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Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, February 16, 2020

The Diet That Leads to Strength

Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1–9

Approximately 25 years ago, we had a Bible study in our home for Jr. and Sr. High School students that were friends of our children, Amy and Ben. From one family there were three daughters, two who came to the study. The oldest was in Amy’s class and the middle one was in Ben’s. They had a very strange and unhealthy living arrangement. They lived in a house with their mother and her boyfriend, one of their mother’s ex-husbands and his girlfriend. The ex was the father to the youngest daughter and the other two daughters had different fathers.

The middle daughter, Reneé, got pregnant at 15 years of age and sometime after the baby was born her mother kicked her out of the house. I don’t recall why. Ben found out where she was living and asked me to go with him to see her. The room she was renting was horribly filthy and no place for a baby. I was certain that if this was reported to Social Services they would likely intervene and place the baby and her mother in a foster home. The room only had a mattress on the floor, a baby pen and a few chairs. We went to see her, and I said that we had a spare bedroom that she could stay in indefinitely and we would help her with Sierra, her daughter.

I could go on for a long time with stories about the time they lived with us but there is only one that applies to today’s sermon. When they moved in, Sierra was almost 14 months old, and she was the saddest looking little girl that I had seen. She was still on the bottle alone and she had not started walking or crawling with any agility. I asked Reneé why Sierra was always in a baby pen and she just shrugged her shoulders and mumbled something about safety. I questioned her as to why Sierra was not eating solid foods. She told me that Sierra wouldn’t eat solid foods but would only drink milk and formula from a bottle. I suggested that she needed to help Sierra learn to eat but she insisted that she had tried but it couldn’t be done.

We still had a “Happy Baby Food Grinder” so I asked Teresa to puree some of the food that we were having for dinner. I placed Sierra’s high chair next to me and brought the pureed food to the table. Reneé was looking at me with amusement and I think she was looking forward to me being wrong. I took the baby spoon with food on it and placed it in front of Sierra’s little mouth and she immediately placed her chin down on her chest. Reneé snickered and said, “I told you.” I smiled and turned back to Sierra who still had her chin down and placed my hand under her chin and forced her head back up. This made her mad and she opened her mouth to scream which is when I put the spoon in her mouth then held her mouth shut. At first she resisted then she got a curious look on her face and her eyes brightened. I let go of her jaw and she swallowed the food and opened her mouth for more.

She ate everything that we gave her that night and never went back to the bottle. As a matter of fact, we immediately introduced her a “sippy cup” and she took right to it. The other thing we changed is that Sierra was only to be in the baby pen at nap time on when sleeping at night. The result of her eating solid foods and being allowed to crawl around and investigate her surroundings was that within 5–6 weeks she was running around the house laughing and playing like a toddler normally would. Solid foods gave her energy and nourishment so that she could grow and develop.

The same principle is true in spiritual matters. In our passage from 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul confronts the church in Corinth with the evidence that they were malnourished because they were still living on the milk that Paul had given them when they first came to Christ. He expressed his deep concern that they were still not ready for the solid food of the word of God.

This is the Sixth Week of Epiphany which is a Greek word epiphania meaning “a god visited earth” or a “divine manifestation.” It’s a season where our focus is on the miraculous gift from God to mankind of his Son Jesus Christ. This should change our goals and perspective on everything. It should instill within us the joy, hope and strength brought about by our relationship with Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Today, we will take a brief look at Paul’s concern for the church at Corinth and how this same lesson instructs us today.

Two weeks ago, we focused on 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and Paul’s confronting the church in Corinth about the divisions that had risen up. Some were following Apollo, some Cephas, some Paul and some Jesus Christ. Paul knew that if they were to persevere their focus needed to be entirely on Jesus Christ as their sole source of truth and strength.

Last week we focused on 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul exclaims, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” His ministry to them would not be based on his superior education in the Jewish scriptures or his tireless devotion to the God of his fathers. Although these things should have served as an example of what it looks like to be a faithful servant, the primary focus must always be on Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. Paul reminded the Corinthians that he had come to them 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. (2:3–5).

Today, in 1 Corinthians 3:1–9 Paul returns to the theme of divisions in the church as evidence that they were still existing on the milk that he had given them instead of the meat or solid food of God’s word. The apostle complained that the Corinthian Christians were not behaving like those taught by the Holy Spirit. Even though they professed to be believers they were acting just like those in the unbelieving world, by their quarreling and being jealous.

He begins chapter 3 with a conciliatory address:

But I, brothers could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

In Paul’s epistles, as elsewhere in Greek writings, the word “brothers” also implied the women as well. He’s letting them understand that he's writing to them was because they were a part of his family and his concern was as that of an older brother or as a father. He was preparing to chastise the Corinthians, but he wanted them to understand that his rebuke was motivated by his love for them. His words would be designed to remind them that they were all brothers and sisters in Christ, and because of that they should be united instead of divided.

Paul helps them to remember when he first brought them the gospel. When he came to them he didn’t treat them as spiritual people, but as those who were still living in the flesh. He knew that they were not able to take in or understand the deeper teaching of God’s word, so he fed them as one would an infant. He gave them milk because they weren’t ready for solid food. Paul is writing this letter from Ephesus where he had been staying for well over two years. This meant that the church in Corinth that he had spent 18 months establishing should have grown in their faith and maturity by now. Instead in wrote in verse 2–3,

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still in the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

When men and women first become believers, they begin a lifelong journey towards spiritual maturity. It’s not uncommon for new believers to live and think in much the same way as they had before.

I remember when I first became a believer I thought I was stronger in my faith than I actually was. The one thing that a Christian never wants to hear is while speaking of his/her faith in Christ to an unbelieving friend is “I didn’t know that you were a Christian.” Early on people that had known me found it hard to believe that I was now a Christ-follower. They assumed that it was a temporary thing that I would grow out of. I remember my father’s grateful passion for Jesus Christ. He had been delivered from so much inner turmoil and hatred that he never stopped praising God and telling of his grace and mercy. If you spent more than five minutes with my father you would know how much he loved Jesus Christ. I saw him go through a lot of pain and sorrow and yet never turned away from his love for Jesus. It was quite remarkable. The evidence of his faith was always right before you, you couldn’t miss it. Paul was lamenting that the church was still living on milk and it didn’t matter how much they would protest his conclusion because the evidence of their spiritual condition showed up in the quarreling and jealousy.

By this time, they should have been spirit-filled warriors for Christ, but Paul concluded that they were still not engaged in battle against the forces of darkness but instead appeared to be operating as double agents. Instead of unity within the Christian community they had divided themselves into quarreling parties, revealing their human arrogance, and using worldly wisdom to fight against one another. Paul accused them of living by the principles of the world (flesh) instead of moving in the wisdom, love and humility that revealed the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. They were acting like mere men instead of people living for the glory of Christ in the power of the Spirit. This problem was so serious that Paul’s whole discourse, starting in 1 Corinthians, was an attempt to correct the false views that had caused their divisions. Remember the beginning of this book Paul told them why he was writing in 1:11, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.”

To be more specific Paul returns to his complaint about the factions within the church,

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

I believe that this issue struck deeply into Paul’s heart. I wonder if he wasn’t remembering how convinced he was that his persecution of Christians was not only right but God’s holy will for him. He well knew what would happen when quarreling began—the enemy would destroy the church from within, much like Satan is doing in many churches in our nation right now. By claiming to follow leaders or celebrities within the church, the Corinthians were behaving just like the unbelievers around them. In Christ they were called to fellowship. By quarreling and dividing they were living as mere men who did not have the Spirit or the gospel.

In verses 5–9 Paul began a discussion on church leadership by pointing out that he and Apollos were servants. Jesus told his disciples in Luke 22:25–26,

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.

Unlike worldly leaders who seek positions of power for their own benefit, Christian leaders should follow the example of Christ and become servants of all. Paul wants them to understand that he is an apostle because God had assigned him that role. If they thought for one minute that being an apostle brought Paul worldwide respect and glory, they didn’t know his situation at all. Apollos was a great teacher because God anointed him to teach but it wasn’t going to bring him worldly fame and fortune. As a matter of fact, like Paul it would bring him great trouble and suffering.

In pointing out that he and Apollos were servants, he was reminding the church of who it was that they were ultimately serving. It was the Lord Jesus who was to be the true object of their love and worship. To celebrate a servant instead of the Lord would be foolishness. The Corinthians should not take pride in their human leaders because such leaders had no power or authority of their own. Their lives were to be seen as models showing what it looked like to bow down and worship the one true and living God and what it looked like to surrender to him.

