Thanking God for our church – lesson 1 from 1 Corinthians

How do you feel about your church? When you think of your church, do you get excited or depressed? Do you think of strengths or weaknesses? Do you think of what is happening or what is not happening? How do you feel about your church? How do you view those who are a part of your church?

Imagine with me a church wracked with divisions and factions. There are preaching cults where church members favor one particular preacher over another. Imagine a church filled with sexual immorality. Some of the members are visiting prostitutes. One church member is having an affair with his stepmother. Imagine a church where believers don’t work out their problems. Instead, they sue each other in secular courts. Imagine a church where debates rage on topics like Christian liberty, men’s and women’s roles, prophecies, and speaking in tongues. And to top it off, imagine a church where the Lord’s Supper is abused and a significant number do not even believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ!

The church I just described is the first-century church of Corinth…a church that the apostle Paul founded! Now how do you feel about your church? Do you feel any differently? Perhaps you are slightly encouraged that things in your own church aren’t nearly as bad as you thought. Regardless, the question that begs to be answered is: How did Paul respond to this unlovable church that only a controversial talk show host could love? Paul surprises us and responds with optimistic thanksgiving. Why is Paul thankful for the Corinthian church? Because God gives His church every gracious gift and keeps His church secure in His faithfulness. We could say it like this: “God gives and God keeps.” In 1 Cor 1:1-9, Paul pens a greeting and thanksgiving to the church at Corinth. In these nine verses, Paul will answer the inevitable question: Why should we give thanks to God for our church? Paul gives two reasons: (1) God gives His church every gracious gift, and (2) God keeps His church secure in His faithfulness.

  1. God gives us every gracious gift(1:1-7). Paul begins the book of 1 Corinthians by penning these words: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1:1). One of Paul’s primary themes in chapter one is what it means to be “called.” Here in 1:1, Paul describes himself as one whom God has “called” to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. In 1:2, Paul informs the Corinthians that they are saints by “calling.” In 1:9, Paul closes our section by referring to those whom God “called” into fellowship. In 1:24, Paul speaks of Jews and Gentiles who “are called.” In 1:26, he speaks of the Corinthians call to salvation. The idea of God’s calling is everywhere in this chapter! For Paul, God’s call to salvation and apostleship was essential to life and ministry. It reminded him that his true allegiance was to God, not man. Paul goes on to state that he was called “by the will of God.” This gave him an even greater sense of confidence and perseverance.

Have you ever considered your calling? Could it be that you are “called” to be a small business owner, a teacher, or a homemaker? I would argue that God has a calling for each one of our lives. This “call” will keep us persevering in our vocation. Let’s face it, owning your own business is stressful, and so is being a teacher or a homemaker. But when we understand that we have a calling from God, we can persevere when things are discouraging and difficult.

Before moving on to 1:2, Paul tacks on the phrase, “and Sosthenes our brother” (1:1). Who is Sosthenes and why does Paul bother mentioning him? Most likely, Sosthenes was the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:17). He was with Paul in Ephesus, when Paul penned this epistle. He was serving as Paul’s right-hand man. In ministry, we all need support and encouragement. If you are looking and praying for such a person(s), God will provide you support and encouragement as you serve Him. He loves to give us every gracious gift.

Paul continues his introductory remarks in 1:2, where he writes: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Paul wants us to understand several important truths about the church.

God gives us a new leader. Paul writes, “To the church of God.” How often we hear churches identified in terms of who the pastor is. That is ______’s church, and we fill in the blank with the pastor’s name. When we do so we are not in line with Paul, who believed that the church belongs to God. God is the One who brought the church into existence through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. God is the One who sustains His church. It is God’s church. Since the church belongs to God, we need to ask: “What does God want us to accomplish at our church?” “Who does God want us to reach?” “How will God be glorified in our gatherings?” The church belongs to God so it should be about Him. He alone is our leader.

God gives us a new family. Paul writes that the church of God includes “all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When God thinks of the church, He thinks of the “city church” (i.e., the group of all believers in a particular city, or the church at a particular city). The church of God extends beyond a particular local church. In fact, every local church, regardless of size, is like a pebble on a beach. Yet, it can be easy to think that we are the only pebble on the beach. Here, Paul lays waste to this mentality. He wants us to know that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re all little pebbles on God’s endless kingdom beach. Our theology must be “one church; many congregations.” With this is mind, how are you encouraging other Christians in various churches in our county? Are you speaking well of other churches? Do you desire their success? This is God’s heart.

