Sermon: How to Stay Focused on the Source No. 1: It’s What We Know
Scripture: I Corinthians 8.1-13
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: January 28, 2018
Once upon a time, there was a story reported some years ago from California about fishermen feeding pelicans. The fishermen would bring in their catch, clean the fish and toss the waste into the water and the pelicans waited and had a hand-filleted meal every day! Soon the pelicans just kind of hung out all day waiting for the boats to return for dinner. Why hunt for fish when it was being slopped to them in the water? Well, over time, the fishermen started selling the fish byproducts and stopped throwing them to the birds. The birds didn’t know what to do; they just hung out each day waiting for the catch, but it never came. They grew emaciated. They forgot how to fish! City officials had to bring in pelicans from other locations to re-teach the lazy ones how to fish again. I want us to place this story about the Pelicans forgetting how to fish for themselves and place it right over here on a shelf for a few minutes; we will come back to it shortly.
Last week we began our journey together by looking at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel that painted the overall theme and overture to his Story. We noted Jesus came proclaiming the Good News which entailed two parts. One was the call for us to totally change the way we see and experience God and the world about us. You’ll remember that’s we said the word “repent” means. Two, we learned that first and foremost the Good News Jesus announced was not about personal salvation per se; rather, the Good News is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. As followers of Christ, we know the inbreaking of the reign of God is demonstrably shown in Jesus. I issued a call for all of us to return to the Source, Ad Fontem, who is what? Jesus!
This morning we are going to begin a three-week series at looking at how we stay focused on the Source. At the end of our three weeks, we will learn what is required for us to have a healthy discipleship and Christ-Followership that will serve as the boundaries to keep us in the pasture of God’s holy pleasure and purpose. This morning, we are going to look at the importance of our basic knowledge of our Christian faith. It’s a topic Paul begins to look at in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians and he continues to unpack it in today’s text which is 1 Corinthians 8.1-13. Go ahead and turn in your Bible there.
Now the Corinthians were an interesting little church located on an isthmus that was also cross-roads for commerce, trading, and travel. People came there in boats and on foot and it had an international flavor. The Corinthian church meant well enough but when in doubt, they kind of did their own thing and unfortunately, it usually conflicted with a healthy walk in Christ. Because the city was a cultural melting pot, the members of the church picked and chose their syncretic beliefs to suited them. They took a little from the Greek traditions, local folklore, or Jewish faith and blended it all together into a spiritual bouillabaisse. Furthermore, the church members were often fraught with divisions because they fought over petty-minded things like whose preacher was better – ours or yours! If the ancient churches can be compared to people, the Corinthian churches were Paul’s problem children. Listen to the Word of the Lord:
1 Corinthians 8.1-13
8.1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
At first blush, we may think this passage is about food, but it is not. Professor of New Testament at Boston University, Dr. James Sampley, indicates that Paul is using this food illustration as a metaphor to indicate what constitutes proper relationships among people in a community. It’s not a story about what we eat as it is a story about how we use our new life, freedom and knowledge of Christ in the presence of others. You see, the Corinthians were comprised of prigs, spiritual know-it-alls, who felt they knew better or were better than anyone else. Instead of using their newfound life, freedom and knowledge of Christ in humble acts of service for others, they used their new life, freedom and knowledge as an excuse for free license to do whatever they wanted because they did feel they “knew” more than everyone else. Isn’t it wonderful there are not those type of people in the Christian church anymore?
So, though they know that eating idol meat does not matter a hoot in the eyes of God, they eat it even though they know it scandalized other Christians who do not know as much about their faith as they do. Their basic Christian knowledge led them to think they were superior to everyone around them; the more knowledge you had meant you had a higher status in the community. To all of this, Paul addresses all the blow-hard know-it-alls and says in verse 1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He’s saying quite literally, “Knowledge blows yourself up with pride, but love lays the foundation for all things.”
One of the reasons I am a Presbyterian is because the Presbyterian Church doesn’t ask its members or clergy to park their brains at the door; indeed, the Presbyterian Church is a church that beseeches her members to engage in theology! The depths and mysteries of God are rich and deep and there is so much to learn and the more we learn the basics of what sustains our faith the better equipped we will be in living it out in love.
Beloved, the purpose of knowledge is not to puff us Christians up with spiritual pride where we act like we know better than all those sorry people who don’t believe like we do; the purpose of knowledge is to learn how to correctly express love to one another. Hear that again, knowledge’s purpose is not about gaining facts but in learning how to better express God’s love to one another.
