Grace and peace to you
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Key Verse 1:3
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul had never in his life imagined doing what he ended up doing in life— following Jesus Christ and preaching him among the people of the world, both among the Jews as well as the none-Jews who were known as Gentiles. He had once set out to exterminate those who called themselves Christians. He had thought that by doing so he was fulfilling the will of God, doing what God wanted him to do. But of course, he was wrong. Why God decided to intervene in Paul’s life to stop him from continuing in the course of life he had chosen for himself, no one knows, except God himself. Why God changed Paul from a angry and hateful murderer into one of the most blessed Gospel workers of all time, no one knows, except God. But we call this kind of intervention from God “Grace”. God’s one-sided grace— one-sided favor— to Paul. God simply singled him out, opened his eyes to see his own error, opened his heart to understand the Gospel, and enabled him to accept the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. God simply did all that for Paul, and even more. God then called him— also by his “Grace” to become Jesus’ servant and to bring this Gospel of God’s grace to the whole world. And when Paul realized this wonderful gift of God to a sinful man like himself, he did not try to make sense of it. He simply accepted it, and launched his life in a new direction. Now he began to follow Jesus and to preach this marvelous grace wherever he went.
The city of Corinth was one of those places God had led him to bring the Gospel of Jesus to. And he did. He first preached the Gospel to the Jews there, and later focused on the Gentiles of the city, the Corinthian people who were living their lives like everywhere else in the world of the time, in utter decadence. And because of Paul’s preaching, many had converted to the Christian faith, and a church then rose up among them. We understand from the letter which Paul wrote them from Ephesus where he was at the time that it was not the first time he had written them. The letter is lost to us, but we know that they had written him back. It seems that they were having many problems in that church and they had brought to Paul a number of their issues and concerns for his advice. And this letter which became known as 1st Corinthians, is the response of Paul to those issues which they had brought to his attention. When we read the letter we see that they were plagues with such things as division within the church. They also had issues of immorality arising among them. They also had issues of leadership and such. Paul’s letter to them gives them much good advice on how to handle such church problems. But then towards the end of the letter we see Paul writing one of the most magnificent chapters to ever be written— a treatise on the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it was more than just an exposition on the Gospel. It was Paul’s effort at solving all problems. In that famous chapter Paul reminds them of what Jesus had done for them. He reminds them of what they had once believed which had touched their hearts and had transformed them into the people of God that they became. He also gives them spiritual perspective— Eternal life and the kingdom of God— thereby helping them to resolve all things among them by once again embracing the grace of God.
We will be studying the entire letter of 1st Corinthians. But we must begin by focusing on Paul’s introduction to his letter, because in that introduction, Paul puts aside all issues to be dealt with and shines a bright light on Jesus, and through Jesus he also shines a light on them, on who they are and on what Jesus had done for them. That introduction alone should clear their hearts and ours from all else, and give us a moment to see things through the eyes of one who knows the grace of God intimately, enabling us to see the same.
Read verse 1. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and our brother Sosthenes.” Paul identifies himself to the Corinthians as an apostle of Jesus Christ. And he adds “by the will of God.” In other words, he was an apostle not by his own choice, for no one truly can appoint himself or herself as an apostle. Such a position can only come from God and by God’s doing alone. It was by the will of God therefore, that Paul was called to be an apostle. In fact he was the last person on earth to have received such a calling, but by the grace of God in his life, by God’s own intervention, by God’s immeasurable mercy on a man like himself, his sins were forgiven, and he was thus called to take upon himself one of the most blessed position in the world, that of the Lord Jesus’ instrument to bring the gospel to the world. It was not easy for him to accept this position considering the life he had earlier lived as a persecutor of Christians. Paul also used to be his own man, doing his own thing. So it took humility of Paul to stand as a forgiven sinner and ready to obey whatever will God had for him to do in life. Now he was a servant of Jesus. And he was the one who is speaking to the Corinthian church. Look at the last part of verse 1. Sosthenes may have been one of Paul’s converts who acted as his secretary is transcribing the letter Paul was writing to this church.
Read verse 2. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ –their Lord and ours:” Paul writes to the church of God in Corinth. And his words tell us what exactly comprises a church of God. Who are these Corinthian believers? They were those who were sanctified in Christ Jesus. In other words, what made them a church worthy of being a church of God, a church belonging to God, is the fact that they were sanctified in Christ Jesus. Churches may be filled with all kinds of people who have found their way into the church, and others who go from church to church as a habit, and others who think that they should belong to a church or other, and still others who pretend to have a place of worship. But the truth is that true members of the church of God are those who are sanctified by Christ Jesus. They are the ones who have been washed in the blood of Jesus. They had renounces their sins. They had embraced the Gospel of Jesus’ grace. They had invited the Holy Spirit into their hearts. They had been made righteous not by anything they themselves had done but by the pure love and grace of the Lord Jesus. That is the church of God Paul is writing to in Corinth.
