1 Corinthians 1:1-3 ~ 20121104 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
11/4 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 The Saints in the Church in Corinth
Paul is writing from Ephesus to a church he planted across the Aegean Sea about three years earlier. Paul had sent them an earlier letter, which they had totally misunderstood. It has been reported to him from several sources that there are some serious issues in Corinth that demand his attention. This church has sent him a letter asking some practical and doctrinal questions. Today we will examine the first three verses, the greeting of the letter. Typical letter writing form in that culture started with the author's name, then the recipients, then a greeting. Paul's letters follow this general form, but are theologically rich, and he often lays groundwork for the key themes he will address in the letter.
Author; The Call of Paul
The first thing we have in the letter is the introduction of the author.
Paul introduces himself as one who was called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. The word 'apostle' simply refers to one who is sent by someone to do something. The one sent is sent with the authority of the one who sent them. In Mark 3 we are told:
The twelve were chosen by Jesus so that they would spend time with Jesus. He would send them out to proclaim the good news, and he would give them his authority. Paul claims to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. As an apostle of Jesus, he writes to this church with the authority of Jesus. But being an apostle was not his idea. He did not have as his life's goal the aspiration of attaining the office of apostle. Actually, his life's goal was much different.
Saul had approved of Stephen's execution. Saul's life goal seems to be to annihilate all the followers of Jesus.
This is the context of his call to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
Saul was not seeking an experience with Jesus. And Jesus didn't show up with an appealing offer persuading Saul to become an apostle. Jesus is King, and he gives commands. Saul was not invited to follow Jesus; he was called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. And he would be shown “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).
Paul writes because it is his God given duty to write and he writes with the authority of Jesus, not his own. And he does not write alone. To include someone else as co-author of a letter was highly unusual in Paul's day. But Paul makes this his regular practice. In 8 of his 13 letters he included someone as co-author; Timothy, Silvanus, Sosthenes, the brothers who are with me. Paul did ministry as part of a team. He was not out on his own. Here he includes Sosthenes as co-author of the letter.
Sosthenes is introduced as 'our brother Sosthenes'. He must have been someone well known to the Corinthian believers. The name Sosthenes only shows up twice in scripture, here and in Acts 18:17, the account of Paul's first visit to Corinth. In Acts 18, Sosthenes is referred to as 'the ruler of the synagogue' who was seized and beaten in front of Gallio's tribunal when the case against Paul was dismissed. Apparently Sosthenes was appointed ruler of the synagogue after “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household” (Acts 18:8). This Sosthenes, if he also believed in the Lord, and was with Paul in Ephesus, would be familiar to the church in Corinth and need no further introduction.
Recipients: The Church of God, sanctified saints
Paul now tells us who the letter is written to.
This is amazing on several levels. This is Corinth. Corinth boasted temples to Aphrodite, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes, Venus-Fortunata, Demeter, Asklepios, Isis, and one dedicated to the Pantheon or 'all the gods'. There was a temple to Octavia, embodying the imperial cult of Rome. Corinth was a thoroughly pagan city with a reputation for luxury and immorality. It was into this city that Paul had brought the good news of Jesus Christ, and now he could address a letter to 'the church of God that is in Corinth.' The gospel had triumphed. There was now a church of the one true God in Corinth!
This is also amazing because of what we know was going on in the church in Corinth. From this letter, we see that there was division, factions, disunity, dissatisfaction with Paul's leadership, open sexual immorality, incest, arrogance, public litigation among members, questions about marriage, participation in idolatry, abuse of the Lord's table, misuse of spiritual gifts, lack of love, and even doubt about the doctrine of the resurrection. This was a church characterized by self-centeredness, pride, and autonomy. They were a moral and doctrinal train-wreck. Things have gotten so bad in this church that Paul says “when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1Cor.11:17). And yet Paul addresses his letter 'to the church of God that is in Corinth'. Although it is a church in crisis, permeated by serious problems, it is a real, genuine church. We would do well to remember, when we see flaws in this or any other church, that there is no perfect church, and even Corinth, with all her problems, was an authentic church, a church God loves, a church for whom Christ died. Although Paul founded the church, he does not refer to it as 'my church.' It is not Apollos' church. It is not the people's church. The church belongs to God. It is 'the church of God that is in Corinth.'
Sanctified in Christ Jesus
But Paul doesn't stop there. He says:
He addresses the church as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. 'Sanctified' in the grammar of this sentence is a perfect passive participle; the perfect tense referring to a past completed action, the passive voice referring to something that is done to someone, rather than something that they themselves do. This is “not an obligation to be fulfilled, but a state which already exists in them, and that in virtue of a previously accomplished fact” (Godet, p.42). The messed up, self-centered, divisive, arrogant, sinning believers in Corinth are those who stand permanently sanctified in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to be sanctified? The word literally means to be set apart. The furniture in the temple was dedicated, consecrated, or set apart to be used exclusively for God. A priest couldn't take the altar of incense home and use it as an end table in his tent. He couldn't take some of the holy incense and give it to his wife as perfume. All the furniture in God's house had been sanctified or set apart for God's exclusive use. The incense altar was made of wood overlaid with gold. Some of the same wood may have been used as firewood or to make kitchen utensils for someone's home, some of the gold may have been made into jewelry; the table was made from common materials, but it was anointed with oil to set it apart to God, and once it was set apart, it could no longer be used for common things. Paul addresses the church in Corinth as 'those sanctified in Christ Jesus'. How were they sanctified? In Acts 26, Paul is recounting how he was appointed as an apostle to the Gentiles,
Jews and Gentiles alike are sanctified or set apart by faith – by believing in Jesus. Paul refers to his calling in Romans 15
The furniture in the tabernacle was anointed with oil to set it apart to God. We, who believe in Jesus are set apart by the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in us as God's seal and guarantee when we believe (2Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph.1:14).
