1st Sunday in Advent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
I Corinthians 1:1-9 Sermon
November 27, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
3 "The Advent Of Our God"
1 "Hark A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
13 "Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending"
437 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
GOD DOES IT ALL
TEXT (vs. 4-5a): “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way…”
I’ve found it quite amazing within the past number of years at the vast number of so-called “self-help” things that are available. You know the type of thing that I’m talking about. People have flooded the bookstores with books on everything from how to make a million dollars without ever getting out of your easy chair, to how to have a more happy existence, to how to make romance work in your life.
And then there are those who are offering for sale, over the television, courses on how to succeed in business or how to be a real estate entrepreneur. And for a mere 4 easy payments of $29.95, you can get books, tapes, and testimonials to show how you, too can become such a great success. Of course, nobody ever mentions how rich the people selling these courses are getting!
If we look at all of these self-help type of programs that are being sold, they all have one thing in common—and that is the idea that YOU can be whatever YOU want to be. If you want to get rich in real estate, then all YOU have to do is make up YOUR mind to do it, and it will happen. And that’s about the size of it.
Naturally there’s nothing really wrong with doing some hard work and earning a living. There’s nothing wrong with being well off financially. However the attitude that is being projected so often is the idea that success begins and ends with the person themselves. This “me” orientation begins to infect a person and spread like a cancer, until a person begins to see success and achievement strictly on the basis of what I have done, and this is all thanks to ME. This “me-ism” is becoming the central theme of western civilization, and is even infecting the thoughts and mindsets of Christians.
However, the Christian is reminded time and again by the words of Holy Scripture that success in one’s life and one’s various achievements are not thanks to “ME,” but thanks to GOD. God gives various gifts and abilities to people as blessings, and not as a result of something within a person. The person who attributes all success and achievement to himself or herself, becomes guilty of placing themselves above God, and thereby is guilty of idolatry.
As we turn our thoughts to our text for today, which are the words of our Epistle lesson, they seem at the outset to be quite simple. We find Paul giving encouragement and thanks for the Corinthian congregation.
Today, we are right at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It’s interesting to note that Paul wrote to the congregation at Corinth more than he did to any other group or person. Paul, being a God appointed, inspired writer of Scripture the same as Moses, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, has some very special things to say. Even though he’s writing these words to the Corinthians and addressing their various situations, he’s also writing those same words to us, and to our congregation. It is important then that we view this not as mere history of a particular time in the Christian church, but as words that are spoken to us as fresh and as clear as the day they were written.
As I mentioned before, it seems that these first few verses of our text are really quite simple. But with this simplicity comes a resounding refrain throughout the whole text. God does it all!
Paul, if he were to base his thinking in the more modern “me-istic” way of doing things, could have given himself a lot of credit. After all, Paul, being one of the greatest New Testament missionaries, had some tremendous congregations going. Paul was an intelligent man, a terrific writer, and a master theologian. Even though Paul was beset with various hardships and persecutions, he had quite a faithful group of followers, and some tremendous accomplishments. Paul was famous! Now Paul, had he been thinking as these “self-help” books instruct, could have become rather proud and arrogant in his thinking.
But Paul, this very learned and gifted man, makes the statement just a little further on in I Corinthians chapter 2 verse 2: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul knew exactly where his gifts and abilities came from, and who should receive the credit.
And so we find that refrain repeated throughout this text. Paul begins his letter by pointing out God working first in himself, and then in the whole of the Corinthian congregation. It wasn’t Paul working, or Paul speaking, but God working, and God acting that made the Corinthians grow and prosper.
When we examine the tone of this letter, we don’t find Paul patting himself on the back for his own conversion, nor do we find Paul congratulating the Corinthians for finding Christ and making their own decision to follow him. No, Paul points out that it is Jesus Christ that called him by the will of God, and the church at Corinth was called by God, along with all others everywhere who confess Christ as Saviour. This is God working, and not Paul or the other believers. God is doing it all, God is doing all the work, and Paul gives God the glory—not only for the faith of the Corinthians, but for all believers everywhere.
Paul is therefore writing to us. In the verses leading up to our text for today, reading from verse 2, we should read the address to Paul’s letter this way: “To the church of God in [Seward], to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That makes it a little bit more personal, doesn’t it?
And then we can imagine Paul writing to us: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” That grace which Paul is talking about is renewal, which is our rebirth in the Holy Spirit.
