Mark Dever writes: “What is the church to be like? What characteristics should we expect of church? According to 1 Corinthians, the church should be holy, united, and loving.”
Having laid the foundation for the book of 1 Corinthians in our first two introductory messages, we looked at the church as first a loving, and then united, community. As we begin our expositions in the epistle, we see in the first three verses a typical salutation, in that it identifies the author and his recipients. Paul, writing under apostolic authority, identifies his recipients as, “the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2). Of course the term “saints” (hagioi in Greek) does not refer to a select few holy individuals, but rather all the members of the community of God’s elect people gathered out of the world unto Himself. It is interesting that Paul begins by counting the Corinthian Christians as consecrated in their union with Christ. This is ironic, as it is this very same community that he is about to soundly rebuke for their worldliness, sins, and ungodly practices, he addresses by affirming their sainthood. Though they seem so carnal and worldly in the way they mimic partiality to secular leaders, use secular courts, dine in pagan temples, and live in sexual immorality, they are yet set apart from this perishing world. Their identity, which for many in the church was still being derived from their status in society (free, slave, Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, male female) is rather found in Christ and established in light of the Gospel. And a significant part of this letter is devoted to help the Corinthian church understand their true identity that they might reflect it in their behavior inside and outside the church.
Holiness, or sanctification, takes on several connotations. First of all it refers to strangeness or peculiarity. So we see in chapter 2, Paul admonishing the Christians that they will inevitably appear foolish or strange to the world. This is not something that should bother a holy people. Holiness also refers to being set apart for God’s special purpose and use, like the Temple, its objects, and its priesthood. So Paul writes in 1 Cor 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Holiness also involves purity, so in chapter 5 in the discussion of disciplining a member involved in an incestuous relationship in the church, Paul warns: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” and orders them to “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Cor 5:6, 13). The church’s tolerance of such sin in their midst was undermining the holy display that the church was to be of the Holy One.
Holiness should be a trademark of the church; it should be typical of our life with one another. We live in the world, but not of it. And our holiness is derived from the Holy One who has loved us, purchased us, and indwells us. It is our calling then to be holy, for God is holy, and we must display His holiness to this world.
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