1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours 1 Cor. 1:1-2
“The church of God which is at Corinth”. Have you heard that kind of language lately? No – unless you just dropped from Mars. But that is the language that needs to come back into the church today.
Notice that the Corinthian church was not someone’s church. Paul does not say, “My church”, although he was the one who birthed the Corinthian church in the Spirit (Acts 18; 1 Cor. 4:15). Actually, Paul never claimed to own any church, although all these churches were the fruit of his labors. He only defended the gospel of Christ and God’s people.
And therefore Paul through the Holy Spirit informs the striving Corinthians that the church is God’s property.
Today there are people who own churches, duly registered in their names, and no one is allowed to raise a finger or a voice in these churches without their permission. These churches and ‘ministries’ are their own private property and “trespassers will be prosecuted”!
The word “church” has largely lost meaning in today’s context.
And here Paul was writing to just such a divided church and he chose his words carefully.
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”.
This statement reveals the spiritual calibre of the Apostle Paul. I think the word “calibre” is often associated with the power a gun can pack. Paul was a man of the greatest calibre. Not everyone could say those words in exactly the way Paul said them. But even much fewer people could live them. Paul both stated and lived them fully.
In a single phrase, Paul put everyone on the same pedestal. Here he does not address the ‘Apollo-nians’, the ‘Paul-ites’, the ‘Cephas-ites’ nor the ‘Christ-ianites’ (v.12). Instead, he addresses “the church of God at Corinth”. In a single word – church – Paul manages to bring out the fact that they are one. Moreover, he says, it is not just them, but this union is inclusive of all who in any place call on the name of the Lord; in other words, everyone the world over who has been born of the Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ. He tells them that Jesus is Lord equally to every believer: “Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”.
What a humble heart this is! Paul here reveals the universality of Christ’s church. How much below this standard can we be if we cannot even bond with the brethren we are with in the same church?
Have you ever seen a complete stranger calling upon the name of Jesus Christ? In years gone by, if you met with a saved person, you never enquired any further about them. The minute you learned they were saved, they became family.
Granted, today there are all sorts of crooks masquerading as Christians, and one needs to be careful. But we have the Holy Spirit in us, and we can always tell the counterfeit from the genuine.
But, even much closer home, how about that brother or sister with whom you worship together in the same church – is there a testimony in your heart that they acknowledge Jesus as Lord in their lives? Or even your wife or husband, or children. The people closest to us are the people that we mostly take for granted.
If these people call upon Jesus as Lord, then right here the Bible declares that Jesus is as much their Lord as He is ours. There is no difference between them and us. Actually, what makes us think of ourselves more highly than others in any situation is always – always – human pride. A true, born-again believer is humble to the extent that the next person is always – always – better than they.
Our Lord Jesus Christ laid out the example to follow when He, being God, humbled himself and “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Phil. 2:7-8
Humility is the only key that can bring about this view of a universal church to our hearts. And Paul the humble servant became the ultimate universal preacher. His sense of church encompassed every believer. In fact, if you read some of Paul’s other epistles you will find that he took in people whom we probably wouldn’t be willing to consider as part of God’s church.
That was why he could work with anyone in the ministry, as long as he could establish that the person was called of God.
One of the results of the lack of this revelation in the church today is that people become protective of such things as ‘their’ flock, ‘their’ positions, ‘their’ ministries, ‘their’ church names, and many other things which in their pride they have personalized. They have no idea of how God works to feed and nurture His church. In this kind of environment, there is no idea of unity, and no vision of teamwork.
But the worst result is that the church remains dis-united, fragmented along fickle denominational and other human fault lines.
With such a carnal frame of mind, the church of Jesus Christ will never grow beyond toddler stage, and that’s a fact.
We need a revelation in our hearts – a revelation of the universality of the church, built on that one foundation of Christ, and Him crucified.