Fourth Tuesday of Advent: Hidden at the Core
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many times, I skimmed over these verses in 1 Corinthians. I treated them more like throwaway verses—a paragraph to read quickly before the meat of the chapter begins.
I like the book of 1 Corinthians. I like it because of the real, everyday life issues and troubles it addresses.
This young Corinthian church was in disarray when this letter was written. There was in-fighting, divisions over loyalty to leaders, marriage and divorce problems, members suing each other, and controversy about the role of women. There were disagreements about the Lord’s Supper, issues of drunkenness, boasting about spiritual gifts, and Paul’s authority was being questioned continuously.
Corinth was known for its big city life—compare it to today’s New York City or Los Angeles—and these city church members brought all of their city issues with them into the church.
All of this feels familiar to me.
Arguments and disagreements about all of the above issues are not uncommon in my own church. I sit in church meetings and wonder about us—all of us. We don’t hear each other, we don’t like each other, and we disagree about many things. We create factions and loyalties, and our personal lives are in disarray. We get angry, we are fearful, we are tired, we are discouraged about ourselves and about the work of the church.
As a seasoned believer, I sometimes sit in a meeting and wonder why the Lord puts up with us. I wonder why we can’t do better.
And then, when I am barely paying attention, the unexpected happens and the Lord uses a “throwaway” passage like this to get my attention.
I perk up. I wonder how Paul can be so thankful and positive about the wayward Corinthian church. Later in the letter, Paul will address the specific problems, but here, in these verses I hardly noticed, he has something else to say.
Paul begins with the essential. He reminds these church members that this is God’s work, that they have been given God’s gifts. He tells them that what God gives are unearned gifts, generous spiritual gifts—the kind of plentiful gifts that will endure, the kind of spiritual gifts that will serve them well as they learn to be a part of a much wider, bigger story.
The faithful God who called them—together—into the fellowship of his Son will strengthen them to the end.
This is where Paul begins.
So now these verses have come alive for me. They are no longer verses to skim past in a hurry so I can get somewhere else. I believe God is talking to me too. These essential points are what I need.
This revelation gives me hope.
While I struggle with my own inadequacies and watch others struggle, while I have trouble listening to others and sometimes feel worn out working with others, when I want to walk away—Paul tells me that church work is God’s work. Paul tells me that God gives unearned, generous spiritual gifts to the whole community, gifts that are adequate for the task before us, and gifts that will endure. Paul tells me that I am—and my church is—part of the wider, bigger story of faith. Paul tells me that God remains faithful and is working a transformation and a preparation in all of us, all the time.
This Advent season, I am grateful I can relearn these essential points of faith.
I may still sigh at my own waywardness and be amazed by my own immaturity. I may still slump in discouragement when we argue at an elder meeting, but I hope I will also sit up and take notice of God’s designs for God’s Church. I want to remember that Paul does not yell at the Corinthians. I like to think that his kindness and gratefulness conveys a confidence that, despite what may be seen at the moment in Corinth—and what I may see across the table or in the mirror—God is faithful to his promises in Christ Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus.
—After 26 years, Janice McWhertor retired as Minister of Congregational Life at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2017. In her retirement she is investing deeply in antiracism work in the West Michigan area as well as joyfully immersing herself in her role as grandmother to nine grandchildren. Janice worked for the CCO off and on from 1976 through 1984, along with her husband, Tom.
This story first appeared in the 2017 CCO Advent Devotional.