Yo, what up, Corinth?” What if Paul had written such a brief letter to the Corinthian church? At least one thing is for certain: We would view Corinth much differently than we do. The actual First Epistle to the Corinthians paints a very interesting picture of the Corinthian believers.
What sort of picture does Paul paint? I won’t reveal the whole painting just yet — if you’re dying of curiosity, read 1 Corinthians — but our first look at the Corinthian church comes from Paul’s introductory text, his greeting to his brethren in Corinth.
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those 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, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 1:1–3
Verse 1 — From Whom?
Of Sosthenes we do not know much, except that he may be the same Sosthenes recorded as being the ruler of the Corinthian synagogue during Paul’s first visit to Corinth. ((Acts 18:1–17)) Whoever this man was, he was a brother to both Paul and the Corinthian believers. It may be reasonable to assume that the Corinthian believers were perhaps more familiar with Sosthenes than they were with Paul, and so in including Sosthenes as he did, Paul’s epistle may have benefited from whatever sway and reputation Sosthenes had among the Corinthians.
Of Paul, we are told precisely who he is: an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
That’s a lofty title, for an apostle was a direct representative and messenger of Jesus Christ. They governed the church on Christ’s behalf, acting in a sense as a viceroy of the King.
When we read 1 Corinthians or any other of Paul’s writings, we mustn’t allow ourselves to treat the words as being of Paul only. On the contrary, we must treat the text as though we are receiving word from Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul acting as a middleman to deliver the message exactly as Jesus intends.
We must also take note that Paul’s apostleship is not one of his own will but instead is of God. Paul therefore asserts that God is not a bystander in the affairs of man, but is active, enacting His sovereign will upon mortal man so that all His good pleasure is performed. ((Philippians 2:13))
Verse 2 — To Whom?
It’s certainly easy to say that this is Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians; that would be incorrect, however. Corinth, like modern cities, was inhabited by a diverse lot of people — the population of Christian believers was but one part of the whole.
It is to that select group that Paul is writing, “to the church of God that is in Corinth.” We commonly think of churches as individual buildings or small bodies of believers which meet in individual buildings, but the church is more broad than that.
The “church of God that is in Corinth” refers to all the gatherings of believers which may be within Corinth.
In other words, Paul is writing to the Christians of Corinth, and this he specifies as he continues: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
Who comprise the church? The church is comprised of those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Sanctified. What on Earth does that even mean? In short, to be made sanctified is to be made holy, pure, righteous, and sinless. This is the very real state that believers in Christ Jesus find themselves in, ((1 Corinthians 6:11)), yet we often fall short of living out that reality in our workaday lives.
The Corinthian believers failed to live up to the sanctification which they had already received, and so Christ through Paul sends them words of admonishment or “building up” that they may live in a way which reflects their new state before God.
Their foibles, falters, and failures are ours, are mine. We as believers today get tripped up just as did our First Century brethren, and the pastoral care and instruction given by Paul is ours to heed.
It is on that point Paul concludes the greeting by emphasizing the Corinthian believers’ connectedness with believers everywhere: “called to be saints together with all those who in every place together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
Having been sanctified, the Corinthians were called to be saints (literally, “holy ones”), but not the Corinthians only — all those who call upon Jesus’ name.
Do you call yourself a Christian? You are called to be a saint. No believer is called to be anything less than that. In that, we are one with the Corinthian believers. Their victories are our victories, their failures are our failures.
Their Lord is our Lord, for there is only one, ((Ephesians 4:5)) and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. ((Hebrews 13:8))
Verse 3 — A Benediction
It would be insulting to call Paul a softy or a pushover — he once was assaulted by a rather large crowd, was dragged out of a city, and was left for dead… but he got right back up, went back into the city, and went on about his business preaching the gospel. ((Acts 14:19–23)) Despite being so hardcore, the apostle has an immensely tender heart for his brethren.
He knows the Corinthians, that they deserve harsh rebuke and a stern hand in guiding them back to the truth, yet Paul is no tyrant and has no desire to crack the whip against the Corinthians’ backs until they rectify their errors; rather, Paul’s corrections are administered in love and patience — the patience of a saint, actually.
Paul wishes upon the Corinthians both grace and peace.
Grace, that they would receive blessings of which they, like us, are utterly undeserving.
Peace, that they may live in harmony not only with each other but with our Father and His Christ.
In receiving those blessings, the Corinthians were rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Even today they enjoy grace & peace in Heaven, awaiting the resurrection.
I wish for you to have received grace and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ so that one day, like the Corinthian believers, you may be ushered into the presence of the Father, pure and holy by the washing of Christ’s precious blood.
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