Summary: It is easy to take pride in our wealth when what we really need to be doing is to understand our poverty without Christ.
We know the phrase, “read between the lines.” We perhaps have gotten letters in which we have tried to do that. What does he mean “I’ll see you”? He’s always written before, “can’t wait to see you soon.” What does she mean, “You have a unique taste in clothes”? Doesn’t she like my clothes?
We are going to do a little of reading between the lines in Paul’s greeting to the Corinth Church. This will not be speculation. Paul later in his letter provides the information needed. We get to see how he masterfully sets the stage for what the whole letter has to say.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you…
That is a great way to start off a letter. Certainly the Corinthians should be encouraged by such an opening, especially considering that their relations with Paul are not on the best of terms.
Why is that? Paul later on will reveal the cause of friction, although he has already hinted at it in the first verse where he identifies himself: Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. This is not an unusual designation for himself. Paul typically refers to himself as an apostle and then usually adds that part of by the will of God. But the reason he tends to add the emphasis of his apostleship being by God’s will is that his position in the church was questioned somewhat. Perhaps he was an apostle, perhaps; but should he be regarded on equal standing with the eleven original apostles? Who designated him an apostle? The Eleven added Matthias to replace Judas. Where are Paul’s credentials? This certainly was a question for the churches in Galatia. In his letter to them, Paul gives an extended defense of his special calling from God and validation by the apostles.
But what is really behind the questions? We know how the dynamics work. We don’t usually raise doubts about a person’s credibility until something happens to make us dissatisfied. Then we look for something to discredit him. What was it about Paul that the very people he brought to faith were questioning his credentials? Hold that thought. We will find the answer soon.
So, Paul starts off with a positive statement that we should take at face value. He is thankful for the saints in Corinth, and as a man of prayer, he does include thanksgiving to his God for them as he prays for them. And he has good reason to give thanks: because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus. We considered in the previous verse the grace shown through their redemption, but also noting that God’s grace continues beyond redemption to sustaining and nurturing their walk in the faith. This is the grace of which Paul speaks now, as he explains in the remaining verses.
…5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…
The grace of God has been given to the Corinthians in the form of spiritual gifts. They are, literally, a gifted people. Paul notes two particular gifts – speech (logos) and knowledge (gnosis). Why these two? First, they evidently were gifted in all kinds of speech and all kinds of knowledge. We will hear about the gifts of “the utterance of wisdom,” “the utterance of knowledge,” “prophecy,” “speaking in tongues,” “the interpretation of tongues,” and “the ability to distinguish between spirits.” This is an impressive array of gifts, and it seems that the Corinthians thought so, as we will find out.
Indeed, the Corinthians had become so enamored of speech and knowledge, that these things had led them an unfavorable critique of Paul. The apostle, as we know, never was abashed at admonishing his churches about sin. He had already written an earlier letter, undoubtedly drawing attention to a number of their sins. There are two common ways we respond to admonition. One is to be thankful for the correction, and the other is to retort, “Who do you think you are?” That is happening, at least to a degree, at Corinth.
Who does Paul think he is? Was he one of the original Twelve? Was he ordained by the Twelve? He is supposed to especially called by God to preach. Why, he doesn’t even do that well. Apollos (we will learn about him later) is so much better than he. All Paul does is preach the same gospel over and over, and we passed that stage a long time ago. Probably we know more than he does now.
That is the attitude Paul is contending with in his epistle. So, he doesn’t start off saying, “You don’t know nothing.” (He will make a similar remark later.) The Corinthians do possess real and good gifts that they ought to value. But, they are just that – gifts that they have received by God’s grace. That is why Paul gives thanks to God, not to the Corinthians. By God’s grace he has enriched them. They did not attain their new abilities through going to college and graduate school. They have not pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, their hard work, or their ingenuity. They who were poor were enriched by God, not by themselves.