1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,…
I. THE WRITER — "Paul, an Apostle," &c.
1. An apostle is one sent, as Christ was sent by the Father (1 John 17:18). It was therefore an office no one could take to himself, nor was it promotion from previous service. This explains one of Paul's most prominent characteristics: the combination of humility and authority. He is "not worthy to be called an apostle," yet he never hesitates to assert his claim to be listened to as the ambassador of Christ. And this is for us all the source of humility and confidence. It is altogether a new strength with which a man is inspired when he knows that God calls him to do this or that.
2. What share in the letter Sosthenes had we cannot say. He may have written it, and he may have suggested a point here and there. Paul did not stay to inquire whether Sosthenes was qualified to be the author of a canonical book; but knowing the authoritative position he had held among the Jews of Corinth, he naturally conjoins his name with his own.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THIS LETTER IS ADDRESSED (ver. 2).
1. With them are joined "all that in every place," &c. And therefore we may gather that Paul would have defined the Church as those who "call upon the name of Jesus Christ." This implies trust in Him, and acknowledgment of Him as supreme Lord. It is this which brings men together as a Christian Church.
2. But at once we are confronted with the difficulty that many persons who call upon the name of the Lord do so with no conviction of their need, and with no real dependence upon Christ or allegiance to Him. Hence the distinction between the Church visible, which consists of all who nominally belong to the Christian community, and the Church invisible. Where the visible Church is its members can be counted, its property estimated, its history written. But of the invisible Church no man can fully write the history, or name the members, or appraise its properties, gifts, and service.
3. From the earliest times it has been said that the true Church must be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. That is true if the Church invisible be meant. But it is not true of the Church visible. Paul here gives us four notes which must always be found in the true Church.
(1) It is composed of consecrated people. The word "sanctify" means that which is set apart to holy uses. The New Testament word for Church, ecclesia, a society "called out," shows that it exists not for common purposes, but to witness for God and Christ and to maintain before men the ideal life realised in Christ.
(2) Its members are called to be "saints." This Church was in danger of forgetting this. One of its members had been guilty of immorality; and of him Paul says, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Even with sinners of a less flagrant sort, no communion was to be held. No doubt there is risk and difficulty in administering this law. The graver hidden sin may be overlooked, the more obvious transgression be punished. But the duty of the Church to maintain its sanctity is undeniable, and those whose function it is to watch over the purity of the Church would be saved from all doubtful action were the individual members alive to the necessity of holy living.
(3) It is to be found not in one country or age, in this or that Church, whether it assume the title of "Catholic" or national, but is composed of "all that in every place," &c. No visible Church can claim to be catholic on the ground of its being co-extensive with Christendom. Catholicity is not a matter of more or less; it cannot be determined by a majority. No Church which does not claim to contain the whole of Christ's people without exception can claim to be catholic.
(4) The Lord of all the Churches is one Lord; in this allegiance they centre, and by it are held together in a true unity. Plainly this note can belong only to the Church invisible. It is doubtful whether a visible unity is desirable. Considering what human nature is and how liable men are to be imposed upon by what is large, it is probably quite as conducive to the spiritual well-being of the Church that she is broken up into parts. Outward divisions would sink into insignificance, and be no more bewailed than the division of an army into regiments, were there the real unity which springs from true allegiance to the common Lord and zeal for the common cause rather than for the interests of our own particular Church. And Christian people are beginning to see how much more important are those points on which the whole Church is agreed than those which split the Church into sects.
4. Paul, with his usual courtesy and tact, begins with a hearty acknowledgment of the distinctive excellences of the Corinthian Church (vers. 4-6).
(1) Paul was one of those large-natured men who rejoice more in the prosperity of others than in any private good fortune. Paul's joy was to see the testimony he had borne to Christ's goodness and power confirmed by the new energies and capacities in those who believed his testimony. The gifts of the Corinthian Christians made it manifest that the Divine presence and power proclaimed by Paul were real. And it is the new life of believers now which most strongly confirms the testimony regarding the risen Christ.
(2) It is somewhat ominous that the incorruptible honesty of Paul can only acknowledge their possession of "gifts," not of those fine Christian graces which distinguished others. But the grace of God must always adjust itself to the nature of the recipient. The Greek nature was lacking in seriousness and moral robustness; but for many centuries it had been trained to excel in intellectual and oratorical displays. These natural gifts were quickened and directed by grace. Each race has its own contribution to make to complete the full-grown Christian manhood.(a) Paul thanked God for their gift of utterance. Perhaps had he lived now he might have had a word to say in praise of silence. There is more than a risk nowadays that talk takes the place of thought and action. But this utterance was a great gift. In no other language could Christian ideas have found such adequate and beautiful expression. And in this Paul saw promise of a rapid and effective propagation of the gospel. Legitimately may we hope for the Church when she so apprehends her own wealth in Christ as to be stirred to invite all the world to share with her.(b) But utterance is well backed by knowledge. Often has the determination to satisfy the intellect with Christian truth been reprehended as idle and even wicked. The faith which accepted testimony was a gift of God, but so also was the knowledge which sought to recommend the contents of this testimony to the human mind.
(3) But however rich in endowments the Corinthians must be made to feel that no endowment can dispense with the necessity of conflict with sin. Richly endowed men are often most exposed to temptation, and feel more keenly than others the real hazard of human life. Paul therefore assigns as the reason of his assurance that they will be blameless in the day of Christ, that "God is faithful," &c. God calls us with a purpose in view, and is faithful to that purpose. He calls us to the fellowship of Christ that we may learn of Him and become suitable agents to carry out the whole will of Christ.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,