Vision and Values, Part 1: The Gospel | 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Brian Hedges | April 15, 2018
You might want to turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 15, and while you’re turning there let me introduce a new series that we’re starting this morning. We’re going to do four weeks on a series we’re just calling our Vision and Values. Now, this is kind of a weird type of series for me to do. Most of the time, when we come to the word on a Sunday morning, we’re working through a book of the Bible or we’re working through a section of a book of a Bible and just trying to do sequential exposition, study through the word of God, and I think that is the best main diet for the body of Christ, to help us grow as believers and just really understand what God’s word teaches.
That’s what we do most of the time, but occasionally it’s helpful for us to take a slightly different approach and to look at things topically, to do some big picture vision-casting for the church, and that’s what we’re going to do for the next four weeks as we look at our vision and our values.
Now, there are a couple of reasons for this, and one reason is because of the change that our elders are proposing to our church, this change of changing the name of our church to Redeemer Church. We want to give some grounding for that in our vision as a church, our values as a church, and show you biblically where these core values come from. So, the teaching here is intended to help lay some foundation for why this kind of change, we believe, is a healthy change for our church.
And then, also, it’s just helpful for us to be reminded of who we are as a church. Every church has certain distinctives, certain things that are especially true of that church. We do our best as a church to try to make those distinctives those things which are most important, those things which should characterize us biblically as a church, and we’ve tried to articulate that over the years in a series of core values, so this series is just helping us dig into those and understand those together.
So, my approach is going to be a little bit different. We’ll be taking topics each week, but then grounding what I have to say about those topics in Scriptures, in the word of God, and this morning we’re going to be mostly in the book of 1 Corinthians.
Let me begin this by, first of all, just reading to you and letting you see our mission statement and then our core values. We have a mission statement, and we have four core values as a church. These are in the bulletin every week, but it’s probably the kind of thing that you very rarely read in the bulletin every week. But it’s right there; find any old bulletin tucked away in your Bible, and it should be there. Here is our mission statement:
“As people whose lives have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, our mission is to worship the Lord, live together in community, and reach out in both word and deed in the Michiana area and around the world.”
Now, in some ways, there’s nothing particularly unique about that mission statement, except that it has to do with where we live, the Michiana area. But almost every church has a mission statement something like this. You know, 20, 30 years ago churches used to do this with alliteration, and so they would have certain things in their vision that all started with the same [letter]. So they might say, for example, “We exist for the exaltation of the Lord and the edification of the saints and the evangelisation of the world,” right? Well, that’s essentially what this statement says, it’s just using slightly different language, the language of worship and the language of community and the language of reaching out, or sharing the gospel in word and deed.
So that’s our mission statement. That should be every church’s mission statement, worded some way or another.
Now, our core values just try to dig a little bit deeper into four aspects of that mission and give a little more definition to it. The core values are, in single words, gospel, worship, community, and mission. There are different ways we can articulate that. This is probably the most recent thing that we’ve done, is trying to give a Jesus-centered, a Jesus-oriented way of thinking about these core values.
So, core value for the gospel, this is what we do: “Trusting Jesus and his finished work with all of our hearts.” That’s what we mean by the gospel.
For worship, what we mean is this: “Seeing Jesus every week in Scripture, prayer, and at the table,” and we have in mind the language of Psalm 34, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” Now, we could also say, “Praising Jesus every week,” or, “Worshipping Jesus,” but we have in mind that sensual kind of language from Psalm 34, “Taste and see,” see and savor, “that the Lord is good.” So there’s a real sense of the goodness, of the worth, of the value of Jesus, and that we experience that every week as we gather for worship in Scripture, prayer, and at the table.
Then the third core value, community, really has to do with two things, both our discipleship and also our life together as the church. So the way we express this value is by saying that we’re about “following Jesus,” there’s the discipleship element; we’re about “following Jesus in partnership with others.” We don’t follow Jesus alone; we follow Jesus together, we follow Jesus as a family, we follow Jesus as a community, as a church. But we are about following Jesus. It’s not only that we believe certain things about Jesus, but if we really trust him we are learning from Jesus how to live the Christian life, we are learning from Jesus how to live a life that glorifies God; we do that by following him.
And then fourthly, our mission. We express that in terms of “sharing Jesus in word and deed.” The reason the church exists is not only to glorify God and to build up the saints, but the reason the church exists is to fulfill the Great Commission, it is to share the gospel with others, and to do that both locally and globally, around the world.
So, those are the four core values of our church. And again, every church has core values that are similar to this in some way or another.
