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TEXT: I Corinthians 1:1-9
SUBJECT: I Corinthians #1: What Paul Thinks of the Church
What do you think of the church? If you want to find fault with her, it won't take much looking, and some of the faults are very serious. This applies both the Church Universal and to the local church-including the one you're sitting in at the moment. There are plenty of things wrong with the Church, always have been and always will be. Until Jesus comes. Theologians speak of the Church on Earth as 'the Church Militant'-always at war, and not always winning.
But I didn't ask you, 'What's wrong with the Church?' I asked you, 'What do you think of the Church?' Some have dismissed it as irrelevant to today's world and counterproductive to God's saving mission. The President of Family Radio takes this view to the extreme; many others are more moderate. They don't hate or despise the church, but they can't see how it matters all that much or how it affects their personal walk with Jesus.
I know the word, 'community' has been overused in recent years, but the fact remains: we are saved in community and for community. Heaven is not a monastery, with millions of saints holed up by themselves adoring the Beatific Vision. Heaven is a Dinner Party with the saints enjoying God's company-and each others'!
So, back to the question: 'What do you think of the Church?' Me? By nature, I'm a loner, but by grace, I'm a church member! I'm connected to you, the sister to your right, the brother to your left, the kids in the back, and to all the Elect, living, dead, and not yet born. I'm not a good churchman, but I want to be. What Timothy Dwight wrote in that wonderful hymn, I want to sing from the heart-
I love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The House of Thine abode,
The Church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
This brings us to I Corinthians, and what I hope will be a series of sermons that praises Jesus Christ and serves His Body the Church.
The first nine verses tell us what Paul thought of the Church-of that particular church with its wide array of real and grave problems. The structure is easy to spot: vv.1-3 are the Greeting; vv.4-9, the Thanksgiving.
Paul is the author of this Letter. On this point, all modern scholars agree. He says it's his letter and it reads like his letter, because it is his letter. No letter is less likely to be forged that this one because the Corinthians knew Paul well; he stayed there longer than any other place, and they recognized his way of speaking (and writing).
Having said who he is, Paul goes on to describe himself in two ways. He is-
Called by the will of God.
To be an Apostle of Jesus Christ
The key word is 'called'; he's going to use two more times in the next verse. To be 'called' by God is to be separated from other men.
There were thousands or millions of people in Mesopotamia, but only one of them-Abraham-was called to quit his home and inherit the promises. There were many nations, but only Israel was called to be 'God's peculiar people'. Many dared to speak for God, but only the prophets were 'called' to the office. And, of course, there were many self-made Messiahs in the world, but only Jesus was 'called' to the work.
Paul is a 'separated' man-and he didn't separate himself and no man or men separated him to the Apostolic ministry. It was God Himself who called him and Jesus Christ who placed him in the Apostolate.
Paul is a special man, singled out for God's favor. He makes the same point in other place, most strikingly in Galatians 1 where he claims to be-
Separated from my mother's womb
And called by God's grace.
This echoes Israel's primeval history, when God separated Abraham from the idolatrous masses in Ur; He separated Isaac from his illegitimate brother, Ishmael; and He separated Jacob from his twin brother Esau. This all points to Israel itself, separated from other nations and called to the high destiny of being-
A kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a light to the Gentiles.
The Old Covenant could make the promise; it could not enact it. But Jesus has come as the Mediator of the New Covenant, and ratified by His blood, it enabled Paul to become what God wanted His people to be-called, set apart from others to honor the Lord in the world an to bring the world to Him.
What is true of Paul is equally true of the Corinthians. The New Covenant-you see-is not about setting a man apart, or even a few men, but a whole nation, a nation not tied together by a common history and DNA, but by a shared fellowship with Christ. Thus, Paul names the Corinthians-
The Church of God
Sanctified in Christ Jesus
Called to be saints
The 'Church' is more than the saved spread out and counted individually; it is God's gathered people. Before the coming of Christ, God's people were scattered all over the world, like sheep without a shepherd. But when the Shepherd came, His sheep knew His voice, and gathered to it in churches all over the world. Why not stay where you are, alone? Because the Shepherd calls the sheep together. Sheep are herd animals-and not like cats! This is why the Bible does not refer to us as God's litter; no, we're God's Flock! Listen to Psalm 100-
We are His people
And the sheep of His pasture.
