Community Group Study Guide — Gifted and Called
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
In our last study guide we highlighted how this letter to the Corinthians will bring up many of their dysfunctions and problems as a church community. They are called “saints” by Paul but their practical lives do not look too “saintly.” They are concerned about their association with a particular christian leader more than Christ, they’re divided, tolerating sin in their community, twisted the Lord’s supper so that some gorge on the meal and others go without and their worship was disorderly so that one would be highlighted over another. Take a look at the heading in your bible before 1 Corinthians 1:10, it likely reads as “Divisions in the Church” or something similar to those words. There was a lot to repent of and much room to grow in this church, and yet Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 show us how God saw them and whom God was calling them to be. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 may look like it is just part of Paul’s introduction as he gives thanks to God, however these words have the intention of targeting the Corinthian church’s pride as he begins to show them that all they have from Christ is a gift from God. In this study guide we will explore how Paul speaks to their (and our) true identity in Christ and the foolishness of boasting about things that were ultimately a gift from God.
Paul gives thanks for the grace that God has shown this church in Christ. Grace, by its very definition, is a gift that is undeserved and unearned. This is a reminder that everything Paul praises them for from their status “in Christ” to their identity as saints and their outward gifts were all due to God’s grace.
We learn that the Corinthians were tempted to rank one another and form factions based on these outward gifts and actions. Paul points to God’s grace here as a remind that the gospel is opposed to earning. Even the word grace (charis) is contained in the greek word for gift (charisma) highlighting the relationship that Paul will bring out that the things they look to as “special” about one another were not a result of their works but were in themselves a gift from God (1 Corinthians 1:7). Their culture was kind of like ours in many ways and one of those similarities is a tendency towards celebrity worship. Instead of giving thanks to God for their gifts, they were quick to rank one another and form tribes around various teachers because of their gifting and what they could gain from their association (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:5-9). Their culture particularly valued people who were powerful speakers and those gifted at athletic competition; again this sounds similar to our day and age. Paul wants to know who they are and what God has promised to do in order to help them praise God for the gift instead of ranking one another based on their skills and abilities.
First, Paul shows how God was presently at work among them. Look first to 1 Corinthians 1:4-7. The verbs here are all passive verbs which means that they speak to what one received or acted upon which means they did nothing in the process to earn or deserve what was given. The Corinthians valued entertaining speeches and intellectual knowledge. They’d find a good home today with TED talks, academic debates and well articulated twitter threads. But where did this ability to reason and speak eloquently come from? Look at verse 5, they were “enriched in him” in all speech and knowledge meaning that this came from God. Also look at verse 7, Paul tells them that they are “not lacking in any gift”. Even though they will struggle with sin and division, God was still faithful to grace them with spiritual gifts which we will learn in chapter 12 are designed to serve one another and build up the body of Christ in love rather than to serve and build up ourselves. The Corinthians are gifted and called and it all sources from God and not something they did to earn or deserve it; so to pride themselves about these things would be foolish. Certainly many of us have worked hard to get to where we are in our careers or through rigorous training of abilities however we need to recognize that along the way there were many things that were out of our control. These things include where we were born, what time period we lived in, who are parents were, what kind of opportunities we had and even many of our own natural abilities like athleticism, intellectual capacities and health are partially due to genetics and the early years of our lives. Paul does not tie our gifting or identity in Christ to our performance, rather he wants us to see that it comes from God’s grace which should lead us towards humility and service rather than pride.
Second, Paul reminds them of God’s faithful commitment in Christ. As Paul starts to confront their sin and division it will be tempting for them to get defensive or be dejected, but Paul’s goal is to help them live out their calling as saints who have been redeemed and set apart in Christ.
Look at 1 Corinthians 1:8-9. Paul highlights three things to give the believer assurance in these verses: God’s commitment to sustain, God’s faithfulness and their fellowship in Christ. First we see that God is committed to preserving his people until the end (1 Corinthians 1:8). This is echoed in Philippians 1:6 where we are told that “he who began a good work in you will see it to completion.” Paul brings up their sin not to shame them, but to show them their need for Christ and remind them of God’s commitment to help them grow. The term “guiltless” does not mean that they will never sin, but that because of Christ’s perfect righteousness their forgives is secure. Our flesh and the enemy would want us to doubt our standing in Christ because of our own imperfect performance, but God is committed to sustaining his people to the end. Second, Paul reminds them that God is faithful, not fickle. God is committed to them and his grace is not dependent on their performance or some fleeting feelings he has but rather his covenant commitment which was displayed on the cross in Christ who’s blood paid for their sins and who’s resurrection defeated death. Being “in Christ” means that God has pledged his faithfulness and has forgiven our sin and his love for us does not waver based on our worthiness. Finally, they were called into fellowship with Christ. This means that their life is meant to be characterized by ongoing relationship with Christ. Their identity in Christ is infinitely more secure and meaningful than how the culture ranked them or any sort of identity their performance could merit. This fellowship with Christ means that when we sin we can repent and walk in the new life that God has already purchased for us in Christ.
Follower of Jesus, in Christ you are gifted and called by his grace. Your status as “saint” is not determined by your performance but the performance of Christ and the faithfulness of God which will never end (1 Corinthians 1:2, 8). As you fight sin and serve one another know that the Lord is with you and is faithful.
The Corinthians are gifted and called by God, yet we will learn of all their sins and failings as we move through the letter. Paul is reminding them here that their standing and gifts are all from God’s grace and that this should humble them to serve one another instead of ranking each other based on performance. The good news of Jesus is that our status as “saints” is not based on what we’ve done but what Christ has done.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Make a list of all the statements Paul makes about who they are as a church (identity statements) and what God has done for them.
How does this passage speak against pride, earning our place or ranking people’s value in Christ based on their gifting or merit? Based on what your knowledge of 1 Corinthians, how is pride and division an issue for this church?
Is this message relevant for the church today in our place and time?
Paul shifts his focus in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 to God’s faithfulness and sustaining grace in Christ. How does this practically help a follower of Jesus receive correction and grow in Christ?
Out of all the things discussed in this sermon, study guide and community group, which one is most challenging or encouraging to you right now and why?