Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | November 30, 2014
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:3-9.)
Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to address the many abuses that were taking place in the young church. But you would never know it to read the first few verses. Here Paul thanks God for them and for the gifts of grace they’ve received – past, present and future – from God through Jesus Christ.
On this first Sunday of Advent, as we begin to think of the coming of Christ into the world the first time in the incarnation, we direct our attention to the second coming of Christ. And rather than preaching from the Gospel lesson in Mark, we’re looking at the epistle lesson in 1 Corinthians and asking questions like, “how did their understanding of the second coming of Christ affect the lives of those in the early church,” “what are the implications of the second coming of Christ,” and “how should we live in light of his coming again?”
Relations had become strained between Paul and the Corinthians and between the members themselves caused by their abuses of some of the special gifts God had given them as a confirmation of their calling. Yet Paul can be genuinely thankful for the Corinthians themselves and their gifts because their source is God. Here Paul expresses his thanks to God while at the same time redirecting their focus from themselves to God and Christ, and from their over-realized eschatology to a healthy awareness that the final glory is still in the future.
- Redirecting our focus from self to God and Christ.
Sometimes, like the Corinthians, we are tempted to think the church is “all about me,” and the result is strained relationships. And the reverse is true. Sometimes when there are strained relationships in the church, we can become overly focused on ourselves. We can forget all that God has done for us and all that we’ve been given through Christ. Our attitude towards others is affected by our attitude toward God. If we’re angry with God, we’re often angry toward others. If we’re indifferent toward God, we’re often indifferent toward others. But if we’re thankful toward God, we can be thankful for others in spite of problems between us. And if, in spite of strained relationships in the church, we can live with thankful hearts toward God and Christ, many of our problems can be overcome. That’s why Paul here first seeks to redirect their focus from themselves to God and Christ.
He begins by reminding them of the grace and peace they’ve received.
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace: God has given himself mercifully and bountifully in Christ. Nothing is deserved. Nothing can be earned or achieved. Peace is the sum total of those benefits; well-being, wholeness, and welfare. Grace and peace together flow from God our Father, and were made effective in human history through “our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Next Paul thanks God for them and for their gifts in verse 4.
4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus,
Notice that the subject of the sentence is God. Paul is seeking to direct their focus away from themselves and onto God and Christ. God is the source of grace, and the mediator of that grace is Christ Jesus. Paul expresses thanks for the grace of God which called them out of darkness into the light of Christ. Paul expresses thanks for the grace of God which has formed them into a faith community in Christ. In spite of difficulties in the church, are we thankful for the grace of God that formed us into a community in Jesus Christ? Are we concerned only about ourselves, or are we concerned, like Paul, about the bigger picture, God’s grace that is forming individual Christians into the body of Christ?
And Paul is thankful for the grace of God which has given them specific gifts designed for the edification of the church in verse 5.
5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge,
Paul itemizes, and is thankful to God for, the particular graces by which they’ve been “enriched” – logos or speaking, and, gnosis or knowledge – which are noticeably evident in their community. Yet as we find later in this letter, are functioning in negative ways. Here Paul is seeking to redirect their focus from the graces – which are good in themselves because they build up the church – to God who gave them, and to Christ through whom they were given. The word “enriched” here is unique in Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. Usually Paul uses the word “abound” to refer to the overflow of the Christian life. Perhaps he’s using a term they’ve used of themselves in a positive sense in order to give thanks to God. The gifts listed – special gifts of speech and knowledge – Paul lists in chapters 12-14 as legitimate gifts that build up the church.
But they are also gifts that can be abused. God-given gifts of speech can be abused by both hearers and speakers. In chapters 1-4, we learn that some in the faith community were showing favoritism to those who preached with “cleverness” (1:17), or “superiority of speech” (2:1), while Paul’s plain preaching of the “the cross” (1:18) was viewed as “foolishness” (1:21) and “weakness” (2:3). So the Corinthians were divided: some followed Apollos, others Peter and others Paul. And in chapter 13 we learn that tongues and prophecy were being exercised in selfish ways that caused even more division. God-given gifts of knowledge can also be abused. We learn in chapter 8 that some in their community understood food sacrificed to idols was not forbidden to Christians. But by flaunting that knowledge they were causing weaker believers to stumble in their faith. God-given gifts of speech and knowledge were aspects of their spirituality in which they were too self-confident, and so were boasting and acting in merely human ways. Yet here Paul recognized these as legitimate gifts for which he could be thankful to God. We too can abuse the gifts God has given us. We can make too much of our own individual gifts and in so doing marginalize the gifts of others, saying for example, “I’m a hand in the body of Christ, so I/we have no need of the eye or the ear or the mouth.” Instead, like Paul, we can be thankful to God for all the gifts he’s given to build up the body of Christ.
