Sunday, February 28, 2016

Your money and Your Life! I Corinthians 16:1-4

Your Money and Your Life!
I Corinthians 16:1-4
Introduction: Some of you may remember the old Jack Benny skit, when he was confronted by an armed robber who said, “Your money or your life!”  There was a long pause, and Jack said nothing, until finally the robber impatiently shouted, “Well?!”  Benny replied, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking!” Americans in general have such abundance compared to many in the world, yet it is almost the norm to want just a little bit more. Of course generosity does not always come easily even to Christians. Something was said in Sunday School recently, paraphrasing, “God gives us more so we have more to give.” There was the story of a pastor who was preaching in his country church, “Now let the church walk!” the pastor exhorted. A deacon in the back said, “Amen, let it walk!” “Let the church run!” said the preacher. “Let it run!” echoed the deacon. “Let it fly!” said the preacher. “Amen brother, let the church fly!” said the deacon. “Now it’s going to take money to let the church fly brother!” said the preacher. “Let it walk,” said the deacon, “Let it walk!” 
       The Bible surely warns us against the love of money, and challenges us, to be faithful, and generous, with what God has entrusted to us.  After the lofty doctrine of I Corinthians 15 when Paul focused so deeply on the promise of our future, resurrection life, he makes a rather sudden transition at the beginning of chapter 16, “Now concerning the collection...”  It seems abrupt, but there is a practical connection between the themes of our future hope and being generous with our money and possessions. If we realize that we are sojourners, that this present world and everything in it is temporary, we should view ourselves more directly as “stewards,” those who have been entrusted, for a time, with all that we have.  There isn’t much sense in grasping tightly to what we accumulate here, because you can’t take it with you! When you think of it from that perspective there is actually a powerful connection between our hope and our attitude toward material things. Our stewardship demonstrates our faith. Ryrie: “How we use our money demonstrates the reality of our love for God. In some ways it proves our love for God more conclusively than depth of knowledge, length of prayers, or prominence of service. These can be feigned, but our use of our possessions shows us up for what we really are.”
The Maine Idea: Joyful giving is a response of faith, an act of love, and a recognition of our responsibility to be good stewards.
I. Be Generous: Giving is a normal part of the Christian Life (1).
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.”
       The phrase, “Now concerning...” seems to signal the transition to the next issue that the Corinthians had asked Paul about. As we’ve gone through this letter over the last year you know that Paul was addressing in the second part of the letter some questions that the Corinthians had sent to him in writing. In 7:1 the phrase appears for the first time, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote...” And then he talks about things like marriage, and singleness, meat sacrificed to idols, and our participation in pagan gatherings. He reminded them of the significance of the Lord’s table and importance of spiritual gifts. After teaching about the promise of the resurrection, he turns now to a practical issue that was apparently mentioned in the letter they had sent him: the offering. The principles here were taught also in other churches.
       “...The collection...” The fact that Paul uses the definite article indicates that he is referring to a specific collection, something that the Corinthians knew about and were expecting.  It is specifically referred to as the collection “...for the saints [i.e., God’s people]...”  It seems that funds were being accumulated that could be sent to the church in Jerusalem which was in severe need.  The persecution that led to many being scattered after martyrdom of Stephen didn’t just go away. Add to that a period of famine which made life difficult for everyone and there were significant needs.  So the “then and there” is dealing with a specific “project” that was before the church. The application can be broader for us “here and now” as we think about the principles that motivated and guided their giving.
       Paul had already talked about the responsibility of believers to support the work of the local church back in chapter 9:1-18 (you can refer to the text of my message on my blog from July 12, 2015).  So here we are, a little over six months later, talking about money again!  Imagine the poor guy who stopped into the church that day, and then didn’t come back for six months. And he pops in this morning!  “You see, all they do is talk about money in this church!”  Not really. We go through books of the Bible, and when we encounter it, we deal with it.  For the Corinthians, who probably received this letter from Paul and read it aloud in the assembly from beginning to end, this would be only a half hour or so after chapter 9!  The emphasis is a little different. Back then we affirmed that when God has called someone to full time ministry among us, to the degree that we are able, we are obligated to support them in such a way that they are free to serve. Here we see that joyful giving is a response of faith, an act of love, and a recognition of our responsibility to be good stewards.
