“A Call to Unity”

December 29, 2013


1 Corinthians 1:1-17
“A Call to Unity”
December 29, 2013
Grace Covenant Church (PCA)

Corinth was located in Greece at the intersection of two major trade routes.  It was a populous city, with people from various races and backgrounds, and a wealthy city. It was an important city – the capital of the Roman province of Achaia.  It was also a city with much moral corruption.  Paul spent eighteen months there proclaiming the gospel, and apparently saw many converts.  A church was formed.  When the time seemed right, Paul moved on with his preaching and church planting mission.  Sometime after he left, a disciple named Apollos came and preached and taught among the church.  There were some problems in the church that Paul addressed in a letter that has since been lost.  The church also wrote Paul a letter, asking him various questions.  1 Corinthians is Paul’s response to that letter, which he wrote while in Ephesus around the mid-50’s AD.

He takes up their questions beginning in chapter 7.  But, in addition to the letter, Paul also heard a report from an acquaintance named Chloe about problems in the church that concerned him very much, but apparently didn’t concern the church enough. So, he begins his letter by addressing these problems. Paul addresses so many issues in this letter that one scholar has called it “an inexhaustible mine of Christian thought and life.”  We will seek to bring out the riches of that mine as we look at this letter…

[Intro]  There is an amazing unity that exists between mother and child in the womb.  That little baby lives and grows inside its mother and is united to her through the umbilical cord.  Through  the union of that cord, the child receives nourishment and everything it needs to sustain life.  Even when the child exits the womb, it still has that union with the mother through the cord, until it is cut.  The umbilical cord is a picture of the relationship we have with our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are placed in Him through faith, being united to Him.  Through that union we receive spiritual nourishment and grow as believers.  The difference is that our union with Christ never gets cut like the umbilical cord.  In fact, if we were cut off from Christ, we would die spiritually.  We exist in Christ.  Jesus put it this way to His disciples: “I am the vine and you are the branches. As long as you abide in Me, you will have life.”  When you pluck a branch off of a vine, it soon dies.  As long as it is in the vine, receiving its life-giving nutrients, it has life.

That is Paul’s burden as he begins this letter to the Corinthians.  He reminds us that as the Church, we exist in Christ.  Since the Church exists in Christ, we must express our unity in Christ (not only our union with Christ Himself, but our union with with one another).  How express our unity?  Respond to three calls: Duty, Confidence, Unity.

I. A Call to Duty  (1-3) for Paul (leader), Church
           A. For Paul
Paul begins his letter with the customary greeting of the time.  He names himself as the author and the Church as the recipients.  He also mentions Sosthenes, who could have been a converted synagogue ruler which Luke mentions in Acts 18.  As Paul gives his greeting, he draws attention to important truths which are instrumental in his letter.  We find the word “call” being echoed throughout this passage, beginning with Paul himself, and his duty as an apostle.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that he did not appoint himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but was called to that office through the will of God Himself.  Paul would have to assert his apostolic authority with the Corinthians, partly because they seemed to challenge it.  Paul probably didn’t enjoy writing the letter, but it was his duty as an apostle.  God’s calling compelled him, and compels all leaders of the Church.

            B. For the Church
Paul refers to them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” To sanctify something is to set it apart for holy use.  It is apparent from Paul’s letter that the church was having difficulty separating itself from the immorality of the world around them in Corinth. “The Church was in the world, as it had to be, but the world was in the Church, as it ought not to be.” At a time when they are experiencing many ethical problems, Paul reminds them that they have been set apart as holy to God.  This is their status in Christ, which they are to work out as an increasing reality in their lives, becoming more like Him.  They are “called to be saints” (v. 2) – “holy ones” – same root as “sanctify.”  A saint is not a super-Christian, but one who has been set apart to God as holy.  It applies to all believers, as Paul goes on to say in v. 2 “with all those in every place…(to end of verse)”  Though the Corinthians are having problems, Paul reminds them that they share the same status as all other Christians, and bear the same duty as all other Christians – they are to be holy as God is holy, because they have been set apart unto Him.

Paul does not encourage them to seek to fulfill their duty in their own strength, however.  He wishes them (3: “Grace… and peace”).  Peace is the usual Hebrew greeting.  shalom communicates blessing, prosperity of whole person.  To it Paul adds “grace,” one of the richest words of the NT.  It is only through Christ that we receive God’s grace – His undeserved love and favor.  Salvation and all of its benefits are by grace.  Christ is at the very center of it all.  Paul will mention His name ten times in these first ten verses.  So far, he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. They are sanctified in Christ Jesus, along with all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the OT, the faithful were said to call upon the name of Yahweh. Paul gives Christ that highest place as God the Son.  The grace and peace he wishes them in v. 3 are from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Christ is put on a par with God the Father.  He holds the highest place, and we exist in Him.  God calls us to duty – a duty which can only be fulfilled by His grace.