As we return to the source of our faith in Jesus Christ, we will as a church begin looking at ten basic theological stones we build our Christian life upon so that we can better love God and our neighbor. There are many more than ten but if we can get a grasp on just ten, we will be doing very well. So, let’s introduce those ten stones of spiritual knowledge we need to know about and have fun seeing what we really know about them.
Let’s start with the Bible. Answer these questions true or false:
a. Christians only need to really pay attention to the New Testament (false)
b. The Bible’s interpretation is best left to professionals (false)
c. Is best read alone (false)
d. Christians are known as “People of the Book.” (false)
Second, let’s look at what we know about the attributes of God. True or False – God is:
a. Omnipotent (true)
b. Omniscient (true)
c. Limited in power (false but can choose to limit his power)
d. Has been known to repent Himself (true)
Third, what do you know about the Human Condition:
a. Sin is what people do (true)
b. Sin describes a condition that is part of each person (true)
c. Original Sin precedes original blessing (false)
d. Sin is both personal and social (true)
Fourth, what do we know about Jesus? As we look at Jesus:
a. His family thought he had a mental disorder (true)
b. He was a Christian (false)
c. Is biblically reported to have stopped in situations and ask, “What would Jesus do?” (false)
d. Is a Way, a Truth, and a Life? (false)
The fifth stone is salvation. So with salvation, we know that –
a. Our actions and good behavior justify us before God (false)
b. Baptism is necessary for salvation (false)
c. Occurs at the moment we die (false)
d. Affects our personal ethics (true)
The sixth stone of our foundation that we need to know about is The Holy Spirit:
a. Is male? (false)
b. Only came into play and importance after Jesus’ resurrection? (false)
c. The Holy Spirit’s power is less than the Father and the Son’s? (false)
d. Personally prays for you and me? (true)
The seventh stone is what we know about the Church:
a. Should be easy to join but a challenge to be a part of? (true)
b. Is a voluntary organization and is “optional” for people to be a real Christian? (false)
c. There are indicators whether a church is a real church or not? (true – do you know what they are?)
d. Is a perfect institution in an imperfect world? (false)
The eighth important stone we build our faith upon is our understanding of Christian Vocation. So,
a. Only clergy have a real “call” from God (false)
b. Speaking in tongues is the highest and best spiritual gift (false)
c. Worship is primarily for our benefit and experience (false)
d. The chief purpose for a person’s existence is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. (true)
The last two stones on what we are to know about God are often neglected by Presbyterians and other Mainline Churches. The ninth stone of our basic Christian knowledge has to do with what we know about concerning the spiritual world:
a. “The Devil” is simply a name given to a psychological phenomenon that describes bad things? (false)
b. Dante’s’ Inferno biblically describes the biblical reality of “Hell”? (false)
c. We live in the midst of two-time dimensions: Chronos and Kairos? (true)
d. “Angel” means “destroyer”? (false)
The tenth stone our basic Christian knowledge is built upon has to deal with The Future:
a. The term “rapture” appears in the Bible. (false)
b. When “The Final Judgment” comes, God will destroy everything. (false)
c. We must give an account for every careless, hurtful word we speak about others. (true)
d. We will experience Easter and our only our souls will be raised to heaven. (false)
Beloved, how firm is your spiritual foundation? Is it built on adequate knowledge that is able to help you learn how to love others for Christ’s sake, or, is it superficial knowledge that gives you enough ammunition to judge other people?
My friends, you have heard me speak to you for two weeks on two concepts that build on one another. First, Jesus is calling us back to the source our faith – ad fontem – back to the bubbling, refreshing spring water that gives eternal life. Second, we hear this morning from Paul about how we can begin doing that and that is by being intentional on how we build that foundation of our knowledge of God. The deal is we are all to be practicing, functional theologians! It is not going happen if you drop the kids off at Sunday school while you run over to get coffee at Starbucks. It is not going happen if you compartmentalize your faith and keep it solely a Sunday morning affair. It is not going to happen unless you’re (w)holy dissatisfied where your faith is and begin poking around the foundations on which its built.
Now let’s go back to our Pelican story from a few minutes ago. If you’ll remember, the birds began dying because they became lazy and forgot how to fish. Friends, it’s my contention the American church and Christians are in the sorry state we are in because we, like the pelicans, have become lazy and have forgotten how to fish!
Oh, my beloved, for too long we’ve been leeching off the scraps thrown at us by our culture. For too long we’ve ridden the coattails of our parents’ faith instead of building our own. For too long we’ve let others tell us what we’re to believe, how we’re to act. For too long we’ve left our brains at the door of the church and have neglected the knowledge, the foundation of what we believe about Jesus and God. So, as we continue to grow together, we are going to be intentional in learning about the ten stones that build our foundational Christian knowledge. Deal? Amen.
© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.