Guest Column Hector Morrison
COPING WITH CHRISTIANS
How do you cope with Christians who are ‘a pain in the neck’, who make life difficult for you? I wonder how many of us have struck on the way exemplified by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9?
He gives thanks to God for them! Even though there was much that was amiss with the church in Corinth. It had its divisions and cliques, some gross examples of sexual immorality, significant disagreements over the conduct of worship, and so on (nothing new under the sun then?).
Yet, after his opening greetings, Paul goes on to express sincere gratitude to God for them — ‘I thank my God always concerning you’ (v. 4). Notice the word ‘always’!
Even in the midst of the issues and problems, with their attendant pain for Paul, he thanks God for these Christians. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be like Paul, having a real spirit of thankfulness for all our fellow Christians, including the ones we find difficult?
Notice the grounds Paul gives for his thankfulness. First, he cites that the Corinthian believers’ lives were a confirmation of his testimony about Christ — ‘even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you’ (v. 6).
In Acts 18 we read about Paul’s missionary endeavours inCorinth. There, he preached Christ, focusing particularly on his death and resurrection, as he does in this letter itself. But here Paul gives thanks, not simply that he had been able to give ‘testimony’ to the Corinthian people about Christ, but that his testimony had been ‘confirmed’ in them too.
His preaching had impacted on them. Their lives had begun to change in the very ways Paul had said the gospel would change them. They had discovered for themselves that Jesus was indeed alive, risen from the dead.
They knew what it was to have their sins washed away. And isn’t this kind of confirmation something that we experience every time someone comes to faith in our fellowships? So, we give thanks.
Secondly, he gave thanks for the God-given gift of grace — ‘for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus’ (v. 4). Paul reminds us that all we have as Christians is of God’s grace, his undeserved favour.
It has not been earned or achieved by us, but rather gifted to us freely. For this is how God is — ‘full of grace’. He is a God who moves in favour towards those who otherwise could never experience his blessing.
Paul knew that the same grace of God operative in his own experience was at work in the Corinthian Christians. How careful then we need to be, lest we despise those upon whom the living God has poured out his grace so richly.
Rather, let us, with Paul, give thanks for the gift of God’s grace at work in the life of every Christian, even in the lives of those who make life difficult for us.
Thirdly, he thanks God for calling them into the fellowship of Christ — ‘God … by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son’ (v. 9).
Through Paul’s preaching, these Corinthians had actually experienced themselves being summoned by none other than God the Father; and not just summoned, but drawn by the power of that summons. It was the ‘effectual call’ of God.
So the call of God comes to us today with such power that it actually enables us to come to Jesus Christ. Have you sensed the power of that call in your own experience?
As Christians we have been called by God ‘into the fellowship of his Son’, into that position and status in which we now share fellowship with Christ. In that fellowship, Christ shares his life with us.
He pours his life, love and fulness of blessings into us through his Spirit. That is true also of those Christians who rub us up the wrong way.
Our Saviour and Lord gives himself to them, loves and serves them. The least we can do is to give thanks for their calling into the rich fellowship of Christ.
Fourthly, he is thankful for their spiritual equipping and the gifts they had received from God. We see this in verse 5 — ‘that you were enriched in everything by him in all utterance and all knowledge’; and also in verse 7 — ‘so that you come short in no gift’.
The subject of gifts (charismata) was one that caused a lot of trouble in the Corinthian church, and at a later point (chapters 12-14) Paul addresses some of these issues. But here he simply acknowledges the rich diversity of gifts exercised in the church inCorinth.
So rich and abundant were these, in fact, that Paul can say that this congregation did not lack any spiritual gift.
But in acknowledging their giftedness, Paul also underlined that these riches had all been gifted to them by the Father. He is the one who ‘enriched’ them.
Their giftedness is not natural or self-generated, nor is it in any sense deserved — it is all of grace.
All the charis-mata which they exercise have their source in the charis of God, charis being the Greek word for grace! It is all of God, which removes any grounds for boasting.
Finally, like Paul, be thankful with a God-given assurance of their ultimate blamelessness.
We can give thanks that all God’s people — including the ones we find difficult — will be found ‘blameless’ on the day of Christ, thanks to the faithfulness of God himself (vv. 8-9).
The author is Principal of the Highland Theological College, Dingwall