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Faithfulness: God's Greatest Call
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-3
Track 7 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series
Running time: 27 minutes, 18 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, October 17, 2004
7th sermon in a 17 part series
"Faithfulness: God's Greatest Call"
"Being in Him Means Being His Church"
(1 Corinthians 12:1 - 3)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

There was a preacher in Oregon who wrote a song called "Silly Questions". I wish I could remember it all. I don't. I only remember a couple of the questions. A man steps out of the bathroom and he's got those little pieces of toilet paper stuck all over his face and his wife said, "Did you cut yourself shaving?" Or a man falls down an elevator shaft about five floors and you walk up and say, "Are you okay?"

My favorite questions along the way have been when somebody walks up in the middle of my mowing the lawn. I turn the lawn mower off and they say, "Are you mowing the lawn?" Or they ring you on the telephone and they say, "Are you awake?" No, I answer the phone in my sleep.

Some questions have not been nearly as fun, however. I remember sitting in a used car salesman office and in the course of conversation he discovered that I was a preacher and his question was, "Is being a preacher as easy as it looks?" I wasn't particularly fond of that question. I was glad I didn't live in that community. At least I can blame that question on somebody else.

Life is full of questions and we get them all the time. In fact, that's the nature of 1Corinthians. It's a book about questions. Five of them specifically that Paul identify. I don't know how many other questions may have come along, but he seems to be answering some kind of correspondence, back and forth, from the Corinthian Church. They've got questions about marriage, for example. They want to know something about whether or not it's okay to be married, and should you marry and can you re-marry. There were questions about men's daughters and should they stay single all of their life and gifts of celibacy. There was a question about food. Was it okay to go to the marketplace and to buy food that might have been sacrificed to an idol and then eat that food at a Christian home. They had questions about the resurrection. Probably the most serious question they raised was in Chapter 15, about the reality of the resurrection.

The chapter we've been looking at, 1Corinthians 12 is a question. He says, I don't want you to be uninformed about these things, brothers. Ah, it's about Spiritual gifts. It's kind of hard to know exactly what the question was other than, well, from what he says, apparently they were concerned about which of these gifts of the Spirit were the greatest gifts. Which ones were the most important? Who should have them? How do we get them? Does not having them make you less important as having certain ones make you more important? His response in the first three verses of this chapter, 1Corinthians 12 help at least begin to get at the answer. Although in my opinion, he doesn't necessarily get to it very quickly.

1Corinthians 12:1-3: Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

I like the way that Eugene Peterson words this in The Message. He says, "What I want to talk about now is the various ways God's Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn't know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It's different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say "Jesus be damned!" Nor would anyone be inclined to say, "Jesus is Master!" without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

This human side of us which is what we live with every day, (this human side of us) the part of us directly affected by the fall of man, (this human side of us) created in the image of God, and yet, somehow reduced in its capacity to be what God desires it to be, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, and, our own sin in our life, leads us to a loyalty to those things which ultimately cannot help us. I think that's what he's driving at when he says, you were lead astray. Somehow or another, I don't know how you got there, but, somewhere along the line you were enticed and enhanced to worship idols that are silent, mute. Some translations call them dumb, not in the sense of ignorant but in the sense of unable to speak. Somehow or another he says, you were lead to that which cannot ultimately help you. It's such a common theme in the Old Testament to show an almost ridicule for idolatry.

One of those texts that sticks out is Hosea 2:5. Just one verse that I would call your attention to in this first of the minor prophets. Hosea says in his statement about Israel's failure to worship God; he says, Their mother, (liking them to the children of Israel) has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.'

Do you hear the voice of this prophet saying, this people of mine (Israel) chase after idols because they honestly believe that it is the idols who provide for them their sustenance. They have been duped into believing that these stone and wood objects to which they fall, are somehow responsible for the things that are provided for them in their life. It's from them that they get their sustenance.

I'm just cynic enough and wrestle in my own life with sarcasm just enough that I really appreciate the sarcastic nature of the Old Testament prophets. In fact, sometimes I resonate too much with their sarcasm because it resonates inside me. But I like Isaiah 44. If you've got your Bibles, this is one I would invite you to turn to over in the 44th Chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 44.

He says in Verse 6, "This is what the Lord says - Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: (He says) I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.

And he introduces this section on idolatry by reminding them of who he is. Then he comes down to Isaiah 44:9 and says, All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.

Then come down just a little further to Isaiah 44:12 where he begins to talk about the creation of the idol.

