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1 Corinthians 1:1 

Today we are starting a new series going through the book of 1st Corinthians. I’m calling series Corinthians, though, because I’d like to go through both letters that the Apostle Paul wrote the to church in Corinth, 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

The letters to the Corinthian church were dealing with a number of issues in the function of the local church, the leaders of the local church, and the people of the local church. There were things about the church that were praiseworthy, and there were a number of issues that needed to be corrected. The Corinthian church had infighting and disunity. They had disagreements about doctrine. They were divided about what teachings they should follow.

Then there were issues of sin that were being tolerated by the members. And they were divided about how to deal with that. They were having problems carrying out their weekly service of worship. And all of these things were affecting the mission of the church. In fact, it seems they didn’t even agree on exactly what the purpose of the church was and what the mission of the church was.

So, I think this will be a valuable study for us as a church. My prayer is that we are going to be able to celebrate a lot of wins, that, as we look at our local church we will be able to celebrate the areas that we are accomplishing the mission of the church and the purpose of the church.

But, I’m also praying that we will be sharpened by the truth of scripture, so that, if there are areas of tension between our thinking and the teaching of scripture, we will be humble enough to accept correction and be able to move in God’s direction.

Today, I’m going to need a little involvement from you. We’re going to do an exercise and look at a couple texts to get some context for the first verse of 1 Corinthians.

By a show of hands, how many of you were raised in a church or in some sort of Christian environment?

Good. Now, what…

Offices

…have you heard of in your church experience? In other words, are there some titles that you have heard used for church leadership in the past?

Do you have any others? Maybe not from your tradition, but for others?

Ok, let’s look at those really quick and a couple others.

  • Pastor, shepherd (most common)
  • Preacher, teacher (For specificity in some traditions where preaching is the prominent role of the pastor.)
  • Elder, overseer, presbyter, bishop (broadly classified—often bishop is pastor to pastors or overseer of overseers)
  • Parson, rector, vicar (antiquated terms still in use in some Christian traditions)
  • Reverend (meaning one to be revered)
  • Priest (Catholicism and some other traditions—confusion with the Old Covenant)
  • Minister (I have a problem with this one that I’ll address in a moment.)

I went over those terms to show you that there have been lots of different jobs or offices in the church, historically. Each of those terms speaks to the tradition of the church that used them. But, the Bible mentions only six offices. And they’re not what you think. They come from Ephesians 4.11-12.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV)

The first 5 offices are clear in the text: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher. And the 6th is a little tricky, but its workers of ministry or to say that more directly, ministers.

I want you to notice the grammar here. God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherd, and teachers. He gave those people to the church to do something specific and intentional among the people. God wanted those people to equip or train the saints for the work of ministry. The 5 offices exist in the church to prepare the saints as ministers.

OK, so what are saints? — This is how you do Bible study, btw, when you don’t understand something fully, you explore it and figure out what it means so you can get the whole sense of the scripture.

The word ‘saint’ comes from the Latin Bible where the Greek word hagios, meaning ‘holy one’ is translated into Latin as sanctus, which eventually became seint, s-e-i-n-t, in French and saint, s-a-i-n-t in English.

Some of you have a Catholic upbringing, so I want to clarify something to make sure there is no confusion. In the Catholic tradition you have to be sainted—that is, you have to be recognized as a saint, usually after death, in order to be a saint, a holy one.

But, the Bible teaches that everyone who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior are already ‘made holy.’ The author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote,

…we have been made holy [sanctified or sainted] through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, NIV)

Some of your Bibles translate that as sanctified, which is the Greek word, hagiozo—notice the similarity to hagios, which means holy one. To be sanctified is to be made holy or, if you will, to be sainted. In other words, every Christian is a saint, a holy one.

Jesus died for your sins, your brokenness and unfaithfulness. By faith in Him, you are no longer unholy, characterized by your sins, but you have been made holy, marked by Jesus’s righteousness, a saint.

So, why do I say all that?

Because,

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV)

The 5 leadership offices exist to equip rest of the people in the church for the 6th office of minister. So, every single Christian is called to at least one of these 6 offices.

A this point, some of you are wondering, ‘Aren’t we studying 1st Corinthians?’

