Beginning in verse 10 of chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, Paul begins to address the nitty gritty of the problems facing the Corinthian church, which in summary was their lack of holiness, unity, and love for another. We saw last time how before he embarks on the instruction, exhortation and rebuke, Paul first gives thanks for the Corinthians in verses 4-9. He concludes the thanksgiving section with the words, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 9). He purposely introduces the beautiful term fellowship, koinonia in Greek, to call to mind the idea of the church’s community. The Corinthian church was called into fellowship with Christ, and therefore, with one another. This immediately brings to mind the oneness and camaraderie that God’s people have in Christ.
The section, which extends to the end of chapter 4 is bracketed by the Greek word parakalao (in 1:10 and 4:16), meaning, I plead, I urge, I call upon. Paul is making an urgent appeal to the Corinthians to mend the differences between them that are leading to sin and contention. While there may have not been full fledged separation as of yet, if Paul’s admonition was not heeded and their dispute left unchecked, outright division would certainly have resulted.
Paul’s firm censure of their divisions demonstrates that partisanship or partiality in the body of Christ is a serious matter. But rather than deal with the issue directly, by calling out individuals who are being divisive, Paul discusses the theological implications underlying the visible problem. He sees divisions in the church as painting a picture of a divided Christ (v. 13); and because God is One, the church’s display of God should tell the truth about God’s oneness, and so should be perfectly united. Their disunity into various cliques was a statement against the unity of Christ’s body. In our text Paul appeals for unity, notes the foolishness of following after mere human leaders, and indicates that he himself had done nothing to instigate the partisanship after him.
As we enter the body of the Corinthians’ mail, I pray that the high view of ecclesiology (study of the church) presented in the first four sermons in this series has raised your minds when it comes to the importance of the local church. We are all apt to think of the church’s life and mission on such a small, even trivial scale. We have such a small vision as we tend to limit our thinking of church in terms of particular denominations or within recent history. But what I hope to have accomplished over the last 4 weeks, in advance of getting into the problems of the church, is to raise your minds to a greater understanding of the cosmic frame of reference that the Bible does, as it considers the church, as a people who point to the final triumph of God’s righteousness on earth! I hope I have raised the stakes, so that you might know that your actions as individuals within this church belong to a larger pattern of significance, than merely their effect on us as individuals. That obedience to God, and holiness and love and unity matter urgently because we are part of God’s eschatological plan to establish His kingdom – first invisibly in ‘the already’ – and finally and fully in the day of the Lord – which is ‘not yet.’
So I hope that by reading the Corinthians mail, we will see ourselves under grace, even while we yet live in sin city, and as such are a loving, unified, holy community – so that all of the besetting sin, and selfishness, and divisive behavior, and pride and pettiness and foolishness will fade away! And we will be what we ARE – the body of Christ – a people for whom we can all be thankful!
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