The First Sunday of Advent November 30, 2003
1 Corinthians 1:3-10
Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8
55, 58, 401, 616
May God the Father, who has carried us safely though another church year, continue in the new church year to sustain, protect, preserve and bless each of you in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
From earliest childhood we learn (usually the hard way) that a little too much or a few too many is usually better than not quite enough. It doesn’t take a little boy too many trips up and down the rickety steps of his tree house to figure out that he might just as well take the whole can of nails up the first time. Nor does it take a carpenter long to discover that he can get away with cutting a board too long many times, but that he can only cut it too short once. Day after day the lesson is learned by the fisherman who runs out of bait, the seamstress who trims off a little too much material, and the cook who just needs one more egg. A few too many is most often better than coming up short.
And these are just the minor things. As frustrating as it is to run short of nails, eggs, or cloth, it is still only a frustration. An airplane pilot cannot afford to take such chances with his fuel, nor can a soldier or police officer afford to get caught short on ammunition.
The point is that once again an everyday lesson in life finds its way into our faith lives. Even the most serious of these cases pales in significance to the importance of not getting caught short spiritually. The worst that man can do to a faithful child of God here on this earth is to end his life, in which case we “fall asleep” in the Lord Jesus (Not a bad position to be in when you think about it). However, to be caught short spiritually has eternal consequences. The thought of coming up short in the hour of spiritual need is—or ought to be—unsettling to say the least.
As we pause for a moment to take stock of what is really important it is altogether fitting and right that we come to terms with the fact that coming up short in the day of spiritual need is simply not an option. We make this self-examination at this time because now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to make ready. Now is the time for action. The text that will guide and instruct us this morning is found in Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth, the First Chapter:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our 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.
So far the inspired Word of God. This is our only guide, our only anchor in this evil world where we must live out our days. Mindful that our only true comfort and joy can be found in these words, so we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
How many times have you heard or read the opening words of our text: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”? [v.3] Probably often enough that you really don’t hear them any longer. You hear them, but you don’t hear them, that is, you no longer consider what the words mean or what the Holy Spirit is saying to you in these verbally inspired words of Holy Scripture. As we take stock and reexamine a few things on this first Sunday of the church year, we will first stop for a moment to reevaluate just what the Holy Spirit means by these words.
The first fact we will want to acknowledge is that these are certainly not throw-away words. There is no such thing anywhere in the Bible. We human beings use thoughtless lines all the time—“Nice to meet you.” “See you later.” “Take care.” “Have a nice day.” God doesn’t use words in that way. If we ever start to treat God’s Word as though it has no real meaning or significance, rest assured that the problem is with us, not with the words themselves. God does not use throwaway words.
To reevaluate these words once again we have to go back to our basic definitions. The simple word “grace” is in itself a mini-sermon in the Gospel. You will recall that grace is defined as “the undeserved love of God for sinful man.” The greatest demonstration of this love took place when God sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue us from sin, death, and hell. Though we deserved eternal abandonment and unending punishment in Hell, God the Father rescued us sinners by exacting punishment from his own Son. In other words, He placed the sins of the world upon the shoulders of His own Son, Jesus, and willed that Jesus carry that incredible burden of sin to the cross. In no way did we deserve such a loving sacrifice, but God gave it nonetheless. This is what we mean by “grace.”
The peace Paul talks about is peace of soul and mind. These two go together. Because we have grace (God’s undeserved love) we have peace. This is the blessing Paul asks for us. Could Paul ask for any greater blessing? To possess these two things here on earth would be enough all by themselves.
Paul goes on to make clear that these blessings come “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, we’ve heard the phrase “God our Father” so many times that we take it for granted as well, and yet, thinking of God as our Father was a foreign concept to the Old Testament believers. To them God was the smoke and fire of Mt. Sinai—an unapproachable God that required the services of a mediator. That Mediator was the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have access to God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth. The Supreme Authority has made himself accessible to us every moment of every day. What a privilege!
This is the blessing Paul lays upon the heart of each Christian reader!
Paul wished such a blessing, quite simply, because he did not want any Child of God to come up short in the day of spiritual need. Paul had seen this happen. He had seen spiritual failure on the part of those who once believed. In his First Letter to Timothy Paul said, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:18-20).
