Sermons

On Shades of Grace–1 Corinthians 1: 4-9

Shaun continues the new sermon series on 1 Corinthians with a look at some aspects of grace that do not always feature prominently in conversations and thoughts. From etymology and context, it is clear that Paul looks to emphasize the gift-nature of grace, worth celebrating with joy. Paul also works with themes of the sufficiency of grace–emphasizing that acceptance of grace must come with the death of the idol of self-sufficiency. Lastly, Paul also introduces the purpose of grace–steering and preparation for the coming of Jesus–to the line of thought.

Due to technical difficulties, the audio file for this sermon was lost. Below is the manuscript of the sermon. Shaun always gives the caveat that the sermon written is always a bit different than the sermon preached (though they are close enough to get the point).

Introduction

Earlier this week Lily asked me why birds can sit on electrical wires without being zapped. So I started talking about electrical circuits, but the longer I talked I started wondering about whether the lines are insulated or not. I thought I kind of knew, but the answer but was increasingly unconvincing as my confidence waned. Eventually I said, “Lily, I think I’m just proving that I don’t really know what I’m talking about.” 

There can be a problem with things that we think we know. Sometimes we do kind of know them. It’s just that we may not have the whole picture. There might be other shades of knowledge that we aren’t recognizing. Or maybe we have some good data but we’re not quite getting it in the right order. All of those are serious risks to theological words like grace. There are few other words in the church-jargon-lexicon that are as common as the word grace. We love grace. We’re saved by grace. It’s amazing. When we start talking about grace we have a lot that we know about it. We might however not really know what to do with what we know.

In this morning’s text we can see that verses 4 and 9 are both saying something very similar. Paul is giving thanks that God has faithfully poured out his grace on the Corinthian church by bringing them into fellowship with Jesus. Grace! But perhaps there are shades of grace that we need to revisit in order to really get it. Let’s see what these verses tell us about grace.

Giftedness of Grace

The first thing I want us to see is the “giftedness” of grace. We see it in the passive nature of these verses which describe all that the Corinthians have as having been done to them, done for them, or given to them. Look at the verbs: “was given” (4), “were enriched” (5), “was confirmed” (6), “were called” (9). Then in verse 8, the Corinthians are the object of the sustaining that will be done by Jesus who is the subject of the action. These verses are very much about something that God has done. 

The word grace is a translation of the word charis. Grace has heavy duty theological freight. But it’s also easy to be so overtaken by the right theological idea that we forget that the word, without dismissing the truth of those theological ideas, also brings other shades of meaning that we should not miss. Along with favor, grace brings with it shades of gift, joy, and delight. It’s even tucked into the word that Paul uses for giving thanks (eucharisteo). Grace has shades of joyful, delight-filled, giftedness.

At this point we have to make an application decision. While we talk about the theological freight of the word grace, I think we should consider what this word says about the one offering it. This gift of grace is something delightful, joyful, rich, and abundant. These traits characterize God’s gift-giving to us. How would you picture God giving gifts to us? What would his expression be?

I love the scene in the “Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” following Aslan’s sacrifice. If you haven’t read the book, Aslan is a huge glorious Lion who offers himself in the place of a boy who betrayed everyone. By means of a deeper magic where the life of a guiltless substitute can undo the treason of the guilty, Aslan broke the dark magic of the White Witch and restored Narnia. (If you haven’t read the book it is still worth reading even though I just totally spoiled the plot.) All of that is full of gravity and awe. What I love though is that when Lucy and Susan realize that Aslan is alive there is a scene where the three of them are skipping and jumping and laughing and playfully rolling around in the grass. It is delightful and whimsical and playful. And the whole time there is also a battle going on in the Fords of Beruna. This is not time for play! Except for Aslan it is. The battle matters too, but so does delight in the giver’s gift. 

Do you have a category for a playful God who you can delight with? When is the last time you really delighted in the gift of God’s grace? I think it might be helpful for some of us to find the closest playground, dangle our legs over a swing, and spend some time smiling with God for green grass, and warm breeze, and for a way that sinners can have fellowship with a holy God. The God of grace is a delighting gift-giver. Would you consider embracing grace by worshipfully delighting with the giver of grace. 

