4th Sunday after Epiphany January 29, 2017
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
239, 114, 412, 123
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
The month of January was named for the Roman ‘god’ Janus. Janus was the god of doors, gates, and bridges. By extension, he is the god of openings and closings, beginning and endings, and the passageway between the Old Year and the New.
In Roman mythology Janus was depicted with two faces, one face looking back and the other face looking forward. The month of Janus, January, has the same two faces. In January we usually look back on the Old Year and look forward to the New Year. We review and anticipate, analyze and predict. We compose endless Year-end lists and comparisons: “The Ten Worst Movies of 2016” and “The Ten Best Investments of 2017.”
However, two faces looking in opposite directions can also suggest indecision and uncertainty, a reluctance to leave the past and embrace the future, being torn in two directions and not knowing which way to turn. Significantly, the New Testament word for “worry,” “MERI-MNAO” in Greek, literally means “to have a divided mind” or “to be of two minds.” That isn’t far removed from the two faces of Janus, is it? Jesus used that same Greek word, “MERI-MNAO,” when He said to Martha: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed,” Luke 10:41-42.
In this New Year, we too may find ourselves worried and upset by many things. We worry about world things, personal things, church things. Beneath the fireworks and fanfare, the champagne toasts and choruses of “Auld Lang Sein,” there were many grim stories in the news during 2016. Grim stories like lobal terrorism, natural disasters, and ‘superbugs’ resistant to all known antibiotics. There was ISIS, Syrian refugees, Iranian nuclear missiles, North Korean war preparation, and Russia’s alleged cyber-meddling in the U.S. Presidential Election. “Oh, enough! Please! Stop it! Turn off the TV!”
With the New Year come the old questions, the personal questions: What will happen to me in 2017? Will I stay healthy or grow sick? Will I succeed or fail? Will I experience financial gain or loss? Will my marriage improve? Will my car need an expensive repair? Will my job last? Will my children finally return to church?
Amid such uncertainties, a phrase like, “Have a happy New Year,” may have a hollow ring. However, there is an infinitely better phrase with which to welcome the New Year. This is not my phrase but God’s. It is three of the most important words that you will ever know: “God is faithful,” 1 Corinthians 1:9. “God is faithful.” A more literal rendering of the Greek is “Faithful is God.” Faithful is the first word in the Greek sentence, and therefore the word of first importance. The entire emphasis of that verse falls on the word FAITHFUL.
“God is faithful.” You may be thinking, “Oh, I know that. I know God is faithful.” Yes, as Christians we all know and believe that. Yet, when faced with troubles, suffering, or serious loss, are we also not all tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness? “I’ve prayed and prayed, but God hasn’t answered. Is that faithfulness?” Or, “God allowed this terrible burden to come into my life—this illness, this debt, this troubled relationship. Is that faithfulness?”
These are important questions. Ultimately, the faithfulness of God impacts every element, every detail, of our Christian lives: our salvation, our relationships, our marriages, our ministries, our parenting, our deliverance from problems, and our daily provisions. Everything in our lives hinges on whether or not Almighty God is faithful. If we can’t count on God, we can’t count on anything. So, is God faithful? According to Scripture, yes, God is faithful. He is absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably, and eternally faithful.
But notice what I said: “according to Scripture.” When we are tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness, where should we turn? To His word. This is the first important lesson for today.
It seems incredulous that Christians should need to be reminded of the importance of God’s word in their lives and relationships, but we do. Too often we forget its power. Too often we forget that “by the word of the LORD the heavens were made,” Psalm 33:6. Too often we forget that Jesus Christ calmed storms, healed the sick, and raised the dead by the power of His word. We forget that this same power comes to us through God’s word.
In this powerful word we learn how committed and faithful God is in every aspect of our lives. This is important. You and I are emotional beings. Our emotions can all too easily distort our view of God’s faithfulness.
The Bible tells us that God “knows our frame” and “remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). God knows that in all our heartaches and difficulties we will be tempted to doubt His faithfulness. This is why the Bible is filled with so many comforting passages about God’s absolute faithfulness to His people. If you are going through difficulties today, this is what you need to hear.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9). Or, “The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5). Or, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 119:89-90).
