You read the opening verses of 1Corinthians and, if you’ve read the letter before and you’re at all familiar with this rag tag, dysfunctional group of believers (check out 5:1-6 and 11:17-22), you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is Paul just being really nice up front because he knows he’s going to lower the boom on them later? Or, does he really believe the stuff he’s saying about them?” I’m thinkin’ he really believes it.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .
(1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ESV)
Really Paul? Give thanks for God’s grace to them in enriched speech and knowledge even though you know that for many the knowledge just caused their egos to swell (8:1)? Commend them for not “lacking in any gift” while you know very well you’re going to correct them for childishly using the gifts to promote and elevate themselves (14:20)? Acknowledge that Christ is made known through them despite the din of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals emitting from their loveless motivation (13:1)? What’s going on?
Work in progress. That’s what was going on. That’s what Paul believed, truly believed, about “those sanctified in Christ, Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). They were a work in progress. There weren’t there yet.
Sure, it might seem that on most days the flesh was winning the daily skirmishes over the Spirit, but while the battle was still being fought, Paul would be in their corner, encouraging them, admonishing them, rebuking them, and thanking God for them. For he saw them as those in whom a good work had begun–a work God was determined to bring “to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Php. 1:6). An on-going work confirming the power of the gospel to save, and to save to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).
. . . Who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:8 ESV)
That’s the thought that I’m chewing on this morning. God will sustain to the end. God will present His people to Himself guiltless in the day of Christ. And so, whatever we see today in other believers, or in ourselves, is to be put in the context of a work of grace which is still very much a work in progress.
The gospel not validated in our perfection, but in God’s patience towards us. The power to save not evidenced by any current state of victory, but in the on-going willingness to keep on keepin’ on despite our trips and falls and failures along the way. The reality of our redemption founded not in displays of self-righteousness but in the emerging reality that we, sometimes slowly but surely, are being transformed increasingly because of His righteousness given to us. The power confirmed not because we can be strong, but manifested gloriously as His Spirit sustains us in our weakness.
And so, even knowing all Paul knew about the Corinth church, he would thank God knowing God was working through them to confirm the testimony of Christ. Even as God was working in them to conform them more to His Son’s likeness and to present them to Himself guiltless.
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)
Our God is faithful. Having called us into the fellowship of His Son, the fellowship of believers, He will establish us through the fellowship of His Son. He will use the church to build the church. Enable the body to build up the body. Encourage and correct the family through the family. Not that we might be exalted, but that His Son would be lifted up. That the testimony of Christ would be confirmed.
And this, through a work in progress.
Displaying His grace. Declaring His glory.