1CORINTHIANS 1:1-9: GREETINGS AND THANKSGIVING
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
In 1:1-9 Paul introduces himself and his readers. In strong language he expresses his confidence in the sure salvation of his readers – a confidence grounded in the faithfulness of God.
A. INTRODUCTION OF HIMSELF AND HIS READERS – 1:1-3
Read 1:1. Answer these questions:
How does Paul define his role?
What does he say about his appointment to that role?
Suggest what authority is embedded in this role.
Who was his associate in sending this letter?
As was his custom Paul’s self-introduction gives authority to what he writes. By his self-description as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’ he is referring back to that day when the risen and ascended Lord Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, challenged and changed his beliefs, and appointed him to be ‘an apostle to the Gentiles’. This apostleship was not by his own will or choice, but by appointment by Jesus Christ – as Paul states ‘by the will of God’.
You can read about Paul’s divine appointment as an apostle in Acts 9:1-19; 22:2-21; 26:1-20; Galatians 1:11-24.
About Sosthenes: a person of this name is mentioned in Acts 18:17, as ‘the synagogue ruler’ – one of a group of Jews who approached Gallio, the Roman proconsul, in an attempt to get rid of Paul. This Sosthenes was beaten by the crowd when Gallio ejected them from the court. Whether or not this is the Sosthenes referred to in 1Corinthians 1:1 is impossible to prove or disprove.
Read 1:2. Answer these questions:
List the four different ways Paul refers to the church:
What aspect of salvation in Christ is included in these descriptions?
What purpose of salvation is included in these descriptions?
What relationship of Jesus to the church is identified in these descriptions?
To which two groups of Christians is the letter addressed?
‘To the church of God …’
Paul addresses his readers in this way only here and in 2Corinthians 1:1. The phrase ‘the church of God’ is used only by Paul [see Acts 20:28; 1Corinthians 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; Galatians 1:13; 1Timothy 3:5]. He used an extension of the term in 1Timothy 3:15 – ‘the church of the living God’. If we check out these references we find that:
The phrase ‘the church of God’ does not contradict the concept that the church is the church of Jesus Christ. Rather, it expresses and confirms the deity of Jesus Christ. This is clear in Acts 20:28 – ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’.
This phrase reminds us of the preciousness of the church to God, and the related carefulness with which the church should be looked after by its leaders, and the respect and care that its individual members should have for each other as individuals and for the church as a whole [Acts 20:28; 1Corinthians 10:32; 11:22; 1Timothy 3:5,15].
In the context of the Corinthian correspondence, addressed to a church that was riddled with false teaching, false practices and false attitudes, Paul’s opening line of address ‘to the church of God’ serves as an anticipation of the rebukes and corrections that are about to follow. These people to whom he is writing do not belong to themselves, they do not belong to Paul, nor Apollos, nor Peter, they belong to God – both individually, and corporately as the church. They are set free, redeemed, in the sense of spiritual redemption, but they are not free to do as they please, nor to operate their church as they please: they are ‘the church of God’.
‘… those sanctified in Christ Jesus …’
By these words Paul refers to the fact that those who believe in Jesus Christ are ‘sanctified’ – set apart by God as his special possession. The Greek verb is hagiazo. It means to be consecrated – to be made holy. In and through Christ Jesus these people now belong to God; they no longer belong to the world; they are no longer for common use.
This is part of the salvation package given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In receiving Jesus Christ they also receive this gift. Paul uses this verb again in 6:11: ‘… you were sanctified …’, and the related noun, hagiasmos in 1:30: ‘Christ Jesus … has become for us … holiness’ [NIV], ‘… is made unto us … sanctification …’ [KJV].
‘… called holy…’
Note that the words ‘to be’ are not in the Greek text. The adjective is hagios. Elsewhere this adjective is used as noun and translated ‘saints’. Indeed, ‘called saints’ would be a valid translation here. It is in effect another way of saying what has just been said: ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’, ‘called saints’.
That Paul makes this double reference to this identity of his readers stresses his conviction that despite the many issues that he is about to address he continues to recognize that they belong to God, that they have been set apart by God as his own consecrated people. This in turn, as we will see later in the letter, is a basis from which to address the issues and to recall them to choices and actions that will reflect and express that consecration, that sanctification, that divine ownership.
‘… together with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …’
By these words Paul indicates that what he is about to write is not just for the Corinthian Christians in the first century AD, but for all Christians everywhere.
Notice Paul’s fourth reference to Christians: they are ‘those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’. [Ananias similarly referred to Christians as ‘all who call on your name’ in Acts 9:14.]
Check out these Scriptures for the significance of calling on his name
‘… their Lord and ours.’
Both the apostle and his readers are under the authority of the same Lord. He is not about to call them to an allegiance and an obedience that is not also demanded of him. While it is his responsibility under the Lord Jesus Christ to recall them to faithfulness to the Lord, he himself is also expected to be faithful to the same Lord. Indeed, it is because Jesus Christ is Paul’s Lord that he, out of faithfulness to him, must write as he writes.
We also are included here: that Paul, out of faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ, by this letter challenges and recalls each one of us to faithfulness to our Lord.
Although in this letter Paul addresses quite a number of significant issues that were dividing and disturbing the church in Corinth, he has addressed them assuming that they are indeed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has referred to them as ‘the church of God’, ‘those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called … saints’. Now he greets them with his common greeting to believers ‘Grace and peace to you …’
Note the source of this grace and peace: it is God the Father, and it is the Lord Jesus Christ. [This outlaws any theology that puts a division between God and Jesus. God is not the ‘angry’ one in contrast to Jesus the ‘loving’ one. Both are the source of the grace and peace that is part of the blessedness of the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.]
B. PAUL’S THANKSGIVING FOR THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS – 1:4-9
List Paul’s various statements about what God has already done for the Corinthian believers:
Now list what Paul states God will do for them, and why:
‘I always thank God for you …’ – 1:4
Paul tells the Corinthians ‘I always thank God for you …’ He knows what they once were. He was there when they first believed. He personally witnessed the impact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. He knows that this was the work of God.
‘… because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus …’ – 1:4
In particular it was the grace of God in Christ Jesus, for which Paul thanked God. This grace is the grace of God by which the Corinthians were saved. That ‘sanctification’ he has already mentioned, that designation ‘saints’, plus the totality of the salvation granted to the Corinthians ‘in Christ Jesus’ is in Paul’s mind here.
In his letters to the Romans and Ephesians Paul has much to say about God’s grace, using such phrases as ‘freely by his grace’, ‘abundant provision of grace’, ‘grace increased all the more’, ‘his glorious grace’, ‘the riches of God’s grace’, and ‘the incomparable riches of his grace’. But here in 1Corinthians he does not appear, at first glance, to do more than mention it.
But the apparent briefness of Paul’s reference to God’s grace here may not be his intention at all. All commentators that I have researched interpret the following verses in the light of some of the issues raised by Paul in this letter. In doing so they appear to restrict Paul’s meaning. It is quite likely that Paul’s wording here does anticipate later issues, but not in such a way that those issues must of necessity determine how we interpret his wording here. Rather, his choice of words here, drawing his readers’ attention to the foundational truth, could well be intended to expose the relative insignificance of those lesser issues that were being given high significance by the Corinthian Christians.
‘… given you in Christ Jesus. For in him …’ – 1:4,5
Whatever Paul is talking about it is common to all who are ‘in Christ’. It is the common possession of all Christians. He is not talking about something these Corinthian believers have that other believers do not have. It is conditional only on their being ‘in him’.
‘For in him you have been enriched in every way …’ – 1:5
The verb is Aorist tense, referring to something that occurred once-for-all. In Ephesians 1:3 Paul also used the Aorist tense when he stated that God ‘has blessed us … in Christ’. Here the enrichment is described as ‘in every way’. In Ephesians, the blessedness is referred to as ‘every spiritual blessing’. The comprehensiveness of the enrichment referred to in 1Corinthians 1:5 parallels the comprehensiveness of the blessedness in Ephesians 1:3, which is later termed ‘the riches’ and ‘the incomparable riches’ of God’s grace.
