I Corinthians 1:3-9
David A. Davis
November 29, 2020
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 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 as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 God you were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s how the Apostle Paul begins the letter to the church at Corinth. Just after the formality of the greeting in the first two verses. It comes just after the “Paul called to be an apostle…to the church of God that is in Corinth” part. An outline or table of contents of the epistle or a footnote in your bible labels our text for this morning as “thanksgiving”. That label connotes a certain formulaic beginning to the letter and to the other biblical epistles. A formula that is consistent with letters beyond the bible in the ancient world: Salutation, thanksgiving, and then the body of the letter. Which, unfortunately, is an invitation to the reader to skip over the thanksgiving and jump right to the body of the letter. The body of the letter in I Corinthians where Paul addresses divisions within the faith community. “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” So, of course, it’s human nature to skip over the salutation and the thanksgiving and get to the juicy part. It’s not just human nature. It’s church nature. Let’s get right to everything that’s wrong with the church!
But no, Paul begins with “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…in every way you have been enriched in him….you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…..Christ will strengthen you to the end….God is faithful…” Some scholars suggest that this thanksgiving part is something of a foreshadowing of the themes Paul comes back to in the letter: knowledge and the wisdom of the cross, eloquence and the essence of gospel proclamation, and of course spiritual gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” and “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:4,7) But these verses, these affirmations of Paul, seem more important than simply touching themes to come like a kind of Broadway musical overture that hints at melodies to come. And this incredible theological promise about the church, it has to be more than Paul giving the old PNP sandwich (positive, negative, positive) to the Corinthian congregation. “God is faithful; by God you were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is something stronger going on here.
As we prepare in a few moments to share in the Lord’s Supper this first Sunday of Advent, it is helpful to remember that the familiar Words of Institution here at the Table come from I Corinthians as well. “when he had given thanks, he broke it….do this in remembrance of me…In the same manner he took the cup…. The new covenant in my blood” finishing with “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” Paul writes, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” You proclaim. In Greek, you is plural. Every time you all do this, you all proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” You plural. Not the preacher. Not the celebrant. Not the pastor. Not the choir. You. In the eating and drinking. All of you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Which brings us back to the Thanksgiving in chapter one where all the “you” pronouns are plural. “I give thanks to my God always for you (plural) because of the grace of God that has been given you (plural) in Christ Jesus…in every way you (plural) have been enriched in him….you (plural) are not lacking in any spiritual gift…..Christ will strengthen you (plural) to the end….God is faithful; by God, you (plural) were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Of course, God’s promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is for you and for me. But these affirmations, this incredible theological promise about the grace of Christ given, and in every way being enriched in Christ, and the testimony of Christ has been strengthened and not lacking in any spiritual gift and Christ will strengthen to the end, these affirmations, that promise is for us, for you and me together, for the church of God that is Nassau Presbyterian Church. That’s why you can’t skip the Thanksgiving and just jump to all that is wrong with the church. You can’t skip over Paul’s affirmation and promise to you(pl). You can’t pass over the Apostle Paul’s claim about the identity and the reality of what it means to be the church. Because, as Paul famously puts it a few chapters later, “Now you (plural) are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Corinthians 12:27)
In Christ you have all the grace you need. In Christ you have been enriched in every way. In him, your testimony to Christ has been strengthened. In him, you are not lacking in any spirit gift. And in Christ you will be strengthened to the end. Blameless. Because God is faithful. And God called you into fellowship with God’s Son. It is who you (plural) are! Indeed you are the body of Christ. Even more, you are the body of Christ with everything you need, in him.
Advent is about waiting for both Christ’s birth and for his coming again. The assigned biblical texts for the first Sunday are usually lean toward, lean into his coming again. Thus here in this morning’s text: “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The day of his coming again. “Strengthen you to the end.” The Greek word of end here is telos. The common meaning would be the end in terms of time or something coming to an end. But it can also mean the goal. The aim. The goal, the aim is to be strengthened. That in him you (plural) shall be strengthened. With all the grace you need, and having every spiritual gift, in Jesus Christ, you (plural) shall be strengthened. Strengthened not just in the end. But strengthened now. Right now.
The reason you can not skip over I Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul’s formulaic thanksgiving offered to the church in Corinth, the reason you can’t rush to the rumors of divisions in the church, and disagreements among leaders, and all the real and immediate challenge and threats facing the church is because this the Apostle Paul, telling the Corinthian Church, telling the Church of Jesus Christ, telling the church of Jesus Christ at Nassau, Paul telling you that in Christ “You’ve got this…we’ve got this.” The Apostle Paul telling the Church of Jesus Christ that amid all the very real and immediate challenges and threats, that In Christ, we are going to be okay. Way more than okay.
Last Monday evening our Forward in Faith Working Group hosted an Advent preview. The zoom gathering came on the heels of the Session’s decision to continue livestream worship with worship leaders only in the building into 2021. That means virtual Advent and Christmas. As plans were shared, I mentioned that I think from the staff perspective we were about at Advent 4.0 in terms of changing gears and shifting plans and finding new ways to creatively engage Advent’s season of promise amid an ongoing pandemic. Outdoor Advent craft fair with wreathing making to go, Christmas trees on the front porch to be decorated by all of you when you drive by, Advent wreath candle lighting in worship recorded in homes, more gratitude videos to share, a daily devotional written by you (plural), Alternative Gifts expanded and now all online, Advent evening prayer Tuesdays and Thursday at 8:00pm hosted by members of the staff online. Plans that will make Christmas Eve worship in your homes a meaningful night to remember.
In Christ, we are going to be okay. Way more than okay. Because in our world so broken with suffering, virus, death, fatigue, fear, and darkness, the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you (plural). And your testimony to God’s love and grace and peace made known in the Christ Child, your testimony to the power of that love and grace and peace to transform the world, with your testimony in word and deed, with your testimony you proclaim the Lord’s birth, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, until he comes. You (plural) proclaim.
Nassau Presbyterian Church. Strengthened not just in the end. But strengthened right now. You’ve got this.