1 Corinthians 1:4-7
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.”
As is so often the case, the Apostle Paul launches his first Epistle to the Corinthians with words of encouragement and blessing for the recipients. He has already referred to them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus”, as “saints” together with the wider Church and has prayed that they might know the peace and grace of God.
Encouragement, affirmation and blessing go a long way, especially when more difficult things need also to be said. Paul launches straight into the problem of divisions in the Church and later challenges the misuse of spiritual gifts. He also tackles immorality in the Church. These are big issues and Paul doesn’t shy away from his responsibility to deal with them. Some of the language he uses is indeed robust and he expects the Corinthian Christians to change their ways. It would have been an uncomfortable read for them.
Now see how he concludes the Epistle, in his own hand – acknowledging the presence of those who do not truly love the Lord – yet to the Church he says “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (16:23-24) Again he expresses his love for the believers, and he affirms them in the faith.
This seems to imply that we may not convince all, and that within the visible Church there will be those who at least still struggle with the truth. More importantly it reminds me that encouragement, blessing and affirmation achieve more than unbridled denigration.
I am reminded of a hymn I first heard in 1954 that is gloriously affirmative of all that I am in Christ. (RS)
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God; born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long.”