October 31, 2012

“Other Foundation can no man lay.” (11)

(1 Corinthians 3:11-23)

Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Special event service

In the name of Him who is, and who was, and is to come, Jesus Christ. Our text for this Reformation Day evening is 1 Cor. 3:11-23, reading as follows:

Dear fellow redeemed sinners, saved not by your own works, but by the glorious works of God’s only-begotten Son. As we read in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, there were numerous factions in the big congregation there (1:12). There were those boasting of being founding members brought to faith under the apostle Paul’s preaching. Some were claiming to be “new and improved” students under Apollos’ additional instruction. Still others were adding some sort of relation to St. Peter. A few, not to be outdone, boasted that they were of “Christ,” although obviously Christ had not personally preached there nor baptized any. They were only out to “one up” all the others. Yes, there were many troubles there. The price of peace and orthodoxy is eternal vigilance. Paul writes and promptly puts them back into place, pointing to Christ alone, and to no man, including himself. In our text for this evening he declares –
“Other Foundation can no man lay.” (11)
We have a firm Foundation. Paul begins: For other foundation can no man lay. Oh, there are many other attempts at making a foundation. There are the various gods of all the other religions. Then there are those who profess a lesser Christ: Jesus the prophet, preacher, professor, performer. These people offer up their works for merits and bring sacrifices when they fail, as we poor human beings always do. Man’s own poor work is the basis of the religion of fallen man, and it forms the basis of all pagan religions – our works and our efforts to fix things.
Paul says instead: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Unlike all others, the Christian Church is built on Jesus Christ. It holds Him up as unique, not merely as some great person, but as divine, as the very God-man, who can accomplish all for sinners. The Son is sent by the heavenly Father Himself for this purpose (John 3:16). He is the Fulfillment of God’s promise (Gal. 4:4-5). Quoting Ps. 122:22, Peter identifies Him to the temple authorities as “the Stone … set at naught of you builders, which has become the Head of the Corner” (Acts 4:11). He further declares to them: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The only firm Foundation, the only solid Rock of Refuge, is Jesus Christ. He came to redeem all (Gal. 4:4-5). On the cross He confidently exclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He had accomplished His mission to save us, yes, to pay the punishment of all sinners. All this is His doing without our deeds in any part. Yes, if therefore every imagined good work we do be burned away, yet we are still saved by grace in Christ. That is salvation; the other things are sanctification, done out of appreciation and thankfulness for what He has done for us. Thus Paul can conclude: He himself shall be saved! (v. 15b)
Paul goes on: Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. The Great Judgment shall reveal what we actually have built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who believe on Christ cannot help but respond with works and deeds of every kind. The Holy Spirit always produces fruits of faith. At the moment some deeds may be motivated by pride or perhaps by pressure, such as to join the group in donating to some charity. That is straw. On the Last Day God shall sort all and reveal everything. Hear Jesus state before all gathered: “I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matt. 25:35f). Those actions shall stand out like gold and silver and platinum and diamonds and other precious stones and be rewarded by God. But all the rest, things not done in response to Him, although they may have had some value to the recipients on earth, shall be burned away. They receive no reward. Now is the time to live as Christians, so that on that day we will not stand embarrassed before our fellow Christians and the unbelieving world. Knowing how dearly Christ ransomed us should motivate us to do many good works for Him.
Having a firm Foundation we are built up a spiritual temple. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? We have the Spirit’s help in living a Christian life and producing truly good works which will endure. So Peter writes: Ye also as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). This begins in us not by our own decision, but is kindled by God the Holy Spirit, as Paul acknowledges later in this epistle. Indeed, no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:3b). The Spirit continues to dwell in us, to live in us and guide us. Thus good works are not optional. What believer will intentionally neglect them and be an embarrassment to his God? Where faith reigns, fruits of faith flow forth. It is a natural law.
