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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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -- 1Corinthians 1: 1-3 (ESV)
What is in a greeting beloved? Sometimes in our zeal to get into the heart of the matter, we overlook these types of verses. Seemingly throw away verses of just a friendly greeting, there is much we can glean and learn from even this. God does not waste anything in His Word. Some quick background however. Corinth was a major player in the days this was written. It was strategically located on an elevated portion of an isthmus which all north-south traffic had to pass through. The result was a bustling metropolis and also a haven for all sorts of paganism and sin. If someone in these days was referred to as a "Corinthian Girl -- that meant they were a prostitute. Another word for fornication was to "corinthianize." Amidst this debauchery, Paul planted the Corinthian Church from which he would eventually move onto Ephesus. He writes this letter to them because they were having some problems that may seem eerily familiar to problems the church has today. Before he gets into the problems however he opens with the greeting found in the key verses. Within these three verses, we see Paul reminding Corinth and us today, who exactly the church is.
Firstly, the church is those who are sanctified. This means set apart and holy for the Lord. Set apart from what beloved? From the world! This is what it means to be as shining city on a hill. To stand out as being different. Of being set apart. We just finished Halloween in this country and yet another year of Christians engaging in the high holy day of Satanism and defending it by saying they did not want their kids to be different. They are different! That is entirely the point of being set apart. Disgraced pastor Mark Driscoll once said that he participated in Halloween at his church because he did not want to be those crazy Christians down the block who have no relevance to their community. Better than being those faithless Christians who believe in nothing and are trying to be relevant to a sinful and dying world. Every week we hear yet another tale of mega church madness. Highway to Hell, Miley Cyrus and Backstreet Boys sung as worship! Sermons about Jesus as your wingman! Gun giveaways, plasma TV raffles, Star Wars themed services. That isn't sanctified beloved. Do not seek relevance to the world because there should be none.
Taking this even further, too often today we see the church referred to as the congregants of a particular building. The reality is many if not most of the attendees are not actually saved. This is what the purpose driven model has wrought. Yet the average churchgoer will attest that the church is their building they go to on Sundays. No beloved it is not. The church is the body of Christ throughout this world. This is why most in American churches seemingly have no care about their brethren throughout the world. Sure there is an annual pilgrimage to build a playground somewhere in the third world but most of that is to make ourselves feel as if we are doing good. There is precious little done regarding the martyred in the Middle East or the underground church in China. No that's too much a downer. Let's sing Friend of God again and take a second offering for the building fund.
Secondly, the church are those called to be saints. The word saint is not what the Catholic Church has made it out to be. Catholicism has turned sainthood into a battle of the most pious throughout history. The reality is all who are saved are together the saints of God. The word sanctified comes from saint. It is again those who are sanctified, set apart, and made holy. Once again called to be different for God.
The final point of who we are is the fact that we are both local and universal at once. The church is of course local. Paul addresses them as the Church in Corinth. We are supposed to be part of a local body of believers. The trick is finding one that is preaching the Gospel. Better to be a group of 5-10 true believers than a mega church who is busy scattering people away from Christ. Compromise always begets more compromise. If you can find one that is preaching the true Gospel and not marketing their church to goats -- stick with that one. We can deal with not having a good choir, or poor children's ministries, or not enough parking, or bad coffee. Give me Jesus and I can deal with the rest. Additionally however, the church is also everywhere at the same time -- those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The local church is merely a part of the body of Christ. The American church has created this silo mentality through the purpose driven paradigm. The object is to grow the individual building and not the kingdom. The preaching largely cannot be preached outside of these shores. We could not preach the prosperity gospel to the underground church in China or the word faith heresy to the Christians in the Middle East. If your gospel cannot be preached everywhere then by definition it is false. Because we are all one church. One body of believers. That is the point Paul is making right here in the greeting. Having established a greeting that reminds them who they are, he moves into thanksgiving:
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 gift, as 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. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. -- 1Corinthians 1: 4-9 (ESV)
The thanksgiving is an extension of the greeting from Paul and is typical in his writings. He has some serious matters he needs to address to the Corinthians but he starts be reminding them why they should be thankful. Not a bad strategy to remind ourselves when we need to address something serious. It focuses everyone on God instead of themselves. It reminds them of all that is good and right before dealing with what might be wrong and in need of correction. We should note that there is no carnality in this thanksgiving. I did a devotional last week about Bethel Church's four sets of declarations they make the congregation declare during the offering each week. Included in what they declare to God is that they want: "a better job, bonuses, raises, increased benefits, estate settlements, inheritances, interest, rebates, returns, random checks in the mail, surprise gifts, debts paid off, decreased expenses, blessing, increase, finding money, unlocked storehouses, provision and resources, being showered with favor, blessings, and repentance from poverty." They also make them declare: