The Power of the Gospel to Transform a Dysfunctional Church (1 Corinthians Sermon 1)
June 03, 2018 | Andrew Davis
Book Overviews, Church Dysfunction
Descending Into the Muck
Turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians. My purpose today is to just give an overview of the 16 chapters, and as I do, I think about where we've recently been in the preaching ministry of this church and where we're going, and the dichotomy, the difference, the contrast between those two is rather stark. It reminded me of a moment in Jesus' life in ministry in which he (now this is in Matthew 17) took Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain and there he was transfigured before them, before their eyes, and his face became as radiant as the sun, shining in all his brilliance, and his clothes became as white as the light. And they fell down trembling, and a cloud surrounded them, and a voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased." And they had the ultimate mountain top experience with Jesus.
But as they came down off that mountain top experience, they came back down into the muck of everyday life in ministry. Because what had happened while those three apostles were up on the mountain with Jesus is the other nine apostles were down in the valley blowing it big time, because a man brought his demon-possessed son to them to drive out the demon. This demon seized control of this man's son, and had done for many years, often driving him in a suicidal manner into the fire or the water, and the father again and again was rescuing his son from death, and heard that there was a ministry, Jesus and some men that could drive out demons. Matthew 10 had already happened, Jesus had already empowered them to go out and do exactly that, but they were completely ineffective.
And the man had very little faith at that point, frankly in Jesus or in his followers, saying, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us?" And Jesus responded, thinking about his church, thinking about his apostles, with these words, "Oh, unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." And later the nine who were unable, they came to Jesus privately (that was probably wise) said, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" Jesus said, "This kind can come out only by prayer." Now, you stop and think about that. They didn't pray. In their own strength they tried to drive out the demon, and they completely failed.
And so as we go from Revelation 21 and 22, the church in its radiant glory and perfection, perfected in the presence of God, shining like the sun, with all of her sins completely removed and atoned for, and the church in resurrection glory and standing in the presence of God, sitting on His throne, and they see His face, and they're filled with joy. You go from that to 1 Corinthians. Now, if you know anything about 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians is the story of the church dysfunctional. It's not just boots on the ground Christianity, this is boots in the mud. As the Apostle Paul writes and traces out one problem after another with this dysfunctional church, this is the bride of Christ still in garments of filth, not done being saved, wrestling with some of the darkest sins you can wrestle with.
And as I look at the summary of this book, I think about 1 Corinthians and what it's all about, I said to Wes right before we began worshipping, "I think what sums up these 16 chapters, as Paul goes in serial form from one problem to the next, to the next, to the next, to the next, and in every case, he brings this dysfunctional church back to the gospel, the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. This sums up for me the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians." The gospel is sufficient to transform a dysfunctional church. And for me as a pastor, that's encouraging news because that's what we are.
Now, some of you may have been visiting for a while, you're praying about membership in this church, and you're a bit shocked to hear me say that, that this is an imperfect church. But this is an imperfect church, and all around the world in 24 time zones, imperfect churches are assembling to meet and worship Jesus Christ. All over the world. Imperfect, dysfunctional, faction-ridden, sin-struggling churches, local churches are assembling to meet and to worship Jesus. And the themes, the issues that come up in this book, in 1 Corinthians, they're not comprehensive, there are other issues that come up that aren't addressed in 1 Corinthians. But just the idea of the local church as sinful, struggling, imperfect, needing help is actually immensely helpful and encouraging. Actually, I think both of these are helpful. We need to know where we're going to end up and we're going to end up there. And we need to keep the glorious vision of the church in perfection, in glory, always in our minds. So read Revelation 21 and 22 again and again. Read it today.
As we go through 1 Corinthians, God willing, every chapter, every verse, as we just walk through that, and you look at all of the dysfunctionality and the sin and the struggle, and you realize it's in your own heart too, and it's in our church and we're struggling. Just keep going ahead to where we're going to end up, and say, "The sovereign power of God is going to get us there.” But this is reality. This is what we're really dealing with. And so we're going to walk through it. So today, what I want to do is I want to go through five major themes that I think are central in the Book of 1 Corinthians: The power of the gospel, the lostness of the world, the sinfulness of the local church, the power of mature Christian witness, and then the supremacy of love. These five are vital themes. They're not the only themes, but I think they're major themes that we're going to see as we study 1 Corinthians.
