The thanksgiving. The thanksgiving is a feature in almost every Epistle of St. Paul, except the Epistle to the Galatians, in which he plunges at once into severe reprobation.
Who; clearly Christ, though his Name is again repeated in the next clause. Shall also confirm you. This natural expression of the apostle's yearning hope for them must not be overpressed into any such doctrine as "the indefectibility of grace." All honest and earnest students must resist the tendency to strain the meaning of Scripture texts into endless logical inferences which were never intended to be deduced from them. Unto the end; namely, to the end of "this age," and to the coming of Christ ( Matthew 28:20 ; Hebrews 3:6 , Hebrews 3:13 ; Hebrews 6:11 ). That ye be unreprovable; rather, unimpeached ( anenkletous ) , as in Colossians 1:22 ; 1 Timothy 3:1-16 :18; Titus 1:6 . It is not the word rendered "blameless" ( amemptos ) in Philippianws Titus 2:15 or in 2 Peter 3:14 . A Christian can only be "blameless," not as being sinless, but as having been forgiven, renewed, sanctified ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ; Romans 8:30 ). In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same as the apokalypsis or parousia. It is sometimes called simply "the day".
Exemplary gratitude and precious confidence.
"I thank my God always on your behalf," etc. Here we have two blessed states of mind—
I. EXEMPLARY GRATITUDE . "I thank my God always on your behalf." The gratitude here was:
1. Unselfish. "On your behalf." It is right and well to praise God for what he has done for us, but it is a higher and nobler thing to praise him for what he has done for others. No man rightly appreciates a blessing who does not desire others to participate in it. The sublimity of a landscape is more than doubly enjoyed when one or more stand by your side to share your admiration.
2. For spiritual good. "For the grace of God."
3. An habitual state of mind. "I thank my God always." It was not an occasional sentiment; it was a settled attitude of heart.
II. PRECIOUS CONFIDENCE . The apostle seems to have had confidence in three things in relation to Christ.
1. In his perfecting character. "Who shall also confirm you unto the end." So perfecting it that it shall be "blameless." All moral imperfections removed.
2. In his appearing again. "In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." The day—when he will appear. This day is the day of days for humanity.
3. In his granting them companionship. "Unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." "Where I am there ye shall be also." Unshaken confidence in these things, how precious!
St. Paul and the apostleship.
First of all, HE ASSERTS THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF HIS OFFICE , to which he was "called though the will of God." This pro found sense of the dignity belonging to his vocation, as one sent of God, was a supreme principle of his nature; not an opinion, but a conviction, and a conviction too strong to be dislodged from its central seat in his mind by any assault of adverse circumstances. It must needs be subjected to manifold and severe tests, since in this way alone can a conviction be made available for the highest moral uses. Owing to his exceptional position, St. Paul underwent, in this respect, a series of peculiar trials which distinguish him from the other apostles, so that, while he shared with them the persecution incident to the apostolate in itself, he had an experience of its perplexities and sorrows, personal to himself, in the distinctive and supplementary attitude he was ordained to maintain. Like all men, he had fluctuant moods, the ebb and flow of emotion with its reflex influence on intellect and volition. His natural temperament was extremely sensitive, and it was aggravated by hardship and disease. The blood that warmed and the nerves that thrilled under the touch of outward agencies, had their counterpart in the sensibility of his spiritual life, and, accordingly, body and soul were in singularly close partnership in his nature, and acted and interacted very powerfully on each other. Yet, in spite of this liability to the moods of subjective sensations and internal impressions, the conviction of his call to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus, and to exercise his Divine endowments in a specific way, stood altogether apart from the variations of ordinary thought and feeling, and held its strength of consciousness unimpaired throughout his career. So strong and yet so beautiful; humility the ornament of its energetic vigour, so that while he starts with "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ," he loses not a moment, but in the opening verse of the Epistle introduces "Sosthenes our brother." Not a trace of Sosthenes appears in the Epistle; the production is Pauline to the core; and yet St. Paul would associate with him "Sosthenes our brother." If St. Paul is about to rebuke intellectual pride and vanity, and condemn the evil partisanship that grows out of selfishness and disguises an inflated personality under the mask of homage to a great leader, what more fitting words can he utter on the threshold of his letter than "Sosthenes our brother," whose name was no battle cry of faction? Naturally enough, this sense of unity in St. Paul's mind with all Christians finds immediate vent in addressing "the Church of God" at Corinth, "with all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord," adding with touching expressiveness, "both theirs and ours." A true sense of manhood is always known by its prompt and hearty identification with the manhood of the race. All growth and culture advance from the individual and the personal towards the universal, until at last—the providential work of development on earth accomplished—the narrow horizon that was quite sufficient for youth and early manhood, widens to the reach of the world. When we find this circumference, we find our real centre. Not otherwise can a man attain genuine individuality. For the light that blesses his eyes, for the air that feeds his lungs, for the food nourishing bodily strength, he is a debtor to the universe. And it is the aim of Christianity to call out and perfect the latent vigour of this instinct of race, and, but for its Divine office, the sentiment were impossible as a spiritual actuality. No wonder, then, that St. Paul announces to the mixed population of Corinth—to Romans, Greeks, Asiatics, in the Corinthian Church—the doctrine of grace for all, and emphasizes the gift as "both theirs and ours" The formative thought of the first chapter is thus intimated. To prepare for its enlargement, he reminds the Corinthians that it was as a Church arid in their organic capacity they were "saints;" that, as members of Christ's body, they had been "enriched by him in all utterance, and in all knowledge;" and then proceeds to show that the faithfulness of God was pledged to their continued progress in this selfsame line of direction, viz. fellowship in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and Lord of humanity. Here, as everywhere in St. Paul's writings, the two ideas of the Divine and the human in Christ are assumed as the ground of our fellowship in him and with one another; brethren because disciples, one below because one above, the strength and purity and permanence of the tie between man and man in this fellowship being determined solely by our union in him. On no other basis could the word "fellowship" have taken its specialized place in the vocabulary of Christianity. The contents of the term outreach what we ordinarily mean by respect, confidence, intercourse, and like expressions, and signify a deep sense of equality, of the recognition of common rights and privileges, and of a sympathy that has its roots, not in the shallow soil of races and their latitude and longitude as geographical facts, but in One who was the Representative in a peculiar and exclusive manner of the human race. Fellowship is an acknowledgment of redemption. It is not union alone, but a vital unity, a communion of man with man, and as man by means of communion with God in Christ—a bond that exists between spirit and spirit through the common grace of the Holy Ghost, as the Executive of the Father and the Son in the heart of every believer. Who knew more of the intensity of race-blood, of its subtle force, of its open and virulent activity in all the practical questions of the age, of its perpetuated and unyielding traditions, of its frantic emergence on every occasion unless repressed by the arm of authority,—who understood this better than St. Paul, himself a notable example for years of its power to blind common sense and stupefy common instincts? And where was there a city of such miscellaneous activity of mind and such collisions of inherited beliefs and such ill-adjusted public life as this same Corinth—a huge reservoir for all the tributary streams of civilization that had washed down into its bosom whatever had survived of the degeneracy in Asia Minor, in Egypt, in Italy? Yet this St. Paul is the man to speak of fellowship, and this Corinth is the community to which he would address himself in behalf of the grace "both theirs and ours."—L.
The approach to rebuke.
The occasion of this letter was largely furnished by the need of rebuke. The Corinthian Church had erred grievously. To rebuke is frequently painful, but when called for it should not be shrunk from; not to rebuke under such circumstances is unalloyed cruelty. To rebuke, often painful, is always perilous. By maladroitness we may easily drive men from the right instead of drawing them to it. Unwise rebuke adds to the ill. We need to prepare for rebuke if when we reach it we would not deserve its infliction, Note the apostolic procedure. We have here one of the finest examples of preparing men's minds for well deserved censure.
I. REMARK SOME GENERAL FEATURES OF THIS PREPARATORY ADDRESS . We find in it:
1. Courtesy. A graceful and gracious salutation. The apostle does not rush into harsh words. He shows no eagerness to condemn. Roughness and rudeness add no strength to admonition.
2. Affection. This pervades every sentence, and culminates in the opening of the tenth verse, "Now I beseech you," etc. Love keeps in cheek apostolic authority and righteous indignation. We shall not injure delinquents by loving them very much. Nothing can make rebuke more telling than administering before and after and with it, unaffected love. If men see that we are unwilling to rebuke them, they will be very much more likely to accept our rebuke. To enjoy rebuking is to demonstrate our total unfitness for it.
3. Candour. The condemnation is not to be wholesale. Some can see nothing but fault in those who err, but the apostle perceives excellences. tie generously acknowledges spiritual attaimnent and endowment. To blind our eyes to the good is to make ourselves powerless to remove the bad. Many rebukes have worse than failed through lack of strict honesty in the rebuker. The "candid friend" has often proved very uncandid.
