Text: 1 Corinthians 3
Occasion: KFUO “His Time”
In the Christian faith everyone starts as a spiritual baby—some literally since they (we) were baptized as infants, and some who, even as adults, have been schooled only in the basic, elementary teachings of the faith. We heard the apostle St. Paul writing to the Corinthians reminding them of this fact. The problem is that by this time he figured they shouldn’t be spiritual infants anymore. By this time the faith built on the foundation that no one else can lay “which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11) should have matured beyond the elementary, “new member,” catechism class sort of faith.
So the apostle writes a relatively scathing letter to the Corinthians, first, reminding them of the foundation he himself laid, the foundation of their Christian faith which is the pure, creedal, doctrinal, catechism faith of the thoroughly Biblical teaching of Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came down from heaven, “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man,” who then gave Himself as the bloody and only qualified sacrifice for the sin of the whole world (yours, mine and everyone’s!), and who, nevertheless, was raised from the dead because of His victory over sin and death. Now, the apostle says, everything else that is written, taught or preached about this gospel must build on this foundation, which is, to say it briefly, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
He gives some options, however, for you to consider. You can build on this foundation, he says, either with what he calls “gold, silver or precious stones,” or with “wood, hay or straw” (3:12). The first, obviously, he is recommending as Biblical, faithfully doctrinal, may I say clear, Lutheran teaching. The second option: overlaying the Biblical teaching and doctrine with any sort of human additions. “You must add,” they say, in some way to your baptismal faith by good works or a good attitude or good anything from the point of view of the world, which he calls “the flesh.”
This is the point, he is saying, whether it was preached by himself, Paul, or by the wonderful and impressive preaching of Apollos, or even by the famous Cephas, Peter, the chief of the apostles himself! In other words, it doesn’t matter who’s your favorite pastor. (Well, okay, it does if that favoritism has to do with the faithfulness of his preaching and teaching and not just his personality.) It has to do with the doctrine, the teaching on the basis of the revelation of God Himself in His Son and through His holy, scriptural Word.
The warning and the promise is this: gold or stubble? The gold is every teaching, every prayer, every sermon that is clearly based on God’s clear Word and emphasizes the Gospel, that is, God’s love and what He has done for you for the forgiveness of your sins. The straw is the exact opposite. It may seem as logical and valuable and desirable as anything, but is, actually, in opposition to the Gospel.
The Gospel, finally, has nothing to do with our own emotions, any worldly so-called wisdom that detracts from Christ and destroys that on which all salvation and true wisdom depend, namely, the cross of Christ. This is what the apostle himself says when he wrote in the first chapter of his letter, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17).
St. Paul wraps it all up in the words, “For all things are yours.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s from Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or your favorite pastor, or the world or life or death, (which we have come to know their place from God’s Word), “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:21-23). In other words, this “YOU” wipes out all the “I’s” of all the old slogans of a man-centered faith. Christ died for YOU. Christ lives in YOU. YOU belong to Christ.