Last week we were studying Paul’s greeting to the church in Corinth. And, in his greeting to them, he referred to God’s grace — or his kindness — to them. First of all, God’s grace, his kindness to them, is seen in the fact that they had become the church of God, or God’s assembly in Corinth. So, they belonged to God, who had purchased them for himself by the blood the Lord Jesus Christ. And as his church, they were able to assemble in his presence week by week; and when they did, he spoke to them through his word and he listened to them when they prayed. And as members of his church, they were also citizens of heaven, so that while they lived in Corinth, their true home was in heaven with the Lord who loved them and who gave up his life for them; and one day they would be with him in their true and heavenly home.
So, what a privilege to belong to God’s church. But we also saw God’s grace, his kindness to them, in the fact that they had been sanctified in Christ Jesus. Though they were sinners — and as we’ll see, the church in Corinth was a messy church and its members sinned in many and various ways — nevertheless, though they were sinners, they weren’t only sinners, because they were also sanctified saints, God’s holy people. Because they were united with Christ through faith and by grace, they were washed and cleansed by the blood of Christ and justified by God and accepted as righteous in God’s sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ which was their’s through faith. They were sinners, but that’s not all they were, because by grace and through faith they had become saints of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus and holy in his sight.
And the same thing can be said about us: we’re sinners, and everyday we sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed by our sinful thoughts and word and desires and deeds. Instead of walking in his ways, we go astray; and we fall short of doing his will. We’re sinners, but if you’re trusting in Christ Jesus the Saviour, then that’s not all you are; if you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you’re not only a sinner, but you’re also — for the sake of Christ — a sanctified saint in the sight of God. And as God’s sanctified saints, we’re able to assemble in the presence of God each week when he speaks to us through his word and when he listens to us when we pray. This is the grace of God: his kindness to undeserving sinners.
In verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 1, Paul writes how he always thanks God for the members of the church in Corinth. So, whenever he prayed about them, he always remembered to give thanks to God for them. But more specifically, he gave thanks to God because of God’s grace given to them in Christ Jesus. So, he was aware of God’s kindness to them; he was aware of the many blessings they have received from God; he was aware of the way God had come down into their lives to deliver them from their sin and misery and to justify them and to raise them up to new life with Christ; he was aware of the way God had set them apart and sanctified them in Christ Jesus; he was aware of the way God has united them together as members of his church; he was aware too of the many spiritual gifts of the Spirit which God has given to them. He was aware of all of these things. And so, he often gave thanks to God for God’s kindness to them. So, he did what the Psalmist does in Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not….
What? Forget not what? Forget not all his benefits, all the good things he does for us and all the good things he gives to us. Forget not all his grace and his kindness and his goodness to us. Well, Paul blesses the Lord; he praises him and gives thanks to him for the benefits he had given to the members of the church in Corinth.
And Paul goes on in verse 5 to acknowledge how they have been enriched in every way. They have been made rich, he says. Now, he’s not talking about material wealth; he’s not talking about money in the bank. He’s talking about how they have been enriched spiritually, because God has poured down on them one spiritual blessing after another, one spiritual gift after another, so that if you were to go to this church, and meet the people, and find out about them, you’d go away amazed at all the spiritual gifts which the Lord had given to them. Do you remember King Solomon in the Old Testament, who asked for wisdom and not for wealth? And the Lord was so pleased with Solomon, he gave him both: great wisdom and great wealth. He became so wise and so wealthy, that everyone was talking about it and his fame spread throughout the world. And when the Queen of Sheba heard about it, she came to see for herself. And having seen his kingdom, and all his wealth, she declared:
The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.
Well, a visitor to the church in Corinth might have said the same kind of thing about them, because they too had been enriched in every way by the Lord: enriched, of course, with spiritual gifts. And we know that Paul is referring to spiritual riches, because he goes on in verse 5 to refer to two ways they had been enriched: in all your speaking, he said, and in all your knowledge.
What did he mean by speaking? Well, later in the letter, Paul refers to the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy. Don’t worry about what those gifts are for now; we’ll come back to what those gifts were when we reach the relevant passages. However, Paul was aware of how the members of this church possessed these two gifts; and he acknowledges it here and gives thanks to God for giving these gifts to them. And he mentions their knowledge too; and perhaps Paul is referring to spiritual insight; God had given some of them special spiritual insight in order to understand God’s mysteries. So God has enriched them in these two ways; in speech and in knowledge.
Now, it’s true — and we’ll see this as we go through the rest of this letter — the members of the church in Corinth were misusing the gifts God had given them. Those with the gift of speaking in tongues were claiming they were better than everyone else. So, they were being proud and boastful. And those with special knowledge were acting like know-it-alls and instead of building others up, they were tearing them down. Because they were sinners, they misused God’s good gifts. Nevertheless, Paul was still able to give thanks to God, because the gifts themselves were good, and God had been gracious and kind in giving these good gifts to them.
