This week we begin a new sermon series in the book of First Corinthians. The letter to the church at Corinth is an appeal to a divided church to return to unity in and around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like in so many churches today, factions and divisions arose which set parts of the body against other parts. Paul uses his apostolic authority and wisdom to restore them to being of one mind and one accord. Paul teaches that when the church looks to its author and Savior, Jesus and unites themselves in the message and work of the cross, they will experience sweet harmony and like-mindedness, making them even more fruitful in God's Kingdom.
The cross of Christ turns the wisdom of man upside down. Victory is won by giving up life, not taking it. Shame is removed by God identifying with the shamed and dying a shameful death. God leads through shame to glory and honor. And to some this is pure folly. But to those who believe, it is the power of God. The message of the cross is indiscriminate. It is offered to all, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status or pedigree. Therefore, the gospel creates a new diverse people, united by the gospel. And everyone who responds to the gospel with belief, does so because of the sheer mercy and grace of God. Therefore, there is no room for boasting in ourselves. All our boasting must be in the kindness of God.
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 we see how and why the mind and thoughts of the believer must necessarily and fundamentally be different than those outside the church if we are to grow in our sanctification and live in keeping with our high calling as sons and daughters of God.
In 1st Corinthians 3, Paul, like a master physician, properly diagnoses the spiritual condition of the believers in Corinth. Although they were converted years ago, they remain 'infants in Christ' because they are filled with pride and jealousy and have absorbed the values and priorities of the culture around them. They are largely, immature disciples of Christ. So Paul rebukes them, addresses the root of their pride and calls them to maturity. Through Paul, we are challenged to shed our worldly ways and press on to maturity in Christ.
In the latter half of 1 Corinthians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul seeks to simultaneously warn the Corinthians about their destructive divisions but also encourage them to use their lives for the Kingdom of God. No one who lives for Christ and his glory, seeking to edify the church and spread the Kingdom of God wastes their life. On the contrary, each one shall be rewarded by God. As Christians, we should live with an eternal perspective, using our lives to store up treasure in Heaven and frequently remind ourselves of the incomparable glories yet to be revealed to us and experienced for all eternity. Let none of us waste our lives.
In the presence of growing divisiveness and factionalism within the church at Corinth, Paul addresses the issue fueling it all- the Corinthians' pride. Using sound reasoning and at times biting sarcasm, Paul equips the Corinthians with the tools and resources necessary to kill their pride.
The local church is an embassy of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that exists here now in part and one day in full. The church is the place on earth where the citizens of Heaven live under Christ’s rule and the citizens of God’s Kingdom are affirmed and protected. And the church is endowed with authority, authority to represent God on earth and proclaim the gospel of Christ. And since we represent God to the world, we have an obligation to pursue holiness both individually and corporately. We do this in many ways, but specifically by watching over those who have made a credible profession of faith and are members of the church. We are to examine their life and doctrine and do whatever you can to keep them on the path to eternal life. Guarding them and correcting them when they err or misstep so that they will enter into eternal glory. As members of the church, we are responsible, for maintaining the purity of the church by making sure our confession and our conduct align. That we walk the walk and talk the talk collectively. Together we preserve the holy witness of the church, such that the character of the church, of the members of the church matches the character and commands of Jesus.
One of the most painful and difficult things to do is remain Christ-like and steadfast in the face of ill treatment from those close to us. In 1 Corinthians 6, we enter into a section in the letter in which Paul is responding to a number of issues, including the subject of how we should handle mistreatment inflicted by one church member upon another? How should we respond to a brother or sister taking material advantage of us? Paul calls the church to a higher Christian ethic, an ethic of non-retaliation. Christians don’t return evil for evil. We endure. We entrust ourselves to God. We hope ultimately in Jesus and no human court. We embrace the meaning of the cross and have it become more precious to us through godly endurance of our suffering. And by enduring loss in a Christ-like manner, we truly win. We bear the Name of Jesus and we follow a crucified Savior who embraced and endured our penalty, a penalty HE did not deserve. He bore the wrath we deserved, the consequence of our sin. Jesus endured ridicule and constant mistreatment that He did not deserve yet He opened not his mouth but rather entrusted himself to the One who judges justly. Ought we not to act as He did? Scripture explicitly calls us to follow in his footsteps.
Who will inherit the Kingdom of God? In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul warns us that those who live in unrepentant sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Only those who are washed, sanctified and justified by God will inherit eternal life. And there is hope for the worst of us in Jesus Christ. Jesus loves to take guilty sinners and make them clean. He will wash away your guilt and shame. He will robe you with the righteousness of Christ. Heaven is full of people who once were sexually immoral, who once were greedy etc. but are now cleansed by Christ. And not only will Jesus forgive you, He will change you. He will change you, so that tomorrow, by His grace, you will not be who you are today. He will make you like Himself.
We live in a culture that places a high value on individualism. But as followers of Christ we are called to live in community with each other. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 Paul gives use the illustration of the human body to describe how we are to live as the church.