Paul also says that the Corinthian Christians were those who were called to be holy. They had been washed in the blood of Jesus. And they had been made righteous by God’s grace. But they had also been called to be holy. They had not started out as holy. They had once been unholy, unclean, sinful to the core, enemies of God. They had once lived in God’s wrath. But when God’s grace embraced them, and they were forgiven and brought to God’s family, they had also been called to be holy. They had been called to live a holy life. To reflect God’s own holiness. They had been called to do what God would have them do, to live the way God would have them live. They were no longer self seeking, but they were now the church of God who seek to do what is good and right in the sight of God. When Paul wrote to them, he did not forget that they had been plagued with problems. He did not forget that they had issues of immorality they needed to work out with the Lord. But he did consider them sanctified by Christ and called to be holy. In the eyes of God their sanctification had not changed, and neither had their calling to be holy. Paul reminded them of the wonderful grace of God to them, and the purpose to which God had called them. In a sense, Paul gave them the highest honors of being a people sanctified and a people called for holiness before God. He deeply respected them and honored them as the Lord’s sanctified and holy people.
Read verse 3. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a wonderful greeting to a people riddled with problems, and crushed by issues that divided the church and made the church look awkward and hypocritical at times. Grace to you from God and from our Lord Jesus. They had been given the grace of God in abundance. They had been chosen by God’s one sided grace for the washing of their sins away by the blood of Jesus. They had been singled out to be a people washed in blood and delivered from the power of sin and of death by the power of Jesus who rose from the dead. They had been given forgiven and blessed beyond their imaginings. And they had also fallen into sin and had not been the model Christian that they had expected to be. And surely that had troubled them greatly. Yet Paul in his wisdom and with the authority that God had invested in him, gives them yet a greeting unlike any other. Grace to you from God. That grace is never diminished. Never removed. Never taken away. Never watered down. That grace had been unconditional. It was from the depth of God’s love for them that he had given them grace through the sacrifice of his own blessed Son. And Paul greets them with that grace, and in abundance. God’s grace to those who belong to the Lord, is the best greeting anyone can give, for nothing is more precious than the grace of God in our lives.
Paul also greets them with the peace that comes from God and of the Lord Jesus. They had once not been under God’s grace. they had lived in the world. In the world they had lived as worldly people, full of fears and anxieties that plague those who do not know God. But when the grace of our Lord came on them, God removed all the fears and anxieties of their former lives, and had given them a peace that surpasses all human understanding. God had graced them with a peace that cannot be either bought nor sold on the world markets. They had peace with God, and no longer God’s enemies. Now they were his children who although live in the world and suffer the world’s troubles, they are still above all else, for God had given them to be his children and as a father and mother protect their children, God would protect them from all things. Peace Paul greeted them with. They must have that peace in their hearts regardless of what happens around them in the world. They must cherish that peace above all things in their lives. They must not fret over the things that others fret over. They must not fall into the fears and anxieties others fall into. They had been rescued from all that by a loving Father who would keep their hearts at peace even if the world’s turmoil is all around them. The peace that we receive from God through his grace is priceless. We must heed Paul’s greeting and embrace that peace as Paul had wanted his people to embrace it. When we have that peace of God filling our hearts, we cannot be overcome by anything in the world. You have grace from Jesus and peace from him as well. Hold it in your hearts, above all else.
Read verse 4. “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” In Paul’s introduction, he greets them and then he gives thanks to God for them. Specifically he gives thanks to God for the grace that God had given them in Christ Jesus. This is beyond our understanding unless we meditate on it from the heart. This is Paul’s faith. This is Paul’s hope and his heart layed open. They were a troublesome church. They had been a church that had given Paul much sorrow. They were worldly in many ways. They were divisive and not easily content. They had been a church of complainers. But Paul did not say, “I complain to God because of you.” Or he did not say: “I worry about you when I pray for you.” He said “I always thank God for you….” And he had a good reason to be thankful on their behalf. It was the grace of God that God had poured out on them. Regardless of what they had done, regardless of what troubles they had or will have. Regardless of how much grief they may have caused each other and Paul, they were a people given the grace of God. They were therefore the most precious people in the world in the eyes of God and of Paul. Paul gives thanks to God for them. And Paul could do that because he deeply understood the grace of God given to them.
They were Gentiles once given to all kinds of sins and a life that promoted sin and brought others such bad influence as to invite the wrath of God. but God had loved them. and he had sent them Paul to preach the Gospel to them. And they had accepted the Gospel. And they had repented of their sins and had also received from God all the blessings that are given to anyone who is under the grace of our Lord Jesus. They were the most precious people in the world. Their lives, riddled by troubles maybe, and trouble makers as they have been in their immaturity and young Christian hearts, still they were the apple of God’s eyes. They were given his grace. They were brought from death to life. they were called to be the fragrance of Christ to the world.
How could Paul be thankful is a wondrous mystery that is no mystery when we think about what he was thankful for. He was thankful for the grace of God in their lives. The grace of God in their lives was cause enough for his thankfulness. Because the grace of God in their lives marks them as God’s beloved children, forgiven and given his blessings. There is nothing uglier than a heart that is unthankful. Actually un-thankfulness is at the root of sin. And those who are often unthankful about life and the things that have been given then in life, give in to sin. On the other hand, there is nothing more beautiful than a thankful heart. Paul’s thankful heart stemmed form his intimate knowledge of God’s grace to them but also to himself. No man or woman can truly be thankful in all things, except those who really know the grace of God. When a man or woman in Christ deeply know the grace of God, they also know that the more precious thing in their lives in God’s grace. They know that they hare debtors to God. They know the amount of debt they owe God. They know how unworthy they are. They know that there is nothing in life that they could give to offset the terrible sins they had committed. They know the depth of God’s love for them. They are not arrogant and critical because they know that the grace of God had saved them. they are not demanding and greedy because they know what they had been given when they were given the grace of God. They know that their debts outweigh all things. And they know that if it were not for the grace of God, what Jesus had to pay to redeem them, they would be lost forever.
That is what Paul knew deeply in his heart. He gave thanks for them, because of God’s grace for them. God had pardoned them as he had pardoned him. God loved them as he had loved Paul. God had also entrusted them to him to raise in the grace of God to be the most blessed church in the world, and those who would bring the gift of God’s love to the world. Paul could not but be thankful when he remembered all that God had done for him. How could he complain about them? How could he demand anything when the grace of God to him was indeed everything. That was the heart of Paul who knew what Jesus had done. And so he was thankful. To be thankful is truly a beautiful thing. It is healthy for a Christian to be thankful because that shows that that Christian knows the grace of God. When Paul thanked God for them, it also opened his heart to see that whatever problems that church was having, it did not match the marvelous grace which was poured upon these people.
When Paul had given thanks for them for the grace that had been given them, he also defines the immeasurable grace which God had poured out on the church of God in Corinth. Read verses 5-9. We need to take a close look at every aspect of this grace which Paul identifies in his words to them. We need to take a close look because it defines the grace which has been given to us as well. Paul was going to give these people many instructions as to how to correct the errors and troubles they were facing. He would rebuke and comfort them, encourage and bless them. But in these few short verses in his introduction, Paul truly defines the measure of grace which God has given to us Christians. In this we can be absolutely sure. In this we can begin a new year full of hope and assurance, full of blessing and joy that we rest in his grace without measure.
Look at verses 5-6. “For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.” Paul assured them that they had been made rich and richer, not in worldly things but in speech and knowledge. Once their speech had been worldly and mundane, criticizing and being criticized, gossiping and being gossiped at, entertaining and being entertained, etc.,. But when Paul testified to them about the Christ and what he had suffered on their behalf, they accepted his testimony. They freely received the gift of God’s forgiveness. And the grace of God was deeply confirmed in their lives. Their inner person changed and it became manifest in their speech. It became wholesome, tinged with understanding, with compassion and with divine grace. They gained knowledge into the heart and mind of God. Indeed they had been enriched beyond anything in this world. For to be rich in grace of God, is to be richer than this world can ever afford.
Read verse 7. “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Paul also assured them that had all the spiritual gifts they needed to live the Christian life, to witness for Christ, and to stand against the world they had come out of when they lived in the world. The temptations to live in the world and to do as the world does were strong. How could they maintain the blessings they had been given in Christ Jesus? How could they fight against the life they had left behind for the holy life God had called them to live? Paul assured them that they can. They can because in receiving the Gospel they were not only sanctified by it, but also given every gift they needed in order to remain in Christ, not only for a day or two, or year or two, but until the Lord Jesus returns according to his promise. The Christians at Corinth may have been concerned about surviving the inner and outer struggles that visit upon Christians. But indeed Christians have been given all they need in the struggle against the world and in standing in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Our greatest Christian hope is Christ’s return and ultimate triumph over all things. Besides this, all church problems, all small or big squabbles, all issues that are material or immaterial in nature, inward or outward struggles, are all reduced to naught— because in truth, the Christ is returning. And when he returns, every issue that divides or troubles us, are rendered obsolete!
Read verses 8-9. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” Paul had reminded them of what God had done for them in and through Christ Jesus. And here he also tells them what God will do for them, and continue to do for them. God who is faithful will keep them strong— not for a day or two— but to the end. He will keep them strong until the day of Jesus’ return when he will gather his elect to be with him forever in the kingdom of God. We Christians are not strong. In fact, we are for the most part weak. But God our God who raised Jesus from the dead is strong. He gives us the strength which flows from his loving and faithful heart towards all his children. For God called us to fellowship with his Son Jesus.
And all this, is because of his grace. This has been Paul’s message from the beginning. It is a letter or message of hope and of victory. We can start this year with that hope, with that faith, that God’s grace in our lives is worth more than anything else in this world. Whatever trouble or complaints we may have are not worth fretting over when we know what lays ahead of us. With that we can march into the new year armed with his Grace. We can build this church. We can overcome our daily problems. We can stand as a church that shines with the grace of Jesus so that all those who are called by Jesus may come and be blessed with us to serve his purpose. Amen.