The following sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, and addresses the value of Christian Education programs in the local church. It was preached at the Central Shwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on September 9, 3012.
This time of year is exciting for teachers, for they see the students come back into the classroom. There are high hopes that this year will be a successful one; that many will expand their knowledge and learn much from the instructions, reading, and test taking. Today is Rally Day. It marks the beginning of another year of church activities and the formal beginning of our Christian Education programs such as Sunday School for all ages, small groups, and youth groups. Rally Day is kind of like a back to school time. It is a time when teachers begin with their new Sunday School classes. When you’re away too long, it is hard to get back into the routine. Rally Day reminds us that some routines are healthier than others, and that routines are easy to get out of.
Every Rally Day, we do two things that are very special. First, you saw us give away a number of Bibles to 3rd graders. It reminds us that we should be reading our Bibles. How valuable is the Bible to us? 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that it is the very word of God and is able to equip us for every good work God brings our way.
I am especially thankful for our dedicated our teachers, leaders and board members that work hard to facilitate our spiritual growth in this church. Or rather, these have dedicated themselves to this noble task of instructing and facilitating spiritual growth for our congregation. How important are these vows that they’ve committed themselves to!
On a day that we think about our spiritual growth, I would like to draw our attention to something that Paul states in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. He puts Christian workers I proper perspective by stating in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” This reminds us of a few things.
GOD IS AT WORK IN THE LIFE OF OUR CHURCH.
First of all, God is doing something in our midst. The Christian faith is not to make your life easier. It does not exist to make your life more comfortable. Following Jesus does not give you a new psychology for your own benefit. Rather, God is about the business of making His followers more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son… .”
Even though God is the One who causes the growth, we must take the responsibility for our own growth. The New King James states verse seven: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” These programs are designed to help you to Grow, to connect and to serve. (See Central’s diagram)
Without them, the opposite can take place. It is possible for Christian atrophy to occur. That is what Paul was getting at here. The Corinthian Christians had become carnal. 1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly.” It is not that they were void of God’s Spirit, but they had not availed themselves to His working. They had remained babes, and had become carnal. Note Ephesians 4:14, that we are to: “…no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
Christianity is made up of a series of graduations of spiritual maturity. To those that avail themselves to God’s word and His Holy Spirit, He brings about growth. Paul mentions God causing the growth twice in this passage. Once in verse six and another time in verse seven. It reminds us that God is sovereign over our spiritual growth. When we participate in a Sunday School class or a small group, there are lots of things taking place that contribute to such maturity. There’s teaching, reading, study by students and instructor; asking questions. The goal is to withdraw the worldliness from your life and ingest some solid spiritual food. This is what the Corinthians needed. What is worldliness? It is the jealously, the quarreling, the bad attitude, the racism, etc that keep us from moving on with God. We must be challenged to get rid of those things; to let them go. We all need an attitude adjustment at times. The Reformer John Calvin noted that: “So long as the flesh, that is to say, natural corruption, prevails in a man, it has so completely possession of the man’s mind, that the wisdom of God finds no admittance. Hence, if we would make proficiency in the Lord’s school, we must first of all renounce our own judgment and our own will.”
The popular British columnist, Christopher Hitchens was an atheist. After he developed esophageal cancer, he remained a bitter atheist until the end, even in spite of his brother, Peter Hitchens, being a Christian. This is what he said about prayer: “A different secular problem also occurs to me: what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.” What does God say about those that rebelliously deny His existence? Psalm 14: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no god.”
We must not take ourselves out of the process. One can plant the hardiest seed that he can find; but without water, it will not germinate. Or one can faithfully water a plot of land routinely, but it will not magically sprout tomatoes or carrots, if those seeds are not embedded in the ground. And neither will happen if God does not bring about the miracle of germination and fertilization. The point: God causes the growth. The same idea is communicated by Jesus in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Today, I want to encourage you to get invovlved. It will make a difference in your life.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF STUDYING WITH GOD’S FAMILY, THE CHURCH?
When you participate in one of our Christian Education programs, whether it is a Sunday School class, a small group, there are many benefits. For one, you open yourself up to learn by the teaching and the discussions that take place. You develop a comfort level with others in the church. You find your niche. In such discussions, you find that you are not alone in your feelings or in your questions. We get meaning and purpose from what is said. Strength and growth come from God.
We all have something to contribute. One person noted that the parenting advice that came from a SS discussion years ago, still functions as a resource for her. In her words, “It made an impact.” That if you don’t attend Sunday School, you miss out on so much! You also might be challenged. Sometimes we need to hear the uncomfortable things in order to be stretched and to grow.
What you will sacrifice in a little bit of extra sleep or free time, you gain in making new friends while learning from God’s word. In SS and small groups, relationships are formed. Bonding takes place. You discover that there are others to rely upon. For instance, one family is dealing with a very difficult illness. The person who organized meals remarked how she had to turn people away because there was such an outpouring of love.
Being a part of a Sunday School class or small group also gives you opportunities for outreach, that might not be as readily available. As a church family, we must be open to strangers and seek those from outside. We must break the barrier that is there by default. But we create our own barriers. We must be looking for ways to “Love God, Serve Others and Grow Disciples.”
These programs are not about entertainment, but about praising God. Getting the attention off of our own needs and giving something of ourselves. If you teach, you get a lot out of it. We should all be looking to do whatever God has called us to do.
But sometimes we fell like we don’t have the time or energy to prepare. We don’t want to do it. Carl Sensenig shared something that his dad used to say: “You will make time for those things that are really important.” Serving has a role in your spiritual growth. GOD IS AT WORK IN THE LIFE OF OUR CHURCH. I hope that this fall affords you many opportunities to experience it.
A church member wrote to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone and done it for 30 long years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the preachers are wasting theirs too by giving lengthy sermons at all.”
This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher: “I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this… They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead.”
 Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 123.