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.1 Corinthians 1:1-9
When I was a student I was quite heavily involved with the Christian Union. I remember that the first few weeks of the Michaelmas Term each year were generally spent organising lots of trips to different churches so that our new members could find a church for themselves for the next three years. I often wondered what it was that people were looking for. Was it sound Biblical preaching? Was it good quality music? Was it a young congregation? Was it good provision of home groups? Was it decent coffee after the service? Was it cake?
The church that Paul writes to in Corinth is a troubled church. It is chaotic. It is riven with disagreements. People are falling out. People are taking each other to court. People are guilty of sexual sin. I suspect that if any of our students walked into a church like this they would have simply walked out, convinced that here was a failing organisation that should be left to collapse. Paul, however, does not write off this church. Indeed, in verse four of chapter one he says, “I always thank my God for you” and proceeds to outline the reasons he gives thanks. In doing so he shares some insights regarding the nature of the church. These insights remain relevant and instructional two thousand years later.
So, what does Paul say about the nature of the church? What are the characteristics of, as Paul puts it in verse two, a ‘church of God’?
Paul says that the church of God is “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). Christians, through Jesus, as a consequence of his death and resurrection, have been set apart for God. Our primary role as members of the church, of Christ’s body, is to serve God in all that we do. As a consequence of our sanctification we are called by God “to be his holy people” (1:2). What a privilege this is, that we should be called by God to be his!
This, of course, means we have a great responsibility. If we are called to be holy this has great significance for how we live our lives. Holiness is one of God’s characteristics; we proclaim his holiness in church when we sing, and when we share in the Eucharist. Holiness is not a natural characteristic of a human, since we sin every day. Yet Paul tells us that we are called to be God’s holy people.
Our response to this should be that we strive to be more like Christ, and strive to reflect him in our lives. This means refraining from sin as far as we possibly can. We will never be perfect in this life. We will never be blameless, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire to live lives which are good, which honour God and other people, and that are as free from conscious sin as possible. If we are called to be holy by virtue of our sanctification, we should try and live lives that are pleasing to God.
Paul says that as a church the Corinthians “have been enriched in every way” (1:4). God has lavished his blessings on them, and there is nothing that they lack in order to serve him. This is true for us today; it’s good to be reminded of this and to periodically reflect on all the gifts that God has given us both as a church and individually. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul specifically says they they have been enriched “with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge” (1:5). Corinthians were renowned for their intellectualism and love of wisdom. Paul sees these attributes as gifts from God that the Corinthians can and should be using to build up the church in Corinth.
Paul comments that this enrichment of the church is not limited just to speech and knowledge. He also says that his they have remained committed to his teaching (see verse 6), they “do not lack any spiritual gift” (verse 7).
Paul explores what precisely these spiritual gifts are in much more detail in chapter twelve of this letter. He is clear that as Christians we all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit. In chapter twelve Paul states, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (12:4-6). God lavishes gifts on his church through the Holy Spirit. He equips us with these gifts to support us as we carry out God’s work. These gifts are further evidence that as a church we, like the Corinthians, “have been enriched in every way.”
We receive these Spiritual gifts if we accept the gospel. Paul tells the Corinthians that the presence of Spiritual gifts amongst them is a consequence of their acceptance of Paul’s teaching. He tells them that, “For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony of Christ among you” (1:5-6). They have clearly accepted Jesus, and as a consequence, the Holy Spirit is lavishing gifts on them. When we accept Jesus, God also lavishes Spiritual gifts upon us.
Finally in his introductory remarks, Paul gives the great news that God will “keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:8-9). We can be assured that we believe in a faithful God who keeps his promises, and who will equip us for lifelong faith and trust in his son, Jesus Christ. God has called us to be members of his church, and since he is faithful he will ensure that Christ’s sacrifice for our sin will cover us from the moment he called us to faith until the moment he calls us to him at the end of our earthly lives. We can be tremendously reassured that we believe and trust in a faithful God; he has been faithful to us in the past and will continue to be faithful to us in the future.
Paul has packed an incredible amount into the first nine verses of this letter. He tells us that we are sanctified, or set apart for God’s service. He tells us that we are enriched in every way with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that we believe in a faithful God who will keep us blameless to the end. What is revelatory, though, is that Paul is writing these words to the Corinthians – a divided church riven with division, in which sexual immorality is ignored and God’s gifts used inappropriately! This is a church that we would probably consider to be failing and undeserving of God’s blessings. And yet despite this, Paul is clear that the Corinthians remain blessed by God. How incredibly reassuring this is. How reassuring that even when we mess up, God remains faithful, still lavishes gifts upon us, and keeps us firm to the end.
Of course there are implications for how we live our lives today in these words. We need to live moral lives that honour God and mark us out as holy. We need to recognise our spiritual gifts and use them appropriately, working to build up the church of God where we live and around the world. And since God is faithful to us to the end, we should strive to also be faithful to the end of our lives, striving to put him first in all that we do.
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