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2nd sunday in ordinary time

January 16, 2011

Faith In His Faithfulness

The Hook

The website “Stories of God’s Faithfulness,” provides people the opportunity to share their story about how God was faithful to them. I read a story about a women who constantly prayed for her children. One day her daughter and husband were tearing down an old house for the wood. The daughter insisted that her husband put on a hard hat. Within moments of him placing the had on his head a large chuck of plaster fell from the ceiling unto his head. He staggered slightly dazed. Without the hard had he may have had severe head injury. Mom believed that God was faithful in protecting her child. If so what do you say to Christina Green’s parents? Why wasn’t God faithful in protecting their little girl from something far worse than a concussion?

I believe that God is faithful. And I believe that God protects and answers prayer but I am uncomfortable with people who are too exuberant in announcing how God protected them from a recoverable injury or healed them of an uncertain sickness. For every one of those stories there is a story about unanswered prayer and that leads to death or severe injury. So how to are we to understand the faithfulness of God? Paul gives us some insight in the opening paragraph to his letter to the church in Corinth.

Corinth

Paul started the church when visited the city of Corinth during his Third missionary journey. He traveled from the city of Athens and stayed with a fellow convert named Aquila who was forced out of Rome along with all the other Jews by Emperor Claudius. (Rome also had problems with immigration.) Every Sabbath Paul went to the synagogue and discussed the passages in Scripture that pointed to the Messiah. The Jews listened at first but then became abusive so Paul went next door and started a house church. After receiving a vision in a dream reassuring him of his ministry, Paul stayed in the city for 18 months preaching and teaching. The Jews brought him into court and charged him with proselytizing but the Governor refused to hear the case. In their anger the Jews turned on Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue who had succeeded Crispus. Sosthenes was probably the person responsible for pressing charges against Paul. The Jews may have been venting their frustration out on him for losing the case. By mentioning him in the letter Paul indicates that Sosthenes had become a convert. The Christians at Corinth would have undoubtedly considered him a hero. This was probably Paul’s reason for mentioning his name in the opening verse.

After Paul left the city he never returned but he stayed in touch with church affairs through various co-workers. Some actually traveled to the congregations on Paul’s behalf to assess how the congregations were doing. Paul never lost his sense of responsibility for the spiritual development of the congregations that he had started.

We do not have any historical documents giving us an account of the development of the church at Corinth. Scholars are forced to surmise the situation based upon Paul’s letter. We may assume that the church grew enough for it to have significant controversy. Paul expresses his shock and alarm over the quarreling. The apostle to the Gentiles had obviously never served on the governing body of a church. The church also found itself in a city known for its immorality. The term, Corinthianize, was part of the pop culture of Greece and it meant to practice immorality, and a Corinthian girl was a temple prostitute.

The Corinthian church found itself in an environment of unfulfillment. We will later learn that the church itself was marred by the sins of the secular community. Spiritual life and ministry was difficult. It was a struggle to be a Christian and to be a member of the Christian community. The church had many unanswered prayers. They would not have read the words of Paul describing the faithfulness of God to imply that God would quickly answer prayers according the intent of the petitioner.

In my study of this text three phrases stood out for me in describing what Paul’s understanding of the faithfulness of God. I hope that you are not too surprised by them.

Enriched

Paul begins his letter as he does all the others (except his letter to the church in Galatia) with a prayer of thanksgiving. But this prayer is different from all the others. The apostle to the Gentiles does not thank God for the good works or the outstanding faith of the people in Corinth. The focus of this thanksgiving is different. Paul praises the God who is at work in them. Paul is writing this letter because of the turmoil and flagrant sin in the church but he does not scold them. He announces to them that he has faith in the faithfulness of God. Paul believes that God, first will be faithful in enriching them.

The Greek term for enriching is usually used in reference to making someone wealthy. However since Paul says that God is enriching the church in its speaking and in its knowledge. He is writing this to the average member of the Corinthian congregation who was feeling inadequate. They were holding onto these negative feelings about themselves because some teacher had visited them and told them that growth in the spiritual life requires the obtainment of a higher form of wisdom through an ecstatic experience.

Most of us can appreciate the Corinthians’ struggle. We as a society have a deep gnawing sense of inadequacy. We compensate for it through bright expressive clothing that attracts attention. We drive high powered cars with an amplified exhaust system. We withdraw into our own little world and do not dare to take chances or risks. Young boys express their inadequacy by bullying their younger class mates. Girls do it through catty chats that review every major and minor flaw in the personality of another girl.