And as we go through, we're going to go through some of the most controversial issues that local churches ever face. You may wonder, "Why did you wait until the 20th year of your ministry here to preach on 1 Corinthians?" Well, that's why. I lack a certain amount of courage. At some point in these 16 chapters, every one of you will be offended with me. Every single one of you will be, in some way, upset with me. And honestly, if you're not, I don't think I've done a good job because all of us are off to some degree in our thinking. I might be completely right in what I'm preaching on that controversial topic, and you may be off, and you'll come to me in your off-ness and be upset with me for what I preached. Or I may be off. These are controversial and difficult topics, but we need to face them. And if we're going to be healthy, we need to address them. We're going to just walk through them over the next number of months, God willing, if God gives us the time.
I. The Power of the Gospel
And let's begin with the power of the gospel. It's the best place to start. It's where Paul starts. It's where Paul finishes. The power of the gospel, the basic, simple milk message of Christ and him crucified is sufficient for every one of the issues this church faces, and that's Paul's point. Now, the Apostle Paul brought the gospel to Corinth in a way that was scarcely even noticed at the time. Paul coming to Corinth wasn't a major heralded event in the history of Corinth. He had just been mocked in Athens by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill where Paul had reasoned with them in Acts 17. When he began his disputation, they said, "What is this babbler trying to say?" So they had a very disdainful attitude toward him. And then at the end, that was even more intensified with some of them when Paul mentioned the resurrection from the dead, which was preposterous to these spiritually-minded, philosophically-minded Athenian philosophers.
And so when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some of them mocked him, but others said, "We want to hear you more on this topic." Well, that was Athens. He left from there to come travel 50 miles southwest to Corinth. He entered the city quietly. He found a couple of Jewish tentmakers named Priscilla and Aquila, and joined with them because that was his trade. And he settled in and he began reasoning in the Jewish synagogue like he always did if there was a synagogue in the town, and he began preaching. And he described his mentality, and you heard it in the reading that we just heard in 1 Corinthians, "When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God, for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling." That was Paul, and he began teaching about the gospel there in the Jewish synagogue.
But soon they became abusive and Paul had to go to another place and rent a hall and begin teaching because of the abusiveness of the Jews there in Corinth. And frankly, despite Paul's amazing courage, unlike anybody, I think, in church history, in perseverance and courage, he needed to be buttressed by God in that preaching ministry. And so in Acts 18 it says, "One night, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. Keep on speaking and do not be silent for no one is going to attack you and harm you because I have many people here in this city.'" That means many elect people, unconverted elect people; they are the focus of the International Mission Board, they should be the focus of the Southern Baptist Convention, the focus of this church; unconverted elect people who we want to see brought into justification and then fully saved by sanctification. That should be the focus of the work.
And so God gave Paul a special message of encouragement, "I'm going to put a bubble around you here in Corinth, and you'll be able to do your ministry for a while because you have a lot of work to do. There's some people that want to see you... " And those people, "I have many people in the city," they're the ones he's writing to here in 1 Corinthians. Those are the people that would cross over from death to life. So as a result of that encouragement, Paul stayed for a year and a half teaching them the word of God. And as we saw, his resolution in that ministry was to stick to Christ, to him crucified and resurrected. He was rejecting the worldly philosophies of the Greek experts and thinking, the Greek philosophers. He was determined to stick to the simple facts of the gospel, and those facts of the gospel are plain. He repeats them again and again. He goes back to it at the end of this book, 1 Corinthians 15. And there, he said, "Now, brothers I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you." Well, that's his mentality. It's like, "I want to remind you of the gospel. I want you to go back again to the gospel which you received, and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved."