Yes, but in ‘context.’ I needed to give you a context for the first verse so that we can see what’s happening in the text. Paul began his letter this way:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1, ESV)

That’s actually as far as we will get today in 1 Corinthians because a lot is going on in this verse. What I want you to see from this verse is that, first, Paul claims the authority of Apostle. And that, second, we all fall under that authority, either as other leaders: evangelists, prophets, shepherds (aka pastors), teachers or even apostles (small-a apostles, which I’ll talk about in a moment).

So, let’s glance at each of the six offices. I’m going to rely heavily on the biblical analysis of a Christian thinker named Alan Hirsh for these.

So, what’s a…

Prophet?

Prophets know God’s will. They are particularly attuned to God and his truth for today. They bring correction and challenge the assumptions we inherit from the culture. They insist that the local church obeys what God has commanded. They question the status quo. (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways)

You might say, no that’s what a preacher does, and pastors are preachers. And you would be right. We have rolled a lot of these offices into one office that we call Pastor or Elder. The biblical authors do the same thing at times. They roll them into the office of elder or overseer. But here and in a couple other places the Bible’s authors differentiate the terms.

So, the next is…

Evangelist

Evangelists recruit. These compelling communicators of the gospel message recruit others to the cause. They call for a personal response to God’s redemption in Christ, and also draw believers to engage the wider mission, growing the church. (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways)

So, the Evangelist is not just someone who shares the news that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we can one day be raised up with Him. The Evangelist trains others to do the same and organizes them to carry out that task in the greater community.

Again, you might say, that’s what a pastor does. Well, in this text, Paul differentiates them.

The next is…

Shepherd

And this is where the actual word ‘pastor’ comes into play. ‘Pastor’ is just the Latin word that is translated in the New Testament as Shepherd—they’re the same thing.

Shepherds nurture and protect. Caregivers of the community, they focus on the protection and spiritual maturity of God’s flock, cultivating a loving and spiritually mature network of relationships, making and developing disciples. (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways)

Pastoring has to do with the inner-workings and internal care of the church.

Teacher

…is the next one.

Teachers understand and explain. Communicators of God’s truth and wisdom, they help others remain biblically grounded to better discern God’s will, guiding others toward wisdom, helping the community remain faithful to Christ’s word, and constructing a transferable doctrine. (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways)

Again, that’s an office that the contemporary church has rolled into the office of ‘pastor/elder.’

And finally, I want to look at the office Paul claims in our text, which is…

Apostle

Apostles extend the gospel. As the “sent ones,” they ensure that the faith is transmitted from one context to another and from one generation to the next. They are always thinking about the future, bridging barriers, establishing the church in new contexts, developing leaders, networking trans-locally. (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways)

I want to focus more time on this one. The Bible uses the word apostolos, translated Apostle, in two different ways. The way we are used to talking about it is to describe the 12 Disciples. These are the 12 men who were called by Jesus to be His disciples. Usually, they are called the 12 disciples, but they became known as the 12 Apostles after Jesus sent them out among the towns of Judea. You see, they became apostles because they were sent. Apostle means ‘sent one.’

There’s no doubt that special authority was given to the original 12, but that had more to do with them being the first 12 Disciples and less to do with them being apostles. But, two other apostles also had special authority. In Acts 1:26, Matthias was made an Apostle by the will of God to replace Judas who betrayed Jesus. And then the Apostle Paul became an Apostle later, also by the will of God, so he calls himself the ‘apostle, unnaturally born.’

And that’s the key to being an apostle. Apostles—actually all the offices—are called according to…

God’s Will

No one get’s to decide to be an apostle. It’s not a job you can apply for. That’s why in our text, first Corinthians 1:1, Paul begins,

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus… (1 Corinthians 1:1, ESV)

Matt read to you the story of Paul—also known as Saul. You saw that he was a Jew who was persecuting the Christians, but then, Jesus confronted him on the road and personally called Him to be a disciple.

Jesus is so funny here. Paul is the most unlikely person to come to faith in the first place, but to call Paul to be an Apostle is ridiculous by human thinking.

What company hires the least qualified person for the job?

Paul didn’t even want the job. Certainly, the guy who’s leading the persecution of the Christians is not the guy you want to call to spread Christianity.

But, Jesus called Paul, not just as a disciple but as an Apostle to show the incredible transformation that he brings about in people. I want you to notice the last verse of Paul’s story:

And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (Acts 22:3–21, ESV)

Jesus told Paul he would send him, that he would make him a ‘sent one.’ In other words, an Apostle. In the Bible, this is about as clear a calling as we see for Paul. The Greek word used for send in this verse is actually ‘exapostello.’ It’s the verb form of the noun, apostolos. Notice the similarities.

exapostello -> to send away

apostolos -> Apostle; one sent forth

So, it’s easy to see here what Paul tells us, that he was, ‘called by the will of God to be an apostle.’

