Have you ever received a letter or email from a friend you know loves you, but the message made you uncomfortable because it reproached your current attitude, a recent decision you made, or commented on a lifestyle you are living? Most of us can think of at least one of those letters or even a conversation. What was your response? Were you grateful? Did your feathers get ruffled? Were you defensive or gracious? Were you willing to take an honest look at yourself and your life? I am grateful to have received such communication from those who care for my soul and for me as a person. Their words are often unsettling, but when offered and received in both truth and love, push me toward holiness and encourage me to be “set apart” as one who believes in Jesus. It is often easier to blend into the culture around me. Paul was one such man in the Bible who knew what it meant to be set apart for the gospel (Rom 1:1) and wanted to encourage the believers in Corinth.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” ~Romans 1:1
Paul became one of the most passionate missionaries of the Christian church. He was a proficient writer to both encourage and rebuke those who proclaimed Christ in the cities he had visited. Much of the New Testament in the Bible is attributed to Paul’s letters to these believers. During this month, we will be reading through 1 Corinthians. Most of us automatically think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the “love” chapter of the Bible that is often read at weddings or penned in Valentine card messages. Indeed it is an important part of this letter, but there is much more in 1 Corinthians for us to consider this month.
“Paul, called as an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Sosthenes our brother: To the church of God at Corinth,…..” ~1 Corinthians 1:1-2
Background for the book — Paul wrote 4 letters to the church in Corinth. First Corinthians is actually the second letter to this church. The first letter is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 5:9. There also was a 3rd letter (not included in the NT) and the fourth letter is the book of 2 Corinthians. Corinth was a flourishing city on the isthmus connecting the Greek mainland to the Peloponnesian peninsula. It was a Roman colony, an epicenter of trade & culture, and a place where people, cultures, and religions intermingled. It was a thriving city known to be a place for intellectuals, philosophers, and social climbers. It was a haven for religious diversity, sexual promiscuity, and liberal politics.
Paul planted the church in Corinth around 50-51 AD with the help of Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18: 1-17). Paul went on to settle in Ephesus and likely wrote his letter while in Ephesus around 55-56 AD after receiving news in a letter from the Corinthians displaying “considerable theological confusion about marriage, divorce, participation in pagan religions, order within corporate worship, and the bodily resurrection of Christians” (ESV Study Bible, p 2188). Paul felt compelled to write a stern letter of reproach showing the Corinthians their understanding and behavior were not in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church in Corinth was no longer “set apart” from the culture it lived in and lacked an appreciation for the holiness of God. However, Paul’s passion for the gospel and his deep affection for his Christian brothers and sisters led him to pen this letter.
“………to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called as saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord—both their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 1:2-3
Paul reminds his friends in Corinth who they are in Christ. They are saints. They are “set apart.” Do you recall the nation that was “set apart” in the OT? The nation of Israel.
“Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples,…and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.” ~Exodus 19:5-6
Just as God set apart the people and nation of Israel to be different from the culture surrounding them, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be live as His holy people because they have been “set apart in Christ Jesus” and live as His holy people. He also is pointing them to the greater Church of believers who believe the same Gospel and the importance of spiritual unity.
Paul goes on to offer thanks to God for the gifts of speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts given to the Corinthian church in verses 4-7. He finishes his introduction with encouragement that God will give them the strength to change and to live more like Christ. Why? Because ultimately God is faithful and we are made perfect because of Christ Jesus.
Paul’s introduction is a powerful reminder to the Corinthians of their identity in Christ Jesus. Take notice that Jesus Christ is mentioned in each sentence of his letter thus far. Paul is passionate about proclaiming Jesus as the Christ.
This week we will also be diving into one of the main issues of the Corinthian church revolving around church unity.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” ~1 Corinthians 1:10
As you read through 1 Corinthians I guarantee your feathers will get ruffled by Paul’s words. I pray you will engage with the word of God, talk about it with others, and seek out Biblical resources for deeper understanding. And that ultimately we would receive Paul’s words as God’s firm but gentle and loving desire to move us toward holiness. More specifically, as you read and reflect on the passages in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-4, consider the following:
- Do I identify myself as a follower of Jesus Christ?
- Do I look different as a Christian from the culture and people I live among?
- How can I encourage my fellow sisters & brothers in Christ to strive for holiness as Paul did with truth, love, and gentleness (1 Corinthians 4:21).
- Where does the modern Church-at-large and your own church struggle with unity as believers in Christ?
- How can I move toward unity in the body of believers of which I am a part? Think of the things you might be apt to complain about (the sermon, the worship music, this ministry isn’t meeting my needs, etc.).
- Introduction to 1 Corinthians. ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version. (2008). Crossway Bibles: Wheaton, Illinois.
- The Faithful Grace of God, Sermon by Brad Thomas, Austin Ridge Bible Church. January 7, 2018. https://www.austinridge.org/resources/sermons/the-faithful-grace-of-god/514/