Or I could say it this way, "You are being saved by this gospel if you hold firmly to the word I preach to you; otherwise, you have believed in vain." So you need to continue in the gospel. Now, I want to remind you about that gospel. "For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures." That's the basic gospel. And for me, as a pastor, as a preacher, the best thing I can do is to keep reminding you that Christ was crucified for your sins and that he was buried, and that he was raised from the dead on the third day, and that everything you need for life and godliness is wrapped up in those facts. They are the facts of the gospel, and that gospel has the power to save sinners to the uttermost, to save them completely. That message of the cross is the power of God.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18, he said, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are in the process of perishing, but to those who are in the process of being saved, it is the power of God." So the gospel is the power of God for full salvation. There's an initial saving work of God by the power of the gospel when you first hear with faith and you are justified at that moment, you are forgiven of all of your sins: Past, present, and future. The righteousness of Christ is credited to your account. You are seen to be as obedient to the law of God as Jesus was. That's given to you as a gift, and in that righteousness, you will stand on judgment day, perfect, holy, and blameless. That happens in an instant. It happens at the first moment when you're born again, when you hear and believe the gospel. But then the gospel is the ongoing power of God to finish the saving work in you. You're not done being saved because you have indwelling sin in you.
See Romans 7. Paul had it (indwelling sin) inside him at that point. He no longer has it, he's glorified now, but at that point, he had indwelling sin. And the very thing he hated, he did, and the thing he wanted to do, he didn't do. And we have that indwelling sin. And that's the Corinthians' problem too. That's our problem. That's what's making this thing so difficult. So the ongoing work of salvation generally called sanctification, the gospel is the power of God for that as well.
Tim Keller, in one of his commentary said this, "Paul is showing we never get beyond the gospel in our Christian life to something more advanced." So some of you high schoolers or even college students have graduated or will graduate soon. That's exciting, it's exciting to celebrate that. Can I tell all of you as Christians, you'll never graduate from the gospel? You're never going to go to the next level. That's what Tim Keller is saying. "The gospel is not the first step in a stairway of truths, rather it's more like the hub in a wheel of truth." It's the center of all truths. "The gospel is not just the ABCs but it's actually the A-Z of Christianity" The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to get to heaven or enter heaven, but it is the way we make all the progress into the kingdom." And that's what we're going to see in 1 Corinthians.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
Now, along with this, we see the role of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is a set of doctrines, a set of truths that come up out of the pages of the Bible. Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. Christ was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. Just facts, doctrinal facts, historical facts. But we have learned that without the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, they will not, cannot save anyone. So the gospel itself, just the facts of the gospel, the words of the gospel are insufficient to save souls. It's not enough. Many people prove that by hearing the words preached very well, preached very clearly, and they're not saved. So it's the gospel plus the sovereign application of the Holy Spirit. That combination save souls every time.
And so Paul says that too in 1 Corinthians 2, he says, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom but on God's power." Only the Holy Spirit can transform a sinner into a Christian. As we're about to see in a moment, the natural mind cannot accept the gospel. Only as the Holy Spirit works through human messengers like me and others, evangelist preachers, while they are proclaiming the true message of the gospel, only at that time, through the sovereign work of the Spirit, can an individual be convicted of sin and see the greatness of Christ and be saved.
1 Corinthians 12:3 says, "No one can say Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit." This incredible sentence in Romans 10 says that is the essence of salvation. "If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Well, you can't do that apart from the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6, he talks to the sinners who have been rescued recently by the gospel, he says, "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." So all of you equally owe your salvation to the Holy Spirit as to Jesus. And there's no jealousy in the Trinity. Jesus won't be offended by that. It is the Spirit of Christ who's ministering Christ to you. Alright, that's the first point. The transforming power of the gospel. We'll find more about that as we go.
II. The Lostness of the World
Secondly, the lost-ness of the world. Corinth was a city that loved wickedness. They were known especially for sexual immorality, and centuries before Paul ever reached there, there were epithets and slogans tying Corinth to exceptional sexual immorality. Many scholars these days say by Paul's time, that was centuries old. I think Corinth was just an average pagan city that was sexually immoral like all of them are. It was a very bad place. It was a wicked place. Now, there was a specific geographical advantage. They were in a very narrow isthmus of land connecting the Peloponnese, the lower portion of Greece, to the upper portion by a narrow neck. And there were two gulfs that came in, and so ships were tempted to try to get across. There was no canal at that point. There is one now, but sometimes they'd even carry their ships across, but this was a busy port area.
And anywhere in the world where there's unconverted people and sailors, and merchants and tradespeople, there's going to be sexual immorality. And so there was there in Corinth as well, especially tied to the pagan temples. There were temple prostitutes who would ply their trade and it was tied up with their worship of the pagan gods and goddesses. And the gospel of Jesus Christ alone has the power to break all of those sexual sins. And they were all going on in Corinth: Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, all of these things were going on. And so it's incredibly relevant to our day as well. Beyond that, we had the problem of idolatry, which is the basic sin of the human race, worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator, that's idolatry. But when we think of idolatry, we think of systems of religion tied around gods and goddesses, and they had them. They had idols and they worshipped them, idolatry.
And especially tied into their whole sensual thing, you had temple prostitutes, so there was a sexual side, there was also an appetite side, people who like to eat meat. But in the days before refrigeration you needed fresh meat, and so the place to get it was at a temple. And that's where they're offering animal sacrifices to the gods and goddesses, and you could go and get some meat. So you get your fill of meat and sexual immorality. And that's what the temple system was all about. Paul went beyond it to say, "Do you understand the spiritual realms? Do you understand the spiritual dimensions of paganism? In 1 Corinthians 10:20 it says, "the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons." "Demons. Not to God. And I do not want you to be participants with demons."
So I believe that demons are god and goddess impersonators who get behind the fake gods and goddesses but make them be spiritual and supernatural, and lure people in. And so there's a demonic side to the pagan worship there in Corinth. There also was human philosophies. As in all of Greece, it was a place rife with human philosophizing. Greece was known in the world as the center of human philosophies. So you have Plato, and Aristotle, and Socrates and all of these, the Epicurean philosophers and all of that flowing out of Greece, especially out of Athens, Athens not far away. And the Greeks were very prideful of their system of thinking, they were very arrogant about it. And so the first chapter is dealing with the arrogance of human philosophies. In chapter 1 he says, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
And then he said, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. To the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." And so they had that philosophical system, and the sinful mind couldn't accept the things of God. 2:14, it says, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they're spiritually discerned." And only by the power of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit can that ever change. So that explains the frustration we all have in evangelism. That explains it. When we go out and we explain the gospel and people react the same way now as they did 20 centuries ago, don't be surprised. This explains exactly why. So you got this powerful gospel surrounded by a very sinful wicked world of people who cannot accept its message.
III. The Sinfulness of the Local Church
Thirdly, we have the sinfulness of the local church. And here's where the rubber meets the road. The Corinthians were a truly dysfunctional messed up church. Now, for those of you that are hunting for the perfect church, if you think in some secluded valley somewhere, there's a group of redeemed people, Christians who are doing it perfectly and they are a flawless perfect local church here on planet Earth, if such a group exists, I know nothing about it. And as someone once wisely said, "If you ever find it, don't join it, you'll ruin it." It was fine before you got there and now look what you're bringing into it.
Honestly, the gospel is for dysfunctional messed up people like you and me. Do you realize how we must look to the perfection of heaven? The insanity of our lives, the corruption and divided nature of our hearts, the fact that we keep doing things we know are sinful. We need the ongoing help of the gospel, and it's actually encouraging that there's a book like 1 Corinthians, which is God's word to a dysfunctional church. Now, the Corinthian church was lavishly gifted. Paul, at the beginning in 1 Corinthians 1 says, he thanks God for all of the gifts they had gifted in every way. They're a supremely gifted church, but it was also rife with just about every, almost every trouble a local church could ever face. I could imagine this church personified showing up at an ER, like a spiritual ER, a pastoral ER. And they've got this level of disease. It's like, where do you even begin? It was difficult.
You see factions and divisions, there are false teachers, lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality even of the most scandalous kind, even the kind that pagans don't do, marital problems, divorce, remarriage. There was problems with single people and fornication, problems with singleness and understanding the gift of singleness. There's problems with idolatry, the fact that some had recently come out of idolatry and others have been out of it for a while and they weren't meshing very well. The whole meat sacrifice to idols, he's got to address that. Gender roles are addressed. Conflicts over the Lord's Supper, spiritual gift problems, false teaching on the resurrection.
Now we're going to walk through all these. I just want to touch on each of them briefly to see what a catalogue of difficulties this is.