But there is the danger of deception: If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. There is something we term “cheap grace.” People talk about God’s grace and goodness and love toward us, and think that since their redemption did not cost them anything, they may now live as they like and “charge it” to God’s credit card. “Since God has redeemed me I can be as negligent as I wish. I can behave however I wish. Jesus will cover it and all will be fine.” Such wicked take advantage of His love, abuse His goodness and patience, and shall discover it to their eternal regret. To the suggestion that we freely sin because we are no longer under the works of Law, the apostle cries, God forbid!” (Rom. 6:15) Does a baby intend to let his parents carry him everywhere or put him in a stroller forever? Imagine, there he is, twenty-six years old, his hairy legs hanging out over the stroller! Never! Observe how babies act. They is not even satisfied with crawling, but desire to walk, run, play, imitate all the adults around them. They do not want to remain in their infant state. And so it should be with Christians. We are not satisfied, but desire to grow in the faith. There is the real danger of going back to false teachings. This is easy to happen with all the false teachings around us. The pastors of some denominations, despite singing, “Amazing Grace,” promptly point their members to their own works and thus twist sanctification. It is so easy for the hearers to forget Christ and then trust at least in part on their own works. One cult actually teaches that Jesus only bought us a “second chance,” and now it is up to us. A few may do hypocritical works to please others, but these shall be exposed later by God who knows the heart, and they shall be burned. The “worldly wise” may accept some of Scripture which agrees with their reason while mocking the rest of it.
Lutherans have often been falsely accused of rejecting good works, because we do not declare that we are saved by faith and works. Instead, Lutherans are always babbling about Jesus. We teach grace and glory in Christ in order to stir up people to do works for the right reason, as a thank you to our Savior. With changed hearts and a new spirit, the hearers proceed to do truly good works. Their works now spring from a thankful heart rather than a selfish heart, one thinking thereby to gain heaven or at least receive a special favor here from God in return. They muse: “Maybe I’ll get a bigger mansion or a better location in heaven!” Christians do any good deeds because of love for Christ who first loved them (1 John 4:19). As workers in God’s temple, we are active. We do not bring forth incense, animals, etc. but as Hosea directs: “So will we render the calves of our lips” (14:2). We bring forth joyous hymns of thanks and psalms of praise. Peter urges: Ye should shew for the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Pet. 2:8). What we do, we do not do for our own glory or only do when someone is watching us to commend us. Paul asserts: God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 6:14a). Jesus exhorts: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and – praise you? No! – glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). That is our motivation and the desire of every true Christian in whatever congregation he may find himself.
To these people who have such genuine works, there is also held out the promise of great reward. All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. Of such fruits of faith, be they alms (Matt. 6:4), prayers (Matt. 6:6). fasting (Matt. 6:18), or whatever, Jesus assures: “Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:18b). On that great day we shall hear what good others did, things which we never knew or even suspected. These acts, these true works of faith, these shall survive the flame. It is these works which Jesus extols at the Judgment. Yes, He publicly praises His followers for all which they have done (Matt. 25). Christ is not only our Redeemer, but He is also our Lord and Leader to whom we should listen and imitate. And He is also a Rewarder, rewarding us for the works which the Holy Spirit produced within us. Jesus states: “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man as his works shall be” (Rev. 22:12). Already now He provides all things needful as we daily experience. He shall also continue to do this for His own through all eternity.
At the Reformation Luther rejected “meritorious” works and indulgences, whereby a person could supposedly gain God’s favor. It is a dangerous idea that we can at least in some small part earn our salvation. Every little pinch which we claim to have done is a pinch stolen from Christ’s deserved glory. Salvation is in no part our boast. Luther steadfastly steered his hearers back to Christ. Man’s works, the saints, even Mary were not sufficient. Look to Christ Jesus, the Son of God, from whom pardon and peace alone proceed. He is the only Foundation. Furthermore He is a firm and secure Foundation, while all other ground is sinking sand. Comforted and encouraged by Him, may we bring forth many fruits to His glory. Amen.
HYMNS: 262, 460, 266
October 31, 2012