1 Corinthians 1:3-17 – Proclaim Good News

Jesus de Greatest, statue in Nigeria

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (New International Version)

The Apostle Paul clarified the foremost mission of Christianity to the Corinthian church: Preach the gospel. 

Everything else Paul did – from healing people to gathering offerings for others, and from making tents to journeying around the Mediterranean world – he did with the central focus and aim of proclaiming the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

Unfortunately, the Corinthian believers had lost sight of this urgent and needed imperative of proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Instead, they hardened into opinionated groups. Disunity amongst them was rampant and rancid. In short, the church made secondary matters of first importance. So, Paul wrote to correct this situation, which had gotten completely out of hand.

The proclamation of the gospel in Word and Sacrament needs to be at the core of every church and every believer’s life. When it isn’t, there are factions, special-interest groups, and condescending attitudes which fill the vacuum left in the center.

There are some things, maybe most things, we can agree to disagree with. Yet, when it comes to the good news of forgiveness and grace in Christ, we are to be of one mind. It is imperative we agree together that the heart of Christian mission is the gospel.

Unity around the gospel won’t happen if everyone is listening to competing voices.

Some believers have their favorite pet preachers. They follow that person and listen to them. That’s fine – to a degree. Yet, problems will inevitably arise because some practices happening within a particular church or faith community may not sync with the pet preacher or teaching. And if several individuals have different folks they follow, it can get messy in a hurry.

Following one person over another, Paul insists, is not the real issue in Christianity. Rather, it’s proclaiming the gospel – and not some person or their ideas. Believers need to put a whole lot more energy into using their spiritual gifts, rather than putting a crown on some worm of a preacher.

People can disagree on a lot of things, and that’s okay. But, in the church, there ought always be agreement and unity in building ministry around the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Everyone in the church, without exception, has a role to fulfill, a gift to exercise, in proclaiming good news. For me, I enjoy teaching Scripture to unbelievers and answering their questions, as well as mentoring believers in the cardinal doctrines of faith and practice. 

Others proclaim the gospel through hospitality, or partnering with others, or even inviting people to events and bible studies. In all the myriad ways God has gifted us, whether it is in serving or speaking, we are to use that gift not to advance a personal agenda, but to preach the gospel.

In this season of the Epiphany, Christians celebrate that the gospel has come to Gentiles and not only Jews. The light shines on all people, not just some. Therefore, followers of Jesus are to let their light shine, as our Lord exhorted us:

“You are the light that shines for the world to see. You are like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden. People don’t hide a lamp under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand. Then the light shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, ERV)

Blessed Father, Son, and Spirit, you are One God, perfectly united and in continual harmony. You have loved humanity to such a degree that you orchestrated a great deliverance from sin, death, and hell. Help your entire church to resolve petty differences and fix a gaze firmly and graciously on proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Luke 11:33-36 – Life Goals

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“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” (New International Version)

We don’t typically frame our words in a phrase like, “Your eye is the lamp of the body.” The idea of healthy or unhealthy eyes as determining how well we are doing might seem weird or awkward to us. We need to keep in mind that Jesus the Jew communicated in distinctly Jewish ways. Speech was often expressed in metaphors and word pictures. 

The word “body” serves as a way of saying “life” and the word “eye” represents our contemporary word “goal.” So, then, let’s restate the verse: “Your goals determine the direction of your life. When your goals are good, your entire life is healthy, but when your goals are bad, it messes up your life.”

Our goals, whether stated or unstated, set the focus and direction of our lives. If the orientation of our lives is the pursuit of selfish gain and temporary satisfaction, then we will move in that direction, and it will not end well. However, if our goals are toward God and the accomplishment of God’s will, then we will be light for the world. It’s all a matter of focus and where we set our attention.

But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.

Jesus (Matthew 6:33, CEV)

In our goal setting, we are to be careful, deliberate, and sensitive to the ways of Jesus. That means Christians will focus on the kind of people they want to be, that is, like Jesus Christ. Instead of simply making big resolutions, we can implement small decisions, practiced every day, which will help us grow spiritually.

