Being the People of God
1 Cor 1:1–17 – Being the People of God: Sermons in 1 Cor – Daniel Baker – January 8, 2023
A reading of 1 Corinthians 1:1–9.
Going through my mom's house after she died I discovered a mix of treasures and...not treasures. But one item was clearly a treasure. It was a letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to “Mr. Sunderland,” my great-grandfather, in January 1934. Just under a year into FDR’s first year as President.
It was an example of reading and mirror-reading. Reading to get the sense, but then reading it and trying to figure out the other side of the conversation. What had my great-grandfather said in his letter to prompt Mrs. Roosevelt's response?
In 1 Corinthians we are “literally reading someone else’s mail.”
Paul and the Corinthians.
- We read about Paul planting the church here in Acts 18.
- He spent 18 mos there, likely beginning in AD 51.
- Corinth was a thriving Greek city until the Romans destroyed it in 146 BC. Julius Caesar rebuilt it in 44 BC.
- This gave it both a Greek and a Roman background but mostly Roman in Paul's day.
- By Paul’s day it was large (100k), active in trade (two harbors w/ narrow isthmus between), typical pagan temples and practices, sexual immorality.
- NYC, but smaller.
- Greco-Roman so an emphasis on seeing “wisdom” as the ability to speak well—style over substance. Whether you were “right” was less important.
- Here is where he meets Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2).
- Ministers on the Sabbaths.
- “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household” (Acts 18:8).
- Jews wanted him arrested and put on trial by Gallio the proconsul. Gallio threw out the case. That’s when “Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue” was physically attacked (Acts 18:17).
- Leaves Corinth with his ministry team—including Aquila and Priscilla.
- This is the Aquila and Priscilla who would meet Apollos in Ephesus and “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
- During his 3-year stay in Ephesus he writes the Corinthian letters— Definitely three letters (1 Cor, 2 Cor, one referred to in 1 Cor 5:9), probably 4 (2 Cor 2:4 refers to a lost letter, not 1 Cor).
The Book of 1 Corinthians.
- Distinct for its length and diversity of topics—unity and leadership in the church, sexuality, food sacrificed to idols, marriage and singlehood, corporate worship, prophecy and speaking in tongues, Jesus’ resurrection and ours.
- Don’t read it like Wikipedia, where each entry is separate and an island.
- 1 Corinthians treats these topics in a particular order, a particular way.
- It will keep circling around:
- True Spirituality
- True Holiness/Sanctification
- The Collision of Worldviews unavoidable for Christians—Bible’s and World’s
The sermon and series: Being the People of God (1) Who You are: Saints (1:1–3); (2) What You’ve Received: Grace (1:4–9); (3) How You Must Grow: Agree (1:10–17)
I. Who You Are: Saints (1 Cor 1:1–3)
Paul opens this letter in his typical, introduces himself and anyone with him and then identifies who he’s writing to. How he does this is powerful.
Paul...Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1)
- Paul is “called by the will of God” + “to be an apostle of Christ Jesus,” a double emphasis of his ministry being from God.
- One author said this gave him a powerful combination of “genuine humility” and “supreme confidence.”
“The Church,” the ekklēsia, the congregation (1 Cor 1:2)
- Spoken of in the singular. Good chance it was a collection of house churches at the time. But together they are “the Church.”
- “Of God” — God the source, God the owner, God’s glory the purpose.
- “In Corinth” — Not just an invisible collection of people we can’t know or talk to. God’s church exists in places and cities and contains actual people.
“Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2)
- Two ideas connected to holiness: sanctified (fr. hagiazō), saints (fr. hagios).
- Sanctified & holy mean “set apart for God’s sacred use”—just like all those utensils for priests in the OT.
- But in both cases, Paul is expressing a fact: You ARE sanctified, you ARE saints.
- He’s not telling them what they should BE but what they ARE.
- Important not to misunderstand. Paul’s not saying, “you are called to be saints” in the sense of “called to be holy, so work at it!”
- He’s making a statement of fact: “You are saints, called ”
- “Called” is an adjective—you are “called ”
- Better is NASB, “saints by calling.”
“WITH ALL THOSE who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2)
- Great way to think of what being a Christian is, someone “called” by the Lord who has also “called upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13)
- Point here is another connection point: You, fledgling church in a largely pagan city, are connected to “those who in every place” have called upon the Lord.
“Grace to You and Peace” (1 Cor 1:3)
- “Grace, the cause of salvation, and the well-being and welfare of those who are saved, peace, the outcome of salvation” (PNTC, 59).
- “The one flows out of the other” (Fee).
APPLICATION: Don’t miss what the church is!
- Easy to think of it as a cringy gathering of society leftovers.
- Or in the words of Switchfoot, “Painfully uncool. The church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.”
- But what we are in the world’s eyes isn’t what we are.
- And most of the time what we are in OUR EYES isn’t what we are.
- What we are in GOD’S EYES is what we really
- The title of that Switchfoot song is right. We may be a letdown, but we’re the “Beautiful Letdown.”
- Paul reminds us of that part.
- The church belongs to God. It’s set apart for God and his purposes. It’s a work that he has done—and is doing.
- We bear the name of Christ.
II. What You’ve Received: Grace (1 Cor 1:3–9)
Paul’s letters typically open with thanksgiving for the people or person he’s writing to. What’s different here is that he paints a picture of the Christian life from beginning to end.
PAST: “GRACE...WAS GIVEN YOU” (1 Cor 1:4)
- Grace = charis. Shorthand for the whole array of GIFTS given to us in Jesus Christ.
- Eternal life, God’s Spirit, “every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3).
- God isn’t a stingy God, holding back the best.
- He’s been overwhelmingly generous in giving us out of his abundance!
- This grace is given “in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:4)—very Son of God.
- Enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge (1 Cor 1:5)
- Testimony about Christ was confirmed among you (1 Cor 1:6)
RESULTS IN THE PRESENT: Charisma, Fellowship
- Not lacking in any “gift” (1 Cor 1:7).
- “Grace” (charis) and “gift” (charismata) are connected. A charismata is like a tangible expression of a charis.
- Richard Hays defines charismata as “manifestation of grace” (First Corinthians,18).
- Charismata is distinctly Pauline. He uses it 17x. Only once outside of Paul (1 Peter 4:10). A lot in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 7:7; 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31).
- “Not lacking” = Whatever gift (charisma) is needed, God will provide. To you or someone in your life.
“Another present-tense gift: “called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9).
- “Fellowship” = koinonia.
- Powerful double-meaning: “the fellowship of his Son” is a fellowship we have with Christ himself.
- But also the fellowship of the church itself, the body of Christ.
- But as in 1:2 this is not something you need to work toward. It’s already true. It’s happened. You are part of the “fellowship of his Son.”
- Your calling as a Christian made this happen.
ANTICIPATING MORE IN THE FUTURE: “AS YOU WAIT” (1 Cor 1:7)
- WAIT—Eager anticipation. Same word as in Romans 8:19–25, where Creation waits eagerly for its redemption, we wait eagerly for ours.
- “For the revealing (apocalypse!) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7).
- One commentary: Christ’s return can be presented as a coming of the Lord, a return of the Lord, an appearing of the Lord, here it is the “revealing of the Lord,” “a revelation, a disclosing or uncovering or something (or someone) that (or who) had been hidden.”
- On that day, “guiltless” (1 Cor 1:8)
- Whole epistle is alive with anticipation about the return of Christ.
- Cross behind me, Christ and his Spirit inside me, Christ’s return before me.
“GOD IS FAITHFUL” (1 Cor 1:9), will sustain you (1 Cor 1:8)—it will all be accomplished! He will get you there!
APPLICATION: SEE EVIDENCES OF GRACE IN OTHERS
Don’t miss his expression of care and affection for this troubled church. Paul highlights “evidences of grace” even if there’s much work to do, much to change.
In Michael Emlet’s Saints, Sufferers & Sinners (New Growth, 2021) he talks about “acting as a signpost for discouraged saints” (34). Speaking what is “most important” about them when they can’t see beyond their failures and crisis.
