"Just What IS an APOSTLE?"

Chapter 6

The Apostle to Corinth

There is a specific book in the Bible that contains much information about apostleship in its opening chapters and more importantly, the chaos and disunity that result when the subject is not properly understood and respected. That book is First Corinthians, and those opening chapters have been written and preserved by God specifically so that we may read them – so that we also may learn from the early Church’s experience – when facing similar problems at this end-time.

History Of The Corinthian Church:

The city of Corinth was a place where God had selected people and was in the process of converting them to His Way of Life. The human instrument He used to lay the foundations of this process was the apostle Paul.

In Acts 16 we find Paul wanting to go North East from Ephesus into Asia and Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit did not allow him to do so (Acts 16:6-7). Instead, he was instructed in a vision to go North West into Macedonia on the other side of the Aegean Sea (Acts 16:9). This he did, and from Macedonia finally travelled south into Greece, coming first to Athens where he preached to the philosophers on Mars hill, and finally to Corinth (Acts 17:15; 18:1).

In Corinth, God showed Paul that it was a place where He was about to convert several people. Even though it was a port city, and therefore probably quite crime-ridden and dangerous, God encouraged Paul to remain there as He had “much people in this city” (Acts 18:10). So Paul remained in Corinth a year and a half (Acts 18:11), teaching and preaching to those God was calling within the area, and in so doing raised up the Church of God at Corinth (I Cor 1:2).

The Teachings of Apollos:

Remember that Christ had personally taught Paul using some spectacular visions (II Cor 12:2). This was probably when he was in the wilderness of Arabia, where he remained for three years after his conversion, prior to arriving at Jerusalem and his introduction to Peter (Gal 1:17-18). Christ Himself would have shown Paul what he was expected to teach in the future. So by the time Paul arrived at Corinth, he knew exactly what his commission was and what he was to teach. The teaching given to the people of Corinth therefore was not coming from Paul, but from Christ Himself. Paul was the apostle – one sent by God – with a specific message from God for the Corinthian Church (Acts 18:9).

Within the section of Acts that deals with the Corinthian Church, there is an interesting passage, placed at the end of chapter 18 and into chapter 19, about an individual called Apollos. We are told here that, though this man had great oratory skill and command of the scriptures, he knew “only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25), and he needed to have “expounded unto him The Way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). We are also told that immediately after he had been in Ephesus, Apollos went to Corinth and greatly assisted the Church there with his public oratory about Jesus being the Christ (or Messiah) (Acts 18:28).

However, there is an indication of a problem existing with those Apollos had taught, as the passage is immediately followed by Paul coming across people who only had the baptism of John (Acts 19:3). Though these people understood repentance and the need to turn from their own evil ways, they did not have the Spirit of God – necessary to live the new life required for true conversion (Acts 19:2). The repentance they had, therefore, was only human – of the flesh – and not empowered by the very Spirit of God. If one is truly converted, true Spiritual empowerment is required. The clear inference is that these were the converts of Apollos. God has placed this passage within scripture for a reason. It is very clear, from the first few chapters of First Corinthians, that most of the problems arising within the Corinthian Church came from a similar human approach to spiritual subjects.

The Problems in Corinth:

One of the primary manifestations of the problem within the Corinthian Church was division (I Cor 1:11). At its root, this division arose from a lack of true spirituality and the spiritual discernment to recognise where and how God was working. As we will see, it particularly involved not understanding how God uses the office and grace specifically given to an apostle.

Within the first four chapters of First Corinthians, Paul has to take time to re-establish his authority over the Church, by showing them the means by which Christ works. Only then can he deal with the specific problem that had arisen, where there was sexual misconduct that urgently needed action using that authority (I Cor 5:1). This need to re-establish his authority gives us many insights into the subject of how Christ operates within the Church, and how He uses the apostle whom He sends to a group of individuals. In addition, God has chosen to have this section of scripture preserved for us today – because we also need to understand what it has to say to us. One reason it was inspired and preserved was to instruct us about the role of an apostle – if we have the ears to hear – and to warn us of the chaos whenever that role is not properly appreciated.

Paul begins the book with the fact that he was, “called an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (I Cor 1:1) and wrote to them in that capacity. To back this up, in the first ten verses alone, the word “Christ” is repeated ten times! Clearly, it was Christ – not Paul – who was speaking to the Corinthian Church.

After these initial verses he gets straight to the point, urging them to “all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (I Cor 1:10-12).

On the surface, the phrase “I am of Christ” seems to be backed up as the correct approach, for Paul goes on to say, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (verse 13) but, as we will see, he does not condone this approach. What he is about to show is how Christ operated within the Corinthian Church – and operates within all Churches of God. He is about to show that it was Christ (not Paul) who actually laid the foundation within the Corinthian Church – although Christ chose to do so through Paul.

In verse 17 Paul emphasises that “Christ sent [grk: apostello] me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words” (I Cor 1:17). Apollos was a great orator, and people were probably looking to this human wisdom as a sign of spiritual standing. Paul therefore had to point out how The Truth he originally brought them had nothing to do with worldly wisdom, and was utterly unseen by the “wise” of this world: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent … where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor1:19-20).

The Greek culture looked up to philosophy and oratory (Acts 17:21; I Cor 1:22). Even in a port city like Corinth, they undoubtedly regarded those with such skills as superior. But being a “disputer of this world” does not impress God. Though it was clearly an area in which Apollos excelled (Acts 18:24, 28), Christ did not choose to illuminate the Corinthian Church in this way. When they initially had their minds opened to The Truth, the knowledge came in one way, and one way only – it was revealed by God Himself – “because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men … That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor 1:25, 29). The Corinthian Church desperately needed this basic, foundational Truth pointed out to them once again.

