Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ESV
Paul began this letter as he had most of his others. First, he introduces himself. This was not because they did not know him. He had actually lived among them for 18 months after he had helped found the church there on one of his missionary journeys. Paul’s point in re-introducing himself was to establish his calling as an apostle of God. This will become an important factor as his letter unfolds.
Paul was cordial, even complimentary, in his greeting to the believers in Corinth. But there was a subtle, underlying purpose behind his words. He referred to them as “the church of God in Corinth.” This too will prove to have a purpose behind it. Paul wanted them to understand that they belonged to God and no one else. He was preparing the way to deal with a problem of division that had made its way into the church there. Paul also referred to them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “saints.” Paul used two words, ἁγιάζω (hagiazō) and ἅγιος (hagios) to describe the believers in Corinth. First of all, at salvation they had been set apart as God and dedicated for His purposes. They belonged to Him. And this made them saints, or set-apart ones (“G37 – hagiazō, G40 – hagios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They no longer belonged to themselves or to this world. And yet, as Paul would eventually point out in his letter, they were not living up to their calling as saints. Their actions were not reflecting their set-apartness.
Paul’s emphasis in the opening of his letter was on God. He even thanked God for all He had done in bringing the Corinthians to faith. It had been God who had extended His grace to them by making the good news of Jesus Christ known to them. The “testimony about Christ was confirmed” among them (1 Corinthians 1:6 ESV) as they came to faith in Christ and had their lives radically transformed. The believers there in Corinth had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, Paul said that they were “not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). God had been good to them. He had called them and He would be faithful to them as He continued His work among them. He would sustain them to the end. The problem, Paul seems to be saying, was not with God, but with them. It was the Corinthians who were proving to be unfaithful. They had lost their focus. They had lost sight of their unique standing as God’s holy people. The calling of God on their lives had taken a back seat to their own selfish agendas and worldly outlooks on life. They were missing the point.
Paul was preparing to deal harshly with his readers. He was setting them up so that he might call them out. He was not going to tolerate their behavior. The honor of God and the integrity of the gospel was at stake. Their behavior was not in keeping with their status as God’s chosen people. Rather than living as set apart and distinctive from the world around them, they were allowing themselves to blend in and take on the ungodly characteristics of the society in which they lived. Their professed beliefs and practical behavior did not seem to match. There was a disconnect between their faith and their daily practice. Their spiritual talk and their daily walk were in conflict. So Paul started his letter reminding them of who they were and to whom they belonged. Paul will remind them a little later on in this same letter, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).
Paul was about to call out the called out ones. He was going to sit down the set-apart ones and give them a piece of his mind – in love. He would not tolerate their actions or excuse their sinful attitudes. God had sacrificed His Son on their behalf. He had paid a high price for their salvation and Paul was not willing to sit back and watch them waste God’s grace or bring shame to His name. It was essential that their profession of faith show up in their walk and talk. Their conduct needed to match their confession. Their status as sons and daughters of God was to be reflected in their actions and attitudes.