Later in this chapter, Paul points the Corinthians to God as:
God made Jesus our sanctification. In Jesus we are set apart for God's exclusive use. In chapter 6, Paul points the Corinthians to their history as unrighteous, sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers, and he says:
These Corinthians who trusted Jesus were set apart, made holy.
When you look at a brother or sister in Christ who is flawed and imperfect, who might be bugging you, irritating you, frustrating you, someone you are ready to condemn and criticize, stop for a minute and realize that you are looking at someone who is set apart, sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Called to be Saints
Paul takes the same word he used of his calling in verse 1 and applies it to all the believers in Corinth. Just as Paul was divinely selected and appointed to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, so each one who makes up the church in Corinth was divinely selected and appointed, called to be saints. Remember God's encouragement to Paul to keep on preaching in Corinth because “... I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9)?
This word 'saint' is the root of the word translated 'sanctified'. A saint is not a larger than life stained glass hero with a halo. Each of the Corinthian believers, including the guy who was sleeping with his mother-in-law, is here called a saint. A saint is one who has been sanctified, or set apart. This describes not performance but position. Paul says in 2 Corinthians
Your position, connected to Christ by believing, united with Christ, abiding in Christ, means that you are set apart. You are a new creation.
This is the polar opposite of performance based religion. Religion says that you need to live up to the standard. Members of our group act like this, so if you don't act that way, then you're not part of our group. Once you start acting like we act, we might let you in. Paul starts out by affirming that these sinners are indeed members of the group. You believed. You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. You are called saints. Membership in the group is not contingent on behavior. Nothing can change your position in Christ. And now that you know who you are and whose you are, this will have natural implications on how you live. You have been set apart in Christ Jesus, you are called to be set apart, and since that is your identity, then a set apart life will flow from your identity in Christ.
Together with all in every place
But Paul is not satisfied in making sure they each know their identity in Christ. Remember, one of the major issues in the Corinthian church was factions and divisions. Paul demands that they be connected to the larger church, the body of Christ.
It is healthy for us to see that we are connected to a bigger group. We have a natural tendency to think that we are right on everything, and that we are smarter than everyone else and that we do church better than everyone else. We might even be tempted to think that we are the only ones who really get it. We are inclined to separate from those who don't see things exactly as we see them. This is pride, and it is sin. The Corinthians need to see that they are a small part of a much larger group. They are connected with all those in every place, they are saints together with all those in every place. They are members of a global community. What is the connection? What is the one thing that binds us all together in one body?
Those who Call upon the Name
We are those who call upon the name. This phrase is really interesting, because it has a rich Old Testament background. As far back as Genesis 4 (v.26) we see people begin to call upon the name of YHWH. Frequently in the Old Testament, this phrase is used to describe one who worships the one true God. In Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal, he challenges them:
To call on the name of a god is to look to them for help. We find similar phrases that help us fill in the meaning; 'love the name of the LORD (Is.56:6); fear the name of the LORD (Is.59:19); trust in the name of the LORD (Ps.20:7: Is.50:10); run to the name of the LORD (Pr.18:10); give glory to the name of the LORD (Is.24:15). In Psalm 116 the Psalmist says:
Peter quotes this passage in Joel when he preaches the good news about Jesus in Acts 2 (v.21), and several times in Acts the believers are referred to as those who call on Jesus' name (9:14, 21; 22:16). In the New Testament, calling on the name of YHWH becomes calling on Jesus as Lord.
Paul quotes Joel in Romans 10 (v.13) where he argues that God extends salvation to everyone who believes. He explains 'calling on the name of the Lord' as
Jesus is YHWH, God of the Old Testament, the Lord. Jesus is King. He was crucified in our place, and God raised him from the dead. Paul takes us backward through the process of a missionary being sent to preach Jesus, and those who have never heard hearing, believing and calling on his name.
Jesus is our God and King. We are dependent on him. We call on his name for everything we need. We who believe in Jesus are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are just a small part of a much greater body. All believers everywhere have one King and his name is Jesus.
What in ordinary letters was just a simple greeting, Paul turns into a rich blessing.
May you experience the richness of God's blessing that you haven't earned and don't deserve; may you enjoy the wholeness and well-being of a satisfying relationship with your Creator; this only comes from God our Father and Jesus, the Messiah, our King.