Freedom sermon series
- United We Stand - 1 Cor. 3
- Finding Our Place of Service - Romans 12
- Sharing Christ with All People - Ac. 17
- Sharing Christ in All Places - Ac. 1
- Agreeing on the Basics - Church Life 101 - 1 Cor. 1
Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 1
In order to fully understand the weight and message of this book, it is imperative that we understand the context in which it is set.
Corinth was a major city of commerce in the ancient world. It was a strategic city which could be easily defended, as a port city it was very cosmopolitan as the world passed through it. Corinth had been destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Romans, and then refounded in A.D. 46 by Julius Caesar. In A.D. 27 it was declared a seat of Roman Provincial Government.
But perhaps the most striking thing about the city was its reputation for wickedness. The city was a playground for wickedness. It was referred to as the palace of Poseidon and the Lounge of Greece. It was a city whose lavish wealth and conspicuous luxury only added to its evil and increased its reputation as a city of vice.
At the highest point in the city was the temple of Aphrodite, where more than a thousand temple prostitutes enticed the locals and the tourists to worship the pagan goddess through illicit sexual activity.
Corinth was a wicked place.
Acts 18 gives us an account of Paul's ministry there. After preaching for a year and a half, Paul left a church there. But after he left problems arose. The church at Corinth was fraught with deep problems.
There was a divisive spirit in the church, which manifested itself in power struggles and a lack of unity. There were church discipline problems, where members of the church were living in open wanton sin and the church was not taking action to deal with it. There were Christians suing each other in pagan courts, church members exercising their own liberties regardless of the impact it had on other, weaker believers. The church was filled with family problems, where church members were getting divorced from one another and apparently no one had challenged them with God's perspective on divorce.
The roles of men and women in the church had become confused, the Lord's supper, instead of being a time of fellowship had become a time of drunken feasting and then they had a problem with spiritual gifts. Paul devotes three chapters to dealing with the use and misuse of spiritual gifts. And finally they had questions about the doctrine of the resurrection.
As one commentator notes, "The most serious problem of the Corinthian church was worldliness, an unwillingness to divorce the culture around them. Most of the believers could not consistently separate themselves from their old, selfish, immoral, and pagan ways." (MacArthur Study Bible, introduction to 1 Corinthians. Pg. 1727)
Paul's purpose in writing this book is to set their doctrine straight and thus deal with the problems plaguing the church. He wanted them to understand who they were, why God had brought them together and what they were supposed to do. It has been noted that "in one way or another, wrong living always stems from wrong belief." (MacArthur Study Bible, introduction to 1 Corinthians. Pg. 1727) That's why being united on the basics of church was and is of absolute importance.
For those who say the Bible is no longer relevant to modern man, the book of 1 Corinthians stands as a prime example of the timelessness of God's truth. The same problems afflicting the Church at Corinth afflict many churches today. The inability of Christians to separate themselves from the surrounding culture, the struggle with sexual temptation, the divisiveness that splits hundreds of churches every year, the lack of a biblical foundation of women's role in the church, all of these things afflict the church today. This book speaks just as directly to us as it did to its first recipients. In fact, in light of the fact that the church has had two thousand years to eradicate these problems and yet they still exist, this book is an even more powerful indictment against the modern church than it was to the first century church. They at least had the excuse that Christianity was new, we don't have that excuse.
So Paul writes to address a very troubled church. And yet it is comforting to realize that even when the church is troubled, God still loves her and still has a plan for her.
Notice several things here in the first nine verses of Chapter one.
First, Paul points to the fact that as Christians we have favor with God.
1. As Christians we have favor with God
Vs. 4. "Because of God's grace given to you in Christ Jesus."
Paul understood grace in four ways:
- A disposition or attitude which God has taken toward us, to grant us or give us favor that we do not deserve nor do we merit, whereas mercy is when He does not give us what we do deserve.
- The expression of that attitude in good things He gives us. ( salvation, life, etc.)
- The believer's response to that grace - gratitude "We say grace
- The expression of that attitude in the form of Gifts we give back to God
Grace: - Grace speaks to the Position of favor we have with God and the ways that favor has been manifested in our lives.
Notice four ways Grace has been given us through Christ Jesus.
