Agonizomai: 1 Cor 1:1-3 - Laying the Groundwork

Monday, February 25, 2008

1 Cor 1:1-3 - Laying the Groundwork

1-3 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To 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: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a customary Pauline greeting in which he refers to his calling (and thereby implies his authority) and mentions those to whom the epistle is addressed, followed by a genuine blessing of God’s grace and peace.

The man, Sosthenes ("safe in strength"), is possibly the one who was the leader of the Corinthian Synagogue mentioned in Ac 18:17 and who was beaten for refusing to prosecute Paul. There is no direct evidence for this, but it fits with the idea that an unjustly persecuted man moved to deal justly with one of God’s apostles was already under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and ready for conversion under the proper exposition of the gospel. It is admittedly a reach - but a reach that is congruent with what we know of how God works. One can imagine a man thusly brought into the light - already a leader of the people and knowledgeable in the Scriptures - desiring to travel with Paul in the Lord’s work, and whose name is invoked to those converted Jews among the saints in his home town in a greeting from afar. (“afar” being Ephesus, at the time)

The main audience of this letter is the church at Corinth. It is not to the unbelievers at Corinth - it is to "those sanctified in Christ Jesus." I find this an amazing statement in and of itself because, in the original language, the action "sanctified" is in the perfect tense, signifying something done once for all in the past; it is also in an passive voice. In other words this is something done for and to the Corinthian believers and is a settled fact, never needing to be repeated. They have been set apart - declared "holy" and given the name "saints".

This is indeed remarkable considering the occasion upon which Paul writes, which is to correct virtual anarchy and gross misunderstanding, false belief and sinful conduct which were rampant in the Corinthian church. Perhaps there is a reminder for us all in this. Paul is quite capable of giving the severest rebuke, but he begins with the most gentle of introductions.

This letter is also written to all believers everywhere. I would argue that all the pastoral writings (and even the whole of the Bible) are written only to believers - but this letter is absolutely clear about the issue. Before proceeding any further with this, or any other letter in the New Testament, it is wise to understand who the primary audience is, so that later statements can be understood in the proper context. Many who do not do this end up using what is holy and given to the church to cast before swine who have no understanding of spiritual things. Some with an unbiblical universalist bent take lessons and promises for the saints and apply them to the world at large, omitting teaching about the necessary work of God or of repentance and true faith.

We understand that it is by the preaching of Christ that people are saved - but the preaching of Christ {1Co 15:1-5} is evangelical in nature, before it is pastoral. The sow must cease wallowing in the mire before it is ready to receive and appreciate the delicacies of the King’s table.

We see also the (by this time) well established concept of the universal church - the church militant, consisting not of those of a particular nationality, but of all those who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the commonality of the belief in Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour (Lord, and Christ) that makes the church a brotherhood of the saints. All those who call upon His Name are and shall be saved, whether Philippian jailers, {Ac 16:29-33} or whether they are Jews or Greeks {Ro 10:11-13}

Note that it is by professing faith in Jesus as both Lord and Saviour that men are regarded by Paul and the church as belonging to Him. Participation in Christ and in His body is absolutely contingent upon these two things. That means that they must believe in the Jesus of the Bible, as He is portrayed there - eternal Son of God in human flesh, Who lived a perfect life pleasing to His Father and Who took upon Himself the sins of those He came to save so that His perfect life could be imputed to them; Who died and rose again and now sits in heaven while His victory over sin, hell, death and the devil is manifested in the world and before the principalities and powers in the heavens. That is the Saviour part. That is the narrow gate part of Mt 7:13-14. It is also the doctrine part. It is the "what to believe" part. It is the facts - historical, documented and preserved in order that they may be known and believed.

And the narrow way part of that same section of Matthew, which is equally vital to being a true member of Christ’s body, is the acceptance of Him as Lord - that is, as God with all of His rights to rule and govern their lives. This is the "God" part. It is also the application and the proof part because, if He is truly a person’s Lord, then the life of obedience will be manifested.

Thus we have the need for the obedience of faith to be manifested in all those who profess to be in Christ. And we see that in his gracious effort to be gentle, Paul has nevertheless set the criteria upon which His later admonishments will be firmly based - true membership in the body of Christ.

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