Jenny holding a Bible, penguin and cow

This blog post is based on a sermon that I preached in January 2023, based on the beginning of one of Paul’s letters – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

When I saw on the service rota that I would be preaching on the very beginning of 1 Corinthians, I was honestly a little bit nervous. How do you preach on the very beginning of one of Paul’s letters? This reading is basically Paul saying to the church in Corinth: Hello, Paul here. With Sosthenes. We’re writing to you in Corinth. Peace be with you. I thank God for you.

That’s obviously horrifically over simplified, but I know I am guilty of often skimming through these opening passages when we come to the letters in the New Testament, because I assume that it’s not that important. I just want to skip to the real meat of the letter.

The danger of skim-reading

Think of an IKEA manual. Like the one I used to build my Billy bookcase. Well the first few pages are full of health and safety warnings, more warnings, parts lists and the very basic bits. So I just skimmed straight through all those bits, because they just didn’t seem important. And I skipped to the actual building section.

But then, about halfway through building the bookcase, I realised that I had been doing it completely wrong because there were two screws that looked really similar but were actually slightly different and had to be used in different places. Which, I would have known if I had just read these first few pages that I had skipped through earlier.

And similarly, as I was reading more about this passage in commentaries and really looking at it properly, I realised that these opening paragraphs are much more important than I originally thought too. Paul packs a lot into these first nine verses. He teaches us a lot, almost without us realising it.

Letters from Paul

And it makes sense, when we write a letter or we talk to someone new, the things that are most important to us are naturally going to come out quite quickly – because we’re passionate about them and we want to talk about them.

My mum sometimes writes a bit of a Christmas newsletter with some of her Christmas cards for people that she hasn’t seen recently, and I know that if she had written one this year it basically would have said: “Hello, merry Christmas. This year I got a granddaughter called Georgia and Georgia is very cute and adorable and Georgia has learnt to crawl, and I went swimming with Georgia and I got to hold Georgia and Georgia is great”. Because she is a big fan of Georgia, and that’s what is important to her so that’s what she would write about.

And we can see that from Paul’s letters here too. In these nine verses at the beginning of his letter, Paul mentions Jesus nine times. Even in the way he greets the church in Corinth, Paul is firmly centred on Jesus – Jesus is at the core of what Paul is thinking and what Paul is going to be writing to them about.

And in this way, Paul’s letters are quite different to the newsletters that we might send and receive at Christmas time – because those letters are all about the sender. They tell us what you have been up to during the year, how you are, what your family are up to. And that’s not what Paul is doing in this letter – we don’t get an update on what Paul is up to or how he’s feeling or where he is. Right from the beginning, this letter is about Jesus, and about the people he is writing to.

Because in these few paragraphs, Paul is also telling a story. A story about the people of Corinth and about us. And a story that is continually intertwined with Jesus’ story too.

Called to be his holy people

Paul starts by looking back to the start of their journey. When he greets them, he says: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”

He names them – reminds them on who they are. They are sanctified in Christ Jesus. They are his holy people. Set apart for him because they call on the name of the Lord. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord then, now and in the years still to come – they are all called.

Equipped to be his holy people

But Paul doesn’t stop there. After laying out who they are, Paul thanks God for them, and says: “For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge”.

God doesn’t just call his people; he also equips them. Right then, when Paul is writing to the church of Corinth – God had equipped them, enriched them. And right now, too, God equips those who call on the name of the Lord. God calls us to be holy – but he doesn’t just leave us there to get on with it, he provides everything we need to do that, to be set apart. He gives us the right speech we need, the right knowledge we need. The skills and talents and ideas and passions we need to be his church right now.

Now, we may not always feel very equipped. We don’t suddenly have a set of super-human abilities and become experts at everything we do. But Paul writes: “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Because whilst we all have skills and gifts, we don’t each have all the skills and gifts. But we do not lack any spiritual gift because we are one church. One family. And we are equipped together. As a church, we have every spiritual gift that we need to be God’s people. Together, we lack nothing.

Looking forward to day when Jesus will be revealed

And that verse also points us to the future. In the past we were called. In the present we are equipped. And in the future Jesus will be revealed. This story that Paul weaves through the lives of the people of Corinth, and in fact all those who call on the name of the Lord, points to the day when Jesus will be revealed. When he returns. That is why we are called. That is why we are set apart. It is why we are equipped – because we are looking forward to that day.

So, is this our story? If we call on the name of the Lord, then Paul’s letters are speaking to us too. If we call on the name of the Lord, then we have been called to be God’s holy people. We are equipped, right now, as a church. And we look forward together to the day when Jesus will be revealed.

Responding to Paul’s letter

This is the story that Paul is mapping out to us, even in his opening greeting. This is what matters. And this is why he thanks God. And that’s how we should respond too – thanking God that he has called us, that he has equipped us, and that he will keep us firm to the end, to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

Dear God, thank you that when we call upon your name, you call us to be your holy people. Thank you that you equip us to serve you, with skills and knowledge and gifts. Help us to identify and use these gifts more as a church. Thank you that one day you will return, and we pray that you will keep us firm until that day. Amen.

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