“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:3, ESV). Amen. Some people are never happy. They nitpick at everyone and can always find something to complain about. They never show appreciation or say, “Thank you.” If you ask them how they’re feeling, you always get a litany of aches and pains or all their personal problems. Nothing ever goes their way. They’re not happy unless they’re unhappy about something. They grumble and gripe about their spouse, their kids, their neighbors, their boss, their customers, their pastor, and the president. They whine about the weather and the price of gasoline and the hairstyles of young people. And they love to hold court at the family dinner table or the break room at work, where they have a captive audience as their air their grievances about the world around them.
Bob had a cranky neighbor like that named Ed. If you bought a new car, Ed would say the engine was too loud. If you painted your barn, he’d say it was the wrong shade of red. Nothing satisfied Ed. But Bob was determined to find something that would elicit a compliment from his grumpy neighbor.
So Bob bought a new hunting dog and set about teaching it how to sight and flush game, as well as retrieve it. After spending months training his dog, Bob invited Ed to go hunting with him. The day they went was cold and gray, so, of course, Ed had nothing good to say. And it was several hours before they found anything to shoot at. But then they found a flock of geese padding around the edge of a little pond. They flushed the game, and the geese clamored into the air. Bob took aim, fired, and shot a goose, which fell into the middle of the pond. “Go get it!” he shouted to his dog. The bird dog ran to the edge of the pond, and when it reached the water, it actually ran across the surface of the water to retrieve the bird. The dog literally walked on water before he brought back the bird and laid it at his master’s feet.
Bob smiled smugly as he turned to Ed and asked, “Now what do you think about that?!” Ed was silent for a moment, and then in his most crotchety voice, he replied, “Stupid mutt doesn’t even know how to swim.” [Pause for laughter]
Do you know anyone like Ed? Do you have an annoying, irritable person in your life? Someone who’s hard to love. Somebody who is hard to be thankful for? Perhaps you yourself are that person. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he urges that “thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions…” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Give thanks for all people—everyone you know (and even some you don’t know). When is the last time that you gave thanks for your grumpy boss or your frigid spouse, your rebellious child, or even your senators and congressman? God’s Word commands us to give thanks for them. That sounds like an impossible task.
Trouble in the Text
And yet the Apostle Paul, who had a reputation for being a bit crusty, took time to give thanks for the people in his life. Listen to what the Apostle Paul writes in our epistle lesson today: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). Paul always gives thanks for the Corinthian church because of God’s grace. He always gives thanks for them!
Now at first, that might not sound like a very remarkable thing to say. After all, Paul gives thanks for many of the churches to which he writes. Here are a few examples from his letters to the Romans, Ephesians, and Philippians: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:8); “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16); “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3). Paul also expresses his thanksgiving for the Colossians (Col. 1:3), Thessalonians (1 Th. 1:2), and his influential friend, Philemon (Phm. 1:4). As you page through the New Testament, it sounds as if Paul is thankful for everyone to whom he writes. So why should his thanksgiving for Corinth stand out?
Because—from a human standpoint—if ever there were a congregation for which not to give thanks, Corinth was the one! I’m not exaggerating. It’s quite common at pastors conferences for preachers to joke about occupational hazards and sometimes vent about the problems at their churches.
But the church at Corinth was a particularly difficult place to serve because the people there fought and argued with each other about everything. Again, conflict in churches is not unknown. Wherever people gather there will be differences of opinion. But when it comes to church conflict, the Corinthian congregation was off the scale!