We see throughout the New Testament that the men who were apostles were treated with a particular authority in the early church. But, one by one they all died. And church history is clear that although they still called people ‘apostle,’ the new apostles did not have the authority as the original ones. The early church saw the special calling of the first disciples as unique, a calling and a gifting for that time.

But, the office or calling of apostleship did continue, just without the apostolic authority of the original 12. Notice a second way the scriptures speak of apostles. I like to call the original apostles Big-A Apostles and the other apostles, small-a apostles. I’ll give you a few examples of small-a apostles in the Bible.

  • In Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is called an apostle because he is the one sent by God to rescue humanity.
  • In Philippians 2:25, Epaphrodiditis, one of the brothers, is called an apostle. Most of our Bible translations call him a messenger, but the Greek word is apostolon, which is the same word used everywhere else for apostle.
  • In 2 Corinthians 8:23, many other brothers are said to be apostles.
  • In Romans 16:7, Paul tells us that Andronicus and Junia were well known among the apostles. Christian tradition holds that they were themselves considered apostles, although in the wider sense of the word—small-a apostles—not in the same way as the 12.

So, to recap, the best way to see this is that the Big-A Apostles were unique to the first-century church. But, small-a apostles continued and still exist today, although they do not carry the apostolic authority that the Big-A Apostles did. Instead, we should see them as Alan Hirsh suggests, as missionaries, church planters, or those who equip and train missionaries and church planters.

So, an important question to ask about Paul is this:

Is Paul a Big-A Apostle or a small-a apostle?

You probably have never asked that question, but we should ask it. If you remember the story, God called a man named Ananias to go heal Paul from his blindness. In the account Matt read, we don’t get this part of the story, but in Acts 9, we see an argument that Ananias had with the Lord. Ananias was fearful because Paul was persecuting Christians.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15–16, ESV)

The Lord called Paul His chosen instrument to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. And even that, you might say, ‘Well Paul was just another missionary.’ But, Paul several times compared himself to the other 12. And he spoke with equal authority. The Apostle Peter, one of the 12, in 2 Peter 3:15-16 apparently saw Paul’s words as authoritative. And finally, ever since the earliest records of the church, the church always considered Paul’s words to be as trustworthy as the rest of scripture.

We don’t give that kind of authority to any small-a apostles, so if we do give it to Paul, then Paul was most certainly a Big-A Apostle. It was God’s will.

And God’s will is perplexing. People want to know what God’s will is for them as if God had pre-written a plan for their lives—which he sort of has. But we often live in fear that we might miss God’s will.

It’s like we’re a mouse in a maze and if we don’t find the cheese, we might starve to death.

We ask: What is God’s will for my life? What does he want from me?

I want you to imagine for a moment that we had ribs smoking out behind the building. Sorry for the food analogy. And the sweet smell of pork ribs and barbecue sauce is wafting in the back doors, down the halls, and into the auditorium. And I told you—again, just an analogy—that right after service everyone was invited to have ribs for lunch.

So, I preach for about 30 minutes, and you look at the clock. And you’re getting hungry. And then another 15 minutes goes by, and I’m still talking. And then we’re pushing an hour. And then it’s an hour 15.

At what point are you going to run out of willpower and leave the auditorium in search for ribs?

You see, the will is a desire based mechanism. The will is fueled by desire. When your desire for lunch becomes greater than your desire for biblical teaching, then you will act.

As humans, we do all sorts of things that are malicious and hurtful, because we have unnatural desires, stemming from our brokenness and sin. Even though you know what is right, you willfully do what is wrong, because your will is motivated by your desires.

When someone eats a third or fourth slice of pie and says, ‘I just didn’t have the willpower!’ it’s because their desire for pie was stronger than their desire, to stay fit and slim or whatever. Your desires always win. The only way our behavior ever changes is when God changes our desires. Our wills are controlled by our greatest desires, and unless our greatest desire becomes the righteousness of Christ, we will never be able to have self-control, and we will never be free from sin. We’ll never be truly repentant.

