THE STATE OF THE CHURCH – A LOOKBACK AT 2015
Good morning! I’m excited to stand here before you this morning – this is my first time preaching in 2016! That’s strange for me, but I have been encouraged by having the opportunity to sit under Pastor Nick’s preaching and worship with the Target Dayton choir. This time out of the pulpit has been refreshing for me and it has given me the opportunity to attend to some of the administrative duties that I do not always have time to focus on in the midst of sermon preparation. But I am very happy to be back and I am excited to get started in the book of 1 Corinthians. However, before we do that, I want to take a quick look back to 2015 and praise God for what He has done in our midst:
In 2014 our annual budget was $432,000 and through prayer and planning we felt led to raise that to a number that made us all a bit uncomfortable (as we do each year) – $470,000. This was a faith number and one that we knew would require us to keep a close eye on spending, but I want you to know that God blessed us with 96.8% of that total this past year and our spending was about $16,000 below what we brought in.
Also in 2015, through your generous giving, we were able to give:
$54,000 toward Southern Baptist missions
$4,000 to the Nattier family to support their missions efforts
$5,000 toward other missions efforts such as the Edgewood Center, Target Dayton, and Feed the Creek
$3,000 in benevolence funds towards those who needed help
We also, for the first time as a church, sent our own missionaries to the foreign mission field as a sending church for Bryce and Natasha Nattier who plan to go to Togo, West Africa as medical missionaries.
We hired a FT Children’s Director – Bobbie Schell
We started 3 services and averaged 345 in worship
We purchased a new building – UBC East
A LOOK FORWARD TO 2016
This coming year we face similar challenges and we will continue to move forward in faith.
-We have begun to work with a company to plan for a new sanctuary building that will seat around 500 people.
-We have increases our budget once again, from $470,000 to $525,000.
-This will require continued sacrificial giving and service on the part of everyone here, but we are able to press forward with confidence because year after year, God has proven His faithfulness to us.
-We are a church that has great unity, we are actively making disciples, and we are healthy, and we must be sure to give God the glory and praise for these blessings, and we must recognize that things don’t always g this well for churches – which leads us to our study of 1 Corinthians.
INTRODUCTION TO 1 CORINTHIANS
“Imagine a church wracked by divisions. Powerful leaders promote themselves against each other, each with his band of loyal followers. One of them is having an affair with his stepmother, and instead of disciplining him, many in the church boast of his freedom in Christ to behave in such a way. Believers sue each other in secular courts; some like to visit prostitutes. As a backlash against this rampant morality, another faction in the church is promoting celibacy – complete sexual abstinence for all believers – as the Christian ideal. Still other debates rage about how decisively new Christians should break from their pagan past. Disagreements about men’s and women’s roles in the church add to the confusion. As if all this were not enough, alleged prophecies and speaking in tongues occur regularly, but not always in constructive fashion. A significant number of these immature Christians do not even believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ!” (Blomberg, Craig L.; NIV Application Commentary – 1 Corinthians; pg. 17)
This is how author and Professor Craig Blomberg introduces this letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. Unfortunately it doesn’t require much imagination to see how many of these issues relate to our culture today as well. As we begin to study this letter from Paul, there is a lot of background we need to understand and that’s what we will be looking at this morning.
GEOGRAPHY AND CULTURE
The city of Corinth and the church that Paul planted there had a lot in common with our world today. Corinth was like many big cities today because it was bustling with a variety of people. The geography of Corinth had a huge impact on the culture and economy of this city. Corinth was located near an isthmus that connected Greece proper to the lower Peloponnese peninsula. This enabled sailors to drag boats across a small strip of land rather than making the long and dangerous trip around the southern coast. So the city of Corinth was both a harbor and a thoroughfare. In Paul’s day, it was probably the wealthiest city in Greece and a major, multicultural urban center. Every two years Corinth played host in its massive stadium to the Isthmian games, a competition which was second only to the Olympics in prominence. A large theater seating eighteen thousand and a concert hall which could hold three thousand regularly brought drama and musical entertainment of many forms.
