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Today, we are going to finish the first section of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians by looking at verses 3-9. In most of your Bibles, you will see a heading over verses 1-3 that says something like, ‘Greeting’ and another heading over verses 4-9 that says something like, ‘Thanksgiving.’

Those headings were added by the Bible’s translators to help you understand the structure, but they sort of missed it here, because, in a Greek letter like this one, the Thanksgiving is part of the introduction.

It’s been said that if you’re going to criticize someone, it’s best to sandwich it in praise, and that’s what the Greeks often did. Whatever the letter was about, no matter how difficult the topic, they wanted to say something nice up front. They wanted to communicate good will, regardless what difficult things needed to be said later in the letter.

So, do you remember being in school and learning to write a letter? Apart from the content of the letter, what are some elements you need to have if you are going to send someone a letter?  

In the Greek world, the opening greeting of a letter follows a pretty strict convention. The Apostle Paul breaks from it at times, but here in this text, he uses the Greek format precisely. The order or structure for the letter is:

  1. Superscripto, Sender (verse 1)
  2. Adscripto, Recipient (verse 2)
  3. Salutatio, Greeting (verse 3)
  4. Hygiano, Good health or good will (4-9)

We’re looking at the salutatio in verse 3 and the hygiano, in verses 4-9 this morning. I think we know what a greeting is, but the hygiano needs to be defined.

The hygiano is a wish for good health or good will—note the word similarity with our word hygiene. It’s very cleverly written in the book of 1 Corinthians. It’s clever what Paul does here. Instead of providing a meaningless statement, that ‘I hope everything is well,’ he instead provides a prayer of thanksgiving for the welfare the Corinthian Church has already received.

As we will, see the thanksgiving prayer is written in such a way as to emphasize the greeting of verse 3. So, we will start there with verse 3. The Apostle Paul writes,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3, ESV)

In this greeting or salutation, we see two ideas, Grace and peace. And we see that they stem from two apparent sources, God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ. But, there is something unique going on here, and I think Paul did it on purpose because every one of the letters Paul wrote uses this same salutation or a very similar form of it.

In this text, the Apostle Paul employs an ancient literary device called a chiasm to communicate a unique relationship between two ideas, grace and peace. A chiasm is the presentation of information in an A,B,B,A format. An example is the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

So, here’s the chiasm in our passage. In the Christian world, when we think of grace, we think of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins—although we will see it’s much more than that. But, you can see grace and Jesus show up as the A’s in our A,B,B,A structure.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3, ESV)

And, in the Hebrew mind, peace was an idea that had to do with God the Father. So we can see our B’s for our A,B,B,A structure.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3, ESV)

This can be visually represented this way:

  1. Grace
  2. peace
  3. God our Father
  4. Lord Jesus Christ

Sorry, if that’ a lot of technical stuff, but it’s not technical without reason. The chiasm demonstrates that there is a unique relationship between the grace offered in Jesus and the peace that a person has with God the Father.

We could state that relationship this way:

  1. Grace through Jesus Christ

…results in…

  1. Peace with God the Father

We emphasize grace a lot in the church. We know that Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven. But, this structure demonstrates the reason our sins need to be forgiven in the first place. It demonstrates the reason that Jesus died.

And that reason is so that humankind could have peace with God the Father. Jesus’s death makes it possible for humans who are at war with God to instead be reconciled with God and to live at peace with God.

As we see this idea of peace with God and the grace offered through Jesus play out in the thanksgiving prayer we are going to see two ideas. First, we will see that grace is not only for receiving peace with God as a future event. Or to say that differently, it’s not only so that you can be with God in heaven someday. Grace is for peace with God now.

And we will see the second idea, that Jesus has provided even more grace than just his death. He has given even more grace to facilitate peace in life now.

And this is important because the grace offered through Jesus is much greater than eternal peace.

It’s not lost on me that many of you hope for eternal peace and are secretly troubled by a lack of peace in life now. I’ll give you the solution to that problem up front.

