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1 Corinthians 1:1-9

You can read the text here. For those following along at home, for this series I'll be leaning on the commentaries of Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner. I'd love to be wrapped up by the end of June, but no promises.

Paul opens the first extant letter we have between him and the Corinthians by mentioning his calling by God to his apostleship.[1] Paul has been called, just like them, for a purpose. Paul's calling is to be an authoritative representative of Jesus, theirs is holiness. The Corinthian call is the same call that goes out to all Christians everywhere: to be holy in Christ. After all they and we are God's church, not the church of any particular personality. Jesus was their Lord. These are the two foundations of unity, belonging to God and holiness. As Thiselton notes, this picture minimizes notions of autonomy of the local church. All churches are part of a whole.

Paul is grateful for the work that he has seen carried out in the Corinthians. They have been given the Spirit as a seal of union with Christ. Through the Spirit they have experienced an abundance from the Father, an abundance we call grace.[3] The Spirit manifest in concrete ways for the Corinthians, in knowledge and speech.[4] These gifts have a purpose: making the Corinthians holier while they wait for the return of Jesus so that they will receive a favorable verdict on that day.[5] The gifts are also a sign that God is with them collectively, helping them and guiding them collectively, to give them peace and comfort that they will collectively attain life in the age to come.

This passage is very powerful in the way it emphasizes the non-individualistic nature of the Christian life. We are not saved alone. We are not even independent churches. We are integrally part of a whole due to our union with Christ. So how do we deal with the challenges this non-independence creates? Stay tuned!

[1] There is disagreement between Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner on whether or not Paul's claim to apostleship is a claim to authority.

[2] Ciampa and Rosner push back against understanding 'sanctified' in moral terms. They stress the root meaning of being 'set apart.' I don't see this as an either or. Being set apart can both be in terms of status but also in terms of quality.

[3] To use Barclay's very useful taxonomy, the perfections of grace on display in this passage is are superabundance, efficacy, and, subtly, incongruity.

[4] Though Thiselton does push back against this, I think it is likely that Paul has in mind the issues he addresses later in the letter related to knowledge and tongues.

[5] Thiselton prefers to put it as 'unimpeachable' over blameless, which I find helpful.


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