Every church is made up of imperfect people. Nevertheless, there is much to be thankful for! God is faithful to sustain us even when we don’t “have it all together.”
Now, as you can tell from the fact that we’re starting in verse 4 of the first chapter, we’re not very far into this book. We just started last week. And what we’ve discovered so far is that 1 Corinthians is a letter to the followers of Christ in a city called Corinth, written by a man named Paul. Paul was an Apostle, which was one of a small number of specially called leaders who had authority over the life and ministry of the early churches as the message of Christ spread in the 1st century.
Paul is writing to this church to give them some much needed correction and instruction – to help them understand what kinds of things they needed to change both individually, and as a church body. This is because word had gotten to Paul that there were certain sins which the people in the church continued to struggle with. And those sins, if left alone and not dealt with, would grow like a cancer and threaten the work of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s Kingdom in that city.
So, again, we’re in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. Let’s ask for God’s blessing on our time together, and then we’ll get into the Word. Beginning in verse 4 we read:
1 Corinthians 1:4–9 (ESV) - 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
What’s interesting here is how Paul begins his letter. We’ve just gotten past the greeting in verses 1-3, so this is the first real “meat” or content he’s sharing with the Corinthians. And instead of just diving into the correction and instruction, he first shares a little from his heart... He let’s them know he cares about them.
In verses 4-6, Paul expresses great thankfulness for the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 1:4–6 (ESV) - 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—
Paul makes a point of letting them know that he prays for them – that he thanks God for them. He genuinely cares about their wellbeing and their future. When he launches into stern exhortation in the pages to come, it’s not as one who is emotionally detached from their situation. It’s as a loving and gracious shepherd who is genuinely concerned for their maturity in Christ.
Paul gives thanks for the “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”. We spoke at length last week about how God’s favor comes through no merit of our own, but simply by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is thankful that these Corinthians had begun to develop a personal intimacy with God, through trusting in the message of the Gospel, Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.
He’s also thankful, according to verse 5, that they were enriched or gifted “in all speech and all knowledge”. The Corinthians, like all followers of Christ, had been blessed with various Spiritual Gifts. These gifts are given to individual believers to empower us to work together for the building up of Christ’s church. What’s interesting about Paul highlighting these gifts now, is that the Corinthians had been struggling with the proper use of Spiritual Gifts in general. It’s one of the areas that Paul is going to spend considerable time addressing later in the letter; he wants them to stop abusing the gifts, and instead to use them for God’s glory.
Nevertheless, with his Pastoral heart, Paul gives thanks for the Corinthians and the fact that they HAVE Spiritual Gifts because it’s a GOOD thing, even if they have misused them...
Actually, the fact that they have been blessed with these gifts is evidence that God is at work within them. In verse 6, Paul says that “the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you”. He’s saying that the way powerfully enabled the church for ministry was an evidence of that the message of the Gospel of Jesus was TRUE, and that they had believed in faith. God had begun to change them from the inside out, to renew their hearts and passions, and their gifts were confirmation of that spiritual renewal.
There was much to be thankful for. No, the Corinthians weren’t perfect. There were things that would need to be corrected. Sin which needed to be repented of. Practices which needed to be reformed. Yet Paul saw the Corinthians as a real and genuine church which had been called by the grace of God to believe in the Gospel of Jesus and be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. These were true Christians, who needed to grow even more in the grace and knowledge of Jesus – who needed to mature even more in their faith.
The Corinthians were followers of Christ, but they were immature. They needed to “grow up” a bit; to mature in the faith. To develop more Godliness in their lives, and separate themselves somewhat from many of the practices of their culture which were incompatible with Biblical faith.
Paul’s trajectory in this letter is to address these things, and to call the Corinthians to a life of holiness; a life in which our character is growing increasingly more and more like that of Christ. We call this process of growth “sanctification.”
Our increasing sanctification (growth in holiness) is an important part of the working out of our salvation in Christ. As a follower of Christ, if we are building intimacy with God in our lives, through prayer, the reading of scripture and applying it to our lives, it makes sense that we’ll begin to see God renew and transform us to be more like Him.
This kind of renewal is what Paul wants for the Corinthians, and what scripture directs all of us who follow Christ to seek for our own lives. However, there’s another aspect of our salvation that should be mentioned; one which Paul touches on briefly in verses 7 & 8:
1 Corinthians 1:7–8 (ESV) - 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul has already given thanks to God for the Corinthians, their faith in Christ, and their spiritual gifts. And now he makes reference to his hope for the future: the sustaining power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we come to saving faith in Jesus, we are sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as salvation is something that cannot be earned, it is also not something that can be lost.
Instead, through faith we are justified, which is an act of God declaring us righteous before Him, removing any wrath or penalty for sin (even though we are not yet perfect). Unlike sanctification, justification is not a process; it happens once, when we come to saving faith in Jesus.
Paul points us to the future return of Christ, the 2nd Coming, and encourages us to take hope as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s no reason to worry or fear the Lord’s return for those who have trusted in Christ! Since it is God who declares us righteous... and since this justification cannot be undone... it is God who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, our faith should give us great hope. It should cause us to look to the future with eager anticipation, as we await the Lord’s return.
Even in the case of the Corinthians, who were far from perfect, their faith in Christ would sustain them.
Even in our case, though we’re far from perfect, our faith, if genuine, will sustain us.
That really brings us to the big picture. And in a way, it’s sort of the driving thought behind the whole book:
1 Corinthians 1:9 (ESV) - 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is Faithful.
God is the one who called the Corinthians “into fellowship”. In other words, it’s God who called the Corinthians to faith in Jesus, and into the covenant community known as the church. It’s God who created this redemptive plan, and drew them into it.
And by extension, it’s God who calls us to into that same redemptive plan. God calls us to faith in Christ as well. Why? Because God is faithful.
If we could only wrap our minds around that truth. I mean fully embrace that God is Faithful. It would change our perspective. To trust in Him as the sovereign and loving God, and to take the things that “seem” good with the things that “seem” bad from our perspective, and recognize that all come from Him, but that since He’s faithful, it all is meant for His glory, that should bring us great peace and perhaps even change our perspective... But I digress.
Perhaps what’s most helpful to realize, as we wrap this up this morning, is that God being faithful means that God’s not done with us.
Paul took great efforts to assure us of God’s justification of the Corinthians, in part because he was going to spend so much time correcting them. In verses 1-3 he reminded them of his Authority: He’s an Apostle. That gives him street cred. They better listen up to what he’s about to share, because it’s coming from someone who has the God-ordained ability and right to speak into their lives.
But then, in verses 4-8, he took the opportunity to remind them that he cared for them. That he gives thanks for them. That he’s concerned for their well-being. That even in their imperfection, God is going to sustain them until Christ returns. It’s fatherly counsel... Like a big hug before a stern talk.
But in verse 9, he reminds them God is Faithful. It’s almost as if he’s implying what he wrote explicitly to the Philippians:
Philippians 1:6 (ESV) - And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God’s not done with them yet. And he’s not done with us.
My hope and prayer is that you have trusted in the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. For those of us who have trusted in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we have experienced regeneration, justification, adoption, and forgiveness of sin.
And we’re working on that sanctification thing, while we grow as disciples of Jesus, focused on His Great Commission.
There’s much to do. God’s not done with us.
And as we go forward in this book, we may find some things which challenge us. Exhort us. Stretch us.
May we give thanks for those things, because God is Faithful!