TITLE: “Thank God for the Church !“
DATE PREACHED : 14/02/2010
Last week we considered Paul ‘s introduction ( 1:1-3 ) to this letter. Paul was the human founder of this church ( Acts 18) – but in verses 2&3 we noted that the Greater Founder is the Triune God . The church at
Corinth is “ the church of God “ , sanctified … and called to be saints by the Holy Spirit ( for that is His work) , and it is the church that is “ in Christ Jesus “ . The grace and peace that this church enjoys is a work that comes from the Father and the Son (1:3) .
The one fact that most people have at their fingertips concerning the Corinthian church is that she was in a mess - a church full of problems, division and heresy.
And yet she was in this sense no different from any modern church. The church which is a fellowship of saints ( by virtue of the calling and justification of God in Christ) is also a fellowship of sinners. We do well to remember this – even as we think of those churches that appear to have great reputations . Remember that they too have feet of clay . They too are constituted of imperfect elders and members . Sadly , dissatisfied church members will often naively assume that another church in the area will somehow be better than the one they now attend . This restlessness causes the common habit of church hopping .
Today I wish to consider verses 4- 9 with you as we consider Paul’s profound thankfulness for this messy church. My prayerful aim for this sermon is that we may see and learn the preciousness of the church and so learn to give thanks for her , and see her thus as Christ sees her.
We take note of 3 Aspects of Paul’s Thanksgiving for the Church
1. Give thanks to God for the church : “ I give thanks to my God always for you…” (1:4a)
2. Give thanks for God’s grace gifts given to the church (1 Cor 1:4b-7)
3. Give thanks for God’s sustaining faithfulness to the church (1: 8-9)
1. Give thanks to God for the church
Lets face it . If the first 9 verses were cut out of this letter , it would be difficult for us to arrive at an optimistic view of the church ! But what do we see here in the first place ? The letter starts with a high doctrine of the church and with thanksgiving to God for the church !
We need to let this primary truth sink in. Paul looks at the Corinthian church as she is in Christ , before he looks at anything else that is true of the church . Please note that his thankfulness is not for anything that the Corinthians have achieved by their own efforts, but for what the grace of God has achieved in them ( see particularly 1:26-31!) The grace of God in these imperfect people is what supremely produces his thankful heart !
And this is particularly instructive when we consider as to how we should view the church. Most of us would want to examine the warts and lament the woeful deficiencies of the church. Most people have no vision of what God has already done in Christ in the church, because they lack perspective.
But that aside , you do not need to wait to see evidence of God’s grace. You must learn to implicitly trust God with the church! God will to complete the work that He began in the church (Phil 1:6) , unless of course the church has become an apostate church and has drifted from the gospel, and is therefore in danger of loosing its lampstand (Rev 2:5). But if this has not happened we have no reason to become pessimistic about the church. It is for lack of this vision that church members are perishing . We go either through the motions of being the church with no real expectation of significant growth into maturity, or otherwise we descend into a hopeless works based , activity centered approach to the ministry. For many of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to . We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life.
The apostle Paul looked at the church through Jesus’ eyes – and he gave thanks.
Don’t look at the church with human eyes ! Yes , the church can be so disfigured by your and my sin , but God is at work and He is pulling us out of the muck and the mire by His justifying and sanctifying grace, restoring His image in us through Jesus our Lord – our Creator and Re-creator .
So stop and give thanks for the church , for she is God’s handiwork .
2. Give thanks for God’s grace gifts given to the church ( 1 Cor 1:4b-7)
The second aspect of Paul’s thankfulness to God relates to the fact not only that God has invested grace ( charis ) , but that He has invested “grace gifts“ ( charismata ) in the church : …the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everyway you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge… So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…”
Paul reminds the church that they have been enriched (in Christ ) by the addition of spiritual gifts - especially in speech and in knowledge. We shall see later in 1 Cor 12-14 , that this spiritually gifted church was abusing these gifts – primarily by the fact that they were not acting in submission to the body and for the benefit of the body ( the church). They were also allowing certain showy gifts ( e.g. tongues- which did not provide for clear instruction) to take precedence over those gifts that were more helpful , by providing immediate clarity ( e.g. prophesying) for the church. We will deal with these things when we get to those chapters !
