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.
Who am I? How do I know who I am? The question of how we understand ourselves and our identity is hugely complex. Tomes of sociological and psychological theory have been written addressing this topic. Most basically, identity is tied up with what we believe about ourselves and about the world around us.
Paul’s opening remarks to the Corinthians are interesting, because he is writing to a community wrought with division and in crisis about what they believed and as a result who they understood themselves to be. Anyone who’s ever experienced a crisis of identity will know it can be a pretty destabilising experience.
Rather than open with criticism and condemnation, Paul affirms the Corinthians’ worth by thanking God for them. But he does this by thanking God for who they find themselves to be in the light of God’s grace and in Christ Jesus, which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment. In fact, what Paul seems to be doing is reminding them that their identity is rooted in God and in God’s provision to them.
I’m reminded of some words attributed to Archbishop Justin Welby, when in 2016 he made the shock discovery that the man who he believed to be his father was not in fact his biological father. He said, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes”.
In contemporary life, there are umpteen voices that will seek to tell us who we are – advertisers, public policy decision makers, political propagandists dare I say it (as I write we are in the midst of the general election campaign). We also see the impact of social media on shaping our young peoples’ identities.
Sometimes, we too face destabilising crises of identity just like the Corinthians. But I take comfort in Justin Welby’s words which seem to echo Paul’s 2,000-year-old sentiments, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ… and my identity in him never changes.”
Loving God, Thank you for your love. A love that is rock-solid and unchanging. In times when we struggle with our beliefs, Or knowing who we are, Help us to remember the firm foundation That you have offered us, In the love of Christ Jesus, our Lord and our brother. Amen.
Jonnie Hill, Ordinand at Northern College and member of Chorlton Central Church in Manchester
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