Text: I Corinthians 1:9
Psalters: 228, 347, 241(1-4, 7), 429 (1, 2, 4)
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul teaches, rebukes, and encourages the saints of God, that they might better live a godly, antithetical life. His teachings regard fundamental doctrines and practices which the church in Corinth did not fully appreciate – regarding Christ’s resurrection, the Lord’s Supper, and Christian marriage, for instance. His rebukes point out their many sins and shortcoming; the church in Corinth was a very worldly church, which was split into factions and tolerated fornication in her midst.
The church of God, rebuked often for her sins, might become discouraged. We as individual children of God are also prone to discouragement, when we repeatedly see our sins and failures, or when others point them out to us.
To avoid this, the apostle encourages the church early on in the epistle. He encourages God’s people first by acknowledging that they are called to be “saints” (vs. 2). Sinners they appear to be, and certainly are. But also saints, sanctified in Christ! Secondly, Paul encourages them by telling them that he thanks God for the measure of grace manifest in them. That grace is chiefly manifest by their watching for the coming of Jesus Christ (vs 7). And thirdly, he encourages them by reminding them of God’s faithfulness – the faithfulness of that God who called them out of sin, unto sainthood. This is God’s word to the church in our text: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In other words, as the church receives rebukes and admonitions, she must know that God will enable her to fight against her sins, to grow in sanctification, and to live to the glory of His name! Every child of God must know this to be true of him or her personally, as well. If God, who called us unto the fellowship of His dear son, is faithful, then He will preserve us in that fellowship, and cause us to grow in it! Let us therefore examine:
THE FAITHFUL GOD WHO CALLED US
I. The Caller
II. His Calling Of Us
III. His Faithfulness
I. THE CALLER
The child of God, faced with the reality of sin in his life, is encouraged by knowing God rightly. So God in our text, in order to bestow encouragement on His people, gives instruction regarding Himself. Our text teaches us about God’s faithfulness, and about His faithfulness as manifest in His work of calling us.
In addition to the faithfulness of God, our text teaches us two other truths about God. The first is that He is the one, only God. Our King James Version does not translate the word “the”; but it is found in the Greek original: “Faithful is the God.” He who is faithful is the one true God.
This the apostle must emphasize, because the Corinthians had come out of idolatry. He must be sure they are thinking now not of the gods they used to know, but of Jehovah God. Idols are not faithful; but Jehovah is.
Even if we were born and raised in the covenant, this point is also relevant for us. For idolatry is all around us! Society serves many idol gods. By nature, apart from grace, we also serve many idol gods – the gods of pleasure, of materialism and consumerism, and of self. But none of these gods are faithful. Rather, they are fickle and changing. They cannot give us happiness. They cannot supply us with the graces of sanctification and preservation. So we must understand that the God who is faithful is the one true God.
This emphasis on God’s oneness also underscores His uniqueness. Jehovah God is a glorious Being, Who shares His glory with none other. The God who calls us to serve Him makes known that He is the only good and glorious being. Understanding Jehovah as the only true God, unique in every respect, the child of God says: “How privileged I am to know Him! What a blessing it is to serve Him!” Let this understanding of God’s uniqueness motivate us to holy fellowship with God in Christ.
The second truth about God underscored in our text is that He is a calling God. “Faithful is the God, by whom ye were called.”
In speaking of God’s work of calling, the text refers to the gracious and saving work of God calling His people unto fellowship with Him in Jesus Christ. But let us see for a moment that this saving work of God is one of several evidences that God is a calling God. We simply mean that He is one who speaks, who commands with authority. And when He commands, all creation obeys Him. That is the kind of God we have. He does not call, and command, and plead, and say, “Won’t you please obey Me? Won’t you please do this or that?” When He speaks, all obey.
This sovereign, efficacious call of God was manifest first in creating the world out of nothing. How did God create? He called! Genesis 1 teaches this. There was no light, until God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light – the light obeyed! Such is the power of God’s call.
The sovereignty and power of God’s call is seen also in raising our dead bodies. Think of how Lazarus’ body was raised. Jesus stood at the opening of the grave, and called, “Lazarus, come forth.” And then Lazarus did not argue, and did not debate whether he should come forth or not. Jesus’ call caused Lazarus to come forth. So it will be with your body and mine when Christ comes again: He will raise us from the dead by calling us.
God’s powerful call is further manifest in His providential government of all history. Isaiah 45 speaks of Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians, as the servant of God. Now Cyrus was not the servant of God in the sense that he was a regenerated child of God. Rather, he was God’s servant because he was the one God had appointed from eternity, and raised up in time, to allow the captives to go back to Jerusalem. So God says to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:4: “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name . . .” God called Cyrus to be king, to serve God in freeing His people from bondage. And this Cyrus did – God’s call caused Cyrus to obey. So we see that God is a calling God, in all of life.
