"Victory in Christ"
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
(Delivered Sunday, January 1, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I had an interesting experience the other day. It was a reminder to me of how God's hand is upon His people for good - even in what seems like little ways.
I had made a trip to the Seattle area earlier last week; and I was on my way home late in the evening. I was almost home - just a little distance north of Vancouver - when my car's engine started to loose power. Something was very wrong with the transmission; and it was failing.
Now, it used to be that I would go into a sudden panic at such times. But God has been changing me. Instead of panicking, the first thing that I did was thank God for the situation and ask His help. (As some of you know, He has used that particular vehicle to teach me that lesson a few times before.) So, even though the car was in trouble, I was at peace.
I was still quite a ways away from town; so, trusting God, I took the first freeway exit I could take. By this point, the transmission was completely gone; and all I could do was roll. I rolled as far as I could, until the car came to a complete stop. It stopped right at the parking lot of a transmission shop! Even though my car was broken and I was stuck in a strange town, I just sat there in my car and laughed.
Isn't God faithful? Why do we ever doubt Him? Why do we ever panic? I have to confess that I still do panic at times; but I really don't know why. Clearly, I still have a lot of growing to do. Clearly, it still hasn't sunk into my head just what a great Father God is to me.
Later that night, as I lay in bed with my Bible, I felt that God led me to this morning's passage. I had read it earlier in the day; but I came back to it with a new sense of appreciation. It is the introduction to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.
* * * * * * * * * *
Here we are at the beginning of a brand new year. Already, people on the news are calling 2005, "The Year of Disasters". There were many terrible things that happened to a lot of people last year. And we don't know what this coming year may hold. There may be things that come our way that are far worse than a transmission breaking down!
And what's more, there are things in our personal lives as believers that will need to change over the coming year. Many of those changes will be very hard to make. There will be habits of sin that need to be repented of and set aside. There may be things that we will need to start doing that are very hard for us to do.
This brings us to our passage this morning. It's from Paul's first letter to the Corinthian believers. First Corinthians is a letter in which Paul deals with many serious problems in the church at Corinth. The believers to whom Paul addressed this letter lived in the midst of an extremely ungodly culture. In many respects, they behaved in ways that were little different from the ungodly people around them. And so, the problems in the church were very many, and very serious.
And yet, Paul's introduction to his letter is wonderfully affirming and victorious. He expresses an unshakable confidence that they can - and will - gain the victory over these many problems. And his confidence isn't because of anything about themselves. Rather, his confidence in their victory is based on what he knows to be true of them in Christ.
Just as was true of the Corinthian believers, there will be problems for us to solve; or challenges for us to overcome; or trials for us to endure. (Some of you may already know what those personal challenges are going to be before the year even begins!) Now, we can be sure that God allows those challenges and tests and trials to come upon us in order to make us grow. And we can be sure that He will never leave us in them. But the thing that I wish to pass on to you from God's word this morning is the assurance that - in Christ - there is nothing God will call you to do that He will not also give you the resources in Christ to do.
To put it another way; the Father may allow your "transmission" to break down, so to speak, on the road of life this year; but He already has a "transmission shop" waiting just around the corner if you will trust Him for it.
* * * * * * * * * *
Read the introduction to Paul's great "problem" letter with me. It's the first nine verses of the letter. And as we read, pay attention to the resources that Paul tells them that they have in Christ. He tells them;
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenese our brother
Before we even begin to look at the specifics of this passage, I want to point out something very important. As we read it to you, did you notice how many times the Lord Jesus was mentioned? It's a passage of nine verses; and He is mentioned in every verse! There are nine times when His name is specifically stated - sometimes just as "Christ"; sometimes as "Christ Jesus"; but several times as "Jesus Christ our Lord". Once, Paul just mentions "Him".
Now you tell me what you think. If we were to ask Paul what he'd say was the place to begin in dealing with the problems of life, what do you suppose his answer would be? I suggest that he would say something very much like what he said in Philippians 4:13; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." It's all about a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And this leads us to something very important. The things described in this introduction to Paul's letter are the resources that are ours for dealing with the problems of life. But they are only ours "in Christ". They are ours only as a result of being called by God - as Paul says in verse 9 - "into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord". None of the things we will be of any help to us unless we are, first, in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith. This is because all of the answers to the problems we face have their basis in Him.
And so, this is a good time for me to stop and ask: Have you entered into that fellowship with God's Son? Have you placed a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and trusted Him as your Savior and Lord? Have you entered into a relationship with Him; and are you now "in Christ"? If not, then you are not prepared to face any of the challenges of the coming year; and none of the things Paul says will be of any help to you.
I pray that, before our time this morning is over, you will have made sure that you enter this new year "in Christ". Then, you will be prepared to face the challenges that it may bring our way.
* * * * * * * * * *
So then; what is it that is true of us "in Christ"? What does Paul tell us at the beginning of his letter that shows us that we can, through Christ, gain the victory over the challenges of life? I have divided up what he says into three categories: (1) who we are in Christ; (2) what we have in Christ; and (3) what our destiny is in Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; if these things are true of you in Christ, and if you believe them with enough conviction of heart to rise up and act on them through faith in Him, then there will be no problem you can face in the coming year that you will not gain the victory over.
First, let's look at . . .
I. WHAT WE ARE IN CHRIST (vv. 1-3).
I love how Paul begins. He has no personal doubt about who he is in Christ. He writes, "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ . . ." He was appointed by Jesus Christ to the high role of "apostle"; and he exercised that role under the full authority of Christ Himself.
If you are using the same translation that I am, you'll see that the words "to be" are in italics. That is because they are not in the original text of Paul's letter, but were added to assist us in understanding these words in English. Literally, Paul says, "Paul, called an apostle . . ." I believe that it was appropriate that the words "to be" were added; but we shouldn't understand Paul as saying that he was not yet an apostle and was working toward growing "to become" one. Paul was an apostle already by Christ's own call; and he was even then faithfully living out - in practice - what it was that he was called by Christ to be.
Then, he says, "and Sosthenese our brother". Sosthenese was a man who was clearly known to the Corinthian believers. All Paul had to do was say his name. But then, Paul also added that he was "our brother".
Sosthenese was probably the man mentioned in Acts 18. When Paul first came to Corinth, his preaching stirred up a great deal of controversy; and many of the Jewish people in Corinth violently opposed his gospel. The Jews brought Paul before the proconsul that supervised that region - a Roman military commander named Gallio; and they presented their accusations to him against Paul.
We're told that Gallio regarded their concern as mere squabbles over their own laws and traditions; and refused to be judge in the matter. And as a result, the Jews persuaded some of the Greeks of that region to beat the ruler of the synagogue in front of Gallio - perhaps in an attempt, out of frustration, to force Gallio to take action against Paul. But even then, Gallio did nothing. And the name of that poor synagogue ruler was Sosthenes.
I speculate that Sosthenes had become a particular target because he had heard Paul's message of the gospel and had become sympathetic to it. And if this is so, then this same "synagogue ruler" was now introduced to the Corinthians as "our brother". He had believed; and was now, very probably, the man that was writing down this letter as Paul dictated it to him. If he was the same man as mentioned in Acts 18 - and I believe very strongly that he was - then what a powerful testimony he was to the power of Jesus to save!
But it's good to remember that Paul called himself "an apostle" and Sosthenese "our brother". Sosthenes did not occupy the role of apostle, because that had been given to Paul by Christ. Paul, you see, had a clear sense of who he was; and he was powerfully motivated to act in accordance with his identity in Christ. That's why God used him to change the world.
And dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the same is to be true of you and me. If we understand who we are in Christ, then we become motivated to change, and grow, and become in "practice" what God has already declared us to be in His sight.
* * * * * * * * * *
Look what Paul says the believers in Corinth were. First, Paul says that they were God's own people. He says, "To the church of God which is at Corinth . . ."
Isn't it interesting that he didn't say, "To the church of Corinth . . ."? Perhaps we're wrong when we speak of "the church of Portland", or "the church of Hillsboro", or "the church of Oregon". Perhaps we would be speaking more in alignment with God's own heart if we say, "the church of God IN Portland", or "the church of God IN Hillsboro", or "the church of God IN Oregon". We are His church; and we just happen to live in a particular city by His sovereign choice.
We belong to God, dear brothers and sisters. We are His church - His "called-out assembly"; which is the true meaning of the word translated "church" (ekklăsia)! It's not that we are a church that we hope God will accept as we live in a particular city. Rather we are - right at this moment - a called out assembly that fully belongs to God. We have a great and glorious identity; and we're called to be His witnesses in the place He has put us.
By His grace, may we - as a church - act like what we are in this world!
* * * * * * * * * *
Second notice that Paul says they were sanctified. He writes, "to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus . . ."
The word that is translated "sanctified" (hagiaző) refers to something being "separated" from all other common things, and viewed as "consecrated" unto God's holy and special use. And Paul uses a form of the verb (a perfect passive participal) that suggests that they had already been sanctified by the fact of being in Christ. They do not need to somehow "sanctify" themselves or make themselves "set apart" for special or holy use. It's a state of being that has already been made true of them in Christ!
Similarly, Paul says that the Corinthians were saints. He says that they were "called to be saints" - or again, more literally, "called saints". The word translated "saints" (hagios) is the adjective form of the same verb translated "sanctified".
