The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| October 19, 2014| 1 Corinthians 1:4-9
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless 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. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Are Christians better off than non-Christians? Are we healthier or wealthier? Back in 1971, country singer Lynn Anderson popularized a song written by Joe South called, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” This song has always reminded me of a basic principle of faith. If God promises it, we believe it. If he doesn’t, we don’t. Faith relies on the promise. Without God’s promise, there can be no faith. There can be imagination, presumption, dreams, speculation and all sorts of things that people mistake for faith, but if God doesn’t promise it, faith cannot trust in it.
What does God promise? That’s the question for us Christians to consider. I have made it my business over the years to have at least a passing familiarity with what popular preachers are saying. It is my job to beware of existing threats to the faith and to warn the flock of them. I have noticed that popular religion is more about marketing a religious experience than it is about proclaiming anything substantial about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Marketing Christianity turns Jesus into whatever the religious consumer is looking for. What people want is not necessarily what God wants them to have. When you appeal to market demands in the area of religion, you are putting the sinners in charge and telling their Savior to go stand in the corner and be quiet. This is what is happening to the church in America.
St. Paul was a faithful apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not believe in putting sinners in charge of their salvation. The Epistle before us this morning features Paul dealing pastorally with a congregation that had serious problems. They needed to be corrected. They had people who were getting drunk at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Some were denying the resurrection. There was a man committing incest with his father’s wife and the congregation did nothing about it. The services of the congregation were being disrupted by all sorts of disorderliness. These folks thought that they were in charge of the church. They followed their own spiritual inclinations, confusing their carnal desires with the voice of the Holy Spirit. Paul the faithful apostle directed them back to what had enriched them as Christians in the first place.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift.
God’s grace made them rich. What kind of wealth was it? It wasn’t social status. It wasn’t political power. It wasn’t money. They were enriched “in all utterance and all knowledge.” What kind of utterance? What kind of knowledge? Again, it wasn’t on how to secure status or become a success in the eyes of the world. This speaking and knowledge is the testimony of Christ. This is what God confirmed in them. What enriches you is the testimony of Christ – the gospel – being confirmed in you. This is the gift which, if you have it, you are truly wealthy.
The gospel tells you that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, has suffered and died for you and taken away your sins to that you stand righteous before God and are an heir of eternal life. Baptism, the absolution, the Lord’s Supper – these are all gospel gifts that make you wealthy.
To be ignorant of the gospel is to be consigned to a life of futility and poverty. People don’t know the gospel by nature. They know only the law and they don’t know that very well. On the surface, the law of God is very simple in its requirements. Jesus summarizes it in two commands:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is nothing complicated about that! Our problem is our failure to love as God requires. Our lack of love binds us in our sin. Until we know Christ we are incapable of loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. Instead, our heart’s affection rests on what is perishing. Our souls are devoted to self-preservation. Our minds are lost in the futility of our own wisdom. We love ourselves first. We are spiritually directed, not to God, but to idolatry. Then God has mercy on us and confirms the testimony of Christ in us.
This testimony runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. You cannot market it as you would shampoo, cars, hamburgers, or beer. You can’t market the gospel because there is no market for it. There is no taste for it until God shows us our need. Only when the law cuts us deeply, showing that we are not what we should be and don’t do what we should do, can we acquire a thirst for what the gospel provides: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Most people live their lives spiritually impoverished. But they don’t know it. They don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness because they cannot see their own lack. But they can see their lack of emotional satisfaction. They can see their lack of material prosperity. They can see their lack of physical health. So when these things are promised to them in God’s name they latch onto the promise. But they are left in poverty. God never promised what they are trusting in. He never promised to make us wealthy in material goods. He never promised that we would suffer no sickness in this life. He never promised that we would never face emotional distress. He promised he would enrich us in all knowledge and wisdom. He promised he would enlighten our minds by the Holy Spirit. He promised he would forgive us all our sins for the sake of the vicarious obedience and suffering of Jesus.
To be enriched in this knowledge prepares you to meet Christ when he returns to judge the living and the dead. St. Paul continues:
Eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless 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.
How will God confirm us to the end? How will God keep us in the true Christian faith so that when Jesus returns we will be ready to meet him? How can I know I will remain firm and not fall away from the faith to which I was called? The apostle explains how. He says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I will stand. I won’t fall away. I will be kept in the true faith until I die. How can I know this? God is faithful.
It is not my faithfulness. In Bible class on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we are reading together the account of the Lord’s passion in St. Luke’s Gospel. Peter boasted he would not deny Jesus. Then he denied Jesus. He fell away because he trusted in his own spiritual strength. That’s a sure road to ruin.
The same God who called us to faith is going to keep us in the faith and he is going to keep us in the faith the same way he called us to the faith. It will be by means of Christ’s testimony. Just as Christ’s testimony was confirmed in us in all utterance and knowledge, it will be confirmed in us in the same way.
The reason we need this testimony from Christ is because when left to our own devises, our faith becomes misdirected and we begin to put our trust in what God hasn’t promised. People complain about life. They’ve been mistreated. God hasn’t been faithful. Faithful to what? How can God be unfaithful when he has kept all of his promises? The reason people complain about God is that they think he has promised what he hasn’t promised. The reason they think this is because they don’t listen to what God says. If you want spiritual knowledge and insight; if you want spiritual enrichment; if you want a faith that is rightly established and that will remain in the face of testing – you must not hold God to what God hasn’t promised. Instead, claim what he has promised.
There is no greater wealth than the wealth of knowing Christ. We know David’s Son and David’s Lord as our Savior. He rules over us, not by legal force, but by bearing our sins of lovelessness on the cross, suffering and dying in our place, and pronouncing us to be forgiven of our sins. He justifies us by his blood. He is not only David’s Son, but David’s Lord, so this is God’s blood. God has obeyed for us and suffered for us. God has accepted that obedience and suffering. This is how we know Christ. We know him by what he did for us. What he did for us is what makes us righteous before him.
This is not just talk that goes in one ear and out the other. This is the eternal wisdom by which we are made spiritually wealthy. This gospel clears away all the cobwebs of uncertainty about our relationship with God. We are reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Our baptism into Christ’s death unites us with God himself. The Lord’s Supper confirms us as righteous because it is the very body that bore our sins and the very blood that was shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. We lack in no gift. If left to ourselves, our faith would die and we would fall. This we know. We also know that God will not leave us to ourselves. He is faithful. He will preserve us, by his gospel and sacraments, to stand before him blameless when he returns in glory. Amen.