Category Archives: Church

Study 5 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

Building Believers

Discussion Question

If you could build anything in your backyard, what would you build and why?

The connection here is to the building of the church by Paul.

Background

In Chapter 3 Paul returns to his concerns in 1:10-17 about quarrels and divisions. He seeks to provide a solid theological understanding of WHO they are and WHOSE they are so they might put off their worldly and immature ways of thinking and grow up in Christ. He will implore them not to abandon or ignore the human leaders they have followed but to recognise that human leaders build on God’s work, according to God’s plans towards God’s goals.  The key urging from this chapter is really in 3.21 – no more boasting about human leaders! God is central to your life, death and every breath.

Talk of the temple in 3:16-17 requires some careful consideration. The temple/ tabernacle was the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel and at which God related to his people (remember our study in Leviticus!). It was a mobile tent until the days of Solomon when he built a glorious and enormous temple in which God’s people could worship God. But as Israel forgot God the temple was overrun by injustice and idolatry. After the glory days of Solomon, evil godless kings closed the doors, destroyed the altars and killed the priests; eventually it was destroyed. In the later OT (cf Haggai) people long for a new temple to be built of greater glory than the first. As the NT opens, Jesus says he is that temple (John 2:13-25). Jesus is the place where God reveals himself, through whom God relates with his people and in whom his people worship. Now Paul takes this a step further and says “you yourselves are God’s temple”. In light of the background, that is a pretty incredible thought.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

3 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

What did you see?

Structure

  • God’s servants do God’s work among God’s people (3.1-9)
  • The builders and their building (3.10-15)
  • The temple and a warning (3.16-17)
  • Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

God’s Servants do God’s Work among God’s People (3.1-9)

“Brothers and Sisters…” Paul is addressing the Corinthian Christians but he is getting them to recall his former ministry among them when he addressed them. There is a softness to his rebuke – you’re brothers and sisters but you’re being idiotic!  

“…people who live by the Spirit…” This is a great little description of Christian people (who have the Spirit of God in them (2:12) and who keep in step with the spirit (Eph 5:16)) connects into the end of chapter 2 where Paul contrasted Spirit-filled judgements and worldly judgements. The end of chapter 2 prepared us for Paul’s stinging rebuke here in 3:1-4)

“I gave you milk, not solid food”  Sometimes people have tried to be definitive about what milk content is vs solid (meaty) content. Is it plain gospel vs difficult doctrinal issues (like election or the Trinity?). In my experience this has happened so people can make a judgement about the content of this or that sermon, or church or the ability of a preacher. “He preaches milk!” This thinking is just the Corinthian error in another form. I don’t think it is helpful (or the point of this passage) for us to try and work out what teaching is milk and what is meat.  Rather, the issue is, are we still worldly like the Corinthians or walking in the Spirit?

“…mere humans…” Get your group to recall the discussion you had on 2:13, 15-6.

“…servants through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task…” Here is the introduction of Paul’s argument. Humans are but tools in the hands of God, servants assigned a task by the master, the Lord. They don’t decide on their work, the Lord gives them a ministry to do (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). There is no indication of anything mystical or miraculous here, just that they are preachers of God’s gospel. Therefore they should not be exalted but the Lord should be. The servant word here is the word used of deacons in 1 Tim 3:8 and not the “slave” word.

“…God has been making it grow…only God who makes things grow.” Always pause and look carefully when you see repeated ideas close together. Often this will be the key point of teaching the author wants you to grasp. In this case, the power in ministry is not in the preacher or personality or persuasive power of the person but in God who makes things grow. God makes Christians. God grows Christians. God saves Christian. He just uses people to do the preaching and teaching work.  Our attention should not be fastened on people but on the Lord they serve.

“…each be rewarded according to their own labour…” There are several passages in the NT that indicate a specific reward for those who labour for Christ. But the reward is never clearly stated; of course this has not stopped people from guessing! Some say a better place in heaven, some say a better experience of heaven, some say something else. I say, wait until you get there and see. Note though that the issue is not fruitfulness or success but reward is for labour. This makes sense as it is God who makes things grow and human ministry is done in God’s strength for God’s purposes according to God’s plans for God’s glory.

“…co-workers…” The translation of this verse in the NIV hides a profound reality that God is mentioned three times emphatically. It might read “God’s co-workers are we, God’s field, God’s building you are.” Humans are put at the end of the sentence to emphasise strongly that human instruments do not matter but God is all in all. The field/ building language prepares us for what comes next.

