[God] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The opening to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians shows both Paul’s deep personal knowledge of the church in Corinth (can you sense his emotional involvement in their lives?) and his abiding concern for theological precision. This first paragraph is dense: Paul gets into Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology.
What this means is that, right off the bat, Paul is especially concerned with the Corinthians getting their theology right. This is interesting because, to an outside observer, the Corinthians’ main problem is their behavior. The Corinthians, by all accounts, have gone off the rails. Later sections of the letter reveal that the church is riven by “pastor wars”, sexual immorality (a man has shacked up with his stepmom), and spiritual arrogance. But Paul does not begin with their behavior. He begins with their theology.
In these first sentences, Paul reminds the Corinthians of foundational Christian truths. I’d like to point out two. The first centers around the word “guiltless” in verse 8. Christians are, by virtue of Christ’s merits and death, guiltless before God. This is good news in a world where everyone is constantly keeping score. Have you seen Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited? In the movie, three brothers are unable to reconcile their own bitterness towards each other, the root cause being a total lack of grace and forgiveness. Instead, there is control, manipulation, and deceit. Their operating principle is “an eye for an eye.” You hurt me, I hurt you.
The vast majority of human relationships are like this. In Christianity, however, God declares us guiltless. That doesn’t mean we stop being sinners. Rather, it means God chooses to see us through the lens of love. He regards us as guiltless. He removes the stain. And the grammar is important here: God is the subject, the one who acts. “You” (and that includes you!) is the object; God acts, we receive the action. God will “sustain you to the end” in this guiltless-ness. God is the one who makes you guiltless in his sight, sustains you in guiltlessness, and will eventually judge you guiltless at “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” i.e., the end of the world. In short, God does the work.
The second thing to note in this passage is in verse 9 and centers on the word “fellowship.” Paul sums up what God the point of this whole Christianity bit: God has called you into fellowship with Jesus. This, again, is another rebuke to those Christians who would say our religion is mostly about what we do. This is a big idea these days: orthopraxis (right doing), not orthodoxy (right believing). This is implied when Christians ask other Christians, “How’s your walk with the Lord?” The focus is on what you are doing. But Paul here says that God has called us into fellowship. That is, a relationship with Jesus. A relationship is something based on love, not doing. Rules don’t operate here.