TEXT : 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
TITLE: The danger of forgetting ‘first things’ : Keeping Christ in the Center
The year is rapidly drawing to a close. Our bodies and minds yearn for rest from the routines of the year behind us . We just want to ‘ chill ‘ , as the young people say. Rest and holidays are important in the scheme of things , but as with everything good that God gives us , there are peculiar dangers attached even to legitimate “ rest and relaxation” . We must never loose our spiritual vigilance ! Peter says : “ Be sober-minded ; be watchful . Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour…” ( 1 Peter 5:8) .
But there is another matter I want to put before you at the end of this year , and it is a problem for all of us who regularly read the Word and who participate in regular worship , and who are busy , committed Christians . It is the matter of forgetting the most foundational truths , among the many other important things that we are called to focus upon . There always is that danger of being so busy even with many good things that we forget the important things – things that belong to the core of our faith !
The most foundational , or “core truth” for us all is the gospel . In all our good work for God , in all our worship , in our raising of kids and in our keeping our marriages in good shape , and in doing our regular jobs and in our recreation , we can so easily forget the main thing - the gospel that saves us , and therefore the gospel that should move us in the core of our being ,
· first , in loving , faithful worship of our God
· secondly, in loving faithful service to our brothers and sisters
· thirdly in loving , faithful evangelism of this desperately lost and needy world around us !
But it is the gospel that we must retain in our hearts at all costs . In writing to Timothy the apostle Paul pressed this fact upon the conscience of his young son in the faith, who by now was becoming a busy pastor in Ephesus : “ Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David , as preached in my gospel . “ ( 2 Tim 2:8)
You have been with me as we have worked our way through much of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians . I have shown you time and again that the greatest problem of this Corinthian church was that they had forgotten the main thing – the gospel – the Lord Jesus Christ . Whilst they were doing many things ( and sinning badly against one another in the process) they had forgotten what the church was all about and where it derived its source of true life from . And therefore Paul the founding father of the church at Corinth had to stop them dead in their tracks and remind them once again of ‘ first things ‘ in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
[15:1] Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  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.  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV)
Now what you read here is , is what you have heard so often . And this is the problem – we easily become bored , we become familiar with the sacred , so that , as AW Tozer says, we loose our Oh’s and Ah’s  . The fact of the matter is that it is utterly sinful to loose this divine love with which our hearts were inflamed when we first met the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. The Ephesian church ( Rev 2:4ff) was told that the absence of her first love for Christ was cause for repentance !
My brothers and sisters when we read the inspired Scriptures, there are no imperfections to be found there . The deep wisdom of Scripture must always cause us to say with the apostle Paul “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 ESV). We Christians should watch lest we loose that “ oh” from our hearts – particularly when it comes to the gospel . And this is exactly what we are seeing . All around us we see Christians and churches relaxing their grip on the gospel, fumbling it, and in danger of letting it drop from their hands altogether , because we have lost the “oh” !
So then , in the light of the Lord’s supper being served to us today , let us remind ourselves of what this text says as Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians concerning that which was of first importance :
1. “Now I would remind you, brothers of the gospel I preached to you “ : This gospel must continually be shared with the world ( as did Paul with the pagan Corinthians ) and then again and again by way of a reminder . Paul did not stop preaching the gospel just because people had become Christians .
2. “(The gospel) which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word. “ . It is the gospel preached , received and stood upon ( persevered in) that will save you i.e. bring you to heaven . Nothing else ! By not holding to that gospel with perseverance means that you have not received it .
3. This gospel which Paul received ( Acts 9) is of first importance : “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” . It was the preaching of the gospel that was Paul’s primary work ( 1 Cor 9:16 : “ Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel “ ) , and we must never criticize our preachers for bringing before us the gospel too often ! One man I know , came from a Christian family , claimed to be a Christian , went to seminary , became a pastor , dropped out and wandered around the wilderness for many, many years , and eventually heard the gospel in this congregation and was converted, and now lives to the glory of God !
4. Lest we forget : The content of the gospel is not only a message , but it proceeds from a person : The Lord Jesus Christ ! Paul’s gospel message was this : Christ died for our sins.. was buried… was raised… and appeared ( 15:3-9) . So when you think about the gospel you must understand and treasure up these 4 things in your heart :
· Christ died for your sins ! If He had not done that , you would not inherit eternal life ( heaven) , but you would inherit eternal condemnation ( hell) . The words that Jesus spoke on this are very clear . There is no middle road . “ I am the Way , the Truth and the Life . No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)
· Christ was buried ! Your sin really killed Him ! He was dead . The thing that He had feared most in life had come true . He was forsaken by His Father (Matt 27:46) with whom He had to this point enjoyed fullest , loveliest fellowship! At this time He bore , to the fullest extent , the terrible and righteous wrath of the Father , and all this out of love for His sheep – the people that the Father had given Him from before the foundation of the world ( Jn 17 :6, 9 ). We will never know the agony of the grave for Christ , but this is what Jesus did for you , dear believer – never loose the “Oh! ” on that !
· Christ was raised ! Thank God that He raised Christ from the dead , after He had fully satisfied (propitiated) the wrath of God . The following thoughts are important in relation to the resurrection :
(i) God was faithful to His eternal plan . Thank God that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures ( i.e. the OT Scriptures). He is trustworthy , and the same God who sent Christ , and gave Him up as a sin offering , and raised Him from the dead , shall send Him again from heaven to subdue all things and to judge the living and the dead.
(ii) Christ lives ! A dead Saviour is no Saviour – that is the point that Paul makes in 1 Cor 15: 12 -19 . We worship and serve a living King and we can’t wait to see Him , and even though we have not seen Him we love Him ! (1 Peter 1:8)
(iii) We shall live ! Christ’s resurrection from the dead by the power of God is our hope of the resurrection also ( see 1 Cor 15:20-27 )
· Christ appeared ! Thank God that there were many witnesses to His resurrection appearances. Four times in this passage Paul says : “Then He appeared…” . Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact . The Jewish historian Josephus , who did not claim to be a Christians wrote : “ Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross , those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day , as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day. This helps us greatly , for we know that Jesus is not a myth or a fable . He is a real person , and if what He said was true , then He is not only a man , but He is God . Therefore our worship today is right and meaningful and also necessary.
5. This gospel changed Paul’s life completely ! “ But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (v.10) This is actually a bit of an understatement . The power of God in Paul was amazingly manifest , and yet Paul receives this knowledge not in boasting , but in humility , because he knows that the gospel is not his invention – it has been given to Him , and he worked hard with it , and today we are witnesses to the power of God’s word through Paul .
So , in the light of all this , we must make sure that we never loose the sense of wonder of the gospel . And when the vision grows dim within you , plead with God to restore it to you . This is no minor thing . It is a major matter . Your life , your joy , your meaning in life depends on the gospel , which is Jesus Christ in you , the hope of glory ( Col 1:27) . Amen