We're studying 1 Corinthians beginning this morning, and it's certainly going to be an exciting book. One of the things that you have to do at the beginning of every book is to set a foundation upon which to understand the book. And so, we'll be looking at 1 Corinthians just in the beginning sense, the first three verses, this morning. I've entitled this whole portion "The Benefits of Being a Saint," because I think that's really what he's saying.
I suppose that when we hear the word saint, or when we even use the word saint, we think of a Catholic image or a Catholic medal, because maybe that's the dominance significance of the word, at least in our culture; but that is never the biblical meaning of the word. The word scripturally clearly does not refer to special people who have been canonized by a church council, special people who are venerated by the masses, bowing, kissing, and burning candles to their images.
The term saint in the word of God is simply defined right here in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 2. If you'll look at it, we'll just begin by examining that term. "Under the church of God which is at Corinth; to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." Now, there you have the term saint used to define those who are sanctified in Christ, who call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Anyone made holy in Christ, anyone calling upon His name, that is, any believer, any true Christian, is a saint. You have the right to that title. In fact, the next time you introduce yourself, you can simply say, "It's nice to meet you. I'm Saint John," and that ought to start a good conversation. I have been made righteous. I have been made holy. I have been declared just, by God Himself, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That's a saint.
Now, Paul begins in this particular portion - just to give you an overview of the first nine verses - by declaring these Corinthians to be saints, which, as we will see, is quite a declaration, when you start looking at the things that characterized their living. But He declares that they are saints, and then proceeds immediately to discuss the benefits of sainthood from verses 4 to 9. And we're going to get into those benefits in detail next Lord's Day. But the beginning, then, of His approach to them is you are saints, and here is what it is to be a saint.
Now, I think there is a great purpose intended in the mind of the apostle in so doing this. He starts out by stating their identity as saints. The word saint is hagios; in the Greek, it means holy one. They are holy. What is so amazing about this is that the fact is that 1 Corinthians, from really the first chapter in verse 10, clear on out till it's finished, deals with wrong doctrine and wrong behavior. If you could imagine a doctrinal error or a behavioral moral error in the church, Corinth had it.
They did everything evil, conceivably, that a church could do; and yet he begins by saying to them, "You are saints." Now, clearly, we must remember something that we've distinguished in the past, and that is, there is a very clear difference between your position before God and your practice; between your standing and your state, as they used to call it in the past, and your actual behavior. I am a Christian. I am a saint. I am one who has been made holy before God.
I am, in the eyes of God, as righteous as Jesus Christ; however, I do not always act like it. My standing is defined as holiness, my behavior is defined as unholiness. So, if you don't understand that distinction, you'll really never be able to interpret the New Testament, because you'll get everything confused. The Corinthians were holy. Holy before God because they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, not holy in the way they lived. They had not yet made their life match their position.
They had not yet lived up to who they were. I always go back to the illustration of the time that I was put in jail, when I was a child. And I was about eleven or twelve, and I got put in jail for robbing Sears, and - I mean, you know, no Woolworth's or something, I'm going for the big job, you know. Anyway, I stole some things from Sears, and in fact, I stole a bunch of cigars and cigar lighters, because that's the only thing that was available when somebody wasn't looking, not that I smoked.
But anyway, it was a lark, you know, and I remember I wound up in the Glendale City Jail. And the comments that were made to me were things like, "Don't you know who your father is? How could you do that?" My father was playing golf with the deacons at the time. They contacted him at the golf course, and he brought the deacons along 'cause he thought it was a mistake, and they were in the car when he picked me up at the jail. And of course, it was a terrible thing for the local pastor, you know.
Have a son bailed out when he was only eleven years old for robbing Sears, you know. But the thing that I got in response to that was, "Don't you know who your father is? Don't you know who you are? Why don't you live up to the thing that is supposed to be characteristic of you?" And in a sense, that's really how a Christian is approached; don't you know who you are in Christ? Act like it. But sometimes our behavior doesn't always match our position, does it?
Sometimes kings don't act like kings, and presidents don't act like presidents, and leaders don't act like leaders, and teachers don't act like teachers, and so forth and so forth. Preachers don't act like preachers. And sometimes Christians don't act like Christians. But the Corinthians were holy; they just didn't act like it. Positionally, before God, they were in absolute righteousness because of Christ. And so, when Paul begins the letter to them, he takes the first nine verses to tell them they're saints, and tell them all that means.
"Why, you marvelous saints, you've got everything, past, present, and future, that a saint would ever have." Now, he begins, in verse 10 of 1, by saying, "Act like it." "Now I beseech you" - do you see it there? First four words! On the basis of who I just said you are - "Now I beseech you, brethren." And he starts in on all of their sins. And so, the apostle Paul, then, is going to state the identity of these people, and he does so by giving them the benefits of being a saint.
And we'll get into that in real detail next Lord's Day. But let's look back at verse 1, and let's see how he begins his letter to them. The first word is what? Paul. I memorized the first word of every one of Paul's letters. You know what it is? Paul. Wasn't too tough. All thirteen of his letters begin that way, and you know, that's the way the Greeks wrote a letter. They started the letter with the name of the author, which seems a lot more reasonable than putting it at the end.