II. Be Consistent: Giving regularly in proportion to how God has blessed (2).
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”
       Consistent, periodic giving (On the first day of every week...). The idea is that we should support the Lord’s work in a systematic, ongoing way. The significance of “the first day of the week” seems to be that that is when the church would gather for worship.  Some ask couldn’t this be saying that each person should “set aside” money designated for the offering each week and save it up at home? I don’t think so, as Paul says, “so that no offering be taken when I come.” The idea seems to be a weekly offering, the funds being “saved” until the time that it should be turned over to those who would deliver it to Jerusalem. So the idea of an offering when we come together is not without precedent! Why then have we decided to try an offering box by the door rather than passing the plates as we have done for so long? For one thing, it is still an offering, and it is still an act of worship. It is still each one of us entrusting to the church a portion of what God has given us.  By putting the boxes by the doors (rather than passing an offering plate) we are making it even clearer that this is a “free will” offering. It is an effort to emphasize that we don’t want any one giving “out of compulsion,” but rather we want each one to give what they can cheerfully, thankfully, worshipfully.
       All are expected to participate, “...each of you is to...” The idea of full participation in the offering stands out. It’s not optional, it’s not only for the wealthy or for someone with a special “gift” of giving, all of us have a responsibility to participate. We make a point of saying in this church that is you are a visitor with us, please don’t feel any obligation to give. That is the responsibility of the members and regular attenders of the church. That is who Paul is speaking to here, the members of the church in Corinth.
       We are to give in proportion to what God has given us.  Notice the phrase, “ he may prosper...” That is the answer to the question, “How much should I give?” We don’t insist that means the same percentage for everyone. When we see the Old Testament teaching about a “tithe,” a tenth, that does not in my opinion translate into a “law” for New Testament believers. But how could we imagine giving less under grace than we would be required to give under the law? It seems to me that ten percent would be a good starting place!  I remember the story of a guy who had a modest salary, but every week he would faithfully give the church ten percent of his gross income. After some years he advanced into a high paying position, and all of a sudden it seemed like ten percent was an awful lot of money to give every week. He confessed this to the pastor and asked him to pray for him. The pastor prayed, “Lord, help this brother give in proportion to his income, or, bring his income into proportion with his giving!” Remember the country pastor who asked a farmer, “Harry, if you had three fields like this, would you give one to the Lord?”  The farmer replied, “Yes, in a minute I would!”  Then the preacher asked, “If you had five horses, would you give one to the Lord?” The answer came, “Yes pastor, I would!”  Then the minister asked, “If you had three pigs, would you donate one to the church?”  The farmer said, “Now cut that out pastor, you know I have three pigs!”  What do you have that you have not received? You are a steward. Do you believe that?   Joyful giving is a response of faith, an act of love, and a recognition of our responsibility to be good stewards.
III. Be sure that all is handled with the utmost integrity (3).
“And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.” 
     “Those whom you accredit...” The assumption is that the church will do it’s due diligence, making sure that those who are entrusted with the offering are of the highest integrity. Remember the story in Acts 6 when the Greek speaking widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food?  Paul instructed the Hellenists to “...pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty...” Acts 6:3.   First, they were to be picked out by the Hellenists, by their own people, the people who knew them best. Then notice the requirements, “ of good repute...” What was their reputation? Were they respected by those within and outside of the church?  They were to be filled and directed by the Holy Spirit. They needed to be wise. They were not giving a theology class here, they were serving tables, distributing food to widows. Paul’s point is that the depth and reality of our faith will impact how we live.