The Builders and their Building (3.10-15)

“builder…building…builds…”  The big question in this section is what is being built and thus what is this building. Some think it refers to a body of doctrine or understanding (linked to the milk/meat point); others think it is the church itself. Likely, neither are out of view for the church is built through right teaching both numerically and in maturity. That building takes place by the proclamation of the Gospel and the Word of God which Paul and others are doing. All this is founded on Jesus Christ who was first preached by Paul – thus he is the one who laid a foundation!

“gold, sliver, stones, wood, hay, straw…” Again, people like to try to identify all the different component parts here and define what is a good building material and what is bad. I think this misses the point. Paul is listing a variety of building materials (in two groups – flammable and inflammable) in order to point out that quality of building will be shown up on the Day. Leaders with Jesus as the foundation can still do a bad job.

“Day…” The day of judgement when Christ returns. When he comes the true character of the building work will be revealed and the efforts of the builder revealed for what they are. Again quality not quantity is what counts. Faithfulness to the foundations is key.

“Reward… burned… saved… flames.” All those being addressed here are Christian and will be saved. But the reality is that some builders do dodgy work. Some will receive a reward (see previous discussion) and some will not. The quality of ministry is what is key. People should not engage as a co-worker of God without ensuring they build carefully, wisely and in accordance with God’s plans. (It is possible that Paul is laying the ground work for future rebuke of leaders who will not deal with sin in the community [cf. 1 Corinthians 5]) Note that there is no inkling here that purgatory is being referred to. Purgatory is a late invention of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Temple and a Warning (3.16-17)

“Temple… Spirit…”  See the Background for an initial discussion of temple. If Paul had teachers and preachers in view, he now ensures the whole church is engaged in this discussion and that they see themselves as being at least somewhat responsible for the sort of teaching (building etc) going on among them. They can’t just blame others for their errors but they need to ensure that they as God’s temple are being built well. (Again, this may prepare for the future rebuke in chapter 5).

…God will destroy that person.” Here Paul’s attention is also turned to unbelievers who may come into the church and seek to do it damage. Some teachers are false teachers who do not know the Gospel or the God who owns the Gospel or the God who works in the midst of his people.

“You together are that temple”  No Christian is an island and no Christian can claim to be the place where God dwells but it is the church that Paul is referring to. The church is the dwelling place of God by his Spirit in his Word. This elevates the importance of the building, the importance of protecting the building, the importance of building well and the importance of carefully receiving good building as the church.  It is God’s work but we are all held responsible for our own actions.

Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

“Do not deceive yourselves.”  Paul now clearly is addressing the church and calling on them to see clearly who they are and whose they are and who it is who is working in their midst. They ought not think they are wise for the decisions they have made about how to do church but their wisdom comes only through Christ as they are built on the foundation that is Christ.

“He catches the wise…. The Lord knows that the thoughts…”  It is worth looking up Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to see the broader context of these verses. They underline the reality that no human leader has ever been wiser or better than God. Humanity is characterised by foolishness. God is characterised by wisdom.

“No more boasting…”  This is Paul at both his elegant and furious best. Simple language making a profound point.

“All things are yours…”  This seems like a strange way to conclude this section. You might expect Paul to say “Glory only in God!” But he actually does something more profound – he points out how the Corinthians are ripping themselves off by lining up behind only one teacher when in fact all things (not just all teachers) but everything is theirs in Christ! This may hark back to 1:7. Either way, far from making themselves wiser by choosing one teacher they are impoverishing themselves.  For when you are in Christ you have conquered all that assails you and possess all that is needed for wisdom and life.

“…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God!”  The story does not end with the great possessions we have by faith in Christ but with the reality that we belong to Christ! Wow! You are not your own master stumbling in weakness, you belong to the Lord of the universe and have his strength and power and wisdom as yours. And as one who is in Christ, you are connected ultimately with God. Perhaps this is the great final rebuke or the great final encouragement – either way – STOP lining up behind human leaders and line up with the one who owns you! God in Christ!

 

What did we learn?

You have been saved by Christ. You belong to Christ. Human leaders lead for Christ and lead you toward Christ. Stop focussing on human leaders and start being who you are – God’s building and temple – and live in all he has given you which is much more than any human can give you!

Now what?

