Study Notes for I Corinthians 1: 1-9 (click here for Study Sheet)
Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians with a declaration of his direct calling from Christ to be an apostle. Many people tried to discount his apostleship because he hadn't been a follow of Jesus when Jesus was on Earth. But, Paul declares (as he does in almost all of his epistles), Jesus Christ personally appointed him to be an apostle. The Damascus Road experience was a direct encounter with Jesus that completely changed the direction and purpose of Paul's life.
The church at Corinth was fractured with divisions and quarrelling. Various kinds of immorality were showing up among the members, and the church was not disciplining the offending believers. They were spiritually immature, and Paul wrote his letter to them to help them know how to actually live a life in Christ when the grind of temptations and daily living challenged the enthusiasm of their conversions.
Perhaps one of the most reassuring parts of Paul's statement, especially to people who have found grace and security after lifetimes of legalism and the fear of being lost, is his simple declaration that he is writing to "those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy" (v. 2) His first words to them assert their status as sanctified believers in spite of their quarrels and self-serving behavior.
Salvation Not In Jeopardy
Paul does not even hint that their salvation or their security in Christ is in jeopardy. They have not rejected Jesus in their hearts; they still belong to him. Paul is writing not to harangue or frighten them back into "the fold"; they are already in the fold. Rather, he is writing to call them back to the holiness that is their inheritance in Christ. In God's eyes they are sanctified already. Now, Paul instructs, they must live in the power of the Holy Spirit that is already theirs.
Further, Paul reminds them that they have already been "enriched in every way-in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you."
When we accept Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to speak for Christ and to think his thoughts. Acts 2:1-4 tells the amazing story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus' followers and they were given words to say that they could not speak in their own power. They proclaimed Christ's victory in languages they did not "know".
In I Corinthians 2:10-16 Paul declares that when we have the Holy Spirit we understand the things of God. With the Holy Spirit indwelling us we can understand the life and freedom that Jesus has given us. Further, Paul makes the bold statement that as spiritual people who have accepted Jesus and received the Holy Spirit as our seal, we actually "have the mind of Christ."
In his greeting to the Corinthians Paul is reminding these fragmented new Christ-followers that the inheritance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is already theirs. Even though they are giving in to the temptations of their sinful flesh, he calls them to embrace what is theirs: eternal life. The power of the Spirit is theirs to enable them to live holy lives.
We are already saved. We have the Holy Spirit; Jesus is committed to helping us live a holy life.
Not only does Paul assure the Corinthians that they are already sanctified, he also reminds them that they "do not lack any spiritual gift." Even though they are immature and misbehaving, Paul reminds them that they have accepted Christ, and all the gifts of the spirit are theirs. They are living, though, as if these gifts were not theirs. They are allowing their "sinful flesh" to dictate their behavior.
When we give in to our natural impulses, we drown out the voice of the Spirit. We cannot function as prophets, teachers, and miracle workers. Even though we are safe in the heart of Jesus, if we do not choose to let the Holy Spirit transform our behavior, our lives are shallow and frustrating.
Furthermore, once we know we have accepted Christ and given ourselves to him, we experience an internal war when we refuse the discipline of God.
As Christ-followers we must choose to live in our new reality: we are saved children of God. That reality means that we have an inheritance to claim. We must learn to be vulnerable to the Spirit and allow him to show us what we need to see, teach us what we need to learn, and change what we need to change. As we allow him to have that much intimacy with us, his gifts will become increasingly obvious in us.
Strong in the Lord
Paul reassures the Corinthians that Christ "will keep [them] strong to the end, so that [they] will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul is telling these new Christ-followers that Jesus will keep them strong until He comes again. He is appealing to them to live in the power that is theirs already, the power of the Holy Spirit, and he assures them that they will remain strong in the Lord.
Paul does not tell the Corinthians that they've lost their salvation because of their divisions and quarrels. Rather, he reminds them of who they are in Christ. He reminds them that they belong to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is already in them. He calls on them to embrace what is theirs and to make it their own.
How To Live
Paul is writing to the Corinthians to explain how to live as Christ-followers after accepting salvation by grace. Holy living is not automatic; it requires intentional choices and vulnerability to the Holy Spirit.
Living with Jesus is not living under the law. Living by the Spirit requires continuous openness to Him.
Even though we are saved, however, God does not force himself into the places in our hearts which we want to avoid. The Spirit will nudge us, making us aware day-by-day of habits or attitudes which need changing. But God doesn't make us good by fiat. He speaks persistently, using whatever means required to get our attention.
I Corinthians reminds us that even if we find ourselves falling into sin, the Holy Spirit does not abandon us. We still belong to Jesus, and we do not fall out of our salvation. Rather, the Spirit will speak to us, reminding us that we are chosen; we are treasures in God's heart.
God is faithful to us. When we have committed ourselves to him, he does not "divorce" us when we hurt him. Instead he loves us, reminding us of our commitment to him and to his claim on us, letting us see how our self-indulgence hurts him, calling us back to his heart.
God will not let us go. He calls us to live in the victory that is already ours. He calls us to let the light of his Spirit transform our hearts and radiate onto the people around us.
God calls us to live in love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.