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By God's Design

From Paul, called by God's will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Sosthenes our brother. To God's church that is in Corinth: To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God's people. Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place-he's their Lord and ours! Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always for you, because of God's grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. That is, you were made rich through him in everything: all your communication and every kind of knowledge, in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. The result is that you aren't missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

So we're looking at Paul's greeting and introduction to the first letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth. Nice, gushing, flowery greeting. Very uplifting, very encouraging, but we need to back up for a minute and consider this church that Paul is sending this letter to. Corinth, as many scholars have shared, was considered the sin city of the Mediterranean, it was the Las Vegas of their day, so all kinds of unhealthy things took place there. And yet in this city, Paul went and proclaimed The Gospel of Jesus and started a church. But as often happens, there were some challenges, some struggle, some conflicts that erupted within this church. In fact, Wesley says there was outright sin going on there, there were some deviant people involved in the church, there were some scandals taking place, there was fighting over doctrine and teachings and who was in charge and who had better spiritual gifts than the other one.

And so the church in Corinth, this fledgling church that Paul had founded, had become his problem child. And Paul begins this letter, not rebuking them, but praising them and lifting them up and saying that he gives thanks for them every day. If ever there was a church that needed told off, it was that church, but instead of telling them off, Paul took a different approach, and he began to tell them who they were, and more importantly whose they were. And so he offers them these words of encouragement to help set them on the right path. In this text, if we're questioning what Paul's focus is, what are the most important things about what's going on, we could just start counting words. In these nine verses, Paul uses the word "Christ" nine times, the name "Jesus" eight times, the name "God" six times, and twice he refers to the people being called.

And so using those thoughts, those ideas, Jesus Christ and God and calling, Paul begins to set the stage for what's going on. Certainly there were problems that were going on, certainly they had things that they could be doing better, and yet Paul tells these people, "To you, the church in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ... " Sanctified means made holy, set apart, cleansed, made perfect. You who are sanctified in Christ and in our minds, we need to also think in spite of all of those rotten, terrible things that you're doing, you who are holy and sanctified because of Jesus, called to be saints together with all of those who everywhere call upon the name of Jesus." This idea that Paul is setting them apart and saying, "Look, you all are saints together."

Now, we need to understand that when we hear that word "saint", it's a plural, particularly in Paul's reference to it. In the world today, we hear about saints and we have even Methodist Churches named for saints: St. Luke, St. Matthews... But there's all of those other saints too who have lived faithful, holy lives that have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and set apart and recognized for the things they've done. But Paul isn't talking about saints in that sense, he's not talking about superheroes of our faith, he's not talking about one individual who's been picked up and said, "Look what this person has done, they should be a model, an example to all of us." In fact, for Paul, there's no such thing as a singular saint. The saints exist together in community for one another and for the good of the church.

He talks about all of those spiritual gifts, the abundance of gifts that have been provided as they wait for the appearing of the Lord, and again, those gifts aren't necessarily given so that you have one and you have one and I have mine. They're not individual gifts but rather it's a gift that's given to each as they have need for the good of all. The gift is given to an individual but yet the blessing is for the community. When we look at this church and the issues that Paul will be addressing during the rest of the letter, he's reminding them first that, "You are a community set apart, made holy by God, gathered by God, called by God, belonging to God and God alone." And with that basis in mind, he's telling them, "We can do better, we can address these issues that you're dealing with because you need to recognize who God has created and intends, and in fact designed you to be together."

When we gather as a church, many of the things that Paul says about this church in Corinth should resonate and ring true with us, the ideal, the plan, the design that God would have us be a people who gather together in community, who care for one another, who worship together, who grow together, who share our gifts with one another as a blessing to build up this community of faith and to share Jesus with the world. You saints of God. It's not something that you have done, but much like Pooh being told by Christopher Robin, this is who you are. We too have not earned this title, we too have not done anything so great and grand and glorious that we have been stamped with the name saint because we've been so good, but rather because God has, God has declared, God has calle