       Back in I Corinthians 4 we read that “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy." That means those who handle the finances for the church have a great responsibility. And we are blessed to have people of integrity dealing with your offerings, counting them and dispersing them, for the glory of God. It is not unheard of for wrong attitudes to creep in about money.  After all Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver!  Achan hid some of the spoils from Jericho for himself and brought defeat and chastening on the people of God. Ananias and Sapphira lied about the piece of land they had sold and were judged for it. Simon the magician thought that he could “buy” the spiritual power and authority of the apostles!  We can pretty easily get it wrong when it comes to money.  Remember the supreme example of giving that motivates us: God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.  God so loved the world that He gave... Joyful giving is a response of faith, an act of love, and a recognition of our responsibility to be good stewards.
IV. Be available: You are a part of the answer (4)!
If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.”
       This is just a detail that Paul includes, but it shows he is open, he is available to be directed, and to be redirected by God. If it seemed helpful, he was willing. Paul was a servant. He knew that all that he had, all that he was, he owed to the Lord. So he was available to be used for the good of the church and for the glory of God.  When we talk about “stewardship” and finances with young couples is that it is not wrong to plan, in fact that is part of being wise and careful about what God has given us. But I always encourage young couples to trust God, and from the very start, to agree together to be generous and consistent givers.  It is good if we can give to the church, but also, to be flexible and generous when we see other needs come up.  The Schlosser family’s trip to Uganda is an example of that. You know this family. You’ve watched their faithfulness through the years. The idea of the entire family traveling to Uganda together to be involved in ministry is a big undertaking!  You may not be able to go with them, but could it be that God would have you to make a generous donation that would allow them to make this trip?  (If you designate a gift for this project we can hold it in reserve until they need it, and give you a tax deduction as well. The Lord loves a cheerful giver!  How much? In my view, the tithe is a good place to start in your regular, weekly support of the ministries of the local church. But God is also interested in our attitude, and in our availability, to share from the other 90 percent when it serves His purposes. C.S. Lewis said “I don’t believe that we can settle on how much we ought to give... the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Joyful giving is a response of faith, an act of love, and a recognition of our responsibility to be good stewards.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Earlier in this letter Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you had not?” Jesus said, “Give as was given unto you...” Jesus did not hold back, he gave himself, he gave his life for us! Remember the context of today’s passage. Because Jesus died and rose again, so will those who are His. This world is passing away, God has a future in mind for us that is greater than we can possibly imagine.  One way we abound in the Lord’s work is by being generous with what he has entrusted to us. That includes recognizing that the church is God’s plan for bringing the message of his grace to the world – and we, the members of the church, are called to work through the church in carrying out that mission.    AMEN.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Always Abound in the Work of the Lord! I Corinthians 15:50-58

Always Abound in the Work of the Lord!
I Corinthians 15:50-58
Introduction: This paragraph called “The Preacher,” author apparently unknown, shows how important the hope described in I Corinthians 15 really is...
 There is a preacher who speaks bolder and louder than any other. He is not very popular though the world is his stage. He travels every part of the globe, and he speaks every language and knows every dialect.  He visits the poor, calls upon the rich, preaches to the people of every religion and those of no religion, and yet the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent and powerful preacher, often stirring feelings, which no other preacher could, and bringing tears to eyes that never weep.  No one can refute his arguments, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals. He shatters life with his message. Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name?  Death.   Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon.    -Author Unknown
If that was the end of the story, if there was nothing more to hope for, it would be pretty depressing. As Paul said earlier in this chapter, if that was all we had to look forward to, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”  His great point is that that is not the end. I don’t know much about Benjamin Franklin’s spirituality, but the epitaph he wrote for himself seems to express our hope...
The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering & Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the work shall not be lost; For it will, as he believed, appear once more In a new and more elegant Edition Corrected and improved By the Author. –  Given by Ben Franklin to Samuel Morris,  August 31, 1776.
