I’m sure that over the years we’ve all known someone who has influenced us positively in some way or another and we felt richer for having known them. For many that may have been a Teacher at school or a Lecturer at University or College. For others it may have been a spiritual mentor or work colleague. Whoever it was they helped us in some way and we feel better for having known them.
That is what Paul is talking about here in these verses regarding our relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul tells us very clearly in 1:5 that we “have been enriched in every way” through knowing Him and it is that thought that I want to explore over the next few minutes as we look at these six verses.
Before we delve into these verses I want to take a quick look at the background to this letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was a major city in Greece to the west of Athens. It was the most important city in the region of Achaia being a cosmopolitan city that was both a major seaport and a trading centre that specialised in ceramics. Paul visited the city during his second missionary journey somewhere between 50 & 52 AD when he stayed there for approximately 18 months. He initially preached the gospel to the Jews in the synagogue but when they opposed him and became abusive he left and made it very clear that he would be taking the gospel to the Gentiles. This he did successfully which meant that the church that was founded in Corinth consisted mainly of Gentiles.
Paul wrote this letter to them in 55 AD when he was in Ephesus during his third missionary journey in an attempt to help the Corinthians with the problems that they faced being in a Christian church in a corrupt society. The city was rife with idolatry and immorality and there was a danger that this would infiltrate the church. There was already sexual immorality within the church and it appears that many turned a blind eye to such happenings.
In addition to those problems Paul had also heard that there were arguments and divisions in the church and so he wanted to address those issues as well and try and prevent the church breaking up. Paul went about this by reminding them of the basis of their faith so as to build them up in that faith.
A major problem was that the church seemed to be divided around different leaders and had almost formed into camps who followed Peter or Paul or Apollos. Paul was anxious to remind them that it was not human leaders that they should follow but rather Jesus Christ and Him alone.
When you read 1:4-9 carefully you will see that they are totally Christ centred, He is mentioned in one form or another in each of these six verses. Paul was always anxious to point out that he preached Christ crucified and nothing else; he was not preaching the gospel of Paul or Peter or Apollos but the gospel of Jesus Christ. By reinforcing this basic Christian belief Paul was reminding the church that their allegiance should be to Christ and not to any human being no matter how great that person may appear to be.
The same ideas apply today. There are too many instances of people following a single preacher, Pastor or Minister rather than focussing only Jesus Christ and what He did for them. The cult of personality is very much alive in 21st century Christendom and is something that should be avoided at all costs.
Before moving on in the letter to rebuke and correct the Corinthians, Paul opens up by reminding them of just what they have as a result of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. In 1:4 he thanks God for them all because of “his grace given to you in Christ Jesus”. No one deserves God’s grace; neither the Corinthians then nor Christians today deserve what God gives us each day through His grace. It is a totally unmerited and unearned gift from God and He is the one who gives it.
As a result of this gift of grace Paul reminded them and reminds us as well that we “have been enriched in every way” (1:5). Just think about that for a moment. We have been enriched in every way; that means to me that everything that happens to us, everything that we receive, everything in our lives comes because we have been enriched through knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. That is quite some enrichment and no matter how much we have been helped or influenced by someone else, the greatest influence and help in our lives comes from and through Jesus Christ.
In the second half of 1:5 Paul gives just two examples of how we have been enriched, “with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge”. Those seem pretty far reaching and all inclusive to me. When talking of speech, Paul may well have been thinking of prophecy, preaching, teaching and evangelism in his comments since they were all part of proclaiming Christ. With regards to knowledge, as Christians the Corinthians had access to all knowledge and wisdom that comes only from God. Paul mentioned this thought to the Colossians when he wrote in Colossians 2:2-3, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge“.
A second problem within the church concerned gifts and it seems that the Corinthian believers had been spending a lot of time arguing about the spiritual gifts that come from God. They argued about the individual merits of these gifts and disagreed over which one was the greater. In doing this they had overlooked the simple fact that it is God Who gives these gifts to be used for the furtherance of His kingdom; they are not intended for the benefit of any one individual. It was through receiving these gifts that they were able to speak about their faith both openly and powerfully. Not only that, but through God’s grace and the gifts that He gave the Corinthians were able to increase their spiritual knowledge and understanding. This did not come through their own abilities but rather through the grace of God.
