Christ Has a Church! He Grows It!
Epiphany 6 Trinity Lutheran Church
12 February 2017 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Well, brothers and sisters, I continue to preach from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It’s all been for your being repented and faithed by such preaching. Even today I preach for your repentance – your turning from your sin – your dying to it – so that you will believe all the more that Jesus is your Savior and promises you salvation.
So, over the last couple of weeks we’ve heard the apostle Paul make it categorically clear that the power and wisdom of God is the preaching of the gospel – the preaching of Christ Jesus – CRUCIFIED ON THE CROSS FOR YOU! That is what is salvifically important. Most important. That Jesus died on the Good Friday tree for sinners like you!
In addition, Paul has been emphasizing the place and function of pastors. They are proclaimers. Preachers. Not of themselves. Not of their personalities. Not of their special gifts. But proclaimers and preachers of Jesus! Pastors preach the gospel. They do not preach their story. They preach the story of Jesus – Christ crucified. They give Jesus as Savior to ears and hearts. They declare emphatically that your sins are completely forgiven because Jesus died FOR YOU! That’s what a pastor is for! That’s what he’s good for! You need Jesus. Dead on the cross Jesus FOR YOU. And you need Jesus preached to you. Faith is only certain and sure when Christ crucified FOR YOU is the main content of the sermon and pastoral care.
Pastors, no matter who they are, Paul, Apollos or Kuhlman for that matter, are not given to be leaders of rival cliques, competing circles, or fighting factions in the congregation. Oh, the Corinthians wanted Paul and Apollos to be heads of schismatic divisions as if it was all about the man Paul or all about the man Apollos. Cult of personality! When the Corinthians pushed the person of the pastor, you can just guess who got diminished or denied. Yes, that’s right, JESUS! Christ crucified. That should not happen. And when it does there must be repentance. Pastors should never push themselves. They must always push Jesus. Pastors must decrease so that Jesus increases! Remember, no pastor, Paul, Apollos or a Kuhlman ever got crucified for you. Only Jesus pulled that off! No pastor saves you. Only Jesus does!
However, notice the terms Paul uses for pastors. They are “servants” — “God’s fellow workers.” Pastors are planters and waterers for God. “What then is Apollos? What then is Paul? [What then is Kuhlman?] Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted. Apollos watered, BUT GOD GAVE THE GROWTH.”
Faith in Christ crucified for salvation comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)! So God sends pastors as His servants to preach the word of Christ to you and for you. God uses pastors as His instruments to get His hangers on, His believers, and have a church gathered around His gifts of salvation that flow from the cross. God sends a pastor here. He sends a pastor there. He sends a Kuhlman to Murdock (and boy weren’t you horrified?). Some do the whole enchilada of ministry like I do here. Country pastors usually do. Others are given only specific tasks like maybe teaching at a seminary, doing administrative duties or visiting the sick and shut-ins. Remember what Paul said about his specific task in chapter one – “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Oh, he did do some baptisms. He does recall after all: “I did baptize Crispus and Gaius … also the household of Stephanas,” (1:14, 16).
However, the big point is this: whether a pastor plants or another waters GOD GIVES THE GROWTH. Did you hear that? This is huge! I know it’s like a chicken bone in our throats but we need to hear it again. GOD GIVES THE GROWTH! God grows His church. He does it through the word of the gospel preached by His “servant” pastors and the word of His gospel promise hooked with the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
We need to repent of all our scheming and planning to grow the church apart from the way the Lord promises to do it. I’ve seen this my entire life as a Christian and more so as a pastor. When some supposed church growth expert comes to sell you the moon, BUYER BEWARE! I can almost guarantee you that the church growth guru won’t beg you to trust the Lord to grow His church through His Word and sacraments! I fear it’s just a racket – a great gig — to line the whiz’s bank accounts with filthy lucre and CALL ATTENTION TO HIMSELF that only causes division, factions and dissension in the church. Enough of the supposed church growth mavens! The text says GOD GIVES THE GROWTH! That’s His promise!
Today, we’ve had the great joy of witnessing the Lord giving growth to His church here at Trinity. The Lord’s had some good use of a hayseed, throwback, relic of a pastor to do some heavy watering. Splashing water over the heads of Blake, Jocelyn, Julia, and Joanna – baptizing them in the saving Triune Name. And receiving Janelle and Blake as communicant members as well through their profession of faith from God’s Word. Kuhlman is just the Lord’s servant. His instrument. After all, to be baptized in God’s name is not to be baptized by Pastor Kuhlman, but to be baptized by God Himself!
Well, the sermon has gotten too long so I’ve got to wind it up PDQ. Let me finish with this last point. The church that a pastor founds or fosters, plants or waters IS NOT HIS! The church is the Lord’s! “God’s field. God’s building.” Pastors must learn this. So must congregations.
We get it wrong and cause havoc, chaos and mayhem in the church when we make Paul, Apollos, Kuhlman or any pastor the focus of our loyalties, the ground of our boasting and the cause of our conceited and bitter rivalries. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” That is to say, aren’t you thinking and doing things like the world? Like the foolish ways of this age or your sinful flesh? Of course!
Listen. You do not belong to Paul. You do not belong to Apollos. And, by God, you certainly do not belong to Pastor Kuhlman! Stop it. I beg you. forever of talking like this: “I belong to Kuhlman’s church!” That makes my ears bleed and my blood boil. I’m nothing! It’s not my church! Good grief! Oh, yes, pastors that the Lord sends are His planters and waterers, but they are only His servants – doing their assigned tasks. To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. To baptize, absolve and Lord’s Supper. That’s the proper perspective. Don’t ever forget it what Paul says: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
As surely as Christ was crucified FOR YOU and as surely as you are baptized in His divine saving Name, you are Christ’s! You belong to Him! You belong to God! Or as Jesus promised in the baptismal liturgy today, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16). He’s got you! He churches you in His church around His Word. His Sacraments! By doing that He’s gathered you around Himself. He sees to the growth. It’s all good. Very good!
In the Name of Jesus.