1 Cor 1:1-3 – 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 holy, 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.
Knowing that Paul’s leadership was in question at Corinth, we see Paul’s deliberate choice of words in these opening verses.
v1 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.
Apostle of Christ. Called into this role by the will of God. That’s a pretty strong resume. As a reader of this letter, I think we would have to conclude that Paul is not someone you want to casually dismiss.
Then, in v2 — To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I think Paul would have wanted the accent to be placed on the word “EVERYWHERE.” What is the link between what Paul is saying at Corinth with what he says at Ephesus and Galatia and Colosse and Thessalonica? It’s the gospel. If you study the letters of Paul, you will notice a pattern. He preached the same, exact message to every church he founded — the message that we were prisoners of sin and under the wrath of God, yet God in His mercy and His boundless love intervened and sent His Son to die on a cross to take our place and atone for sin, and He raised this Jesus 3 days later so that all who repent and believe in Christ could be saved — this is the same message he preached at Corinth and EVERYWHERE else.
Paul was not being extra harsh with the Corinthians. He was not delivering to them a unique message tailor-made for them or a special revelation or a specific calling reserved for those in Corinth. No, he is preaching the same gospel everywhere. And Paul’s letters differ only for one reason, and that is, they differ because each church in their unique way had lost sight of this universal gospel and needed to repent and come back to a right understanding of the gospel.
If I were a Corinthian, I would feel nervous if Paul was visiting our church and teaching something he hadn’t taught at any other church. Wouldn’t you? The same goes for us. We need to know our Bible and submit to its teaching, esp. when it comes to the core of our preaching — the gospel of Jesus Christ — that is what needs to be preached here, not the unique teachings of our particular church with our idiosyncratic preachers. You should be able to go to any church where the preachers submit to the Word of God and the gospel and hear the same message you hear preached at this church. That’s why I don’t mind if my messages are circulated on the internet. I have nothing to hide. There is no need to do anything behind closed doors. Like Paul, I want the message he preached to be the same message I preach and the same message that is preached at hundreds and perhaps thousands of churches in the LA area and around the world.
Now, we get to the meat of this message. I want to return to the summary statement I made earlier — Paul’s exemplary attitude toward the Corinthians and his extraordinary affection for the Corinthians was created by his divine perspective of the Corinthians. (REPEAT).
Let’s breakdown Paul’s divine perspective of the Corinthians. Specifically, how did the divine perspective play out so that in an unexpected twist, Paul could actually be thankful for the Corinthians?
1) Paul was thankful for the Corinthians because he recognized God’s call in their lives.
2) Paul was thankful for the Corinthians because he saw evidences of grace.
3) Paul was thankful for the Corinthians because his confidence was anchored in the faithfulness of God.
1) Paul is thankful for the Corinthians because he recognized God’s call in their lives.
I find it remarkable that Paul was attracted to this church in light of their need of adjustment. Let me make an assumption here. I think I can safely say about the Corinthian church — there was no other church that Paul served that was more in need of adjustment. I find it all the more amazing that Paul expressed thanksgiving to God for them because he had to adjust this church despite their opposition to him personally.
It’s already a challenge to adjust a church as immature as the Corinthians but how much more challenging if they oppose you?
v4 is quite remarkable. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
In light of their need of adjustment, I would not begin the letter this way. Not a chance. If I were Paul, I would have disassociated myself with this church, or at least distanced myself, desired not to be involved with this church.
The Corinthians were obviously a highly gifted church. Many spiritual gifts were being exercised. So perhaps, I would start by dismissing their gifts altogether, not thank God for them. Why would that be my approach? Pride. Only the humble can give thanks to people who oppose them. The self-righteous are incapable of giving thanks for such people.
What explanation do we have for Paul’s remarkable attitude and affection for this church? These were created by his divine perspective of the Corinthians. That’s the only reasonable explanation why this man can write in v4 — I always thank God for you. How else can you explain this outpouring of gratitude? Don’t misunderstand — the primary purpose of this letter is adjustment.
But that adjustment is effective because his affection for them is extraordinary. Do not adjust people toward whom you do not have this kind of extraordinary affection. Where exemplary attitude and extraordinary affection is lacking, it’s indicative of our lack of a divine perspective.
I think we all have such people in our lives. It’s the difficult individual you are thinking of right at this moment. For you, that’s your Corinthian church member. And let’s suppose one day, that difficult individual comes out and says, I feel called to the foreign mission field. And you feign grief but secretly in your heart, you are jumping up and down for joy.
