Title: Grace and peace
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Date: January 16, 2011
Author: Thomas Lehman
Today is the first of seven consecutive Sundays for which the Epistle comes from 1 Corinthians. Paul’s opening greeting appears in vv. 1 – 3.
His prayer of thanksgiving is vv. 4 – 9, after which he rushes to reprimand his readers so as to correct various errors and sins he knows to be occurring in the church in Corinth. Paul opens with compliments to his readers before scolding them for their deviation from the righteousness he has proclaimed to them. (Johnson, p 298) Because Paul always begins his letters with warm wishes and kind words, somewhat modified from church to church, it is almost fair to refer to these few verses as boilerplate.
Paul soon goes to work dealing with the bad report he has concerning his readers, whom the Christian Century cites as “the rowdy mess called the church of God in Corinth.” (11 JAN p 20)
Looking beyond the assigned passage, In Ch. 1 v. 11 Paul is on the attack: “it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.”
In Ch. 1 v, 25 Paul says: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom…” It sounds like Paul is shouting at them. We have moved far from verse 5, where he praises them in these smooth words: “for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.”
The book of 1 Corinthians ends with Ch. 16. The final verse is: “23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.”
With this brief look at the opening and closing of the book I turn to the first few verses in detail. Though I called them boilerplate, Paul says important things at a fast pace, and the power of his message has held my attention.
The three-verse opening greeting reads as follows:
1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Note the repetition of phrases in which both Jesus Christ and God are mentioned:
1. called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
2. To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.
3. peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Paul established the first Christian community in Corinth.” (Luke Johnson, The Writings of the NT, 2nd Ed., p 296) He had a thorough education in the Jewish faith. He knows that God is to be worshiped at all times and under all circumstances. But he is also convinced that Jesus is at the center of the new faith, and so he joins God and Christ Jesus time and again. We now take this for granted, but it must have made quite an impression on early Jewish Christians, who knew nothing of the Trinity.
Corinth is west of Athens, and Greece had its own views of God and gods, but Paul spent time in the synagogues of the foreign cities he visited, so his letter had some Jewish readers along with any Greek converts. By putting his energies into Corinth, Paul proclaims the Christian message in the wealthiest, most prominent Greek city at that time. (IB p 3)
Paul, called to be…, the opening words of the book. “We tend to think that only ministers or priests are called, but Paul views all believers as those who have been called by God… sometimes the call has a particular task central to it; typically the call is to be lived directly in the life context where one is called.”
The distinction is between vocation (living the Christian life) and career (employment). Like Paul, we are all called to the vocation of living the Christian life.
Apostle; the word has several meanings, one of which denotes the first missionary to bring Christianity to someplace, and is most often applied to Paul himself.
Sosthenes is identified in Acts 18:17 as a ruler of the synagogue. Like Paul, he came to Christianity from a strong Jewish base. He is assisting Paul, and joins him in greeting the Corinthians, but Paul is the author.
To the church…The word church appears a few times in Matthew, and lots of times in the book of Acts. But 1 Corinthians was probably written in A.D. 54, before the book of Acts and well before Matthew. Thus Paul was the first to use the word translated as church. The Greek word referred to an assembly, not necessarily religious. Note tha t he says “Church of God” in 1:2. It is easy to believe that the NT is all about Jesus, but here Paul tells us that our Christian faith points us to God. In II Corinthians he says “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” Jesus was doing God’s work on earth.
Called to be saints. The word “Christian” was not yet in use when Paul was preaching, so he uses the word “saints.” (IB p 16) Today we usually give a more particular meaning to the idea of a saint, but the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) refer to church members as saints.
Grace to you. As tempting as it is to let some nimble software count the number of times the word “grace” is found in the New Testament, the number would not tell the whole story. The translation of the Greek word charis varies, and might appear in English as grace, favor, mercy, compassion, kindness, or even love. (Oxford Essential Guide to the Ideas and Issues of the Bible, 2001) These words together give a good picture of the full sense of the word grace: favor, mercy, compassion, kindness, love.
Every one of Paul’s letters opens with an affirmation of God’s grace, God’s freely given, undeserved gift. And every letter from Paul closes with it; for Paul grace is the alpha and omega of the life of faith, the defining trait in the life of a believer. “It is to Paul above all others that we owe the special significance” of the word grace. (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, monograph on grace)
Paul had a very personal experience of God’s grace on the Damascus road, when he was transformed from a persecutor of Christians to their leading champion and chief apostle.
Martin Marty, one of the two or three greatest churchmen of the past sixty years, calls grace “the basic feature of Christian faith and life.” (A New Handbook of Christian Theology. Abington Press 1992) In spite of its prominence, I admit that the word “grace” is one I have seldom used, though I have heard it from childhood. Perhaps you also make little use of the word, except of course for Eric and Rebecca.
When we ask who makes grace a reality we get two answers. The Bible declares many times that God shows grace toward undeserving humanity, forgiving our sins and accepting us into divine fellowship. God is the initiator, and sending Jesus to earth is the foundational act of New Testament grace. Thus God’s grace sets up salvation.
By divine grace God is trying to turn our lives around. This grace extends to our daily lives; it should guide and sustain us in good times and bad.
When we say “table grace” we are acknowledging that God’s gift to us of daily bread is an act of divine grace, for we are no more deserving of it than are those who starve.
The second answer to the question of who makes grace a reality is: we do if we grasp its meaning. “God’s grace calls forth human imitation.” (Oxford Essential Guide) This is what Paul is urging on his readers – a transforming grace in each of them that will define the lives they share in the young Christian community.
Seeing that God showers his favor – his grace – on us, we should be imitators of God by extending God’s free gift of grace from day to day to each other, and to persons in need, reaching well beyond our own circle of friends in the faith.
Peace from God our Father. Paul extends God’s peace to the church. Because this is a personal letter to a small congregation, and not a State of the Union address, we can assume that he is thinking about individual and interpersonal peace in the congregation, not harmony among nations.
When Christians follow God’s example and Paul’s preaching, and lead lives full of grace and peace, all human relationships among them are enhanced. This is not to say that conflicts will never arise, but that when they do, these are surely the qualities that will lead to the best outcomes.
If the terms are taken in Paul’s order as grace, then peace, there’s a lovely connection to be made: where believers consistently extend grace to those around them, peace will surely result. (A grace-inspired attack is an oxymoron.)
We are sometimes asked to pass the peace of Christ to those near us. Perhaps we should also assure those same persons that we mean for God’s grace to flow through ourselves to them.
To use a church-based metaphor, I am to a considerable extent preaching to the choir. We do well in filling each other’s lives with grace. We worship well together, singing the praise of God. Finding people to take the various assignments in a worship service could be a lot harder than it is. We add to the joy of living through our conversations, and by helping each other get through life. Volunteerism in the community, led by our pastor, is significant. My message is more affirmation than admonition.
However, our challenge is always to expand the perimeter of grace and peace, as we are able, in this community, and indirectly around the world. May we always be the beneficiaries of God’s grace and peace, and may we spread them as far as the impact of our lives is felt. That is our Christian vocation.