The people of the Corinthian church were mostly middle income and they had a Hellenistic worldview and attitude toward ethical behavior. Although they were Christians, they were still very much “of the world.” Among these mostly middle income people were a few rich individuals who served as patrons. These patrons would contribute to the small house-church gatherings and often even host them. They would also often pay itinerant preachers such as Paul to remain among them and instruct them regarding Scripture. Unfortunately, these patrons sometimes took on exercised disproportionate influence among the house churches and in the selection of itinerant teachers due their wealth.
Paul planted this church during his second missionary journey and he supported himself as a tentmaker while he ministered there. He remained in Corinth for about a year and a half which was substantially longer than he had in any of the other communities he had evangelized before. During this time, some of the Jews who had rejected Paul tried to get him arrested by Gallio, the Roman governor of the province. Because Gallio served in this role only for about a year, scholars have been able to date Paul’s stay in Corinth and the writing of this letter very accurately. Paul was most likely in Corinth in 51 A.D., which means this letter was written around 54 A.D. – just twenty years or so after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This is remarkable to consider as we see how often Paul speaks about Jesus and His resurrection in this letter, which obviously people would have rejected soundly if Jesus hadn’t truly been resurrected because many who were alive at that time were still around!
PRIOR COMMUNICATION WITH PAUL
1 Corinthians was the fourth biblical letter that Paul wrote (after Galatians and 1,2 Thessalonians) and this letter that we are studying is not actually the first letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. 1 Cor. 5:9 refers to a previous letter which the Corinthians had misunderstood. In return, Paul received a letter from the church asking questions about specific issues which were dividing the congregation.
After that, Paul received an oral report from members of Chloe’s household (1:11 – likely Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus). In this oral report Paul learned about several distressing aspects of the Corinthian church which they didn’t explain in their letter such as the divisions within their fellowship, sexual immorality, and matters of litigation between the church members.
So now, in response to all of what has come before, Paul is writing the church again to attempt to bring healing. But he faced an uphill battle because not only was the church worldly and divided, they had been led to rebel against and distrust Paul’s leadership. So, on the one hand, Paul had to reassert his authority in a situation where it had severely eroded. On the other hand, he had to convince them to change their theology and behavior to conform to his, since they were moving toward positions that threatened the gospel. We see Paul go to work on these issues as soon as we begin the letter.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 1:1-3]
Because the church is at odds with Paul, he starts off in verse 1 by describing himself as “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” Later he will present further evidence for his apostleship, stating that he both founded the church and saw the risen Lord. (4:15; 9:1-2) But it was crucial for Paul to reassert his authority right off the bat to the church so they would not only listen to his teaching, but submit to it as well. The church had veered off the path of orthodoxy in Paul’s three year absence and he needed to get them back on track, but in order to do so, it was vital that he remind them of his apostleship.
So, in this first verse Paul stresses 3 things. First, he informs them that his apostleship was by divine call. He didn’t simply respond to a job posting and apply to be an apostle; God stopped him in his tracks while he was on the road to Damascus and placed this new calling on his life.
Second, Paul emphasizes the divine origin of his apostleship with the addition “by the will of God.” Here he is saying that his own position in Christ, as well as his ministry, is based on God’s call. Again, it wasn’t that Paul sought Jesus; he was seeking to kill Christians when he was confronted by a vision of Jesus and called to account for his behavior.
Third, Paul describes the nature of his vocation as “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” The term apostle had to do with those who were sent by Christ to preach the gospel. The designation of apostle had an inherent sense of position as well (as in position of authority). The emphasis in this instance clearly falls on his position of authority in relationship to the church in Corinth. So Paul was reminding the church that not only was he a true apostle of Jesus Christ, who had been called by God, but he was also their spiritual father and subsequently he had the right and authority to admonish them in their faith.
REMINDERS FOR THE CHURCH
In addition to reminding them of his authority over them as an apostle called by God, Paul also wanted to remind the church of a few things and it’s brilliant how he does so in the midst of his greeting to them. He refers to them in a couple of different ways and both descriptions serve as reminders of their identity in Christ.
