- Pastor Mark Driscoll
- 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
- January 15, 2006
Father God, thank you for the greater church of Jesus Christ that is meeting all over the world today in various sizes and locations and languages and styles. God, as we study today it is our prayer that you would give us a burning love for the church as Paul had a burning love for the church, and that you would give us a desire to serve the church, as Jesus Christ laid down his life in service to the church. To accomplish that, we ask that the Scriptures would be made practical to us and that the Holy Spirit would empower us by grace to be faithful to that which we learn. So Lord Jesus, we give our church to you, and we give our lives to you, and we give our time together this morning to you. And it’s in your good name that we pray. Amen.
All right – well, as we get into it, as we get into 1 Corinthians, let me state the obvious, that this is a book written to a church. I think one of the big problems that happens with Bible study and Bible reading is that people pick it up and they say, “How does this relate to me?” Well, it is supposed to relate to you, but the bigger question is, “How does it relate to us?” Much of the New Testament is written to churches – groups of people. Letters were written, the one that we’ll be looking at today included, that were to be read to groups of people meeting together as the church just like this. And so sometimes when you read the Bible it’s not all about you, it’s about us, the church, and the corporate well-being and the needs of others and not just ourselves.
And so as we pick it up today I’m going to need you to look with me not just at what this personally means for you, but additionally what this book means for us. And we’ll be looking at the church today through the eyes of a leader, Paul, which may be a very different perspective for some of you. You may have gone to church, or maybe it’s your first time, or you’re looking for a church. Or maybe you’re a member – whatever level of involvement you’ve got – to see it through the eyes of a leader is oftentimes very, very different. So we will spend time looking at Paul’s assessment of the church. Now, to get you a little background on our author and the man who will be teaching us as we read his work for this coming year, Paul was a guy raised in a devoutly religious home. Lots of rules, lots of regulations; this is your day off, this is your schedule, these are your friends; this is your diet and your food.
Very religious, very organized, very tidy, but like many of you that come from strong religious backgrounds, he didn’t know God, he didn’t love God; he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. And sometimes religion is the worst thing for the human soul. And so he didn’t know Jesus, so he’s so devoted to his cause that he’s persecuting Christians. He’s involved in the murder of one deacon named Stephen in the early church. So Jesus comes down out of heaven and basically beats him up, which I love that. I love that about Jesus. Jesus had lived, died for sin, risen from death, ascended into Heaven. Paul was out making trouble – comes down from Heaven and smacks Paul around kinda like an ultimate fighter.
I love that about Jesus, because you never know when he might show up and just knock you around a little bit. And I love that because Paul is going off to hurt Christians. Jesus comes down from Heaven, knocks him on the ground, and blinds him for three days, right – which is a compelling argument that you should obey. If Jesus came down, like punched you in the mouth, and made you blind for three days and said, “You’re gonna be a Christian now, and you’re gonna go be a missionary.” After three days you’d be like, “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing now that I’m blind, and I would like to not be blind.” So that’s what Jesus does to him. Paul was a stubborn guy; it actually took three days apparently to get him to change his mind.
So he starts worshiping Jesus, and he becomes a missionary, a church planter. He goes from city to city – cities that didn’t know anything about Jesus; that never had a church – and he’s teaching the Bible. People become Christians. He establishes a church and then he goes on to another city. We looked last week how in Acts 18 he pulled into Corinth. He was there for 18 months working for free. Worked a job for a while, then support came in from a church in Macedonia. Gave his life to these people; established the church. And the church was – we don’t know exactly the number, but probably about 50 or 60 people. The church at Corinth was only about 50 or 60 people. We will have more people than that serving communion today.
You’re not looking at a mass movement yet – you’re looking at a handful of people. And they get together; they’re probably meeting in a house. Now, for some of you this might take the wind out of your sails, because particularly young Christians, younger people, there tends to be a naiveté and an idealism that says, “If we could just get back to the early church.” How many have heard this? “If we could just get back like it was in the early days of Christianity.” We are just like the early days of Christianity. They were drunk, suing each other, having sex, going to strip clubs, and believing crazy ideas. We’re just like the early church.
The church has always been jacked up. Filled up with the most crazy ideas and wicked people that God is working on. Some people think if we could just meet in houses, and if the church was only 30, 40, 50 people, we would be just like the early church. Just like they did it – it would be sinless and perfect and good. This church is so jacked up that Paul actually writes four letters to them. After he went away, some people went to visit him and kept saying things like, “Paul, everybody’s drunk at church and some are naked; is that a problem?” Yeah, it is a problem.
