Fellowship of the Called Ones

by Spiros Zodhiates

"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2).

You hear people say, "Can't I be a Christian without joining the church?" Yes, it is possible, but it is something like being a student who will not go to school, a soldier who will not go to battle, a citizen who refuses to pay taxes or vote, a football player without a team, a scientist who does not share his findings, or a bee without a hive. Saint of God, do not look down on the local church. Imperfect as it may be, it is still God's primary organizational unit for the benefit of all saints. Seek a local church where there are other saints of God.

But just one word of warning: Only saints-that is, those who are in Christ-should be admitted to a Bible-believing church. They are the ones who constitute the church universal.

But lest anyone think that the saints have earned the right to that title by their own efforts, or have been so constituted by their fellow members, Paul adds two words, kle\tos hagois, "called to be saints."

Throughout the New Testament, the believers in Christ are referred to as "the called ones," those who have received the invitation of Christ to repent and believe, and have obeyed Him. Paul is a "called" apostle, and they are "called" saints. It is the same word in both instances. It refers among other things to their having experienced a radical change. Paul could not have become an apostle without first having believed in Christ; and these saints could not have belonged to the church as saints without first of all becoming believers.

Holy life is not achieved by human effort but by the indwelling Christ. As He lives in us, we die unto self. We are not saints by human effort any more than Paul became an apostle by anything he did, but by divine grace in Christ. Our position in the church of God is not due to merit but to submission to Christ. The emphasis is on the One who effectively calls and shapes us to conform to His will.

This One who called Corinthian sinners to be saints is the same Lord today. What He did for them He can do for us. If the name "saint" applied to them, why should it not apply to us? The church in Corinth was in no way superior to the average congregation today. They were saints, not angels. They had their failings. They quarreled and split up into factions, and were very fond of having their own way. They had the same passions as we do. And yet they were sanctified in Christ Jesus and "called saints." God called them. And if you believe substantially and fundamentally as they did, you also are His "called saints."

Paul did not write this epistle only for the Corinthian saints. It was meant to meet their particular needs, of course, but its application was to be more general. That is why he adds, "with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Observe the conjunction he uses. It is not the common ka, "and," but sn, "with." He was not addressing directly all the saints of God everywhere, but he wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were not the only saints in the church of God.

What a wonderful feeling it should give every local assembly of believers to realize that God's family is larger than their little congregation-that He has His saints everywhere.

Yet in this realization lies an incipient danger-the danger of thinking that, since there are so many belonging to the church, why not "Let George do it"? I'm reminded of the eastern story of four brothers who decided to have a feast. As wine was rather expensive, they agreed that each one should bring an equal quantity and add it to the common stock. But one of the brothers thought he might escape making his contribution by bringing water instead, reasoning, "It will not be noticed in the common wine jar." But when the wine was poured out, it turned out not to be wine at all but plain water. All four brothers had the same thought. Each one had said, "Let the others do it."

This is a real danger in the church. While we realize that there are other brothers and sisters in the church of God, we must work as if there were none when it comes to fulfilling our personal responsibility as saints of God.

Let's Not Be Church Snobs

Why is it that while Paul wants the Corinthians to think of themselves as "saints"-set apart and sanctified-when he bids them look at others in the church, he directs them to look not at their character, but at their confession of faith, as those who "call upon the name of the Lord"?

When you look inside yourselves, he implies, I want you to be strict in your judgment. Do not hesitate to judge yourselves. But when it comes to others, all you can do is take them into your consciences as fellow believers on the basis of their calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

The adjective kle\ts and the plural form kle\to, referring to the calling of Paul as an apostle and to the believers he is addressing as saints, have a passive significance, stressing the One who is calling rather than the ones called. It is as if Paul were saying, "When it comes to my apostleship it is all due to God, the Author of it; and when it comes to your saintliness, that, too, is due to God."

Fellow Christians, when we look into our own lives and see ourselves as saints, let us not become puffed up as though we had achieved this high calling through our own merit and effort. The good that is in us must always be ascribed to God, the Author and Finisher of our faith. But when we look at our fellow believers, we should not judge, but accept them because they call upon the Lord. We are not and cannot be judges of our fellowman.

An old fable tells of a man cursed with the power of seeing other human beings, not in the beauty of flesh and blood, but as gaunt and grisly skeletons. Some saints seem to have taken upon themselves this curse. Do you feel that you are the only one who is right with the Lord-that everybody else is a spiritual skeleton because he is not of the same denominational stripe, or does not have the same scruples of conscience as you? Take him or her into your circle of believers as Paul did, as long as they are calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Corinthians were both educated and wealthy. Consequently they were proud even after they became Christians. They had a tendency to look upon Christians living elsewhere with a spirit of contempt. That is why, at the very beginning of his letter, Paul seeks to make them conscious of the fact that there were others who held the faith of Christ in common with them. When he reminds them of "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours," he does not use the definite article "the" before the name of the Lord, but the possessive plural pronoun "our"-even as our Lord taught us to pray, "Our Father which art in heaven" (Matt. 6:9).

Whenever you think of your relationship to God, remember that you are not the only child of God.

From A Richer Life in Christ (an Exegetical Commentary on First Corinthians Chapter One), published by AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN

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