With all the differences within the body of Christ—politics, ethnicity, economic conditions, preferences, opinions, etc.—what is it that unites us? In this message from David Platt, we’ll see that the cross of Christ should unite God’s people. Furthermore, as the apostle Paul makes clear, it’s the cross that humbles us, transforms us, and undergirds who we are and what we do. Though it may seem foolish to the world, the cross is where God’s wisdom and power are put on display.
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1. Words really can’t express how much I am looking forward to the coming months in our faith family. I shared with you a couple of months ago about how last August, our pastors/elders went away on a retreat, and at that retreat, we split up and spent some concentrated time in prayer alone, asking God to show us where and how He was leading our faith family. Specifically, we were about to study Revelation 2-3, Jesus’ letters to the churches.
We spent time asking God, “What are you saying to our church?” Basically, asking the question, “If the Lord were to write a letter to The Church at Brook Hills today, what would it say? Where might the Lord commend us? And where might the Lord call us out in areas we need to grow in, including sin that we need to repent of?” We split up and prayed, and with Bibles in our hands, we listened, and then came back together to discuss what we believed the Lord was saying to us. There was such unity around the room. It was like we had been praying to the same God, the same Lord, and He had spoken clearly to us regarding two particular areas where we as a church need to grow.
One of the things that He spoke clearly to us about was our need to grow in personal evangelism, in sharing the gospel, not just with the nations, but with our neighbors—people right around us. This is where disciple-making starts, and we’re not making disciples if we’re not sharing the gospel. Over the last couple of months, we have walked through this “Threads” series where the Lord, I pray, has challenged and encouraged us through His Word to share His Word, to weave threads of the gospel into the fabric of our everyday conversations. We have intentionally made lists of people in our spheres of influence that we are praying for and sharing with, and by God’s grace, many of those people have come to Christ over the last couple of months. Praise God for this.
We don’t want to just assume that because we’ve walked through that series, now we’ve checked that box off. No, we want to continually exhort one another in our worship gatherings and in our small groups to share the gospel, to continue weaving threads of the gospel into everyday interactions. So let’s not stop doing this. Let’s continue doing this. The Lord has spoken to us, called us to grow in this area, so may the last couple of months be just a foretaste of more and more and more people coming to Christ through our lives in the rest of this year. Let’s keep our lists going, let’s keep adding names to our lists, let’s keep praying, and let’s keep sharing.
There was one other area where the Lord spoke just as clearly, if not more clearly, and this area dealt with the way we care for every member of this church—specifically our need as a church to literally care for the souls of every single member in the body called The Church at Brook Hills. What was so stunning about that time with the elders was, after praying individually, we came back together and were sitting at tables in smaller groups, and we asked each table to share some of the areas where we sensed the Lord leading us to grow. At the same time, we also asked, “Are there any specific parts of the Bible that the Lord is leading us to study?” What was so stunning was when just about every single table mentioned the exact same book of the Bible, and that book was 1 Corinthians. As we went around from table to table, different brothers at different tables all said, “After praying, we believe we need to study 1 Corinthians.” It was awesome. Literally awe-some. Knowing that God had spoken clearly to us. So now, as you open your Bible to 1 Corinthians, my heart is filled with eager expectation for what God has in store for us today and in the days ahead as we journey through this book that God has so clearly said, “I want The Church at Brook Hills to hear what I have to say in this Bible book at this time.”
Why 1 Corinthians?
So, why 1 Corinthians? Why would this book be particularly appropriate for The Church at Brook Hills in 2013? Well, let me give you a little background on the book. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth. It wasn’t actually the first letter he had written to them. We learn in 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul had written the Corinthian church on a previous occasion, but this letter in particular was written specifically as a response to some things that Paul had heard about the church at Corinth, things that concerned him.