We must never forget two points about God’s work of calling. The first is that God calls things that are not. Here we see that God does something no man could ever do. We call things that are, such as our children, or our pets. And the very reason that we can call them, and command them to do something, is that they already exist, and so will hear. But God calls that which is not, and it obeys! The work of calling, as our text speaks of it, is a distinctively divine work.
Secondly, God’s call is always efficacious and irresistible. No man, though he detest Jehovah God from the bottom of his heart, can ever refuse to serve Jehovah, when Jehovah appoints him to serve a certain place in the history of the world and church. In spite of themselves, the wicked serve the church, because God’s call is irresistible and efficacious. And God’s people, not in our own power, obey God’s law, once we have been called unto salvation!
We emphasize the point that God is a calling God, to set the background for what the text speaks of particularly – His work of calling us: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
II. HIS CALLING OF US
Now we are speaking of the gracious, irresistible, saving work of God whereby He speaks in the word of the gospel, to the elect, regenerated sinner, causing us to understand Him, and delivering us from the darkness of sin and unbelief to the light of faith and obedience. That was a long sentence, wasn’t it? Let us explain it more.
God’s saving call is a call to a particular people – His church and saints. Those whom God calls, the apostle will show in verses 26ff, are nobodies, from the world’s viewpoint. They are not wise, nor mighty, nor of noble parentage and birth; rather, they are foolish, weak, and lowly in the sight of men. Those who are called know themselves to be sinners, unworthy of God’s grace, deserving of His everlasting wrath. Yet God knows them as those whom He chose from eternity to be His people; those for whom Christ died and arose; those in whom the Spirit implants the new life of Christ; those made saints, and brought into the church of Christ. Not every human, but some, a definite number, are called.
When God calls us, He speaks to us. He does so, as we stand by nature in the world of sin and unbelief and ungodliness; loving the lie; and hating the law. And to us He says: “Come out of such ungodliness and unbelief. Stop having ungodly ambitions. Don’t strive after worldly greatness. Stop having fellowship with unbelievers. And come into the knowledge of the truth; walk in the light; and enjoy the saving fellowship of Jesus Christ, your Lord.”
This speech of God by which He calls is really nothing else than the voice of Jesus Christ. Christ emphasizes this in John 10:3, calling Himself the Good Shepherd. Just as the earthly shepherd goes to the pen in which the sheep and goats of many different masters have spent the night, and calls his own by name to follow him, so does Jesus Christ call His own sheep, with His own voice, and they come.
This call comes to us through the preaching of the gospel, as the Spirit works by that preaching to save the elect. The first four chapters of I Corinthians explain this point.
Regarding the content of the preaching which constitutes God’s saving call of His people, Paul will say in verse 23, “We preach Christ crucified.” This Christ crucified is not the folly after which the Greeks seek, nor the signs which the Jews want. But for all that, preaching Christ crucified is, “unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (vs 24).
In chapter 2:10, Paul will emphasize that it is not the preaching alone, but it is the preaching as the Holy Spirit uses it, that constitutes the call of God. Man by nature cannot understand the gospel, as set forth in Scripture and in the preaching: “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” In other words, the child of God hears the call of God when the Holy Spirit, using the preaching of the gospel, works faith in our hearts, to hear our Savior speaking to us. When you love to hear the gospel preached, and testify that you hear Christ in the preaching of the gospel, you give evidence that you are called.
Our text tells us that God has called us “unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.”
To be called unto something, always implies being called from something. We read in Hosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out ofEgypt. Egypt is typical of the bondage of sin, and the darkness of unbelief. Out of it, God called us.
When He separated us from this bondage of sin and unbelief, He did not leave us in a vacuum; rather, He separated us unto Himself – “unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.” What is that fellowship? It is the sharing in Christ’s His resurrection life. That we participate in all the blessings He earned for us on the cross, that we serve Him and each other with all the gifts, talents, abilities, and opportunities He has given us, and that we glorify God in every aspect of our life, is the enjoying of that fellowship.
To have fellowship with God and Christ, we must understand Christ to be our only and complete Savior. And so the text identifies Him: He is Christ, the anointed of God, Head and Mediator of His church. He is Jesus, Jehovah, come in our flesh to accomplish that salvation. He is the Son of God – God’s only begotten Son, according to other Scripture passages. And, through the work that He performed on the cross of calvary, He is our Lord. It is our complete and all sufficient savior, our Lord who redeemed us with body and soul, who now delights in fellowship with us, and so calls us into fellowship with Him!
Beloved, do you sense the wonder of it? Why were we called? Why were we not left in the darkness of sin and unbelief? Why does the gospel come to us, and say to us, “You are delivered from sin; now live in fellowship with Christ your Lord.” Why? Oh, the greatness of God’s grace! For the reason is not that we were worthy of it; we are sinners! And the reason is not that we are the least of sinners, better than all other sinners; each of us must know ourselves to be great sinners! But the reason is this: God, who from all eternity delighted in fellowship within His Triune Being, desired to bring us, humans, sinners, into His covenant life, to enjoy fellowship with Him, in the way of separating us from our sins, and consecrating us to Himself! This is amazing grace!
And now, says the text to those who have been called unto such fellowship with God in Christ, the God who called you is faithful.
III. HIS FAITHFULNESS
We know what it means that God is faithful. It means He is trustworthy. He is dependable. He is unchanging. He keeps His promises. He acts toward us today the same way He acted in times past toward His people. This is God’s faithfulness.
This faithfulness of God is a matter of His Being. It is not just that He chooses to be faithful. It is not just that He is such a strong God that He will be faithful, even though the thought may cross His mind, from time to time, that maybe He should cast off this people, and take away the grace He has given them. No. God cannot be unfaithful. He declares through Malachi (3:6), “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Because He is the eternal, triune, unchanging God, we know that He is faithful.
When speaking of God’s faithfulness, we ought not overlook its supreme manifestation – that is, His punishing of Christ on our behalf. Here Christ bore our guilt, curse, and corruption for sin – for God cannot have fellowship with those whose guilt He sees! Here Christ earned God’s favor for us, by obtaining for and restoring to us His righteousness. And on the basis of this death, God in Christ bestows every saving good upon His people – the benefits of His new life, faith, justification, sanctification, preservation, glorification, and all the rest.
This bestowal of every saving food upon us manifests God’s faithfulness. God would never have sent His Son to endure hellish agonies on our behalf, if He did not intend to bestow on us every single last blessing, that He will give us as His covenant people. God is faithful.
To appreciate this faithfulness, we must see and confess our own sins. We cannot ignore them or cover them up, and then find comfort in belonging to a faithful God and Savior. But we must acknowledge them, in all their greatness. We did this today, didn’t we, when we heard the law of God read again, and examined ourselves in light of it? None of us could say, “I have loved God perfectly, and my neighbor as myself.” Each had to confess our sinfulness.
This acknowledgment of our sinfulness is what sometimes causes God’s people to despair. Understand that this is not God’s gracious purpose for causing us to see our sins; His purpose is to show us our need for Christ and His righteousness. But Satan wants us to look at how great our sins are, and conclude that we could not possibly be God’s children; that we have never been called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ; that we are not saints, not part of the church of Christ; but that we are in fact hypocrites, members of a church on earth when we are not saved at all. Satan whispers in our ear: if you were God’s child, you would be less sinful than you really are! And when one believes Satan on this point, then he loses all motivation to fight sin, and to strive to live a godly life!
So God reminds His church, and us as individual members, that Satan is wrong on this point. God is faithful! And He has called us unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ! From these truths we must conclude that, because God who called us is faithful, He will gives us the grace we need every step of the way, to hear admonition after admonition, rebuke after rebuke, and not despair. We can live a sanctified, godly life! The power to do so is in God, who called us. And when He begins a work in us, He performs unto the day of the coming of Christ.
Children, take this word to heart. Do your parents always seem to be telling you, “Don’t do that. You must not live that way. You are doing something wrong.” And then children, do you ever wonder to yourselves, “How will I ever do it right?” Here is the answer. God is faithful. Do you seek the power of His grace?
It is not just a word for children. Adults, is it your wife, your husband? Is it a fellow saint? Is it the elders of the church, who time and time again point out our weaknesses and shortcomings, and call us to obedience? Is it that fellow saint whom we think to be so godly and perfect that we could never be like him or her? Remember: “God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ.”
And this word we must remember, whose duty it is to rebuke others. Are you the parent who must often rebuke your child for his sin? Are you the spouse or fellow saints who has to rebuke others? Or the elders who must rebuke those in the congregation? Do not despair of the work of God’s grace in that other person, and do not rebuke them only, but bring the gospel also, and encourage the sinner by it. And here it is: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of this Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” In His faithfulness, He will use rebukes to build up His saints in godly living! And in His faithfulness, He will preserve us unto the end, that we be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus.