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Things We Can Agree On September 30, 2007

Posted by roberttalley in First Corinthians, Religion, Sermons.
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WHEN CHRISTIANS DISAGREE

WHAT ARE WE TO AGREE ON?

I Corinthians 1:4-10

 

ESTABLISHING THE SITUATION: Put yourself in the place of the Apostle Paul. You are going to write a letter to a church that is torn apart by envy and strife and dissension. This church is a strong church doctrinally. The members are evangelical but not legalistic. In spite of being a young church, they have strong Bible knowledge. They live in a very wicked city, yet their lives have been changed drastically through faith in Christ. The dissension is centered around spiritual pride and the following of certain styles and emphasis of teaching as represented by Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ. Before you begin to correct the dissension, you want to give them a rallying point or points around which they all can agree. What would those rallying points be? (At this point there was a short discussion with a lot of good ideas given.)

 

There is much that divides Christians today. Some of those things are spiritual, some are doctrinal, some are earthly and/or personal. Paul begins this letter to the Corinthians, a church that is much very divided, with thanksgiving for things on which they can agree. He does this because he wants to contrast their behavior with the spiritual reality of their lives. The things Paul is thankful for are those things by which we as believers in general and specifically we here at Fellowship Bible Church should identify ourselves. These are the things which will keep us from dividing unnecessarily, if we are focused on them. If we focus on these things, they will keep us from focusing on ourselves. These are the things we are to agree on.

1. We are to Agree on the Gift of the Gospel (verse 4). Here the gospel is defined as the grace that is given through Christ Jesus. Notice I did not say, we are to agree that there is a God. The belief in God is absolutely necessary to belief in the gospel but that is not the basis of our unity in the gospel. I also did not say that belief in Jesus is equal to belief in the gospel. That is why John wrote his gospel and his epistles because there were people who believed in some form of Jesus but did not believe the gospel. Paul wrote Galatians because there were those who were very orthodox, they were solidly evangelical in their belief on Jesus Christ but they did not hold to the gospel. In fact, Paul said that if they come preaching some other gospel, let them be damned. I also did not say that we are to agree that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is where we get the gospel and is absolutely necessary but that is not the beginning point of our agreement. The beginning point, the common denominator of our agreement as believers is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now what is he telling us in this prayer about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

You cannot earn grace. It is given or granted to you. We quote Ephesians 2:8-9 constantly to prove that you cannot earn grace. Salvation is not by works of any kind. Salvation does not come by works. We will see later in this passage that salvation is not kept by works. That’s why not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God. Entrance is only by grace. Many in the mainline denominations both liberal and otherwise believe in works. Many evangelicals believe in works. There are fundamentalists who believe in works. The Bible teaches that it is not by works of righteousness but by grace He has saved us and grace by definition cannot be earned.

Grace is only given through Jesus Christ. If you get grace through the church, it is not grace. Baptism or the Lord’s supper are not means of grace. Grace is only available through Jesus Christ. If you are working to get saved then you are trying to earn grace, you are not going through Jesus Christ. If you are working to stay saved and trying to stay in God’s grace then you are working apart from Jesus Christ.

How then does one receive this grace? Only through Jesus Christ. There are only two possibilities – Trusting Christ or not trusting Christ. Following Him or not following Him. There is no possibility of earning this favor. Grace takes the good works or the righteousness of Jesus Christ and puts them on our time card. Trusting Christ excludes any and all good works that we could do or that could be done for us. Favor with God cannot be won.

We are to agree on the Assurance of a New or Changed Life in Christ Jesus (verses 5-7a). This is not one of the fundamentals of the faith. This is not one of the first things that we go to when we say, this is what a Christian is. Paul saw things much differently than we see them. Paul saw the Christian life as a changed life assured of its place in God’s grace and kingdom. If someone is saved and their life has not been changed, what fellowship have we with them. But when someone has trusted Christ and their life has been transformed and I have trusted Christ and my life has been transformed, how can we do anything but praise God together and work together and love each other. The reason that the first believers were of one mind and one accord was not because they were super spiritual. They were of one mind and one accord because they all had the same shared spiritual experience – the transformed life in Christ and the confirmation or assurance that goes with a transformed life.