And so Paul then is trying to write letters to clean up all these messes, right. As soon as he left, immediately everybody went into crazy ideas and bad sin and moral conduct, so he’s writing letters to clean it up. He actually wrote four letters; we only have two. 1 Corinthians is actually 2 Corinthians, because in 1 Corinthians 5 he says, “Now, in my former letter I wrote,” and we’re like, “This is 1 Corinthians.” Was it like 1-1 Corinthians? Where’s the other one? It’s gone, and 2 Corinthians is probably 3 or 4 Corinthians, but we make it 2 Corinthians because we’re missing two of Paul’s letters. The reason is why – well, I’m thinking he was so frustrated that he wasn’t under the control of the Holy Spirit, and he said some stuff he shouldn’t have said.
And so my feeling is that Paul probably wasn’t led by the Holy Spirit on this one; he was probably a little frustrated. What that means is even the Godliest and best leaders say crazy things, and that not all things that were said by those early church leaders were inspired of the Holy Spirit, inerrant and perfect. But 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, that’s inspired of God. The others, God sort of was like, “Well, we’ll just file that one away. That wasn’t really me.”
So as we get into it you’ll see that this is a jacked up, messed up church. And some of you have thought, “I’m just looking for a good church.” That ones in Heaven, right? And when you die and you go to be with Jesus, you’ll be with all the people that are perfected and their junk is worked out. In the meantime we have varying degrees of jacked up churches, and Corinth is just one such example. So as we get into it today I need you to look with Paul’s heart, look with Paul’s mind; love of the church but also great concern.
So he starts off his letter – and we’re doing the introduction to his letter to the church today that would’ve been read just like we’re reading it today to the church. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.” I’m gonna camp here for a long time – pull a lot of things out. This is the beginning of his letter. First thing that he says is that there must be in the church spiritual leadership, right, because people disagree on everything and they fight over everything. And somebody’s gotta be the umpire that calls balls and strikes and brings some order into the church.
Well, God appoints spiritual leadership to do that, but the first thing you realize is he says that he is called to be an apostle – that’s a spiritual leader in the church – by the will of God – by the will of Christ Jesus. So the first thing is if there’s to be spiritual leadership in the church it has to be chosen by God. This is one of the big mistakes that churches make. They take a nomination; they take a vote. No, it has to be more than just a nomination or a vote. It has to be somebody who knows that they are called of God. I remember one church I was consulting with had a big fight, fell apart, a big problem. And I met with the elders and a couple of them, I said, “You guys need to step up. You need to lead. You need to do the right thing.”
And they said, “You know what? It’s not like we signed up for this job. They nominated us, they put us in it, and we don’t really wanna do the job.” Okay, then you shouldn’t be a leader in the church. “Not by compulsion,” Paul says elsewhere, “but by God’s calling.” That’s why in Acts 20:28 Paul says to the pastors and the elders to shepherd the flock of whom “the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer” – a leader. So leaders first of all are called of God. So many churches, they make the mistake of just going to Bible colleges or seminaries to hire pastors; we don’t do that. Some churches, they call the trained; we train the called. That’s our motto. If God has called you, we’ll train you to do it. Just because you’re trained doesn’t mean you’re called. The failure and the burnout rate for pastors is huge because many of them, they took the job because they thought it would be a good job, but not because Jesus told them to take the job. First thing, spiritual leadership has to be called of God.
Second of all, spiritual leaders come with God’s authority. Where he says, “An apostle,” and he’s writing the letter, and he’s telling the whole church what to do, and he expects the whole church to obey him. He’s working with spiritual authority.
And that’s what you see. He says, “With Sosthenes.” All right, you see this in Acts 18 where he’s will Priscilla and Aquila, and he’s with Timothy. He continually works in team. He always has good Godly people around him to keep him accountable; to keep an eye on him. The church would’ve asked, “Paul, who are you to tell us what to do? Who’s keeping an eye on you? Who’s looking at your life? Who knows that you’re not sinning all the time?” Paul says, “Well, Sosthenes, that great Godly brother. He’s my right-hand man here. He’s traveling with me and strategizing with me, and we’re sharing a place to live together and we eat together. And I don’t have any secrets from him; it’s full disclosure.”
