Friday, July 12, 2013

The Gospel in the Beginning of 1 Corinthians

Last week, our new Bible study group started into our study on 1st Corinthians. We only got through the first nine verses but I really enjoyed some of the things we pulled out of it. It helped me to see some deep things in this passage that seems to just be introduction material, but there's actually a lot of theology present. Here's the passage from the NASB:

1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

We found that the essence of the Gospel of Christ is located right here in these nine verses; there's some really good stuff. Let me try to break it down a bit.

Verse 1
Paul says that he was " the will of God" to be an "apostle of Jesus Christ". In verse 2, he mentions that the church in Corinth are "saints by calling". These are of course references to predestination. Without getting into an endless argument over free-will versus predestination, suffice it to say that there is clearly an element of predestination, or "God's calling" in bringing us to salvation (also see Romans 8:29-30). This helps me in evangelism because I realize that there must be a combination of God calling a person in order for that person to respond to the Gospel. I used to treat it as 100% free-will and get burnt out when I couldn't bring a person to repentance and I felt like I failed them if they didn't come around. But, now I'm more accepting that just speaking God's Word will have an impact; if God is calling them right then, then they will come around (in combination with free-will) and it will be glorious. But if not, God may not have prepared them yet or they are letting their free-will override what God is calling them to do. Recognizing all of this helps me better to "move on" from a person, trusting that God is planting a seed through His Word and then going to the next person whom God may be more specifically calling at that moment.

Verse 2
Paul mentions that the people in the Corinthian church "have been sanctified in Christ Jesus". The dictionary definition of "sanctify" is "to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use" or "to free from sin". Normally, I've though of "sanctification" as a lifelong process after we receive salvation, by which we learn to become closer to Christ, becoming ever more "set apart" and free from the bondage of sin. Clearly, these people were still alive, but Paul says they have already been sanctified! They are already free from sin and set apart for God. How can this be? Obviously, after salvation, we still struggle with sin, so we're not free in that sense. So, how are we free? Paul says: "in Christ Jesus". Because of what Christ did for us through his sacrifice, we are already "positionally sanctified" through Him! If we accept Christ's gift, when God looks at us, he sees someone who is "free from sin" and "set apart for His use". I think the only reason God can use us is because of the righteousness of Christ that is positionally given to us when we accept Him. Certainly, being positionally "free from sin" doesn't mean we should sin freely without care; much to the contrary (see Romans 6:1-2). And it doesn't mean that we are actually free from sin in this life- we still struggle (see Romans 7). But, thanks be to God that "there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ" (Romans 8:1). We are already sanctified!

Verse 3
All true grace and peace only comes from God through Christ. James 1:17 says, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father...". Philippians 4:7 says, "...the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus".

Verse 4
The "grace of God" has been given to us who believe. How? Again, "in Christ Jesus". Christ's sacrifice for us, taking on all of our sin, is the ultimate gift and the most amazing display of God's grace to humans. As Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We were still in sin, yet God loved us enough to have Christ die for us. What grace, what mercy! What should our response be? Just to be thankful and move on? No! 2 Corinthians 5:15 says "He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." Recognizing God's incredible grace for us "in Christ Jesus", we are now to live for Him. That can mean a great variety of things, but suffice it to say that if that is your heart, God will show you how and where he wants you to live for Him.

Verse 5
Paul says that the believers were enriched "in everything" and in "all speech and all knowledge". How? Again- "in Him (Christ)". When we trust Christ and receive salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. The Spirit will actually affect the way we think and talk and everything as long as we let Him (again free-will!). Not only has God given us the wonderful gift of freedom from our sin, but God has provided the Spirit to us to help us in this life. As we humble our self to the work of the Spirit, He will actually help to change our lives for the better- which is to be more like Christ. He will "enrich us in everything". Our thoughts and our speech will change- signs to us and to others of the true change that the Spirit is bringing about in us as we walk with Him. What amazing grace that God would provide us with a Helper (John 14:26) to enrich our lives and change us into new creatures!

Verse 6-7 (a)
When we believe in Christ, we "are not lacking in any gift". This is talking about spiritual gifts- the talents and abilities that God has given us to be used as we live for Him. Those things are not of us- they are all of Him. Connecting verse 6 with the start of 7, Paul is essentially saying, "because the testimony of Christ is true in your lives, you are not lacking in any gift"; implying that God has blessed us with these spiritual gifts because we have trusted Christ. Because this is true, how else could we possibly use these gifts than in service to Him? Our gratitude ought to overflow into service him with our gifts.

Verse 7 (b)
The Corinthian believers were "eagerly awaiting" for Jesus to return. I wonder how eager we are by comparison? I think over 2,000 years an element of doubt has crept in. Not that we doubt that He will return, but I think we doubt that it could happen in our lifetime. I think the Corinthians had that hope and that expectation. I think that can be a strong motivator of our behavior and our actions in this life; we ought to live more like His return is an expectation for us rather than a "future hope".

Verse 8
This verse really gets me- it is so powerful. At the end of time ("the day of our Lord Jesus Christ"), Christ Himself will confirm us before the Father- blameless! How amazing; He has taken all of our blame for our sin! The Bible is clear that Christ will be the judge of all at the end of time. For example, 2 Timothy 4:1: "Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead". How will we "pass" His judgement? By what we've done? No! By our acceptance of "the grace of God give to us in Christ Jesus" (verse 4). Jesus is the one who made the way for this gift and He is the one who will be overseeing whether we accepted it or not. Who better than to judge this than the One by which the gift was made in the first place? I would hate to have to come before Him who has done this for us and say to His face, "nope, sorry, I didn't believe; I didn't accept You". Thanks to God for opening my eyes to His truth.

Verse 9 (a)
Paul simply says, "God is faithful". This says so much. There are countless passages in Scripture of God being faithful to people in spite of their sin and poor choices, and countless testimonies in history of the same. To me, this simple statement which follows the teaching of Christ judging us as blameless, speaks volumes to me of our eternal security in Christ. If we have truly accepted God's grace to us through the gift of Christ's sacrifice, we see clearly in these nine verses that God is the one who "invented" the gift, He is the one who called us, He is the one who enriches us, and He is the one who confirms us in the end, all because of His faithfulness. If we claim that there is something that we can do of our own strength to "lose our salvation", we are directly calling into question God's faithfulness. That's not a position I want to take. When God makes a promise to us, He is always faithful to fulfill it in the end. We may zig-zag along the way, but because of His faithfulness and His great mercy to us, He absolutely will be faithful to "confirm us blameless" at the final judgement, if we have trusted in Him and accepted His gift in Christ.

Verse 9 (b)
For the believer, we have been "called into fellowship with Jesus Christ". The dictionary speaks of "fellowship" as "companionship", "company", "friendship", "comrades". Its amazing to me that not only can we have those things with Christ, but that God has called us to have those things with Christ! Its not just an "oh, by the way, you can have this", but God is actively desiring that we have fellowship with Christ. He wants us to be friends, companions, comrades of Christ- to be united in mind and purpose. Again, what grace that God would give us such an incredible privilege and gift! He didn't just leave us after the cross, but He has done so much more! He wants to be close and intimate with us, to know us and for us to know Him. As Jesus said in John 15:15, "I have called you friends". How amazing that the Creator of the universe (Colossians 1:16) would desire close friendship with us; what a great God!

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

You are invited to follow my Christian blog