1 Cor 1:4-9
You have been called by God. That is a theme the resounds throughout the first nine verses of 1 Corinthians, and on into the rest of the chapter. The apostle opens this letter by writing: “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
You will notice that first, Paul acknowledges that he has been called by God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. This is certainly not something that Paul ever expected. It is not something that he wanted. He told the Galatians, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
Paul was entirely satisfied in his life as an enemy of Jesus Christ. He had purpose, meaning, and he was having success in his career. But God had called Paul by his grace and revealed his Son to him. The apostle speaks about this in chapter fifteen of this letter as he recounts the many people who had seen the risen Lord. Finally he adds, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Paul’s calling was not only to believe in Christ, but also to the unique position of being an apostle of Jesus Christ – his authorized representative charged with speaking the Gospel to others. But at the same time, the apostle stresses that each of the Corinthians - and each of you – have been called by God. In verse two he describes the Corinthians as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.”
Then, in the last verse of our text he writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The apostle highlights the faithfulness of God, and reminds the Corinthians that it was God who called them into their present status – those who share in the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Now in our text, Paul thanks God for how he has blessed the Corinthians. He writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-- even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” But things are not as simple here as they look, because these are actually all issues that Paul is going to address in the letter – problems that were present in the Corinthian congregation.
Corinth was teh “problem child” congregation. Though Paul was the one who had first proclaimed the Gospel to them, they were now critical of the apostle. They recognized that Paul’s speech was not up to the standards that were expected of Greco-Roman rhetoric. They thought they had knowledge that enabled them to take part in eating at pagan temples. They were fixated on spiritual gifts and prideful about the status they believed were provided by them.
Among these topics, I want to focus today on what Paul calls “speech,” because it is the very thing that he goes on to discuss in chapter one. The apostle tells the Corinthians that the Lord sent him to “preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Later he adds, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Paul’s speech was not something that the world would recognize as wise or sophisticated. Instead he had proclaimed the cross of Christ – Christ crucified. We are so used to the cross, that it is very difficult for us to understand how the message of Christ crucified was perceived in Judaism and the Greco-Roman world. After all, we have crosses and crucifixes in our churches, in our homes and on our bodies as jewelry.
Among Jews, crucifixion meant that a person had been cursed by God, because the book of Deuteronomy said, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Of course, it meant that person could not possibly the Messiah – the Christ, because the Messiah was going to be the victorious and mighty one. For the Greco-Roman world, the cross was the most shameful and humiliating form of death. Criminals died on the cross. They died powerless, and in a manner meant to cause such great public suffering and shame that polite society didn’t even talk about the cross.
That is why Paul says in this chapter, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The apostle admits that to those who are perishing – to those who reject the Gospel – the world of the cross is folly. To put the Greek into more colloquial English you could say that it is moronic.
And so Paul goes on to add, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Notice again our word “called.” Yes, the crucified Christ was a stumbling block to Jews. Yes, the crucified Lord was folly to Gentiles. But to those who are called – to you – Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. He is God’s way of salvation that sounds foolish and weak, but is actually God’s wisdom and strength.
God has called you. And only God could call you. To be sure, we sin in thought, word, and deed. But the deeper problem of humanity is that on our own we don’t even recognize that our sin has cut us off from God and turned us against him. Paul says in chapter two, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” It is only the Spirit of God who can do this. Paul says in this letter, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” By contrast the apostle tells us that as fallen people are conceived and born in this world, they are unable to understand God and his salvation. He says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
The cross sounds like folly. It sounds moronic. But through God’s calling by the Spirit, we instead recognize that it is the power and wisdom of God for our salvation. We do because we are now able to perceive our sinfulness. We understand that our angry words, selfish actions, and lustful thoughts are sins against the holy God. We confess these as sin, as we turn in faith to the crucified Christ.
In our text, Paul says of the Corinthians, “you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul says that the Corinthians – and you - will be guiltless. He has already described them – and us - as “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This means that we have been made holy through Christ. Now we know that in ourselves this is not what we are. But in the cross God acted to change this.
In chapter fifteen Paul provides a summary of the Gospel he shared with the Corinthians as he says, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Jesus’ death on the cross was not just another person dying at the hands of the Roman Empire. Instead, it was God acting once and for all time in order remove those sins and give us forgiveness. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ the sinless One took our sins as if they were his own, and received God’s judgment in our place.
Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, just like so many others across the scope and history of the Roman Empire. And if that were it – if that was then end of the story – then Christ crucified would be nothing more than folly. But as Paul says in our text: “you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You don’t wait for someone who is dead to be revealed. But the apostle Paul, the Corinthians, and we wait for it because Jesus did not stay dead. Instead, on the third day God raised him from the dead.
In chapter fifteen Paul says of the resurrection: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” And of course, he also appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.
Paul and the apostles went forth to proclaim Christ crucified. They went forth to proclaim a message that they knew was a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles – it sounded moronic to the Greco-Roman world. But they knew it was God’s wisdom for salvation because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. They struggled, and suffered, and even died in order to proclaim this Gospel because they knew that the risen Lord has conquered sin and death.
God has called you to faith in the crucified and risen Lord through the work of his Spirit. He has called to into the fellowship of his Son. In baptism “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” When you stumble in sin, that same baptism remains, ready to be grasped in faith, for through it you continue to receive forgiveness and the work of the Spirit who strengthens you.
Like the Corinthians, we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our risen Lord has ascended into heaven. He has been exalted to the right hand of God. He intercedes for us. And he will return in glory in the Last Day – the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. On that day he will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them to be like his own. This is the hope that we have because Christ was crucified and then rose from the dead. This is the hope that we have because God is faithful, and he has called us into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.