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Sunday Sermon. – 1st Corinthians 1:1-3

16/10/2011

Paul Greets the Church
1st Corinthians 1:1-3

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: 3Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must begin our study by looking at the introduction to the book of 1st Corinthians in chapter 1, verses 1-3. This will be a difficult letter for Paul, for this church has so much in its favour. It is a large, flourishing church. It is set in the middle of a heathen city, and it has tremendous potential for evangelism. It is a church that has an abundance of spiritually gifted people. But it is a church which needs help. There are divisions in this church and there is carnality among the members and a lack of discipline. There are strange deviations in doctrine and laxity in morality, while there are also people who think that they are so spiritually superior that they have received everything from God in the ‘here and now’ and that there is nothing more to come in the ‘hereafter.’ All of these errors were hampering the fellowship and witness of the church. There is much that the modern church can learn from this epistle. So Paul begins his introduction in his usual manner, detailing briefly:-

His Call to be an apostle. He is called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ! Look quickly through the first chapter and see how many times in this introduction Paul refers to Christ! He was addressing some really awkward situations. He was dealing with some strong characters and some difficult individuals in this letter. There was a great need for wisdom and diplomacy and for tact. We would have applied all of our human resources of knowledge in such a situation. We would have discussed the best approach, we would have perhaps, tried to do psychological profiles of all the combatants in this strange church at Corinth. Paul’s approach was simple. It was simply to keep directing the people back to Christ! We cannot deal with difficult spiritual situations on our own, using our own mental abilities. We need to go to Christ, and to direct men to Him. Paul deals with all of the situations at Corinth in the light of Christ’s love and teaching.

His part in the plan and purpose of God, He is an apostle through the will of God.

His shared ministry. Sosthenes was with Paul. This man is described here as ‘our brother.’ He seems to have been someone who was well known to the members of the Corinthian church. There is only one other reference to someone of that name in the Bible, and that is in Acts. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. Acts 18:17 This Sosthenes was a Jewish leader at Corinth, when Paul was preaching there. Paul had addressed the Jews at the Synagogue, and their leader, one Crispus had come to Christ! He was replaced by a man called Sosthenes, who later led a riot, rebelling against the teaching of Paul, and protesting before the magistrates about the preaching of the Gospel. The authorities had no time for this complaint and had Sosthenes beaten. The next we hear of someone called Sosthenes, is this reference to someone who is a brother in the Lord in this epistle to Corinth. Could this be the same man? We don’t know! But we do know that the grace of God can reach all sorts of people, as Paul himself could testify!

He then addresses the letter, – to the church at Corinth, and it is in this address that we see the fundamental nature of the church at Corinth.

The Church – a Complete Entity!
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth. Before Paul begins to deal with the problems at Corinth, he needs to establish just what a church is, especially what such a church is IN CHRIST, before he can do anything else!

a) It is a church. It is the church of God, which is at Corinth! Not just a part of the church of God, or a synod of that church or a branch of a church. It is the church of God! This local church is an entire and complete church. Now in order to understand this properly we need to know the origin of this word church. It is a translation of the Greek word (ecclesia). I first noticed this word when I was studying the history of ancient Greece. It was the term used for the assembly of the people, the place where the common people of the city of Athens could meet and exercise democracy. (In Acts Paul addressed the areopagus at Athens, the place where the aristocrats met, almost like the British House of Lords Acts 17:19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?). In the scriptures the word ecclesia usually refers to the local church, THE VISIBLE CHURCH as we see it gathered, Sunday-by-Sunday. The body of Christ is made up of believers from a number of separate visible, local churches, each governing their own affairs. But the local church is an assembly of believers. It is a single, complete church.

b) It is a local church. Paul was writing to the church at Corinth and that local church was God’s ordained way of evangelising the city of Corinth. Paul did not organise the ‘Paul the Apostle Evangelistic Association’ and put up a big tent in Corinth and begin a crusade. There are God ordained methods of carrying out the work of the Lord. The responsibility and privilege of service lies primarily with the local church! So it is in the Bible!

c) It is the Lord’s Church. Paul speaks here of the Church of GOD which is at Corinth! This is the Lord’s Church and Christ is its head! It is not Paul’s church! He could have claimed some ownership over it. He had been the missionary who had gone forth into that pagan society and bravely stood up against all the opposition from the idolaters and the heathens and the Jews and the Romans. He would have had some justification in claiming ownership over this church. But to Paul, the church at Corinth was primarily GOD’S CHURCH! It is a lesson we all have to learn!

I remember being a guest preacher for a series of meetings at a church in County Down, Northern Ireland a number of years ago. I quickly discovered that a strange ‘atmosphere’ prevailed among the leaders of the assembly. Not many days had gone by before some of the members of that congregation began to indicate that something was seriously wrong in the assembly. It turned out that one of the members of the church, who had been around the church for quite a few years, and whose father had been a member of the assembly before him, was blocking progress on some essential building repairs. When the necessary work had been brought up at the church meeting, he had risen to his feet, outraged that the proposed plans would alter the appearance of the inside of the building a little. “Over my dead body! This will never happen,” he raged! “This hall has always been like this, and my father built it this way, and it will look like this till the day I die!”

