Narrowing our Focus

This week, we continue our journey with the Corinthians. As we learn together from their mistakes, we can overcome some of the roadblocks and realities we face as a church.

Last week, we talked about how mishandled conflict can divide the church and even in seasons of peace… like we are experiencing now… past conflict can still leave residue on our lives… it can make us timid to engage, it can leave us tired and worn out, and it stifles creativity within the church.

We talked about how in a culture of winners and losers, we are called to be neither – we are called to be foolish. We are called to let the Cross of Christ guide our lives.

Today – we continue with that idea of holy foolishness.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1:18)

As Paul continues to write to the Corinthians, he notes that there are a whole lot of ideas floating around in the world.

In Paul’s day, some were calling for miraculous proof for truth in the world. Some looked to philosophy and wisdom as the basis for their life.

But God doesn’t work in either of those ways, Paul writes. God turns each of them upside down and it’s God’s weakness – not his power – that saves… it’s his folly – not his wisdom – that gives life.

Let’s read between the lines a little bit in this letter.

Let’s try to imagine what was going on in Corinth that made these statements necessary.

Those who first responded to the call of God there established a little faith community for themselves.

And then they looked out upon their friends and neighbors, family and business acquaintances and they wanted to figure out how to share this message of God with them.

Now… this big group of people were not all the same. Some were men, some were women. Some were Jewish, some were Greek. Some were rich, some were poor. Some were young, some were old.

And I think what happened, is that everyone disagreed about who was most important to reach out to first.

They did not have a shared vision or understanding about what God was calling them to do…

Kind of like this church:

Those Corinthians each had their own idea about what was going to work, and so they went out into the world and started sharing this amazing Good News about God.

In many ways – each of those ideas discussed around that building committee table were good ideas… Each person had a group in mind that needed to hear the gospel and so they were planning on building this sanctuary, or gym, or coffee shop… whatever it took to reach that specific group of people.

But I think that what we have to do is stop and back up a second.

What happened when the Corinthians tried to do this?  What happened when they made assumptions about their neighbors and tried to custom tailor the message for everyone?  What happened when each person went their own way and they tried to do a thousand different things at once?

They thought… If the Jews want signs, maybe we’ll put on big spectacles! That will draw them in.

They thought… If the Greeks want wisdom, we’ll have long conversations and ignore the the gospel.

Everyone went off and did their own thing and the Good News became torn into pieces and watered down and no longer had any power or punch. It started to look exactly like what everyone else was doing.
Everywhere they went, the message failed.

The people were discouraged.

Someone realized that Jesus was no longer being preached… and they wrote to Paul for help.

I can imagine in this letter to Paul that we have never seen, that someone writes: We give up. We wanted to share the gospel with people, so we came up with all of these ways of reaching out and we started doing what everyone else was doing… but it’s not working.  People keep turning us down and we are exhausted.  We give up.
What is Paul’s response?

He reminds them that they are called to be foolish. They are called to be laughing-stocks of the community.
They aren’t called to change their message with every shifting wind that comes along.
What they are preaching doesn’t make any sense to the people of the world… but they are supposed to keep preaching it anyways.

What Paul does here is he gives them a common, unified vision. He gives them something to stand on, something to be unified with.

The world may not understand you, Paul writes, but you need to stick with the message of the gospel anyways. You need to figure out what it is that you guys really stand for and are about and let that guide you.

You see, its not just division that comes by throwing our lot in with specific people that gets us into trouble… saying, “I’m of Paul” or “I’m of Apollos”… it’s also the fact that we can’t agree on who we are supposed to reach out to and how we are supposed to do it.

Paul keeps telling them to be foolish, because he is asking them to make the cross of Christ the center of all that they do.

He is asking them to believe in their future, to believe in the direction God is pushing them, to hold fast to the vision of what awaits them.

Hold fast to the cross… because it is there at the cross that life and death meet. And it is there at the cross that life wins.

Hold fast to who God has called you to be, no matter what the outside world thinks.

Hold fast.

Paul is asking the church in Corinth, and Paul is asking us to articulate a clear and compelling vision.

Without a vision to unify us, we will always react to everything the world throws at us. We will try to build gymnasiums and coffee shops just because everyone else has one. We will buy into the latest fad and sell off Jesus just to get a few more people in our doors.

That is not our goal.

Our goal is faithful living to the gospel of Christ.

Our goal is to live the kingdom life right now – even if it isn’t fully here yet.

Our goal is to love and forgive in a world where it is popular to get revenge.

Our goal is to sacrifice for others in a world where people think only for themselves.

Our goal is to gather around a table and eat the bread of Christ and the cup of heaven and as we do so to participate in a heavenly banquet. All of that is complete foolishness to the world… but it is who we are called to be.

A colleage from an online preaching forum wrote: We are willing to believe practically anything on Sunday morning in church, but we aren’t likely to keep acting on it come Monday because it’s so foolish by the world’s standards. (Betsy)

And she is right. When we do not share a vision. When we do not let that vision guide everything that we do, we’ll change as soon as we step outside of those doors. We’ll go back to the ways of the world. We’ll change with the winds. We’ll lose who we are supposed to be.

In these next few months, our church is listening for what that vision is. We are joining together in prayer and study to hear God speaking. To hear what specifically God wants us to do.

Not what some famous author wants us to do.

Now what the culture says we should do.

But what God wants us to do. Right here. Right now.

May God speak. And May we hear.

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