Because the first thing you do when you get a letter that you can't recognize the writing in, you turn to the end to find out who wrote you the letter, so you can believe or not believe what is being said as you read it. I mean, you have to be able to evaluate it, right? Well, the Greeks wrote the letter by saying, first of all, "This is me talking to you." We do that. We don't have a phone conversation and at the end say, "Signed, John."
No. You, first of all, say who you are, so that there can be some conversation. So, the usual form of a Greek letter begins with the name of the author, then the identification of the reader, such as in verse 2 - "The church of God which is at Corinth" - then the greeting, such as verse 3 - "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." This is a very typical format for the apostle Paul. He establishes his identity, and then immediately - look at verse 1 - he establishes his authority as an apostle.
Now, this is something that Paul repeatedly did, and there were many reasons why he did this. You do not find the other writers of the New Testament doing this in the way Paul does. Of course, not all of the apostles wrote in the New Testament, but nevertheless, Paul is the one who is continually identifying himself as an apostle. And I think there are some very specific reasons why he does this. He says: "called an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God."
He identifies his calling to be in identification with Christ and by God's expressed will. Now, I want you to get this at the very beginning. Paul is not doing this in order to gain self-glory. I often think to myself that when you go someplace and they introduce you - and they always like to introduce you with a whole lot of titles, you know. Everybody wants to introduce you as "Dr. So-and-so." And people always introduce me as "Doctor So-and-so," and I'm not a doctor.
I'm not even a nurse, I'm just plain John. Get that straight. But people always want a title. They always want some kind of point of identification. And they say, you know, you hear people give introductions, "and he did this, and he did this, and he went here, and he went there, and he has this degree," and so forth, and so forth, and so on, and I wonder sometimes what the purpose of it is. And I suppose that the purpose doesn't have to be glory, it doesn't have to be vainglory; it actually could be establishing some authority.
I mean, here's a guy who's this, and this, and this, and this; therefore, what he says you ought to listen to, because he's got a background. Well, if we can translate that into Corinthians 1, and elevate it to its purest concept, that's precisely what Paul is doing. He is not saying, "I am apostle, clap for me." He is saying, "I am an apostle; listen to me. I have authority, and I speak with authority. What I am about to say to you comes from Jesus Christ at the will of God, for therein lies my calling."
So, it has nothing to do with vanity, it has nothing to do with self-glory; he absolutely and totally disdains self-glory and personal merit. Later on in 1 Corinthians, he says, "I am the least of the apostles. I don't deserve any of this. I am what I am by the grace of God." And so, it is not for that reason that he calls himself an apostle - a sent one, an ambassador, an envoy, and a messenger of Jesus Christ. You say, "Then what is the reason?"
Well, I sat down this week, and maybe for the first time, really tried to think through, categorically, why Paul does this in almost every single letter. The only times he doesn't do it is where he includes another name; where he says, "Paul and Silvanus unto Such-and-such a group." And wherever there is only his name identified initially, he does call himself an apostle. And I came up with what I think are five reasons that he does this, and I'm just giving them to you for your future reference, as well as now.
He does this, first of all, because of his relation to the twelve. Now, there were originally twelve disciples. One of them was disqualified; his name was Judas. His place was taken, according to Acts 1, by a man named Matthias, and the ranks of the twelve were then completed, filled up. They became the foundation for the early church; they became the authoritarian group. As you come into Acts, chapter 6, it is the apostles that are really running the church.
Even in Acts, chapter 2, the people were studying "the apostles' doctrine" - that is, the apostles' teaching. The apostles laid the foundation for the church, and the twelve were known by the church as the authoritative voice of Christ. Now, on top of this, here comes a sort of a Johnny-come-lately by the name of Paul, one who at first introduction to the church was breathing out threatening and slaughter, and killing Christians, and maiming them, and throwing them in to prison, and doing all kinds of things against the church.
He had not lived and walked with Jesus Christ in His pre-death years. He had not seen the resurrected Christ before He ascended into heaven. And the qualifications for an apostle, according to the Scripture - Acts 1 - were that they know Christ in His post-resurrection reality, and that they be specifically and personally and directly chosen by Christ. They had to have seen the resurrected Christ and been called specifically by Him into the apostolate.
That's the reason we can't have any apostles today. That's the reason there couldn't be any past the biblical ones, because no one since then has seen the living resurrected Christ, and been specifically commissioned by Him. He has ascended into heaven, where He is until He comes again. So, the apostolate has ceased. It was foundational, according to Ephesians 2:20. But here came Paul, and he came along a little bit late, and so people were saying, "Yeah Paul, uh-huh.
"Yeah, we hear what you're saying, but you're not one of the twelve. You're not one with authority." And so, he continually establishes that he has authority, and that he was, in fact, one who saw Christ. 1 Corinthians 15, he hallucinates. He says, "Christ, having been raised from the dead, was seen of Peter, then of the twelve" – now watch, verse 8 - "And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." And when and where did Paul see Him?
On the Damascus Road at his conversion; he saw Him in blazing glory, and was blinded by it. And then, you remember that further than that, the Lord appeared to him on other occasions, once in Jerusalem, and then again when he was a prisoner later in Jerusalem, appearing to him to tell him he would go to Rome. So, he saw the resurrected Christ. He was specially called on the Damascus Road to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
And I believe that he states this because of his relation to the twelve, that he might establish the fact that he is in equality with them as a foundational teacher of revelatory truth. Secondly, I believe that he gives himself this title in the Scripture because of his relation to false teachers. He was continually being harassed by false teachers. Teachers would come in, and they would say to the people whom Paul had just taught, "He has no credibility, he has no authority. He is not one of the apostles."
