If you were to jump out of a plane, what would be the most important thing you could possess? I don't know why you would want to jump out of a plane, but I hear it is a thing. A working, well-packed parachute.
What about the rest of life? What is the most important thing?
We find out by asking a simple question: What is my "if only?"
If only... I had more money? A more fulfilling job? A better marriage? Successful children? Good health? A comfortable home? Physical safety? A significant retirement account? The latest iPhone? New shoes (I hear that is a thing, too)? I only I had enough alcohol in the pantry to make it until the liquor store opens tomorrow?
What is your "if only?"
In Luke 10:41, Jesus tells says to his friend, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, [lots of "if only's] 42 but there is only one thing that is needful."
Oh, we want a lot. We worry about a lot. But we only need -- really NEED -- one thing. The same is true for our children. There is only one thing that they need.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 shows us that one, most important thing.
15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: 3 Things
- It is a Gift to Receive
- It is a Truth to Believe
- It is a Catalyst for Change
1. IT IS A GIFT TO RECEIVE (vv. 1-2)
This actually is the word Paul uses in verse 1 when he says, "you received."
We do not work for or earn or deserve this gift. The most important thing is not something we do, but something Jesus does for us.
Paul calls it "the gospel," a word that means good news. It is the news that Jesus was born to live a perfect life in our place, endured judgement for our sin through his death, and was raised from the dead to confirm that it was all true.
There are three sub-points to note when considering this gift that we are to receive.
Faith is central.
For Paul to receive is to believe and to believe is to receive. Thus, faith is central to receiving the gift. Faith says, "I know what Jesus did is true, not just in theory, but for me personally."
Reminders are crucial.
Paul says in verse 1, "I would remind you." The fact is we forget the gospel- at least I do. Every day. Now, we don't need to be re-saved every day, but we do need to re-believe the gospel every day. Which is why we need reminders. This is what preaching is for and what daily devotions are for. They are not meritorious religious activities, but crucial reminders about the defining truth of our lives.
Ongoing faith is pivotal.
In verse 2, Paul says for us to "hold fast" to the gift we have received as we set our feet firmly on the rock of Jesus's work for us, the place in which we "stand." These words are present and active. Hold fast. Stand firm. They challenge us to continue believing the most important thing.
Have you ever tried to stand up in hurricane force winds? I have faced tropical storm winds, and that was challenging enough. To remain standing requires conscious effort.
Application: It is the same way with standing firm in the gospel.
Holding fast and standing firm are active, not passive postures.
The question is not "have I believed" as much as it is "am I believing" right now?
But keeping the main thing the main thing takes focus, effort, and determination, doesn't it? Especially when our default mode upon waking each morning is to live like a spiritual orphan who wakes to hurricane force winds:
- Financial stress
- Issues with children
- Hard meetings
- The Cat 5 of ongoing sin that threatens to completely sever us from the security of grace
I propose that the hardest thing to do in the Christian life is simply to believe the gospel -- that I really am forgiven, accepted, and loved.
Especially when I continue to sin.
That is why we must continually believe --> that I am not an orphan. I am a forgiven, beloved, adopted son of the one true King. This is my DEFINING TRUTH.
We need to believe, be reminded, and continue believing this, holding fast and standing firm to the gift we've received.
In Romans 5:1-2 Paul declares, "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."
In Psalm 40:1-4a, David writes, "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. 4 Blessed is the one who trusts [and continues to trust] in the Lord.
The main thing is a gift to receive.
2. IT IS A TRUTH TO BELIEVE (vv. 3-8)
Notice in verses 3-8 how Paul connects the message he preached to real, live, historical facts. The message of Christianity is not legend, myth, or wishful thinking.
It is a truth predicted in the Scriptures.
The Scriptures Paul references are the texts of the Old Testament, which predict with remarkable clarity and detail the events surrounding the birth, life and ministry of Jesus, particularly his crucifixion and resurrection. For an example, read Isaiah 53, not to mention all the predictions about the birth of the Christ. Vegas bookies would agree that the odds of such predictions coming true are beyond astronomical.
But they did come true.
It is a truth verified in history.
Simply put, the resurrection of Jesus was not a personal, private event. Not only did Jesus appear to his inner circle of apostles, but he appeared to over 500 people, most of whom were still living at the time of Paul's writing 1 Corinthians. He challenges anyone to go interview the witnesses. Find out for yourselves if it really happened. The resurrection was historically verifiable.