Corinth was the largest, most cosmopolitan city in Greece—a port city that connected all kinds of commercial trade routes and attracted all sorts of different people with different occupations from different ethnicities. This melting pot of a city was extremely pagan. Corinth was filled with all kinds of idolatry (the worship of all kinds of different gods) and immorality, particularly sexual immorality, so much so to the point that “to Corinthianize” was a term that came to mean “to become sexually immoral.” High atop the city was the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, which employed over 1000 temple prostitutes who would come down into the city every night to practice their trade. Corinth was also a central city for homosexual activity. Keep in mind: This is the city from which Paul wrote the book of Romans. You can almost imagine him looking out over the city and writing, “Although they knew God…” This was Paul’s eyewitness testimony to the city of Corinth.
Paul had gone into this tough city, and he had preached the gospel. At first, he was discouraged and frightened, and he wanted to leave, but the Lord appeared to him in a vision one night in Acts 18, and said, “Paul, don’t be afraid. Keep on speaking the gospel. Don’t be silent, for I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed there for about 18 months (about a year and a half), and people came to Christ, and a church was born.
You can only imagine the challenges that ensued for the church in Corinth, in the culture of Corinth. Before long, so much in the church was being overtaken by so much of the culture. The constant quest for power and wealth in the city had led to division and snobbery in the church, and the sexual immorality of the culture had crept into the church in horrible ways. One writer said, “The problem was not that the church was in Corinth but that too much of Corinth was in the church.” So Paul writes this letter to remind them what the church is and how the church is intended to care for one another, to protect one another from sin, to serve one another in Christ with love. And how the church in this way will be distinct from the culture around it.
Why, then, would 1 Corinthians be the book that the Lord would specifically and clearly lead us to at The Church at Brook Hills at this time? Well, I put two reasons that I know of. There may be more that God has in store (I’m sure there are), but these two are obvious:
As we grow…
One, as we grow. As our new member workshops are filling up every time they’re scheduled – we have a waiting list that takes us all the way to the fall in some cases. As the Lord, by His grace, is adding to our number, we want to care for every single member of what is a relatively large church. We, as elders/pastors, want to do this. Hebrews 13:17 makes clear that pastors are entrusted with the watch of your souls and will give an account to Christ for every member of this church. How do we do that? How do we care for the souls of 4,500 people? Obviously, a group of 30 pastors/elders can’t do that alone. This is something we must as a church do together. We must serve one another, build up one another, keep one another from sin and guard one another from temptation in the world around us.
As we go…
Which leads to the second part here: As we go into the culture around us, specifically here in Birmingham and then even more broadly in the United States and North America (as well as the nations), we want to be faithful to God’s Word as God’s people in a rapidly shifting culture. I don’t even think that back in August, we as elders had any clue the pace at which the moral culture around us in our country would have shifted in such a short amount of time.
At that time, President Obama had just recently announced his support of same-sex marriage. Now, less than a year later, the Supreme Court in our country is taking up two potentially transformative cases on the issue of, so-called, “gay marriage,” and public support for so-called “gay marriage” has skyrocketed, buttressed by all kinds of politicians from both sides of the aisle. This is just one symptom of a sex-crazed culture filled with pornography and prostitution and the degradation of marriage, and this is on top of other social issues ranging from poverty to abortion. All of these issues that are not just outside the church, but inside the church. Could it be that, just as too much of Corinth was in the church in the first century, too much of America is in the church in the twenty-first century?
So how do we do both of these? How do we grow as a church in a way that cares for every member’s soul as we go into a culture where it is increasingly harder and undoubtedly more costly to be faithful to the Word of God? I read in one commentary that “Christians [in Corinth] were labeled haters of humankind because they refused to join in” the idolatrous and immoral practices of the culture surrounding them. I am convinced that we are not far off from, even what I or others will preach in this series from 1 Corinthians being labeled “hate speech” in the culture around us.
All of this to say, here’s where we are going over the coming months. We’re going to be in 1 Corinthians for a while, but we’re going to start today, and over the next couple of weeks, see how the cross of Christ and the Word of God are the foundation of our faith, the rocks upon which we stand (1 Corinthians 1 and 2). We’ll see how this affects the way we view and understand and respond to leadership in the church (1 Corinthians 3 and 4). From there, we’re going to think about church discipline and restoration and what that looks like in a church full of 4,500 members (1 Corinthians 5). From there, we’re going to spend concentrated time in 1 Corinthians 6, thinking about sexual immorality. We’re going to see how God defines sexual immorality, which is totally contrary to how the world defines sexual immorality, and we’re going to call one another to purity in the culture around us.
