"To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with those who in every place call upon His name;
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ". 1 Corinthians 1:2 & 3.
Ever wondered what it would have been like to visit the church in Corinth around the time that Paul was writing this letter to them?
What would it have been like, listening to them, seeing what they were up to, considering the kind of thinking that was going on behind their behaviour to each other?
Well, from what Paul will address, I expect we wouldn't have been impressed at all by the kind of faith they were expressing. Strife, division, excess, sexual perversion and going spiritually awry were some of the things that were seen amongst them, and judging by Paul's later writings (2 Corinthians), they remained somewhat far from perfect.
It would be pretty easy to look at all of this and simply turn on our heels and find somewhere less troublesome... I hear the Ephesians are doing OK, and then there's the church in Phllippi...
There's something we should notice, however, in Paul's greeting. These people may have been in all kinds of moral trouble, but they were still counted amongst the saints, amongst the church - amongst those who had been sanctified by God, and thereby were recipients of grace and peace. The reason for this becomes clear in where Paul takes them to as he seeks to wade in to their issues - they had heard and received what truly counts from Paul himself. (2:1&2).
We often think God's greatness resides in some manner of teaching or 'sign' that will make such a mark upon the world that people won't be able to refute or ignore such a thing, but what had established this and every community of those who know the truth wasn't anything like that.
Paul came to them with the message about Jesus Christ being crucified to make us right with God - that's what they had come to trust, and that's why, in spite of all their errors, they were counted amongst the saints.
Paul, no doubt, felt great anguish about the mess they had placed themselves in. How could God's love be evidenced by their city when people could look and see no difference in these people... they were just as weak and as foolish as those around them.
How we seek to instruct and admonish ourselves must, Paul shows, follow through from the one foundation that can be laid, because towering over things in heaven and earth is the life and death of Jesus, and it's there alone, we can find aid and build well as those of His body.
It's only when we look to our Saviour, dying for us, that we can begin to see ourselves as foolish and sinful in ourselves, recognize that aside from His sanctifying work, there is no mercy, no grace, no peace with God or one another. The way we are changed and transformed is not simply by our trying harder, but by God grafting us into the life, the death and the resurrection of His beloved Son. There our sins are paid for, there our life is clothed in Him, there, the work of God's spirit will begin a work of making us new creations, finished on the glorious day of resurrection.
Christianity isn't about the dead-ends we so easily and readily more ourselves and others into - a justifying of ourselves in our own folly - it's about the justifying that God alone does in Christ. That's our only comfort, our only hope, our only source of growth, or repentance, or renewal.
Let us, then, like those troubled Corinthians, draw close with all our failings, all our folly, and trust afresh in the foolishness of God, giving Himself at the cross.
Therein, now and forever, lies the power of God to save!