All Christians have, in Christ, been enriched and blessed with all spiritual blessings. Not all Christians realize this, perhaps because no one has told them, perhaps because it sounds too good to be true. But, whether they realize it or not, all Christians, already, right now, have, in Christ, the totality of the salvation promised to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
Note that the words translated ‘in every way’ translate the Greek en panti – ‘in everything’, ‘in the whole’, ‘in all’ (from pas, meaning all, every, the whole).
‘ … in all your speaking and in all your knowledge …’ – 1:5
The Greek text literally reads ‘in every word and all knowledge’. [The 2011 NIV differs from this 1984 edition, but still includes interpretative additions].
It is at this point that the commentators I have read state their belief that Paul is here referring to the Corinthian’s possession of the ‘spiritual gifts’ of speaking and knowledge. But the possessive ‘your’ is simply not in the Greek text. Nor is the 2011 NIV’s added word ‘kinds’ [kinds of speech], in the Greek text.
And here we must face the question: is Paul here referring to the fact that the Corinthian Christians possess all kinds of (spiritual) gifts of speaking and the (spiritual) gift of knowledge [which we learn about from chapters 12 to 14], or is Paul referring to the fact that the Corinthian Christians possess [have been enriched with], in Christ, the whole word of God and knowledge of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
My conclusion is that he is referring to the latter. In Ephesians he followed his reference to being blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing, with a list of some of those blessings – election, adoption as sons, redemption, forgiveness, knowledge of the mystery of God’s will, and the seal of the Holy Spirit. Here in Corinthians he follows his reference to being enriched in Christ with an initial list of two aspects of that enrichment – the whole word, and all knowledge. In Christ they have been enriched with the true word and with true knowledge of God.
While later in the letter he will rebuke their attitude to ‘knowledge’, he is here stating a foundational truth: that they actually have, in Christ, been enriched with the knowledge of God.
Check these Scriptures for positive use of the Greek gnosis in reference to the true knowledge of God:
Philippians 3:8 [where ‘knowing’ is ‘knowledge’ in the Greek]
When we remember that Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth teaching them the truth about Jesus Christ it is not surprising that he states here that they ‘have been enriched’ [the word is related to the verb to fill] with all the truth and knowledge of God in Christ. He will speak at length about this knowledge of God possessed by all Christians in Chapter 2.
‘… because our testimony about Christ … ’ – 1:6
The words ‘our’ and ‘about’ are not in the Greek text, which reads ‘the testimony of Christ …’. This is the same phrase used repeatedly in Revelation:
Check these Scriptures:
This ‘testimony of Jesus Christ’ is the possession of every true believer. They have or hold the testimony of Jesus. The significance of this reference to the Gospel is twofold:
 It is, as the NIV infers by its insertion of ‘about’, the witness [the Greek marturion translates as ‘witness’ or ‘testimony’] of the apostles concerning Jesus Christ. This is the understanding most commonly given to 1Corinthians 1:6].
 But the content of the apostolic witness or testimony about Jesus Christ, is a witness or testimony derived directly from the witness or testimony of Jesus Christ himself. As the apostle John indicates, Jesus Christ came and told us the truth about God and about salvation – truth that we could never work out for ourselves:
Check these references:
The apostles were entrusted by Christ with his witness/testimony: what he taught them about God, what he testified about God and his kingdom, that they were commissioned to take to the world. It is not just truth about him, but the total truth he revealed.
‘… was confirmed in you.’ – 1:6
This phrase refers to the impact of the apostles’ witness: it was ‘confirmed’ [the Greek can mean established]. Its saving and transforming effect was clearly evident in the Corinthian believers when they believed in Christ: when they were rescued from darkness and brought into the light, when they were delivered from guilt into acquittal, when the seal of God’s ownership, the Holy Spirit, took up residence in them. Its impact on them confirmed its validity. [Note that the verb is Aorist tense, like ‘enriched’ in the previous verse. It refers to a one-off action … not something that was happening again and again, but something that happened once-for-all.]
Note that this confirmation of the testimony of Christ in the Corinthian believers is the result [‘because’] of their enrichment in the truth just referred to by Paul.
