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…so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-7
Those of us who have spent any amount of time reading the New Testament are probably familiar with the church in Corinth and have probably formed some sort of opinion about them. Chances are, that opinion may not be favorable. Many of the warts or problems of the Corinthian church are well detailed in the pastoral letters that Paul penned and that we have read. The church was struggling with many issues such as divisions, lawsuits, purity, idolatry and even some level of disorder in their corporate gatherings. But did you know that the church in Corinth was also filled with the grace of God? Did you know that the church there had been enriched, full of good speech and knowledge about Christ? Did you know that spiritual gifts were alive and active among the people? Paul opens up his letter to the church with just such a reminder and commendation. As a matter of fact, if you only judged the Corinthian church by the first lines of Paul’s letter, you might have the impression that the church was problem free. It is possible, if not probable, that visitors or occasional attenders to the church were unaware of its issues. The warts may have only been visible to those who were closely connected and taking part in deep fellowship with the community.
The fact is, that there are no perfect churches. Every church that belongs to Jesus will have its share of warts; problems will exist. The reason is because the church is made up of imperfect people, who are hopefully striving for Christ-likeness, but of course not yet realizing that goal in full. These problems are not always visible from a distance or even right away among newcomers. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of investment in fellowship and community before some of the warts rear their head. But eventually, they will come to the surface. They always do. At the same time we must also know this: Every church that belongs to Jesus will be filled with His grace. Christ has promised to be with His people, making His presence known when they gather in His name for His glory. So it is safe to say that every church that has an abundance of warts, also has an abundance of gifts. Just as our flesh will inevitably stir up conflicts, struggles and problems of various kinds; the Spirit of Christ is there to stir up peace, love, righteousness and an abundance of good works.
So what is our application? First, we realize that all of us – imperfect people – are ‘being joined and built together’ into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:21-22). There will always be problems inside of any faith community, but we are in this together. God is doing a work on us and in us – not just as individuals, but as a collective group of His people who are in need of His grace. Second, we must ‘put on love, which binds us all together’ (Colossians 3:14). There is a reason that the bible instructs us over and over again to love one another. As we are being built together in the grace of Christ, our love for each other will help overcome the problems that our flesh causes. When a church is filled with love for the Father and a love for each other, the warts will not divide them. ‘Love is patient and kind..it does not insist on its own way…it is not irritable or resentful…it bears all things’ (1 Cor 13). And so if we have put on this kind of love for each other, then the effects of that love among a church will keep the people together as they go. Finally, ‘take delight in honoring each other’ (Romans 12:10). If indeed the grace of Christ abounds in His church, then set your mind to focus on the good gifts of a church, rather than just the problems. One great way to do that is to intentionally honor each other. Take time and effort to show people in your community how valuable they are; how much you love them, how much they mean to you; in what ways they have helped you. It is very difficult to focus on a person’s shortcomings, while at the same time genuinely honoring them from your heart. Of course this is not meant to be a formula, or an all encompassing list. But let us be reminded that the church exists on earth – in part – to display the glory of God to a watching people. So may they see that the problems that seek to divide a church, are not as great as the grace that has brought it together.