On Sunday I preached my very first sermon. God was very good to me and things seemed to go well. It took place in my home church in Childs Hill. I will publish the sermon in textual form below, but if you fancy listening to it there is a link here.
An important reminder of the gospel – how will you respond? (1 Corinthians 15:1-2
A lot of life comes down to remembering things. There are countless situations in which we might find ourselves, where having a good memory is useful. For example someone might shout to you just before you leave for the train: “Don’t forget your tickets!” maybe people are always telling you, “don’t forget your reading glasses.” Rather trivial things, but things that end up being quite important if forgotten. Then there are those things that are absolutely essential to remember, “don’t forget to take your pills” or “don’t forget top turn the gas off” or “don’t forget to lock the door after you go out!” if you were to forget about these things, you or others could be in a lot of trouble.
In the same way, when we look at the Bible, God is keen for us not to forget lots of things. In Genesis chapter 9 verse 16 after God has already flooded the earth and things are starting to get back to normal, God says to Noah, that when he sees a rainbow in the sky he will “remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature.” God remembers (and in turn wants us to remember) that every human and animal (on one level) has a relationship with him, so he promises to never, ever to flood the earth again. So when we see a rainbow, it is a reminder.
God also asks that we “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” and King David sings, “Remember the wondrous works that God has done, his miracles and the judgements he uttered.” Then there’s the famous verse from Ecclesiastes “remember your creator in the days of your youth.” So we see that our memories are essential tools when it comes to God’s words. God wants us to remember things or be reminded of things.
An important question to ask at this point is, does God remember everything? Well no, God forgets some things. Yes you heard me correctly; God forgets some things. This might sound strange, but before you throw me out, let me explain what I mean. In Isaiah chapter 43 verse 25 and in Jeremiah chapter 31 verse 34 God says that he will “remember your sins no more”! (Which is a verse that’s also quoted in the letter to the Hebrews). How can this be possible? How can God know something at one point and then forget it? Well, I’m sure a lot of you know the answer; it’s by something called the gospel. Which brings us to our passage. Let me read those two verses to you once more. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses one and two.
1. Firstly, before we go any further, why should we take note of these verses?
So, a man called Paul, one of the most prolific writers in the whole of the New Testament is converted dramatically, he sees Jesus calling out to him from heaven, and Jesus speaks to him directly, the son of God tells Paul to “carry his name before the Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel.” This man Paul wrote the letter that we find here in our Bibles, and we are to take it as God’s word. At this point you might ask, “I thought you said it was Paul’s letter, why is it all of a sudden God’s letter?” How can we be sure that Paul’s words are God’s words? Well, we know it by a number of reasons, firstly because Paul claims this himself in this very letter, in chapter 14 verse 37 of 1 Corinthians he says this, “the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” A huge claim, if someone wrote to you and said that they were speaking the word of God, you would want to take the claim seriously, you would look to see if it was true. Is this man mad? Is this man trustworthy? What do other people say about him? What would God say about him?
So, at this point it’s good to note that there is historical evidence for these words being true, with some simple research you can find out that Paul was a man worthy of the words he spoke, a man who has had huge influence upon the world. However, if you have a real complaint against the accuracy or truth of anything found in this letter, or if you have a genuine complaint about something you’ve found in the Bible, please look into it, don’t just brush it off or use it as an excuse to avoid following Jesus, all of these words are founded and accurately tested and checked, over and over again. People have been asking the very same questions as you for thousands of years, and those men and women who have looked into it without hesitation and without bias from either side have come to know God as a true, holy, honest and loving person, don’t let your laziness stop you from reaching the right answer.
So, we know these words are true firstly, because Paul says they are, secondly because they are historically backed up and thirdly, these words are what we call “self-attesting”. What I mean by this is that there is no higher authority we can go to, to prove that they are true other than God. My previous points about the Bible’s words and their historical accuracy are true, and they’re helpful, but they are not the ultimate test, God is. Ask him, he will show you.
So, if we know they are God’s words, does that mean that he spoke to Paul through a megaphone? Did Paul hear God’s voice and then write the words down? No, in this case that isn’t what happened. The Holy Spirit of God guided Paul to write these things, not like a robot, or possessed creature, no, Paul wrote them with his unique personality, his own background, his training, his God centred judgements and views, and the individual circumstances in which he wrote. God took all those factors into account and through his supernatural plan, God allowed all of Paul’s words to be fully God’s words. Let me reinforce this for you, these were completely Paul’s words, but also, they are completely God’s words. Which makes the Bible like no other book in the whole world. We today, are learning from God’s word.
