Even Us – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The first message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
We study ancient texts. We do not look to new ideas and current trends for our ideology or for our worldview. We do not base our thinking on something that is merely contemporary because that it all that it is, it is for this time and this time alone. If I do my job well, it will not be because I have discovered something new, but rather it will be because I have lifted up into plain sight something that timeless.
We hold onto a cord that runs back to timeless truth.
It weaves through the halls of impressive cathedrals and across the dirt floors of tiny huts. It lays across the graves of men like John Wycliffe who died to pass the cord to us, it winds through the maze of desks in seminaries where students pour over texts on the screen of their macbook and this same cord lays on top of the crossed legs of people sitting on the floor of tin roof shelters reading by candle light.
This morning we do not look at Corinthians for some new insight, some new discovery, we look at Corinthians for timeless truth. We look at a letter written 2,000 years ago because the truth hasn’t changed and problems it addressed are not new. We look at Paul’s letter to the Corinth church to grab a hold of a strong cord of truth that will tether us to God’s principles…
Most letters written among the Greeks/Romans during that period of time followed this format.
However, while Paul’s greeting was customary, it was unique in that it was shaped by the gospel.
Most letters started off with who the letter was written to, who wrote the letter and a prayer on their behalf of the gods. As we would open correspondence with “hope you’ve been well” or “I hope things are going well,” they would often open with “I pray the gods will grant you health or fortune,” etc. Paul used a customary letter greeting style, but even his greeting is shaped by the gospel. He includes grace, he refers to Jesus, he calls them Sanctified or made holy by Christ. Let’s talk about Sanctification for a little bit.
The Corinthians were being Sanctified.
The Word that Paul uses here refers to making something holy and it was a part of the religious practices of the Israelites to consecrate something for holy purposes- In other words, they would take something that was for normal and every day use and consecrate it for a holy purpose, to set it aside for the worship and ministry of God.
We have several examples of this in the Old Testament-
In the beginning, in Genesis 2:3 scripture says
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
God made that day different from the rest, He set it aside, He made it special and designated for a particular purpose.
In Exodus 20 then the people have escaped Egypt and they come to meet with God at Mt Sinai he tells them to wash themselves and to spend three days consecrating themselves, sanctifying themselves for communion and fellowship with God.
In the Tabernacle and later the Temple when the priest was going to perform the religious rites and sacrifices, there would be a ritual that he must go through first to consecrate himself, to sanctify himself for that practice. Now when the priests would do this, there was already a level of sanctification or setting aside that had taken place in that they were descendants of Levi and the descendants of Levi were set aside or destined to serve in the Temple. To serve in the Temple you had to be of this specific family, this priesthood to start with, then you went through the ceremonial washings to sanctify yourself before performing your role in the Temple.
This Sanctification was the stuff of the religious elite.
This sanctification was the stuff of the upper echelon of priests…
But when Paul writes a letter to the Corinthians- Paul who had been in the upper crust of religious society of Jerusalem, who would have known all of the steps that the priest had to take to perform their role-
Paul had probably watched the process of consecration and sanctification as a boy. He probably felt an amazing sense of awe at the Temple as a child and young man as he worshipped as a devout Jew. As he watched the priests put on their freshly washed robes and wash their hands repeatedly. Paul uses this very word in writing to the Corinthians. He not only uses it in the beginning of the letter, he uses it through the letter- Let me draw your attention to one passage where he uses it.
Turn over a couple of pages to 1 Corinthians 6…
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
It’s very powerful to me to think of the Corinthians- people who WERE thieves, WERE adulterers, WERE drunkards, and WERE covetous to now be sanctified. Now sanctification wasn’t just cleaning something up- Sanctification sets something aside for a purpose. The priests followed these practices for the purpose of serving their role of ministry in the Temple. The Israelite children consecrated themselves to meet with God and follow him across the wilderness and establish a new nation. God consecrated the Sabbath for the purpose of rest and worship. There was a purpose- there was a function.