We’re going to pause during this study of 1 Corinthians on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to step back and remind ourselves of what all of Scripture has to say about what it means to be a woman or a man created in the image of God, and how that affects the way we live in this world. That will lead us into 1 Corinthians 7, where we will see what God says about marriage, what God says about divorce, and what God says about singleness.
From there, we’ll look at practical ways to glorify God in a culture that is filled with idols of wealth and prosperity (1 Corinthians 8 and 9 and 10). Based on 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), around the beginning of college football season, I’m going to take a week and we’re going to think together about how to enjoy sports without worshiping sports, how to enjoy sports in a way that is God-honoring and God-glorifying as fans of teams or as families carting kids all over this community playing sports. What are we doing that is God
glorifying, and what are we doing that is not God-glorifying? This is particularly appropriate in 1 Corinthians because Corinth was the host city of the Isthmian games, akin to the Olympic Games in that day.
That will then lead us to consider worship in the church (1 Corinthians 11). Which will then lead us to a couple of weeks where we’re going to talk about spiritual gifts in the church— how every one of us is gifted for the good of one another. We’ll consider what that means in each of our lives. We’ll even spend time in 1 Corinthians 14 talking about gifts like prophecy and tongues and what place they have in The Church at Brook Hills.
We’ll spend a couple of weeks in 1 Corinthians 13 and see how God defines love in a completely different way than the world defines love. And all of that will lead us to contemplate our future hope of resurrected bodies in heaven one day (1 Corinthians 15) and how the promise of resurrection absolutely transforms the way we live and the way we give as a church (1 Corinthians 16).
This is the journey that lies ahead of us. I want to pause here at the start, and I want to lead us in prayer in light of what I’ve shared with you this morning. In light of how clearly God has led us as a faith family to this point, I want to pray for us, my voice representing us before God. I want to ask God on our behalf to speak to us—just as He spoke so clearly to the elders months ago—that He would speak clearly to us now and in the months ahead in such a way that it would be clear that God is present among us, speaking to us, and making us into the church that He desires for us to be. So will you pray with me?
Dear God, our Father, Lord Jesus, we thank you for so clearly bringing us to this point at this moment on this day when our Bibles are opened to the book of 1 Corinthians. From the start of this journey through this book, we say, “We want to hear from you. We know that we have much room to grow in the way we care for one another as a church, and we want to be faithful to your Word as your people amidst a rapidly shifting culture around us. We want to honor you. We love you, Lord. We thank you for caring for us, for speaking to us, for guiding us as your church. We submit to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Okay, are you ready to hear from God? Let’s read 1 Corinthians 1.
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
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 since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him 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 Corinthians 1:1-31)
This chapter in so many ways sets the tone for this entire book. In so many ways, this chapter outlines the theme of this entire book, and that theme revolves around one word that you see/hear over and over and over again in this chapter and in this book and that is the cross. From the very beginning of this book that will teach us so much about the church (what the church is and what the church should look like), Paul makes very clear that what makes the church distinct, what makes the church different from any other social club and any other organization and any other business, any other anything – what makes the church distinct, what sets the community called “Christians” apart from everyone and everything else in the culture around it is the cross.
The Church…A Community Formed by the Cross
The church is a community formed by the cross, centered around the cross, and really, not just the church, but Christians, followers of Christ, are centered around the cross. As a result, when Christians come together in the church, their community with one another, the way they relate to one another, the way they care for one another, the way they serve one another, the way they love one another, the way they marry and the way they live and the way they give and the way they go into the world together – it’s all shaped/formed by the cross. All the issues I mentioned above that Paul is going to address in 1 Corinthians—
leadership, discipline, sexuality, marriage, divorce, singleness, idolatry, spiritual gifts, worship, love, resurrection, giving—every time Paul addresses one of these issues, he always brings it back specifically to the cross and how the cross affects all of these things.
