1 Corinthians 13: A Still More Excellent Way (Sermon)

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This is a sermon I gave at Fellowship Bible Church, in Batesville AR.

Description: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is trying to explain to the Corinthians church What Maturity isn’t, and What Maturity is. It falls in the middle of a discussion Paul was having over the issue of spiritual gifts, where the Corinthians had inadvertently made tongues the “end all” of Christianity. For Paul, to equate maturity with gifts was a misstep. And so he describes the “still more excellent way” of love

Listen here: 

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What’s so important about the resurrection?

ascension

What was the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?

To answer this question, we can’t simply look to the fact of the resurrection. We must also look to the cross. We must also look to the ascension. We must also look to Christ’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand. The reason is because all throughout the NT, when the resurrection is mentioned, it is never mentioned alone; it almost always connected to God the Father raising Jesus, and seating him at his right hand. And so, biblically, when we talk about the resurrection, we aren’t just talking about the resurrection. We are looking at the cross, the ascension and enthronement.

For instance, in 1 Peter 1:21, Peter says that God the Father “raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”. So, God the Father raised Jesus and gave him glory (referring to him being seated at his right hand).

Paul says in Ephesians that God the Father brought about our salvation when he “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). Paul also says in Philippians 2:8-9, that Jesus, “being found in human form,… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”. Paul also brings in this theme in Romans 8:34, saying, “it is Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”. So Jesus humbled himself to death; but he was raised by his Father, and given glory at his right hand because of that death.

OK, so this is the resurrection put in context; but what does all this mean?

Frank Sheed, in his Theology and Sanity, expounds on the importance of this theme:

Realize that the Resurrection was not simply a convenient way for Our Lord to return to His Apostles and give them final instructions, nor His Ascension simply a convenient way of letting them know definitely and beyond question or peradventure that He had left this world. Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice He offered for us. The Sacrifice, insofar as it is the offering to God of a victim slain, was complete upon Calvary. But in the total conception of sacrifice, it is not sufficient— as Cain found long before— that a victim be offered to God; it is essential that the offering be accepted by God: and given that the nature of man requires that sacrifice be an action externally visible, it belongs to the perfection of sacrifice that God’s acceptance should be as externally visible as humanity’s offering. It is in this sense that Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice. By the miracle of the Resurrection, God at once shows His acceptance of the Priest as a true priest of a true sacrifice and perfects the Victim offered to Him, so that whereas it was offered mortal and corruptible it has gained immortality and incorruptibility. By the Ascension God accepts the offered Victim by actually taking it to Himself. Humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father. (p 249)

OK, so there is a lot that Sheed says here.

First, Sheed says that when God the Father raised Jesus, what it means firstly is that he accepted Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient for atonement. Whereas Cain’s offering to God was not accepted, Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity was accepted. And so God raised Jesus, and in so doing, he showed to all humanity, in an “external” fashion, visible to the eyes, that Jesus’ sacrifice for us was “sufficient”, acceptable to God; that this was the sacrifice to atone. In other words, God stated “out loud” that this offering was enough for our sin.

But also, in raising Jesus’ human nature, God was not only accepting the sacrifice — He was also accepting humanity itself back into the Godhead. Put differentlyas Jesus offered humanity to God in the cross, God accepted and raised humanity back to himself in glory. He was once again glorifying and immortalizing the humanity that had fallen from the divine life it once experienced in Eden. And so Jesus’ sacrifice is accepted; but accepted, and then brought back to glory — and in being glorified, Christ is raising all of humanity from its fallen state. As Sheed says, “humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father”. Principally, humanity, with its sins expiated, may be brought back into the life of the Trinity through Jesus.

This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”.

Because Christ was glorified, humanity in Christ may be glorified. The resurrection, in other words, changes the fallen state of humanity.

The resurrection means that atonement has been accepted, and that glory is to come!

Christ-centered or Christ-less Christianity?

 Jesus-Center

It is very easy for Christians to remove Christ from their Christianity. It is very easy for us to get caught up in what we as a church, or a community, or a family, are doing for God, rather than being founded on what Jesus has done for us. But the simple fact is that when we take Jesus out of the center of all that we do, we have established a Christ-less Christianity, not a Christ-centered one.

Paul, when he wrote his letter to the believers in Corinth, told them that that he “decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). What this means is that Paul resolved to center his teaching, preaching, discipling, mentoring, and living around what Jesus had accomplished in his death and resurrection. His message and life was distinctly gospel-centered, and he preached the gospel to both unbelievers and believers.

When Paul wrote the believers in Rome, he told them that he was “eager to preach the gospel” to them (Rom 1:15). Why? Because it was the “power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16), and because it was “able to strengthen” believers (Rom 16:25). Paul even went so far to say that all of God’s promises are fulfilled, finished in Christ (2 Cor 1:20, Rom 10:4).

For that, our teaching and practice as believers should always be centered on what Jesus has done for undeserving sinners.

Jesus Christ is the righteous One who obeys God’s perfect standards (Mt 5:17). Jesus Christ is the beloved Son on whom all of God’s favor rests (Mt 3:17). Jesus Christ is the conquerer of all evil and sin and death (1 Cor 15:54-57). He is the one who defeats the devil and his schemes (Mt 4:1-11). He is the one who establishes God’s kingdom on earth (Lk 17:21). Jesus is all of God’s promises encapsulated. More than that, he is God himself incarnated (John 1)!

