"The One Thing the Church Needs to Know"
Feb.6, 2011 Annual Cong.Mtg.1Cor.2
NO FOCUS - NO HEAT
Back in my boyhood years as a budding scientist, I took to experimenting with a large magnifying glass. I found that on a sunny summer day in Southwestern Ontario you could focus enough power from the sun's rays to burn wood - kleenex - paper - in fact, a whole bunch of things! But I needed some constructive outlet for my new-found skill, so I took an old baseball bat that had no label on it and burned a diamond shape in the right place with the words, 'Hit here.'
With a wooden bat, there's a certain place you should hit; you've got to focus your effort or else there's a risk the bat might fly apart. With a magnifying glass, you have to hold it just the right distance away from the target or the light's too dispersed and it won't ignite (WARNING TO YOUNGSTERS - don't try this at home without supervision!). No focus - no effect. Likewise for a church as we approach our Annual Meeting: it's an opportunity to step back and review what effect we're having. Effective vision requires focus; there are many tempations to get off-track.
For example, a number of people in the community ask me when we're going to build our church on that land just north of the village. We could be pouring all kinds of effort into fundraising for a building, IF we thought that should be our focus. Or, others might look at Heartland's success with "Soup & More" and get the idea we should take that as a template and superimpose it on our community. But there's a good possibility needs here are different than in Clinton. Or, someone with good intentions could argue that our church should be going on short-term missions trips, like Huron Chapel's teams that build houses in El Salvador. That's another worthy cause that could become a focus channelling our collective energy. But is that for us? These are all good ideas, none of them inherently wrong; but neither are they necessarily God's primary focus for us as a church.
In 1Cor 2:2, Paul reminds the church that his proclamation to them as an apostle focussed on one thing; much flowed from that, but this was his starting point. "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." As we approach an important congregational meeting where we review reports, appoint leaders, and set budgets, what can we learn from Paul's emphasis?
OUR APPROACH: HUMBLE SERVANTS, RELYING ON GOD'S POWER
Before getting into particulars about content, let's take a moment to notice Paul's overall approach, the manner or style he uses. V1, "I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom..." The culture at Corinth prized skilled oratory, rhetoric, and sophisticated philosophical ideas; it was 'hip' to be brainy or have a silver tongue. But Paul says in v4, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words..." He didn't fit that groove. Why? V5, "so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom..." Preaching for Paul wasn't about showing off his IQ - though he had remarkable learning, years of study he MIGHT have employed if he chose to.
It's always a temptation for a church to 'dress it up', perhaps water down the gospel, take the cutting edge some of the Bible's less popular teachings, bring in some dancers or professional musicians, make 'worship' more entertaining, even showcase our native 'talent'. But that's in the direction of the 'strawy gospel' we talked about last week in which people gather speakers who'll say what their itching ears want to hear (2Tim 4:3). Paul resisted that pull.
Instead, notice in v3 how he describes his approach. "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling." Recall the troubles Paul had had up to now and it's not hard to visualize his knees knocking as he spoke: he'd been put in prison in Philippi, driven out of Thessalonica and Beroea, and politely bowed out of Athens - this poor guy was coping with a lot of REJECTION!
Weakness, trembling - not a proud stuffed shirt, Paul was demonstrating humility.V16 says, 'we have the mind of Christ': what was Jesus' attitude or mindset, how did HE approach things? Philippians 2(5ff) has the answer: "Your attitude (thinking) should be the same as that of Christ: who...made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant...He humbled Himself and became obedient to death..." Jesus emptied Himself to serve those He came to save. Is that our attitude when dealing with those outside the church? If we're humble, we won't come across as a 'know-it-all', but be asking, "How can I help you? What do I need to learn or hear in this situation in order to best show God's sacrificial love and valuable truth?"
People relate better to someone who's lowly, not high-and-mighty. A news clip was announcing Justin Bieber's new movie. The worldwide superstar from our own backyard was commenting how fans seemed to relate to his humble beginnings - single-parent family from a small town (Stratford) living in geared-to-income housing. The fans latched on to his grass-roots and helped boost him to the top. But now that he's a superstar, people have become more critical - of his mistakes, his voice cracks, anything that can be criticized. It was easier when he was lowly. A humble approach helps.
Paul wasn't strapped by his weakness, though; v4 tells something else that characterized his approach: "My message and my preaching were...with a demonstration of the Spirit's power,  so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." God granted this 'apostle to the Gentiles' ability to do great miracles. He later wrote to the Romans (15:18f), "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done-- by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit." For example, Acts 19(11f) records these miracles while he was in Ephesus: "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them." When you've got that kind of supernatural gift, who needs eloquent words? You're bound to draw a crowd!