See, some of you don’t have the trustworthiness of spiritual authority because you haven’t seen accountable spiritual leadership where guys have someone over them, in authority, so that if they get crazy or naked or something stupid happens that somebody can actually pull the emergency brake on that guy and where he’s going. It’s important to have leadership, but leadership that is accountable and submissive to other leaders. And also it’s just an issue of prudence. This is a descriptive, not a prescriptive text, but one of the things I like about Paul is when he’s traveling and he’s out on the road and he’s working alone he usually brings a guy, like Sosthenes or Titus or Timothy. And this is just good sound thinking.
But part of this too is some of you just don’t like spiritual authority. You don’t wanna get in a community group, don’t wanna be a member, don’t wanna meet with a pastor, because you want to do like the Corinthians, and that is to do whatever you want. Now, we don’t know if Paul was the author of Hebrews, but the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 13:17 says to, “Obey your leaders…submit to their authority,” because they must give an account for you. I know that’s your life verse, your memory verse. You’re like, “Obey – submit – where is that one? Those are my favorite words!” Yeah, I know.
Obey means if they tell you to do something, do it. Submit means stop fighting and arguing and making it so hard for them to lead you and lead the church. Just do what you’re told, because they must give an account. Now, some of you say, “But I’m an independent person. I wanna do whatever the heck I want.” Okay, flip it – look at it from the leader’s perspective. Imagine having my job. According to that verse, I need to give an account for all of you before Jesus at the end of time. How would you like that job?
It’s a terrifying thing. And Paul says that if you respect spiritual authority, if you submit to spiritual authority, if you obey spiritual authority, you’ll make our job a joy and not a burden, all right?
The Corinthian church had become for Paul a burden; a great burden. Some of you are great joys. I’ll give you some of the joys. Okay, here’s one of my great joys. I’ve got certain stories where guys will come in to me where they say, “Okay, I visited the church; not a Christian. Committed adultery, left my wife, got a divorce, my kids don’t have a father, my ex-wife’s in poverty. What should I do?” Well, you’re going to hell. God is really ticked at you. You’d better repent right now, give your life to Jesus, get some help, obey the Bible, repent to your wife, repent to your kids. We’re gonna work toward reconciliation. You’re gonna have a Christian family. We’re gonna remarry you. Your son will be the ring-bearer; your daughter will be the flower girl. And we’re gonna have the best grace-centered wedding you’ve ever seen.
I’ve had dudes look me in the eye and say, “Okay” and actually officiate their wedding. Joy! Put the family back together. Save this shipwreck. Other people – total burden, just a burden, because they’re disobedient and they’re unsubmissive, and they don’t listen to spiritual authority. You need to know this: we’re here because we love and we wanna help. We wanna serve, we wanna protect, we wanna empower, we wanna make life better. But if you don’t listen, then our counsel just can’t be of help. I was thinking about it this morning. I was praying for one gal – she started coming to the church. Naïve gal – said she was a Christian. Far as I could tell, she probably is.
Started dating this guy who’s quite a bit older and a drug dealer; I said, “Look, the nice naïve homeschool gal should not date the drug dealer.” She said, “Well, he said he loves me.” Drug dealers like, right? I mean, if you’re a drug dealer, generally truth is not a high value, right? We said, “Look, he’s lying to you.” “Oh, but he says he loves me and he’s interested in God, and I think I can save him.” Well, if he really is interested in God, just tell him to come to church. Tell him to meet with a pastor. Send one of the guys in the church to go talk to him about Jesus. But the naïve gal who’s quite a bit younger should not be the one spending time trying to get close to the drug dealer.
Eventually she’s dating him. Eventually she’s sleeping with him. Eventually she’s doing drugs with him. Eventually she’s pregnant with his child, still doing drugs. Just a burden; and now this baby is going to be born, drug-addicted. This will affect the whole child’s life. What started out as naiveté and rebellion ends up with the destruction of a few lives and a child that now will take years of work to undo – if that child physically can ever be fully restored to health. I just shudder to think what is going on in that woman’s womb right now. She’s pregnant the same time as my wife. The thought of my wife getting high on crack every day with my child in her belly – I just – nothing is more of a burden than that.
But here was the problem in Corinth, young, urban, hip, cool, trendy church, filled with new converts. Young people, all full of themselves. Real smart, making good money, went to college. Think they’re real cool; embracing alternative lifestyles, pushing the edge, trying to find some cool new doctrine. And being as hip and trendy and as super-fly as it possibly can. I know you’re all cool, good-looking, smart – but the problem in the Corinthian church is they wouldn’t listen to anybody. I saw this when I became a new Christian in college. My first pastor was a guy named Doug. I love him with all my heart – giant in my eyes. Some of you have had bad churches – this was a good church.
