1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Before Floris reads, I want to share a few thoughts.
What is your favourite Pauline letter?
Romans, maybe Ephesians, maybe Philippians.
What about Corinthians – any takers?
We will be focusing on 1 Corinthians in our Life Groups from January.
Image from the Bible Project.
It is worth considering, the breadth and scope of 1 Corinthians. It is, probably the most wide ranging letter Paul ever wrote. Some people are used to Paul taking a few chapters of careful argument to make one or two points. Yet here, Paul tackles a great variety of subjects.
Now, the main thing about the Corinthian church was not its size, nor the makeup of its community, but the degree to which wordly ideas and practices were accepted uncritically in the congregation. It is as if, as someone wrote, that the boundaries between the church and the world had almost disappeared. Some NT churches struggled with opposition and persecution from the people around them, the Corinthians faced the opposition problem – assimilation.
The letter is simple.
Intro and thanksgiving 1:1-9
- Divisions (1:10-4:21)
- Morality (sexual immorality and idolatry) – (5-11:1)
- Division over Corporate Worship (11:2-14:40)
- Resurrection – what happens? (15:1-58).
Conclusions – chapter 16 – final appeal, travel plans, greetings, blessing, cry for Lord’s return Marantha.
Now, to be honest, if you or I had written 1 Corinthians, it probably would have been shorter.
So to summarise.
The Church in Corinth was in a terrible mess.
The letter gives a host of examples: deep breath
Sleeping with prostitutes
Drunkedness during Communion
Chaotic worship services
Denying the future resurrection … And others…
How would we have written to them? What would we have said?
I love what theologian and pastor Andrew Wilson says – and I think he speaks for a lot of us.
‘’If I was writing to them, I wouldn’t have had the patience for 16 chapters of careful argument and pastoral wisdom. I would have sent a single paragraph, a theological drone strike with the sole aim of blowing their appalling behaviour off the face of the earth…
Andrew, called to be an apostle by the will of God, and our brother Sostenes, to the church of God in Corinth: STOP. NOW. REPENT, apologies, change your ways and I might find it in my heart to talk to you again next winter. Grace be with you. Amen. The end.’’
Paul does something very different.
We see Paul’s teaching style.
Also. The depth of theological argument – he doesn’t just say ‘stop it, repent’ but he grounds it in the gospel and in the wider theology of God’s purposes. There is an immense among of applied theology in this letter.
He teaches on ethics, between sections on the cross in chapter 1 and the resurrection chapter 15 – for Pail the goispel is he beginning and end of the Christian life.
We are going to hear Floris read the opening words.
Paul’s start is a very different one than we would probably have done. As you hear it, listen for.
Note how Jesus centered are Paul’s words – Jesus Christ is mentioned 9 times in nine verses.
Paul is deeply grateful for the church, inspite of all he knows about them.
This comes partly from his knowledge that they are a holy people – saints.
Partly it comes from having seen the power of God’s grace that transformed their lives
He has seen the spiritual gifts poured on them by the Spirit, enriching the community in its worship, ministry and mission. That God has so blessed that community, for which Paul is thankful.
And Paul, despite all he has heard, he has an astonishing level of confidence in their future – he will keep you firm to the end so that you will be blameless…
Blameless. Not a word we would apply to the Corinthians.
Yet Paul is certain – they will be beyond reproach on the day of judgement. The reason – not their performances but the faithfulness of God. God is committed to his people and so that is the guarantee they will make it, inspite of all the sin which they struggle with.
That is 1 Corinthians.
So a question to consider: which are you more aware of in your church or in the life of another believer – the flaws that need correcting, or the evidence of God’s grace? How will Paul’s words help you with this?