And that’s how God’s will works too. God is always motivated by his desires. God’s desires always win. Praise God, that His desires are always holy, just, and righteous! So, when you ask, ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ you aren’t asking what God wants you to do. What you are really asking is ‘What is God’s desire for me?’

That’s a little easier question to answer from scripture because it says ‘Who am I to God?’ not ‘What does God want me to do?’

Do you see the difference?

When Paul was called by the will of God to be an Apostle, God’s desire for Paul was not to do away with the church but to expand the church—to grow it bigger and further.

God had a desire for Paul, and He has a desire for each of us. As a good and righteous Father, ‘What is His desire for you?’

God’s will is hard to discern, but God’s desire for you is simple. It’s the greatest commandment: ‘love God’ and ‘love your neighbors.’ You don’t need to be caught up with anxiety over whether God’s will is for you to be a preacher or a missionary or start some sort of non-profit.

If God’s will is for you to do that, you’ll know. You won’t be able to avoid it. God caught Paul on the road to Damascus to tell him his will.

You don’t need to worry so much about that. God’s desire for you is love. To love Him and to love others. And if he has something else for you, he’ll let you know.

So, we’ve said this word a few times.

Calling

Paul wrote,

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1, ESV)

Paul was called by the will or desire of God. Calling is an interesting concept in the New Testament. Another word for ‘call’ would be ‘invite’ or ‘summon.’

There’s an important theological discussion to be had here. It’s this:

When God calls someone, is that an offer, as an invitation, or does it carry more weight, like a summons? Or is it a demand or mandate that you can’t avoid?

Some people would say it’s just an invitation. You can take it or leave it. If you invited friends over for dinner and they were busy already or tired from the work week, they might decline, and that’s OK. It’s their prerogative.

I like some things about the word invite because it says something profound about biblical calling.

What if someone says to you, “Hey, I want to invite you to get burgers with us after church?”

It would be socially awkward for you to respond, “No, let’s go get steak and lobster instead,” especially if they’re buying. The Apostle Paul was called as an Apostle, not an administrator, not a groundskeeper, not a deacon, not even a pastor in the traditional sense. His calling was to apostleship. As the one calling, God determined that, not Paul, because the one sending the invite determines the calling.

Notice the last part of our text.

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1, ESV)

It’s tempting to skip this, but who on earth is Sosthenes?

Sosthenes was the leader of the synagogue in Corinth and an educated man. Paul’s practice was to hire a scribe or a secretary to write down his letters for him. Writing in Greek was far more challenging than speaking Greek, and so it took someone with a special skill set. So, God invited Sosthenes to be a minister to Paul, to help him write stuff down. They didn’t get to switch roles because you can change the plan when someone else sends out the invite.

I like the idea of invite because it says that God determines what He wants you to do, not you. It’s God’s desire, not your desire. And I like that because there’s freedom in it. God will never call you to something He doesn’t intend to equip you to finish.

But, there’s a weakness to thinking of calling as invitations, because invitations are turned down far more easily than I think God ought to be turned down.

So, others who realize that weakness would go to the polar-opposite end of the spectrum. They would say that God’s calling leaves you without a choice at all. When you are called by God, you have no choice, but to do what God has called you to do. God’s calling is fully deterministic. It’s so effectual that you cannot escape it. If God has called you, then according to His sovereign will or desire, you have no will or desire to respond otherwise. This view says that you will answer God’s calling, because God determined your response ahead of time. And that just sounds like puppetry to me.

So, I don’t think either of those are quite right. I believe biblical calling is more like a summons because it’s an invitation from the King. When you are dealing with the summons of a king, there’s really no difference between an invitation or a summons or a calling. Because no one would dare refuse an invitation from the king.

If the president of the United States invited you to the White House for dinner, you probably wouldn’t decline because you were tired. And if you already had plans, you would probably reorganize your calendar. When it’s a summons, you are expected to comply.

But, notice, a summons doesn’t take away your choice. Maybe you have gotten a jury summons and wanted to ignore it. Well, in many states you can be fined or even imprisoned for ignoring a jury summons. And people do ignore them.

This is more along the lines of the way calling works in God’s Kingdom. If God calls, there is an expectation you will comply. And there is a definite penalty if you choose to ignore God’s calling. Paul would have remained blind if he ignored God’s call. But, he still made a choice.

The reality is when someone sticks a gun to your head and says, “Give me all your money, or I’ll shoot,” you still have a choice to make. It’s just an obvious choice.

