Hope you had a good week. We had a great retreat last weekend and I trust that God is continuing to bear fruit in your life as you get into His Word individually and in groups of 2 and 3. I know one brother at least is memorizing Scripture starting from 1 Corinthians, another is memorizing verses in 1 John and a few other brothers who had been meeting for morning devotions have recommitted themselves to each other and others are joining. Sisters, where you at? I’m kidding, although a little bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone. I’m sure the sisters are equally motivated, but sisters don’t like sharing with me so I am not sure what is going on, but I trust that God is speaking to our entire church and motivating all of us to dig into His Word.
Please open your Bibles to 1 Cor 5. While you are turning there, quick announcement: Coral Center.
With each chapter in 1 Corinthians, you get a sense that Paul is not simply writing a neutral theological discourse, similar in tenor to, say, the letter to the Romans. We just covered Romans a few months back and at times, Romans did feel like a rather detached systematics theology course. Not 1 Corinthians. This letter to the church at Corinth is much more emotionally charged than Romans and Paul is much more invested in what is going on there. And based on what we read about in this chapter, the stakes are much higher.
So far, 1 Corinthians has been divided into 3 parts. Chapters 1-3 feel more like a lecture, chapter 4 is a transition chapter and then chapter 5 begins a series of rebukes. In the first 3 chapters, it’s lecture. Paul outlines why it is imperative to stay true to the gospel and build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified. And if you read between the lines of those opening chapters, there are clues that Paul is building up to something big. It’s as if he wants to say so much from the outset, but he is restraining himself. But his mouth is like a leaky dam and comments slip out here and there. He jabs at them a little, then he holds back. Listen to 1 Cor 3 —
1 Cor 3: Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. Or 1 Cor 4, Paul says, “while I am a fool for Christ, you are so wise!”
That kind of sarcasm and rebuke are interspersed throughout the opening chapters. 1 Cor 4 marks the transition and that’s why it ends rather strongly —
1 Cor 4 – 18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?
Pretty harsh, wouldn’t you say? Is this kind of language befitting an apostle. It sounds like he is trying to pick a fight. And actually, he is. In chapter 5, the dam breaks. Paul doesn’t hold back anymore. He lets it all out. And he is flaming mad. The first section was lecture–don’t throw your salvation away. I’m warning you guys. Don’t go there. But like children who are testing their boundaries, they don’t listen. That’s lecture. Now, we’re in lab. Starting from Chapter 5, Paul lays out the very real consequences when you forget that Jesus bought you at a price. Why such passion and intensity from Paul? Because Paul knows that ultimately, he will have to give an account before God for this congregation because he founded this church.
In essence, the Corinthians became spiritually blind. And Paul is going to speak some truth into their lives.
Today, I want to talk about spiritual blindness. We are going to look at this chapter for the next 2 weeks. This week is more topical in nature. I want to set the stage and explore how they became spiritually blind and next week, we will study this text more closely and go into the specifics of church discipline and why it is necessary.
Clearly, the Corinthian church was suffering from spiritual blindness. Here’s an outline that we will be covering today. 6 things. 1) what is spiritual blindness, 2) how did the Corinthians get there, 3) what was the result of their blindness, 4) how are we blind today, 5) if we are blind, how did we get there, and 6) what is the remedy?
1) What is spiritual blindness?
It’s when we don’t see what God sees. God and us, we are looking at the same thing, but arriving at two different conclusions. Spiritual blindness is a serious problem because it’s human tendency to see what we want to see and ignore what we don’t want to see.
It is not that uncommon for an entire church to become spiritually blind, like we have here at Corinth. In Revelation 3:17, we read the following indictment against the church at Laodicea —
Rev 3 – 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Spiritually blindness is quite common. Therefore, the believer needs to remain in a constant posture of realizing that at any moment, we can become wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Without Jesus, without abiding in Christ, this is our spiritual condition. We need Jesus every moment of every day and we need God’s people.
2) How did the Corinthians become spiritually blind? What were they choosing to see and what were they choosing to ignore?
The Corinthians became spiritually blind because they chose to see what they wanted to see. They chose to see human leaders. They elevated human charisma and personality to God-like status. They chose to see spiritual gifts. Those are the things that the leaders and teachers of that church wanted the rest of the congregation to recognize because obviously that’s one way to create a following. Who has the impressive gifts and who has the lesser gifts or no gifts at all, who speaks well and who stutters, who has natural charisma and leadership ability and who is an introvert. What kind of person would you follow? Obviously, we are drawn naturally to the gifted leader with a big personality and speaking ability. That’s the person you want as your leader.
It’s very man-centered to focus on human abilities and giftedness. Those are tangible. It inspires confidence. We want to follow leaders who possess certain qualities. Like Steve Jobs, who recently passed. He says something and everybody stops and listens. He is more than a business leader in my opionion. If you listen to Mac users and how they talk about Steve Jobs and his line of products, Steve Jobs is a religious leader and his customers adore him with an almost religious fanaticism.
We all want to be a Steve Jobs and amass a huge following. He was driven. He was ambitious. He wanted to change the world. But what did he choose to ignore in the process. He chose to ignore his mortality. He was a workaholic and when the doctors told Steve that he had cancer, he choose to ignore their advice to undergo chemotherapy. He didn’t want to treat his cancer the conventional way. He thought he could beat the cancer on his own terms through extreme dieting and fasting and meditation. Just like he beat out other competitors and overcame obstacles all his life to become such an icon in our society. Steve Jobs choose to look at his power, his success, his ambition, and in the process, he became blind to his own mortality and limitations.
Human personality and giftedness, that’s what the Corinthians choose to see. In the process, what did they end up ignoring?
The gospel. Jesus and him crucified. Who God is, what Christ did for them on the cross and who they were in Christ, redeemed sinners. The gospel. This is what was getting ignored. If you asked the Corinthian leaders–why are you ignoring the gospel?–they would probably look at you funny. What do you mean? We believe in the gospel, we are a gospel-centered church. But are they?
They would deny that they are spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness leads to denial. We are saved by God through the good news of Jesus dying for our sins and our response of repentance and faith. But that’s not all. We can’t stop at initial salvation, but we need to be saved by Jesus each and every day, we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, checking ourselves, as we are sanctified continuously by this truth.
The gospel is everything in the Christian life. All Christians would acknowledge that prior to our salvation, we were dead in our sins. We were spiritually blind. The cross was foolishness to us. That’s why non-believers wonder, how can Christians follow a dead Jewish rabbi? Don’t they know that miracles don’t happen in the 21st century? Those Christians are so superstitious. Christianity is for the weak, those who need an emotional crutch. They can’t hang in this life so that’s why Christians turn to God.
Even if we never verbalized it, this is how we thought, this was our belief system prior to meeting Christ. We were blind. And without God intervening and God saving us and God sending us His Spirit to open spiritual eyes, all of us in this room would still be hopelessly lost.
God saved the Corinthians. They experienced genuine salvation. Their blind spiritual eyes were opened. But as a direct result of forgetting who God is and what God did for them in Christ, they became blind again. This is significant. We are talking about Christians here. They had clarity of vision when they were first saved, but they lost it. Why? Because as we studied, they moved away from the gospel and chased after other teachings. And as a result, they became blind again, even as believers. So if you are a believer, listen up. This can happen to you and me.