By Stephen W. Hiemstra
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV).
Do you give thanks in all circumstances?
In her accounts of imprisonment during World War II, Corrie Ten Boom tells of holding secret prayer meetings in her dormitory using a bible that she had smuggled into the camp. In prayer, she asked the women with her to pray for all things, even the fleas that made their lives miserable. Later, she learned that the guards refused to enter her building on account of those very same fleas. In effect, those fleas protected her prayer group from discovery and allowed the group to be an ongoing source of hope in a camp where many perished. Give thanks in all circumstances!
At the time of the Apostle Paul, Corinth was the third largest city in the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria. The Romans had destroyed Greek Corinth in 146 BC, but it was rebuilt as Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The official language was Latin, but Greek was still employed. Corinth was located strategically on an Isthmus where cargo could easily be transported overland between the Aegean and Ionian seas (Hays 2011, 2-5).
The story of the founding of the church at Corinth is found in Acts 18. The church formed around a group of tent-making friends, Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3; Thiselton 2000, 23). The Corinthian church became largely gentile in composition, in part, because of Paul’s frustration in trying to evangelize the Jews (Acts 18:6). Paul’s frustration must have been substantial because Acts records God offering him comfort: And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people (Acts 18:9-10).
The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth was written about three years later (53-53 AD) from Ephesus (Bloomberg 1994, 21). The letter focuses on two primary issues: Christian unity and Paul’s response to a number of questions that were posed to him (Hays 2011, 5). The problem of dissention among the Corinthians stemmed from their “addiction to the power, prestige, and pride represented in the Hellenistic rhetorical tradition” (Hafermann 1993, 165). If you substituted Washingtonian for Corinthian in Paul’s letter, it might read much the same!
The English Standard Version Bible lays divides chapter 1 of Corinthians into 4 sections: Greeting (vv 1-3), Thanksgiving (vv 4-9), Divisions in the Church (vv 10-17), and Christ the Wisdom and Power of God (vv 18-31).
Paul’s greeting is unusual is that he refers to the Corinthians (v 2) as “sanctified in Jesus Christ” (ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) and “called to be saints” (κλητοῖς ἁγίοις). The root word in the Greek in both expression is ἁγίοις which means: dedicated to God, holy, sacred, i.e. reserved for God and God’s service (BDAG 61). This is indeed a strange way to refer to a church racked by division (σχίσματα; v 10)! Being both sanctified and called to be saints, Paul is pointing to salvation as a reality that has arrived now, but is also not yet complete. Christians are not saved (past tense) but being saving (σῳζομένοις; v 18; progressive tense). Our boasting cannot be in our wisdom, power, or noble birth, but in Christ alone (vv 26, 31). Our salvation is both: now and not yet.
So Paul gives thanks for this unruly congregation. Babes in Christ; created in the image of God; blessed by their maker; saved by the blood of the Lamb; and entrusted into Paul’s care.
Do you give thanks in all circumstances?
Bloomberg, Craig L. 1994. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Hafermann, S.J. 1993. “Letters to the Corinthians” pages164-79 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Raph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Hays, Richard B. 2011. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Ten Boom, Corrie, John and Elizabeth Sherrill. 2006. The Hiding Place (Orig pub 1971). Chosen Books.
Thiselton, Anthony C. 2000. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.