Now, this morning we’re just going to focus on the first of these, the core value that we call the gospel; that is, “Trusting Jesus and his finished work with all of our hearts.” In order to unpack that and understand that, I want us to go to Scripture. In fact, most of the rest of what I’m going to say is just going to be exposition and application of Scripture, and we’re going to go to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and I want to read the passage, and then I want to point out three things about the gospel, two of which we learn from this passage and the third which we learn when we just kind of trace the theme of the gospel through the letter to the Corinthians, this first letter to the Corinthians.
Okay, so let’s look at the text, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The apostle Paul is writing, and he says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
This is God’s word.
So, three things that I want us to see about the gospel:
I. The Priority of the Gospel
II. The Message of the Gospel
III. The Implications of the Gospel
Okay? Priority, message, implications.
I. The Priority of the Gospel
First of all, the priority of the gospel. Just notice for a moment verse 3. Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” and then he gives some definition of what the gospel is. He’s already said that he is reminding them of the gospel he preached to them, this thing that he has delivered to them, it was delivered to him first, he’s now delivering it to them, and he says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.”
So, the gospel, it seems, has a great priority in the mind and in the teaching and in the life of the apostle Paul, and so it should, and so it does in our church as well. I think this means two things. It means that the gospel is first, and it means that the gospel is central.
(1) It means that the gospel is first. The very fact that Paul says, “I delivered to you as of first importance,” that implies that there are some things that are of secondary importance, doesn’t it? If there are some things that are of first importance, there are other things that are less important than the things that are of first importance. There are priorities. There are first order doctrines and beliefs, and then there are second order and third order doctrines and beliefs, and so on.
Let me illustrate it in this way. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful little essay called “First and Second Things,” and Lewis said this in the essay; he said, “Every preference of a small good to a great or a partial good to a total good involves the loss of the smaller partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently, the world was made that way. You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
Alright? Now, this is what Lewis meant. He illustrates this. Imagine a woman who has a dog. I recently got a new dog, and I’m learning all about dogs, okay? I have a beagle we’ve had about three weeks now. Wonderful experience training a dog, isn’t it?
Lewis says to imagine a woman who has a dog, and she makes the dog the center of her life. Lewis says she, in the end, loses everything, including the joys of dog-keeping, because, if you make the dog the very center of your existence, it becomes so important, it becomes so all-absorbing, that it really destroys the good of having a pet. And of course, it destroys other things as well.
Now, we’ve all known people who do this with certain things in their lives; maybe not with dog-keeping, but what happens if you make food the center of your life? Well, you ruin your health and, eventually, you ruin your enjoyment of food itself. You’re not going to enjoy food if you’re overeating and if you’re unhealthy and so on.
If you put a second thing in a place where only first things should be, you lose both the first thing and the second thing. We can see how people do this all the time in their lives with all kinds of things. They put money first, or they put approval of other first, or they put sexual fulfillment first, or they put their ambitions first. They put second things or third things, things that should be lower down on the list of priorities, they make that first. Now, that’s really what the Bible means by idolatry; when we put something that should be second or third and we make it first, we make it an idol.
I think this is also applicable in the area of our beliefs. Paul says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” and I think what he means by this is that the gospel should be first. If you don’t keep the gospel first and you put something else that’s secondary in place of the gospel, then you lose the gospel eventually, and you lost the significance, the appropriate significance, of that secondary thing.
So we don’t put other things first; we put the gospel first. We don’t put our particular views on the end times first, we put the gospel first. We don’t put our particular views of spiritual gifts first, we put the gospel first. Right? There are lots of secondary things that Christians may disagree on, but if we are united in the gospel and the gospel is first those other things find their appropriate place further down the list.
(2) So, the gospel is first, and then secondly, the gospel is central. The gospel is central. So we talk about this quite a bit. We say that we want to be a gospel-centered church. If you were to put a definition on our church in a phrase it might be something like this: “We are a gospel-centered, missional church.” A gospel-centered church.
Now, that’s kind of a shorthand for a Christ-centered church or a church that’s building its identity around the gospel, where the gospel is at the center of everything we do. You can see this in a diagram. Jared helped me put this diagram together, because I’m not as great with graphics as he is, so thank you, Jared, for doing that.
In this diagram you have our four core values, and it’s important to see how it’s structured, that the gospel is really at the center. The gospel is not just one of four core values; it is the central value, and our intention is that everything else about our church centers around the gospel. So, we are a church that cares about these other three things; we care, obviously, about worship, and we care about community, and we care about mission. But we believe that the gospel is what gives definition to these things, the gospel is what drives these things, the gospel is central to these things, so that if you lose the gospel, you eventually lose any true worship of God, you lose any semblance of a genuine Christian community, and of course, you lose the real impulse and the message of the mission. So the gospel has to be at the center, not anything else at the center.