The Judaizers particularly did this. And Paul was constantly being knocked. He was constantly being persecuted. He was constantly being buffeted around, even by people who claimed to be his friends; at least they were Jews, and he was a Jew. And he answers this, I think, in 1 Corinthians 4:9. He says, "I think that God has set forth us the apostles last, as if it were appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and angels, and men."
He says in verse 11, "Unto this present hour we hunger, we thirst, we are naked, buffeted, have no certain dwelling place, labor, working with our own hands" - you remember, he did that. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure: being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things unto this day." And here he simply says, "I am constantly being battered. I am constantly being defamed and dishonored.
"I am constantly being persecuted and reviled. This goes on all the time. I am considered filth. I am considered offscouring, something you scrub off and throw away." False teachers are constantly doing this to the apostle, and I believe that one of the reasons that he establishes his apostolate is because he defends himself against those who would discredit him.
Thirdly, I feel that Paul gives himself this title because of his relation to Christ. This has not to do with the false teachers as much as it has to do with the Christians. The Christians - in Jerusalem, at least - were not really sure about Paul; and maybe in many other areas, initially they weren't too sure about him, either. About whether he had credibility; whether he had legitimate apostolate.
And one of the reasons I believe he repeats his apostleship statement again and again is in order to ensure the readers that he is equal to the rest of the apostles. Because, you see, they weren't too sure about it. False teachers had infected them, and given them bad information. You remember when Paul came back to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, he had to take his life in his hands, because even the Christians were after him? They had heard all kinds of terrible things about him.
Equally had the Galatian Christians been sold a bill of goods about the apostle. And he wants them to know that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and he is, in every sense, commissioned by Christ. "I am related to Christ just like the rest." He said, "I never speak anything that was not given to me of Jesus Christ. I am determined to know nothing" - he says in 2:2 - "among you, except Christ, and Him crucified." So, because of his relationship to Christ, he says this.
"I want you to know that I am sent by Christ; that I have every much as – every bit as much authority as anyone else; that I am possessed by Christ. I am not my own. I am His, and He it is that speaks through me." Fourthly, I think he uses this title to express his relationship to the readers themselves. He wants them to know that he has been sent to them; that he is not just an apostle, but he is an apostle - verse 2 – "unto the church of God which is at Corinth."
His calling was to them. He had been called of God to go to them with the message. In 1 Corinthians 9, he defends this again. He says, "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not you my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yea, doubtless I am to you: for the seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord." "Your very church, the fact that it exists after my 18 months of effort, proves that I was sent by God to you."
So, he states his title again, in order to express that he is related to them as a special messenger from God. Then too, lastly, fifth, I think that he expresses his title to show his relation to God. So, his relation to the twelve, to false teachers, to Christ, to the readers, and lastly, to God. When he says, "I am an apostle by the will of God," he, in effect, is saying, "What I say to you comes as a delegation from God. God has delegated to me this information to give to you."
Now, they understood this. They understood the word apostleship. There was a Jewish supreme court; remember their name? Sanhedrin. They were made up of seventy of the wisest elders of Israel, and they made the decisions regarding every Jew in the world - religious decisions, moral decisions. And when anyone had a problem in any place, they would send that to the highest court, and it would go to the Sanhedrin if it couldn't be settled at the council of their own synagogue.
And the Sanhedrin would make a judgment, and a verdict on this decision, and then they would dispatch a man to take the verdict back to the community of Jews that had asked for it. That man was called apostolos. He was called an apostle, a sent one, a messenger, an envoy, an ambassador, an agent. And he would be sent back, and he would say to that group, "I speak with the authority of the Sanhedrin. Here is their verdict," and he would give them the verdict.
Paul is saying, "I am not an independent operator. I come as an envoy from the throne of God, and what I give you are God's judgments." You see? So, he is establishing his authority every way possible. From the viewpoint of his relation to the other apostles, the viewpoint of his relation to the readers, the viewpoint to the relation of the false teachers who were knocking him, his relation to Christ, and his relation to God. In every way, he has authority, and he verifies it.
He came in the power of God, not in men's power, not in his own authority. At the end of verse 24 of chapter 1, he came "in the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Chapter 2, verse 4, it says he came in the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power." And so, he came, with all authority, and he establishes his authority at the very beginning, that the people might listen to what he has to say. Now, he's not gloating. He's not boasting.
Chapter 15, he says, "I'm the least of apostles. I'm not even fit to be called one, because I was a persecutor. But I am what I am, and I am that by the grace of God." And what he means is, "I am an apostle by His grace, and you're to listen." Now, you say, "Well, what is an apostle; what do they do?" Well, for you that might not have known this - and you might want to reread the book, or if you haven't read it, get it, The Church: The Body of Christ, because we deal with all these things.
In fact, we deal with much of what we'll be dealing with in 1 Corinthians. You can read it again, or get it, if you haven't read it. But the apostles were especially selected as the foundation of the church. You say, "Well, what were they supposed to do?" I'm going to give you their duties, as they're indicated in Scripture. Duty number one of an apostle is in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, right where we are, verse 17. "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."