Because those gifts are given in part to confirm that God has indeed graciously granted salvation to his people. We see this in verse 6.
6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,
God confirmed his witness to Christ in them by give them these particular gifts. The word “testimony” refers to the gospel itself. The preaching of the gospel by Paul among them was the cause of that confirmation. This includes a metaphor from commercial law which says Paul bore witness to the gospel of Christ, especially his death and resurrection, and God guaranteed or confirmed the truth of the message by enriching them with various spiritual gifts. That’s what took place earlier in the history of the church when Peter preached the gospel to those in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10. By granting them a particular gift, God gave evidence that he had granted the gift of salvation also to the Gentiles. The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed “because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.” (10:45-46). So we too can be thankful to God for the gifts he’s given to his people, no matter how strange they might seem to us, or in spite of abuses of those gifts, because they serve as a confirmation, a guarantee, of God’s saving grace in their lives.
- Redirecting our focus from an over-realized eschatology to a healthy awareness that the final glory is still in the future.
Not only does Paul redirect our focus from ourselves to God and Christ. Second, he redirects our focus from an unhealthy over-emphasis on the present to a healthy awareness of the greater glory yet in store for us.
Sometimes we get too focused on the present, our present situation, our present circumstances. We tend to either think that this dismal present is all there is and lose hope for a brighter future. Or we think the present is so bright that the future pales in comparison. The latter was the Corinthians’ situation. So Paul here adds an eschatological note to set their gifts in the proper context of the already/not yet condition of the kingdom. The result of God’s guaranteeing the truth in them by enriching them with spiritual gifts, in verse 7 is…
“7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
In other words, the present use of their gifts is not the only consideration. They had an over-realized eschatology. They thought they had already arrived in the state of glory. They thought they had everything they needed because of their special gifts of speech and knowledge. But Paul would bring them back to earth reminding them that the best is yet to come, they still awaited final glory “at the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They were living in a new day – the already – where they had been gifted by God in special ways. But they were also living in the “not yet” so they were to be “awaiting eagerly” the coming of Christ. That’s probably why Paul ended the letter as he did with chapter 15 describing the exceedingly greater glories of the final resurrection at the coming of Christ saying, “We shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye…this perishable will put on the imperishable, and this mortal will put on immortality…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:50-57).
But God wants us to know not only what the final resurrection means to the whole church, but also to the local church, our local church, in particular. It means that God will confirm or guarantee our right standing at the final judgment. Verse 8 says,
8 [he] shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul repeats the word “confirm” from v. 6. In the same way God first guaranteed Paul’s testimony to Christ while he was with them, God will also guarantee or confirm them to the end. What God begins God finishes. This is further emphasized by the world “blameless.” We will be guiltless in regard to the law when we appear before God in the final judgment because Christ’s righteousness has been given to us. How could Paul be so confident about a community that had so many problems? He could because subject of the verb in this very long sentence – God. Paul is confident not in the Corinthians, but in God.
We too can be confident of our future not because of the current state of the church, but because of God, the faithfulness of God who has been, is, and will continue to work by grace among us. That’s what we see in verse 9.
9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
How did they know God was faithful? Because God had recently called them into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. Knowing that God has called and redeemed us is the basis for HOPE of final salvation at the end. God would redirect our focus from self to God who called us into community with himself by Jesus Christ. And God would redirect our focus from the present – whether dismal or glorious – to an even more glorious future at the second coming of Christ.
Let us, in this season of Advent, be thankful for the gifts God has given his body as evidence of his confirmation of the gospel and make sure our focus is on God and Christ from whom and through whom are all things.