Topic A: Are you Spiritual or Worldly? You could have a discussion about this or spend some time sharing with each other about whether you are growing as a Christian and pursuing godliness or not and if not, why not. What is holding you back? How might you change where you are? What needs to happen that you might say you are ready for the meat and living by the Spirit?

Topic B: What is the danger of treating preachers as celebrities and do you do that? How do we see this danger in our context in Sydney, in Campbelltown, in our church? How do we protect against it? How can we encourage our ministers not to take on celebrity status and enable them to keep viewing themselves as Paul views himself?  

Topic C: Living with the reality that all things are yours. Are you short-changing yourself and not living life fully focussed on Christ? The world and life and death are all yours in Christ. Are you living like that is the case? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things in the world? Are you treating Jesus as someone to be tacked onto your life or as the one who is the centre of your life and who is your life?

Study 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The Divided Church

Discussion Question

What is it that sets your church apart from other churches?

Background

In the introduction to his letter, Paul praised God for calling the church in Corinth into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ their Lord. It is God who has given them every spiritual blessing in Christ. They are blameless in God’s sight and God is faithful to keep them firmly established in Christ until the day that Jesus is revealed.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this church then had it all together! If God is faithful and will bring them to eternity blameless, then what an amazing group of people they must have been! Well, the heart of the gospel and the message of the entire bible is that human beings are in a battle against selfish sin and this church was not quarantined from the effects of it. We see in this week’s reading that Paul has a matter to raise with them. Let’s allow the text to teach us what the issue was as well as the solution.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,t in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The appeal (10)
  • The accusation (11-12)
  • Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)
    • Am I Jesus? (13)
    • Was my mission to baptise? (14-16)
    • It’s not about me but about Christ crucified (17)

The appeal (10)

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters…” The great apostle Paul uses reason to speak to this church and calls them his brothers and sisters. (The Greek word adelphoi is for brothers only but the implication is both genders. One major change with the NIV2011 version is the inclusion of both gender language.) Rather than ordering the church or demanding them to listen to him, he addresses them as equals and wants them to understand rather than simply obey. The Christian church must always have this type of approach to people. There is no room for leaders to appear superior or somehow more important than others. Christ died for the church and there is no hierarchy other than Christ as head and everyone else as the body. Pastors and teachers have gifts for this area but not in order to boss or demand obedience. Rather, we appeal to and exhort people to listen to the gospel and see how this gospel impacts all of life. Going deeper into the Christian faith is not about grand lessons but about seeing how all-impacting the gospel is.

“…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul provides Jesus as the authority and the basis of his logic. To us, living in the 21st century and having 2000 years behind us developing the religions named after Jesus, this line from Paul may seem ordinary. But in the 1st century, this was paramount to preaching the gospel and declaring that there is no authority greater than the name of Jesus Christ. This is not old news but new news! There is only one name through whom we can be saved and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the reason we know we are blameless before God.

“…that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Let’s be careful not to put the cart before the horse on this one. Seamless unity is not the goal. Rather, it is the result from the church all loving the gospel, the cross of Christ, the headship of Jesus, the authority of the Holy Spirit through the word of God and so on. The flavour of our society at the moment is to strive for unity achieved by promoting individuality that does not impose on others. For example, as long as what you believe is your choice and not to be imposed on others, then you are accepted and welcome. Everyone will love and celebrate your decisions to be who you want to be as long as you are equally happy for others to express themselves in their own way. This is striving for unity for the sake of unity – not for the sake of truth and life. The gospel provides access to eternal truth that is open and available free of charge for everybody and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved AND in unity with all the brothers and sisters who have also been called by God. This is not dictatorship, rather, enjoying unity among all who have found the truth. The outworking of submission to Christ is the absence of divisions and unity in thought and mind. The church is not a political battle for strength and unity – it is established by Christ to be equal and all on board with growing in Christian maturity.

The church in Corinth had taken their eyes off the way they had been formed and were divided over method, quality of preaching, and who their allegiance was to…

The accusation (11-12)

“…some from Chloe’s household…” This name does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament and so we can only fill the missing information with assumptions. Obviously, Chloe is a person known by both the Corinthian church and Paul and who has been in contact with Paul.

“…informed me that there are quarrels among you.” I don’t think that it is gossip if Paul is confronting them directly about what he has heard. Rather than writing off the church or grumbling about how pathetic they are or whinging that Paul wished God had raised up a better bunch of people for him to lead, Paul has given thanks to God for what has been happening and addresses the accusations head on. He is ready to rebuke or correct what they are doing, which is what the bible is designed to do for us (2 Timothy 3:16).