In this chapter of I Corinthians Paul has made clear the essential connection between what his readers had believed, the resurrection of Jesus, and what they needed to understand, that believers in Jesus will just as certainly be raised from the dead. Now at the conclusion of the chapter he shows what difference this truth should make in the life of believers. For Paul, theology is always practical. The doctrine of the resurrection is no exception.  Today, as we honor our senior saints, this is also a reminder of our motivation to stay engaged in the mission. Thank God for how he has worked in your life (we certainly do!), but recognize he has you here for a purpose: there is still work for you to do. He will give you work until your life is over, and life until your work is done.
The Maine Idea: Our Hope is sure, Jesus wins, and we are His! So stay faithful, and stay busy, until that day.
I. Radical transformation: Paul begins where he left off in the preceding verses, and he expands on it: He spoke about our resurrection body, but he wants it to be clear that both the living and the dead believers will be changed at the moment of the resurrection (50-53).
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
          I tell you this, brothers... As he often does in this letter, Paul is appealing to the Corinthians as brothers and sisters in the Lord. He knows them, he worked among them for at least 18 months. He had led some to the Lord and discipled others. They were struggling in many ways but he recognizes them as children of God and co-heirs of Christ. So he is bringing this powerful chapter to a close and will encourage them to be faithful, to live out the implications of their faith.
       ...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Paul talks first about the need for the resurrection and the radical transformation that will accompany it.  “Flesh and blood” is that which is perishable, that is, our “natural” body, weakened and poisoned by sin.  I think this is part of what led to Adam and Eve being expelled from the garden after the fall. Remember the scene at the end of Genesis 3,
22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-"  23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24).
God had a plan for humanity, and it did not include living forever in a fallen body. It necessitated redemption, a re-creation, which would require a radical transformation of the body.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...
       Here is the “mystery,” the “revealed secret,” something new that Paul was explaining more clearly. The New Testament idea of “mystery” was expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10,   “9 But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’-  10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” What about the believers who are alive when the Lord returns to raise up those who “sleep” in Christ?  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed!  There will be believers, alive on the earth when Jesus returns to raise up the “dead in Christ.” In the eschatology of the New Testament, “phase one” of the return of Christ will be what has been called the “rapture,” when the bodies of the dead believers are raised up, and those who are alive will be transformed, and together we will meet the Lord in the air. The dead (in Christ) will be raised “imperishable,” so their “natural body” is radically transformed into the kind of imperishable “spiritual” body that Paul described in the preceding verses (like Jesus’ post-resurrection body). And the believers who are still alive, will be instantly transformed, “in the blink of an eye,” and taken up with them.  In an earlier letter, to the Thessalonians, Paul had made a similar statement in chapter 4,
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord... (I Thess 4:14-17).
That is very powerful, direct language, and reinforces the teaching we see here! That is our blessed hope. And it should motivate us to serve faithfully.  Cora O., Gary P.’s mother, died last week, at least her body did. Her spirit is now with the Lord, as her body awaits the resurrection. What an example of faithfulness, serving, encouraging, witnessing, until the Lord took her home! She had a sure hope, and she found joy in serving. That is Paul’s message to each of us: Our Hope is sure, Jesus wins, and we are His! So stay faithful, and stay busy, until that day. We will experience a Radical Transformation, and we look for a...
II. Certain Victory: Jesus’ victory over death means our victory is certain (54-57)!
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."  55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"  56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
       When we look at the language of spiritual warfare in the Bible, and then look at our own experience, it is sometimes difficult to have the confidence that the Bible calls us to. Even so, we enter the Battle, trusting God to do more than we would hope for. Winston Churchill’s first speech to the house of commons three days after becoming prime minister, at the beginning of World War II, expressed steadfast confidence in the face of war:
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for."
Churchill didn't lie, he didn't say it would be easy! Did someone tell you the Christian life would be easy? NOT! Jesus warned we would have tribulation in the world! We are in a war. As our neighbors in New Hampshire would say, “Live free or die!” Paul quotes from the Old Testament scriptures in talking about our sure victory in Jesus. He is making it clear that God’s plan was foreshadowed in the language of the prophets, that the battle with invading armies and pagan inhabitants in the promised land were only an outward manifestation of another war against a different kind of enemy. The prophets had glimpses of an ultimate, eschatological victory.  The last enemy will be destroyed when “Death is swallowed up in victory.” The book of Revelation is series of visions given to the aged apostle John, in exile on the island of Patmos. As the battle is reaching it’s climax we read this,
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).