According to Paul, everything in the Christian life revolves around the cross, and everything in the church revolves around the cross. I count at least six ways in this first chapter that the cross shapes the church, six ways that the cross forms Christian community. It’s not just, “Here’s number one, and here’s number two, and here’s number three in the text.” These ways are intertwined all throughout this chapter in a way that sets the stage for this entire book. So let me show them to you. Six ways that the cross shapes our lives and our community in the church.
The cross humbles us.
Number one, the cross humbles us. I want you to circle a few words with me in this text. Each time Paul uses the word “called” or “chose” to describe the grace of God in his life and in our lives, circle it. Let’s start in verse 1, the first time we see it. “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle…” (1 Corinthians 1:1). So circle “called” there. Then, skip down to verse 2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Circle “called” again.
Now down to verse 9. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Circle “called” there. Now jump down to verse 22. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Circle “called” there in verse 24. And last, go down to verse 26.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Circle “calling”. Chose, chose, chose. Call, chose. This word “calling” here is a word that describes how God draws people to Himself, how He saves people. This is His calling to salvation.
If you were to turn back just a couple of pages before this, about halfway through the book of Romans, to Romans 8, you’ll hear Paul say, “We know that God works…” (Romans 8:28). Then, he uses the word again in Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). He uses the same language just a few pages later in your Bible in Ephesians 1, where he says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Did you hear that? God called us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Think about that, Christian. Before the sun was ever even formed, before a star was ever placed in the sky, before mountains were ever laid upon the earth, before oceans were ever poured upon the land, God set His sights on your soul. God called, chose you in Christ. Which is why Paul, here at the very beginning of 1 Corinthians, defines the church literally as the assembly (or the gathering) of those whom God has called.
See with me here how all of this revolves around the cross. Follow with me here because this is nothing short of breath-taking when you realize what the Bible is saying here. Think about the contrast here in verse 18. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Follow with me here. There are two types of people in the world (in all of history, humanity is divided into two groups) with two different reactions to the cross.
First, to those who are perishing, the cross seems absurd. Just think about it. The very idea that God would become a man. Stop right there and you’ve lost billions of people just like that. Muslims are out. God could not, would not debase Himself by becoming a man. Hundreds of millions of others who think there’s no God in the first place, and hundreds of millions of others who think it’s preposterous that a man could be divine.
Then take it further. That God would not just come to the world as a man, but that as a man, He would be crucified. Feel the horror here. We wear crosses on our necks and hang crosses in our homes. You didn’t do that in the first century. It would be like wearing a lethal injection table around your neck or putting a picture of an electric chair over your dining room table. Except it was much worse. This was the most gruesome, most torturous, most shameful way to kill someone, reserved for barbarians and slaves.
Paul says in verse 23 that “Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Corinthians 1:23). What an understatement! To a Jewish person, Christ crucified is shocking blasphemy, like saying a “godly child abuser”. In Jewish thought, anyone who hung on a tree was under the curse of God. The Messiah King would not be cursed of God in Jewish thought. And Christ crucified was folly to Gentiles. The word here literally means “madness.” Gentiles hear that a Jewish man died on a piece of wood on a nondescript hill in a nondescript part of the world, and His death determines the eternal fate of every person in the world. That’s madness.
Step out of the story here, and imagine hearing someone say today, “A man was executed by political authorities in a small Middle Eastern country. He was claiming to be the Savior of the world.” Such a man would not get a second thought from us. Ladies and gentlemen, if Christ crucified is a stumbling block for Jews and folly for Gentiles, it is absurd to Americans. Take the successful, well-dressed American man with the nice job and the big house and the nice car, and take the free thinking American woman who thrives on her independence from everything including God. Take them both outside the city to a garbage dump where a naked man is hanging by nails on a tree, covered in blood, and tell them, “Your only hope in life is in believing that this man is God and you are entirely dependent upon Him as your judge, your master, your lord, and your king.” That man and that woman will laugh, will roll their eyes, at most, they will feel sorry for this man in His deranged condition, and they will move on with their lives.
This is an absurd message to Jews and Gentiles alike, but Paul is writing to a group of Jews and Gentiles in Corinth who had believed in Christ. Don’t miss it; there’s another group here. To those who are perishing, the cross seems absurd, but to those who are being saved, the cross evokes awe. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). There is a whole group of people here, of which Paul is one, who sees the cross not as preposterous, but as powerful. Not as absurd, but as awe-inspiring. So why does one group of people see the cross one way and another group of people see the cross another way?