Factions and Divisions
First, factions and divisions. I find it interesting and you should do a study yourselves and confirm what I'm about to say. Almost every epistle, you can discern divisions among the people Paul is writing to, problems in that church where people just aren't getting along. You definitely see it in Romans where he has to write Romans 14, where he has Jews and Gentiles it seems not really getting along well. You definitely see it in Galatians where they were about to bite and devour each other, the effect of legalism. You can see it in Ephesians where he's more general there, but he's pleading with them to do everything they can to maintain the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. You see it in Philippians where he is pleading with them to have the humble mind of Christ and to get along with each other.
And there's two women in particular, they get called out throughout all of time for 20 centuries because they couldn't get along with each other. Euodia and Syntyche. They're up in heaven now, they love each other, doing fine as far as I know. But then they were not getting along, and Paul pleaded with I think the pastor there to get in a room with these ladies and not come out till they were in perfect agreement with one another. I don't know how long that took. But every single church, there's dysfunction, and factions, and divisions, people not liking each other. And Paul has to appeal to them to be one.
There's a problem of false teachers. You see this much more developed in 2 Corinthians, but it's the same issue. There were these false teachers called super apostles who were totally throwing Paul under the bus, and Paul has to defend his apostolic ministry there. But he said that they were false apostles actually, they were servants of Satan masquerading as angels of light. That's serious. And they were drawing the bride of Christ away from her sincere and pure devotion to Christ by their false teaching. We definitely see it in chapter 15 of this epistle though where they are openly saying there's no such thing as resurrection. That's heresy. And he has to address that.
Then there are lawsuits. Back in the day, Tertullian said... One of the number one apologetics, when Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another," and Tertullian said, "The pagans watch us and say, 'Behold, how they love one another,' we hate each other. 'Behold, how they would die for each other,' we want to kill each other." Well, that's when the apologetic is working well. When one is taking one another to court in front of pagans, that's a bad look. Very bad. And so Paul has to deal with this saying, "Is it possible? There's not anyone with enough wisdom within the church to settle these disputes?"
And then there's sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 6, he's pleading with them to be sexually pure. They'd come out of the grossest type of immorality, and homosexuality, and fornication, and all that. And he said, "And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…" "you've been redeemed out of that lifestyle." And yet in chapter 5, he's got to deal with a member of the church who's sleeping with his father's wife, probably his stepmother. And Paul says it's an immorality of such a kind that pagans even know not to do it. Scandalous. And so he's got to teach them about church discipline because of that individual. And then in chapter 6, he has to plead with the members of the church to not frequent the temple prostitutes. "Don't you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? May it never be." And so he's got to reason with them concerning this sexual immorality. It's very relevant. We may think we 21st century Americans are the first Christians to struggle with sexual immorality. It's been there all along. And 1 Corinthians can help us in our battle for holiness.
And then there's marital problems, address in 1 Corinthian 7. That'll be an interesting chapter as we walk through that. But just Paul laying down what a healthy marriage looks like, and divorce, and remarriage, and various issues.
Idolatry, Meat Sacrifice to Idols
Idolatry, meat sacrifice to idols, the problems in chapter 8 through 10, he does three chapters on that. And you may be saying, "Thank God that we 21st century Americans are done with idolatry." Don't be deceived. But there are other issues there where those that knew that meat's just meat and they can eat it whenever they want were flaunting their freedoms. And they didn't understand that some people have been out of that lifestyle for about three weeks, and their consciences were being hurt and they didn't know what to do. And Paul was trying to draw them together and say, "Your holiness should matter to me." And so he's got to teach them of a kind of a community conviction and discipleship on holiness, three chapters of that.
And then there's gender roles. I'm not going to go into head coverings much this morning. I'm just mentioning that it's in this book. And so there Paul was talking about timeless gender roles wrapped up, and I believe a temporal expression of those timeless roles. And we'll talk about that in due time, but I think there may be no generation that's been so gender confused as our generation. And so we're going to need some good teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood, and it's going to come out of this book.
Conflicts over the Lord’s Supper
Then there's conflicts over the Lord's Supper. The Lord intended this to be a meal that united, and instead some of them were running ahead and taking half the bread, there was none left. And others were literally getting drunk on the wine served at the Lord's Supper. As a result, that was so serious that God, that Christ killed some of them, and others were sick because of how they were dealing with the Lord's Supper.
