I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
In light of what’s coming in the rest of the letter, this introductory paragraph is somewhat surprising. It’s full of hope and rich encouragement, blessing and thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the letter itself is chockablock full of problematic issues.
Take a look. Skim the paragraphs. You’ll see it in bold outline.
Divisions in the church. Party spirit arising from preferred leaders. Rich vs poor. Immorality. Lawsuits. Legalistic asceticism. Some pushing freedom that crossed the line into license. Others constricting freedom, not understanding grace. Attacks on Paul’s apostolic leadership. Disorderly worship. Dishonouring the Lord. Dishonouring one another. Self-centred pride regarding spiritual gifts. Lack of love. Theological error. The list goes on.
This was anything but a perfect church. Paul will address each of these issues throughout this letter, telling them directly at one point, “in the following directives I have no praise for you” (1 Cor. 11:17).
And yet … And yet, Paul says here, “I always thank God for you” (verse 4). I think he really means it. He’d been there when many of these dear sisters and brothers had first believed. In the midst of hardship in those early days of ministry, the Lord had spoken to Paul in a dream, telling him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking … I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). He’d seen the firstfruits of that vision, back then. Now, he seems convinced the Lord will fulfill his promise. “God … is faithful” (verse 9), he affirms.
So, even though he knows they’ve got problems, Paul rejoices in their faith and in the richness of their spiritual life. He is confident that the Lord himself is at work. “In him you have been enriched in every way” (verse 5), he says, knowing that they have embraced the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He’s going to rebuke them regarding their misuse of the gifts God has given, principally the gift of tongues, but he begins by affirming that they “do not lack any spiritual gift” (verse 7).
Some of the Corinthians have gotten very confused about the coming day of the Lord, saying “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12), and yet Paul affirms that they “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (verse 7).
Their attitudes and relationships have become strained and stained, and yet Paul asserts that the Lord himself “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 8 ).
In all of this, Paul himself is a stellar example of keeping eyes on Jesus. He knows the promise of the Lord. He knows the truth of the Gospel. Even when his friends are stumbling, indeed misguided, he trusts that the Lord himself is still at work, faithful to the end.
As he says elsewhere, “I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
May we, too, trust the Lord to do it. In one another. In our own lives.
O Lord, praise you for your grace. Thank you for your faithfulness. Give me eyes to see what you are doing, both in me and in those around me. Strengthen my heart to trust that what you have begun you will indeed complete. To the glory of Jesus’ name. Amen.
Reflect: What threatens to dishearten you, in your own life and/or the lives of others who have begun the life of faith in Jesus? Put those concerns alongside the promise of God’s faithfulness. Which is bigger? Turn it to prayer. Trust him.