It’s fitting that verse 5 says that God had blessed them with knowledge and utterance, they were able to understand and teach the things of God. In verse 7 we are told that they lack no spiritual gifts. The people in Corinth were blessed with ability and spiritual gifts and they had been sanctified, but unfortunately they were not where they ought to be.
The people were sanctified and God was leading them somewhere, they had been sanctified for a purpose, they had been set aside for a journey or with a destination in mind and unfortunately they weren’t making much progress toward that destination.
When I was working my way through college I got a job with a guy managing properties for mortgage companies. During my time there he expanded his business to cover all of Virginia. Most of the properties were in Tidewater but there many throughout the state and just about every week at least one of us would go on a 2 to 3 day trip throughout the state reaching some of these properties that were miles and miles away.
You would receive a stack of job orders and you’d load your truck up with all the equipment and you’d set out for a 4 hour drive to go work on this house.
Now the boss would call every so often to see where you were and they might give you another property to hit while you were out there because they had just gotten the job and they’d like to hit it while you are out there…
Now imagine if he’d called and said, so what city are you in and I said, oh, I’m still in Virginia Beach. I’m at the diner getting a cup of coffee…
He would say, I sent you to richmond 4 hours ago!
That’s what was going on with the Corinthians, they had been set apart and been given every gift they needed to accomplish what God was calling them to, but they were just chilling where they were…
They weren’t making much progress.
What I want us to see through this book of 1 Corinthians is that God has called us to something, He graciously set us apart, and it’s incredible that he calls us sanctified- that he calls us to be saints- so let’s get moving.
The Corinthians were making their lives Messy.
It’s a good thing that this letter is shaped by the gospel because otherwise it could have gotten real ugly, real quick. Now be honest, how many of you have ever written a letter, or filled out a comment card, or sent a text that got pretty ugly and aggressive?
Now Paul was writing this letter because there were problems. Big problems. Issues. Major issues.
The Corinthians had been sanctified and been given many gifts and apparently they were pretty proud of themselves, pretty impressed with themselves. In Paul’s greeting he refers to them as the sanctified, he refers to himself as an apostle and drops Sosthenes name.
Paul mentions in verse 1 that Sosthenes is writing with him, because the people in Corinth weren’t sure that Paul was really that great of an apostle. They weren’t sure if they should even listen to him. Now, to me and perhaps to you that sounds crazy because we know of Paul as the planter of many churches and the author of many New Testament books. However, to the Corinthians, Paul was one of many Spiritual Leaders and at the moment they weren’t too crazy about Paul.
If you glimpse down at verse 12 you see that some of the people were saying, I’m not a Paul guy, I’m more of a Peter guy or I’m a Apollos guy- so that stuff that’s just Paul’s perspective and I’m not as keen on him.So when Paul writes this letter he drops Sosthenes name.
Now to appreciate who Sosthenes is we need to look at Acts 18 where Luke records what took place when Paul’s ministry team planted a church in Corinth.
18:17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat.
Sosthenes was from Corinth. He was right there at the beginning of the church in Corinth. he’d actually been the leader of the Synagogue and when he heard Paul preach the gospel he became a Christian. Because he was the leader of the synagogue and left Judaism to follow Christ, the people beat him. Sosthenes would have been a respected Corinthian. Paul writes this letter with him trying to reestablish credibility and authority with the Corinthians.
Now the letter that Paul writes to the Corinthians is not primarily focused on the life of Christ or even on doctrine. Paul had covered that with them when he was there for 2 years planting the church and establishing church leaders. This isn’t a book about the doctrines of grace or the life of Christ- this is a book about what those truths do to our lives. 1 Corinthians is a book on how should live now that we know Christ.
The people had listened to what Paul had to say about Jesus and doctrine, but they were struggling to apply that truth into the every day life. This was especially difficult because of the culture that they found themselves in- They lived in a culture, a city that was rampant with sexual sin. To walk home from their fields and shops would have been too walk past many an opportunity for sexual sin. To walk over to their fellow Christians house for fellowship and study would have meant walking past many temptations.
Further complicating this issue was their own ego.
Because God had done a great work in them already, because they had spiritual gifts and great abilities when it came to knowledge and speech, they were a little full of themselves. This problem of ego would grow until they started to believe that they knew better than Paul did.
Later on, because they didn’t really want to follow Paul’s leading, they started to questions Paul’s credibility as an apostle. Because they were trying to justify some of the stuff that was happening in their lives and in their church, they started to downplay Paul’s authority. They started to think, we could do what Paul does, what makes him so special? What gives him so much authority, and their ego was leading them to really make a mess of things.
I was recently reminded of a story from 2012 about a 19th-century Spanish fresco painting by Elias Garcia Martinez. Martinez’s family gave the painting to the city of Borja in Eastern Spain. It was housed in a cathedral there in the city and apparently a woman in the city took it upon herself to restore the painting. Officials were surprised to find the painting had lost much of it’s paint. They were unsure what had cause the paint, some of which had been chipping and peeling with age, to suddenly accelerate in deterioration. Thehy would later find out that the woman who was intent on restoring the painting had chipped away the aging sections and then to their horror they found that he she had repainted the painting to replace the missing paint. In doing so she completely changed the look of Jesus’ face, wiped out all of the detail from his clothing, and covered the crown of thorns.
Officials say that the woman was not attempting to deface the painting- that her intentions were good but that she was misguided. She came to the officials and admitting that she had been the one to do it and she recognized that “things had gotten out of hand.”
The Corinthians were so confident that they knew the way forward that they were making a mess of things. Whenever we pick up the brush to straighten out our lives, things have gotten out of hand because the brush belongs in God’s hands.
When Paul writes to them, aware of what is taking place in their church, things that are being said about him, that people are labeling themselves as fans of Paul, Peter, or Apollos (v.12) it is only through the grace of God that Paul didn’t lose his cool…
Now this letter is aggressive and passionate, but it is still grace filled. While Paul was dissatisfied with the decisions that the Corinthians were making, he was still aware of who they had been and who God would make them to be…While Paul wasn’t satisfied with where they were currently at, he knew where they had been and knew where God was going to take them.
The Corinthians had been sanctified, they were messy, but they would be made blameless.
The Corinthians would be made Blameless.
At the end of this opening passage, Paul says
who will also confirm you to the end,
blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is saying God is going to make you blameless.
God is going to perfect you- He is going to confirm you and make you blameless.
This word for blameless is a word that Paul uses in writing to Timothy when he says that a minister should be above reproach- that there should be nothing for the devil to grab a hold of and use against you in your life.
The idea here is a handle. It’s something that you can get your hands on. If you’ve ever been rock climbing, you’ve gotten familiar with handholds and footholds. A handhold is something that you can get your hand on- something you can hold onto to pull yourself up, to climb with. A foothold is something that you can set your foot on and rest your weight on… The more difficult the rock climbing wall, the fewer the handholds and footholds. People who really get into this will go through and spray paint or tag only specific handholds, and say ok, you can only use the handholds that are painted blue… A very impressive rock climber needs only a few hand holds. An inexperienced or novice rock climber needs a lot…
When the Lord talks about making us blameless, he talking about removing all of the handholds. Because Satan is trying his dead level best to crawl back into your life.
God has thrown him out, but he’s trying to grab ahold of anything that he can to climb back in.When we participate in sin, we give evil a handhold to climb back into our lives.
God is removing these, he keeping the evil one at bay, he’s keeping satan out of our lives.
Paul says in verse you will be made blameless because God is faithful…
The Corinthians were very unfaithful, but God was faithful.
They were very broken, but God could restore.
As the Corinthians would come to understand the power and grace of God, they would have said, Even us? Even Us? Even for sinful Corinth God will do these things?
God did an incredible work in Corinth because He is that faithful and His grace is that powerful.
If he can do it in Corinth, he can do it here in Chandler.
If he can sanctify even them, He can sanctify even us.