1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Greeting: The Author and the Recipients Established (vv.1-3)
¶ Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, by God’s will, and Sosthenes the brother, v.1 Paul writes this epistle first and foremost as an “apostle of Jesus Christ“. To the Romans he was first and foremost a “bondman of Jesus Christ“. This is because Paul was more unknown in Rome, and there had been no undermining of his ministry. However, at Corinth his servant-character was well-known to the saints, but sadly his apostleship was doubted. As “a called apostle”, he was an apostle from the time he was “called” by God (Acts 9). To doubt Paul’s authority is to stand in the way of “God’s will“. He was a “called apostle” every bit as much as they were “called saints” (v.2). He was going to correct a number of errors, and so he must write as one who has apostolic authority (contrast with the letter to Philemon). Paul associates “Sosthenes the brother” with him in this epistle. This is likely the same Sosthenes that was ruler of the synagogue, was publicly beaten in Corinth by the Jews (Acts 18:17), and who apparently accompanied Paul on his journey afterwards. By bringing another brother into fellowship with Paul, the Spirit of God in no way weakens the sole authorship of this epistle (see Phil. 1:1). We get an important assembly principle: when Paul wrote to an assembly he always associated one or two other brothers with him in writing (2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). This is because “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). Even today, when one assembly communicates with another assembly it ought to be signed by two or three.
2 to the assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours: v.2 This epistle is addresses to a local assembly, but not limited to the Corinthians, nor is its application restricted to them, but “with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Those that “call” on His name is a broader class than “the assembly of God which is at Corinth”, made up of individuals that were positionally “sanctified in Christ Jesus”. You might say we have two main audiences for this epistles: (1) the Body of Christ represented in a local assembly, and (2) the house of God at large. Not only does this epistle provide instruction for the local assembly, but it rebukes the present state of Christendom, and therefore has been rejected by many and discounted as outdated, limited to the apostolic age, and not applicable to us today. This is one of many occasions in this epistles where Paul explicitly declares that the doctrines contained herein are for the whole Church, at all times; see 1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Cor. 7:17; 1 Cor. 11:16; 1 Cor. 14:36-37; 1 Cor. 16:1. The expression “both theirs and ours” is a way of saying “professing Christians wherever they might be.” There is no thought of “us and them” as in two independent Christian fellowships; for there is but one Lord’s Table (ch.10).
A local assembly. He addresses the gathering of Christians in Corinth on the standing of the whole body of Christ, although they were only a local representation and assemblage of it. This concept is developed further in ch.10 and ch.12; but we often refer to it as the scriptural ground of gathering. Simply put; what is the scriptural basis for Christians to gather together in an official way? We must meet according to what is true of us. The Word of God clearly teaches the unity of the Church. “For even as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). And again, “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4). However, it would be impossible for every person in the universal Assembly (hundreds of millions) to meet in one physical location. Accordingly, the New Testament identifies local meetings of that universal Assembly also called assemblies; e.g. the “assembly of God which is in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the assemblies of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). We may refer to these gatherings as “local assemblies”. Now, the local assembly (e.g. in the city of Corinth) was the official gathering of the Body of Christ in that location. A scripture to show this is 1 Cor. 12:27; “now ye are Christ’s body” referring to the Corinthian assembly. While there is only one Body, the local assembly is an expression of the whole, and enjoys all the rights and privileges of the universal Church.
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. v.3 Paul desired two things for them: “grace and peace” from God as our Father, and from Jesus Christ as our Lord. First, grace or ‘favor’ which characterizes our standing before God, and peace which characterizes our condition. Paul desired that our enjoyment of neither grace nor peace would be disturbed. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace. In 1 Corinthians the title “Our Lord” or “The Lord” is found fifty-nine times! In eleven of those occurrences His full title is given; our “Lord Jesus Christ”. The Lordship of Christ is heavily emphasized in this epistle. Really, the only way to correct the disorders that existed among the Corinthians (and the disorder in Christendom today) is to submit to the Lordship of Christ.
Prayer: Thankfulness for the Corinthians’ Blessings (vv.4-9)
vv.4-9 It is beautiful to see that Paul commends what he can before he corrects. It is always a happy thing to build up the good before addressing the evil (v.10). Notice that he doesn’t commend their behavior or spiritual maturity; but rather the gifts and privileges God had given to them. He first remarks on four blessings that distinguished the Corinthians, then four blessings that are common to all believers.