The first thing an apostle was to do was to preach the gospel. What was the gospel? The good news that Jesus died and rose again; salvation was by faith in Him. The apostles, then, were to preach the gospel. That was the beginning of their task. And later on, in 1 Corinthians 9, he repeats basically the same thing; that the apostles were to preach the gospel, and also to live of the gospel, which means they were to gain a livelihood from that preaching.
Acts, chapter 6 and verse 4, gives us further instruction as to what the apostles were to do. It says that, "The apostles said, 'We will give ourselves'" - Acts 6:4 - "'continually to prayer.'" All right, the second thing the apostles were to do was to give themselves continually to prayer. Third, "'and to the ministry of the word.'" In fact, in Ephesians 4:11, it says, "And he gave some, apostles…for the perfecting of the saints."
They were, then, to evangelize, to pray, and to teach the church, that it might grow. And the last thing that they were to do was perform miracles, 2 Corinthians 12:12. "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and" – miracles – "mighty deeds." So the apostle preached the gospel, prayed, taught the word to the church, and did miracles to confirm the preaching. Now, that's the work of an apostle.
They were sent by God. They were empowered by God. They were selected for a period of time in the church history, which was done when they were done. When they died, it was over. And Paul identifies himself in order to give authority to what he says. Now, listen to me, people: when you read a truth in the book of 1 Corinthians, that is not Paul's opinion; that is God's message through His messenger.
Now, people get into the book of 1 Corinthians, and they like to play around with some of it, and they say, "Well, Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7, and he says, 'I speak this not of commandment but by permission,'" and they say, "'See, that's just Paul's opinion.'" Nowhere in the book of 1 Corinthians does Paul offer his opinion. This is God's word, and that's true of all the Bible. Sometimes I on occasion come home from the Lord's Day at night, and I get on the radio that terrible program, "Religion on the Line" - which confusion on the line, to put it mildly.
And they have a Protestant on there - and that's all he is, not a Christian, just a Protestant - and they get people calling in. This lady calls in, and she says such and such about a question, she wanted to know about heaven and hell. "Is it true there is a heaven and a hell?" And so, they felt that since the Rabbi on there didn't believe that, and apparently whoever else was on didn't, they directed it to the Protestant. And he says, "Well, personally," he says, "I don't feel that there is."
Now, he says, "Of course, we know that many things in the Bible are a matter of opinion." You know, well, that gets to me. Right about then, I want to put my foot through the radio. I don't know why they don't ever let me on those programs. I mean we could really have dialogue. But it is not. The Bible is not a matter of opinion, and I want to get that at the beginning, because people want to take parts of 1 Corinthians and explain them away.
They get to the part about where a Christian is not to go to law with another Christian, and they want to do something with that and make that a matter of opinion. That is not a matter of opinion; that's the word of God. This is authoritative, and we treat it as such. And we'll explain, as we go, the various passages in this particular and marvelous book. And may I hasten to add, that everything in here is authoritative.
And I believe it like the little old lady, "from kiver to kiver," and I didn't have to sacrifice my brain to do that. I don't have enough of it to make much of a sacrifice. I've kept all that I have. All right, so Paul introduces himself, then, by establishing the fact that this is authoritative; that he is God's man speaking to them. Now, from there he goes on, and he adds another very interesting note at the end of verse 1. "And Sosthenes" - and you see the word brother, so he probably would put it "and brother Sosthenes."
This is terrific. I mean, you could read right by that, and never understand what that meant. That is absolutely fantastic – "brother Sosthenes." You say, "What's he doing in there? Did he write this, too?" No. Paul usually used an amanuensis. Amanuensis is a name for a secretary, but since he's a man, we'll call him an amanuensis, okay? It's better than calling him a secretary; he might not like it. Amanuensis - like just a penman.
Paul would dictate it, and he would write it, and very often Paul, in his letters, would sign with his own signature. Maybe sometimes he wrote the letter himself, but he usually dictated it to an amanuensis. So, here is this guy, Sosthenes, but he never bothers to put the name of the secretary or the amanuensis in the front, unless there's a very, very good reason. And it is this: Sosthenes isn't just writing this, he's agreeing with it. You see, do you get the point?
"Paul and Sosthenes to the church" – hey, he's in agreement. You say, "So what? I mean, what credibility does that add?" Well, I'll tell you what credibility it adds. Sosthenes knew the Corinthian situation. You say, "How do you know?" Go back to Acts 18, and see one of the most interesting things that happened in Corinth. Acts 18 records the founding of the church at Corinth by Paul, and we'll meet Sosthenes. Oh, incidentally, Paul didn't really get a great reception when he came to Corinth.
As was typical, the Jews threw him out. But what was really typical, after the Jews threw him out, the revival began; and the chief ruler of the synagogue got saved. Verse 8: "Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with his whole house; many Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." Well, since the chief ruler of the synagogue was saved, they had to get a new one. So, you know who the new ruler was? Sosthenes.
He was the new guy, leading the mob against Paul. He was anti-Paul. Well, they decided they were going to attack Paul, so they got him and dragged him to the judgment seat. Incidentally, this summer when we were in Corinth, we were there at that judgment seat. What an exciting thing to realize what went on there, where they – I mean, they still have the rocks under there, and the whole thing, you know. But anyway, they got Paul over to that – that's the judgment seat - and they said, "This guy is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law."
