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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

God Gives Growth - February 16, 2014 - Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Again this week we continue our trek through Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. And again I remind you that these are not my words to you, these are not Paul’s words to you, rather these are God’s Words through Paul to all of us today.
 
The problem about which Paul is writing is nothing new to us in our world and in the church even today. As the teacher or preacher so well points out in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun, indeed the same problems the church was dealing with years ago continue even in our world today. The problem that God through Paul points out is that the people are not spiritual or better said, they are not mature in their faith. As Paul so bluntly says it, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (v. 3b). If I may be so blunt, it sounds like Paul has been to one of our voter’s meetings.
 
The people are thinking in earthly terms instead of spiritual terms. We might say they were naval gazing instead of looking to the Lord, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Today we might express their problem as seeking a theology of glory which is natural to our sinful human nature. We tend to look at the outside. We tend to think in terms of who is doing what and how many people are in attendance, as if these outward signs have anything to do with the spiritual well being of a congregation or its individual members.
 
Paul goes on to express how the people are honoring the workers. Not much different than today. How many people look up to the good motivational speakers who pack the people into the mega churches? Yet, when the message is presented, it is not a message of the cross of Christ, but a message of glory, a message of law, and truly a message of which we are not capable of accomplishing. As I have said before, although there are those that would teach that one can become more and more like Jesus, that one can be the person Jesus wants them to be, that is not the message of God’s Word nor the message of the cross. As a matter of fact, if we could be the person God’s wants us to be then we would have no need for Jesus, which means such messages are actually anti-evangelistic. No, what we believe, teach and confess is that the more we grow in our Christian faith and life the more we realize just how filthy and sinful we are and how much we need to cling to Jesus for forgiveness. Indeed the more we grow and mature in our faith the more we will recognize our own sinful depravity, our need for a spiritual physician, our need for forgiveness of sins and the more we will have a desire to be in Divine Service and Bible Class each and every Sunday and whenever and wherever the means of grace are offered and God’s gifts are given out.
 
And so there is division. There is a division between those who look at the externals and those who look to Jesus. But, Paul is not finished.
 
To help the Corinthians and to help us to understand, Paul uses an illustration. Paul speaks of planting and watering. Indeed, a farmer may be the one who tills the soil, makes the rows, plants the seeds and waters the seeds, but God is the one and the only one who gives the harvest. We do not convert people. We do not grow God’s church nor His kingdom.
 
Paul goes on to explain that he and Apollos planted and watered as they went and preached the message of Christ’s perfect life, His perfect suffering, His perfect death and His perfect resurrection. They preached what you hear every week from this pulpit. They preached the fact that we are all conceived and born in sin and that every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. They preached that we are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. They preached the fact that we daily sin much in thought, word and action, in sins of omission and sins of commission. They preached that we cannot be the good people God would have us to be indeed we cannot be perfect which is God’s command. They preached that apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus, yes, apart from the cross of Christ there is no salvation. They preached Christ, but they did not convert anyone. They knew that it was God who gave the growth, it was God who converted the people.
 
And so Paul puts it to us that we are merely the workers. Indeed, as I have expressed many times, we are evangelists, and unfortunately we are not good but bad evangelists. We are bad evangelists when we wear the name Christ, Christian, and when our lives are lived in a manner unpleasing to our Lord. We are bad evangelists when we speak ill about our congregation, the members of our congregation as well as our pastor. Yet, we can be and we are good evangelists as we live and work in our vocations, as we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, as we have opportunity to give a defense of our faith, acknowledging that it is God who is the provider, not only of the opportunities, but also of the courage we are given and the very words we may speak and ultimately it is God who works and gives faith when and where He pleases.
 
What does this mean? Paul is correct, we tend to not be spiritual. Our tendency is to fall in line with the rest of the world, to live and let live so to speak. We tend to fall in line with popular culture. We tend to think little or less and less of our spiritual well being and the consequences of our lives in this world, especially in how the way we live might affect our eternal well being. We want God’s blessings, but we do not want to have to jump through any of His hoops to get them.
 