‘Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift ...’ – 1:7
The English translation reflects contemporary perspective on ‘spiritual gifts’. The word ‘spiritual’ is not in the Greek text, but only the word ‘gift’ – charisma. The fact that later on Paul writes at length about what are currently termed ‘spiritual gifts’ [but again that phrase does not occur in the Greek text], has probably led most commentators to conclude that Paul is here speaking about those ‘gifts’.
Check these Scriptures in context to see the range of other uses of charisma:
Romans 1:11 – where it is something that Paul wants to give the Roman believers – so it certainly is not a ‘spiritual gift’ as those come from God.
Romans 5:15,16 – where it refers to the freely given grace/gift of salvation in Christ.
Romans 6:23 – where it is the gift of God – eternal life in Christ.
Romans 11:29 – where it is a reference to election
2Corinthians 1:11 – where it refers to God’s grace in delivering the apostles from the ‘perils’ they faced
It is therefore not necessary to understand charisma in 1:7 to refer to ‘spiritual gifts’. If Paul’s meaning is as it was in the Romans’ texts above, a reference to the gifts of salvation granted to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, Paul is yet once again, stating his belief that these Corinthians, despite all the issues he is about to address, are indeed genuine Christian believers, blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, enriched in Christ in every way.
They, despite their failures, ‘do not lack’ any of that blessedness or any of the riches granted freely to all who believe in Christ.
‘… as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.’ – 1:7
Here is the hope of every believer: the return of Christ in glory, no longer veiled in humanity, but accompanied by the heavenly angelic hosts. Then, as John wrote ‘we will see him as he is’ [1John 3:2]. As John also wrote: ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him’ [Revelation 1:7]. For this coming, for this revelation, [the word is the noun apokalupsis], the Corinthian believers are eagerly waiting.
‘He will keep you strong to the end …’ – 1:8
Here is yet another strong reassurance. From 1:10 onwards this letter is one rebuke after another. It would be very easy for Paul’s readers to become disheartened, discouraged, doubting, riddled with guilt. Here he reassures them that their endurance to the end is not in their own hands – it is in Christ’s hands. Christ will keep them strong right up to that end – his revelation in glory that they are eagerly expecting.
‘… so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1:8
Although there are so many things about their personal lives, their attitudes, and their corporate worship that drew blame from Paul, yet all such things, ‘on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’, will be irrelevant. On that day, because Jesus Christ is keeping them strong to the end, they will be blameless.
This blamelessness is freedom from accusation. It is already, in Christ, the possession of every genuine believer:
Check these Scriptures:
Colossians 1:22 [which uses the same Greek word]
‘God …is faithful’ – 1:9
The assurance with which Paul has just addressed his readers is not grounded in them. They, as we are about to see, are struggling with a range of issues. They do not look at all like ‘good Christians’; they do not demonstrate a ‘victorious Christian life’; their fellowship, their morals, their commitment, their worship are all defective. But Paul is still confident, as he has stated in verse 8, that Christ will keep them strong to the end and that when Christ returns they will be blameless.
This confidence is grounded in the faithfulness of God. It is God who saved them and united them with Jesus Christ – ‘it is God who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord’. And this same God ‘is faithful’.
That our final salvation is in the same hands as our original salvation is taught elsewhere:
Check these Scriptures:
Our salvation always depends on God; it never depends on us. God saved us, and God keeps us saved. God saved us, and God will make sure we are still saved at the end.
We depend on his faithfulness, not ours. We believe in him, not in ourselves.
Whenever we find ourselves lacking assurance of salvation we are at that moment believing in ourselves, not in God.
This quote from Karl Barth is instructive:
‘No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust to himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe – not in myself – I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. … In God alone is there faithfulness, and faith is the trust that we may hold to Him, to His promise and to His guidance. To hold to God is to rely on the fact that God is there for me, and to live in this certainty.’ [Dogmatics in Outline, p18,19].
Paul draws his readers’ attention to the grace and the faithfulness of God by which they have been saved, and by which God holds them safe and secure. It is on the basis of this grand confidence that he addresses the multiple issues troubling this church.