What Corinth had to Learn:

When Paul came to Corinth, what he had to say was “not the wisdom of this world … but … the wisdom of God in a mystery, [even] the hidden [wisdom], which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (I Cor 2:6-7). He delivered to them “the testimony of God” (I Cor 2:1), not his own words. His message was “not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that [their] faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Cor 2:4-5).

Paul knew that only by using God’s Spirit of power (not empty human might) would the people within Corinth have any chance at all of developing spiritually as God’s people. However, such wisdom is alien to the natural mind (I Cor 2:14). The natural mind only understands the things of man (I Cor 2:11). It takes contact with God, made possible via the sacrifice of Christ, to cause the Spirit of God to begin fully illuminating each newly-begotten Spirit-led mind. This basic fact formed the focus, the bedrock, the trunk of the tree that Christ brought to them – through Paul – during the 1½ years Paul lived in Corinth (I Cor 2:2).

Anyone who subsequently taught within the Corinthian Church, was therefore duty bound to follow within the Spirit-led heritage that Christ had already placed within the Church. He could not teach contrary to that heritage – for if he did, he made himself a “false apostle” as per II Cor 11:13. As Paul brings out, anything else was, “another Jesus … another spirit … another gospel” (II Cor 11:4). Christ had already laid the foundations – for “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor 3:11) – but He used Paul to do so, through the grace given to Paul specifically as their apostle. He was the apostle sent specifically to the Church at Corinth: According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (I Cor 3:10).

Should someone build in an unaligned way – at odds to this foundation laid originally by Christ through the apostle sent – they would be attempting to defile and misalign something profoundly Holy, the very temple to which Christ is destined to return: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are” (I Cor 3:16-17).

This stewardship is a huge responsibility to all of us within the ministry. Our judgement will largely consist of how faithfully we administer this responsibility. We should be left in no doubt whatever about this, as Christ – through Paul – instructs us: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I Cor 4:1-2). The knowledge Paul gave to the Corinthian Church did not come from his own human mind, for he says, “I know nothing by myself …” (I Cor 4:4), but those in Corinth learned what God required them to learn – through Paul – not from their own human minds. Yet it was a lack in continuing in This Way that caused the problem: “For who maketh thee to differ [from another]? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive [it], why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received [it]?” (I Cor 4:7).

The heart and core of the Corinthian problem – the reason they had the factions and arguments about this minister, or that elder – was that they elevated their own human reason above the revelation of God. They refused to receive the Truth in The Way God decreed – and failed to recognise the true role of the apostle Paul. Paul was their apostle sent originally to them by God Himself. This is why Paul uses sarcasm in saying to them: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We [are] fools for Christ's sake, but ye [are] wise in Christ; we [are] weak, but ye [are] strong; ye [are] honourable, but we [are] despised” (I Cor 4:9-10).

Solutions in Corinth:

Paul then lays out the clear unambiguous solution when he says: “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn [you]. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet [have ye] not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (I Cor 4:14-16). If the Corinthian Church was to get back on the single track that “leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt 7:14), it had to recognise where that single, original track actually was for them – where it originated. It did not come from Paul. But it did come via Paul – from Christ Himself.

He then tells them how he decided to assist them and bring them back into the line Christ requires: “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (I Cor 4:17). Timothy did build faithfully, clearly aligning what he said with the foundation Christ had laid previously within the Church through Paul. This is the reason Timothy was sent to them. Apollos had either not been doing so, or he had been unable to prevent the factions developing due to his inexperience. Whatever the problem with Apollos, sending Timothy – and his faithful spiritual alignment to the foundations laid by the one sent by Christ as their apostle – was the solution to the problem.

“Follow me as I follow Christ”?

We see in chapter 4 above, that Paul clearly instructed the Corinthian Church to follow him – as he was their apostle, sent to them by Christ. However, many people try to use another passage, also found within First Corinthians, to justify a position of not following the apostle sent to them and through whom they were enlightened. The passage is: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also [am] of Christ” (I Cor 11:1). Such people claim that this verse implies only following someone in so far as they follow Christ, and rejecting any aspect or teaching that does not comply.

On the surface this sounds commendable; indeed scriptures such as, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes 5:21) do indicate careful comparisons of all teachings with God’s Word – so that we might hold fast to the good. But trying to make this passage in Corinthians imply that we only accept that which we happen to agree as scriptural is an erroneous twisting of scripture for one simple reason: The people at Corinth only knew of Christ through the apostle Paul whom Christ had sent to them. There was no New Testament or other document available to them that they could use to “check up on him.” So this interpretation cannot be correct.

The passage means, “be followers of me – because I am following Christ.” This is further reinforced when you read the very next verse: “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered [them] to you” (I Cor 11:2). The passage gives no justification whatever for rejecting the direction and guidance of an apostle – in fact, quite the opposite.

In Summary:

The Church in Corinth was a divided, factious Church, because of one central problem: The people in the Church elevated human reason above the revelation of God. They failed to recognise that Spiritual things can only be God-inspired, and not deduced using the intellect of man. To continue as the people of God, it was essential that the brethren in Corinth follow their initial revelation faithfully – looking past the individual Christ sent as their apostle, to the True Spiritual Source of that revelation.

The solution in the case of the Corinthian Church was to send Timothy to them, as he understood this principle. Paul knew that Timothy would behave as a faithful steward and align his teaching with the spiritual heritage originally given via the apostle Paul, who was their apostle – sent to Corinth. In this way the Temple, that the people were destined to become, could once again be brought back on Track into the unity that Christ intended. These words within First Corinthians have been preserved so that we at the end-time can also learn. We also must remain alert as to whether the stewards working among us today are indeed faithful, as was Timothy.