Our Purpose Is to Preach the Gospel!
O Lord, our precious God and Savior, it is so easy to be distracted by all the issues and challenges of life. May we, as we gather together for worship this day, set aside all distraction, so that we may hear messages of Your love, offer hymns and prayers of praise, and be renewed by Your distinct blessing. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
The world by nature walks in the darkness of sin and spiritual ignorance. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings light and joy as it breaks the bonds of sin and frees souls from the ultimate oppressor - Satan!
Jesus came fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy, calling disciples to become "fishers of men," and preaching the gospel of God's kingdom to all who would listen!
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
In Christ Jesus, whose gospel is the glue that binds our Christian hearts, dear fellow redeemed:
"Did you hear what’s going on at that Christian Church meeting by the harbor?" "Maybe, what did you hear?" "I heard that they are about to split up. One group supports their current pastor, while another favors their former pastor, while yet another claims to follow some famous preacher in Palestine!" "Well, no, I can’t say that I had heard that. I have heard about some pretty strange things going on over there, even for this town—like a young man running off and shacking up with his step-mother, and nobody saying a thing about it." "That’s not the half of it! Their services are getting pretty wild. I walked by the other day and people were jumping up and interrupting each other, so that nobody could hear anything. I don’t know how anyone got anything out of it." "I heard that several weeks ago at a joint meal some of their wealthy members refused to eat with the poor members. I’m told that afterwards some of them even got drunk during what they call their ‘Lord’s Supper.’" "I thought those Christians were different, but I guess not."
Such may well have been the gossip going around Corinth as St. Paul sat down to write his first epistle to the Corinthians. This congregation, about whom St. Paul could honestly say, “You were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge” (1:5), had lost its way. It was a congregation in trouble—plagued by divisions, moral scandal, disruptive and drunken worshippers, and a general lack of love. How did St. Paul respond when he heard the news? He did not wash his hands of them. He rather wrote his beloved Corinthians and pointed them back to the object and the purpose of their faith—Jesus Christ and the gospel ministry entrusted to them.
My dear friends, we can be thankful that our congregation has been spared many of the trials faced by the Corinthians, but Satan is certainly still alive and well today. He attempts to cause every Christian congregation to lose its way—to divide unnecessarily, to get caught up in a contest of egos, to be misled by this world’s seeming wisdom. It is important, therefore, that we follow St. Paul’s example and encourage one another to look back to the object and purpose of our faith. The object of our faith is Jesus! OUR PURPOSE IS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL!
That purpose is hindered, first of all, by unnecessary divisions! Before we get into our text, I want to make it clear that there are times when division within a Christian congregation is right and necessary. Jesus and His apostles all foretold times in which false teachers would arise within the church, and their message is all the same. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). St. Paul said, “Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). St. Peter said, “Beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Peter 3:17). St. John said, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (2 John 10). When false teachers arise within a church, they must be identified and avoided. If they gain a following within a Christian church, a division may well have to occur to preserve the gospel and to remain faithful to the words and commands of the Lord.
Today, however, we are addressing those divisions, which are unnecessary. Such was the case in Corinth, when St. Paul wrote, “Now I plead with, you brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s house, that there are contentions among you.” The Corinthian congregation was in danger of dividing in view of clashing personalities, rude and loveless words and actions, prejudice and class snobbery, an exaltation of self, and the influence of worldly thinking of all sorts. St. Paul appeals to them in “the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” that they should “all speak the same thing,” that “there be no divisions among” them, and that they be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” The gospel of Jesus Christ unifies us, for it speaks of God’s love for each of us—no matter who we are. As St. Paul had earlier told the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ” (3:28). When we are led by the Spirit of our Lord to confess our faith in Jesus, it is His will that we unite on the basis of His Word so that we might fulfill our calling to preach the gospel in an effective manner.
Jesus tells us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). When individuals ask what is necessary to become a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, I tell them that the only requirement is that we share a common confession—that we speak the same thing! Jesus tells us to teach everything that He has commanded, so we are to search the Scriptures to learn His truths. Then with united voices we are to proclaim them to the joy and uplifting of souls. Issues, opinions, and preferences that may appear ever so important to us, but which have nothing to do with gospel, should never divide us as we strive to fulfill our purpose. If they threaten to do so, then may God lead us to look back to the object and purpose of our faith. Yes, let us look back to Jesus and remember that OUR PURPOSE IS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL!