Paul had seen men and women abandon the faith. It was obviously with the utmost gravity that he spoke of handing Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan. I have no doubt that it was done out of his deep and on-going concern that this sort of thing never happen again. Paul could not stand the thought of any human being in Hell. At one point, Paul, spoke of such love for his own people, the Jews, that he was willing to offer himself to the flames in their place. In Romans 9:1-3 he said, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.”
It is Paul’s fervent love for his fellow sinners that moved him to want the very best for them. What a difference today! Today, we also talk about wanting the very best, but we almost always mean something much different. Paul knew what the very best really was. So in our text he says, “I thank my God always… that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge… so that you come up short in no gift.” [vv.4ff] Paul was able to stay focused on the fact that the only way a Christian could ever possibly become a failure in this life is if he is found without faith at the coming of Jesus on Judgment Day. That is why he goes on in our text: “…so that you come up short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [vv.7-8] That, Christian friends, is the bottom line. It is what life on earth is all about. In a strange sort of ironic twist, life on earth is really not about life on earth. It is about life eternal after this life.
For this reason, we will continue to encourage each other in the year to come to make full use of the opportunities for spiritual strength and growth available at church and in your own homes. Avoiding Bible Classes at church because “you don’t know enough and others might find out how Biblically illiterate you are” is like saying you are too sick or grievously injured to go to the hospital. That is what Bible Classes are for—for strengthening and growth, so that no one comes up short on the Last Day. An hour with your Bible every single day in the peace and privacy of your own home will also bring spiritual blessings, strengths, insights, and growth such as you never even imagined.
While all that we have said to this point is absolutely true, it is revealing to step back from time to time and take a look at the bigger picture—the picture where God is the center of the universe, not man. This is not something we do naturally. Our natural, sinful inclination is to make ourselves the focal point of our existence—the center of our universe. So too in connection with “not coming up short” the focus has been on “What’s in it for us?” Or, more specifically, “What’s in it for me?” At times it almost seems that we weigh our spiritual options in life without even factoring God and his wishes into the equation.
Thus, our weekly decision on Bible Class attendance is based on whether or not I have something better to do, whether I can spare the time, whether or not I want to go, whether or not the subject interests me, whether or not I enjoy that sort of thing, and so on. Lots of “I” in all of that, but not much “God.” When did we stop making our decisions on the basis of God’s will and start making them solely on the basis of our own will and our own desires? Our lives and decisions would be greatly simplified and vastly improved if we would start making all of our decisions with one thought in mind: “What would my God tell me to do if I could ask him face to face?” Makes it profoundly less complicated, doesn’t it? “Lord, would you prefer that I watch an inane sit-com this evening or spend that hour reading your Words of Life? Heavenly Father, should I stay for Bible Class this morning or rush home and get a jump on the day’s inactivity? Lord Jesus, I know you said ‘Watch and pray’ but did you mean television or your Word?”
It’s not really difficult when you put it into those terms, is it? When we remove ourselves from the throne of our own hearts and restore our Lord to His rightful position, making the right decisions follows rather easily. The problem is pridefully imagining that we belong to ourselves rather than to our God and that our time on this earth is our own, rather than our God’s. Scripture, in fact, tells us quite plainly: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The price paid for our salvation was the perfect life of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, mercilessly offered in a bloody, tortured death on that hill outside of Jerusalem. He was not sent as an example. He was sent to do for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves, that is, offer a full payment for all of our sins. Jesus has now done that. God the Father has declared you and me “not guilty” because of it. Forgiveness of sins is ours! Salvation is ours! How will we now thank the One who unselfishly won that most critical victory for us? How will we serve him?
Let our answer be sounded in the final verse of our text for this morning. “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our 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.” [v.10]
The will of our God is that we come to know His will, and knowing it, that there be no divisions of any kind among us. How then can we enjoy such unity together with its resulting strength and confidence while we remain ignorant about so much of God’s Word and Will? We have already said that coming up short on the Day of Judgment is not an option for us. Let the same thing be said for coming up short in our service to our God and in our never-ending quest to live in complete harmony with His holy will. God grant this our petition in the year just now beginning. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.