of time in the first four chapters talking about wisdom because no doubt this was the main issue of strife within the church. As then, many people think that education and knowledge equate to wisdom, but Paul wants them to know that Godly wisdom is more than knowledge and that God’s wisdom can come to any man as God so chooses.
Now some believe that Paul’s primary concern is to undermine the dominant Apollos’ party. Finney says that Paul’s letter is filled with philotimia so that he can regain some position of honor as the founder of the church that he has somehow lost. I disagree with Finney on this point, even though I do believe this faction presented Paul with the most difficult, and from the way it reads this was more than likely the people with a higher status in the church, I think Paul’s primary concern was much deeper than that. Now, I must admit that this belief that I have comes from a pastor’s heart, and I think Paul had to get to the point where he wanted to see this church grow in Christ and prosper. I look at chapter 3 verse 1, where Paul states, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men.” I think Paul’s primary concern was because of all the division within the church, that the church had not grown to a place where Paul could feed them. Also in chapter 1, Paul does not say anything about Apollos in a negative way, but he humbles himself by letting them know that it was not Paul that saved them, but it was Christ. In looking in Acts and understanding more about Apollos, we find that he was a very good speaker but he was also, compared to Paul, very new to preaching. Paul who was a seasoned minister was coming into the church and dealing with issues that had arisen after the least experienced Apollos had visited. You can almost hear the frustration of Paul, the founder of the church, in chapter three as he states, “ you should be farther along but you have gotten side tracked and become enamored by men rather than by God”.
I think we can see this in Fee’s plea to the church as well, where he is sharing with us to know, (read 2:15-16), and come away, that if we have the Spirit, we are somehow elite to others. Fee’s plea is that we understand that anything that is given to us comes from God and that we should realize that it is for the purpose of Christ. We can see the error of this in all kinds of movements that have come up within the church and even more so in the Pentecostal movement. I think you see this in the “Word of Faith” movement, where leaders of that group feel that they are elite because they have faith and tell others that if you have enough faith you will never be sick. This is not at all what Paul was doing, and when we do this, we are guilty of the same elite thinking that the Corinthians were guilty of. I gathered that Fee was telling us that God has not given us power or Lord over people, but in giving us power, it will cause us to humble to the Lord over us.
Lastly, I believe the power approach that Paul most uses, is the vertical approach of Apostleship. Even though I can see elements of the other approaches within the book of 1 Corinthians, I think that Paul continues to bring up the fact that he is an apostle of Christ. We can see this in chapter 3 when Paul places himself as the one that planted the church and that Apollos came and watered and it was God that gave an increase. By doing this, we see that Paul is placing himself in the position of the one that founded the church. Although watering is important, and he was giving Apollos credit for his work, there would be nothing to water if first someone did not come and plant the church. In chapter four, Paul is careful not to break the nature of true apostleship, and Paul, right in the beginning of the chapter, lets them know that their judgment of him does not matter to him, but only the judgment of God. Paul then goes into how that God sends him and Apollos and that there is no need for them to have this division because they are just mere servants. Then in verse 16, Paul urges them to imitate him because Jesus has made him father over the church. Then what I think is the climax of this approach to power is verse 20, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power”. The division had been over how one communicated (talked) better than the other, and Paul lets them know that the kingdom is not about how you talk but it is about the power of God that is working within you and this is something that Paul knew was working in this life.