The city of Corinth was a city with a love for things and pleasure. The citizens were looking to advance on the ladder of upward social mobility. The culture of the city was of trade, business, and the pursuit of success. Of all the cities in the Roman Empire, the city of Corinth perhaps most closely resembles the culture in cities of America in the 21st century. This modern, progressive, cosmopolitan city was the place where the apostle Paul spent two years with the church. We know this was a church with many doctrinal problems. When we read chapters 5-16 we read about these Christians being involved in many sins as well as having many questions about various teachings. But in our zeal to read about those other issues, it is easy to skip over the primary issue that Paul must deal with in the Corinthian church. The problem is so significant that the apostle must spend the first four chapters of the book addresses it. The big problem in this church is divisions. After concluding the thanksgiving section, Paul immediately dives into this problem in 1:10.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV)
As we mentioned, Paul addresses this problem for the first four chapters. Our study for the next few weeks will be these four chapters as we look at divisions and how we can avoid falling into this sin. We have a congregation that does not have divisions or quarreling. One of the great blessings of this church is the amount of harmony that we have experienced. We want this to continue to happen and the best way for us to continue be in harmony is to study what God says about divisions. Before the apostle Paul addresses the actual issue of the divisions that the Corinthian church is experiencing, Paul prepares them for this teaching in his introduction to this letter. In our lesson today we are going to look at how Paul prepares this Christians to overcome divisions.
Know Who You Are (1:2)
The first way to prepare ourselves for overcoming divisions is to know who we are. Listen to the description given in verse 2.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)
Notice that Paul does not say that he is merely writing to the church in Corinth. He elaborates as he describes who these Christians are. He says that they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” (NIV). Being sanctified recalls how Israel’s priests were sanctified for service or how the vessels of the tabernacle and temple were sanctified for use. You are set apart for God’s service. We are set apart as God’s covenant people which assumes certain obligations of obedience. Our conduct cannot be out of sync with our calling. We have been sanctified and called to be God’s holy people.
We get in a lot of trouble when we forget who we are. We sin and make many mistakes when we forget who we are and what God has called us to be. Forgetting who we are will cause a lack of harmony and bring about divisions. In fact, you will notice the apostle Paul calls for these Christians to remember that they are part of a story bigger than themselves. Notice at the end of verse 2, “Called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” You belong to a bigger story. You belong to a bigger group of people. You are sanctified and called to be God’s holy people along with everyone else on earth who calls upon the name of the Lord. Our work and our purpose is Christ is far bigger than ourselves and far bigger than what we are experiencing in this church. We have a kingdom work and we belong to the worldwide kingdom of God. One of the benefits I am able to enjoy as a preacher is the opportunity to go to other churches and be part of their fellowship, seeing how they are working in God’s kingdom. It is a reminder that we are just a small part of the whole, working in the kingdom of God. We are not islands but part of a greater work and greater purpose.
Know What God Is Doing (1:4-9)
Then the apostle Paul prepares these Christians for overcoming divisions by informing them about what God is doing for them so that they will understand their place in God’s plan. We will see three things that they need to know about what God is doing in their lives so that they are prepared to overcome divisions and maintain harmony.
The grace of God (1:4-7).Paul reminds them of the grace of God that was given to them in Christ so that they are in every way enriched in Christ in all speech and knowledge. This is a reference to the spiritual gifts that they have been given in Christ. You will remember that we read in chapters 12-14 that spiritual gifts were one of the reasons for the divisions they were having. They were arguing over which gift was better and not using their gifts for helping one another but competing with one another. Paul reminds them that what they have received from God is grace. These are gifts. These were not given because of who you are but because of the grace of God. What these spiritual gifts were supposed to do was enrich them in all speech and all knowledge. They were to have a life that grasps the truth of God and speaks that truth in a proper way. They have been blessed “so that you are not lacking in any gift.” When we see all that we have in Christ, how can we possibly divide and quarrel? We have experienced the rich blessings granted to us as gifts of grace! What are we doing fighting? We avoid divisions by looking at the grace of God and its effect in our lives.
Hope in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:7-8).The second point Paul makes to prepare us to overcome divisions is to have our eyes set on eternity. No matter how much of God’s blessings we enjoy in the present, we are still waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus. Our eager longing and anticipation is for the coming of Jesus. We divide and fight because we become shortsighted, losing our vision of our eternal goal. Further, Paul says that it is God who is keeping us strong until that day: “…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The ESV reads that he will sustain you to the end. The Greek word carries the meaning of strengthening and establishing, rendering constant so that you are unwavering. You cannot fall apart now by quarreling and dividing. The goal is to be guiltless on the day of judgment which can only happen through the strengthening of our Lord. Division and fighting shows that we are worthy of blame and are not resting our lives and hope on the promises of God. We do not depend upon ourselves but upon God who strengthens and helps us to the end. How can we fight with each other when we are eagerly longing to be declared justified and blameless on the final day?
Called into the fellowship of his Son (1:9).Finally, we are prepared to overcome divisions when we understand that God has faithfully called us into fellowship together with his Son. The “you” in this paragraph is plural. You all have been called together into the fellowship of Christ. We have been called into a new family, a new relationship in Christ. How can we fight with each other? How can we quarrel? How can we divide? We are joined in this fellowship of the Son. We are in relationship with each other. Unfortunately, many do not understand this. This is why many choose to only gather with other Christians on Sunday morning and do not take advantage of the opportunities to get together for other Bible studies, worship times, potlucks, and the like. They do not see that they are a family and community in Christ. We have something in common that is greater than any other bond that we can create or is given to us. We have a shared calling to participate in the new family created by God’s grace.
Before even bringing up the problem of divisions we can see how Paul is setting up his letter to prepare his hearers to overcome the divisions they are currently experiencing. Remember who you are. You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and are called to be his holy people. Our conduct must match our calling. Then remember what God has done for you. The grace of God was given to you, blessing you with great gifts so that you know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. You are looking forward to eternity and God will sustain us to that goal so that we will be declared guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. You were called into the fellowship of his Son. You have a new family and new community that changes how we live with one another.