Finally on this first point, let me say this, we know we can trust Paul’s words as the word of God because we become convinced of them when we read them, but that only comes about through the Holy Spirit. So if you’re sitting there today and, you think, “I just can’t believe these things, I don’t know if they’re really God’s word.” Paul addresses you. He says in chapter 2 verse 13, “The natural man does not receive 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.” So unless we receive God’s Spirit, we’re never going to understand these things, we’re never going to believe them to be true. Let’s pray for that spirit now, that all of us would receive it before we go any further.
Good, let’s press on. So, let’s get some context on this evening’s verses. A bit further on in the letter, in chapter 16 verse 8 Paul writes that he is in a place called Ephesus, Ephesus is a city on the west coast of what is now Turkey, he was writing to a place about 180 miles away from there, a place called Corinth. That’s why the people are called the Corinthians!
The Corinthians had a church, a church that Paul had actually started, if you want to read about that, it’s found in the book of Acts in chapter 18 verses 1-17. After founding the church there Paul left and spent around three years in Ephesus, and that’s probably when he wrote this letter. We can pin point the date he wrote it to around the year 53 to the year 57, A.D.
Paul addresses loads of issues in this letter, and as a church, Childs Hill Church, we must take note of these lessons. The letters of Paul make excellent reading for churches, because they tackle all the issues that all churches face, issues that we must come to terms with, if we are to follow God’s commands. He covers arguments within the church, sexual sin, how to manage your marriage, Christian freedom and worship. Massive issues, which I’d imagine if you feel like me, can become confusing and tedious if not approached in the proper way. But then we reach these verses, chapter 15 verses 1 and 2, I feel like it’s as if Paul gets to a point and he says, “now, here’s the exciting bit, now, here’s the bit I want you all listening to, here’s the bit I want everyone to hear, listen up! If you got nothing else, I want you to get this.” “I want to remind you of the gospel!”
2. And that’s my second point; notice this. The importance Paul places on reminding us of the gospel.
a) What is the gospel?
If we are to understand why it’s important to be reminded of the gospel, we need to know what the gospel is. As I’m sure many of you know, the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. So he wants to remind them of the ‘good news’. Good news about what? Well if we look at the rest of Paul’s writings and the rest of the Bible to which he constantly refers, we get a rich picture of what this gospel is.
We read in Matthew chapter 4 verse 23 that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” So it’s something Jesus himself preached. In that same book of Matthew, Jesus once again speaks of “the gospel of the kingdom” he says, “it will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” So it’s something Jesus wants his followers to proclaim. By the time we get to the book of Mark, his first verse tells us that this gospel is about “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” So we’re starting to get more of a picture here, it’s a gospel preached by Jesus, about Jesus. If it is about Jesus, let’s take note of what Jesus did. Well, all you need to do if you have 1 Corinthians 15 open in front of you, is scan your eyes down to the second part of verse 3, where Paul goes about seeking to describe to us what he did. (Read verse 3b – 8)
So we see what Jesus has done, we see who the gospel is all about. But what does Jesus do? What can he do for us? Ephesians chapter one sheds more light on this for us, Paul says, “you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed him.” The gospel is truth; the gospel is our salvation when we believe in Jesus. This truly is gospel; this truly is ‘good news’.
What does the bible have to say to us if we don’t want to believe this gospel? Well 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 8 says that, “those who do not obey the gospel, will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
I think we can safely say, that the gospel is important, we can safely say, that this gospel is essential. I hope we’re starting to see why Paul wants to remind us of it.
b) Surely once we know it; we don’t need to be reminded of it? So, secondly under this point, why do we need to be reminded of a gospel we already know?
Well, obviously Paul doesn’t think that it’s something you only need to be told once. He wants to “remind”! Paul believes that the gospel is so important that whoever you are, you need to be reminded of it.
Think of the Coca-Cola company. We all know what Coca-Cola is, I’d even go so far as to say that we’ve probably all tasted Coca-Cola. Because of that, Coca-Cola can now sit back, relax and stop going on about it. Is that the case? Oh no! The Coca-Cola company feel the need to bombard us night and day with television adverts, bill boards, bus stops, phone boxes, sponsorships and even songs written for the very purpose of telling people that there is a soft drink called Coca-Cola and that they think you should drink it! If this is the case for an insignificant concoction of sugary water, how much more do you think we need to be told the gospel? We can never grow tired of hearing that God became a man; that he came into this sinful world, full of rotten people like me, and you, and that he chose to rescue us from this state. He chose to deal with that “everlasting punishment” that we mentioned earlier, he chose to take it from us, what’s more, God takes the righteousness, the inward beauty and the sinless perfection of that man Jesus and he wraps it around us. If you believe this message, God says that when he looks at you, he doesn’t see your ugly soul, God doesn’t look at you and sigh sadly; he leaps for joy and wraps his loving arms around you, because he sees his beloved son, Jesus. If you are a Christian tonight, he loves you just as much as he loves his son! If you don’t believe me look at John chapter 17 verse 23, Jesus prays this: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Now that is a message worth repeating.
3. So, point one: we know it’s true, point two Paul’s reminder of the gospel, now thirdly, let’s briefly look at two of Paul’s concepts, ‘preaching’ and ‘receiving’.
How are they to be done?
Cast your imaginations back to England in the year 1643, civil war was raging all across the country, so was the plague. A lot of things were changing, including the church. People were suddenly realising the importance of coming back to the Bible in order to gain any sort of knowledge of God.
The English Parliament called upon wise and gifted Bible guys, to give advice on issues like worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, which lasted five years, produced what’s called the confession of faith, after compiling those; they helpfully put them into question and answer form, so that we could more easily come to understand God’s word. Let’s see what these holy men said about preaching.
How is the Word of God to be preached?
They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, with fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.
So, then the next logical question to ask is: what about those who hear the Word of God preached?
It is required of those who hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine: What they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.
I believe these are wise words, because Paul speaks of these things himself in the verses we’ve read today. He says that the Corinthian church took their stand on this gospel; this can be more literally translated from the Greek as to stand in the gospel. He also speaks about holding firmly to it. What does it mean to stand in the gospel? How can we hold it? Well, we’ve already gathered that the gospel is not a place and it’s not a physical thing, it is a message, and it’s a message of good news! So we assume that Paul is speaking metaphorically here, he’s saying that if we believe this gospel, our actions should reflect this, we are standing, or you could say, living in the light of what Jesus has done for us. You might have heard someone say, “he held on to her every word” we should be like that with the gospel, we love it so much, we want to hold on to it, we never want to forget it.
So many of our actions from day to day are done as if Jesus didn’t exist, we go about our lives as if no one is watching us, so many of us are Christians, yet we are living as if Jesus was not in our hearts. Jesus’ physical body is now in heaven, but his spirit dwells within us, as he promised. 1 John 3:24 “Hereby we know that Christ abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.” I know I can personally say I’m ashamed to say, that I, so often don’t live in the light of that fact. I, so often am not standing in the gospel, I’m not holding on to it. Proverbs chapter 15 verse three, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” He knows us all, let’s live our lives remembering that! Why? Because, like Paul says in the very next verse: “it is by this gospel you are saved.” Praise God for that.
4. Fourthly and finally, notice that, if this is not true of you, Paul says that, “you have believed in vain.”
In the light of what we’ve seen today, let’s consider this; there is a gospel, a message of good news to all, it’s a message worth being reminded of. How do we know that? Because it’s true and because it’s the basis by which we live if we have received it. But, have we received it? Maybe you’re completely sure that you haven’t received it, maybe you’re not sure. Well let’s think together now. These words in Isaiah chapter 59 might help us:
“…Your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.
For your hands are stained with blood,
your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken lies,
and your tongue mutters wicked things.
So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like men without eyes.
For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the LORD,
turning our backs on our God.
Perhaps this is how you feel tonight. It’s how I feel tonight. If we search our hearts, we all know that our behaviour in God’s eyes has not been right, we haven’t by any stretch of the imagination been standing in the gospel, and none of us here has completely held on firmly to it all the time. And if you just don’t see it, if you feel fine, which so often we do, pray that God would show you your sin, pray for his help. And there is hope, look at the other verses, also found in Isaiah chapter 59:
“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
‘The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’
… declares the LORD.”