Sermon series: God's New Covenant People
Connection to unit theme
Jesus saves us to send us. The early church recognized that everyone needed the gospel. But to spread the gospel, one must know the nature of the gospel.
In Romans 1:16 Paul wrote, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every on who believes." Why did Paul assure them of not being ashamed of the gospel? He never clearly says so, but we can assume from the rest of Romans and Paul's other epistles that the gospel sounded scandalous to many. Compared to the other systems and philosophies of his day, and ours, nothing compares with the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul wrote about the nature of this message. He wanted the church to be clear about what God entrusted to them. When Paul went to Corinth, he did not plan to play the same game as other itinerant teachers (1:17, 20). He did not want anyone to be drawn to him, but only to the message of salvation. The Gospel rested not on human wisdom and eloquence, but on God's power.
In chapter 1:18-31 we see the nature of the gospel. Let's notice how the gospel is polarizing, purposeful, and centered on a person.
I. The gospel is polarizing (vv.18-25)
Paul's argument in verses 18-25 is that no one is neutral toward the gospel message. In Rome there still exists an ancient image painted on a wall. It depicts a worshipper standing before a crucified figure that bears the body of a man and the head of a donkey. It reads: "Alexamenos worships his god." This is how the cross seemed to many - foolish. Humans always think their way is better (v.19). The Jews demanded miraculous signs. A crucified Messiah seemed ludicrous. Greeks wanted wisdom and eloquence. To them the gospel sounded weak and unimpressive.
But the gospel sounded glorious to those who embraced it (vv. 24-25). In it they saw God's power and learned God's wisdom. Leon Morris wrote: "The sign-seeking Jews were blind to the significance of the greatest sign of all when it was before them. The wisdom-loving Greeks could not discern the most profound wisdom of all when they were confronted with it" (Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians, TNTC). The gospel will always be an aroma of life to some and the stench of death to others. We must remain aware of its polarizing impact on the world.
Application: How do you respond when someone rejects the gospel? We should remember that the gospel always works. Some love it. Some hate it. But it always produces results.
II. The gospel is purposeful (vv. 26-29)
Many Corinthians were unimpressive by the world's standards (v.26). Of course this did not include all of them, since Paul said "not many," indicating perhaps some were powerful and influential. Paul did not intend to belittle the Corinthians, but to magnify the purposes of God in the gospel. God chose the foolish and despised things of the world. He did not save those who deserved salvation. On the contrary, he saved those the world hated and rejected (v.28).
The gospel reverses the world's standards. The world says that one must earn worth and value through performance, wealth, and success. Performance always precedes verdict. One must work and achieve before the final verdict on their life is declared. This is slavery. Pop icon Madonna, in an interview with Vanity Fair, said "My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre." Many share the same fear. But the gospel subverts this system. It declares a person worthy and approved before God despite their performance. God's purpose in the gospel is "that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (v.29). Gordon Fee said: "The ground is level at the foot of the cross" (First Epistle To The Corinthians, 84).
Application: In these verses is a stark reminder that no one deserves salvation. Do you find yourself feeling entitled to God's grace? Will you let this reminder make you boast all the more in grace?
III. The gospel is centered on a person (vv. 30-31)
The gospel points not to a teaching or a philosophy, but to a person. What Paul meant in verse 30 is highly debated. But verse 31 helps to clarify Paul's point, "Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" Paul says that all we need for salvation is found in Jesus and Him alone. A person is wise, righteous, sanctified, and redeemed only through Christ.
This makes Christianity different from every religion. Other religious figures in history merely pointed to truth, essentially saying, "Do this and be saved." But Jesus is truth. Salvation is found in what He did. A student once asked Dr. Harry Ironside, "There are literally thousands of religions. How do we know which is true?" He replied, "There are not thousands of religions. There are not even hundreds of religions. There are only two: one which tells you that salvation comes as a reward for what you have done, and one which tells you that salvation comes by what somebody else does for you. That's Christianity. All the rest fit under the other" (Ben Patterson, Muscular Faith). All that we need to be right with God is found in Jesus. May we cling to Him.
Application: Where do you look for salvation? Your parents? Good works? Success? A political party? Self-discovery? The gospel offers you a person, one who accomplished all you need for salvation.
This passage sheds light on perhaps why Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). This message is too scandalous, too radical for many to accept. Will you stand firm in it, defend it, and proclaim it with all patience and humility? Will you trust its sufficiency and power to sustain you in this life and the next?