1 Corinthians 1:1-9
From Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Sosthenes our brother. 2 To God’s church that is in Corinth: To those who have been made holy to God in Christ Jesus, who are called to be God’s people. Together with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—he’s their Lord and ours!
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. 5 That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, 6 in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you. 7 The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is our second week of a sermon series on witnessing. Last week we talked about being called to witness to our faith. The call is to each of us. Jesus commanded us to testify concerning our faith. Inn our passage for this week, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul says in verse 9, “God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” We are called to partnership with Jesus.
Last week I introduced the courtroom image. First, witnesses are called to make a case. Each witness adds his or her own piece of the body of evidence. They must be qualified in order to have credibility. What qualifies a witness? They might be an expert in a field that is germane to the case. Another qualified witness is someone with direct knowledge of the case. They, themselves, saw or heard or experienced something that is germane to the case. Hearsay is seldom acceptable and has very little credibility.
Growing up, I never saw myself as particularly gifted. As a student prior to college I was actually kind of lazy. I was good at math but didn’t work at it. I didn’t develop it well. When good things happened, or I got a good grade, I saw myself as lucky. All this led to a sense of not truly being good enough. I saw myself as nothing more than average. This sense of not being good enough even spilled over into ministry. The “should haves” seemed to overshadow the effectiveness. It was a constant struggle in the earlier years of my ministry. But God took me where I was and helped me see how God could use me – even me. God revealed to me that, as a math teacher, I couls more easily connect with those children who struggled with motivation. As a pastor, God has shown me I can connect with those who, for instance, struggle with self-esteem. My greatest witness is not quoting the great theologians, or telling the stories of others, but telling my own story, letting God inspire through the steps of one who has had to try harder. I have previously shared my story of my ministry in Platteville, CO, my first church. I found myself doing everything from putting on the coffee on a Sunday morning to working with the paraments, to planning every detail of VBS. It was easier to do it myself than to ask someone else to do it. I even found myself believing that I could do most of it better. I was working with our youth group to help them understand teamwork. You see there were some of the youth that dominated the group and did everything. Other youth felt left out. I designed a retreat curriculum that guided the youth down a path that led directly to the heart of teamwork. I did such a good job of leading them that, as I was starting the last session – the one that would “seal the deal” – I found myself unable to do that lesson. I broke down in the middle of the group and confessed that I discovered I had been preaching to myself the entire retreat. It was a powerful time for our group. That Sunday, the sermon I had prepared before I went on retreat got thrown out. As I stepped up to speak God “told” me to set the sermon aside and share my “testimony.” I took off my pulpit robe and laid it across the communion rail. I shared my confession of prideful behavior, asked for forgiveness. That started the process of building an amazing team for Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:8 came alive. God confirmed my testimony – qualified me over and over, as long as I was genuine with God and others. I came to understand verse 7 in a very personal way. I was not missing any spiritual gift to do the work God has given me. Am I perfect – NO!!! But I ma a tool for my God.
Take a good look at “great” figures of the Bible. God was constantly using flawed vessels to carry his message. King David was a sinner yet used by God. He not only had an affair with Bathsheba, but had her husband killed in battle. Yet through his repentance, God was able to use David in mighty ways. Look at John the Baptist. In John 1:29-42, John the Baptist twice points to Jesus and says to others around him, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Yet, in Matthew 11:2-3, while John is in prison, he sends a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” He saw the baptism, and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus, and heard the voice from heaven testifying, “this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” Yet he still needed some kind of confirmation. In Matthew 11:11 Jesus says, “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist…” John was qualified by the power of Jesus. Then there is Peter – the one who seemed to get it wrong so often. At one point, Jesus even says to him, “get thee behind me, Satan.” That very Peter denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of Caiaphas. Yet, that very Peter was so powerfully used by God in energizing the church.
We are flawed human beings, but God enters a partnership with us, filling us with all the spiritual gifts we need. For some it will be the gift of hospitality. For another it will be a gift of comforting. Still another might have the gift of organizing. For still another an artistic eye. For some it may even be teaching or preaching or powerful prayer. Does any one person have all the gifts, no. We are qualified with what we have been given. It is later in I Corinthians chapter 12 that Paul so eloquently reminds us that we all have different gifts, and all are essential to the whole.
Do we all have ability to reach everyone? No! I have said before, I am not one who would be comfortable ministering in the inner city to criminal infested neighborhoods. But someone is! God will guide you and I to those people where our witness will be the most effective. All the great heroes of the scriptures were true to their gifts in the sense that they didn’t try to be someone they were not. They used their spiritual gifts, not someone else’s.
Pastoral visitation has been a struggle my whole ministry. I love planning worship and listening for the ways God would have me build and strengthen the church. I love teaching. But when it comes to visitation, I don’t do enough. Visitation is hard for me. It always gets put last on my list of things to do. For a long time, I beat myself up. “Why can’t you be like Pastor Frank Dawson?! He visited all the time. You’re just not working hard enough at it.” Ultimately, God showed me that I could do visitation, but that it was not my strong suit. There are others who are great at it. Look at Kay Bjorklund and Mary Jane Starnes – they are champion visitors. That is one of their spiritual gifts. I let them do the “heavy lifting” in visitation, and I do mine where it is most critical. I still feel guilty at times for missed opportunities, but for the most part I find a good balance.
Think about Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12. He talks about his thorn in the flesh. His greatest struggle became a powerful witness. He saw it as something God could use. It was with triumph that he shares the sufficiency of God’s grace in his life. I can imagine anyone who has struggled with some kind of illness or handicap finding great comfort in Paul’s witness. Likewise, for someone who looked at Paul and wished they could be the same kind of “super hero” for God, they could take courage knowing that Paul wasn’t perfect either.
What is your story, and how might God use it to help or inspire others? Yesterday we shared in the celebration of the life of Jerry Brown. One of her witnesses was, with all her health struggles and limitations, she modeled confidence and adaptability. She looked at what she had instead of what she had lost. That’s a witness in actions.
What is your story? Ask God how your story might help just one person. You are called! You are qualified! Be a witness in actions and words.
Next week we will talk about being witnesses together.
Pastor Paul Grossman