If you question my assumption consider the purpose of inspirational quotes. They are many that have been used to inspire women and men to achieve their goals. We do not know the source of many of them. Any record of the person who first spoke the words has long been lost but their wisdom survives.

Failure is taking the path that everyone else does, success is making your own path.

Unknown

Don't judge those who try and fail, judge those who fail to try

Unknown.

However, many others were spoken by men or women who achieved greatness in politics, science, literature, business or the arts.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

Thomas Alva Edison

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The authority of words come from the greatness of the author as much as the wisdom of the saying. We rely on inspirational quotes to lift our eyes to see past the obstacles and barriers that are before us. We use them to convince ourselves that we have the wisdom, the cunning, the courage to accomplish the challenge before use. Paul offers his own version of inspiration by telling the Corinthians that they have been enriched in every way. They have all they wisdom that they are ever going to need. They posses all the knowledge that they need to have.

This is as true today as it was back in Corinth. Publication after publication tries to sell us on the idea that if we just knew this one bit of information, if we would learn one more technique, just one other form of prayer, we would master the spiritual life.

Spiritual Gifts

The quest for greater wisdom and knowledge was also connected with an emphasis on spiritual gifts. He gives a list of them in the twelfth chapter. The higher wisdom and greater knowledge was gained through the use of spiritual gifts especially prophecy and speaking in tongues. The false teachers attempted to convince the people in Corinth that unless they had certain gifts that they would not be able to know God at a more advanced level.

We are a technique driven society. We believe that success can only be achieved if we master the technique. We have dissected every movement in our factories, offices, the ball field, the golf course and anywhere else people are working and competing. Our hope is to find the most efficiently effective technique to success. We have even transferred that mindset into the church and even into our spiritual life. With one breath we are saying the prayer is nothing but talking to God but then we write volumes of books and conduct a plethora of seminars and workshops to teach various techniques of prayer in the pursuit of an effective prayer life.

On the flip side of this, I have heard many people from every congregation that I have served defend their refusal to serve on a particular committee or in a particular role by claiming that they are not qualified. They do not have the training or the expertise to fulfill the role and responsibility. Paul tells us that we have every spiritual gift that we need to accomplish his ministry

Strength

Notice the trend. God is faithful in giving us the abilities and the tools we need to live the Christian life. We only lack one other trait—strength to the end. There is a long time between the promise and fulfillment. Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah. God promised them a land and a son. They only saw glimpses of the land. They traveled through but they never really took ownership of it. They had to wait several years before Sarah would bear them a son. Moses had to flee for his life after murdering an Egyptian. He tended sheep for 40 years before God spoke to him from a burning bush. Jeremiah was thrown into prison for telling the king that the city of Jerusalem was going to be conquered. In another letter to the church in Corinth Paul would describe the type of strength that they would need.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Co 1:8–11

During my search for a story about God’s faithfulness I also discovered a story from a mother who believed in the faithfulness of God even in the presence of unanswered prayer. She writes

Due to the difficulties I’ve faced (some of my own making and some not) I have been “refined as silver is refined”.

I have gone through such trials as cancer by age 21, an unfaithful husband, the death of two children and the great challenge of being married to an alcoholic who doesn’t yet know Christ… but God is so faithful! No matter what crisis has arisen in my life, God has given me His Word to encourage and strengthen me.

He has enabled me to fight off self-pity and bitterness through His Word.

That really is closer to the thoughts of the apostle Paul than any of the other stories. Paul’s reference to the faithfulness of God comes not from answered prayers but during times of unanswered prayer.

God’s Faithfulness

I hope that you have seen the contrast between what God promises and what we expect. God does not promise to make us rich. He does not promise us health and vitality. He does not promise that we would become community leaders. He does not commitment himself to protect us from accidental harm. However, he does promise that he will be faithful to enrich for teaching and knowledge, endow us with spiritual gifts, and give us strength that we need to stand to the end. The purpose of this is not for our immediate enjoyment but so that we will be blameless on the day of Christ Jesus. The Greek word used there also conveys the idea of someone or something that is completely guiltless.

Times will come when we will question whether God is at work. We will wonder why circumstances seem so stacked against us but rather than doubt his promises, we are encouraged to place our faith in his faithfulness.

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1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390


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