God gives us a new identity. In this context, the word “sanctified” is a metaphor for conversion (cf. 1:30; 6:11). The Corinthians were saints by divine calling, not by their conduct. A “saint” is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use. In other words, every true believer is a saint because every true believer has been set apart by God and for God. What an encouragement! Regardless of our behavior and in the midst of some our most difficult times, God continues to see us as His people. Like Paul, we must establish our identity first. Who we are in Christ is the foundation that cultivates us to become fruitful in Christ.

In 1:3, Paul greets the church at Corinth: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This greeting sums up Paul’s whole theological outlook. “Grace” (charis) speaks of God’s free gift to us in Christ. Grace not only forgives us when we sin, it empowers us so that we will not sin. Grace helps us to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Christ. Grace shows up beforehand so that we don’t have to blow it. “Peace” (shalom) means more than “peace” does in English. It means not the absence of strife, but the presence of positive blessings. It is the prosperity of the whole person, especially his spiritual prosperity. God gives us every gracious gift.

Like in his other epistles, Paul follows his greeting with an expression of thanksgiving for the church at Corinth. Why does Paul give thanks? Paul does not give thanks for the sins and failures of these saints. Paul gives thanks to God for what He has done and for what He will ultimately do for His children. Paul’s introduction is distinct from introductions to his other epistles in that he fails to commend these believers. Instead, he elaborates on their position and blessings in Christ and His faithfulness to confirm them to the end. What an important lesson for us! May we always remember what God has done and ultimately will do. If Paul could be thankful for the church at Corinth, we can be thankful for our church and all of our mission churches. Instead of complaining about petty things, why not focus on the blessings of our church?

In 1:4-7, Paul writes, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul expresses thanksgiving for the grace of God. He acknowledges that in “everything” God has “enriched” the church at Corinth. Particularly, they have been blessed in “all speech and all knowledge.” By “speech” (logos) the apostle means speaking the Word through tongues and prophecy. “Knowledge” (gnosis) refers to their spiritual insight. We can sum up “speech” and “knowledge” as “the telling forth of truth and the grasp of truth.” These are certainly important gifts, but we will find out in chapters 12-14 that they were abusing these very gifts. That is why Paul thanks God for their giftedness, not so much their use of their gifts.

We can learn a great deal about spiritual gifts from these four verses. Consider these three truths:

God gives us the necessary spiritual gifts. The church at Corinth possessed every spiritual gift…and they were not a very spiritual bunch! This should serve to remind us that every Christian, regardless of his or her spiritual maturity, has been given at least one spiritual gift. This means every Christian is immediately useful to Christ and His church with a unique opportunity for ministry. God has given our body every spiritual gift necessary to accomplish our purpose.

God empowers us through the use of spiritual gifts. The church will never be all that she could be unless all God’s people are using their spiritual gifts. Regardless of how big or small you think your gift is, God wants you to use it. God uses seemingly unimpressive gifts to accomplish His purposes.

God wants us to be faithful in the use of spiritual gifts. We do not need to seek additional gifts or experiences, as many do today, though we may need training in the use of the gifts we already have. And God may graciously choose to grant us additional ones as we grow. But our primary task is to act in faithful obedience to God and service to his people with what we have already been given. Gifts are not necessarily mature at the time of discovery…they are developed through practice.

I probably don’t need to tell anyone here that today is a football Sunday. Many of us will watch the game. My question is: Will any of you go out during halftime and throw the football around? Probably not, right? You’ll be feeding your face! Yet, in the past men and women would exercise and play sports together. But now we tend to just watch other people play. We are “armchair athletes.” I’m afraid that there are many “armchair athletes” or “pew potatoes” in our church. This violates the Scriptures and the entire thrust of Christianity. God expects each one of us to find our niche in ministry. As our heavenly coach, God has expectations of us. Will we follow His game plan and serve the body of Christ? We are not lacking gifted people; we are lacking faithful people. What has God called you to do? How will you contribute? May we not complain; may we contribute. May we not sin; may we serve.

