In the book of Revelation, there are seven churches in Revelation 2-3 that receive a letter written by John, but dictated by Jesus. In each of the letters, Jesus had something important to say to the seven churches. Jesus told John, “Write to the angel of the church in…” and John did what he was told. We can read the letters written to each of the churches in Revelation 2-3. 

First on the list was the church in Ephesus. We learn from Jesus’ letter that they were the church that had lost their first love. Their love for the Lord had faded in the years it had been in existence. The fault of the church in Pergamum was that it had allowed the blending of the teachings of Jesus with the pagan teachings that were present in their city. To the church in Thyatira, Jesus said the people there had become tolerant of immorality. To the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 NIV). And to the church in Laodicea, Jesus said He wished they were either hot or cold, but because they were lukewarm He was about to spit them out of His mouth. 

It is interesting that out of the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 only two, the church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia, were commended for their faithfulness with no criticism. The churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia were shining lights in their cities. In our American modern-day way of thinking we might conclude that these must have been big, megachurches with huge budgets and large staffs who were able to carry out the business of the church, but in actuality they were churches with little strength, little resources, who were suffering. Jesus describes these churches with phrases like, “I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich!” (Revelation 2:9) and “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8 NIV) 

I mentioned to you in our introduction to our study of 1 Corinthians that many people today say, “We must return to the early church! In our day we have strayed so far from what the early church was in their day.” These five churches show us that even the “early church” had its problems. I think it is safe to say that none of the early churches that we read about in the Bible had as many problems as the church in Corinth. It was a church that was divided, they were taking one another to court, some were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper fellowship meals, there was unimaginable sexual immorality present–it was being applauded by some of the members, and I’ve only listed a few of the problems present in the church. 

Paul was aware of the many problems that were present in the church in Corinth, the church he had planted a few years prior to his letter. Paul had not only planted the church, but he had stayed with them for eighteen months, discipling the new followers of Jesus. How did this church, planted by the greatest missionary that ever lived, discipled by one of the greatest Bible teachers that has ever lived, become such a mess? Well, let’s get started by taking a look at 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

1 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 NIV)

Do you know what is remarkable about the Scripture we’ve just read? There’s not a hint of disappointment flowing from Paul’s pen. There are no allegations, accusations, or harsh words of condemnation in these first nine verses. Now, you need to know that there will be plenty of tough talk and sharp criticism to come, but the opening of Paul’s letter is something quite different. Paul begins his letter by pointing out what the believers in Corinth are, by God’s grace, and not what they have done or failed to do. What we discover in these first nine verses is that Paul is looking at the brothers and sisters in Corinth through the lens of who they are in Christ before anything else. It’s a matter of perspective and our perspective is so very important isn’t it? There were once some parents who learned the importance of perspective when they received a letter from their young daughter who was away at college. She wrote: 

Dear Mother and Dad: Since I left for college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down, okay? Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out the window of my dormitory when it caught on fire shortly after my arrival here is pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day. Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory, and my jump, was witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me in the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven’t got the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection which prevents us from passing our premarital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him. Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, I am not infected, and there is no boyfriend. However, I am getting a “D” in American History, and an “F” in Chemistry and I want you to see those marks in their proper perspective. Your loving daughter, Sharon. (Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.)

Sharon may have failed chemistry, but she got an “A+” in psychology. Can you even begin to imagine how relieved her parents were to hear that she was struggling in her classes after reading what they thought she was going through?! Perspective is so important isn’t it?! 

Paul had heard the news of the problems that were present in the church in Corinth, but Paul kept things in perspective or he would have simply thrown up his hands and written the church off. Does keeping things in perspective mean that Paul downplayed the problems in Corinth because things could have been so much worse? No, not at all. That’s what Sharon’s parents did when she helped them see just how bad things could have been for her. Paul wasn’t discounting how bad things were in Corinth, but he knew that they were God’s people and that God wasn’t finished with them yet. Take a look at verse 1 with me.

