The first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian church will be our focus for the next several months. I don’t have it all mapped out yet, but I know it will take some time, a good amount of time. But a good amount of time in God’s Word is among the best ways to spend time.
I know that most of us are at least semi-familiar with 1 Corinthians. It’s not some odd, obscure Old Testament book like Judges or Nahum. There’s much, though, that is likely unfamiliar to us. And there’s much that is probably ripped out of 1 Corinthians and used out of context. For instance, 1 Corinthians 13 is not a wedding text, not really.
So we’re familiar and yet unfamiliar with this Holy Spirit inspired letter found in God’s Word, the Bible. It’s my prayer and it will be my endeavor to work through this book (with some help from Jim and Josh) so that we will know God’s Word better and thus know God better.
>By way of introduction, this video from The Bible Project is the best introduction around, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about 9-minutes long, and it’s so good. Enjoy!
“Seeing every part of life through the lens of the gospel.”
A good way to think about 1 Corinthians is to think about it as “the Gospel for the Church”.
It’s the gospel—the good news about Jesus, who He is and what He has done—that saves. And it’s the gospel that we need each and every day. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We, messy and messed-up as we are, need to be reminded (over and again) how badly we need Jesus to step into our broken lives and save us, that we will never, could never save ourselves.
Church is messy. The Church today deals with all the same issues and struggles that this church in Corinth did—there are divisions and disunity, sexual sin, hatred, wrong thinking, bad theology, and more.
The Church is not perfect. The Church is exactly imperfect. If you think you've found the perfect church, you’re fooling yourself. If, miraculously, you do find the perfect church, stay far, far away from it because you’ll just mess it up.
We hurt one another, we sin against one another, we have divisive opinions and practices, we think wrongly from time to time, we value the unimportant over the essential, we mark our territory and refuse to change, we major in the minors, we miss the mark.
This is Church. The Church is imperfect because the Church is made up of imperfect people. And yet it’s the Church—the gathered and worldwide assembly of God’s people who belong to Him through faith in Jesus—it’s the Church that will endure. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
The Church—the people of God—will never cease to exist. Never. And this is not by our doing; this is the will of God.
The Church needs the gospel. We need to be daily reminded of the gospel and how it touches and impacts every part of our lives as the people of God, as the Church belonging to Him.
This is what Paul is wanting to get across to the Corinthian church. This is what Paul was instructed by the Lord to do in Corinth:
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
And so Paul did just that. He stayed there in Corinth for about 18 months and then continued on to other towns, Ephesus for one. From Ephesus, Paul heard about the problems in Corinth and wrote this letter to them. All estimations have Paul writing this letter to the church about 2 years after he left Corinth; things got out of control quickly.
David Prior gives us this bird’s eye picture of the church in Corinth:
“It was a large church—many Corinthians were converted to Christ. It was full of cliques, each following a different personality. Many Christians were very snobbish: at fellowship meals the rich kept to themselves, and the poor were left alone. There was very little church discipline: a lot of laxity was allowed, both in morals and in doctrine—an all-too-common combination. They were unwilling to submit to authority of any kind and the integrity of Paul’s own apostleship was frequently questioned. There was a distinct lack of humility and of consideration for others, some being prepared to take fellow-Christians to court and others celebrating their new-found freedom in Christ without the slightest regard for the less robust consciences of fellow-believers. In general, they were very keen on the more dramatic gifts of the Spirit and were short on love rooted in the truth. This is the church Paul greets.”
If it sounds messy, it’s because it was. Church is always messy. But it’s His. It’s His—and that makes it beautiful.
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do) please turn with me to 1 Corinthians. If you’re able and willing, please stand with me for the reading of God’s Holy Word. 1 Corinthians, chapter 1:
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
There are three truths Paul wants to settle with the Corinthians (and with us) right away. And these three truths can pretty much be boiled down to one truth—it’s all His.
There’s a phrase Paul uses in verse 2 that sums up what he (and we) believe about the church. Paul writing to the local church there in Corinth addresses the letter to the church of God in Corinth.
To the church of God in Corinth.
In other places, at the start of other letters Paul writes to other churches, he doesn’t state it quite like this. Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says:
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.
Paul wants to make this much crystal clear to the Corinthians: The church belongs to God, not to them or to Paul (or Apollos or anyone else), and by this slight change in the address Paul prevents them from their tendency to think too highly of themselves.
I think it’s okay to refer to this body of believers as “our church” or for you to say, “This is my church,” as long as you are only speaking about your belonging and not asserting your ownership of this church.
The church does not belong to me. It does not belong to you. It does not belong to them (whoever “them” might be). It does not belong to those who have gone before us. The church belongs to God—it always has and it always will. We get to be a part; that’s God’s glorious design.
To the church of God in Corinth...
Every part of this is God’s; it’s all His. Paul is an apostle because of the calling and will of God. The people who make up the church are sanctified in Christ Jesus and are holy in Him; all those who call on His name make up the Church, wherever they might be. What He has done in Christ Jesus makes them His new people.
