Paul the apostle was well-known to the Christians at Corinth. He’d ministered there for 18 months only a few years before. Paul lived in Corinth around AD 53 and at Ephesus, where he wrote the letter we call 1Corinthians, from AD 55-56. Some of what he dealts with in the letter were concerns the church had actually asked him about while other topics were concerns Paul had heard about from believers who were from Corinth or had recently traveled through there.
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I doubt the Corinthians were surprised to receive this letter. Paul had already written one letter which was not preserved for us. Paul was the first to present the gospel in Corinth,, so many of the members of the church in Corinth were the fruit of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:1-4). Paul wrote with apostolic authority. By the will of God, he had been chosen and called as an apostle, so he wrote with full authority and his words were not to be ignored.
Paul addressed his letter to the church at Corinth and then proceeded to define the church. We ought to pay close attention to that definition. Paul asserted that the church belongs to God. It didn’t belong to the pastor or the members. The church at Corinth belonged to God as our churches today should belong to God. God is the One who brought the church into existence through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. God is the One who sustains His church. It is God’s church.
The “church” is defined in two categories: (a) the local church and (b) the church universal. The local church is that body of believers who gather regularly in one place. The “universal church” consists of all believers in every place and in the whole course of church history. But we recognize that Paul defined the church as (a) “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling,” and (b) “all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 2).
The first category roughly correlates with “the local church.”, but when Paul spoke of the church, he simply referred to a group of believers. Sometimes this group was a “house church,” a group of believers meeting in a certain person’s home (Romans 16:5, 19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). These “house churches” may have met in a larger gathering, as did the saints in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46). Then, Paul referred to the “city church,” — the group of all believers in a particular city (Revelation 2 and 3) or the church at a particular city (Acts 11:22; 13:1; 18:22; Romans 16:1). This is the way Paul referred to the Corinthian church, the “church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1). Finally, Paul spoke of the church as all those living at one time, who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Our view of the church is sometimes too narrow (the local church—our church) and sometimes too broad (all those who have ever lived and trusted in Christ for salvation). We pray for our missionaries, the missionaries we have sent out from our local church, or more broadly, from our denominational group. A few churches share with those in need within their own fellowship or local church. When the new believers (the church) at Antioch heard a famine was coming upon the world, they enthusiastically began to prepare to give to their brethren in Judea. They understood, even at this early stage in their growth and maturity, that the church is bigger than the local congregation.
In this broader sense of the church, Paul’s epistle, though addressed to the saints at Corinth, was also written to the church at large. Look once again at the first two verses of Paul’s salutation: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
This broader element in Paul’s salutation is important because Paul’s teaching to the saints at Corinth is just as applicable and authoritative for the church at Philippi, Ephesus, Dallas or Fairbanks, Alaska. Too many have tried to avoid Paul’s teaching in his Corinthians letters by insisting he was speaking to a very special and unique problem found only in Corinth. This simply does not square with Paul’s words. His instructions to the Corinthians apply to every other saint, those who lived then and those who live now.
I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s not a standard reaction to express thanksgiving when a church has begun to listen to false teachers and is challenging godly authority. The church at Corinth was condoning immorality and unconditionally accepting a man whose sin shocked even the unbelieving pagans of that city. This church’s personal conflicts were being aired out before unbelieving eyes in secular courts. How could Paul possibly give thanks?
The point is to understand what Paul gave thanks for. He wasn’t praising the sins and failures of these saints. He thanked God for what He had done and for what He will ultimately do for His children. Paul gave thanks for the “grace of God,” which He has given the saints in Christ Jesus (verse 4). Grace is unmerited favor, and we must surely agree that these Corinthian saints were as unworthy of that grace as we are in the 21st century. The good things which have already been accomplished, and all those good things yet to be accomplished, are manifestations of God’s infinite grace, bestowed upon those who are unworthy.
That in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s grace to the saints in Corinth and everywhere was boundless. He enriched them in everything. They were enriched in all speech and all knowledge, achieved through the preaching of the “testimony of Christ,” as it was confirmed in the individual believer. The Corinthians had no critical need for which God had not made provision through the preaching of Christ. Were there false teachers who indicated the Corinthians were lacking and that they needed more of something? Any who taught that were liars! God had already provided all that was necessary for “life and godliness” in Christ (2 Peter 1:2-4). No gift was lacking in the church. God had provided just the right gifts for the growth, maturity and ministry of the saints in Corinth. If the church at Corinth was failing, it was not due to any failure on God’s part to provide for their needs, but rather a failure on their part to properly claim and use those resources.
Finally, Paul expressed his thanksgiving for the faithfulness of God and the resulting assurance that He would complete that which He had begun in the Corinthian saints (verses 7-9).
These saints were eagerly awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (7a). Their salvation had not only past and present benefits, referred to earlier, but a future hope. Their salvation and security were God’s doing. Consequently, Paul had great confidence concerning this church and the future of each saint. Paul thanked God because He would confirm these saints to the end. What God had started, He would finish. They were secure, and their hope was certain, just as Peter also wrote:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
While these Corinthian saints weren’t consistently faithful, 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 blamelessly into His kingdom in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In spite of the stumbling and sin which is evident in the Corinthian church, God had saved the saints there. He had sufficiently provided for their every spiritual need, purposing to present them faultless when He establishes His kingdom. Paul was assured that his ministry was not in vain, because the salvation and sanctification of the saints in Corinth and elsewhere are the work of God. The God who called these saints and destined them for glory was the same God who called Paul to be an apostle and to minister to these saints. Paul’s work was not in vain, for his work was ultimately God’s work.
Paul wrote to a very troubled church, a church which existed in the midst of a very corrupt city and culture. In spite of this, Paul had a very confident mood as he addressed the saints at Corinth and around the world of his day and ours. Despite the weaknesses and willful sins of these saints, Paul did not question the reality of their conversion, but began his letter by affirming the present and future benefits of their salvation. These saints needed to be reminded of the certainty of their salvation, the foundation of which rested not within themselves, but in the One who called them and the One who will complete all that He has begun. This certainty assured Paul that his continued ministry to this church was not in vain.
Reading this letter, we ought to reject the myth of the perfect New Testament church. The New Testament 21st century churches face many of the same challenges. We are shepherded by individual pastors, meeting in different buildings in many different cities and countries, but we recognize Christ as the only Head of the church. So often Christians look back to the New Testament times as though the church in those days was nearly perfect. If you read the Book of Acts the way I do, there is a wonderful period of bliss in the infancy of the church, but this lasted only from late in chapter 2 to the end of chapter 4. In chapter 5, a couple was struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. In chapter 6, there was strife between two groups of Jewish Christians over the care of their widows. By the time we get to the Corinthian church, it was far from perfect and hardly what could be called good.The final words of our Lord to the seven churches of Asia in
The final words of our Lord to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3 are not complimentary either. The church was not perfect in New Testament times, and it is far from perfect today. The same sins which Paul exposed in 1 and 2 Corinthians are present and evident in evangelical churches today. And so Paul’s words of admonition and correction are just as applicable to us today as they were to the saints of his day.
We deceive ourselves if we think we can retreat within the church walls to escape the evils of the world. The Corinthians letters inform us that the world easily and quickly finds its way into the church. The church is not the place where we go to escape from sin. It’s where we should go to confront our sin and stimulate each other to love and good deeds. The church should be a spiritual hospital, where we can find help and healing through the ministry of the Word and prayer.