The Faithful Work of God
What makes a church great?
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?
- 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!
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?