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Greeting and Thanksgiving
The apostolic greeting
1st Corinthians, Chapter 1, verses 1-3
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is, in various respects, different from the other letters he wrote to his congregations, but it does not differ greatly in the form of its salutation. It observes the letter-writing custom of his day: first, the writer identifies himself; next, he indicates to whom his letter is addressed; the greeting follows.
In introducing himself, the writer gives his addressees more than his name; he also identifies his station and rank. This letter comes not only from Paul, the former pastor of the Corinthian congregation, but it also comes from Paul the apostle. He emphasizes this apostleship. Not only does he call himself an apostle of Jesus Christ; he also states that he was called by God to be an apostle and that it was God’s will that he be an apostle. In three different ways, Paul emphasizes his divine commission.
It was important for Paul to establish his rank and his authority as he wrote this letter. For one thing, this congregation needed much correction; in his letter Paul would be chastising them for a number of shortcomings and transgressions. Furthermore, there was opposition to Paul within the members of the congregation. Some did not rate him highly as a pastor; others were even attacking him and his ministry.
Under these circumstances it was necessary for Paul to establish his authority over them. He was God’s apostle, commissioned by God himself to write to them. When this apostle spoke, they had best pay attention. Otherwise they would be guilty of refusing to listen to God himself. One does not disregard an ambassador of a great King.
Sosthenes, who joined Paul in greeting the Corinthians, may have been a member of the Corinthian congregation. He was in Ephesus with Paul at this time and could substantiate the reports Paul had received about problems in the congregation.
Paul calls his readers the church of God in Corinth. He describes them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” Who would ever expect, from this description, that there were so many spiritual and moral problems in the Corinthian congregation? Paul addresses his readers as saints, as holy people who are blameless in God’s eyes. This is possible only because the weak and erring members of the congregation still believed in Christ as their Savior from sin.
When Paul also includes among his readers “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours,” he indicates that his letter is also intended for other readers. Very likely Paul means other Christians in the Greek province of Achaia, where Corinth was situated.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul also addresses “all the saints throughout Achaia.” And since God intended this apostolic letter to be read and heeded, not only by the Greek Christians to whom it was originally addressed but also by his church throughout the ages, you and I see ourselves included among “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” First Corinthians was also written for us.
The greeting (verse 3) is a familiar one. Pastors often use Paul’s words to greet their congregations as they begin their sermons. Like Paul, they desire for their congregations the two blessings that God can give: the grace of God that saves them through Jesus Christ, who redeemed them, and the peace of God they enjoy because now all is well with them.
Thanksgiving for spiritual blessings
1st Corinthians, Chapter 1, verses 4-9
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Before he turns to problems in the congregation, Paul thanks God for the rich blessings the Corinthians have received in abundance. Foremost among those blessings is God’s grace in Christ Jesus. There is no greater blessing than grace, the pardoning love of God in his Son, who died for us. This is the heart and soul of the gospel, the sure foundation of our Christian faith.
The blessings with which Jesus had endowed them included being enriched in all their speaking and in all their knowledge. The Corinthians appear to have valued eloquence and wisdom above anything else. Many of them paid good money to traveling teachers who trained them to become eloquent and persuasive speakers. They pursued this wisdom as the highest good in life; they were proud of this knowledge.
Now the Corinthian Christians, through grace in Christ Jesus, had gained a wisdom greater than anything they had ever known. They had a message to proclaim that was more important than the most eloquent among them had ever delivered. They were truly enriched in all their speaking and in all their knowledge.
What made them wise? What made them effective speakers? Paul puts it this way: “Our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.” It was what Paul had preached to them about Christ as God’s Son and the Savior of all mankind that “confirmed” them in faith. A Christian has a certainty that no unbeliever can ever know. This certainty affects all he knows and everything he says.
As a result of such confirmation, the Corinthian believers possessed many gifts. They had all the gifts God gives his believers: wisdom, faith, love, virtue, devotion, patience, and endurance. Even such extraordinary gifts as the working of miracles and speaking in tongues were found in their congregation.
Since they possessed the gifts with which God enriches his people, they were convinced that their Lord would return in glory to take them to himself in heaven, and they eagerly awaited his return. The Christian who lives his life with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” in his heart is rich in grace and knowledge and faith and spiritual gifts.
Their Savior’s promise that he will keep them in the faith until the end comes as a special assurance to those who await his return. Paul assures the Corinthians that they can count on God to keep the saving faith alive in their hearts, so that they will be with their Lord in eternity. God keeps his promises to his believers, who share in the life of his Son.
These Corinthians, who were often so careless about distinguishing between right and wrong, who were so self-centered, who were so sure of themselves, needed to reread what Paul writes in the introduction to his letter. Does he praise the exercise of their faith? Does he commend them for their deeds of love and for their Christian service? Does he praise them for their Christian knowledge? Paul praised other congregations—the Romans, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, for example—for these virtues, but not the Corinthians. Instead, he gives all credit to God. Everything they are and have as Christians he attributes to Jesus Christ.
Has it struck you how often the apostle mentions Jesus Christ in the first nine verses of this chapter? Nowhere else in Scripture is Jesus Christ named nine times in nine successive verses. Do the Corinthians realize why Paul is constantly pointing to Jesus Christ, why he is always expressing thanks for Jesus Christ and not for their Christian example?