But notice this before we move on to the next point. One of the problems in the church in Corinth was that the people had become proud and boastful and know-it-alls. They were boasting about the gifts they possessed and the knowledge they had. They were boasting about the spiritual riches they possessed. But here’s the thing: since the gifts they possessed were gifts — gifts which they had been given by God and gifts which they had received from God — then there was no reason for them to boast. Why should they boast as if they were responsible for the gifts? Why should they boast as if they had produced these gifts by themselves? And so, later on Paul will say to them:
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? All of your gifts, all of your spiritual wealth, all of the things you boast in, you received it all, didn’t you? You received it all from the Lord. So, then if you received it, why do you boast?
And, of course, if you look down to verse 6, you’ll see as well that they received these gifts from God through Paul’s ministry. Paul came to them to preach the gospel and to testify to them about Jesus Christ. And God worked in them through the preaching of the gospel to deliver them from their sin and misery; to justify them so that they’re pardoned and accepted; to give them new life in Christ and the hope of everlasting life; and to give them these spiritual gifts. The presence of these gifts among them confirmed the truth and power of Paul’s ministry among them, because the presence of these gifts in their lives was the result or the fruit of Paul’s ministry among them. So, why are you boasting? Why are you boasting about what you have, because everything you have you received from God by means of Paul’s ministry among you.
And, of course, believers in every age need to learn the same lesson. You need to learn the same lesson, because believers in every age are tempted to become proud and to boast that I’m better than everyone else:
I’m better than everyone else, because look at what I can do.
Look at my gifts and talents, which are so much better than your gifts and talents.
Look at me and all I’m able to do.
And so we become proud and boastful. But we need to remember and believe that everything we have, every spiritual gift we possess, has been given to us by God. And look back to verse 4: these gifts are given to us in Christ Jesus. So, whatever gifts we received from God, were given to us, not because we deserved it, and not because of anything we have done. No, whatever gift we have received, we’ve only received it because of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, we’re not to boast about ourselves; we’re to boast about the Lord Jesus Christ and we’re to give thanks to God our Father for all his kindness to us.
So, the members of the church in Corinth have been enriched in every way. Therefore, Paul says in verse 7, you do not lack any spiritual gift. So again, if we were able to visit that church, we’d be astounded because of the number and the variety of gifts among the members. Is there someone with this gift? Yes there is. Is there someone with this gift? Yes there is. What about this gift? Yes. And this one? Yes. What about this one? Anyone with this one? Oh yes, many of our members possess that gift. There was no lack or shortage among them.
However, they weren’t yet perfect. Despite the abundance of gifts among them, they weren’t yet perfect; and they hadn’t yet entered the glory to come. Though their meetings, when they assembled together, must have been wonderful, with all those gifts on display, they were still not perfect. And Paul refers to this in verse 7 when he moves from saying that they do not lack any spiritual gift to reminding them that they’re still waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. When he talks about the Lord being revealed, he’s talking about the coming of the Lord, when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven and will come again in glory and power to judge the living and the dead and to bring in the new heaven and the new earth where all of God’s people will be with him for ever and for ever. And so, Paul gets them to look above Corinth to heaven above from where their Saviour would come; and he gets them to look away from the present to the future and to the time when Christ will come again. And the reason he gets them to look upwards to heaven and to look forward to Christ’s coming is so that they will remember and believe that they’re not yet perfect. Yes, they’re enriched in every way; and they’re enjoying an abundance of good gifts from the Lord. However, all of these spiritual gifts are for the time being only, and there’s more to come. The Lord has even more glorious things in store for them.
And so, later in this letter — in chapter 13 — Paul will write about this more directly. He will say:
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
So, right now some of you excel in speech and knowledge. In fact, right now, some of you boast about these things. But these things will not last, because they’re only for the time being, while we wait for the Saviour to come again. So, right now, by enjoying these gifts from God, you understand a little of what God is like. But when he comes we’ll know him so much better. And Paul goes on in that same passage to liken our situation now to that of a child. So:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
So, there are certain things a child does while he’s a child. But when he grows up and becomes a man, he does different things. And there are certain things we do now in the church which we will give up whenever the Lord comes again. And Paul continues:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Seeing in a mirror is one thing, but seeing someone face to face is altogether better. And while the Corinthians were able to see and to understand something about what God is like from the gifts they had received, nevertheless it was nothing compared to what will happen in the future when they will know him and see him face to face.
The members of the church in Corinth were able to enjoy and to benefit from all these gifts the Lord had given them. But they weren’t yet perfect, and they hadn’t yet reached the glory above, and all of the gifts they had received were only for the time being. And believers in every age need to remember and believe that we’re not yet perfect; we haven’t yet arrived; we’re still to wait and to wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, because when he comes, we shall see him face to face and we shall be like him. When he comes again, we shall know the Lord and all his perfections is a way that we can’t even imagine now. We’ll never know him exhaustively, because how can finite humans know the infinite God? But our knowledge of him and all his perfections will be so much better than now. So, while we go on living on the earth, worshipping the Lord and rejoicing in his kindness to us, we’re to look forward to the coming of the Lord when we shall know him face to face and all of God’s people will join together to praise the Lord God Almighty and his Son Jesus Christ.
So, Paul gives thanks to God for the gifts he had given to his saints in Corinth. And he reminded them that there’s more to come when the Lord returns. The third and final point today is this: while we wait for the Lord to be revealed, we can be confident. We can be confident, because look at verse 8 where Paul tells his readers that he — the Lord Jesus Christ — will keep you to the end. And look at verse 10:
God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ, is faithful.
Well, we thought briefly this morning about the perseverance of the saints. Do you remember those words from our church’s Confession?
Those whom God has accepted in his Beloved Son and effectively called and sanctified by his Spirit can never totally or finally fall out of the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere in that state to the end and be eternally saved.
God’s people shall certainly persevere in the state of grace to the end and be eternally saved. So, while the Corinthians were guilty of many things, as we’ll see; and though they had sinned in multiple ways as we’ll see; nevertheless, Paul was confident that they would be kept to the end. But Paul’s confidence did not rest on them, the Corinthians. No, his confidence rested on God who is faithful and on the Lord Jesus Christ who is able to keep his people to the end. And that’s what our Confession teaches as well. Do you remember? Our ability to persevere does not depend on us and on our will and determination, but on God the Father who has planned our salvation; and on God the Son who has accomplished our salvation; and also on God the Holy Spirit who applies our salvation to us.
So, despite all their error and sin, all their shortcomings and weaknesses, Paul was confident that the Lord Jesus Christ will keep his people to the end. He’s the Good Shepherd who watches over his peoplel and who leads us along the paths of righteousnessl and who protects us from evill and who carries us when we’re hurt; and who will never, ever lose any of his people who belong to him.
And look at the rest of verse 8, because not only will he keep us to the end, but we will be blameless on the day of the Lord. In other words, on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven and comes again, his people will be found blameless, so that we cannot be blamed for any sin. And that’s remarkable. On that day when the Lord is revealed from heaven, he will judge the living and the dead. Everyone who has ever lived will be brought before him to be judged by him.
We read about this great and terrible day in Matthew 25 where the Lord tells us how he — the Son of Man — will come in his glory with all his angels to sit on his throne in heavenly glory. And all the nations will be gathered before him and all who have disregarded his word and disobeyed his laws will go away to eternal punishment.
And we read about this great and terrible day in Revelation 20 where it tells us that the Lord will sit on a great white throne. And the dead — who of course have been raised to face the judgment — the dead, both great and small, will stand before the throne. And books will be opened. What is written in these books? Well, its a record of our sins: every sinful thing we have done; every sinful word we have spoken; every sinful thought we have had; every sinful desires and inclination in our hearts. They’re all recorded there, in those books. And in Revelation 20 we’re told that everyone will be judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. So, the Lord has a record of all that we have done wrong; he has a record of everything we can be blamed for; he knows our every sin and we will stand before his heavenly throne to be judged for what we have done wrong. Everyone will be there: the living and the dead from every nation. And everlasting punishment in the lake of fire awaits us, because of what is recorded in those books about each one of us.
And yet, how marvellous, how wonderful, because on that day, the Lord’s people will be found blameless. Though you have sinned against the Lord from your childhood right throughout your lives, breaking his laws and commandments in so many ways they cannot be counted, nevertheless on that day you will be found blameless in him if you believe in him now. If you believe in him in this life, then instead of being condemned because of your sins, you will be declared righteous in God’s sight. If you believe in him in this life, instead of going away into eternal punishment, you will go in to eternal life. If you believe in him in this life, then you will not be condemned, and you will not go away into eternal punishment, but into eternal life, because of Jesus Christ who took your sin upon himself and who suffered God’s wrath in your place and who bore your punishment on the cross and whose perfect righteousness — his perfect obedience — covers you like a perfect robe, so that on that day, when you stand before the judgment throne, you will not be condemned, but will be declared blameless, innocent of all charges, and worthy of eternal life. Worthy, not in yourself, but in Jesus Christ the Saviour, who loved you and who died to pay for your sins and who was raised to give you life.
Paul is confident that God will keep the Corinthians to the end. And he’s confident that in the end, they will be found blameless in Christ. And that’s the confidence that Christ gives to all his people, to everyone who trusts in him and who has asked God to forgive them for the sake of Christ who died for sinners and who was raised to give us life. And if you trust in him, then he will keep you to the end. And God, who called us, is faithful. He’s faithful, so that he will never, ever break his word to us, he will never, ever break his promise to us. He’s faithful, so we can always, always rely on him to do what he has promised and to give eternal life to all who trust in his Son.