Corinth was a thriving luxurious, corrupted city. A center of trade and worldly pursuits, Corinth had a well-earned reputation for licentious living. In the ancient world a “Corinthian girl” was a euphemism for a prostitute. In ancient drama, any Corinthian portrayed on stage was invariably drunk. With a wink and a nudge, the roman historian Strabo once said “The boat ride to Corinth is not everybody’s boat ride.” And yet this is where Paul personally established a church. This is where God chose to have His kingdom meet the world. This is where Christianity was called to do ministry … in the midst of a corrupt society. And so they needed God’s grace and peace if anyone ever has!
But the Corinthian congregation ran into trouble when it found itself with divided loyalties. They failed to understand the distinction that while they were called to be in the world (even in a party town like Corinth) they were not called to be OF the world. They were to be in the world but OF Christ. And so Paul, in his letter to this struggling congregation calls them back to the idea of Christ. Again and again. And it is an important reminder for us here in the modern western world. While we too may live in this world we are not of it. We are of Christ. Over this Epiphany season we be reminded of the gifts we have been given in Christ. The calling that is ours from Christ. And the life that is ours by Christ, for the living out of our faith as shining lights in this licentious and pleasure-seeking, truth-denying culture of ours.
1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: By Grace Christ calls us to be members of His Church. People don’t choose to become part of God’s Church. God sets us apart and calls us to be His Church. And not just to one small gathering (like you see before you today), but to the whole fellowship of saints throughout the world and across all time. We are not the minority, the odd-balls, the outliers. We are part of the biggest and best human gathering in the history of all the world. We are called by the Holy Spirit, enlightened with His gifts, sanctified and kept in the one true faith. It is in this church, this gathering of those called by God that we are given grace upon grace and blessings beyond counting. It is in this calling to the kingdom of Christ that we are converted, given saving faith, wholeness, well-being, security, and peace.
4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, By Grace Christ enriches us with every gift for God’s service. God is the benefactor, we are the recipients. Every good gift comes from His gracious hand.
Like the Corinthian brothers and sisters we have been enriched in every way. In all speech, meaning we have the ability to express and proclaim the marvelous saving acts of God. We may not have insight into the depths of doctrinal minutia, but we can share the Gospel story with family and friends. You can tell others of God’s many gifts to you. It is not hard, and no one is better able to do it than you are!
But don’t sell yourself short either. For scripture tells us that you have also been gifted in all knowledge. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in you through the Word you have been given wisdom in spiritual things that are a dizzying mystery to those without the Spirit. And it all begins with the cross of Jesus Christ. In knowing what God has done there you have greater knowledge and insight into people and history and religion and spirituality than most ever will in this sin-darkened world. You have a wisdom grounded in Christ that allows you to consider the fulness of reality with heart and eyes open to the truth so many have closed themselves to.
And the truth of reality, shown in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful beyond imagining. For in it we have the testimony of Christ confirmed … God’s grace to us in Jesus guaranteed. Here St. Paul is using baptismal language tying us back to our place in the church of Christ and the promise of Grace in which we live and breath and have our being. We are baptized into His family, heirs of His kingdom, inheritors of His every blessing. We are the hearers of these promises every Sunday, in every chapter of His Holy Word. We are partakers of the great heavenly banquet every time we kneel down with all the hosts of heaven and the fullness of the Christian Church here at our little altar railing. Yes, we are not lacking any spiritual gift! The Grace of Christ has enriched us in every way to face every thing that this life may throw at us.
7as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. By Grace Christ preserves us as we wait for God’s judgment. In the Word and in the blessed Sacraments our faith is fed and strengthened. We are given the words and the knowledge to live as His beloved children even in the midst of all this world and its entanglements. By the grace of Christ we are given the hope that we will be protected until the very end, when Jesus will return and all that is foul will be cleansed or once and for all wiped away. For in Christ God has chosen sinners to be His own and has already cleansed them and redeemed them with His blood.
By the Grace of Christ we are free from reproach, without stain. We are spotless, not because we are inherently good, but because we are covered by Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We stand secure in the Grace of Christ, both here and now, and on the day of His coming. By this grace we may live in this world while still firmly being OF Christ alone. In His grace we are called into fellowship with Jesus, a part of the Holy Christian Church. By His grace we are forgiven and freed. We are emboldened, enlightened, given words to share and the knowledge to do so wisely. In the Grace of Christ, who died for us on the cross and rose to life again on the third day we have been enriched with every spiritual blessing and a hope that will endure until the end. For God’s grace is actualized in the cross of Christ. It is absolute and established. And in that grace of Christ, so are you!