They argued about who was the best pastor: Peter, Paul, or Apollos. (Aside: Nobody lobbied for Pastor Chris in that mix. Apparently, you needed a “P” in your name to be up for consideration!) They celebrated the fact that one of their church members was having an affair with his stepmother—something “not tolerated even among pagans” (5:1). (Aside: Can you even begin to imagine something like that happening at Epiphany?) Instead of reconciling their differences, church members were suing one another in courts of law. Some of them were having sex with prostitutes. Others claimed that you shouldn’t have sex at all—not even inside of a marriage covenant. The Corinthians debated whether it was right to eat food offered to idols. They turned the Lord’s Supper into a mockery while some got drunk and gorged themselves on the bread while others went hungry and got nothing at all. They fought about who were the wisest, smartest, and most spiritually gifted in the church, boasting about knowledge instead of loving one another. And did those who could speak in tongues or prophesy have more of the Spirit than everybody else? And did that charisma somehow give them more authority in the church than the other members? They had disturbances in worship with people speaking out of turn and interrupting one another. There was sharp disagreement among the Corinthians as to whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. And even though Corinth was a wealthy city, the people held back their offerings—much to the chagrin and embarrassment of Paul.
As I said earlier, every church has problems, but Corinth was a severe case. I certainly wouldn’t want to be their pastor. Yet despite all the sin, selfishness, and bizarre sex happening in the Corinthian congregation, St. Paul could still write to them: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4).
Grace in the Text
How?! Why?! For all the frustration, anger, and embarrassment the Corinthians caused Paul, how in the world could he actually be thankful for them? Was he just being polite? Or buttering them up before he roasted them? No, not at all. Paul’s gratitude was genuine.
Why? Because of God’s grace. That’s the whole answer. Because God showed grace to them in Christ Jesus, who loved and died for the Corinthians just as much as he died for any other person on this planet. God loved them, so he enriched them with knowledge (1 Cor. 1:5) and gifts of his grace (v. 7). They lacked nothing that God wanted to give them! In his divine mercy, he even counted them guiltless despite the gravity of their sin (v. 8). He even sanctified them and called them saints (v. 2). That is, he made them holy! All because of the grace given them in Christ Jesus (v. 4). Not because of anything they’d done or hadn’t done. Not because of their birth or upbringing or socio-economic status. Simply and solely because of grace. Not because they were faithful (quite to the contrary, as we already pointed out!). Because “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 9).
Paul gave thanks to God for the Corinthians because Jesus loved them, saved them, blessed them, and made them holy. In the end—and “to the end” (v. 8)—that is all that matters. Christ died for them. In fact, that is one of the hallmark verses of 1 Corinthians: “We preach Christ crucified” (1:23; cf. 2:2). Beneath the cross of Christ, we give thanks for every sinner washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Christ came to save sinners, and—thanks be to God—he found a bunch of sinners in Corinth.
Grace in Our World
Did you know that Jesus gave thanks here on earth? Before the feeding of the five thousand, despite a meager meal of just seven loaves and a few fish, nevertheless he gave thanks for God’s gift (Matt. 15:36). Later, on the most difficult night of his life, the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread and wine and gave thanks before giving them as his Body and Blood to his disciples (Matt. 26:27). Even though Jesus knew that in less than 24 hours he would be dead and buried, even though he was facing the greatest trial of his life, even though he was about to give up his life on the cross for the life of the world, still he took time to give thanks.
And Jesus gives thanks for you! In Matthew 11, Jesus gives thanks to God for revealing the truth of his Word to his disciples: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matt. 11:25-26). He rejoices when people turn to him in faith to receive his grace. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Remember: Jesus didn’t came to save the lost and heal the sick. He loves messed-up sinners like the Corinthians, like the people of Douglas County and Castle Rock—people like you and me.
In fact, Christ loves you so much that he died for you, warts and all, with all of your grievances and ingratitude. He died for you despite your selfishness and self-entitled attitude. In fact, to be more precise, he died for you because of your sins. And he does for you what he did for the Corinthians. He sanctifies you and makes you holy (1 Cor. 1:2). He gives you grace (v. 4). You enriches you so that you don’t lack any of his gifts (vv. 5-7). He sustains you to the end so that you may be guiltless on the Day of the Lord (v. 8). And he remains faithful toward us even when we are faithless towards him. Now that is something worth giving thanks for.
“All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed). In the name of the Father and of T the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.