[Ill] This is the way it was for the first disciples.  Jesus was teaching in the area and came upon Peter and James and John as they were washing their nets.  They were fishermen.  Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a little so he could teach the people from the boat.  When he had finished, he asked Peter to go into the deep and let down their nets for a catch.  Remember they had just cleaned the nets.  Peter objected that they had fished all night and caught nothing, but He did as Jesus said, and caught so many fish that their nets began to break.  They called for their partners to help, but as they filled the boats, they were so full they began to sink.  Peter, James and John were completely amazed at how many fish they had caught, and knew it was an act of God.  Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet and said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”  Jesus said “do not be afraid, from now on you will catch men.”  Jesus called them to a task, an activity, a duty.  They left their nets, and their former lives behind, and followed Jesus.  Jesus’ call could not be fulfilled by lip service or contemplation.  It was a call to duty.

[Ap]  The church today is still called to duty.  We are not to simply receive what God has to offer and coast through life.  We are called to follow Jesus and work out the particular ways that we are to serve Him and His kingdom and glorify Him in this world, resisting the temptation and pressure of the world to squeeze us into its own mold. There will be plenty of times when our Christian duty calls us to things we do not like.  We may need to confront a fellow believer, even a close family member, with their sin, as Paul was having to do in this letter.  Let us remember that the God who calls us to duty also provides the grace we need to fulfill it – in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  There is a call to duty here, and…

II. A Call to Confidence  (4-9)  in God’s gifts, faithfulness

            A. In God’s Gifts
It was also customary in first century letters to offer a prayer for the recipient in one’s greeting.  Paul prays by giving thanks to God for His great gifts to the Corinthians.  He begins in v. 4 with the greatest gift of all – the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  It is through Christ that all other gifts are given to His Church.  So Paul says that the Corinthians have been enriched in everything by Christ.   Particularly, he mentions, in “all speech and all knowledge.”  These gifts relate to speaking the truth and understanding the truth (we will see that these are the gifts of which they were most proud)  They will be rebuked in these areas later.   But Paul acknowledges their blessings.  These gifts have been a confirmation of the testimony about Christ in them.  The word for “testimony” also means “witness,” and was used by Paul as a synonym for the gospel.  Paul calls them to be confident in God’s gracious gifts to them that they belong to Him and that they are not lacking any gift.  They are rich in God’s gifts.  Confident in them…

B. In God’s Faithfulness
They are to look to the future (v. 7) “waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  They are to be confident not only in what Christ has done, but in what He will do when He comes again.  He not only confirms them now, but will be faithful to confirm (guarantee) them to the end.  God will complete the work that He has begun in them.  In Christ they will be blameless on the great day of Jesus Christ – the day of His return and judgment.  Paul’s confidence is not in the Corinthians, or even in their gifts, but in God Himself who gives them.  “God is faithful” he says in v.9…

There is that word – “called” again.  God has called Paul to the duty of an apostle.  He has called the Church to be saints, holy ones.  But He has provided the necessary strength for that duty by calling them into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ.  It is through Christ that we know and receive God’s faithfulness.  It is through Christ that we receive God’s gifts.  It is through Christ that we answer His call to duty.  It is through Christ that we answer His call to confidence.

[Ill]  Again, this is the confidence that the first disciples were called to.  When Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, they were utterly defeated.  They betrayed Him.  They ran in fear.  They huddled together in fear and defeat and depression.  They went back to Galilee, but instead of waiting for Him, they returned to fishing.  They had completely lost their confidence in Jesus and His mission.  But on the day of Pentecost, as they were gathered together, there came a sound like a rushing wind from heaven and tongues of fire descended upon each of the disciples, as they were filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And they spoke in other languages that they did not know, so that the people around them from other countries heard the things of God proclaimed in their own language.  God called them to have confidence in His gifts through the Holy Spirit.  He was sending them out, as Jesus had called them.  But He would go with them, to the end, as Jesus had promised.  They were not to be alone.  God would be faithful.  They were called to be confident in God’s gifts and God’s faithfulness.

[Ap]  Too often we dwell upon our weaknesses and fears, focusing on ourselves, instead of upon the gifts of God.  We can tend to act as if He has short-changed us, left us poor.  We do nothing, or shrink back from opportunities, convinced we do not have the right gift. When we focus upon our relationship with Christ, and what He has done for us, we see that we have everything we need in Him.  We see that He has not only the past and present, but our future in His hands.  We can go forward confident in His gifts and faithfulness.  Let us answer the call to duty, confidence, and…

III. A Call to Unity  (10-17) in the name of Christ, His cross

           A. In the Name of Christ
In v. 10, Paul begins his appeal to the Corinthians.  He pleads with them as “brothers” (word in plural refers to siblings, can include “sisters”) – close, intimate family relationship. Uses the term 39 times, by far the most in his letters.  He appeals to them (v. 10) “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”  Ancient world – name represented totality of person – by all that Christ is and represents.  “that all of you agree” Not that they should think exactly the same thing on every matter (what color to pain the doors of their houses), but that they should be unified rather than having divisions among them.  He urges that they be united in the same mind “frame of mind” and the same judgment.  We will see what he means as the passage unfolds.

