Would you regularly give thanks for the church at Corinth? I don’t think that many Christians who are familiar with the problems mentioned in 1 Corinthians would. Granted, I may be wrong; but don’t forget – there were a lot of problems in Corinth! Division, lawsuits among brethren, the toleration of sexual immorality, the abuse of Christian liberty, the mistreatment of the Lord’s table, and the misuse of spiritual gifts, are just some of the problems found among them. Yet despite that abbreviated list of infamy Paul could speak honestly under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and say,
“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs.4-7).
There’s an important lesson for us here; namely this – there is always something to thank God for concerning the church that is truly His church. After all, despite their many problems, Paul wrote that they had the testimony of Christ confirmed in them (vs.6), probably referring to their reception of the Gospel and the work of the Spirit both among them as a church and inside of them as individuals. They were enriched with knowledge and utterance, they were not lacking in any area of spiritual gifting, and they had their ‘eyes to the skies’ waiting for the return of Christ (vs.5-7). Paul didn’t overlook these positives because he was so frustrated over the negatives; rather, he warmly commended them.
How then can we be instructed by this portion of Paul’s greeting? First, though this might seem redundant, remember that there is always something to give thanks for concerning the church that bears a true testimony of the Gospel. Second, principally speaking, it is often better to provide genuine encouragements prior to giving needed rebukes. Though Paul would spend the overwhelming majority of the letter trying to correct serious problems in Corinth, he began with an honest word of thanksgiving and encouragement. Third, while Corinthian-like problems undoubtedly need to be addressed, many people in churches much healthier than the church at Corinth fall into the trap of perpetual critiquing and complaining. And while I would encourage each and every believer to be part of a local church where they are fed solid food, can esteem the elders that are over them, and see the church leadership’s priority of the Gospel, love and holiness, many would do well to take a breather and do what Paul did – give thanks to God for the positive things they see happening in their local church and other Gospel-believing fellowships.