“Confidence in His Faithfulness”
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
January 29, 2006
In difficult times, we have confidence in the work of a faithful God.
I. Confident in His Calling (1 Cor 1:1-2)
II. Confident in His Grace (1 Cor 1:3-6)
III. Confident in His Plan (1 Cor 1:7-9)
MessageSome pastors are contacted often by search committees asking them to consider a call to a new church. That never happens to me, so I was surprised this week to receive just such a letter. I wont tell you the location of the church, but it was a large, thriving organization. Thank God they were also very frank and forthcoming in their letter. First they admitted there were significant divisions in the church. Some were partisans of a particular television evangelist, others claimed to have returned to first century Christianity, while a third group just wanted their old pastor back. They admitted these divisions had led to much strife. But I was taken aback by their requirement that any future pastor be a media specialist, with a great television presence, an attractive wife and a proven record in gaining a popular following. I do have an attractive wife, but Im not sure I even want those other things.
It got worse when I read the questionnaire theyd sent: How would I respond if one of the elders was living with his fathers ex-wife? How would I mediate between the deacons who had sued each other? Under what circumstances did a couple have to marry, and when could they split up? How should the church deal with vegetarians at the pot-luck or a fight during communion? What about the display of spiritual gifts in the worship service? And which gift was the greatest? Did I really believe in the resurrection? Needless to say I quickly concluded this was not for me. I dont think any would want to take on such a state of confusion and ungodliness. I wrote right back, saying I just didnt have the kind of crisis resolution skills needed for their unique situation. I told them Id be praying for them.
Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that perhaps the most gifted and prominent pastor and evangelist of the age had written back with a much more detailed letter addressing all the specific issues they raised. And no it wasnt Billy Graham or Chuck Swindoll who wrote them; it was the Apostle Paul, and the church was the church at Corinth, which, to be bluntly honest, was a mess - a very, very educational mess. With all the problems Ive just described, and more, this church has something to say to every church and every believer, and often what it says is challenging and even life-changing. So for the next few months were going to study 1st Corinthians. Well get about half way through the book this spring and finish it next spring. Well address the messy problems of the Corinthian church, and apply Pauls insights to our own sometimes messy lives.
As we begin, I think the first few verses of the letter have something important to teach us. Weve already seen that the situation in Corinth was a mess. And yet when we read these introductory verses, Paul is positive, upbeat, and optimistic. His prayers concerning this church are filled with expressions of thanksgiving. How can this be? How can Paul be so positive as he communicates with this church? Its pretty simple really: Paul is giving thanks and is optimistic not because of what the Corinthians have done, but because of what God has done and will do and because of Gods faithfulness. Well see as we study this greeting and the circumstances that surround it that in difficult times we have confidence in the work of a faithful God.
Lets begin by reading Pauls greeting, and setting the context for the letter. 1st Corinthians 1:1-9 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To 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: 3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-- 6because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Weve actually been in Corinth recently. Last year when we studied Acts, we visited Corinth with Paul on his second missionary journey, the one which started when Paul and his co-worker Barnabas had a dispute and went separate ways. Paul took Silas with him and revisited some of the churches planted on the first journey. After being divinely prohibited from preaching in Asia and Bithynia, Act 16 tells us that Paul, Silas, and Timothy went to Troas, where Paul received the Macedonian Call, which brought them across to Europe, to ministry in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens.
A short time later, Paul went on to Corinth, an ancient Greek city, the seat of government of the Roman province of Achaia. As was his custom, Paul went every Sabbath to the synagogue there, to evangelize his countrymen. And as usual, Pauls preaching provoked a reaction from unbelieving Jews, so that he had to leave the synagogue and concentrate on preaching to Gentiles - and many were saved. In fact, the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision, assuring him there were many people yet to be saved in that city and that he was to speak out boldly, rather than to hold back in fear. So Paul extended his ministry in Corinth, staying a total of 18 months.