Paul had received a report that there was “quarreling” among them, which he explains in v.12…  Apparently different cliques had formed in the church around different church leaders.  Each clique seemed to have a party cry.  No indication that their teaching was any different.  Perhaps a matter of method.  Apollos was a Jew born in Alexandria (great center of learning).  According to the account in Acts 18, he was “an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures.”  His style was probably much more rhetorical (in the style of the trained speakers of the day), whereas Paul’s was apparently more simple – as Paul says in v.17.  The Greeks had a great appreciation for rhetoric, and may have rallied around his name.  Cephas is Aramaic for Peter.  Leader of 12.  Christian longer.  Jewish believers may have rallied around his name.  Then there were those who said they were of Christ.

But Paul asks (v. 13) “Is Christ divided?”  Paul doesn’t attack the teaching of any, but the fact that there were parties.  They have lost sight of the fact that they are all “in Christ” and are therefore one in Him.  They have even lost sight of His saving work for each one of His people. “Was Paul crucified for you?”  They have forgotten their baptism (v. 13), when they were baptized in the name of Christ – identifying themselves with Him and professing their allegiance to Him, not to Paul or anyone else.  They are becoming followers of men rather than followers of Christ.  Paul reminds them that their allegiance needs to be to Christ, who saved them.  Paul makes it clear that this was the last thing he wanted to happen, and is thankful (v. 14) that he did not baptize any more Corinthians, in case anyone would accuse him of baptizing in his own name.  Paul maintains he had pointed people to Christ, not himself, which is what he should have done.  He urges the Corinthians to abandon their divisive allegiances to the names of men and to answer the call to unity in the name of Christ.

B. In the Cross of Christ

Paul goes on to say (v. 17) that he was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel – the good news about Christ.  But he was not sent to preach with wisdom of words.  Paul isn’t saying that He isn’t seeking to be intelligent or reasonable.  He reasoned with people all the time, seeking to persuade them.  What he is saying is that he did not seek to persuade people by the cleverness of speech that the Greeks called wisdom.  The Greeks valued rhetoric and philosophical studies.  Seems Corinthian Church had unhealthy regard for rhetorical display.  But Paul avoided such display, so that it would not cancel the effect of the cross of Christ – the sinking of Christ to the lowest place of rejection and cursing for our sake, which is the heart of the gospel.  Paul wanted to make sure that people were faced with the saving work of Jesus on the cross, not preoccupied with his eloquence and learning.  If there was to be a response, he wanted it to be to the cross, not to his speaking ability.  He calls the church to unity in the name of Christ and His cross, which alone can save.

[Ap]  We also need to be careful of those we teach and influence, that we point them to Christ rather than ourselves.  We must point people to the Scriptures, not our own opinions.  We must seek to be good models and examples, and as God’s servants, we matter.  But, ultimately, people must follow Jesus and not us. We may have a favorite Bible teacher – we can receive teaching from those who are far away.  Be careful not to let our allegiance to that teacher overcome our allegiance to Christ. Careful not to identify ourselves more with them than we would with Christ. Careful not to let our allegiance to them alienate us from other believers, because we pit them against their favorite teacher or teaching.

Paul is not saying we have to be clones.  But He is giving a call to unity.  We must answer that call to unity with all those who are in Christ.  This is why we encourage prayer for other churches in town that preach the gospel, that God would bless them.  It is an expression of our unity with them in Christ.  We may go by different names.  And there are some differences which are important enough to us that we worship with those who are like-minded.  But may we not see Christ divided in Grand Island, and His Church divided.  Let us seek ways to express our unity with those who are in Christ.  Unity in His name, cross.

[Concl]  The cross of Christ is the great unifier.  The saying is true that everyone is equal at the foot of the cross.  There were times during Jesus’ ministry when the disciples were divided or confused.  But when it came time for Him to go to the cross, they were unified.  They all ran. They all betrayed Him.  They all misunderstood.  All needed Him desperately, just as we need Him.  Cross is the great unifier b/c we see the great need we all share and the great Savior we all have who are in Him.  In the Cross Jesus gave Himself for us.  The cross says to us all that we only exist and have life in Jesus Christ.  We who are in Him are one with each other.  Let us glorify our Savior by expressing that unity which He has given us.



Bible References

  • 1 Corinthians 1:1 - 17