“…quarrels among you.” Paul will later declare that this is the very nature and habit of unsaved people (1 Corinthians 3:3). He wrote in Romans to embrace relationships at all levels and not to quarrel over disputable things (Romans 14:1). He addressed quarrelling a number of times, always concluding that it was of no value and unprofitable since it does not produce growth in others, rather it ruins people (1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9). James, the brother of Jesus, blames selfish desires as the cause of quarrelling (James 4:1-2). Compare the negative view of quarrelling with the up front of Paul’s to appeal to his equals on the basis of the gospel.

“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow…” another. “I follow…” Pauls’ discussion is not based on a feeling but on quotable facts that he has heard reported to him. This is the first place where the Corinthians can stop Paul and tell him that he has misheard. If Paul’s report is wrong, then they can dismiss what comes next. If they agree that he has heard correctly, then they must continue to listen to his appeal. The division hinges on the church taking team leaders and declaring themselves to be disciples of different groups.

“…Apollos…” Acts 18:24-19:1 give a great summary of the type of person Apollos was. From that we know, a) he was a genuine Christian, b) smart and well taught c) he spoke passionately d) had much to do with the Corinthians.

“…Cephas…” This is Aramaic for Peter and is clearly the Apostle Peter, formally known as Simon. John 1:42.

“…Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ…” Four extraordinary men to choose from as your object of admiration and inspiration! Each has some reason for loyalty – even Apollos is the local legend. It is not hard to name people in our day who are worth “following”. I love listening to John Piper, Tim Keller, as well as John Calvin and JC Ryle. Some of those are still living and some are dead. The issue is not that the church had found bad people to follow and the issue in this passage is not against any of those four. But Paul will go on to say that the amazing speakers of this world are all pointing us to Jesus – not themselves.

Paul may have been flattered to be listed in the report but he is deliberate to correct this misdirected loyalty.

Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)

“Is Christ divided?” This is a peculiar thing to say. But the required answer is “no”. So why create subdivisions of the Christian faith. We are one in Christ and it is his work and substitution that we celebrate. He did not do a partial work on the cross and then hand it over to the next legend to continue.

“…Was Paul crucified for you…” No leader of the faith can claim that! Church leaders need to watch that they never imagine themselves to be the reason that their church exists. Also, answer Paul’s question here and see what you get – No! But Jesus was crucified for…YOU! Our saviour died for you. Your minister never died for you! Jesus died for the minister of your church! Christ died for Paul!

“…were you baptised in the name of Paul?” No! Because Paul is not the reason for the community! See, baptism is about committing to the identity of a community – Paul ain’t it!

“I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except…” I love this little natural phrasing of Paul. Thank God! But he uses it in the true sense with no room for blaspheme. He knows that it has been a blessing for him that his “career” is not on baptising but on preaching the gospel. The least that can be said right here about baptism is that Paul is giving every reason to say you don’t need to be baptised to be saved! This was not his priority – but he didn’t avoid it either since he lists several names he remembers.

“For Christ did not send me to baptise…” So, the Great Commission commanded the disciples to go and baptise disciples. But the command was not to baptise but that when baptising, it is to be in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus was directing all future baptisms to be in his name and no other! Paul knew that his calling was to preach the gospel.

“…but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The power of the cross is the simple message and reason of the cross. Greeks look for wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22) meaning that they look for some kind of powerful representation of truth. A beauty in the words expressed. They look for a strong narrative to get behind and celebrate. But Paul’s message is a crucified leader! His goal was to present the truth of the gospel so that God would call his people to the cross to be saved. The power of the cross is the redemption that it brings to all who believe. There are some people that you just don’t get into an argument with because they are so good with words. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong, because they present their argument so forcefully and persuasively. But the cross of Christ is where God’s justice, wrath, love and mercy all meet.

What did we learn?

Paul hopes to remind the church in Corinth that their identity and legend is the gospel itself. The Lord Jesus Christ was the one who was crucified and commanded that all who want redemption are to be baptised into His name and no other name. No church is built upon the legend of a sinner who needs saving. The one true, united church is the one that loves the Lord with all their heart. They are one in mind and thought because they are united under one sacrifice for sins, once for all.

