1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ~ Giving Thanks for Those Who Mean the Most to You

INTRODUCTION TO SERMON SERIES, “LIFE TOGETHER”

Two summers ago we went on a youth mission trip to St. Louis, where we joined five other youth groups for a week.  The theme of the week was “Life Together.”  “Life Together” would be a good subtitle to the letter called 1 Corinthians.  In the letter, Paul tells a new church what their life together can be like.  We’re going to focus on that letter for the next six weeks, because  it can show us what our life together can be like.  Here’s how the letter begins.  (read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

INTRODUCTION OF SERMON

I’m titling this message, “Giving Thanks for Those Who Mean the Most to You.”  That’s how Paul began this letter: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”  During the eighteen months that Paul was in Corinth, getting that church started, he made some good friends, like Aquila and Priscilla.  Another new friend, Sosthenes, even left Corinth to go help Paul start more churches.  He may have been the same Sosthenes who was beaten for Paul’s sake, as told in Acts (18:1-17).  Paul made some very close friends while he was in Corinth.

Hearing Paul give thanks for them makes us remember people in church who have been dear to us.  There are people who have been real blessings to us, for whom we give thanks to God always.  One person I thank God for is Gerald White.  He was the chairman of the search committee that brought me to Elizabeth City.  We still write each other, still using pen and paper.  One recent note from Gerald I’ll never forget: he recalled a time when our seven year old Whitney was suffering from hypersensitive hearing.  He remembered some of the details that I had long forgotten: how agonized she was, how heartbroken I was, but also how we came through that time.  My life is very rich because of Gerald and his wife Sara.  I give thanks to my God always for them.

I’m sure there are dear ones in church for whom you give thanks.  The stories that made up our Tapestry of Gifts last fall were full of such thanksgivings.  Here is the very first one in the book:

My quilt square represents a special thank you to Frances Moore.  She has such a strong faith and giving nature.  When our children’s names were in the newspaper, she would always cut the clippings out and present them to Alex and Jennifer on Sunday morning.  It meant so much to them and us.  This act of kindness will never be forgotten…

So Stan and Barbara Flora give thanks to their God always for Frances.

And so Paul began his letter to Corinth, “I give thanks to my God always for you…”  But the more I listen to Paul’s letter, the more I realize that Paul wasn’t giving thanks just for the people who had been good to him;  Paul was also giving thanks for those Corinthians who had driven him nuts.

There was a lot of nuttiness in the city of Corinth.  That major port city was full of idol worship and sexual immorality, full of great wealth and great poverty, full of a spirit of competition and pride.  The little house church in that big city couldn’t help but be afflicted with those same things.  After Paul moved on to start more churches, it wasn’t long before the Corinthian church began to fall apart.  It was “a veritable witches’ brew of unlovely problems…cliques and factions spitting at each other…immorality and sexual perversion.” (Edmund Steimle, “God’s Incredible Faithfulness,” www.goodpreacher.com for January 19)

Corinth was a prime example of the unfortunate truth that “When people become Christians, they don’t at the same moment become nice.  This always comes as something of a surprise.”  (Eugene Peterson, The Message, foreword to 1 Corinthians)

Corinth was “a cantankerous, conflicted conglomerate of Christians,” said Tom Troeger.   “Think of a church where the governing boards are at war with one another, the generations cannot stand each other’s music, there is flagrantly unethical behavior among some of the members, various groups think they have the true gospel while the others do not, the spiritual credentials of the clerical leadership are in doubt among the members. And when they gather for church suppers they group themselves in little cliques, never passing a dish to share.  Get such a church clearly in mind, and then picture yourself called in as a consultant to straighten out this mess.”

So how did Paul, their consultant, approach this mess?  He gave thanks!  But what was there to give thanks for?  Paul was not buttering them up with false praise.  He was giving thanks for what God was doing in them.  So Paul gave thanks, not for the mess they had made in Corinth, but he gave thanks for…

  • what God in Christ had done in Corinth,
  • what God in Christ was doing in Corinth,
  • and what God in Christ would do in Corinth.

