Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A GREAT CHURCH HAS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY”

First Corinthians 16.9

 

When the Apostle Paul wrote his first Corinthian letter he was in the city of Philippi. However, he informed his readers that his plan was to tarry in the city of Ephesus before resuming his trip to Corinth.[1] Before we turn to our text for this morning to examine Paul’s explanation for remaining in Ephesus, I would like you to turn to First Corinthians 13.12, where we read Paul’s revelation about what we think we understand now in comparison to what we will someday understand. He writes, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

May I point out several details that I think will help you with life, and with this message? First, understand that the word translated “glass” in this verse is the Greek word for mirror. Therefore, when you read this, think looking glass. Only, in Paul’s day looking glasses were not high quality combinations of smooth glass with a reflective metallic backing like our mirrors have. In Paul’s day, they were polished bronze, with even the best available being very much inferior in quality to what we take for granted.[2] As well, take note of the word “darkly,” which translates the Greek word ainigma. Our English word enigma comes directly from this word. What is an enigma? It is a dark saying. Thus, Paul is pointing out that at the very best Christians have only a dim grasp of reality in this life.

We think we know so much. We think we see everything so clearly. However, Paul declares to us that even the best of us have a limited understanding of what we think we grasp of reality. What do the unsaved know of reality, in comparison to believers? Far less than believers, I am afraid. Unsaved people tend to assume that what they perceive with their five senses is all there is, and that which is unseen and unseeable is not real. Believers, genuinely born again people, at least recognize that faith lays hold of things not seen and of things not seeable. As Hebrews 11.1 informs us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Imagine a lost person living like there is no tomorrow, living like there is no Hell, living like there is no God, living like there is no Judgment Day. They are so confident they know what is going on. The great tragedy for the unsaved is that they do not even see through a glass darkly. In fact, they are blind to the realities of life, the existence of that which cannot be seen, and their own unreadiness for eternity.

Christian, are you willing to admit that since our habit is to walk too much by sight and not enough by faith, we must constantly deal with a distorted understanding of reality? Think about it. How many people claim they cannot tithe? How many people insist they cannot witness to the lost? How many people protest that they cannot faithfully attend church? However, if those claims are true we should throw our Bibles away. The reality we must come face to face with and address is that spiritual things are rarely as they seem to be, and almost never are the way they appear to us to be. That is what Paul is asserting to his readers in First Corinthians 13.12. And it must be so, since both faith and hope for the Christian is based upon spiritual reality being more than what little we can see with our eyes and grasp with our other senses. At present, “we see through a glass, darkly.”

With that understood to some degree, turn to our text for this morning, First Corinthians 16.9: “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” We are a congregation comprised of individuals, as the Apostle Paul was an individual. However, do not lose sight of the fact that Paul was almost never alone in his service to God, but was almost always accompanied by others. Therefore, what we can learn from his approach to ministry is very applicable to our own situation with our fellow church members.

Ephesus, the city Paul was bound for, was a tough city in which to serve God. It was a city that was wholly given over to idolatry, and was a city that thrived on the profits made from idolatry. Any efforts to reach the idolaters of Ephesus with the gospel were met with the stiffest kind of resistance, a combination of religious prejudice and financial interest that blinded most Ephesians to the truth of the gospel. Therefore, we can understand that while there was great opportunity to advance the gospel in Ephesus, there was also very stiff opposition. Are you reminded of Los Angeles, and of the San Gabriel Valley? I hope so. In our text, Paul makes mention of his opportunity. Take just a moment to notice that the Apostle describes the opportunity found in Ephesus in two ways: First, he indicates to his Corinthian readers that “a great door . . . is opened unto me.” This great opportunity was Paul’s reason for remaining at Ephesus until Pentecost. You see, referring to it as a door, the Apostle is informing his readers that he has discovered that God has given him an entrance, so to speak, into the hearts of men in Ephesus. The same is true for us. As well, Paul indicates to his readers that his opportunity is also “effectual.” What does he mean by the word effectual? Effectual means that “the opportunities were such as could be turned to good effect.”[3] I take this to mean that Paul had good reason to believe that he not only had audiences to preach to and to teach, but he was seeing evidence of sinners actually coming to Christ. The same is true for us.

Lest you think the gospel ministry is peaches and cream, take note of the last phrase of our text: “and there are many adversaries.” Here is the spiritual insight that comes from realizing what First Corinthians 13.12 and seeing through a glass darkly refers to. Most people wrongly conclude that the presence of many adversaries means there are few opportunities, or that there are no opportunities to advance the gospel. Were that true, the gospel would never have been advanced, since there has almost always been great opposition to the advance of the gospel. My friend, opposition is almost never an indication that there is no opportunity. Was that the case, why did Paul and Silas sing and rejoice in the Philippian jail in the face of opposition and being severely beaten? They knew opposition is no indication there is no opportunity.