At some point the unbelieving Jews seized Paul and brought him on charges before Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia.. They accused him of being neither a faithful Jew nor a good citizen, of speaking and acting against the law. But Paul didnt even have to defend himself; before he could open his mouth, Gallio gave his ruling. He was fed up with the in-fighting which was so typical of the Jews. He threw them and their case out of court and drove them away from his judgment seat. Its notable that in the riot that followed a Jewish leader names Sosthenes became the target of the mobs anger. This Sosthenes, a somewhat rare Greek name, seems to be the same person who is with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians.
So thats the context in Acts; but as we begin our study it would be good for us also to take stock of what we know about the city of Corinth. Politically, Corinth was the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia, a territory including nearly all of Greece. Geographically, Corinth was so strategically located it was bound to prosper, as a crossroads for both land and sea. It was situated on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow neck connecting the Greek mainland to the southern peninsula. Goods exchanged between the north and south of Greece would be shipped by land through Corinth. Much of the east-west sea trade of the Mediterranean passed through as well. The four mile wide isthmus had an excellent port on each side, and travel across the isthmus between these two ports was safer than the 200-mile voyage around Cape Malea, the most dangerous cape in the Mediterranean. So dangerous was this journey that the Greeks said Let him who sails round Malea first make his will. So goods would be unloaded at one port, transported across the four-mile strip of land, and loaded on the other side. Smaller ships were actually transported with their cargo over the isthmus by means of rollers. Emperor Nero tried to build a canal, but it was not completed until 1893?
The city itself was situated on a plateau overlooking the Isthmus of Corinth, two miles distant from the Gulf. Nearby was the Acrocorinth, a 1900-foot mountain that was perfectly suited as a citadel. This fortress was so secure it was never taken by force until the invention of gun-powder. It also had a superb water supply. So Corinth was almost inevitably a great commercial center. It had been such under the Greeks, but it was destroyed by the Romans in 146 b.c. for leading the opposition to the Roman conquest. It was rebuilt a hundred years later by Julius Caesar, and soon became the provincial capital. Many of those who lived there were not Greeks. A large number of Roman soldiers settled there after retiring, and they were joined by a variety of nationalities, enticed by economic prosperity. A good number of the immigrants were Jews. Estimates of the population of Corinth range from 100,000 to 600,000, making it by far the largest city Paul had worked in to date.
Being a relatively new city with newly acquired wealth brought problems. Luxuries from all over the world were available, and all the vices of the world were found there. The decay of Greek values, the immorality of the Romans and the freedom of those who had moved away from their own home nations resulted in one of the greatest centers of sin and violence in all the Roman world. It got so bad that the Greeks began to use the verb corinthianize to describe immoral behavior and vice. It was also a center of idol worship, filled with magnificent temples to Apollo and others. The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, located on the Acrocorinth, had 1,000 cult prostitutes, selling themselves in the name of religion.
But Paul had seen God at work in this city, and it was natural for him to be concerned about the Corinthian church. After he left them he traveled a bit, then settled down for two years in Ephesus. While there, he received unfavorable reports about the Corinthian church which prompted him to write a first letter to them, a letter not preserved in the New Testament, but mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. Later, still in Ephesus, Paul heard from Chloes household of divisions among the Corinthian saints. He also heard about several other issues: gross immorality in the church, Christians taking their fellow-believers to court, unbecoming conduct at the Lords Supper, doctrinal error about the resurrection. Finally Paul received a letter from Corinth asking questions about marriage, virgins, food sacrificed to idols, etc. So Paul wrote from Ephesus responding to the reports and questions hed received.
I. Confident in His Calling (1 Cor 1:1-2)
And yet Pauls greeting focuses not on the troubles in Corinth, but on his confidence in Gods calling: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To 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:
Pauls opening is typical for a first-century letter: the name of the writer, the addressee, then a prayer or wish for their well being. But to each part Paul gives a Christian twist. To his name he adds called to be an apostle. Part of Pauls confidence in writing to this church is confidence that God has called him as an authoritative special messenger of the Gospel. And the basis of that authority and his confidence is the fact that he is called by God; he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. God has done the calling. Paul is under authority as one called and sent.
