Sunday, February 23, 2014

We Are Built on the Foundation of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 Last week we heard the Good News that we are God’s building—that far from abandoning us or giving up on us when we do not progress in our Christian faith as fast and as far as we should—God continues to patiently build us up just like a construction manager raising a building from the earth one girder at a time.
Today we hear just exactly what kind of structure God is building out of our lives:  that we Christians are the temple of God—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit!  As we meditate on God’s Word, we are going to talk about the foundation for that temple—and how it is built—and what it means that we are the temple of God.  Paul writes:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
            Earlier in our sermon series we heard Paul say that he consciously made a decision to proclaim nothing else than Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world.  This “word of the cross” was the necessary foundation for everything else that would follow and without that foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness a dwelling place for God could never be built in our life! 
The irreducible minimum for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confident faith and trust in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sins of the world—that in him, we have a life with God.  The foundation for that life was laid by Jesus 2,000 years ago and it still stands today and to try and build a life with God apart from this foundation is impossible.
Just like with any building—if the foundation is not sound—the structure itself cannot remain standing.  That is why Christian pastors are so insistent that Jesus Christ is preached and taught to God’s people—because the foundation must be true if the spiritual temple built upon it is true.
Not only must the foundation be sound—but the living, breathing temple of God that is built upon it in our lives must also be constructed out of those things that are true and beautiful and precious and lasting.  Paul writes:
If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done
            Paul laid the foundation for the temple of God that was being built out of believers’ lives there in Corinth.  He showed himself to be a skilled, master builder.  But he could not stay there forever—other pastors would be responsible for the spiritual building project in that place and throughout the world as the Church grew. 
The pastors who followed him in Corinth—and the pastors who serve God’s people today-- have the same responsibility to choose spiritual bricks and mortar and girders and beams that are the best. 
None of us would intentionally let a contractor choose cheap building materials when it comes to our homes.  How much more do we need to hear and heed these words of Paul that what our living, breathing, eternal temples ought to be built out of-- is the very best—what Paul calls gold, silver, and precious stones!
Paul is using a word picture for those things that are true and beautiful and good and lasting.  In other words, pastors have a responsibility to build on the foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness by faithfully using the Word and Sacraments to build up the people of God into a beautiful dwelling place for God. 
But you folks also have a responsibility to insist that, when it comes to building up your spiritual life, your pastor preaches the Gospel faithfully and administers the sacraments according to Christ’s institution.  You have a responsibility to use of the means of grace and study his Word.  You have a responsibility to avoid those things that can tear down the temple that God is building in your lives. 
Paul calls these of things wood, hay, and straw and they are being used all over Christendom.  Marketing strategies and gimmicks—sermons that could just as easily be delivered at self-improvement and self-empowerment seminars—lies and false gospels nowhere taught in the Bible.  None of this rubbish is suitable to build up the people of God for it will not endure his judgment!
There is coming a Day when what has been used to build living, breathing temples for God will be shown for what it is:  that which can endure the purifying fire of God—or--that which will be burned up as chaff on the Last Day.  Paul writes:
If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Pastors and people who have made use of that which is valuable and good and lasting will receive their reward.  Those who have used what is cheap and temporary will see their life’s work reduced to ashes—though God promises to save even those folks if only the foundation of Jesus Christ remains true. 
But those who have ruined that foundation—those who tried to build on something else—will be destroyed.  Paul writes:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
            When we understand who we really are, then we will understand everything that Paul is teaching us today about the importance of using the spiritual building blocks of life.  We ARE God’s temple:  the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—our lives set apart for the living presence of God—each part of it holy to the Lord.
The only way for that to be true is to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and the only way for us to endure the fire of God’s judgment-- is for each part of our spiritual life to be built out of spiritual building blocks that God himself gives in Word and Sacrament.  God desires that this living, breathing temple that he has made out of our lives would endure forever.  
To destroy that temple by tearing down the foundation of Jesus that it is built upon —is to engage in outright warfare against the purpose and plans of God himself—and with that rebellion will come destruction.  Paul writes:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”  So let no one boast in men.
            The world regards the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness--and yet the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is really the strength and wisdom of God.  We know this and believe this to be true!  But none of us are immune from the temptation to set that rock-solid foundation aside. 
The devil tempts us to boredom when it comes to hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus each weak and gives us itching ears to hear something new. 
Our own flesh regards the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood as an occasional extra rather than an essential building block of faith that builds us up as a temple to God.
Pastors and congregations and church bodies want to treat the church as a business, and employ the methods of the world to accomplish its mission rather than step out in faith with the values and ways and tools of the Kingdom. 
Paul calls this so-called wisdom:  folly—with the only cure for it a return to the cross and the man who died there.  There in that place and in that man is where we find all that we need for this life and the life to come.  Paul writes:
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
            For the child of God, there is no need to pick and choose which pastor to align ourselves with-- for they are merely servants to bring us to Christ and bestow Christ’s gifts upon us.  There is no reason to pick and choose which events and circumstances to regard as blessings from God-- for all things work for our eternal good and are a part of the temple he is building in our lives.
Joys and sorrows are written into the blueprint of our lives as a necessary part of the dwelling place he is constructing in us.  Even death now serves his purposes as the tool God uses to move us from this earthly life to our eternal heavenly life.  All things become part of his construction plan for the sake of Jesus who has chosen to make us his dwelling place and earthly temple.
The Good News for us today is that we are the temple of God.  A rock-solid foundation for our life has been laid in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God himself has appointed workmen—his fellow servants to build us up spiritually through Word and Sacrament. 
And God is carefully working out his perfect plan for our lives so that they would be a shining, glorious example of what it means that God chooses to make his dwelling with men.  May God grant this to be true of each of us for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

God Grant Us Spiritual Growth!

1 Corinthians 3:1-9  Paul once said about his own life of faith:  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.   God expects the same of us-- that we would “grow up” spiritually into the mature sons and daughters that he created us, redeemed us, and sanctified us to be. 
Over the course of our lives, God wants us to become more mature in our Christian faith—more mature in our Christian worldview—more mature in our Christian life.  That’s what we’re going to talk about today:  what spiritual immaturity is- what undermines our spiritual growth -and how we can “grow up” spiritually into mature believer in Christ.  Paul writes:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…
When someone tells us to “grow up” it’s difficult to hear that in any other way than as an insult—and we quickly get defensive.  That’s why I want you to focus on that one little word that begins our text and let is inform us as to how we are to hear these words to “grow up”—and that is the word “brother.” 
Paul addressed the Corinthian Christians—and he addresses the Kingsville Christians—as brothers and sisters in Christ—members of the same household of faith—children of the same heavenly Father.  And so God’s command through Paul to “grow up”-- is spoken out of genuine love and concern for our spiritual well-being—that there would be growth and progress and maturity in our spiritual life.
When people in Corinth began coming to faith in Jesus and then joined together in a Christian congregation—they were infants in the faith—they were newly re-born believers in Jesus—just beginning to learn what it meant to be a child of God.    
And so Paul taught them simply:  he told them about their sin and need for God—he told them about the Savior God had given in Christ—he told them how the Spirit had worked to bring them to life.  It’s the same thing we do in Sunday School & confirmation & new member classes.  And through the word of the cross they became children of God.
Five years had passed from the founding of that congregation to this letter—five years from when they came to faith in Jesus-- to where they found themselves spiritually when they received this letter.  The problem was:  they hadn’t progressed much at all in those five years—they were still infants in the faith—they hadn’t grown up or matured.
When it comes our children’s physical growth and maturation—five years is a phenomenal amount of time—a newborn baby that is absolutely helpless, incapable of communication, and barely aware its surroundings, five years later has become a little boy with lunch box heading off to the first day of school.  Fantastic progress!
But those five years between the Corinthians being born again- and the occasion of this letter- had not yielded five years worth of spiritual growth and maturity.  Yes, they were saved—yes, they were Christians—but they hadn’t grown up in their faith.
What about us?  What positive changes have the last five years brought in our life of faith?  Do we have a deeper knowledge of the things of God?  Have we grown in Christ-likeness?  Are we more spiritually mature today than we were back then? 
That’s what our heavenly Father wants to see in his children.  But if not, then these words from Paul about the need to “grow up” spiritually-- are spoken to us too. 
And so what was the problem that was impeding the Corinthian’s growth in the faith?  What is it that keeps us from becoming mature Christians?  Paul writes:
You are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 
            Earlier in our sermon series on these opening chapters of First Corinthians we talked about how there was division in the congregation stemming from their individual attachments to some pastor who had served them—how, what should have been a harmless preference-- had turned into a hurtful problem in that place. 
In their hearts they were jealous of one another—each wanted the prestige that came from being attached to some great pastor.  And this attitude showed up in how they treated one another—fussing and fighting and failing to get along.  Jealousy and strife was the sinful attitude and behavior—but what was at the root of it went much deeper.
            The Corinthians were living according to the flesh.  In other words, they were living like the unbelieving world around them—living according to their old, sinful nature-- living as if they had never come to faith at all.  That new person that they were through faith in Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
What about us?  It doesn’t have to be strife or jealousy or divisiveness that reveals an immature Christian faith. 
 Anytime some facet of our lives looks like the unbelieving world rather than Jesus—anytime our actions and attitudes are guided by our flesh rather than the Spirit—there is a lack of spiritual maturity in that part of our lives and we need to grow up.  And so how does that happen—this spiritual growth that God is looking for in us?  Paul says:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
            The solution to growing up spiritually begins with knowledge--that we know and understand what God’s will is for our lives-- and what he teaches about each part of our lives as his people.  We don’t chastise kindergartners for only knowing their A, B, C’s but neither are we content that they possess only that knowledge when they get to fifth grade.  They should have matured in the things they know and their ability to do them—their knowledge ought to have expanded. 
That’s what Paul was doing for the Corinthians in these verses.  He told them that, not only was their thinking about the pastors who have served them incorrect and sinful, he also explained how they ought to think about their pastors—that pastors were merely servants who did the thing that needed to be done for the people of God in that moment. 
The same process is needed if there is some facet of our lives that has not attained spiritual maturity.  We need to learn what God wants from us and what he forbids to us.  We need to search God’s Word for what our heavenly Father has to say and order our lives accordingly.  But to do that—we need God’s help. 
Our heavenly Father is the One who caused us to be born again and he is the One who helps us grow up in our faith to reach spiritual maturity.  Paul writes:  For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
            Earlier in the sermon I mentioned how important it was that we hear this call to “grow up” spoken in the context of that word “brother”—that Paul has our best interests at heart when he tells us to “grow up”.  I hope these closing words will provide the same comfort. 
When we look back at the last five years of our lives of faith, maybe we don’t see a lot of spiritual growth—maybe we haven’t become more Christ-like—maybe our knowledge of the things of God hasn’t really deepened all that much-maybe we are not the spiritually mature Christians we ought to be by now. It’s easy to become discouraged. 
But Paul reminds us:  We are God’s field.  We are God’s building.  In other words, the God who saved us by the blood of his Son hasn’t given up on us anymore than we give up on our children when we are teaching them to tie their shoes or ride a bike. 
Like a farmer plowing a field or a craftsman constructing a building—God is at work in us.  He knows what he is looking for in us and so he patiently works through pastors (his fellow workers) to shape us into a finished product:  the mature Christian who is fruitful in good works and whose life is beautiful monument to the glory of God and the goodness of Christ.
When we listen to God’s Word and study the Bible in Sunday School and receive the Sacrament of the Altar—there in those moments-- and through that man-- and by those humble means—God is at work in us, helping us to grow up in our faith in Jesus. 
And God wants us to put that faith into practice.  It’s been such fun watching Emma and Rhett learn to walk.  There has been a lot of bumps and bruises but they didn’t give up and now they have almost left crawling behind.  So it must be for us when it comes to stepping out in faith, putting away childish things, and growing up in our faith.
Most of us have seen the bumper sticker:  “Be patient—God’s not finished with me yet” and usually we can add our hearty “Amen!”  But the good news is that slogan is true of us too. 
We’re not as mature a Christian as we ought to be.  We haven’t grown up into all that God wants us to be.  But the Lord’s not finished with us yet and he will help us to grow up in our faith as we hear his Word and receive the sacrament.  Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Taught by the Spirit, We Believe!

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 This last month we have been looking at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  We have talked about how the bible answers the great questions of life:  who am I—what is my life’s purpose—and where am I going when this life is over. 
We talked about how the answer to those questions—Jesus Christ—has united us to one another and to God. 
And then last week we talked about how this “word of the cross” that unites us as Christians, also has the power to divide us from those who are not Christians.
            The assumption that lies behind what we have learned is that we believe what Paul has to say:  that the great questions of life are answered by Jesus—that his atoning sacrifice has united us to God and to one another in the church—that there is a division between those who have faith and those who don’t.  These things we believe.
But what we haven’t asked yet is this:  Where did this faith--come from?  How I am able to believe God’s Word and trust in Jesus Christ when so many in the world around me—do not?  The answer to that question is the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives--and that is what Paul talks about today.  He says:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
            The Corinthians would have expected that anyone coming to them with some new, important message would have been a persuasive speaker and a great debater like they were used to hearing from the philosophers of their day.  They would have expected what Paul calls:   “lofty speech and plausible words of wisdom”. 
But Paul made a conscious decision NOT to do that.  In fact, he says that when he spoke to them he was “weak and fearful and trembling”.  But his message was life-changing!  I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And in their lives-that message- was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
The Corinthians began their journey of faith where everyone begins their journey of faith--regarding the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness—spiritually dead.  But as Jesus Christ was preached to them, the Holy Spirit worked through that message and their hearts were changed- and their eyes were opened- and they were born again—and what was weakness and foolishness to them become wisdom and strength.
This remarkable change wasn’t accomplished because Paul was a great speaker—it wasn’t accomplished because he won some argument—it was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word of the cross. 