Not all churches are bad. This was a great church, and my pastor was a Godly man who to this day I deeply, profoundly love and respect. He was here for a service a few months ago, and I just – I was so amazed that I actually got to preach to my old pastor. It was such a high honor. And in college, I got saved and he was my pastor, and I’d go to his Bible studies. And this is a guy who loves his wife, raised Godly kids, has been in ministry forever – PhD in Hebrew, the Old Testament language. He’s a guy who just in every way was worthy of respect. And he was teaching a Bible study with me and all of the other new convert knucklehead college guys, right.
And in the middle of the study – we’re going through the Old Testament book of Isaiah. And I still remember a guy in the study started arguing with him. Like, “That’s not right. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I knew this guy. This guy had been saved like six weeks and had a massive pornography collection. I’m just like – and the guy teaching has a PhD in Hebrew and actually taught from the Hebrew Bible, right? Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Hebrew – you may have and didn’t know what it was. It’s not a real easy language. He would come with a Hebrew Old Testament. He’d say, “If you have the King James, it says this. New King James says this. The NIV says this. New American Standard says that.” I looked at him one day and said, “Well, what do you have?” He said, “The Hebrew.” I was like, “Why is porno-boy arguing with Hebrew-man? Where does porno-boy think that he gets to argue over the Old Testament with Hebrew-man? He has a Hebrew Bible – he wins!”
He wins, right? “You have a Hustler and he has a Hebrew Bible – he wins. He gets to say it’s right and you’re wrong.” And this guy was arguing. He said, “Well, that’s just his opinion. That’s his interpretation.” Wow, big word, porno-boy – shut up and listen to the guy who raised good kids and loves his wife and trained multiple pastors and taught Hebrew for a living. At least give him a hearing. But see, this is what happens when you’re young and full of yourself and hip and cool and trendy and you get saved and you’re super-fly. Nobody can tell you what to do – even the people that are smart or holy or love you or know what they’re talking about.
Now, part of this is too people still don’t even listen to Paul. “Wives, submit to your husbands.” “Aw, that’s Paul.” He wrote half the New Testament; you at least have to give him a hearing. Half the books of the New Testament, he’s got. Oh – “pastors should only be men.” “Well, that’s his interpretation.” Well, let’s go with it.
“Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.” “Well, that’s his opinion.” You know, it’s just amazing to me, the arrogance. “Well, I went to college.” You went to community college, and at comedy college you do not get to be smarter than Paul, right? I mean we need to come under the authority of guys like Paul. Some of you, it’s not even that you won’t obey the pastors; you won’t even listen to certain books of the Bible, certain verses. You say, “Oh, that’s your interpretation.” What does it say? So my first question to you is this: like the Corinthians, do you respect spiritual authority? And I’m not saying you obey every spiritual authority, but who is your spiritual authority?
Because the truth is we all have spiritual authority. That gal who chose to obey her drug dealer boyfriend instead of her pastors? She chose him as her spiritual authority. So who is your spiritual authority? Did you read a book? Are you your own spiritual authority? Are you under spiritual authority? Have you chosen good spiritual authority, if this is your church? Do you respect the authority here? Are you here at this church running and hiding from the spiritual authority at another church because they told you to do something and you just don’t wanna do it?
And we’re big enough that you can maintain anonymity and hide; do whatever you want. And we can’t find you because it’s big enough that you can hide. So Paul continues after establishing spiritual authority – because these people weren’t listening to him. Isn’t that amazing? He had led them to Christ. He had planted their church. He had baptized them. And they looked at him and said, “Why should we listen to you? We’re not impressed. We’re very smart. We’re young, hip, trendy, urban, super-fly, cool, and you’re just an old man with a lot of opinions.”
After he establishes his spiritual authority, trying to get them to listen, he then moves on talking about church leadership and the church in general. So he goes on: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified” – made Christians, made holy – “in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those who everywhere call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.” First thing he says is, “The church belongs to God.” That’s what he says. “To the church of God” – who does the church belong to? God. This seems obvious, but in Corinth they were fighting.
