Wake-Up Call: The Core Calling of Every Christian

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1 Corinthians 1:4–9

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

CONSIDER THIS

A few things we need to understand about our context will help shed light on the letter as we begin to move through it.

About Corinth. Corinth was a first-century boomtown. It was a major seaport and a hub of the Mediterranean. In some sense, all roads led to or through Corinth. Corinth was an ancient precursor to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Transplant Las Vegas in San Diego and you get a feel for first-century Corinth. This bustling colony of Rome had a population of around 100,000–150,000.

About the church in Corinth. Best we can tell, there were no more than about 150 Christians in Corinth. Paul planted the congregation in around AD 50. Nobody had grown up in the church. These were first-generation believers who had mostly come out of pagan religions and cults. Given the size of the church around the world today at approximately 2 billion people, we need to keep in mind the infinitesimally small size of these early churches. It’s extraordinary to consider the ultimate impact they had on the world.

About the letters. You will notice later in the letter that Paul references an earlier letter he had written to the church in Corinth. That letter has never been found. The letter we call 1 Corinthians was likely written in about AD 54. It looks like Paul was writing from Ephesus while working with the young church there.

In 1 Corinthians Paul is responding to the Corinthians’ response to Paul’s earlier (missing) letter. Then there’s 2 Corinthians, which also seems to reference another missing letter. In short, it looks like 1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter and 2 Corinthians is actually the fourth one. Bottom line: we aren’t reading a book here. We are reading one side of a conversation conducted through letters. And as I previously noted, from the side of the conversation we get to study, the little church in Corinth was a mess. In the characterization of New Testament scholar and friend Michael Halcomb, we are looking at a first-century version of The Jerry Springer Show.

In today’s text, just nine verses in, we quickly come to the end of the nice, salutary portion of the letter. Paul is employing the faithful sandwich technique. You know what I’m talking about? Start with praise, cut to the hard stuff, and end on a good note. In these early verses, Paul is looking for things to be thankful for as relates to these people. He points out their overabundance of knowledge, gifted speech, and spiritual gifts. He reminds them again of the mission of the Holy Spirit in their midst—to make them strong in the Lord and glorious expressions of the holy love of God in the world he sent his Son to save.

Remember their calling? It bears revisiting. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).

Let’s stretch this verse out like a banner over the whole letter. We readily want to interpret our calling as something God wants us to do for him. That is actually the fruit of our calling. Our calling is not to do something; it’s to become someone. It is to become someone who, through the power of their life, words, deeds, and relationships, reminds other people of Jesus.

Let’s be very clear—this is why Paul is writing the letter.

Paul has one purpose—for the small but growing group of people in Corinth known as the church to fulfill their calling to become sanctified in Christ Jesus and become God’s holy people. This, and only this, will win the ballgame. No amount of team reorganization or new methods or better mission statements will ever do it. E. M. Bounds famously said it best, “The Church is looking for better methods. God is looking for better men.”

It will take the Word of God in concert with the Spirit of God to transform people of God into the image of God so they can participate in the will of God to redeem the world for God. If I had to reduce the New Testament to one sentence, that would be it.

Now, did you catch the last part of that text above?

together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours . . .

This letter is also to us. We are included in the group of people known as, “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s be paying attention.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for this little band of first-century Christians we know as the church in Corinth. It is amazing to contemplate how you took 150 people in a city of 150,000 and unleashed the gospel of Jesus. I confess, I have focused so much on what you want me to do for you. I want to humble myself and ask, Who do you want me to become? And I want to ask you to help me become it by the power of your Word and Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

The Christian faith and church can be parsed into a hundred different possible priorities. What is the priority for you? For your church? What would it mean for you to respond to your calling to become holy? What would it not mean?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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4 COMMENTS

  1. JD, WOW! “It will take the Word of God in concert with the Spirit of God to transform people of God into the image of God so they can participate in the will of God to redeem the world for God.” Now that’s a quote I’m going to remember, borrow and use. Thank you. I needed this.

  2. The priority and calling for the church:

    Understanding the calling on the Corinthians who Paul is writing to depends on understanding the Greek word that is translated as “church.” That word is “ekklesia.” There were two ekklesias in Corinth: 1) the group of believers who Paul was writing to, and 2) the participatory town hall meeting that was the governing body of the city. Both were called the ekklesia. Each of the ancient Greek cities had a governing ekklesia (town hall meeting) and Jesus is quoted in Matthew as saying, “On this rock (of direct revelation from God) I will build My ekklesia (His government).”

    All the citizens of a city belonged to the Greek ekklesia and all the citizens of the kingdom of God belong to Christ’s ekklesia. Any person present could speak out in a Greek ekklesia and in the letter to Jesus’ ekklesia at Corinth Paul says that everyone can speak in the meeting (see verse 14:26). The early Methodist participatory Class Meetings tended to function as an “ekklesia” more than as what we today call a church. In fact, Wesley refused to call (or to allow anyone else) to call Class Meetings a church.

    Paul’s emphasis on spiritual gifts in the letter indicates that the Holy Spirit is to be active and present and directing the meeting of a Christian ekklesia. People are free to speak, but not of their own accord. They are to speak as prompted by the Spirit and when they do speak there will be Spirit-led manifestations of words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophesy, interpretation of tongues, faith, discerning of spirits, healing, tongues, etc.

    Thus, the calling of Jesus’ ekklesia in Corinth (and of present-day) Christian ekklesias is to be a visible manifestation of the body of Christ with the Holy Spirit (the living, present Jesus) personally directing the meeting as the active Head (not as a mere figurehead like Queen Elizabeth or King Charles). Our calling is to follow and obey the risen Jesus both in the gathering of His ekklesia and in the world, thereby manifesting His presence and power.

  3. The Christian faith and church can be parsed into a hundred different possible priorities. What is the priority for you? For your church?

    J.D., I think back to something you’ve taught us in the past in the Daily Text. It’s found in Matthew 6:33. “See ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” That’s it. Period. One, and only one, priority. Jesus doesn’t go on to talk about second, third or fourth priorities. Just one. It’s for each of us, it’s for all of us.

  4. Like most non-seminary grads, I get confused and overwhelmed by the Greek traditional religious structure. How does that information help the broken-down, homeless person, the penny-less addict, the banished child, the orphan, or the prisoner relate to Jesus from a well-versed dialog based on scripture? The bottom line is they can’t. The broken-hearted are so accustomed to brokenness they can’t trust Christ’s promises because they don’t trust anyone, including themselves. The only way they even grasp any scripture reference is when the body of Christ grasps their hands in love.
    His love.
    “People don’t care what I have to say until they know I care.”
    How is that done? Relationships that love as Christ loves us.
    Jesus went to the people in the trenches. To do trench deeds, one must get into the trench. That’s where we fight spiritual battles in the physical realm.
    The war room is where the generals make battle plans. The generals become the research for history and biography books of battles won or lost. Their names become great in history, or they don’t, depending on if they’re victorious.
    Generals get the credit for winning wars while the soldiers fight in the trenches.
    Religion seems to follow the same trend. Headlines follow big-named Christian icons when Christ is the only Headline.
    The war is over, but battles for souls continue. And they’re fought in the trenches.
    Learning.

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