Now, I think one of the best illustrations of this comes from this great preacher of the 19th century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Now, if you’ve been around here for any length of time you’ve heard me quote Spurgeon before, but I’ve been on kind of a Spurgeon kick lately, alright? So, I’ve been reading a lot of Spurgeon. I read a new book that came out on Spurgeon about a month ago, and I loved it so much that I reread a biography, took that with me on vacation, I’ve been reading sermons. I’ve just kind of fallen in love with Charles Haddon Spurgeon all over again.
One reason I love Spurgeon was because Spurgeon was so Christ-centered in his whole approach to ministry. So I want to illustrate the various points this morning with some kind of juicy quotes from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, okay, and here’s the first one.
This quote, by the way, this was the very first sermon that Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Okay, Spurgeon was called, I think it was in 1854, to pastor New Park Street Baptist Church in London. There was an amazing growth; I mean, it was just real revival, actually, in London under Spurgeon’s ministry, where people were coming to Christ, and they were just flocking into this church. It grew to the point that they couldn’t contain people in the New Park Street church; they were renting out music halls and other kinds of public venues, and then built a church. They built this new church, they called it the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and the very first sermon in the church, Spurgeon said these words.
“I would propose that the subject of the ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand...shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist...I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist… But if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ’... Christ Jesus...is the sum and substance of the gospel...the incarnation of every precious truth, the all glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Spurgeon that primary to our identity and primary to our teaching and preaching, our ministry, the very center of the church, must be the gospel, the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon believed this so strongly he actually constructed a seal, or a logo, that was stamped on his volumes. Here it is. It’s a picture (I don’t know if you can make this out); it’s actually a picture of Moses holding up the serpent. The serpent in the wilderness; do you remember that story, the story of the brazen serpent? This is a wonderful Old Testament story. And the serpent is kind entwined around a cross, and Spurgeon was, no doubt, thinking of John 3:14-15, where Jesus says that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
And then around this picture are these words: “We preach Christ and him crucified.” That was the centerpiece of Spurgeon.
One of the men I’ve had a great respect for over the years is Dr. Donald Whitney of Southern Seminary. Some of you may remember, years ago, that Don Whitney came and did a conference for us over a weekend, did a seminar for us. He’s been a very gracious friend who’s helped write some endorsements and things for books for me.
I recently heard Whitney talking about Spurgeon, and how he teaches a class of Spurgeon at Southern Seminary, where in one of the classes he’ll have students all come in, and he brings in his volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons. There are a bunch of these; there are like 63 volumes of Spurgeon’s sermons. So he’ll bring in 30, 40 of these volumes, he’ll pass them around the class so that each student has a volume, and he’ll do this little exercise. He’ll say, “Turn to any sermon, any sermon; just randomly pick a sermon. Now, turn to the last page of the sermon, and read it.”
They’ll do that, and Whitney says in 20-some odd years of teaching, doing this exercise with dozens and dozens, hundreds of students, not one time have they read a sermon that does not end with a focus on Jesus Christ.
That’s how significant the gospel was for Spurgeon’s ministry, so he’s a wonderful model for us. That’s what I mean when I say that we are to be gospel-centered or we are to be Christ-centered; that the gospel is to be central, it is to be the priority to our ministry. Paul himself said this earlier in 1 Corinthians, didn’t he, when he said, “We preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That was the sum and the substance of his ministry, and so it should be for us.
So, the priority of the gospel, the gospel at the center.
II. The Message of the Gospel
Point number two, the message of the gospel. So, it begs the question, doesn’t it, what is the gospel? If the gospel is this important, and if the gospel is meant to be at the center of everything, if our message is to be a gospel-centered message and our church is to be a gospel-centered church, what is the gospel? Well, I’m glad you asked! There’s a great answer to that question right here in the text, in 1 Corinthians 15, and I want you to see both the content of the gospel and then our response to the gospel, as Paul gives it to us right here in the passage.
(1) First of all, the content of the gospel. You see it in verses 3 and 4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
There you have it, right there. There’s the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. That’s right at the heart of the gospel. The gospel, in other words, as Tim Keller has often said, is not good advice on how to live; it’s good news about what God has done for us in Christ.