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, (1 Corinthians 1:1 NIV)

Paul introduced himself. He was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God…”  Paul didn’t choose to be an apostle, he hadn’t set his sights on becoming an apostle, nor had he campaigned for election to the post. He was “called.” The Greek word for “called” is “??????” (kletos) and it means, “called, invited, or appointed.” You’ll remember, Paul was public enemy #1 of the followers of Jesus after the resurrection. That is, until he was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus and his life was changed forever. Paul was struck blind, a man named Ananias was told to go and pray for Paul, and when Ananias hesitated because of Paul’s reputation, the Lord said,

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15 NIV)

Paul was chosen by God, appointed by God. The “calling of God,” or “choosing by God,” is not unusual in the Bible at all–it’s God’s way. Jesus told His disciples, in John 15:16,

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit– fruit that will last– and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16 NIV)

Jesus said, “I chose you. I appointed you.” Paul was fully aware of this when he wrote to the people in Corinth. They had been called by God. They were appointed by God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:2.

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: (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV)

Some today are troubled by this kind of language that we find in God’s Word. Rather than being troubled, you and I should be humbled, overwhelmed with gratitude that God would choose to demonstrate the glories of His grace to people like those in Corinth, and people like you and me. 

God’s calling is still how God transforms our lives today. Let me ask you, “How did you come to know your need for God’s forgiveness and grace? How did you come to recognize your need for a Savior? What was it that opened your eyes and revealed to you your need for Jesus?” Was it because you were just so smart that you figured it out? Hardly. Someone might say, “Well, it was my mother, grandmother, or friend that shared the Gospel with me and explained how I needed to receive Jesus as Lord of my life.” That may well be true, but it was God who opened your eyes, placed those people in your path, and softened your hard heart. The Bible teaches that we are by nature at “enmity with God,” we are from birth constantly opposed to God. Pastor Spurgeon understood this so well when he wrote,

I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

There is no doubt that there is someone here this morning, or someone who is watching me online, who is not a follower of Jesus. It is my prayer that this very morning you will recognize that God has called you here, to hear this message, so that you might come to know that He is looking upon you with His special love, His wondrous grace, and calling you to Himself this very morning. 

I want us to go back to verse 2 and recognize some more blessings God has bestowed upon the people of Corinth. Read the verse with me.

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: (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV)

The church in Corinth was not Paul’s church or Apollos’ church, but it was God’s church. The church was not some building they met in, but rather it was “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people…” They were sanctified, they were set apart, by Jesus Himself for His purposes. This is God’s action done through the sacrifice of Jesus on behalf of His people. Chuck Swindoll writes,

Related to ‘sanctified,’ the saint is one who is devoted, consecrated, pure, and holy in God’s eyes, uniquely set apart for His use regardless of the saint’s practical holiness from day to day. (Swindoll, Charles. Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: 1 & 2 Corinthians. pg. 19). 

The people in Corinth were no doubt a mess, just like the people of Britton Christian Church, but they, and we, are God’s mess, and we have been set apart for His purpose. Paul knew that God wasn’t done with the people of Corinth and I can assure you that God isn’t done with the people of Britton Christian Church. He’s at work my friend! 

Not only were they His holy people, but they were a part of an even larger group of set apart people from around the globe. I have never been more aware of this than when I’ve visited the Jordan River, the place of Jesus’ baptism, in Israel. Outside of the entrance you’ll find inscriptions in 80 languages of Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism. Next to the Jordan River you can hear people from all over the world singing praise songs and hymns in their own languages. It is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard! We have brothers and sisters in Christ who gather and serve the Lord and His people all across the United States and the world. I want you to notice that in verse 4, Paul thanks God for the brothers and sisters in Corinth. 

4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4 NIV)

Truth be known these folks were a headache to Paul. They didn’t appreciate all that he had done for them, they downplayed his role as an apostle, and they were the source of so much frustration for Paul, but Paul can say, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”  Here is an incredible lesson for you and me. I know there are those in your life and my life that cause us so much frustration. Before ever uttering a word of criticism, can you stop and give thanks for the grace God has given them? Can you do this for your husband, wife, child, some other family member, church member, or friend? If you and I can recognize the grace of God at work in someone’s life before we recognize anything else it will make such a difference in the way we deal with one another. Give it a try. 

