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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
 Singapore
 ferc.org.sg
 
Preached At:
 
 
Title:The Source and Strength of Our Faith
Text:LD 25 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2021
Added:2022-05-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 265 - The Majesty and Holiness of God
TH 145 - The Spirit Breathes Upon the Word
TH 337 - O Spirit of the Living God

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Some people say we need smarter people in the church. Yes, those with PhDs, MDs, JDs, LlBs, MBChBs, DBAs - after all, they are the people who can understand the gospel. Then, we need rich people in the church. Yes, those who are successful in life - because they can attract more rich people to the church, so the church can grow. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to have famous people too? Maybe even someone from one of Singapore’s first families - that way, the gospel will have credibility - people will want to become Christians. If anyone can have faith in the gospel, it’d be them!

Now, if I really believed those things, I’d be hauled up to a heresy trial by the elders. But while I don’t believe in this, do you believe in this? There are people who do! Some have the idea that the gospel can be understood by smart people. Paul had to deal with this problem in Corinth. Some in church looked up to the rich and intellectual. Surely, these wise people will understand and believe!

We come to the part of the Heidelberg Catechism that asks from where does faith come? As sinners, our good works are not good enough to save us. Instead, we must believe that God came to live a perfectly obedient life and die a perfect death for me. Only then, will we be declared innocent - saved. But from where does this faith come? And the Heidelberg answers like the Bible - from the Holy Spirit, who works that faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and strengthens our faith by the sacraments. 

In today’s message, I will be dealing more with the first, but will touch on the second. In today’s passage, there are 3 facts we learn about the source of faith. Firstly, our faith is founded on the simple preaching of the gospel. Secondly, only spiritual people can understand the gospel. Thirdly, it’s the Holy Spirit that enables us to understand the gospel.

Firstly, our faith is founded on the simple preaching of the gospel. When Paul came to the Corinthians, he preached the word plainly, in the midst of weakness. Paul was convicted of the sufficiency of the gospel to save - that’s why he preached it straightforwardly to the Corinthians. Verse 1 - when he came to them, he didn’t come with bombastic words or human wisdom - He was not a salesman or a philosopher but a witness. He came testifying of God. And a good witness reports plainly.  He didn’t embellish or dumb down the gospel - he preached it plainly in its entirety - sin, Savior, salvation. And verse 2 - he purposed not to know anything else except the gospel. Now, Paul was not uneducated. He studied with the greatest Jewish thinkers of his time. He was a Roman citizen and had a classical education. But so important was the gospel that he willed himself not to teach anything else. Verse 4 says that he was not out to trick or deceive them. He simply came preaching the good news that Jesus saves. And he faced challenges doing it. Verse 3 suggests that when Paul was there, he was weak and trembling. He may have been sick, or there was much persecution. It was frightening.

But what was the result? Even though it was simple and earnest preaching, God saved many. Verse 4 says the power of the Holy Spirit was demonstrated. You may remember the account. In Acts 18, when Paul went to Corinth, he spoke at the synagogue. They kicked him out so he went next door to preach. And from there, many believed - including Crispus the president of the synagogue which had kicked him out. And Paul baptized him. The Jews were not happy so they rioted. The Greeks became unhappy so they rioted and beat up Crispus’ replacement at the synagogue - Sosthenes. And guess what? He also became a Christian. During Paul’s 18 months in Corinth, many believed. Why? Because Paul was very eloquent and quoted a lot of Greek philosophers to impress the people? Did he speak about how to increase their investment? How to deal with work stress? How to cultivate the habit of a successful person? No - he preached the gospel, and the power of the Spirit was demonstrated. People believed.

Because of this, Paul told the Corinthians and us not to think that salvation and understand depends on a person’s intellect. Verse 5 - “your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Today, the trend is to dumb down the message of the gospel. There are so many preaching strategies that center around emotions and entertainment. These may yield a response, but not faith. It’s said these means draw people in. And when you draw them in, then you can win them to Jesus. 

Well, what you draw them with is what you draw them to. Many churches today are seeker-sensitive. Let’s make the church palatable to unbelievers. Don’t talk so much about sin. Dumb down the worship. Attract them - the Psalter and old hymns will never do that. What you draw them with is what you draw them to. Years ago in China, missionaries gave people rice when they came to church. But when the rice ran out, so did these so-called Christians out the door. That’s why verse 6 says, the wisdom of the world comes to nothing.

When people understand and believe the preaching of the gospel, they will be saved. But not everyone who hears is saved. Even the smart ones. Why? Because only spiritual people can understand the gospel. That’s the second point.

Paul compares 2 kinds of people. Verse 14 says “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.”  Meaning, the natural man - the strictly biological man - the one with body and mind, cannot understand spiritual things. To him, it is foolish. Spiritual things must be spiritually understood. It doesn’t mean he is foolish - he could be very smart. But the gospel - which is spiritual can only be spiritually understood. And all men are spiritually dead. 

So we shouldn’t be discouraged when unbelievers don’t understand the gospel, or they may understand it but reject it. Because they have no innate capacity to believe. Those who can understand spiritual things are seen in verse 13 - “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Paul was saying, that when he preached, he was not using man’s words but God’s words. And the Holy Spirit would explain these spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. In other words, the gospel is believed by those who have the Spirit. To everyone else, it’s foolishness - it’s a mystery. That’s what verse 7 says. It is the wisdom of God - but it was a mystery that has been hidden. To many, they won’t believe.