It’s His Church. And what Paul will say to the Corinthians—he will remind them regularly—is what he has said to all the churches. It’s what the Holy Spirit wants us to know.
It’s His Church.
Paul is thankful, but this is not some generalized thankfulness for a bunch of friends or for a collective group of good people and their potluck casseroles.
Paul is thankful, he says, for them all because of His grace given [to them] in Christ Jesus.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
The whole of Paul’s thanksgiving is God-oriented and Christ-centered. Everything comes from God and is given in Christ Jesus.
What we’ll find out as we work our way through 1 Corinthians is that, outside from God’s grace in their lives, there’s really not a whole lot to be thankful for here.
It’s one really messed up church, full of tried and true scumbags. They are divided, hostile, hateful, immoral; they question Paul’s authority over and over; they are selfish, doctrinally dense, and more.
But here’s where Paul’s focus is: God’s Grace.
God’s grace has invaded their lives, saved them from the wrath of God, made them into new creations, brought them into His Church. “Wonderful, the matchless grace of Jesus.” God’s grace to them reveals how much He loved them and how He acted decisively on their behalf, even though they had done nothing whatever to deserve it, but rather the opposite.
It’s His Grace. His grace has enriched their speech and knowledge. God’s riches have been lavished upon them. God gracefully gifted the Corinthians. In fact, when it comes to “spiritual gifts”—those special things God gives to people by the Holy Spirit to enable them to serve Him and one another in ways they couldn’t otherwise have done—the Christians in Corinth are as well equipped as anybody could wish.
God’s grace gives with both hands. He heaps good things upon His people because He is good and because His grace abounds. We should make sure that our focus is Paul’s focus—on God and Christ, from whom and through whom are all things.
Even in the greeting of the letter, Paul is highlighting the grace of God.
The traditional greeting at that time, in that place was chairein, a word simply meaning “Greetings!” Paul changes chairein to charis—that’s the word for “Grace” and then tacks on the traditional Jewish greeting, shalom (peace).
This is Paul’s theology in a few words. The sum total of all God’s activity toward His human creatures is found in the word “grace”; God has given Himself to them mercifully and bountifully in Christ. Nothing is deserved; nothing can be achieved:
“Tis mercy all, immense and free.”
It’s His grace, by His grace, and only by His grace that these people belong to Him and to His Church.
It’s His Church, His Grace, and it’s...
There are three words (the first three words of verse 9) which deserve our attention and our praise: God is faithful.
It’s hard to not gloss over phrases like that because we are so accustomed to hearing about His faithfulness. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know, Barrett. Get on with it. The Methodists are going to beat us to lunch; we know they are. It’s just a question of by how much...”
Please don’t miss this. This is exceptionally good news, especially when you factor in just how jacked-up the Corinthian church is.
8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Because God is Faithful, He is going to keep His people—His Church—firm to the end. This is something He will do. It’s going to happen. His people will be sustained, kept, held; they will persevere to the end BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL!
His people, His Church will, by His Grace and because of His Faithfulness be blameless/guiltless on the day Jesus returns. Notice, they’re not innocent, not at all. But because of God’s grace and the finished work of Jesus they are not guilty; they will be blameless on that day.
Everything God has done, and will do, for the Corinthians is done expressly in “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God is faithful. This is clear. He has been faithful. He is faithful. And He will continue to be faithful. Jesus is coming again, to set the world at rights, to usher in His kingdom in its fullness. Final glory awaits His Church.
Whatever ups and downs the Church might face, Paul is sure of the faithfulness of God. We can totally depend upon Him. God is not a man. He cannot deny Himself. He will keep His Word. The Church is His responsibility; it’s in good hands.
It’s His Church, His Grace, His faithfulness.
>Sometimes it’s sports. Sometimes it’s family—the kids, the grandchildren, husband, wife. Sometimes it’s politics; other times it’s the newest movie or the best book. You can tell when you’re speaking with that person on the phone or in person; people give themselves away by what they go on talking about. It doesn’t take long before you discover what’s really exciting them, to find out what’s at the center of their waking thoughts.
Upon reading the opening verses of this letter, there is no doubt about what Paul was excited about, what was at the center of this thoughts and intentions. For Paul, one name keeps coming up, over and over again.
8 times in 9 verses, Paul speaks about Jesus; Paul can’t help but speak His name. Paul couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, because without Jesus nothing else Paul said or did made any sense.
And what Paul wants the Corinthians to get hold of most of all, is what it means to have Jesus at the middle of your story, your life, your thoughts, your imagination.
If the Corinthians can do that, if we can do that, all the other issues that rush to and fro through the letter will sort themselves out.
It’s His Church. It’s His Grace. It’s His Faithfulness.
It’s His Church. It’s His Grace. It’s His Faithfulness.
If you aren’t part of His Church, I pray you will be soon. If you don’t know His Grace, I hope you will know it fully. If you haven’t experienced His Faithfulness, I trust you will immediately upon giving your life to Him.
For those of us who are part of His Church, we need to remember these truths—it’s His. It’s His. It’s all His.