1 Corinthians 1:1–17: Christ’s Holy, Divided Church
The church at Corinth was a mess. The Apostle Paul had planted this church (cf. Acts 18), but the reports he was receiving indicated that the church had drifted far from where they were when he left them. They had become proud, rebellious, schismatic, scandalous, and individualistic. In this letter, Paul must address many sensitive, painful issues, exhorting the Corinthians to return to the simple purity of the gospel, and to reform their lives accordingly. Still, while most of us may have been tempted to launch into criticisms, correction, and rebuke, Paul models apostolic love and wisdom. Instead, he begins in the salutation and thanksgiving of his letter to remind the Corinthians of the gracious work that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in their lives.
Only after reminding them to the holiness to which they have been called through their union with Jesus Christ does he exhort them, beginning with their divisions over teachers and baptisms. In this first section of his letter Paul begins with a call back to holiness in Christ that expresses itself through unity in the church. Indeed, Paul writes, personal fellowship with Christ demands nothing less than relational unity with Christ’s people. Or, to put this another way, in 1 Corinthians 1:1–17 we see that you cannot have the whole Christ without the whole Church.
1) In light of your past, what is the significance of God’s work of sanctifying you and calling you as his saint (1 Cor. 1:2)? From what did Christ save you? What does this calling tell you about God’s grace and love? What does this calling tell you about God’s purposes for your life? In light of your life today, how does this call highlight ways you may not be living in a manner worthy of that calling?
2) When Paul says that the church at Corinth is not lacking in any spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:7), which gifts does he have in mind (cf. the general list in 1 Cor. 12:1–11)? Which gifts do you not have, but see that others have in the church? Which gifts has God entrusted to you as the church waits for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ? How might you grow in using those gifts to build up the church?
3) Notice the past, present, and future work of God in the lives of believers (1 Cor. 1:5–8). To which attribute of God does Paul acknowledge as the foundation behind this work (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9). How does God’s past faithfulness toward you gives you confidence for his future faithfulness? How is that confidence expressed in the faithful exercising of our gifts until Christ returns (1 Cor. 1:7)?
4) Why does Paul insist that we cannot have the whole Christ without the whole Church (1 Cor. 1:10–17)? Whom do you naturally move toward in the church? From whom do you naturally move away? What differences or distinctives are most difficult to overcome for you? How might you intentionally move toward those from whom you are divided and mend any splits between you?