. . . to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy (1 Cor. 1:2)
There was a moment when the parchment was blank.
There was a window of time, a long pause before taking up the pen, in which Paul had to determine where and how he would begin. A moment spent pacing the room. A moment spent rubbing the skin above his eyebrows trying to ignore the headache.
There were problems in Corinth. Paul had been thoroughly briefed on what was happening there. The news made him angry one moment and then broke his heart the next. Now it was time to respond. They had questions that needed answering. They were confused and needed counsel. Some of them were downright defiant and needed a firm rebuke.
New Testament scholars are not entirely clear as to whether Paul wrote the letter or spoke his thoughts as Sosthenes wrote them down. It really doesn’t matter how the letter was composed. At some point the parchment was blank, waiting for words, waiting to become the conduit of Paul’s heart and voice. The issues in Corinth formed a pile of debris in his mind. How would he sort through it all? Where would he begin?
We might expect Paul’s opening words to be a direct assault on their failures. That’s not what we get. Instead we read this surprising line, a tender address to a wayward but loved people: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.”
That’s how Paul saw them. That’s who they were. A people set apart and called to holiness. Their calling defined them more than their conduct did.
The morally confused and sexually promiscuous Corinthians were sanctified people called to holiness. The bickering factions of people who claimed to be followers of Jesus were sanctified people called to live holy lives. The socially elite and intellectually enlightened who acted arrogantly towards others in the church were sanctified and called to holiness. The teachers who confused error and truth were likewise called to holiness.
Paul began by speaking to the Corinthians based on who they were in Christ, not on how they were acting.
Every day we get to make decisions about how we will respond and relate to those around us. The golden rule tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated. That sounds nice - but after a while it becomes evident that no matter what we do people aren’t going to treat us as we wish to be treated. We begin to relate to them based on their behaviors and actions.
Their rudeness evokes our own rudeness. Their failures prompt our disdain. Their disregard for us makes us angry. We label them in our minds. The question we have to answer every day is this: will I relate to this person based on how they act or based on who they truly are – a person created and loved by God.
Paul managed to see the Corinthians in light of what Jesus had done for them. He did not speak to them based on their success in being like Jesus. He began his letter by reminding them of their true identity. Maybe he was also reminding himself. To truly believe that the most difficult people in my life are people made in God’s image will change how I deal with them. A difficult boss, a difficult child, a difficult client, all of them are something other than what they do. They are more than how they act.
And so are you. “Called to holiness” is the true you. That’s how God sees you.
How do you see those whom you deal with every day? How do you see yourself?
Merciful God, help me today to see others as you see them. Guard from quick judgments and knee-jerk responses based on how they act or how they behave. Forgive me when I dismiss those whom you died to save. Remind me that I too stand constantly in need of grace, and grant me the grace I need through Christ our Lord. Amen