The gospel is not mainly a series of “dos” and “don’ts,” although, as we’re going to see, there are incredible implications from the gospel for how we should live. But the gospel’s not first and foremost a series of exhortations about, “Here’s how you should live; this is what you should do.” The gospel’s not mainly about what we do; it’s mainly about what God has done in Jesus Christ. The gospel is an announcement. It’s an announcement of news, and it’s an announcement of the news of what God has accomplished in these events, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Now, when you read in Scripture these different verses about the gospel, sometimes one or the other of these events will come more to the foreground. So, sometimes Paul will say things like, “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “We preach Jesus Christ.” “We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Sometimes he’ll say, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as preached in my gospel,” in 2 Timothy chapter 2. Sometimes the focus is on the cross, sometimes the focus is on the resurrection, and I think the reason is that in Paul’s mind, one always implies the other. When Paul preaches the cross, he’s preaching the crucifixion of the risen Christ, and when he preaches the resurrection, he’s preaching about the resurrection of the crucified one! So, always the cross and the resurrection are implied together.
And of course, also implied in the very meaning of the events of the crucifixion and resurrection are other things that go along with that, such as the incarnation, that Christ is God manifest in the flesh, or his ascension into the heavens. He was not only raised from the dead, he was raised up to the right hand of God, he sits at the right hand of God, and he’s coming again; so the second coming of Christ. All of that, really, is entailed, but the center of it, right at the center of it, is the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, these events.
But it’s these events as they are defined by Scripture. Notice that Paul says, “We delivered to you what we received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” This means that Paul understood these events in light of what the Scriptures teach. So, the Bible is central to this. The Scriptures are God’s revelation that define for us the meaning of the cross, the meaning of the resurrection. Christ died for our sins; he didn’t die for his own sins, he died as a substitute, he died in our place, in our stead.
Again, that wonderful hymn,
“Holy God in love became
Perfect man to bear my blame.
On the cross he took my sin;
By his death I live again.”
That’s the gospel! It’s that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures; but not only did he die, he was raised in accordance with the Scriptures.
So, you have to have all of that together; the events, but also the interpretation of those by the Scriptures themselves. So, that’s the message of the gospel. This is the content.
(2) Now, what is our response? And Paul gives us the response as well in this passage, and he uses a whole fistful of words in verses 1 and 2. Look at the text again: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the world I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.”
Alright? So there are four verbs that are used there of our response to the gospel. The first of those are the words “received” and “believed.” Received and believed. How do we respond to the gospel? We respond to the gospel by receiving it and by believing it. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, through believing in Christ. What does it mean to believe? It means to trust. That’s what the word means; it means to trust, or to depend on, or to rely upon, or to rest in. It means that we are putting all of our dependence upon Christ. So the way we say that is trusting Christ, or trusting Jesus, and his finished work with all of our hearts. It’s trusting in him; it’s looking away from ourselves to him.
Do you remember the words of that hymn writer Toplady?
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, look to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly.
Wash me, Savior, or I die!”
That’s the heart of faith. Faith looks not at itself; it looks to Christ. We look not to our own works; we look to Christ’s work. We look not to our own obedience; we look to Christ’s obedience. We’re looking to him; we’re trusting in him. It’s an outward-focused kind of response.
This is really important. Again, Spurgeon grasped this. Spurgeon understood this. Spurgeon said, “Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument - it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to they hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of they hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of they faith, and if thou dost that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down.”
It’s trusting in him, not in ourselves. The focus is on Jesus Christ.
So we go back to that diagram of our core values. You could just put “trusting Jesus” in the center of that diagram. You see, trusting Jesus is foundation to following Jesus, to seeing and praising and worshipping Jesus, and of course, to sharing Jesus. You’re not going to praise him until you trust him; you’re not going to follow him until you trust him; you’re not going to share him until you trust him. It’s trusting him, it’s believing in him, it’s resting in him. That’s right at the heart of our response to the gospel: trusting Jesus and his finished work with all our hearts, with all our hearts.
Now, what does that mean? What does it mean to trust Jesus with all of our hearts? Well, it means that we are trusting him exclusively. We’re not trusting in 90 per cent of Jesus’ obedience and 10 per cent of ours, we’re not trusting mainly in Jesus, but also a little bit in our baptism or a little bit in our observance of the Lord’s table. We’re not trusting a little bit in Jesus and partly in our morality. We’re trusting in Christ, and we’re trusting in Christ alone. All of our obedience flows out of our trust and our faith in Christ, but we don’t depend on it, we don’t look to our obedience; we look to him, trusting him with all of our hearts.
It also means that we keep on trusting. We keep on trusting. These other two words that Paul uses in this passage I think emphasize that. Notice again verses 1 and 2; read this, look at the text: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…”! Standing in the gospel! Standing in the gospel! It’s not just that you made a decision for Christ when you were 12 years old at camp, and then never thought another thing about Jesus again. That’s not a response to the gospel. You stand in the gospel!
He says, “...which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…” You know that we can talk about how Christians have been saved in the past, we will be saved in the future, and we are being saved in the present. We have been justified, we will be glorified, and we are being sanctified. This salvation, in Paul’s language, is a multidimensional reality. “...by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word…” You have to hold fast. Paul says it right there. “If you hold fast to the word, you’re being saved.” Implication, if you don’t hold fast to the word, you’re not being saved.
So, I’m just emphasizing this, that trusting in Jesus and his finished work with all of our hearts means that you keep on trusting in Jesus. You know, I know there are probably dozens of you in this room that cannot tell me exactly the moment when you first became a Christian. You puzzle about that. You might even struggle with assurance because of that. You might just think, “You know, I think I’m a Christian, but I don’t remember the day and the hour...I don’t remember exactly the moment,” especially if you were raised in a Christian home. If you were raised in a Christian home, you may not remember a time when you didn’t really believe. You can look to a period where you think that change was happening, and then there was a period where it looked like you were really backsliding, and then there was another period where you’re growing; you’re just not sure, “When was the moment of my conversion?”
You know what? If you trust Jesus right now, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter when the first point was; what matters is are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone right now? If you were to die, if you were to drop dead of a heart attack right now at this moment and you stand before God in heaven and he says, “Why should I let you in,” what do you say?
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand!”
I mean, if that’s your hope, your plea is in Jesus Christ alone, you’re a believer. So you don’t rest on the past profession, but you cling to Christ right now, trusting Jesus and his finished work with all of our hearts. That’s our response to the gospel.
Okay, is the message clear? We understand what the gospel is, we understand that it’s of first importance, it’s the priority, it’s first, it’s central.
III. The Implications of the Gospel
Now, here’s the meaty stuff. I mean, this is how this starts to apply to the church; the implications of the gospel, third point. The implications of the gospel.
Now, I’ve thought of all different kinds of ways to package this and teach this, because it’s massive, the implications; they’re just massive. And in fact, on the way home from Louisville the other day we got in the car (I was with Andy and Michael) and I said, “Hey, guys, do you want to help me do sermon preparation?” Because I’d been gone for two weeks. And we just started talking. What are the different approaches we could take on how to apply this? That was a fruitful and helpful conversation, and here’s where I landed.
As I decided to kind of ground things in 1 Corinthians, I just started thinking, “You know, Paul is applying the gospel all the way through 1 Corinthians to different problems in the church,” and I just want you to see it. I just want you to see these as case studies of what a gospel-centered church should do, and how the gospel has implications for virtually every area of life. Now, we could double this, triple this with other passages and other epistles, but I’m just going to stick to mostly 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and I just want you to see it. I want to point out five things, really quickly, five ways that the gospel affects us as a church, or five implications of the gospel.
(1) Number one: there’s the very clear implication for teaching, preaching, and proclamation. I’ve already said something about this, but let me just read the two key passages, 1 Corinthians 1:18-24.
Paul says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. The Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
There are people today who think that preaching is an outdated mode of communication; the church has to figure out other ways to spread the word, to spread the gospel. I’m all for every medium or means, any kind of media we can use to get the word out about Jesus; I’m all for that. But, even Paul recognized that the world thought that preaching the cross was foolish. And Paul says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” There’s the power that comes through the proclamation of the cross. You know why? Because the Spirit of God works right alongside with it. When the Spirit of God works alongside the proclamation of the word, there’s power.
You see this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
Now, the application of this is not only to the preachers who stand in the pulpit to preach, but in all of our teaching, in all of our preaching, in all of our proclamation, in all of our evangelism, in all of our small group ministry, in all of our Sunday school classes, in all of our children’s ministry.
Just so we see how absolutely applicable this is to so many of us, just raise your hand if you are involved in some kind of teaching ministry, children on up, in our church. Raise your hand. That’s a lot of people who are involved in teaching ministry in the church! And if I said if you’re involved in evangelism, I would hope that all of us would raise our hands, or at least want to. We want to be sharing Jesus.
So, this is for everybody. It’s not just for the preacher, and the application is that what you share is Christ. What you share is Christ. What you share is Christ crucified. That’s the message: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
Now, that does raise an objection, because you might say, “Well, if that’s all you do, if all you do is preach Christ and him crucified, what happens to doctrine? There are a lot of things in the Bible that are not immediately connected to the cross. What happens to other kinds of teaching?”
I want to let Spurgeon answer this, because Spurgeon was a great preacher who preached on all kinds of topics, and yet he was always connecting them to Christ. But what Spurgeon understood is that Christ is really the lynch pin in all of our preaching and teaching. He is the one about whom all the other doctrines point, or to which all the other doctrines point. Listen; I want you to hear what Spurgeon said about doctrine.
