The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany February 2, 2003
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
15, 19, 409, 276
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
God grant that no one among us be so overtaken by sin and apathy that he fails to recognize just how evil the world is in which we must spend our time of grace, and how great the danger is to our Christian faith. Amen.
Dear Fellow Ambassadors of our Lord Jesus:
One of the most common observances of those who travel to impoverished countries is the lack of choice. Because we live in the midst of tremendous wealth and privilege we have come to regard mind-numbing variety as a way of life. It is not that way in many parts of the world, nor was it always that way here.
In fact, the growth and development of our civilization can be chronicled by the expansion of choices. The Plains Indians had one form of transportation. If they wanted to get somewhere, they walked. Horses gradually found their way to the Midwest, whereupon its inhabitants were given a choice. As white settlers pushed into the land, foot and horse travel was expanded to horse and wagon, and then the stagecoach, the train, the bicycle, the automobile, and finally the airplane.
Now, every time we decide to travel from here to there, we first have to decide on our mode of transportation. You are going to a friend’s house a couple miles from where you live. Will you walk, roller blade, ride your bike, take the bus, call a cab, or drive? Our choice is usually dictated by either our laziness or by our busy schedule.
All of this is just the beginning. In almost every facet of our lives, we are inundated with choices. There are a dozen different choices for every breakfast, a hundred different clothing combinations, several hundred choices on what do to do for lunch and dinner, and a virtually unlimited number of things to do with our free time. We have more television channels than we could watch in a hundred lifetimes. Today we even have to make a choice as to which automobile we will drive, and we have more than enough clothing and grocery stores in even an average-sized city to feed and clothe most Third World countries.
Like it or not, life on earth requires decisions all the time. Such a society requires maturity. We are not limited by poverty or the need to work 16 hours each day just to survive. The obesity, alcoholism, and drug addiction that plague this country are all evidence that as a society we lack the necessary maturity to make consistently good choices. It should not surprise us, therefore, that we are also prone to bad decisions in our spiritual lives. In fact our text for today points out to us just how wrong-minded we can be when it comes to choices in the spiritual realm of our existence. That text is found recorded in the First Letter of Paul to the Church in Corinth, the first chapter:
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
These are the words of our God. In thankful acknowledgment that these are indeed his words, and with the prayer that we might benefit from the study of these words, we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
Dear Christian Friends,
Have you ever made bad choices in your life? I don’t really care who you are or how old you are, the answer is, “Yes.” As a two-year-old, maybe you chose to put that handful of dirt into your mouth rather than drop it like your Dad told you to do. As a teenager, maybe you made poor choices of friends in school, chose to drink, or experiment with drugs. As an adult, maybe you married poorly, chose the wrong profession, or neglected your children. Whether it was stupidity or sin or anything in-between, the common penalty for bad choices is that you have to live with the consequences. The length or severity of the consequence, of course, varies. If you make a poor choice from the dinner menu at your favorite restaurant, the penalty is minor. If you choose your friends poorly, the consequences can be severe. If you choose the wrong spouse, the consequences can be catastrophic.
In the physical realm of life, however, bad choices have a natural limit or termination point, namely, death. Marriage and family problems you have created, physical afflictions brought on by foolish decisions, even the harm you have done to others through your bad choices all find their cessation in death. Ironically, though death was brought into the world through sin, in a sinful world death is often a blessing. Anyone who has witnessed the last days of an alcoholic, or the slow and painful passing of a smoker wracked by emphysema and lung cancer, anyone who has seen the tortured death of an AIDS patient knows something of the merciful role death often plays in a sinful world.
When it comes to bad choices in the spiritual realm, the consequences are eternal. Stop and think about that for a moment. While some of the choices we make here in time can affect us only up until we leave this world, others affect us for all eternity. When you think about it in these terms, it is absolutely amazing that we put so little thought or consideration into the choices that affect us spiritually. We feed and pamper the body (which will one day die) and neglect and abuse the soul (which will never die). So it is today that Americans will think nothing of eating health food while watching a filthy, perverse movie. Parents require bike helmets, roller-blade pads, and car seats, but allow their children to fill their hearts with whatever filth or rebellion is being spewed from the television. We carefully choose our doctors, and then are content to go to any old church. In fact we would never consider choosing our healthcare providers the way most Americans pick the church they will attend. Would you ever, for example, consider picking your clinic or hospital because you like the waiting room and the doctor is “fun”? Would you pick a doctor who has abandoned tried and true medical practice in favor of his own frivolous ideas, and who never even tries to cure you, but who does his best to make you feel really good about being sick? Why then would anyone settle for that in a church or pastor?
It is most interesting (albeit tragic) that a sizeable chunk of the Christian Church today emphasizes the one choice we don’t have and can’t make—the choice to become a Christian in the first place. They call it “making your decision for Christ,” and you can rest assured that cows will learn to sing opera long before any spiritually lost, dead, and condemned sinner could ever make a decision for Christ. Since we are born dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), we have no spiritual strength or ability to choose good. This truth represents the very heart of the Gospel. It is precisely because we were hopelessly lost that Jesus is so precious to us. It is in understanding how helpless we were that we come to appreciate the gift of faith and spiritual life we have been given. We begin to see that grace is truly undeserved love when we understand that we provided nothing whatsoever toward our salvation and that we were completely unworthy. Only then can our Lord Jesus become all in all to us. Only then does He receive all the praise and glory for our salvation, which He alone surely deserves.
Yet, here is where many Christians make a tragic mistake. They imagine that since no sinner can make his decision for Christ, that this also means that there are no crucial decisions or choices for Christians to make after they are brought to faith. On the contrary, the number of decisions we must make is greatly increased after we are brought to faith. As unbelievers we were concerned only with how to best please ourselves. The life of the Christian, however, is a constant struggle to deny the Old Adam, build up the New Man, and to serve our God and our neighbor.
It is tempting to imagine that since Jesus died for our sins, Christians can spend their lives making bad choices with impunity. This is simply not true, although Satan is delighted whenever any Christian believes it is. The fact is we have the power to destroy ourselves. The devil himself cannot do this to us, but we can do it to ourselves. We have the power to drive the Holy Spirit from our hearts, and the most common means of evicting Him is a combination of spiritual laziness, apathy, and indifference. It happens by choosing not to read his Word, by choosing not to go to church, by choosing not to pray. There will, without a doubt, be countless legions in hell protesting that they never made such choices. They will argue that apathy and laziness perhaps caused their downfall, but never a conscious decision. Since every Christian knows better, apathy is a conscious decision. Every Christian has been warned, therefore laziness is also a conscious decision. What is more, they are extremely bad decisions.
God in his Word guides our choices as Christians in two different ways. On the one hand, our Lord tells us directly and plainly what His will is for our lives. He did this, for example, in the Ten Commandments. Yet God also teaches us His will by example. This method may be a bit more subtle, but it is nonetheless clear to the Child of God. Our text is an example of the latter. Here the Holy Spirit guides us by example. Here our Lord guides our choices on the earth by revealing some of the choices He Himself has made.
We see this sort of thing in advertising all the time. In fact if you think of it, take mental note this next week of how many ads actually ask or tell you to buy their product. You will find almost none. Human beings don’t like to be told what to buy. Instead, advertisers attempt to make the use of their product look desirable or fashionable. They will hire a famous football player and show him eating their soup or drinking their beer. They will show a successful businessman using their phone, or a model wearing their clothes. They don’t have to tell us to buy. They make us want to buy.
As children of God, we now want to live according to God’s will. We want to make good, spiritually healthy choices. So it is that our text simply gives us some of God’s choices—and what surprising choices they are! Look again at the list of God’s choices in our text. Line them up end-to-end and they are truly startling. God’s choices include those things that, according to the world, are not wise, not mighty, not noble; they are instead foolish, weak, base, despised, and of no importance.
Why in the world would God pick such things? Why would a holy, perfect God choose those things—those individuals—who are so imperfect? Our text supplies us with a very simple answer: “…that no flesh should glory in His presence.” The world is quite naturally drawn to just the opposite sort of things. We see the noble, the powerful, and the beautiful as having value and worth in themselves. God wants us to understand that all of our value, all of our worth is dependent upon Him and Him alone. If God were to favor the world’s elite, mankind would naturally decide that it was, at least in part, because the noble and wise were worthy in some way. This mentality runs contrary to the true Gospel. All praise and glory belongs to God alone! By choosing the foolish, weak, base, and despised, God demonstrates with crystal clarity that this is true.
Why is this so important to God? Why does God describe Himself as “a jealous God”? It is because God is altogether honest and righteous. He knows that He alone deserves the praise, honor, and glory. He knows (and would have us understand) that to give this glory, or honor, or praise to anything or anyone other than to Him is wrong. It is sin. Everything good comes from God, never from sinful man.
Once again everything points always and only to Christ. Christ came to save the unworthy. He died to pay for sin. The wise and noble of this world have a hard time coming to grips with this truth. Man naturally wants to believe that he is somehow worthy of what Christ did; that the elite, at least, are somehow worthy of what Jesus accomplished. This idea is simply not true. Christ alone has made us what we are—God’s children.
Note finally that although God chose the poor, weak, and foolish, our text says nothing of remaining poor, weak, and foolish after God has made us his own. Now, we are His Ambassadors, His representatives, and He desires great things for us and from us. Dear Christians, God grant to you the power to make the choices in your life that are pleasing to Him alone. “To God all praise and glory!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.