Past Benefits of Grace
I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus … even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you. (1:4, 6)
The first benefit of being a saint is the grace of salvation. Both which was given and was confirmed in the Greek are in the aorist tense, indicating action completed at a particular, definite point of time. At the moment a person trusts in Jesus Christ, he receives God’s grace and the testimony of Christ is confirmed in him. Once we are in Christ the grace of God is ours. Paul is grateful [I thank my God always concerning you] for those who have received the grace of salvation. His passion was to see people redeemed, and his joy was greatest when that happened. Keeping a proper perspective, his thanks is directed Godward.
Grace (charis) was a common Christian greeting, which Paul had just used in the previous verse in his salutation. The basic meaning of the word is “favor,” but in regard to God’s saving men through His Son it always has the special and distinct sense of undeserved and unrepayable kindness or mercy given to sinners. It is supermagnanimous giving, giving that is totally undeserved and unmerited. It need not, in fact cannot, be repaid. God’s saving grace is free and unearned.
In order to understand the true meaning and significance of God’s grace we need to understand three things that cannot coexist with grace: guilt, human obligation, and human merit.
grace cannot coexist with guilt
First of all, grace cannot coexist with guilt. Grace provides for the alleviation of guilt. God cannot say, “I am gracious and I give you salvation, but one false move and I’ll take it away.” That would not be a gracious gift, but a qualified, legal gift that could be taken away whenever we fell short of God’s requirements. Grace would not be grace if God said, “I will save you if you don’t sin.” If we could keep from sinning we would not need grace, because we would merit salvation, we would deserve it. If grace were given and then later withheld in the least degree because of sin, it would not be the grace taught in Scripture. Grace involves unmerited, undeserved, and permanent forgiveness. Grace can operate only where there is sin. Without need of forgiveness there is no need of grace.
Man can neither escape from nor atone for his own sin. He is guilty and helpless in himself. Because God is holy and just He cannot ignore sin. It must be punished, and its penalty is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet this same verse that declares sin’s penalty also declares the way of its removal, its atonement: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” By His work on the cross, Christ fulfilled the demands of God’s justice by taking the penalty of our sins upon Himself. In this was God’s supreme provision of grace. When Jesus Christ became guilty for our sin, the price was paid in His death. And once God sovereignly acts in grace to forgive a person’s sin because of trust in His Son’s work, that person is totally and forever free of guilt. He stands in grace, which is continually dispensed to him (Rom. 5:1–3). All guilt is removed and can never return. Grace is God’s gift that completely and permanently overrules guilt.
I have talked with Christians who are so absolutely distraught with guilt that they no longer are able to cope with life. They cannot accept the reality of forgiveness. They have long before trusted Christ as Savior and understood the truth of grace theologically and theoretically. But they do not understand it practically. This is often because they fail to separate the feelings of guilt that result from sin from the ultimate condemnation of the guilty. Sin not only produces feelings of guilt but real guilt, for we are guilty for the sins we commit. Yet that is the very guilt that Christ bore on the cross and that God’s grace in Christ removes. We feel it, we may be chastened for it (Heb. 12:3–11), but we will never be condemned by it. The pain that follows sin is not a mark of condemnation or rejection by God, but is a reminder that we have sinned and should also be a deterrent to further sin.
To have the benefit of being a saint but not be able to experience its full blessing because of doubting is tragic. Still some Christians apparently cannot believe that God could be so completely gracious. Yet incomplete or temporary grace would not be grace. Of course we cannot earn it. Of course we can never deserve it. Of course we can never repay it. That is what makes grace grace.