The solution is that, first, you must think about peace the way the Bible speaks of peace. Much of what we attribute to our English word ‘peace’ doesn’t fit the biblical teaching on peace.

And second, you must accept ‘all the grace’ offered by Jesus, not just some of the grace.

Let’s start with the idea of grace. Grace is a Greek idea that the biblical authors took and built an entire system of thinking around. I like to think that Christianity liberated the word grace from the Greek culture and gave it a far more important meaning. So, let’s look at…

Liberating Grace from the Greeks (4-7)

The Greeks spoke of grace as a quality, not an event. Christians speak of grace as an event. We say grace is that Jesus died for your sins. That’s a historical event that has implications for you that are tied to that event. So, when we say, ‘Grace to you,’ we recognize the grace of God in your life because of the event of Jesus’s death.

But, when the Greeks said, ‘Grace to you,’ they meant something very different. They weren’t talking about an event of grace. They were saying something qualitative about your life. They were saying, ‘I hope your life goes well for you.’ ‘I hope your life is nice.’

The Greeks used the word grace rhetorically as a way of saying, ‘Hello!’ or ‘Greetings!’ But, it literally means, ‘to rejoice.’ When a Greek said, ‘Grace to you,’ he was saying ‘I hope you have reason to rejoice!’

But, when a Christian says ‘Grace to you,’ he is pointing back to the past event of Jesus’s death and saying, ‘I rejoice because of what God has done in your life and mine.’

We see this type of grace clearly in Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer. He writes,

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV)

Paul is thankful first and foremost because the Corinthian Church has received the grace offered by Jesus Christ and for Paul that is reason enough for rejoicing. He rejoices in the event of grace through Jesus.

We’re used to thinking about grace that way, but, Paul continues. He writes of more grace. He writes,

that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—(1 Corinthians 1:5–6, ESV)

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered if you are saved? Have you ever wondered if God is really at work doing anything in your life?

Here Paul gives a response to that. Paul points to two ways that the testimony about Jesus Christ is confirmed among you. That’s just a fancy way of saying, there are two ways that you can see the Gospel play out in your life. And those ways are through prophesy and knowledge.

Here’s where I get prophesy from. Paul says, you know the Gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root in your heart because ‘you were enriched in…all speech,’ because you are able to speak confidently about Jesus in a way that maybe you can’t be so confident about other things.

When I say prophesy, I don’t mean preaching a sermon. I don’t mean being able to explain all the nuances of the doctrines about Jesus and saving grace and all that. I just mean that any Christian should be able to look their friend in the eye and say, “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of and I know that I am awaiting God’s punishment for those things. But, Jesus came to earth and died on the cross so that I don’t have to be punished.”

I’m not talking about a thesis, just the ability to verbalize what it is you claim to believe. And I know you’re not all talkers, but listen:

  • If you’re a boat guy, you’re confident to talk to people about boats.
  • If you’re a music guy, you’re confident to talk to people about music.
  • If you’re a sports guy, you’re confident to talk to people about sports.
  • And if you’re a Jesus guy—a Christian—you know it, because you’re confident to talk to people about Jesus.

And the second half goes hand-in-hand. Paul says, “you were enriched…in all knowledge.” People have taken that to mean crazy things that it obviously does not mean. They think it means that everything you know is true or that you can know everything there is to know. But, that’s not Paul’s point. Paul’s point is that a Christian is someone who knows the things they need to know to tell people what they know about Jesus.

And I consider that gift of knowledge and speech to be grace.

Why? What makes that grace?

Well, can you imagine going through the Christian life, never having any confirmation that you’re on the right path? Can you imagine never having any confirmation that you’re doing the right thing, believing the right thing, and so on?

Well, this is confirmation. You can know you are truly a Christian because you have a story to tell—that’s knowledge—and you are confident to tell it—that’s prophesy. Every single Christian is a witness to the things that Jesus has done in them and is equipped to testify.

And then another grace shows up. Paul says you were enriched in speech and knowledge,

so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ… (1 Corinthians 1:7–8a, ESV)

Here Paul says that the church will have every gifting—or every talent, every ability—available to persevere until Jesus returns for His church.

