This is the second post in a two-part article titled “Assisting Gospel-Driven Churches: A Reminder to Baptist Bureaucrats.” The sermon was preached in the weekly chapel service of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina on September 8, 2008. I want to thank the executive leadership of the BSCNC for the invitation to preach and their blessing in publishing the sermon manuscript here at Between the Times. The earlier post can be read here.
Assisting Gospel-Driven Churches: A Reminder to Baptist Bureaucrats
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
II. Gospel-Driven Churches Place their Confidence in the Right Place (1:26-31)
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Having just finished explaining how the gospel seems like folly to the lost world, Paul now turns to Christians themselves and notes that the verdict is not much better; they were not very wise, not very powerful, and not very noble. Try applying for a job at the state convention with that resume!
But God is not hedged in by these limitations. He chooses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong. It is the low and the despised and the nobodies that God uses. I think Paul sounds a lot like Jesus, who teaches us in the Gospels that the world’s hierarchies don’t really matter, because in the kingdom it’s the last who are first.
And why are things this way? Verse 29 tells us: So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Instead of boasting on the basis of our own feeble talents and accomplishments, Paul tells us to boast in the Lord because we have believed the gospel and are now in Christ. Jesus Christ is the wisdom from God and he is our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. This is just another way of saying Christ is the one who has saved us, is saving us, and will save us at the last day.
Brothers and sisters, we have nothing if we do not have Christ. This is true for us as individuals, it is true for our churches, and it is true for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Southeastern Seminary.
Since we are all family here and we are co-laborers as denominational servants, let me speak very candidly with you: Southern Baptists, including those of us who live in North Carolina, don’t have the best track record when it comes to humility. Since at least the mid-20th century, all you have to do is attend any type of denominational meeting and you will hear some of the most rank bragging on earth:
“We are the largest Protestant denomination in America”
“We have the largest seminaries in the world”
“We have the largest force of foreign missionaries on the planet”
“We have clout with the people in Washington”
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is just as bad when it comes to this type of thing: look at this great new program we have launched, look at how big we are, look how many people we had at this conference. We . . . we . . . we . . . we . . . we.
Brothers and sisters, God does not need the SBC or the state convention. Every single person in this room is expendable, our jobs are not necessary, and the churches do not have to have us around to do the work they are called to do.
And to be frank, many of them know this.
So if we are actually going to assist the churches in fulfilling their divinely appointed mission, then we had best remember that we do not exist for our own sake. The Cooperative Program, state missions budgets, programs, conferences-all these things are helpful, but they are not necessary. These things are all temporary, but they are not permanent.
Verse 31 says, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. This is our calling as Christians, this is our calling as churches, and this is our calling as denominational servants.
Because Gospel-driven churches put their confidence in the right place, denominational servants must guard against falling into the trap of thinking we are essential. We are a means, not an end, and to suggest otherwise, even implicitly, is the height of hubris and a disservice to the churches we claim to serve. Brothers and sisters, only Christ is essential, and we are only valuable insofar as we assist churches in proclaiming him.
I am thankful for almost everything that I hear about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. I think that God is doing a work of renewal in this convention, just as I trust he is doing a work of renewal in the Southern Baptist Convention. But we need to remember that both the state convention and the SBC were created to serve the churches. Some of the churches out there need some convincing, and the burden is on you and I to prove to them that we want to assist them–and can assist them–in becoming the kinds of churches that God would have them to be.
I am delighted to labor alongside you in serving the churches for the sake of the gospel. May God grant us great grace and abundant wisdom as we seek to assist gospel-driven churches in North Carolina, North America, and the uttermost parts of the earth.