Corinth was an important city with important people doing important things. The Temples, the Senate, the courtrooms, the colleges, all magnificent assemblies! But over in the corner somewhere, likely in a man's home or a rented school room, you find an assembly of nobodies, who are-in fact-the Church of God, a colony of Heaven, a New Human Race, who, unlike the old one will inherit the earth!
The Church of God in Corinth was also-
Sanctified in Christ Jesus.
'Sanctify' is a religious word; it means 'to set apart for holiness, another way of saying, to set apart for God's use'. In the Old Testament, most sanctified things were inanimate objects: pots and pans and oils and garments. The pans weren't made of 'sanctified' metal, but the same bronze a housewife's pot was made of. But God took the pan and-by His taking it-it became holy.
What God did to pots and pans in the Old Testament, He now does for people. He takes people-just as we are-and by taking us, He makes us holy, 'just as we aren't'.
Because we're set aside for God's purposes, we can be justly-
It is what we are in status, and what we really become in time.
By calling us to Himself, God puts us in good company-
With all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
People who used to be alienated, 'on the outside looking in' are now inside the Covenant, in the Church, in Christ.
Recognizing what the Corinthians already have, Paul can only wish them more of it-
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We already have God's favor; Paul wants us to keep it and abound in it. We already have His peace, but you can never have too much of that!
These blessings come equally from the Father and Jesus, and this can only mean that Father and Jesus share a common Divinity. Jesus is a good man, but He's more than that! He is also God, as the Shorter Catechism says-
The same in essence, equal in power and glory.
THE THANKSGIVING FOR GIFTS
No sooner does Paul remember these dear people, what they are to him-and what they are to God-than He thanks the Lord for them. It is very hard to think of people as 'saints' and the rest and then grumble about them or resent them! The Corinthians are wonderfully gifted-
In speech, in knowledge, not lacking in any spiritual gift.
People who are lacking in some areas of life sometime envy those who are well supplied in them. Paul doesn't feel this way at all! He is truly thankful for what they have. Later, he's going to criticize some of what they're doing with their gifts, but he doesn't deny or minimize the gifts or wish people more worthy had them.
THANKSGIVING FOR GOD'S FAITHFULNESS
As thankful as he is for God's gifts, what Paul most appreciates is His faithfulness. God has welcomed the Corinthians into His fellowship and He will keep them in it-in spite of their follies and sins.
The God who was loyal to His messed-up saints back then remains faithful to us today. Jesus gives us eternal life-and no man takes it away from us! Not even ourselves!
WHAT THINK YE?
If you've read I Corinthians, you know Paul has a lot of issues with the church. In the next few pages, he's going to chide them, correct them, bawl them out, and knock them in the head for their faults. But before he does any of that, he's going to love and appreciate them, and recognize God's grace at work in their life.
Before we start assessing individual Christians and the Church and 'setting them straight', we need to remember who they are. This will not keep us from correcting when it's called for, but it will enable us to correct in the right way, right both in love and humility, and in a way that's likely to work.
THE PROBLEM WITH PEALE, SCHULLER, AND OSTEEN
In some ways, preachers of self-esteem have overdone it. Wanting to 'affirm' people, they have ignored their vices and exaggerated their virtues. But, in a deeper way, they have underdone things! The problem with Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen is they're too negative! They see us as good people, but we're not that-no one who's honest will say he's good. What we are is something a lot better than good. We're-
The church of God.
Sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Called to be saints.
Let us, therefore, glory in the Lord and not ourselves. And let us respect and love for another for what they are.in Christ.
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