To get the maximum benefit from this study, be sure to stop at each discussion question, which help you process and understand the most important points. If you're in a group, discuss these questions among one another. If you're studying by yourself, it will help you to write out your answer. If you like, then go to the online Forum with the web address that follows each question and post your answer -- or at least read others' answers. This will help you go deeper yourself!
Q1. (1 Corinthians 1:2) "What does "called to be holy" or "called to be saints" mean? What is a saint according to the Bible? Why is it so comfortable for us to say, "I'm no saint"? What is expected of a person who has been set apart as the personal property of the living God? What kind of behavior does the world expect of those who claim to be followers of Christ
The opening of the letter concludes with a blessing, like Paul's other letters.
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1:3)
"Grace" (charis) was the typical Greek greeting. "Peace" (shalom) was the typical Hebrew greeting. Paul combines them and infuses them with new meaning. "Grace no longer means "good wishes" but refers to the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Peace with God is the result of that gift.
Thanksgiving for the Corinthians (1:4-7)The form of many Greek letters of this period calls for a brief word of personal encouragement, thanksgiving, or praise for answered prayer. What makes this word of thanksgiving so amazing is that Paul is thanking God for some of the Corinthians' qualities that are an annoyance to him. His ability to do this says a lot about his character.
"4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way...." (1:4-5a)
He begins by thanking God for the grace, that is, the totally free and unmerited favor that God has extended to these once-pagan people. He has saved them. Notice that the grace is found "in" (Greek en) Christ Jesus. This "in him" carries into verse 2 as well. The Greek preposition en ("in") has a wide variety of meanings, depending upon the context. Here it denotes, "under the control of, under the influence of, in close association with."7 Sometimes believers would just as soon get God's blessings as a stand-alone gift, with no strings attached. But this gift of grace is only found "in close association with" Christ Jesus. We can't have the gift outside of the presence of the Giver in our lives.
Now Paul delineates just how this grace is manifesting itself in the Corinthians' lives.
"5 For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge -- 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." (1:5-7)
They have been "enriched in every way." The verb is ploutizō. In secular contexts it means "to make wealthy." Figuratively, as it is used here, it means "to cause to abound in something, make rich" with spiritual blessings.8 Have you ever stopped to thank God for the richness that he has given you, to "count your blessings, name them one by one"? We often tend to underestimate or be modest about God's blessings -- or even take them for granted. But developed by use, these blessings of God are exceedingly rich and powerful.
Paul thanks God for all their "speaking," logos, "word, utterance." Here it probably refers to every kind of "spiritual utterance" that are mentioned among the gifts of the Spirit in chapters 12 to 14 -- tongues, prophecy, a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, etc.9 The church had been abusing speaking in tongues (chapter 14).
Then Paul thanks God for the Corinthians' "knowledge," gnosis, "comprehension or intellectual grasp of something," then "the content of what is known."10 After sitting under Paul's ministry for 18 months they possessed a great deal of understanding of God's revelation. And they received "revelations" by the Spirit in their meetings (14:26). Yet, their knowledge tended to engender pride and a sense of superiority in them, rather than awe and humility (8:1-2).
Fee observes that Paul focuses on two terms -- utterance and knowledge -- that are tokens of their spirituality that the Corinthians are perhaps too self-confident in. Indeed, as true gifts of the Spirit, utterances and knowledge are wonderful! But when operated in the flesh, they can cause dissension.11 Nevertheless, in 1:6 Paul says that the Corinthians' utterances and knowledge are evidence that God has confirmed Paul's preaching by giving them these gifts.12
"You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." (1:7)
In the operation of spiritual gifts (charisma), the Corinthian church is second to none. Notice that these gifts are not given permanently (as we'll see later in 13:8-10), but during the interim period until Christ returns, after which spiritual gifts will no longer be needed. The attitude Paul encourages is to "eagerly await"13 Christ's coming.
Q2. (1 Corinthians 1:4-7) How often do you thank God for the blessings of those who don't like you, or of your actual enemies? What does it say about Paul that he thanks God for the gifts of those who are at odds with him? What specifically does he thank God for about the Corinthian believers?
Assurance of God's Care (1:8-9)This section concludes with a word of assurance about God's help for us so we'll be ready for his coming.
"8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1:8-9)
Paul describes four ways in which God keeps us in Christ for that Day.
1. Strength. God will strengthen us to the end of our lives or to the end of the age, whichever comes first. The verb is bebaioō (which we saw in verse 6). Here it means, "to make a person firm in commitment, establish, strengthen."14 This strengthening, of course, requires us to take advantage of the various means of grace that God provides -- prayer, Scripture, fellowship, surrender, etc. Are you allowing God to strengthen you?
2. Forgiveness. The purpose of the strengthening is so that we will be "blameless" on the day when Christ returns. The word isanenklētos, "that cannot be called to account, unreprovable, unaccused."15 For us to be blameless is the same as to be justified, that is, declared righteous by God. And this requires faith in his forgiveness. You may sin, but the antidote isn't to beat yourself up over it. Instead, confess your sin, receive his forgiveness, and move forward (1 John 1:9). We don't deserve blamelessness, but it is God's gift to us. Hallelujah!
3. Faithfulness. "Great is thy faithfulness, O God our Father...."16 That means he is pistos, "worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith."17
"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
"If we are faithless, he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)
4. Fellowship. We have been "called into fellowship" with Jesus, God's own Son. The word is koinōnia, "close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship." The word is also used to describe "participation, sharing" that goes on in a partnership.18 Can you imagine actual fellowship with Jesus himself? That's God's precious gift to us. Do we really take advantage of this privilege?
Sadly, some Christians live without assurance of their salvation. When asked if they'll go to heaven, they answer, "I hope so." The assurance we're given here is much stronger than "hope so." It guarantees God's gifts to us to help us stand in him. We can knowwe're saved. Praise the Lord!
Q3. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9) What gifts does God give us to ensure that we'll continue in faith until the end? Why does each require our active participation to receive its full benefits? Which do you need to enter into more?