As well, consider the last half of First Peter 2.20, where we read, “if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” Thus, the Christian faith recognizes that it is entirely possible to do well and to suffer great opposition for doing well. What appears to some to be bad things does happen to Christians who are doing right. Why so? We are in a spiritual warfare and there is great opposition to our efforts to serve and glorify God, and to advance the gospel. Let me say it once more, to drive the point home: Opposition is almost never an indication that there is no opportunity. Such is the nature of the spiritual conflict we are engaged in that advances and progress is made at great personal cost. However, the personal cost is worth it in return for the salvation of lost souls, for sinners knowing the forgiveness of their sins, and for God being greatly glorified by our willingness to sacrifice to reach the lost.

Therefore, I am confident to say that we have before us a great opportunity to serve God, and that we are here for such a time as this. What will be needed from each of you to seize the day we live in, and to take advantage of the particular economic and social conditions that are faced by the lost people we are trying to reach, can be summed up in three requirements:

 

First, THERE IS THE REQUIREMENT FOR COMMUNION

 

We live in an intensely private and closed-off-to-ourselves society. Whereas people used to reserve their greatest fears and dreads for the dangers of being alone and vulnerable, folks unaffected by the gospel these days are tragically confused about the important differences between the personal and the private, seeking to somehow live their lives with some connection to others, while at the same time keeping everyone at arm’s distance and making sure that as few people know the details of their lives as possible. Of course, such isolation is a classic symptom of sin, which not only separates between you and your God, but also separates between you and other people. The gospel which we undertake to spread as a church remedies sin’s effect in the following two ways:

First, when a sinner responds to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and embraces Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Second Peter 1.4 begins, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature. . . .” Let me point out to you that the Greek word translated “partakers” in this verse is the usual Greek word for communing, for sharing, for jointly participating in something. Thus, when a sinner comes to Jesus, one of the wonderful consequences of being born again is becoming someone who actually shares God’s life with Him. The barrier erected by our sin is gone! Thus, the real Christian, the genuine Christian, does commune with God in a profoundly important way, making that same Christian responsible to exercise himself unto godliness, First Timothy 4.7. How does one exercise himself unto godliness? By intentionally and consciously cultivating his communion relationship with God. This is why the believer reads his Bible every day and prays. This why the believer cultivates an attitude of praying without ceasing, and is determined to meditate upon scripture and the things of God day in and day out. Therefore, the Christian does not seek to commune with God so that he will have communion with God, but the reverse. It is because the Christian has communion with God, sharing God’s very nature with Him, that we cultivate the enjoyment of our communion by our devotional life and by our involvement in the body life of Christ’s church.

As well as the vertical relationship enjoyed by the Christian, there are also the horizontal relationships we do well to cultivate. I am particularly referring to the relationships the child of God has with those with whom he or she will spend eternity, especially fellow church members. We know that sinners come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as individuals. Even if four friends come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the same church service, they must each come to Christ as individuals, since two people cannot enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ holding each other’s hands, so to speak. Your personal faith makes the difference. After that happens, however, it is Christ’s plan in the Great Commission for that new Christian to be baptized and incorporated into the body of Christ, becoming a member of a church with other Christians. And the relationships that are supposed to exist with other Christians in the church congregation setting? Christians are to attend church and exhort one another, Hebrews 10.25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” As well, Christians are to love one another. In John 13.35, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” My friends, this speaks of the communion of believers in a church setting, living out our lives in service to God and being engaged in ministry with each other, ministering grace to each other, and standing up for each other. If you are going seize upon the great opportunity afforded us, and deal with the opposition that is sure to come, you must commune with God and you must commune with your fellow church members. We are in this together.

 

Next, THERE IS THE REQUIREMENT FOR CONSECRATION

 

Consecration is a term that most people these days are not very familiar with, though it most certainly does communicate a Biblical concept. The word consecrate refers to something that is dedicated, to something that is devoted, to something that is sacred. The verb form of the word has to do with devoting to a high or sacred purpose.[4]

In a Christian or scriptural context, consecration refers to the believer’s determination to embrace and enjoy God’s plan for his personal holiness. “It is no exaggeration to say that the New Testament teems with what have been called ‘imperatives of sanctification’, addressed, of course, to Christian believers.”[5] Here are but a few examples from Paul’s letter to the Romans, as well as two verses in Hebrews, to illustrate:

 

Romans 6.11: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 

It is in this verse that the Apostle first uses an imperative verb in his letter to the Romans, for the purpose of commanding his readers to a yieldedness that will result in personal holiness.[6]

 

Romans 6.19: “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”

 

Romans 12.1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

 

Hebrews 12.14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

 

Finally, notice the end of God’s corrective chastisement of believers, in contrast to many earthly fathers, according to Hebrews 12.10: “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he [God] for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”

Thus, it is clearly seen throughout the New Testament, from Matthew 1.21, where the angel tells Joseph that the Savior to be born shall “save His people from their sins,” to the book of the Revelation, that Jesus did not do what He did on Calvary’s cross so people could sin with impunity. Jesus saves people from their sins, and He insists that His people consecrate themselves to personal holiness. As First Peter 1.15 declares, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”

 

Finally, THERE IS THE REQUIREMENT FOR COMMITMENT

 

For you to be able to handle the fierce opposition that we must face when we serve God, for you to be able to seize upon the great opportunities that are before us, you must be in communion with God and your fellow believers, and you must consecrate your life to personal holiness. Also, please, recognize that the requirement for commitment is integral to the previous two requirements.