A "saint", in the biblical sense, is not a person who has been canonized by a formal church because of his or her outstanding spirituality or service. A "saint" - as Paul means the word here - is someone whom God has set apart for Himself. He or she is someone that God has "sanctified" in Christ.
And just as Paul was "called to be an apostle" in the sense that that's what he already was and was now motivated to act like it, so also the Corinthians to whom he wrote were "called to be saints". That's what they already were; and they should now act like it! The Corinthians had many problems. They didn't always live in a pure and holy manner; and they were often negatively influenced by the ungodly pressures of the culture around them. And yet, by God's own call, they - even they - were "saints"!
Dear brothers and sisters; if you are in Christ, you are already "sanctified". You are already "saints". God already views you as set apart unto Himself - far above all that is common. He already declares you to be separated unto His own holy use. Just before He went to the cross for us, our Lord prayed and said, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17:19). Christ was "sanctified" unto the Father; and by virtue of being "in Christ", we are also "sanctified" with Him.
And if we are already sanctified in Christ by the Father, and if we're already saints, then wouldn't you agree that we have no business considering ourselves to be "common"? We have no right to allow ourselves to be aligned with the "common" and "unholy" things of this world.
We are - right now, in the sight of God - unique; holy; consecrated; sanctified in Christ! May we resolve ourselves to be done with the sins of this world, and live like what we are!
* * * * * * * * * *
Finally, I notice that Paul says they are in communion with all other believers. Paul writes that they are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, "with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."
This was important to stress to the believers in Corinth, because Paul deals later on in the letter with the problem of the divisiveness and ungodly factions that characterized the Corinthian believers. He rebuked them for being contentious; and for saying, "I'm a follower of this church leader", or "I'm a follower of that church leader". And to combat this, Paul wanted to stress the fundamental unity they all share in Christ - that they all equally belong to Him; and that the leaders are simply Christ's "fellow-workers".
And likewise, dear brothers and sisters; if we are in Christ, then we no more belong to Christ than any other body of believers - and no less! We share a fundamental unity with all our other brothers and sisters in Christ who also believe on Him and call upon His name.
How many problems would be solved if we only understood that and truly acted upon it!
* * * * * * * * * *
So then; these are the things that we already are in Christ. I believe that this is why Paul could, in truth, give the greeting he gives in verse three to a bunch of disobedient, immature Christians who had lots of problems - "Grace to you [that is, God's gift of favor] and peace [that is, an end to the hostility that exists between a holy God and sinners; and a relationship of reconciliation between them] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
In Christ, we are already God's people, fully sanctified, called "saints", and in communion with all others who call upon the name of Jesus. These aren't things that we need to "become", but are things that we already "are". And it's our duty to act on the truth of what we already are.
Grab ahold of that, and it will motivate you to live a transformed life in Christ!
* * * * * * * * * *
But how can we do this? Certainly not in our own power. This leads us, next, to consider . . .
II. WHAT WE HAVE IN CHRIST (vv. 4-7a).
We have all the limitless resources of Jesus Christ Himself to be in practice what we are in God's sight! Paul is grateful for this with respect to the Corinthians. He wasn't in despair over the things that need to change in their lives. His arms didn't hang in frustration over them. He said, "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus . . ." (v. 4). He loved them, and had joy in them, and rejoiced in all that God had given them in Christ!
What was it that God had given them that would move Paul to be so thankful? He tells them that He thanked God "that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge . . ." (v. 5). So, the first thing I see that He affirms they'd been given a vast store of spiritual riches.
The word that is translated "enrichment" (ploutiző) means "to be made rich". It's the same word as is used in 2 Corinthians 8:9; where Paul says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich."
The enrichment Paul speaks of is one by which we are enriched "in everything by Him". He isn't speaking of material riches, of course. Rather, he's speaking of something much more valuable. He is speaking of the spiritual riches of Christ that are all-sufficient for making us into everything He calls us to be.
This means that, right now - in Christ - you and I have all that we will ever need for the fulfillment of God's will in our lives in any circumstance! There is no trial, or challenge, or difficult circumstance, that we haven't already been given the sufficient riches of Christ Himself to meet! As Ephesians 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . ." Or as Peter has written;
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been granted to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:2-4).
* * * * * * * * * *
Now the problem you and I have is not that we don't have the spiritual riches to meet the needs of life. As believers, our problem is that we're too often ignorant of what we have. And in our ignorance, we run around trying to find the answers in places where answers are not to be found. We read this 'self-help' book, or we listen to that 'motivational speaker', or we by into some pseudo-spirituality teaching of some 'pop-culture guru'. And the whole time long, we don't realize that we already have far more spiritual riches in Christ than any of those other things could ever offer!