Follow in your notes with me. The cause. What causes one group to respond to the cross in awe? Well, see what the cause is not. The cause is not the specific quality of those who are called. Paul says to the church at Corinth, “You are Christians; you are followers of Christ, saved at the cross, not because of you or anything in you.” Listen to what he says in verse 26. “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Translation: You were not voted most likely to succeed in Corinth. You were most likely not to succeed in Corinth. Go on to verse 27. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). You are like something that is not. Just in case you are wondering, this is not a compliment.
“What sets you apart,” Paul says, “has nothing to do with how smart you are, where you were born, or what you have achieved. You are in the church, not because of any specific quality in you, but only because of the sovereign mercy of the One who called you.” Follow with me here. This is huge! What sets apart those who are perishing, who see the cross as absurd, and those who are being saved, who see the cross in awe? The only difference is those who are being saved are called by the sovereign mercy of God. Think, Christian, why do so many people look at the cross and see folly, and you look at the cross and see forgiveness? Are you smarter than others? Are you better than others? No. It is only the mercy of God that enables you to see the cross with awe.
I don’t presume to know how all of this works, so I want to pause here. I put in your notes a caution in this passage. Pastorally, I want to caution us here, yes, to recognize the initiative of God. Recognize the mercy of God who calls us to salvation. God is the One who calls us to be saints, who forms us as His church, through the message of the cross. His merciful calling is His initiative. To quote the great 19th Century English pastor Charles Spurgeon:
I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have [chosen] me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.
Recognize the initiative of God, but as you do, also remember the responsibility of man. Look at verse 2, where Paul uses this word to talk about how we are “called to be saints.” You keep going, and Paul talks about “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Same thing down in verse 21. Right before Paul talks about calling and choosing in verses 22-29, Paul says, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Notice here in verse 2 and in verse 21 that there is human action and human responsibility for action involved here. People call on the name of the Lord in order to be saved, and people believe in the cross that is preached in order to be saved. We do something here; man does something here. This is all over the Bible. Men and women are responsible for whether or not we believe, whether or not we call on the Lord. We are all responsible in this room for how we respond to the cross. The Bible never pictures people as puppets, mindlessly controlled by divine fatalism. That is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over salvation, and men and women are responsible for whether or not they trust in Christ in salvation. How these two realities come together is a mystery, a breathtaking mystery.
To go back to Spurgeon, he describes his discovery of this mystery when he writes:
One weekend when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord. “But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, “How came I to pray?” I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. “How came I to read the Scriptures?” I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine, I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”
This is the story of every single Christian, every single member of the church. As a result, brothers and sisters, we are led to only one conclusion in the church: We do not revel in the wisdom or the ways of this world. This is part of the problem that Paul is addressing from the start in 1 Corinthians. People in the church are living like people in the culture, trusting in their own wisdom, advancing their own name, asserting their own status, looking out for their own interests, and Paul says, “No, no, no. We are a community centered around the cross, and we don’t boast in, revel in the possessions we have or the position we hold or the status we attain. No, we don’t revel in anything we have or are in this world. Christian, church member, we don’t revel in how much money we make or what degrees we earn or what accomplishments we achieve or what things we own or what privileges we enjoy in the culture around us. We know that apart from God’s mercy in calling us to Himself through the cross of Christ, we would have nothing.
We don’t revel in the wisdom or the ways of this world; we only revel in the grace and the glory of our God. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”, verse 31. God chose you, of all people, verse 29, “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). There is no room for pride in the church at the foot of the cross. I can’t help but to leave this point with one more quote from Spurgeon. He just said it best when he wrote:
How can we be proud? Stand at the foot of the cross, and count the purple drops by which you have been cleansed. See His thorn-crown; mark His scourged shoulders, still gushing with encrimsoned rills; see His hands and feet given up to the rough iron spikes, and His whole self to mockery and scorn; see the bitterness, and the pangs, and the throes of inward grief, showing themselves in His outward frame; hear the horrid shriek, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”
If you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross—you have never seen it! If you are not humbled in the presence of Jesus—you do not know Him. You were so lost that nothing could save you—but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son.