For example, if we have some besetting sin which tends to dog us, we might try to summon the willpower and energy to take it on. On some days, that works. On most days, it doesn’t. That’s because if we maintain the same daily habits that led to being ensnared in sin, we’ll continually be looking for that unusual burst of energy to overcome that sin.

We need a new system of living. If we imagine our lives as a house, and a room in your house needs a complete restoration and makeover, it won’t do to enthusiastically rearrange the furniture. It’s a superficial goal which doesn’t address the systemic change of habits needed to thoroughly reform that area of your life.

And if we try and change our results, our sinful actions, chronic failure is likely in our future. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When we solve problems at the results level, it’s only a temporary fix.

In order to have some permanent improvement, we need to solve problems at the systems level. That’s why problems like racism, poverty, hunger, and a thousand other issues will never be truly solved unless there is a complete transformation of the systems which keep people locked into those tragic situations.

We need some good healthy biblical goals. And we equally need a reformation of habits to actually realize those worthy goals.

Our goals need not be big and audacious; they just need to be consistent with living the Christian life according to the words and ways of Jesus. That means choosing one thing and ruthlessly eliminating everything else. We don’t really need more time to accomplish the will of God; we simply need to decide that we are following Jesus. Spiritual growth and maturity happen not with more but with less.

Jesus said, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (John 15:1-2, NLT)

Proper goals bring us into the light. And when we establish a routine rule of daily life – small practices of faith done every day – then our light can shine in the darkness of the world.

Loving Lord Jesus, help me to set my life’s gaze on the living and doing of your teaching. Enable me to set godly and worthy goals and grant me the power to see them realized through your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 John 2:3-11 – From Hate to Love

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing, and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (NIV)

If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark. But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don’t cause problems for them. If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark.

Simply based on this Scripture alone, it ought to be abundantly clear that hate really has no place in the Christian’s life. Hate is never justified for any one person or group of people. Love, however, is the consummate Christian virtue. The highest of all truth in Christianity is the grace bestowed on us through the love of God. We, in turn, reflect our Lord’s grace by loving others, no matter their gender, race, religion, creed, or ethnicity.

We all have individuals, maybe even a particular group of persons whom we do not like. Perhaps we even despise them. The Apostle John squarely places the burden of change to fall on those who claim the name of Christ and choose to hate, and not on those for whom we dislike.

I am wondering what will you do to deal with this Scripture? Will you begin or continue the difficult process of forgiveness?  How will you come to be ever more characterized by love?  Will you ask God to shine his light on the shadows of your heart? 

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

As for me, I have not always been a lover of humanity. And I have not always been a lover of God. There was a time (much earlier in my life) when I found relationships and people to be a necessary evil, at best. I believed God to be aloof and unconcerned. Through a series of circumstances, I had become jaded toward my fellow humans and did not see the image of God within them.

One day, many years ago, after I had come to connect with my faith and sought to walk in way of Jesus, I encountered a former classmate by happenstance. Her eyes were bloodshot. It was apparent she had been crying. She told me that she just found out someone we both knew was killed in a car accident.

I don’t recall what I said to her. The only thing I remember is what I thought after walking away. It went something like this: “Well, God, that guy probably wasn’t a Christian. I’m not sure of his eternal destiny. He probably deserved to die. He was kind of a jerk in this life. Hell seems like a good place for him…”

Then, as if some divine baseball bat hit me upside the head, I felt the full weight of my heart’s callousness. Dazed and confused, I went straight home and reflexively went to today’s New Testament lesson. There it was. I had not a wit of love for the deceased man. Neither did I have much love of anyone.

That was the point I began praying earnestly for love, to feel compassion for my fellow humanity, to experience loving another like Jesus did.