He addresses the letter to the church of God at Corinth, and then proceeds to define the church. The word ekklesia is a common Greek word for an assembly, a word taken over by Jesus and his followers for the body of believers. Paul says that this is Gods assembly. Too often we hear churches identified in terms of the pastor: Thats Osteens church; thats Ed Youngs church; thats Swindolls. Paul looked at it differently: the church at Corinth belonged to God. Paul had planted it, but God is the one who brought the church into existence through the shed blood of His Son. God is the One who sustains His church. It is Gods church.
Second Paul sees the church as those sanctified in Christ Jesus. Sanctified means made holy or set apart; things or people set apart for Gods service. The church, then, is a group of people God has set apart for himself and made holy through the blood of his Son. In chapter 6 Paul will say You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. This sanctification is an act of God, and yet it is also a calling on believers - called to be holy. Just as Paul had confidence that he was called to be an Apostle, so also he has confidence that this group is called by God to holiness and sanctification.
Notice that Scripture isnt ashamed to place in the same breath an emphasis on Gods work in peoples lives - he makes us holy - and our responsibility - we are called to be holy. This is not either/or, its not both/and, its simply that a sovereign God never allows a gap to appear between his sovereign will and the free will of individuals.
But I diverge. Paul defines the church in Corinth as saints, who thus become part of a larger body, all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours. This broader element in Pauls salutation reminds us that church truth is church truth. That is, Pauls teaching to the saints at Corinth is applicable and authoritative for churches at Philippi, Ephesus, or Friendswood, Texas. Too many have tried to avoid Pauls teaching in his Corinthian Epistles by over-emphasizing that Paul is speaking to very special and unique problems found only in Corinth. These problems may be unique - but the principles are universal and apply to all churches and to the individuals within them, that is, to us.
So the first application is to ask ourselves, are we confident of what God has done? When we recognize that God has set us apart for himself and has called us to be holy, we can face the process of sanctification with peace, and like Paul we can get involved in a situation where people are not acting sanctified with a certain knowledge that God called them to holiness, and that he accomplished all that needed to be done, for me, or for anyone Im involved with through Jesus Christ. Do you draw confidence from what God has already freely done for you, especially the work of Christ on the cross? Paul does.
II. Confident in His Grace (1 Cor 1:3-6)
But Paul has a second reason for optimism: he is confident of Gods present grace. Verses 3 to 6 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-- 6because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
Pauls greeting is almost a play on words compared to the usual Greek letter. He says grace, Greek charis, rather than greeting, Greek charien. There is a world of difference between a simple greeting and a reminder that God has freely given us grace and continues to provide us with grace every day. Pauls confidence is in this choice God makes to give undeserved favor to sinners. Paul couldnt be optimistic about the Corinthians if he wasnt convinced that God gives grace. The second word is Peace, the traditional Hebrew greeting, which means more than the absence of strife, rather the presence of positive spiritual blessings. Finally, both these things come not from the author or from some unnamed source, but explicitly from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ- both equally divine in this phrasing.
But Paul has not yet said enough about Gods grace to satisfy himself, so he moves on to thanksgiving: I thank God for you because of his grace given you. One commentator says Somehow, an expression of thanksgiving is not what I would have expected from Paul at this point. Here is a church that has begun to listen to false teachers. Here is a church which is condoning immorality. Here is a church whose personal conflicts are being aired out in secular courts. How can Paul possibly give thanks? He goes on to say Paul does not give thanks for the sins and failures of these saints. Paul gives thanks to God for what He has done and for what He will ultimately do for His children. Paul gives thanks for the grace of God, which He has given the saints in Christ Jesus. Grace is unmerited favor, and we must surely agree that these saints dont merit it. The good things which have already been accomplished, and all those good things yet to be accomplished, are manifestations of Gods infinite grace, bestowed upon those who are unworthy.
