Being Thankful for an Imperfect Church

Sermon Series: A Church with Problems

Sermon Title: Being Thankful for an Imperfect Church

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Every year, on the Sunday prior to New Year’s Day, I preach a sermon intended to look over the blessings and issues of the previous year as well as look forward to the year to come with a theme and expectation.

This year, I have a goal that I want to share with you as part of introducing both the sermon and the series which we are beginning.

My goal is to preach through the book of 1 Corinthians completely in 2018.

  • I have looked over the text and the main themes and I believe this is possible.
  • Keep in Mind: This will mean I will not take time off for special messages on holidays, nor will I take a break for a topical series over the summer as I have done in the past.
    • NOTE: I am not doing this to rush through the text, or to impose some type of artificial time constraint on the subject matter.
    • I am doing it because I recently was confronted by two important thoughts:
      • (1) The epistles of the NT were intended to be read and applied from start to finish by the churches to which they were sent.
        • I think too often if we stretch out the books over long periods of years, we tend to lose the overarching context contained in the books.
      • (2) There are 27 books in the New Testament.
        • In the past twelve years, I have preached completely through Luke, Hebrews, Acts, and James and 2 John.
        • I have taught through Romans and Jude in Sunday school, and a few Old Testament books on Wednesday evenings.
    • Consider This: If a pastor were to devote himself to preaching entirely through only one book a year, it would still take 27 years to preach the New Testament!
  • As I said, I have no intention to rush through the text; but I do feel like we should have the goal of reading and understanding the entire text of the New Testament, and preaching through the books is a vital part of my role as the primary preaching pastor.

Here is the beauty of the goal of preaching through 1 Corinthians this year: If for some reason, I do not make the goal, nothing is lost. 

  • We will continue until it is completed, even if it takes longer.
  • However, this will give us a direction and a focus, both for me as the preacher and you as the congregation of listeners.

My goal this year is for us to be more centered in our study of Scripture, and my prayer is that this devotion to study will bear fruit in how we live out our faith together as a church.


Now, having said that, I want to also speak for a moment about why I chose the book of 1 Corinthians to study this year.

In no uncertain terms, allow me to say this: OUR CHURCH HAS PROBLEMS.

  • Some of our problems are big, and some of our problems are small.
  • But they are there… we are NOT a perfect church.

The letter of 1 Corinthians is written to a church facing serious problems.

  • After 2,000 years, it reads as timely and relevant today as it certainly did when it was written.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect church.

    •  If you ever find a perfect church you should be certain to not join it… because you would ruin it.

    • Churches are made up of imperfect people, and thus they are constantly dealing with the problems of those imperfect people.
  • Illustration: “Capital Hill, Mark Dever” I recently listened to a message by a fellow pastor who attended a pastoral training conference at Mark Dever’s church in Washington. Dever’s church is a wonderful place, and they have put out many books on church leadership training and ministry. Perhaps you have heard of “9 Marks to a Healthy Church”, well that is based on Dever’s ministry teaching. The pastor described how, at the pastor’s training conference, all of the visiting preachers got to sit in on a real Elder’s Meeting being held there at the church. He describes how the elders were discussing some very serious issues that were facing the church. They didn’t put on a veneer of perfection, but allowed their true face to show, warts and all. They even discussed individuals in the church that were facing issues of sinfulness, and even possible discipline (though they used numbers to refer to them instead of names to ensure their privacy and that none of the visiting pastors knew who were being discussed).
    • As I heard the pastor tell this story, I felt a sense of relief.
    • Not because I wanted that church to have problems.
    • But because it reminded me that even in a church of thousands, with all the resources anyone could ask for including 24 active elders in service, there are still going to be problems.

While we should never ignore our problems, or pretend they aren’t there, we mustn’t allow them to cause us to take our eyes off the ultimate goal of ministry that Christ has given to us.

  • We need to be able to admit, confront, and rectify our problems.
  • But we also need to constantly be moving forward in pursuit of Christ, even in the midst of whatever problems we are facing.

1 Corinthians deals with a series of church-related problems.

  1. Ungodly Divisions among its members
  2. Hero Worship
  3. Immoral Behavior
  4. Legal Battles
  5. Marital Problems
  6. Accusations of Idolatry
  7. Regulation of Spiritual Gifts
  8. Uncertainty regarding life after death

In verse after verse, Paul carefully addresses these problems with the love and concern of a pastor.

  • WHY—> One might wonder why Paul devotes so much to this congregation.
  • Because this is one of the churches he founded during his missionary journeys, and he has personal ties to the people and their lives there.
  • Furthermore, it is obvious that what he writes to them was meant for more than just their ears… he is writing not just to the Corinthians, but to the entire church down through the ages which often face the same problems as they did.

Derek Prime, in his study of 1 Corinthians, notes that 1 Corinthians has several characteristics that make it unique among the other NT books:

  1. It is one of the earliest of the New Testament books written.
  2. It gives comprehensive insight into the problems faced by a church in a pagan society.
  3. It lays down principles for church order and disciplines not found elsewhere in the NT.
  4. It provides important instruction regarding divorce and remarriage.
  5. It gives the NT’s most detailed discussion of spiritual gifts.
  6. It supplies the most systematic exposition of the Christian hope of physical resurrection.

In Romans, Paul is the church’s THEOLOGIAN, systematically laying out her doctrinal foundations — but in 1 Corinthians, Paul is the church’s PASTOR, loving pointing out her problems and directing us all to the Gospel as the answer for those problems.


As we open our study, I want to look at the first 9 verses of Paul’s letter and focus in on his statement in v.4.

