Sunday, January 16, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

16 January 2011
MasterPiece Church

It’s your lucky day. As you leave here this morning you look down on the ground and see a lottery ticket which has blown into the parking lot.

You slip it into your pocket and on the way home stop off at the Circle K for a 44-oz Thirst Buster. As you’re waiting in line you see the print-out of last night’s winners. So you pull out your new parking-lot-worn lottery ticket -- and to your amazement -- the numbers all match. And you are $82 million rich!

So, here is the question. After you make a hefty and significant contribution to MasterPiece and give thick envelopes of cash to everyone here this morning -- what are you going to do with all that money?

What would you my friend do if you suddenly found yourself rich?

[DISCUSSION -- Informally ask congregation what they'd do with their $82 million.]

You know, God never promises wealth. To the contrary, Jesus often talks about the dangers of being rich -- at least financially rich. And as you know rich is always what the other guy is or what we could be. Generally speaking, we don’t think of ourselves as rich. But God wants us to -- at least in a certain sense.

1 Corinthians 1:5 -- “ were made rich through him in everything.”

This phrase is a part of the introduction to the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth. The church in Corinth was one of the most dysfunctional churches in history. We could spend hours talking about their problems. And Paul was writing this letter to address some of them. Yet, in spite of their spiritually impoverished condition, he starts out by reminding them of how rich they are.

The NLT renders this verse -- verse 5 -- “Through him, God has enRICHed your church in every way...” And notice that the NLT properly picks up on the fact that it is the church which is rich. And while we as individual Christians may be rich -- that is not what Paul is talking about here.

They may be a highly dysfunctional church which has failed to reach its potential and to live up to its calling -- but it is still an enRICHed church. For together we are an enriched people, for we have a rich partnership.

This is the key point -- the main idea this morning -- the thing I want to make sure you grab onto -- WE'VE BEEN SO ENRICHED BY CHRIST THAT WE CAN FREELY FUNCTION IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CHRIST.

Verse 9 -- “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So, what exactly does this mean? Especially for us here in Phoenix in 2011? And as a church just getting going?

Three fairly quick observations this morning -- and then as I said earlier -- I want to open the floor up and allow anyone else who might have a word to say about this passage to comment -- perhaps God is speaking to you about something or you have a different insight than what I’ve got.

So, three quick observations on what it means to be so enriched by Christ that we can freely function in partnership with Christ.


Vs. 2 -- “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, (and you can imagine Paul thinking -- "and he certainly didn’t do it through your sad performance as a church." For they were a sad lot.) He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”

There are some people who don’t like the word holy -- especially when it is applied to churches or people. It carries a lot of holier than thou baggage. But the very fact that Paul applies the term to this sick church in Corinth shows us that he’s not using the word in the way that it is sometimes used in our world.

Holiness as a term does not refer to spiritual achievement or His Holiness Ned Flanders. Rather, holiness primarily refers to purpose.

In the Old Testament temple system there were two kinds of pots or plates. There were profane vessels which could be used for everyday purposes like preparing supper. And there were holy vessels or pots which could only be used in the worship of God.

Holy pots were not significantly different from profane pots in construction -- but God wanted the people to set aside some pots to remind them that when they were dealing with him -- they were not dealing with another person -- not even an ordinary run of the mill street level god.

They were dealing with the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. He is totally other -- with totally other purposes. Mystery.

And when Paul says to us, “He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus...” He is saying that you have been set aside for special purposes. You are like those special pots used in temple worship. Your purpose is exclusive to God.

He is not saying that you are better than everyone else -- or that you always live up to your holiness -- just that in Christ you find a new purpose in life -- you have been set apart -- made holy -- and that purpose is exclusively the service of God.

We’ve been enriched by Christ because we belong to him.

Verse 2 again -- “He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”

That is, all who belong to him.

I’ve always been a group person -- always joining clubs -- always belong to something --
  • Cub Scouts,
  • Junior Forest Rangers,
  • the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers
  • and the California Rare Fruit Growers,
  • ASU alumni,
  • the Laveen Community Council,
  • American Federation of Curmudgeons -- and that’s why I quit my political party.
I’m sure I’m a member of a dozen other groups of some sort -- but my primary membership is in Christ.

That is the holy partnership that defines -- and occasionally limits all other connections. Christ did not die and rise again so that I could become a Republican -- or a Democrat -- or a member of the AARP -- as helpful as those very secondary associations might be. His sacrifice was for a hoy church -- a group set apart exclusively to him and his purposes.


vs. 4 -- I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts (χάριτι) he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words (original doesn’t really say “eloquent” -- but simply words or speaking -- although the strong implication is that they are special words -- so “eloquent words” is actually a very good rendering) with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.

Paul says, the church has been enriched with eloquence and knowledge. The Common English Bible helps us even more with these words -- “ were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication...”