He chose us – The word "church" means "called out ones." God has called us out from the world. He has called us individually and corporately to be His people. Even as He had called Israel to be His chosen people, those who are members of His Church, are also His chosen people.
He saved us – The way to become part of the Church ( The Church in the universal sense vs. the church in the local sense) is to become a Christian. To have our sins forgiven, to place ourselves under His Lordship, to belong to Him. He saved us. We are saved by Grace. Verse 6 says, "even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you." The fact of the matter is, that these people were saved. They had a position with Christ as saints, even if their condition as saints was on shaky ground. When our walk with God is neglected and the condition of our relationship is not what it should be, the devil will try and tell us that we are not saved. We need to recognize the difference between position and condition, between our standing with God and the state of our relationship with Him.
He sanctified us – The words saint and sanctified come from the same Greek word from which we get out word Holy. Its basic meaning is separation. It means that when we get saved, God separates us from the common or unregenerate or unsaved population of the world, and sets us apart for holiness. We become Holy ones, or saints. But that sainthood or holiness is not because of anything we have done, but all because of what Jesus has done on the cross. And Paul is quick to remind the Corinthian Christians about that, telling them that the grace of God was given them by Christ Jesus.
He blesses us – Peace. In verse 3 Paul says, Grace and Peace. Now, we don't want to read too much theology into the greeting, but it is instructive to note that Grace comes before peace. Grace must precede peace. Until you have experienced the grace of God through salvation, you will have no peace with God, no peace with yourself and no peace with God's people. Because of God's grace, or His favor, we enjoy His blessings. Count them: His presence, His promises, His Spirit, His gifts, His word, His protection, His power, His attention, His love, and the list goes on and on. Because of His grace, because He favored us and bestowed His mercy upon us, when we did not deserve it, we enjoy all the good things of God. That, my friends, is grace.
But there is a second thing Paul says to this troubled church. And that is that:
2. As Christians we are equipped to be fruitful for God
It was God's intention for the church at Corinth to be fruitful. Jesus tells us in John 15 that if we abide in Him that we will bear much fruit. He is the vine, we are the branches. The problem with the church at Corinth was that the sin in their individual lives and in their corporate church life, kept them from the kind of fellowship with Jesus that is needed in order to be fruitful. They were fruitless because of the sin in their midst. But Paul reminds them that God's intention for them, and for all Christians is to be fruitful, to be productive in His kingdom.
Notice three things Paul says concerning the gifts they have received.
Gifts from God – productivity
Plentitude – not lacking in any gift, individually and corporately. Verse 5 tells us that as Christians, saints, those who have been called by God, they have been "enriched" in everything by Him, and in verse 7 he says that they came short in no gift. In Christ, believers have everything they need. They are not lacking in any area. But just because we have been given everything we need does not mean we are using it properly.
Practice – expected to use them. The Corinthians were rich in spiritual gifts, but because they used them improperly they were out of God's will and were experiencing problems. Just because you have everything you need, does not mean you are enjoying what you have. In order to enjoy what you have, you have to use it properly, according to God's design and direction, not your own.
Spiritual gifts used for selfish human gain will always bring grief. God had given the Corinthians everything they needed, they, however, had failed to use those gifts for God's glory and the results were disastrous.
Paul says they were gifted in all utterance and all knowledge. God had given them all of the gifts needed to further the kingdom. They had the ability to speak, they had the knowledge, true spiritual knowledge, to share, but their inability to separate themselves from the culture around them hindered them from being useful in God's kingdom.
Many people who have tremendous spiritual gifts, never amount to anything in the Lord's service because they are not able to get the rest of their lives where they need to be with God. God is more concerned with what you are than what you do. The world we live in is performance oriented. It is less concerned with who you are, ie. Character, than what you do, with the bottom line. With God the practice of your spiritual gift is ever tied to who you are and what kind of relationship you have with God.
Patience – 'till His coming, but look at the last part of verse 7, "eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." As Christians we are to use our spiritual gifts with a view towards that day when Jesus Christ returns and we stand before Him to give account for our lives.
Paul is reminding them that instead of the bickering, the backbiting, the division and the discord that exists among them, that was keeping them from being effective and productive in God's kingdom, they were supposed to be living with an eager expectation, a daily watching for and anticipation of the Lord's return. That expectation itself goes a long way in keeping our spiritual lives where they need to be.
