Summary: Jesus is the central expression of God's grace and peace to us. Our unity/thankfulness for one another in the Lord is not based on our complete agreement on every social, political, or religious topic but upon our common experience of God's grace/peace
On July 4th we celebrate the birth of the United States, and on June 20th we celebrate the birthday of my beloved home state of West Virginia. However, the birth of our nation came about through our division from England, and the birth of West Virginia came through division from the Confederacy. Even though the American Civil War was divisive to our nation, men and women on both sides expressed faith under fire by their loyal devotion to Christ Jesus.
There are many things today that continue to divide our nation: political parties; the definition of marriage; and the administration of our wealth through Social Security and our health through mandatory insurance. There are also many things, such as doctrines, worship styles, and social action, that can divide Christians within the church today. Certainly, Paul understood that reality as he wrote to the church at Corinth whose members were divided by issues such as the proper use of wealth and spiritual gifts by Christians, the level of Christian participation in worldly popular culture, societal trends, and sexual morals. Some of these same issues continue to divide us not only as Americans but also as Christians. However, there is one who unites us—and His name is Jesus Christ. Paul mentions the name of Jesus nine times in 1 Cor 1:1-9. Jesus is the central expression of God’s grace and peace to us.
In the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 1, Paul used the classic form for the opening of a Greek letter which was a hallmark of his writing style. First, he notes this letter is from “Paul, called to be an apostle (Gk., apostolos = “one sent;” an authority) of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Gk., thlematos - not by his own initiative but God’s initiative)” (1a). It is also from “. . . our brother Sosthenes” (1b), who was perhaps the former leader of the local synagogue (cf., Acts 18:17) and who initially resisted the gospel and may have been converted later.
Second, Paul stated his letter was written to “the church of God in Corinth” (2a). Corinth had been destroyed by the Roman legions in 146 BCE and rebuilt as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. It grew rapidly because of its position on the neck of a narrow isthmus connecting two parts of Greece. Ships were towed across the four mile isthmus. It was the third most wealthy and influential city in the Roman world. Only Rome and Alexandria exceed it. Paul visited 100 years after its rebuilding on his second missionary journey (cf, Acts 18). Corinth was a young city where excess was the norm in treasures, philosophies, fads, pagan temples (e.g., Apollo and Aphrodite), sexual freedom, and various forms of vice and debauchery. In the midst of this worldly city, the church of God in Corinth was “sanctified” (Gk., hagiasmenois – “saints,” “ones set apart,” a peculiar people for God as in the Old Testament) in Christ Jesus and called “to be holy” (2b). They were not alone but were sanctified “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2b). As Christians today we are also called to be holy through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our holiness is not a holier-than-thou viewpoint but a sacred trust to live our lives in a way pleasing to God, the one who calls us to Himself through Christ Jesus.
Third, Paul opens the letter by saying, “Grace and peace to you . . .” (3). Paul uses the Greek word charis meaning “grace or unmerited favor” rather than the more common word charein meaning simply “greetings.” God’s grace supports and sustains us in the midst of a broken world: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:31, NIV). God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus makes the beginning of our faith possible and sustains us through this life and into eternity. By peace, Paul has in mind the Hebrew word shalom which encompasses the proper ordering of God, self, others; the wholeness of person—mind, soul, body, and spirit. “. . . we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:8b, NIV).
Fourth and finally, Paul concludes the opening of his letter to the Corinthians with a statement of thanksgiving in 1 Cor 1:4-9. Our response to the grace of God at work in our lives and the lives of others should ultimately be thanksgiving. Grace is at the heart of our thanksgiving (eucharisto – “good grace”). God’s grace is given as a gift (4). There is rejoicing in heaven whenever it is received. God’s grace begins a process in which the lives of believers are “enriched” (5). God’s grace is confirmed (Gk., ebebaiothe – a legal term – “properly guaranteed security”) in the lives of those receiving it (6). God’s grace enriches and confirms God’s witness through the spiritual gifts (Gk., charismati) given to those receiving it (7). God’s grace declares the ones receiving it “blameless” in the presence of God. That is a lot of unmerited favor for which our only response can be to give thanks to God. Paul gave thanks for the grace of God that he saw at work in the lives of the Corinthian believers. Realistically, the church at Corinth was filled with real problems: misunderstandings about the Lord’s Supper and the proper role and function of spiritual gifts, improper worship practices, strained relationships between members of the church, questionable views on marriage and sexuality.