To make a long story short, my heart was changed – transformed by the grace of God. It was such a dramatic turnaround, I barely recognized myself. I almost couldn’t believe that a person like me with such a hard heart could be so profoundly different, could have a completely different attitude and feeling toward the great mass of humans for which I previously cared not a wit.

I suddenly understood the Grinch’s enlargement of heart. I became enlightened to old Scrooge’s new approach to the world around him. I felt the power of the Beast being transformed because of beauty’s selfless love. I “got it.” I could now relate to love coming from the depths of my being:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13, MSG)

And I have not looked back since but have pursued loving God and loving neighbor as one in the same.

Those who are in the dark do not see their flaws. Those in the light of the Son can clearly see their need for God’s help. They discover, indeed, love is the most powerful force in the universe. For God is love.

John 12:44-50 – The Light of Christ

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Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So, whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV)

Jesus is the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Jesus told his followers they are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Simple observation: Neither Jesus nor his followers become light. They are light. So, what does that mean?

To be light means we take a particular posture toward the world. It means we have a unique role in society.

Sometimes its important to say what something is not before we talk about what it is. To be light means we are not:

  • The Judge. The incarnation of Jesus was not for the purpose of playing Sheriff in the Old West, riding into the town of this world and gunslinging the bad guys either out of town or into the cemetery. Just because the world shot the sheriff, does not mean they’re off the hook for not shooting the deputy. There is judgment coming. It’s just that you nor I are the judge. “Do not judge,” said Jesus, unless you’re interested in getting judged yourself. (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Cave-Dwellers. Rabbit-hole Christians. Dorm toads. Or any other metaphor for separating oneself from society and hiding out. Cave-dwellers want to hide out and start little fires that will only warm themselves. A rabbit-hole Christian scurries from hole to hole trying to avoid the world. Dorm toads never leave the friendly confines of their apartment swamp.

Rather than judging and hiding, people of the light possess are:

  • Encouragers. They speak constructive words of edification. Encouragers know there is a bit of light in everyone, so they see through the darkness to the good which can be enlightened and called forth in others. People who encourage have a glow about them which is attractive and winsome.
  • Aware. Being light causes one to see themselves in high definition. Both the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity is seen and held together. People of the light are aware of their identity. They are then able to act with humility, gentleness, and meekness. Since they know they are infinitely loved by God, this brings a great freedom to speak and act with confidence.
  • Believers. Faith begins with receiving grace. It then works its way from an internal truth to an outward expression. People of the light follow in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus. They love, lead, and linger in society as spiritual beings who help illumine the path.
  • Merciful. Since they were once in darkness themselves, people of the light set aside pre-meditated judgment and deal compassionately with those who are spiritually blind.
  • Pure. The light has its way of exposing impurities. People of the light squarely face their own reality and purposely seek purity in all their dealings with society.
  • Peacemakers. Being characterized by the light means we not only possess personal peace; we also make peace through creating and sustaining harmonious relations with others. The light enables us to be spiritual ombudsmen who carefully and effectively bring peace between warring factions.

Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world. That means we do not hide but are present and involved in our families, neighborhoods, communities, local institutions, national affairs, and world problems. Being characterized as followers of Jesus causes a person and a faith community to be visible, to show the world who Jesus is, and what he is like.

The earliest followers of Jesus allowed their light to shine in the world through:

  • Taking in unwanted children, orphans, and babies left exposed to infanticide.
  • Ministry to the sick and dying during times of plague and disease, as well as visiting those in prison without families.
  • Help and kindness to the poor, foreigners, immigrant strangers, and widows, especially when no one else would.

Where light is present, no one needs to remain in darkness. Even a small flickering flame can illumine enough to make a way. And when many small flames come together, there is a great light for all to see.

Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. We are his servants because the same God who said that light should shine out of darkness has given us light. For that reason, we bring to light the knowledge about God’s glory which shines from Christ’s face. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, GW)

May the light of Christ, the living Word, dispel the darkness of our hearts so that we may walk as children of light and sing the praises of a merciful God throughout the world. Amen.