Tell me if this sort of thing ever happens to you. Ever since I got my first car, I’ve pretty much done all the maintenance and repairs myself, except for a few really big things. So, it used to be that, I’d dive into a project and I’d get stuck, because I didn’t have the right tool to get some weird bolt off or something like that.

So, I’d fight with it for hours, sometimes breaking more things in the process, because I was using the wrong tools. And then, I’d give up and go to the store and get the right tool to finish the job.

I told that story in the past tense because I don’t do that anymore. I still do my own work, but when I don’t have a tool, I borrow it or buy it because I’ve learned that lesson too many times the hard way.

I often think, it would be great if I just had all the different little tools I might need in my garage so that I don’t have to go borrow or buy them all the time.

And that’s how the church is. We have all the tools. Paul said he is thankful that the church isn’t lacking in anything we need as we wait for the Lord Jesus to return.

This is grace, that the church has everything it needs to persevere until the end.

I want to say this, though. The church has all the tools necessary to carry out God’s purposes until Christ returns. But, sometimes when I’m working in the garage, my tools roll off the workbench and get kicked up underneath where I can’t find them.

Do you see what I’m saying here?

You and I are the tools. And we are all useful and needed. And we have to be available.

If you are a member or you attend regularly, I wonder if you would make a quick list in your head with me. We’ve done a number of community events, handing out grocery bags, serving food, handing out water. Think through the past 6 months.

How many of the community events were you available for? 2? 3? 1? None?

Members, how many family business meetings have you participated in, in the last year?

We do them quarterly, so there have been 4 in the past year.

We setup and cleanup for service every Sunday. We setup the auditorium and the kid’s area and the hallways. And then we have a lot of service positions during the service with kids and in the service.

How many weeks have you served in the church? How many weeks are you even attending church?

We’re the tools God has graced to the church. Don’t be the tool that got kicked up under the bench.

Grace is more than ‘I hope it goes well for you.’ Grace is tangible necessity. Grace is the work of Jesus to save us from the penalty of our sins. Grace is the confirmation that God has forgiven for our sins and called us into His presence. And grace is the church that works together, utilizing every member until the day Jesus returns.

You must accept all the grace offered by Jesus, not just some of the grace.

So, grace for us is far greater then the well wishes of the Greeks. We looked at liberating grace from the Greeks. Now let’s look at the other half of the equation…

Adopting Peace from the Jews (8-9)

Just to remind you where we started,

  1. Grace through Jesus Christ

…results in…

  1. Peace with God the Father

Grace was a Greek concept. You’ll notice the word hardly ever shows up in your Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew, the original language of the Jewish people.

Grace wasn’t the focal point for them. One of the most important concepts a Jewish had to relate to God, was not grace, but peace.

We might use the word peace to mean tranquil. Like when you have a new born baby and she won’t stop crying and then she finally falls asleep and you say, ‘Awe, she looks so peaceful, so tranquil.’

But, that’s not really the Jewish concept of peace. The Jews saw peace as a measure of ones relationship with another person or thing. When we talk about peace for the Jews, peace is in opposition to war.

It’s am I at peace with you or am I at war with you?

Am I at peace with God or do I war with God or do I have peace with God?

When you are at peace with God, it’s because you align with God; you are an ally of God. When you don’t have peace with God, it’s because you are the enemy of God. The Apostle Paul wrote,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7, ESV)

Because we think of peace as tranquility, we read this and think, ‘Wow, I can be so peaceful in God that I don’t ever have to worry about anything!’ I never have to be anxious!

And you know the obvious flaw in that is that you aren’t ever so peaceful that you don’t worry. When Paul says, ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,’ he isn’t saying that God has offered you this supernatural kind of peace that detaches you from the world so that you don’t ever worry about anything.

If you want that kind of peace, there’s medications you can work out with your doctor.

When Paul says, ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,’ he is referring to the unfathomable sacrifice that Jesus made, giving His life on the cross so that we can be aligned with God; so that we are no longer enemies of God, allies with the world, but we are allies with God.