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 “1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

  • Paul certainly needs little introduction, He is the apostle chosen by Christ to be His instrument in reaching the Gentiles with the Gospel.
    • The book of Acts, which we studied, carefully outlines his missionary journeys which took him all across Asia Minor and to Macedonia and Greece, and finally to Rome.
    • He references His calling being “by the will of God” because He recognizes that God sovereignly chose Him not because He deserved it, but because it was God’s choice to be gracious.
  • Sosthenes, on the other hand, is not as well known.
    • Acts 18 mentions a particular Sosthenes as the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth.
    • He is not noted as a convert in Acts 18, but it is noted that he is beaten as a result of an issue involving Paul before a tribunal.
    • Perhaps Paul or other believers demonstrated some kind of charity or kindness to him as a result of his beatings and this caused him to convert.
    • Or it could simply be another person with the same name, we do not know.
    • He does seem well-known enough to mention without explanation, and a former leader in the Corinthian synagogue would certainly qualify.

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • One commentator writes, “It is encouraging that there is no place on earth too immoral for an assembly belonging to God to be established” (BBC).
    • Corinth was known in the ancient world for sexual promiscuity.
      • As early as the 5th century BC, to “corinthianize” meant to behave in a sexually immoral manner, and a Corinthian Woman was a synonym for a harlot.
      • QUOTE: John Stott “Corinth was the Vanity Fair of the Roman Empire”
        • Many probably think of a magazine cover when you hear the word Vanity Fair.
        • But that phrase traces its origins back to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgram’s Progress”, where he gave allegorical names to different stops along the journey of the believer, one of which was a town called Vanity which had a never-ending fair.
      • Vanity fair is a place with an over-the-top urban lifestyle, a place where merriment reigns.
    • If a correlation could be found today, one might say Corinth would be something akin to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
  • Yet, even in the midst of this vanity fair, there resided a placed with people “called to be saints together” were congregating.
    • He offers to them a proclamation of grace and peace.
    • Reminding them that such comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 

  • It is here that I want to focus our attention.
    • Paul is – as we said before – addressing a church brought with problems.
    • The idolatry, immorality, factions, and misuse of spiritual gifts was rampant.
    • This was no perfect church.
  • Yet, Paul still gives thanks to God for them!
    • Even if there was not a lot noteworthy within the church to give thanks for, Paul still thanked God for the grace He was showing them.
    • Note: This really hits me hard, because I have experienced what it is like to be in the trenches of church-related issues.
      • I have seen people back-bite, gossip, misuse scripture, mistreat one another, and live willingly sinful before god without any desire to repent.
      • And this is what Paul is facing in the introduction to this letter—he is about to wage a verbal battle against these problems.
      • But he doesn’t forget who he is talking to.
        • These are God’s people.
          • They may be broken.
          • They may be embattled.
        • But Paul is thankful for them.
      • He loves them, not for their sakes, but for Christ’s sake.

PAUL’S THANKSGIVING CONTINUES… He is thankful because of the grace given them…

5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

  • Corinth had a lot of problems, but they were not a church without blessings.
    • Paul says they were not “lacking in any gift
    • Later Paul will even say they had so much gifting that they even took pride in it, which itself was an issue of sin.
  • Notice that even as he already knows of the problems in Corinth, Paul has not lost any optimism for what God is doing.
    • He knows that within the church, God has His people.
    • And for those people, no trouble will be able to thwart what God is doing.
    • It was Paul himself who would write, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8).
  • For believers, this passage has a wonderful promise.
    • It reminds us that, if we are in Christ, He will “sustain you to the end, guiltless”.
    • Why are we confident about this? Because “God is faithful
      • He is faithful when we aren’t.
      • He is faithful when we don’t deserve it.
      • Psalm 36:5Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

Let me ask a simple question: 

If you are a believer in Christ today, do you have problems?

  • Do you fight spiritual battles?
  • Do you fail to perfectly live out the life God has called you to?
    • You either answered “yes” or you’ve convinced yourself of something that isn’t true.
    • 1 John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Likewise, do you realize that this church is made up of imperfect people, and it has problems too?

  • In Christ, believers are positionally sanctified, as was Corinth (amazingly! v.2).
  • But practically, we make mistakes, we err, and we need to grow, because none of us have arrived at perfection yet.

As I draw to a close, I want to make a final point: Paul addresses the Corinthians as a whole as believers, but that doesn’t mean that every person in the church was saved.

  • Paul will clearly point out that some of those in the church are professing faith, but not truly possessing it.
  • Not all of the Corinthians were saved, and THAT was part of the problem in the church.

    • I TRULY BELIEVE: One of the biggest problems in the church has always been UNREGENERATE CHURCH MEMBERS.

    • That is to say, people who come to church weekly, but aren’t genuine believers.
    • They play a role, they put on a face, but they are lost.
      • Jesus talked about them in Matthew 7.
      • He said they would come to Him on that day and He would say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”

In this, Jesus is not talking to believers who:

  • Are imperfect…
  • Who fight spiritual battles…
  • Who fail in their Christian walk…

Because, that’s all believers.

He is specifically talking to those whom He calls “worker of lawlessness”

  • These are those who love their sin, continually live in their sin, and refuse to recognize and repent of their sin.
  • Does that describe you?
    • If so, might I ask you today to examine yourself and ask the serious question: Are you truly in the faith?
    • Or do you come here to simply fulfill some religious or traditional obligation in your mind?

Beloved, know this — You can attend church your whole life, and no matter how perfect or imperfect you believe that church to be, if you do not have a relationship with Christ which is based on sincere repentance and faith, you will be lost on the day of judgment.

You don’t have to be perfect to be saved — in fact, you won’t be perfect, even if you are.

But you must be Christ’s…

Are you His today?

Dr. M. Keith Foskey

Keith Foskey is a pastor, podcaster and humorist. He is one of three elders who pastor at Sovereign Grace Family Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Keith holds to the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1646).
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