Later in this letter Paul was intending to rebuke and correct the Corinthian believers although before doing that he wanted to remind them of all that they had in Christ. As a result of their being enriched Paul tells them in 1:6 that he could see that God was confirming what he, that is Paul, had told them about Jesus Christ. They had responded positively to Paul’s preaching about the “boundless riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) and as a result their lives were changed. So changed were their lives that it was clear for everyone to see what was happening to them. Every time he looked at them Paul could see that in the way they proclaimed Jesus and they knew about Jesus. Could that be said of us? Is it clear that our lives have been changed in the way that we behave and speak and God? Or do we just carry on in the same old ways? The members of the church in Corinth confirmed their faith in Christ through their changed lives and the way that they spoke about Christ. Could we say the same about ourselves?
Although they had been arguing about the merits of the different gifts Paul was at pains to remind them that they didn’t lack “any spiritual gift” (1:7a). God had given them everything they needed and most importantly of all, He had given them eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ. The only gift still to come for them, and for us as well, is for “our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7b).
All of these gifts are from God and as Paul told the Romans, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Romans 12:6). It is that phrase “according to the grace given to each of us” that is important. It is God Who decides who will have a particular gift; we can’t just go into an upmarket department store and pick the one that we want or the one that we like the most. God decides and dispenses them according to His will and we are to use those gifts as He directs.
We have been given all these gifts by the Holy Spirit to use for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ and in many ways they provide us with a foretaste of what is to come, a bit like those taster menus that you see advertised in restaurants. We will only see the full picture and be truly gifted when Christ returns and is revealed to us in all His glory. Paul said something similar to the Thessalonians when he wrote, “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
Until that time comes we must wait patiently but confidently safe in the knowledge that Christ will return and will claim His people to be with Him in paradise. Whatever happens to us as we wait we can be assured that God is with us, helping us and strengthening us as each day goes by.
Paul reminds us of that fact in 1:8 when he points out that, “He [that is God] will keep you firm to the end”. Waiting can be painful can’t it? Let’s face it we are an impatient lot and we never grow out of that patience no matter what age we reach. Our impatience means that it would be all too easy for us to give up on our faith simply because Christ hasn’t come back yet. There were some in the Thessalonian church who stopped doing anything because they expected Christ to return imminently, any day now! The Thessalonians looked around them and saw ever increasing persecution which they took as a sign that Christ was about to return. Consequently some of the members stopped doing anything and became idle. Paul said to them “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Paul is obviously anxious to avoid that happening in Corinth which may be why he said to them in 1:8, “He will keep you firm”. They were not on their own as they waited for Christ’s return; God was with them all the way, keeping them firm in their faith. It is sometimes very easy for us to feel alone with a lot of problems. However, we can take assurance from this verse in knowing that God is with us, keeping us strong and firm in our faith and will continue to do so until we are called home or Christ returns, whichever comes first. Not only will God be with us but He will keep us “blameless” until the day of Christ; i.e. until Christ returns. By using that word “blameless” Paul means that we will remain guilt free, by being justified by the blood of Christ shed on the cross we have been declared not guilty in God’s eyes. We will remain in that state until the glorious day when Jesus comes again. Since it is God Who has found us not guilty then no one else can overturn that verdict. Paul said as much to the Romans when he wrote in Romans 8:33, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God Who justifies”.
God is Faithful
Finally, in 1:9, Paul provides probably the greatest assurance possible when he tells us that “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”. God is indeed faithful and will remain so no matter what happens to us. He will always be there to help us, strengthen us, guide us and keep us strong in our faith. What a great God He truly is. Not only that but He has called us into fellowship. We generally only think of Pastors, Ministers and Missionaries and the like being “called” by God to serve Him, but here Paul is saying that all believers have been called by God. There is nothing that we can do to merit or warrant that calling, it is all down to God and His wonderful grace. Note too that He has called us into “fellowship with His Son”. This is no ordinary calling; we are called to share in the life of Jesus Christ.
This verse provides great assurance for believers today. However, just think of the impact that it would have had on the Corinthian Church. They were surrounded by a corrupt and immoral society; they suffered persecution and ridicule; and yet, here Paul is giving them assurance and confidence by reminding them that God is faithful and it is He Who has called them into His family.
These six verses in the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians were written to provide great assurance to all believers, both the Corinthian Christians and Christians today. Paul’s ministry was always Christ centred and Christ was always his focus and he wants believers everywhere to have the same focus and to have Christ at the centre of their lives.
He reminds us all in these verses that by knowing Christ in the way that we do means that we have been enriched in many, many ways even though Paul only specifies two areas of life. God has given us all spiritual gifts and in doing that together with new life in Jesus Christ, He has given us all that we need. Finally, Paul reminds us that God is faithful. The very least that we can do is to remain faithful to Him and have Christ as our central focus and continue to be enriched by Him.