PRESENT CHRIST CRUCIFIED
What is the one thing the Church needs to know in its presentation to outsiders? For Paul, it was very simple. V2, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Not the merits of His ethical teaching, or His moral example, important as those are. The main thing Paul sought to get across to those who heard him was that Jesus died for us sinners and was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures (1Cor 15:3f). That is THE entry point for the gospel to those who are going to be receptive, as Paul understands it. We have all sinned; anyone who's aware of their conscience knows they have a guilt problem. Man-made religion tries to overcome this by putting a ladder up to the heavens, but those who try find they can never make it to the top. In Jesus we see God's solution, coming to us, bearing the penalty for our sins Himself, so we can experience forgiveness and connection to His holiness through sheer grace. God has done it; we just need to receive it.
So, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" is a dominant theme in Paul's writing. 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1:23, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles..." 2:8, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Robertson comments, "Paul selected 'Jesus crucified' from the start as the centre of his gospel message. He decided to stick to it even after Athens where he was practically laughed out of court."
We already talked about his rough reception at various other places; 'Christ crucified' was not a popular message! Foolishness to Gentiles who admired logical philosophy; a scandalous stumbling block to Jews who were seeking a conquering Messiah to restore Israel. But to those who were being saved, this message was God's power to change lives.
Do we want our church to grow numerically? Yes, but not at the expense of losing the heart of the gospel. A better question is, 'Are people seeing the beauty of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection life in us?' Christ promised in John 12(32), "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." Is He lifted up (made much of) in our living, our talking?
It is significant that Paul presents Christ crucified, not Christ exalted and victorious, or Christ the Healer, or the Teacher, or the Perfect Example. Perhaps because people feel they can reach out for help to One who is broken, lowly, gentle, and can relate to our hardships. Think of one of the all-time favourite hymns, "What a Friend we have in Jesus." "Can we find a friend so faithful, / Who will all our sorrows share? / Jesus knows our every weakness... / Are we weak and heavy laden, / Cumbered with a load of care? / Precious Savior, still our refuge! / Take it to the Lord in prayer./ Do Thy friends despise forsake Thee? / Take it to the Lord in prayer. / In His arms He'll take and shield Thee..."
In Christ crucified, hurting people detect a Saviour who knows what it means to have sorrows and burdens and cares, One who was Himself despised, forsaken, rejected - yet who has overcome and wants to help us by responding to our prayer when we're in need.
How do your 'seeker' friends perceive you: as someone who's trying to show you've 'got it all together' - or as a real person with problems and temptations and failures who knows they've been shown grace and need to keep relying on God for help and guidance daily? A person who's open to talking about your own setbacks and how the Lord has made a difference in your struggles? ...Which kind of person would YOU feel more comfortable sharing with about problems you might be facing? Present 'Jesus Christ and Him crucified.'
PROMISE OF GLORY - NOW, NOT JUST LATER
V8 adds a notable detail to the portrait of 'Christ crucified': it says, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." This short phrase brings into sharp contrast the indignity of the cross and the majesty of the Victim. V7 likewise speaks of God's secret wisdom "that God destined for our glory before time began." What's this 'for OUR glory' business?
The Gospel is precisely that, 'GOOD news': at the cross we find we can be forgiven, cleansed, reborn, given new power and purpose for living. It makes a glorious difference! V12, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God..." You've been given God's own Spirit! The Holy Spirit downloads gifts into our lives (helping, administering, teaching, giving, and so on), and produces all kinds of fruit (see Galatians 5:22f: love joy peace goodness and so forth). You become a different, better person under God's influence. God has destined this mystery 'for our glory'.
In Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, he expands on this 'glory-for-us' theme. "...Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!...And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2Co 3:8f,18) Hear what that's saying? As you continue to walk with Jesus, people will start to see His glory rubbing off on you, reflected in you. Neat! That may prompt someone to ask, "What do you have that makes you practically glow despite your hardships? What gives you such peace and joy that you almost radiate?" If that were the reality in our lives, do you suppose evangelism would be a big deal? Like flies to the jam-jar!
As I researched this passage, I realized I have erred in the past. At funerals sometimes I have taken v9 out of context, making it refer to heaven, the home of our dear departed. "No eye has seen no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him..." It can mean that, but that's not what Paul's talking about here. V10 goes on, "but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit." What's IT? Not heaven, as such - but the apostolic preaching and teaching, the New Testament. The core principles of Christian living, here and now, not by and by. The glory of the gospel is that God gives Himself to us in it, not just His gifts; God IS the gospel. The Lord of glory has become our glory - Jesus in me.
PRAY FOR THE SPIRIT'S UNVEILING
As we've already seen, 1:18 says the message of the cross is foolishness to the perishing. V8, none of the rulers of this age understood it; 14, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." The sinful mind is hostile to God; the 'god of this age' has blinded unbelievers (Rom 8:7; 2Cor 4:4). How then do we overcome this roadblock? How do you make a blind man see? We can't do it on our own. We need to pray for God to take away the veil, the blindness, to grant spiritual sight. V10, God [must] reveal it by His Spirit. 2Cor 3(13-16), "only in Christ is [the veil] taken away...whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away."
