1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,…
As usual in Paul's Epistles, this preface contains the name of the writer, the persons addressed, and a prayer for blessing. We have -
I. APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY. Paul's authority as an apostle was disparaged by some at Corinth, who regarded him as inferior to the twelve. Each of the opposing factions had its favourite teacher (ver. 12), and party spirit led them to decry all but their own. In opposition to this, the apostle opens his letter by presenting his credentials. As an apostle, he was:
1. Called. He had not taken this office of himself.
2. Called by Jesus Christ. He had not been elected by the Church, nor commissioned by any of the twelve, but had been directly appointed and consecrated by the Lord himself. "Not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father" (Galatians 1:1).
3. Called through the will of God. This is the ultimate ground. His apostleship rests on Divine authority. In thus magnifying his office (Romans 11:13), Paul shows his own humility. Learn:
(1) Every true worker has a call to his work. This is true of secular as of spiritual work. Natural aptitude, hereditary position, providential circumstances, may clearly indicate to each man his calling. For spiritual office there must be a spiritual call - the call of Christ. What mischief is done in the Church and in the world by men intruding into office without a call!
(2) The consciousness of this call is a source of strength. Let a man be assured that he is doing the work assigned him by God, and nothing will stand before him; but if he doubts, he is weak. The apostle, the preacher, the missionary, the teacher, need above all to have this assurance.
(3) Look well to the credentials of all that profess to speak in the Name of Christ. "Prove the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). To follow a false prophet is as dangerous as the refusal to listen to a true one.
II. MARKS OF THE CHURCH. The description of those to whom Paul writes gives us some notes of the Church of Christ. Its members are:
1. Called. This designation is implied in the word translated "Church" (ἐκκλησία), which is the body of those that have been called out from the world. There is an outer and an inner call - the invitation of the gospel addressed to all, and the effectual call of the Holy Spirit in compliance with which the sinner arises and comes to Christ. This last is the call referred to here. Every believer has come out from his old position in obedience to a Divine summons. The work of grace in the heart is not a thing of constraint. It is a call addressed to men with such sweetly persuasive power that they cannot but come to him who calls (comp. ver. 9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 5:10).
2. Consecrated. This is the root thought in the words "sanctify" and "saints." The believer is separated from the world by the Divine call and set apart for God. Israel was the people of Jehovah, sacred to him. Animals devoted in sacrifice could never be turned to any common use. Even so Christians are "not their own" (1 Corinthians 5:19, 20), but "living sacrifices" unto God (Romans 12:1). They are "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:9). What a powerful factor in Christian life should this thought of consecration be! Devoted in Christ Jesus unto God!
3. Holy. This follows naturally from the foregoing mark. Consecration and holiness are the elements of sanctification. Believers are called to holiness (1 Peter 1:15). They are separated from the world in standing that they may be separated from it in character (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). The Church at Corinth existed in the midst of a community that was fearfully corrupt. How significant for them these marks of consecration and holiness! Their Christian life could not be safe if they did not hold themselves aloof from the evil around them, and regard themselves as holy unto the Lord. Believers now, as then, must keep themselves" unspotted from the world," for the sake of their spiritual health and their mission as the "salt of the earth."
4. Prayerful. They "call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." They worship him as Lord. This is the distinguishing mark of Christians everywhere. They "honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23). The believer is a man of prayer. Jesus Christ is to him a living Presence, near to hear and help. He worships him in the manifested glory of his person and perfection of his work. A prayerless Christian is a contradiction in terms.