So, when God calls you to do something—whether that’s something huge like being an Apostle or something more day-to-day, like helping a neighbor, or if that’s a ministry duty like being a secretary or scribe or whatever it is—when God calls, there is an expectation you will comply.

And that can seem kind of harsh. It can seem like God strong-arms people into their calling. Like, since He’s God, He can do whatever. He calls, and we just follow so that we don’t get in trouble or something like that.

But, I don’t think that’s how God’s heart works. I think God calls us to what is best for us. Paul would wholeheartedly agree that it was better that He was called than left alone. Paul didn’t come to Jesus willingly, but after responding to God’s call, Paul celebrated His calling.

Do you think Paul would have rather had his life the other way, persecuting Christians and headed for eternal damnation?

I know that I’m grateful for my calling to be a pastor. I’ve had lots of opportunities in life, but answering God’s call is one of the most fulfilling decisions I’ve ever made.

When God calls us, it isn’t to strong-arm us into doing something we don’t want to do. Instead, God’s calling leads us to be the people we really want to be.

God’s calling leads us to be the people we really want to be.

This is how God’s calling always works.

  • When God calls you to repent of sins, He is leading you to a life of fulfillment.
  • When God calls you to serve Him, He is leading you to a better vocation.
  • When God calls you to faith in the first place, it’s because he is leading you to be the person you really want to be.

Paul would have never asked to be an Apostle in a million years, and yet, he received unspeakable joy because of his calling, because God was leading him to be the person he really wanted to be.

Conclusion

So, it’s not lost on me that I told you about 5 offices and we looked really closely at Paul’s calling as Apostle, but we never got to look at the 6th office. Let’s look at the sixth now as we wrap up. The sixth office is…

Minister

Ministers, according to Paul, do the work of the church. Ministers fall under the authority of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Or if it’s easier to relate to our context, we would tend to roll all of the leadership offices into the office of pastor. So we could say that everyone in the church are ministers and the job of the pastors is to equip the ministers to carry out their role.

This is the way it must be if the church is going to be successful in carrying out the mission. My friend Mike said it this way. He said,

In a small church, the pastor does the ministry, and the people make all the decisions. In a large church, the people do the ministry, and the pastors make all the decisions. (Mike McGuffy, CSBC Healthy Church Group)

He said this as an observation of the way that churches grow. The biblical model has pastors as equippers and the people as ministers. And when a church isn’t set up that way, it won’t function properly. A couple of pastors can’t minister to the people of the church and to the entire community around them.

No one is called to join the church to be ministered to, but actually to do the work of ministry.

And there’s a disconnect here because we are used to looking at pastors as ministers. But, remember where we started. The saints—the people of the church—are the ministers. When someone is called to be a pastor we say things like, ‘He accepted a call to the ministry.’ But, becoming a pastor is not joining the ministry. Coming to Jesus is joining the ministry. You are all ministers if you are in Christ.

But, it’s easy to look up at the preacher and see him as a minister. And then when I say that all Christians are called to be ministers, you think that means you need to be a preacher or a missionary or something like that.

But, that’s not it at all. We have lots of faithful ministers in this church and they aren’t all the people you see up on stage on a Sunday morning.

  • Wanda is our church administrator. She faithfully ministers in the church, mostly behind the scenes.
  • Rod is our church treasurer. He ministers to us all by taking care of our bank account and writing checks when need be.
  • Linda is our bookkeeper. She takes care of all the individual transactions and makes sure we comply with all the legal stuff.

There are dozens of other people who do service in the church. And then some people do service outside the church in the community. They are ministers to the lost and the needy.

  • Bill and Bill minister to the hungry.
  • Tina and Pedro minister to addicts through our Celebrate Your Recovery group.

And there are countless more who minister outside the church as well. If you are a Christian, that’s what you are called to, to minister truth and love to those around you; both in the church and outside the church.

What’s the will of God for your life?

To be a minister, to serve as a minister of love to those in the church and those in your communities.

And it’s the job of your pastors to make sure you are equipped to carry out that work.

So, I want to end with this. The Apostle Paul knew his place. He was called by the will of God as an Apostle—Big A.

What’s your calling?

Has God called you to be a pastor? An evangelist? A missionary? A teacher? A preacher?

If you don’t know, you can be confident you are called to be a minister. So start to minister, start to serve, start to get involved anywhere you can and let God bring you along the way.