The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cuts down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the

fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god." They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

Do you hear the irony with which Isaiah tries to prompt the listener to understand? You grow a tree. You cut it down. Half of it you build a fire with it and it serves you. The fire warms you. The fire cooks your meal. The other half you carefully shape into an idol. You craft it, you mark it, you chisel it, you cut it, you prop it up in the corner and then you serve it. It's an amazing stroke of ignorance to believe that something that is inanimate can somehow give you what you need. Now we're way too sophisticated to believe we would ever fall down and worship an object.

In fact, driving around through the community you just don't see idols.

Now there are places in the world where you do. I understand that. There are places where there are literal objects that people fall down and worship. American culture is way too sophisticated for that, at least most of us.

One of the fellas at the conference that I attended Thursday, Friday and Saturday said that Americans worship "soft idols", not made of wood and stone, much more intangible.

He really set me to thinking about that. I wondered, what in the world would the contemporary idolatry look like. What are the "soft idols" that we might fall into the habit of worshiping, those things from which we think we get what we need.

I just arbitrarily jotted down a few. Success: The sense that somehow what we do really matters and so we pour ourselves into it heart and soul. It occupies everything about us to the point that we will do whatever it takes in order to appear successful even if we aren't.

I'm enamored as I drive through various neighborhoods at the houses that are on steroids. I'm not opposed to big houses. I just wonder sometimes why it is that there is no furniture in them.

It's just that sometimes that mark of success is so important that we put ourselves in positions that we couldn't spend time with our family or in community service if we wanted to because it is everything we can do just to keep up with what we've gotten ourselves committed to.

I jotted down popularity. I don't know how many people really care about being popular. You know as an older person, I'd really like to think that's a young person's problem so we'll give that to the kids who are concerned about peer pressure and popularity. But I tried to think of some popular people to write down and so my list became something like um. . . .well, I ran this one by someone the other day. Um. . . I wanted a drummer to play (John I still want you to play Slaughter on 10th Avenue for me). But I ran that by a drummer who said, "Who?" "What's that?" Well, that's the most popular song I knew in the 60ties. What happened to it?

I jotted down somebody that, well, ya know, a famous person; Britney Spears. Did you know that you can go on ebay and buy gum that Britney Spears has chewed and thrown away? You can! The most recent piece sold for $14,000. I don't know how long it will be but I'm guessing in three years, five years, you'll say the name Britney Spears and they'll say, "oh yeah, I remember her." Popularity is a fleeting kind of thing.

I wondered about the whole issue of comfort and ease, how we have worked so hard to get more free time so that we can work so hard.

I wondered about busy-ness. At this point I found myself looking in the mirror and wondering if the fact that we are too busy isn't a way of trying to feed our soul with something to make us feel like we have value.

I got to thinking about a question. Idols whether they are soft or hard, when our life is poured into that which cannot meet our need, I found myself asking this question; "Where will that source of your strength be the day the doctor says to you, you have cancer?" Where will that spirit of popularity or success be the day that you discover that your children have been rebellious, turned their back on you and God? Where is that source of hope and strength the day that you find out that you don't have a job any more?

On Wednesday nights we're studying the prophets. We just looked at the prophet Daniel this last week and of course there is that famous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those are their Caldean (??) names, who are told that when the various musical instruments play, they're to bow down to this 90 ft. idol of the king and they refused. And, of course they get tossed into the fiery furnace. Not to elaborate the story, you can go read Daniel for yourself but I came away again from that story reminded of the kind of integrity and character and strength that it takes to say, "NO" to that which is not Godly.

Somehow, Paul says, and he's really quite gentle about it. . . . .he says, I don't know how it happens, somehow along the way you were lead astray to these ignorant, un-sounding, helpless idols. And isn't it like that for those of you who woke up one day and said, "I have been giving my life to something which really can't help me." Wasn't it kind of like that? You looked at your life and you said, "I don't know how I got here! But somehow I find myself in a place of having depended upon that which just can't help."

Paul says these idols are empty, they're mute, they're silent. They cannot do anything to help you. So he turns. He turns in that conversation in 1Corinthians 12. He says, somehow you were led and influenced by these silent, mute idols. Verse 3. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds us that God's call to us is to be loyal to Him above everything else. And I think Paul would have understood that. I think he would have, from his perspective, recognized, (well, in fact, if I read Acts 26 correctly, when I get to verse 11 as he's giving his personal testimony, he was one of the men who was trying to get Christians to say "Jesus be cursed"). He went from town to town arresting Christians, attempting to get them to literally say, Jesus is not Lord. He understood that call to blaspheme Jesus. To not let your loyalty be to Him. To just turn your back. It's too hard to be faithful so just don't bother.

