Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2016
Lesson 2: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (ESV)
Good Memories of Loved Ones
For most people, our best memories are of times we’ve spent with family and friends. When we get together on holidays we might talk about the food and what’s been in the news recently. But when we look back over the years our good memories of past holidays are usually not about the turkey we ate in 1984, or the broccoli casserole of 1993. We mostly reminisce about the people, the things they said or did.
It’s not the material things in the past that make up our most important memories. Long after the material things are broken, worn out, lost, or given away, we remember the people who made them special to us.
Many years ago I got a special gift from my grandparents on my mother’s side. It was a metal air plane I could sit in and drive around with pedals. What I wasn’t aware of back then was that it once belonged to a cousin and had to be rebuilt. My grandfather made a new propeller for it, removed the dents and repainted it for me. Now I have a model of that toy sitting on the shelf in my den at home. It reminds me of the good times I had playing with that toy, peddling it around our yard. But my fondest memory of it today is that part I wasn’t aware of back when I was only a pre-schooler. I think of the time and loving effort my grandfather spent in getting it fixed up for his grandson.
Paul didn’t start his letter with memories of the great streets and buildings of Corinth, or its impressive sea ports. He remembered his Christian friends there who made it special. All the glory of the ancient and important city had special meaning to him because of the believers he labored with there for a year and a half, and grew to love.
When disturbing news came to Paul about problems that were troubling that church, his good memories of them came to his mind before anything else would be said:
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge–
6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–
7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s very instructive to see that Paul didn’t begin by scolding them. He tenderly started by reminding them of the hope he shared with them. He wanted them to know that his words came from a heart that loved them dearly. His concern was not for his own reputation or for any other selfish motive. It was for their spiritual well-being which concerned him deeply.
Paul saw God’s grace in them.
4. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
Most of the main verbs, the action words, in verses 4-9 are passive. The blessings didn’t have their root in what the Corinthians did, but in what God did for them. They were the recipients of grace. Their blessings were not earned by their own efforts.
That’s why Paul’s thankfulness was directed to God when he remembered these Corinthians. He was thankful for God’s grace to them. It’s important to see God at work in the lives of others. Paul was thankful that by God’s un-earned favor they had wonderful spiritual benefits.
He addresses them as a whole. He doesn’t single out one good group, and imply that others were in the undeserving bad group. All were unworthy except in Christ. The good things were given by God. All those who were true believers there were recipients of these basic blessings of God.
Notice that he mentions Jesus Christ 5 times in these 2 sentences. Jesus alone is the one in whom believers are blessed.
5. that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge–
God had not left them in the spiritual poverty they were in before they believed in Christ. Every enrichment they had was based upon God’s grace given to them because of nothing they did to earn it.
As James 1:17 so well expresses: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Particularly, God had enriched them in all speech and all knowledge. The word for “speech” here is the Greek word “logos” (λογος) which is more than just the words they speak. It includes the thoughts expressed by those words. It’s the same word used in John 1 where it describes Jesus as the “word of God” made flesh. Jesus is the communicator of God’s truth and of his actions toward us as our Redeemer. These believers in Corinth were enriched in Christ by the communication of God’s eternal truths to their hearts, not just to their ears.
Along with the words of truth, they had true “knowledge” to understand their value and meaning. He repeats the word for “all” here for emphasis. They had good teachings which they heard from gifted teachers God had sent to them. They were taught by Paul, Apollos, and others
They were made rich because these men taught the word of God. The Holy Spirit was given to them so they would understand its great value to them, and it was showing in their lives by much fruit, evidence of the rich results of regeneration. They had these teachings both to hear, and to pass on to others.
6. even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–
7. so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
8. who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The words “testimony about Christ” are actually just “testimony of Christ”. It includes both the words he gave us about himself during his life on earth, and the testimony of others who pass on his teachings. The Greek word translated as “testimony” here is “marturion” (μαρτύριον) from which we get our word “martyr”. A martyr isn’t just someone who dies as a victim of bigotry or hatred. He’s a martyr because of what he stood for. In this case his life communicates God’s truth. It’s this communicated truth of God which had changed lives.
