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First Corinthians

Grace and Peace

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

It is customary in our time to skip over the salutation in Paul’s letters.  Indeed, when our church was under “unified curriculum” we started 2 Corinthians at verse 9 of the first chapter.  But Paul put thought into his salutations, and they are usually instructive.  This we shall see, but first – an introduction to the city of Corinth.


It is not possible to understand the city of Corinth at this time without a glance at the map:

  It does not take much imagination to see the short cut through the Greek peninsula which touches land at Corinth.  The primary east-west sailing route of the Mediterranean traders went through this inlet.  One must recall that sailors of this time had only square sails (no ability to tack into the wind) and navigation was best done in sight of land. 

What is not so clear from the small map is that the primary north-south trading route went through Corinth as well.  By sailing around the edge of the Mediterranean from Alexandria past modern Turkey, you would come to the islands of the Aegean sea.  You could pick your way through these to reach Corinth, where your cargo could be transshipped and sent to Rome.

The result was a city of wealth – and wickedness.


If a Greek playwright of these times needed a stereotypical drunk, he inserted a Corinthian.  Money was available in plenty there – and in envy the Greeks would say that “not everyone can afford a trip to Corinth.”   (I’ve heard the same said about Disneyland.)   But if you could, the wine flowed.

Not just the wine – the women too.  Overlooking the town was a large temple to Aphrodite – Eros, as the Romans would name her, from which we get our word “erotic.”  Over a thousand temple prostitutes lived there;  each night they would go through Corinth seeking customers.  Abortion was not unknown to the Greeks – interestingly, the Hippocratic oath forbids a physician to give an instrument of abortion to a woman, so they must have known how – and it would have been common in Corinth.

Other sins were as common.  Homosexuality enjoyed the same popular favor it does in our day;  swindlers loved the place, as did the thieves. 


The town was established in ancient times, and was always one of the eminent cities in ancient Greece.  Athens was noted for philosophy, Sparta for military might – and Corinth for pleasure.  Unfortunately, military might was what they needed in 146 BC, when the Romans destroyed the city.  It lay dormant for a hundred years until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar rebuilt it.  It became a Roman colony.

A Roman colony was a heterogeneous place.  It was settled by retired Roman soldiers, who were given land after their service in the army.  Add to that Greek merchants seeking to make money; a few Jews dispersed over the world and any number of other traders who settled in the town, and you have a mixture which was ripe for the Gospel.

Paul spent 18 months there, establishing the church.  The time is little recorded;  Luke gives us only the first 18 verses of Acts, chapter 18 on the subject.  But like many churches, it was birthed in oppression and lived in fractious, argumentative times.  

With that in mind, let us examine the opening salutation of the letter:

(1 Cor 1:1-3 NIV)  Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, {2} To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours: {3} Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.



The theme of the first verse may be summed up in the humility of the Apostle:

“called to be an Apostle”

  • Note the word “called” – this was not something that Paul earned by his own hard work or merit.  God chose him, not the other way around.
  • Indeed, we can see that he did not even have the merit of volunteering to a general call – he was specifically chosen. 
  • Why is this word here?  So that we can see the virtue of humility – for even the highest in the church, an Apostle of God, must have that.

“of Jesus Christ”

  • There is no other name like that one.  With all other names there can be a comparison, but with this one, there is only adoration.
  • This name is the source of unity in the church.  As there can be none other like it, it is the name in which we are to be united.  If there are two strong men in the church, people may be divided and take sides.  If there is only Jesus, the people must be united.
  • It is also the source of strength.  Paul does not perform his work in his own strength alone, but relies utterly upon Jesus.

“by the will of God”

  • In any other endeavor we can credit ourselves, but in the church we understand that only God’s worthiness can be honored.
  • Also, we must understand that the church is God’s plan, it is his creation.  We are the church because He wills it so.


“and Sosthenes”

We have met this man before, if briefly.  He was the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth.  He became a Christian;  like so many, that conversion cost him a beating.[1]  He’s the local boy out on a missions trip.

  • This shows us Paul’s concern for those in Corinth, that they might know that Paul and their friend Sosthenes are united in the appeal he is about to make.
  • It also reestablishes the relationship;  it says, “You know us!”  This is a personal letter.



