(written by Pastor Redfield)
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 holy, 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 God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in 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 keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
As we look at this reading from 1 Corinthians, it is important to understand the kind of congregation that existed in the city of Corinth. The first thing to remember is that the city of Corinth was a large city and a center of commerce. It was a port city where many cargo ships would stop for drop-offs and pick-ups. Many business people who were focused on getting wealthy lived in Corinth. In Corinth there were many opportunities for sin. All the wealth that flowed through the city led to all kinds of immorality. People were looking to please themselves in whatever way they saw fit. Besides that, there was also an interest in education. People wanted greater wisdom.
The Corinthian congregation struggled with many problems which resulted from being in a bustling metropolis. There were many problems that Paul needed to address in his letter to the congregation. The congregation was in danger of being divided into cliques because of personal preferences and social statuses. The people were struggling with the fact that many of their friends and relatives didn’t believe in Christ and they were tempted to turn away from their new faith. They were also tempted by the many sexual sins of the city. Sexual immorality was rampant in Corinth. And then they struggled with the opinion that Christianity was thought to be something for the uneducated. Those who were wise in the eyes of the world thought that Christianity was foolishness.
There were many temptations in front of the Corinthians. Paul addressed those issues in his letter. But before he did that, he started the letter on a very positive note. He reminded the people about what God had already done for them. He reminded them of what God had called them to be. God had made them believers. God had shown them his grace by giving them the peace of forgiveness. It was this fact which helped them and guided them as they lived in a very sinful community and world. Verse 2 says, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”
Focus on that phrase “called to be holy.” That phrase summarizes well what it meant when the Holy Spirit brought them to faith. He called them to be holy which means that he set them apart from the sinful world. Because of the faith in their hearts, they were different than many of the people in this world. They knew that Jesus had saved them from their sins. They knew that when God looked at them, he did not see their sinfulness but rather he saw Christ’s perfection. Because of this forgiveness and hope of heaven, they no longer wanted to live in the same old sins that had enslaved them before being brought to faith.
A good scriptural example of a change of heart is the example of Zacchaeus. We see a drastic change in his life when he fully understood what it meant that he had been called to be holy. We know that Zacchaeus had been employed as a tax collector for the Roman Government. As a tax collector, he did what almost every tax collector did. He collected more money than was necessary and therefore he became very wealthy. Because of this the Jews despised every tax collector. Not only did they work for the oppressive Roman Empire, but they also cheated the common people out of their wealth.
But then Jesus came to Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus understood and appreciated his forgiveness. He knew that he was called to be holy. He was set apart from the sinful world. The Holy Spirit had given him the gift of faith and he turned away from the temptation to become wealthy through dishonest means. He was so overjoyed that he repaid those that he had cheated. He had been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. He was called away from the sinful treasures and pleasures of the world. He joined the family of believers. The people of Corinth and Zacchaeus are just like us. All of us have been set apart from the sinful world and now we live for our God.
It is so easy to fall into the temptations of this world. We live in a culture that is similar to the ancient city of Corinth. Just like Corinth, our world promotes the sins of greed, sexual immorality, and trusting in earthly knowledge rather than God’s wisdom. We need to remember that even though we live in this sinful world, we are not of this world. Our focus needs to remain on God and our heavenly goal. Just think about how easy it is to push God aside in our daily living. Think about how easy it is to join in with the gossip as we travel around town or speak with our friends. We live in a society that thrives on gossip. Just look at the magazines or newspapers.
Plus, if we talk about the bad things that others have done, it makes us feel like better people. Then we don’t notice all the times that we give in to the sins of our world. Our hearts can be just as greedy as the next person. We want the best and the newest products. We want that device or vehicle or house which will make others jealous. Think about how the sexual immorality of this world wears us down. We begin to think that the sexual sins aren’t really that bad. We use love as an excuse for all kinds of depravity. Or think about how we react when people speak about Christianity as foolishness. Do we speak up for the truth or do we stay silent and walk away? We are tempted to act just like the world around us. We are guilty of not living like the holy people that God has called us to be. How fortunate it is that our salvation does not depend on our holiness.
Think about what Paul wrote in verses 7 and 8. There it says, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” At first glance, the Corinthians might have wondered how Paul could say that they do not lack any spiritual gift. They knew that they were not perfect. However, Paul was talking about how God had given them everything. God had made them complete. God is the one who kept them strong and declared them blameless. It wasn’t because of how perfect they were, it was because of how perfect Jesus had been in their place.
Paul concludes this introduction to his letter by saying, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Paul wants the Corinthians to know that no matter what, God remains faithful to his believers. For all the times that the Corinthians had tried to push God away through their sins, God kept on working to draw them to repentance. For all the times that they were unfaithful because of those same sins, God remained faithful. God did not give up on them. God showed this most clearly when he sent his Son.
Think about the gospel message. After thousands of years, God finally sent his Son Jesus. Think about who Jesus was sent to. He was sent first of all to the children of Israel. Those Israelites had been unfaithful toward God many times. They had been so unfaithful that God had sent invading armies to punish them and even carry them off into captivity. And then, on top of all that, there were Israelites who thought that they could earn their way into heaven through their obedience to the law. They thought that they could be good enough to please God. It was to this group of people that God sent the Savior.
Given that setting, it helps us to appreciate even more the words of John the Baptist. John saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John was essentially saying, “Look, there is the man who is going to do it all for you. There is the one who is strong and faithful on our behalf because we have failed.” Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who paid the price that we fully deserve. He took away the sins of the world. That is how big his sacrifice was, forgiving all sins of all time. We who are called to faith get the full benefit of that sacrifice.
Think about how comforting it is to know that our faith is all about what God has done for us. It is not about what we do for God. It doesn’t depend on us even in the slightest degree. It doesn’t take long for us to see how weak and frail we are. Look at our physical bodies. We get sick. We get injured. We wear out over time. And then look at our spiritual side. We commit sins every day. We can’t even do good things to make up for the sins. We are spiritually weak. We need our God and his strength. We need his faithfulness. We need the Lamb of God.
When we are strengthened by God’s strength, then we can live in ways that truly serve our God. When we stop relying on ourselves and put our trust fully in God, the burden that is lifted off our shoulders leads us to want to help others to see what God has done for them. God has called us to be separate from the sinful world. He has the strength to save us. He is faithful to us. His power is working inside us through the gospel message. Because of his strength, we will endure and we will live for him.