Spiritual Gift Problems
Then there was spiritual gift problems. So in due time, we'll get into the charismatic question. I'm telling you, one after the other, it'll be very, very fascinating. It comes from the Greek word gift, the gifts of grace, the charisma. But they were having problems back then too. There was an arrogance going on. There was a boastfulness. So those speaking in tongues were arrogant over those that didn't. And so, there's all of these things that are going on. 1 Corinthians 12-14, those three chapters all have to do with spiritual gifts, and right in the middle of them is the famous love chapter, so he's got teach them to deal with their gifts in love.
False Teaching on the Resurrection
And then finally, as I said at the end, there's a group of false teachers that were saying in verse 12 of chapter 15, there is no resurrection. "We're Christians but we don't believe in resurrection." Paul is saying it's impossible. Christ has been raised from the dead, and all of us are going to be made like him. He's just the first fruit of a vast resurrection, and you all are going to partake of it. So it is a church that needs some help. And so are we. And this timeless word to this dysfunctional church is going to help us in the midst of our dysfunctionality, whatever it might be.
IV. The Power of Mature Christian Witness
Fourthly, the power of mature Christian witness. The most powerful weapon for gospel advance is a healthy church, and so the healthier the local church can get, the more powerful will be its witness in that community. And Paul has to teach these Corinthians how to be witnesses. 1 Corinthians 4 may be, for me personally, one of the most convicting chapters that there is in the Bible. For pleasure-loving, affluent Americans. American Christians who want a comfortable relationship with the surrounding world, who want to be thought well of, who want to dress like kings, eat like kings, live like kings, and still have an impact on the world. Paul is saying can't be done. And he gave himself as an example in 1 Corinthians 4. "We are fools for Christ," but then he says rather cynically to them, "But you, you are so wise in Christ. We are weak, but you, you are strong. You are honored but we are dishonored. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we're in rags, we're brutally treated, we're homeless, we work hard with our own hands. When we're cursed, we bless. When we're persecuted, we endure it. When we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment, we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the worlds."
Now, if you hear that and you're like, "Is that what I have to become to become an effective evangelist? That's a hard ask for me." It was hard for them too. But Paul is presenting himself as an example saying, "It's this kind of really other worldly commitment to Christ that really makes a difference in your generation." And so later in chapter 9 he's going to say, "I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some." And so this is a call to us to learn what it's going to take to become powerful witnesses for Christ here in our time. And we're going to get a lot from 1 Corinthians.
Now, the great joy of this is we need to be confident of final success. Every single one of the elect, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, are going to end up in resurrection bodies. Not some of them. Not most of them. All of them. And therefore, Paul links a final exhortation toward laboring in the gospel with his whole teaching on the resurrection. It's a little bit of a disconnect for most of us, it's like because there is going to be this glorious resurrection, you should work hard in the gospel. But that's what he does at the end of chapter 15, in verse 58, he says, "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." That's so encouraging.
V. The Supremacy of Love
Finally, the supremacy of love. This was a supremely gifted church as we've said. Every gift was at work in that church. They were all there, but there was serious pride issues as well. The gifts were not given to them by God to make them arrogant so they could compare one to another, so the hand could say to the foot, "I don't need you," or conversely, another could say, "Well, because I'm not a mouth or an eye or a hand, I don't belong to the body." And so, it was working both sides of the equation where you had some that were arrogant and think they didn't need anybody else, and then you had others who thought because they weren't gifted in a certain way, they didn't belong, and so they didn't have anything to do. And so all of this was going on around the spiritual gifts. And so in the middle of Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts, he gives the most famous chapter, maybe in the New Testament, certainly in this book, 1 Corinthians, and that's 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter.
And he links it right to spiritual gifts. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I'm a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I can fathom all mysteries, and if I have all knowledge [if I'm a theological giant], and if I have the gift of faith and I can actually move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. And if I give all that I possess to the poor, [for those of you that are committed to mercy ministry], "I give everything I have, every moment I have to the poor, and I actually even surrender my body to death, but I have not love, I gain nothing." So right in the midst of all that spiritual gifts, if you don't have love, you gain nothing.
