Summary: Speaking to those who are ’sure’ in their faith (not mature, but sure), Paul directs our attention to the Israelites in the wilderness who thought the same thing. We are invited to examine our faith journey.
Bibliography: Finding Christ, Finding Life: covenant & community
Tonight I am speaking to those who are sure in their faith. Notice I said those who are sure in their faith, not those who are mature in their faith. Although sometimes the two terms go together, tonight we make a distinction between the two.
When we think of mature Christians, we think of individuals who are well versed in their Scriptures and well grounded in their faith. They are like rocks in their relationship with Jesus, and when storm winds blow and bad times come, we want to surround ourselves with them and cling to them until difficult times past.
They are committed and active within the church. When we are around them, we notice something about them. There is a spirit about them, something they have tapped into, something we can see. And most often we want to be the same. What it is they have found, we want for ourselves as well.
Typically, when we think of sure Christians, we think of those who trust in their faith, who have assurance of the saving grace of Christ being active in their lives...but that’s not exactly what we mean this evening when we talk about being sure Christians.
Perhaps, it would be better to refer to it as being over confident. Being over confident can be a dangerous place to be. It leads one to make incorrect assumptions and take unnecessary chances. It often results in making mistakes and testing the limits. The problem with testing the limits, is sometimes the limits break, and we can find ourselves hurt and broken, and in places and situations we’d rather not be.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul wrote to a church experiencing such problems. There were differences and disagreements within the church about what it meant to be faithful Christians.
Paul wrote to address the concerns expressed within the Corinthian church and offered some words of caution to those who seemed to be interested in seeing how far they could push the limits of being followers of Christ and still consider themselves Christians.
Such individuals focused on their baptism and belief in Jesus Christ. Their baptism and their belief was their main claim to Christianity. They put very little emphasis on what one did as a Christian. Though there were times when Paul would agree that some individuals over emphasized actions over heartfelt faith, we read tonight of Paul’s warnings against being overly confident in a simple belief system that is starved of nurture and cultivation.
When I think of a modern example of those Paul addressed, I think of people who would suggest they don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. They can be a Christian anywhere. Regular worship attendance is not an important element of their faith.
It doesn’t take regular Bible reading to believe in Jesus. You can know who Jesus is, believe in Jesus without reading the Bible regularly.
Such persons would suggest that our faith is not dependant upon our prayers, presence, gifts, or service that we pledged when we become members of the church. Why, a commitment to church membership isn’t even necessary to be a Christian.
While it may be true that one can believe in Jesus without all those things, I would ask how one would know exactly what it is such an individual believes in?
Paul warns that faith without nurture is a dangerous affair. Such faith is weak and ignorant. When hard times come, when one’s faith is tested and one faces temptation, it is harder to remain faithful with such a faith.
Paul issues his cautions by taking a stroll down memory lane. Paul directs our attention to a rich and dynamic time in the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with God.
I imagine Paul saying, “Remember way back when - in the desert of Sinai when our forefathers and foremothers were liberated by God and left Egypt behind?” The particular event Paul draws the Corinthian’s attention to - and our attention as well - is perhaps the greatest event in the lives of Jewish people.
God delivered the Israelite people from the cruel and oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Yet still their faith in God’s deliverance was weak. When they Egyptians pursued them, they grumbled. Trapped against the seashore with the Egyptians coming quickly, they now believed their fate to be death. But God parted the seas providing safe passage and saved their very lives. They passed through and escaped death.
But from there the barren and difficult desert lay before them. The people complained. What would they eat? What would they drink? How would they survive? Once again, God provided for them. There was bread - called manna - which fell from heaven. On manna the people were fed throughout their wandering. There was water, miraculous water, that poured from a rock at God’s command. It was a life giving source.