The single people said, “It’s our church.” The married people said, “It’s our church.” The rich people said, “It’s our church.” The poor people said, “It’s our church.” The people who spoke in tongues say, “It’s our church.” Those who didn’t speak in tongues said, “No, it’s our church.” And they’re all fighting over everything. And you walk into the church, and every church has factions and groups and agendas. The marrieds and the single, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and the black and the white, and the educated and the uneducated – and everybody’s got their thing. What about the women’s ministry? What about the children’s ministry? What about this? What about that?
And what Paul is saying is that the church doesn’t belong to any of us; that the church belongs to God, and that we all need to lay down our agendas, we all need to lay down our interests, we all need to lay down our flags and say, “God, what do you want for your church?” Because the death of every church is when people show up with their agenda saying, “You do this or we’re gonna fight, or I’m gonna leave, or we’re gonna split this thing, or we’re gonna make it brutal.” Everybody needs to walk in and say, “God, this is your church; what do you have for us?” Some of you God has called here because there are things that we are not doing or not doing well. Praise God – welcome!
But you need to accept the fact that the church belongs to God, and it doesn’t belong to us. It doesn’t belong to the leaders. Churches do not belong to the denominations. Churches don’t belong to leaders. Churches don’t belong to people. Ultimately, churches belong to God – they do. It’s God’s church. I get that. I’m privileged, blessed, honored; having a great time to be a part of it. But this is God’s miracle – this is God’s doing.
Jesus went to the cross, died for the sins of his people. He rose to forgive us. He has saved us. He has made us Christians. He’s brought us together as a church. This is his church – it has to be. It has to be, and I get so frustrated when people are complaining all the time about the church. It’s so fashionable – particularly young Christians, college students, hip, trendy, cool young Christians. “Aw, that’s not cool, that’s not cool. The church stinks. The church this, the church that.” Look, I get it. I understand that the church stinks.
Me and my OCD see every problem in this church. It’s like walking up to a woman saying, “I noticed a flaw in your body.” She’d be like, “I know,” right, because she’s fully aware of any potential defect. And me, with the body of Christ, his Bride, I could tell you all the defects in this Bride. We’re working on it. We’re working on it. But do you love the Bride of Christ enough to serve her, or are you too super-fly and you just stand back and complain?
That’s the church – filled with sin and sinners and problems and mistakes and errors and flaws. And you don’t stand back and say, “It stinks, and it’s not good enough for me.” You say, “It’s in trouble. I better go help.” Just like if my mom was in trouble. I wouldn’t stand back and criticize – I would help her. If you believe that the church of Jesus Christ in general or this church in particular is in trouble, acknowledge that it belongs to God and God is at work on it. And God is calling us to be at work on and in the church – that we are the church.
That’s where Paul goes – that the church are all those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. All those who have been sanctified and saved and had their sins forgiven, and that’s what he says.
The church he’s saying here has a universal nature – “all those…who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” – and a local expression – “the church of God in Corinth.” We are part of the church of Jesus Christ. All nations, races; Old Testament, New Testament; all times and places; everybody who belongs to Jesus – that’s the big C, capital C church.
What Paul is trying to teach his people – that they are the church; that the church is them. That they can’t fight over the church, because the church belongs to God and they belong to God. That’s why he tells them that positionally they are sanctified, made holy, forgiven, cleansed, seen as pure in God’s sight, and practically, out of their positional holiness they need to live a practical holiness. That’s exactly what he tells them – “called to be holy.” What is holy?
Holy means you live like Jesus and you stop sinning and you start obeying. See, some of us want holiness but not obedience or discipline. The Bible says elsewhere without holiness no one will see the Lord. Let me ask you this: how is your holiness going? Are you growing in holiness? Are you hating sin, loving Jesus, hating sin, loving your church? Are you seeing holiness grow in you? Not a self-righteousness, but do you hate sin and do you see changes in your life to where you don’t want to do what you used to do, and you don’t do it anymore? Because sin is dying, and you’re living for Christ now.
See, I know some of you, you won’t get into a group because you’ll get found out. And you won’t go through the membership process because you’ll get found out. Some of you won’t schedule a meeting with a pastor or leader or Biblical counselor because you’ll get found out. And you don’t want to be holy. The Corinthians didn’t want to be holy. Paul says that if you are truly a child of God, then you must be a person who altogether desires to be holy; to live a life that is pleasing in God’s sight and gets rid of those things that are displeasing in God’s sight. My first question: do you respect spiritual authority?
