1 Cor 1:4-9
I am correct in assuming that you don’t read your neighbor’s mail … right? I am sure that you don’t go up to your neighbor’s mailbox and open their mail to see what is going on in their life. You don’t open their credit card statement to see what they have been buying and whether they have any debt. You don’t open their mortgage statement to see how much they still owe on their house. You don’t open any medical bills to see what kind of tests or procedures they have had recently. You don’t do this because it would be rude and completely inappropriate. It is also, by the way, illegal. It is a federal crime to open intentionally another person’s mail, punishable by up to three years in prison.
So if you would never do it at home, why are you doing here at church? Here are you are, reading the Corinthians’ mail. Well ok, actually I am the one who reads it to you, but we are all in this together. After all you knew I was going to do it. I do it pretty much every Sunday and none of you have ever raised any objections about it.
While I speak this introduction in jest, it does highlight something that we just take for granted in the Church. Paul’s letters are in the Bible. They are Scripture. They are God’s Word. And so of course, we read them in church. But at the same time they are also real letters that were sent to a particular group of people. When we read them, we are reading someone else’s mail. We are reading letters that often are addressing specific concerns and issues in that particular church.
You can see this in our text today from 1 Corinthians, if you know where to look. Paul’s letters begin with an opening address. So, he begins this letter by saying: “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
After the opening address, almost all of Paul’s letters sent to a congregation next have a thanksgiving. Here Paul expresses thanks to God because of what he has done in Christ for those Christians, along with some aspect of how they are now living in the faith. So in our text he writes: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-- even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is clear that Paul’s letters were to be received as if the apostle himself were present there speaking to the congregation. They were “long distance sermons.” The convention in the ancient world was that an address began with praise of the audience. The speaker “warmed them up” for his message by first telling them something they liked to hear.
Paul does this in the thanksgivings of his letters … but with a twist. Paul’s thanksgivings usually introduce subjects that he is going to talk about in the letter. Sometimes those are subjects that will involve correcting errors in belief and practice among those Christians. That is certainly the case here.
Paul says that he gives thanks to his God because in every way the Corinthians have been enriched in Christ in all speech and all knowledge. He says that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift and that the Lord will sustain them to the end, guiltless. And then he adds, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
If fact, this is a list of problems at Corinth that Paul is about to address. Speech: The Corinthians thought that were superior spiritual people and they were focused on speaking in tongues because it showed how superior they were. Knowledge: The Corinthians thought that their knowledge about the triune God being the only true God permitted them to eat food in any pagan cultic setting they wanted. Spiritual gift: The Corinthians wanted to focus on tongues rather than the whole range of gifts the benefit the Body of Christ. Blameless: The Corinthians did not see sexual sin in their midst as being contradictory to the Christian faith. Fellowship: The wealthy Corinthians were mistreating the poor ones in the very setting where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.
If St. Paul wrote a letter today to Good Shepherd, what would he be mentioning in the thanksgiving section of the letter? I think he would give thanks for the manner in which Christ’s Means of Grace are valued here. I think he would give thanks for the way this congregation welcomes people in Christ.
But what else would he mention as he introduced the problems – the sin he wanted to address? Would he mention knowledge?: That because we have the sure knowledge of our baptism, we feel that sin is not really something against which we need to struggle? – After all, we are forgiven. Would he mention blameless?: That more and more we take on the world’s views about sex? – Sure I watch some porn, who doesn’t?; - Sure I am having sex with my girlfriend or my daughter is living with her boyfriend, that’s just what people do these days. What else would he mention?
In our text, we hear some of the major problems at Corinth that Paul is going to address in the letter. There is some bad stuff there. If you take an honest look at yourself – you’ll find bad stuff there too. You will find sin. But remember that Paul’s opening address is just as true for you as it was for the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
You have been called by God. Through baptism and the Word the Holy Spirit gave you faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in our text, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” You have received God’s grace – his undeserved loving favor. He has given this unmerited and undeserved love to you in his Son Jesus Christ who offered himself for you on the cross.
Because of Jesus you are saints – you are holy ones in Christ Jesus. He is the One “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Already now, you are ready for the judgment of the Last Day. The sins of the past can’t change that. As Paul says in chapter six: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We don’t live as people who are bound by chains of guilt about the past. You have been freed by Christ! You are forgiven. You are a saint. Through his Spirit, Christ gives us all we need so that we can live with eager expectation. Paul says in our text “that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our present – the way we live right now – is determined by the fact that the crucified Christ is now the risen and ascended Lord. Paul lays it on the line in chapter 15 as he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus Christ has risen from the dead! This fact trumps everything. It conquers every problem and difficulty you are facing because you have a certain hope. No matter what twists and turns your life may take, you know that you have victory in Christ – you know how it ends. It ends with the return of Jesus Christ who will raise your body to be like his. And so as Paul says, “you eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
With the living hope of the resurrection, we eagerly wait for our Lord. But that eager waiting turns out to be a very active thing. It is a life lived on the basis of the hope we have in Christ. So, seek to live as what God has made you to be. We are a new creation in Christ. Our hope filled lives now seek to live like it.
Corinth was the home of the Isthmian games – an athletic competition like the Olympics in Athens. When Paul talks about this aspect of the Christian life, he uses athletic metaphors as he says in chapter nine: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
This desire to live in ways that are true to God’s will; this effort to resist sin and live in love towards others is produced by faith – faith in Jesus Christ. It is made possible and led by the Spirit who created that faith and sustains it. It does not find its source in us, but instead in God. And at the end of our text Paul reminds us about good news that we need to hear: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul tells us that God is faithful. This means that he keeps his promises. He is true to his word. If he says you are forgiven in Christ and that you will share in his resurrection, then you will. After all, he is the One who has called us into fellowship with his Son, our Lord Jesus.
For us, this fellowship is experienced in a way that speaks to both our present and future. Here at the Sacrament of the Altar we share in the fellowship of the body and blood of Christ. Here, he gives you his body and blood given and shed for you. He gives you forgiveness in the present.
And by coming to us in this miraculous way – by coming into our midst bodily – our Lord assures us that he will come again on the Last Day. We sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” for the One who comes to us in the Sacrament. He comes to us now as he gives us his body and blood in, with and under bread and wine. Through this gift he strengthens and sustains faith – faith that trusts in God who is faithful; faith that serves the neighbor. He does this so that, as Paul says in our text this morning, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”