MAY 13th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
In Paul's Footprints 1 COR. 1:1-9; 3:1-9,21-3
"HOW DOES HE DO IT?"
When I was young, my family went to a magic show. The 'magician' performed all kinds of amazing acts — mending broken objects, making things disappear, pulling scarves and rodents out of thin air. My siblings and I were astonished. 'How does he do it?' we asked ourselves. Always eager to help, I suggested he perform the disappearing trick on my sister, but my parents nixed the idea.
As Paul traveled the ancient world, he pointed to Jesus as he who brings the kingdom of heaven to earth by mending broken people, making fear of death disappear and pulling the very best out of the worst by transforming lives from the inside out... But how does he do it? If Jesus came to change the world one wounded, wayward heart at a time, how does that happen?
Sometimes, he does so miraculously, in the twinkling of an eye, but more often than not, he leads us in ways that bring growth, ways that require our willing cooperation in a more relational, daily way. In doing so, Jesus leads us down a path that deals with the inner disease of constant disconnection from God, not just its symptoms. As Jesus taught, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me will produce much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
So how do we change into the people God intends for us to be? How do we come to more closely resemble the one whom we claim to be following? That was the problem that some of the leaders of the church in Corinth, like Chloe and Sosthenes, brought to Paul while he was in Ephesus.
Sosthenes, as you recall, was one of the first Christian converts in Corinth. A former leader of the local synagogue, he's so eager for Paul to respond that he has come in person, serving as Paul's secretary as Paul dictates his response. "This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes." (1 Corinthians 1:1) Sosthenes role as Paul's recording secretary is made clear in that Paul concludes the letter in his own handwriting. "Here is my greeting in my own handwriting — Paul. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus." (1 Cor 16:21)
Chloe was another leader of the church in Corinth, evidence of the leading role women played in the early church. Paul's letter is written in response to her sending a delegation from the church meeting in her home. "Some members of Chloe's household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters." (1 Corinthians 1:11)
In response , Paul initiates this Corinthian correspondence to address areas of concern that are compromising their unity, witness and spiritual growth. In short, they've been backsliding, evident in their bickering whether they're following Peter, Paul or Apollos, in their sexual immorality, their spiritual syncretism, their watered down worship and their infighting over whose spiritual gifts are best. Instead of living lives that distinguish them from a world drowning in sin they seem to be sinking along with it!
They're more chameleon than Christian! It brings to mind the story Nicky Gumbel tells on the Alpha Course of a young officer, taking his final exam at the police academy in London...
'You are on patrol when an explosion occurs in a nearby street. On investigation you discover an overturned van nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. The man and woman inside are both injured. You recognize the woman as the wife of your supervisor. A passerby offers to help and you realize that he is a man wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a house, shouting that his wife has gone into labor. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into the river and cannot swim. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you
would take.' The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: "I would take off my
uniform and mingle with the crowd." That is, he chose the path of a human chameleon.
Based on this letter Paul wrote during his three years in Ephesus, I can only imagine the distressed report Sosthenes and Chloe must've given. Some were living changed lives but so many others had seriously backslid. Some were compromising their faith by indulging in sexual sin. You can almost hear the Corinthians defending themselves: "What's wrong with it? Everyone else is doing it!"
Others are saying that belief in the resurrection is unrealistic and irrelevant. Still others claim that real Christians speak in tongues or came to faith thru Apollos. Remember him...?
So it is that the apostle Paul offers some clarity. "My job was to plant the seed, Apollos' job was to water it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. The ones who do the planting and the watering aren't important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God's field, God's building, not ours." (3:6-9)
How do people change? God causes the growth! Only God can grow us into who he intended
US to be. You may say, 'Well, if God causes the growth, why doesn't He just do The answer is this:
we have to be willing. As Jesus asked a crippled man, "Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6)
Paul makes it clear that we do have a role to play. We're God's coworkers in this growth. If you plant sweet corn in your garden you don't cause it to grow, but if you don't create the right environment with fertile soil, ample sunlight and water, you won't be eating any corn on the cob any time soon. The same is true for spiritual growth. We cannot overcome bad habits, hardened hearts, self-destructive habits or addictions by ourselves, but we can create the right environment where God can cause the growth. We have two roles to play :1) creating the right environment, and 2) by putting intentional practices in place that allow God to grow us up. "God will do this, for He is faithful to do what He says and He's invited you into partnership with His Son, Jesus..." (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Ever use the auto pilot on your car? I do! Just ask my family. I don't know how many times my car takes over and steers me in the direction I'm used to going. "Dad, where are you going?"
Some times are lives are like that. We live so much out of habit. We have a hard time curing ourselves of bad habits because they've become so ingrained through repetition. We automatically drink too much or respond with anger or impatience or superiority. We respond....by habit. That was the trap the Corinthians were in. As Paul wrote: "You are still being controlled by your sinful nature!"
The key, by the way, to overcoming bad habits is not trying harder. Rather, we must start with our core beliefs if we're to overcome our autopilot responses. Our core beliefs are not intellectual. They're experiential, formed by our experiences in the past. So how do we break free?
It begins by reflecting on our bad habits and the self-perceptions that fuel them. Our habits are formed by our actions which emerge from our beliefs. It all starts with what we believe, not just about God, but about ourselves. As David put it: "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23)
If our beliefs are in line with reality according to the truth of the gospel, our beliefs will lead us toward freedom. But our stated beliefs are not always our actual or core beliefs. The way to discover what we actually believe is to look at what we actually do: our habits. At one point Jesus asks a rather disturbing question about habits. He asks, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what say?" (Luke 6:46) It's not what we claim to believe but what we do that reveals our deeply held beliefs.
[DVD clip from the film, Batman Returns; I 6! QC21. 2c-
It's not what we claim to believe, but what we do that reveals our most deeply held beliefs. So we ask His Spirit to reveal lies we believe that keep leading us in habitual, broken patterns of behavior,
and to replace those lies with His Truth. Paul articulates three truth gems in his Corinthian correspond,
dence:1 1) God made you holy by means of Christ Jesus; 2) God has invited you into partnership with -
(his Son; 3) It is God who will bring the growth. (1 Corinthians 1:2, 9; 3:6)
Jesus is your partner in making you holy, freed to have habits that reflect that truth, trusting every step of the way that God's loving grace makes you. holy ps He grows you into his Christ-like child'
During my college years, I lived for a year with ten other guys in a house we named, 'Rehab', short for rehabilitation as the house, at one point, had been condemned. It was a scary experience on multiple fronts, not the least of which being the refrigerator. No one threw anything out! At one point someone's girl friend broke down and cleaned it out. I think it was the survival instinct that won out!
We all have moldy, stinking lies that God's Spirit wants to help us clean out. Lies that stay hidden have a power over us. Things brought into the light of God's truth can be conquered and the resulting freedom of living in the truth is exhilarating! A number of you are powerful witnesses to this: Tim, Karin, Amy, Sheri.... Each set free by the Spirit of Truth through prayer ministry...
Paul is clear. "You are God's field! What=s-important-is-that-God-makesthe-seed-growl" (1 Corinthians 3:9) God is looking to do a new thing in you, to grow in you the best you possible, a new creation, (as Paul puts it elsewhere), a you that never loses sight of God's goodness, alive and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, growing day by day, more and more, into the very likeness of Christ himself!