[Why should we give thanks to God for our church? Because God gives our church every gracious gift. But not only does God give our church every gracious gift, we will also see that…]

  1. God keeps us secure in His faithfulness(1:8-9). In 1:8, Paul promises his readers that it is God “who will also confirm you [plural] to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word for “confirm” (bebaioo) suggests that Paul is using a legal metaphor, illustrating that God has completed a contract with the church at Corinth. This indicates that believers have God’s guarantee that they shall be in His presence at Christ’s return. They will be “blameless” (lit., “chargeless” or “unimpeachable”). The word implies not merely acquittal, but the absence of even a charge or accusation against us. It means every Christian will stand before the Lord guiltless, because God has imputed the guilt of our sins to Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 5:1; 8:1). We have the witness of the Spirit within us and the witness of the Word before us, guaranteeing that God will keep His “contract” with us and save us to the very end. This guarantee is certainly not an excuse for sin! Rather, it is the basis for a growing relationship of love, trust, and obedience.

I need to ask you a bizarre question. Are you a “cat” Christian or a “monkey” Christian? There is a big difference. Notice how a mother cat carries her kittens—she grasps them by the neck with her teeth. On what does the kitten’s security depend? The mother. By contrast, the baby monkey grasps its mother with its tiny paws and hangs on for dear life. On whom does the baby monkey’s security depend? Itself! Does your security in salvation rest upon your ability “to hang onto God,” or does it depend on God’s ability to keep you?

Our passage closes in 1:9 with another great promise: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” How could Paul be so confident that the Corinthians would be “blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Because his confidence was not in the Corinthians themselves, but in God. The question is not, “Can I keep going as a believer?” Rather, the question should be, “Can I rely on God?” Paul states that everything is grounded in the fact that God is faithful. Our preservation is a sure thing! God is faithful to us even though we are often unfaithful to Him (2 Tim 2:13). Paul’s confidence in 1:9 is based upon his certainly in 1:2—God’s call. Paul’s confidence that his readers would one day stand without guilt before the Lord did not rest on the Corinthians’ ability to persevere faithfully to the end. It rested on God’s ability and promises to preserve them. Since we too are “saints by calling,” God will ensure our salvation.

It is worth noting that most of the verbs in 1:2-9 are passive—God is the One that is acting upon the Christians! It is God who sanctifies (1:2), who gives (1:4), who makes rich (1:5), who confirms (1:6), and who calls (1:9). Furthermore, the last words of our passage are “Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is in Jesus Christ our Lord that we must daily depend upon. Nine times in nine verses, Paul focuses us on Jesus Christ. If this was Paul’s focus, this must be ours as well. Salvation and assurance is all about God’s promise to keep us, through the Lord Jesus.

A common hindrance to discipleship maturity is a lack of assurance. The disciple that lacks assurance will lack confidence, love, joy, peace, and comfort in the Lord (James 3:13-17). Such a one may also lose a good conscience and confidence in prayer (1 John 3:20-23). Furthermore, the disciple that lacks assurance will be distracted from making other disciples (Matt 28:19-20). Yet, these consequences do not have to belong to any disciple. This is why Paul begins his letter by affirming that we have been positionally sanctified in Christ (1:2). He then explains that God has given us gracious gifts (1:4-7). This past action is linked with a future promise: God will confirm us to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:8). This act of confirmation suggests that on account of simple faith in Christ, every believer will be legally blameless before the justice bar of God.

In 1937, the great Golden Gate Bridge was completed. It cost $77 million. The bridge was built in two stages: the first slowly and the second rapidly. In the first stage, no safety devices were used. As a result, 23 men fell to their deaths. However, for the final part of the project a large net was used as a safety precaution. At least ten men fell into it and were saved from certain death. Yet, even more interesting is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished after the net was installed. Why? Because the men had the assurance of their safety and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project. Likewise, those who have been saved by God’s grace have been given a safety net. His name is Jesus Christ. On account of His person and work, we can have complete confidence in our relationship with God.

Why should we give thanks to God for our church? Because God gives us every gracious gift and keeps us secure in His faithfulness. Don’t ever forget, “God gives and God keeps.”

Copyright © 2007 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.

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