That is, in the ability to persuade -- to woo a crowd with clever communication. This is the gee whiz factor -- the flash -- the pop -- the 3-D -- to ability to create a buzz. And in the Corinthian church knowledge and eloquence were seen as belonging to the realm of the spiritually elite -- the stars -- the beautiful people.

This verse then -- right at the beginning of his letter -- is Paul’s first real scalpel stroke, cutting away at this diseased, festering cancer growing on the skin of the Corinthian church.

And one of the ideas that they had, from which they needed to be healed and freed, was that you had to get some kind of special mystical knowledge to become truly spiritual -- that there needs to be some kind of elite spiritual buzz in your life -- and if you haven’t had that buzz experience you haven’t arrived spiritually.

Throughout the entirety of 1 Corinthians Paul is cutting away at this idea of elite knowledge -- sometimes with sarcasm and wit, sometimes directly, sometimes with crafted subtlety -- as it is here in vs. 4.
What is the most famous chapter in 1 Corinthians -- if not the whole Bible?

Right, 1 Corinthians 13.

13:1 -- “If I could speak all the languages (eloquence) of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (that is, full of annoying meaningless noise). 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.”

Chapter 13 is the apex, the summit, of the argument that Paul starts here in 1:4.

You see, there are always going to be people who try to use religion to advance themselves -- their causes, their reputations, their control, their status.

And in 1 Corinthians Paul is going to cut away at this idea -- slice peel, slice, peel -- until they are free of the cancer and can begin to heal.

Spirituality is not an achievement or exclusive insight or advanced experience. It is simply a gift that is received and used in love. That is the nature of the partnership with Christ. We join with him in loving people. And we can do that because of the rich partnership -- and because we have been set apart as a group of people to be holy.

In other words, we’re set to jet. The gift of Christ is enough -- nothing more needed -- no add ons -- no new apps to buy.

vs. 6 -- “This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He’s given everything you need to be ready for the return of Christ.


From beginning to end it is all about what Christ has done, is doing, and will do. He’s the one that holds the partnership together.

So we need to put our stock and trust in him -- and to live in defining partnership with him -- and him alone.

Vs. 8 --  “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.”

Are you worried about the way that you’ve messed up your life? Not really looking forward to the final chapter because you’re concerned that some of the stuff you’ve done will come back to bite you -- that the blame light will be aimed right at you.

We’ve now spent a week trying to figure out who is to blame for the shootings in Tucson. Regardless of who you think shares in the responsibility I’m sure you can agree that it is no fun to be blamed for something so terrible.

And I’m sure that there were a lot of people playing the “what if game” last week. What if I’d only paid more attention to my son -- to my nephew -- to my friend -- to my student -- maybe he wouldn’t have gone off like that. We’re feeling the subtle or sometimes not so subtle blame of others -- and of ourselves.

But the good news is that if we are in Christ -- he has absorbed the shock of all blame. We can trust him. He’s keep his word.

vs. 9 -- “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The word “partnership” here is “koinonia” which is often rendered in English as “fellowship.” But I’m glad that the NLT used the word partnership here because fellowship has kind of lost some of its meaning -- its punch. We think of fellowship as standing around, drinking coffee, eating cookies -- and there is nothing wrong with that. But fellowship or koinonia also has a very active side to it. It is an action oriented word.

When we are living in fellowship with Christ we are living in partnership with him -- and thus we are fully involved in what he is doing. It is not a silent partnership.

We are actively using the riches that he has given to us -- eloquence, knowledge, and everything else including money, relationships, wisdom, energy. It’s all a part of the partnership tool bag.

And while very few of us are rich to the tune of $82 million -- we are rich in so many other ways. Our partnership is holier, deeper, and more profound.

God has made us rich in Christ so that we can function in partnership with him to carry out his mission -- so that we can help him start family farms in Congo, help with relief in Haiti, be a voice of divine sanity in our offices, schools, and neighborhoods -- so that we can comfort the afflicted -- and afflict the comfortable.

We partner with Christ to call people to give up their addictions and their habits -- to leave behind their sins to put their faith in him and to follow him -- to become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.

We partner with Christ to pass along a dream of his -- a dream where we fully and justly embrace the humanity in which we were created by him -- “...a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

I want you to imagine what it would be like to be rich -- what you'd be able to do with all that wealth. But more importantly I want you to realize that you are rich. For we've been enriched.  We are holy partners with Christ -- a whole lot better than finding the winning lottery ticket.

We’ve been so enriched by Christ that we can freely function in partnership with Christ.

At this point I want to open the floor up and ask if you might have a word to say about this passage -- perhaps God is speaking to you his morning about something you’ve heard or you might have a different insight to add.

[DISCUSSION -- Several people volunteered to share additional  insights from the passage.]

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH  -- based on Ephesians 2:4-10 (NLT), read collectively

God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that we have been saved!)  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved us by his grace when we believed. And we can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

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