Please open your Bible and turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 1 verse 4 to 9. Listen to my reading of English Standard Version:
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (ESV)
4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us pray:
Our heavenly father, thank you for this precious opportunity that we can study your word together. I pray that you will help me to speak what you want me to speak from this passage, and overcome the difficulty of the language and culture. And I also pray that Holy Spirit will work here so that your words will touch and change our hearts. Please help us to understand and put your words into our daily life. I pray in the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Many years ago when I started my first job in Microsoft, many colleagues around me knew that I’m a Christian. In one annual meeting of the company, I was awarded by be the “Employee of the Month”. There’s a tradition that when you go upfront to take the medal, you should say something, and many other colleagues usually say thanks to their parents and the team. Well, I did the same. After I went back to my seat, my colleague hit my back and said, “Why didn’t you thank your God?” I should admit that I really had thought of saying that, but hesitated because I don’t want to embarrass other colleagues who are not Christians. However, being reminded by a nonbeliever really let me feel shameful. So I started to give thanks to God, and later get used to give thanks to God for all gifts and achievements. However, being a Christian for many years, I also realized that in many cases, giving thanks is becoming a Christian “term” which equals to “status update”. Sitting in a fellowship setting, the leader says, “do you have anything to give thanks?”, then the members started to update their recent status, on their new job, on their recent travel, but at the end they won’t forget to add “thanks God”. Did you sometimes just used the word “thanksgiving” but actually were doing information update, or even telling your achievements and opportunities that you are proud of? It leads to a bigger topic of what’s the center of our thanksgiving. Is thanksgiving simply bringing out good things in someone’s life? What if the things in your life do not look so good? We need to learn how to give thanks to God faithfully.
Today, through the study of Paul’s thanksgiving, we can learn to give thanks. The text we just read demonstrates that true and faithful thanksgiving is Christ-Centered, not human-centered.
Paul always greets and gives thanks for the church that he writes to in almost all his letters. But how could he give thanks for the church of Corinthians? We all know that there are a lot of problems in that church. Today this letter is even studied by us in order to learn how to deal with problems in the church. Just like we sometimes wonder how to give thanks for a not-so-good situation, how can Paul give thanks for such a church? Paul’s thanksgiving in the letter reveals the relationship between Christ and the thanksgiving in three aspects: Christ as the channel, the purpose and the reason.
I. Jesus Christ is the channel of the things that we are thankful for. (vv. 4-6)
In verse 4 and 5, Paul says “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.” From these two verses, we learned that Paul is really thankful for the church, and he always give thanks for them, though the church has several problems. Moreover, he revealed the channel of the grace and gifts, which is “in Christ Jesus” in verse 4 and “in him” in verse 5. What does it mean? How does God give His grace “in Christ”?
In verse 6 and 7, Paul continues his description of how he sees the gifts and grace being formed: “even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you.” Paul is making a connection here. He connects how the gospel was confirmed among Corinthians with how the grace and gifts being given to them. On the one hand, the testimony about Christ was confirmed among Corinthians assures that they are true Christians. This affirmation of faith proves that the grace and gifts are truly from God not by their human efforts. On another hand, he reveals that there are some similarities between God’s work of confirming faith and God’s work of giving grace and gifts. Let me use an illustration from Jesus in the gospel of John. Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
So here “in Christ Jesus” means that God give us grace and gifts through our connection with his son. As Jesus said, these gifts are the fruit that we bear because we as branches are connected through the true vine. Without some branches, the vine is still the vine; but without the vine, the branches are nothing and cannot bear anything. It means that for us, we have nothing to boast, because the grace and gifts were given to us by God through Christ, not by my own natural human ability. Without the vine, the branches are useless. It also has an exciting indication for us as ministers. When we preach the Gospel, we not only spread the good news and save souls, but also establish the channel of grace and gifts among them. Jesus Christ is the channel.