Sufficiency of Grace

A second thing I would like us to see about grace is its sufficiency (7). Gift-giving will come up later in this letter when we talk about spiritual gifts. For those interested in the terminology these are called the carismata (you can hear the layers). The Corinthian church was pretty happy about the gifts they had. I think Paul gets that as he starts the letter, even using some words in verse 5 that point to things that will come later (words: logos, knowledge: gnosis). The Corinthians were especially fond of the gifts surrounding words and knowledge.

This is another place where we have to make an application decision. One shade of grace in these verses is that the gifted-grace of God means they have everything they need and they will be sustained. So, in that regard they are in good shape. But while that is true, I think Paul is also setting up a different tack he will take. Consider what this says about the recipients. They need the thing being given. Without them they are not sufficient. I love that Paul doesn’t blast the Corinthians for having the gifts. They’re good gifts. The problem with the Corinthians will be the self-sufficient and self-focused way they try to wield their gifts as markers for their own sense of priority. They had a humility problem.

We might too. On the surface we know it is crazy to parade gifts as a means of showing that we have it together. But I wonder if the way some of us scramble around in our lives to be sure we’ve hit all of the self-defined metrics of success is not actually an example of just that. 

We know that we are supposed to believe that the grace of God in Jesus is sufficient, and we know that it isn’t good to present our own abilities as evidence of our being good enough. But sometimes we talk about our self-justification with a subtle wink. “I work too hard…wink, I scramble too much…wink, I’m really worn out with the ways I try to create my own sense of worth…wink.” I think we might actually be comfortable with our scrambling because it gives us metrics for success or failure that are still centered on what we do. And that is can’t be reconciled to the gifted-grace message of Jesus. 

You know, it is possible to build different patterns. Sure we won’t cure ourselves of all self-justification but there are things we can do to stop continuing in that cycle. It’s just that we have to actually do them. We have to actually trim off the “squeez-ies” we talked about last week. For some of us it will mean actually pushing “go” on some plans that we’ve had sitting in our minds about how we should rearrange the stuff of our lives. 

I know those things aren’t exactly “easy”. Doing them will involve repentance of our self-idolatry. Let’s repent. Doing them will require the help of others walking alongside us. Let’s walk together. In fact Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Would you consider embracing grace by humbly trusting the sufficiency of grace.

Goal of Grace

There is a third thing I want us to see, and that is the goal of grace. In verses 7 and 8 Paul tells the Corinthian church they have everything they need from God while they wait for the return of Jesus. These verses acknowledge that things aren’t necessarily great but they are going somewhere even if we’re still waiting. One day Jesus will be revealed and the world will be set right as the Resurrection of Jesus takes root in the removal of sin and the renewal of all creation. 

This is where we have to make yet another application choice. We could talk about heaven coming and long for that great day. That isn’t so bad, but I don’t want us to get lost in what I might call “proleptic nostalgia”. The goal of grace doesn’t just provide us with something to look forward to. It also sets our current actions on a course. 

I know we’re finally glad to be rid of the snow but when cross country skiing, it is hard to stay on course when the course isn’t groomed. My skis go all over the place. But on a groomed trail, some kind soul has lain down two grooves or tracks that you put your skis into so you don’t have to flail about aimlessly. 

When Paul points out the goal of grace, he gives us grooves that shape our direction. The cosmic application of Jesus’ Resurrection is where grace is going. Does the shape of your actions look like that? Consider where you spend your time, energy, money, and thoughts. Do they go where grace is going? To Justice? Love? Mercy? Reconciliation? Worship? Restoration? Righteousness? Peace? Rest? That’s where grace’s tracks go. 

I recently tweaked my back and it exposed that I’ve been a lazy sitter. The sacral region of my back is unimpressed and it finally revolted while I was running last week. Now I’m in a season of deep repentance. So I’m committed to learning how to sit. Right now when I sit with anything close to healthy posture it just doesn’t feel that comfortable because those back muscles are weak and untrained for healthy posture. At some point I have to shape my sitting to the health my back was designed for or I will always be in cycles of pain and frustration.

