An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 2)

M.A. Rudge

Introduction and Thanksgiving (1: 1-9). Identification of Divisions and Initial Condemnation (1:10-17).

Paul introduces himself as the writer of the epistle to the Corinthians, as "[a] called apostle of Christ Jesus" (JND; RV), "through the will of God" (1:1). He is "a Divinely summoned and Divinely-appointed ambassador," belonging to and representing Christ Jesus, in accordance with the will of God. The word "called "kietos, is an adjective and occurs in the epistle, in its various forms, on 17 occasions. These references are obviously important to our appreciation of what God has effectively called into existence and established. They should act as an incentive to stability and also act as a preservative against restlessness and the desire for change (Cp. 7:24).

It may seem unusual that the apostle associates "Sosthenes our brother", with himself in the introduction to the epistle, whereas it was Silas and Timothy who were his fellow-laborers at Corinth. He is probably the Sosthenes who is referred to in Acts 18:17, in a way which suggests that he suffered for being supportive of Paul, in which case he is deserving of the description, "Sosthenes the brother" and to be associated in this significant way with the apostle. This is especially noteworthy as an example of what a "brother" should be, in contrast to the unbrotherly conduct among the Corinthians, (e.g. 1:11; 6:6; Cp. Gen. 13:8). It is in keeping with Paul’s use of the term "brother," "brethren," on 28 occasions in the epistle. We are not only "called saints" (v. 2), "saints by calling," constituted such by the effectual call of God, but are called to be "brethren" in practice.

The word "called," is used in its most significant sense in the description of the local assembly as "church of God." The Greek word for "church" is ehklesia, lit. "called out," from eh, out and kaleo, to call. The church of God is a called-out company, summoned and called out by God from the world-system, from all that is not "of God." The world-system, kosmos, is "the sum total of all that human wisdom and ability have produced, all organizations, whether secular or religious." (JG Toll).

It is instructive to notice that Stephen described Israel as "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). A number of different words which are used to describe Israel as a company, called out of Egypt, are a great help to us in our understanding of the significance of the term "church of God," as a called-out company. The Hebrew word edah is used to designate the whole nation of Israel, whether gathered or not (e.g. Ex. 12:3,6; Num. 1:2; 20:1). In its technical sense it is "witness", lit. "testimony" (Gen. 21:30). Cp "tabernacle of witness in the wilderness" (Acts 6:44). Another significant Hebrew word used in connection with Israel is mo’ed, from a root word, yahtad, to meet by appointment (Ex. 25:22; 29:43). Mo’ed is used of a fixed season, meeting by appointment, fixed times for drawing near to God (Exodus 13:10), and is the word which is used in the phrase "the tabernacle of the congregation" (Ex. 27:21; 28:43; Lev. 1:1, 3, 5; 3:2, 8,13). It should always be translated as "the tent of meeting [by appointment]." The tabernacle was the dwelling-place of Jehovah, never the tabernacle of the congregation. Two other Hebrew words associated with the gatherings of Israel are (i) mikrah, "a holy convocation, a calling together" (Ex. 12:16 (twice); Lev 23:2,4,37), and (ii) the expression "the congregation [assembly] of the Lord," Heb. qahal (kaw-hawl), which is used of "an assembly called together, a specific gathering, often as linked with a particular time or place" (e.g. Num. 10:7, "But when the congregation [assembly] is to be gathered together...;" Judges 21:5,8).

W.E. Vine writes, "The meaning of mo’ed is fixed within the context of Israel’s religion. First the festivals came to be known as the ‘appointed times’ or the set feasts. These festivals were clearly prescribed in the Pentateuch. The word also signifies a ‘fixed place.’ The usage is not frequent: "... the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north" (Isa. 14:13); "the house appointed for all living" (Job 30:23). In both meanings of mo’ed - "fixed time" and "fixed place" - a common denominator is the "meeting" of two or more parties at a certain place and time - hence the usage of mo’ed as "meeting." The phrase "tabernacle of the congregation," Heb. ohel mo’ed, "tent of meeting," occurs 139 times, mainly in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, rarely in Deuteronomy. It signifies that the Lord had an ‘ appointed place’ by which His presence is represented and through which Israel was assured that God was with them. The fact that the tent was called "the tent of meeting" signifies that Israel’s God was among His people and that He was to be approached at a certain time and place that were "fixed" in the Pentateuch (Dictionary of Old Testament Words).

The term "church of God" describes the local assembly as a called out-company, with all the background significance in the usage of comparable Old Testament words. It is not only called out but summoned on the occasions of gathering, to meet with God by Divine appointment, to hear His voice speaking to the gathered company and to function for His pleasure. The Divine initiative in this aspect of truth is expressed in the words of the Lord Jesus, "For where two or three are, (having been and being) gathered together in [into] My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). Individual and collective responsibility is seen in the expression, "when ye come together" (11:17,18,20,33,34; 14:23,26). The assembly is viewed as being "gathered" in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, even when it is not "gathered together" (Acts 11:26). These important considerations emphasize (i) the need to guard against gatherings which are called by human arrangement and do not have Scriptural authority, e.g. sectional gatherings for young people or women’s meetings, (ii) the obligation of attendance at assembly gatherings (iii) the way in which our conduct in every department of life, is related to and reflects upon, our association with collective assembly life.

The use of the term, "church of God" in the plural form, i.e. "churches of God" (1 Thes. 2:14; 2 Thes. 1:4), shows that it is descriptive of local churches and distinguishes it from "the Church, which is His body." It could and should not be used to refer to "the Church, which is His body," composed of all believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. There is a plurality of "churches of God" but there is only one "Church, which is His body" ("one body", Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:4). The "church of God" is not "the body of Christ," it is "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27). The definite article "the" (AV), is omitted in the original in 1 Cor. 12:27. The absence of the article denotes character. The church of God is "body of Christ" in character and function.

It is important to distinguish this local use of the term church of God from its application to the entire Church, the body of Christ, which is never used in any local or earthly significance. There is no Scriptural warrant for the term "the church of God on earth." Deviations from the phraseology of Scripture in this respect lend support to unscriptural organizations, human traditions, sectarianism and racial antipathies (WE Vine).

Following the introductory verses (vv. 1-3), Paul gives thanks to God on their behalf (vv. 4-9), for the grace of God which had spiritually enriched the assembly in the form of spiritual gift and more specifically here, the gifts of "utterance" and "knowledge" (v. 5). Lack of gift was not a problem at Corinth (vv. 5,7). They were enriched in Christ "in all utterance and in all knowledge." The problem arose from a lack of spirituality and failure in the exercise and development of gift. The possession of gift is no guarantee of spirituality or of God’s approval of the way in which it is exercised. Ability itself, apart from subjection to the will of God, can be used to further what is detrimental to the work of God. See Num. 16:2 "famous" ("of note") in the congregation, men of renown." Both spirituality and the grace of God are necessary for the exercise of gift.

(to be continued)