‘There may be trouble ahead’ was a song we heard a number of years ago in an insurance advertisement. Something similar may have been in Paul’s mind as he set out to write to his Christian friends in Corinth. His first letter shows that, as they used to say in Lancashire, there was “trouble at t’mill”
So how did he start? How might I start in such a situation? “Come on friends, sort yourselves out, we want you and this church to be a good witness and a godly place….”
Well how did he start? “I always thank God for you” , 1 Corinthians 1:4. Is that how I start when I think about or interact with my Christian friends, fellow church members, even when I know that there are problems as Paul did?
Well let’s look at what he thanked God for. Amazingly, Paul found that he could thank God for past, present and future.
Past: Paul thanked God that his friends in Corinth had received grace from Jesus Christ and had been enriched in every way (verse 5). He did not thank God that they were clever, wealthy, beautiful, great job, great family and kids, live in a great area, went to a big church, spoke Spanish fluently, drove a great car or any of the things that we so easily rate ourselves and compare ourselves with each other. No! He thanked God for all that Jesus had done for them and given them. That means that you and I can thank God for all our (sometimes difficult!) christian friends and acquaintances because of what Jesus has done for them, and given them. And we can do that even when we can see they have some, maybe very real, issues.
And how about this, it applies to me too when I look at myself and my past. I can thank God for myself too, even when I feel a mess, because of all He has done for me, saved me from and given me. Now that is something. Let’s do it!
Present: It doesn’t stop there – verse 7 “You do not lack any spiritual gift”. Today even if my church friend looks very much like the clay pot of 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul and the Holy Spirit are clear that there is treasure inside that pot for which I can and should thank the Lord. Today “There’s gold in them thar hills” Today the gold is there in your brother or sister, even it has not been ‘mined out’ and yet to become visible. Paul was able to thank God for them, with their problems, knowing that the life of Christ was within them. And we can too, even when we do life with our Christian friends and the messy bits of life cause us to notice more of the earthenware, common clay pot and less of the gold in each other.
And again what is true for your friends is true for you as you look at yourself. You may have days when you are very aware of how earthy you seem, a flower pot indeed! But the Holy Spirit is clear that there is treasure within the pot that is you – Christ in you – a temple of the Holy Spirit – God dwelling within. More reason for thanksgiving on clay pot days!
Future: Are you wondering if there is much prospect of things getting better, or perhaps even getting worse for your Christian brother or sister, or fellow church member, or indeed for you yourself? Well Paul is thanking God about the future too. Why? Because (verses 8 & 9) “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless….God who called you (warts and all) into fellowship with ….Jesus…. is faithful” Well there we go, even if there are problems aplenty for me or my Christian friend, God is faithful and very strong so we can look at the future on this basis with thanksgiving. Again, like the past and present, my hope and thanksgiving for the future for me or my friend is not based on my winning personality, my earning power, my education, my networking skills, my list of good contacts, etc. It is based on God: Father, Son and Spirit, His grace, forgiveness, power, faithfulness, kindness, friendship and presence in my life and yours, in our clay pots, and in the clay pots of the Christians around us, past present and future.
So feel free to be very thankful for your Christian friends like Paul was, even knowing and seeing their issues and “falling shorts”. And then do the same for yourself. Or if you prefer, start with yourself and move outwards!