The Three Foundational Ideas of Paul’s Greeting in 1st Corinthians

1st Corinthians Bible Study Vernon L. Harper

The scripture for today’s lesson is 1st Corinthians 1:1-3

Paul opens his letter to his Corinthian brethren with a heartfelt salutation. Within this initial greeting he establishes for his readers Three ideas that should be understood by every Christian as basic truth.

First, in verse one, Paul establishes the source of his authority by telling the Corinthians that he was was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. God is the source of all Church authority, so any actions taken, or doctrines taught by the Corinthians that opposes what is taught by His chosen apostles also opposes God.

One of the most insidious ways the spirit of this world attacked the early church was by discrediting and counterfeiting the spiritual authority of the apostles. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ had to be translated by the apostles into doctrine for the newly founded Church. Without this translation the Church would be disconnected from the authentic message of Jesus and quickly lose its way. The epistles of the New Testament are the initial, foundational and unchanging translation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into Church doctrine for all believers.

In its attempt to accomplish the disconnection of the Church from Jesus Christ the spirit of this world quickly produced counterfeit apostles and teachers to corrupt the message. In this letter, and throughout the other epistles, the apostles spent a lot of time warning the Church against the teachings of these false teachers. By the tone and frequency of these warnings we can believe that these false teachers and their doctrines were common place. Declaring that he was chosen by God at the beginning of his letter apposes any false teachers who might question Paul’s authority and establishes that God is the ultimate source of all that follows.  

Today every Christian should know that scripture still expands our understanding of the life, death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This expanded understanding is crucial to living the triumphant Christian life in a world whose very nature opposes it. For a Christian to bend the meaning of scripture to fit what we as a culture have decided is good or evil, or to ignore scripture all together, is to oppose God’s will for our lives and His plan in the world. We immediately understand from Paul's greeting that our personal or cultural philosophies have no value or authority in the shaping of our Christian lives.

Second, in verse two, Paul establishes that we as believers are called by God to be His own holy people. There is an accountability to God that all believers share. To be holy is to be set apart exclusively to God and to live lives separate and distinct from this fallen world. To live apart from the world is to live for Christ. And to live for Christ is to fulfill the individual mission that Christ has called us to.

The idea that God requires us only to attend a church and try to live what culture defines as a good life is a worldly corruption of the teachings of Jesus. According to Jesus, His followers are the light of the world, Matthew 5:14-16. To be light is to express the teachings of Jesus into creation according to our individual mission given us by God.  

For example, Steven was not an apostle but was chosen to be a deacon of the church because he was full of God’s grace and power and did signs and miracles among the people, Acts 6: 8. It is not just those recognized as clergy who are responsible to fulfill the ministry of Jesus Christ but every believer is called to fulfill it. Every Christian is responsible to God for pursuing and cultivating their God given ministry. In the Gospels Jesus does not make a distinction between a clergy and the rest of believers but speaks of all believers as equally responsible for ministry of every kind.

The fact that we may not be an apostle, pastor or teacher does not negate our responsibility to share Jesus with a fallen world. You and I must use the word of God and a healthy prayer life to determine and explore what individual ministry God has called us to. There is no other way to access the joy of the Lord but by growing in His will.

Thirdly, in verse three, Paul concludes his greeting by pronouncing a blessing of grace and peace from God, our father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians are all one family under our common father. The hallmark of any family should be love and for the Christian family our love should exemplify the love of Jesus.

Paul is displaying an example of this love by pronouncing a loving blessing on the Corinthian believers. Also, declaring that God and Jesus Christ are the source of these blessings reinforces the idea that all good things proceed from the love of God, and though Paul is declaring these blessings he is not the ultimate source of them.

These three ideas of spiritual authority, Christian responsibility and God’s love that appear in Paul’s initial greeting are foundational to understanding his letter to the believers at Corinth and for us.

Vernon L. Harper

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