And Paul points out that Gods grace to the saints in Corinth was boundless. He enriched them in everything - in all speech and in all knowledge. God is not only the giver of the gifts of salvation - forgiveness, renewal, the Holy Spirit, eternal life. But he is also the giver, through the Spirit, of all the gifts which allow us to live as Christians, and minister to others. In this letter Paul will talk about spiritual gifts, and even criticize their misuse, but first he makes it clear that he is grateful to God for every way he has blessed and confident he has done so out of his goodness and grace. Finally, notice that all this grace given was the confirmation of Pauls testimony about Christ. Paul had confidence that the Christ he preached, the one who promised grace, salvation, forgiveness, renewal and the Holy Spirit would keep those promises for those who heard and believed. Paul was not daunted by Corinth: the grace of God, he knew, could rescue even these sinners: he was right.
So do you have confidence in Gods grace? This is an important and practical confidence to have. The truth is that all of us, like the people of Corinth, fall into sin, and into sinful patterns. Are you confident that your salvation and sanctification are by grace; that God cannot be persuaded to stop loving you even when you fail? Paul teaches in 2nd Corinthians that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting mens sins against them. Do you believe this? Do you live life with the comforting, strengthening assurance that God has saved and sustains you by grace, as a free gift of his love? Or do you live in constant doubt, fear, and self-criticism, anguished by every weakness that you think you have to fix by personal effort? How many times have I said it? The Christian life is a grace system, not a works system, and we can have infinite confidence in a God who works by grace.
III. Confident in His Plan (1 Cor 1:7-9)
And that second confidence is related to the third one: we can have confidence in Gods ultimate plan. God is working out a good plan in and among us. Verses 7 to 9: 7Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Paul always looks forward, and he presumes the Corinthians do the same. Later in the letter hell talk about the reality of the resurrection and the return of Jesus. His confident assumption here is that these Corinthians are eagerly looking forward to that day, because on the one hand, by grace, God will give them everything they need for the process of sanctification that leads to that day. And on the other hand he will keep them strong to the end; they can be confident that he will never leave or forsake them. And finally, as Paul says to the Philippians: I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. When Gods plan is complete the Corinthians will be blameless - without fault, without blemish. In the same way he has called you to be holy and sanctified and you will be blameless. This is Pauls confidence.
So salvation has not only past and present benefits in his calling and his grace, but also a future hope. As motley a crew as this Corinthian church proved to be, their salvation and security were Gods doing, not theirs. Consequently, Paul had great confidence concerning this church and the future of each saint. Paul thanked God because He would sustain these saints to the end. What God had started, He would finish. Peter shows this same confidence and hope when he writes to his readers Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
So the third application question here is: do you have confidence in Gods plan. Do you really believe he is at work in you, gifting you, strengthening you and preparing you to be blameless and holy on the day of Jesus Christ? Do you look forward to that day? As we said last week, we do have the sense that we are pilgrims here, that this is a far country, not my home. We have a longing that confidence in God turns into a hope; a hope of the return of Christ, and a confidence that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and from these verses an assurance that God is at work to present us to himself blameless.
So what have we seen? As believers, even if we are troubled as individuals, even if we are in the midst of a troubled church, even if we have family or relational troubles, troubles with sin, troubles with finances, in any of these areas we can have confidence in the God who has called us to be holy through the sacrifice of his Son, who has given us grace so that both salvation and sanctification are his free gifts, and whose plan to make us blameless in the day of Christs return gives us hope. All of these details of our confidence can be swallowed up in what may be the greatest confidence of all, confidence in Gods faithfulness. Verse 9: God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
These Corinthian saints may not consistently be faithful, but God is faithful. It is through His faithfulness that each believer has been called to salvation. It is because of His faithfulness that we will persevere and enter His kingdom, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the great affirmations and consolations of Scripture - he is faithful; this is one of the perfect and unchangeable characteristics of God - he is faithful; this is one of the great truths that sustains our hearts - he is faithful. Rise and say it with me. Notice how this verse is now personalized: God who has called me into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ my Lord, is faithful. Say it again God who has called me into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ my Lord, is faithful. Say it one more time: God who has called me into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ my Lord, is faithful. Now believe it.