5. Absence of pomposity and of assumption of superiority. It is not the great man speaking to the infinitesimal; nor the spotless to the utterly depraved. Paul gets as near to the Corinthians as he can. He seems to remember that his Master was made " in the likeness of men" ( Philippians 2:7 ). "Come not near to me, for I am holier than thou," is likely to make people keep their distance and have nothing to do with us or our words. Not without wise humility has "Sosthenes our brother "a place in the salutation.
6. Yet the apostolic authority is not lost sight of. It may be well to show that we are entitled to rebuke—that we are not assuming an office to which we have no claim. Rebukes should come from proper quarters. Paul was the "apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God." It was manifestly within his province to point out blemishes in the Christian Church and to reprove evil doers.
II. NOTE HOW EARNESTLY HE STRIVES TO TURN THEIR THOUGHTS TO GOD AND TO CHRIST . This is, perhaps, the most striking feature of these introductory verses. Read the passage and note the extraordinary number of times mention is made of God and of Christ. The connection of this with the coming rebuke is apparent. The Corinthians have forgotten God, and therefore they have gone astray. Christ has become less and less to them, and so they have sinned more and more. We quarrel with one another very easily when we get away from our Master. We grow carnal swiftly when God begins to pass out of our thoughts. With heavenly wisdom the apostle floods the minds of the Corinthians with thoughts of God and of Christ. If they can be brought into the light of the Divine presence they will see their corruption, and standing once again before Jehovah they will be made ready to receive and not to resent a deserved and much needed rebuke. If they can be brought again well within the attractive influence of the marvellous self sacrifice and love of their Lord, self will will become crucified, pride humbled, and grateful life and service compelled. Note more particularly:
1. The apostle traces his apostleship to Christ and God. He stands before the Corinthians as the appointed representative of their Lord. The position he assumes was given to him by Christ through the will of God. We are what Christ makes us.
2. They are the Church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and their oneness with all other Christians is through Christ ( 1 Corinthians 1:2 ).
3. All that they have received, and in which they glory so much, has come from God and from Christ ( 1 Corinthians 1:4-6 ).
4. Their right position is one of waiting for the revelation of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 1:7 ).
5. Their continuance in the faith and their perfection at last are made to depend upon Christ.
6. At first they were called by God into the fellowship of Christ. Memories of conversion time are potent. Paul thus strives in every way to take the Corinthians to their Father and to their Lord. The battle of Christian rebuke is half won when gracious thoughts of God and Christ are revived. Erring Christians are likely to be brought to their senses when they are brought to their Master.
III. THE APOSTLE REMINDS HIS READERS OF CERTAIN THINGS , AND IN THIS WAY PREPARES THEM FOR WHAT IS TO FOLLOW .
1. Their Christian profession. They are sanctified or supposed to be. They are known as "saints," and therefore should live as such.
2. Past mercies, privileges, honours. ( 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 .) These are so many arguments to seek the Divine pleasure and not their own. And this can be done only by renouncing the evil and cleaving to the good. All the redeemed are laid under infinite obligation to live unto the Lord.
3. God's faithfulness to them. ( 1 Corinthians 1:9 .) A great argument that they should be exemplary towards him and his kingdom.
4. What they are looking forward to. ( 1 Corinthians 1:7 .) Soon they will be in the visible presence of Christ. We are not far from the judgment. Well may we bear rebuke here, that we may escape rebuke there.—H.
Thanksgiving on account of their gifts.
Paul, as is his wont, begins by congratulating the Corinthian Church on all that is good and praiseworthy in their character, and by expressing a confident hope for the future. This is just in itself,—tell a man his good points as well as his bad; and it is wise, for thus the good among them will be encouraged, and the evil will be the more disposed to listen to rebuke. Consider—
I. THEIR GIFTS ( χαρίσματα ) .
1. They had the gift of " all utterance," as appeared in their highly gifted teachers and preachers; and they had "all knowledge," i.e. an intelligent apprehension of the truth. These two gifts are closely connected. There may be knowledge without utterance, in which case it is of profit only to the individual; and there is too often utterance without knowledge, to the hurt of speaker and hearer. This last is the plague of our time. Whoso feeds on empty words becomes lean. But how blessed is the union of thought and speech! Happy the Church that possesses spiritual insight into the mind of God, and the power of communicating this to the edification of others!
