Monday, November 23, 2009

Giving thanks for the misguided who cause us grief

I was inspired both by Pastor Dave's reflection on Paul's various introductory thanksgivings at church this past Sunday and the fact that Thanksgiving is this week to write a few reflections throughout the week on selected thanksgiving's of Paul. Today's reflection comes from 1 Corinthians 1:4-9:
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (TNIV).
Paul had to write a difficult letter to Corinth. The church was badly fragmented, it tolerated gross sin, misunderstood spiritual gifts, and some of its members were trying to use the gospel as a means to improve their social status. One would think that with so much wrong that there might not be anything to be thankful for. Paul, though, is ever gracious, and still finds much to give thanks for. Whenever Paul prayed for the Corinthians, he thanked God for them, because even they, with all of their faults, were pictures of God's grace. God had clearly and decisively moved in their lives. Even in areas where they struggled, in their understanding of the charismatic gifts, Paul still sees positives, because he still sees God moving in their lives.

What is our attitude towards those in the church who cause problems for us? How do we pray for those who are misguided in their walk with God? How often do we give thanks to God for them and for the ways we see God's grace operative in them? Why does it matter?

It's not about thanking God for them for the sake of thanking God for them. Following Paul's pattern helps orient our attitude towards them in a way that is gracious and loving, in a way that is fair and balanced. I find it way too easy to slip off into a mode that seeks to confront problems and challenge people in a fashion that doesn't appreciate the transformation that God has already begun in their lives. Every Christian is a testament to the grace of God. We need to remember this because it will help us ground our prayers (and possible advice/counseling) in true love for the individual.

We also need to see that we are no better than them. We are messed up sinners, just as badly in need of God's grace; and we haven't conquered sin yet either. Praise be to God that he sent his Son to die for us all, that we might have forgiveness and be progressively sanctified as we experience life in union with him.

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