Always Thank God for His Grace
A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Sunday, November 27, 2005 – Advent 1B
Well, the leftovers are in the fridge. The mad dash to the stores Friday morning are done. I'm a few pounds heaver than I was when we met last. And another Thanksgiving has come and gone and now it's all over. But, like we heard on Wednesday night, thanksgiving isn't just a one-day event, but something we continue to do throughout the year. We constantly give thanks to God throughout our lives.
This morning, as we begin a new church year, as we begin the season of Advent, how fitting it is that we continue to give thanks to God. As we look forward to the coming of our Savior, we thank God for the grace that lets us anticipate his coming, rather than dread it. We're reminded to always thank God for his grace, thank him for the way he has blessed us already, and thank him for the promise that he will continue to bless us by keeping us strong until Christ comes again in glory where we will receive his ultimate blessings. Listen now to Paul's comforting greeting in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9…
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
I. For the Way He Has Blessed Us (v3-7)
The Corinthian congregation was a mess. They were split into factions, caught in sexual sins, they were suing each other in court, getting drunk at the Lord's Supper, denied the resurrection, and used the gospel message to justify their actions saying that in Christ, "Everything is permissible!"
Paul had his work cut out for him. He spent the better part of 16 chapters addressing the problems the Corinthian congregation faced. But before he began addressing the issues they needed to deal with he reminded them who they were. They were, "sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy." And in spite of their problems they were still Christians. Therefore Paul had every reason to give thanks to God for his grace.
He began with that familiar phrase you hear in one form or another almost every Sunday… 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that familiar verse is more than just a sermon opener. It's actually an entire sermon in itself. Now while some of you are thinking, "We wish Pastor Guenther's sermons were that short," you're out of luck. I'm going to elaborate, just so we don't miss something…
In spite of their problems Paul and the Corinthians could give thanks to God. They could thank him for the incredible way he had blessed them. God gave them his grace and a real peace that resulted from it. Though they deserved to be damned for their factions, their sexual sins, their abuse of the Lord's Supper, and their abuse of the gospel itself, they didn't get what they deserved. Instead of God's anger, he gave them his grace.
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. God sent his own son to take their place and suffer the punishment they deserved. Jesus loved them so much he went to hell to pay for their sins. And By this sacrifice of grace they were God's own children and at peace with him. God was not angry with them in spite of all their sin.
And God's grace to the Corinthians didn't stop there. He not only rescued them from hell, but he equipped them for a life of service to him. He gave them all they needed to serve him, enriching them in every way. Paul writes, 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift…"
The Corinthians had spiritual knowledge and the conviction to speak about it to each other and to those outside the church. They had been given all sorts of spiritual gifts. In chapter twelve Paul lists a sampling of what God had given them… "wisdom… knowledge… faith… gifts of healing… miraculous powers… prophecy… speaking in [and interpreting] different [languages]."
They lacked no spiritual gift and these gifts confirmed the fact that the gospel was active in their lives in spite of all their problems. God had certainly blessed the Corinthians in the past and gave them every reason to give thanks to God by offering their lives to him in service.
And dear friends, God in his grace has blessed us just as richly….
God has certainly given us his grace, his undeserved love. We don't deserve God's love any more than the Corinthians did because our lives are just as much of a mess as theirs, just as ravaged by sin. Though our sin, may or may not come in the same varieties as the Corinthians, we too are ungrateful for the gifts we've received. We too misuse our gifts. We too choose to serve ourselves above God. We too try to justify our sinful actions and explain why we're not really all that bad. And we too deserve to have God be angry with us and to act on that anger.
But that's not what we get. Instead we get his grace. Billy Graham once explained God's grace like this. He tells the story of how he was caught speeding through a small town he would be preaching at the next morning. The officer pulled him over and explained that he was going ten miles over the limit and had to pay the fine. But when the officer realized who it was, he pulled out his own checkbook and said, "Rev. Graham, the law was violated and the penalty must be paid. But, sir, I'd like to pay it for you." He then wrote out a check to pay the fine and took Billy Graham out to dinner. "That," said Rev. Graham, "is exactly how God treats us sinners in his grace."
And we, like the Corinthians have a wonderful peace as a result of that grace. There's no more fine to pay. It's already been paid by Christ on the cross. There's no more fear of God's anger. He already vented it all on his own Son. And in Christ, we too have every reason to thank God for the grace given us in Christ Jesus.