They didn't say what law - Jewish law, Roman law, whatever. They were trying to get an indictment against him and get rid of him. Gallio was smart, and he just threw the whole thing out of court; just threw them all out. In verse 16: "He drove them from the judgment seat." Clear the court. And then what happened in verse 17? Some manuscripts say the Greeks beat him, and some manuscripts say the Jews beat him. And who did they beat? "Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue."
Why would the Greeks beat him? Well, they would have beaten him for taking up Gallio's time. "Get out of here." They didn't like the Jews anyway. You say, "Well, why would the Jews beat him?" The Jews would have beat him because he did such a lousy job of presenting their case that it got thrown out of court, and his own people beat him up. Whoever beat him, he got beaten. Well, what is interesting about this is, here is the leader of the anti-Paul movement being beaten up in 18:17.
By the time Paul writes 1 Corinthians, he says, "brother Sosthenes." Fantastic. I mean, I'm sure Paul just zeroed in on that guy. What an amazing and marvelous story of conversion, and Sosthenes, having been in on it in Corinth, would have known the situation. So, when he adds Sosthenes' name, all of a sudden, the people in Corinth say, "Uh oh, he knows us. He lived here. Paul was here a year and a half. This guy's from this place." So, it just added some potency to his introduction.
All right, now let's go to verse 2. The letter is being written to "the church of God which is at Corinth." Keep in mind that the church is not the church of the Corinthians; it's the church of whom? Of God. This is God's church. This is not John MacArthur's church. This is not your church. This is God's church. And one of the perspectives, I think, that a believer always must have is that the church is a body of people, not a building, and that that body of people belongs to God.
Not to an organization, not to a denomination, not to any person or persons, but to God. And this kind of perspective, I think, is the steward's perspective. In other words, I look at this church not as my church, but as God's church, and He's given me the responsibility of caring for it for Him. That's a heavy responsibility. If I was just taking care of the church for myself, my standards would be too low; you understand? But caring for it for God gives me a tremendously high standard I have to reach.
And that's the perspective of a steward, and that's the way you have to look at your life. Your responsibility is to minister to the church; just as well, to minister to other believers; and they are God's possession. So, minister knowing that they are God's. In fact, Paul, when he writes to the Ephesian elders, or when he speaks to them, says, "Remember, the church of God was purchased with His own blood." So, remember the price that it cost Him, and care for the church with that in mind.
All right, so it's the church of God and it's at Corinth. Now, Corinth is a fascinating place. I suppose in all the places I've been in the world it has to be one of the most fascinating, because of all of the history that is there. Any glance at Corinth on the map would give you the idea that it was strategic, and indeed it was. Today, there's nothing there but a little town. But in ancient times, it was a tremendously strategic place, and I want to show you why. Greece is divided into two parts, the north and the south.
And the south is the large part, called the Peloponnese. Now, in the middle of Greece there are two giant indentations: the Saronic Gulf on the west, and the Corinthian Gulf on the east. And so it's almost as if the southern Peloponnese is just attached, barely. That whole area there, that isthmus, is four miles wide. So, Greece is large at the top, it indents a four-mile area, then there's a large southern part of Greece. That indentation is four miles from the Saronic Gulf to the Corinthian Gulf - two seaports on each side in ancient times.
Right in the middle of that isthmus was Corinth. All north-and-south trade and traffic went right through the middle of Corinth; it had to, it had nowhere else to go. So, everything coming to and from Athens came right through Corinth - strategic location, vital location. It became, consequently, a great trade center; in fact, one of the greatest trade centers in the world. Not only did north-south traffic through there, but something very fascinating, east-west traffic did, too.
There were ships, for example, that were on the west coast of Greece. They wanted to go to the east coast, and then down east in the Mediterranean. If that was what they needed to do, they would supposedly need to go all the way around the Peloponnese, at least two hundred and fifty additional miles, all the way around. And the area at the south end of Greece is known as the Cape of Malea, M-A-L-E-A. It was so treacherous that sailors of old used to say, "A sailor never takes a journey around Malea until he first writes his will" - very treacherous.
Those small vessels just did not venture that way very frequently. And so, what they used to do - and this is most interesting - was that they would simply go in at the Saronic Gulf, they would take their ship up on land, put it on rollers, roll it across the four miles, and dump it back in at the Corinthian Gulf, and then proceed east. And they would do the same thing the other way, and avoid going around. It was easier to go four miles on land than two hundred and fifty miles around the Cape.
In fact, the isthmus became known in the Greek language as Diolkos, which means the place of dragging across, because ships were always being dragged across. Today, right now if you go there, you will see a four-mile canal called the Corinthian Canal, that is deep - and I mean it is deep, deep - and it runs right through. You can stand at one end, right on the seacoast of the Corinthian Gulf, and look right down the canal - it's an absolute straight line - and see the west Saronic Gulf.
The gulf is now attached by that canal, that took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. I believe it was started by the Caesars. And so, that was what made Corinth a very populous trade center. It had great success as a center of entertainment as well. There were two great games in those days in that part of the world: the Olympic games, and the Isthmian games. And the Isthmian games took place in the isthmus where Corinth was, and so it was famous.