And why does Jesus do all this? Why does he go to the cross? Why does he rise from the dead? He does it to accomplish for sinful men and women what we could not accomplish for ourselves. Jesus does everything to “fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15) for sinners who are by nature not righteous.

We are all sinners. We cannot commit our lives to God. We cannot obey God’s standards. We cannot overcome the evils of this world. We cannot thwart the devil’s schemes. We cannot establish God’s rule on earth. In fact, we love our sin too much!

This is why Jesus does all these things for us! He does it that we might be accounted as righteous, even though we are not (Rom 3:25). And, he comes to live inside us and empower us to live according to God’s desires, even though within our own power, we have no desire to live for him (Gal 5, 2 Cor 3:17-18).

Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

So, if our lives do not revolve around Jesus as the center, the one who enables sinners to be justified, sanctified, and glorified (1 Cor 1:30), we have missed it. We have missed the point and purpose of Christianity.

Because, it’s easy to aspire to do a lot of good things: to commit their lives to God. To live obedient lives. To love our neighbors. To love Jesus. To read the Bible. To go to / commit to church. To pray. To love our husband / wife better. To raise our kids better.

But unless Jesus is at the foundation of those things, fulfilling, enabling, empowering us to do them, we will fail. We will ultimately burn out, quit, and move on to something else we think we can do. Because apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection power, we have no ability or desire to actually do anything good or righteous.

What we must understand is that Jesus fulfilled all that we could not do, in order to justify and empower us to do those very things. Jesus’ work for sinners has to be at the center. Otherwise we will be at the center.

Michael Horton says that if we do not have Jesus’ work at the center, we will ultimately believe that “we are not really helpless sinners who need to be rescued but decent folks who need good examples, exhortations, and instructions… [This mindset is] not a modern innovation, but the default setting of the fallen heart ever since the fall. No one is ever taught [it]; rather, we have to be taught out of it”. The fact is, we are helpless sinners, always and hopelessly in need of Jesus’ righteousness. We cannot nor will we ever earn God’s approval, which is why we are always in such need of the One who can and already has.

As Paul says, “Christ Jesus…became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).

Why God Saves through the Folly of the Cross

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In his wisdom, and in response our willful rebellion against him, God decided that fallen sinners would be saved, not by worksnot by strengthnot by merit, but through faith alone in Christ alone. As Luther said, God “made all things depend on faith [in Christ] so that whoever has faith has everything, while the one who lacks faith has nothing”. I want to take this post to highlight this fact: God could have chosen to save mankind through any other means. Romans 9:15 tells us that God can have mercy on whom he wants to have mercy. He can save whomever and however he wants to! And it’s because of the fact that God is God.

So, if God wanted to, he could have decided that only those who were strong enough, or did enough works, or loved him enough, or asked for help, would be saved. Of course, if God had chosen that salvation depended on our own performance, no one would be saved. Paul tells us that no one can outwork their sin debt (Gal 2:16); in fact, without God’s help, we are bound to sin (Rom 3).

But, God did not choose works as the method of salvation. In fact, God chose and ordained that all who want to be saved have to go through Jesus Christ. God chose that sinners would be forgiven and redeemed through Jesus Christ brokenbloodieddying, and weak, on a Roman cross meant for criminals.

This message sounds foolish to the world, because this is not natural to our fleshly minds. Salvation by the merit of Another sounds completely foreign to us. In our own minds, the natural way to salvation would be through strict obedience to a set list of rules. The most natural way to rid ourselves of debt is to pay it off ourselves. The most natural way toward perfect righteousness is to do and say all the right things — to follow the rules perfectly. Instead, God chose to save through the work of Christ. He chose that our debts would be paid in full through Jesus. He chose that our forgiveness would come through Jesus suffering our punishment for us. He chose that our worthiness would come through the perfect righteousness of Christ. God chose that the way of salvation would be upside down. 

But, why did God choose that sinners would be saved through the foolishness of this gospel (1 Cor 1:18)? Why did he choose this method of redemption?

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that “in the wisdom of God…it pleased [him] through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe…, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:21, 29).

When it comes to God’s redemption of sinners, he wanted to save us through Jesus that we might not boast in ourselves. God wanted to leave no room for pride. And in fact, if God had made salvation available through human works, or adherence to a moral code, or human will power, there would be room for bragging! This would not bring glory to God. This would not bring enjoyment in God. Instead, it would bring glory to the sinner. It would bring attention and honor to those who worked hard enough or did better. But God wanted the glory for his saving of sinners to go to him alone.

So God chose Jesus as the source of salvation, that we might boast in him alone! This is why Paul says, “and because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Cor 1:30). Paul then asks, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 20, 25).

God didn’t want redeemed sinners to boast and brag about their own ability to save themselves. He wanted all the credit to go to Him! And for that, he chose Christ as the means, that the one who boasts would do it in him. For this, our wisdom is nothing compared to him. And our strength is nothing compared to him.

Thomas Constable said, “God has chosen this method so the glory might be His and His alone.”

And John Calvin rightly says: “Let every thing, therefore, that is at all deserving of praise, be recognized as proceeding from God…of all the blessings that are [given in salvation], we must seek in Christ not the half, or merely a part, but the entire completion…[assigning to Him] exclusively the entire accomplishment of the whole”.