1 Corinthians 1:1-9
1. Paul, by God's will a called Apostle of Christ Jesus.
It is as a 'called', that is, duly appointed and qualified apostle or special ambassador of Christ Jesus that Paul introduces himself to the Corinthian church. He had not usurped this title nor the authority implied in it. Both had been graciously imparted to him 'by God's will', that is, by that divine good pleasure to which Paul had unconditionally submitted himself (cf. Romans 15:32).
There are those who object to describing Paul as the writer of epistles. They prefer the term letters. They emphasize that the apostle adopts the form of letter writing customary in his day. For example, contrary to present usage, he begins by mentioning his own name. He expresses his own sentiments and pours out his heart just as we do in writing to friends.
Up to a point what these men are saying is correct. Nevertheless, if anyone's intention would be to wipe out completely the difference between today's letter and the writings composed by Paul, agreement would have to be less than total. When Paul writes, 'by God's will a called apostle of Christ Jesus', is he not implying that his communication is entitled to the respect that is due to Christ's plenipotentiary? A message from Paul is indeed a letter. It is also indeed an epistle, with significance for the present generation and for later ones (cf. 2 Peter 1:21; 3:16). That this is the way the apostle himself views his writings is clearly implied in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
When Paul wrote, 'by God's will a called apostle of Christ Jesus', his soul must have been deeply stirred, his heart filled with profound gratitude. Probably the best interpretation of what he means is found in 1 Timothy 1:12, 13, 'I acknowledge my gratitude to him who gave me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, that he considers me trustworthy and appointed me for himself to this ministry ... though previously I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a wanton aggressor'. See also Galatians 2:20. It is as if Paul were saying, 'Just think of it. Not only did he save me, his sworn enemy, but he even made me one of his special ambassadors'.
Paul adds, and our brother Sosthenes.
Note 'our brother', that is, 'our beloved fellow-believer'.
Evidently Sosthenes was someone in Paul's company here in Ephesus and favourably regarded by the Corinthian congregation. Do we have any further information about him? The only other biblical reference to a man by that name is found in Acts 18:17. According to that passage, after Achaia's proconsul Gallio refused to become involved in what he considered a purely Jewish dispute, the crowd of bystanders suddenly turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, and gave him a beating in front of the court. If 1 Corinthians 1:1 and Acts 18:17, in mentioning Sosthenes, refer to the same person, then it is reasonable to conclude that this 'ruler of the synagogue' had embraced Christ as his Lord and Saviour, just as his predecessor Crispus had done (Acts 18:8) . But whether 1 Corinthians 1:1 and Acts 18:17 do indeed refer to the same Sosthenes cannot now be established.
2. To the Church of God which is in Corinth, those sanctified in Christ Jesus, Saints by virtue of having been called, together with all those everywhere who call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Their (Lord) and Ours...
Here, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, the apostle addresses his message to a church, a local congregation. In Ephesians 1:22 the same word (ekklesia in Greek) refers to the whole body of believers; and in 1 Corinthians 11:18 it indicates a gathering for worship. 1 As the derivation of the Greek word shows, the apostle is addressing those whom he regards as by God having been called out of darkness into his marvellous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). Synonymous expressions are found in the opening salutations of Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1 and Colossians 1:2.
Paul's further description of those whom he addresses is as follows:
a) Those Sanctified in Christ Jesus
They had been redeemed by Christ's blood and were being indwelt by Christ's Spirit. For this reason they are said to be 'in Christ' (or, as here, 'in Christ Jesus'); that is, sanctified 'by virtue of forensic and spiritual union with him'.
This little phrase ('in Christ') may be called the most important one in all the Pauline epistles. It occurs with great frequency. As having been thus 'set apart' (see Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 33:3), the addressed were distinctive, a people for God's own possession (Titus 2:14).
b) Saints by Virtue of having been Called
By the inner and effective operation of the Holy Spirit these people have been drawn to God.
c) People who call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ
See Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13. They confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, repose their trust in him, and are constantly asking him to help them become more and more a blessing to others, to the glory of God Triune.
d) Those who are Spiritually United with all those everywhere who similarly Call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ
Note emphasis here on the church universal. It makes no difference whether the local congregation was founded by Paul himself (4:15) or by anyone else (15:11), the opening salutation is meant for 'all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours', here probably with special application to the churches in Corinth's vicinity.