II. The day of Jesus Christ is the purpose of the Things that we are thankful for. (vv.7-8)
In verse 7 to 8, Paul continues his thanksgiving. “So that you are not lacking in any spiritual 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.” Both verses points to a specific time, which is the day of Lord Jesus Christ, the day that he will be revealed, the day of judgment. Paul says that the grace and gifts being given to us has a purpose, the purpose will be fulfilled at the Day of Judgment. The purpose is that we Christians will be guiltless at that day. How does God achieve this goal? He achieves this goal through continuously sustaining us by equipping us with spiritual gifts. It is a solid promise of our salvations and sanctifications, isn’t it?
I believe this is not a promise to any individual Christian that the Lord will give all spiritual gifts to every single Christian so that he will be guiltless at that day. No! Paul is writing to a Christian community and the promise is given to the spiritual community as a whole. God assign different gifts to different person, and all these gifts work together for the salvation and sanctification of us. God might use Jeremy Lin’s achievements to glorify His Name. He can also use the low time of Jeremy Lin to encourage the Christians who works hard but not performing well. We do not know how things can work together at this moment, but at the last day, we will realize how our gifts being used by God for the purpose of our sanctification.
How would you use your gifts and resources for the sanctification of other fellow Christians? I have a friend in Seattle. He has a big van, but he is single. I asked him, “Why did you buy a big van, while you even don’t have a family?” He said, “When I decided to buy a vehicle, I wish it can be used by God. So I finally I bought this so that I can give ride to other Chinese students to the church.” I was touched by his heart for Christ. So when it’s time for me to buy an apartment in Shanghai, I decided to buy an apartment in the city and close to the subway though it will be more expensive than an apartment in the suburbs. Because I want my home used by God to host meetings and small groups. And God truly uses my home. You see, that brother’s gift and resource helped students in his church, but also helped my heart to change. And my way of making decision on apartment purchasing have also influenced others in my church. At the day of Christ our Lord, we will be surprised by seeing how God has made all things working together.
III. The call into the fellowship of Jesus Christ is the reason for the things that we are thankful for. (vv.9)
In the last verse in this section, Paul finishes his thanksgiving that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here again he tries to assure that not only Corinthians’ faith are true, the sustainment of their faith by Christ is also true because God is faithful. But why does God equip us with all gifts, sustain us to ensure we will be guiltless in the Day of Judgment? Can God just do it by himself? Here Paul reveal the reason, the root cause is that God called us into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ.
“Fellowship” has several meaning in the original language. Campbell Morgan told us that “Fellowship” could have three meanings:
1. Mutual Interest: Lord is interested in me, my being, my spirit, my development. We as regenerated Christian also have strong interest to know Him and His will – that’s why we are called to study here.
2. Mutual Devotion: His resources are mine, and my resources are his. He can feel free to use my gifts and resources for his plan. Also he let us use the gifts and resources from Him.
3. Mutual Activity. He accommodates to us and accompanies us in our activities, and he also invites us to his work and his business.
I’m so thankful for Morgan’s “three mutual” explanation of the word “fellowship”. God called people like me, sinful and dirty, to have fellowship with his son. It is the reason and cause for the gifts that he has given me in Christ. Can you imagine one day Bill Gates invite you to become his business partner by giving you half of the Microsoft stock for free? Christ is much greater than Bill Gates, and in Christ we were given spiritual gifts because he wants us to be his partners. What a great God!
Conclusion & Application:
From this thanksgiving paragraph, Paul gives us a modal of Christ-Centered thanksgiving. He relates his thanks to Christ from three aspects: the channel, the purpose and the reason. It doesn’t mean that every time we give thanks in the small group we need to paraphrase the model Paul used to be “Christ-Centered”. But we should learn to relate our thanksgiving to Christ, focus our thanksgiving on Christ, and further more, use the gifts and resources for Christ. Trinity students, how would you give thanks for your privilege of studying in a seminary like this? How would you give thanks for your grade “A” or grade “C”, or popularity of your blog articles? How can Lord Jesus use these? How do these benefit the sanctification of yourself and other Christians? Think about these questions.
Let us pray to close the message:
Lord, I thank you so much for your word. I thank you so much for your call. I know I don’t deserve it. I’m such a sinful person, pride, arrogant and selfish. Help us, Lord. Help us to be humble and thankful, help us to use the gifts and resources you have given us. I pray in your precious name, Amen.