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A.             Greeting and Thanksgiving - 1:1-11

1.              The author - 1:1a

a.              his calling: an apostle (by the will of God)

"But when he describes himself as 'an apostle by the will of God,' he is not emphasizing his own obedience or response to a divine call. He is, instead, emphasizing the call itself, God's sovereign initiative in establishing him in an office to which he was destined even before his birth (Gal. 1:15) and for which, apart from the grace of God, he is in no way qualified. The apostolic authority about which he reminds his readers is based not in any personal merit of his own but solely in the grace of God which had been given to him" (Furnish, 102).

b.              his colleague: Timothy (our brother)

2.              The Addressees - 1:1b

a.              the church of God in Corinth

There is irony and veiled rebuke in this description of the Christian community: How could the church of God be in such a godless city as Corinth? How could the church of God be so ungodlike in its divisions and its treatment of God's apostle?

b.              all the saints in Achaia (cf. Rom. 16:1; Acts 17:34)

The wider scope of addressees indicates that the theological principles articulated in this letter have universal application and are not restricted to the immediate issues that concern Paul and his relationship to the Corinthian church.

The word "saint" (as with the word "priest") is always found in the plural in the NT, with but once exception (Ph. 4:21; but even there, Paul refers to "every" saint!). What are the implications of this?

3.              The Salutation - 1:2

a.              grace - 1:2a

Paul begins all of his letters by blessing his readers with the "grace" of God. This reference to "grace" is more than a standard literary device by which letters were begun. It is a sincere prayer for the release of divine favor and power into the lives of those to whom he writes. It is also significant that at the beginning of Paul's letters he says, "Grace [be] to you," while the blessings at the end say, "Grace [be] with you." Why? Piper suggests that

"at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God's grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow 'from God' through Paul's writing to the Christians. So he says, 'Grace to you.' That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read --- 'grace [be] to you.' But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, 'What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?' He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: 'Grace [be] with you.' With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living" (Future Grace, 66-67).

b.              peace - 1:2b

4.              The Thanksgiving - 1:3-11

(The tone of this section may be noted by observing the frequency of the words "comfort," "encouragement," and "affliction". In vv. 3-11, the word for "comfort" either in its noun [6] or verb [4] form occurs 10x. The words for "affliction," "suffering," and "to suffer" occur 8x.)

a.              for God's comfort in suffering - 1:3-7

1)             a description of who God is - 1:3

a)             the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - 1:3a

b)             the Father of mercies - 1:3b

c)             the God of all comfort - 1:3c

2)             a description of what God does - 1:4-7

a)             the mutuality of divine comfort - 1:4

When we are afflicted we often ask "why?" The answer may have less to do with you than with someone else who is in need of the divine comfort which you received from God and they now can receive from you. "We are selfish," wrote James Denney, "and instinctively regard ourselves as the center of all providences; we naturally seek to explain everything by its bearing on ourselves alone." If you had never suffered, of what good would you be to others who had? Consider Joni Eareckson Tada . . .

This "also calls into question the individualism of modern Christianity and the sense of remoteness within and among many contemporary churches" (Barnett, 73).

b)             the sufficiency of divine comfort - 1:5-7

·          These are not redemptive sufferings (v. 5a; cf. Jn. 15:18-21; and esp. 1 Cor. 1:13).

·          For every affliction there is a corresponding and altogether sufficient comfort (v. 5b).

·          Nothing in Paul's life was interpreted as existing or occurring solely for himself (v. 6). Note his repetitive, "for you" . . .

·          Paul is afflicted "for their salvation" in the sense that they received the gospel in the context of his suffering. "What they tend to despise in him [his weakness that comes from suffering] is part and parcel of what brought life to them" (Barnett, 77).

·          It is effective in the actual experience of suffering; i.e., this is not a promise of exemption but an assurance of endurance (v. 6b).

b.              for God's deliverance in peril - 1:8-11

1)             the nature of Paul's troubles - 1:8-9a

·          the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)?

·          confrontation with beasts in the arena (1 Cor. 15:32)?

·          sentence of death passed on him by a civil court?

·          some bodily illness?

·          some unidentified hardship (hunger, persecution, imprisonment)?

2)             the purpose of Paul's troubles - 1:9b-10

"It is natural . . . for us to trust in ourselves. It is so natural, and so confirmed by the habits of a lifetime, that no ordinary difficulties or perplexities avail to break us of it. It takes all God can do to root up our self-confidence. He must reduce us to despair; He must bring us to such an extremity that the one voice we have in our hearts, the one voice that cries to us wherever we look round for help, is death, death, death. It is out of this despair that the superhuman hope is born. It is out of this abject helplessness that the soul learns to look up with new trust to God. . . . How do most of us attain to any faith in Providence? Is it not by proving, through numberless experiments, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps? Is it not by coming, again and again, to the limit of our resources, and being compelled to feel that unless there is a wisdom and a love at work on our behalf, immeasurably wiser and more benign than our own, life is a moral chaos? . . . Only desperation opens our eyes to God's love" (James Denney).

The "in order that" of v. 9 forever dispels the idea that troubles, afflictions, pain and trial are somehow outside the sovereign purposes of God. There is always design in our distress. God so values our trust in him alone that he will graciously take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on: even life itself if necessary. His desire is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself is all we need. See Ps. 73:25-26.

c.              for the prayer support of the Corinthians themselves - 1:11

It has been argued that the opening line of v. 11 should be rendered with a conditional force: "If you help us by your prayers." If we follow this suggestion, it would serve to reinforce the emphasis Paul places on prayer as a contributing factor to the success of his ministry (cf. Philemon 22; Phil. 1:19; Rom. 15:30-32). His desire was that news of his rescue from death be the impetus for the saints in Corinth to join together in prayer on his behalf, in response to which he hoped God would deliver him yet again should similar perilous circumstances arise. If "gracious favor" was to be granted Paul, if his ministry was to continue with success, these believers must intercede on his behalf. And not only would he prosper as a result, God also would be glorified by the many thanksgivings that were uttered for the blessings he bestowed on Paul through prayer.

The phrase "by many persons" (NASB) in v. 11 translates an unusual Greek expression that more literally reads, "the faces of many." Some commentators suggest that this refers to the upturned faces of people to their heavenly Father as they intercede for Paul and then give thanks for the answer to their prayers.