Surprise! Surprise! St. Paul begins a letter of his by talking about the grace of God. Paul is talking about grace, even when that may not appear to be the theological point he is making. Paul begins his letter with the grace of God because that is the way the salvation has come to all of us: through the grace of God and nothing else. Even in places where we might not expect it, Paul is thinking of God’s grace. In verse 2, for example, Paul speaks of God’s calling, which we understand from other writings of Paul’s is God’s sovereign call on our lives, His gracious love towards us, before we loved Him or had the ability to do so. In verse 3 Paul comes right out and uses the word “grace,” and in verse 4 he presents grace in such a way that he helps us understand the message of his entire letter.
By this grace we are sanctified in Christ Jesus and made saints (verse 2.) By this grace we are enriched in everything by Him (verse 5) so that in verse 7 you come short in no gift (“grace” and “gift” are related words in Greek). By this grace, God, who is faithful, will confirm you to the end (verses 8-9.)
It doesn’t take long for Paul to turn his attention to the many big problems with the Corinthian church. The first one is the terrible divisions they had, driven by attachments to human personalities. But in spite of the difficult sins Paul must soon turn to, he doesn’t begin there. He begins with the grace of God.
Before Paul tackles the problems in the church, before he makes the Corinthians keenly aware of their sins and unworthiness, he talks about the grace of God in their lives. We are glad to hear of such grace the day after Ash Wednesday and near the beginning of Lent because Lent can seem like such a dark season. But Lent itself is a season of grace, although grace in a form different from what we want and expect
Before Paul deals with the sins of the Corinthians, he reminds the Corinthians that every good thing they had (and they had many of God’s most excellent gifts) was a gift of grace. Every good thing was God’s freely given and undeserved blessing in their life. Though the gifts of God come through the ministries of men, it is all of God and all of grace. But the Corinthians forgot this and began to practice a form of idolatry by placing the gifts above the Giver, the creation above the Creator.
How? By allying themselves primarily with Paul or Apollos or someone else. But one of God’s most precious gifts, one for which Jesus lived and died, was that we might all be one. In verse 10 Paul pleads that the Corinthians might all speak the same thing, be joined together in the same mind, and have the same judgment. This is what we find is true of the church in the book of Acts: they had all things in common and were of “one accord.” This is the gift of unity, unity in the one Lord, possessed by one baptism and one faith.
The problem is that often we take pride in “our” accomplishments and possessions. We usurp God’s ownership of His gifts and hoard them for ourselves, and what God has meant for the good of all, we intend only for ourselves. Though God has given us the gift of life and of our faculties, of our families and jobs and possessions, and we do possess them in some sense, the fact is they are all a gift. I don’t see many of us going around saying “Look at me – I was born!” because we all know this is something we could not have done for ourselves and that therefore there is no glory in it for us.That is the problem with thinking that God’s gifts are things we deserve or have earned: we become unthankful and proud and rob God of His glory. Paul teaches, however, that “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
There will be glory for God’s children, alright, but only for those who have first humbled themselves before the Giver of every good gift. The glory and joy and grace and peace God offers us is only through His Son, and not through ourselves.
You know that feeling of joy and wanting to share your joy you get when you’ve done something good? It’s the feeling a child gets when he slaps some paint on some paper, smiles, and says “See?!” That’s the feeling we should have in God’s gracious gifts to us. But instead of smiling and saying “See?!” because of how good we are, we should do it because of how good God is. We should see the good things that God has given us by His grace, point to God with glee, and say “See?!”
The antidote to pride and ingratitude is to praise God and thank Him for His gracious
gifts. To recognize and accept grace, and to praise and thank another, however, requires humility. Because of the magnitude of God’s good gifts, we are especially humbled before Him, saying “I’m not worthy!”
To which God says: “You’re telling me?! But because I love you, here you go anyway.”
Receive the grace of God today. It will humble you, and the gift of Lent is there to remind you of God’s grace. But see how good God is? In giving you His grace and having you humbly accept it, He gives you an equally valuable gift: the gift of humility before Him.
And by the gifts of humility and thanksgiving, God is able to give grace and glory to the humble, through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for Your amazing gifts of grace. Thank You especially for choosing me to be Your child, restored to Your presence forever. Please humbly receive my thanks as I acknowledge that You, and not I, are the source of the good things in my life.
Point for Meditation:
Practice using your Lenten discipline (what you have chosen to give up) this year as a means of remembering God’s good gifts to you. Every time you remember the good gift of God that you have removed from your life for a season, use it as a means of remembering all of God’s other good gifts. For example, if you’ve given up desserts, every time you crave one, give thanks to God for desserts but also for the sweetness of life with His Son, the fellowship with the saints, the goodness of creation, etc.
Resolution: I resolve to remember at least 5 good things God has given me, to remember that they came from God, and to thank God for each one of them.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson