Sermon Date: January 23, 0911
Sermon By: Pastor Dale Raether
Scripture: I Corinthians 1:10-17
We Are Lights Together... as We Keep Our Focus on Jesus
Here’s a satellite picture of the United States at night. Can you see where Brevard County is? If every light in Florida were suddenly turned off, could you still see Brevard? You might be able guess where it, but you wouldn’t want to bet your life on it. And now imagine every light in Florida was turned off except for the here at New Hope. Would that be enough light to see it from space? Probably not! You need either a very bright light or many lights together to pierce the darkness.
So it is for spiritual darkness. Last week a 23 year old Palm Pay woman was arrested for child neglect. Her apartment had no electricity; the toilet was so dirty they had to use the neighbor’s; trash and dirty diapers were piled everywhere, yet the children had to sleep on the floor, while strangers were constantly coming in and out. How does a 23 year old grow up to be that kind of a mom? That mom is living in spiritual darkness, which only the light of Jesus can pierce. But Jesus is in heaven and now we are His light. This morning we’re beginning a six part series on I Corinthians called, “We Are Lights Together.” Our first section gives us our starting point and the hub around which all our beliefs and values revolve. We are Lights Together as We Keep our Focus on Christ.
The city of Corinth was a very difficult place to grow a church. It had a population of around 200,000. But because it was a port city and had lots of Greek temples, its main industry was sex. This was not a good place to raise a family. Another problem was they idolized human wisdom. They would compete for who sounded the smartest. As a result even church members sometimes scoffed at God the Son being crucified and especially at the resurrection. On top of this, there was also a lot plain ol’ selfishness. For example when they had potlucks, the rich would eat first, and the poor got the leftovers, if there were any. Talk about a friendly church lighting up the community! And oh yeah there was one more problem. The congregation was divided on which pastor they needed to listen to and which members had the best ideas for getting the congregation moving.
Our text reads, I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. – I Corinthians 1:10 Notice, Paul calls this rowdy bunch, “brothers.” Paul isn’t schmoozing them. He’s stating a fact. In spite of everything that was wrong, there was something that was right. The seed of faith had been planted in them. But that tender plant needed to be carefully watered and nurtured with the Word. Also, they each needed to see their own connection to Christ, which was the same as every other member’s connection to Christ.
We read on in our text, My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? – I Corinthians 1:11-13 This section reminds me of when the Pharisees accused Jesus of performing miracles by the power of the devil. Jesus told them, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” So it is here, it wouldn’t make sense that Christ would be promoting one set of truths and values through Paul, a different set of truths and values through Apollos, and a third set through Cephas. For just as there is only one Christ, there can only be one set of truths and values.
But what happens if Christians can’t agree on what those truths and values are? That’s how we end up with lots of different denominations, with each one claiming to have the truth. Well, that’s the way it used to be. Now many denominations are saying they’re not sure what truth is so let’s agree to disagree. Not knowing what the true is weakens faith. Agree to disagree ultimately destroys faith and results in spiritual darkness. For example did God create the world in 6 literal, 24 hour days, or is Genesis a figurative way of saying God guided evolution? Or, here’s another debate. Was Jesus born of a virgin, or does the word virgin in the Bible simply mean a young woman, who may or may not be a virgin? One more example – did Jesus rise physically from the grave or did He rise only in the sense that He lives on in the hearts of people who believe in Him? Both sets cannot be true at the same time. However, how can every one of us be sure that we have the truth, and when we are united in the truth, how do we keep it that way?
As we work our way through this sermon series for the next five weeks, I’ll be sharing with you basic rules of Biblical interpretation. These rules are objective, verifiable, and anyone can master them. As a result even a congregation like Corinth can be united in mind and thought. Or, in today’s terms, even people with a Catholic, a Baptist, a Methodist or a Lutheran background can come to the same convictions and attitudes. Our text this morning points us to first and most important key to understanding the Bible. Paul had asked the Corinthians if they had been baptized into his name. The obvious answer was, “No, they were baptized into Christ’s name.” Paul was pointing out that our focus needs to stay on Christ and what He did for us. Luke 24 put it this way.Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:45-47
Repentance is changing our thinking from sin is fun to sin brings death, and from I can save myself to only God can save me. Forgiveness is everything that has to do with the Gospel and how God the Son died and rose again, and how he gives His righteousness to us through faith, which He Himself works in us through Word and Sacrament. So, then, since this is what the Bible is about, if we want to correctly understand it, we must desire more than anything in the world that we possess God’s righteousness. If that’s what we truly want, everything in the Bible falls into place for us. It all fits together and make sense.
On the other hand if someone doesn’t think he needs God’s righteousness, because his own is good enough, to the extent he feels that way, he will not be able to understand the Bible. He can read it, he can even memorize it, but Paul says it’s like there’s a veil over his heart, and that’s why he keeps twisting it, or picking and choosing and scoffing at the rest.
But now let’s put on the glasses of wanting to have the righteousness God gives and let’s look again at those conflicting beliefs I mentioned earlier. Did God create the world in 6 - 24 hour days or did He simply guide its evolution? If it’s evolution, death did not come into the world through sin. Death always just was and hopefully we’re evolving into something better. We cannot believe that, if we’re listening to our conscience that the wages of sin is death. The second example I mentioned was the Virgin Birth. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, as some say, than He’s an ordinary man. If Jesus is an ordinary man, who lived a holy life for us and who died in our place on the cross? No one did, which leaves us on our own to earn our righteousness, which we can’t do. But do you see why we can’t agree to disagree on Bible doctrine? We need to know exactly what God is telling us, because what’s in the balance is where our soul spends eternity. The third example I used was Jesus’ resurrection. Because He physically rose, we know that He is God and everything He said is true. Also, because He died carrying our sins and now He lives, we know that our sins are paid for. And finally because our sins are paid for, His resurrection means that our bodies too will be physically raised up and will live forever on the new earth He will create. There is no way we can change or agree to disagree on any of this – not when we know we will stand in the presence of His awesome holiness and will receive for Jesus’ sake.
Okay, so God wants us to be united in mind and thought on these big points of Scripture. Do we also have to be united in mind and thought on the finer points? Well, what does Jesus say? Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and by teaching all things I have commanded you. Still why is everything in the Bible that important?Perhaps I can use a bicycle wheel to demonstrate. Some wheels have as many as 40 spokes. Each spoke has to be in the right position between the hub and the rim, and each spoke has to be tightened to right tension. If one is missing, or if some are too tight or too loose, you could be riding along. You hit a bump, the rim bends and you crash your bike. Hopefully you’re wearing a helmet. But if a bike wheel is built right, it’s strong enough to land an airplane, because they used to do that.
In the same way, Christ is the hub of our salvation. Every teaching in the Bible is like a spoke. There are a lot of bumps in life, but our faith will remain strong and our salvation will keep rolling along, as we learn everything He has taught us and by staying perfectly united with each other in mind and thought.
Please join us for the next 5 weeks. Paul will show each of us how we can more clearly see His light and then share His light with others. So, will we then be able to reach that 23 year old woman I mentioned at the start? I don’t know. But we can pray for her and her children. Also, by being lights together, there are tragedies out there waiting to happen, God can use us to prevent. Yes, this is hard work. It’s easier to do nothing. It’s easier to agree to disagree on everything or just be divided. But that’s not what God has called us to. He has called us to be lights together in Christ. Amen.