1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Confession time: as I began to meditate on this opening passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians of Corinth, the first thought to form in my mind was, “This is sarcasm, right?” The profusion of superlatives in these few verses had something to do with it, I think—”always,” “everything,” “all”—but the substance of the passage was what pushed me over the edge. The whole thing just seemed a little Pollyannaish, and especially so when you know a little bit about the church in Corinth, which was anything but exemplary.
Paul is certainly not above sarcasm—in fact, he was a master of it—but as I studied the passage, I became convinced that wasn’t what he was about here. He means what he says. And that’s when I stopped thinking about Paul and started to think about myself. Why had my first, instinctual response to Paul’s words been cynicism? What did that say about me? What did it say about my way of relating to Scripture—and to God?
The Christians of the late first century, including those in Corinth, were experiencing together a theological and doctrinal shift more profound and momentous than perhaps any believers had ever experienced before or have since. For the first few decades of the church’s existence, people assumed almost unanimously that Jesus would return very soon—at any moment, even, and without doubt within the lifespan of his first generation of followers. The passing of the years, however, cast a pall of doubt over that commonly held belief. I wonder if some of the believers of that era, who had grown up hearing sermons and stories of Christ’s imminent return, came to regard the words of their teachers and their tradition with cynicism.
Almost two thousand years later, we’re still waiting for the return of Christ and the consummation of the Reign of God. In our own era, mass media and targeted advertising have made most of us that much more skeptical of any promise that seems too big. Skepticism, distrust, and doubt have become a part of our worldview, to the point that we barely acknowledge or even recognize them anymore. It’s a survival mechanism in a world driven by hype, but its usefulness has its limits. What does it profit us to be skeptical of the promises and assurances of God, the Faithful One?
Advent, the Season of Waiting, calls us not only to wait consciously for the arrival of the Coming One—to be aware of the quality and character of our waiting—but to wait well.