By Chuck Lawless
You might feel you’re pastoring the church at Corinth today, and your heart’s hurting. A quick look at that church shows they were about as messy as a church can get. They were, among other things: arguing and divided, living carnally, tolerating sin, suing each other, abusing their spiritual liberty, observing the Lord’s Supper wrongly, battling over spiritual gifts, and denying the resurrection. Surely this was a church any sane pastor would want to avoid.
Nevertheless, I’m struck by the way Paul began and ended the letter of 1 Corinthians. Before the apostle ever hammered away at their vices—and that he did—he began by letting them know he always thanked God for them. He saw them as a uniquely gifted congregation, called into fellowship with the Son who would complete His work in them (1 Cor 1:4-9). If we stopped with these verses, in fact, we would see the Corinthian church as a glowing one.
Then, Paul ended this letter with one of the most intimate closures of any of his New Testament letters: “My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 16:24). He truly loved these people, and he wanted them to know that fact so well that he closed this letter with these words. So, Paul thanked God for them in chapter 1 and expressed his love for them in chapter 16—and in between, he essentially said, “You’re an absolute mess!” Somehow, Paul was able to see God’s hand in His church despite all the apparent victories of the enemy.
Here’s my point. None of the churches we pastor is perfect. The folks we lead are sinners. They still fight. They don’t always exhibit the strongest theology. The enemy still wins in their lives far too often.
Yet, our churches are also still made up of God’s people. Still, He has gifted each of them in some capacity. Still, God will complete His work in them.
And, still, we must thank God for our congregations and love them—even when they drive us crazy. In fact, we earn the credibility to speak into their messes when our gratitude and love for them are genuine and obvious.
If you’re a hurting pastor, I encourage you to pray these prayers today:
- “Lord, bring me to the place where I can thank You for Your people.”
- “Give me a love for them that’s undeniable and deep.”
- “Grant me wisdom to know when and how to address their messiness.”
May God use you today, pastor!