Connections 01.19.2020: Team Players

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Another college football season is behind us. I hope your team had a good year.

I watch a lot of college football. My Good Wife and I have season tickets to the games of the Mercer Bears, the gridiron representatives of our beloved alma mater. I’m a lifelong Georgia Bulldogs fan, so I watch or listen to as many of their games as I can.

Every player on a college football team has football-playing gifts. Some are more gifted than others. A team may even have a player that everyone acknowledges as the best player on the squad.

At the conclusion of a televised game, a sideline reporter will often interview the winning coach and one or two players who made a significant contribution to the victory. The interviewer may ask the player a question such as, “Can you tell us what happened on that play you made that sealed the victory for your team?”

I like it when the player responds with something like, “This was a team win. We won the game because we all pulled together. I’m just one member of the team.”

Such a response indicates that the player has a winning attitude. No doubt he knows how good a player he is. No doubt he knows that he has something to brag about. But he focuses on the team. He puts his particular gifts in the context of the team meeting its goals.

No football player is gifted enough to win a game by himself.

In this week’s lesson text, Paul says that he thanks God for God’s grace in which God has given the Christians in Corinth every spiritual gift they need. Paul expresses confidence that God will enable them to become as mature as they can possibly be.

But later in the letter, we learn that their spiritual gifts have become a source of division in the church at Corinth. Part of the problem is that some people think their gifts are more important than other people’s gifts.

In other words, individual members have come to value themselves over the body. They have put themselves ahead of the church.

Individual Christians should recognize, appreciate, value, and use their spiritual gifts. But we should do so in love. What does that mean? It means that we value others’ gifts as much as we do our own. It means that we care more about the church’s successful fulfilling of its purpose than we do about getting credit for our particular gift.

It means that we are, by the grace and love of God, team players.

Discussion

  • Read the entire passage. What does Paul say is already true of the Christians in Corinth? What does he say needs to become true of them? How will they make the progress Paul says they need to make?
  • Why do you think Paul says what he does in verse 2? Why does he tell the Corinthian believers that they are “called to be saints,” and that they are called “together with those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Why does he remind them that Jesus is “both their Lord and ours”? What point might Paul be trying to subtly make?
  • What is the source of the Corinthian Christians’ gifts? Why do they need to remember where their gifts come from?
  • Why is it important that we remember and focus on God’s faithfulness?

Reference Shelf

The thanksgiving makes several points that Paul develops later. First, Paul expresses his abiding concern for and pride in his Corinthian converts. They are in his prayers “always,” and he is grateful that God has “graced” them in Christ (v. 4). Furthermore, he acknowledges that God’s giving to them has been rich (v. 5); they are not lacking in grace-gifts (v. 7). He especially notes their richness in all speech and knowledge. As becomes clear later in the letter, eloquence in speech and privileged knowledge are two matters that Paul must confront. Later, he challenges their understanding and valuation of these gifts, but here Paul affirms their presence among his readers.

Second, Paul immediately places these signs of grace within a theocentric, even christocentric, context. They are gifts of God. God is the benefactor, not someone else. Pride in possessing signs of grace is undermined by the reminder that they are gifts, not accomplishments. Furthermore, the grace of God has been given in Christ. Paul refers to Christ no fewer than six times in his thanksgiving (vv. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; perhaps twice in v. 8). These references highlight Paul’s concern that his readers recognize the “Christ-like” nature of their existence and experience. They exist in Christ, and they experience God’s grace in Christ. God’s grace has not been bestowed on individual believers in isolation; they experience it through incorporation into the one through whom God has acted gracefully. The fact of their existence as church is confirmation of the effectiveness of the witness (martyrion) of Christ (v. 6). What Paul had, in fact, “witnessed” to the Corinthians through his preaching was the message of the cross of Christ (1:17–2:5). To the extent that the message of the cross both created them by calling them into the “communion” of Christ (v. 9) and shaped their existence, that witness was confirmed.

Third, while the Corinthian believers do not “lack” or “fall short” in the grace gifts lavished on the church, all is not complete. The “not lacking” is joined to the “not yet.” They hold these gifts while waiting for the revealing (apokalypsis) of the Lord Christ (v. 7). This “revealing” is joined to the “end” and the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” in v. 8. An association with eschatological judgment is apparent in Paul’s assurance that his readers will be confirmed as “blameless” on that day (whether by God or by Christ is unclear). This confident word seems somewhat odd in light of the numerous problems Paul seeks to correct in the rest of the letter. Perhaps, in order to secure a fair hearing from his audience, Paul engages here in heightened compliment. Perhaps, though, he proleptically announces what he hopes his letter will accomplish: the correction of the Corinthian church so that it will truly realize its calling into (eis) the communion (koinōnia) of Christ.

Fourth, the corporate nature of their existence in Christ is stressed, as in the address in v. 2b, by repeated use of plural pronouns… As a corporate body they have been graced by a God who has lavished grace-gifts upon them, so that they are not lacking as they wait corporately for the revealing of the one who is not only their Lord but also our Lord. Through our Lord the Corinthians believers have been called into the communion of our Lord, a communion that transcends individual possession or participation and the local collective body of believers in Corinth. Realizing the full nature of this communion in our Lord Jesus Christ constituted the fundamental challenge faced by the Corinthian church and the foremost challenge of Paul as he “strained upon the start” in penning the letter we know as 1 Corinthians.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009) 63-65.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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Comments

  1. Mike Bjorklund says

    I always like the different perspectives I get reading the commentary here. It adds to our lesson every Sunday.

    About the football – I’m not a football fan, but I am a musician. If you’re interested, here’s an old (but still funny) take on combining an athletic contest with a musical performance:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzXoVo16pTg

    Thanks for your work!