Look at us! We have been a group of people, who being lost in our trespasses and sins, have experienced this grace of God in Jesus Christ. God has given each one of us this new life. God working through the Holy Spirit led each of us to see our lost and sinful state. In our natural sinful state, on our own, it is impossible to see the impending doom of unbelief. But God worked in our lives, as he worked in the lives of the Corinthians. God showed us what was ahead for an unbeliever, and then he graciously leads us to faith. He shows us the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
“Repent and believe the Gospel,” Jesus tells us. Believe in Jesus as your Saviour. Trust in him only for the forgiveness of your sins. There’s no other way to be free from the impending doom of unbelief. Look only to Jesus as your Saviour. Nothing else, no works, no good deed, no self-help courses will give you forgiveness and everlasting life. Only Jesus. Look to him through the eyes of faith.
This is the grace of God that was given to the Corinthians, and all other believers. This is the grace of God that has been given to the church at Seward.
But you see, this is God working. This wasn’t the Corinthians, or the people in this congregation. Paul saw it with the Corinthians, as we see it with each and every one of us. Our conversion, our faith, and our continuing hope is God working with us both in the past and right now. We can’t claim conversion as a personal decision made on our own. As sinful creatures, with our thoughts being naturally sinful and alienated from God all the time, it is absolutely impossible for us to choose God and the grace he offers. There is no “self-help” course to relieve us from sin!
The way is then, not a “self-help” course, but a “God-help” course. That acceptance of Christ as our Saviour, and our conversion was purely and completely an act of God the Holy Spirit. This is something that, rather than taking credit for it ourselves, we thank God for doing it. Conversion is a miracle only God can work. God does it all.
When God starts working in the hearts of believers, it carries out through the work of the congregation. When faith is there and built up, then God continually blesses such a faith.
In verses 5 and 6 of our text, Paul writes: “For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.”
True believers and indeed blessed. We are continually enriched in every way, because our speaking and knowledge is in the Word of God alone. Jesus says in John 8, 31-32: “If you continue in my Word, then you are my disciples indeed. Then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
By continuing in God’s Word, our testimony about Christ is confirmed in us. We are Christ’s disciples indeed. By having our faith rooted and grounded in Scripture alone, we also know that God is indeed at work in our midst. By preaching and teaching the Scriptures, God is living and active right here. And by putting God’s Word into practice, we know that God is at work in our lives. Is this something we can take credit for? No, but rather something we are to continually thank God for.
How has God blessed our congregation? I think that we could list many ways. None of our success as a group of believers is in any part due to ourselves or anything we have done. It is God working in our midst. If I as a pastor happen to do something that you find particularly inspiring or edifying, just remember that it is in no part my doing, but God’s. Like Luther said regarding his ministry, that if it was left up to him, he could do nothing but bring it all to ruin.
This is true for all of us. Left to our own devices in our congregation, in our faith, and in our lives, that if it was left up to us and our own will, all we could do would be to bring it all to ruin. All our successes, all our knowledge, all our wisdom, is God working in our lives. Yes, God does it all.
With God at work then, Paul writes to us in verse 7 of our text: “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”
God’s working in our midst means that we don’t lack any spiritual gift. It’s all there. The greatest spiritual gift is our faith, and as true believers, we don’t lack that faith. That faith which God has given us, which leads us to grasp that grace of God by which we have been redeemed through Christ our Saviour, truly shows how God has worked and continues to work in each one of us.
The final verses of our text today give us a great deal of comfort. In verses 8 and 9 Paul writes to us: “He [God] will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
What a wonderful thought to finish with! With God working through us, by us leaving everything in God’s hands, with God doing it all, he will keep us strong to the end. And why? Because God is faithful. Human beings are fickle and undependable. If left in human hands, we wouldn’t last a day. But as a congregation and a group of believers, we have this promise that God will keep us strong to the end, because he is faithful. And that is a great comfort to us. God promises to keep on working and doing it all, because God is at work in all of us now. We can be assured of heaven and eternal life because God will be faithful to his promise.
There will always be self-help courses available on just about any subject you can imagine—how to be happy, how to be rich, how to find love and romance, how to influence other people, how to be the best in just about everything. But there is no self-help course where our faith and salvation are concerned. There is no room for arrogance and pride when it comes to Christianity and conversion. We can’t save ourselves or give ourselves faith.
Rather, it’s all a type of “God-help” course—God working through the Word. As individual believers and as a congregation, we recognize that God has done it all. He has blessed us individually and as a group. And we see God continuing to work in our midst in many ways. And he will continue to do so, just as he has promised. Thanks be to God for the grace he has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.