It had a mongrel population; originally populated - I should say, not originally, but it was destroyed in 146 B.C., and then it was rebuilt a hundred years later by Caesar - and Caesar populated it with free men from Rome. It was originally populated with Romans, then slaves came, then there were Greeks there who came, and then Jews came. As the trade business boomed, people came from Phoenicia and Phrygia, and so it became a mongrel population, as any trade center would become.
It also became a place of evil. There is a verb in the Greek language, and that verb is korinthiazesthai. It means to corinthianize. You know what that means? It means drunken debauchery and immorality. The name of that city became synonymous with evil, and so the word dropped its capital letter and became a verb for evil. It was a vile city. Every town, every major city, usually had what was called an acropolis.
Have you ever heard of The Acropolis in Athens? There's a - it's a mound with buildings on it; you've seen pictures of it? Well, that is not really a proper name. Acropolis just means, it's the Greek word for the high place, and every town had a high place, somewhere to go when a battle came. And there is an Acrocorinthus, there is a high place, just south of Corinth. You look and there's this huge, 2,000-foot thing, juts up like a great big granite block in the middle of the skyline.
And it was fortified on the top, and on a clear day, they could stand on the top and see Athens, 45 miles away. And it's usually clear over there - at least at that time of the world, it was - a beautiful area. And so it was a very important area for strategy, for securing the city. The people could be moved up there in the case of a battle, from the city which was below, and all the farm lands that were below. But also on the Acrocorinthus was the temple of Aphrodite.
And Aphrodite was the goddess of love, and their love wasn't really very ethereal, and it wasn't very emotional. It was mostly just rotten and vile. Their interpretation of Aphrodite went like this: the temple of Aphrodite had a thousand priestesses who were prostitutes, and every night they came down the hill and plied their trade in the town. Well, that was the worship of the Corinthians. They were a vile, evil people. They had too much money, too much luxury, and too much indulgence.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 6, you get a little idea of what they did. 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul describes Corinth. He says, "Don't you know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived" - and here he really describes their life - "neither fornicators" - that's the word porneia from which we get pornography, pornographers, people who are involved in sexual sin of any kind - "idolaters, adulterers" - sex outside of marriage - "effeminate" - that's interesting.
We have people like that who wear clothes, men who wear women's clothes - "abusers of themselves with mankind" - masochism, sexual masochism, maybe even homosexuality in mind there - "thieves, covetous, drunkards" - what – "revilers" - that is orgies - "extortioners, they're not going to inherit the kingdom of God. "And such were" – what? - "some of you." You see, that was what they lived in. That was their town. Those words could all be combined, and they would give you a composite definition of the verb to corinthianize.
And so, that city is the city to which the letter is written. And I'm telling you, that church was so messed up by what was going on in that city, that when Paul wrote this letter, they had actually surpassed the city. They were doing some things that even the people weren't doing who weren't even in the church. That's shocking. You say, "Well, what about the church at Corinth?" Well, Paul founded it on his second missionary journey - and let's turn to Acts 18, and see how he started it.
We have to see this, or we won't understand, really, all the letter has to say. As I said, this is really just an introduction this morning, but it's God's truth, and that makes it exciting to us. Acts 18 - let me give you a little background, just so you can get a setting. Give you some background to the background to the background that we're going to have in 1 Corinthians. Paul arrives in Corinth in Acts 18, but he's a discouraged man when he gets there, and apparently, he was all alone.
He had arrived initially in Greece - Macedonia, as it was then known - at the town of Philippi. Remember what happened in Philippi? It was great. He went out by the river, and found a group of Jewish women, and he presented Christ to them, and they were saved, and he had a little nucleus of a church. And then there was a demon-possessed girl and her - some men were using her to make money. You know, she was telling fortunes, and people were paying, and they were making a fortune off of it.
And so, the apostle Paul cast a demon out of her, and messed up their business, and they got upset, and dragged Paul downtown, and threw him in jail, remember? Locked him in the stocks, with Silas? They were singing in there, and the Lord brought a localized earthquake and broke the jail all up, and on the way out, Paul led the jailer and his whole family to the Lord, and the church grew. Unusual way, but it did. Demon-possessed girl, a jailer and his family, and a bunch of women by a river, and that was the nucleus.
But it got hot in Philippi, and Paul had to leave, and they chased him out of town. He came to Thessalonica, and there he ministered, and the church began, and he was chased out of that town. And he found his way to Berea, and remember, he met those dear souls at Berea who searched the Scripture diligently? But the Thessalonians kept chasing him, and they finally caught him there, and he had to run. And he finally had to take a little detour, a tricky little deal, and wound up in Athens, and he was tired, he was out of gas, he was discouraged.
He decided to rest, until he saw the city given over to idolatry. His spirit was stirred within him, and he started preaching all over again, all by himself, in this huge city of Athens. He started in the agora, the marketplace. He wound up on Mars Hill preaching to the philosophers, but there wasn't much result in Athens, and so he left there, and he came - a very broken and discouraged man - to Corinth, and that's where we begin, in chapter 18, verse 1.
And he went to the synagogue, surely, and the Jews in those days, when they went to synagogue, usually sat together with people of a like trade. And so he sat down with people who did the leather work, people who made tents. The word tentmaker is really the Greek word for leathermaking, leatherworking. So, he sat down, and he met a couple of other leatherworkers by the name of Aquila and Priscilla, and he moved in with them. And he began to preach - in verse 4 - every Sabbath in the synagogue, persuading Jews and Greeks.
And finally, his friends arrived, but they didn't get a good reception. You know, in verse 6, Paul finally got thrown out. I mean, he just - they just didn't want him. They opposed him, they blasphemed, so he shook his clothes off, as if to say, "I'm shaking the dust off, your blood is on your heads; I'm clean: I'm going to the Gentiles," he said. "Goodbye to you Jews; I'm leaving. I'm going to the Gentiles," and he marched right out, and went next door.
I like that; I like that. He never lost his heart for Israel. He only went to the next door. That's really kind of funny. "I'm leaving," walks out, goes right in next door. Spent a year and a half next door. You think that had an effect on the Jewish synagogue? Hmm. The chief ruler of the synagogue got saved in verse 8, his whole house, and a bunch of other Corinthians, and the church was begun. And verse 11 says he stayed a year and a half, teaching the word.
Listen, he gave himself to that outfit for a year and a half. That's how the church began. It was made up of Jews and Gentiles. Finally, he had to leave - verse 18 he leaves - but you know who their second pastor was? Had a good man. Second pastor of the Corinthian church is named for us in verse 24: "A certain Jew named Apollos." Oh, he was a good man. Born in Alexandria, eloquent, mighty in the Scriptures. Paul met him in Ephesus.
He was instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, spoke and taught diligently the things of Jesus. He knew only the baptism of John, so Aquila and Priscilla, those two other tentmakers or leatherworkers in verse 26, got a hold of him, and told him the way more perfectly. And finally, he wound up in Corinth, verse 1 of 19; it came to pass while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul was coming to Ephesus. Now, you see, the apostle Paul's work is continued by a man named Apollos.
You remember in 1 Corinthians 1, how that that becomes a cause for faction in the Corinthian church: "some of you are of Paul, some of you are of Apollos?" Apollos was the second pastor. Well, that's the church, a brilliant work done by Paul. Then another brilliant man comes, and God blesses his work. But you know something? There were some problems in Corinth, and the major problem was they couldn't detach themselves from the morality of their world.
Does that sound common? They could not get de-corinthianized. They couldn't understand the principle of I John: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." They could not detach. They were holy positionally, but they could not clean up practically. They just were sucked into the vortex of their own world. They were into that Corinthian kind of living, and they just couldn't seem to get out of it. So, Paul, sometime after he left, wrote them a letter.
We don't know what he said in that letter in detail, because that letter is lost. First Corinthians is the second letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians; not the first, the second. The first one, we call the lost letter, for obvious reasons; it's lost. You say, "Well, how do you know that there was a first letter, if it was lost?" It's a good question, and it deserves an answer. First Corinthians 5:9 is the answer. He says to the Corinthians, "I wrote unto you in a letter not to company with fornicators."
Here he is, writing 1 Corinthians, saying, "I wrote unto you in a letter." He had written them a previous letter. And what did he say? "Don't company with fornicators." Don't hang around with sexually sinful people. You see what the problem was in Corinth, then, basically? It was the inability of the Corinthian believers to detach themselves from the morality of the system in which they lived. And people, that is exactly what we face in our world today.
The morality of the Christian church has gone down at a rate that is measured by the rate of the decline of the morality of the system in which it exists. Now, I don't think we're going down at the same pace; I think we're going down in some sort of a relative way, though. There are things that Christians allow today for themselves that they would never dream of allowing years ago. And in a relative way, they're still about the same distance from the world.
But the manifestation of the world's evil has gone so far, they found themselves going in the same way. Well, that was the Corinthian problem. They never knew how to cut off from the world. That's what we're trying to say in I John. Same thing. John's pouring his heart out on it. The church always has the inability, or the problem, of being in the world, and not being able to cut off from the world. So that was where they were hurting.
Well, he writes to them, "I told you once before not to company with fornicators." But you know, they misunderstood what he meant. And he says that in verse 10. "Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world." "I didn't mean the unsaved ones; I didn't mean don't ever go near the unsaved." Apparently, what they did was they just stopped talking to the unsaved people. No. "And the covetous, extortioners, and idolaters. If you do that, you might as well go out of the world.
"I mean, you might as well die, right? You're no good to anybody if you don't mix along with the unbelievers. I didn't mean them." Verse 11: "But I have now written to you" - to clear that up - "not to keep company, if any man that is called" - a what? - "a brother be a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, drunkard, extortioner. No, don't even eat with those kind." He's not talking about unbelievers; he's talking about what? Believers.
What is the church's obligation to a continual sinning of a brother? You don't have anything to do with them. You put them out. Why? Because then he has to count the cost of his sin. You see, then you purify the church. Paul is saying, "Get that thing pure. You misunderstood. I didn't mean stay away from the ungodly. I mean stay away from those who are God's children who are living in sin. Make them pay the price of loneliness. Make them pay the price of disfellowship.
"Make sure your ranks are pure. Keep the sins of the world out. Anybody who does them, put them out. Purify." And that's what he is saying in this letter. Their problem was they couldn't disconnect from the world. So, he wrote them the first letter, and then he writes in 1 Corinthians, which comes later. Now, after that first lost letter, Paul got some bad reports. I guess they didn't do what he said. That's the indication of what I just read to you in 1 Corinthians 5. And he got more word.