The One who is called “Faithful and True,” riding on a white horse, judging and making war, called “The Word of God,” “King of kings and Lord of lords,” is Jesus. The Battle is the Lord’s! Victory is certain, Jesus wins! As surely as the tomb could not hold Him, His plan will be brought to completion. The day will come that John writes about a couple of chapters later,
"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new..." (Revelation 21:3-5).
What do we do in the meantime? How should we live? Our Hope is sure, Jesus wins, and we are His! So stay faithful, and stay busy, until that day. A Certain Victory over death, a Radical Transformation of our body, should motivate our...
III. Steadfast Service:  The victory we have in Jesus is a motivation to stay engaged in the mission until the Lord calls us home (58).
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
       Therefore, my beloved brothers... This is even more personal, more transparent than Paul’s language in verse 50. He called them brothers, but now, in case the sternness of this letter had somehow left anyone in doubt, Paul calls them “beloved” brothers. Their theology was suspect, their lives were too much like the pagans around them, there were divisions and pride and conflicts in their midst, but Paul loved them, they were a family, they had the same Father. So he has taught them in this letter and in this chapter, and now he exhorts them. “Therefore,” in the light of the promise of the resurrection, the certain transformation that is coming whether we die, or live until the coming of the Lord, the victory that is ours in Jesus... 
       Be steadfast... The word used here isn’t common in the New Testament, it’s only used by Paul, and only three times at that. He uses it in Colossians 1:23 of standing firm in your faith. In I Corinthians 7:37 he uses it in talking about being “steadfast” in your decision about marriage and singleness, not giving in to temptation. Here in 15:50 the call is to stand firm in a faith that works, a belief that the suffering of this present world is temporary, the best is yet to come!
       Immovable... Another uncommon word, only here in the entire Bible. The idea is clear enough. A few years ago when hurricane Sandy made a left turn into the Jersey shore, many homes and structures were totally wiped out. They were essentially built on a sandbar. We should know better if we read the Bible. Build on the Solid Rock, and you will be “steadfast and immovable...”
       Always abounding in the work of the Lord... Paul usually uses this word “abounding” to describe the overflowing, abundant grace that God has lavished upon us. The word here is used to describe what our response to God’s grace should be, what it should look like in the life of a follower of Jesus.   We should “abound,” that is, “overflow” in the work of the Lord.  This is the response of faith. It is an act of worship, recognizing that Jesus is Lord, and that it is our privilege to serve him, not reluctantly or out of obligation, but joyfully, abundantly, going above and beyond.  It isn’t only “filling spots” on the committees of the church, those are important, those are things that need to get done. It is living a life that overflows with love for God, He is what we treasure, and because we do we live for Him. His mission is our mission.
       Remember the scene on “Everybody loves Raymond” when Ally, a pre-teen, said she had a big question for her parents. They were afraid that she was going to ask THE questions that can make parents uncomfortable, but they weren’t ready for what it was that was bothering her. Raymond, fortified with children’s books on the birds and the bees went to talk to her. That would have been easy compared to the question she asked: “Why are we here in the world? Why didn’t God just take us right to heaven?”  Those are pretty big questions! Sometimes young people struggle with their purpose and calling and ask, “Why am I here?” and often older people wonder, “Why am I still here? What can I really do?”  Listen, God saved you on purpose, for a purpose. He has a plan for each of us. And he will give us work until our life is over, and life until our work is done.  That means we never retire from the Christian life, and we are never too young to start serving. God has called and gifted each of us to have a part in His mission. And He has strategically placed each of us exactly where he wants us. He is the Lord of the harvest. He is building His church. And we have a part in his mission. None of us can do everything. All of us can do something.  Do you believe that?
