I think knowing the context changes everything. What he writes here is shocking.
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
I always thank God for who? Who is he thankful for? For the Corinthians. Did he write this letter and mail it to the wrong address? Maybe he meant to send it Philippi or Smyrna or the church at Philadelphia? Those churches were worthy of thanksgiving, but Corinth? This seems like a mistake.
Have you heard about the group, Twisted Sister? Well, if you haven’t, that’s fine. They are a heavy metal band from the 80s. And I am not recommending them because they worshipped Satan, so of course, as a Christian, my point is not for you to listen to their songs and become a fan. That would be terrible. But I have to admit, they sang a rather catchy tune, called “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and as I was reading this text, I don’t know why, but that song popped into my mind. Let me just sing the chorus for you. “We’re not gonna take it, No, we ain’t gonna take it, we’re not gonna take it anymore…”
That should be Paul’s theme song whenever someone mentioned the Corinthian church. I am not going to take it, anymore. Forget those guys! As we have been covering in recent months, the church at Corinth is filled with problems.
Starting in v10, which is the verse right after he gives thanks, we read that this church is divided.
In chapter 2: We read about a church that is run by self-centered leaders who lead using the wisdom of the world.
Chapter 3: Again, there is mention of divisions.
Chapter 4: Paul contrasts the Corinthian leaders with true apostles. Let me read 1 Cor 4:6-13 because this description about the Corinthian leaders is striking.
1 Cor 4:6-13
6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
Quite a contrast when you compare Paul, a true apostle, with one of these Corinthian leaders. There is a huge chasm of difference.
Then, we pick up in chapter 5, which we covered last week, where Paul talks about a church that has become blind to the ways of God. And he reveals the gory details of what is happening at Corinth. A member of the church is having sex with his stepmother. And instead of mourning over the spiritual state of their community, the Corinthians are boasting.
Does it make sense that Paul is thankful for this kind of church? This sounds more like a soap opera than a church. And Paul should be saying, I’m not gonna take it.
After knowing the context, does this change how you read these verses?
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
These verses are shocking, aren’t they?
Is Paul one of those people who has his head buried in the sand, he sees no evil, he hears no evil, the birds are always singing, life is great? Is Paul blindly optimistic? I don’t think so. Let me read you a section from 2 Cor 11:23-29.
2 Cor 11:23-29
23 …I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
There is so much that happened to Paul that could have turned him into a bitter old man. He was imprisoned. Flogged. Beaten. Stoned. He was shipwrecked. He was lost at sea. He was never able to settle down. He was constantly on the run for fear of his life. He experienced many sleepless nights. He was often hungry and thirsty. He lived through being cold and naked. And on top of all that, if that wasn’t bad enough, he had to deal with the sins that crept into the churches he planted. External threats and difficult circumstances didn’t seem to faze him, but if he heard a report about a church member in sin, he felt weak and he inwardly burned.
We’re not gonna take it… You wonder, why didn’t Paul just give up on these guys?
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…
For some, you could read this and say, Paul is being sarcastic because he does use sarcasm in this letter. v5 – is Paul being sincere when he is thanking God that they are enriched in every way when he mentions their speaking and knowledge? Because if you recall, these guys were boasting about their speaking and their knowledge so can Paul really be thankful for those very things that caused them later on to become proud and spiritually blind?
I do believe Paul is sincere, he is genuinely thankful. Paul is thankful for the Corinthians, but why? v4 – I always thank God for you BECAUSE, now here’s the reason – Paul is thankful for them BECAUSE of his GRACE given you in CHRIST JESUS. Grace given you in Christ Jesus. This is significant. Paul is not thankful for the Corinthians because they are so mature and spiritual. Paul is not looking at the circumstances, he’s not looking at the events unfolding at that church because if he did, he’d be depressed.
Paul is genuinely thankful for them because of God’s grace given to them in Christ Jesus.
6 …because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
Paul shared his testimony about Christ while he was there with them when he first planted this church. Isn’t that we do every Sunday? Isn’t that we do whenever we gather for Bible study, or we meet 1-on-1 for discipleship, or meet for prayer? Those are all opportunities of sharing our testimony about Christ. What Christ has done for me, how he has spoken to me, how important he is in my life. Paul shared his testimony about Christ, he shared the gospel and that testimony about Christ was confirmed in them.
That’s Christian evangelism – sharing with others our testimony about Christ and how he has impacted my life.
Paul’s testimony about Christ was confirmed in the lives of the Corinthians. In other words, the Corinthians were saved. This wasn’t a shallow decision. This was not an act of their will. This was not an emotional response to a good retreat message or a praise song where there is no change afterward. God did in fact save them. Paul’s testimony about Christ was CONFIRMED in them.
Just because you say you are a Christian doesn’t mean that you are saved. Was your decision ever confirmed? Were there any signs of rebirth, of being a new creation where the old has gone and the new has come? Was there a change in attitude, in behavior, has your love for God and love for people grown?
What evidence do we have that this was a true encounter with Jesus for the Corinthians and not just a shallow, human decision?
7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
They lacked no spiritual gift. The Greek word for grace is “charis” and the Greek word for spiritual gift is “charismata.” They share the same root. It’s just 2 variations of the same word. The grace of God is given to every believer unto salvation. And on top of that grace, that charis, God’s favor was poured out to this church in the form of charismata, or spiritual gifts. That’s where we get the Charismatic movement, or the Pentecostals. The Corinthians were Pentecostals. God encouraged them and gave them visible signs that they possessed charis, or the grace of God, from which specific spiritual gifts originate. Paul saw something which gave him confidence, these guys get it. My testimony about Christ is confirmed in them. They have been born-again. Possessing spiritual gifts provides further evidence for the reader to know that Paul is talking about born-again believers.