One of the very sad realities of life is the presence of so many who are determined to serve God, who profess to have and to show a great commitment, but who think commitment is possible apart from communion with God and with other Christians, and who think commitment is meaningful apart from consecration to personal holiness.

My friends, how on earth can anyone be so foolish as to think he can serve God without communing with God, to think he can serve God without communing with God’s people, and to think he can serve God while ignoring God’s most obvious moral attribute, holiness? Yet it happens all the time. To put it in the language of young people, to truly be committed to God you must be connected to Him and to His people and you must reflect His holy nature in the life you live.

Those things clearly established, I direct your attention to First Corinthians 4.1-2:

 

1      Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

2      Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

 

If I may, let me set aside any consideration of the fine points related to Paul’s use of the words “ministers” and “stewards,” to focus your attention on two things of primary importance to us today. First, and you see this in the last phrase of verse 2, is the absolute necessity of faithfulness. Though I will not seek to prove it to you today, scholars have written extensively on the connection between faith and faithfulness. Thus, it would have been inconceivable to anyone in Paul’s day for someone to claim genuine faith while failing to demonstrate faithfulness. Faithfulness in what? In the duties, obligations, and responsibilities associated with the Christian life. The Corinthians had been falling down on the job terribly, and Paul here sets them straight once and for all. Faithfulness is required! Second, and you can pick up on this in verse 1, reference is made to the mysteries of God. One of the mysteries of God that Paul was privileged to reveal in his writings was the mystery of the church, the body of Christ, this congregation that assembles four times a week. If you have read the New Testament at all, you are familiar with the troubles that existed in the Corinthian congregation, with all their squabbling, with their divisions, with their misplaced priorities, and so forth and so on. They had love problems. They had marital problems. They had spiritual gifts problems. They were confused about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. They had issues related to airing out their dirty laundry in front of lost people. So, what did Paul do to help straighten those people out? He first showed them the importance of their church, using most of chapter three to do that. Then, here at the beginning of chapter four, he stresses the importance of faithfulness.

Though it is important to be faithful on your job, Paul is not stressing faithfulness at work here. Though it is important to be faithful to your wife, Paul is not stressing faithfulness in marriage here. In the context of what he wrote about in chapter three, and his reference to the mysteries of God in 4.1, it is very clear that Paul is stressing to the Corinthian Christians the absolute necessity of faithfulness in their church relationship.

Are you faithful in your attendance to the house of God, finding ways to be in church instead of finding excuses for missing church? Are you faithful in your ministry in connection with your church, or do you sell yourself short by convincing yourself that merely attending takes the place of ministry? Attendance is not ministry; any more than showing up at the office is work. Are you faithful in your tithes and offerings? Do you faithfully minister grace to others when you come and when you go, both before a service begins and after a service concludes?

 

Communion with God and communion with other Christians, the vertical relationship and the horizontal relationships. Consecration to personal holiness, as God is holy. Then, there is commitment to faithfulness. Have you ever noticed how intolerant women are of the unfaithfulness of husbands? And rightly so. Ever notice how intolerant employers are of unfaithfulness by their workers? And rightly so. So, why is it that faithfulness is not highly regarded by people who claim to be Christians?

The reality that we face, though since we see through a glass darkly we may not always recognize it, is that God has placed us into a wonderful situation in which we have great opportunities before us to reach the lost and see a wonderful church grow. For that to happen, however, we must be able to overcome the opposition that we will face as individuals and as a corporate body. We will not be able to overcome our opposition, and we will not be able to lay hold of our opportunities, unless and until we commune with our God and with each other, until we are consecrated to personal holiness, and until we are committed to faithfulness.

To whom much is given much is required. Jesus said that, and the truth still applies. It will cost us dearly to face the day, but the rewards for doing so will be great. I challenge you this morning, let’s do this thing. My unsaved friend, is God dealing with you about the state of your soul, about your need for forgiveness, about coming to Jesus? He died on the cross for you. He rose from the dead three days later. He did those things to provide for your personal salvation. Now is the time to come to Jesus.



[1] 1 Corinthians 16.5-8

[2] Anthony C. Thiselton, First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical And Pastoral Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), page 232.

[3] Charles Hodge, Commentary On The First Epistle To The Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprint, 1976), page 367.

[4] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 388.

[5] John Carrick, The Imperative Of Preaching: A Theology Of Sacred Rhetoric, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002) page 86.

[6] Ibid.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org