According to the conventions of ancient letter writing, a greeting was followed by a section in which the author praised the recipient. In most of his letters, Paul modifies this literary form by offering thanksgiving rather than praise and by using a standard phrase much like we have here: “I give thanks to my God always for you . . .” (see 1:4, as well as Rom. 1:8; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; and 2 Thess. 1:3). In this case, Paul expresses his thanks that the Corinthian believers have experienced the grace of God in Christ. This is more than some vague piety. Rather, Paul has something quite specific in mind. The believers in Corinth have been “enriched in [Christ]” (1 Cor. 1:5) so that they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). Paul specifically names two gifts, speech and knowledge, that the Corinthian church enjoyed in abundance.
For our purposes, it is especially important to note that Paul is convinced that the believers in Corinth have received the spiritual resources they need to fulfill their calling. God has called them, and he has given them gifts that will enable them to be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8). Although the day of perfection has not arrived yet, whether at work or anywhere else, Christians already have access to the gifts that will come to complete fruition on that day.
It is hard to imagine that all Corinthian Christians felt as if their work was a special occupation designed individually for them by God. Most of them were slaves or common laborers, as we will see. What Paul must mean is that whether or not each person’s occupation seems special, God gives the gifts needed to make everyone’s work contribute to God’s plan for the world. No matter how insignificant our work seems, no matter how much we long to have a different job, the work we do now is important to God.
Peter T. O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings in the Letters of Paul, in vol. 49 of Novum Testamentum (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 11.