I remember this conversation like it was happening yesterday. Some of the fellas that were in our church that worked at Granite City Steel talked about how hard it was to be a Christian in that context. To stand up for your faith against that rather blue collar, hard steel working crowd. The constant pressure to turn in falsified reports about the quality of the steel. The threat on one of the supervisor's physical health, if not life, if he didn't sign it off as "A" grade steel. And one of the guys in this conversation said, "Ya know, it's really funny, I've been working down there for years and nobody's ever given me a hard time. I just don't bother to tell them that I'm a Christian." Isn't that the easy way? You don't have to actually deny Jesus, just don't bother to tell them.

See, the real rub was Rome and the real difficulty was that every year, every citizen in Rome had to go to a temple, bow down and say the phrase, Caesar is Lord. Offer a little incense and then you were okay. You were. . . . .it didn't matter what gods you worshiped. You could have multiple gods. Just so long as once a year you were willing to bow the knee to the idol, give a little pinch of incense and say, Caesar is Lord. Then you could go about your business. You could be a Christian if you wanted to be a Christian. You just had to do that. Tradition says that they gave you some kind of an object to prove that you had, in fact, done that. Maybe it was a rock or something, I don't know. And then that enabled you, empowered you to have a job. You could get into the trade guild because you were a faithful Roman citizen. You could be a freeman because you were a faithful Roman citizen. You could live because you were a faithful Roman citizen. And in the second century, plenty used to be absolutely amazed at the number of Christians who would refuse to bow the knee. And he'd have to kill them.

Paul says there is this possibility that what Christians can do is simply say "Jesus be cursed." Or, they can just be silent and never bother to say anything. But only if you have been empowered by the Spirit of God, he says, can you say "Jesus is Lord."

Now I know that in our culture, that's not a difficult issue at all. It's only three words. "Jesus is Lord." Anybody can say that. You can say it any place, any time and nobody's gonna say much about it, unless you mean it. Unless you plan on really living it out and then your co-workers or your spouse or your family may make you pay for it.

Well Paul, what's the answer to the question. What about these spiritual things? I think he finally comes down to this one thing. When he finally answers the question he reminds us that it is not our gifts that matter. It isn't which gifts you have, what gifts you don't have, who has what gifts by comparison to your gifts. The thing that really seems to matter is, do you have a relationship with God through Jesus that is empowered by the Spirit of God to stand for him no matter what. I understand that the Bible says a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit. There isn't any question about that.

Romans 8:26 tells us that when we don't know how to pray the Holy Spirit prays for us. What a tremendous blessing.

John 16:8 reminds us that it's the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives that convicts us of sin, righteousness and judgment.

Romans 8:16 reminds us that it is the Spirit of God who bears witness with our Spirit. That we are, in fact sons of God.

Ephesians 1:18 reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit that illumines our understanding of what God desires in our life and allows us to live what He wants us to live.

Ephesians 3:16 reminds us that it is the Spirit of God who strengthens us in the inner man to be the person that God desires us to be.

Philippians 4:7 reminds us that God, through his Spirit in us gives us a peace beyond understanding.

1Corinthians 12:7 (the chapter we're looking at) reminds us that the gifted-ness that we have within us is a "a gift" empowered by the Spirit of God.

But that's not Paul's point. Paul's point is that it is the Spirit of God in you that enables you to be faithful when your natural tendencies and the power of the world would call you to be something else.

One of the disciples of John was a fella by the name of Polycarp. And in the second century, under those days of persecution, Polycarp was arrested because he was a Christian. He was given the opportunity to deny Jesus. Tradition says that Polycarp's response was, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" And he died. Burned at the stake.

We've spent the last several weeks talking about the role of the Holy Spirit as he gifts us and empowers us to serve in various ways. That's not unimportant. We've talked about his role in the church and how we, as a part of the body of Christ, reflect the nature of God to the world around us and that's not unimportant. But this chapter starts with this serious call to say, I will be loyal to God no matter what. But under no circumstance would I ever say, "Jesus be cursed." And under every circumstance, empowered by the Spirit of God I would be willing to say, "Jesus is Lord"even if it costs me absolutely everything. That's really what it means to be a Christian isn't it? To identify him as the Lord of your life and to say, no matter what else happens in this world, I will be faithful to Him no matter what. That's what you're called to, a life that says, I will be God's person forever.

Most of you have made that decision. We just look to you to recommit that kind of thing again. To remind yourself to say to God once more, or to your neighbor here in the pew next to you, I am a believer and I will be a believer no matter what.

But for some of you. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .maybe it's time for you to make a decision about Jesus, to believe in Him. To really put your faith and trust in Him. To repent of your sin. To realize that these things that you've been worshiping can't help you and you need to turn around and go the other direction. To identify with Him in Christian baptism. To allow His blood to cleanse your soul and His Spirit to take up residence in your life that, that Spirit might empower you to be faithful.

We're gonna stand and sing. Maybe this song can help you express your desire to be the person that God desired you to be.