Monday, February 14, 2011

Grace to you. Grace with you.

Fascinating how Paul begins his first letter to the church in Corinth with 'Grace to you'(1:3), and ends it with 'Grace with you.'(16:22) Some commentators suggest that Paul begins with commendation, moves on to accusation, and then ends with a bit of commendation - kind of like a condemnation burger with a bun of grace top and bottom to make the 'burger' taste better. Others take his grace introduction and conclusion as support for their believe that 'God doesn't see their sin because it is covered in the blood of Jesus, so nor does Paul'.

May I be so bold as to say that neither of these approaches are correct or helpful.

The truth is that Paul takes much of the letter to address issues of sin in this dysfunctional church. If their sin was not an issue he wouldn't need to address it. He would have ended the letter in verse 3! Grace to you!

Instead he addresses them lovingly, with a clear thread of grace throughout the letter. He calls them 'sanctified.' That's their identity. They are not 'sinners who sin' they are 'saints who stumble' because they have been pardoned and cleansed. This is how Paul sees them and how God sees us too.

And yet they are also 'called to be holy' in actual fact - they are still in process if truth be told. They are a church who have had an amazing grace encounter but they have not understood grace as a journeying partner. They have not understood 'grace with you'- grace that sanctifies.

They have not realized that grace has an ongoing effect. 'I am what I am by the grace of God and that grace to me was not without effect!"he says. "I worked harder than any of the other apostles, yet not I, but the grace of God within me." Grace energizes him to change and to work, and he claims that it can energize them too.

But grace aims much higher than just 'not sinning.' Grace reconciles them to Jesus. "God has brought us into fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ." And for Paul, being reconciled to Christ is the basis for getting sanctified. "Don't you know that you are members of Christ himself?"

Reconciliation is what will stop them from quarreling and lawsuits. "Is Christ divided?" he asks, and follows by arguing that if they are one with Christ and Christ is one, then they cannot be divided.

Reconciliation is also the basis of his appeal for sexual purity. 'Shall I unite the members of Christ with a prostitute? Never!" 1 Cor 6:11 If I am one with Jesus, then I am not free to leave Jesus out of the 'normal' parts of my life like sexuality. He is with me still.

Grace, the unmerited operation of God's favor on my heart, is not just the bun on the burger. Its the whole burger from beginning to end.
'Twas grace that brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.
Grace to you, and grace with you.