My second question: do you hate sin? Are you actively living a life that is increasingly more like Jesus and less like the rebellion that you came from? And this again is a very heartbreaking thing. See, I know that some of you that are here, you love the big church because you can hide, and you love the dark room because you can hide. It still shocks me when I see people that have been here for a long time and don’t have a desire for holiness.
Are you really here because you desire to grow in holiness? Because you wanna have sin die and you wanna live with, for, like, by Jesus? Is that why you’re here? Is that why you’re here? My fear is, like the Corinthians, holiness – not a high value. For those of you who do have a desire to grow in holiness, Paul gives us a very, very good word. “Grace and peace,” he says – great words. “Grace and peace to you” – that’s us – “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” First thing is grace – “Okay, I feel bad, you got me – what do I do now?” Well, there’s grace. You’ve already blown it. You’re a sinner. You’ve been living for yourself, not for Christ.
You’ve been using your church, not been serving your church. You’ve been someone who does not respect spiritual authority. You don’t read your Bible because you know what it’s gonna say and you don’t wanna do that. You don’t talk to anybody that’s Godly or spiritual because you know what they’re gonna say, and you wanna do whatever the heck you wanna do. If that’s you – secret hidden sin, secret shame – then here’s the deal: Jesus Christ died to take away sin. To forgive you, to love you – and he will cleanse you and forgive you by grace. It’s a free gift; it’s all about Jesus. You come to Jesus; you get the grace that forgives you.
Some of you get that. Let me tell you about the other part of grace that many of you may not understand. Grace not only forgives us when we sin, it also empowers us so we don’t. This is the part of grace that I find most Christians altogether ignore. They say, “Well, I get to do whatever I want and then Jesus will forgive me.” No – “do not sin that grace may abound.” Do not make a mockery of God’s grace. God’s forgiving grace is there when we do sin, but that’s not an excuse and a license to sin. Instead, empowering grace allows me to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God; “no” to rebellion, “yes” to obedience, “no” to darkness, and “yes” to light.
Empowering grace allows me – it’s not me and my self-righteousness and my will and my white-knuckle devotion. It is the grace of God strengthening, empowering me, to say “no” to sin and to say “yes” to Jesus. See, grace doesn’t just show up after you’ve blown it; grace shows up beforehand so you don’t have to. That’s the beautiful side of grace; it’s a power from God that in and of ourselves we simply do not possess. The result is this kind of empowering and forgiving and saving grace, working together, allows us to have peace with God. This is not just an internal disposition of, “I feel really peaceful.” This is God’s active blessing or favor on your life.
What that means is this: God does want to bless you. God does want to favor you. God does want to serve you. God does want to help you. God does want to grow you. God does want to change you. God does want to empower you. God does want to enable you. God does want to use you. God does want to help you. God is a good God. God is a giving God. But unholy people are unfit for blessing. If God were to just continue to bless an unholy people, that would do nothing more than encourage their ongoing rebellion.
It’s the same reason I don’t give treats to my children when they disobey – it confuses them. If every time my son whacked his brother I gave him ice cream I would not be deterring further conduct of that nature. That’d be very confusing. Bloody brother equals bowl of ice cream; I got the equation. We don’t want to set that math in place that disobedience leads to a reduction in blessing, and obedience leads to more freedom and joy and grace and provision. God is a father; we’re his kids. Some of you say, “How come God doesn’t bless me?” Are you living a life of holiness? If you live a life of holiness, you put yourself in the place where God actually can bless.
By living in his empowering grace, you’re in the place that God can bless, so that God’s blessing to you is not diverted by your rebellion and sin. How many of you would bless someone who was your rebellious enemy? How many of you would give them great gifts to encourage them to act in that way? None of us. God’s the same way. God says, “I want to be good to you, but I need you to obey spiritual authority – including mine. I need you to care about more than just yourself, and also thing about the well-being of others in your church. You’re implicating everyone in what you’re doing, or what you’re believing. I need you to be humble enough to receive correction and rebuke.
“I need you to repent so I can give you grace. I need you to lean into my empowering grace so that then your life begins to change, and I can bless that kind of person and that kind of life. I can give them good things because they will know that it is because they are in relationship with me, not as if I were blessing rebellion against me.” That’s how God works. Simple point is this: if you wanna be blessed, go to the place that God blesses; the place of holiness and obedience. And I’m not saying you can do that on your own, but God’s grace will enable you to be an obedient person that lives in the place where God indeed does bless.