And then he defines it so beautifully. Love is patient. Love is kind. It doesn't envy, it doesn't boast, it's not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it never fails. That's the demeanor we're supposed to have while we're using our spiritual gifts, while we're ministering to the lost and even to other Christians. And he says all of those gifts, all of them, they're all temporary. They're all going to pass away someday. You won't need them. When we get to Revelation 21 and 22, when the church is perfect in glory, there won't be any spiritual gifts. You don't need them. When we're children, we need childish things. But when maturity, perfection comes, you don't need them anymore. And so when we get to heaven, all the gifts will be fulfilled, they'll be done, but love will still be there. Frankly, even faith and hope will be fulfilled and done. You won't need faith in heaven, and you won't need hope in heaven, but you'll still have love. And so love is supreme above everything else. That's taught clearly in this book
So what applications can we take from this? It's where we're heading. It's just quick overview of some of the main themes. First and foremost, I every week call on any that there are in the sound of my voice. If you know yourself to be in darkness, you're on the outside, you're not a believer in Christ, you're invited here today to come to church, and maybe only some of what I've said makes any sense to you, but let me be very clear. The Bible reveals that all human beings are sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. We've all violated God's laws. The Bible is also clear that judgment day is coming, when we'll stand before a judge who knows everything we've ever done and all the motives of our hearts. There's no escaping that. It's coming. It is appointed us to die once and after that, face judgment. And Jesus is offering himself to be your righteousness on that day. He's offering to cover all of your sins and be your savior and speak for you and advocate his righteousness on your behalf on judgment day.
Oh, I would seize it if I were you. I would seize it now while there's time. You don't even know if you'll be alive tomorrow. I would seize this moment and say, "What do I have to do?" All you have to do is believe this good news that God sent his son to die on the cross, that he died a physical death under the wrath of God for sinners just like you, and trust in him to take your sins from you and put them on Christ, the substitute. And that God didn't leave him in the grave, He raised him from the dead on the third day, and that someday you also will be raised like him in glory. Just believe that, and you'll be forgiven, you'll be saved.
Secondly, for those of you that are members of this church, I hope I haven't shocked you when I've said that this is a dysfunctional church that needs the Book of 1 Corinthians. Those of you who've been here any length of time, you know it. I think a church can be healthy and still need this message. And I think our church is healthy. I think God's done a great work in this church, but I think there's a lot more that we could and should be doing. And we need this book. Now, I don't know that every one of the headings of problems or dysfunctionality that the Corinthian church faced, we face. I don't know that everything we face, they faced. But I know this, we are an imperfect, sinful church that needs the grace of the gospel, so we need to stand under this gospel more than ever before. We need to go back to Christ and him crucified, him resurrected and trust in that message. Drink that milk day after day. Remind yourself who you are, who you were, what God has done for you. Stop being arrogant. Stop being arrogant in your marriage. Stop being arrogant in your family life. Stop being arrogant toward lost people.
Wherever you find pride, be like the tax collector beating his breast saying, "Be merciful to me, the sinner. That's who I am." And just know we need that gospel. And ask God to work in this church. Pray. If you can't come at 6:00 AM and join us in prayer, okay. Pray where you are with us. Pray for our church, not just to be more fruitful evangelistically. Pray that we'd be holy. That we would be healthy in our marriages. Healthy in our personal lives. Healthy when we look at the internet. Healthy in everything we do. The internal journey of holiness. And that flowing out of that power we would be very courageous and bold witnesses. Pray for that.
Be willing to suffer as messengers for the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4. Maybe if you have time, read it. It's very convicting. And as you read it's like, "I don't want to be like that. I want to be a comfortable, affluent, pleasure-seeking American who's seeking the esteem of the world around me. I want to be a messenger of the gospel. Make me one, Lord." And then finally, just have a spiritual gift ministry and do it. Find what you're gifted to do and just do it. Stand firm in that ministry. And know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for the initial overview brush that we've had across 1 Corinthians today. We are thankful for the power of the gospel to transform a sinful, dysfunctional people. Lord, we know in the end all local churches will become obsolete. They will go away. But the individuals in them are eternal. And I pray that you would help us, O Lord, to make the most of our time in this church. To grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ. Help us to love one another deeply from the heart. Help us to be humbled by the gospel and to love each other in that humility. And help us to be bold and courageous as witnesses to the lost people that are just pouring into this Triangle Region that don't know the Lord, that need Christ. We pray this in His name and for His glory. Amen.