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Sunday, September 1, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:1-8

This is the first in a series of messages I plan to preach at the 55+ community where I minister each week. I edited it here for length and readability.

At the time of the apostle Paul’s missionary visit to Corinth, the city was both economically prosperous and culturally diverse. Sounds a lot like a lot of cities in America, doesn’t it? Corinth, like many large cities of the time, was a hotbed of sexual immorality and idolatry. Temple worship of Aphrodite involved a thousand ‘priestesses’ whose role in their worship amounted to what we would call common prostitution. So debauched was Corinth’s culture, the phrase ‘to Corinthianize’ was defined as living in sexual immorality. 

Sadly, many of the cultural norms were still practiced by some Corinthian church members. Divisiveness, drunkenness, spiritual arrogance, even the sexual sin of incest, condemned even by most pagans, were found among regular churchgoers. 

The Corinthians ate well, lived luxuriously, pursued pagan wisdom, athletic bodies, charismatic orators, and practiced a variety of sexual sins. For the quarter of a million residents in the city there were almost two slaves per person. 

What else could Corinth need? The gospel. Which is why God sent His servant, Paul, to them. Here is how he begins his letter. 

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 . . . 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 . . . so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Let’s look at his introduction. Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. At the very outset of his long letter of instruction, rebuke, guidance, encouragement, and challenge, he reminds them he is an apostle – a messenger of God sent to them by the Almighty. 

Paul's salutation is important. If his readers rejected his claim of divine calling, then nothing else he will say will have the power to convert them to godly and sanctified lifestyles. 

So it is the same with those in the church today – wherever the Church is. If we consider this letter – indeed, any of the Biblical books – simply the words of men and not the inerrant, infallible, transcultural, transcendent word of God, then we too can easily be seduced into a cafeteria-like grazing, taking what we like and passing by what we don’t like. 

Of God, or of men? 

The Lord Jesus asked the same question of the religious leaders who wanted to know where Jesus got His authority to teach about sin, righteousness, and judgment. “Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24-27) 

The Holy Spirit always asks us when we read the Scriptures – are we reading the word of God or the word of man? Our spiritual maturity depends on our answer. As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Notice please that last clause. The Scriptures perform their God-designed work only in those who believe them to be God’s word. 

What are the Scriptures for you? 

That’s a critical question, and we must decide our answer. The cultural sins that seeped into the Corinthian church are not dissimilar to the cultural sins that have seeped into the 21st century church. God addresses those damnable sins through Paul’s letter because God wants to spend eternity with us, His beloved. He does NOT want us to walk happily in our ignorance into the Lake of Fire. 

Let’s go back to the text: To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling. 

Paul reminds them that God has separated them from the surrounding culture and to that of the heavenly kingdom – of which they are now citizens. And because God calls them ‘sanctified,” He therefore also calls them saints – the Greek word means ‘holy ones.’ 

It is sad that some today think the term ‘saint’ is reserved only for the uber-sanctified, hyper-righteous Christians who are now in heaven after having lived exemplary lives. 

I agree that men and women such as St. Francis, St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Augustine, Saint Jerome, and St. Catherine of Sienna are worthy of that honorific title of Saint. But a problem I notice in some churches is people tend to focus attention on the ‘official’ saints of their church and, as a consequence, get to thinking they could never measure up to those great men and women of God in the past – so why keep trying?

Christian! Don’t let that devilish deception creep into your thoughts. When Paul called the Corinthian Christians ‘saints’ he was fully aware of the sins that had crept into their fellowship. He sent this letter to address those very sins. But the truth is, EVERYONE who has had a true conversion experience through their baptismal faith in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus for their sins – God calls them ‘saints.’ 

And He expects us to live as such. 

Furthermore, as saints, we have a sober responsibility to reflect Jesus to our culture, beginning at our workplace, our classroom, and in our neighborhood. I speak now of lifestyle, not the occasional fall into a sin, followed by repentance. But if our lifestyle doesn’t match our words, then we must ask God to chasten us and to change us. The reputation of Jesus the Christ should be high on our priority list. 

Now back to the text, and verse seven: “. . . you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Look again at that last clause: Awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s how the Greek verb is best translated. And why were the Corinthians eagerly await Christ’s return?  Because Jesus said He will return. For example, John 14:1-3 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” 

Here is what St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

The Corinthian Christians were eagerly anticipating the Lord’s shout, the voice of the archangel, and the final trumpet. But what about you? Are you eagerly waiting for it? Or has that eagerness cooled? 

It’s easy for that to happen. It happens to me all too often. We get so involved in the busyness of our days that thoughts of the Lord’s promised return drift further and further from our consciousness. But although we sometimes can't help getting cool in our anticipation of the Lord’s promised return, there is a proven method of warming up again – proven by the lives of multiple millions of Christians since the first century. 

That method? Prayerfully, meditatively, read the Scriptures, and especially those portions that promise His return – like the apocalyptic chapters of the gospels – for example, Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13, John 14, 1 Thessalonians 4, 2 Peter 3, and the book of Revelation. 

Paul had eagerly awaited the trumpet ever since he first met Jesus on that Damascus road. And in the last days of his life, he wrote these words of encouragement to Timothy – and to you and me who still wait: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Are you a child of God through your baptismal faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins? Then I urge you, with the help of God the Holy Spirit, keep the faith. Keep growing in your faith. Keep sharing your faith with others. 

I tell you on the authority of God’s holy, infallible and inerrant word: If you keep walking with Jesus, if you keep obeying Jesus, if you continue to confess your sins as often as the Holy Spirit shows you your sin – if you continue to do the right things, then there is laid up for you the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to you on that day; and not only to you, but also to all who have loved, who have eagerly awaited, His appearing.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

We will continue with chapter one next time.

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