What greater motivation for becoming a Christian could an unbeliever have, and what greater consolation could a believer have, than to know that in Christ all sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven forever? In Christ all guilt and all penalty are permanently removed. In Him we will stand totally guiltless and holy for the rest of eternity. When God saves, He ultimately takes away all sin, all guilt, all punishment. That is grace.
grace cannot coexist with human obligation
Second, grace cannot coexist with human obligation. We are not to say, “Well, God was gracious to me and He saved me, and now I have to pay Him back.” Grace is a free gift, not a loan. Grace makes us totally indebted to God, but because the cost is so great we cannot repay it, and because His grace is so great we need not repay it. In other words, we are completely indebted, but we have no debt. We cannot pay for our salvation either before or after we are saved.
In discussing the relationship of faith and works to God’s grace, Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor [charis, grace], but as what is due” (Rom. 4:4). If we were able at any time or in any way to earn God’s forgiveness, it would be our due. We would earn it and God would owe it to us. We may thank our employer for getting our paycheck to us on time and for paying us willingly and gladly, but we do not thank him simply for paying us. If we have worked for it as we should, we deserve the money and he is obligated to pay it. In paying his employees what they have earned, an employer is not being gracious but simply honest and just. And if for any reason he will not pay for work done, his employee can demand his money, because by right it belongs to the worker.
But grace does not operate on the principle of works, of earning. It is the giving of that which has not been earned or deserved. In relation to God’s gift through His Son, it cannot be earned or deserved. Money can be given or it can be earned. But God’s grace can only be given.
How could we pay for what is priceless? To offer God the greatest love and devotion and obedience and service we have could not approach paying for what He offers us in Jesus Christ. To do so would be like offering a few pennies to pay the national debt. Beside God’s grace our very best works are even more of a pittance.
What makes the message of Christ such good news is that we do not need to pay for salvation. By itself, the truth that we cannot earn salvation would be bad news, the very worst of news, because it would leave man entirely hopeless. But grace makes it good news, the very greatest of news, because grace has made it unnecessary to pay for salvation. Our sinful limitations make it impossible; God’s abundant grace makes it unnecessary. God in Christ has paid for it; we have only to receive it through Him.
We owe God our highest love, our deepest devotion, and our greatest service as expressions of our gratitude and because all we have and are belong to Him—but not because these are able in the least way to buy or repay His gift of love and mercy to us. We love Him; but we are only able to love Him because first “He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We owe Him everything out of gratitude; we owe Him nothing out of obligation.
grace cannot coexist with human merit
Third, grace cannot coexist with human merit. Grace is not offered simply to “good” people. In relation to each other, some people obviously are morally better than others. But in relation to God’s righteousness, our very best is “like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6). A person’s goodness, in relation to other people and certainly in relation to God, is not considered in God’s grace. Merit, like guilt and obligation, has no part in grace. Jesus, speaking to the religious and moral Jewish leaders, shocked them with the fact that tax collectors (traitors to their own people and usually dishonest) and prostitutes (the lowest members of that society) would enter the kingdom of God before those religious leaders (Matt. 21:31–32). Luke 18:9–14 gives the classic account of a morally good man condemned to hell and a morally bad man headed for heaven.
For centuries Israel believed that God had chosen them as His special covenant people because they were better than others. They firmly believed this, in spite of the fact that God had told them otherwise at the very beginning. “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 7:7–8).
Paul points out that, though the Jews had many blessings and many advantages, especially as recipients of God’s special revelation of Himself, they were not chosen because they were deserving. In many ways they were especially undeserving (Rom. 2:17–3:20). To Gentiles he gave the same warning. They were no better, “for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (3:9). Among ourselves we can distinguish between those who are humanly better and those who are worse, but before God every person spiritually stands the same—sinful and condemned in regard to his own merit, his own righteousness. “There is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:22–23). Even in himself—in fact especially in himself—Paul recognized no righteousness, no merit before God. In his own eyes he was the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and “the very least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8).
But again God’s grace turns bad news into good. Because of His grace we do not need to merit salvation. Paul was eternally grateful for the grace of God which was given … in Christ Jesus.
