I know I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes and I guess this is one of those occurrences. I’ve been studying in 1 Corinthians off and on for several weeks, and God (I sure hope it’s the Lord and not some other source!) just emphasized a truth in my heart that I must share.
Paul begins this letter by naming these brothers and sisters the church of God, those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. He thanks God for extending grace to the Corinthian church, confirming they have been enriched in all speech and all knowledge, not lacking in any spiritual gift, and promises that Jesus will sustain them to the end, and they will be guiltless in the day of the Lord.
What strikes me first about Paul’s opening words is the absolute lack of any comments about good works of the Corinthians. The apostle’s every thought is focused on the grace, the generosity, the faithfulness and power of God and Jesus Christ, his Son. Paul assures these saints that they will be saved – Jesus “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And their salvation is sure because the God who called them into fellowship with his Son is faithful - period.
Paul must have said these things because the Corinthians were a strongly spiritual body of believers, right? Let’s check that out.
Only a couple of verses later Paul calls these same Christians to account for quarreling – wrangling and disputing over who is following the right preacher.
After reminding them in chapter 2 that they have received the Spirit who is from God, Paul issues another rebuke in 3: 2-3: “I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh (worldly-NIV), as infants in Christ… While there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” And so it goes. In chapter 4 Paul says they’re arrogant. Not only arrogant, but comfortable with the sexual immorality of one of their own (5:1, 6). Christians were warring against Christians in lawsuits before unbelievers – chapter 6 – and confusion flourished regarding many other matters as evidenced in the rest of the letter. Wow.
I’m afraid if I’d lived in that time, and heard about this church’s goings-on, I would have condemned the whole lot. Forget them, there is no way they’re saved with all that garbage going on.
However, how did Paul, acting through the Holy Spirit, look at these brothers and sisters? Did he write them off as a lost cause? Did he shake the dust off his feet and go to others who wouldn’t be so ornery? Did he take back everything he’d said about them in the beginning of his letter?
Paul was not a pushover; at times he demanded swift action in hopes of ultimately rescuing a wayward brother (1Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). He did not portray God as a tolerant old grandfather, willing to put up with anything. For instance, the apostle specified stern measures in the case of brothers and/or sisters practicing sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, drunkenness or defrauding (swindling). Not for revenge – but to induce them to return to the God of all mercy. That’s the opposite of writing them off – that’s loving enough to do whatever it takes. Just exactly what God always does for us.
Ours is a Father who overflows with grace and love – and pours a magnificent amount of that grace into us bumbling humans busy making a mess of a goodly number of things. Paul’s message to them and to us is not that we better shape up enough to be paragons of virtue by tomorrow, or at least by next Friday - or else. Instead he was intensely conscious of his role as one who wrestled those early disciples back to the cross again and again – to keep them faithful! “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm” (2Cor 1:24).
What peace and rest come when I get even a glimmer of this truth: “It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2Cor. 1:21-22). The seal of God on a person carries a lot more power than I ever before realized. One has to work awfully hard to leave God’s grace.
Paul stressed once more in 1Cor. 1:30 that God “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (emphasis mine).
What joy is ours when we realize, even a tiny bit, the love and mercy of God! What joy this understanding kindles in our souls! What renewed vigor to please the One who died for us! How wonderful this grace is.