Lesson Three – Do Not Go Beyond What is Written

Do Not Go Beyond What is Written


The eternal theologies about  God’s “will” being put into action in time by Jesus was embedded by Paul in his approach to the “wisdom of man” problem in the Corinthian church.  Please review the Introduction and the previous lessons in Part III to appreciate why we need not “go beyond what is written.”  I Cor. 4:6. 

Also, review Part II, Lessons Two and Four to keep in touch with our exegetical work about what was going on in the church at Corinth.  What we learned about what the scriptures meant to the recipients will control our hypothesis about what these same scriptures mean to us.  At the same, we need to keep in mind the antagonist in this Corinthian drama (II Cor. 11:13-15).  We were introduced to Satan and his false apostles in Part I, Lesson Three.

Our aim in this lesson is to learn the principles Paul taught to solve the problem set forth in I Corinthians chapters one through four.   We can apply these divine principles to similar problems we might encounter in our own lives.


The spiritual growth problem in the Corinthian church was stated by Paul:

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ.  I gave you mild, not solid food, for you were not yet ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?’  I Corinthians 3:1-4.

After stating his inability to communicate with the church on the level he had previously taught them, Paul resorted to rhetorical questions to illicit their personal analysis of their condition.  This meant Paul thought they knew how to compare spiritual things with “mere men” thinking and behavior.  Paul had spent eighteen months teaching them what we studied in our previous lessons in Part III.  At the time of this writing they were moving away from the wisdom of God that was confirmed in them to the wisdom of mankind (I Cor. 1:6).

Their “mere men” level of spirituality manifested itself by their change of allegiances to God, the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the message of the Holy Spirit to the servants of God – “God’s fellow workers.”  I Cor. 3:9.  They were claiming allegiance and a special relationship with Cephas, Apollos and Paul.  These were strong individuals with which they had begun to gravitate, when people from Chloe’s household reported the problem to Paul (I Cor. 1:11, 12).  The church was beginning to function from the members’ emotional base rather than from the principles in God’s will for mankind. 

Children approach life from their emotional base.  They have an “I want” approach to life until, and if, they are trained to function on the principles of fellowship with others of their kind.  In relation to the special gifts of the Spirit some members of the Corinthian church had received, Paul plainly told them, “Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”  I Cor. 14:20.  The principle of fellowship in the body of Christ is set forth in the statement; “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  I Cor. 8:1.  Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” I Cor. 9:22. 

Boasting, an ego problem, had pervaded the leadership of the congregation of God’s people.   Members were rallying around leaders, who had begun to rally around “significant names.”  Even though some claimed “I follow Christ” their motive was to divide disciples for themselves.  Paul put his finger on the motive of egotistical leadership in the following comment concerning their unethical manner of partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

In the first place, I hear when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  I Cor. 11:18, 19 

Strong willed leaders who desire to gather people around themselves need to claim God’s approval to validate their leadership. They choose a few doctrines that appeal to a particular people and claim their belief in these issues make them different from others who hold another view.  In this manner, different groups form by rallying around certain decided measurements of God’s truth.  This is an act of denominating.  To illustrate the point one may arrange their money in their wallet according the amount of the bill.  They give a name to each category.  This is a ten and this is a twenty. 

According to Webster’s Dictionary the definition of denominationalism is, “devotion to denominational principles of interest.  The emphasizing of denominational differences to the point of being narrowly exclusive: Sectarianism.  The purpose of the first four chapters of the I Corinthian letter was to “nip this cankerous problem in the bud.”  The simple solution:  “Be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Christians do this by developing the skill of practicing the principles of biblical interpretation.

The word of God is given to us in literature.  We must learn the principles of reading literature.  We learn what the Corinthian letters meant to the original recipients and we let that control what they mean to us today.  We don’t depend on others for what we have faith in for our salvation.  We appreciate learned people.  We “remember your (our) leaders, who spoke the word of God to you (us).”  Heb. 13:7.  We consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith in the word of God.  “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow.”  Heb. 13:8.  Christians are disciples of Jesus and no one else.  A leader who seeks to make disciples for himself causes division in God’s church.           

