The church is a work in progress. Honestly speaking, I forget that at times. I forget that, though salvation takes place in a moment, we spend the rest of our lives “unwrapping” our salvation and growing to become more like Christ. I forget that if the church is always growing to be more like Christ it will never be fully Christ-like (not on this side of heaven anyway). So, the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 are a great encouragement to me and to us all.
As churches go, the Corinthian church was an absolute train wreck. They were fighting with each other, taking sides over who was a better teacher. They trusted the wisdom of the world over God’s wisdom. Sexual immorality was rampant in the church which (to no surprise) resulted in a lot of marital issues. Instead of working out differences with one another, they just filed lawsuits against each other. They struggled with idol worship. They couldn’t agree on leadership roles in the church. They had a poor understanding of the way spiritual gifts should be used and they got drunk during the Lord’s Supper! This church was a complete mess, and the apostle Paul called them out, boldly, sternly, on all of their garbage. But…
Paul also recognized that, in spite of their poor understanding of how a church should function, they were still a church in every legitimate sense of the word. Take a moment and read 1 Corinthians 1:4–9. Paul gave thanks for this church because they were genuine recipients of the grace of Christ. They were enriched in speech and knowledge and they had every gift of Christ, which means they were fully equipped to do everything a faithful church does. Though there was much to be fixed in the church, they were not disqualified as a church; their lampstand had not been removed (to use Jesus’ language from Revelation 2:5). Others had confirmed that Christ was indeed working in this church, and Paul assures them they will continue on to the end. This blows my mind! This was a church that would make any pastor’s skin crawl but was still useful in God’s kingdom!
Do you know what this means? It means that God is so much more patient than we are. He can and does use churches even as they struggle in faithfulness. He can and does use people as they struggle in faithfulness. Now, there may be one or two perfect people reading this article, but the rest of us who struggle against sin, we can breathe a great sigh of relief because this applies to us! If you are like me you stare your shortcomings in the face every day. The message here is that you are just the kind of person God intends to use for his kingdom. Yes, you have some things to work out. Yes, you need to continue to grow, learning more and more to hate sin and to love righteousness, but if you submit your life to Christ you are useful in God’s church to build God’s kingdom for God’s glory. You and me, we are the kind of people God enlists for service in his church. This goes for all the fellow Christians around us who continue to battle sin daily. So, when it comes to the church, we all join in with Paul and say, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 4).