Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 23, 2014
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Keeping God At The Center
What does it meant to walk in the law of God?
What does it mean to keep God’s decrees, to seek God with your whole heart?
What does it mean to walk in God’s ways?
The psalm that we read this morning points us in that direction.
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
Here the psalmist makes a poetically bold and powerful statement about how we should live and where God should be in our lives. God should come first – always. Should we try to be good people and upstanding citizens? Yes – but there is more to it than that. God must be held in the center of our lives. God’s spirit must infuse all that we are and all that we do.
I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is much easier said than done.
Paul faced a similar “easier said than done” dilemna when he addressed the church in Corinth in the first letter to the Corinthians. He actually wrote this letter in response to letter written to him seeking advice. The letter written to Paul was never published; it was sent to Paul hoping that he would be able to resolve a dispute among the Corinthian people.
Paul began the church – the mission as it was referred to then – in Corinth. He planted the seeds, as he eluded to in verse six of this passage. But after Paul left, Apollos, an Alexandrian Jewish convert, continued the mission. Paul said in verse six, “I planted, Apollos watered.”
The issue at hand was not so much an issue of theology as it was an issue of pedagogy. Paul and Apollos – while both trying to move the same mission forward – simply had different ways of doing things and of teaching things. And the Corinthians who learned under Paul thought that they knew the right way to believe, act and practice their religion and the Corinthians who were learning under Apollos thought that they knew the right way to believe, act and pratice their religion.
So essentially you have the people who worked on the mission with Paul yelling at the people who were working on the mission with Apollos and the situation was escalating to something that I can only imagine looked like the gym dance scene in West Side Story where the Jets and the Sharks were screaming at one another from across the room.
Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that. But you get the idea.
How does this scenario relate to us?
The first thing that popped into my head when I read this passage was the way in which churches today face similar challenges. As older churches struggle to survive – and even want to thrive – in a fast changing world, it is absolutely essential that they find a different balance between the traditions and new ideas.
But – Paul reminds the church in his letter – it is even more essential that through this process of discernment, God is kept at the center of this balance. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave you the growth,” Paul said in verse six.
It is absolutely critical, Paul demands, that God be held in the middle of all that the mission is, all that the mission does, all that the mission says and all that the mission wants to be. And the same is true in our churches today.
But even more than that, I think that this passage reminds us that we – we as individuals, we as children of God – need to hold God in the middle of all that we are. We need to hold God in the middle of all that we do; we need to hold God in the middle of all that we say; and we need to hold God in the middle of all that we want to be.
Every single one of us comes into this church – and, for that matter, lives a life outside of this church – carrying different baggage. We all come from different places, we have been taught different things. Our families are different; our upbringings are different; our experiences are different. We are different human beings who absorb information and react to things in a variety of ways.
We carry this baggage around with us every single day.
Paul told the Corinthian people that it did not matter if he was the one who planted the church and Apollo was the one who watered and nurtured the church, because God was the one who gave the church growth. And this is such a great reminder to us that it does not matter where we come from – it does not matter who taught us or raised us or influenced us (good or bad!) – that God is the one who gives us growth.
Paul reminds us that – first and foremost – we have to seek God in our lives. Paul’s point in this particular passage was that the people in the mission in Corinth needed to let go of whatever “brand” of Christianity they were taught and seek God for the sake of unity, wholeness and peace within the church. But even more than that, I think Paul was also reminding people that they should should let go of the baggage that they are holding onto and seek God for the sake of unity, wholeness and peace within themselves and with their lives.
And I think that is the hidden, but beautiful lesson within this scripture. We must seek God first if we want to find unity, wholeness and peace within ourselves.
A certain “brand” of Christianity will not help us find this.
Material stuff will not help us find this.
Relationships will not help us find this.
Success will not help us find this.
The baggage that we carry with us – good or bad – will not help us find unity, wholeness and peace within ourselves. Something will always be missing. God will always be missing.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave you the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who gives the growth.”
Paul tells us that God will give us growth. The psalmist tells us that we will find happiness when we seek God and when we walk along the journey that God has prepared us. It is God that gives us life, God that gives us meaning and God that gives us purpose in life.
So God must come first. God must be part of our lives – both when we are within the walls of our church and even when – well, especially when – we live out our day to days lives.
This does not mean that we will never experience pain or tragedy or heartache. We live in an imperfect human world where too often things happen that we cannot control and where sometimes people make the wrong choices.
Paul did not expect the Corinthians to find a way to rise above this humanness; rather, he acknowledged our humanness when he talked about putting God first. He said, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh.” These imperfections of humanity are what create the space for God’s grace to flow through us.
We have to remember that no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life, God wants us to center our lives around him because that is when God has the most transformative power in our lives. We must allow God’s spirit to move within our bodies and our minds and our actions because that is when God can nurture growth within us.
Do not let this scare you.
When I say that you should seek to always put God at the center of your life, I do not mean that you should quit your day job and pursre a career in televangelism. In fact, I don’t recommend that at all. Try taking small steps at first.
If you do not already, sit down as a family for dinner a few times a week – and say a prayer before you eat. You don’t have to make one up, either! Google “mealtime prayers” or look into buying prayer dice that has prayers already on it.
Write in a journey before you go to bed. If you do not want to keep an actual journal, I think there’s an app for that!
Read a daily devotion.
Challenge yourself to memorize a few passages of scriptures that are relevant to your life. Consider posting them somewhere in your house or on your desk at work.
Get involved at church. Not only will you be part of a supportive community of faith, you will also have the opportunity to grow through worshiping, through serving and through learning.
Ask difficult questions about life and about faith – even if no one can give you any answers.
Think about your passions in life – and then think about the ways that God might be able to use those passions for ministry.
In everything that you do – at church, at work, with your family and your friends and in life – think not only about what you are doing, but why you are doing it. Try to do things for the right reasons. Look at where your priorities are and where you want them to be.
We are part of something truly spectacular. The resurrection is proof of this fact and we have to believe it. Paul said, “You are God’s field, God’s building.” God has laid the foundation for our lives and it does not matter where we have come from or what we have done in the past. All that matters is that we are here now and that we are ready to explore a life lived out as a bold proclamation of God’s presence in our lives.
Today, I give you this charge:
Put God first.
Seek God with your whole heart.
Let God nuture you and give you growth.
Thanks be to God!