Paul begins with spiritual authority. He works his way down to grace and peace, and what he’s saying is this to his people – I love how he says it in verse 3: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on in verse 4: “I always thank God for you.” Isn’t that a weird thing to say? “All you drunken, naked, crazy-makers – I thank God for you.” Boy, there’s a guy who really does have the heart of God, right? I mean the Bible says to love your enemies – these guys are acting like enemies – “I praise God for you. I love you.”
“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” I’m not sure of this, but this may be a back-handed compliment, because if God gives you a lot of grace, what does that infer? You’re doing a lot of sin. You know, it’s kind of a back-handed comment. “I praise God for the grace he’s given you.” I don’t think that’s a compliment. I think that’s a rebuke. This is a very gentle, fatherly-type rebuke.
“I praise God for you and the grace that God has given to you,” meaning that God could’ve given up on these people a long time ago but he’s hung in there with them. “For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking…knowledge – because our testimony in Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift.” Do they lack any spiritual gift? None. We’ll get to this a little later, what that means – “as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” What he’s saying is this: I praise God that he’s been so good to you. I praise God that he’s given you all these gifts and abilities and talents. I praise God that you lack nothing and you have all the potential resources, powers, skill, human capital to do what God has called you to do.
And one day Jesus will be revealed; Jesus will come back. And in the meantime, I praise God that he’s given you this possibility and opportunity. What he’s saying to the Corinthians is essentially this: it is not that God has failed to give you spiritual gifts and talents and abilities and opportunities. What has happened is that you have failed to act in a way that is mature.
The Corinthian problem was this: they got saved and they’re running companies, they’re in college, they’re smart, they’re super-fly. The all play guitar, they’ve got tattoos and piercings. They got a nice car and they bought their first condo, and they’re all super-fly. And because of that, they don’t have any discipline. They don’t have any maturity. They don’t have any wisdom. Paul says, “You need to grow up. You need to read your Bible. You need to pray. You need to repent of sin. You need to respect authority. You need to go through some hardship. You need to grow up. You need to learn some things.” And they say, “Nah – we’re super-fly and we’re super-smart. We’re the Corinthians. We’re the coolest church in town.”
It is not that we lack talent; it’s that we lack maturity. See, this is something that each of us needs to own. Am I maturing? Am I repenting of sin, reading Scripture, praying? Am I respecting spiritual authority?
Am I using the abilities and gifts and talents and skills that God has given me to be a member of the church, to do something collectively that will make us greater – because together we can certainly get more done than any of us could individually. Let me ask you this really simple, but I think important question: what has God brought you here to contribute?
See, Paul says, “God called me to be an apostle, but he’s called all Christians to be holy; to obey God and live the life that he intends for them.” What is the life that God intends for you? What’s your part?
See, the big problem in a big church is that everybody thinks that everybody else has got it covered. Look around and say, “Somebody must be paying the bills and doing the job.” Everybody thinks that. What’s your part? What’s your portion, what’s your contribution?
And none of you would go home to your family and say, “All right – I need to be served now, and it better be good.” In a family, everybody’s got a chore. Everybody’s got a part. Somebody takes out the trash. Somebody cooks the dinner. Somebody picks up the dishes. We’re the family of God. God is our Father. We’re brothers and sisters. Everybody has a chore. Otherwise we’re not a family; we’re a business. We’re not a business; we’re a family. We’re a family on a mission to increase the name of the Father in the city, to find the other children that belong to the family of God. That’s why we’re here.
And so Paul hammers them on this point, and then he concludes with a note of hope. Some of you say, “This is a condemning sermon.” This is not. It’s a convicting sermon. This is like lectures from dad, right? This is Paul talking to his church, and only a founding pastor who loves his people and has been there for a while can say these kinds of things.
Love you very much – given all I got to this church. And I’ll be honest with you – there are times that it gets real discouraging. People aren’t giving. People aren’t serving. People aren’t caring. People aren’t obeying. People aren’t taking counsel. Not everybody – there’s some wonderful people. There’s points where we all get discouraged looking at the church, even this church. You get discouraged; I do too, because there are imperfections and sins and flaws and mistakes and problems to work on. So where’s the hope, you know? Paul’s gonna end on a note of hope. He doesn’t want to condemn them. He wants to convict them, and he wants to give them hope.
