So lets begin by setting the scene a little bit so we understand the context of what Paul is saying here. This letter was written to the church in Corinth in around the year 54AD while Paul was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea. It was a cosmopolitan city and the church was made up of people from all walks of life – though most would have been regular people of no particular standing or wealth or superior wisdom – they were a bit like us in fact – just regular people.
However Paul had received reports that the church in Corinth was suffering under factionalism and placing great emphasis on the gifts certain members had over others. Others claimed superior knowledge and wisdom. While others were living immoral lives while still claiming membership of the church. Now I am sure that none of us here could think of any examples in the modern church where we see this sort of thing going on can we… there is no factionalism or pride or immoral believers…
Of course we do in fact know that those things exist – the fact that there are literally thousands of Christian denominations is the clearest example of factionalism we can get!
Pauls letter is a response to these reports he had heard, as well as to a letter he had received from the church.
So now we know the scene – lets look at what Paul actually says. He begins by establishing who he is. He is writing to them as an apostle - not of his own making, but one called by God. This serves two purposes - it establishes that Paul is writing with authority – as an apostle. He is saying in a nice way – hey guys, you need to actually pay attention here, because what I am saying matters. Secondly though he emphasises that his authority is not something he took for himself, but rather it was the work of God who called him to this role. That emphasis on the fact that it was God who called him, and thus God who appointed him is important – it sets the scene for the rest of this opening portion of the letter.
Paul moves from introducing himself as being called by God – to giving thanks that the Corinthians have also been called by God. He says:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord[a] and ours…
Paul here says some very important things. Remember this is the beginning of a letter to a church that is facing internal divisions, power struggles and dealing with issues of pride and sin. Paul starts his letter to them by teling them who they are – and by extension telling us who we are – in the eyes of God. They and thus we, are sanctified in Christ Jesus,
The word sanctified refers to being set apart, having been made special. Something that is sanctified is different to the rest of the world. As members of the church the Corinthians 2000 years ago, and we today are set apart – we are differentiated from the rest of the world – thus we are meant to be different… but different how? Well Paul said we are called to be saints.
That is we are called to be Holy ones of God. The reason we have been sanctified, set apart, is so that we can be a holy body of believers. A holy church that witnesses to God’s incredible love for humanity and which isn’t drawn to follow the world. That means that we are called to do away with the trivialities of the world – to get rid of the factionalism and the pride and the arguments.
Now thankfully in this congregation I have so far encountered very little of this sort of behaviour – as a group we do pretty well – though of course we can’t become complacent – we can’t allow ourselves to be proud – because it is not our own work that has gotten us this far – it is God who has called us and it is God who equips us.
Paul by emphasising that it is God who has done the work in the Corinthian church – and by extension in us is saying that For the church to begin arguing about who is the better leader, or to break into factions over who has the best ‘gifts’ or to start ignoring the will of God is so foolish because we argue about things of which we have no control – Think of it like two people who have been given a gift – they each received a beautiful Gold coin – each identical to the other. Now think of them arguing amongst themselves about who has the better gift. It is foolishness is it not? That is what it is like when the church argues amongst itself. We lose track of the fact that it is in fact God who gave us the gifts and the faith.
That is why Paul as he continues talks specifically about the gifts of the spirit – he gives thanks that they have the gifts – even though one of the reasons he is writing is to admonish them not to put too much emphasis on them – that happens in chapter 12. But for now it is enough for him again to point out that these gifts that they are so proud of are in fact nothing to do with their own efforts – but rather they are from God.
Paul has set the scene for his letter to the Corinthians in which he will rebuke them and call them back to faithfulness, by first giving thanks that they found faith in the first place. He does so by acknowledging that it is God who has done all the work to bring them to salvation, and to equip them for their journey with great speech and knowledge. It is God who has bestowed the gifts of which they are so proud. These are all things to be grateful for says Paul – but they are all the work of God – and that is where the thanks should lay.
Then having acknowledged the great work that God has done in the Church and before he begins his first rebuke – which we will be reading next week – Paul gives the Corinthians an assurance. It is an assurance that is just as valid for us as it was for them.
He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
You see what Paul wanted to say after drawing attention to the fact that all these things which the Corinthian church was squabbling over were in fact from God, and not their own work was that they need not fear. That despite their (and our) tendency to get caught up in the world, despite their (and our) tendency to turn inward and focus on ourselves, to focus on our own wants and desires and to argue and fight amongst ourselves. Despite their (and our) tendency to turn away from God – our tendency to place our faith in the world rather than our saviour. Despite all this Paul says – God will strengthen us – he will be with us and he will be faithful to us – so that when we finally get to that last day and stand before the king of kings – we will have nothing to fear – because God will have done all the work. God will have redeemed us, and we will stand before him blameless.
So as we can see, having read just these first few verses of the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we as the Christian church are incredibly blessed. Not because we ourselves do great things or display great gifts – but because of what God has achieved in us and for us. Though we wander far off at times, and get caught up in our own ideologies, wants and desires. Though we ourselves at times forget what God has done for us and in us – God does not forget us – God is with us always, God is transforming us, he has set us apart – sanctified us, and called us to be saints – holy. God is faithful.
So let us seek to fulfil our calling – let us be faithful to our God – let us seek to truly be the church we are called to be – a church set apart from the world, a church which displays wisdom and care and pours forth our spiritual gifts – let us be the church that sets aside our own pride and desires and acknowledges the incredible grace that God has poured into us through Christ. Let us be the church that first and foremost gives thanks to God for his faithfulness and proclaims it to the world.
The Lord be with you.