3. As Christians we are assured of the Faithfulness of God
Look at verse 8 and the first part of verse 9.
"He will also confirm you in the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful."
He will keep you strong in your faith. God, who had confirmed them in their past would confirm them in their future. The word translated "confirm" means to establish, to stabilize, or to guarantee. It carries with it the idea of making good on an agreement, to keep a promise that had been made.
God is saying that He will make good on His promise to bring you through this life and to take you to heaven. The guarantee for your soul is not dependent upon you, but upon God and His ability to keep His word.
There is a word here to those who think it is possible to loose your salvation. The word is this: It is God who confirmed us, or saved us, in the first place, if He saved you, if you belong to Him, then He will keep you, He will make good on His promise, keeping His word that assures you of Eternal life, not just life till you sin again.
If it were up to us, and it were possible, we would all lose our salvation. But it is not up to us, it is not dependent upon our goodness or our ability to be pleasing to the Lord. He saved us by His grace and He will keep us by His power. He gives us the guarantee.
Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
God saved me and He will keep me. He started His work in me and He will finish what He started.
The word of assurance is that if you are genuinely saved, you have experienced salvation; no one or nothing can take it away from you.
Now, this offers no assurance for those who profess to be believers but whose lives have never shown any evidence of the gifts or the fruit of the Spirit. There are those in every church and there always have been, who know a lot about God, profess to be Christians, but have never come to know Him as Lord of their lives.
Eternal security, the doctrine that says "once you are saved you are always saved," is not to be used as an excuse to sin. But for those who truly know Him, it offers great comfort and assurance.
So, we have seen that we enjoy favor with God, we have been equipped to be fruitful for God and we have been assured of the faithfulness of God, but finally, notice in verse 9 that while we are on this earth, we are privileged to have fellowship with God.
4. As Christians we enjoy fellowship with God
We are called into fellowship with: partnership
I want you to notice two aspects of this fellowship. One has to do with the fellowship we enjoy with God Himself through Jesus, and the other aspect has to do with the fellowship we enjoy with God's people, the body of Christ.
Now, verse nine tells us that we are called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ.
What does that mean?
The Greek word for fellowship refers to that which is held in common. We have many things in common with Christ now. He has given us His nature, His Spirit, we have a common Heavenly Father, and we have a common home in heaven. We are joint heirs to the throne of God. We have been granted all these things, and we have them in common with Christ. And if we have things in common with Christ, we will have things in common with His people
So as we have fellowship with Him and His people, we share those things which we have in common.
Have you ever noticed that it is difficult to have fellowship with people with whom you have nothing in common? If you are a Christian, it should be difficult for you to have true, in depth fellowship with people who are not Christians. I mean, after all, you serve different masters. You have a different set of values, of ethics, a different vocabulary; you are living life for different purposes. How is it that you, as a person who has been transformed into a new creation, and who has the Spirit of the Living God inside and in control of your life, can have fellowship with the world?
The problem is that many Christians are carnal Christians and thus they have more in common with the world than they do with Christ. And they are more comfortable around non-Christians than they are around Christians. Their fellowship with Jesus is so poor, their relationship with Him is in such a bad state, that they literally feel like they have more in common with the world than with Jesus and His people.
Friend, if you are in that group, you need to take a long hard look at your life this morning.
With whom do you share things in common, The World or Christ? Around who are you more comfortable, a secular crowd or people from the church?
Listen, if hanging around people who are sold out to Jesus makes you uncomfortable, something is wrong with your fellowship with Jesus.
If you have been enriched by God's grace, saved from the penalty and the power of sin. If you have been called by Him to be a saint, to be salt and light in a rotting world of darkness. If He has gifted you with spiritual gifts and abilities that position you for usefulness in His kingdom, if He has promised to keep you, to sustain you, so that someday you can stand before Him blameless, if He has put His Spirit inside of you and given you His name.
If our God has shown you His favor, if He has been faithful, what does that say about the kind of fellowship you should have with Him?
What is the state or condition of your fellowship with Him this morning? Are you more at home with the world than with God's people? How useful and fruitful are you being in His kingdom today? Do you understand who you are, why you are here and what it is God has called you to do?