It plays out like this in the Old Testament,

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:22–26, ESV)

Peace with God means that the Lord will keep you, that you will forever belong to His Kingdom and forever receive blessing. It means that The Lord is gracious to you, He shows you favor.

That might come with a certain amount of inner peace or tranquility at times, but the point of it all is the restoration of your relationship with God.

We see that peace with God that the Jews understood, play out in two ways in our text. We see peace with God for the future and we see peace with God for today.

In verse 8, Paul writes that Jesus makes us,

…guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8, ESV)

The ‘Day of the Lord’ is one of the prophet Joel’s favorite phrases. He warned the Jews,

Alas for the day!

For the day of the LORD is near,

and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15, ESV)

For Joel, the Day of the Lord is what we might call Judgment Day. It’s the day when God releases His wrath upon the creation and everyone is judged, whether righteous or unrighteous.

It’s interesting what Paul did with this, though. Paul says, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul is demonstrating that Jesus, our Lord, is the same Lord as Yahweh or Jehovah Lord of the Old Testament that Joel and the other prophets wrote about.

Notice the juxtaposition, though. Joel gives a warning that the Day of the Lord is near, because the Jews weren’t in good relationship with God. They didn’t have peace with God. They were living as enemies with God.

But, when Paul references that day, he says we are guiltless. Those who have peace with God through Jesus Christ will not suffer the destruction of the Almighty, but will be judged righteous.

That’s why Paul says, ‘the day of our lord,’ but Joel says, ‘the day of the Lord.’ The Jews weren’t following the Lord and so they were headed for destruction. But, Paul says, as Christians, Jesus is our Lord and because of that we will be guiltless in judgment.

‘Guiltless in judgment’ is peace with God, future. This points to the eternal peace we will have with God. But, we also can have peace now. In verse 9 Paul writes,

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9, ESV)

We have peace with God on the day of the Lord, but notice, even today, God is faithful.

How is He faithful?

He has called us into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The idea is that the peace of God we will eventually experience in eternity, plays out today through the fellowship of the Son. The Kingdom of God is not just a future event, but it is present now through the church, the fellowship of the Son.

And this answers a lot of questions for us. We say things like,

I came to Christ and I’m still troubled. Why do I still have problems? Why do I still have anxiety? And so on…

And the answer is because,

Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, ESV)

…and in the same fashion, the person who is a friend of God makes himself an enemy with the world. In other words, if you are at peace with God, you will be at unrest with the world. There will be problems. There will be troubles. There will be anxieties.

When the Apostle Paul said, ‘Grace and peace to you,’ he wasn’t saying that Christians will experience inner tranquility. He wasn’t even saying that Christians would experience peace with other people.

But, he also didn’t leave us in a state of complete unrest. God gave us a means to experience the peace we have with Him, now. We experience peace with God through the fellowship, the church, God’s people.

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9, ESV)

In every church I’ve ever been a part of—probably in every church, period—there have been people who have one foot in and one foot out. These are people who show up for church pretty regularly and then they disconnect, and then they come back after a while. And then they only come sometimes.

But, inevitably, when life gets hard, they start showing up for church. Maybe they just want to talk to the pastor about their problems. I don’t know. But, when life gets hard, they show up.

Maybe you’re that person and life is hard right now and that’s why you’re at church today. You’re trying to get some peace.

If so, you’re in the right place. I’d say that you are in the right place. Because, it’s part of God’s design that we find peace among the people of God.

In two weeks, we are going to be talking through some issues of disunity in the church in Corinth. And you might say, well, there’s no perfect church. There’s always going to be some disagreement. And I just think that’s negative thinking. God’s design for the church is to be a place of peace, a place of unity, a place of fellowship.

So, if you’re here today and you are looking for the peace of God among the people of God, I pray you find it. And when you’re looking for peace this week, I pray you find peace in one of our life groups.

Christianity is not just about the grace of God given us through Jesus. It’s ultimately about the peace of God that we can experience in life now, and eternally, because of Jesus.