2. The other gift is that of "waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Faith rests on the first advent; hope looks onward to the second. The time of that great apocalypse has been left indefinite, even the Son being ignorant of it ( Matthew 24:36 ). Sometimes it is represented as very near ("at hand," James 5:8 ; 1 Peter 4:7 ); while hints are dropped that this nearness is not to be taken according to our time measurement ( 2 Peter 3:8 ). The purpose of this uncertainty is that we may watch and wait, look for and earnestly desire the day of the Lord ( 2 Peter 3:12 ). The apostles maintained this attitude of expectancy, and exhorted others to maintain it. It is noted here as a mark of true spirituality, and elsewhere the crown of righteousness is promised to all them that "love his appearing" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ). Apart from all points of dispute, the coming of the Lord a second time should exercise a powerful influence on the Christian's life. What a motive to holiness, a stimulus to work, a strength to endure affliction, is the thought, "The Lord is at hand"! "Amen: come, Lord Jesus" ( Revelation 22:20 ). These gifts are:
II. ASSURANCE OF HOPE . These gifts of grace are pledges of future blessings.
1. Confirmation unto the end. ( 1 Corinthians 1:8 .) He who begins the good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ ( Philippians 1:6 ). God does nothing by halves. He not only brings up the sinner out of the horrible pit and sets his feet upon a rock, but he also establishes his goings ( Psalms 40:2 ). The Holy Spirit is the "earnest of our inheritance'' ( Ephesians 1:14 ), the first instalment of the full heritage. "The God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ,... shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you" ( 1 Peter 5:10 ). Observe the links of the chain in Romans 8:29 , 80. All through life, onwards to the end of the world, will God deliver our feet from falling ( Psalms 56:13 ). "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" ( Job 17:9 ). This confirmation is effected by the continued impartation of his grace to the believer.
2. The object in view—"that ye be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Comp. Colossians 1:22 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 .) God will not stop short in his work of grace till it be fully completed. Meanwhile believers are unreprovable in Christ; no charge can be brought against them which he does not meet. Who shall impeach the perfection of his work for us? But we are not morally blameless in ourselves. Personal holiness is far from being perfect. In the day of Christ, however, this work shall be complete. The challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" ( Romans 8:33 ), will then apply to character as well as standing. God's ideal will be realized in us when we are holy as he is holy. What a comfort, amid conscious imperfection and sinfulness, to know that we shall one day be "set before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy ( Jude 1:24 )!
3. The security for this. "God is faithful." Not our faithfulness to him, but his faithfulness to us, is the ground of our assurance. Having called us into the fellowship of his Son, all else will follow ( Romans 8:30 ). (See next homily.)
Learn the duty of giving thanks for the blessing bestowed upon others. Our own joy shall thus be multiplied.—B.
Paul's claim to apostleship.
The personal appearance and characteristic disposition of Paul, with the particular circumstances which led to the writing of this letter, and roused intense personal feeling, form a fitting introduction. Paul blends Sosthenes with himself in the salutation, partly because of this man's connection with Corinth (see Acts 18:17 ), partly as an answer to those who charged him with making too much of himself and his apostolic rights. By associating this name in the address, Paul intimates that he did not desire to make himself the sole guide of the Church, nor would he put himself before Christ in the thought of the people. The general idea of apostleship is mission. An apostle is a sent one, or a commissioned one. It was applied to other than the twelve, or thirteen, usually so called; Barnabas and Silas coming under this classification. As applied to the "twelve" (either as including Judas or Matthias), the term involves personal knowledge of Christ and direct reception of the commission from him ( Acts 1:21 , Acts 1:22 ).
I. THE GROUND OF PAUL 'S CLAIM . It could not rest on personal knowledge of Christ's ministry. We have no good reason for assuming that Paul ever saw Christ in the flesh. That, however, was not the more essential of the two qualifications. Paul had received a direct call to his office from the Lord himself. For the historical facts, see Acts 9:1-43 .; Acts 13:2 . Such a direct call did not involve infallibility; but it did form a ground for feeling personal confidence, for speaking with prophetic boldness, and for exercising measures of authority. More especially when we find the "call" was followed up with signs of the Divine presence and approval in the working of miracles. Paul ever makes much of the directness of his "call." This point he most emphatically insists on when writing to the Galatians ( Galatians 1:1 , Galatians 1:11 , Galatians 1:12 ). It is characteristic of Paul's training and habit of thought, as a Jew, that even this "call" from Christ should be conceived only as agency carrying out the sovereign and holy "will and purpose" of God the Father. It was, through all the ages, a characteristic of pious Jews that they traced everything to God's supreme will, and saw that will working through all. Compare and illustrate by the Mohammedan conception of Islam, or submission to the will of God.
