"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: 1 Corinthians

1 Message; 2 Groups

“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Reflect upon this one simple, profound sentence from the Bible. It tells us of one message but two groups of people.

The one message is the cross. In its simplest form it is the news that God loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to come into this world, live a perfect life in which He fulfilled every righteous demand of God’s law, and go to the cross and die in your place. In those moments on the cross you were on God’s mind. He placed your sin upon His Son. Jesus was taking your place. Your sin was placed on Him and all the wrath and judgement of God that was due you, was poured out on Jesus instead. And when God’s justice was satisfied, He sent forth this “word of the cross” to you to let you know He loves you and He is willing, because of Jesus, to receive you back as His child.

There is one message—it is Jesus, His cross and His resurrection. But there are two groups of people. Wherever that message is spoken there are ever only two groups of people. There may be many different ethnicities represented in the crowd, there may be both single and married people listening, there may be religious people and non-religious people hearing that one message, there may be the rich and the poor (and the many other distinctions we make in this life)—but there are in God’s eyes really only two groups of people present.

This Scripture describes these two groups by the process they are in. They are either perishing or being saved. “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

One group is in the process of perishing. That means they have not yet completely perished. In fact they will be in various stages of that process—some will feel most acutely the weight and consequences of their sin while others may sense very little of it. Sin’s consequences may have so eaten away at some of their souls that society does not even want to notice them. Others may have cleverly hidden the effects of their sin from their eyes and the eyes of their friends and family, yet on the process goes. Make no mistake about it, they are all in the same process, headed for the same eternal result.

There is, however, another group in the crowd—“us who are being saved”. Noticed “being saved.”  Does that sound funny? The Bible actually describes salvation in three tenses—we “have been saved” (Eph. 2:5), we “are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18) and we “will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). Those three tenses help us understand what it is this message of the cross is to mean to us and how it may change us.

In one sense “we have been saved.” It happened on Good Friday and Easter. When Jesus Christ died, He did everything that would ever need done for your sin. You can’t ever add one thing to what Jesus has done to improve it. He does not ask you to enhance it by your good works or by your religious efforts. Either what Jesus did in His death and resurrection is enough for God or we are sunk. It all banks on what was done in the past.

But in one sense “we are being saved.” It is a present experience. Jesus not only died, He was raised from the dead. He is alive. He is here. And He wants to begin changing your life starting right now. We are “being saved” when we trust Jesus Christ with everything, every moment, every day. We are “being saved” when we acknowledge by faith His presence with us and bank our every moment upon His living relationship with us.

But the Bible also says we “will be saved.” After Jesus rose from the dead He promised He would come again. Every one of us will stand before Him—either after death or upon His return—and as we stand before God Almighty we will need to be saved.

What happens now and what happens in the end depends completely upon what we believe happen back then.

First Things

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)


This time of year we reflect intentionally upon the supremely important message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Take note of two words Paul used to describe that message: “first importance.” The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has priority over all things. It is significant beyond all else in time, space, history, culture, experience, imagination or thought.

Matters of “first importance” too often are neglected in the crush of life. What are some things we hang the title “first importance” upon? Job? Sure. But press back beyond that. Family? Yes. But there are other things of greater importance.

Let me suggest a couple of matters of “first importance”: breathing and eating. That’s pretty basic! Few things are more significant to the individual human experience than breathing and eating.

Matters of “first importance” too often get squeezed out by other, secondary things. But eventually life has a way of getting back to matters of “first importance.”

Have you ever choked and seriously faced the possibility of never breathing again? I have. In fact, my grandfather died that way! I assure you, when it happens to you it quickly becomes a matter of “first importance.” Whether or not your socks match that day simply doesn’t seem that significant. This matter of “first importance” is supreme again.

Ever seen a person who is physically unable to eat? Watched the effect upon her body? Observed the slow process of inching toward death? Quickly you realize again what is of “first importance.”

But that sense of clarity doesn’t always fill the 24 hours we are given each day. We are consumed with filling the car up with gas, getting to work on time, putting the kids to bed, paying bills, texting and catching up with Facebook.

That is the stuff of every day life. None of it does away with the things of “first importance.” Nothing can ultimately supplant them. But for a while those things do tend to mask their supremacy. Yet somehow, eventually everything comes back to the matters of “first importance.”

I was thinking the other day about when Vice President George H.W. Bush represented the United States at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. While there Bush was moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood without moving at the coffin of her husband, remaining there until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid to seal in their leader’s body, Brezhnev’s wife did something that took tremendous courage. She made a gesture that must rank as a great act of quiet defiance, given its context and time. She reached down and she made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. There in the center of the Soviet Union’s secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had headed it all hoped that he had been wrong. She hoped that there was another life and that life was available through Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again.

Eventually we all face the matters of “first importance.” We can’t escape them. Brilliant and bold or quiet and slow—it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or how you spend the moments that make up your life—you’re destined to end up back at the matters of “first importance.” We all must face the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is God who came in human flesh, lived a perfect life, died in your place, taking your punishment, bearing your guilt, enduring God’s holy anger toward you, so that you could be accepted by God in love. God raised Jesus to life forever more. Jesus is alive. He wants you. He is pursuing you.

And He loves and seeks and desires the people He has put within the circle of your relationships. Why not take these new few weeks to invite them to consider these matters of “first importance” by way of conversation or perhaps by joining you for a Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday service?

Who am I?

