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“Grace and peace” 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9           January 16, 2011
"Today's passage is a hopeful one that emphasizes God's call and provision, and assumes that it is, indeed, possible to live a sanctified life in the middle of an unsanctified culture. This is a good message for the season of Epiphany, in which Christians celebrate the revealing of Christ to the world."
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2To 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:
As usual, Paul sticks to the well-established threefold formula for first century letter writing. He introduces the writer, the audience, and blesses the recipients.
Instead of simply identifying himself by name, Paul adds personal qualifications to denote his authority. His official designation "apostle" was granted "by the will of God," he claims, as he thoughtfully includes the name of another follower alongside his own.
The presence of "Sosthenes" helps to establish Paul's unique credentials for offering authoritative advice while at the same time reminding the Corinthians that even he is only part of a larger community of faith that is offering its concern and support. … Just as Paul has been ‘called; to be an apostle, they have been called to be a holy people.

By referring to the Corinthian believers as an ecclesia or an "assembly of God in Corinth” which stands "together with all those ... in every place," Paul's language intentionally draws the Corinthians' attention away from their own internal disagreements.

Likewise, Paul's reference to these believers as being "in Christ" stresses the communal component of their faith identity. The Corinthians are both "sanctified in Christ" and "called to be saints" only because they have joined together as part of the baptized community. The very work of Christ's sacrifice was to transform confessed believers from their individual identities as sinners to a new communal identity as "saints." That is not to say one loses his or her individuality, but as Christians one’s focus ought to be honoring God and honoring the community of saints. Unfortunately, even after 2000 years, the church has the same problem: the freedom of the individual, his or her personal rights and preferences, seems to trump the unity of the community.  
It is significant that Paul never uses the singular form of ‘saint’ in any of his writings, to refer to the individual Christian. We are saints in our common vocation, a shared gift; a holy people, a people marked out by God. No human quarrel can destroy the unity we have in Christ as God’s called people.
This is the theological truth of the matter (we live in) even if it doesn’t always look like it. … Paul doesn’t address solitary individuals or factions, for “the church at Corinth” is the local manifestation of a universal church that meets “in every place.”
… The Corinthian insistence on individual freedom (mentioned later in the letter) has undermined Paul’s attempt to build a cohesive moral community.
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
After a typical epistolary opening, (v.1-2) Paul greets the church in the grace and peace of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”(v.3)
It’s interesting to note that a typical non-Christian Greek would say “greetings” (“grace”), while a Jewish letter writer would say “peace.” Paul uses both, which indicates Paul’s cross-cultural background and provides a clue concerning the makeup of the Corinthian church.

In the formal salutation in verse 3, Paul expands upon the traditional Hebrew "peace" greeting and extends his hope for "grace" as well as "peace" to this strife-torn community. "Grace" is the quintessential sign of God's appearance and activity in the Hebrew Scriptures. Taken together, "grace" and "peace" create the new state of salvation now made available to all who confess Christ and believe.

However, the use of the words grace and peace here are full of irony. Grace and peace were hardly characteristic of this church. First Corinthians provides ample evidence to combat the widely held romantic notion that the early church was pristine and pure in its faith and practice, and that the later church fell off the beam of Christian unity. Nothing is further from the truth; the church at Corinth was a mess.
Reading verses 4-9 alone; one isn’t alerted to what will soon follow. These six verses are full of praise and support. However, each verse in this passage serves as an introduction to a later passage in the epistle.

4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
. … The focus of Paul’s thanksgiving is focused on the activity of God among the Corinthians in a corporate narrative, which encompasses the past (how they came to know Christ as a community), the present (the good and the not so good) and the corporate future to come for all …
One may always give thanks for a fellow Christian. No matter how deep the division or how acrimonious the arguments, other Christians are never beyond thanksgiving: Thanks that God has called them; thanks that their true lives are from grace to grace, as are ours. … All Christian critique must begin with thanksgiving and a glance to the future, to our fellowship in God’s glory.
Verse 4 begins the thanksgiving section. Paul genuinely gives thanks for their gift of grace. But his choice of specific charismata (grace gifts) for which to give thanks foreshadows some of the thorniest issues Paul will address later in his letter. Verses 4-9 are actually the after picture of the Corinthian church. Paul is being generous. What he says here doesn’t reflect what this church looks like now, but what they ought to aspire to.
One of the most reassuring aspects of Christian life is the knowledge that we do not have to do everything on our own. The challenge of living a Christ-like life is made possible through the gift of great grace from the Spirit. Ever responsive to our needs, it appears that the more quarrelsome our "Christian" communities are; the more grace becomes available. It is the work of the Spirit of God in and through us that enables the ongoing mission of the church to survive despite itself.

Paul concludes this thanksgiving section by reminding the Corinthians once more that their identity is communal. They have been "called" to become part of a unique relationship, a "fellowship" with "Jesus Christ our Lord." Only God's abiding, amazing grace makes possible this invitation to community, a community which belongs to the Lord, not to any one group of believers, church or denomination.
God made each of us to be part of his family — not because we have the same natural genes, or bloodline, but because we have the same grace or blessing in Christ.
The strongest ties of kinship are normally between those who have grown up in the same household and were cared for by the same parents. The
things that foster feelings of kinship are spending time together, doing things together, eating meals together, and working together toward a common goal. For many, the church becomes their family and that’s exactly how God meant it to be. Especially those who have no family left or those whose families are scattered.  God cares for us and blesses us with grace and peace.     
A businessman was asked to tell what his personal faith meant to him. He reached back to his boyhood experience. He recalled walking with his father one day, having to reach up to hold on to his hand. After a while he said, "I can't hold on any longer, and you'll have to hold on to me for a while." And he remembered the moment when he felt his father's hand take over. That, he said, was the way it felt to him to have faith in God. And that was precisely an act of grace.
Much like the “Footprints” poem, God carries us when we can no longer go on. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
 
Rev. R.E.Stelz


 
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