1 Corinthians 1:1-9
God is faithful. God is always faithful. People, on the other hand, are not always faithful. Sometimes people are never faithful. People are, well, human. People sometimes have ideas and opinions that overrule what God has to say. And they will hold to those opinions and ideas as if God did not matter, and even as if God did not exist at all. This is often the way of the human heart; to live as if there was no God, other than, one’s self.
To live like this is to live in a pitiful state, no matter what the circumstances are. Frighteningly, even churches can sometimes live as if there is no God. I know that that sounds ironic, and possibly even impossible, but a true test of a church comes not in how many buildings or bodies are amassed, but rather on how often there is enough silence present among the people to hear when God speaks.
Unfortunately, the church in Corinth often behaved as if there was no God. It was a very noisy church. It was divided into four, separate personality cults, and it was overloaded with members who kept their own best interests at heart, who lived in isolation from one another, and who gained strength from bickering about who possessed the best spiritual gifts, or the most spiritual gifts or who was a faithful or faithless follower of Jesus. The church was a mess.
And yet, at the end of his introductory greetings to the church, the Apostle Paul writes, “God is faithful”. God is faithful. Everything will work out, even if things are messed up now. We saw that very clearly, most recently, with Mary, the mother of Jesus. And the reason that Paul can say this, to this church that is living as if there is no God, is that Paul has confidence in the transforming power of God. No mess is so large that God cannot clean it up. The folks in Corinth had forgotten that the church belongs to God, and not to them, and even though they were doing more to hinder the work of God than they were to facilitate it, Paul understood that there was the potential for faithfulness to blossom in the church at Corinth. As Paul says, it was God who brought these people into fellowship with Jesus Christ, and it will have to be God who renews that fellowship, and it will also have to be God who will bring the people back into fellowship with one another.
And in Corinth, God will be initiating this work of renewal through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. It will not, however, be an easy task, because the folks in Corinth don’t have a lick of respect for the Apostle Paul. Paul’s problem with the followers of Jesus in Corinth is one of credibility. He calls himself “…an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,..” and they don’t believe one word of it. They distrust him completely. Apostles were those people who walked with Jesus while he was on this earth. Apostles were those who were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Apostles were the ones who were filled with the Holy Spirit in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.
And by this definition, Paul’s profile doesn’t even come close to a match. As far as we know, the Apostle Paul never met Jesus while he was on this earth. Paul was never a follower or a disciple of Jesus. In fact, after Jesus’ resurrection, and when the followers of Jesus began to organize themselves into churches, Paul, who was then known as Saul, became an enemy of the church. He was convinced that the followers of Jesus were members of a cult that mocked the holy faith of the Jewish people, and that they demeaned the character of Almighty God, creator of the universe.
It then became Saul’s mission in life to erase the memory of Jesus Christ from the earth. Until one day, while Saul was hard at his mission, he came face to face with the risen Lord, who appeared to him in a blinding display of light. That encounter with Jesus, literally drove him to his knees, temporarily blinded him, and sent him straight into the arms of some loving and forgiving followers of Jesus who adopted him and welcomed him into their lives.
Paul often referred to himself as one who was the “least of the apostles,” or as to one “untimely born” into the ministry. His call to apostleship is unique, because he was called, by Jesus himself, very much against his own will. If the followers of Jesus in Paul’s day had the opportunity to pick an apostle, it would not have been Saul, who became Paul. No one would have picked a rabid Pharisee intent on destroying the newly established church. But as we often see today, God’s ideas are often very different from our own. And even though Saul was a very unlikely choice, he was God’s choice.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this passage is verse four: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…” That’s pretty amazing. In terms of how messed up this congregation is. Paul could have very easily skipped all of this giving thanks stuff. Let’s just say that the folks in Corinth had caused the Apostle Paul plenty of grief. And yet, there is nothing here that is tongue in cheek. His thanksgiving for them is genuine.
So, what is it then, about a really messed up congregation, that Paul can find to be thankful about? He’s thankful because the church at Corinth has received the same mercy and grace that he’s received. If nothing else, the Apostle and the wayward congregation share in the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus. Whatever the situation, mercy and grace can always be found in the midst of God’s people.
And when mercy and grace is shared and celebrated among God’s people, the potential for effective ministry is dramatically increased, because everyone begins at the same place. Everyone, congregation and apostle, begins at the foot of the cross, where all are merely sinners saved by grace. One of the most joyous truths of the gospel is that not one of us is special; not one of us is even slightly better than another. Not one of us can look down at another, because if we do, we will only see ourselves there.
Paul is also genuinely thankful that that the followers of Jesus in Corinth are in possession of the gifts of ministry, given to them by the Holy Spirit. He says that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Now if we were to read on in this book, we would discover that the folks in Corinth were abusing some of those gifts, wasting others, and fighting about the rest. And eventually, Paul will address those abuses and wastes and disagreements when the time is right. But for the moment, he is satisfied, and he is thankful that the gifts are there. He knows, that with a measure of nurture, that the followers of Jesus in Corinth have the potential to accomplish amazing things, all for the glory of God.
Verse eight says it all, “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They are certainly not blameless now. They are far from it. But Paul has confidence in God. God is faithful.
When the Apostle Paul considered the church at Corinth, he necessarily saw lots and lots of problems that needed to be corrected, in order for them to continue the work of the ministry to which they had been called. But he also knows, that in spite of the problems, in spite of the difficulties that they face, that they have the potential to change their world. And this is why he he is so thankful.
Congregations of Christ all over this world have suffered deeply from the effects of this pandemic that ravages us. Many ministries, the world over, have had to be canceled or put on hold because of the coronavirus. Almost everything about our lives and or ministries has been altered. Just look around at this place this morning. But one thing has not changed; not even one iota. And that is God’s faithfulness. God is faithful. God is always faithful. God is faithful at this moment, and God will be faithful for all of eternity.
I am extraordinarily thankful this morning that God continues to call us together; that God continues to engage us in a shared ministry that challenges us every day and deepens our faith at every step. And for this reason, I believe that God will strengthen us to the end. Like the church at Corinth, we too, have the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst. And when the Holy Spirit is present, congregations don’t grow weaker, they grow stronger. We only need to focus on the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Our calling is to be faithful and obedient to the claims that God’s spirit makes on our lives. God is faithful, God is always faithful.