Summary: In today's lesson I want to examine the thanksgiving of 1 Corinthians.
Today we continue in our new series of sermons on The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
Last week we studied the first three verses of 1 Corinthians. These verses are the salutation of 1 Corinthians, and we looked at the greeters, the greeted, and the greeting.
Paul’s letters typically move from the salutation to the thanksgiving (see Romans 1:8; Philippians 1:3-7; Colossians 1:3-8; etc.; Galatians is the exception), before moving on to the body of the letter. He does so again here in 1 Corinthians. So, today I want us to study “The Thanksgiving of 1 Corinthians.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 1:4-9:
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. (1 Corinthians 1:4–9)
When the apostle Paul wrote a letter he generally utilized the following structure: (1) salutation, (2) thanksgiving, (3) body, and (4) conclusion.
What is so fascinating about Paul is that even as he begins his letter he is remarkably theological. His salutation is rich with theological meaning. And that is no less true of the thanksgiving portion of his letter to the Corinthians.
Commentator Gordon D. Fee says that “Paul’s thanksgivings generally follow the same pattern: I (1) give thanks, (2) to God, (3) always, (4) for the recipients, and (5) for certain reasons, which are then elaborated. . . . As with the salutation, it contains a number of items that anticipate the body of the letter.”
Last week we studied the salutation of 1 Corinthians. We noted the greeters, the greeted, and the greeting.
Paul was the primary greeter. Sosthenes was the second greeter, and was most likely Paul’s secretary who actually wrote down what Paul dictated to him.
As I was studying for this week’s message I read some more about the situation that occasioned the letter. You may recall that Paul planted the church during the 18 months in 50-51 AD he spent in Corinth on his second missionary journey. After a few years he heard about problems and divisions in the church.
The traditional understanding of the situation in Corinth is that there was internal division and strife in the church. Paul wrote his letter to correct the division that existed among the various factions. However, I think that commentator Gordon D. Fee is correct in saying that “the historical situation in Corinth was one of conflict between the church and its founder.”
That is not to say that the Corinthian church was not experiencing internal strife and division; they were. But the primary problem was between the church as a whole and Paul as the church increasingly disagreed with Paul and his teaching. For Paul this presented a twofold crisis—over his authority and his gospel. Moreover, the key issue between Paul and the Corinthian church had to do with what it meant to be “spiritual.” We will see how Paul addressed that in the body of the letter, but we even begin to see a little of his response in “The Thanksgiving of 1 Corinthians.”