I’m gonna give you the same hope. “He” – that is God – “will keep you strong to the end.” Right, this letter is being read in a church where some of them are drunk off the communion wine. One guy’s sitting with his arm around his mom, right? Paul has high hopes in the ability of God to do the miraculous; to make that kind of jacked up people into a holy people that live the life that Jesus has for them collectively, together as a church; to make a difference in their city. God has not given up on them. Some of you may feel like God’s given up on you. God hasn’t given up on you. God hasn’t given up on us. God isn’t done. God’s a Father; we’re his kids. He loves his kids. As a dad I can tell you even when your kids are driving you nuts you’re still not done with them.
You hang in there, and you work on them and you love them and you discipline them and you grow them, and God’s that kind of dad. That’s what he’s doing with us all. He says that God “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You’re gonna stand before Jesus, and your life will have been changed. You will have grown in holiness and maturity. Your gifts will have been used to bear much fruit that’ll last, and that’s gonna be a good day. What Paul says is this: Just because right now you’re not in a good place does not mean that you won’t finish in a good place. God’s not done. “God, who has called you into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful.” That’s it.
The Corinthians weren’t faithful. You’re not faithful. I’m not faithful. We’re not faithful. In varying degrees, we all sin, fall short, blow it, make mistakes, get selfish, don’t do our part. Complain when we should contribute. Sin when we should serve. Where’s the hope for the church? It’s not in the church. It’s not in the leaders. It’s in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who isn’t done with us. Still giving grace, still giving blessing of peace, still doing his job of working on our conscience, working on our heart. Giving us gifts, talents, abilities, skills, opportunities. Pulling us together and still working on his people. See, Jesus loves the church. See, we’re the church and Jesus loves us. And Jesus is working on us to make us more like him – individually and collectively.
And the problem has always been this: that if you and I look at ourselves or we look at the state of the American church or even churches that I believe are good, we will still find things to nit-pick about and get discouraged by, feel like we’ve been slighted by, and complain about. So where does the hope lie? He focuses them on Jesus. Nine times in nine verses, Paul says, “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ.” Nine times, nine verses, “Jesus Christ.”
The problem with the Corinthians is they’re thinking about getting drunk. They’re thinking about having sex. They’re thinking about making money. They’re thinking about being cool. They’re thinking about speaking in tongues. They’re thinking about being super-fly. They’re thinking about being married. They’re thinking about being single. They’re thinking about being successful. They’re thinking about being powerful. They’re thinking about everything but Jesus, and this happens in the church. So nine times in nine verses Paul says, “Jesus Christ.” Need the whole church to look at Jesus. Need the whole church to focus on Jesus. Need the whole church to follow Jesus. Need the whole church to live like Jesus. Need the whole church to get close to Jesus.
Jesus says that he is also the focal point of the church, and that if he is lifted up, he will draw lots of people to himself. That’s the key to church growth. Jesus up, everybody looks at him, gathers a crowd. That’s how you get a church. Jesus is also the head of the church – final senior authority – Colossians and Ephesians, repeatedly.
Has Jesus Christ been faithful to us? Has Jesus Christ been faithful to us? Has Jesus been faithful to give us places to meet? Has Jesus been faithful to give us technology to use? Has Jesus been faithful to send us servants to serve? Has Jesus been faithful to give us leaders to lead? Yes! Has there been a lot of grace here? Yes! Has there been a lot of peace and favor and blessing here? Yes! And here’s what Paul is saying, to you and I, and to the Corinthians. He is saying, “God is faithful. Will you be faithful? Will you respond to God faithfully or not?”
That’s the question that I leave for all of you to consider – all of you to consider. Will you respect spiritual authority? Will you hate sin? Will you love the church? Will you do your part, or will you not? God is faithful. Will we be faithful in response to God? At this point in our service we always give you a chance to respond. Repent of sin. Give your life to Jesus. Ask him to forgive you – be your God. Become a Christian. Repent of the way of life and thinking and acting you’ve been living as a hypocritical Christian. If God has been good to you, thank him, praise him. Be glad that you see his transforming work in your life.
When you’re ready, give of your tithes and offerings. Participate in communion, remembering Jesus’ body and bloodshed for our sin. Sing and celebrate, because the church, he says, are those people who call on the name of the Lord. So each in our own way today, in prayer and in worship, we will call on the name of the Lord – that his grace will enable us to each do our part as the family of God.
Once Paul founded the church at Corinth he left to pursue other ministry opportunities in Ephesus. Although the church was likely small, perhaps only fifty people, it quickly turned into a crisis as supposed Christians sprinted into heresy and moral sin. Some church members were so distressed that they visited Paul to notify him of the mess and seek his counsel.