He had forgotten a very basic principle, which Paul acknowledges here. The church is not ours, it is the Lords, and we must always remember that, and we must always seek the Lord’s will in our plans for His church. We need to remember that we are not the owners of the church; we are the stewards of God’s spiritual house. When we govern the church, we must be careful, for what we have in our hands is a precious thing, it is the Lord’s possession! We can never claim any ownership or headship over the church, for God will never share His glory with any man! I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Isaiah 42:8
Now, having described the nature of the church, Paul goes on to write about the constituent membership of the church. He describes for us, what the people who make up that church will be like:-

The Church – A Called-Out Entity
To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints
a) The church is to be separated! We are to be a sanctified church. It means to be consecrated! Nowadays there are some preachers who preach separation, but sadly it is often presented as a one-sided doctrine, what we are to be separated FROM. And it is true, that the believer must be separated from sin, and from the world, and from error in doctrine and practice. But that is only part of the teaching. It is vitally important that we do not forget that we are to be SEPERATED UNTO CHRIST! We are to be set apart to serve Him. We are to be ‘On the Lord’s side,’ we are to grow in grace, to become closer to Christ every day of our lives! Perhaps if preachers and ministers would teach the Christian believers about progressive sanctification, and urge them to practice being in the presence of God, then they would grow closer to him and further from the world, and they would do so without having to be lectured on the ‘rules’ of separation. The Hymnwriter expressed it well.

Oh for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame.
A light to shine along the road,
that leads me to the lamb

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

So shall my walk be close to God,
Calm and serene my frame.
So purer light shall mark the road,
That leads me to the Lamb.

b) The whole concept of a church is related to the word called! Paul makes it clear that these Corinthians were ‘called to be saints!’ In Athens the original Greek ecclesia was a called out assembly and so you did not enter the assembly without an invitation. When the assembly was to meet, the officials of the assembly went forth and summoned its members together. So it is with the church! It is an assembly of believers who have been called out by the Lord! There is an interesting play on words here in the verse. Paul talks of these people having been called by the Lord to be saints, and in the next breath he tells us that we are part of a larger group of people who have ‘called on the Lord for salvation!’ This is the very essence of salvation! Here is seen both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man! It is the Lord who calls us to Him, (w) and it is man who responds to that divine call by in turn calling upon the Lord for salvation! Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Isaiah 55:6 . Sinner! Have you hard the call of the Lord? If you hear his voce calling, do not hesitate! Call on him! The psalmist said, I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. Psalm 18:3
Now there is no other way to be a member of the church! Having your name on the church role, or partaking of the sacraments will not make you a member of the true church. We must know the call of God, and respond to it by calling upon Him for mercy and forgiveness.

The Church – A Connected Entity!
With all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.

We are connected with other local churches! Although the local church as described in the Scriptures is a complete unit, operating without outside interference, it is nevertheless not unrelated to other like-minded churches! There is a link between the church at Corinth and the church worldwide. The congregation at Corinth is in a relationship with the other churches, and there is one sole reason that this is the case, and that is that the true church universal has one Lord and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ! We have looked at the meaning of the word ‘church.’ It has a secondary meaning in the Scriptures. It also refers to the total church, as God sees it, and as we will see it in eternity. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, Hebrews 12:23. Hebrews 12:23 refers to the INVISIBLE CHURCH. All over the world there are true believers in Christ, saints who have heard God’s voice and responded to him and accepted Christ as Saviour. He is their Lord and He is OUR LORD! We have this in common; that we serve the one Saviour, and one day we will be together in glory with Him.

We are connected with each other in our local church! What is our part in this church, this gathering of called out individuals, all growing together in Christ? What links us a Christians is our love for the Lord and our desire to serve Him! When we know the Lord as our Saviour, we are His, we are part of God’s family, brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is an organic unity between us! Let us be sure to think well of this family that God has given us, and to be often in their company and in the company of our Heavenly Father!

Thomas Brooks, the old Puritan writer tells of how a Christian lady was dying. All through her Christian life she had kept herself to herself, and made few friends among the people of God. She went to the service of worship, but her practice was to attend the service, alone, sit alone, and go home after the service alone. Her minister came to offer her comfort in her last hours, and having heard of her faith in Christ he reassured her of a place in God’s heaven, where she would be at home with the Lord, and with the redeemed saints in glory. “Ah minister,” she replied, “I have no relations there! No, not so much as a gossip or acquaintance; and as I know nobody there, I’d a great deal sooner stop with you and my other neighbours than go and live among strangers.” Let us not be strangers among our brothers and sisters in the Lord!

Now Paul offers them a blessing. He says Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 1:3 Grace means the unmerited favour of God, and peace is the result of that favour, working in the heart of the Christian. These two great blessings only come from God our father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

So Paul has described the church. He has examined its local nature, its composition in that it comprises within it believers whom the Lord has called to be his, and who in turn have cried to Him for salvation, and he has seen the bigger picture, as God sees His church, it in its universality.

From → Sermon Notes

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