Agonizomai: 1 Cor 1:4-7 - The Proof of the Pudding

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1 Cor 1:4-7 - The Proof of the Pudding

4-7 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ...

For those who are familiar with this epistle this introduction must never cease to amaze. The Corinthian church of this time was, and stands in history as, a testimony to what a church ought not to be like in so many ways. Those who rush to the example of Corinth in order to bolster support for the more charismatic gifts within the church often miss the point that the display of many of these gifts was grossly unchristian in spirit. This is undeniable upon any reasonable reading of the text.

The truly astounding part is that God nevertheless did indeed gift these people by His grace with many great things in Jesus Christ. And the only way I have found to get past the apparently glaring contradiction of so great a gifting and so perverse a use of it is to accept that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. In other words, God is not an Indian giver. What He gives He gives without changing His mind and taking it back. He never regrets what He has done because He did it for a purpose.

Perhaps the purpose of giving manifest gifts to the church at Corinth was so that we in later generations would understand His grace. Perhaps it was so that the Corinthian believers would learn the value of His grace under the correcting hand of His apostle. It might have been so that we and they would be taught not to abuse the grace of God by presuming upon it - and then to be taught the height and width and depth of His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ towards we who belong to Him by displaying great forgiveness and patience with our foolish ways.

Whatever God’s purposes were, it must be understood that God dispenses His gifts as He pleases and for good purposes. When we see foolishness in the misuse of gifts we ought to understand that we must remember Ro 2:1, and look to ourselves first in all things before we are able to judge another. Note - we look to ourselves first, but that does not mean we are never to assess the fruit in another but rightly use God’s word as the measure and for the purposes of loving correction. We ought never to throw out the baby with the bath water.

But, getting back to the grace given to the Corinthians, we can see that they were genuinely enlightened in their understanding (knowledge) and in their speech or utterance. In other words they understood the things of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ and even had insights that they rightly communicated. They were getting it right in so many ways and this was a confirmation of the true working of God’s Spirit in and among them. It testified to their belonging to Jesus Christ because such things - understanding, knowledge, witness, prophetic ability - were indicators of His work in them.

The idea of them not lacking in any spiritual gift is addressed to the local church body, of course, and not to any one individual per se. No one person but the Lord Himself – the Giver – has every spiritual gift in perfect balance or array. Some have one gift and others have another. Some have more of a particular gift and less of another, as God Himself sees fit. But there can be little doubt that the Corinthians had all that they needed to be a growing, thriving fellowship, and a vital instrument of God in one of the darker places upon the earth of that time.

One characteristic of the early church, and one that is to be typical of all the saints throughout the gospel age, is to be awaiting the return of Jesus. The OT saints awaited His arrival – His incarnation – and the NT saints await His second coming, which will be in power and glory to rule and to judge. And this short phrase in verse 7 testifies that God has not left us alone and without hope. We have the down payment, so to speak - what Paul calls the earnest of our inheritance - in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through Whose agency comes both gifting and fruit. The gifts are meant to be an encouragement; not so much an empirical "proof" because that would mitigate against faith - but an evidence that nevertheless satisfies the faithful ones. Faith is not blind; it is not a leap in the dark; it a an acceptance of the truth and reliability and rightness of what God Himself has declared and manifested.

And so this evidence that is received through faith is our comfort while we await His physical, historical return. The gifts spoken of here are real and they are meant to encourage the Corinthian church and all believers everywhere. {1Co 1:2}

While the most obvious meaning is usually the best - and this is no exception - yet there is a sense in which all the saints are always waiting for the revelation of Jesus Christ in the world. This additional sense does not detract from the well established and accepted doctrine of the imminent return of the Lord, for that Day will come as the next verse clearly says. But as the Apostle Paul spoke about God being pleased to reveal His Son in him {Ga 1:15-16} , so God is pleased to reveal His Son in all of His elect throughout the ages until that Day. And I speak of not only the initial revelation at the moment of conversion - but the ongoing revelation of Christ in us, the hope of glory, as He is formed in us.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans


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