The Saints at Corinth
1 Corinthians 1:2
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthian church by reminding them that they had been sanctified in Christ and been called of God. He assures them of continued grace and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his continual thanksgiving to God for the grace bestowed upon them by Christ (vv. 3-4). He then proceeds to assure them of his complete confidence that the gospel and the boundless grace of God had been confirmed to them by the operations of God the Holy Spirit upon them in effectual calling, causing them to ever look for Christ’s coming (vv. 5-6). He goes so far as to assure these Corinthian believers that our ever-faithful God, who had called them into the fellowship of Christ, would at last bring them blameless into glory in the resurrection (vv. 8-9).
The Corinthian Church
All these assurances of grace and glory were given by divine inspiration to the church at Corinth. I cannot imagine a local church anywhere in the world, at any time in history, plagued with more evil than the church atCorinth. Among these saints, horrid immorality was winked at as a matter of indifference (chap. 5). Yet, they embraced the notion that by abstaining from physical pleasure they could make themselves more holy and spiritual (chap 7). God’s faithful servant, by whom they were taught the gospel, was scorned among them. Pride caused them to disdain the poor and the weak. Those who possessed, or thought they possessed, great spiritual gifts looked down their noses at those they considered less spiritual. Though the Corinthian church was probably the wealthiest of the New Testament churches, it was the most miserly in giving. They horribly abused the ordinances of God, making the person by whom they were baptized a matter of pride and spiritual superiority, and turning the Lord’s Table into a carnal, religious feast. And they denied the resurrection of our Lord.
All these things divided the local church at Corinth into factions, threatening to destroy it. Yet, when Paul wrote this Epistle to them, he addressed them as “them that are sanctified (having been sanctified) in Christ, called to be saints” (1:2), assuring them that God would confirm them unto the end and make them “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6).
A Needful Lesson
I call your attention to these things because they set before us a very, very important lesson, a lesson of which we need to be constantly reminded. ― God’s saints in this world are often plagued with moral weaknesses, poor judgment, spiritual evil, and doctrinal error. So long as we are in this world, God’s saints (all of us) are sinners still. We dare not make excuse for our own sins or the sins of others, giving license to evil. But, even more importantly, we dare not make ourselves judges over our brethren, pronouncing those whom God has sanctified accursed. If men and women profess to believe the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ, they are to be received and embraced by us as our brothers and sisters in Christ, “not to doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:2). ― “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).
God’s Work, Not Ours
Such judgment is God’s work, not ours. There are many who think they have the ability to distinguish between sheep and goats, between tares and wheat, between good fish and bad, and try to make it their business to separate the one from the other. They foolishly and arrogantly think they have the ability to determine who is saved and who is lost. The fact is: ― No one has that ability. Our Lord Jesus pointedly tells us to let the wheat and tares grow together (Matt. 13:30).
If we try to separate the good from the bad, we will do so basing our judgment upon the outward appearance. We have no other basis of judgment. That means, our judgment is always wrong. ― “For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).(1)
If it were left to us, we would always run off the sheep and hug the goats, pull up the wheat and cultivate the tares, throw out the good fish and keep the bad (Matt. 13:28-30). Our business is to cast out the gospel net, gathering in fish, both good and bad, as the Lord determines, knowing that where Christ plants his wheat, Satan plants tares, and where Christ gathers his sheep, Satan brings in goats. It is the business of God’s church and his servants to faithfully preach the gospel. As we do, God will, by the preaching of the gospel, separate “the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19), gather his wheat into his barn, and bind up the tares for the burning. The gospel fan is in our Lord’s hand. ― “He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
(1) I do not suggest or imply that we are to embrace as our brothers and sisters in Christ those who deny the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. Anyone who does not believe the gospel of Christ is lost, no matter what he professes, how loudly he claims to believe on the Son of God, or how pious and devoted he may appear to be in his outward behavior (2 John 9-10).