May the Lord bring us in contemplation, to Calvary. Pride cannot live beneath the cross! Let us sit there and learn our lesson—and then rise and carry it into practice!
This is exactly what Paul is calling the church at Corinth to and what God is calling The Church at Brook Hills to—an utter humility across this church at the foot of the cross that realizes we are only a part of this church (any church, the church) by the grace and mercy of the God who called our names. Be encouraged here. I know that there are members of this church here this morning who are hurting, who are walking through valleys and pain and conflict and confusion in your life. I just want to remind you that, before the world was ever even formed, the God of the universe called your name, and no matter what happens to you in this life, you are safe and you are secure in Him. The cross humbles us.
The cross satisfies us.
But it doesn’t just humble us; the cross satisfies us. This is so good, the way Paul starts this letter. If you were just to read verses 1-9 of this book (this letter), you would have nothing but a positive view of the church at Corinth. Most people, after reading through the whole book of 1 Corinthians, come away thinking, “Man, that church is messed up. The way they treat one another in the Lord’s Supper, the way they’re giving in to idolatry and sexual immorality, all of their factions and infighting. This church has got problems.”
It does have problems, but listen to how Paul describes this church from the very beginning. Verse 2: “…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus…called to be saints…grace and peace…I give thanks to God because of the grace given you in Christ Jesus…you have been enriched in him…and you are not lacking in any gift…you are waiting for the revealing of Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of Jesus.” I love this. Here is this church with all kinds of weaknesses and warts, yet in Christ, Paul sees this church as a community of sanctified saints filled with the grace of God—all because of the cross of Christ.
Think about it, church. This is not just the church at Corinth, but The Church at Brook Hills. Because of the cross, all of our guilt is gone. I think about Brook Hills. We’ve got warts, and we’ve got weaknesses as a church. From the outside looking in, The Church at Brook Hills may have a certain reputation based on books that I’ve written or ideas that people have, but anybody who is a member of this church knows that this church is far from perfect. We have issues, and most churches have issues.
What’s so sad is when dissatisfied church members (here or elsewhere) start thinking, “That church over there doesn’t have issues, so I’ll go there,” and they go there. But before long, they realize, “Man, that church has issues, too.” We fuel this church hopping and shopping trend all over this church culture. I just want to be clear, especially to guests among us. The Church at Brook Hills is full of men and women and led by pastors who are prone to sin, and we have issues as a result. But the beauty is—don’t miss it here in 1 Corinthians—by the lavish grace of God given us in Christ Jesus, we have been enriched in Him, and we are not lacking in gifts from God. One day, by the grace of God in the cross of Christ, we will stand guiltless before God.
This is the gospel. This is the message of the cross. Hear this, Christian, and hear this, non Christian. Hear this good news. For every man and woman who has sinned against God, whose life has been shattered and stained and shamed by sin, Jesus has taken all the shame of your sin upon Himself, all the guilt of your sin upon Himself on the cross, so that you don’t have to bear the shame and guilt of sin anymore, so that you might be a saint. Again, this is not because of anything you have done, but completely because of the grace He has given.
If you have never turned from your sin and trusted in Christ to save you from the shame and guilt of your sin, I urge you to do that today. When you do, realize that because of the cross, church, all of our guilt is gone, and because of the cross, all of God’s gifts are ours. Paul says to this church that is struggling with sin, “You are not lacking in any gift.” This is what he’ll say to them again in 1 Corinthians 3. “All thing are yours…” (1 Corinthians 3:21). Paul will say, “…And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:23).
Despite our sin, despite our shortcomings, God enriches and blesses us as His church with His grace in such a way that “[we] are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7). It is only because of the cross that Paul would say this about the church at Corinth, and it is only because of the cross that this is true about The Church at Brook Hills. That this assembly of brothers and sisters with all of our sins and shortcomings would be guiltless before God and given such gifts by God is all because of the cross.
The cross unifies us.