3. Grace to You and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the form of the salutation found in most of Paul's epistles. In Colossians and in 1 Thessalonians there is an abbreviation; in 1 and 2 Timothy there is an expansion, the word 'mercy' having been inserted between 'grace' and 'peace'. In Titus the word 'our Saviour' has been substituted for 'our Lord'.
What we see here in 1 Corinthians, etc. is that the Greek greeting form has been combined with the Jewish form. The Greek says Chaire! = 'Joy to you!' The Jew says Shalom! = 'Peace!' Not only, however, have these two greetings been joined by Paul but they have at the same time been transformed into one distinctively Christian salutation. Note, in this connection, that chaire has been changed into charis = grace.
Grace, as here used, is God's spontaneous, unmerited favour in action, his freely bestowed loving kindness in operation, bestowing salvation upon guilt-laden sinners who turn to him for refuge. It is, as it were, the rainbow round about the very throne out of which proceed flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder (Revelation 4:3, 5) . We think of the Judge who not only remits the penalty but also cancels the guilt of the offender and even adopts him as his own son. — On grace see also 1 Corinthians 1:4; 3:10; 10:30; 15:10; 16:23.
Grace brings peace. The latter is both a state, that of reconciliation with God, and a condition, the inner conviction that consequently all is well. It is the great blessing which Christ by his atoning sacrifice bestowed upon the church (John 14:27), and it surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). It is not the reflection of an unclouded sky in the tranquil waters of a picturesque lake, but rather the cleft of the rock in which the Lord hides his children when the storm is raging (think of the theme of Zephaniah's prophecy); or, to change the figure somewhat but with retention of the main thought, it is the hiding place under the wings, to which the hen gathers her brood, so that the little chicks are safe while the storm bursts loose in all its fury upon herself — On peace see also 7:15; 14:30, 33; 16:11.
Now this grace and this peace have their origin in God our (precious word of appropriation and inclusion!) Father, and have been merited for believers by him who is the great Master-Owner-Conqueror ('Lord'), Saviour ('Jesus'), and Office-Bearer ('Christ'), and who, because of his threefold anointing, 'is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25) .
4, 5. I always Thank My God for you because of the Grace of God granted to you in Christ Jesus, that in every Respect you have been Enriched in Him with Full Power of Expression and with Adequate Knowledge...
'I always thank my God'. As generally — see Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:15, 16; Philippians 1:3-8; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 2 Timothy 1:3-5; Philemon 4, 5 — so also here the apostle's salutation is followed by a thanksgiving.
Even from a purely psychological point of view this sequence must be regarded as being very thoughtful and wise. Paul is aware of the fact that there are conditions in the church of Corinth that deserve reproof. So he begins by lauding the addressed for their favourable qualities. He does not do so directly but indirectly, by including the implied praise in the mention of a thanksgiving addressed to God. He states that for those whom he addresses he is always — that is, constantly, repeatedly (cf. Ephesians 5:20; Hebrews 13:15) — thanking God. He wants the hearers, and (mostly at a later time) readers, to be aware of the fact that their favourable qualities are the products of divine grace, God's love for the undeserving, merited for God's people by the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The virtues which Paul ascribes to the Corinthians are full power of expression and adequate knowledge. The Corinthians are willing to immerse their minds in God's redemptive truth and are even able to give an eloquent account of the knowledge by which they have been enriched. We are not forgetting that, a little later, the apostle is going to tell these same people, 'Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up' (8:1). For the present, however, his language is positive and encouraging, an example for every parent, teacher, pastor, and missionary, as he begins his conversation with those in need of loving advice and instruction.
6, 7. Showing that (Our) Testimony about Christ was confirmed in You, so that You are not falling behind in any Spiritual Gift, as You eagerly look forward to the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note the following:
- The positive tone continues. Paul might have written, 'I disapprove of your cliques, your unconcern about a case of gross immorality, your attempts to have your petty disputes settled before pagan courts' (1:10-12; 5:1, 2; 6:1, 2), etc. Wisely he does nothing of the kind; that is, not yet. What he does write is that the transformed lives of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:18) are confirming, or conclusively demonstrating, the validity of the witness to or about Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 1:8, 2 Peter 1:16-18; 1 John 1:1) that had been borne by the apostle and his companions.
- The statement, 'You are not falling behind in any spiritual gift' is probably a litotes for 'You are being richly supplied with every spiritual gift'. These gifts do not refer, at least not exclusively, to special or charismatic endowments but to the kind of talents mentioned in verse 5.
- Rightly considered, the possession and utilization of these gifts cause those who exercise them to look forward, with confident expectation (cf. Romans 8 :19, 23, 25; Ephesians 1:13, 14; Philippians 3:20; Corinthians 13:1-4; Hebrews 9:28), to their even more ample attainment on the day when Jesus will be revealed in all the riches of his glory (1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:23; cf. Luke 17:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 John 3:2).
- Note full title 'Lord Jesus Christ' (see on 1:2). Here (in 1:7 and again in verse 8) a self-appropriating and loving 'our' is prefixed to the title.
8. ...Who will also Confirm You to the End, (so that you will be) blameless on the Day of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the original, just as in the A.V., verse 8 does not start a new sentence but continues the one begun in verse 4. There are those who think that when the apostle says, 'our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm — that is strengthen, establish, sustain you to the end', this relative pronoun 'who' refers back to the word 'God' in verse 4. A reason given for this conclusion is that if this 'who' of verse 8 referred to 'our Lord Jesus Christ' at the close of verse 7, the same exalted phrase would not re-appear at the close of verse 8.
The validity of this reasoning may well be questioned, however. The two expressions are, after all, not exactly the same. There would seem to be no reason why Paul, having made mention of 'the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ', cannot close the sentence by referring to 'the day of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Besides, the immediately preceding 'our Lord Jesus Christ' looks far more natural as an antecedent.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who will supply the needs of the Corinthians so that their preservation is assured. Cf. 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them everlasting life, and they shall certainly never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand' (John 10:27, 28). By means of his Spirit, remembered or recorded words, loving care, guidance and intercession, Jesus preserves his people to the very end, so that on the day of his glorious return not a speck of sin nor even the tiniest remnant of guilt will attach to them. They will be unimpeachable, irreprovable. A little later this same apostle is going to ask triumphantly, 'Who will bring any charge against God's elect?' (Romans 8:33).
No one, of course! See also Jeremiah 31:34b; Zechariah 3:1-5; Romans 5:1; 8:1.
The Thanksgiving closes with the comforting words,
9. Faithful is God through whom You were called into Fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
The following points deserve attention:
'Faithful is God'. For the sake of emphasis these words occur at the very beginning of the sentence. The implication is: since God is absolutely reliable, he will never fail to carry out his promise. He will strengthen you in all your experiences, no matter how bitter, and will sustain you in all your troubles, no matter how distressing. Therefore cast your burden on him. He will never forsake you. On him you can depend.
'through whom you were called'. The apostle returns to the divine call mentioned at the beginning of verse 1. There Paul referred to himself as a 'called apostle'. Here, in verse 9 — see also verse 2 — he describes the addressed as 'called into fellowship'. In both cases the divine, effective call is indicated, the invitation powerfully applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is a difference between Paul and the addressed. Though in both cases the call was basically to salvation and therefore to a life of witness-bearing to the glory of God, in the apostle's case the call was also, and in fact pre-eminently, to apostleship.
into fellowship'. For the meaning of the word fellowship — in the original koinonia— see also New Testament Commentary on Romans 15:26, p 494, footnote 418. This fellowship is the very close spiritual union of all true believers with one another and with or in Christ. Because of their oneness in Christ believers share a common faith, hope, and love; also a common goal.
- 'with his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord'. There are nine references to Christ in these nine verses. The shortest title occurs in verse 6. The appellation found in verses 1, 2a, and 4 is a little longer. Still more detailed is the epithet mentioned in verses 2b, 3, 7, and 8. Most inclusive is the title that occurs here in verse 9. It is clear that Paul loves Jesus, and that, by God's sovereign grace he has placed his trust in him for life, death, and eternity. He acknowledges his great Benefactor as being God's very Son, hence fully divine (cf. Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13); as Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:21); that is, only and all-sufficient Saviour; as Christ (cf. Isaiah 61:1; Hebrews 1:9), God's Anointed; and as our Lord (cf. Philippians 2:11), Sovereign Owner and Master.
Such, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, is the ideal situation, the way God's calling operates in all who live lives in harmony with their confession. It is probable that Paul reminds the addressed of this fact for the very reason that in the Corinthian church this ideal had in many cases not been fully realized, as he is now about to show.