1 Corinthians 9:27-10:5
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This morning we are going to focus on what Paul told the Corinthians about the Justice and Mercy of God, in the light of the way God describes himself in Exodus.
God is love. He tells us that. But what does that mean? To many in our world today it means that God is Okay with anything you do. There is no such thing as sin, and if there is, God won’t punish you for it. This isn’t a new idea. It’s what the Corinthians thought too. They heard Paul say that Jesus paid for every sin and they concluded, “we’re forgiven! Everything is permissible, including drunkenness, adultery and eating in idol temples. We can sin all we want since it’s already forgiven.” Paul had to make clear to them that God is indeed a God of love, but his love is not permission to sin. He is also a God of justice. That’s how he defined himself for Moses when he let Moses see part of his glory. He said, “this is who I am” The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and overflowing with mercy and truth, maintaining mercy for thousands, forgiving guilt and rebellion and sin. He will by no means clear the guilty. He calls their children and their children’s children to account for the guilt of the fathers, even to the third and the fourth generation.”
Paul makes his point by taking us back to Israel in the desert. Was God merciful and gracious to his people? He says, I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
In mercy God heard the cry of the Israelites when they were being enslaved and abused by the Egyptians. He sent Moses to rescue them. As we heard last week, he brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground. He had the Pillar of his Presence keep the Egyptians in the dark while it gave light to Israel. It was like baptism for them. The water drown their enemies. Because he rescued them he could rightly call them his own, his chosen people, his holy nation. It cemented for them the fact that Moses was his chosen leader and he was a type of Christ. It was an act of mercy and grace because God provided this deliverance for all of Israel, whether they believed in him or not. After this great deliverance Miriam led the women in praising God with tambourine and dancing and Moses sang a song of praise to the Lord, songs that probably sounded like some of the upbeat VBS songs the children enjoy. They recognized the compassion and mercy of God.
But that wasn’t all. God mercifully provided even more blessings. They all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ! God gave them Manna to eat, a miraculous and perfect food. When they complained that they didn’t have any meat, he graciously provided Quail as well. When they needed water, he gave them water from a rock, twice. These were acts of mercy and grace because he gave these things to all, even those who murmured against him. If he had given them what they deserved, he would have let them die of thirst and starvation. Time after time we see how God was slow to anger as he dealt with people who were often called stiff-necked and rebellious.
Isn’t the same thing true when we think of God’s dealing with us? In mercy and grace he showers us with blessings. He has graciously given us a standard of living that is greater than the richest of kings enjoyed in the past. We have an abundance of high-quality food, and water that is safe to drink right from a faucet inside our homes. But the even greater blessings are the spiritual blessings. He has given us baptism through which he claims us as his own, unites us with Jesus and empowers us to drown our sinful nature by daily contrition and repentance. He has given us the Lord’s Supper where we receive the body and blood of Jesus so that we need never doubt that the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross is for us. He continues to shower us with all these physical and spiritual blessings even though we still daily sin against him; even though we sometimes give in to the same temptation Israel did, and grumble and complain that God isn’t fair, that he’s not doing what we think he should do, or giving us what we think we deserve. As we look at ourselves and see how undeserving we are of anything from God, we can’t help but marvel at the fact that the Lord is compassionate and gracious to us, slow to anger, and overflowing with mercy and truth, maintaining mercy for thousands, forgiving our guilt and rebellion and sin.
God is Love. He proved it by sacrificing his one and only perfect Son, as payment in full for our sins, and not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world; not for his friends, but for those who were his enemies by nature. While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
So, were the Corinthians correct? God is love so everything is permissible? Sin all you want because Jesus already paid for your sins? No. Paul exclaims, “may no one ever think that way!”
First of all, in your baptism you were untied with Jesus in his death. You died to sin. You have a new man of faith created in you by the Holy Spirit working through the word, who can’t imagine using God’s mercy as an excuse to sin. The new man of faith sees God’s mercy as motivation to avoid sin and serve God.
Someone once said that Christianity is NOT a spectator sport. You don’t get baptized and then sit back and do whatever you want. God has prepared good works for us to do for him and for our neighbor. Paul pictures our life as Christians to be like an Olympic athlete. It takes constant and intense training and study, training in the word.
Secondly, God is also a God of justice. He will by no means clear the guilty. He calls their children and their children’s children to account for the guilt of the fathers, even to the third and the fourth generation. As long as they continue in unbelief their guilt remains on them, and the longer they remain in unbelief the more guilt they pile up.
The Lord is truly slow to anger, but his patience does run out. He showered Israel with gifts, love, mercy and grace, but when they still refused to put their trust in him, he brought judgments on them. Ultimately, of all the people who left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea, only two were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rest died in the wilderness. Now, I should say that doesn’t mean none of them were saved. Moses couldn’t enter the Promised Land either as a consequence of his sin, but the Bible tells us he is in heaven. He received forgiveness through repentance and faith.
The point, Paul says, is that if you abuse God’s gifts, and take his grace and mercy for granted, there may be earthly consequences, and you may even end up losing out on heaven. He says, that is why I hit my body hard and make it my slave so that, after preaching to others, I myself will not be rejected. And Jesus says that if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble pluck it out. In other words. Don’t treat sin lightly.
When the devil tempts you to think that, because you have been showered with God’s blessings; that because you have been baptized and God has mercifully and graciously adopted you as his dear child, you can do whatever you want, you can sin all you want because you have already been forgiven– When that temptation comes, and it will, remember God’s justice. He will not allow his grace to be abused and cheapened. As Paul says in another place, if you think you are standing firm, take heed lest you fall.
Take Paul’s example. Do whatever it takes to get your sinful nature under control so that, after telling others about the mercy and grace of God you don’t find yourself like the Jewish leaders, outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If you are struggling to overcome a sin, get an accountability partner. Put filters on your computer. Get a new set of friends that encourage you to avoid sin, not indulge it. Have a healthy fear of being rejected and missing out on the eternal blessings God wants you to have.
So, here’s the difficult question, how can it be that God is both merciful and just? Shouldn’t his justice trump his mercy every time because we all deserve his punishment? It should. But thankfully his justice was satisfied at the cross. Paul says that God offered Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement so that he could be just. Sin was fully and completely punished in Jesus at the cross. He offered Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement so that he could be just, and yet justify those who have faith in Jesus.
When the devil tempts you, and he will, to think that God doesn’t have enough mercy to cover all your sins, look to the cross. In Jesus God’s justice has been satisfied and his mercy is given to you. That mercy is received through faith, and faith says, “thank you Lord, I would have been lost forever without you. How then can I knowingly and purposely rebel against you or sin against you? Help me never to take your mercy for granted”