Don't act surprised that others seem resistant to the gospel. Pray for the eyes of their heart to be enlightened.
PROBE AND PROVE CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES
We have received a treasure of new life by grace; but it's up to us to live it out, with God's help. We need to (first) probe - investigate, search out - and (second) prove, or demonstrate - the truth and reliability of Christian principles, the Christian life, before the world.
V12, WHY have we received the Holy Spirit? (Look for the little purpose-preposition, 'that') "We have...received...the Spirit who is from God THAT we may understand what God has freely given us." Here's where 'illumination' comes in: God shining a light on the meaning as we read the Bible. V13, "This is what we [apostles] speak...in words taught by the Spirit": don't gloss over that - that's the doctrine of inspiration, that God superintended the writing of Scripture to communicate what He wanted to get across, without obliterating the individual authors' personalities or styles. 13B, "expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words" (or) "explaining spiritual things to spiritual people". With the Bible in your fingers, you have a heavenly deposit of truth in your hands, just waiting to be read and taken in to shape your worldview. Let the Bible's categories shape yours, not vice versa.
V14, the things that come from the Spirit of God 'are spiritually discerned': the Greek verb is anakrino, including the root verb krino, 'to judge / determine'. Reading the Bible with the Spirit's illumination informs you so you can start to judge things from a Biblical perspective - as God sees things. Not the tube, not Hollywood, not the producers/editors at CBC. A commentary defines anakrino as "a sifting process to get at the truth by investigation as a judge." Carefully, unhurriedly, thoroughly, like a customs border agent going through the trunk of a vehicle that's been pulled over for closer inspection.
If that's how you read Scripture, discerning God's principles, then v15 could be about you: "The spiritual man makes judgments [anakrino] about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment [anakrino]." The mature Christian, unlike a baby believer, is familiar with Biblical truth so can exercise good judgment. So, probe Scripture! Practice a habit of daily devotional reading, Bible study (preferably with others), attend a Bible-preaching church. Hear and absorb what God's got to teach you. Robertson comments, Paul's epistles remain today "throbbing with the power of the Spirit of God, dynamic with life for the problems of today, ...surcharged with the energy of God."
Probe - and prove. Live out God's principles. In v4 Paul says his preaching was "with a demonstration of the Spirit's power," or "proof". Like producing proofs in an argument in court. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.[including Bible reading!] Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will." You'll be able to discern it and live it out, once your mind's been transformed by Scripture from the world's pattern / priorities / categories.
A couple of quick examples in closing. Recently on the radio a reporter was interviewing a representative from the Quebec College of Physicians. The College is opening discussion on euthanasia. It already acknowledges that a 'double effect' is happening in medicating terminally ill patients: the doctor prescribes just a bit too much morphine for pain relief, with the result the patient stops breathing. Our Criminal Code still makes it illegal to take action that ends another person's life. The College wants not to prevent physicians from doing this, but to make it easier for patients to have the discussion with their doctor without the burden of legal overtones, or fear of legal repercussions.
In secular society, that's a simpler discussion because there's not the concern about the Ten Commandments or fear of breaking God's command; the focus becomes 'quality of life' not 'sanctity of human life'. Christians need to voice their objections. Euthanasia is bad news especially given the fallenness of human nature and systems, whether the crunch of medical resource shortages or unsympathetic doctors or families that would snuff out the life of the weak and voiceless. It loses sight of life as a trust, for which we're accountable to our Creator.
I'll end with a little snapshot of a very live church that is portraying 'Christ crucified' daily and takes Biblical teaching seriously. Many of you know CRC Pastor John Kuperus who has been doing discipleship training in India. Here's an excerpt from an email update he sent this past week.
"We are witnessing a whole different church here. The pastors really were upset with me when they heard that churches in Canada/USA are not practising church discipline.That was really intense.Then I said, 'Historically we picked on sexual sins and alcoholism sins and left the others like pride and greed alone.If we were honest about every sin, we would kick everyone out.' The discussion was over.
"The pastor I was with last night shared how he was beaten by the police like he was a dog.He and another pastor had blood all over the place.The one pastor that is with us was in jail 3 weeks ago for preaching the gospel.He was in for one week.The police forgot to take his cell phone.He asked to have 17 Bibles delivered into the prison for the other prisoners.The jail officer told him he better leave before he turns the jail into a church.He had to report back to the police station two nights ago for questioning.
"We visit schools and churches and are held in high honour.Lots of people want us to pray for them.Our team includes 32 people and seems like we have our challenges staying healthy.We are so blessed."
...Being beaten for your beliefs? That would prompt you to lean on 'Christ crucified' in a hurry. Turning a jail into a church? Now THAT has to be God at work! People wanting you to pray for them? Sounds like Holy Spirit opportunity to make the Lord of glory known. Let's pray.