We find the same comforting assurances in the New Testament. “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Or, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19).
In today’s text Paul states, “God is faithful,” (1 Corinthians 1:9). He also uses identical language in 1 Corinthians 10:13, saying: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
God’s own testimony is loud and clear in Scripture. “God is faithful,” which means that He is still being faithful to us even when we think He is not. He is faithful even when the world, the physical evidence, and our own sinful nature cry out to the contrary. Even then He is being faithful to us. We literally have His word on it.
Second, the reason for God’s great faithfulness lies in Him and not in us. “Here is a trustworthy saying,” Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:11-13. “If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” Said differently, faithfulness is part of God’s divine nature.
Consider what God’s attribute of faithfulness means for your life, hope, happiness, and peace of mind in 2017 and every year beyond it. BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, His faithfulness depends only on Him and not on you—your mood, your worthiness, your thankfulness. BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, His every thought and action towards you are guided by that faithfulness. BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, even the difficulties He allows in your life are the result of His faithfulness. BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, He will never stop loving you, never stop protecting and providing for you, and never stop forgiving you when you turn to Him in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, His word is faithful, true, and reliable. This is the reason why Jesus proclaimed in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” And again in John 17:17, “Your word is truth.” BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL, every promises He has made to you will come to pass. And God has made you, dear Christian, so many rich and wondrous promises.
He has promised to deliver you in times of difficulty and trouble. Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” He has promised to provide for all of your bodily needs—food, drink, clothing, shelter, health, income, retirement. Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” He has promised that His compassion for you will never fail. Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” He has promised to empower us to do whatever He has called us to do. 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”
He has promised to give you rest and relief from all the headaches and heartbreaks of life. Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He has promised to be with you in every condition, every location, and every age of your life. Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” He has promised to save you eternally by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He has promised to forgive every one of your sins each time you turn to Him in repentance; each sin, each time. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus Christ. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He has promised to keep you safe until you receive your glorious, eternal inheritance; as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
And finally, God’s faithfulness to you is also guaranteed by His other divine attributes. This too is very comforting. For example, God is omniscient, meaning “all-knowing.” Because God knows everything, past and present and future, because God knows you completely, including your weaknesses and frailties, He will faithfully give you exactly what you need, not necessarily what you want. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” said Jesus in Matthew 6:8. You may not need to win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. However, you may need a difficult circumstance to strengthen your faith and bring you closer to God. In faithfulness, God will always make the right choice for your life.
Because God is omnipotent, that is, “all-powerful,” He will faithfully accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished in your life, forcing even the worst circumstances to serve your best interests. In every problem or difficulty of your life, you can confidently say, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Genesis 18:14.
Because God is omnipresent, that is, “present everywhere,” He will faithfully be with you in every endeavor, in every condition, in every stage of life, and in every location, whether at home or the office; whether church or the operating room. “I am with you always,” said Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “even to the end of the age.”
Because God is immutable, that is, “unchanging,” His faithfulness will never change. His word will never change. His attitude towards us will never change. His will for us will never change. “For I am the LORD,” God said in Malachi 3:6. “I do not change.” Or as the writer of Hebrews stated, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Hebrews 13:8. He is the same in love, the same in compassion, the same in forgiveness. God is the same in faithfulness. This should give you great comfort amid all the difficulties of your life.
Yet, after all this, if you find yourself still wondering if God is faithful to you in every aspect of your life, let me refer you to the greatest proof of God’s unconditional commitment; namely, the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Realize that everything in Scripture, and everything in redemptive history, from the first announcement of the Savior in the Garden of Eden, to the calling of Abraham, to Jacob and his twelve sons, to the twelve tribes of Israel, to the exodus from Egypt, to the birth of Jesus, to the death of Jesus on the cross, to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to the formation of the Christian Church and its call to proclaim the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth—everything God has done throughout redemptive history, every action and every detail, has been done to faithfully fulfill that first promise God made to fallen mankind in Eden.
Whether you are healthy or sick, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, a dignitary or a nobody; if you want to know how faithful God is to every aspect of your life, look at the cross of Jesus Christ and remember these glorious words of Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height not depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And the reason? Because God is faithful. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.