Tuesday, November 22

Called According to Paul: 1 Corinthians 1

What did Paul mean when he used the word called in regards to God's calling? How did he define it? What significance did he give to it? Those are the questions this series of posts is seeking to answer. I've already posted a quote from Herman Ridderbos in which he gives us his studied view of Paul's usage of the word, and the point of these posts is to check things out to see if he's right.

I'm going to start with 1 Corinthians 1, for no real reason except the word called or calling is used of God's call several times there, and I know this passage fairly well, so I've got a bit of a head start on things. What I'll do is look at each instance of the word in the context it is used to see what I can learn about the way Paul uses the word from that. I'll not worry too much about the exact form of the word, but look at every usage that comes from the same root, as long as it is God doing the calling. Besides the text itself, I'm going to limit myself to my concordance, because that's a tool that most people have and know how to use.

  • Okay, here we go. Right off the bat, we have this:
    Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus... (verse 1)
    What can we learn from this verse? First of all, the call here is to apostleship. If you've read Paul at all, you know that he considered his apostleship to be a personal appointment from God, so we can understand that in this usage, the call is a call that is particular in nature and of some strength, like a summons, maybe. It is this call that made Paul an apostle rather than a more ordinary follower of Christ. This call also originates in God's will or choice, and it is to something: to be an apostle.

  • Next up:
    To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...(verse 2)
    The church is often refered to by Paul as the "called" or "called saints". Here he explains that this saintly calling is to all believers everywhere, but it is only to believers. So we can understand this call as well to be particular rather than general: to all who call upon the name of the Lord, but only to those who call upon the name of the Lord. And it is a call to something: to be saints.

  • Verse 9:
    God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
    This calling is also to something: into fellowship with God's son.

    Update: Brandon Watson adds:
    I think we see a bit of the power of God's call in verse 9, too, since the call seems to be put forward as part of the clarification of verse 8, i.e., that God will keep you firm to the end. The idea seems to be that, because God is faithful, His call is the explanation of our steadfastness in Christ.
    Here are verses 7-9 so you can see the flow of the thought:
    ....you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • Verses 23 and 24:
    we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    In these verses we see a little of the power within the call of God. The message of Christ crucified (or the gospel) is, in general, something that is despised as worthless or troublesome. It is offensive the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. However, there is an exception: to those who are called, from both Jewish people and Gentile people, the message of Christ crucified becomes the power and wisdom of God. This call then, changes how the message of the gospel is perceived. This is also a particular call rather than a general call, for it is to certain Jews and Greeks out of the Jews and Greeks in general.

    There's another statement in this passage that is quite parallel to this one, and sometimes by putting the phrases from the parallel statements side by side we can glean a little more about the meaning of the words. The parallel statement is in verse 18:
    For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
    Putting the two side by side:

    the word of the cross/
    the preaching of Christ crucified

    folly to those who are perishing/
    a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles

    but to us who are being saved/
    but to those who are called

    the power of God/
    the power of God and the wisdom of God

    Paul statements equate being called with being saved. It is "those who are called" who are "us who are being saved." This is a call that saves. This is a particular call, then, and a call with the power to save.

  • Verses 26-28:
    For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are...
    These verses are interesting because they show us again the parallel between God's choice and God's calling. God calls what (or whom) he chooses.

    This passage also stresses the insignificance of what (or who) is called. It is an "out of nothing" (things that are not) calling, wording that ought to bring us right back to God's creation of the world out of nothing by command, suggesting to us that this calling, like God's command in creation, is a creative command.

    Thats it. We've gone through the whole chapter. Since this is all very rough, and what you are reading is more or less a bunch of study notes, I'll ask what you see that I missed. What can you see in this passage about the meaning of the word called or calling when it is used by Paul in regards to the call of God?

    All scripture quoted from the ESV.
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