 

PAUL GAVE THANKS FOR WHAT GOD IN CHRIST HAD DONE IN CORINTH…

One thing God had done in Corinth was call them to be saints.  (verse 2)  “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.”  Now, by what stretch of the imagination could Paul call the Corinthians saints?!  Being a saint does not mean that you have arrived, conduct-wise.  It simply means that God has set you apart, that God has claimed you.  It means that Christ has died for you and that now your life is to be lived for Him.  Those Corinthians certainly did NOT act saintly.  But Jesus had died for them, and God had claimed them and set them apart.  And for that, Paul gave thanks.

The same can be said today.  Today’s church certainly does NOT succeed in acting saintly.  We have our problems and that’s putting it mildly.  Still, we belong to God, and God has a purpose for us.  James Harnish put it this way, “The church is like Noah’s ark—the only way to stand the stench on the inside is to remember the storm outside.”

We are God’s holy saints, but not because we have succeeded in being good.  We are saints only because God has called us out for a special purpose.  Verse 8 puts it this way, “…by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”   For that, Paul gave thanks.

THANKS FOR WHAT GOD WAS CONTINUING TO DO WITH CORINTH

Second, Paul gave thanks for what God was continuing to do with the church in Corinth:

For in every way you have been enriched in him,

In speech and knowledge of every kind—

Just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—

So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…

(1 Cor. 1:5-7a)

God was equipping the Corinthians with everything they would need to fulfill their calling.  God gave them great speaking skills, and great knowledge.  They had every ability and gift needed to be witnesses of the gospel.  They had huge potential to be a liberating force in their city.  All that was God’s doing.  The grace of God had completely empowered them to bring the good news of Jesus to Corinth.

So Paul thanked God for that: for what they’d received, for their great potential.  Not that the Corinthians had realized that potential yet.  Still, Paul chose to remind them that indeed God had given them the potential in knowledge and speech to share Jesus with Corinth.

Can anyone argue that we don’t have it all here in this church?  Is there anything we lack that prevents us from sharing the good news of Jesus with this city?  Not a thing.  We know the Jesus story.  We know our own story of what Jesus has done with us.  We know everything we need to know to share the gospel.  God has given First Baptist unbelievably powerful potential to make an impact on this city for Jesus’ sake.  We lack nothing to do the mission that God has given us here.  We can thank our God always for that.

THANKS FOR WHAT GOD WILL DO WITH CORINTH

And third, Paul gave thanks for what God would be doing with Corinth in the future:

He will also strengthen you to the end,

So that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(1 Cor. 1:7-9)

Paul told the Corinthians that God is not finished with them yet.  What God started with them, God is definitely going to finish with them.  (See Philippians 1:6)  God is faithful and will never give up on them.  So Paul thanked God.

Meanwhile we thank God for Paul, for if there was hope for those messed-up Corinthians, then there is hope for us messed-up Wilsonians.  God is faithful to us, and will never give up on us either.  In other words, God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay like this.

So we give thanks:

  • We give thanks for those people who have been so wonderful to us.
  • We even give thanks for those people who drive us nuts.
  • We especially give thanks that, as far from saintliness as we may be, God has called us to be saints in the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

I know one person who gives thanks for us.  Last Monday I was in Richmond, so I dropped in on Mark Whitley.  Mark is the son of Chuck and Judie Whitley.  He was in Richmond receiving treatment for a serious form of cancer.  I asked how I should be praying for him.  Mark said pray that the church in Wilson will keep on being a light to the city.  In the midst of all that Mark is having to go through, it gives him great joy to think of his home church continuing to be a witness to this city.

So, because of the grace of God that has been given us,

Mark Whitley thanks his God always for us.

– Douglas E. Murray