Read just the first nine verses of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (Go ahead…look it up and read it, please.) Now tell me what you think about the church of God at Corinth? He says of them that they are sanctified…called to be holy…recipients of grace…enriched in every way…that the testimony about Christ was confirmed in them…that they didn’t lack any spiritual gift…and that God would keep them strong to the end. Who wants to become a member of that congregation? I do. Don’t you? Yes, indeed. Can’t wait!
But do wait, just a bit! At least until you read further into the letter. In verse ten Paul moves on from the faithfulness of God and Christ…and the privileged position the Corinthians had been given in Christ…to the first of a long and deeply troubling list of problems, sins and doctrinal discrepancies that were plaguing the church of God in Corinth.
Now put the shoe on the other foot. Pretend, as you read the rest of the First Corinthian letter…pretend you had never read the first nine verses of chapter one. Could you even begin to regard those folks in the way Paul does at the very beginning of the letter? I don’t think I could. Who wants to be a member of that congregation now? Not me…not no way…no how! They were dividing over human teachers and even dared to include Christ in such a list. They were tolerating sin in their midst of a kind that even society’s outcasts wouldn’t tolerate! They were taking each other to public courts. They were abusing each other at times when they should have been unselfishly sharing and this led to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper being an absolute sham. Their worship services were more like a competition. There was confusion and a misunderstanding of proper roles and procedures. On and on the list of problems goes.
And yet…and yet…Paul calls them God’s church at Corinth…and the sanctified recipients of grace. Did he mean it? Was he speaking truth? What are we to make of this?
Well, he did mean it, didn’t he? The Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to pen these things. So they were true. How can God regard the struggling, in-fighting, immature Corinthian believers as His people of faith and grace? Listen there are sinners and there are sinners. There’s a difference between sinners saved by grace and sinners who wish to continue in their rebellion. There’s a difference between those who are penitent over their sins and those who aren’t. God is patient with immature believers…more patient than we humans are likely to be. I said that He is patient, not that He compromised with evil. And His patience must not to be confused with weakness. He is able to see into the hearts of Christians. He knows what they would be, if they could be that. He knows what they really want. And He is able to credit them, when it is true, that their spirits are willing even when their flesh is weak. God knows when it is true that more time and more teaching will bring a soul along to closer likeness to Christ. He also knows when that is not happening. And in each case He will always do what is right. There’s a time to deal swiftly and severely with evil (see 1 Corinthians 5). There’s also a time to show patience…to forbear…and to plead with another that we might do better.
It’s my opinion that one of the greatest tests of faith for Christians is to keep believing in and expecting better things of their fellow Christians. This is what our Lord does, isn’t it? It’s so tough when we are bitterly disappointed in others. But if we cherish the patient love our Lord shows to us, mustn’t we also grant Him the same right to show it to others? And shouldn’t we be glad about it? I didn’t say it was easy…but it is right! It is likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ!