January 4, 1987
What God Has Done For Us
(Ephesians 1:3-7, 15-18)
Since the family lived so far apart, Grandpa had never had a chance to spend much time with his grandchildren. When the big day finally arrived for a visit, 5-year-old Billy was fascinated with his Grandpa, especially his slippers. Billy slipped his tiny feet into the slippers and put his fingers into the loops on top.
“Now pull real hard and see if you can lift yourself up,” Grandpa encouraged, but no matter how hard Billy tried, he just couldn’t pick himself up. But how exciting it was to learn that Grandpa could!
How often we try to lift ourselves in our own power. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t do it. But God can (v. 3). So Paul tells us that only in God’s blessings do we find life. What are those blessings?
I. We Have Been Adopted by God (v. 4-5)
Humanity is in rebellion against God, dead in sin and alienated from our Creator. But through Christ we have been adopted into the family of God. Just as a couple can adopt a child who doesn’t have parents and make it part of their own family, so God has chosen us to become part of His family.
When a couple adopts a child, they don’t do it because someone forces them; they adopt a child because they want to, because they want to share their love and home with a child. So God adopts us “according to His good pleasure.” God does not have to save us–He saves us because He chooses to do so. We aren’t adopted because of anything we’ve done, but because of His love.
II. We Have Been Redeemed by God (v. 6-7a)
We are able to be chosen by God because we have been “redeemed through His blood.” This redemption of humanity from sin is the theme of all of Scripture.
One New Year’s Eve, W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, preached a famous sermon entitled, “The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible.” This sermon, which lasted several hours, traced the theme of redemption from the early verses of Genesis to the end of Revelation. Throughout the Bible there is indeed a thread of redemption that link’s God’s Word.
The ultimate evidence of redemption is the result it produces in changed lives. The popular English revivalist George Whitefield was holding an outdoor meeting at Exeter, and one man came with a pocket full of rocks, determined to break up the meeting.
Describing the experience later, he said, “I didn’t want to throw the rocks during prayer, so I waited until it was over.” Then Whitefield began reading the text–“I didn’t want to throw them while he was reading the Bible, so I waited.” Immediately Whitefield began preaching on the love and mercy of God in Christ. The rocks remained in his pockets. He approached Whitefield after the meeting and said, “I came to break up the meeting; instead, God has broken up my heart.”
That is the power of redemption.
III. We Have Been Forgiven by God (v. 7b)
Mental health specialists say that one of our society’s greatest problems is guilt. Our secular society, no matter how hard it tries, has been unable to remove that inner awareness of guilt, sin, alienation. Only one thing can cure the guilt problem: forgiveness.
God forgives completely, offering us a new beginning, a fresh start. Like the father of the prodigal son, God does not reject us because of our sin, but receives us in love if we will only seek His forgiveness.
What great news: God wants to forgive us, to redeem us, to adopt us as His own. That is good news to receive, to respond to, to share with others. (JMD)
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
(Ephesians 3:1-12; focus, v. 8)
It is a privilege, a high calling, to be able to stand before a congregation to proclaim the Word of God. It is an equally high calling to share the Gospel with others–a calling each one of us has been given.
In this text, Paul focuses on two elements present in the proclamation of the gospel.
I. The Attitude of the Messengers (v. 8a)
Paul realized his own unworthiness for the task, because he knew he was a sinner. Some folks pretend that preachers or Christian leaders are perfect. The truth is if God’s work depended on sinless servants, it would never be done. God takes us as we are and makes us fit instruments for His use. God can use you!
Paul also recognized his own inadequacy. He knew that the task was greater than his talents or skills or energies. Because he realized his own inadequacy, Paul was willing to depend on the sufficiency of Christ.
If I depend on my own strength, I am doomed to failure. I must learn to depend on Him.
In 19th century London, Joseph Parker was one of the city’s most popular preachers. One day a man asked Parker: “Why did the Lord choose Judas, the one who betrayed Him?” Parker said, “I don’t know. The greater mystery to me is why the Lord chose me!”
To see our own unworthiness and to marvel at His grace and love bring us to the point of usefulness. Paul’s attitude made him useful for God’s service.
II. The Glory of the Message (v. 8b)
While Paul recognized his own unworthiness, he also recognized the incredible glory of the gospel message. It was beyond words–unsearchable, incalculable. The riches of Christ are far beyond human understanding.
The riches of Christ do not reside in a doctrine or creed, but in the person of Christ.
(1) There are the riches of His life. In Christ God came to dwell in bodily form; He entered human history. He left the glory of heaven to bring good news to unworthy men and women like you and me. The riches of His life are beyond measure.
(2) There are the riches of His death. At Calvary, God gave His only Son to die for you and for me. No wonder that we sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” Through Christ’s death, you and I have new life.
(3) There are the riches of His resurrection. The store window had a seasonal theme one April, showing three crosses on a hill. As a man and a little boy stood looking, the boy asked him, “Do you know what that’s all about.” “No,” said the man, so the child proceeded to tell him the story of Christ’s trial and death on Good Friday. The man nodded and started away, but got only a few years when he felt a tug on his coat, and turned to see a breathless child blurt out, “Hey, mister, wait! That’s only the first part of the story. He rose on Sunday! He’s alive!”
How sad Good Friday would be without Easter Sunday! Death could not hold Him; Satan could not conquer Him. In His resurrection, Christ overcame sin and death for each of us. The power of the resurrection is available for our lives today.
That is a great message to be shared. There’s a world waiting to hear. (JMD)
This section of Isaiah 42:1-9 is the first of what Biblical scholars call the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. The identity of the “servant” clearly focuses upon Israel.
Considering the whole passage from chapter 41-53 you begin to see a dramatic shift from a nation to a person. If we then turn to the New Testament, we learn that it is Jesus Christ himself who is the complete, ultimate fulfillment of the prophecies of the Servant of the Lord.
Careful examination reveals that verses 1-4 are quoted by Matthew in 12:18-21 as the person of Jesus Christ.
With that in mind we must understand the importance of who the servant really is to us.
I. Christ, the Servant, Brings Salvation to All (v. 1-3)
The Hebrew word mishpat is translated “judgment.” Its meaning consists of “rule, form, order, model, plan.” As Adam Clarke commented: “It certainly means in this place the law to be published by Messiah, the institution of the Gospel.” The Gospel is the Good News that the Servant (Christ) has come to bring salvation to all who will accept.
The Latin theologian Prosper of Aquitain (c. 390-463) said, “He who says that the Savior was not crucified for the redemption of the whole world, has regard, not to the virtue of the sacrament, but to the case of the unbelievers, since the blood of Jesus Christ is the price paid for the whole world.”
Paul wrote to Timothy in his first Epistle, “… we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” Christ is explicitly said to be the “Savior of the world” (John 4:42, I John 4:14).
The Suffering Servant died that I might come to salvation in Him. I can come to Him in all my need. Hopelessly lost and spiritually dead, I present myself to Jesus, knowing His death was for me. I cannot earn salvation–I faith it!
A man dreamed that he constructed a ladder from earth toward heaven, and when he did a good deed his ladder went up two feet. When he did an unusually good deed his ladder went still higher. When he gave a large sum of money to the poor it went up ten feet. After a while it went out of sight, and as the years rolled by he expected at his death to step off the ladder into heaven. But in his dream he heard a voice thunder from the skies: “He that climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” Down came the ladder, man and all, and he awoke. He realized his mistake, and sought salvation by faith in Christ.
Salvation comes by way of the Suffering Servant: Jesus.
II. Christ, the Servant, Brings a Sacrificial Covenant (v. 6)
A covenant conveys the thought of agreement between two parties, (binding them mutually to understandings on each others’ behalf. God does not have to make such an agreement simply because He is God, but He desires to initiate it. This is for all–Jew and Gentile alike. As Adam Clarke wrote: “I think the word berith here, should not be translated ‘covenant,’ but ‘covenant sacrifice’.” That’s it! Christ, the servant, becomes Christ the sacrifice, binding man with God.
That sacrifice flows with blood. The Old Testament graphically details the sacrifice in ancient days when animal sacrifices were a daily duty. Blood flowed freely over the altars of sacrifice.
For centuries the bleating of sheep and the gagging of cattle could be heard as priests slit their throats and literally poured the blood over the altar. The covenant of the living God and his people required that sacrifice. Isaiah saw it later when he wrote: “He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Why? So that a covenant could bind you and me to God and God to us. Because of God’s love for us.
John Muir told a story of two Indian tribes in Alaska many years ago who had been at war all summer. One old chief saw that unless it stopped soon and his people had a chance to lay in a supply of berries and salmon, they would starve, so he went out under a truce flag to ask the chief of the other tribe to stop and go home. The other chief said his tribe would not stop fighting because ten more of his men had been killed by the enemy.
Then the old chief said to him, “You know I am the chief. I am worth ten of your men. Kill me in place of them, and let us have peace.” The sacrificial request was granted, and in front of the contending tribes the old chief was killed.
When Mr. Muir came to this tribe to tell about Christ, they said, “Yes, your words are good. The Son of God, the Chief of Chiefs, must be worth more than all mankind put together. Therefore when His blood was shed the salvation of the world was made certain.”
The covenant I have with God is made through the shed blood of Christ. G. A. Young wrote the hymn “God Leads Us Along.” The chorus goes:
“Some thro’ the waters, some thro’ the flood,
Some thro’ the fire, but all thro’ the blood;
Some thro’ great sorrow, but God gives a song
In the night season and all the day long.”
III. Christ, the Servant is God (v. 8)
The Messiah, the Servant, is God. How unique! How awesome! Jesus explains to the people: “Thus it is written, the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jesusalem …” (Luke 24:25-48).
As John saw it: The Word became flesh … God became man … the Servant … the Son.
C. S. Lewis aptly stated in his book Mere Christianity, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
The incarnation fuses the humanity of Jesus and the diety of Christ. We can thus say God has come to be servant … to redeem me! God loves me! What do I offer him in service and sacrifice? (DGK)
(1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
Christmas 1986 is history. Hopefully some of the gifts you received still function and operate.
Our family tradition includes an early morning wake-up call from one of the kids. Usually my in-laws are with us at this special season, so grandmother Hodges fixes her Swedish Tea Ring; after quickly finishing it off, the fun of gift giving arrives. We enjoy sharing with each other something we have purchased or made for a family member.
What is a gift? It is something given without a thought of return. It has no strings attached to it. It’s an article shared from a heart of love. As I read our text I thought how much God enjoys giving gifts to forgiven children.
God’s gifts include …
I. The Gift of Discipleship (v. 1)
Immediately at my conversion, God gives me the gift of discipleship. It occurs instantaneously, but with a need to grow and develop. This gift comes wrapped in consecration, sainthood and community life.
The verb (hagiazo) means to set apart for God. A disciple is a person for whom Christ bled and died. His sacrifice makes us belong to God.
That same verb comes to mean holy or saintly. But the root idea of hagios is separation. We are “different” in that we have been separated from the ordinary run of things; we specifically belong to God.
Now before your halo gets crooked and you escape to a monastery, realize we are called to service God in the ordinary routine of everyday life. Sainthood comes about quietly through a quality and character which marks the person of God. Discipleship and sainthood go hand in hand!
With the gift of discipleship comes community life or “body life,” as some call it. We, like Elijah, tend to think we are the only real disciples, yet there are many. There is a great company. We must lift our eyes to see them in our little circle, communion, denomination.
We need to realize that we are the part of God which is worldwide. Maybe that’s why Paul writes: “The church of God which is at Corinth …” It was not the Church of Corinth, it was the Church of God, which meets at Corinth.
II. The Gift of Grace
What a tremendous gift grace is to us! It is the unmerited love of God in action through Jesus Christ. This gift hinges on our willingness to accept it and implies a relationship which is as adequate as God Himself.
Several years ago a telegraph company, fearing the competition of Edison’s prolific genius, offered him $10,000 a year (big money back then) for anything he might invent in the future which would interfere with the company’s telegraph. Their intent was to possess themselves of Edison, and with him get all the possible productions of his genius in their line.
When Christ takes control of our lives we get infinite resources. All the possibilities of grace become ours.
III. The Gift of Enriched Testimony (v. 5)
“Enrich” is a key word. The dictionary says: “To make rich or increase in wealth … to make productive … to add attractive or desirable elements … to make better.”
To make better! Better what? “Everything,” says Paul, “in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.”
We are now capable to speak about God because we know Him. We who were dead in our spiritual self because of trespasses and sin, have come to spiritual life because Christ has redeemed and transformed us and we now have something to communicate.
Paul says, “I at all times give thanks for you.” He sees God’s work in their daily lives as enriched testimonies of the new life in Christ at Corinth.
Transfer that to your life. Are you a testimony to Christ in your life? Has he given you the wealth of heaven? Shout it out! Live it out! Testify about it! Jesus has come to enrich the world world; that includes you and me!
IV. The Gift of Expectation (v. 7)
The word apokalupsis means an “unveiling” or “a disclosure.” Christ is unveiled and they were awaiting His second coming. So are we. Ray Stedman comments that the disciples were not naive; they knew they could not settle all the world’s problems or correct all the evil in life. Only when Jesus returned would that be accomplished.
We will never make heaven on earth. It only comes when Jesus comes. We must live in that state of expectancy.
“Nothing recovers evangelical fervor and rekindles missionary passion … like a realization of the great fact that ‘He comes,’ that he may come at any moment.” (Christian Age)
V. The Gift of Blameless Experience (v. 8-9)
Before we can be blameless before God we must experience God. No charge can be laid against those whom Christ guarantees or confirms as holy. Donald Metz once said: “The blameless life is the life of holiness.” Blamelessness is the result of our calling and experience.
William Barclay relates the story of Caedmon, the old English poet. He imagined the cross set in the midst of the world; from the cross there streamed a strange light which had a penetrating quality about it, stripping the disguises from things and showing them as they are. Paul believed that when the ultimate judgment comes, the man who is in Christ can meet it unafraid, because he will be clothed not in his own merits but in the merits of Christ; that none will be able to condemn him.
The gifts are ours, no strings attached. We can have them if we just reach out to God, who wants to give them to us. Will you receive the gifts now? (DGK)
(I Corinthians 1:10-17)
I read in one of Chuck Swindoll’s books (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life) about two congregations from different denominational backgrounds located only a few short blocks from each other in a small community. Someone suggested that they merge and become one united body, larger and more effective to reach the community and beyond. Instead of two struggling congregations they would be one strong church.
But pettiness got in the way. The problem? They couldn’t recite the Lord’s prayer. One group wanted “forgive us our Trespasses” while the other demanded “forgive us our debt.” The newspaper covering this interesting story finally reported that one church went back to its trespasses while the other returned to its debt.
Paul took on the herculean task of attempting to mend a rocky situation in old First Church of Corinth–by mail nonetheless! Here were brothers who should have been living in the loveliness of brotherly love, but instead were living in the lion’s den or argument and dissension. Instead of being a united front they were fragmented and bleeding.
Paul uses the word schismata, literally “tears in a garment.” Barclay observed: “The Corinthian church is in danger of becoming as unsightly as a torn garment.”
How unfortunate that many churches are Corinthian copy-cats. The division has become the role model. This text is a plea for unity in Paul’s day as well as ours.
I. Unity Comes Through Christ (v. 10a)
We may expound the necessity of unity within the church, but unless Christ becomes center stage we have nothing except disunity! The only unifying force we possess is Christ.
Samuel Judson Porter, more than a half-century ago, told about a professor who experimented with electromagnetism. The experiment was this: on an oak table was placed a pile of horseshoe nails. In one corner of the same room was a powerful dynamo. When the electric current was turned on and the poles of the battery were brought up under the table, although they did not touch the nails themselves, immediately there was constituted about the table a field of magnetic force.
So long as this field of force was maintained, the loose horseshoe nails could be built up into various forms such as a cube, a sphere or an arch. So long as the current was on the nails would stay in exactly the form placed, as if they had been soldered together. But the moment the current was cut off, the nails would fall into a shapeless mass.
What the magnetic force was to the nails, Christ’s unifying, directing power is to those who come under its influence. Christ is the unifying force that keeps us together!
II. Unity Comes Through Oneness of Heart (v. 10b)
Denominations vary in theology, philosophy, educational goals or ideology. Congregations within a denomination differ in character, personality, etc., from one another. People within a local parish differ also.
Paul does not push for uniformity of thought or action. He understood there would always be difference. (He was personally acquainted with Peter, and they were certainly different!) Paul also understood there were diversity of gifts and even led the church to celebrate these diversities.
He was calling for a spirit of unity that binds the body of Christ together and allows it to perform its various functions. God help the church that has but one or two “gifts;” churches need people with gifts of vision, helps, preaching, teaching, mechanical ability, hospitality, understanding, wisdom, etc.
“The church should prize the spirit which Christ has given her and take seriously any threat to her essential unity.” (Kenneth Chafin)
Unity of spirit comes from each having a heart tenderized by Christ.
III. Unity Comes by Working Together (v. 12-13)
The word “work,” according to one writer, is “the bodily or mental effort exerted to do or make something; purposeful activity; labor or toil.”
The church needs to do more of that. We need to exert some bodily and mental effort. All too often we have “hoped” for something to happen in our churches–such as revival, more prayer, more study of the Word, more social programs, filled teaching positions. It’s time we quit talking about what the church ought to do and do it.
I remember being at a Sunday School conference and the speaker telling us a story. He had been called to direct a Vacation Bible School as a young man. He had chosen a western theme and all the advertisements had a cowboy motif. The teachers had been brought together and trained, the Kool-Aid and cookies bought. Everything was ready. There was a lot of excitement in that small midwestern church.
The day finally arrived. All the teachers were in their proper places, with their western outfits on, the VBS lessons prepared. The starting time of 9 o’clock approached and then passed. The minutes ticked away and only about 6 or 7 children arrived.
The director was devastated. He called all the teachers together and said, “We had better kneel down at the altar and pray!” Suddenly one of the ladies spoke up and said, “We’ve already prayed, I think we’d better get out there and invite the kids!”
They were organized, prayed up, “themed” up, read up, prepared, but they hadn’t gone out and invited anybody to VBS.
We need to be an organized and educated church. We must be on our knees in prayer. Theologically we should be “read up to date.” But if we have not gone out to bring people into the church and into the kingdom, what spiritual good is it?
What am I doing to help the kingdom of God? Working for God is a “hands on process” that gets down to the “nitty gritty” details of the church. Working together helps stop the disease of “spectatoritis,” and helps us to catch “participationitis.” Unfortunately too few Christians have caught this “itis.”
What purposeful activity is our church toiling with today? (DGK)
The Power of the Cross
(I Corinthians 1:18-31)
John Bowring was in a terrible storm off the south China coast in 1825. He lost all sense of bearing; he had no concept of where land was to be found. Hanging onto the wreckage of his ship in the angry sea, knowing he was going to die, he caught sight of the huge bronze cross on top of an old cathedral wall. There was a dramatic rescue that made him realize it was only God’s great mercy that saved him.
After recovery he wrote a poem that expressed his thanks to God. Later someone put a tune to it and we’ve sung his poem as a hymn for over a hundred and fifty years.
“In the cross of Christ I glory,
tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time:
All the lights of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.
When the sun of bliss is beaming
light and love upon my way,
From the cross the radiance streaming
adds more luster to the day!”
The cross! The cross is a symbol of the Christ who died upon it. Paul says “For the message of the cross … is the power of God” (v. 18).
I. The Power of the Cross is Redemption
To “those who are perishing” (tois apollymendis) the cross seems foolish. To those who are being saved (tois sezomendis) it tells a different story–the drama of redemption.
In the pagan mind of the Greeks, one of the characteristics of their gods was apatheia, the inability to feel. If a god felt, then he/she could be moved or influenced by mortal man. A god that suffered was a contradiction in terms. That a god could be incarnated was revolting to the Greek mind; for him/her to be compassionate was inconceivable.
The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). God hurt with us … felt our sin for us. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” The cross represents the kind of life to which God calls us in his Son.
Redemption means I am set free from the slave market of sin. I no longer have to live in bondage to sin or Satan–not by my own ability, but by the power the cross symbolizes. It is what Christ did for me.
G. Campbell Morgan told of a miner who came to him after one of his evangelistic services. The man said, I would like to be a Christian, but I cannot accept what you said tonight. That all one has to do is believe that God will forgive if we ask Him–it’s too cheap.
Morgan looked at him and said: “My dear friend, have you been working today?” He looked puzzled and replied, “Yes I was down in the pit, as usual.” Campbell questioned: “How did you get out?” The miner replied, “The way I usually do. I got into the cage and was pulled to the top.” Campbell, “How much did you pay to come out of the hole, to the surface?”
The man looked astonished at the preacher and said, “Pay?” Of course I didn’t pay anything.” Campbell queried, “Were you not afraid to trust yourself in that cage? Was it not too cheap?” “Oh no,” came the reply, “It was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft.”
Without another word the truth of that admission broke upon him; he saw that if he could have salvation without money and without price, it had cost the infinite God a great price to sink the shaft and rescue lost man. It cost His Son on the cross.
It is the power of the cross that saves sinners!
II. The Power of the Cross is Comradeship
The salvation that comes by way of the cross also brings people together. We have a common relationship because we have a common Lord. He becomes our friend on the deepest level. He helps us to develop a comradeship with others.
Today I was with some Christian men who have outstanding ability in the medical field. They were working to keep a senior citizen alive, the father of a Christian hairdresser in my church. As I left the hospital I went to a nearby restaurant to do some sermonic work. While I worked a teenage bus-boy saw my books and related how he got into the church. My spouse (an accountant) and two children, aged 14 and 10, are born again. My cousin, a Ph.D. in physics, visited us at the same time; he is an evangelical Christian. One of the young ladies in my church–who is chronologically about 30, but has the mental capacity of an 8 year old–encourages me to pray for a friend or a relative regularly. What am I saying? No matter what our social, economic, mental position in life–high, medium, low–we draw our meaning from our common relationship with Christ. That compels me to draw strength from others in the family of God. The power of the cross gathers the church together!
III. The Power of the Cross is Usability
God is able to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things in the world through them! He is able to take our situations and transform them.
Such was the case of Boris Kornfeld. Little is known about him except that he was a Jewish doctor who lived in post-revolutionary Russia. He was taken prisoner and placed in a concentration camp where he practiced his medical profession on other patients. Someone shared the gospel of the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ and he became a believer.
One day he was given charge of another prisoner who was very ill. As that prisoner laid in the hospital, slowly coming out from under the anesthesia, Boris spent the night telling him how he had found the Messiah and become a Christian. For this, Dr. Kornfeld lost his life before the light of day, but his words never left the patient’s mind.
Feeling alone with a great spiritual void, separated from home and loved ones, that prisoner patient gave his heart to Christ and lived to write about it. He was never the same again. Quickened by the power of the cross, witnessed to by a condemned prison doctor who was willing to be used by God, Alekxsander Solzhenitsyn would one day inspire the hearts and minds of readers around the world.
God can use a willing life. Yet too often we are unwilling to be used because of the cost: time, money, study, work, etc. We must put ourselves at His disposal. Charles Colson once said: “Our presence in a place of need is more powerful than a thousand sermons.”
Johannes Schaffer decades ago wrote:
“The cross on Golgotha will never save my soul,
The cross in thine own heart alone can make thee whole;
Christ rose not from the dead, Christ still in the grave,
If thou for whom he died art still of sin the slave.”
Christ’s power–the power of the cross–can help us live! For the cross redeems, brings fellowship with others, and makes us useful for the Kingdom! (DGK)
How to Proclaim Christ
(I Corinthians 2:1-11)
The highly technical age in which we live dictates a need for “How-to” books and pamphlets. They explain in detail how to put that new computer to work, or explain how the new computerized engine in your car is put together.
Lying dormant in my basement is a big red book entitled How to Use Your Work Shop. It calls to me–unheeded. If I would follow its instructions I could probably save myself money by doing things that I now call professionals to do. The truth belies my weakness: fear of failure.
Paul gives us a brief “how to” when it comes to proclaiming Christ. Let’s examine Paul’s method.
I. How to Proclaim Christ: With Simplicity (v. 1-2)
The plain simple message of God’s love to mankind is declared in the saving work of Christ. Paul wanted no confusion about God’s purpose for people, so he told the story of the cross with stark simplicity.
William Barclay makes an interesting observation. Paul had come from Athens to Corinth. It was at Athens, you’ll recall, that he attempted to reduce Christianity to philosophical terminology. There on Mars Hill he met the intellectual philosophers and attempted to speak in their language and use their terms and quote their authorities (Acts 17:22-31), and it’s there that Paul met with resistance and near failure. His philosophical sermon met with minimal success.
It’s almost as if Paul says, “Never again! I will from now on tell the story of Jesus in its utmost simplicity. I will preach Jesus and the power of the cross!”
I’m well aware of the complexity of theology. Millions of pages have been written by thousands of authors in explanation of the Bible. There are countless debates between theologians. It’s important we understand what we believe and why we believe it.
Nevertheless, while we fiddle with the details men and women are dying without God. Far too many of us stand in our pulpits and debate theological issues, while sitting in the congregation are people who struggle with the loss of their 19 year old college student son killed in a car wreck; or who are battling at home with an alcoholic spouse; or whose child has some terrible disease; or who are in the grip of divorce; or who are spiritually hungering for God.
What they want–what they need–is the simple message of the Gospel that can change, inspire, uplift, heal, solidify their lives. They need to know, in the midst of all our theology, that: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
It’s a simple call, a simple message, that lies at the core of life.
II. How to Proclaim Christ: With Intensity (v. 3)
“I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” If we take that at face value we would wrongfully assume that Paul feared either the proclamation or the people. It was rather a “trembling anxiety to perform a duty,” like a conscientious slave obeyed and served his master. (Ephesians 6:5)
William Barclay wrote: “The man who has no fear, no hesitancy, no nervousness, no tension, in any task, may give an efficient and competent performance; but it is the man who has this trembling anxiety, who has that intensity which is the essence of real greatness, who can produce an effect which artistry can never achieve.”
When Christ has made a difference in our lives we have a desire that others might experience the same satisfaction. There issues forth from our hearts and lips a sincere intensity, an urgency. We are driven to proclaim the good news about Christ.
J. R. Miller relates a story about a visitor at the hospice of St. Bernard in the Alps. The visitor told of one of the noble dogs coming in one morning holding his head and tail down to the ground, slinking away to a dark corner of his kennel, as if ashamed to look at anyone in the face. The monks explained to the visitor that the dog had not been able to find anybody in the snow that morning to rescue, and therefore was ashamed to come in from his search.
Miller then asks, “How will it be with us when we reach the end of our life, if we have not rescued anyone from the storms and the dangers.”
Paul is right about the intensity of our witness.
III. How to Proclaim Christ: With Proof (v. 4-5)
His proof was the power of the Spirit coupled with changed lives. Men reform, but God transforms lives. As someone wrote: “We must have the Word of God as well as the power of God through the Spirit.”
The greatest proof text of God’s power is you and me! Paul understood that something completely new, something re-creating had entered the polluted society of Corinth. It could be said in our town or city.
John Hutton told the story of a reprobate and drunkard who turned his life over to Christ. His fellow employees knew about it and tried to dislodge his faith. They would say, “Surely a sensible man like you cannot believe in the miracles of the Bible. You cannot, for instance, believe that this Jesus of yours turned water into wine.”
He replied, “Whether he turned water into wine or not I do not know; but in my own house I have seen him turn beer into furniture.” No one can argue with a changed life!
Someone once commented: “It is our weakness that too often we have tried to talk men into Christianity instead of, in our own lives, showing them Christ.”