We are enriched and lack nothing (verses 5 and 7a) by Him, that is, by Jesus Christ in all utterance and knowledge (we will come back to this in chapter 8:1). They were capable of expressing the truth and they were capable of understanding the truth. These people had put their faith in Christ and it showed in their speech and in their knowledge. They knew their doctrine. In fact, they debated the finest points of doctrine. That is why Paul uses so many doctrinal arguments in this book to make practical points. For example, he does not explain the baptism of the Holy Spirit to them because they understood the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He simply says, you were all baptized by the same Spirit into the body of Christ. Start acting like it. These people knew the truth of Christ. They were certain of it and Paul was certain of it.

We are established or confirmed by the testimony of Christ (compare with 2:1). This wonderful assurance is based in Jesus Christ. This knowledge and this capability to express knowledge comes through faith in the testimony of Christ. Assurance of salvation is based not on only on my knowledge of the Word but on my confidence in Christ and as my confidence in Christ grows my knowledge of the Word grows. There were many years in my life when I had a lot of Bible and doctrinal knowledge and I was very capable of giving it out verbally but it was as my confidence in the testimony of Christ was established that I finally received assurance in my soul of my salvation in Jesus Christ. The grace of God given by the Lord Jesus Christ should cause us to focus on Jesus Christ and when we focus on Jesus Christ that gives us assurance. To try to focus on assurance without focusing on what Christ has done in your life is ineffective and will be frustrated by your flesh.

This agreement in Christ is the basis for every gift we have from God, (verse 7a). In case you did not get that you are enriched in all things, Paul writes, “Understand! There is not one area where you are behind.” This church was blessed. They were full spiritually. They were full financially. They were full physically. This church had it made. Because they were doing so well, Paul says you have every blessing that God could give you.

3. We are to agree in our Expectancy for the Return of Christ (verses 7b-9). This certainty (verse 9 – God is faithful; see also 10:13) of a new life in Christ is the basis of our hope in His return (Compare with 1 John 3:1-3). It is very clear that our current life in Christ should produce an expectation for Christ’s return. These people were living to lay up treasure in heaven. There is only so much wealth here on the earth. There is only a limited amount of power and prestige and respect. For these people, those things did not matter. They were looking for the coming of Christ.

Their expectancy was not deterred by their prosperity. Think about this church for a moment. These people had it good. They weren’t a bunch of poor, hardscrabble farmers looking for release from their backbreaking work, waiting for the day when pain and sorrow would be gone. Many of these people were prosperous, they were doing well but they were living, not for this life but for the life to come. I have been around a lot of churches in forty-four years but I have never seen a group of people who were as a group eagerly awaiting the Lord’s return. Individuals, yes but a whole church, never. Most of us have more in common with the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 than we do with the church at Corinth. We are so tied to this earth that the next one seems to be unreal. We become confident but our confidence is not in Christ. We have need of nothing. That was not the Corinthians problem. They were agreed that Jesus was coming again and they were looking forward to it. By the way, this verse really brings to light the reason that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the resurrection. There were a few who did not believe in a resurrection and Paul wanted to correct that deficiency and help them to maintain that expectation for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Their expectancy was not deterred by their spiritual weakness. These people had a lot of problems. They understood that. That is why they wrote Paul and said, “Help us out!” These questions that they needed help on were actually dealt with beginning in chapter seven. In spite of their problems, they looked forward to the day when not only their faith in Christ was be established but also when their blamelessness in Christ would be established. Perhaps you remember this word from Titus 1:5-7. It means “without accusation” or, perhaps we would understand this word better as “unimpeachable”. This means more than simply acquittal but the total lack of a charge against them. It means an investigation is not even necessary. This verse says that Christ establishes us with such a high reputation and with the reality that goes with such a high reputation that no one would even believe a false charge. It does not mean we are without any fault. We are well aware that is not true. It means that Christ works in our character and in our being in such a way when He returns, it will occur to no one to even accuse us of wrongdoing. As you might expect, the ramifications of that are huge. John Piper commenting on verse 8 says, “In other words, the assurance of the believer is not that God will save him even if he stops believing, but that God will keep him believing—God will sustain you in faith, he will make your hope firm and stable to the end. He will cause you to persevere.”

