Our school days started early in the morning. It meant that we were home for lunch, which usually was the main meal for the day. Mom prepared a fully-cooked meal with meat and vegetables. I didn’t mind the meat part, but the veggies consisted out of what was available out of Dad’s garden, and without fail there were spinach and cabbage on that plate – and (the worst part) you were not allowed leaving the table before the plate was empty! Mom would just sit beside the table knitting away on the next jumper till it was finished – but not before then.
Afternoons consisted of homework and piano practice. Part of the homework then was to memorise the times tables: 5 times 6 equals 30; 6 times 6 equals 36, etc. How boring!
And what about spelling! How colourless! Well, it helps to know the difference between dairy and diary; knew and new.
If you ever had music training you will remember the endless running up and down the keyboard to practice the scales. It helped you to understand and know the flats and sharps in each key. And it kept your fingers moving.
How I loathed those veggies, the times table and the piano scales! To any child these things were nothing but torture. It was as if they were designed to kill all pleasure in life. But looking back I now understand that there were the building blocks for physical growth, understanding music, writing and arithmetic, without which the world would indeed be a very dangerous place.
Some people apply something of the boring bits I just described to Christian living. The catch cry then becomes something like this: avoid doctrine and preach Gospel, because people find doctrine boring, uninteresting and dull.
It may sound enticing to avoid doctrine; it may sound exciting to just go with the flow of where the Spirit may lead you and forget about the detail of the theology of the Scriptures, but it’s dangerous, and it leads to an inability to stand against the storms of the adversary.
The theme for today’s sermon is “Wake up to what is right”, or “Sober up you minds to healthy thinking”. Main points to remember are:
- Bad doctrine corrupts
- Sound doctrine inspires
- Sober minds are crucial to know God
Bad doctrine corrupts
Last Sunday the Word of God came to use from the previous paragraph in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul asks this this question:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12, NIV)
There were some in the congregation who said that there was no such thing as resurrection. This is bad doctrine, and as a result they never understood that, if Christ was not resurrected, the Gospel would be useless, preaching this Gospel would be equal to a lie, Christ’s death was useless, sin would still hold them in bondage, living was useless, they would still be chained to death so that their death would be without meaning.
The Corinthians were not so bright on theology. This resulted in a crippled church. The congregation was in disunity; there was no separation between them and the world, as they still went to temples of idol worship, and even ate of the sacrifices there; they allowed sexual immorality which was not even practiced among the heathen; they dragged one another before civil courts; they had a very low appreciation of worship; a low appreciation of communion; a low appreciation of spiritual gifts; etc.
Today we learn about something else they did: they allowed some of their members to be baptised on behalf of other who had died.
This is a difficult verse, because this practise is only mentioned here. What happened there was one of two things:
- It’s like a good deed on behalf of the dead, as if they were in some sort of waiting room, in need of good deeds to move on to the main room. The Church of Rome invented something similar; they call it purgatory. The theology behind is that sinners must experience some for of punishment before they can move on to heaven. This is where your relatives come in: they can do more than their share and pass on their surplus to your account so you can you get out of purgatory faster. Was this in the mind of those who were baptised for the dead? Maybe.
- They helped those who became Christians, but died before they could be baptised. Those left behind would present themselves then in a sort of proxy baptism; the living are baptised and the deceased receive the benefit.
Where does this come from? Bad doctrine! First of all they understood baptism wrongly. No-one has ever been saved through baptism – dead or alive. What saves is the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who shed his blood, gave his life as a ransom. Baptism is the sign and seal of that grace of God in Jesus Christ.
But further – there is of course a connection between the death and resurrection of Christ and baptism. But these people rejected the resurrection; so Paul come to this necessary conclusion:
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptised for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptised for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29, NIV)
He’s not condoning the act of being baptised for or on behalf of the dead; he purely points to the senseless act of doing such a thing if one rejects the resurrection.
My dear brother and sister, we need to get our understanding of the doctrines of the Scripture in order. Or we will just be as the Corinthians. Listen to what Paul writes about them:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:1–2, NIV)
We need to be like those who read the first letter of Peter:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3, NIV)
What happens when one grows up in the faith and understanding of the Scriptures? Listen:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:14–15, NIV)
Sound doctrine inspires
Paul, with all his heart, believed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead – he met the risen Saviour and became the messenger of this Gospel. Was it a road spread with roses and compliments? No! Of his life and ministry Paul says:
And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day… (1 Corinthians 15:30–31, NIV)
Somewhere else he says:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:36–39, NIV)
What drove and inspired him? The risen Christ! Paul later went to Jerusalem and told of his conversion and mission in the name of Christ. He said:
I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 23:6, NIV)
The commotion which followed was brutal, and we read that the commander feared the Paul might be pulled to pieces. They locked him up in the barracks and the following day the Jews were ready to kill him (Acts 23:15). He was taken to safety and some days later he defended himself before Governor Felix with these words:
and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:15, NIV)
Going further he said:
… ’It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ ” (Acts 24:20–21, NIV)
He refers to his experience in Ephesus as fighting for his life against wild animals. Why? Because he understood salvation as not only the Son of Man dying on a cross to pay for the sins of many, but the son of God who rose victoriously to bring new life, not only saving from the guilt of sin, but to bring the effects of his victory to those who are saved so that they will understand that sin and death is dealt with – completely, one for all!
Sober minds and understanding are crucial
Paul addressed those in Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection, and therefore only believed in half of the Gospel story with these words:
Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34, NIV)
What do we learn from these words? At least two things:
- Not believing in the resurrection, and the resurrection of Christ, is sin. To say it did not happen to blaspheming against Christ who is the Lord over death.
- Not having a true knowledge and understanding of the Scripture and its teachings lead to confusion and corruption of the church of Christ.
My friend, what drives you? Or may I ask, What is holding you back? Don’t fall for everything you hear, rather immerse yourself in the study of the Word and be prepared to give an account of the hope which lives in you. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 1 May 2016