In the time that we have left I want to point out what Paul highlights about the people of the church in Corinth that makes them such a special group of believers. Let’s focus on verses 4-7. Begin in the verse we were just looking at, verse 4. They were given “grace in Christ Jesus.” This is no small thing. Grace is one of Paul’s favorite words. It is a word that he uses over and over again throughout his letters. He uses the word, “grace,” some 100 times in his letters, 28 times just in his two letters to the church in Corinth. What is “grace?” Grace is the unmerited, unearned, free gift of salvation given by God, made available to you and me through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus paid the price for your sin and my sin, a price we could never pay, so that we might be reconciled to God. Oh, the wonders of God’s grace! Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, 

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

You can’t earn it. You can’t repay God for the gift. Grace is God’s free gift to those who are alienated from Him by their sin. Paul was grateful for the grace given to those in the church in Corinth and we should be grateful for the gift of grace God has given to our fellow believers. 

Next, in verse 5, Paul says they had been “enriched in every way–with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.”  The word for “enriched” means to be made rich. They were rich with all kinds of speech and all knowledge. The people of Corinth greatly valued eloquent, finely put together speeches. God had blessed His church in Corinth with such great teachers as Paul and then Apollos, a man described as “mighty in the Scriptures” in Acts 18:24. They were blessed by God, but later in Paul’s letter he’ll address the way they abused speech and knowledge. The abuse of God’s gifts does not diminish the fact that the gift came from God. 

Another blessing given by God which was greatly misused and abused were the spiritual gifts God had so generously lavished upon this church. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:7 with me. 

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (1 Corinthians 1:7 NIV)

Paul didn’t mention any misuse of the spiritual gifts, he merely points out to them that they lack nothing by way of spiritual gifts. The church didn’t lack a thing! God had blessed them with every spiritual gift needed for them to carry out God’s call upon their lives as believers. Alan Johnson writes,

This is an amazing testimony to God’s grace. All that was available to a people from God was available to the Corinthians. Lacking no possible manifestation of the Spirit, richly blessed with all manner of the Spirit’s working, they nevertheless were arrogant, morally lax, divided and unbalanced in the exercise of and preference for the expression of the spiritual gifts. Possessing God’s rich working is no guarantee that the goal of such gifts, namely Christlikeness in love, will be realized. (Johson, Alan. 1 Corinthians. pg. 40-41)

Paul will devote three chapters to the proper use, and the Corinthians misuse, of the spiritual gifts God had so freely given to them. How can Paul have such wonderful things to say about the folks in the church in Corinth when they have made such a mess of things? We’ve already touched one aspect of this early in our study. The people in Corinth were God’s people, saved by God’s grace, chosen by God’s will, and called for the purpose of being His holy people in Corinth. This is true of every believer, but there is another aspect that gave Paul even greater confidence as he sat down to write to the people of Corinth. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 and let’s read together. 

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 1:8-9 NIV)

Paul reminds the brothers and sisters in the church in Corinth that God will keep them firm to the end and they will be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 9, Paul reminds them that “God is faithful,” He is the One who has called them into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Paul would not give up on the people in Corinth first and foremost because they were Jesus’ people, called, established, and sustained by His wonderful grace. They were people with purpose, even though they may have lost their way, Jesus wasn’t done with them, He was at work in the midst of their mess. 

As we prepare to finish our study for today I want to share a word with you that you may not be familiar with–it’s the word ecclesiology. Do you know the word? It is a big word that simply means, “the study of the church.” There are all kinds of church sociologists who are doing all kinds of studies about trends taking place in the church, the demographics of urban and suburban churches, comparing attendance statistics from one year to the next, one generation to the next, etc. I read an article this past week that was an ecclesiastical study, a study of the Church in Covid-19 culture. The study said that 1 in 5 American churches will close in the next 18 months because of Covid-19. 

Whether we are examining the church in Corinth with its many problems or the modern-day church with its own problems, we must remember Who establishes and sustains the Church. Jesus responded to Simon Peter’s confession by saying, “…I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!”  The church, every church is flawed, because it is filled with people, flawed people. God is at work! He was at work in Corinth and He is at work in our day! He is still calling men and women, boys and girls, He is still extending His grace, lavishing His gifts, and He is faithful! The One who called us into fellowship with His Son is faithful! Won’t you invite Him in, won’t you open the door of your heart to Him this morning?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

September 27, 2020

Looking Through The Lens of Grace
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
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