The cross humbles us, the cross satisfies us, and the cross unifies us. Starting in verse 10, Paul begins to address factions in the church at Corinth. People were dividing into different camps around different leaders. You have the Paul group, or the Apollos group (another of the church leaders there at Corinth) or the Cephas group (which is the Peter group; Cephas is synonymous with the apostle Peter) or some who said somewhat arrogantly, “Well, I’m in the Christ group,” as if no one but them was actually in “the Christ group.” This was a tendency in the church at Corinth, and this is a tendency in any church, to rally behind certain leaders or pastors, to jockey for certain positions in the church, to tout different philosophies. “Well, I’m Arminian or I’m Calvinist.” Or, “I’m premillennial or I’m amillenial.” Or, “I’m this or I’m that.” They were quarreling like children, and Paul says, “No” and points them to the cross. He says, “The cross erases any reason for division among us.” We’ve already seen this in the way the cross humbles us. We are on equal ground at the foot of the cross. The wealthiest, most successful, most intelligent person is on the exact same ground as the poorest, the least successful, the least intelligent person. We all find ourselves side-by-side, arm-in-arm at the foot of the cross. “Christ is not divided,” Paul said, “so how can His body be divided?” It’s not like some in the church are saints and others aren’t. He says, “You’re all saints called by God, forgiven by God, redeemed by God because of the cross of Christ.”
The cross erases any reason for division among us because the cross exalts the only One who died for us. Paul says in verse 13, “Was [I] crucified for you?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). Mark it down. No matter how great a Christian leader or pastor might be, make sure this is always clear in your mind. That man (or that woman) is not the source of your redemption. That man (or that woman) will in some way at some time let you down. This is unquestionably true, and I want to make it abundantly clear: If I have not already let you down as the pastor of this church at some point, then I will. Don’t “Amen” too loudly to that. Don’t get me wrong. I want to live a life worthy of imitation and to lead this church well in a way that reflects Christ, but for God’s sake, don’t put your hope in me. As great as he is, don’t put your hope in Jim Shaddix either, or Matt Mason or any other pastor or person in this church. Put your hope in Christ. Pin your life and your identity on Christ. I guarantee you – I guarantee you He will never let you down. He is the One who died for you, and the cross reminds you of that. In this way, the cross unifies us.
Martin Luther, when he heard that some of the first Protestants were being called Lutherans, he protested, saying: “What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone…How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?” That’s a good word.
The cross transforms us.
The cross humbles us, the cross satisfies us, the cross unifies us around Christ, and the cross transforms us in Christ. Notice the emphasis that Paul puts throughout this first chapter on that phrase “in Christ.” Let me invite you to circle or underline “in Christ” every time you see it here. Verse 2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Verse 4, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 1:4). Keep going in verse 5, “that in every way you were enriched in him…” (1 Corinthians 1:5). Go down to verse 9. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Then the climax is at the end of the chapter verse 30, when Paul says in verse 30, “Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Paul is saying, “Because of the cross of Christ, you are now in Christ. As you are in Him, He transforms everything about you. He is your righteousness. Christ is our righteousness, meaning He has saved us from sin’s penalty. Righteousness deals with our standing before God. In our sin, we were cast out of God’s presence, separated from Him, but now in Christ, because of the cross on which He died, we are invited into the presence of God, reconciled to Him. At the cross, God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God. In Christ, because of the cross, we stand before God in righteousness. He is our righteousness.
Christ is our sanctification: He is saving us from sin’s power. This word “sanctify” that we’ve seen already means for God to make us holy. As we are in Christ, God is conforming us into the image of Christ. He is empowering us in battles against sin, and that’s only possible because Christ has defeated sin’s power at the cross. Therefore, because we are in Christ, we have victory over sin and temptation, sanctified, saved from sin’s power.
Christ is our redemption: He will ultimately save us from sin’s presence. God is redeeming us, re-creating us, into the image of Christ, and we’re waiting, Paul says, for the day when our redemption will be complete, and we will be free from sin’s presence altogether. Don’t you long for that day? This is why, when you get to verse 31, Paul sums it all up by saying, “Let him who boasts, boast in this” (1 Corinthians 1:31). Like we talked about, “Revel in this: That, in Christ, because of the cross on which He died and defeated sin, we have been saved from sin’s penalty (Christ is our righteousness), we are being saved daily from sin’s power (Christ is our sanctification), and we will one day ultimately be saved from sin’s presence altogether (Christ is our redemption).