Think about your actions. Your experience of grace may be struggling because you are out of the grooves. Do you feel bedraggled or critical? Are the patterns of your life shaped like trusting in the sufficiency of God or are they shaped after your ability to strong-arm your circumstances? It might take some practice and it might take some help. But would you be willing to actively shape your life to the goal of grace?

Conclusion

If you are going to plan a service related to grace you have to reckon with hymn #460. It’s a great song but it is dangerous because it has been sung so many times, and with so much sentiment, that it’s easy miss some of it’s implications. The song certainly has a past-to-future flow to it. These things happened then. This is what will be one day. But we sing the song right now. We sing it in the part of life like verse 4, in the “as long as life endures” part. This amazing grace is something we must embrace now, in all of its giftedness, in all of it’s sufficiency, and along the lines of it’s final goal. 

So will you embrace that grace today? 

Will you worshipfully delight in the giver of grace? 

Will you humbly trust in the sufficiency of grace? 

Will you actively shape your life to the goal of grace?

 

A Place Like Us–1 Corinthians 1: 1-3

Shaun introduces the sermon series from 1 Corinthians with lessons from Paul’s introductory greeting: both Paul and the Christians in Corinth are called by God to a grace and peace that are relentlessly moulded to and by the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.

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Sleep — Acts 20:7-12

Max looks at how God provides for us as we sleep. While we surrender control during sleep, God takes over; he remains faithful to us throughout the night despite the things we do during the day. God’s grace does not rest, even though we do, and for this we can be thankful every day.


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A Resurrection Mission — Matthew 28:16-20

Shaun looks at the Great Commission and likens it to the commencement addresses that are given at graduation ceremonies later in Spring. The instruction to go and do the task for which they are prepared (making disciples) has been the primary directive for everyone present and for all Christians since. Taking the Gospel to people who we don’t think of a “us” is key because our identities as followers of Christ changes the scope of “us”.


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Running Away or Limping Along–Genesis 32: 22-32

Michael Vogel connects Jacob’s transformation at Penuel to the life of each Christian on this side of Resurrection Sunday, reflecting on the significance of Jacob’s name change, his perspective change after seeing the face of God, and the change in the nature of his struggles in life.

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And Moses Died–Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Shaun concludes the sermon series from the life of Moses with an initial reflection on his heroism. Heroic as he was (even considering his flaws), he still died. The passage from Deuteronomy provides some reasons for hope–another prophet will come and the Israelites *are* about to enter the promised land. Both reasons for hope hint at God’s work that breaks the cycles of death that lead to jaded cynicism and despair. That reason for hope beyond mere wishing and costlier than mere wishing is the person, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

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The Final Death of a Dream — Numbers 27:12-23

Shaun continues the series on the life of Moses with a look at how Moses and God interact as the Israelites near the Promised Land after 40 years of wanderings. Moses knows that he won’t be able to enter the Promised Land, so he asks who will take his place, to which God answers that Joshua will be the new leader. As we get under the surface of the passage, we see that our sin does have significant impacts that need to be addressed, but that God is ready to forgive and continue loving and providing in the aftermath of sin.


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No Hagiography Here–Numbers 20: 2-13

Shaun reflects on a story God’s holiness in the face of trust-less rebellion by both the Israelites and Moses, noting in particular the problems of blaming God instead of recognizing our error … and promptly completely failing to repent despite God’s abundant provision of mercy, available and brought within reach.

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That Won’t Help — Numbers 14:39-45

Shaun continues the series on the life of Moses with another scene where the Israelites try to make their own solution without listening to God and end up making a mess. We can apply this by recognizing our own tendency to trust in our own strength to solve problem, and instead trust in God who gives us life through Jesus’ resurrection.


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A New Way to Live–Romans 8: 1-13

Chad Baudhuin, visiting from a new church plant in Green Bay, speaks of the distinction between the false guise of safety found in the world and the inviolable security to be found in the Spirit-led, unburdened path walked by and with Jesus.

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