alien righteousness

Sermons on 1 Corinthians from the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Been blessed by these audio sermons on 1st Corinthians; much needed for this justified-sinner.

Give them a shot here. 

Below, is one of the sermons transcribed.

Biblical Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Christian Church: Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian church

Minister of the Gospel: Zach Keele

Link to the Audio Sermon:

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” –1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Now, no one likes being called childish. To be told that they are acting immature or to be told that you’re acting like a baby.

Indeed, this is a pretty stinging comment for we know how babies act. A toddler who has his toy taken from him can start to cry or pout or throw a fit. And you think, all of that for a lego? The reaction is so out of proportion to whatever happened. It’s embarrassing.

As adults, we miss some aspects of being young, but we sure don’t want to be identified with a screaming toddler.  We want to be known as an adult, as being mature. Of course if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we still have infantile moments—times when we all act a bit childish. When our reaction is way out of proportion to the situation; when our selfishness throws a hissy-fit to get our own way.

Thus, every once and while we also need to be told that we are acting childish. We need to be admonished for our immature behavior and be reminded to act our age; to be the adult that we should be.

Well, this is what Paul has to do with the Corinthians. He tells them that they’re acting like babies, but he does so in a way that helps us to grow in maturity in Christ.

Now so far, Paul has made his point that the wisdom of God—which we speak and by which we live—is simply the Gospel of Jesus, it is the cross of Christ. And we understand and we recognize the cross of Christ as God’s wisdom only because of the Holy Spirit. It’s because God gave us the Spirit that we’re able to understand the Gospel as God’s wisdom and power for salvation. Without the Spirit we would never perceive the glory of God in the cross of Christ. Without the Spirit we would still be lost like the world not understanding the spiritual truths of the Gospel.

So Paul’s point is that the Gospel is God’s power and wisdom. And those with the Holy Spirit can understand it as such, which is all Christians; for to belong to Christ is to have the Spirit. Thus, from chapter 1 and throughout chapter 2, Paul has been basically establishing what he said in chapter 1 verse 18, that the cross of Christ is folly to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved.

For Christians, those who are being saved, the spiritual ones considered the Gospel to be God’s wisdom. This is a pretty basic point isn’t it? For a Christian who thinks that the Gospel is silly or foolish is all backwards. By definition this doesn’t compute. It’s like a doctor who says he doesn’t believe in medicine. But this is exactly what the Corinthians are doing. Thus, Paul says that he is not able to address them as spiritual.

By definition a spiritual person has the Holy Spirit and so recognizes the Gospel as God’s wisdom. This is all Christians. This should be the Corinthians but they are not acting according to who they are. Instead, Paul has to speak to them as people of the flesh.

Now, flesh refers here to as sinful desires and ways of the world or our corrupt natures. Christians have the spirit, and are so spiritual while the world does not have the Spirit and so belong to the flesh.

Paul is simply telling the Corinthians that they are acting like the world. He’s admonishing them for not behaving as they should in accordance with the Spirit.

Now Paul is not saying here that the saints are not Christians, indeed, he uses a different word here than he did in chapter 2 verse 14, there he said the natural person which referred to the non-believer, one devoid of the Holy Spirit. But here the Apostle says they are being fleshy or those opposed to the Spirit.

And for Paul this flesh and Spirit contrast, is basically equivalent to the old/ new man contrast.

The old man is our corrupt nature, still belonging to Adam that we still war against and have to put to death. The new man is our new nature, being renewed in the image of Christ. So also the flesh in us is our sinful desires of the old man. While the spiritual belongs to the Spirit of Christ.

Just as we feel the old and new man at combat within us, so we feel the Spirit warring with the flesh.

And the Corinthians are behaving too much according to the flesh. And so Paul has to speak to them as such. Indeed, he calls them not just fleshy, but infants, babies.

Now the image here that Paul brings up is not so much one of maturing. His point is not that the Corinthians didn’t grow up. Rather he’s saying that they’re being childish, they’re not acting their age. They’re not acting according to the Spirit, which they as saints have the Spirit and so they should act.

Thus, when he says, “I fed you with milk and not solid food” he’s not referring to the content of his ministry. No. When Paul was with them he preached nothing but Christ and him crucified. And so far in this letter, the Gospel has been very much the topic.

Instead he’s referring to how he addressed them in this letter. He had to address them as being childish. And this allows us to see kind of the real problem in Corinth.

For we’ve seen how the Corinthians were enamored with fine oratory and the wisdom of the world. They wanted to be recognized as being wise and eloquent according to worldly standards. And in this desire they were labeling the Gospel as something basic, simple, elementary. They thought that the Gospel was something that they had to be moved beyond for higher and more spiritual truths and doctrines.

Essentially, their position was that the Gospel was kindergarten material. And the truly (quote) “spiritual” person moved beyond it into deeper doctrines and wisdom.

Boy, the Corinthian problem is still one that is around today, isn’t it? Indeed, we have heard people say, “The Gospel, sure we believe it but it’s only entry level material. It’s only for new converts or children. The truly spiritual person has to move beyond it. They have to move on to what truly matters—higher doctrines, practices, or practical topics. To say to remain in the Gospel is to remain immature.”

But Paul takes this position of the Corinthians and uses it against them. They have been calling Paul and his Gospel-centeredness simple and elementary, borderline foolish. But Paul says, “You’re the ones being childish. You who boast about being spiritual, I can’t even address you as spiritual, but of as those of the flesh.”

So when Paul says “you’re not ready for solid food yet” he’s not saying that they need a change in diet but a change in perspective.

They consider Paul’s preaching to be of the cross to be milky, watered-down baby food.

But Paul says, “you’re not ready for solid food, that is, as long as you think the Gospel is baby food you’re acting infantile.” “As long as you consider the cross as folly,” Paul says “you are acting like the world like fleshly humanity.”

“What you need” says Paul “is to change your perspective to realize what you consider milk is actually solid food.”

“If you stop acting like babies” says Paul “then you will realize that the Gospel is actually meat. It’s the steak of God’s word and for our faith. It’s the very wisdom of God for our faith.” Paul’s point, then, is that we don’t move beyond the Gospel. We don’t mature to leave the cross of Christ in grade school.

To be consistent with the Spirit whom we have received is to see the Gospel as God’s wisdom, the very basis and daily sustenance for our faith.

For the Corinthians to label the Gospel as baby food, as foolish is for them to act like the world—to behave according to the flesh, to be childish.

Well, a clear proof that the Corinthians are being childish with respect to the Gospel is that there are divisions among them. The jealousy and the strife are a prime example that they are being infantile; that they fail to grasp the cross of Christ as the meat of the Christian diet and life.

Look again at verses 3 and 4.  He says “…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?”

As Paul again mentions these party lines in the Corinthian congregation, we see that he has never left the topic of the division that he first brought up in chapter 1. Paul’s discussion about the cross of Christ being the wisdom of God which is foolishness to the world–he has been addressing this to deal with the issue of divisions. He was laying the foundation so that Paul could more sharply and deeply correct the Corinthians.

So how does this work? Well, the Corinthians first mistakenly compared Paul to one of those traveling sophists or philosophers as we’ve seen. They began judging or measuring him by the worldly standards of wisdom and eloquence. They considered his Gospel-centeredness simple, milky, foolish material, something that they needed to move beyond.

So, when other teachers came to Corinth like Apollos who was known for being more eloquent, the Corinthians started to claim teachers as a way to (quote) “mature” beyond the Gospel to become more spiritual or wiser. “Apollos teaching” they would say “is so much more spiritual than that simpleton Paul, we follow him.”

They were jealous of each other’s gifts and they arrogantly competed to see who would be the more (quote) “spiritual” or more mature, using the teachers as a means of competing. But they did agree together that the word of the cross was foolish. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Therefore, their problem attacked both the Gospel and the church. They had a wrong view of the Gospel and the teachers of the church. And again we see the Corinthian problem is still alive and well in our day. Think how often we will take a teacher’s name and an “ite” an “ian” or an “ist” to it then we use it as a badge of pride for ourselves or derogatory label for someone else. But such a pride shouldn’t be found in us.

So, Paul addressed the topic now of teachers in the church. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” He asks. And he says they are merely servants. Indeed, Paul brings up an agricultural or farming image and he says, he and Apollos are nothing but farm hands. They are farm hands doing the work of God.

Each one has his own job to do that God assigned to him. So Paul was the planter. He first sowed the Gospel in Corinth. God gave him the job to start the field growing. But Apollos, God made him the one to water. He is irrigator. He came after Paul to irrigate the Corinthian field. So, they are servants through whom the saints came to believe and grew in the faith.

They labor in God’s field, sowing and irrigating but it is only God who gives the growth. If it was not for God’s grace that Gospel seed would have never sprouted. If it wasn’t for the light of God’s Spirit those seedlings would have never grown or taken root.

So look, then, what Paul concludes in verse 7.  He says “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

He and Apollos are nothing, says Paul. They’re nothing without God who gives the growth. Their work is in vain without God. It would be to no avail without God’s power to bring the growth.

So also all ministers and teachers are nothing without God. Your pastor is nothing without the Lord. It is only God who brings the growth and to Him the glory should be.

So Paul again connects the Gospel to the ministry of the Gospel. And in both he says there is no boasting. Just as you can’t boast in your salvation so you cannot boast in teachers. But this was what the Corinthians were doing. They were boasting of being more spiritual of having grown to higher levels of wisdom because of the teacher that they claimed.

But in doing this, they were misconstruing the office of minister in two ways:

First, they elevated the teachers too high by giving them credit for the growth. They considered the ministers as masters or heads of schools as having power in themselves. They rooted success in the minister.

Secondly, they had a too low of a view of ministers by elevating them so high, the Corinthians made Paul and Apollos completely subject to their own judgment.

They measured Paul and Apollos by their own worldly yardstick of what was wise or eloquent. Thus, they swung from idolizing the teacher to scorning the teacher.

“The teacher” they said “is who makes you spiritual, but we determine if the teacher is good or not.”

Boy, doesn’t this sound familiar. Isn’t this the status quo today? As people flock to the newest, hippest minister they claim he has the power to change the heart or to change the world. But once that minister goes out of style they drop him like a rotten tomato and move on to the next one.

But Paul says, such behavior is childish. It’s inconsistent with the very Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s to act like the world, to follow the desires of the flesh. For in the cross of Christ we hear clearly that salvation is all of grace and not in the least due to anything in us.

There is no boasting before God for we are saved all because of the work of another, the work of Jesus dying for us. We are saved only because the Lord of glory was crucified for you.

And we can understand this Gospel. We can embrace it in faith. We can perceive it as the true wisdom of God only because of the Holy Spirit. It’s not because we’re smarter. The Holy Spirit given to us is what makes us spiritual and nothing else.

Thus, it is this that makes us God’s field, God’s building. You belong to him and to him alone. You were purchased with a price. And you are the work of God’s own hands. This is the proper understanding of the cross of Christ, and one that should remove from us all jealousy and strife.

For if we are saved only by Christ and made spiritual only by the Holy Spirit then there shouldn’t be competition to see who is more spiritual.

Also if God brings all the growth then ministers are only servants. They are tools in God’s hands. And you don’t boast in the tool, but in the artisan who uses the tool.

So we are to give all the credit and glory to God for our salvation and our growth, our Christian life.

We are to be thankful for God’s use of servants for our good. For if we are God’s field and ministers are farm hands then they are doing God’s work for you and your good. God is using them for your benefit.

And this is why the cross of Christ is not some elementary doctrine to be moved beyond, but it’s the very wisdom of God for our maturing in the faith. For the cross of Christ is about Jesus humbling himself unto death for our salvation. It is about Jesus loving us even when we were so unlovable.

Thus, the cross of Christ is the power of God to then work in us this humility and love. A humility wherein no way we boast before God or elevate ourselves over others, but acknowledge our spiritual poverty. And a love where we seek the good of others, even over our own. Indeed, the Gospel is the only power to make us grow in humility and love, fruits of the Spirit which we never outgrow; for to grow beyond love and humility in Christ is not progression, but regression. It is not being more mature it is being more childish.

Thus, may we rest in Christ and his cross for all things. And may we live by that very cross of Christ which is the grace and power of God for us, and the very wisdom of God that we might give the Lord all the glory to him and to him alone.

Yes, this is our life in Christ to walk in Christ and according to his cross. To walk in his love towards one another and towards him.


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