       Knowing your labor is not in vain... If the resurrection was not true, Paul has said our labor would be vain. But our life has meaning, purpose, because Christ has been raised, that is a fact of history. And because He lives, we will live also.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Our Hope is sure, Jesus wins, and we are His! So stay faithful, and stay busy, until that day.

 What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  If you are a new believer in Jesus, I hope you see the truth in this chapter of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection and eternal life. We were not created for an eternal, immaterial existence in the clouds. We were created for life in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And that is what we will experience if we know Christ. Not forever as a disembodied spirit, but in a transformed, glorified body free from the influence of sin.  That is our hope! How then shall we live? Paul says, in the light of this truth, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  Today we honor our senior saints. Let me encourage you. The lessons you have learned, the faith building experiences you have had, are too important to keep to yourselves. And for the younger believers, you may be blessed if you talk to our brothers and sisters and hear their stories and the lessons they are learning. Our vision statement talks about “...A community of Christ followers, rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable, proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.” Is that you vision as well?  Do you have the sure hope of a radical transformation and a certain victory? Then, “ beloved brothers [and sisters], be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   Think about that, AMEN. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Anybody for a New Body? I Corinthians 15:35-50

Anybody for a New Body?
I Corinthians 15:35-50
Introduction: I remember seeing the story of a lady who was pregnant and on a strict diet and both her husband and Dr. were keeping a close watch on what she ate. She was a good cook and didn’t want to deprive her husband of sweets just because she couldn’t have them. One day she made him a chocolate cream pie. Well after he had eaten half of the pie she was clearing the table and decided to sneak a bite of the pie, just a taste. One bite led to another, and before long, she had eaten the rest of the pie!  Knowing that her husband would lecture her, she could only think of one thing to do to keep her secret. She made another pie, ate half of it, and put the other half in the refrigerator! It makes sense to me! Can you relate to the little girl who was explaining to her playmate what the scale in her bathroom was.  She said, “All I know is that you stand on it, look down, and it makes you real angry!” Well, God gave us our bodies, and part of being a good steward is taking care of it. If we are healthy, or as healthy as we can be, our bodies won’t become an impediment to serving the Lord. Yet as we said last week, we can’t let our body become an idol; it’s futile anyway, because eventually, it will deteriorate.  Some of you are dealing with chronic health issues that won’t go away. Others have pain every day. For a few, it might have been difficult just getting out of bed to be here this morning. The good news is that we don’t have hope in this life only. God promises that just as Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection arose, so will those who are His. All die in Adam, that we understand. We see it all the time. But what does it mean to be made alive in Christ?
The Maine Idea:  God promises his children victory over the grave, including a transformed, perfected body free from the effects of sin, prepared for life in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
I. The resurrection will not be simply a “resuscitation,” but a radical transformation, essentially a “re-creation” (35-42a). Paul uses some illustrations to help us understand both the continuity with our natural body, and the change, the transformation that will happen.
       First of all, our resurrection body will be different. Like a plant, and the seed from which it came – there is continuity, but there is change...
35 But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?"  36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.  38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
     Paul was a master teacher. He anticipates the questions that some of his Greek adversaries might pose, and he addresses them immediately. Remember the popular thinking in Greek philosophy was a form of dualism that said the physical, the material, was inferior, defective, and undesirable. The ethically, morally and spiritually superior was the immaterial, spiritual realm.  From that perspective the whole idea of a believer’s spirit being reunited with a resurrected body seemed repulsive. Why would you want that?  Paul uses some everyday illustrations to make the point that this isn’t simply a raising up of the old, rotting corpse, it was a transformation. First he talks about a seed going into the ground. It’s planted in the soil, and it doesn’t simply grow bigger. It disintegrates and the plant emerges. Paul’s point is not to give a scientific analogy of resurrection, but rather a picture, an illustration.  The seed is dry, hard to distinguish one from another. It goes into the ground, and in the spring a plant emerges. It doesn’t look like the seed, but what now is was in the seed. You don't plant a kernel of corn, and have wheat sprout up! You get a corn stalk. There is change, yet continuity.