Now what?

Topic A: The centrality of the gospel in Christian community. Every church that loses its way will show that at some point they lost sight of the cross of Christ. They added to it, subtracted from it, ignored it, got bored of it, undervalued it or misunderstood it. The point of church is to encourage and mature the saved in Christ and the way that you do that is to remind one another of the source of our salvation. We do that through song, preaching, teaching, and bringing every activity that we do in the church under the banner of our mission which is to be Christian community devoted to maturing in Christ for the glory of God.

Topic B: Disagreeing in order to agree. This passage illustrates the difference between quarrelling and disagreeing. Paul expressed his disagreement with the way that the church had begun to quarrel over who is right. Paul saw this as nonsense because the very issue they quarrelled over should have been the reason for unity. Paul’s method of disagreeing was to appeal as an equal and to present his case to them with examples and logic. Quarrelling, rather, results in factions and side-taking. As Paul and James point out, quarrelling does not come from a gospel heart but from an unconverted selfish mind (Romans 14:1; 1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9; James 4:1-2).

Topic C: Name some differences that could create division. There are different international preachers that we can declare allegiance to. The different styles of worship, ie, music and liturgy. Fine-lines of theology such as baptism, church eldership and the last days. Overemphasis on certain truths like “I am a Calvinist”, “I am an evangelist”, “I am about feeling faith”, or “I am a pragmatist.” Can you think of any other divisive things that exist only because the followers make them too important?

Study 1 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Faithful Work of God

Discussion Question

What makes a church great?

Background

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The gospel started in Jerusalem and spread out into the world. One unexpected disciple was Saul who began as a persecutor of the church but was dramatically converted and became the greatest missionary the world has ever known. In Acts Chapter 18, we read of him preaching the gospel in the city of Corinth and, although there was great persecution there, he sowed the seeds of a church.

He now writes a letter to this church to encourage, correct, rebuke and train them in righteousness. Paul knew this church personally, having spent 18 months with them at the beginning, but has been absent as the church continued to grow in their knowledge of the gospel. Rather than predict what issues had arisen before reading the letter, it is sufficient to simply read the text and allow the story to unfold before us.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

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.

What did you see?

Structure

  • From Paul via God (1-3)
    • Who is the writer? (1)
    • Who are the readers? (2)
    • A relationship made in heaven (3)
  • Evidence of God’s work in them (4-6)
  • Confidence in God’s faithfulness (7-9)

From Paul via God (1-3)

“…called to be an apostle” Paul did not climb the ladder seeking to be a world-wide missionary for God – he was called. Paul (FKA Saul) was miraculously reborn on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul began many letters with this credential because he does not speak from human philosophy or religion but as a servant of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). See Galatians 1:1 and 2:8.

Apostle” means messenger – someone commissioned by another to represent him in some way. Like every word in the bible, it is just a word but when used in context, it refers to those commissioned by God through Christ to represent Christ in the world.

“…and our brother Sosthenes…” This is the same synagogue leader who was beaten by fellow Jews for allowing Paul to preach in his synagogue. The beatings did not stop him from being a follower of Jesus! See Acts 18:12-17. What a glorious picture of a man who will choose truth over earthly protection. He, like Paul, had given up everything to serve the gospel of our LORD.

To the church of God…” The letter is addressed to a brotherhood of believers meeting in Corinth. They are…

“…sanctified in Christ…” ie, made holy in Christ. This is not to be overlooked as we begin a journey through 1 Corinthians. They are not a church becoming holy but a church that IS holy in Christ. That is, for all who call upon the name of Jesus, they are saved, redeemed and made righteous in the eyes of the LORD. Paul expands on this later in these first 9 verses.

…called to be his holy people…” As holy people in Christ, they are called to be holy! We are not saved in order to return to our old selves. Sanctification is a now and progressing language in the bible. We cannot progress TO holy without being MADE holy by grace. And we must not remain in sin once we have been called out of it!

…together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours…” The gospel is the gospel no matter where you go. There is only one way to be saved and it is through Jesus Christ. Likewise, there is no super church anywhere that has better access or higher knowledge than any other church of God anywhere in the world. An illiterate man saved by God is just as sanctified as a multi published theologian. As God has called us to be holy, we call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Gen 4:26; 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25; 1 Kings 18:24; Psalm 116:4; Joel 2:32; Zephaniah 3:9; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). Calling on the name of the LORD is a sign that you are putting your trust and hope in Him – it is a way of describing faith. This is not a personal invite to the Corinthians but an invitation to the whole world to call on Jesus to be saved.

…Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” At the end of this first section, which is the announcement of who is writing to who – we see the reason the letter is being written. Namely, that because of God, this relationship exists. Without God, who is Paul and who are the people in Corinth? Both are nobody! Neither is anybody. Both those sentences are true! Paul’s authority comes from Christ to write to them; the people’s assembly is in the name of Jesus, otherwise it would not be a church of God made holy in Christ; and the relationship that exists is on the basis of grace and peace that only God the Father through Christ the Son can have achieved! Church exists because of the grace of God and the peace of God. Outside of this dome of truth, Paul is a nobody to these people and why should they care to listen further?

Evidence of God’s work in them (4-6)

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Paul was a prayer. His letters are filled with the prayers that he offered up for the church. An excellent book by Don Carson called “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” takes the prayers of Paul in the Scriptures to show us the heart of a faithful prayer praying the mind of God for the church. The simple reason for Paul’s thankfulness for the church in Corinth is for the gospel of Jesus being effective among them. He doesn’t praise them for what he hears. He thanks God for what he has heard. And he doesn’t praise the Corinthians for being anything but he praises Christ for his grace reaching the church in Corinth! Paul is thankful that his grace is at work in Corinth. The church is not brilliant apart from the grace of God.

For…” because – and here is the proof…

“…in [Christ] you have been enriched in every way…” Their speech and their knowledge are examples of how they have been enriched but notice that their deposit book is filled already with the grace of God. They have been fully enriched. There is no lacking area of investment yet to be accessed and deposited. The church may be boastful about their speech and their knowledge, but Paul reminds them that this is from God. So don’t get cocky.

“…God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.” This appears to be Paul saying that they are showing signs of the gospel taking root in their lives. The confirmation of salvation is in their conduct and enriched lives of faith. In other words, Paul came and told them about Jesus (his testimony about Christ), and God confirms the testimony about Jesus by bearing fruit in the lives of the Corinthians.

Confidence in God’s faithfulness (7-9)

Therefore…” and so. It follows, that since God has blessed you and enriched you fully…

…you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Firstly, what we do now that we are saved is wait for the return of Christ. We have been living in the last days since the resurrection and ascension. Secondly, there is no second blessing. God has saved the church by bringing the testimony of Jesus to them and the evidence of conversion is in the way that the church talks about God and Christ and faith. There is not second blessing of the holy spirit to await, no special gift that we need to beg God to bring to seal the deal. The church in Corinth have every page in their Kingdom of God passport stamped already – and each was a free gift of grace through Christ.

He will also keep you firm to the end…” A promise of God to the saved. Not only is there no second blessing, but there is also no higher order of working hard to stay saved. Those called by God will be kept safe by God. That is why it is called grace. Be careful of who we might call ‘strong Christians’ since God has promised to keep all of his little ones safe.

…so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul said in Colossians 2:6-7 that we grow up in Christ be sticking with him. We are made righteous by Christ and we will be kept righteous by Christ on the last day. This is God’s promise. NB that it is called the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. A day when all will see him as Lord of all.

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” See how Paul is on point here? He has begun the letter describing the church of God in Corinth as sanctified, called to be holy, made holy by Jesus, given everything they need for salvation and sanctification and reminded that God will continue the work that he begun in them till the end. They have no reason to boast in themselves and every reason to give thanks and praise to God for his grace shown to them in Christ Jesus.

What did we learn?

See Verse 9!

Now what?

Topic A: Getting grace right. Christianity 101 is about the grace of God. Can you explain God’s grace with ease? What issues arise when you try to explain it? Discuss.

Topic B: Prayer as faith speaking. Although this passage is not about prayer at the heart, it shows the natural flow of Paul giving thanks to God for what he sees happening in the church. Prayer has been described as ‘talking to God’. But real prayer is much more than that because it flows out of a relationship and true knowledge of God. We pray the very things that God has promised to answer and out of thankfulness for everything we see that God is doing. Prayer is faith speaking. What we pray for is a reflection of our knowledge and trust in God.

Topic C: What is church? Discuss what we can say of church from this passage. Are we able to correct or train our thinking about church because of this passage? For example, church is not about rosters or watered grounds, or a 75 minute meeting once a week. What is church then?