5. One in a common Lord. The Church Catholic is one in Christ. True unity does not consist in anything outward, as in a visible head, an identical creed, a uniform government; but in spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence geographical divisions, denominational differences, do not destroy the Church's unity. All believers are branches of the same vine (John 15:5), members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:12). The diverging radii of the circle find their point of union in the centre. A rebuke to the spirit of faction so strong in the Corinthian Church. A warning against the narrowing influence of country or sect. The Church is not a mere club. The communion of saints is fellowship "with all that call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ." These marks suggest:
(1) The distinction between the Church visible and the Church invisible. The Church visible consists of all that profess the religion of Christ, among whom there may be many that are not true believers. The Church invisible consists of all that are in living union with Christ the Head - all that have the marks here given. Paul addresses the actual Christian community at Corinth as "the Church of God," although it was disfigured by many corruptions. A field of wheat may have many weeds growing in it, but you still call it a field of wheat. The field as it is is a picture of the Church visible; remove the weeds so as to leave nothing but the pure wheat, and you have the Church invisible. There never has been a perfectly pure Church on earth. While striving to debar from her communion all that is manifestly unholy, absolute purity can never be laid down as a test of whether a Church is true or false.
(2) A test of Christian profession. Have we the marks here specified? Have we been called? Are we consecrated? etc.
III. THE APOSTOLIC BENEDICTION. "Grace to you and peace." This is the usual form of the apostolic blessing (Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:2, etc.). Sometimes there is added "mercy" (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2); and in Jude 1:2 we have "mercy, peace, and love." Grace and peace include all the blessings of salvation.
1. Grace. The grace of God is a manifestation of love. It is the free kindness of God towards the guilty and ill deserving. Grace and Mercy are twin sisters sent forth by Love to bless sinful men. They come to us hand in hand, alike, yet different. Grace looks upon the guilty and speaks words of pardon; Mercy looks upon the miserable and stretches out the hand of pity. The idea of grace runs through the whole work of redemption from beginning to end. In purpose, plan, progress, perfection, - all is of grace. The prayer that grace may be to a Christian means that he may realize and make his own the grace of God in all the fulness of its manifestation. Grace as a principle in the heart, the inner working of the Holy Spirit, enables us to appropriate the grace of God in Christ. The apostolic wish covers the whole of the Christian life, more particularly:
(1) The grace that justifies. We are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). "It is of faith, that it may be according to grace" (Romans 4:16). Faith brings us immediate pardon and acceptance with God for the sake of Jesus Christ; yet this is not always realized as a fact. The consciousness and comfort of this will not be enjoyed till it is seen how thoroughly it is of grace.
(2) The grace that sanctifies. Sin as a polluting and perverting power must be overcome, and the fair features of our Father brought clearly out. This also is of grace. Christ was made unto us sanctification (ch. 1:30), and this becomes ours through the gracious operation of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). Grace reigns where formerly sin reigned (Romans 5:21),
(3) The grace that strengthens (2 Timothy 2:1).
(a) In service (Philippians 4:13).
(b) In temptation (Hebrews 2:18).
(c) In trouble (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(d) In death (Psalm 23:4; 1 Corinthians 15:57).
(4) The grace that glorifies (Psalm 84:11).
2. Peace. Peace is the fruit of grace. It may be regarded as covering all the blessings which grace bestows. The angels sang of "Peace on earth" (Luke 2:14), as the sum of the good things to be brought by the Prince of Peace. It includes:
(1) Peace with God. (Romans 5:1.) By faith we are justified, our sins being put away and we ourselves accepted as righteous; and thus we are "reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). Henceforth there is friendship between us and God. We become sons of God (Romans 8:14-17), and have "fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). There is a mutual love between God and us, as between father and child. This leads to:
(2) Peace within ourselves. The knowledge that we are reconciled to God begets an inward calm. We are filled with "peace in believing" (Romans 15:13). "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, guards our hearts and our thoughts in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). Christ gives us his own peace (John 14:27) - that ineffable oneness with the Father in which his own deep joy lay; and this peace rules in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). Such a peace springs only from reconciliation to God. "There is no peace unto the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22). Only when men discovered that the sun is the centre of our planetary system did all its parts move in harmony; only when our nature finds its centre in Christ is it truly at peace with itself. Grace and peace come to us "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The gifts of grace come to us from God, but only through Jesus Christ. The inspired writers never hesitate to join the Name of Christ with that of God the Father. The true Godhood of our Lord is everywhere taken for granted, rather than formally asserted. How great must be the grace and the peace that come to us thus! - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,