This morning, we begin a church wide study of 1st Corinthians in our adult Bible classes at Faith Village. The more I teach, preach, and study God’s word, the more I love the book of 1st Corinthians. The church at Corinth was one messed up church. You name the problem or issue, they had it—and then some. I don’t know of a congregation of the Lord’s people today as mixed up as they were in Corinth. Sexual immorality within the church? Lord’s Supper problems? Worship problems? Competing over spiritual gifts? Not understanding the Resurrection? Not understanding roles? Lawsuits among brethren? Divorce and remarriage? It’s all there. But do you know why? Because it’s real, authentic, transparent life. Real church is messy. Church is people, and with people come problems. As one man put it, “If you think your church is perfect, you need to leave, because you’re messing it up.”
Nevertheless, one of my favorite verses in the sixteen chapters is right out of the gate—as soon as the gun is fired. Paul addresses his brethren in Corinth with these terms—“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy….” (1st Corinthians 1:2) You may be wondering, “Why is that your favorite verse? Isn’t that just a normal introduction?” It may be penman’s etiquette, but I love it so much because Paul calls them by who they still are, even with all of their issues. Family. Brethren. The church. Called to be holy. Even with the troubles he would mention in the letter, Paul wanted them to know from the beginning, “You’re still my brothers and sisters. You’re the church of God.”
We can be really hard on each other in the church when we don’t live up to the expectations before us. Do we have faults? Sure we do. Yet even with our faults, we’re family. Families are hard, but families are real. That’s one of the things that makes them so great. Paul says two verses later, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1st Corinthians 1:4) Paul isn’t thankful for what the church in Corinth had been doing. Their poor choices provided the script. He was thankful for them, as people. His family. One big, messed-up, grace-given family.
Make no mistake, God has a standard for what He wants His church to be. We must not dilute or defer from it. We should strive to be holy, sanctified, and obedient with all of our gusto. We can’t be satisfied with sub-par spirituality; but when we make mistakes, let’s remember—we’re the church of God, and we’re given that title because God added us to His church through His grace and the blood of His son, Jesus Christ.
Today, as you assemble with your congregation, thank God for them. If they truly are patterned after the church we read about in the New Testament, in function and organization, they are the “church of God”, even with all of their, and your, (yes, you have them, too) frustrating quirks and faults. Has being negative about the church ever accomplished anything? I keep reading through my New Testament hoping to find negative attitudes that advanced the Kingdom or lived like Jesus. So far, I haven’t found any. Something tells me I never will.