A few weeks ago I asked: “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your church?”
Remember that question? Usually the first thing that pops into your mind reveals what you feel most important; that is why it is the first thing on your mind. Yet, today, I have a new question for you: What is the most important feature of your church? (Not, “what do you feel is?... but what [actually] is…) What motivated you to roll out of bed this morning, get dressed, hop into the car, and drive here? What do you expect (or hope) to hear and learn and take home today? What is the rock-solid truth on which you live life? Answer those questions and you will discover the most important feature of your church. More than that, answer those questions and you will discover the mission (or purpose) of your church.
Having one specific mission (or purpose) provides a sense of direction. Know your mission and your will cherish worship more. Know your mission and you will know what makes your congregation unique. Know your mission and you will rally around this purpose and act in ways to live this mission. If you (and the person next to you and the person next to them, and so on…) lock sights on the same, specific goal of your congregation, then many individuals work together to put this mission into practice.
Know what your mission is? Have in mind one concrete statement of what your congregation aims to do? Let’s listen to our reading from 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23. Then you can Remain Focused… on Your Ministry! You are Built on Jesus Christ so that you can Build on Jesus Christ!
And yes, imagine a building— a house, Wal-Mart, Meijer, maybe even this sanctuary. You cannot plop this church building onto un-worked soil. The ground holds water and air; there is frost in the ground. As that air and water moves and the frost comes out, the ground shifts and would make the building shift and twist and turn. Or the building’s weight would cause it to sink in soggy soil. That’s why construction crews dig holes, push the air and water out of the soil, compact the dirt, and pour a solid three-foot-thick concrete square on the ground. That massive block of concrete will not sink into the earth. In fact, compacted dirt keeps the block from shifting and breaking up. A good foundation keeps the building upright, steady, and together.
Yet, when Paul talks about laying a foundation, he is not discussing plans to build a new church. He instead calls Jesus Christ the foundation already laid.
Maybe someone has asked you: “What do you believe?” They are really asking you what you believe life is all about— what its purpose is, where you are heading, and if your future will be pleasant. Chances are, when someone asks that question, you do not have hours to open up the Bible and discuss everything you believe. You probably have enough time for a two-sentence statement of your faith.
So what is the single most important thing you want to share? Do you point at the “roof” of your faith: “Well, I believe that God answers my prayers?” Do you point at the “walls” of your faith: “Well, I believe I need to be in church?” No! You point at the very foundation of your faith! You point at the Person who answers your prayers and who gives you confidence always. You point at Jesus Christ.
Still, dig deeper. What about Jesus Christ do you believe? That he walked around preaching and teaching? Good! Even the hard-hearted, unbelieving Pharisees knew that! That he is the Son of God? Good! Even the demons believe there is one God! (James 2:19). You believe something specific about Jesus, don’t you? That he did something for you. That you benefit from Jesus. The foundation of your faith is: Jesus is the Christ.
Remember what the name “Christ” means. It means “Anointed One.” To be anointed means “set apart” for a mission or task. Today’s gospel reading unveils Jesus’ mission. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
“Be perfect!” Jesus says. Now, always, forever. Never ever gossip about your friend. Never ever ignore your parent’s command to clean your room or argue with your spouse over house-chores. Never ever think Sunday worship is boring— or even make up excuses why you cannot worship. Be perfect because your heavenly Father is perfect.
It really does not take long to realize how imperfect your life is. Trying to be a better spouse will not erase your past arguments. Trying to say you are a better kid than all of your friends does not make God forget that you disobeyed him. Trying to worship more often does not outweigh the times you did not want to worship. One smudge of imperfection makes us broken, uncertain, and fearful of how we stand before God.
That’s why Paul writes: For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. He literally says: “No one has the power to lay another foundation.” You cannot point to something you did and say: “I think I’m good enough to stand before God.” You cannot point to your feelings and say: “I think I feel forgiven” or “I think I believe.” Your efforts and your feelings cannot be the foundation of your faith because they are not the things God demands.
God holds up perfection as the only token into heaven— and Jesus has that perfection. He has infinite patience for disciples who doubt that he is God’s Son. He respects Mary and Joseph, and uses words to strengthen his friendships. The Son of God, the One who speaks the Bible, still worships every Sunday!