Many times, these are not isolated individuals. They appear in group form. They congregate like a pack of wolves and invade your sphere. And out in the world, you can disassociate yourself. You can keep your distance from people you don’t like. But not in the church. I believe God uses difficult people as a means of our sanctification. God brings difficult people to your sphere and they provide immeasurable value to us in terms of our growth and character.
If Paul can reflect this kind of affection toward those who are rejecting him, then I have no excuse for a sinful attitude toward anyone in this church.
What created Paul’s affection? Paul had a divine perspective of the Corinthian church.
Do you have a divine perspective toward others in this church? If you don’t, you will find yourself lacking affection for those most in need of adjustment.
Being part of a church involves adjustment. There are times when the leadership of a church needs to exercise authority and to call individuals to repentance. For Paul, the adjustment was effective because of his attitude and affection, and that attitude and affection were possible because of his divine perspective.
Paul was so thankful for the Corinthians because of his divine perspective of the Corinthians and his divine perspective was possible because of 3 reasons. One, Paul’s divine perspective is evident in his understanding of the call of God. 3 times, Paul references call —
1 Paul, CALLED to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and CALLED to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Calling reminds us of divine initiative. God is the one who calls. He is the one who acts. It’s a divine summons. He called us to be his children. He saved us through the gospel. And due to God’s initiative, we had a chance to respond. You were acted upon by God prior to your acting in response to God.
Paul’s divine perspective allowed him to be thankful for the Corinthians because he remembered the prior activity of God.
Which are you more aware of? Divine initiative or present deficiencies? Which are you more aware of? The call of God in a believer’s life or their present deficiencies?
The call of God imparts faith for change and perseverance in the process. The people you are adjusting will be able to perceive irritation in your heart as you seek to adjust them.
Part of the divine perspective for Paul toward the Corinthians was his acute awareness of the call of God and God’s past activity in the lives of the Corinthians. And being reminded of the call of God gave Paul a divine perspective which ultimately led to him giving thanks. That’s number one.
Second, in a similar vein, Paul was thankful for the Corinthians because he was more aware of evidences of grace in their lives than areas in need of growth. (REPEAT).
In the “Peanuts” cartoon of Lucy and Linus, Lucy says of Linus, “It happens just by looking at you…” Then she goes on, “I can feel a criticism coming on.” Isn’t that so true to life? We look at certain people and it happens just by looking at them. We can feel a criticism coming on.
Paul had every reason to begin his letter with criticism, but he doesn’t. Notice what Paul says in v4 —
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
I always thank God for you. Why? Because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. How was that grace evident in the lives of the Corinthians? They were enriched in every way through the receiving of spiritual gifts. The Greek word for grace is charis and the Greek word for spiritual gift is charismata. Notice that they share the same root — charis and charismata. A spiritual gift is one concrete evidence of the grace of God. What’s another evidence of grace that Paul witnessed among the Corinthians? Their testimony about Christ was confirmed. Maybe Paul had a membership class where he went over each person’s testimony, I don’t know. Spiritual gifts, testimonies confirmed, they lacked nothing in terms of spiritual gifting, meaning God’s grace was richly poured out to them and Paul was an eyewitness to these things.
And because of these evidences of grace, Paul could give thanks to God for the Corinthian church. It’s a remarkable verse. Study Paul’s letters. You will become aware of the high priority that Paul places on thanksgiving. In relation to God and in relation to those you serve. Some scholars note that Paul mentions the topic of thanksgiving line for line more than any other writer, pagan or Christian. We must emulate his example. Is that what people would say of our members here? That each of us is thankful for evidences of grace that we observe in each other’s lives.
Paul was brimming with thanksgiving because I want to say that he CHOSE to focus first and foremost on evidences of grace in the Corinthian church and he gave thanks to God for those evidences of grace.
Paul’s thanksgiving is always God-ward. Always God-centered, God-glorifying. Not congratulation for personal success. Not thank you, my spiritual mentor and leader, for all of your sacrifice and love and oh by the way, I thank God, too. Paul gave thanks to God because of you. The accent on giving thanksgiving to God is important. If we switch the order and place the accent on people over God, we will fall into the trap that the Corinthians fell into. I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas. And I guess the super spiritual among them said, I follow Jesus. Aren’t we all following Jesus? That is so fundamental to the Christian faith. We are not saved by Paul or by Apollos or by Cephas. We are saved by God through Christ.
That is why we need to constantly direct other’s attention to the one who has made these evidences of grace possible — God himself. I thank GOD for you. Once you get that order right, then, be specific. If you get a chance, read Romans 16. Paul is very specific in his thanksgiving for people. To be around Paul is to be around a person who constantly gave thanks to God for the evidences of grace that he sees in other’s lives. You couldn’t be around Paul without him going off in his thanksgiving to God for specific evidences of grace in your life.