We would never know what we already have in Christ, if it weren't for the fact that God tells us what we have in His word. And this leads us to the second thing that Paul says the Corinthian believers had in Christ; and that is instruction of the Scriptures. He says that they were enriched in everything by Christ, "in all utterance [or speech] and all knowledge" (v. 5).
The word for "utterance" is a word that you're already familiar with - logos; which means a "word" or an "speech". And the word for "knowledge" is another word that you're probably familiar with - gnősos. I understand these two words to describe the two main components of spiritual instruction in the church: (1) the proclamation of the Scriptures (which is the "utterance" of the word), and (2) the teaching of their meaning and application (which provides the "knowledge" of how to understand the word and apply it to our lives).
Think of what Paul has said about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He said,
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In God's provision to us of the Scriptures - and in the faithful exposition and teaching of them - we have everything we need to know, in order to meet every challenge we could ever meet in such a way as to please God. The Bible is absolutely sufficient and complete for all our needs.
It is by the provision for us of God's instruction that we know about God's provision to us of spiritual enrichment for every circumstance. May God help us to seek His instruction from the word!
* * * * * * * * * *
Third, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that they have confirmation of the truth. He tells them that they have been enriched in everything by Christ, in all utterance an all knowledge, "even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you [or "among you"]" (v. 6).
Paul tells us, in the next chapter, that when he came to Corinth, he didn't come preaching the word of God in such a way as to rely on human talent and skill. He said, ". . . My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4-5). He later reminded them of the dramatic change of life that they themselves experienced; when he told them,
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The gospel had come to them with the powerful confirmation of transformed lives - their own lives included. And I can't help but wonder if all Paul would have had to say to them is what he says in verse 1; ". . . and Sosthenes our brother". Perhaps that alone would have been a powerful confirmation of the truth.
Dear brothers and sisters, we're not following mere fables. We can see for ourselves - even in our own midst - the truth of the gospel confirmed with power.
* * * * * * * * * *
Paul thanks God for the spiritual gifts He has given the Corinthian believers. He says that they have been enriched with spiritual riches, instructed with spiritual instruction, and assured with confirmation of the testimony of Christ.
And this leads us to a fourth thing he thanks God for concerning the Corinthians; and that is the spiritual gifts God had given them. He says that all of these things were confirmed to them, "so that you come short in no gift . . ." (v. 7).
Do you realize that our wonderful Savior has equipped His church with individual gifts - given uniquely to each one of us - so that we are able to serve and edify one another in particular ways? Paul elsewhere writes;
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
We are all a part of the ministry toward one another. Christ has given us everything we need - including one another. My gifts serve you; and your gifts serve me. And together, we are built up in Him.
* * * * * * * * * *
So far, we've seen who we are in Christ, and what we have in Christ. These alone give us plenty to work from; so that we are able to meet every challenge in the coming year with victory in Christ.
But there's one more thing Paul shows us - something that assures us that, in the end, we cannot lose! And that's . . .
III. WHAT OUR DESTINY IS IN CHRIST (vv. 7b-9).
You can face the challenges of trails, and growth, and change; when you know - with full assurance - that you will be made victorious in the end. And that's the kind of encouragement Paul gives to the Corinthian believers.
He tells them of the enthusiastic expectation they live under when he says that they enjoy all these blessings while "eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 7).
Here we are in the year 2006. All of the people to whom Paul wrote have gone into the Lord's presence. Their bodies are now in their graves. They died without seeing this expectation fulfilled; and now they, as it were "sleep". We too may one day "sleep"; should the Lord tarry in His return. But here's what Paul tells the Corinthians later in his letter;
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruption must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruption has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."" Death, where is your sting?
That is our hope - the great expectation we have regarding the revelation of our Lord when He returns for us. And this is greatly motivating! I can't help but note Paul's closing words: "Therefore, by beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the worked of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (v. 58).
* * * * * * * * * *
Second, Paul tells the Corinthian believers of their future perfection. He tells them that of Jesus' revelation at His second coming; "who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 8).
I remember that a godly old saint once said, "I may not be much to look at right now; but one day, I'm goin' on parade!" He looked ahead to the fulfillment of the promise Paul made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; "that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
And this too is to be a great motivation for us. As the apostle John has written;
"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).
* * * * * * * * * *
In closing, note how Paul tells the Corinthian believers of the assurance they can have that this will all be done for them. He says, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 9). It is not our doing. It is all His doing! "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). We cannot lose!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you can face the coming year with confidence - if you trust fully in three things: (1) who you are in Christ, (2) what you have in Christ, and (3) what your destiny in in Christ.
Isn't it good to greet the new year with the knowledge that you have assured victory in Christ?
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2006 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights ReservedPrintable Version
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436