Sermon from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Probably all of us have been frustrated with the church at one time or another. It may well be that the God-given gifts which we have are not being given the opportunity to be used. Maybe someone has said something to us that hurts or maybe we are feeling ignored and left out of things. There is no such thing in this life as the ‘perfect church’, every church has its faults and problems because it is made up of imperfect people – forgiven and redeemed people yes, but nevertheless far from perfect.
As we sigh and get frustrated with the fact that we are part of an imperfect church we can draw much support and encouragement from the Scriptures, especially the letters written to the early churches, and there was perhaps no church in need of more help than the one in the city of Corinth.
This ancient city was a major centre for trade in its day and it was a mix of many different people, religions and cultures. The Apostle Paul had been there around about 50 AD during his second missionary journey and with the help of Priscilla and Aquilla had set up the church there over eighteen months or so, (quite an achievement given the type of place it was). Perhaps not surprisingly the young church had its fair share of problems, which Paul deals with in the letters we have today of 1 and 2 Corinthians. Divisions appeared in the church between the stronger and weaker members, those with money and power in society and those without, those that had great oratory skill and those that were less well educated. There were problems too with sexual immorality and social snobbery. On top of all this, they had little understanding of Christian marriage and their worship services were lacking in order and discipline.
You would have thought that with the church in such a mess, the Apostle Paul would get immediately stuck in, but he doesn’t, he actually starts off with a lovely greeting and then for the rest of today’s reading he tells them just how thankful to God he is for these Corinthian Christians.
Look at verse two. Paul writes:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…
To be ‘Sanctified’ means to be cleansed and set apart for God. This is done through the Lord Jesus, for there is no cleansing apart from Him. Yes the people had been sanctified by the blood of Christ but they were still not living their lives for Christ as they ought. The church is supposed to be a physician, there to help heal the sickness of society, but what can a doctor do if he or she is suffering from the same sickness as those they are trying to cure? This was the case with the Corinthians – they hadn’t yet been able to be fully free from their previous way of living and this was killing off their ability to act as effective witnesses for Christ. Remember that the Lord called his disciples to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16); salt to arrest the contamination of the world around us and light to shine God’s truth and love to dispel the darkness of this world. But just like the church today, the Corinthians were swept away by the twin tides of contamination and confusion. Just like so much of the church today the Corinthians were paralysed by moral laxity and doctrinal uncertainty. This is why the Apostle Paul was writing to them and that is why this letter is perfectly preserved, because we need it just as much in the church today.
In the nine verses that make up our reading, the Lord Jesus’ name is mentioned nine times – why? Simple, because He is the answer to the problem. To use a sporting metaphor, the Corinthians had taken their eye off the ball, meaning they had taken their eyes off Christ, and to do so is to fail and fall. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, He should be our first thought in the morning and our last at night and his name should be continually on our lips and for ever present in our minds. He is the way the truth and the life, He should be everything to us because without him there is no hope for us, we are totally reliant and dependent upon Him for our salvation and without Him we are nothing. So in verse two we see that He sanctifies His followers, then we see that His followers are called to be saints. Saints are not just super-Christians, the heroes of the faith, Saints is a similar word to Sanctified in the Greek, it means ‘holy people’. Anyone who has invited Jesus into their life has been set aside by God as a holy person, and because they are a holy person they need to reflect their masters holiness.
There is a word in verses 3 and 4 which helps all this to make sense. First of all though think about this; have you ever heard the phrase ‘that’s not very Christian’? It is usually directed at someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus that has done something wrong. I’ve had it said to me a few times, especially when I was a new believer and I was constantly talking about what Jesus had done in my life and annoying a few people as a result! They would look for every opportunity to show me up as a hypocrite, which was an easy task! None of us are perfect, none of us deserve the love that God shows us through Christ, none of us has any right at all to think of ourselves as better than anyone else. What’s that word I was talking about, sure you know it:
There are lots of definitions of grace, one of my favourite is by Bono,
“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”
Because of our sin, we are ‘ugly things’ but the beautiful thing that Christ has done has changed us and will go on changing us more and more into the likeness of his image (2 Cor. 3:18)
By ourselves, none of us are very ‘Christian’ because all of us have fallen short of God’s standard (Rom.3:23) so that is why Christ came and that is why the Apostle Paul mentions Christ’s name so much because Christ died and Christ rose again for the Corinthians and for you and for me.
We were heading for death, but Christ has given us life. The very second you gave your life to Christ (if indeed you have done so) God set you apart and made you holy. God has fulfilled His side of the bargain, He has declared us to be Holy, through the Person and work of Christ, now we have to act Holy, we have to live our lives set apart, Holy lives; not cut off from the world, but in the world, as salt and as light. We are holy in God’s eyes already, so we need to be what we already are!
For 11 years a lady by the name of Mary Leonard has dealt with polymyositis, a rare inflammatory tissue disease that invades the muscles. There is no known cause or cure.
Mary’s case turned deadly when the disease invaded her heart. In fact, last March, Mary was told by doctors that she had 24-48 hours to live. But after 20 days in a hospice centre, another 51 days in rehab, and a number of days at home, Mary is still alive. She’s now reflecting on the changes that take place when you learn your time is short.
“I call myself an average Christian,” Mary says. “I don’t know exactly why God has done this for me, but I do know that life looks different now.”
Mary offers five life lessons she learned through the ordeal:
1. Know that prayer is powerful.
2. Mend fences now. [Mend your relationships as best you can]
3. Release the reins of life to God.
4. Know that God is able—more than able.
5. Put your focus on what really matters.
All of us could benefit by being told that we had just two days left to live. Imagine if everyone in the church was told the same – oh how those problems would just melt away! Denominations – who would care? Theological differences, what would they matter? When death is staring you in the face there is only one thing, or rather one Person that matters. Jesus. If we could live like that all the time, the church would very different, and so would we… Amen.
 Metaphor from Roger Ellsworth, ‘The message of 1 Corinthians’, Evangelical Press, 1995, p.11
 ‘Closer to God’ Bible notes vol. 13, p.57 Scripture Union, 2002