Praise God in Christ for the cross! This is why Paul, throughout the rest of the letter, when he confronts the church at Corinth in sin, is going to continue to bring them back to the cross. He wants to remind them (and God wants to remind us) how the cross absolutely and utterly transforms the way we live as the church in the culture around us.
The cross compels us.
The cross transforms us, and the cross compels us. We don’t have a lot of time to spend here, but just to set the stage for the coming weeks, the whole point of this book is to show how the cross of Christ transforms the church so that we reflect the glory of Christ in the world.
This is how the cross compels us. We, as the church, want to reflect the holiness of God. We want our community to be a display of His grace and His glory for all to see. This is the purpose of the church—to display Christ to the world—and this is why, Church at Brook Hills, we’re studying 1 Corinthians. We want to be a display of the grace and glory of God in the city of Birmingham and in North America and among the nations. We want to reflect His character well. Part of my reading in my devotional time in the Word each morning has been from Leviticus, and I’ve been reminded how seriously God takes holiness among His people and how He calls them, commands us, “Be holy, as I am holy.”
We want to listen well to 1 Corinthians, because we want to reflect the holiness of God, and we want to proclaim the hope of the gospel. This is the lesson Paul learned when he was in Corinth when he received that vision: “Don’t be afraid, Paul. Keep speaking. Don’t be silent. Keep preaching the gospel.” Which is why he says in verse 17, “Christ sent me to preach the gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). We’ll think even more next week about what that means when we get to 1 Corinthians 2, but suffice to say at this point that the cross compels us to preach it.
When you know that Jesus has died for the sins of men and women, that He has taken the guilt and shame and penalty and price of sin upon Himself for men and women so that they might be forgiven of all their sin and restored, reconciled to God now and forever, then you want to proclaim this hope. The cross compels us (follow this) not just to have community in the church for community’s sake. As the church, we don’t want to be one big happy family simply for our sake. That misses the whole point. We want to be the church God has designed us to be. Yes, for one another’s sake, but then beyond this, for other’s sake, that others might see a true picture of Christ in the church and that others might know and receive and experience the hope of the gospel. The cross compels us in this way.
The cross assures us.
Finally, the cross assures us. We’ve already touched on this from verse 8 when Paul refers to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ when we will see Christ and be united with Him for eternity. I can’t properly set the stage for this entire book this morning without emphasizing this because, yes, every time Paul addresses a different concern or problem or issue in the church at Corinth in this book, he mentions the cross in some way. In the same way, every time Paul addresses a concern or problem or issue in the church at Corinth in this book, he also mentions the second coming of Jesus. It’s as if he’s reminding them at every turn that there are eternal ramifications for how they live their lives and how they lead the church. Every time, he ties it in with the cross.
As a result, the message of 1 Corinthians is clear: The Christ who came to die on a cross is the Christ who’s coming to usher in a kingdom. The Christ who came once to die as Savior is coming back again to reign as King. This is so key. This is so huge, especially when we think about the rapidly shifting culture around us and the harder and harder it may get for us to be faithful to God’s Word in this world—and not just to stand on it, but to proclaim this gospel in a culture where Christianity is increasingly marginalized. To not shrink back will be increasingly costly—socially, professionally, politically, economically. We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must lift our gaze from the temporal pursuits and pleasures and possessions of this world to look upon our crucified and coming King and to live for His renown, no matter what it costs us in this world.
We know the church is not living for our best life now. This will be the whole point of 1 Corinthians 15. If this world is all there is, then Christians are wasting their lives, but the whole point of the cross and the resurrection is that the church is not living for our best life now; the church is living for our best life later. This is why Paul will say later in 1 Corinthians 11, when describing the Lord’s Supper, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Looking back to the crucifixion of Christ, we look forward to the return of Christ, and this changes everything about how we look right in front of us at our lives and the church.