And what's more, God has given us every blessing we need to serve him in thanksgiving in this life. We too have been enriched in every way. Some people speak without knowledge. They talk all day, but never really say a thing, at least nothing worth listening to. Others have great knowledge, even about things that really matter, but they're afraid to speak up and share those things. But we have been enriched in every way—in all our speaking and in all our knowledge. We know the only message that really matters. We know what Christ has done for us on the cross. We know that heaven itself is ours by God's grace. And God gives us the courage to speak of these things with one another and with those outside the church. And he gives us countless other blessings as well…
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)
We, like the Corinthians lack no spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit has given us blessings as he sees fit. And he gives them to us, that we might use them as we "eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed."
II. For the Way He Will Keep Us (7-9)
Now, Paul pointed out to the Corinthians that he and they could be thankful to God not only for the way he had blessed them in the past, or for the gifts he'd given them to use in the present, but also for the way he promised he would keep them in the future. He said… 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
With their sins forgiven, the Corinthians no longer lived in fear of Christ's return, but in eager anticipation of that great and glorious day. And they could use the spiritual gifts they'd been given to express their thanksgiving to God, for not only taking their sins away and giving them their spiritual gifts, but for promising to keep them strong in the future.
And we can do the same. With our sins forgiven, the thought of Christ's advent, that is, his coming, is no longer full of terror. He already came to earth once before. And he came to suffer in our place to take away our sin and our dread of facing God's judgment. Now we look forward to that great day with eager anticipation, sitting on the edge of our seats.
My three-, almost four-year old, Joel, is starting to get a better idea of time. But it's still a bit confused. When we told him early last week that it was a special week because he had a thanksgiving feast at school and another one at church. But every day he kept asking, "Is today the celebration?" "No. That's on Wednesday." "Is today the celebration?" "No. Tomorrow." And after Wednesday morning's meal he knew there was another at church. "Is today the celebration?" "No. That one's tomorrow." "Is today the celebration?" "Yes. Today." "Is the celebration now?" "No. It's only 7am. It's later today." You could say that Joel eagerly awaited the celebration.
In the same way, we eagerly await the celebration to come in heaven. Because we know Christ's grace, because we feel his peace, we can't wait for his advent. We know that he's coming again. We know it will happen soon. And we know what the blessed results will be when he does—an eternal celebration! — an eternity of sin-free, pain-free, sorrow-free joy forever with our Savior!
That thought fills our hearts and occupies our minds so we say over and over again, "Is today the celebration?" "Is today the celebration?" And that eager anticipation, that excitement, moves us to use our gifts faithfully until he comes.
But what about when we fail to use those gifts? What about when the problems and the hurt and the pain of this life draw our attention away from Jesus' impending advent? What about when we fail to keep our focus on the grace and peace we have in Christ and fail to give thanks to God? Should we be worried we miss out on God's grace? No.
We can remain thankful; thankful that staying in the faith doesn't depend on us. What Paul writes to the Corinthians applies to us just as well, 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Go home this afternoon and take a look at some of the processed foods in your pantry. Read the list of ingredients and notice how many preservatives you find. Now, I'm not going to talk about whether that's healthy or not, but can you imagine if these companies would mass produce these foods and send them out without preservatives? I don't know about you, but I don't think I'd eat any of. By the time it made it into Alaska, let alone into my house, the food would be rotten—fit for nothing but the trash. Thank God, that we're not like that! God gives us his preservatives.
God brought us to faith and he will keep us strong in that faith to the very end. In his love he'll continue to remind us of our sin. And he'll continue to remind us of his grace—that we're forgiven for our every failure, for every time we've lost our eagerness for his return, for every time we've failed to use our gifts to thank him.
He will continue to strengthen our faith through his Word and through the Sacrament—where he comes to us today. Even if we are faithless, he will continue to remain faithful. Though we can turn our backs on him, he'll never turn his back on us.
He who called us into fellowship, a most intimate union, with Jesus, will do all he needs to do to keep us in that relationship with his Son until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ—his final advent, when he comes again in glory. And on that day, we will be found blameless in God's sight, not only acquitted of all the charges brought against us, but blameless. No one will be able to bring any charge against us at all, because in God's grace we are covered in Christ's blood and appear sinless, innocent, perfect, blameless.
How do we know God will keep that promise? How do we know he'll keep us faithful to the end? Because of who God is. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. God will not, can not ever back down from a promise he makes in his love. He will remain faithful. He will keep us strong to the end—until we join in him in that eternal celebration.
Thank God that our salvation doesn't depend on us in any way! We are saved by his grace from first to last! He sent his Son to die in our place. He brought us to faith in that gospel message. He brought us peace through that faith. And he will keep us faithful to him until Christ Jesus, our Savior, comes. Now, serve him faithfully with all the gifts he's given you as you eagerly await that glorious day! And always thank God for his amazing grace! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.