The Apostle Paul asked the believers in Corinth two searching questions: “And what do you have that you did not receive?  But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

As I read these words I was arrested again by the thought that everything I have, I have received; everything I possess has been given to me. I did not earn it. I do not deserve it. Everything I have that may be considered good or valuable is a gift that has been handed to me by God.

I must walk in humbleness and meekness. I must adorn myself with the attitude of an orphaned child who has just been adopted by the king. I am blessed beyond all comprehension.

Such thoughts radically change your understanding of who you are. As I pondered these two questions several things became clear about who I am as a person.

1. I am not defined by what I don’t have, but by what I do have.

We have become a society that defines a person by what they are after, not by what they already possess. People are labeled according to their ability to acquire, not by their ability to appreciate.

How backwards! If you conclude that you don’t have anything, then I can assure you that things are not what you need most. You don’t need to fill your hands, you need to let God fill your heart.

2. I am defined not by what I have achieved, but by what I have received.

Too often people find that at the top of the ladder of success there is only an empty room. The promises of “just one more sale” or “just one more award” or “just one more degree” or “just one more victory” are empty. They cannot deliver. I discover who I am not by chasing something I must catch in order to be happy, but by being captured by the One who is pursuing me in order to bring me joy.

3. I am defined not by what I possess, but by who (or what) possesses me.

One of the most pernicious lies of our time is “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  The fact is that he who dies with the most toys still dies. But it is not always things that people long to possess. Some of us lust after intangibles like increased leisure time, family harmony, or just a quiet walk in the woods. We’ve determined that our lives become successful only if we have the things we want. If I long for more time in the boat on the lake, but can’t have it, my life is miserable. If I am able to order my life so that I can fish all I want then my life is meaningful.

What we forget, however, is that more often than not we are possessed by our possessions. As P.T. Forsythe so wisely said, “The first duty of every soul is not to gain it’s freedom, but to choose its master.”

What possesses you? What dominates your thinking? To what does your mind drift in unguarded moments? To what do you sacrifice your free time?

4. I am defined not by what I hold, but by how I hold it.

How I hold on to the things God places in my life says more about who I am than how many things I hold. Is it a white-knuckle grip you have upon the things in your life? Erwin Luzter has well said that “Money is loaned, not owned”!

Do you hold the things in your life knowing they are His or as if they are yours? What would God have to do to wrench some of His things from your hands and put them into someone else’s?

5. I am defined not so much by what I ask for, but by what I give thanks for.

It is true that the Scriptures say “You have not because you ask not.” We should not be ashamed to bring our requests to God. Yet, Jesus’ identified gratitude as an attitude that marks out the true believer from the phony (Luke 17:11-19).

I urge you, make a little time to take stock of who you are and what you’ve got. Where did you get it? From whom did it come to you? How do you hold it? Or does it hold you? How could you discern the correct answer to the previous question? How does the “stuff” in your life lay bare your basic attitudes toward life?

Now, ponder again those two powerful questions:  “What do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

Such a view of yourself and the stuff entrusted to you is quite counter-cultural, isn’t it? Over the next week, see if you can identify ways the world preaches its message to the contrary. Ask God what concrete, specific steps you might take to re-think and re-arrange your life according to His value system.

In the End

“… then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

“History is linear, not cyclical. We are not caught in an unending experience of living through the past’s reruns. We are headed somewhere. There is coming a time, in ‘the end’, when the authority invested in Christ by the Father will have been brought to its end goal. The kingdom of God will win. Justice will be served. All opposition will be put down. All ‘dominion, authority and power’ will have been destroyed. Christ will be Victor! Finally, and forever all that displeases and dishonors God will be under His feet! Having won the battle He was sent for, Jesus will hand the kingdom over to the Father once again. He then ‘will be made subject to him who put everything under him.’ Think of it! Mystery of mysteries! How can the co-eternal, co-equal Son eternally subject Himself to the Father with Whom He shares all the prerogatives and essence of Deity? ‘The passage is a summary of mysteries which our present knowledge does not enable us to explain, and which our present faculties, perhaps, do not enable us to understand.’ Though our minds cannot fully comprehend it, this implies no inferiority of the Son to the Father either in His person, nature, or dignity. It simply means that even the Son, without surrendering His deity or dignity, is willing to subject Himself eternally to the Father so that the authority of the triune God might be forever a wonder the new creation can’t take its eyes off of.” (Embracing Authority, pp.206-207)

The Greatest = Love

“Love never ends … For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:12-13)

Faith is necessary now because we do not see fully. God, by His grace, opens our eyes and allows us to see truth. But we do not as yet see all truth/reality. So we walk by faith. But one day “our faith shall be sight” (as the hymn puts it). Faith will give way to full and perfected sight.

Hope is necessary now because we do not see fully. God, by His grace, has given us good and sound reason for hope. His promises are true. But they are not yet fully realized. “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). No, “we hope for what we do not see” (v.25). But one day we shall see fully and our hope will be fully realized. Hope will give way to experiential reality.

Love is necessary now. But love–unlike faith and hope–will never give way to something fuller, bigger, more permanent. We love now because we do not see fully (and thus are not able to make final judgments). We will love then because we will see fully (and understand what we do not as yet comprehend). Thank God, “Love never ends.”

Faith? Wonderful! But temporary.

Hope? Magnificent! But transient.

Love? Yes! Now. Forever. Always.

Amen and Amen — “the greatest of these is love.”

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)


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