       Next, Paul says our resurrection body will differ from our current, mortal body. Different, like humans and animals, birds and fish.
39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

Paul is saying here, don’t be surprised that there is change – just as animals and humans have different flesh, just like birds and fish are not the same, one is suited for flying, the other for life in the water! So our “resurrection body” will be different than our “natural body.” No sin, so no deterioration. The second law of thermodynamics says everything tends to breakdown, fall apart in this current world. A couple of months ago I renewed my drivers license. I remember when I got it, five years ago, I looked at the picture and thought "Do I look that bad?" When I went to renew, the lady at the counter said, "Do you want to take a new picture, or stick with the old one for five more years?" I looked at the old one, and after five years it looked pretty good! I stayed with it! Our new, transformed body will not deteriorate, it will be suited for eternal life in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
       Different, like the sun and the moon, like planets and stars...
40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.  41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.  42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.
The sun is generating massive amounts of energy, some comes us in the form of light. The full moon can give us quite a bit of light on a clear night, but it is reflected light, and only a fraction of what we get directly from the sun. Now we see just a reflection, dimly, then we’ll see him face to face, and somehow, we will be like Him! With the “heavenly and earthly bodies” contrast, Paul may be alluding to the difference between our natural body, and our resurrection body, while at the same time contrasting bodies on earth from those in the heavens. The point is that each kind of body fulfills the purpose for which it was created. Our natural body was created for our time in this present, fallen world. But that is not the end of God’s plan. He has a “supernatural,” resurrection body planned for us was well. That will involve radical transformation, essentially an undoing of the results of the Fall and a confirmation in righteousness. Paul speaks of that hope in Romans 8:22-24a,
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved.
God promises his children victory over the grave, including a transformed, perfected body free from the effects of sin, prepared for life in the New Heaven and the New Earth!

II. There is a qualitative change: a new body free from the effects of sin, alive and empowered by the Spirit. (42b-44).
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
       It was perishable, it will be imperishable. Sin brought death into the world. Our bodies deteriorate over time. They are susceptible to disease and injury. Eventually they will just wear out. Our bodies are “perishable.” But that isn’t the end of the story. Adam and Eve were created by God and placed in the garden. Had they obeyed God, they would not have died. But sin they did. Because Jesus, our sinless substitute, took the punishment for our sins we can know that one day, the dead in Christ will rise. Our body will be transformed, ready for life in the new heaven and the new earth.
        It was sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory. Because of sin our bodies now are prone to dishonor God, rather than bringing him glory. It doesn’t mean God can’t use us right now. Remember we are pilgrims. We are on a journey. We are focusing here on the encouragement that our destination gives us. The end of the story is more than we know, better than we can imagine. But right now, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. He isn’t only interested in the destination, he is with us on the journey. He is teaching us, maturing us, and even in our weakness he is using us to bring the message of life to those who need to hear!  But this isn’t the end of the story. We were created in God’s image, but through our rebellion that image was tainted by sin. Our new bodies will be perfected, free from the effects of sin, honoring God and bringing Him glory.
       It was sown in weakness; it is raised in  power.  The word here that is translated “weakness” is also rendered “sickness” in some contexts. We know about that, our prayer list is full of requests for healing.  We are weak but He is strong. I have a prayer that I picked up somewhere that I posted in my office, just a reminder of his strength and my weakness:
I am weak but you are strong. I am inconsistent but you never change. I am a sinner and you are my righteousness. I am all about the destination but you are all about the journey. You have called me and are faithful to fulfill your ministry call and spiritual development in me. Therefore I give you my sin, struggles, weaknesses, problems, and fears. I lay them at your feet. I am weary and heavily burdened. I come to you for rest, refreshing, and renewal. Give me a fresh measure of your joy that is my inner strength. I thank you God that your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. I choose today to walk in your renewable strength, powerful presence, and jubilant joy. Thank you Jesus for being my all-in-all whenever I feel so down-and-out. The battle around me belongs to you so each day I gratefully deliver them in prayer to your capable hands. Thanks for taking such good care of all that could burden me. I rest in your amazing grace. AMEN!
