We now will continue to write our exposition of the first four Chapters of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.
To properly understand the thrust of Paul’s writing, even from the very first words of this letter, we must constantly keep in mind that Paul is going to refute the very great evils that had crept and were still creeping into the church at Corinth. It was the old leaven of sin which would work through until the whole meal be leavened and corrupted. Concretely, they were the sins of party-strife and schism, adultery, improper conduct at the Lord’s Supper and the denial of the resurrection from the dead.
Surely the need of the hour was, that Paul should in Christ’s name bring the Word of God, which is profitable for instruction, reproof, correction in righteousness, so that the man of God, the spiritual man, be prepared into every good work!
We will be interested primarily, in these essays, in Paul’s refutation of the saints in Corinth for their party-strife and schism, which was rooted in the puffed-up spirit, which is gendered by knowledge which is not seasoned with love. Compare I Cor. 8:1, 2. It is true, Paul is, in that passage, speaking of the question of the proper attitude toward that which has been offered to idols. Yet, the principle enunciated in the saying “For knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth” is of a broader application. It accurately expresses the fundamental trouble with these “saints in Christ” who, walked in party-strife and schism. We will interest ourselves in this aspect of Paul’s letter in these first four (4) Chapters.
With the foregoing in mind, let us consider the verses 4-9 of this first Chapter of I Corinthians.
We here read as follows: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ, that in everything ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We would call your attention to the following elements in these verses: 1. That Paul here gives utterance to his constant thanksgiving to God for the grace which He had given to the church in Corinth. This church was emphatically the church of God. I Cor. 1:2. See also I Cor. 11:22 where Paul asks: “or despise ye the church of God.” This latter reference surely has reference to the church of Godin Corinth, and not simply “the church” in the abstract form of a rhetorical question. Paul has good reason to give utterance to the church of his constant thanksgiving to God. That Paul gives thanks to God for what He has given the church in Corinth indicates that what he (Paul) will vouch for her is no empty boast and vain flattery, which would only aggravate the already too puffed up brethren, but rests upon solid and abiding considerations. And these considerations which form the ground of Paul’s thanksgiving to God must bring these “saints in Christ” to spiritual sobriety; they must be brought to their senses!
Consider then the following Paul would say to these Corinthian schism-workers in the church of God:
a. That all that you are you are by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Such is the thrust of the phrase “for the grace of God which is given you by Christ Jesus.” Verse 4. It is a grace which is solely of God. And it is a grace which has been realized in Christ on the Cross of Calvary for you, and is now given to you by Christ, who is your Head, in whom the Spirit dwelleth as in the Head, and is given unto you as in the living members on His body, in which there may be no schism. For all the gifts of God in Christ were: given to “profit withal” I Cor. 12:7. That such is the intent and thrust of this passage is evident from the addition: “given you!” The fact that it is the grace of God really implicitly states that all is gift. However, the fact that Paul adds that this grace is “given you” indicates that he would underscore most emphatically that this grace is once and for all gift. Such is the thrust, no doubt, of the aorist tense. (tee dotheisee) b. When we bear in mind that Paul, whenever he speaks of the grace of God, wishes to stop all flesh from boasting, we see the strong force of this word of Paul also here in our text. We have but to remember the word of Paul in Eph. 2:8, 9 where we read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that is not of you but the gift of God; not out of works, lest any man should boast!” Such is the thrust of Paul here in these verses toward these puffed up “saints in Christ,” who are “fleshly”!
2. The fact that Paul thus thanks God continually for these Corinthians should put them in their place. And what a wonderful place it is to be “put in” when we are corrected of the Lord. Then we learn to boast in Him, and to: abase ourself and hate all sinful pride.
Wonderful pedagogy on the part of Paul!
He will nurture them to a walk which is comely to “saints in Christ”!
Wherefore he will set forth a bit more minutely this “grace given” to this church so that they may see the horror of their present conduct, as this is set forth in the verses 10-17 following.
