The Called Out Church

Written by Joel on January 26th, 2011


Jan 16, 2011
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9


This is the fist in a series in 1 Corinthians. I plan to spend the next seven weeks in this epistle.

To the church of God in Timberville, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours; Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These are powerful words are attributed to a particular church. It’s a reminder that the church is not ours, and that it’s purpose and very foundation is built upon the call which set the church into motion.

And these are humbling words: To the sanctified ones, the ones called to be holy. Could that possibly mean us? Sanctified? Holy? This may be strange and perhaps an impossible call upon us, and it would have been for the Christians in the Corinthian church as well.

Corinthian Background. Corinth was a major city in the Roman Empire, third in importance – behind Rome and Alexandria. It was an important economical and political center since it was at a major crossroads and had a port. As you may expect for a major city there were temptations of vice and immorality, like any major city today.

The church in Corinth was founded by Paul during one of his missionary journeys. He planted the church over a period of 18 months. It was mostly a Gentile church, the converts came from non-Jewish backgrounds. The Corinthian Christians faced similar challenges many Christians today face – living in a modern secular world and yet charged to be God’s holy church, especially as a small church. Scholars have suggested that the church of Corinth had 50 members, they didn’t even have a building – they met in members homes. But, it was a small church with problems.

Paul and the church in Corinth wrote several letters back and forth; mostly because there were issues in the church. We might have glorified notions of the perfect churches of the New Testament. But the Corinthians were not a perfect church. You will hear about these problems as we read Corinthians together over the next several weeks. There was division, immorality, and boasting in the church. Christians were suing each other, and there were divisions even as the community gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Some Christians claimed to belong to Paul, others Apollos, others to Christ himself; they were a spiritual church but members were boasting in their own spiritual gifts – not for the good of the community. There were allegations of immorality among the members; for all of these issues the Christians in Corinth wrote to Paul for help.

And so Paul begins his letter. You are sanctified; you are called; you are holy; you have Grace from God; Peace from Christ; you are not lacking in spiritual gifts; you are called and you are in fellowship with Christ. Paul will write to the church in Corinth: You got problems! …but that doesn’t change the fact that you are called, sanctified, holy, and full of grace and peace with Christ!

When I was in college, I explored a short term preaching opportunity. It was a small church in a nearby town seeking an interim preacher – perfect for a college kid with dreams of a call to the ministry. Someone from the church arranged a Sunday for me to come down and visit to worship with them. I remember it was a huge church taking up an entire city block in a town about the size of Harrisonburg. There were cracks in the foundation the paint was flaking and the decor hadn’t been upgraded since the 70s. For this church the size of a city block in the heart of down town there were 20 worshippers that Sunday. The current pastor was in the pulpit; he delivered his sermon and then the prayer and announcement time came. The pastor said something I don’t quite remember, but it must not have been very well to the liking of one of the church members; so much so that he interrupted the preacher and began a verbal argument – right there in the middle of the worship service. Some how everyone recovered from the service and it went on; then at the end I discovered it was the current pastor’s last Sunday; it was a farewell service – a seemingly not so happy farewell judging from the tone. The building was falling apart, the membership was dwindling, and they did not get along. That church had problems… and that church was holy and sanctified!

You see, Paul calls the church in Corinth holy and sanctified not because they have it all together, not because they have it all figured out, not because they are perfect Christians. They are called holy and sanctified because they are called by God. Being called, being the church is not so much about what the church does; it is more about what the church is. Called, holy, set apart.

This kind of call language is all over our scripture this morning. Verse 1) Paul, called an apostle. Verse 2) The church (the word for church, literally meaing called out); called his holy people; call on the name of the Lord; Verse 9) called you into fellowship.

I think there are a few ways to view this call language. Words have power; like in a marriage service pronouncing that the happy couple is now husband and wife – calling them at that time married; words are real. As a negative example think of your school days when kids were name calling other kids – those words really hurt and over time children take on those names, they become what they are called.

But it is a call as in the sense of vocation. A call comes from someone higher than ourselves. Called for a purpose, one that is meant for you; in this case a Christian community called out for God’s purpose. It makes me think of a soldiers in a military formation. One being called out; “Walkley, front and center.” What else can you do? You’re called out. No one else can go up for you, there is no passing the buck this time – it is you who is called out; for a purpose. I believe God continues to call his church to be holy, to be sanctified, with grace and peace, called to fellowship with his son Jesus Christ our Lord.


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