II. THE SPECIAL FEATURES OF PAUL 'S COMMISSION . It was in full harmony with, yet perfectly distinct from, that of the other apostles. Such distinction may be traced in its sphere. He was to go to the Gentiles, and find opportunities of labour among them. He was the pioneer of Christian missions to the Gentile world. But adaptation to this sphere and work involved a further distinction in the subject of his commission. There is a marked individuality in the form of Paul's presentation of the truth in Christ. We must give full recognition to that individuality, and its adaptation to the thought and life of the people among whom Paul laboured; but we should carefully guard against exaggerations which would set Paul's apprehension of the Christian truths out of harmony with that of the earlier apostles. Paul's leading subject may be thus stated: Christ is risen; then his life work is accepted by God; and he is living, prepared for direct saving relations with all who look to him in penitence and faith. To enter into direct, personal, living relations with Christ is to find perfect freedom from all other religious or ecclesiastical bondages, old or new.
Apply by showing what is the call to Christian office and ministry now. There is a selection of men by Divine endowment and Divine providence. These two go together, and the recognition of them may be made by other than the man himself. Such a "call" still involves teaching power, persuasive influence, and gracious authorities.— R.T.
Christ coming, and Christ here.
The early Church conceived that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, in some material manifestation, during their age. Inquire how far this idea rested on the view they held of Messiah as an earthly Deliverer and Patriot King. Their question, after our Lord's resurrection, "Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" indicated a bias and preoccupation of mind which even their Lord's ascension did. not correct; and possibly this lingering misconception helped to form the idea of Christ's speedy second coming. It may be further shown that our Lord's assurances about his coming again might have been taken literally, though he so carefully sought to impress the spiritual hearing of his promises, and their fulfilment, mainly in the abiding and indwelling of the Holy Ghost. With the conception of this speedy coming of Christ in their minds, the apostles regard the proper attitude of the Christian and the Church as being one of "waiting." Such waiting becomes a virtual "preparing;" it involves a care to have and hold all things ready, and this is a good sign of the faithful and diligent servant. "The attitude of expectation is thought of as the highest that can be attained here by the Christian. It implies a patient, humble spirit, one that is waiting for, one that is looking forward to, something nobler and better." The moral influence of a high and noble expectation may be pointed out. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also;" and it is certain that to fitness for it your life and conduct will be moulded. In these verses we find a double thought associated with the Lord's second coming.
I. PAUL 'S THOUGHT OF CHRIST 'S COMING TO REWARD . As he has been writing of "gifts" and their use in the Church, he must have in mind Christ's gracious reward of his faithful ones. Reward is proper from one occupying the position of Master. Rewards may be given for work that is far short of perfection, Rewards may be bestowed when no absolute claims can be made for them. Divine rewards can only be gifts of grace. The moral ends to be served by granting rewards are such as God may seek by such means. So it is rational and right that we should still watch, work, and use our gifts, in the full expectation of gracious recognition and reward in due season. Qualify, however, the expectation, by showing that the New Testament strives to impress on us that Divine and future rewards must be spiritual, not material; we are to have crowns, but they are crowns of life, righteousness, and, glory.
II. PAUL 'S THOUGHT OF CHRIST 'S PRESENCE TO CONFIRM . Too much attention to Christ's coming would lighten the conviction of his real, though spiritual, presence now with the individual and with the Church. That presence Paul conceives as the confirmation, the imspiration, and the security of Christ's servants. In it they have their only, but their all sufficient, guarantee that, amid. frailties, temptations, and perils, they shall hold out unto the end, attaining unto the coming of the Lord. Either of these thoughts of Christ may prove misleading if it stands alone. Each tempers and qualifies the other. Both together keep us wisely looking down on our work, beside us at our helper, and on to our reward. The thought of "reward" makes us wonder how the Divine One will ever be able to testify to our "blamelessness and unreprovableness." Illustrate by David's appeal to his "integrity." We may be genuine and sincere. A standard of consistency may be pressed on us as Church members; but nothing less than the standard of absolute purity must be pressed, on us as one clay to stand in the presence of the glorified Christ.—R.T.