In verse 2 Paul says that he is addressing this letter to “the church of God in Corinth.” In his earlier 2 letters to the church at Thessalonica Paul had written to “the church of the Thessalonians in God.” It appears that Paul is trying to remind them that the church belongs to God (3:9), not to them or to Paul, and by this slight change in the address Paul disallows at the outset one of their tendencies – to think too highly of themselves.
Paul also refers to them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy….” This church had reverted to living quite worldly and Paul wanted them to remind them that believers are set apart for God, and because they are set apart for God they must also bear the character of the God who has set them apart.
We also see that he combines the phrase “called to be holy” with the phrase, “together with all those everywhere: the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.” In a very subtle way, Paul was confronting the Corinthian church’s course of independence. (4:17; 11:16; 14:33) He wanted to give them a gentle nudge to remind them that their own calling to be God’s people belonged to a much larger picture.
CHRIST IS CENTRAL
So right out of the gate Paul goes to work reasserting his authority and beginning to hold the church accountable to live righteously, but I want you to see that what was of utmost importance to Paul was always his and others’ connection to Jesus. Remembering how close in time this writing was to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, listen to how Christological Paul’s words are:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
You see, for Paul, and it should be this way for all of us, Jesus was everything. Paul’s purpose in life had come from Jesus. He went about every day of his life trying to tell others about Jesus or trying to encourage followers of Jesus to live in righteousness. He wanted to serve Jesus daily. He wanted to make Jesus proud with the way he lived. He wanted others to know what it was like to abide in Jesus and know Him personally. That’s why Paul did what he did. He allowed himself to be stoned and mocked and imprisoned and ridiculed because his life wasn’t about himself, it was about Jesus. He wasn’t worried about what the Corinthian church thought about him because he wanted to be popular – he only cared because he wanted them to listen to his encouragement to get back on track in their faith. He wasn’t trying to fit in and he wasn’t trying to move ahead in life, he simply wanted to know and to serve Jesus.
Counter Culture / Becoming What You Are
That’s why this sermon series on 1 Corinthians is called Counter Culture: Becoming What You Are. I believe, like the church at Corinth, we, as believers in the 21st century, need to be reminded who we are in Christ so that we might live in light of our true identity. We believe in Jesus and we believe in the Bible and we know we should live differently, but the truth is, we don’t look very different than anyone else in our society. Faith is a journey, and as we begin 2016 I want each of us to concentrate on becoming what we are in Christ.
We have been brainwashed by this world to believe that this life is all there is so that’s what we should live for. We live for power, pleasure, a nice retirement, and entertainment. We have taken the bait of Satan to believe that priority number one in life is fitting in, or getting rich, but that’s not what God has called us to. God tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are to be constantly transformed by the Word of God and seek to become more and more like Christ.
Paul wanted the church at Corinth to understand who they were and live in light of that. He referred to them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people.” In spite of all of their sin, their misunderstood theology, their divisiveness, and their pride, Paul referred to them by their identity in Christ. He called them sanctified, which means holy. This is so important for us to understand – there is a very clear difference between your position before God and your behavior. The Corinthians were holy before God because they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; they just weren’t living like it.
Let me explain how this works:
- Hebrews 10:10 – … we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
- Acts 26:16-18 (Paul recounting his Damascus Road experience) – Jesus said, ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
What made it possible for us to be made holy before God? Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. How do we receive this forgiveness and subsequent righteous standing before God? By placing our faith in Jesus and giving Him control of our lives. But that’s just the beginning of our faith journey. We must continue to grow in Him throughout our lives.
In this study we will learn what it means to be holy. We will learn who we are in Christ. And we will learn how we are to live as followers of Jesus. It will require us to swim upstream in our culture, but the payoff is a life of worship of the true God, a life of purpose, and the joy of the Lord that will enable us to persevere.
I want to ask you to join me as we pray and use this time to commit to living for God rather than this world. Don’t live for what is temporary, live for what is eternal. Plan today to make 2016 the year that your life changed because of your commitment to Christ.