Here’s my sermon from 1-19-2014 that began our current series on 1 Corinthians…
“Know The Story”
In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to be studying Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth because I believe it has some very timely things to say to us as a church…a community called together by God and called out by His Spirit. Paul is calling them to a new or renewed way of living that is shaped by the Gospel. Whenever we read one of Paul’s letters, we must always remember that we are reading someone else’s mail. He is writing to specific people with specific problems. In this case, he had only just been with them a few years earlier (Acts 18). And it’s incredible to think about how quickly this young church fell into sin and old ways of life. I love how Paul not only gives them theological instruction, but he also gives them wisdom about “how” they conduct themselves when they gather. His main concern is that the body would be built up – that they would be stirred to love and good deeds – as they look to their head, Jesus. That their identity and reality would be shaped more by the gospel than anything else. That they would become a Gospel Community.
Hear these words written by MLK Jr while imprisoned in Birmingham: “There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and princiles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society” – Letter from Birmingham Jail
The reality is that Christian community is not dependent on location or circumstances. Gospel community can happen anywhere at any time.
So, let’s take a look at 1 Cor 1:1-9 [read]. Paul begins in v.1 by calling them saints, which is incredibly significant because he goes on to show them how “un-saintly” they are – sleeping with step mom, getting drunk at communion, etc..
Paul goes on to give thanks to God for these ragamuffins because of the grace (charism) that God has given them through Christ. He thanks God for the very people to whom he is writing a second time now to correct their behavior that was causing him headaches. Paul is able to give thanks not because of what they were doing, but because of what God had done and was continuing to do through Holy Spirit in the house churches in Corinth. They had been invited to live a new story…one that turned things upside down…or right-side up depending on how you look at it.
A Gospel Community is called and set apart for God’s purposes.
Paul goes on in v. 5 to point out specifically what God has done for them – They have been enriched in every way – in speech (logos – utterance…prophetic, tongues, etc) and knowledge (understanding) – ironic word use here because Paul is using words that those who claimed to have a higher knowledge and were causing division were using. Paul is emphasizing here that their spiritual gifts were just that…gifts. They couldn’t take credit for them, and therefore couldn’t be prideful about them. Verse 6 tells us that they were to use these gifts to strengthen the testimony of Jesus among them. Their speech and knowledge were to be used to make Jesus known.
In fact, Paul moves on in v.7 to point out that they don’t need anything else than what God has done for them and gifted them with – So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift – they were being told that they needed a still “higher” knowledge and understanding. Paul is saying, “If you have Christ, you have everything you need!”
I would say the same to us City Hope. We have everything we need in Christ! God has given us certain grace to see His Kingdom come in Akron. Let’s lean into those gifts this year!
A Gospel Community is given gifts to share and build up and make Jesus known until He returns.
Paul finishes this “thanksgiving” section of the letter with an emphasis on THE end. He points out that they have everything they need and will be strengthened as they wait for Christ’s return. Most importantly, they have been called into fellowship with Jesus.
Richard hays writes, “To participate in the church was to find oneself summoned to close and even sacrificial relationships with others, including those of other social classes, those with whom one might ordinarily have nothing at all in common.”
A Gospel community is called to fellowship for sustaining the mission.
A couple weeks ago I shared from Hebrews 10 – “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together…”
I have been considering this. In fact, my question…more of a prayer…has been “Father, how do we best do this? How do we become a people who are intentionally considerate of how to move each other toward loving others and doing good.” Like the church in Corinth, I believe we have been set apart, called together in fellowship, and given gifts to make an impact in our city. In fact, I think there’s something incredibly profound in these words…and here’s why…
There is a power, a dynamism, at work when we come together. We have the opportunity to hear the Gospel story and apply it in our own lives and in the lives of others – to become a Gospel Community.
We have the opportunity to be reminded and to remind others that we are more saint than sinner. That we are more loved than despised. That we are more forgiven than forsaken. That we are more healed than broken. That we are more empowered than powerless. That we are more accpted than condemned. That we are more called than forgotten. That we are more purposeful than meaningless. That we are more eternal than temporal.
Something like this happened just last time we gathered – we heard a testimony of healing
Here’s the reality: the things God wants to accomplish he could do outside of community; however, He rarely ever chooses to go that route.
But, we must remember that there is a real enemy who does want to destroy community. And one of his greatest weapons is isolation and division (we actually see this in the next verses of 1 Corinthians). There’s a reason that Jesus spends a lengthy amount of time praying for our unity in John 17. It’s not just nice rhetoric. He knew where the enemy would attack. I see a repeated pattern that takes place. When hard times hit, we withdraw from community…often times the very community who would help us get through that difficulty/trial/hardship. We need others who can hear our story. Who can share their story. Who can point us to The Story.
The Gospel is The Story of God, and it is a story that happens on two levels: my story (God’s goodness) and the story of the world (God’s greatness).
Moreover, that story follows a pattern of 4 rhythms:
Creation – Fall – Redemption – Renewal
In God’s story, creation begins with the understanding that we are made with purpose and value because we bear God’s image. But we quickly fall from that reality and instead want to be like God. We lose sight of God’s original design and intent for creating image bearers – we were alrady like God. And without everyone being imprinted with God’s image…certain people become expendable or less important. And that becomes a slippery slope toward the breakdown of community – think Cain and Abel in Gen 4.
But that’s not the end of the story. God sends the perfect image bearer to set things right – to redeem. To make a way for us to become who we were always meant to be. And not only does He redeem us, but He promises to restore and renew us and the whole world by His Spirit whom He will give to us without measure.
And that’s not just God’s story, but that’s my story too! I think we need to get ahold of the broader power and beauty of our stories. What sense do you have about why you were created in the first place? How did you fall from that? How have you been redeemed? What hope do you have for the future? What does it mean that you are an eternal being?
So, one of the things that we are going to do in the new year is begin to gather more. Not just for the sake of gathering, but for the sake of sharing and hearing God’s story, so that we can continue to make sense of our own stories and the story of our world. So that we can get more in touch with the gospel rhythms that are taking place all around us. So that we can become more gospel fluent. In order to do that, we will need to familiarize ourselves with The Story (Scripture; Testimony) and the Story Tellers (Father, Son and Spirit).
Because our stories aren’t a linear progression. These things didn’t just happen, but they are happening. We experience creation – fall – redemption – restoration throughout our lives on a regular basis. It is important that we learn to recognize these rhythms and to hear what God would say to us in the midst of them. I will never forget experiencing these rhythms when we first started to learn about the terrible injustices that occur in our world as a result of bonded slavery and sex-trafficking. First, God created in us an understanding for what happened. Then, we experienced a “fall” of sorts when we began to despair about the immensity of the issues. Next, God redeemed the situation by opening our eyes to what we could actually do. And finally, God called us to participate in His work of restoration both locally and globally. I will never forget attending IJM’s global prayer gathering and getting to share about our own work to fight injustice with a room full of college and high school students. It felt as if things had come full circle and now we understood why we had to go through the other three rhythms.
I want to encourage us to be praying about our own gospel stories, and to be prepared to share those stories in various contexts…including during some of these celebration gatherings.
Where are you on the spectrum? Are you in a season of creation, fall, redemption, or restoration?
In smaller groups, share where you see yourself and what you hear God saying about it.