The Corinthians had been thoroughly taught about the spiritual aspect of the inner/outer man (II Cor. 16-18).  They knew “this world in its present form is passing away”  I Cor. 7:31.  However, they had begun to “take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.”  II Cor. 5:12.  Some were beginning to “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves.”  II Cor. 10:12. 

They had an ego problem and it was dividing the church.  Paul wrote, “Some of you have become arrogant.”  I Cor. 1:18.  This is a beginning step away from the “will of God.”  Some were no longer willing to subject themselves to Paul’s will, who was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” I Cor. 1:1.  They had moved from being willing to willful – a dangerous move.  A willful sin moves a Christian away from the grace of the cross (Heb. 10:26).  They were attempting to departmentalize the kingdom of God.  They were in danger of being charged with splitting the temple of God in Corinth, as if that could be done.  Oh, that Christian people could understand that anything less than “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” is the cause for destroying the body concept of the church (I Cor. 1:10).  There is one head and one body (I Cor. 12:12, 13).      

Paul began to work on correcting the problem in his opening prayer (I Cor. 1:4-9).  Their problem was in their individual minds and hearts, not out there; therefore, he began to set up a mental field in which they could see where they were, what they had received and what they were doing with it at the moment.  By the measure of man, they came from the common class of people (I Cor. 1:26).  Most were probably Greek Gentiles.  Some had had some serious immoral problems along with the practice of other vices; however, they were now saints by the grace of God (I Cor. 6:9-11).  God blessed them by Paul’s gospel with full grace and several spiritual gifts (I Cor. 12:7-11; 12:11-13).  At the time of this writing some were suffering from an apparent lapse of memory – they were boasting as if their new standing in life came by their own abilities (I Cor. 4:7). 

Please consider this setting in light of our historical and literary analysis on these scriptures, especially, Part II, Lesson Two.  The meaning, or hermeneutical point, we want to make here is that most Christians know when we are “off-track.”  We just need to think through where we were in the world, what we understood about God’s will, wisdom and grace in the beginning of our new life “in Christ” and where we stand right now.  The scriptures will help us think through these issues.  Paul’s letters were intended to help them think through from where they were to where they had come to be – acting as if they were rich and kings (I Cor. 4:8).  On a scale of one to ten, man’s wisdom does not register when attempting to rate it on the same scale with God’s wisdom.

Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  As it is written:  ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’  So then, no more boasting about men!  I Cor. 3:18-21

Paul wrote the Roman letter on his third trip to Corinth.  In the last half of the first chapter of Romans, he elaborated on his declaration that “the world through its wisdom did not know Him (God).”  I Cor. 1:21.  It is crucial to our spiritual growth to know God as a Person by getting to know Jesus personally (Heb. 1:3).  This is the path for moving away from “boasting about” and “becoming followers of men,” even though they might be scholars and talented speakers. 

When members of the church of God begin to adopt a man or woman as the magnet of their fellowship, it should be a warning flag that they are moving away from “what is written.”  When they begin to boast about “our preacher” or whatever term they use to designate the “person in the pulpit,” we have the Corinthian problem in the twenty-first century.  It has plagued the quote, “Christian religious world,” since the first century.

 Questions for Discussion

  1. How has God arranged for us to know Christian theology?
  2. How did Paul come to the conclusion that some of the Corinthian church members were not spiritual enough to receive God’s word?
  3. What does the fact that Paul employed rhetorical questions suggest about the level of understanding on the recipients of his letter?
  4. What is wrong with rallying around God’s fellow workers, such as the Apostle Paul?
  5. Adult people function from which base: a. Principles. B. Emotions.
  6. In the context of the Corinthian scenario, explain how “knowledge puffs up.”
  7. In the context of the Corinthian problem, what was wrong about the way some were claiming, “I follow Christ?”
  8. Please explain what Paul was writing in I Cor. 11:18, 19 that related to the problem of boasting and division in the church.
  9. Explain the word “denomination” in terms of arranging money.  How does this relate to denominationalism in religion?
  10. Why is it important to practice biblical interpretation principles in light of the Corinthian problem?

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