I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)
Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church. And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”
But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.
After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners! Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.
And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:
Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)
What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!