Paul's letter to the church at Corinth begins with a conventional address: the sender, the recipients, and a greeting. It is in the greeting to the church where we find some theological meat.
v1. Paul sees his apostolic ministry as a calling, as a binding request from God. God's will in the matter certainly covers the initial calling, but also covers his apostolic ministry. This then is his authority, something the trouble-makers in the church at Corinth do not possess. As for the mention of Sosthenes, we don't know much about him. He is probably not an apostle, but could be the Sosthenes of Acts 18:17. Obviously, he was assisting Paul and was accorded the title "brother".
v2a. Paul addresses his letter to the "church of God in Corinth". The word "church", which simply means assembly, can refer to the local congregation, or to the universal heavenly assembly of all believers. Here it is used of the local assembly. Paul describes this group as "sanctified in Christ Jesus". We know well that Christ's death and resurrection gained our forgiveness and therefore God's approval. Yet, it does more than this. Through a personal association with Christ we actually become God's holy, set apart, children. In the Son of God we become sons of God. Not only are we justified in Christ, we are also sanctified in him. This idea is reinforced in the phrase "called to be holy", or literally "called holy". When we put our trust in Jesus we became one of God's called out holy people, his chosen people, the people he has separated from the world to himself, the "holy" ones of God. Of course, just because we are "holy" before God, doesn't mean we can deny our present corruption. It is because of our present state of sin that the scriptures constantly urge us to be what we are.
v2b. Paul's blessing is not just for the Corinthian believers, but for all believers everywhere (literally - in every meeting-place) who meet in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul here reminds us how we become one of God's called out, holy, people; we put our trust in Jesus.
v3. Paul concludes the address with a blessing of "grace and peace". A Gentile would say "grace" ("greeting to you") and a Jew would say "peace", but Paul says both. "Grace" is the free and unmerited offer of God's favor to believers in Christ. "Peace" is the outcome of God's favor - well-being in the circle of God's friendship. So, when we offer "grace and peace" to a brother, we are praying that they may know the full extent of God's favor and experience it more day-by-day.
In liturgical churches which follow a catholic form, such as Anglican or Lutheran, there is a little greeting given during the service where the minister says "the peace of the Lord be always with you". In some churches there is a time of personal greeting to those next to us. Each says "peace be with you." In our passage for study Paul gives his readers an ancient greeting that goes way back to Old Testament times.
Greetings often become ritualized and devoid of power. "Good morning", which means "God be with you this morning", is an example. Yet, "peace" is still a very substantial greeting. The Jews, of course, still use it. They say " shalom", which means "peace be with you." Paul the apostle added the word "grace", grace being the substance of God's favor, and "peace" its outcome.
So then, if we were to greet each other with the words "grace and peace to you", we would end up with a very substantial greeting indeed. In the second verse Paul identifies something of the weight of God's grace and peace:
i] We are "church". We gather in particular places to address Jesus and be addressed by Jesus. Jesus' promise is that where two or three gather in his name he will be present with us. What wonderful favor God shows us, what wonderful kindness, in that he would even bother to meet with such a motley crew. Peace is ours when the Lord meets with us.
ii] We are "called". We have the privilege of standing as one of God's "peculiar" people. We actually have the right to see ourselves as specially loved by God. This, of course, is none of our own doing; Jesus has done it all for us. We get into this chosen group by asking, seeking, knocking; we cry out for mercy and it is given. Such grace, such peace.
iii] We are "sanctified", made "holy". Religious people, yes even church going Christians, often think holiness (purity and perfection in the sight of God) is shaped in their lives by striving to be good. Yet, God's favor extends even to the gift of holiness. Through our relationship with Christ we possess, as a gift, the righteousness of Christ. Grace indeed, and what wonderful peace is ours in such grace.
1. Do you think giving the "peace" at your church works, or would work if you were to try it?
2. On a practical level, consider how a congregational giving of the peace can disrupt a service and promote formalism.