This agreement with each other in Christ on the matters of grace and assurance and expectancy of Christ’s return is the practical basis of our fellowship, the basis for the way we treat each other as believers (I Corinthians 1:10; see also chapter 13 and Ephesians 4:1-6). Unity is caused by a common belief in a common Savior and Lord and is shown by a common assurance and a common hope. This is our shared reality, our shared experience in Christ.

Why then do we not act like we have a common fellowship in Jesus Christ? Why then do we disagree? There are a number of possibilities but the one Paul points out repeatedly in various ways in the book of 1 Corinthians is spiritual pride. Not the pride of self-sufficiency that the Laodiceans were guilty of but the pride of spiritual superiority. The Corinthians had a spiritual superiority complex. How do you combat spiritual pride? How do you prevent a spiritual superiority complex?

Live consciously of the fact that you are saved by the grace of God.

Live assured of your relationship with Jesus Christ and that all blessings are available to you only through Him but remember that this is the common experience of every believer who will just take advantage of it.

Look forward to the days when He comes and makes you unimpeachable, truly superior, rewards you with the heavenly treasure that is truly yours.

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Comments»

1. The Overflow of the Christian life « Eternally Significant - September 30, 2007

[…] “[The Corinthians were] enriched and lacked nothing (verses 5 and 7a)… by Jesus Christ in all utterance and knowledge (we will come back to this in chapter 8:1). They were capable of expressing the truth and they were capable of understanding the truth. These people had put their faith in Christ and it showed in their speech and in their knowledge. They knew their doctrine. In fact, they debated the finest points of doctrine…These people knew the truth of Christ. They were certain of it and Paul was certain of it” (from the sermon, “Things We Can Agree On”). […]

2. Powernewt.Com » Things We Can Agree On - September 30, 2007

[…] At Midnight wrote an interesting post today on Things We Can Agree OnHere’s a quick […]

3. Relationship » Things We Can Agree On - September 30, 2007

[…] relationship quotes wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptGrace takes the good works or the righteousness of Jesus Christ and puts them on our time card. Trusting Christ excludes any and all good works that we could do or that could be done for us. Favor with God cannot be won. … […]

4. Doc Burkhart - September 30, 2007

There is a song we used to sing in church all the time…it has been a long L-O-N-G time since I have heard it. The line I remember most is:

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Didn’t Jesus Himself say that the Law and The Prophets was summed up by ‘loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourself’?

Doc Burkhart – The 100 Goals
http://the100goals.blogspot.com
The Fellowship of Christian Veterans
http://fcv-usa.blogspot.com
The Christian Homeschool Network
http://chsn-usa.blogspot.com

5. steven carr - October 1, 2007

I wonder why these people converted to Christianity and still scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse?

Was it the persecution which attracted them?

Paul never mentions any group at Corinth which claimed to believe in corpses rising.

Some took part in baptism for the dead, and some did not.

6. roberttalley - October 1, 2007

Thanks for the comments and trackbacks everyone.

Steven,

I suspect that there was only a group among the Corinthians who doubted the resurrection, although as you point out, Paul does not say that.

This seems to be the only area where there was a doctrinal problem in the church at Corinth. It was not uncommon for religious and thinking people in that day not to believe in the resurrection as seen in Paul’s preaching to the Athenians and as represented by the Sadducees and Essenes among the Jews. We find it almost unthinkable for a religious person not to believe in the resurrection but the religious mileu of the day was somewhat different than our modern religious thinking in this area.


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