The Lord Sustains You To The End

October 16, 2005
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Corinthians 1:3-9

1. Today we read from an epistle to the Corinthians. To a certain extent it would be less and less surprising the longer church life went on and the more you read this letter, but I don't think the first readers could help themselves from being surprised that this was a letter addressed to a church. It is a letter that makes mention of so many problems. Right after the scripture passage that we read today, the text already says this next, "So, my brothers, I exhort you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone, do not speak selfishly, do not have discord, but have one heart, have one mind, and be tightly connected with each other," (verse ten). In short, everybody was speaking selfishly and was in discord. As we read further, there were problems of sexual immorality in the church, there were law suits, there was confusion stemming from wrong teaching, there was even a problem with idolatry. -- What! Was this a church?!

2. But, the churches that are in this world do have problems in varying degrees, though maybe not to the extent of the church at Corinth. Even Shoei Church is no exception. Those expecting there to be only angelic like people here will, unfortunately, never be satisfied. But then again, if there were a church where there were only angels in it, it would probably be hard for any of you to sit in it. Of course, it would be for me. Since we are an actual church with problems, you and I are both here.

Being In Christ And Receiving [His] Grace

3. In any event, the church at Corinth did have a lot of problems as mentioned. This letter was written to that specific church. What in the world was Paul writing in this letter at the opening section that followed the greeting? Believe it or not, there he recorded some words of thanksgiving unto God. I just have to say that this is surprising to me. As you read on, you soon see why, but this letter is an epistle with some pretty tough subject matter in it. Paul came face to face with the many problems in the church at Corinth. He confronted them dead on. He put both words of exhortation and reprimand together. In that sense, it wasn't what you might call a joyous letter. Nevertheless, though, he began to write with words of thanksgiving.

4. "I give thanks unto God always in that you have received the grace of God through Christ Jesus," (verse four). The contents of his thanks are defined, which is, that the Corinthian disciples have received the grace of God through Christ Jesus.

5. The text here says, "through Christ Jesus," but this phrase could be translated as "in Christ" or as "joined to Christ." It is an expression often used by Paul, and in English Bibles in most cases it is "in Christ." So, "through Christ" is, of course," okay, too, but the nuance of "in Christ Jesus" is also quite significant. When Paul saw the problem laden church at Corinth, he saw them first as persons who were "in Christ."

6."Being in Christ" also means "being in Christ's work of salvation." It means to be in the work of atonement that comes from Christ. Therefore, the text says about it that "[you] have received the grace of God." It's called "grace" because it is "a grace or a blessing" that is freely given. What [exactly] has been given freely? God's salvation has. God's righteousness has [been given freely]. In The Epistle To Rome, what it says there is written as follows: "Everyone has sinned and has become unable to receive the glory of God, but through the work of redemption that comes from Christ Jesus alone, one is justified freely through the grace of God," (Romans 3:23-24).

7. Even the Corinthian believers were made righteous without paying for it. They were forgiven for their sin and accepted by God. When put another way, it would be that God was no longer looking directly at them. Since they were in Christ, he looked at them through Christ, through his work of atonement. Yes, indeed, that is how God looks at [believers]. That's why right off even Paul looked at the Corinthian church that way. For that reason, in the previous section as well, he called them "the church of God which is in Corinth" (verse two), and he called [them] "the people who are called and have been made saints" (same verse).

8. Well, we are an actual church on this earth, the same as the church at Corinth. Therefore, we may often look for the many problems in other people. Or, even more than that, we may look for the many problems within ourselves. And actually, maybe we had better deal with many of those problems. It is also a hard thing to do, requiring great patience. Yet first of all, we must begin by always looking at the church and ourselves as persons who are in Christ, persons who have received grace. That also means this, that we do not start from condemning others. For, whenever we start from condemnation, we do not advance in a direction of building up, but in the direction of tearing down.

Not Lacking In Even One Gift

9. Well, the church at Corinth was certainly a church with many problems, but there's more to it, it is not just a church with only problems. The church at Corinth used to have a number of superior aspects to it. It was truly a church rich in various points. Paul said this, "You are joined to Christ, and you have been made rich on all points, in all kinds of words, and in all kinds of knowledge," (verse five).

10. First, that church was rich in speech and knowledge. In the fact that the Word of God was being spoken and heard, the church at Corinth was not lacking at all. Many evangelists and teachers were there. Also, there were more than a few persons there, who might be called theologians in our time. They could think deep, bring it into human words, and properly pass it on to others. It is generally held as a fact that the church at Corinth was very excellent on this point [as] a church. Therefore, [the scripture] also says about the Corinthian Church, that "Your testimony for Christ has been made certain among you." As a church, it was able to be a witness for Christ in its speech and knowledge without being timid while it was right in the middle of the city of Corinth which was also a cultural center as well as a commercial center through which many people passed as it was a bottleneck for traffic.

11. In addition, the riches of the Corinthian church didn't stop in just speech and knowledge. This church was also richly given spiritual gifts. The scripture says it like this, "You are not lacking in even one gift."

12. To be specific, when we look, for example, at chapter twelve of this epistle, the following is written: "The reason for the appearing of the work of 'the spirit' in each one is that it be a benefit to the entire body. A word of wisdom through 'the spirit' to certain persons and a word of knowledge through the same 'spirit' to certain persons are given, faith through that same 'spirit' to certain persons, the power to heal disease through that one and only 'spirit' to certain persons, the power to perform miracles to certain persons, the power to prophecy to certain persons, the power to discern spirits to certain persons, the power to speak different foreign languages to certain persons, the power to translate foreign languages to certain persons are given. All of these are the work of the one and the same 'spirit,' and 'the spirit' gives them out to each person the way it wants to," (12:7-11).

13. What a list of gifts [this] is! When [you] put it together with what [the text] has already mentioned, you can imagine to a degree the church at Corinth. Perhaps it must have been a quite lively and active congregation, a missionary church, a church with lots of orators and persons excellent in abilities, a church where supernatural and astonishingly powerful works and miracles took place regularly.

14. It was a rich church in every point. Of course, the ways are different, but even Shoei Church has things that it could say as Shoei Church that this is [part of] the riches of this church. There's nothing wrong with that. But, the main thing is that Paul consistently connects these riches to "the grace of God." It is that he seeks all things in Christ. He expresses this as "made rich," he expresses this as "gifts." Originally, the word "gift (charisma)" came from the word "grace (charis)". He gives thanks unto God for this the way it is.

15. This must have very much been the main subject even for the Corinthian believers who read it; because where there are riches, there is also pride. As a matter of fact, Paul couldn't help but write this later: "Who has made you superior to others? Is there anything that you have that you did not receive? Since you received it, why are you proud acting like you didn't receive it?," (4:7). That's what the situation in the church was which he couldn't help but write about. He showed this to the Corinthians while at the same time he gave God thanks as he connected the riches at the church at Corinth with the grace of God that is in Christ. I think he wrote this with a nuance that would show that there is nothing to brag about even though these riches are something to be thankful for.

The Lord Will Sustain [You] To The End

16. Thus, Paul sees the problematic state of the church and its various excellent riches in which they could take pride as all being in grace, as all things that are in Christ. Furthermore, Paul was convinced that Christ indeed would perfect the church and that he would indeed perfect Christians. He says, "The Lord will sustain you steadfastly to the end, and on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, he would make you impeccable. God is faithful. Through this God you are called into a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God," (verses eight and nine).

17. There is probably no one who has pursued as much as Paul the church as the body of Christ, the manner in which Christians ought to be as each part in the body. For that purpose Paul seriously engaged in the many issues that the church in the real world had, and he spared no hard work for it. But, though he was like that, here there is never felt even a smidgen of enthusiasm to try to perfect the way the church ought to be through his very own hands. Why? Because he knew quite well that the one who wanted its perfection more than anything else was not Paul but Christ himself. Until the last day when Christ re-appears, Christ himself will sustain [his churches]. To put it briefly, to the very end he will keep himself close to its business and not give up on it. If this was not a fact, the words would not be in the text that they will be "impeccable." Everything has to do with Christ. Therefore, Paul will never abandon them, he will not let them go, he can come face to face with the troublesome problems [of the Corinthians].

18. I think we ought to have this attitude, too. Even to the very end the Lord will never abandon us or give us up, whether the church or us in it. Even though the Lord never gives up, we are always giving up on the church and we are always writing ourselves out, though we shouldn't.

19. "God is faithful." Paul said that. We are living in an age when the word "faithful, loyal" has become faded out. Loyal people worth trusting in can hardly be found anywhere. But, for that very reason we do want to turn our eyes on God's loyalty. After this Lord's Day we enter Advent season. The name "Advent" comes from the word "coming." The coming of Christ two thousand years ago was a manifestation of God's faithfulness, and God's faithfulness will soon bring about the second coming of Christ. Our faithful God beckons us. Our faithful God calls us into a relationship with Christ Jesus. The one who began something in you is your faithful God. Since he began something in you, he will finish it. For that reason, what we need to do is to lean upon his faithfulness and to be patient in doing so.