Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
When I was in elementary school, we had a teacher who taught us how to properly write a letter. Miss Crews, my fourth grade teacher, told us it included the heading, greeting, body, complimentary closing, and signature. Isn’t it interesting what we retain (or fail to retain) from childhood?
Applying that basic analysis to the New Testament epistles, we are greatly helped. In addition to reading who the epistle of 1 Corinthians is from (1:1) and who it is to (1:2), we have a heading (helped by the information in verse 2), greeting (1:3), body (1:4-16:18), complimentary closing (16:19-20, 22-24), and signature (16:21). It is also in this first section of the letter (1:1-17) that we find the purpose of the letter. Notice some key aspects of these first several verses.
PAUL REMINDS THEM OF WHO THEY ARE (1:2-3)
In the daily grind, I can be apt to forget exactly who I am and who God has called me to be. It seems this had happened to the entire congregation at Corinth. Paul starts out this letter by reminding them they belong to God, set apart, and recipients of grace and peace.
PAUL TELLS THEM WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR THEM (1:4-9)
Except for Galatians, Paul begins with a prayer, blessing, or thanksgiving. Here, Paul reminds them of how blessed they are–with grace (1:4), riches (1:5), confirmation (1:6), various blessings (1:7), hope (1:8), and fellowship with the Father and Son (1:9). I don’t know about you, but I often need to be reminded of how mindful the Lord has been of me. I need to reflect on my blessings so I won’t obsess over my problems. Paul is going to be addressing a serious problem in their lives, but he starts by centering their focus on their spiritual treasures.
PAUL URGES SOMETHING OF THEM (1:10-17)
One of the ways a New Testament writer indicated the purpose of his writing is through petition verbs. While Paul actually uses a petition verb three times in this letter (1:10, 4:16, and 16:15), there’s no doubt that his first one sets the tone for the rest of the letter. They have a big problem at Corinth: division. We can see this in greater detail as we walk through the letter, but their division was seen in their allegiance to men instead of Christ, in their worship services, in their exercise of spiritual gifts, in their exercise of their Christian liberties, in their view on various sins, and more. So, Paul brings them into focus here.
- He urges them to be complete, by being of the same mind and judgment (1:10).
- He urges them to see the true nature of Christ (1:11-13).
- He urges them to focus on the gospel and the cross (1:14-17).
Keep in mind, as you read through this entire letter, that God had something He wanted Corinth and all subsequent churches and Christians facing the same general struggle to understand. It requires us to keep sight of our identity, blessings, and purpose. Otherwise, we open the door to division which can be the gateway to “disorder and every evil thing” (Jas. 3:16).