Sunday, October 16, 2022

God's Work All the Way

 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon for the 18th S A T                                                           10/16/22

God's Work All the Way

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The thought is inescapable, if you read the Scriptures. You have to want to miss it to miss it.  Strangely, though, many people who claim to be Christians and claim to believe the Bible miss it, or ignore it.  It is one of the most comforting thoughts that the Bible teaches, and yet it is, to be quite frank, somewhat unsettling for many people.  It is the theme for our sermon this morning, "God's Work All the Way".

By that, I mean to say that our faith and our lives in Christ are the work of God and not our work.  We receive them as gifts of the grace of God.  We often feel as though we are doing something, that we make choices and we make it happen, but it is the consistent witness of Scripture that our participation in Christ – in faith, in being a member of the Church, of continuing in faith – is the gift of God.

We do make choices all by ourselves.  That is the unfortunate part.  We make choices like missing worship because we think we have something more urgent to attend to.  We choose to doubt God's good will – that it is good, or that it is right.  We choose to listen to the voices of society  – or family – around us and place emotion before doctrine, our sense of things before what God's Word tells us, and how things look to us before what the truth is from God.  We choose to justify ourselves for our lapses and sins rather than repent of them, and confess them, and allow Christ to justify us.  Yes, we do make choices, but when we do so under our own wisdom and power, we are invariably making sinful choices.  The good stuff is God at work in us, and faith is his gift.

That is why Paul begins this short piece of 1 Corinthians with thanksgiving.  I thank my God always concerning you.   He knows that its God's work all the way.  They are who they are because of God.  They believe because of God.  They not only are what they realize they are, but Paul wants them to know more, that there is so much more to it than it seems at first blush.  But His teaching begins with the thanksgiving.

He thanks God for the grace of God which has been poured out on them.  Since it is grace, it obviously cannot be anything but a gift.  That is so because grace is that undeserved favor of God.  It is seen first and foremost in the forgiveness of sins.  That is not the specific grace that Paul is focused on, here, but whenever we approach the idea of the grace of God it is good to remember that Grace starts with forgiveness.

Paul is thankful for the grace of God given to them (and to us, I would assume) in connection with Jesus Christ.  That is, of course where all grace is connected.  This brings me back to the seminary definition of grace that I use in confirmation classes: Grace is the new attitude of favor in God toward us, sinful men, for Christ's sake.  All of our dealings with God are made possible and powered (if you will) by Christ's death on the cross for us, and His resurrection.

In our text, Paul is talking about how, by the grace of God, we have been enriched in Christ.  The specific riches of which he is writing about are in speech and knowledge.  Paul is effusive in his praise - he says we are enriched in everything, then says in all speech and in all knowledge.  What the grace of God has enriched us in is everything concerning Christ and salvation - not necessarily absolutely everything.  God has taught us about Christ, and taught us how to speak about Christ.  Worship and the confession of our faith is a good example.  The best worship is when we say back to God what He has said to us first.  That is why so much of our worship is drawn directly from the Bible.  We con-fess, we speak with God, and say what He has said first.

Paul talks about how the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in the Corinthians.  That confirmation is their faith.  That they believe is confirmation of the Gospel Paul preaches.  The Corinthians also seemed to have had a number of the more remarkable gifts of the Spirit as a validation of the Gospel message they had heard.  Paul directly addresses the issue of the gifts of the Spirit in later chapters of this letter, and he appears to bringing the topic up right here at the beginning of the letter.  But he is not speaking about the Corinthians having special gifts that no one else has, or that some churches lack.  Their faith, and the church among them, is the confirmation of the testimony of the Gospel concerning Christ among them – as it is for us.

The testimony concerning Christ is that He had died on your behalf, suffered for your sins, and has risen from the dead bringing forgiveness and life and salvation to you.  The only confirmation of that good news is the Holy Spirit at work in you, creating and sustaining your faith.  The congregation gathered around you is the confirmation of the testimony of Christ.  Nothing else would actually work.  Think about it.  The children of Israel saw the great plagues that struck Egypt, they had the pillar of cloud and fire, they heard the voice of God at Mt. Sinai, and received the gift Manna six out of every seven days for forty years, and yet they wandered.  They committed idolatry.  They refused to believe the Word of God about the promised land.  Signs and wonders can only do so much.  Even being a witness to the resurrection of Christ, as the Jews of Jerusalem were, did not make the difference for them.  For confirmation of the Word of God concerning Christ, only faith, and the church He has assembled for over two thousand years, can serve.

Paul then asserts that the Corinthians were not lacking in any gift.  That didn't mean that they had everything they could imagine.  They didn't.  They had everything they needed.  Every gift that the church needed to be the people of God and to do the things God had planned for them to do was already given to them.  They were not lacking in any gift needed to await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Likewise, we do not lack any gift needed for us to accomplish what the Lord would have us to do while we also await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That revelation, of which Paul writes, is what we call ‘the return of Christ to sum up the ages', and to judge the quick and the dead, and to bring us all home to eternal glory with Him.  We await that revelation eagerly, as Paul says.  We want no more sin, or sorrow, or sickness and death.  We look forward to that final step in our salvation which brings us to the fulness of the promises of God.  The troubles of this life are wearying, and we eagerly await that day when they are ended.  We don't look for - or hope for - annihilation or unconsciousness, but the life everlasting and the joy and peace of which the Gospel speaks.

Paul also promises here, by the Word of God, that our Lord will confirm us to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While we await His return, we have the promise of the Lord to continue to keep us in forgiveness, so that when He comes, we are found to be fit for heaven, righteous with His righteousness, and blameless in day of judgment.  We not only have every gift needed to accomplish what God would have us accomplish, but we have the gift that we need in the final day, when Jesus shall bring all mankind before Himself and shall separate the sheep from the goats - those who are His from those who have chosen to walk away from His grace and love.

Every step of our pilgrimage through life as the child of God is the work of God.   He has seen our need for rescue from sin, and worked out or salvation.  The story is older than any of us here, but the wonder of it is still the same, God conceived the plan to be both the just Judge, and the one who justified the sinner through Jesus Christ.  The soul that sins is justly condemned by divine justice, and yet, it is redeemed and forgiven and given eternal life of the righteous by the same divine justice – and the plan and the work of putting that plan into action is God's work all the way.  Now He brings that good news to us, and proclaims it to those who are powerless to respond, and so God creates the response, and gives us faith by His own power and work, forgiving us and cleansing us, and strengthening us through both Word and Sacrament, and holds us in faith, as well.  He works in us and works every good thing we do through us by His power, and rewards us as though it were our work, when, in fact, we would be utterly undone if He were not sustaining us minute by minute.  It is no wonder Paul began this passage with thanksgiving, and ends it with the confession that God is faithful.

God is faithful because He has called us into fellowship with His Son, and He sustains us in it.  It is that very faithfulness of God that we depend upon for both our physical life and blessings, and our spiritual life and well-being.  Paul writes about all of this both to give the Corinthian church a reason for thanksgiving, and to comfort them in the midst of whatever they will have to endure, for God is faithful.  They do not need to worry about the future or the challenges that it may bring.  They can and will succeed and hold fast to the faith – and we can and will hold fast to the faith and succeed in all that God has planned for us to accomplish – because it is God's work all the way.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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