When it comes to the church, to our own congregation, we see what other churches are doing, how some seem to be prospering and growing, at least it looks that way on the outside, and so we may want to put our trust in “church growth” principles, based on man’s studies. We think in terms of glory and numbers of members as if these things means that any particular church is doing well spiritually.
    And so we have a tendency to honor or dishonor church workers depending on our view of results. The human way of thinking is that if a congregation has a lot of people attending the pastor must be doing something right, but if a congregation does not have a lot of people attending then he must be doing something wrong. Where we fail is that we can only look at the outside. Only God can look on the inside and see if the individual members of a congregation are growing in their faith, which is true spiritual growth and true church growth.
 
And so there is division. Indeed Satan has his way with us and we do not ever realize we have become his minions. Every time we speak ill of our congregations, its pastor and members, we are aiding and abetting the enemy. Personally, I believe we must be doing something right if Satan has to spend so much time harassing and haranguing us.
 
The question we might ask and the question God through Paul answers is this: How does the Church Grow? The simple answer is that God grows the church. And how does God grow the church? God grows the church through the means He has given to grow His church. God grows His church in ways that, as talked about last week, sinful tainted human wisdom does not comprehend. God grows His church through simple earthly things like water and His Word, namely His name being put on us at Holy Baptism. Through Holy Baptism God gives faith, as He has promised. He writes His name on us. He puts faith in our hearts. He writes our names in the book of heaven. He forgives us our sins. He makes us and claims us as His children.
 
God grows His church through the very means of His Holy Word. As you have heard me say many times, God’s Word is efficacious which means that God’s Word does what it says and gives the gifts God has to give. Through our hearing and reading the Word of God we are given faith, we are given forgiveness of sins, we are strengthened in the faith we are given.
 
God grows His church through the very means of confession and absolution. Why do you suppose we have confession and absolution at almost every service we have? Because through confession and absolution God gives us forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation. Indeed to not be forgiven means we remain in our sin and to remain in our sin would mean eternal spiritual death, hell. But with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
God grows His church through the simple earthly elements of bread and wine combined and connected with His Word in His Holy Supper. Through the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord in His Holy Supper He gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in our faith. And again with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
God grows His church. God grows His church through the means He has given to grow His church reminding us first and foremost of our need to desire to be given to and the desire to be where those means are given out, Divine Service and Bible class. God grows His church as He sends the Holy Spirit to give faith, when and where He pleases. Notice it is God who is running the verbs, who is running the show. We might ask, where do we come in when it comes to growing God’s church, what can we do? First and foremost we can be given to, because it is only as we are given to, it is only as He first loves us that we can love others and share our faith with others. Second, we can, but only with God’s help, offer our lives as living sacrifices for the Lord. Indeed as we live counter to the world, as we live, with God’s help, God pleasing lives, others will see and as they ask, as we have opportunity, God will give us the opportunity and the courage and the very words to speak in defense of our faith. That defense may simply follow Philip’s witness, to invite them to “come and see” Jesus. Notice then, as Paul is reminding us in our text, we simply till the soil, make the rows, plant the seed and water the seed. It is God who gives the growth and He gives the growth when and where He pleases.
 
Finally, we are simply left to rejoice and give glory to God. We give glory to God when we see how He gives faith when and where He pleases. We give glory to God when we rejoice in His life, suffering, death and resurrection. We give glory to God when we rejoice in the faith that He has given to us. We give glory to God when we rejoice in His loving us so that we might love others. We give glory to God when we recognize that only He can look into the hearts and see the faith He gives and strengthens. We give glory to God when, with His help and by His urging we desire to be given His gifts whenever and wherever they are offered.
 
God’s Word to us today through Paul are words of forgiveness, correction and encouragement. We are not left to depend on ourselves, no matter our natural tendencies. Instead we are relieved that we might depend on God who gives the growth, when and where He pleases. And we rejoice that He calls us God’s fellow workers as we are indeed God’s field and God’s building. Finally, we are encouraged to rejoice and give glory to our great God. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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