Look at verse 11 of chapter 1. He started hearing things about the Corinthian church that bugged him. "It's been declared to me, my brethren, by them who are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you" - you're fighting. He heard that from Chloe. Now, look at chapter 5, verse 1, just quickly. "It is reported commonly to me that there is sexual sin among you, and such sexual sin is not so much as named among the pagans, that a person should have his father's wife."
"Now, you guys are doing things that even the pagans don't talk about. I haven't even heard this of them." Chapter 7, verse 1, something else he heard. Apparently, somebody wrote him a letter and told him about this. "Concerning the things about which you wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, avoiding fornication" - or sexual sin – "let every man have his own wife, and every woman have her own husband."
He got a letter from somebody saying they had a problem in this area. Their basic problem is pretty clear, isn't it: sex. Also divisions, but there you go the rest of the book, and you'll find they had a problem with everything. They just had no seeming commitment to disconnect from the system. So Paul started getting these reports. He was so upset, you know what he did? He sent Timothy to them.
Chapter 4, verse 17, of 1 Corinthians, Paul says: "This cause have I sent unto to you Timothy, who is my beloved son, and the faithful in the Lord. He shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which are in Christ." "Now, he's going to remind you of what you know." And in 16:10, he says, "Now when Timothy gets there, you receive him." So, he was so upset he sent Timothy. In addition to that, it seems to me most likely that, while he was at Ephesus for three years after he left Corinth, he made a hurried visit back to Corinth, he was so upset.
But finally, he writes them 1 Corinthians. But not until he's founded the church, written them a first letter, dispatched Timothy to them, and even made a quick visit himself; finally, then, he writes 1 Corinthians, and this masterpiece of setting the church right morally and doctrinally. And how he begins is so beautiful. Look at verse 2. He says: "You are sanctified in Christ Jesus. You are saints, along with everybody else who calls on His name."
He drives down the same concept, "You are holy," and this becomes the foundation for all of his exhortation. Now, the word saint, hagios, the word sanctified, hagiazō - same root. "You have been made holy, and therefore you are called holy ones." This is positional truth, beloved. They are saints. They are holy. You say, "How could they be holy, with all that mess in their life?" Holiness is not a matter of works, is it? Is holiness a matter of works? Can a man make himself holy? No.
How did they ever get holy? I'll tell you. I'll give you just a quick definition of how to be holy. Hebrews 2:11 tells us - don't look these up, just listen. Hebrews 2:11 says that Christ, by His sufferings has sanctified all who believe. By Christ's death, He made men holy. Men can be holy, because He paid the price for sin. That's the point. Let me give you another verse: verse 14 of chapter 10 of Hebrews. It says there, simply, "By one offering He has perfected forever them that are sanctified."
Again, He sanctifies men. That is, He cleanses them, He makes them holy, He sets them apart to Himself, by His offering, by His suffering, by His death. You say, "You mean Jesus died, and we're all holy?" Well, there's one other step; there's one other step. Acts 26:18 - listen to this: Jesus said, "I've called you, Paul, 'to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins'" - you can be holy, you can receive forgiveness among all those who are made holy.
Now listen: "by faith that is in Me." God's part to make men holy was Jesus' death. Man's part to become holy is what? Faith. We believe; that's it. The Corinthians saw the work of Christ on the cross. They knew that He died - Paul preached that - they knew that He rose from the dead, they said He offered the perfect sacrifice, and they believed; and that made them holy. Listen, people, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you've accepted His death and resurrection on your behalf, you are a saint.
You are holy, and Paul lays it down. He says, "Hey, people, by very definition, you have been made holy. You are called holy." And his point is, what are you doing acting unholy? You see? I mean it comes on so strong when you understand the background of the book. Just the simple statement of verse 2: "You saints who have been made holy" - that alone would have been an indictment, wouldn't it? That alone would have been a piercing sword that could have cut their hearts.
"You're saints, you're holy." So having identified them, he gives them a greeting in verse 3, just the common Christian greeting. "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." That was just the greeting, and I love that greeting. Grace is favor, and peace is its fruits. Grace is the Greek greeting, peace is the Hebrew, shalom - eirēnē in Greek. He says: "You're saints; therefore you have grace and God's peace."
You know, you can't say that to an unsaved person, can you? You can't say, "Grace and peace." These are Christians. These are Christians behaving like this, holy people. And he's going to discuss all that their holiness means in verses 4 to 9, and then in 10, he going to begin to discuss how it ought to change their behavior. Well, let's pray. Father, thank You for this morning's time. Thank You for what we've seen and learned.
O God, we know that our holiness is because You have made us holy, not because we are ourselves. Our holiness is because of what Jesus did, not because of what we can do. Our holiness is simply by believing, not by doing. Thank You, Father, that we too are holy, even though we fail, and ever though we sin, and even though, like the Corinthians, we somehow just can't seem to detach ourselves from the system, we're still holy, and we're still saints, and we're still blessed with all blessings.
But O God, teach us how it is to be repaying You with obedience. Teach is how it is to live in a conformity to who we are. May we bring our lives into harmony with what You've made us. Lord, if there's some folks with us this morning who are not holy, who are not saints, who have never yet believed and received the perfect gift of salvation provided on the cross, may they come this morning, may they receive Jesus Christ.
May our hearts rejoice with them for the new birth that occurs today. We commit them to You and ourselves as well, in Christ's name. Amen.
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