So it is in our life of faith.  The pastors who baptized us and taught us the faith and preached to us all these years didn’t save us.  Rather, our salvation comes through the work of the Spirit as the message of the cross is preached and given in the sacraments.
The value of God’s way of bringing us to faith, is that there can be no doubt that it is his work that we are saved—not because we were caught up in some emotional event—not because we were taken in by some smooth-talking preacher—but because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in Jesus in our hearts. 
That rock-solid foundation for our faith is something that transcends the passing wisdom of this age.  Paul writes:
Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
            The wisdom of God is not like the wisdom of this day that can be known through reason and measured scientifically—nevertheless, it is real wisdom.  In fact, it is a wisdom that never fades away, unlike various scientific theories that have come and gone along with the scientists who came up with them. 
Instead, the wisdom of God endures from everlasting to everlasting for its source is from before the foundation of the world and will continue long after every lab and university has crumbled into dust.
            God’s eternal purpose in creating the world and creating us is that we would live with him forever in perfect fellowship—his glory reflected upon us- and in us -and through us- to others. 
This is what Paul calls “the secret and hidden wisdom of God”—secret and hidden only because our eyes cannot see it or our hearts imagine it—secret and hidden because it musts be revealed to us.
This wisdom of God (his desire that humans would have fellowship with him) is possible only through his Son.  Jesus is the bridge that connects us to God.  The greatest minds of the ages could never have conceived such a thing—because if they could, they never would have crucified the one and only God-given way back to God.
But what sinful man did in spiritual blindness--God designed and decreed for the eternal glory of those who love him so that Jesus’ death would bring everlasting life with God back to us. 
Life in God’s presence is why we were created and God’s eternal saving purpose cannot be reasoned out by us, it has to be revealed to us through the Spirit.  Paul writes:
The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
            What God has planned from eternity for our salvation—what Jesus has accomplished in his dying and rising for our salvation—has to be revealed to us- and made known to us- and we have to understand it and believe in it and be saved. 
Without the Spirit’s work in us, the loving purpose of the Father and the saving works of the Son will do us no good whatsoever.  Those who do not believe in Jesus are lost.  Yes God loves them—yes Jesus died for them—but each person must receive that for themselves in faith to be saved.  We need the help of the Holy Spirit for this. 
The Spirit knows the wisdom of God for he IS God.  Just as our own spirit knows what is in our hearts and minds, so the Holy Spirit knows the saving will of God towards us and conveys it to us through the preaching of the cross of Christ.  Paul writes:
We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 
In Romans chapter 10 Paul carefully explains this necessary connection between “our believing” and the “Spirit’s work” and the “preaching of the Gospel by men”.
He says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead—we will be saved. 
But then he asks the question that we began with:  How can we call on the Lord if we don’t believe in him?  How can we believe in him if we’ve never heard of him?  How can we hear of him if no one preaches? 
The Holy Spirit is the One who brings us to faith in Jesus --he is the One who reveals the saving will of the Father—he is the One who stretches out our hand to receive the gifts of God.  But the Holy Spirit does that enlightening, sanctifying work through the Gospel that is preached- and the sacraments that are administered by pastors. 
Paul says: WE IMPART THIS (THAT IS SALVATION) IN WORDS TAUGHT BY THE SPIRIT.  When the pastor preaches the Good News of Jesus-when he baptizes us into Christ’s death and resurrection-when he administers the saving fruits of the cross in Holy Communion-when he tells us that our sins are forgiven-we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Gospel to impart God’s gift of salvation to us.  Paul says: 
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
            Jesus once told Nicodemus:  You must be born again—flesh give birth to flesh—but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  Paul says the same thing here:  the person that we are by nature-- cannot accept the things of God—we must be born again spiritually. 
This new birth is not something that we can bring about in ourselves anymore than we were responsible for giving birth to ourselves naturally—we must be born again by God.
            That is exactly what the Holy Spirit has done in us by the Father’s will through faith in Jesus.  We no longer possess only a sinful nature—but now we are a new person spiritually.  We have been given the ability to know and understand and believe the wisdom of God that is hidden from our senses and our intellect.  We have a spiritual knowledge and insight and confidence that the world does not—and cannot—have.
            The judgment of the unbelieving world on those things that matter eternally—those things that we have been talking about over this last month—are simply wrong.
They don’t know the answer to life’s great questions.  They don’t believe that Jesus has reconciled them to God.  They think everyone will be saved.  Who God is- and what he is about in the world- and what his attitude is towards us—is hidden to them—BUT—it has been revealed to us in Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
            Today we give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  He has brought us to faith and he will work in our lives to keep us in faith until that day that we are safely delivered into the presence of the Lord.  Amen.