Our purpose can be hindered, secondly, by unrestrained egos! St. Paul writes, “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” St. Paul had founded the congregation. Apollos was their resident or a former pastor. “Cephas” is another name for St. Peter, and those proclaiming themselves to be “of Christ” apparently thought themselves superior to all. What is very obvious from the original language is the textual emphasis placed on the word “I,” which in Greek is the English word "ego." As the various parties within the congregation argued over whose words and example they should follow, it was very apparent to St. Paul that what was at play here were the egos of a good many men and women, who simply wanted their way! Our pride can become ever so destructive of the gospel ministry. It shifts the focus away from the message of Christ crucified to the messengers and their personal desires—whether pastor or laymen in support of his own views and opinions.
Some of the best advice I ever received was the suggestion that I should lean over backwards to accommodate people in areas that were non-doctrinal. To insist on having my own way in non-doctrinal matters would only cause resentment, I was told, which would in turn interfere with my ability effectively to teach people the truths of Scripture, including the gospel.
My dear friends, how often do we not become bull-headed, demanding, and down right irritating to each other by insisting on having our own ways, and with what results? We hurt others, deprive ourselves of peace and true joy, and undermine the most important work entrusted to us—the preaching of the gospel. May the Lord give each of us an attitude, which says, "I really don’t care if I get my way in these temporal matters, as long as we are able faithfully to fulfill our mutual calling, for OUR PURPOSE IS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL! It is not to salve our egos.
Our purpose is hindered, finally, by unscriptural wisdom! St. Paul writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” Let me say immediately that St. Paul is in no way disparaging baptism. Baptism is an important means of grace, which we as Christians are to use to bring God’s blessing into people’s lives. St. Paul’s point, however, is that Satan is so sly that at times he can even use the externals of something so important as the sacrament of Baptism to distract from the primary purpose of every Christian and the entire Christian community, which is the preach the gospel. Souls are being lost every day all over the world. We have the solution in the proclamation of God’s grace over against sinners in Christ Jesus. Nothing should be allowed to hinder that gospel proclamation!
What, however, does St. Paul mean when he speaks of the “wisdom of words”? St. Paul makes that clear later in this first chapter of 1 Corinthians. He says that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1:18). To unbelievers, who by nature are convinced that salvation is won by being good, the thought that salvation would come through someone who had been executed by the Roman authorities was absolutely ludicrous. But St. Paul then sets up the contrast between the “wisdom of this world” and the “wisdom of God” (1:20-21), and points out that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of our omnipotent and omniscient God. God knows that we cannot save ourselves. He sees the weaknesses in us, which are ever so apparent, but which we feverishly want to deny. He calls us in His love—we who “labor and are heavy laden” (cf. Matthew 11:28) with the sin and sickness of this world, and He offers us forgiveness, rest, peace, and salvation as gifts. But, all too often, we think we are just to smart for God and do not need His help, so we turn away and trot off in the direction of our own choosing assuming that we will be happier on our own. We do this only to find out that every way, which is our own way, leads to the same dead-end—suffering, disappointment, and ultimately death.
No, my dear friends, listen to the words of the Psalmist, which we spoke earlier in this service, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105). Are you tired of the non-wisdom of the world, the educated opinions of men who do not know the Lord and who tout the latest studies and theories of men, which ultimately will be replaced by other studies and theories of men? Then look to and base your faith, your life, and your hope on the simple and unchanging truths of God’s Word—His law and gospel. You and I are sinners. God loves us in spite of our sin. God sent His Son for us to redeem us from sin. God has forgiven our sins for Jesus’ sake. Therefore, let us turn to Him with repentant hearts and rejoice in His desire to receive us as His sons and daughters. He is preparing a place for us, and in the meantime He urges us to fulfill our callings in life—among them the preaching of the gospel. We do not be afraid, for He is with us. We do not be discouraged, for He will uplift us. We can be filled with joy, hope, and confidence, for His promises to us are as certain as dawn following the dark. Consequently, when Satan comes and tries to cause us to lose our way, either as individuals or as a Christian congregation, may we be led again and again back to the source of our faith, Jesus, and our purpose of preaching the gospel! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting