Paul begins his corrective of the conduct in the church at Corinth in the following way: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1.1-3).
Even within Paul’s greeting to the church, we see his concerns for her reflected. He identifies himself as one “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” Paul is authoritative from the outset. He knows the Corinthians are judging him (4.3). He begins Chapter 9 with three probing questions: 1) “Am I not an apostle?”; 2) “Am I not free?”; 3) “Are you not my work in the Lord?” The answer expected from all three questions is, “Yes, of course!”
He knows the Corinthians are calling into question his authority as an apostle. He will provide evidence within the letter. He assures the believers that in Christ Jesus he had begotten them through the gospel (4.15). He will say, “If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (9.2).
Paul asserts his apostleship in the opening salutation to brace the Corinthians for a pretty stern rebuke. There are three characteristics worth noting when it comes to his assertion:
- Paul was called to be an apostle. It is not his right to be an apostle. He is not worthy of the title. It is simply his calling. It was what God wanted him to do with his life.
- Paul was called to be an apostle by the will of God. Knowing that he is in the will of God, Paul confidently asserts his authority in the letter. Paul is not confident in his own will. He is bold and confrontational because he knows it is God’s will for him to be so.
- Paul was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul’s position of authority over the church in Corinth is based upon his relationship with the Lord Jesus. Jesus sent Paul. Paul came to the Corinthians as a result of Jesus’ calling him and then sending him.
God Calls You
You are not called to be an apostle. However, you are called and gifted as a believer in Christ. You are called to a selfless life and not a selfish life. Since you have received a gift from God, you ought to serve one another as stewards of the manifold grace of God. Serve with the ability God supplies. Do so for the glory of our Father through Jesus Christ our Savior (1 Peter 4.10-11).
Your primary calling in life is not making money or consolidating power. Ask each day, “How am I able to use my abilities and opportunities in a way that best serves the needs of others in my life?”
You have the responsibility to pick up the mantle of your calling today. This means you might choose not to do so. Remember that “a man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16.9). God makes His calling clear in your life when you respond and do what He calls you to do. You are God’s workmanship created for good works prepared by God beforehand. You must go and do them now (see Ephesians 2.10).
The only way you will understand God’s calling upon your life is to daily seek His will. In other words, He commands you.
God Commands You
We are to pray daily for God’s will to be done in our lives. Jesus taught us this. Our desire is that God’s will would be done through us even as it is done in Heaven through the angels. Sometimes, God’s will is only done after He frees us from our own selfish will. This is the first step to knowing the will of God. Do all you can to divest yourself of your own will.
If you struggle with this as I do, simply pray: “When I am unwilling to do Your will, Father, please forgive me and gently nudge me toward Your will once again.”
The will of God is not some mysterious thing to be sought. You simply seek first the kingdom of God, then everything else falls in line (see Matthew 6.33). Find the will of God by daily doing the will of God. The big picture will take care of itself. Trust in the LORD. Delight in the LORD. Commit your way to the LORD. When you do as God commands you, He will give you the desires of your heart. They will be in line with His desires. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light; and your justice as the noonday (see Psalm 37.3-6).
God calls and commands you even as He called and commanded Paul. We simply have different roles to fulfill.
God Commissions You
That is, the Lord Jesus sends you even as He sent Paul. Don’t live your life thinking about what’s next. Instead, “aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind you own business, and to work” at serving selflessly (see 1 Thessalonians 4.11). If you settle for less in this life, you will enjoy it more. Don’t be covetous. Be content with what the Lord Jesus has allowed you to have. Remember His promise in Hebrews 13.5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So, God calls, commands, and commissions all of us as believers in Christ Jesus.
The text also tells us that Paul is writing to the church of God which is at Corinth (1.2). Paul will later say that the church constitutes God’s fellow workers, His field, and building. Paul is gently telling the church that they belong to God. They don’t belong to Paul or even to themselves. So, they shouldn’t think so highly of themselves. He is addressing every single member of this church. He describes them in the following three ways:
- The church is a gathering of those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. This means that they are set apart in Christ Jesus by God the Father. They are God’s new people consisting of both Jews and Gentiles in one body. The vessels and instruments in the temple are described as sanctified or set apart for holy purposes. These vessels and instruments were not used for common activities, but for temple activities. So, the Corinthians are set apart to be holy even as God is holy. It is important that they are image-bearers of the Father.
- The church is also described as a gathering of saints. The noun saint carries the idea of a holy, set-apart person. The common understanding of the word saint today is not what Paul had in mind in the first century. Saints are believers who are called by God to reflect His character. They are given the Holy Spirit to accomplish this. Yet, the Corinthians are not reflecting their position in Christ as saints.
- The church is described as those “with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (1.2). This is a difficult phrase. I think it is Paul’s way to confront their strong, individualistic spirit. They need to understand that they are with all other churches and with Paul himself. They are with all believers in every place calling on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. They are part of a bigger picture, not the big picture themselves. The universal church of Jesus Christ is everywhere and, in every place, not just Corinth. It’s good for them to remember that they are not alone. Paul speaks of all churches, both theirs and ours. That is, those planted by Paul and the Corinthians and those planted by other believers.
We also are set apart as saints to serve God. The Holy Spirit works daily through the Word of God to conform us into the image of God the Son for the glory of God the Father. It is so important that we remember that we belong to God. He owns us because we were “bought at a price; therefore, [we must] glorify God in [our] body and in [our] spirit, which are God’s”
Paul finishes the salutation with the words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.3). Everything about the Father’s disposition toward us as His children is found in the word grace. God our Father gives what is not deserved and could never be achieved by those of us who constitute the church of Jesus Christ. As we receive grace, we experience peace. It is well with our souls. Peace flows from grace and grace from God our Father. But all of this is only possible because of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ; the Corinthians are sanctified believers in Christ Jesus. All of us as Christians are those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ. Grace and peace come from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant us grace and peace as we fulfill our calling, obey His commands, and joyfully go wherever He commissions us!