He said, “What is doctrine after all but the throne whereon Christ sitteth, and when the throne is vacant what is the throne to us? Doctrines are the shovel and tongs of the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christ’s garments; verily they smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory palaces, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for as much as the person, the very person of our Lord Jesus Christ. If I preach Christ, I must preach him as the covenant head of his people, and how far am I, then, from the doctrine of election? If I preach Christ, I must preach the efficacy of his blood, and how far am I removed, then, from the great doctrine of effectual atonement? If I preach Christ, I must preach the love of his heart, and how can I deny the final perseverance of the saints? If I preach the Lord Jesus as the great head and king, how far am I removed from divine sovereignty? Must I not, if I preach Christ personally, preach his doctrine? I believe they are nothing but the natural outgrowth of that great root thought or root substance, rather, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who will preach Christ fully will never lax in doctrine.”
Now Spurgeon, I think, is getting it exactly right. Christ is central, Christ is primary, Christ is the great root out of which everything else flows; but we have to keep the connections. We preach doctrine, but we preach doctrine in relationship to the person and work of Christ.
(2) Second implication, not only for teaching, preaching, proclamation, but there are implications for the gospel for the unity of the church, for the unity of the church. Now, if you know 1 Corinthians you know that the church in Corinth was a mess. None of us, I think, would want to be a member of the church of Corinth.
There were all kinds of problems, and one of the problems in the church is there were all kinds of parties, different groups, different factions in the church. There were some who were following Paul, there were some who were following Peter, or Cephas, there were some who were following Apollos, there were some who thought they were really spiritual and they just said, “We just follow Jesus.”
But they were all divided, and Paul writes to them and addresses that division, and I want you to see how he addresses it. The solution to the division is the gospel. Notice what he says; this is 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by [Chloe’s] people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or, “I follow Apollos,” or, “I follow Cephas,” or, “I follow Christ.” Now here’s the solution. Paul says, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
He’s saying, “Don’t be a follower of men. Follow Christ! Remember who died for you! It was Christ who died for you. Go back to the gospel and unite around that. You’re all saved by the same Christ. Christ died for you; you’re members of Christ. So don’t be divided.”
Folks, we know that there’s this danger. There’s always the danger of factionalism in the church. We’re not immune to that danger. We don’t want to be that kind of church. So let’s not be the kind of church where some of us say, “I follow Dave,” or, “I follow Lyndon,” or, “I follow Del,” or, “I follow Brian.” No! You don’t follow a leader; you follow Jesus. That’s what all of us as leaders want. I can guarantee that the heart of every elder, every teacher-preacher in our church, our heart is we want us as a community to be united in following Jesus Christ, not a man.
In the same way, we need to be aware of this in the greater body of Christ. Don’t be the kind of person who’s like, “I follow John Piper,” “I follow Rick Warren,” “I follow Chuck Swindoll.” No. These are men who point us to Christ, and we follow Christ.
We don’t want to do it historically either: “I follow Calvin,” or, “I follow Spurgeon,” or, “I follow Wesley.” Pick your favorite hero. It’s great, these guys can help us and they can teach us, but we don’t follow them. We don’t follow Spurgeon. Spurgeon is an example that points us to Christ, and that’s the value of his ministry. John Wesley did the same thing, in spite of the differences between those two men’s theologies. But we don’t want to have a party spirit; we want to be united around the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(3) Third implication: there are implications for living a holy life. The church is called to be a holy people, and part of what the church has to do is help the members of the church grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, help us live holy lives, help us in our sanctification.
I heard John MacArthur just a couple days ago, and the whole substance of MacArthur’s message was, “The one job you have as a pastor is the sanctification of your people.” Now, that may be oversimplifying just a little bit (I can think of more than one job), but it is primary that pastors are called to help edify, build up, sanctify the church. Well, how, then, is the church sanctified? How are we made holy?
Look at a particular problem that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 6; he deals with sexual immorality. He’s dealing with people who, evidently, have been justifying the frequenting of prostitutes. Paul’s arguing against this: “No, you’re to flee sexual immorality!” But he doesn’t just apply law to them, he doesn’t just give them lots of commands; he appeals to the gospel. Notice how he does this.
First he appeals to union with Christ, 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who his joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ For he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality.”
Then he appeals to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, verse 18: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s saying, “Remember your union with Christ. Remember, you’re the temple of the Holy Spirit,” and then he points them right back to the gospel itself. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
He’s just taking the gospel and he’s applying it to this issue, and he’s saying, “Listen: your body does not belong to you anymore; Jesus bought it! He bought it, therefore live a holy life.”
