Don’t Shoot the Wounded: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and the Perseverance of the Saints

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

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 was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ESV)

 

 

One of the greatest tragedies among orthodox evangelical Christians is our tendency to shoot the wounded. Often, whenever a brother or sister falls, instead of coming alongside them and helping them up, we have an inclination to stand over them, heaping upon them pitiless moral aphorisms and a conceptual theology that doesn’t recognize them as real human beings made in the image of the real, not-a-concept, living God.

Εὐχαριστῶ. I give thanks. And I don’t just give a general thanks for a general circumstance. I give thanks for you.

Paul is talking to Christians, to his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in Christ. And to them, to the church of God in Corinth, without the layer of falsity that so often marks the calm before the storm, the Apostle declares to these faulty and broken people that he gives thanks for them. He is grateful to God for them; despite every hard thing he is going to have to say in this letter, the reality underlying it all is a deep and tender gratitude. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians is book-ended with love and thanks; no matter how hard the middle may be to swallow, we recognize that nothing is being said in this exhortation that is not meant for the greater good of those whom Paul is addressing. I give thanks to my God always for youThe grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. The ellipsis between these two statements must be understood in light of these two statements, or else we miss the point of this epistle.

But why? Why is Paul giving thanks for these people? Surely you’ve read 1 Corinthians! Sexual immorality is rife. Divisions abound. When it comes to spiritual gifts, they just don’t seem to get it. Even the Lord’s Supper is being misused – and people are dying because of it. These people are not spiritual, even Paul says as much. They are “people of the flesh”, σαρκίνοις. They are infants in Christ.[1] But, they are in Christ. And for this, Paul is eternally thankful. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any gift. Why is Paul thankful? Essentially, not because of something that the Corinthians have done, but because of what was done for them and in them by God’s grace. God has made them believers, and has equipped them with all things needful. They are Christians, they are the saints, justified in Christ, living examples of the grace of Almighty God for which we should give thanks and praise. As Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”[2] The saints, even the faulty ones (as if there were any other kind), they are the excellent handiwork of God, and we do well when we rejoice in seeing God’s work in them.

…as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ… Brothers and sisters, we are all waiting. We are all in the in-between of Christ’s ascension and Christ’s return. Paul was waiting. Paul wanted nothing more than to be with Christ.[3] Paul recognized that the age in which we are living is a dark one, and full of evil and brokenness.[4] Do you think that the Corinthians, despite their faults, didn’t feel the brokenness of everything around them as painfully as you do? Do you think that the Corinthians shed no tears, felt no pangs of injustice, knew no loss or death? It would seem that Paul didn’t think this. Paul knew his people. He knew their struggles, and he knew that they were waiting for Jesus eagerly, just as he was waiting for Jesus to come and set all things right. This is yet another reason why shooting the wounded doesn’t make any sense; we’re all wounded – we’re all waiting to be fully healed, fully delivered from our deadly wound and waiting for the restoration of this sin-broken world.

Paul also recognizes something that we usually don’t when we give up on our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not the main actors in our sanctification. …[the Lord Jesus Christ] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Or, as the Apostle says elsewhere, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[5] Calvin puts it this way, “It is the part of Christian candor to hope well of all who have entered on the right way of salvation, and are still persevering in that course, notwithstanding that they are at the same time still beset with many distempers.”[6] To give up on our brothers and sisters who have fallen is a sign on our part not only of faithlessness to them, but what is worse, faithlessness to the God Who has promised to sustain them. This is why Paul will say the hard things he has to say – not because he wants to beat the Corinthians down by exposing their faults and failures, but because he knows that God, in His faithfulness may work through the words of the Apostle for the sanctification of the saints at Corinth.

God is faithful. In all of our interactions with believers who are missing the mark, including ourselves, this must be the overarching reality; this must permeate everything we have to say to our people and to our own souls – for this is the gospel. God is faithful. He has set you aside as one of His by His grace. God is faithful. And you are awaiting the return of Christ, the fullest consummation of His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. And remember, though you are not now completely what you will be, God is faithful. He Who began His work in you will not fail to complete it.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:1

[2] Psalm 16:3

[3] Philippians 1:23

[4] Galatians 1:4

[5] Philippians 1:6

[6] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, vol. 1, 60.

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