In recent years we have been able, through magazines, newspapers, and television, to see vividly the terrible plight and anguish of people in such places as Cambodia, Afghanistan, Central America, and the Middle East. The sensitive Christian who lives in a free, peaceful country cannot help asking, “Why, Lord, have you given me so much? Why am I free to live peacefully, free to worship where and as I choose, free to work, free to raise my family as I think best, free to have fellowship with other believers?” We know it is not because we are more deserving of blessing. We are blessed because of God’s grace and for no other reason.
three reasons for god’s grace
God has three reasons, three motives, for being gracious to us. First, He provides salvation in order that those who are saved may produce good works. Good works touch and help the lives of others, including telling them of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). In another letter he instructs Titus that Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Later in the epistle he explains, “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (3:8). God saved us to do good works because good works benefit men. God wants His children to touch all the world with their goodness, made possible through His Son.
Second, saving grace is meant to bring blessing to believers. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, … made us alive together with Christ, … in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–7). God graciously saves us in order that He can pour out His great blessings on us forever.
Third, and most importantly, God saves us through grace in order to glorify Himself. Grace is given “in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church” and that “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:10, 21). Jesus taught that the primary purpose for letting our light shine before men, made possible by our salvation, is to “glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Jesus’ own primary purpose in going to the cross, which made our salvation possible, was to glorify His Father and to be glorified Himself (John 12:28; 17:1, 4–5). God’s glory is clearly on display in the gracious and powerful work of salvation.
The Lord’s gracious salvation is given in order for the saved to bring blessing to other men through good works, to bring blessing to believers themselves, and above all to bring glory to Himself. He is gracious for the world’s sake, for His children’s sake, and for His own sake.
even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you. (1:6)
We receive God’s grace when the testimony of Christ is confirmed—that is, settled, made steadfast and solid—in us. Testimony is the Greek marturion, meaning “witness,” as it is sometimes translated (see Acts 1:8). It is from this term that we get the English martyr. Christ’s witness is settled and confirmed in us when we trust in Him as Lord and Savior. At that moment, and forever after that moment, we stand in God’s grace.
In the New Testament marturion is most commonly used in relation to the gospel, and first of all to its proclamation. The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles, and continues to empower all Christ’s disciples, to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Paul’s own calling centered in his “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21; cf. v. 24), whether his testimony was accepted or not (22:18). The Lord assured Paul that he would not die until his testimony for Him was complete, the final witness being in Rome (23:11).
The context indicates that the deepest meaning of marturion (or marturia), however, is in its representing the gospel itself, not merely its proclamation. The testimony of which Paul counseled Timothy not to be ashamed was the “testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8), that is, the gospel of the Lord. John tells us that “the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). The greatest testimony is not about the message of salvation but is the message of salvation. It is not when we hear the testimony about Christ, but when we have the testimony concerning Christ … confirmed in us, that we become partakers of God’s grace.
In 1 Corinthians 1:4, then, we see the divine offer of grace, and in 1:6 the positive human response to grace. When a person in faith accepts God’s offer, grace becomes operative. All sin is forgiven and all guilt is removed, forever. At that time God begins to pour out the superabundance of His blessings and riches on His new child, and He will not stop throughout all eternity. That is the extent of God’s grace.
4 The most important thing to recognize about Paul’s thanksgiving is that he directs it to God, not to any human being. Thus his praise of the Corinthians is only indirect. Whatever spiritual blessings and gifts they display should never be an occasion for pride on their part; rather, they owe it all to the “grace [of God] given you in Christ Jesus”—the same grace that redeemed them in the first place. This message is as important today as it was when Paul first wrote it. No one should ever manifest personal pride in his or her abilities, regardless of whether they are used in the church or in society at large. All thanksgiving belongs to God, for it is only he who has “enriched [us] in every way” (v. 5).