Paul does this with every dimension you could think of of Christian living. He does it with giving in 2 Corinthians chapter 8: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you...might become rich.” He’s appealing on them to give generously. He’s saying, “Remember the gospel. Remember what Jesus did. He was rich, he gave; now you imitate him.”
He does this in Ephesians 5 with marriage: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” When did he do that? He did that at the cross.
Every dimension of Christian living, you can find places where Paul is appealing to the gospel. He does it with racism, racial issues, Ephesians 2, Galatians 2. So, what Paul is doing is he’s taking the gospel and he’s applying it to our personal lives and is saying, “The gospel leads you to live a holy life.”
Two more, and then we’re done.
(4) The implications of the gospel, fourthly, for the ordering and the shaping of our worship.
At church, every church has lots of decisions to make about how they do worship. What do you include, what songs do you sing, what elements are included, how do you feel 70 to 90 minutes on a Sunday morning? What do you do with that? These are some of the things that characterize churches, that make churches so different from one another, and there are lots of ways to worship that can honor God, okay? We don’t think that one style of music or one style of preaching is necessarily sacred, to the exclusion of others. We understand that.
Nevertheless, the gospel gives us some direction. It helps us to order and shape our worship. And one place you see this in particular is in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul just lays out the pattern for observing the Lord’s table, the words of institution. We read these every week when we come to the table together; I’ll read them in a few minutes when we come to the table. But it’s a reminder of the gospel, and the gospel is what defines the meal, it defines the Lord’s table, it gives significance to the table. The table is a gospel meal. I think it’s legitimate to infer that the gospel is to order and shape everything in our worship.
I had lunch with a friend, on Friday, who’s been a worship leader for 20 years; we used to work together probably 20 years ago. He’s now working on a D. Min. in worship at Southern Seminary. We were talking about worship, and one of the things he said is this: he said, “You know, when the Scripture drives your worship, it rules out a lot of things that don’t belong in worship.” That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. If you start with the Scriptures, if you start with the gospel, and you let that shape worship, it orders things so that things that shouldn’t be there are kept out.
(5) Then number five, here’s the last one, implication of the gospel, for motivating all of our labor for Christ. Look at what Paul says, 1 Corinthians 15:58. This is after an extensive explanation in defense of the resurrection of Christ in this chapter. He gets to the very end of the chapter, last verse; he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers,” in light of this, in light of the resurrection of Christ and all that that entails, in light of this, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Now, what is that labor? I think it’s all the work that you do for Christ. It’s all of our ministry, all of our outreach, all of the service. There is lots of need for volunteer work in our church, and so many of you involved. It thrills me when I look - I keep this on a spreadsheet, where I can see who’s plugged in doing what where, and when I look at that and I see how many people are using their gifts to serve Jesus, that thrills my heart.
Now, how do you keep on doing that? How do you avoid burnout? How do you not quit? You remember the gospel. You remember that your work, your labor in the Lord, is not in vain, because Jesus died and rose again. New creation is on the way. There’s going to be fruit from your labors. God is going to be glorified through the things that you do in his name and for his sake.
Again, Spurgeon is a great example. I want to just tell you a little bit about what he did, and then I’m going to end in just a minute with a final word from Spurgeon. We think about Spurgeon as a preacher; he’s called the “prince of preachers,” he’s known as that. But it’s pretty amazing, reading this biography on Spurgeon, how much he did beyond the preaching and the teaching. He was involved in poverty relief in London, where (get this) there were over 100,000 children on the streets in London in the 1850s. A hundred thousand! It’s just amazing.
Spurgeon saw this, had a burden to do something about it. They’re in a prayer meeting where Spurgeon led his people to pray that God would lead them to do something great for his name’s sake, something great for the kingdom, and would provide the way to do it. Unbeknownst to him, there’s a woman who had a lot of money, and she was looking for a place to put that money to use, and she asked someone, “What do I do with this money? Where should this go?” And someone said, “Give it to Spurgeon; he’ll use it wisely. He’s a man of integrity; he’ll use it wisely.”
So she sent Spurgeon a check for 20,000 pounds. Now, this in the 1850s. I mean, this is a lot of money. Spurgeon got the check, and it just kind of blew him away. So he called the woman and he said, “Ma’am, we’ve received your check for 200 pounds.”
She said, “No, no; it was supposed to be 20,000 pounds!”
He said, “Well, it says 20,000, but I thought you might have slipped in a couple of zeroes by accident. Is there somebody else you want to give this to?”
She’s like, “No; I’ve been told you would handle this; use this money, do good with it.”