Paul uses an agricultural metaphor explaining that he planted the seed by bringing the gospel to Corinth. Apollos came and watered the seed that Paul had planted. Neither Paul nor Apollos were the most important part of the process. Without a sower, there would be nothing to water, and without someone to attend to the seed, there would be no reason to plant. God had invited Paul and Apollos to be a part of the process but only God could make the seed grow. The church was to follow the same examples and each member should use whatever gifts that God had given them to benefit the church as it grew the kingdom of God on earth. That is still true today.

The good model that the Corinthians had received from Paul and Apollos should have made them turn in worship to God who had sent them and then to pursue their relationship with him.

This passage strikes home to me because I once was involved in a church that was deeply wounded because of improper allegiance. When Teresa and I first became Christians through a Bible study taught by a dear friend, we all went to the church that he belonged to. There were 30–35 of us who showed up every Sunday and marched down front in our bell bottom jeans, flannel shirts for the men and smocks for the women. Most worn sandals when the weather permitted, although I always wore boots called “dingo’s.” The church was Grace Church in Roanoke, VA, and the pastor was Jack Arnold. That church loved us so much and tolerated our arrogance and our ways that were unfamiliar to them. They were just so glad to see kids coming out of the drug culture and falling in love with Jesus. Jack or Dr. Arnold, as we called him, was a solid theologian who wanted us to love God’s word as much as he did. Meanwhile, under our friend we continued to study God’s word and Reformed Theology. Most of us got married (way too young) at Grace Church and they never did anything but love us. We, however, grew theologically arrogant and begin to complain that the elders and other leaders at the church didn’t measure to our understanding of what was theologically important. We questioned many of the policies of the church and when we weren’t accommodated, we left and started our own church with our friend as pastor. At this point we all were in our early 20’s and for 3–4 years we grew and prospered, but that’s another story.

What we didn’t consider is the effect that our leaving, especially the manner of our leaving, had on Grace Church, and especially our pastor, Jack Arnold. He was crushed and felt betrayed, which he was. Unknown to us this was not the first time that someone in the church had treated Jack like that and unfortunately it wasn’t the last. A few years ago, I saw one of his sons, Dean, who I taught in Sunday school. He told of the agony and tears that Jack went through for a long time. He actually had a nervous breakdown. Why? Because we celebrated our friend and his theological brilliance instead focusing on Christ and seeing the faithfulness of his servant, Jack Arnold, as a model.

I saw Jack many years later and I apologized for my part in his pain. You know how he responded to me? He hugged me, just like a servant of the Lord would. He was quick to forgive me and told me he loved me. For those of you who used to follow Paul Harvey, Jack Arnold was the subject of his show one day. I want to quote for you the story of Jack Arnold’s going to be with the Lord on Sunday, January 9. 2006.

“The Rev. Jack Arnold, 69, was nearing the end of his sermon Sunday at Covenant Presbyterian Church when he grabbed the podium before falling to the floor,” said the Rev. Michael S. Beats, the church’s associate pastor.

Before collapsing, Arnold quoted the 18th-century Bible scholar John Wesley, who said, “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done ... I go to be with Jesus,” and he dropped dead.

Several parishioners with medical backgrounds tried to revive Arnold and paramedics were called, but he appeared to die instantly, Beats said.

I’ve asked Suzy to put the reprint of the last part of Jack’s sermon in the next Beacon. It’s a wonderful exhortation as to how those in Christ should live.

In closing, I want to encourage you to follow Jesus and no one but Jesus. I stated earlier that our nation is fractured and there seem to be fewer and fewer examples of those who live selflessly for the good of others. The concern that Paul had, and we should have, is that this is often true in churches as well. We live in a consumer-oriented culture where people shop around for what seems best for them. Here at Light of Christ we have different opinions as to how we should come to worship, what kind of music we should have and other areas of concern. Paul was exhorting the church in Corinth to follow Christ and be obedient to the calling that he had on their lives and how and where he would have them serve, instead of which place serves me the best. The world is looking at those who claim to be Christ-followers. Humility and servanthood are two areas that the world doesn’t usually cherish. It should be the hallmark of our Christian community if we truly are to be the Light of Christ.

Let’s pray.

©2020 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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