God is with us on this journey. And one empowering element He has given us for the journey is hope!
       Sown a “natural” body, raised a “spiritual” body (see also 2:14,15). Reading this in English may give the initial impression that Paul is undercutting his whole argument. Isn’t the “natural” referring to our material body, and the “spiritual" referring to our immaterial essence, our soul/spirit?  To understand Paul’s use of these words, we need to go back to I Corinthians 2:14,15. There Paul uses the same two words,
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
Paul is clearly not talking about “material” versus “immaterial” in this context. It is clear that the “natural person” is the  unsaved person, and the “spiritual person” is the believer, who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Later in chapter 3 he says that the Corinthians were immature, baby Christians, so he could not talk to them as “spiritual.” They were still “fleshly.” That is a different word, that Paul uses to illustrate their immaturity. Rather than walking in the Spirit, they were still being dominated by their still sinful nature. They were indwelt by the Spirit, but they weren’t living in the reality of their position.  Coming back to our context in I Corinthians 15, Paul applies the adjectives “natural” and “spiritual” to the body of fallen humans and the resurrection body of believers. It is sown a natural body. The body that goes into the grave died because of sin, Adam’s sin, our inherited sin nature. By one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned... The “spiritual” body is the resurrection body. Raised to new life, free from the effects of sin, confirmed in righteous and “spiritual” because now it is fully yielded to the Holy Spirit of God.  God promises his children victory over the grave, including a transformed, perfected body free from the effects of sin, prepared for life in the New Heaven and the New Earth!

III. We will be like Him: The Resurrection of Jesus is the best picture of what God has planned for us (45-50)!
45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.  47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
       The first man, Adam (post fall!) is the model for our natural body. Adam was created sinless, but he was not yet glorified. He was able not to sin. But he was also able to sin.  It seems reasonable that God exposed the man and the woman to a period of testing – the serpent didn’t sneak into the garden without God’s knowledge! Logically, had the man and the woman stood the test and said “no!” to the enemy, at some point they would have been confirmed in righteousness and come into full and permanent possession of the Holy Spirit. But that is speculation, as far as I know the scripture says nothing about that “what if?”. The point is they did sin. And so Adam and Eve, and every human after them, lived and died with a “natural body,” now weakened by sin.  We are all sons and daughters of Adam!
The second Adam, Christ (post resurrection!) is the model for our resurrection body. There was continuity with the body that was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb. It was gone! The tomb was empty! He could still eat with his disciples as he did in John 21, having breakfast with them on the side of the lake. Yet He could also suddenly appear in a locked room, or disappear instantly from their sight. Are you ready for an upgrade? 
What is God saying to me in this passage? God promises his children victory over the grave, including a transformed, perfected body free from the effects of sin, prepared for life in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Think of the difference this makes for those who are in Christ, the hope that we have to see again those who have died in the Lord. Many of you, perhaps most of you, have lost someone close. Some have lost parents or grandparents, others have lost siblings, some have lost a spouse, others a child. For those who have died in Christ, we won’t simply be reunited in some kind of immaterial form. Ultimately, we will be as God intended us to be, and we won’t be encumbered by sin and our fallen human nature. Remember Jesus after the resurrection, at first his disciples and the women didn’t recognize him. But when he revealed himself they knew Him! We’ll be with those who died in Christ forever, no pain, no sorrow, no death. Think also of how vital it is that we share our hope with those around us!  We are God’s missionaries, He has entrusted the message to us!

      As we prepare for the Lord’s table on this first Sunday of the month, consider the Gospel, the Good News, that we celebrate, the truth that makes our hope sure: God the Son became a man, to die for our sins, and He rose again! We were lost as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. But because of Jesus, by faith, He has called us children of God, and such we are!                                     AMEN.