Summary: Seeing the Church through grace and peace
This sermon (1 Corinthians 1: 18 - 2: 5) was preached at West Ewell Evangelical Church, Surrey, on Sunday 31 May 2015.
The Corinthian church was very much like us – within a society that had no moral compass and experiencing a religious maelstrom where it seemed as though every thought was considered valid.
We are looking at this letter through the prism of grace and peace (verse 3) which only comes from the Father and the Son.
Opening question: Why did Jesus die on the cross? Discuss.
In this passage, Paul deals with some of the issues raised by that question.
The wrong answers include: a tragic end to a good life, as an example to us.
The right answers are: to save us from our sins, conquer sin and death, bring us into relationship with God, fulfil the Old Testament scriptures.
However, the ultimate answer was so God would be glorified.
The Church has managed to corrupt the Gospel so conforms to the viewpoint of the world as Richard Halverson has commented: ‘In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centring on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.’
We will unpack these thoughts as we go on.
We will see:
1. The Modern Greeks
2. The Modern Jews
3. The Wisdom of God
1. The Modern Greek
The Greeks were well-known for their philosophies. Prior to Paul visiting Corinth, he had been to Athens (Acts 17: - ‘All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.’)
Main philosophies that people automatically think about: Epicureans (living for pleasure) and Stoics (self-discipline), which have their equivalents today with the get-rich crowd and the emphasis on yoga among other examples.
In midst of their thinking, the Greeks had stories of gods and goddesses performing mighty deeds, often replication of human actions. They had sense that more than their thoughts, that there was something/someone out there greater than them.
This philosophising is seen in modern atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or the late Christopher Hitchens where there is no room for love but they do not acknowledge that there is Someone beyond their minds and experiences.
I once heard about an atheist funeral where, as the crowd made its way out of the crematorium, a comment was made that it was hoped that the deceased person was looking down on them.
There is no room for love in equation for the philosophers as it is (for them) just academic, which negates the fact that God made us to holistic.
A four year-old girl asked her father, a surgeon, how the heart worked. He drew with pride a diagram with the veins and arteries. At the end, she asked: ‘Where does all the love go in?’
The Gospel is truth, but it is also love which is shown in Jesus.
N T Wright wrote: ‘Logic cannot comprehend love, so much for logic’
We can fall into a similar trap when listening to sermon, where we are ticking off the theological niceties and not applying it to our lives.
2. The Modern Jews
We have looked at modern Greeks – those who lay great store by philosophy.
The next group want great things to happen. The sad thing was that the Jewish people still wanted political leader even after Jesus taught them that it was not the role of the Messiah: Gamaliel in Acts chapter 5 mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean.
People today want Christ to solve every possible human ill – economic, natural (such as famines, floods or earthquakes), personal (e.g. illness, family breakups) - without Him impacting on their lives in any meaningful way.
In the rock musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Herod is given the lyrics: So if You are the Christ / You're the great Jesus Christ /Prove to me that You're no fool / Walk across my swimming pool.'
Jesus stated : ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign.’ (Matthew 12: 39) – many people are wanting to ‘bargain’ with God but wanting their own way.
The Jewish people wanted works out of strength, and they were not prepared for the seemingly weak despite being told of the Servant King in Isaiah chapter 53.
People nowadays want God to come into their lives on their own terms – and it is not just those outside of the Church, as we can limit the role of Jesus in our lives in that we may want our lives to be sorted out without God necessarily getting the glory.