3. He sets the stage here for the concrete: matters he will bring to their attention. Let no one spin the web of the fancy of his brain that the preacher, who thus views and addresses the church, has no addressableness of the gospel. Of course, not for “mankind in general!” For that is not how the Bible is written. It is addressed to the saints in Christ, the church of God!
Well, then, let us notice the following:
a. The grace given to this Church of God in Christ is such that Paul can write: “Because in all things ye have been enriched in Him.” This is a very general statement and must be left standing as it is. There was no grace in Christ which had not been conferred upon this church. They had received from Christ’s fullness, grace for grace. John 1:16. God’s grace is such that in its very nature it is rich. Thus we read in Eph. 1:7 “according to the riches of His grace.” And, again, we read in Eph. 2:7 “that He might demonstrate in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace.” And in Col. 2:2 we read “Being knit together in love, and into all the riches of the full assurance of knowledge, to know the mystery of God.” The church had indeed been lifted out of the poverty of the shame of sin, of guilt and corruption, and had come to the riches of the full assurance of Christ and all that this implied in them. And, let it not be forgotten, this was wholly a gift of God. b. More particularly this church had received from Christ, through the Holy spirit, Who dispenses gifts to each one as He wills, the riches of Christ in such a manner that they could speak of it to others, could be teachers. They lacked none of the charismatic gifts spoken of in I Cor. 12:4-11. Some had received the word of wisdom, others the word of knowledge, others again had received the gifts of healing, and again others the gift of working of miracles, not to forget the speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
c. Forsooth, this church stood behind none of all the churches, in the world, in these spiritual gifts. They stood out in importance in this respect. And Paul daily thanks God for these gifts in this church. These gifts must not be despised. There was absolutely nothing wrong and sinful in these gifts. Every good and perfect gift, also the charismatic gifts in the early church in the apostolic age, were of God. To Him alone the glory for all these gifts which are all wrought in the church by one and the self-same Spirit!
Such was this gifted (it is said advisedly) church in Corinth.
Gifted of God they were in Christ through the Spirit. Wherefore they could fundamentally understand spiritual things spiritually, and are therefore addressable by this word of Paul.
4. More still. This church has a living hope upon the revelation, the final return of Christ. That was her expectation since she had the first fruits of the Spirit. She had learned to understand from Paul reasoning from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. And she had learned to see that all the prophets spoke of the suffering to come upon Christ and the “glory to follow.” She lived fundamentally with the loins of her mind girt up, looking for that revelation of the grace to be brought unto us in that day, when the church shall be perfect in one, and when no one will anymore say: Know the Lord. Then all the charismatic gifts would be no more. Prophecy itself would then fail, be no more. See I Cor. 13:8-11. Such was the expectancy of this church, while she had these charismatic gifts, says Paul. Verse 7.
Surely this should make this Church see that fundamentally first things should remain first in their spiritual evaluation of them.
5. And Paul is certain that Christ will surely purify these Corinthians in such a way from all their schism, party-strife, adultery, error concerning the very hope of the resurrection, that they will stand without any reproach in the day of Christ! He will keep them to the end. And he will present this imperfect church without spot or blemish, as saints in the light in that day! See verse 8.
6. And this assurance of Paul is based upon solid considerations. It is based on the fact that “God is faithful!” God’s faithfulness is closely related to His truthfulness. Truthfulness is a matter of God’s intellect, while “faithfulness” is a matter of God’s will, His immutable determination to fulfill His promise to His own.
The beginning of this manifestation of God’s faithfulness is revealed in that God efficaciously called the saints into the fellowship of Christ’s death and resurrection, and from this “fellowship” this church will never be separated.
7. Why then does Paul still write them if they will be surely presented without spot or blemish in the fellowship of Christ in that day? He writes them, admonishes them, teaches them because every Scripture, inspired by God, is profitable exactly to teach, reprove, admonish in righteousness, because God works grace through His own means of grace! Wherefore Paul does here what he later tells Timothy to do when he says: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom. Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering.”
Let us try to see how Paul does this, so that in our labors we may follow this great preacher’s steps in feeding and ruling the flock of God.