¶ 4 I thank my God always about you, in respect of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus; v.4 Paul “always” thanked God concerning the Corinthians. Paul gave a similar commendation to the saints in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. The only location Paul wrote to that did not receive this most basic and blessed commendation was the assemblies in Galatia, on account of the seriousness of their doctrinal error. The “grace of God” refers to the enabling power that was manifest among the Corinthians. That grace was not given to them for their own glory, but “in [virtue of] Christ Jesus“. He is thankful, not for how they were going on, but “about” them; i.e. for the many benefits God had afforded them.
5 that in everything ye have been enriched in him, in all word of doctrine, and all knowledge [‘gnosis’], 6 (according as the testimony of the Christ has been confirmed in you,) 7a so that ye come short in no gift, vv.5-7a There were four blessings that distinguished the Corinthian assembly from others. These things had “enriched” them greatly, although sadly had not improved their spiritual state:
- The ability to communicate or express scriptural concepts (v.5a). They were acquainted with “every saying” of their Bible.
- The objective knowledge of what the scriptures meant (v.5b). However, this word ‘gnosis’ is not as strong as ‘epi-gnosis’ as in Heb. 10:26. It is an outward, speculative, intellectual knowledge, not necessarily a inward, deep, conscious knowledge of conviction (or, recognition).
- The testimony of Christ’s character reflected among them by Paul and others during his eighteen-month stay in Corinth (v.6). A tremendous benefit; seeing the truth of God presented in a godly manner!
- The possession of many gifted local brethren (v.7a). But gift is not godliness, and it is no substitute for a right spirit. The gifts that the Corinthians valued most highly were the sign gifts; 1 Cor. 12, 14. In the course of this epistle Paul will set straight their understanding of which gifts were truly “the best gifts”, and what spiritual quality (love) was better than all the gifts combined.
7b awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, unimpeachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. vv.7b-9 Then Paul mentions four more blessings that the Corinthians had in common with every believer in Christ:
- The knowledge that Christ is returning to set up His kingdom (v.7b). It isn’t the Rapture that is in view, but the appearing of Christ. The Rapture is more a personal thing, the Appearing is more public. This is a basic element of Christianity; the looking forward to the time when all things will be set right.
- The possession of an all-the-way-home Savior (v.8a)! No matter the poor conduct of the Corinthians at the present time, Christ would preserve them in His High Priestly grace until the end of the wilderness pathway.
- The prospect of being outwardly blameless in the day of Christ (v.8b). The Day of Christ is the day of Christ’s display of glory, when we will be manifested with Him. It is after the judgment seat of Christ, when we will appear before the world in the perfection of our standing in Christ.
- The introduction into the one true Christian fellowship. It is not fellowship with His Son, but “the fellowship of His Son”. It is that fellowship which has the Person of Christ as its common object (see Gal. 2:20), and Whose Person characterizes all in that circle. Many fellowships have been set up by men that distract from this one true fellowship; but it still endures. Every believer that is indwelt by the Spirit of God is in this fellowship. The Church or Assembly of God is the fellowship of God’s Son, because it is founded on that very truth; Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16)! There is a solemn responsibility for those in it, to not dishonor His Name.
Paul’s method. Notice the way Paul leads into the following exhortations. He speaks of them being presented blameless, and then proceeds to blame them! He had a certain spiritual confidence in addressing them that comes from closely walking with the Lord. Paul is giving a model for a Christian pastor to follow in addressing failures seen in others. First commend what is of God, and remind the person of their standing in Christ and final glorious destiny. Then, address the disorder or dishonor that has come in. This is not to make light of the sin, but rather to leverage the new nature within the person that is struggling. A change in behavior is motivated by heightened awareness of our identity in Christ. But it is followed by gentle rebuke.
Paul’s prayers. Not including benedictory prayers at the ends of his epistles, Paul records twenty-eight of his prayers! It is nice to trace these prayers through his writings. We are very thankful for them because they give us:
- An insight into the heart of the apostle.
- A pattern for the way we should pray.
Thirteen of them are petitions (asking for something). Eleven of them are prayers of thanksgiving, like this one. Four of them are a combination of both: a note of thanks, then a request.