But right now Paul thanks God that He has given them spiritual gifts – particularly those of speech and knowledge ! It is absolutely essential to have these primary gifts operating in the church. Churches without clear preaching, and churches without accurate knowledge of biblical doctrine are indeed poor churches. And the Corinthians have had the wonderful privilege to have heard the clear word and pure doctrine from the mouth of the apostle Paul , as he preached to them the testimony about of Christ ( 1:6) ….” Not in plausible words of wisdom , but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that their faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” ( 2:6)
It was this spoken testimony that gave the church knowledge and which opened their eyes to who Christ was. They were helped by the clarity and quality of Paul’s preaching. The Holy Spirit used Paul to bring conviction, illumination and faith in discovering Christ.
Now despite the fact, that this church shows abuses of the spiritual gifts, Paul’s God centered heart , his humble heart is grateful that this church has God’s gifts. He will in due course address the problem – but not before he has laid a clear foundation: Jesus Christ the Lord !
All this shows us that Paul lives from first principles! And the first principle here is this : God is at work in my imperfect brother or sister ! Therefore be thankful !
Let me help you to apply this in another practical way :
Many of you have broken relationships – even with other Christians . There are things that have created division . Such things happen in this sinful world. How should we respond to such matters ? Take a page out of Paul's great letter and make it your first principle to give thanks and praise to God for His gracious work in your estranged brother or sister . Paul could have begun with severe criticism for this malfunctioning church , but he did not. He could have attacked them immediately, but he did not.
His first step was sincere and heartfelt thanksgiving and praise .
I confess : I take criticism much better from people who praise me and give thanks for me than I take it from those who only criticize me. I suppose that I would share this aspect with most of you.
This first principle thinking arises from how God has treated us . I still remember so many years ago when Romans 5:8 hit me straight between the eyes : “ … but God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loved me while I was a sinner ! The world doesn’t think like that! But God gave me His Son when I did not deserve it. He called me to be His son even though I was so unappreciative of His Fatherhood.
God could spend all His time pointing out our faults. But He does not.
Surely we ought to be like that?
Surely we Christians who have been treated so graciously by our God should treat others in the same way?
Is there a better way to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive?
I ask God that I might have a double portion of that attitude ! I ask God that the whole church might have it.
Imagine what amazing changes would come into our marriages, our families, our friendships, and into our church/ our ministry and witness to others, if only we always displayed Gods' grace to us in the spirit of thanksgiving and praise.
No wonder that Paul exercised the influence and power which he did. No wonder that even the hard things he had to say later, had positive effects.
Paul not only taught us in his letters to be thankful in everything and to think on those things that are noble, true, right, pure and admirable, but he did that himself. Imitate him in that and you will see how God will bless you for it and others through you.
3. Give thanks for God’s sustaining faithfulness to the church (1: 8-9)
Not only is Paul thankful for the grace of God poured out in this church ;
Not only is he thankful for the rich gifts that are enjoyed in the ministry of this church ,
…but lastly, he is thankful for the knowledge of God’s sustaining faithfulness to the church .
Whatever ups and downs the church may face , Paul is sure that the God who has called them ( and us) into the fellowship of His Son , Jesus Christ our Lord, will confirm / sustain them ( and us ) to the end , guiltless ( unimpeachable) . The basis of this promise is found in v.9 : “God is faithful , by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son , Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Please note that God’s sustaining faithfulness (for which Paul is so very thankful) does not only relate to our individual lifespan , but it reaches even to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v8) – the day of judgement and into eternity ! His people will be guiltless on that day , when all the secrets of men’s hearts will be revealed.
The practical implications of this glorious hope in terms of our vision for the local church should be clear .
It means that we should be unreservedly positive and committed to the
where He has placed us. church of God
We should be unhesitatingly confident about God’s desire and ability to use the church’s spiritual gifts for the good of the church .
We should be uncompromisingly certain of God’s faithfulness and sustaining power , for Jesus has said : “ I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
So, as we come to the Lord’s table now let us acknowledge with thanksgiving the Lord of the church for which we give thanks to God . Notice how Paul dwells lovingly in these first 9 verses on the name of His Saviour.
9 times in these 9 verses he makes use of His name. Christ is absolutely central.
Follow me then to the table – to Christ whose body was broken and whose blood was shed, so that we can give thanks for what we see today : the church, the body of Jesus Christ in communion with her Head . Amen !