How do historians know which events in history really took place vs those that were fabricated? There were witnesses. There were changed lives. There is evidence. How do we know that the American Revolution took place? We were not there. We cannot talk to anyone who was there. But those who wrote about it and described it were eyewitnesses.
Application: Do you ever doubt?
If you are like me, there are times when you doubt whether the gospel really is true. Sometimes, it feels like God is so distant, maybe even detached and uncaring, if he exists at all.
But the cohesive nature of the Scripture's predictive testimony coupled with the historically verifiable bodily resurrection is too much evidence to overcome. When I am faced with the facts, I can't unsee what has been seen, and I am compelled to believe that the most important thing is true.
It is at this point that the historical reasonableness of the gospel events assuage my doubt, giving space for faith to live and grow, because what I am trusting as true really is true.
It is a gift to receive and a truth to believe.
3. IT IS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE (vv. 9-11)
In verses 9-11, Paul uses himself as an example of what is possible when someone receives the message that he preached. For him, grace is not merely doctrinal but is a catalyst for personal change.
We see this in a comparison between Paul's former life as a persecutor and his later life as a preacher.
Paul the persecutor.
In his life before Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road, Paul was widely known as the most aggressive and hostile opponent to Christianity in the entire world. In a word, he hated Jesus, considering him a condemnable Jewish heretic.
Then something dramatic occurred. The most adversarial persecutor of the church became the most ardent preacher in the church!
Paul the preacher.
This was the last thing anyone expected to happen. It certainly surprised Paul. After all, when he was converted, he was on his way to arrest Christians. Paul was in no mood to become a disciple of the Savior.
Then we read in verse 10 the reason for the change, "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
Did you notice how Paul speaks of grace as a catalyst? His conversion is not only a gift, but so was the motive and ability he was given to "work harder" than any of the other apostles. This hard work was in no way motivated by a need to earn the grace of new life but because he knew that he had already received the new life of grace-- the gift of God's forgiveness and imputed righteousness.
As a former religious moralist, Paul was compelled to preach about how wrong he had been. That God does not accept us because we can be good enough. Rather, he accepts us when we admit we can't be good enough and have to receive the gift of grace -- which was what he had preached and was now reminding them about.
Remember, this church had a proliferation of problems. The "if only" for them was "if only the gospel were of first importance, their defining truth."
Paul knew by personal experience that it is grace that changes everything. It had changed him, it could change them, and it can change us.
Application: How is grace a catalyst for change in your life?
- In what ways has God changed you? How are you different?
- In what ways do you want to be changed?
- For me, it is being less defensive and less self-righteous when I should just confess my sin with repentance rather than blame-shifting, minimizing, or justifying myself with excuses of self-protection.
- For you, it may be your temper. It may be how you respond to wining children. Or not going for the liquor cabinet when you feel stressed. Maybe you want to be more generous with your giving to the church or more quick to forgive an offense in your marriage.
- What enables us to pursue change is remembering that we are not saved because we change; change is the result of being saved.
Did you receive the post card in the mail a few weeks ago? Every spring and fall, someone uses the time change as a marketing opportunity to showcase his brand while reminding the community of the impending need to set clocks either backward or forward, depending on the season. It is a clever idea and one that I really appreciate!
I had totally forgotten about the time change this year until I checked the mail.
God has sent us a post-card reminder in 1 Corinthians 15, reminding us of the most important thing… not money, fame, success, relational happiness or even sobriety.
There is only one ultimate "if only."
If only I were forgiven. If only I were loved. If only I had hope in the midst of stress and grief. If only I could trust God's plan for my life and the life of my kids.
All these "if only's" find their fulfillment in the most important thing of the gospel.
That Jesus was crucified for our sins and raised from the dead as confirmation that all the crazy radical promises of grace really are true.
That I am forgiven and have received the gift-righteousness of Jesus and am a beloved son of the eternal King.
That also is the most important thing for our children and for everyone we know.
There are many important things.
But the most important thing -- the only ONE thing NEEDFUL is looking to the cross of Jesus and personally appropriating the gift... personally, right now.
Receiving that message by faith is what saves us... and is the catalytic power that changes us. Yet, before we talk of being changed, we have to make sure we have received the gift.
Have you received this "most important thing?" Have you looked to Jesus and believed this for yourself? If so, let's believe again! If not, this is your opportunity to receive the greatest gift -- the most important thing you'll ever receive.
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