Jesus takes his perfection and wipes away every imperfect smudge and stain and fault. “Guilt burns over your past argument? Well, my patience dresses over your conversations.” “Realize you hurt your parents? My obedience covers over your disobedience.” “Worshiped with the wrong attitude? Rejoice that my forgiveness has set you free from hell!”
Your confidence for eternal life in heaven rests in the completed work of Jesus. It means, when someone asks: “Why are you sure you’re going to heaven?”You point at Jesus and say: “Because he died for me.” No, you do not have to earn the right to receive his forgiveness. No, you do not have to choose that Jesus die for you. He did the work; he completed everything. That is your foundation; you stand confident that Jesus has done everything needed to save you!
When you think of the most important feature of your congregation, let it be Jesus! You are built on Jesus Christ. Your faith rests on his work. Since you are built, you strive to build on Jesus Christ.
Yes, present tense. Build—don’t stop. Stand on the work of Jesus— and do all you can to strengthen your faith and reach the lives of others!
This is why Paul points you back to the foundation of your faith. All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. It does not matter who the preacher is—and what his personality is like. What matters is that the preacher brings the unchanging and full truths of Scripture. Paul, Apollos, and Peter all preached Christ crucified! With an unchanging foundation, the Corinthians had a clear understanding of why they exist: (1) to strengthen their faith and (2) to reach the lost.
Much like what your congregation does. You build on Jesus Christ. Quite literally, that’s why you are here. A group of believers were concerned that they hear the pure Word of God without any manmade teaching added to it or any man twisting its teachings. Their faith was built on Jesus Christ. They put their love for Jesus into action by building a place where they would be assured of a Savior’s love for them. While I cannot read their hearts, nor do I know everything on their mind, I can only assume they expected this place to stand for many years. It is made out of brick and stone and mortar. More than that, those believers have made it abundantly clear the Bible never be twisted to follow what your heart wants to hear. Rather, the Bible must tell our hearts what it needs to hear.
The tremendous fact is that people years ago could gather and meet that goal. They heard Scripture preached truthfully. They strengthened their faith. Yet, they also reached out. Some of you are literally third- and fourth-generation believers in your family. Just to think that so long ago your relatives envisioned you sitting here— because they wanted their family to know their same Savior.
How are you building? Fill yourself up in Bible class— learn the answers to tough questions or the Bible’s responses to modern-day lifestyles. Bring your children to Sunday School. There they learn Bible stories and how their life is like those Bible stories. Don’t have kids? Ask the little ones what they learned. Ask them where their offerings go. Encourage them to continue listening to Jesus.
Review your Catechism lessons. Just because studied Bible teachings once does not mean that you never forget them! Do you still remember everything you learned in third grade? Do you remember what you ate for supper last Tuesday? I don’t. Take time to build on Jesus Christ. Study the Word, because as the world changes and your life changes, you will encounter new questions. You will grow in your faith as you use the Word to answer those questions.
As you build on Jesus Christ, you put your faith into action. Years ago someone took their time, made the effort, and gave their offerings to build and maintain a house of worship. It’s why you have a place to worship today. Today you have the opportunity to evaluate what God has given you. See what financial blessings God continues filling you with and consider the privilege you get to give back to him (trusting he will fill you back up)! See the talents God gives you. Maybe it’s putting your body to labor. Maybe it’s solving problems with your mind.
You did not ask me to be the caretaker of your church. You asked me to help you in your ministry. That’s the great thing. Even if I leave, will you be able to carry out the single-minded mission of your congregation? Will you take the efforts to bring up events to reach the lost? Will you learn to teach the young ones and instruct the older? Each of you are different, but with your attention latched onto the goal of building on Jesus Christ, you will work together to reach this goal.
With this single mission in mind, you know why you exist as a congregation: you are built on Jesus Christ. Your confidence for entering heaven rests on Jesus. Only he makes you perfect before God. He is the most important feature of your worship.
Knowing this you build on Jesus Christ. Use the Word to increase your faith. Use the Word to shape your motivation to help with maintenance or calling people or reaching the lost and straying.
What encouragement Paul gives you! Throughout the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians you have this ongoing call to Remain Focused! You have an individual role in your entire congregation. That means you— whatever your age, your abilities, your job status, or how long you’ve been here, together you all Remain Focused… on Your Ministry! You are Built on Jesus Christ so that you can Build on Jesus Christ!