I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,
1 Cor. 1:4, ESV
I’ll be honest, it took me a while today to decide what to write about. I had a verse in mind and the more I studied it out, the more I felt like I would be reaching if I tried to use it to make the point on my heart. That took me back to the drawing board, but my thoughts wandered. My spirit has been rather ill at ease over something I read today and I wondered if I should address that. Then I wanted to take the safest possible route and either not write at all or write something sweet about the love of God. With next Sunday being Easter Sunday, I knew I could easily talk about the love of God which resulted in a means of salvation for us.
In the end, I decided to discuss a verse that has come up a few times in recent days for me that I find interesting and reassuring and convicting all at once.
That verse (which is quoted above) seems rather mundane, honestly, until you dig into it a bit. I find that often to be the case with Scripture. I don’t know the mind of God, but I suspect He did that intentionally. We begin our study of the Word of God as a child, whether we were children when we began or adults. We understand, often, only the surface. I do not say that to imply there is subtext to Scripture. The plain truth is the plain truth. However, consider the understanding of an infant of food as compared to a very accomplished chef. An infant only understands milk as food. He cannot physically or mentally process any other kind of food at that point in his life. But an accomplished chef knows there are nearly limitless combinations of foods and spices and ways to prepare them all. She knows that milk is food, but she knows the wonder of many other marvelous foods.
Please understand this is an illustration only; don’t dig too deep, it will fall apart. But since the Bible compares itself to food, I want us to understand that when we first begin our study of Scripture, our understanding is limited to that of milk. We cannot handle more than that. As we grow, our need and our understanding increase. We begin to be able to understand themes throughout chapters, books, and the Bible as a whole. We recognize that the Bible is so much more rich than what we first understood it as. And this growth and learning take place throughout our lives. God knew our need to take things a step at a time, and I believe that is why He made it possible to understand basic meaning just from reading but that we have to dig in and really study the context of something to see its meaning more fully.
This verse is just such a verse.
It is contained in a letter from Paul to the church at Corinth. I won’t take a lot of time to dig into the cultural context for you, but I would like to note that this city’s exact circumstances made it a rather sin filled place. Openly immoral behavior marked the culture of this city. Keep that much in mind as we go on.
Paul often told the churches to which he wrote that he thanked God for them (cf Rom. 1:8; Phi. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Th. 1:2; 2 Th 1:3; 2 Ti 1:3; Phm 1:4), so this particular verse is not all that extraordinary. At least not at first glance, but what follows this verse is a heartfelt letter demonstrating the apostle’s deep hurt over the sin running rampant in this church. That’s right, this church had a major sin problem, and Paul was writing to address it. Yet he thanks God for them and for the grace of God that they received.
This is vitally important! And super interesting. If you were about to confront someone, would your first thought be to thank God for them? I know mine usually isn’t. It’s more along the lines of dread and a deep desire to avoid them. Not Paul. He was still grateful for them, for his brothers and sisters in Christ, for the fact that by God’s grace they were his brothers and sisters. What a beautiful example to us! And how reassuring!
This church was plagued by some pretty nasty sins, sins Paul said even the unbelieving world around them wouldn’t be okay with, yet he greeted them as brothers and sisters, thanked God for them, and throughout the book reminds them of their salvation. That salvation was to be the motivation for their change in behavior not their change in behavior the cause of their salvation.
As much as this brings reassurance, it also brings conviction. How easy is it to either pass off sin as no big deal or to assume that someone living in open sin is not a believer? The honest truth is that we all sin. That does not negate the power of Christ’s finished work on the cross. If we have trusted in Him as the only way of salvation, our eternal destiny is secure. But sin is still a big deal. That secure salvation is not in any way an excuse to live however I want; in fact, it should motivate us to live in a godly way. But sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn’t bring about the life changes it should. It is not my job or your job to judge what happened; it is our job as brothers and sisters to admonish one another to live in a manner worthy of our calling.
When we assume sin isn’t a big deal or we assume the individual is not a believer, we take our focus off the true main point: the glory of God. God is always the focus. If He isn’t, then we fail to behave in a manner worthy of Him. When He is the focus, we can address sin in love. That doesn’t mean it will be well received. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was well received; they changed their actions. He had to remind them later to be forgiving though. But when we call someone out, no matter how heartfelt and loving we may be, we must understand we are touching their heart. That’s a sensitive thing; some people respond well. Some don’t. Thank God for that person and for the grace He has poured on them anyway.
What an amazing gift grace is, and we should be thankful for how it has been poured out on our brothers and sisters. When we remind them of grace, we may just inspire them to live out that grace rather than use it as an excuse to go their own way.