The theme of the second verse is simple:  the unity of the church.

“the church of God”

  • The word is ekklesia – meaning those who are assembled.  It is therefore a general description of the people of God.
  • We must therefore remember to whom we belong – God.  This is his church;  we are his.  What a comfort that is!
  • We need to remember whose church this is not – ours.  It is not our personal property to manipulate, but his precious bride.

“in Corinth”

  • The New American Standard translates this as “which is at Corinth.”  In other words, there is nothing special about being the Corinthian church;  it is simply a fact of geography.
  • Subtly implied in that is a central fact: there is only one church.  It is composed of all Christians of all times and places.  It is his, not ours.

“to those sanctified in Christ Jesus”

  • What does it mean to be “sanctified?”  It means to be cleansed by Christ Jesus – you didn’t do it yourself.
  • It also means that you were dirty – i.e., sinful.  Always remember that to become a Christian means to admit that you are a sinner first.

We should never lose this sense of being a sinner;  it is helpful both to us and to those around us:

  • It is helpful to us in that it aids us in humility, in seeking repentance and in being thankful for the grace of God.  It puts us in the right perspective to see God.
  • It helps others too.  What sinner would dare come into a church composed of those who never were sinners?  But if he can see that these people were sinners just like himself, would he not feel right at home?  The hospital is not for the doctors;  it is for the sick.

“called to be holy”

The New American Standard is a bit more accurate here:  “saints by calling”.

  • Again, we are called – not volunteers who made it on our own merit, but as Paul was called to be an Apostle, we are called to be saints.
  • To be holy is to be separate – to be in the world but not of the world.  Yes, Virginia, Christians are supposed to be different.
  • We are to be saints – the visible representation of Christ.

“together with”

Note who we are together with:  all who call on the name of the Lord.  It is not ours to pick and choose those with whom we would prefer to worship.  The church is often far too polite about this;  we need to remember that our Lord is a rock of offense and a stone of stumbling. 

            “all who call”

·        It is not ours to pick and choose our brothers and sisters in Christ.  God calls;  they call on him;  that should be good enough for us.

·        See, however, the grand spiritual unity of the church!  Not just all in this place and time, but all places and all times – these are the children of God.  It shows us our unity – and his mercy.

·        We should learn from this:  the church should be the open door to God.


Grace and Peace

Chrysostom commented on this verse as follows:  “If peace be of grace, why do you have high thoughts?”

  • Isn’t it your pride which destroys your peace?  Think about it:  why do you fight with others?  Is it because you are too proud to humble yourself and be in agreement?  You must have your own way?  Isn’t it the case that your own pride is the destroyer of your own peace?
  • But how can you have pride – if you admit to being one who receives the grace of God?  How can you be proud – and still say, “I’m a sinner saved by grace?”

But if you will receive God’s grace, will you not also receive the peace of God which passes all understanding?  Accept it in humility, and see how it spreads through your life.

“from God”

Remember that this grace and peace flows from God.  Is the reason that you have no peace simply that you’ve been looking for it in the wrong places?  Some seek it in drugs and alcohol, or riches, or the right companion – but it can be found only in Christ.

Most of us are content to “go with the flow.”  But whose flow are you going with?  The world’s, or God’s?

“and the Lord Jesus Christ”

Isn’t our lack of peace, our dissension, our trouble with other people, simply our refusal to accept and acknowledge the lordship of Christ?

  • We want to be “in charge” – telling God that we know the right answer.  He tells us to accept his lordship and his leading.
  • We are impatient – we want something and we want it right now.  He tells us to wait on him, and he will give to us all we need at the best possible time.
  • We often are quick to point out to God what we see “a better answer.”  He is the master craftsman, the one who knows best that doing it right the first time is always the best way.
  • Sometimes we just don’t think – we just run ahead with our own ideas.  Does this not come from our refusal to take time with Him alone?

In these few short words Paul is laying the groundwork to speak to the church regarding the unity of the church.  We find in this something very obvious to most of us:  if you lay the foundation correctly, the building goes up right.  The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ her Lord.

  • From his hands let us accept grace, acknowledging ourselves to be sinners.
  • From his hands let us accept peace, which passes all understanding.
  • In his hands let us place our lives, acknowledging him as Lord of All.

[1] Acts 18:17

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