4 It is Paul’s regular habit (“always”) to give thanks for his converts, as well as for other Christians. Indeed, his ability to give thanks for these Christians probably says much about his own character. If he must speak strongly to them, indeed at times be sarcastic and shame them, he nonetheless never ceases to be thankful for them; for in the final analysis, even though he feels responsible for them as a father for his children (4:14–21), they are God’s people, not his own. In every redeemed person there is evidence of the grace of God, and that brings forth Paul’s gratitude, both to God and for them. To delight in God for his working in the lives of others, even in the lives of those with whom one feels compelled to disagree, is sure evidence of one’s own awareness of being the recipient of God’s mercies. So it was with Paul. The self-sufficient are scarcely so disposed.
The specific basis of Paul’s thanksgiving in their case is God’s “grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Commonly this is viewed as a thanksgiving for grace as such, i.e., the gracious outpouring of God’s mercy in Christ toward the undeserving. However, for Paul charis (“grace”) very often is closely associated with charisma/charismata (“gift/gifts”) and in such instances refers to concrete expressions of God’s gracious activity in his people. Indeed, the word “grace” itself sometimes denotes these concrete manifestations, the “graces” (gifts), of God’s grace. So, e.g., in 1 Cor 16:3 and 2 Cor. 8–9, charis refers not only to the “grace of giving” on the part of the Corinthians, but concretely to their gifts as well.
Such a “concrete” understanding of grace seems to be what is in view here, since vv. 5–7 specify its manifestations in terms of certain charismata (“gifts”), which in fact the Corinthians tended to prize very highly. Paul’s emphasis, of course, differs considerably from theirs. They stressed the gifts per se; he the gracious activity of God, who would so gift his people. Precisely because they are “given” by God and are “grace” (unmerited by the recipients), there can be no grounds for boasting on their part. Paul’s dilemma in this letter is to convince the Corinthians to share his view of these benefits, since they arrogantly boast over the very things that as gifts may not be the source of personal boasting (cf. 4:7).
1:4 / Paul reports his giving thanks to God at the outset of this section. He reiterates such thanksgiving later in the letter at 14:18. Paul does not mention prayer per se at this point, but the fact that his thanksgiving is directed to God indicates that he has prayerful activity in mind. The word always in this report emphasizes Paul’s regularity and constancy in remembering and rejoicing over the Corinthians. Paul’s thankfulness, however, is not primarily because of the Corinthians themselves, but rather because of the grace of God that affects the lives of the Corinthians. God as the source of grace and the giver of grace is the object of Paul’s thanksgiving. Grace itself in this statement is the experience of salvation, but not merely as the moment of initial faith. Rather, the following comments show that for Paul grace is the ongoing experience of God’s endowing the Corinthians with spiritual gifts that redefine their lives.
Paul’s references to grace make it clear that the Corinthians experience grace as a gift from God. Grace is given by God; there is no foundation for boasting (a major concern of the rest of the letter) in the Corinthians’ experience of grace. The grace the Corinthians have, the gifts that are manifested among them, are God’s and not their capacities and achievements (cf. 4:7–8). Moreover, Paul locates the experience of God’s grace specifically in relation to Christ Jesus. In the context of Christian faith and life the Corinthians are the recipients of God’s gift of grace, so that the grace is never purely at their disposal. Grace comes in a context and for a purpose, as Paul makes plain throughout the entire letter. God’s endowments are for specific reasons in the context of the Christians’ relationship to Christ and his community of faith.
1:4 I always thank my God. Thanksgiving flows from a recognition that a gift is given and a debt of gratitude is owed. Such a clear sense of indebtedness to God made thanksgiving the daily pattern of Paul’s life. Paul may have been instrumental in planting the church, but it was God’s nurturing grace that gave it root and made it grow (3:6). Thanksgiving was not diminished by the problems flourishing among the Corinthians; the problems were caused not by God’s generous gifts but by the church’s misunderstanding and misuse of these gifts.
because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. The Greek construction here underscores that God’s grace is not just the occasion for the thanksgiving; rather, grace is the undergirding foundation for every statement Paul makes and for every experience the church has. The grace Paul talks about is not from a human patron but from God, who grants his grace in Christ. Put differently, God’s grace flows to those who are a part of the “in Christ” community.
To be “in Christ” is to be part of the community that belongs to Christ and recognizes his lordship. The modern and Western individualized interpretation of Paul’s use of the phrase “in Christ,” which argues that personal faith can live without community participation, is foreign to Pauline texts. To Paul, the suggestion that one could be Christian without belonging to the Christ community would be as odd as to suggest that one could be a Jew without belonging to Israel. Furthermore, in the Greco-Roman context the notion of individual independence would seem odd. The very structure of social interaction was built on participation in communities that depended on goodwill from patrons (and loyalty from clients). This is why Paul consistently uses plural pronouns (speaking to the community, not the individual) when he speaks of being “in Christ.”
4. I always thank my God concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus.
When Paul writes “I always thank my God concerning you,” he reveals his pastoral heart. He prays for the churches he has founded and thanks God for them. He uses the adverb always to qualify the verb thank. But how is Paul able to express his gratitude to God on behalf of the Corinthian church? The members have caused him untold grief with their divisions, immorality, marital problems, and lawsuits. Can Paul accurately write the word always? Is he using a formula at the beginning of his epistle? No, Paul’s heart is filled with gratitude because God chose to call his people out of the immoral and idolatrous environment of Corinth. Even there God established the church in fellowship with Jesus Christ (v. 9). For that reason he can continually thank God.
“For the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus.” This is the second time in as many verses (vv. 3 and 4) that Paul uses the expression grace. In the Greek, derivatives of this expression also appear in the verb thank (v. 4) and in the noun gift (v. 7). In brief, Paul stresses the concept grace in these verses. What is the significance of this concept? Paul is amazed at God’s grace, in the form of spiritual gifts, lavished on the Corinthian Christians (see, e.g., the enumeration of gifts in 12:4–11). God’s grace becomes evident in the gifts he gives to his people.
Notice that Paul uses the passive construction in the second half of this verse. Grace was given to the Corinthians by God. He is the implied agent and the Corinthians are the passive recipients (see Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 8:1). Paul gives thanks for God’s faithfulness to the believers in Corinth, but he says nothing about any inherent virtues of the Corinthians. Further, Paul states that God’s grace has been given in Christ Jesus. That is, in Christ the recipients of this grace have been redeemed and are now set apart from the pagan world in which they live.
1:4. Before wrestling with a long list of problems in the Corinthian church, Paul mentioned several positive feelings and hopes. He affirmed that he was always sure to thank God for his readers, and explained why.
Paul first explained that the cause of his gratitude was the grace, or unmerited favor, the Corinthians had received in Christ Jesus. Some interpreters have also suggested that grace refers to the Corinthians’ charismatic gifts. The phrase in Christ appears often in Paul’s writings. It refers to his teaching that all who trust in Christ have been joined to him, participating in his death and resurrection. Those united to Christ die to the judgment of death and come alive to countless blessings of new life, sharing in Christ’s inheritance (Rom 6:1–7; Gal 3:28–29; Eph. 1:3–14). By being united to Christ, believers draw their life from him (Gal. 2:20; cf. John 15:1–8; 17:22–23), and Christ represents them as righteous before the Father (Rom. 5:15–19; 1 Cor. 15:22).
1:4 Having concluded his salutation, the apostle now turns to thanksgiving for the Corinthians and for the wonderful work of God in their lives (vv. 4–9). It was a noble trait in Paul’s life that always sought to find something thankworthy in the lives of his fellow believers. If their practical lives were not very commendable, then he would at least thank his God for what He had done for them. This is exactly the case here. The Corinthians were not what we would call spiritual Christians. But Paul can at least give thanks for the grace of God which was given to them by Christ Jesus.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 11–16). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 262). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 37–38). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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