So you know what he did with it? He built an orphanage, and he started bringing these kids in off the streets. Before it was all done there was an orphanage for boys, there was an orphanage for girls, there were almshouses to take care of the poor, there was distribution of literature all over London and all over England, he started a college to train ministers.
On Spurgeon’s 50th birthday, there was a gathering kind of in celebration of his ministry, and somebody listed off (get this) 66 para-church organizations that Spurgeon had been involved in starting. It’s just amazing, the ministry; it was changing the face of London! And you know what was driving all of it? The gospel of Jesus Christ. Here was a man who was absolutely in love with his Savior. It drove everything else he did. It drove all of his ministry.
There is lots of discussion going on in the church today about things like justice and racial reconciliation and caring for the poor and things like that, and there should be. Welcome that discussion. But the real impulse that should lead us into those kinds of ministries is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should never divorce those two things apart from one another. The gospel fueled it all.
Here’s a little story about Spurgeon. One time an agnostic met Spurgeon and was just challenging him, his beliefs about Christianity. Spurgeon could point to all the good that his church had done, in contrast to the failure of secularism at that point to really meet these needs. Spurgeon borrowed words from Elijah on Mount Carmel. Remember Elijah on Mount Carmel, “Let the God who answers by fire, let him be God”? And Spurgeon said to this agnostic, “The God who answers by orphanages, let him be God.” That’s what the gospel led him to do.
So, we’ve seen now the priority of the gospel, the message of the gospel, the implications of the gospel. Friends, we want to be a gospel-centered church, and if we are a gospel-centered church we get everything else; we get that first, everything else should follow in its wake. We should then get justice and caring for the poor. We should get evangelism, we should get doctrine in relationship to Christ, we should get holy lives as we apply the gospel to our lives. We should get worship that glorifies God and edifies saints and reaches the lost. All of it comes if we get the gospel.
I just want to end in this way. I want to just give a two-fold appeal, and then this final quote from Spurgeon.
Here’s my appeal: number one, if you happen to be here this morning and you’re not a Christian, what I’ve been doing this morning is preaching about the gospel. I prefer to actually just preach the gospel and not try to tell you what the gospel is and how it works; I’d rather just talk to you about Jesus and the crucifixion, like we were doing Good Friday and Easter, the resurrection. But you’ve heard enough this morning. The gospel is that Christ died for sinners, and he rose from the dead, and he will forgive your sins, and he will change your life, if you will trust him. I invite you to do that. If you’ve never done that, do that this morning. Put all of your trust, all of your hope, in Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Don’t leave this place without salvation in Christ.
And then, believers, and I’m thinking especially of us as a collective group of believers, as a church, our family here, as a church, let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s keep the gospel the main thing. Let’s keep Christ central in all of our decisions, in all of our thinking, in all of our ministry, in all of our discussion, in all of our life together as a church; it’s about Jesus. It’s about him.
Let me close with these words from Spurgeon. Spurgeon said, “Jesus crucified should be the alpha and Omega of all our preaching and teaching. Woe to the man who makes anything else the main subject of his ministry. ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’ Do not tell me you preach sound doctrine, you preach rotten doctrine, if you do not preach Christ - preach nothing up but Christ, and nothing down but sin… If you have left out Christ, there is no manna from heaven, no water from the rock, no refuge from the storm, no healing for the sick, no life for the dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus be forgotten.”
Father, we echo Spurgeon’s words that Christ really is our all in all. It’s really the words of Paul, Colossians 3, “Christ is all and in all.” Christ is our all in all. We’re here for the glory of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re here because of what Jesus has done to save us. We sing these songs because we want to praise Jesus. We come into this building because we want to worship Jesus. We’re trying to be disciples and follow Christ and live together as a your people, as a community, because we want to pattern our lives after that of Jesus Christ. We want to be formed in his image. We want to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we are becoming more and more like Christ, from one degree of glory to the next.
We reach out to our community, we send missionaries across the globe, we share Jesus with others because we want Christ to be honored in the hearts of men and women and children, because Jesus is worth it, because the salvation is glorious, because we want others to enjoy this rich grace that we have found.
Lord, our confession this morning is that too often we can be apathetic to the work of the kingdom, we can be apathetic to the work of Christ and Christ himself. We pray that you would forgive us of that. Too often we let other concerns become central; we pray that you would forgive us of that, and that you would animate us with a deep love for Christ and a deep, profound trust in Jesus and in all that he’s done in his finished work.
Lord, as we come to the table this morning we come to remember Jesus, we come to see Jesus, we come to taste and see that he is good. So as we break this bread, as we drink this juice, may we do so in Jesus’ name and for Jesus’ sake. Amen.