He talks about hard times in a marriage where you work to see evidences of grace. You can’t minimize sin. But Emlet says, “It communicates, ‘You are more than the worst I often see in you.’ In a believer, there is always something redemptive to notice and to celebrate” (41).
How crucial for PARENTS to grasp this as well. Having the ability to highlight areas of growth, evidences of grace, even as you deal with areas of sin.
III. How You Must Grow: Agree (1:10–17)
After Paul’s introduction, getting them oriented to WHO they are (called saints) and WHAT they’ve received (grace), he changes the focus. Now the focus is on how they need to GROW.
We’ll get to their specific area of growth in a minute. Here the important thing is to remember that we can’t stop with simply reminding each other of our IDENTITY and the GRACE we’ve received.
We need to help each other see areas in need of change. There are behaviors we need to STOP doing and START doing. With the Corinthians, it’s something to STOP doing.
1 Cor 1:10 – The basic command. One of the fundamental themes of the letter.
- “No divisions [Grk schisms] among you.”
What did their “divisions” look like?
- “Quarreling among you” (1 Cor 1:11).
- “Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul...Apollos...Cephas...Christ’” (1 Cor 1:12).
- I follow Paul: He can raise the dead!
- I follow Apollos: He’s a way better preacher! He’s introduced in Acts 18:24 as “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.”
- I follow Cephas: He’s the Pope! He knew Jesus!
- I follow Christ. Maybe this is the attitude of, “I don’t follow any leaders. I don’t go in for that organized religion stuff.”
Picking favorite leaders, preachers, teachers. Building your identity and Christianity around them.
He speaks to the issue in a specific way.
- First, “all of you agree” and “no divisions” (1 Cor 1:10), rebukes them for “quarreling” (1 Cor 1:11).
- He addresses their HEART, their behavior.
Second, he speaks to their MIND. He adjusts their thinking.
- Says their “divisions” are absurd. Because:
- Christ is not “divided” (1 Cor 1:13)—we are members of the body of Christ (12:
- Paul was not crucified for you (1 Cor 1:13).
- You weren’t baptized into the name of Apollos or Paul or Cephas (1 Cor 1:13).
- Means they’ve lost sight of the gospel itself—1 Cor 1:17.
- It’s about “preaching the gospel” and not who baptizes you.
- It’s about the “cross of Christ” and not “words of eloquent wisdom.”
- These Greco-Romans had a culture that worshiped a certain SHOW of wisdom in rhetoric and literary flourish.
- Paul came determined to let his MESSAGE and MEDIUM communicate something radically different.
- In the end it’s a difference of WHO gets the glory. It is God and God alone who must get the glory.
What does it mean to be “unified” as Christians? One commentator called the presence of denominations a “scandal” and “perpetrating” the “tragic state of affairs” Paul condemns.But we have to be careful here.
Unity isn’t simple for Christians, it’s 3-dimensional:
The Three Dimensions of True Christian Unity:
1. Relational (1 Cor 13)
2. Doctrinal (1 Cor 15:3–5, 12–14)
3. Moral (1 Cor 5:9–11)
It IS NOT “just loving each other” while being doctrinal/moral relativists.
- Relational: No unity if you no love.
- Doctrinal: No unity with Mormons. Their Jesus isn’t Jesus.
- Moral: Not unity to overlook serious sin. It’s unfaithfulness.
Being the People of God. Sermon and the series.
Fitting sermon to start the New Year: Knowing who we are (saints) and knowing what we’ve received (grace), we want to commit ourselves to God.
Sinclair Ferguson tells the story of being a young man in his 20s and preaching in a Methodist Church. It was what they called a Commitment Service.
They read a covenant that affected him greatly. This seemed like a good way to launch into 2023 and this book of Corinthians.
Let’s stand and say this together:
A covenant with God
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.'
The Methodist Covenant Prayer
 Richard Hays, First Corinthians.
 Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC (Eerdmans, 2010), 54.
 Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC (Eerdmans, 2010), 65.
 Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, 25.