IV. How to Proclaim Christ: With Wisdom (v. 6-8)
Paul speaks of wisdom in the sense of Christians with a “mature insight.” The Christian has insight into God’s plan of salvation. The “rulers of this world” were the Sadduccees, Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Herod, Antipas, as well as the Romans represented by Pilate and the soldiers; they missed God’s purpose.
God desires that we see the incarnate Son of God has bought us by His own blood. That knowledge will set us and the world free from the stranglehold of sin.
The more we seek, the more God will reveal Himself to us. There is no limit to what God wants to teach us. The riches of God are unsearchable.
Let’s quit making excuses for our lack of proclamation and present the magnificent claims of Christ–His purposes and plans for salvation. (DGK)
We Are Workers Together With God
(1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
Moving to a new church never comes easily. There is the endless “new” to everything: faces, names, streets, interstates, phone numbers, problems, excitements, possibilities, etc.
Paul became a home mission pastor at the First Church of Corinth, starting about 50 A.D. Like so many projects, this one started in a dedicated couple’s home, Aquila and Priscilla. There Paul powerfully proclaimed the Gospel message of redemption and a holy life.
Knowing the necessity of a good location, Paul moved the church next door to the Jewish synagogue. After 18 productive months, he felt led to land a beachhead elsewhere for Jesus: in Syria.
All pastors know they can physically move from a church, but there still remains some attachment. There’s always a lingering thought: “I wonder how it’s doing?”
Paul was evangelizing in Ephesus in 55 A.D. when he heard of problems back at Corinth. Immediately he dictated a letter to his friends. Then he handed the epistle to Timothy, who set sail from Ephesus to Corinth, 2-3 boat days away. To a divided congregation he counsels that they do not need to work in disharmony; rather, “we are laborers together with God!” (v. 9).
I. As Laborers We Know for Whom We Labor: Jesus
Our churches must be Christ-centered. My congregation’s stated purpose reads: “We believe God has called us to be a Christian fellowship grounded in scripture, where Spirit-filled believers win, mature, and train one another through discipling ministries to reach our community and beyond for Christ.”
It is Jesus to whom we point a bleeding, hurting, confused world. It’s not our beautiful building or the excellent choir, not our program or pastor; we point them to Jesus. As much as we try we can only point the way, for we cannot save them–only Jesus can.
II. As Laborers We Build on the Solid Foundation: Jesus
The first building block is a past forgiven from sins. When Christ comes a new, vital relationship with God starts. The Gospel message we have to build upon is the same as Paul’s–Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-5).
When Christ comes into a heart and life, forgiveness becomes the cornerstone. The past is covered by the blood of Christ. A new building can be resurrected on the same spot because there is solid foundation upon which to build.
A second building block includes strength for the present. We find courage to cope with life, for we are no longer an isolated unit fighting the lonely battle. We now have God on our side working with us.
A sick woman in England, from her bed one spring, saw two birds building their nest in a bush nearby for their baby birds. “Oh, birds,” she cried, “build higher!” Later a cat was busy about that bush and all that was left of the bird brood was a handful of feathers. “Build higher!”
A third building block includes hope for the future. As an individual, as a congregation, as a denomination, Christ is our hope. As Edward Mote declared:
“My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
III. As Laborers We Build on Unity: Jesus
That word “we” is the key. It is “first person plural pronoun in the nominative case.” “Big deal!,” you say. But listen to what the dictionary says about it: it is “used to represent the speaker and one or more others that share in the action.” That’s it! We share in God’s action within our churches.
One author stated Paul felt it was wrong to say, “It’s all up to God,” and equally wrong to say, “it’s all up to me.” We are “God’s fellow laborers” in the work of the Kingdom.
No matter what the action, we share in it. If we fail, that means the youth group fails. If we fail, the children’s group fails. If we fail, the adults fail. We are not a splintered group. There is no real division–not age, not sex … no limitations. We either fail together or we are victorious together!
Paul’s comments to Corinth still apply. We labor together. If our church does what God wants of it, then we lock arm in arm and march together singing, “we shall overcome” for Jesus! Working together with God. (DGK)
This month’s outlines are written by Derl G. Keefer, pastor of Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three River, MI, and by Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching.
January 4, 1987