If you recall, when the disciples asked Jesus - why are you speaking in parables? Jesus said in Mark 4:11-12 - “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” 

In other words, the gospel is meant to be understood by some and not all. Those who truly understand, it is like a pearl of great price; a hidden treasure; a lost coin. That’s why, believers here - intellectual or not intellectual - believe in it and we find it so wise. Why? Because the Spirit is in us, we respond to spiritual truth. But many will find it foolish. To cry out to a crucified man to be a savior, is as foolish as dialing a childcare center during a fire. Remember, the Jews and Gentiles were being confronted with a very foolish message. Jesus Christ - yes, the person who died a criminal’s death on a cross - an instrument of torture and execution method - he will save you from your sins. Sounds positively foolish. If I wanted to start a religion, I would’ve never started with this foolish concept.

This is why in verse 8, we’re told that none of the princes of this world understood who Christ was, because if they understood, they’d never have crucified him. And how ironic that the Corinthian Christians were so enamored by these high powered smart people, when Herod, the High Priests, and Pontius Pilate crucified him. Power, wealth, and smarts don’t make one more receptive to the gospel. The most intelligent person can’t grasp the gospel without being a spiritual person. 

Only the Spirit of God, can give us the faith to believe the gospel. That’s the third point. Verse 11 - “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” So while the natural man knows only natural things, those with God’s spirit can know spiritual things. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus said, “I thank Thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.” Who can understand the gospel? Spiritual people! And people are spiritual not through effort or intelligence, but by having something given to him.Last week, we saw Ezekiel 36:26-27 which says that God is the one that gives people a new Spirit. This is what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus in John 3:5-6 - except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God - those born of flesh are flesh, but those born of the Spirit are spiritual.

The reason why we could even believe in the gospel is because God has made us alive by the Spirit. And the reason why others don’t believe the gospel when it’s preached is because God has not made them alive by the Spirit.  And to many unbelievers, the gospel is foolish – verse 14 – the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The gospel can only be spiritually understood.

But because we have the Spirit, we can understand the gospel, the fullness of the gospel - we believe and understand the wonderful things that God has in store for us. Verse 9-10 say - “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

There are so many wonderful things of God – human eye has not seen, human ear has not heard, human heart has not conceived. But these things God has prepared for us to know – and it is the Spirit who reveals them to know. And the thing that we see here is this – the Spirit searches even the deep things of God. It was to us that God revealed the gospel by his Spirit. It is the Spirit that searches out everything and reveals to us God’s deep secrets.

Dearly beloved, what are some applications for us? Firstly, I think it should be a realization to us that we are not smart because we have believed the gospel. Salvation it’s by the Spirit alone. He gives us the faith to believe. And that works thankfulness in us - that God would reveal his gospel - that we should believe. That God counted us his people, to love us and give us the gift of His Spirit. 

Secondly, it is a call for us to pray more. Jesus told his disciples to pray for the Spirit. Do you know of someone who doesn’t understand the gospel? Maybe you’re here, and you think Christianity is interesting, but you can’t believe? Pray. Luke 11:13 says - “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

Thirdly, it is a reminder to us to be faithful in preaching the gospel. Not to be surprised when people do not believe; but to be prayerful. And to be assured that to those to whom the Spirit is given, they will understand and they will believe. He works faith through the preaching of the gospel.

Fourthly, when we come face to face with the gospel as Christians, again and again, let us deepen in our devotion to Christ. Every now and again, and with increasing regularity, we have gospel messages. Let the Spirit deepen our devotion to Christ. That our faith would be strengthened. But we don’t merely hear the gospel in the Word, we see the gospel in the Sacraments. Every two months in our church we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Every now and again, we witness baptisms. 

Just as the Israelites year after year would eat of that Passover lamb and remember how its blood painted on the door posts and beam, warded off the Angel of Death. God delivered them from Egypt - they were no longer slaves. They were freed by great miracles, but especially by the blood of a lamb. And this memory would cause them to love God, to live righteously, to be thankful for all his blessings, and to seek only him and not the idols of the land. And not to be crude, but as they witnessed the circumcisions of their children, they remembered that God had made them a holy people - to remove the covering of sin from them. They would also remember the God’s Words that their hearts should be circumcised. That what was done outwardly should be done inwardly - that they should not live sinfully if God by blood has delivered them. This is the same for us. 

When the Word of God is spoken to explain how Christ washes us of our sins; how his body was broken for us and his blood shed for us - our faith is strengthened. It is the Spirit working in the Word we hear and the Word we see demonstrated. We are being confronted again with the gospel. We are frequently weak and find it hard to live our Christian lives - but Christ has died for us to give us victory - he has forgiven us of all our sins. He’s taking us to heaven. And we find strength through frequent reminders. 

You know, when a woman looks at her wedding ring, she remembers her wedding day, her vows; she thinks upon her spouse and how much he means to her - the ring is no longer just a ring - but a token of his love to her to cherish her. That he will take care of her, that he will be faithful, that he will never leave her.

But dearly beloved, while the ring is an earthly token of an imperfect spouse, we have these tokens from a perfect spouse - the Lord Jesus. If you are weak and feeling unworthy as a child of God, Jesus assures you that he has washed you clean. Nothing you can do will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. When you are struggling here on earth, Jesus assures you that he has prepared a great supper for you in heaven. Why are you chasing that which will perish and rot here on earth? Build up treasures in heaven. Be rich toward God. 

Dearly beloved, only the Spirit can strengthen our faith by making us understand the emblems of Christ’s love. Next Lord’s Day, we will be having 2 baptisms. May you, as you watch, be reminded of how Christ has washed you, when you came to believe on him, when the Spirit opened your spiritual eyes.

Sermon Outline:

1. Our Faith Is Founded on the Simple Preaching of the Gospel

A. Paul preached plainly and weakly

B. God saved sinners powerfully

2. Only Spiritual People Can Understand the Gospel

A. Spiritual vs natural

B. The gospel is a mystery understood only by some

3. The Holy Spirit Enables Us to Understand the Gospel

A. We understand by the Spirit

B. The wonders we understand




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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