But again its a passive thing. It’s all describing things done to and for them. They were confirmed in these teachings, and had been given wonderful benefits by God. There was no promised gift of God in which they were lacking. The word of Christ plants hope solidly in the believer to enable him to know God, and to hope in his promises and future fuller revelation of Christ at the last day.
Paul was encouraged that these believers he had come to know and love so much, were eagerly looking forward to the eternal hope they had in Christ.
The presence of God’s gifts in them confirms to them and to others that the work of Christ was powerful. Certainly their lives had things that still needed improvement. We see in the letter that follows that there were serious sins among them. But in that last day, when all people will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, these Corinthian believers will be declared guiltless.Their innocence will not be based upon their own efforts. It will be based upon the work of Christ applied by God’s loving grace alone.
Sinful human believers are declared innocent because Jesus, their Substitute, paid their debt. As they appear before God’s judgment seat they will be pronounced morally blameless. This doesn’t mean it’s not important that we overcome our sins and live righteously. But it does mean that imperfections will not be counted against true believers in that last day. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to them, just as their sins and guilt are credited to him. God had richly blessed these Corinthian Christians by his grace in Christ.
9. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God himself, the one who gave us life in Christ, can’t fail in his efforts, or be unfaithful to his promises. By his grace we are united into a spiritual family in Christ, our Good Shepherd, our Lord. It’s this wonderful fellowship that binds Paul to the Corinthian believers in love.
Though the Apostle is about to deal with their horrible sins in this letter, he reminds them that they are not left to themselves to overcome them. The God who loved them in Christ is worthy of trust and confidence. He is absolutely reliable.
God preserves his children and presents them as those made innocent in Christ. Jesus is God the Son. He bears all the attributes of the Father and possesses with him the same essence.
But God’s grace comes to us only through Jesus Christ. That’s the center of Christianity. One of the great lies we hear so much today is that Christianity is only about humanitarianism. Some promote a Jesus who was nothing more than a great teacher and example of kindness. They reject most of his acts and statements, and only accept his lessons about love and social remedies. But while we are to treat our neighbors, even the mean ones, with kindness and patience, we are not to ignore the problem of sin and corruption. If we love our neighbors we will oppose the social evils that hurt them and offend God.
Consistent with the rest of the Bible, Jesus taught that human nature is corrupt and all humans need redemption. We are not being loving to our neighbor if we excuse thieves, murderers, terrorists, and sex offenders. They should not be put back into society, and the rest of us told to be tolerant of them. The prison over-crowding problem would be solved if the biblical principle of the death-penalty for capital crimes was restored. Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image”
Crimes need to be punished and the innocent protected. People should be confronted with their sins in a humble and loving way. They can only be changed by faith in Jesus Christ who alone transforms lost hearts. But even then they need to pay for their crimes against society to uphold the principle of justice, to protect future victims, and to settle their civil debts against God’s law. This is a special kind of humanitarianism. It can not ignore that Jesus said that he alone, as Lord and Savior, is the way, and the truth, and the life. Without biblical justice and the work of the Gospel, we are not being kind to our neighbors.
to help until he got there in person.
It’s wise and compassionate to begin corrections by showing our love for those we want to help. Our best preparation for approaching others is to take time to see God at work in them. We prepare them for receiving godly advice by reminding them that we together have God alone to thank for our rich blessings, and for our good behavior. If we begin with what we see wrong in them, or just tell them what to do, we build upon a faulty foundation. No one can change just because we tell them to. Only as they learn to rest their hope humbly in the grace of God can they grow spiritually.
Our greatest memories should be of how God blesses the lives of our loved ones. As Paul shows us here in this introduction, we need to thank God for his grace if he has worked in your children, in your spouse, and in the others you meet and have known.
Another good thing we can do is to create good Christ-centered memories for our loved ones by sharing God’s blessings and work in our own lives. When you remind them about God’s blessings you are reinforcing good memories in them.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)